Arid Faith- David Owens [Love Letter Series]

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I must admit, I was SO SO SO very excited when David Owens agreed to contribute to this series. I knew, from following his tumblr and interacting with him through social media and mutual friendships, that he would put his whole heart and soul into this piece. That he would bring all of his life here and lay it out, hold it high, let us feel it, let us fall into it. I am so grateful for the words you are about to read. Allow this man’s story to bless you today. It has blessed mine.

Also, be sure to check out some of his fantastic work at David Owens Design!

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The final strains of another obscure but meaningful hymn faded in the dappled stained glass morning light spilling across the old Baptist sanctuary. A slender girl stepped up to the podium to deliver the reading. “This morning’s passage is taken from 1 Cor 6:9-11.”

 

My ears burned red. My fingers twitched and bruised the Sunday worship guide in my lap.

 

“…neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality … will inherit the kingdom of God.”

 

I blinked deliberately and focused on pacing my breath. “Lord, I need you.” A silent plea.

 

The agonizing journey through 1 Corinthians with my church had finally ground to a halt at the passage I knew we’d have to face eventually. It felt like that suspenseful climactic movie moment when I cower behind my hands as the music builds — terrified of whatever awaits but also desperately wishing it would hurry up and just happen already. Gay Sunday (as I termed it) had arrived. I sat with legs crossed, back rigid, chin defiantly aloft above my perfectly pressed shirt, tie, and vest. I could at least look fabulous today even if I inwardly felt dehumanized, misunderstood and cast aside. They could “struggle” with my same sex attraction all they darn well pleased but I refused to be dragged back into the culture of fear and shame to which I’d been shackled for so long.

 

It wasn’t like I was going to hear anything new this morning. My eyes glanced across the sanctuary to where Kris sat with his family — the same Kris I’d been meeting with for pastoral care off and on for the past several months. My mind reflected back to our first appointment.

 

“Tell me about your relationship with your father,” he said with concerned eyes.

 

I cringed at the trigger words that reeked of my experiences in various ex-gay therapies.

 

“Actually, I wanted to ask you for some perspective on some passages that I have questions on.” I flipped directly to Romans 1.

 

What ensued was several months of speaking past one another. It seemed obvious to Kris that I wouldn’t face the irreconcilable truth because, as he saw it, I must be caught up in my bias, letting my depraved desires drive my interpretation. While I, on the other end, found myself grappling with severe doubt and questions of faith. I was unable to hide from the fact that so much of what I’d been taught simply didn’t line up with what I was discovering as I lay my heart before the lord and honestly wrestled with scripture.

 

In spite of all the pastoral conversations and Gagnon sermons/papers, I continued to move toward an affirming theological conclusion — something I found horribly frightening. What if my soul really was on the line as I’d been warned now by several of my well-intentioned friends. What if I was simply a “vessel of wrath” created to bring glory to God through my destruction? What if my conscience had been seared and I was horribly deceived? After all, who was I to contradict 2000 years of church tradition, my parents, and every spiritual leader I respected?

 

“But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call thee mine. The springs of comfort seem to fail, and all my hopes decline. Yet gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust. And still my soul would cleave to Thee though prostrate in the dust”

— some phrases in my journal from a hymn by Anne Steele

 

Then, somewhere in the emotionally rending chaos of my mind, a calm voice tenderly resounded. “My grace is sufficient for you.” As someone who leans admittedly Reformed in theology, I don’t believe I’ve ever had anything to do with my salvation. He is, after all, the Author and Finisher of my faith. My story begins and ends with Him. To live according to someone else’s convictions out of a place of fear and shame is hardly what I call living in freedom. Rather, I recognized that I would have to respond authentically to what He’d revealed to me. If I believed that God is good, then I would also have to trust that He wouldn’t let me remain on a path that would lead to my eventual destruction but would lovingly intervene as a good father.

 

As it so happened, God has the strangest sense of humor. When I coordinated communion that Sunday morning, we had a no-show and I of course could not find anyone to fill the spot. That’s how I ended up standing in front of the very pulpit that had just finished laying forth its indictment upon my precarious soul, looked my pastor Kris directly in the eyes, and spoke those words of blessing reminiscent of our Lord, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” That same week, I submitted a letter resigning my membership rather than wait to find out what church discipline and potentially excommunication might look like within my church.

 

And so I walked away from Christianity and discovered faith.

 

Thomas Merton speaks beautifully of “arid faith” refined in the scorching winds of the wilderness as “a hope that burns like hot coals under the ashes of our poverty.” As tempted as I am at times to drown in bitterness and resentment, I can’t help but smile at how powerfully God has chosen to show me his goodness and faithfulness. Beauty for ashes.

 

My life doesn’t really look like what I’d imagined at all. As I felt my community of faith being painfully stripped away from me, God opened my eyes to a world of people who’d similarly experienced exile at the hands of his followers. One conversation opened the door to another and another. Before I knew it, there was a loosely connected rag tag group of young gay believers at various places of belief and unbelief, coming alongside one another to pray and read scripture together.

 

Each person’s story is so very beautiful to me. Against all odds, God has seen fit to unveil his plan of sovereign grace and love in the lives of the very people who were told they had no place in the house of the Lord. I feel blessed when Dustin shares how God burdened his heart with a desire to see his party scene friends come to faith. I get excited when Kevin tells me about how he felt the Spirit urging his soul to pray and speak scripture over his friend while performing drag at a local gay bar as six and a half foot tall Monique. But perhaps most shocking of all to me is my own recent experience of pursuing a dating relationship with a wonderful Christ-centered man and embarking on the joy and challenge of intentionally loving and honoring him.

 

I’m reminded of Misty Iron’s words at a recent GCN conference. “Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That is something the conservative church taught me as orthodox doctrine, but the gay Christian community has shown me by living faith. You are saved by grace alone — not your own strength. You are saved by faith alone — not your ability to change your life. You are saved by Christ alone — not your membership in some church or denomination.”

 

The journey is rough and continues to hurt painfully at times. Yet in spite of it all, I can’t help but smile in wonder at His goodness and faithfulness.

 

Much Love,

David

Psalm 54: Listen

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“Listen, God—I’m desperate. Don’t be too busy to hear me.”

– Psalm 54:2 (MSG)

 

For this week’s Psalm I am isolating the second verse of the seven. It hit me hard because it’s familiar to my own history with prayer, and I’m willing to bet, yours too. It is a cry out to the heavens from that painful place where we start to wonder if we’re just wasting our breath. The place where we worry that God’s not paying attention, if He even exists at all.

 

I spent one season going to God every evening. I’d drive to the lake, turn off the car and look hard at the horizon. I made it clear, at the start of most visits, that I was going to say some unpleasant words. That these prayers would be the pain and rage type, because when it came to “God”, my mouth filled with razors. I was so angry at the Cold Shoulder I felt every time I called.

 

So I’d cuss Him out, call Him down, throw a middle finger to the sky. I’d seethe and fume and cry and then drive off when I tuckered out. That was my routine. It was the only way I could come. I had to be honest, because the sweet chatty prayers weren’t cutting through anything.

 

A lot of my bottoming out moments landed me in the back pew of church and when I heard them talk about pain and suffering and agony, I heard them say I should be so lucky. Bless you! Bless you who are down down down! God is closer when you’re sad! He is near to the brokenhearted! Can’t you see?!

 

And I plunged, because I felt nothing.

 

He may have been there, sewing my heart back together, cooling my rage with wet cloth, easing me out of bed. My anger may have clouded out the sight of His hands. But in Real Life feelings, the sadness would go on like a flatlining heart. No good feelings wedging their way inside. No resuscitation. No verse that would come compellingly into my mind, rising me off the couch, slipping on my shoes, leading me out into the bright light of day.

 

I was just there.

And you’ve probably been there too.

 

And you know how in an emotional sense, it can feel like an endless effort to bend the ear of God. Which, when you think of it, is enough to make you discouraged all over again.

 

Yet, you do it.

 

You do it over and over and over and over again, because something brings you back. For me, it was my anger, but I think, on some other level, I was just dying for His attention. For him to descend upon me and make me well. Hold me til I stopped shivering. Dust me off and move me on. I wanted to provoke Him into Presence.

 

And also, I had no further to fall. This is the rock bottom pile of bones I’m talking about; a place that you simply cannot survive without something to look forward to. Some horizon to watch and wait for a miracle.

 

So you speak. You scream. You beg. You go.

And He comes.

 

Sometimes he will swoop in and lift you up to the surface.

True.

But sometimes he wants you to wait and be still and be ready to be better off than you’ve ever been, because when he comes and when he clutches your whole heart, Life becomes life. Free of the dead weight, lifted by a belief that there are good things ahead.

And that last part, “good things ahead” is critical. That’s hope.

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Because you’re going to fall back in.

You’re going to feel nothing and everything at the same time.

It will feel like you’re lost and flatlining.

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And you’ll need Hope.

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Because in Hope, there is no give up. There is no go away. There is a Sometime Soon. There is a One Day.

There is you, returning to the lake with two fists swinging, disbelieving eyes and a mouthful of razors.

There is the plea, there is the wrestle, and in the end, there is the rescue.

 

And that, for me, is all I really need.

 

RR

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The Psalms Journey community: a group of people writing through the Psalms. All posts are welcome. This is not about reaching some sort of standard. Or having the “correct” perspective on the biblical text.

This is about joining together as a community to rise up and declare the value and beauty and frustration and power of God’s Word.

(For more details, or to grab the button, click on the Psalms Journey page)

 

“Promises”- Alise Wright [Love Letter Series]

 

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Today I am thrilled to have Alise Wright contribute to the Love Letter Series. I first came upon her blog after I had read a few tweets by a few big name writers, all suggesting that her work is worth looking at. As always, I went into it a little skeptical, a little judgy, but before I knew it, I became a devoted follower. What I appreciate most from her is that she speaks from a place of conviction without arrogance. She’s strong and civil and knows what she’s doing. I didn’t really realize that this was the type of work I was searching for until I came upon her site. Currently, she is doing a series called “Mixed Up Faith”, a fascinating discussion on interfaith dialogue.

Today, she is addressing an email she received months ago from a friend. It’s a powerful testament to the need for allies like her.

Join the ranks with me and subscribe to her blog.

You’ll thank me later.

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Dear friend,

 

You sent me an email a few months ago. I’m pretty sure I responded, because I usually try to get around to responding to messages that people send me. But I don’t know that I said everything that I needed to say in my email back to you. And even though it was months ago, I want you to know that I think about your letter to me and I think about it often. And I want to take this opportunity today to say more of the things I wish I had shared with you when you originally emailed me.

 

You shared so many difficult things with me. You told me about your parents who were not supportive of you, and a church that tried to change you. You told me about your struggles with belief after you came out and how you were coming back to faith, but found it so hard in the midst of the hateful words that had been said to you and the questions from in your own community of why? Why go back to an institution that actively works to remind you of your inferiority? Why go back to a group that considers your love to be a sin? Why go back to a God who some believe will send you to hell because you’re a woman and you love another woman?

 

Yet despite all of these objections, you long to be a part of the Christian faith community.

 

First of all, I’m so sorry that you feel like you need to ask to be a part of a community that is supposed to want everyone in the family. But when it comes to you, we put it up to a vote, like those of us who are already on the inside have some magical powers that are able to determine that “people like you” are worthy enough to be a part of our club. Even when someone like me comes to the conclusion that yes, you’re okay, that hardly seems like something to be proud of. I’m sorry that I treated your orientation like a theological puzzle to be solved. I often shake my head at those who still want to treat you as a second class citizen, but I ignore my own arrogance at treating you as an issue that I had to figure out.

 

But I don’t want this to just be about apologies. I want to work with you to make this better. I want to stand beside you and join our voices to change things.

 

I promise I won’t keep silent if I hear someone speaking about you like you’re not a real person. I will remind them that if we’re going to have a conversation about the LGBT community, we need to include someone from the LGBT community.

 

I promise to remember that as an ally, my job is to speak with you, never for you. I will always make room on my platform for you to share your thoughts. And if you’re not able to share because you don’t want to invite more pain into your life, I will always share your stories with as much dignity and honor that I can.

 

I promise that I will continue to speak to my children about the humanity of every person. We’ll talk about why equality matters and about ways that we can work locally and nationally and globally to help bring that about.

 

I promise that I will always be available to talk if you need me. Not to offer advice or to fix you, but to listen. I want to hear all of your story. Not just the hurts and the pain, though I will always listen to that, but I want to hear about the lovely things that happen to you as well. I want to know about the good parts of your relationship. And I want to know about stuff totally unrelated to your sexuality, because you are way, way more to me than that. So tell me about the project you crushed at work or the fun concert that you attended or the great recipe you tried.

 

I promise that sometimes I’ll screw up. I’ll think of you as my gay friend instead of my friend. I’ll feel whiney about what these promises may cost me in terms of other relationships or professional opportunities. I’ll think of the LGBT community as a monolithic group instead of as individuals.

 

But I also promise that when I screw up, I will ask for forgiveness and I will do whatever I can to make it right.

 

I know that “I love you” can sound shallow from someone you only know through a blog and email. But please know that you ARE loved. By me and by a God who created you just as you are and who has promised always to be with you.

 

May that promise hold you through whatever you face.

 

Much Love,

Alise

 

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Alise is a wife, a mother of four, an eater of soup, and a lover of Oxford commas. Her writing reflects her life and her relationships with all of the “wrong” people that God keeps bringing into her life. She is the editor of Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression with Civitas Press. You can generally find her sitting behind a keyboard of some kind: playing or teaching the piano, writing at her laptop, or texting her friends a random movie quote. You can connect with her on Twitter, on Facebook, or at her blog.

 

 

 

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