Mark Driscoll and Me and Our Desperate Desire To Be “Okay”

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I remember well the moment right after school ended, standing beneath the vaulted windows of our high school commons area, the afternoon light pouring in on my friends and I. I remember looking right at her, my homecoming date, my maybe girlfriend, and performing for my friends a routine I had down pat. One I had crushed many with before. The Conservative Throw Down.

 

She was a sharp-witted, stunningly beautiful liberal who had reservations about me for this very reason. It wasn’t so much that I identified as a Republican, but that I seemed so hostile to liberalism. And I will never forget when she asked me, a bit annoyed, how gay marriage could possibly affect my life.

 

I smirked, looked at my buddies. Then I said: God, just give them an island! Send them to an island, then we can nuke it and, y’know, problem solved!

 

Most of my friends chuckled. A couple stayed quiet. But when I looked in her eyes, I knew that whatever chance I had with her had been killed. Her eyes were glistening. She started moving her mouth, as if to say something, but then didn’t because what do you even say in response to that?

 

Though I tried to reassure that I was only joking that of course I didn’t mean it, it really didn’t matter. That was that. She saw me for who I was.

 

Except she didn’t. Not really.

 

She didn’t know that, just underneath, I was scared and miserable, because I couldn’t make sense of my feelings. Thanks to the evangelical culture I grew up in, I understood gays to be the most vile people- nauseating to God. And it was a belief so cast-iron in my head that when I started to realize I was gay, a battle ensued. A smothering happened. I did whatever I could to bury, bury, bury. Bury with machismo, bury with callousness, bury with so much white-hot hatred. My heart was filled with hate for gay people, because if I hated them enough, then I couldn’t be them. And if I hated them loudly, no one would ever suspect a thing.

~

Now, I am not suggesting that Mark Driscoll is a closet gay. What I am saying is that when it comes to people and ideas we don’t understand, we tend to become afraid. And we hate what we’re afraid of.

 

In a culture that savagely deems some people okay and some people not okay, we tend to fight for recognition as an okay person. In terms of men, that means being athletic and tough and rubbing dirt in scraped knees. As kids, we hustled by putting each other down by saying, “don’t be such a girl!” and “hey Sally!” and it was because women were understood by us to be not okay. We had been conditioned to know them as unequal.

 

Privilege is something you work through over a lifetime. Certain normative prejudices aren’t realized until, usually, confronted by another, and sometimes, confrontation pushes one’s heels into the dirt. Makes them all the more ugly. This kind of person is typically insecure anyway, unsure of whether or not they make the okay category, anxious and afraid of being deemed not okay. So they hate. They hate and hate and hate the not okays until they’ve convinced themselves that they are okay.

 

Enter in destructive theology and it all falls like a trap around this person.

 

Mark Driscoll infamously preached to his congregation: “God hates some of you.” And that seems to summarize his theology.

 

Calvinism teaches that humans are not all equal. Some are loved by God, others are not. The loved ones are blessed, the unloved, cursed. Total depravity means we’re all just barely scraping by, God is trying to make the best of this awful situation, because we are, truly, the worst kind of company (in this sentiment, love is less a feeling more a required arrangement.)

 

Mark Driscoll has deep unresolved issues inside himself. That much is clear. His past, very public, obsessions with machismo and violence and his non-stop despicable aggression against women, gays, “chickafied” men, nonbelievers, and others is as clear a sign as I have ever seen of someone unhinged or incredible anxious about something. The latest revelation of his crude, ugly, horrifyingly I-cannot-believe-even-driscoll-said-that comments about women and LGBTQ people and men he deems “unmanly” is as good enough for me as an actual diagnosis.

 

He’s hiding something painful, I think. Deep inside. And I think what it is is an incredibly fragile ego… and a theology that has poisoned it.

 

It’s a theology that says that those who are not okay are not equal and by divine decree, are to be excluded and hated and mocked. And it’s beneath the dark cloud of that question: “am I okay or NOT?” that Mark rages wildly against all those that are different from him, all those that scare him, all those that bring out some revulsion in him. He calls them not okay because it shores up his own confidence that he is okay. He says women should shut up, gays are “damn freaks”, and everyone that disagrees with him is going to hell. And it is baptized prejudice. A collision of Calvinism and Narcissism.

 

And it’s a sad situation. A horrible one. But it goes beyond Driscoll. It is a culture that conditioned him to strive for a standard that he could never meet. It is a theology that mirrored it, that paralleled it a little too closely and mixed things up for him, leading him down this dark and desperate path. The path of a broken man with an unquenched thirst for validation.

Evangelicalism and the Wilderness and Where I’ve Been

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I don’t really know what to make of the “wilderness.” I’m a bit discouraged by it, to be honest, worn down by all this wandering.

When I am most frustrated, I get up and glimpse back at the place I left: Evangelicalism. A culture crumbling beneath the weight of it’s own expectations, banishing throngs of people, men and women that no longer meet their code. Fighting, always fighting, and burning and breaking things and people. I look at it and then to the big empty space all around me. The open space of my wandering. And I hear that SemiSonic song:

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” 

~

It was only months ago when I declared myself done. My heart was badly broken by World Vision and the evangelical machine that rallied against me, nationwide, for about the hundredth time in the past few years. I was done with listening and “bridges” and at last, I stopped clawing for a seat at the “Table.” I thought: Have the fricken table! Who needs this table!? Who needs ANY OF THIS BULL SHIT?!?

~

It’s quite easy to invite people to the wilderness, but a bit different to prepare them for life out here. As for me, the wilderness has been a cloud of uncertainty. I have no rubric. No measure of where I am to turn, what red flags to look for, where to unearth all the objective truth. All I have gone on is a simplistic evaluation: Is it like the Faith of My Past? Then NO. But the problem is that since I am overly cynical and am predisposed to suspicion against wide-eyed Christians anyway, I hardly give anyone or any thought the time deserved.  There have been many an author, a church, singers, even, that I have passed over and ridiculed and walked away from. I have gone so far as to research these Big Name People’s past statements about LGBTQ people and people of color and women. I’ve dug around in their politics and their denominational affiliation and their friendships with other mega-christian-leaders, and if I smell anything faintly reminiscent of EVANGELICAL, I render it worthless. Not for me.

 

And what this is mainly about, of course, is fear. I am afraid of getting caught up in the tide of good feelings and blissed out emotions and spiritual growth only to find out, when I’m already so far in, that I am standing on hostile ground, a place that didn’t know I was here, people who are now adamant that I leave. It’s a safety thing. And a good thing. But it can become an isolating and crushing thing when it directs the needle of my compass, out here in the wilderness. There is no sealed off, safe. There is only imperfect people who try to be better, and imperfect people who don’t.

 

The other day, I thought of that exquisite and tender How He Love Us song by John Mark McMillan and I immediately pushed the thought out of my mind because I listened to that song in that one church that one time, and it was thus corrupted. It was stamped and sealed by evangelical gatekeepers and the friend of my enemy is my en…

 

I listened to the song again, hesitantly. And as it played, I slowly rifled it out of the past memory, giving the words my full attention, letting them speak straight into my soul.

 

He is jealous for me,

Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,

Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.

When all of a sudden,

I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,

And I Realize just how beautiful You are,

And how great Your affections are for me.

We all know the words. They’ve been sung so much, by so many different artists, that they really ought to be clichéd out, annoying, repetitive, someone should’ve poked all the theological holes in this by now. But even so, for me, it was still as beautiful as the first time. It never went stale for me.

 

Then I went back and listened to one of my favorite Jars of Clay albums later, listened to their renditions of Amazing Grace and Come Thou Fount, because you know I love the hymns. And then I listened to a real Evangelical Sweetheart, Phil Wickham, because he once wrote a song called I Will Wait For You There and it was the song I used to listen to while I sat crying at the beach, praying fervently for a God I hadn’t heard from in awhile.

 

And what I am trying to tell you is that this is where I have been the last few weeks: Nowhere. Everywhere. Back and forth between the wilderness and evangelicalism. 

 

I’ve been imagining and triangulating. Accepting that anytime the heart treks out into the world for faith in community, there is no drawn out map to follow. Safe Place and Healthy Place don’t always mean same thing, and sometimes they do, but other times, there are deep places of abundance that we skirt around and miss out on because they are connected to that leader and that theology and those kind of people. We see the smudge and write them all off.

 

And we turn to the wilderness and face… a blank horizon. An environment entirely dependent on an individual’s ability to seek out God in solitude and solid theology, with the right blogs, hopefully leading to a kind of community that proves it cares about them, that it is worthy of trust, and doesn’t make promises it can’t keep.

 

The wilderness looks different for all of us evangelical expats. Often, mine looks like nothing more than tumbleweeds barreling past me. Ideas I don’t even know how to filter yet. People I don’t know well enough to trust. A quiet prayer for movement.

 

And it’s where I am at today. I’m an evangelical expat, trying to build a home here in the wilderness while still visiting the old home every now and again. Sometimes bringing back the music, some good theology, and trying my best to make these gravel stones fertile ground, because, man, do we ever need it.

Jesus Jukes and Why We Need To Know Where You Stand (at Rachel Held Evans’ blog)

Hey guys! Today I am writing over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog about something that has been bugging me for some time. What is it? It is the response I keep hearing from those that are trying to take a spot in the middle and thinking they can do so by writing off questions regarding same-sex marriage with, I don’t care, Jesus didn’t talk about it. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here’s how it starts:

 

A couple months ago, Jen Hatmaker did the impossible: She wrote that same-sex marriage is sinful and left me in layers of love. It was a startling and confusing moment for me.

 

But what I respected most about her article is she didn’t brush it off. She didn’t shy away. She said: “To the degree it rests on my transparency as a leader, I bear responsibility for the conscience of others, and it is unfair to withhold.” Furthermore, she offered up a compassionate and grace-filled way forward for traditional marriage supporters and reminded them that many Christians disagree with their position, but they are no less godly, smart, or loving for doing so. And for all that, I so appreciate her. Even though I believe she is dead wrong.

 

In the pack I run in, most of my friends are slightly right of center. And when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage in the church, they are committed to ambiguity. It’s brought up in conversation and they look at me, warmth in their eyes, and say: “You are you. You are not an issue to me. To be honest, I just don’t care about the theology stuff. You’re my friend. That settles it.”

 

Because I know their intent is good and it certainly sounds sweet and affirming enough, I nod and let it go. Yes, I am happy that I have not been cut down to one characteristic, and yes, I am happy that I am your friend and that you love me no matter what. This is all good news for me.

 

But just underneath the surface, I rebuff a little. There’s a tic. Something doesn’t feel right, because from my vantage point, there is a world of difference between I don’t know and I don’t care.

 

Read the rest over at Rachel’s blog.

A Prayer For Brokenness

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I received this post a week or so ago. The author felt a deep conviction to share it, but for the time being, wishes to remain anonymous. It is so beautiful. I am so proud of this person for sharing their heart with us. Take this and be blessed.

~

The other day, I sent a friend a message about how my church was being supportive of my divorce and maybe that was a sign of movement towards becoming a more affirming church. I woke up the next morning with a fresh realization of how fucked up that is, of the incredible incongruity of how being affirming of the demise of my marriage can lead to being affirming of someone else’s right to marry. 

But then I thought of my process, my story. How the slow fade of one love opened me up to an expanse of love greater than I have ever known. How in pain and brokenness, bits of passion and pieces of healing came in completely unexpected ways. How affirming that divorce was the most Christ-like thing I could do led to an unexpected vision of what following Jesus is all about.


Anne Lamott writes: 

“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.” 

 

How beautifully true. When my heart was ripped open by abuse and betrayal, I aquired new sight, and was able to see, with the depths of my heart, a new version of love. The “holy words” became a life-giving testimony as love whispered its mighty way and I could not ignore what they were saying. I could not ignore the flame that began to burn in me for people who are gay, who have been crushingly maligned, hated, tossed-aside, and hurt over and over and over again.

Being broken brings a receptivity that is not available to those who have never experienced it. Being torn down to the very end of myself allowed me to become someone I wasn’t – or maybe was but had lost. Someone who could embrace without limits and love without condition, someone surviving only by grace and therefore able to let grace do away with the judgment and legalism that smothered me before.

I pray for this brokenness in our churches.  I pray for an annihilation of protected self that holds churches captive. I pray for pain to be allowed so that grace can move freely. I groan with the Holy Spirit for how we have treated the gay community. I hold in my heart the pain of rejection, and the homelessness and suicide that is so prevelant with lgbt youth. I don’t know what more I can do now as I am trying to rebuild my life brick by brick but I do know that to this I am called. To be open, to pray, to groan, to hold. 

Acceptance [Deeper Story]

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Today, I am writing over at Deeper Story about my relationship with God and how it (truly) started after I began loving myself. I’ve always had thoughts on the conversion experience, namely that it’s not a 30-second prayer, but a lifetime of growth, change, conversion. But it starts with self-acceptance. It begins between you and your own cracked up heart.

 

Here’s how it starts:

 

The first morning of the Gay Christian Network Conference, Linda and Rob Robertson stood on the stage behind the podium. As is typical, I arrived late. The ballroom was dark enough for no one to notice me, so I slid into the furthest back row.

I had known their story, their mission, I watched the video about their gay son who passed away after a drug overdose, but I really didn’t know them.Their individual journeys. Not simply as parents, but as people, as Christians. And there was one moment of the talk I will never forget.

Linda, face reddened by tears, talked about how, growing up, she learned and believed wholeheartedly that God loves every single person in the world. God is Love. That is Christian 101. Plain and simple as the cross.

“He’s a God who loves and loves every single one of us, but I always wondered… me? Could he possibly love me?”

I dropped a few tears that moment and I think she knew we could relate. As for me, she had asked myquestion. The Ultimate Question. The question that crouched into every corner of every moment throughout my Life in the Closet. Could he possibly?

I was born into this faith. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at five years old and I believed those words of prayer would encircle like a charm. As if this promise held the power to protect me from anything bad in the world, from anyone that would want to hurt me. I believed in the Church, I felt safe in the Church, and I felt all the more held to be officially part of her people.

Then I found out I was gay.

Read the rest of it at Deeper Story

Acceptance

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Originally published at Deeper Story

The first morning of the Gay Christian Network Conference, Linda and Rob Robertson stood on the stage behind the podium. As is typical, I arrived late. The ballroom was dark enough for no one to notice me, so I slid into the furthest back row.

I had known their story, their mission, I watched the video about their gay son who passed away after a drug overdose, but I really didn’t know them. Their individual journeys. Not simply as parents, but as people, as Christians. And there was one moment of the talk I will never forget.

Linda, face reddened by tears, talked about how, growing up, she learned and believed wholeheartedly that God loves every single person in the world. God is Love. That is Christian 101. Plain and simple as the cross.

“He’s a God who loves and loves every single one of us, but I always wondered… me? Could he possibly love me?”

I dropped a few tears that moment and I think she knew we could relate. As for me, she had asked my question. The Ultimate Question. The question that crouched into every corner of every moment throughout my Life in the Closet. Could he possibly?

I was born into this faith. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at five years old and I believed those words of prayer would encircle like a charm. As if this promise held the power to protect me from anything bad in the world, from anyone that would want to hurt me. I believed in the Church, I felt safe in the Church, and I felt all the more held to be officially part of her people.

Then I found out I was gay.

In those preteen days, the whole realization felt impossible. I couldn’t be both a Christian and gay, I had to be one or the other. And yet the feelings stayed… but I said the prayer first. Questions blew through my mind as I tried to make sense of it all until I came upon a terrible, terrible thought: What if… God didn’t choose me back?

For God so loved the world- Yes, but what if not? I spent years of nights reaching out for God, desperate for Him to reach back, but He never did. Not even once. Hours I waited, lying in my bed, and it was almost as if the world would go quieter, like I could hear him moving further and further away.

When I looked to those around who appeared in touch with the Almighty, all I saw were shuddering eyes, all I heard was not while we’re eating, pleeaase and the thought of that… Oh, it just makes me SICK!And I was a sponge. I absorbed it all, believed it all and yielded beneath the disdain until I hardened into something unfeeling. Dulled senses, I thought, cannot be hurt.

The question was no longer, “did God love me?” but “what would make him love me?”

And of course, that answer is nothing.

Tell that to me years ago, and I would’ve told you off. I would’ve dismissed you as someone who didn’t understand, who clearly didn’t Get It. Who didn’t know what it was like to read a Bible with parts that clobbered you and then live immersed in a community that joked about you, were desperate to disassociate from you, that said the thought of you turned their stomach- to then, be left alone. Alone in this slowly sinking feeling: I am unworthy of love.

But then Linda Robertson speaks as a straight woman who has been a Christian her whole life, and she admits to this inner ache. And I have to believe it’s a brush we’re all scratched by.

But how did I do it? How did I climb out of that darkness, my violent spiral of self-destruction and, at the same time, my desperate reach to be good enough for God? A number of things. Things that were working on me even as I was unaware of them.

A start: I came across a quote from theologian Paul Tillich in another book. I was breathless. I was immobile. I was weepy and restored. The truth I didn’t know I was looking for dropped right into my palms. Grace.

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?… It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

– Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

I must’ve missed that part, in the Sinner’s Prayer, the part that says you need to know that you’re okay. Good. Always loved. The part that takes the image of Jesus coming into our hearts and shows what happens when the world wedges it’s way in and scares us. We say yes, but everything inside us argues No! No! NO! You DO NOT want to go in THERE. I am too screwed up. You’ve got the wrong heart. Not mine. Not mine.

I never knew that conversion, in a way, begins not with a look to the heavens but a hard look within. A daily choice to love the self, to say, yes, messed up, you are, but you, wonderful boy, are worthy. You are accepted. You are adored.

We are slow learners. Advancing. Lapsing. Leaping. One step forward, two steps back. Stumbling through all the “degrees of glory.” The conversion experience, it isn’t a thirty-second prayer at five, it is said in the span of a life time, a life that learns to live in the flow of grace. It is a constant growing, a shedding of skin, a never-ending revival of the heart, soul and mind.

It is saying the most impossible thing. And the truest thing in the world:

I am accepted. I am accepted. I am accepted.

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