Back to the Basics

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In his timeless book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes:

 

“Imagine that Jesus is calling you today. He extends a second invitation to accept His Father’s love. And maybe you answer, “Oh, I know that. It’s old hat.”

 

And God answers, ‘No, that’s what you don’t know. You don’t know how much I love you. The moment you think you understand is the moment you do not understand. I am God, not man. You tell others about Me – your words are glib. My words are written in the blood of My only Son. The next time you preach about My love with such obnoxious familiarity, I may come and blow your whole prayer meeting apart.

 

Did you know that every time you tell Me you love Me, I say thank you?”

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Often, I fall for the belief that I have somehow spiritually made it. That I’ve graduated the basics of faith, moved on to the more complicated and sophisticated work of figuring out my own theology, my own interpretations of scripture, applying the teachings of God to the issues of the day like a PhD solving elementary questions. I take stills of God in my mind and pick him apart. I strain myself to solve him out, because I believe God gave me a brain to better understand him. To learn him, inside and out, and seek the real Truth in all of these hypotheses.

 

After all my years of trying to fight my way into God’s good graces, and then finally finding I was there all along, I fall for the idea that I know who I am and whose I am and that my value is a kind of concrete floor I will be standing sure-footed on for the rest of my life. I won’t have doubts, because I’ve taken that journey. My feet are beautifully calloused by that walk and I shall forever live in the afterwards. I won’t have to bother, anymore, with the basics of faith, the overly simplistic questions, because they are part of me, like scar tissue. 

 

I am easily offended at this question: Do you know that God loves you? Uh-hu, I want to say. That’s kind of the point. That’s why I’m here. God is love and I love God, and we could talk about this all day but I think there are some bigger issues demanding our utmost attention. Let’s talk about how science informs our faith and vice versa. Let’s dive into the deep waters of soteriology and pneumology, creation myths and Divine grace. Let’s tackle this thing from all angles and figure out, grow in understanding, enter into enlightenment. We have no time to discuss the basics, we have the answers, move on.

 

Do you know that God loves you?

 

It’s a question that I so easily bat away, particularly from well meaning people trying to help me when I’m in my pain. During my depression days, I heard this over and over and over again: God loves you. He is here for you. You matter. And each and every time, I thought, this is not news to me. I know that. Things still hurt. It’s not the issue.

 

It’s a question that sometimes feels too reminiscent of the simplistic culture I’ve walked away from. The one with the literalists and the dopey-eyed jerks, vampire Christians who see Jesus as a means to a glorious afterlife end. It feels like: Jesus loves you, and that’s all there is to it! And I get that. I agree with that. But still. I don’t want to agree in the same vein that they do. To agree with them in that way would feel, strangely, like a capitulation. Like the next thing coming is a suspension of my brain with it’s wild curiosity, a resumption of chirpy worship ballads emotionally manipulating me and a weekly volunteer gig for Young Life.  And I want to know the God that loves me in total, as I am, not as I should be. I want the one with the big outstretched arms always open. And the kind of love being sold by this particular strain of Christianity is anything but unconditional.

 

It’s a question that I respond to with “that’s Old Hat”, that’s elementary, basic, and I am better than that question. Then I move about my day from one experience of self-doubt to another of shame to another of questioning whether or not I am enough. And suddenly, the concrete floor caves beneath me. And I feel the distance between a simple declaration and nourished belief.

 

Does God love me?

 

It’s a humbling question. You have to set down your pride to face it, stop your eye-rolling and look at it. Acknowledge that maybe those evangelicals are on to something and it’s okay if it feels like capitulation, like a confirmation that you don’t have it all figured out. Say those words, I am loved and I am accepted, and work them into your heart like thread through a needle.

 

There is nothing elementary about this question. The depths of it are endless, the implications are paramount. The response we have points to the belief we hold about ourselves, about our worth, about how we see ourselves in this great wild world.

 

At the end of the day, it is the most important question and I am never 100% sure about it. My ability to accept that I am accepted hinges on me, and my hands are broken. Cupping them open to receive is an act of faith. Believing I deserve it in the first place is a mountain, it is a reach, but it is there, in that journey, in that holding out, in that summons, that I find the rope of grace. I grab it and hang on. I say the words again. I am accepted. I am accepted. I am accepted. And I allow for the moment where, as Tillich says,: “reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement.” I am back to the beautiful basics. Starting over. Feeling it for the first time, once again.

My Quarter Life Crisis

It always starts like this for me: the new year rises up on the horizon and tells me it’s time to Get Serious. It’s time to start worrying about the future of my life, that blank page stretching endlessly before me, all that white space that should be filled with five-year plans, with narrowed down career choices and grad school applications, with all the things that I should’ve begun by now… because by now, I should be an adult.

 

My initial efforts to stop the downward spiral, my self-care regimen of deep breaths and I’m thankful for lists, were quickly thwarted by the daily reminders of Success Elsewhere: An email from LinkedIn telling me who now I needed to congratulate. A Facebook feed full of engagements and new houses and babies on the way. An instagrammed Paris. A tweet of a Book Deal. A claim on happiness. A life that is better.

 

I’d drive to Caribou and settle into the corner to make a “Life Plan” (Fix-My-Life Plan) only to close my MacBook five minutes later because the Future is too overwhelming. It is an anything-is-possible place, and for me, that’s terrifying. My anxious mind graffitis over it with all my worst fears. My biggest doubts.

 

This worrying is so ridiculous. My life is very good: I have a job that pays well and good friends to spend weekends with. I have a warm family, the best people, and they know me inside and out. I pay my own rent, do my own laundry, buy my own groceries and set my own bedtime. All things considered, you might call me an adult.

 

But there are these things that can work their way through the seams of your life. Inadequacy and Expectations. Wildest dreams, still unfulfilled. Altogether, they make up what the scientists are calling the Quarter Life Crisis.

 

I turned twenty-five this past month. A quarter of a century old. It was the first time I wanted to lie about my age.

 

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In 2015, time suddenly became rare and valuable, and so I started scratching all the things that appeared extravagant like reading and exercise, blogging and writing, making even the smallest amount of time for others. Then I took that surplus time and spent most of it at Caribou, where I stared for many minutes at Grad School applications I never finished, skimming blogs about climbing out of the Quarter Life Crisis and Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Teacher and trying to figure out a great pitch for a big magazine somewhere. I was thinking hard and dwelling deep and worrying myself to the bone.

 

I began to seriously question my own worth and abilities, and that’s when I knew something had gone terribly wrong.

 

I knew where I had to turn- but I really didn’t want to do that. It felt like failure. Like a confirmation of my collapse. To turn there, to go back there, would mean I had forgotten. And I hadn’t… had I?

 

With a desperate voice, I just said it anyway:

 

I am accepted.

I am loved.

I am enough.

 

And I stopped shaking.

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In a way, I was forced into these words. A friend had asked if I would speak at his church (which I have never done before) and I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. My story: from self-loathing to self-love, my journey into the heart of the God That Sees Me.

 

In my circle here in Minnesota, I told only a few about this church thing. I was terrified about it. I am not a public speaker. That is not how I am built. So I told them I needed them their for moral support, and perhaps some kind reassuring words after I botched the whole thing.

 

They all came.

I sat on the stool beneath stage lights in front of a handful of people, and I saw every one of their grinning faces. For a half an hour, I got to watch my people show up for me.

 

Near the end of my talk, I said this:

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

 

And it’s just three words, but they are my holy words. They are my song. The tied knot at the end of my story, the first words that started my ascent from the darkness, the words that found me.

I am accepted is such an easy thing to say, to yourself or to others… but believing it? That’s another conversation. That takes work. That takes a lifetime of learning and practicing and prayer. And if you’re here, in the Minnesota Winter of your Quarter Life Crisis, it can be impossible to hear it at all.

But in that moment, on that stage, my desperately hopeful theology was met with the proven witness gathered before me. The warm faces reminding me of the Success Here. The success in me. The success through me. The success to come. My words and my people, both pouring into one in my heart. I am accepted.

God is here, in the midst of my circle walking. In the coffee cups and the slouched sitting. In the panic and the fear and the rage, in the twenty-fifth year of my striving. He is here. And He is working something new in me. Something that cannot be rushed or scheduled or detailed down in a plan. God is saying to me, once again, for the millionth time: You Are Accepted. You are Loved. You are Enough.

It all adds up, even when it doesn’t appear to.

This is a weird winter and a weird season of life. I feel completely unprepared for it. But maybe it’s going to just be about those three words for now. That still small voice in my mind. That love, always there to catch me.

Evil and Jesus Came to Pride

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We pressed ourselves up against the metal railing as the jamboree poured down the street. Thousands of red and green and yellow feathers, batons flying through the air and Katy Perry blaring out the speakers. There were drag queens glazed in make-up, politicians waving from floats, gay and lesbian couples strolling, smiling with their kids cheering on their shoulders. It was a blue warm summer afternoon and the air was filled with bliss.

 

We had a banner draped across the fence that said we were sorry. We wore shirts that said we were sorry. We held signs that said God loves you. We apologized for the how the church has hurt them, hurt some in our group, hurt me.

 

Not ten feet behind us, in a ring of police protection, were other signs. Ten foot tall banners. They were plastered with scripture and phrases like “Penis Perverts” and “Anal Addicts” and “Labia Lickers”. There were roughly fifteen of them, three of whom had megaphones, and one of them with a step ladder and thick black glasses. They took their turns barking out:

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“SMOKE! HELL! SMOKE! You know what’s coming!!! God is going to burn you up! destroy you!”

 

“YOU ARE SICK! You sir, are a walking example of AIDS! YOU PERVERT! YOU ARE NOT NORMAL, YOU’RE A FREAK!”

 

“You hate GOD! You hate GOD! You hate GOD! You hate GOD”

 

“Shame on you! Shame on you! SHAME ON YOU!”

 

A lesbian couple approached the police perimeter, just below the man on the step ladder, yelling back at him. He smiled and sang.

 

“YOU ARE FILTHY WHORES! WHORES WHORES WHORES! But you know what? Even Jesus can save a little whore like you, REPENT YOU WHORES!”

 

Everybody knew these guys were jack-asses. They were hateful, crude, and yes, Evil. They were Westboro without the flag burning. As a group of gay veterans marched down the Parade, they screeched:

 

“YOU ARE NOT SOLDIERS! YOU ARE PERVERTS! YOU ARE NOT SOLDIERS! SHAME ON YOU!”

 

And even though you knew they weren’t really representing God, you felt dirty all over. Hours of hearing “SHAME ON YOU!” replays in your head and burns you with rage to the point where you start to think that breaking through the police to beat the snot out of them will be the only thing to bring you peace.

 

But then, there was this group of girls rollerblading down the street.

They had rainbow streamers in their hair and wore tasteful tank tops and gym shorts. One of them, this beautiful young woman was near the back. She was giggling happy, twirling in circles, gliding back and forth across the street- and I don’t know how to explain the expression on her face when she saw the protesters but it was like the air was sucked straight out of her.

 

She was trying to shake it off, looking hard at the ground, but the congested parade had to come to a halt and she had to just stand there. She had to stand before a mob shrieking out whore! and pervert! and Hell! Hell! Hell! She had to stand there, exposed, breathless, unable to get away.

 

Her eyes dropped to our sign and with a furrowed brow, she read it. She tilted her head- perplexed, and read it again and again and again and then looked up at us smiling at her. This wave of emotion flushed through her face and it was so rare. The kind where you can see the beating heart in the creases of her forehead and the sparkle of her eyes. She started nodding, weeping, choking out a proud smile.

 

And then she really hugged us.

Like the purest most desperate kind of hug.

 

She whispered thank you, thank you and then skated backwards, sizing up the sign and crying all over again. A friend tugged at her arm as the parade began moving again. But she stayed for just a few moments longer. God Loves You, God Loves You.

 

I had to step away. I fled past the protesters shrieking in my ears, down an emptier street where I could crash on a curb and cry. I didn’t have any clear thoughts, no prayers were said, it was just an erupting of emotions and a steadying of my breath, because maybe this is the closest I’ve ever been to Jesus.

 

Standing at that fence, holding that girl, in a gust of piercing barbs, love swept in and stole the stage. It was louder than their megaphones and their curses. It was faster and struck deeper than anything ever could. A love so beautiful that it stops us in our skates and draws tears from our eyes. That is gospel, my friends, that is God.

 

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Photo credit- Andrew Marin

 

And I know that these protesters don’t reflect many of the serious disagreements about sexuality within Christianity, but the bombastic slurs are the same I once leveled at myself. The same ones many of us did. The shame that overcame us like a fever and then, the surprise of Christ who came to call us good. Loved. Liked. Accepted. Created. Wept for. Rejoiced over. Loved. Loved. Loved. Loved. LOVED.

 

And at some point, it hit me that all this hugging and holding was for me too. I was placing my fingers over those hurt places, cleaning them with the reality that God is crazy over me. He delights in me. He made me. He holds me.

 

He died by lash, nail and suffocation, whispering the name of that girl in his final breaths. And she heard it. In the middle of it all, she heard it. It drew her in.

 

RR

I’ll Do Whatever it Takes- Jessica [Love Letter Series]

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I’m unsure of how to perfectly describe my deep appreciation of Jessica’s blogFaith Permeating Life. It’s unbelievable. She has a deep, God-given passion for the LGBT community and I don’t know how often we, sexual minorities, thank those for putting that passion into action. The posts she has written have given me so much encouragement and hope and, a little itch for activism myself. She has put together the greatest list of resources on Faith and LGBT issues that I have come across, along with resources on privilege and her favorite books and comments (see if you can get yourself featured on the comment carnival!) 

 

I cannot stress enough how important her blog is. Follow her, in all honesty you’ll be happy you did. 

 

Here are her words to the LGBT community. I truly hope they move you as much as they did me. 

~ ~ ~

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“I hope you aren’t receiving communion,” the comment started.

 

It was on the monthly column I write for my local LGBTQ community center’s blog about issues of faith and the LGBTQ community. I don’t remember if I actually stated my support for gay marriage in the post — I try to write about current events and keep my personal views out of it — but it didn’t matter, because this guy had gone to the trouble of Googling me and had found my personal blog, which lays out my views in no uncertain terms.

 

The comment went on to say how my support of gay marriage was in direct contradiction to the Catholic church (of which I am a part), and then some ramblings about how the fact that I myself had saved sex for marriage didn’t make it OK to support gay marriage — a convoluted argument I’ve never attempted to make anywhere.

 

As a blogger writing about controversial topics, I’ve attracted haters, trolls, and angry dissenters before, but it was that opening statement that punched me in the gut. It’s one thing to tell me my beliefs are wrong, but to tell me you hope I’m not receiving communion?

To tell me, essentially, that my beliefs are so abhorrent that you hope I’ve separated myself from Jesus?

 

After I’d stopped shaking, I wrote to the blog’s editor asking that the comment be deleted under the blog’s guidelines, as it was a personal attack. He’d already caught it and apologized that it had even gone through.

 

As I reflected on this incident, I realized that I’d had a taste — just a taste — of what my LGBTQ sisters and brothers go through all the time.

 

When you write about things like faith and sexuality on a regular basis, you get used to people telling you that you are wrong, wrong, wrong, or even that your beliefs are sinful. But as a straight ally, it’s rare that people attack me so personally as to make sweeping judgments about the state of my soul or my relationship with God. I’m more likely to be seen as horribly misguided than as being an abomination unworthy of even receiving communion.

 

Not that it’s easy, having your beliefs viciously attacked. Sometimes I find myself not wanting to write about the very topics God places so strongly on my heart, particularly the call to all Christians to show love and understanding to LGBTQ individuals. But every time I think about walking away from the conversation, I remind myself that my LGBTQ friends don’t have that option.

 

And after catching that one stray, painful arrow that pierced me to the core, I realized that no matter how hard I fight, no matter how much of an ally I try to be, I will never be on the front lines. I will never have the experience that too many of my LGBTQ friends have had of having their personal faith identity, their very worth as a child of God, constantly questioned or openly mocked.

 

So what I want to say is that I will stand with you, in whatever way I possibly can, knowing that it will never be enough. And I hope that every arrow I do attract is one that I’ve saved someone else from getting that day.

 

I will speak out as much and as loudly as I can, not only so that I can continue to challenge people and to change minds, but also so that I, in my straight privilege and secure in my faith identity, can redirect some of the trolls who might otherwise go after someone else that day, someone struggling with their sexual orientation or wavering in their belief that God still loves them.

 

I know it’s not enough, and that I’ll still never know what it’s like to get more than a stray arrow once in a while.

 

I just want you to know that I would take them all, if I could, if it meant that nobody ever again had to question whether God loves them.

Love,

Jessica

~

Check out the other Love Letters here

The Truth Comes Out [Love Letter Series]

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I came across perfectnumber after she linked my blog to her “blogaround” post and, after spending some time mining through her work, I knew I was a supporter. Her story is one of many in our generation- of those that once had this whole faith thing figured out- until they didn’t. Until they started asking questions and received unexpected answers which led to more questions and more questions and, well, you get the point.  

More than that, she has developed such a drawing voice in her work. I am brought back to it because you can feel the raw emotion, the humor and the honest wrestling that she lets animate across the screen. I highly recommend you go check out her blog. And while you’re at it, throw her a big bon voyage for her upcoming move to China!

If the words below hit you square in the heart, like they did mine, drop in a comment. Let her know what this means to you.

~ ~ ~
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First, I want to say I’m sorry.

 

I used to believe all those anti-gay warnings, about how “the homosexuals” are trying to destroy families/marriage/America, and how as Christians we need to take a stand for what God apparently says about sex and marriage and gender. And how there’s this movement of “homosexual activists” outside the church- definitely outside the church- that’s trying to deceive the culture into believing that gay people are real people who deserve respect and equality and compassion. But we Christians need to stand strong in this war, this us vs them war.

 

There are many arguments put forth in support of this anti-gay ideology. How love doesn’t mean letting people just do whatever they want. How this is really a threat to religious freedom. How children need a mother and a father. And it’s all internally consistent and I could argue from that point of view all day long.

 

And that’s what I believed. Until reality happened.

 

I guess I took “hate the sin and love the sinner” a bit too seriously. Actually, I skipped the “hate” part because I wasn’t sure how that would work- which sin, exactly, am I hating? Unclear, more research needed. But I knew that loving people means listening to them and valuing them and helping them if I knew how. So I started listening to what gay people had to say.

 

And SURPRISE! It was totally different than all those stereotypes based in ignorance and fear.

 

Because you can only hear so many accounts of what it’s like to come out… before you realize it’s just not true that people decide to be gay as an act of selfish rebellion against God.

 

You can only read so many statistics on LGBT students affected by bullying and suicide… before it’s obvious that those warnings about “homosexual activists in schools trying to indoctrinate our children” are a bunch of garbage.

 

You can only read about so many same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships… before you realize how wrong that stereotype was, saying that gay people are all promiscuous and don’t care about actual love and commitment.

 

You can only listen to so many LGBT Christians talk about their lives… before you reject the “us vs them” mentality, the idea that we Christians in here need to respond to those sinful LGBT people out there.

 

And you can only hear so many accounts of how the church has mistreated and misunderstood LGBT people… before you refuse to believe for a minute that “the most loving thing we can do is tell people about their sin.”

 

So that’s what I want to say to the LGBT people reading this: Your voice is so powerful. Your stories and your openness about your own experiences changed me. And slowly, through your voices, the truth is coming out, and the stereotypes and ignorance and fear will have nowhere to hide.

 

If you can, tell your story. Some people will listen and some will not. But in the long run, I really believe that the light will win. People will no longer be able to deny the fact that you are real human beings with complex lives, and you deserve respect and love and equality. And straight Christians cannot continue to be so blind to the existence of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

 

There is so much ignorance and fear and hatred. But I hope and pray that, as more and more people speak out about the reality of LGBT people’s lives, the truth will win.

 

With Love,

perfectnumber

“To Be Who You Know You Are”- Nathan Kennedy [Love Letter Series]

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Quick note: I changed the title of this series from “Open Letters” to “Love Letters”. Initially, the word Open meshed well because it flowed with my original post Open Letter to the Closeted I now know that the term “Open Letter” can carry some negative connotations. A lot of times it is a public indictment of someone or some institution that is meant to point out something the recipient of the letter has done wrong. And many times, they are justified.

But that doesn’t really fit this series at all. This is about loving others as you love yourself, empowering individuals to love themselves. That’s what this is.

~

Nathan Kennedy is an incredible writer. He is gay and he loves Jesus. I met him through twitter and then got to hang out with him over G + Chat. The piece you are about to read is both emotional and intellectual. It is understanding and poignant. It is one of my favorite reads yet. Seriously.

To read more from Nathan, check out his blog Petrychor.

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A middle school civics project once had me research the life, teaching, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was then that I had met one of my personal heroes, someone with whom I could identify, emulate, and look to for guidance. His ideals and his witness for the cause of racial and social justice seared into my imagination indelibly; I had found my first instance of an ideal of moral conviction and action. This project culminated when a local minister, the pastor of one of the community’s chief African American congregations, invited me to give a speech at his community’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. The invitation and the experience humbled and exhilarated me. At age thirteen, a lily-white, nerdy little middle schooler stood before a thousand strangers and preached about Dr. King’s legacy of love, tolerance, and peace.

 

And yet…

 

What nobody knew was that I had barely begun wrestling with the emergence of my gay sexuality. It terrified me more than I could say; growing up deeply religious in home and community, the tension was incredible. While I loved the experience of preaching to that congregation, it was the beginning of my feeling caught between two worlds, two equally distinct subjective realities, of being gay and Christian.

 

As long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve had at least the intuition that being Christian involves aspiring to be the best version of myself possible. Dr. King is simply an example of someone who modeled for me (and still does very much) how to become my best, fullest self through the Christian Way.

 

Therein was the dissonance. Being gay, you see, had nothing to do with my best self. My sexual orientation was “intrinsically disordered” away from Christlike, life-giving love and toward selfish, self-indulgent desires. I lost my faith as a teenager because I couldn’t reconcile these two worlds. I knew that being gay wasn’t going to go away. It seemed surer and truer than the platitudes preached in church. Thus, I decided late in high school that being Christian had nothing to do with my best, truest self.

 

I’ve since come around and reclaimed my Christian identity, and that is a story that is both very long and very much still in process. I wish to leave out a great portion of my story of struggle, not because there’s anything I wish to hide, but because to tell it would be to write an autobiography when my purpose is to share encouragement. My story’s filled with enough twists and turns to distract from that purpose, so forgive me if I leave my personal “testimony” unfinished. What my testimony strives toward is articulating how I came to see being gay as being a true and constituent part of my best and truest self – how my gay sexuality has moved me toward being more selfless, Christlike, authentic, and compassionate – and to help you to do the same.

 

In the years before my coming out, I wasn’t “gay”: I struggled with same-sex attraction. Nobody in my church community could know about it. I would bring it up in confession but that’s where it stayed. If I needed to “come out” to any of my church friends, we wouldn’t discuss it much for fear of “dwelling” or “identifying” with my flaw. Love isn’t self-indulgent, I would tell myself using different thoughts and different words every time. If you want to love, you have to hate yourself. Love is tough. Love will kill you. Love doesn’t look for self-serving affirmations.

 

The problem with struggling with being gay, all in the confines of my nice little closet, was that, in making it a “struggle”, I couldn’t see any value in it. It was a flaw. It was extrinsic to my true identity as a Christian, as a human being. It was a patch of mold on an otherwise good loaf of bread. Being closeted – feeling like I had to hide it – reinforced this idea. This is called “shame”. “Shame” is feeling like there is something wrong with you – not with your decisions, behaviors, or attitudes, but you yourself.

 

Coming out gave me the freedom to stop “struggling” with being gay and to start struggling with being human. Once I let go of shame, I was free to start focusing on becoming who I actually want to become.

 

For me, this means finding the confidence that being gay is no flaw at all. I’m sure many of you might disagree with that; acknowledging you’re gay is one thing, but acting on it through a romantic partnership is another. Who am I to second-guess your conscience? Who am I to tell you that what your faith tradition has taught you is wrong? If you have chosen the path of celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage you have my support, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye about the acceptability of same-sex partnerships. But I want you to know, that even if you believe that sexual or romantic actions with a person of your same sex is sinful, your attractions themselves aren’t. It is very important that you should know this. Consider it a challenge to Christians of either side of the debate to understand how if Christian tradition is correct, being gay is even then not a flaw.

 

It’s important, understanding how completely okay it is to feel the way you do, to have the attractions you have, and to want to love the way you want to love.

 

It’s important, because I’m sure that you have an idea of who you really want to be, the “best version” of yourself. You see this person hinted at in the heroes you have chosen and in the ideals to which you strive. You see it through Christ himself. And your sexuality is important to becoming that person.

 

Your sexuality comes from the deepest, most intimate center of your being. It’s the part of yourself that stretches out in search of connection, in search of intimacy, because that part of yourself knows that you have something to give. Your sexuality exists because you have something to give – and in giving that, you make the world the better place. You bring about new life, regardless of whether or not you have ever or will ever have children. You should never fear it, be ashamed of it, or want to get rid of it, because your sexuality is a part of the gift you have to give to the world.

 

Your sexuality exists because God made us to need people and to be needed by people.

 

This is true whether you realize that your best self should arise through a romantic partnership, or if you realize that your best self should arise through celibacy. Every relationship you have, whether it is family, friends, teachers, employers, coworkers, etc., is in a very broad sense “sexual”. “Sexual” doesn’t mean “genital” or “having sex” – it means “relational” and “reaching out for the other”. You are a creature of relationship and your sexuality is beautiful. Your queer sexuality is beautiful. It’s beautiful because you are beautiful – you are beautiful through your sexuality. Being straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a crucial part of what you have to give to the world. If you embrace it – if you embrace yourself in the very deep and intimate part of yourself – you are saying yes to what you have to offer.

 

It took me a lot of hard and painful lessons to realize this. It’s so easy to repress it out of fear and shame, or to turn it on itself by being a libertine. But to embrace it – to embrace your fundamental drive for love, relationship, intimacy, and connectedness – is to embrace your identity as a person of love.

 

Because, in those moments when we’re told by our own self-criticizing voices about the toughness and painfulness of love – sometimes given us by our own churches and families – we absolutely must remember that love is patient, and love is kind, and it keeps no record of wrongdoings (1 Cor. 13).

 

Love does not default to pain and suffering, but it goes there if necessary.

 

This is my challenge to you, whether you are in the closet or not: be who you know you are. Be everything you are. Being yourself takes courage, and it means discovering things about yourself that will shock and amaze you. You are stronger than your realize. You are more beautiful than you think you are and your sexuality is a part of that beauty.

 

Be brave. Be strong. Be who you know you are.

 

Love,

 

Nathan

 

 

Out of Hibernation

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I drove to the lake today because it is SPRING, at last. A part of me felt relieved when I got there. In my spiritual hibernation, when days were short and everything was cold, when I ran from the Living Lord, because everything felt cold, the possibility of a day at the lake seemed like a world away.

 

I drove to the lake and it was a sing song morning. The trees were growing green, the water was turning turquoise, the geese were zooming across the surface, splashing and honking out ugly hallelujahs.

 

I think, in this past season of sulking, winter wasn’t the only spell on my soul. For awhile now, I’ve been tuned into every twitch, every moment that makes me run from church, and I’ve grabbed onto them, held them close in defense of my desertion.

 

And there has been a lot of rickshaw religion, a lot of sermons and subculture summons that have left me feeling bloody and bruised and bitter. But, the problem is, their imperfections have been like dust in my eyes. They’ve been like a thick fog, a rising wall between God and I. And whether or not it’s my fault or theirs doesn’t matter anymore. The veil has sewn itself back together. God and I are not one.

 

This morning I read from Brennan Manning. He wrote about his meteoric rise to the pulpit, how he became intoxicated with applause and praise. How when it all fell apart, he needed to replace it with something, anything, so he uncorked the bottle and stayed drunk for a long time.

 

When he hit bottom, hard, he swallowed his ego and pride and one last sip, and then checked into Hazelden Rehab Facility.

 

As the alcoholic fog lifted, I knew there was only one place to go. I sank down into the center of my soul, grew still, and listened to the Rabbi’s heartbeat.

            What is the purpose of this disclosure? For anyone caught up in the oppression of thinking that God works only through saints, it offers a word of encouragement. For those who have fulfilled Jesus’ prophetic word to Peter, “Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times,” it offers a word of liberation. For those trapped in cynicism, indifference, or despair, it offers a word of hope.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The way he related to Peter is the way He relates us. The recovery of passion starts with reappraising the value of the treasure, continues with letting the Great Rabbi hold us against His heart, and comes to fruition in a personal transformation of which we will not even be aware,” – Brennan Manning, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat

 

I folded up my book and looked back at the lake. Watched the birds catching their breath. Listened to the swishing and crackling of spring swimming and shooting back to life. I realized that seasons all fall under the same Sun and Sky and Moon. That how we feel, what we’re told and how we react doesn’t change a damn thing about Jesus. He is a rock, a stream of love that will never ever go dry.

 

And even if I can’t move much. Even if my prayer that morning lasted less than a minute. There is a comfort I can take that my fleeing didn’t change his affection towards me. That my momentary fire, dowsed as I drove back home, is the exact opposite of his yearning for me. That he is always there, close as my breath, stubbornly chasing me down in love.

 

I’m not ready to reclaim this faith yet because the dust, the fog, still hurts my eyes. But I’m getting there, with every slow visitation, He’s wooing me. And it may look different in a million ways than it did before, but that love, that most-important-thing-above-all, is gripped and rooted through and through in my heart.

 

Little by little, I am feeling it.

 

RR 

“Speaking Up With My Friends”- Emily Maynard [Love Letter Series]

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Great writers across the blogosphere are like a few bright stars shining in the inky black sky. Rare and powerful. One of them is Emily Maynard. When I started reading her blog, I simply could not stop. She is a source of inspiration for me. A must read for me. If you aren’t a regular reader yet, fix that Right Now by clicking here.

As I’ve told Emily already, her heart is gold. She genuinely wants the world to know the love of Jesus, especially the shoved out and shut down. I feel so honored to have her voice Speaking Up here on my blog.

Lastly, take in these words with a box of Kleenex nearby. You may need them.

~

Hi Friend,

 

Emily 1I feel compelled to start with an apology, because I know the power of someone taking on the words that I need to hear and writing them out for me. I have felt the whispers of grace that come in the form of someone seeing me and offering support. I know the energy that rises when someone standing next to me grabs my hand and says “I’m sorry,” even when it wasn’t their fault.

 

What happened to you may not be my fault directly, but it is corporately. It is my fault in part because I participate and benefit from the culture that has kept you down.

 

I’m sorry.

 

What happened to you was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were told that something inherent in you was a dirty rotten choice and you knew it and you don’t deserve cosmic or human love. That’s so wrong.

 

I’m sorry people, even people in the church, said they were safe for you and then stared unflinchingly into your eyes as they led the angry mob forward.

 

I’m sorry for the things I said and did, the fear I let sink down in me, the “othering” I did to you and your life. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to publicly validate your love and worth. I was bullshitting around because I have the privilege to decide what I want to say about this “issue” and when, but it’s your life every day.

 

I’m sorry I treated you like an issue instead of a person.

 

If you need more apologies, if you want to trace your fingers over your past and name them for me, I will apologize for each one. Because you are not alone and the true words we speak together are part of the physical act of spiritual healing.

 

But if you are ready, I want to move past the apologies. Even those can set us apart, and I want to talk about the drawing together (which reminds me of my favorite cartoon).

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we also so much more than those attractions wired into us. We’re more than the shame piled on us when we step out of line.

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we’re so much more than those attractions we express. They are a part of our days, and some days they are ever so important, but other days they are the most minuscule, unimportant parts of our lives. We’re people: working, studying, crying, learning, praying, laughing, and being human. That’s what makes us people: the being, not the gay or the straight.

 

When we are being together, we are a community. We are common. Maybe we find that commonality because we’re both human, or both have crazy dreams about becoming BFF with Taylor Swift at a Rhianna show (oh, that’s just me?), or because we’re both trying to follow the same Jesus way.

 

I know that the church hasn’t been and still isn’t a safe place for you. It’s probably not the first place you think of when you think “community.” Some people there think the adjective “gay” negates the noun “Christian.” But I don’t think that. And I really don’t think Jesus thinks that, based on what is written about him.

 

It’s Jesus who shows me the power of taking on someone else’s burden and saying enough. I can’t carry you cosmically the way Jesus does, with the Spirit guiding and the Father pouring out love. But I can stand next to you. Together we can all echo the chant: this is finished.

 

This division has to stop. I hope the church, gay and straight, proclaims that Jesus alone takes the weight from us and we can stand as equals. We are equals together. I don’t think our biology or our behavior puts us outside the bounds of love.

 

Speaking of behavior, I want you to know that I don’t care who you like. I don’t expect you care who I like.

 

What matters most to me is Who loves you. (Pro Tip: it’s the Jesus God-Revelation I was talking about a few words ago.)

 

Second of most, I care about how you love and are loved. I care about whether your love is safe, growing, dedicated, fun, healthy, supportive, and chosen freely. I hope you care about those things for me, too, because that empathy is the foundation of community. It’s an action of friendship, and we both need friends.

 

I had a hard time writing this letter, Friend, because it seems to silly to have to say all this. I hesitate, as a straight and cisgender person, to tell you that you’re okay, because it could seem like I’m the one allowing you in. I’m not. It’s God who did that, who does that, by forming you and knowing you more than anyone ever could. That’s the God I worship and love, at least.

 

But I also know that I have privilege in society that you do not. I know that in some small way, my speaking up may invite others to let you in or encourage you to let yourself in. So I’m saying this: I’m handing you back your power and I will help break down the social and religious structures that say you’re not okay. There’s nothing silly about that. That is a serious, holy sort of work. It’s the work of redemption. It’s the action of friendship and community.

 

I think it’s better when we do it together.

 

Love,

Emily

 

~

Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She is a big picture thinker who gets excited about questioning, exploring, and watching people find their voices. She writes a column for Prodigal Magazine and blogs at Emily Is Speaking Up. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her nonsense and truth on Twitter: @emelina and Instagram: @emelinapdx

God is Love- A.J. [Love Letters]

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I am incredibly grateful to this next Open Letter. AJ is one of the reasons I have changed my opinion about what kind of proximity the online community can bring. There were many times, many times, when I was going through difficult situations and after a quick tweet for prayer, AJ would respond, and then shoot me a direct message with words of encouragement. Most of the time- he is just plain witty and hilarious. He’s the real deal!

 

AJ also (with a bit of urging on my part) has his own blog that you can visit here.

 

This letter is one of my favorites. 

~~~

Dear Reader,

 

When RR first asked me to write this letter, I was tempted to send him the following email:

 

Hey RR, here is my post for your blog:

 

 

“God is love.”

 

 

….That’s it.  Best, AJ.

 

However, I thought that, along with being banned from ever writing on this blog again, some context may be helpful.  But really, if all you take away from this post is that God is love, it will have been successful.

 

I think people say that God is love so much that we become numb to it.  It becomes routine, dry, worn-out.  So, to help with this, I’m going to start off with a story.

 

It’s the story of why I am a Christian.

 

I was born and raised Catholic.  And like anything a person does from the time they are young, I became really good at it.  I had all the accessories: the rosaries, the hymnals, and the statues.  While some boys collected baseball cards, I collected holy cards.  I won an award for my mad altar serving skills and could tell you more about the sacraments than anyone in my grade.  Not to brag or anything, but if Church were a sport, I was on track for the Olympics.

 

Then things fell apart.  Why, exactly, is neither relevant nor helpful here, but by the end of college, I was pretty content with all that mumbo-jumbo being behind me.  Like the guy who finds the childhood basket of stuffed toys in the basement, it was a part of my life I saw as slightly pathetic and best to move past.  The rosaries and holy cards stayed in my dresser drawer, forgotten and dusty.  By the time graduation day rolled around, I was itching to set off on my new life: no God, no girlfriend,[1] and nothing holding me back from an exciting future.

 

Then the sad times started.  Like so many of us, I’ve always had my bouts with the sorrow monster, and not long after leaving my friends and the safety of college, he returned with a vengeance.  I struggled to make new friends.  I was not succeeding professionally like I had expected.  And I generally hated where I was living and what I was doing.  By the time the spring thaw came, and that first anniversary of my college graduation drew near, I was near full emotional free-fall.  And I didn’t have a parachute.  It was really, really horrible.

 

There are some moments you never forget.  It was spring day, though it was still cold.  I was working in my room when a rush of anger overcame me for no real reason.  I slammed the large book I had open shut and, looking straight ahead, I said out loud: “I’m gay.”

 

[Insert dramatic sound effect here]

 

If the statement ever had context, I honestly don’t remember it.  All I remember is the rush of words forming themselves in my mouth.  And then I said it.  And there it was.

 

Gay.

 

I’m sure many of you understand what I’m about to say next.  While this was not the first time I knew I had these feelings, this was the first time I understood this about myself.  They are very different things.  I knew how I had always felt about men, both abstractly and in particular, but a person just gets so good at lying to themselves, that it is easy forget.  I had become a master of the narrative, and it took this complete emotional collapse to allow myself to feel what I had always known: I’m gay.[2]

 

The next few years were a roller coaster, which themselves could fill many blog posts.  But, skipping to the end, something amazing happened: I learned what love is.  I had always subconsciously kept my capacity to love on a pretty tight leash, lest I love the wrong person or, worse, someone caught me loving the wrong person.  Yet, once I admitted my sexuality to myself, I found myself able to feel things anew: compassion, desire, and, most of all, love for others.  I was able to connect to people more authentically than I ever had before.  I was able to laugh with them more heartily and cry with them more honestly.  And behind all of these feelings, behind all of these joys and tears, I found something else.  I began to glimpse a transcendent essence that goes beyond human understanding underlying all of these emotions.

 

To be cliche, I found God.

 

I always get mad when people frame the conversation as “reconciling” Christianity with being LGBT, like it is some accounting error that needs to be settled.  This never made sense to me.  You see, I am not Christian despite being gay; I am Christian because I am gay.  Had I not been honest with myself and opened myself up to love, I likely never would have returned to the Church.  And I never would have experienced what God truly is, beyond the statues and laminated holy cards.

 

This is why I tell this story today, reader.  Because God loves you.  And He[3] doesn’t love you despite being LGBT; He loves you because you are LGBT.

 

As humans, we experience love in many ways.  We experience it through canoeing trips with friends.  We experience it by reminiscing with family.  But we experience it perhaps most powerfully through falling in love, in those moments when eyes meet and, even just for a second, the universe makes sense.

 

I don’t want this to become a post about what role same-sex relationships should have in Christian churches, if at all.  However, regardless of whether you feel personally called to act on your feelings, the fact remains that we, as LGBT Christians, experience love in a large part through same-sex attraction.  And regardless of all the ethical and theological issues, as LGBT people, we experience the world and human relationships largely through the lens of same-sex attraction.  And this includes relationships with the Divine.

 

Now, I’m not saying that there is a “gay way” to pray–of course not.  However, we come to the Divine as a whole person: body, soul, and mind.  And like any other person, our sexuality is a large part of who we are.  And were we to repress and deny this core aspect of who we are, if we were to shut down how we experience love, we would risk shutting down our pathways to each other.  And by denying God access to every inch of our being, we risk shutting down our pathway to Him, too.

 

So, reader, on those days when that you find yourself all a-twitter because that girl/boy looked at you in gym class, and you feel ashamed–

 

On those days when you criticize yourself for wearing that t-shirt and those jeans because of what people will say–

 

On those days when your world seems dark and empty because you are a [insert derogatory term here] and no one, not even God, could love you, take heart.

 

As I said at the beginning of this, God is love.  He is the heat that makes the calm waters of life boil over with passion, with joy, and with meaning.  He is the sun, the energy behind all of life.

 

And, above all else, He wants you to know Him.  He wants you to love others and, in doing so, love Him.

 

He wants you to love.

 

So, as you continue down this admittedly long road and discern how to best live your life, realize that the love you feel is holy and good.  And while we may debate what actions are or are not allowed as faithful Christians, we must never think that love, honest, true, and selfless love, is ever wicked. The accident of anatomy cannot make Our Lord a demon.

 

Yes, we may slip-up from time-to-time.  Because of our honesty about who we are and how we feel, we may sin.  But, if my story says anything, it’s my personal belief that loving too deeply, even if a temptation to sin, is better than the alternative.  It is better than denying yourself the ability to love at all.

 

And even if we fail, God is love–He will understand.

 

 

Peace,

 

–AJ


[1] Yes, I said girlfriend.

[2] I use gay, bi, not-straight, and LGBT interchangeably.  Don’t read too much into this–I mainly hate labels.  And, with respect, I don’t think the distinction is that important, really.

[3] To me, debates about the “gender” of God make about as much sense as debating how to count an auburn breeze.  I use He rather than She or (my preferred) It for convenience sake and because I don’t want to ruffle feathers more than necessary. But, again, don’t read too much into it.

“Someday your *blank* will come” by Michael Overman [Love Letters]

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The following post is from Michael Overman. Michael is interning with the Marin Foundation this year while working towards his Masters of Divinity at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. You can check out his blog at findingthebalance.net.

 

And I know, I said a letter a month, BUT, I’ve had such an enthusiastic response from the blogging community and their letters are worth our attention right now. This little collection is for the drowning behind the closet door right now.

 

So, for now, I will be posting a letter a week or periodically, or until the well runs dry. We’ll see.

 

But at the moment, take in this piece. It’s incredible, moving and inspiring. Absorb it all.

~~~

An open letter to LGBT Christians about relationships and dreams…

I was nine when I realized I was gay. Around the same time, I hit puberty and I felt the first inklings of my call to ministry. Talk about a trip, especially for someone who wasn’t even a teenager yet. Almost immediately I started wondering what the future would hold for me…

Did this mean that I wouldn’t have a wife? What about kids? Could I still be a father? Would I fall in love? Could someone fall in love with me? Would I spend the rest of my life alone?

Growing up in a conservative denomination, I realized rather quickly that “people like me” weren’t supposed to have relationships. We weren’t supposed to fall in love, and if we did, it wasn’t supposed to be with the gender that really attracted us. If you’re a man, you’re supposed to marry a woman, and vice versa.

 

A relationship between a man and a man was wrong, broken, dirty and disgusting

 

Two women together is just abnormal, unnatural, inconceiveable

 

Yet for me, though I spent the time between nine and nineteen trying to have relationships with girls, deep down I knew such attempts were futile, and with every failed relationship, I felt as if God’s love for me, God’s pride in me was faltering, dissappearing into the great nothingness. Because of who I am, because of who I wanted to love, I was being led to believe that God loved me less, that my faults, my sins were worse, more vile, than those of my peers. Because my heart desperately wanted a husband, God looked down on me with shame and disappointment.

Today I’m married. His name is Frankie. We have two cats, the closest to children we’re willing to come right now. We have an apartment in Chicago. A back deck where I attempt every summer to grow herbs and simple flowers (attempt being the key word here). We have joint bank accounts and mutual debt and investments. We watch Doctor Who together, and he tolerates when I devour all six seasons of LOST in less than two weeks.

 

You know what? Some days I wake up and ask myself if this is all real

 

I grew up being told that no same-sex relationship is stable or healthy. None of them every really last. Even if they do, they’re a poor substitute for God’s original plan of heterosexual relationships. And yet here I am almost four years later. Sure, we hve our rough moments, but they’re the same rough moments that I’ve seen straight couples face.

 

Last summer, for our honeymoon, we went to New York to spend a week in the city. One night, waiting in line at TKTS for some cheap seats, we ran into another gay couple. Frankie and I were laughing, picking on each other as usual, being silly. These two guys, Steven and Alex, a Jewish-Columbian couple from Long Island, started talking to us. Frankie went into introvert mode (like he does… it’s cute), and I opened up. They were there celebrating their 23rd anniversary. We ended up not only having dinner together at a nearby Turkish restaurant, but we also saw the same show.

 

That night, everything I had been taught began to crumble. All my assumptions and preconceived notions about same-sex relationships started to shatter. That night, maybe for the first time since I met Frankie, I thought to myself

“We really have a chance here.”

Ask him. He’ll tell you the same thing.

We were created for relationship. It’s in our blood, our bones, our DNA. It’s intrinsic to who we are we God’s creation. And I’m not talking false, superficial, culturally-dictated relationships where you do what is “right” and “good” by the standards of others. I’m talking life-giving, abundant relationships, romantic and platonic. Any relationship that forms out of love has the potential to bring life. This is my hope for you, that you find this kind of love.

 

In my circle of friends, of LGBT people of faith, Christian faith in particular, there is a divide between those who believe that same-sex physical intimacy is God-honoring, and those who believe that sex of any sort, in order to be holy and right, should be restricted to the heterosexual marriage bed. While I can tell you about my own conclusions, my own wrestling with this particular component of relationship, I cannot decide for you what is right and what is not. No one can make that decision for you. But there are plenty of people out there willing to walk the path with you, the journey necessary for coming to your own conclusions.

 

While my hope is that you find the love you both want and need, my bigger point is this: you are loved, right where you are, just as you are. No conditions. No expectations. You are loved by the One who made you, a love that supercedes time and history, culture, label, sexual attraction. You are loved because you are known.

 

I don’t know you. I don’t know what your life has been like, what kind of pain and hardship you’ve experienced thus far. I don’t know if you’re out or if you’re closeted. I don’t know if you’ve decided that you want a mate, or if you think singleness and celibacy are right for you. I don’t know if you’ve learned to love yourself, or if you’re in a place of struggling with self-hatred.

 

I know this: I know God loves you. I know I love you

 

There is no rush for you to make any decisions, to come to any solid conclusions. I don’t know what you’ve been taught or led to believe, and while I hope that your lessons so far have affirmed how amazing, wonderful, and beautiful you are, I know there’s a chance that this is not the case, and I’m sorry for that. I hope you find what you’re looking for, what you need, what you long for. In the meantime, you are not alone. You are loved. As I say to Frankie, “Forever and always, until the wheels fall off.”

 

Much love,

Michael

 

*Make sure you subscribe to this blog on the right, top of the column… I swear I won’t bombard your inbox.