Church Life

getting back together

getting back together

Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.

Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.

That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.

And so, I left. 

Going to Church Hurts (An Update on My Experiment)

Ah, I’ve been meaning to post a real update for a few days now, rather than just continually reblogging stuff that I’ve seen floating around. In this post, I’ll give a quick update on my non-churchgoing experiment as well as a quick, preview of a life update in general, since I feel like a lot has happened since my arrival here at SIL (but then again, a lot happening seems to be the theme of my 2015 anyway, so go figure). In addition, I hope that anyone who’s reading this is having a marvelous summer. As usual, regardless of whether you know me personally or not, feel free to get in contact with me, whether that’s through an email, message, or following the blog and commenting. I love connecting with people, and I feel like I almost haven’t had time for that this summer! Alright, so in terms of my churchgoing experiment, it’s definitely been an interesting experience to say the least. As of today (which is a Sunday, conveniently), I either haven’t been to church in 6 weeks or 0 weeks. In case that doesn’t make sense, I went to church this morning, because I was back at home and I felt like it might be good to see what it feels like to be back after a significant period of time. Results: lackluster and strange. Lackluster because I didn’t have this magical moment where God showed me that going to church was actually awesome and that I should start going again right away. And strange because while I genuinely missed it, I also found myself questioning why I was there the whole time.

Let me explain. (But brace yourself, because my thoughts will likely be all over the place.)

The original reasons behind starting this experiment were twofold. One, the more noble reason, was that I really wanted to focus on seeking the Lord for myself and finding out what it really means to be a Christian without someone constantly checking up on your making sure you’re “doing everything right.” I wanted to figure out what it meant to be intentional with your faith. To an extent, I partially succeeded in this task (but I mean, can you ever fully complete that task in this lifetime anyway?). I discovered that I really had to fight to carve out time for Jesus and that I needed it and wanted it and relied on it. That was fantastic.

On the other hand, the second, and less noble reason for starting this experiment was honestly that I was fed up with church, or at least with the church that I had been going to. The place that I had been going has a pretty firm, conservative view on homosexuality and LGBT people that I knew well, and I was honestly beginning to feel a lot of tension and hostility in the atmosphere. Coupled with my past experiences in the youth group of this church, I really couldn’t bear to be there every week, mentally and emotionally.

The last few months that I had been going, I constantly felt like an outsider whenever I went, even though I had been going to this church for several years with my family. I prayed that God would give me an open mind and that I would learn what I was there to learn, but I would still end up cringing and getting angry whenever LGBT people or homosexuality was brought up, because I knew that it would be insensitive in some way or another. I continually wondered what all of the people around me would think if they knew about me. Would they look at me with pity because I was “broken?” Would they remind me that I was supposed to be celibate for the rest of my life?

By the time I decided to stop going to church in general, it was all I could think about whenever I was there, the fact that all of the people around me probably wouldn’t accept me if they knew about me, that they would want to try and fix me, that they would tell me that my experiences were invalid and a result of my dysfunction and sin in the world, that they would say that my love is broken and disordered because I fall in love with boys while telling my friends that their loves are beautiful because they don’t, that they would think less of my faith, that they would only see a three letter term in place of an actual person.

In the end, I decided to take a break because I was bruised and battered on the inside. The institution of the church was no longer a safe place for me, because I felt like I constantly had to put up a front and a mask whenever I was there, something that I’ve sworn I would never do again since middle school. I always want to be real, and I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be real at church.

What this reminded me of is something that I’ve said to a couple of friends off the record and also want to say here. For the past year, I’ve really felt like the community I have at Bethel has been my church more than any formal church I’ve been to. The people that I’ve interacted with there have been willing to be real with me. We’ve had long talks about what Jesus is teaching us in life. We’ve cried together and held each other’s hands while we’ve walked through painful, difficult times, and we’ve been crazy excited together when things go even better than we ever expected.  We’ve also had long talks about things that we believe and why, and sometimes we haven’t agreed. But the biggest thing for me is that it hasn’t affected the way we see each other. Even if we believe different things, we don’t see it as one of us having to be wrong and the other having to be right. We don’t see it as having an impact on our salvation or how good of a Christian we are. All it means is that we disagree, and sometimes that’s a really beautiful thing.

All of that being said is just to contrast my experience between a "real" church and what a lot of people would consider to be "not a real" church. I’m really not trying to lift Bethel up onto a pedestal or slam the church that I had been going to. I’m just trying to report on my own personal experiences over the past several months, hoping that maybe someone feels the same way and maybe this helps them. The church that I had been going to is not a bad church. My own personal experiences and beliefs have just led me to the conclusion that it is not where I fit in.

Here’s the long and short of it.

I stopped going to church because it hurt too much to be there. Today, I went back to church (albeit a different one) expecting to have some kind of epiphany that didn’t happen. Presently, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be intentional as a Christian, now focusing on what it means to have an authentic, church-like community where you can be real and disagree without thinking that the other person is more sinful or broken than you are, and where you can genuinely love people who believe different things than you.

So, I guess the message of this post for anyone reading is that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel hurt and left out to dry, even if it’s by the church, and it’s okay to take a break. It doesn’t change the fact that you love Jesus and that He loves you. It just means that you’re figuring out what your own faith looks like. And I consider that to be a good thing.

Anyone else have similar experiences or stories? And as a side note, if anyone has churches in MN to recommend, let me know.

It's Sunday and I'm Not in Church

This post may be shocking or worrisome for many, but I'm about to embark on an experiment for six months, partly driven by what I feel like is a calling right now and partly driven by the fact that my circumstances have lent themselves to this experiment. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, my experiment is going to be a hiatus from church attendance until I return from studying abroad in Spain in December. A little explanation is needed I suppose. Currently, I am taking 10 credits over a period of two months at the University of North Dakota with a program called Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). I'll be here until August 7 or 8, have about a week and a half off before returning to Bethel for Welcome Week for 10 days, and then leave for Spain on August 29. Considering that I'm already going to be away from any familiar churches for basically 6 months, I thought that this would be the perfect time to conduct this experiment. And in reality, I'm only starting this experiment two months earlier than I would have anyway, because at least from what our study abroad orientations have told us, Spain is a fairly secular country and I was going to have to work and be intentional about my faith there anyway. So I decided why not begin this trial while I was still at home in the States in a more or less comfortable environment?

But to stop sounding so technical, no, I'm not done with Christianity. Far from it actually. And, no, I don't hate the church either. That's not why I'm taking a break. Rather, I really want to take an extended period of time to figure out what church really means, in the truest sense of the word (think 1st century Christianity when people gathered in each others' homes over meals rather than as an institution). I want to dig deeper into what it really means to be in Christian community, and I want to examine and reflect on some of the reasons that a lot of millennials have left the church.

Finally, I want to make sure that my faith truly is a relationship and not just a weekly task or something to check off my to-do list, because that's something that I often feel like Christians do, simply because the institution of the church makes that easy to do. It honestly scares me to think that there are people calling themselves Christians who think that if they show up to church every week, memorize their Bible verses, and throw something in the offering plate that they're doing everything they're supposed to do. That's frighteningly easy. I want to be madly in love with Jesus. I want to really need Him every day. Honestly, if I felt sick every day that I didn't spend some time with Him, that would be a better alternative than just mindlessly forgetting. That's what I want my faith to be like. I want to want to be with Him all the time, every waking hour of life.

Thus, I think that perhaps by eliminating the one fixed (or maybe not so fixed depending on your schedule) religious aspect of your week, you are forced to think more about what you're really doing as a Christian and how much you're really seeking after God. Do you want to read your Bible if the pastor isn't telling you to flip to a specific passage? Do you want to pray if the pastor isn't telling you to bow your head? Do you want to sing worship songs even if there isn't anyone leading worship in front of you?

In the same vein, how well do you know the people at your church? I don't know about a lot of people, but I personally hate showing up to church every week, sitting in the same (or almost the same spot), seeing the same people, going through the service, and leaving without knowing a single thing about those people! That's the complete opposite of what church is supposed to look like! After all, as Bob Goff wrote over and over in his book, love does, so if we're not doing anything, are we really loving each other the way the church is supposed to? And I know that many people will respond to this by saying that I should get out of my comfort zone and get to know those people. I've decided that I'm really going to try doing that when I get back to church, but the fact of the matter is that whole attitude has been baked into the American church culture for far too long. The church is the people, not the building. You can have church without being in church.

I know that it probably just sounds like I'm slamming the American church right now, but that's not what I'm trying to do. Honestly, I'm just an external processor and it helps me figure out what I need to do when I'm able to just lay it all out, even if that means spewing out all my complaints so I know what I need to fix and what I need to reflect back onto myself.

So, this is the journey/experiment I'll be embarking on over the next 6 months. It should be pretty interesting. Let me know what you think about it here on this post and as I begin posting my reflections about this experiment.

so i'm like really published now, i guess

So this is sort of exciting! A couple months ago, I decided to let out my inner cynic, and I wrote a short reflection about my church-going experience. A couple months later, this cool website decided that my reflection was good enough and honest enough to be published, so that's crazy exciting! I've always dreamed of being a published writer in some form or another so that's pretty cool. If you guys want to take a look at that article, it's located at the link below on Andy Gill's site. This is an incredible start to what will hopefully be more published writing. So here's just a quick shoutout to Andy Gill for publishing me. That's pretty cool.

Searching for Church

a reintroduction: the who, what, when, where, and why

Wow, it's been almost a week since I've been around here. That's kinda crazy. Spring break feels like it was barely yesterday when I first put this up publicly and watched God do some crazy things. But life seems to have gotten ahead of me a little bit. As short-ish update: I've been sick this whole entire past week (story of my life), so getting by with school and getting healthy again have been my priorities. However, I've definitely been keeping track of how many days it's been since I last wrote anything, and hopefully, I'll be able to be around about once or twice a week with a new post, God-willing and life-providing in the future. Anyway, something that I neglected to think about when I initially put this blog out there was the fact that I had already been writing for two months before anyone saw any of it. Thus, I'm sure people have inferred from reading the newest posts what this blog is about and sort of what my stances are, but I thought that a nice little reintroduction post was in order before I get on with talking about some more things. And I promise I will! I definitely have some questions from followers and readers that I've been meaning to answer in posts; I just need to wrap my head fully around them and make sure that I'm saying what God wants me to say about those things. So be on the look out for those after this post.

So as many of you already know, I'm Jonah and I'm a gay Christian (my 'JS' display name is a throwback to one of my characters from my novel writing days; just roll with it) who has been trying to reconcile that with what God says in His word and what God has been personally teaching me. I first came to terms with the fact that I was gay about four or five years ago (so really, not a super long time ago), and have wrestled with what that means since then. Up front, I just want to make it clear that I don't have all the answers. Though I do spend a lot of time with the Lord trying to figure out what He wants me to say about these kinds of things, I do want to make sure that everyone knows that I'm primarily writing out of my own personal experiences and personal reflections with God and on these topics. Thus, I will do my best to answer any questions that people may have, but I might not always have an answer, as I am working through things with the Lord even as I write here. I also don't claim to be speaking for all gay Christians. These are just my reflections, opinions, and thoughts on what God has been teaching me and what I believe the Bible to say. Having said that, I do know that many other gay Christians that I have spoken with or know have had many of the same experiences and feelings, so keep that in mind as well.

The purpose of this blog, which I sort of stated in a roundabout way in my very first post entitled eponymous is that I want to speak into the situation of other LGBT Christians from a standpoint of someone who has lived it and experiences that life on a day-to-day basis, something which I believe God has called me to do. In my own life, I observed a lack of dialogue and understanding of what it's like to be a gay Christian from a practical standpoint. I heard a lot of mandates and rules that I was supposed to follow along with being repeatedly read the same verses in the Bible, but none of that really helped me figure out how I was supposed to live my life. I didn't understand a lot of what was going on in my life, and I didn't understand where I stood with God. I don't know about you, but that's sort of a terrifying place to be, when you aren't even sure what God thinks of you because of what you've been told by the church and other very well-intentioned, but nevertheless misinformed and undereducated people. Thus, I also didn't feel very loved by the church. I felt like being gay was something that I had to hide from people, lest they judge me or try to send me to reparative therapy, something out of a nightmare. I'll share more of my own story in the future, but I basically want to be able to talk about what it means to be a gay Christian and how that interacts with faith. I want this to be a place where people can ask honest questions and be free to talk about something that doesn't get talked about in the mainstream church in a healthy, practical way, regardless of the particularities of what you may or may not believe right now.

And because I don't have all the answers, I want this to be a place where you are forced to make your faith your own. I want you to be able to struggle with God and wrestle with Him without being ashamed of your doubt and your uncertainty. Doubt is not always a bad thing, especially with regards to something that is already so unclear and so uncertain in and of itself, and sometimes doubting and crying out to God can bring you even closer to Him than simply believing what you are told about a certain topic, because then you have made your faith your own and you have heard from the Lord, one of the coolest things that I think anyone can ever experience.

Finally, I would love for this to be a place where all Christians can interact, learn, and love. The biggest problem that the church has regarding this issue right now is a lack of understanding and education, and that applies to both gay people and straight people. There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about what being gay is, whether being gay and being a Christian are compatible, what the Bible says about it, and many other things that just cause the conversation to get convoluted. So, I want this to be a place where people are able to understand each other, because I think that will be the biggest step in reaching peace and reaching a place of unconditional love, just like where Christians are supposed to be.

My goal is give perspective and get people to see what it's like to be on the other side of this topic, because there shouldn't be an us-vs.-them mentality and there are respectful ways to disagree while maintaining a loving dialogue and without condemning other people. And there will be disagreements. There will be strong opinions. But the thing that matters is that we all love Jesus and want to honor Him with our lives. Justin Lee writes about this much more eloquently in his book Torn, which I'd encourage anyone to check out, because I guarantee that it will challenge the way that you think about things. I just finished the book myself this past week and think that anyone who has a heart for this topic should read it. That's my shameless plug for this post.

I think that covers the who, what, when, where, and why. So, yeah, I should be back to posting some more soon, but I just wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of why exactly I'm writing this blog.

Also, if any of what I've written here or in other posts has impacted you or you think it would impact someone you know, please share it. Things like this can save people's lives (no exaggeration) and give clarity to others.

Finally, if you like what I've been posting, there's a button to subscribe to my blog by email at the bottom of every page, so I'd encourage you to do that as well.

Have a wonderful weekend and don't forget that Jesus loves you, wherever you are.