advice

hazy light & thankfulness

img_3235.jpg

Something about foggy mornings filled with gray light always seems to pull me out of myself, in the best way possible. Still not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the way everything seems to stand still and you’re more cognizant of all the little sights, smells, and sounds around you that might normally get lost in the chaos of a typical American day. Or maybe it’s the atmosphere around you that seems to whisper that it’s finally okay to let all your muscles relax and just breathe and be for once, taking a moment to slow down in our world that’s normally always running at a million miles an hour. Whatever it is, these slow, tranquil mornings always seem to return a little more of the perspective I’ve been missing throughout the rest of the week. And maybe we all need a little more of that. Regardless of what season of life we might find ourselves in, there always seems to be this nagging sensation that you should be doing more, accomplishing more, or otherwise never stopping. We might allow ourselves to take a single day, or maybe even just a single part of a day to take a breather and reflect, but more often than not we still feel guilty about that rest we so desperately need. It’s the curse of productivity baked into the fabric of American culture, or so it seems. We feel like we need to be constantly on the go otherwise everything else that’s going by at breakneck speeds will pass us by. But that might be where our ever looming sense of dissatisfaction comes from, or at least that’s what I’m starting to discover about myself.

Every time we ramp up the speed on the treadmill of life, it’s so easy for us to think we’re still not getting enough done or that we’re still just barely keeping up with everyone around us, when we’re already running ourselves ragged. We set all these goals and milestones for ourselves (that may or may not be realistic), and we start to feel all sorts of angst when things don’t play out exactly the way we want them to, whether that’s not graduating from school when we thought we would, not having the job you want right after graduation, not paying off your student loans as fast as you thought, or whatever else it might be. With a myriad of expectations we set for ourselves (or that are sometimes set for us), it’s easy to lock ourselves in a mindset that only welcomes disappointment and pushes us to move faster and faster to get to where we want to be.

But these slow mornings have been reminding me that with slowing down comes more perspective, letting us look backwards instead of just forwards. And when we start to take the time to look back a little more, we’re able to see all the things we have to be thankful for and all the things we’ve already accomplished and already done instead of just the things that we’re striving for in the future, which is a powerful reminder that not all is grim just because we’re not right where we want to be in the present. And if those moments of stillness are hard to come by, start creating them for yourself. They don’t have to exist only on the weekends or during long periods of rest. There are spaces to create that stillness for yourself even during the storm of the week. We just have to look out for them and be more intentional.

write like a kid

Every so often, I’ll find myself in a bit of a creative lull (like the one I’m in right now) and think back to when I was younger and the ideas flowed so much more freely, when writer’s block was essentially nonexistent and I actually wrote a substantial amount of material every single day. I wonder to myself where all of that went and why I can’t even manage to put out one 500-word blog post a week anymore, never mind the fact that I literally wrote two entire books in a single year when I was in 5th grade. Granted, both of those books were only about 100 double sided, handwritten pages long and the style needed some major work, but maybe the reason some writers give up or stop putting out work is because they’ve lost the ability to write like a kid.  

When you’re writing as a kid, nothing else matters other than the story you’re putting down on the page. Literary tropes, archetypes, and rules are all still bland words in a textbook that you haven’t bothered to read. Your characters all talk the same way, and your plot lines are probably tangled and convoluted, with holes everywhere, but none of that even registers on your radar because the story is unfolding all on its own in your head. The clunky, awkward prose that gets carelessly slapped onto paper is hardly for a literary agent or editor’s eyes, but rather for your mind’s, serving as a map for the feature film that’s rolling inside. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re not writing for an agent, a publisher, a literary critic, or anyone else. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re writing solely for the purpose of preserving the story you’ve created and watching it play out in your own head, and maybe that’s why some of us lose the ability and joy of writing as we get older, because we’re constantly editing and critiquing our nascent stories to death before they even have the chance to take their first living breaths.

 

Maybe that’s because if you’re like me, you wanted to write as well as you possibly could, so you read and devoured article after article on literary technique, plotting, and every other topic under the sun in order to make yourself better, but you ended up starving your creativity in the process. Now, rather than being able to nurture your own stories and your own ideas, you keep questioning whether they’re original enough, whether the plot is tight enough, logical enough, but also interesting enough to keep readers engaged, and soon your ideas disappear altogether because you’re smothering them. All of a sudden, everything you write goes through a battery of questions and filters, and nothing seems to pass, because it’s all designed for agents, publishers, readers, and agents. You’re writing for a nondescript crowd somewhere in space rather than yourself, and you start wondering why you don’t even enjoy writing anymore when the answer is that you’re writing to please some imaginary audience instead of writing about the things and crafting the stories you fell in love with in the first place.

 

I catch myself in this cycle all the time, and I think this is the first time I’m actually realizing what causes it. I constantly ask myself why I would write something, because “no one would want to read that” or because “everyone’s written about that already” while simultaneously getting stressed out because I haven’t been writing anything at all.

 

Maybe that filterless, reckless style of writing so many of us have when we’re young is something we need to redeem, a style of writing where we write for our own enjoyment and pleasure, about the things we love, telling the stories our minds are begging us to tell, rather than the stories and volumes we think will sell or we think people will like best. That’s part of the beauty of writing anyway, isn’t it, the fact that someone would read and resonate with your own thoughts?

 

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Maybe we need to take that wisdom more seriously and just start writing for ourselves and our love of the craft again, because we should work at our art, but we should never come to a place of dreading it.

my story: part two

read part one here: Ohmyword. It’s been such a long time since I published the first part of this post series that I almost forgot about it. That wouldn’t be good. School and life just really got ahead of me for a bit (which tends to happen rather frequently). But I’m back with the second part of my story out of…(let’s be honest, I don’t know how long this series is going to be haha). So, check out the link up top there if you need a refresher on part one of my story or if you haven’t read it yet, since I’m going to be picking up right where I left off :)

So my story picks up with me sitting in youth group, listening to this testimony and trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m gay…in a church youth basement, sounds pretty picturesque, doesn’t it? Yeah, no, it really wasn’t at all. I didn’t know what to think, or what I was supposed to think. So I didn’t. I didn’t think about it, at least for the next couple hours.

Sunday school or youth group ended, I’m not sure which, and I just played it all off. Everything was fine. Yes, I needed to figure out this stuff, but everything was fine. I didn’t have to do anything right at that second. I would just go home and process for a little bit. And I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone. This whole same-sex attraction thing (which is what they called it at church and the term that I preferred for a while) was going to be resolved (whatever the heck I thought that meant).

But I guess that I was pretty naive to think that I could just push it down and not think about it for the rest of the day, because that obviously didn't happen. I left church with my family, and it was the only thing that I could think about. It would get pushed out of my mind for a few minutes at a time when I was particularly distracted by something else, but it was always there. It wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard I tried. And it bothered me. I still didn’t know what I thought about the whole thing, and I definitely couldn’t bring myself to tell myself that I was gay. No. Even saying same-sex attraction to myself was a stretch.

When I finally got home a couple hours later, it was eating away at me from the inside. I had told myself that this thing was going to die a quick death, that no one would ever find out and that I could just go on living my life like a normal person (hello, heteronormativity). After all, I had dated a girl. No, it hadn’t worked out, but that didn’t mean that it would never work out, right? But at the same time, I also didn’t feel like an anomaly. I didn’t really feel any different, because I wasn’t any different than a few hours ago. I just had a term to put with my experiences. So was this normal? Or was this something I needed to deal with? I didn’t know. Either way, after a couple hours, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to tell someone. If I didn’t, I was convinced that whatever it was inside me would literally eat a hole right out of my body and escape.

So while my family was doing whatever they happened to be preoccupied with that day, I locked myself in the bathroom (the lock on my bedroom door wasn’t super reliable at the time) and took out my phone. The guy that had shared his testimony at church was actually one of my pretty good friends, and I figured that he would probably be one of the least judgmental places to start, because I definitely wasn’t going to start with my family or any of my friends from my super tiny, conservative Christian school. That would not be a good idea (and in retrospect, it was the right decision. I had a lot of things to work through before I told any of my other friends and my parents).

So, locked in the bathroom and feeling like my stomach was going to explode, I typed out my message and hit send. (In reality, it was more like I typed out my message, reread it a thousand billion times, hesitated, hesitated some more, and then finally hit send, but that part is irrelevant.) He actually responded pretty quickly, but each of the minutes in between felt like an eternity. The growing pit in my stomach made me feel like I had just confessed to a horrendous crime and was awaiting my prison sentence. It was agonizing to say the least, because just like that, I had told the first person. This was just around the middle of sophomore year of high school.

The new few months that followed are where my process really began. I was naive enough to think that I would just be able to quickly deal with it and move on with my life. Little did I know that telling my friend would be the start of a long three year long process of figuring out how I was supposed to live and what I really believed about being gay and being a Christian, aside from what my school said, aside from what my parents said, and aside from what my church said. Over the next couple years, I would need to figure out what I believed myself. But again, I was at the beginning of my process, so obviously my first opinions were very much swayed by what my friend believed and what my church taught.

At first, I told myself that I was going to fight it (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and I threw in a lot of other Christian sounding metaphors and expressions on how I was going to “handle it.” Soon, it wouldn’t be a problem at all. After all, my friend’s testimony had ended on a sort of obscure note that implied he had won in his “battle against same-sex attraction.” Now, I don't put that in quotes in a mocking sort of way. I’m still really good friends with this person, and we’ve talked about how those attractions never really went away and how saying that you’ve “conquered” your same-sex attractions is deceiving because it implies that they’re gone and done with, akin to the deception that every ex-gay ministry put on. The fact of the matter is, yes, God absolutely can change people’s orientation, but 99.9% of the time when we ask, His answer is no. So, I put that in quotes because that’s no longer the way that I see it, though that’s not necessarily relevant just yet.

Sometime during the next few months, I decided (and I have no idea how I came to this conclusion) that it would be a good idea to try and talk to one of my youth pastors about it, especially since this youth pastor had a good relationship with the friend that had originally shared his testimony at church. I was assuming that my telling him would be well received. And I mean, it didn’t go badly; in fact it was exactly the sort of response I had anticipated, considering the place that I was in. It was my own reaction that surprised me. He listened very politely, not interrupting except to ask an occasional clarifying question. His expressions and everything about the way that he responded while I was telling him made me feel like he was really getting it and that he was really sympathetic to what I was going through, but when I finally finished telling him what little there was of my story and let him say what was on his mind, I found myself feeling really uncomfortable.

After having listened to everything I had to say, he (and maybe I imagined this next part) clapped his hands together and immediately started asking what my game plan was and what steps I was taking.

Oh.

What.

Even though I had subconsciously bought into the idea that this was something that I was going to deal with right away and be done with, hearing someone else talk to me about it like it was a problem to solve really hit me. It gave me the same sort of feeling that I remembered having in middle school when the other guys would make fun of it for something that was peculiar to the way that I talked or something that I said. And I didn’t like it. It caused a couple walls to go up as I sort of stuttered my way through saying that I wasn’t really “doing anything about it” yet.

Immediately, everything inside of me that had been hopeful and optimistic about telling my youth pastor evaporated. The way that he continued to talk to me about being gay, or my same-sex attraction at the time, made me feel like I had a disease or something that I needed to be cured of. I felt defective and broken, and not in the cutesy, philosophical way that Christians talk about spiritual brokenness. I felt like there was something wrong with me, something that needed to be cut out, like bruised part of an apple or strawberry that you don’t want to eat because it’s all mushy and discolored. I started feeling like I’ve come to learn most gay people in the church feel: I started feeling like a project, someone who needs to be fixed, someone who isn’t quite a full person, someone who is inferior, someone whose faith is less legitimate, all because I was gay.

And that was when I started feeling even more of a disconnect. Even after my first and only talk with that youth pastor, I kept hearing people at my church talk about same-sex attraction using words like “struggle” and “battle” and “fight,” but that wasn’t how I felt at all. I didn’t feel like I was fighting against anything. I mean, I wasn’t involved in any of those things that were portrayed in a stereotypically exaggerated “gay lifestyle,” so I didn’t understand what anyone was trying to fix in me. I was just living, still 15 years old, still going to youth group, still going to a small Christian school. I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with me, but at the same time, the way that people talked about same-sex attraction made me feel like I should feel like something was wrong with me. They made it sound like I should be miserable, constantly “struggling” and “battling” it, but I wasn’t miserable. I didn’t hate myself. I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with the way that I was, but I started trying to pray the gay away anyway (hi, rhyming points), just because that’s what my church and school implied that I should be doing whenever they talked about it. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but they kept implying that if I just followed God enough and prayed enough that I would stop “struggling” with it, something that sounds strangely reminiscent of the ex-gay movement in retrospect.

Anyway, that first year of “battling it” was the toughest, mostly because I was relegating myself to “battling it” in my opinion. My church didn’t outright believe that simply being gay was wrong in and of itself, but that wasn’t really communicated well. They played up the part about how we were supposed to be “fighting it” and “taking up our crosses daily,” among other things. So I would catch myself noticing guys and immediately start to pray for the attraction to pass, or if I didn’t, I would indulge myself a little and then feel bad afterward for having found someone attractive, as if that were something that I could control.

By the end of that school year, the end of sophomore year, I decided that I had to tell someone else. I was just so conflicted. I didn’t feel like there was anything inherently wrong with me. I didn’t hate myself for being same-sex attracted (still my term of choice at the time, highly influenced by my church). I didn’t hate God for making me that way. I didn’t really think it was a problem at all. But at the same time, my church kept making me feel like I needed to feel some sort of revulsion to it, lest I become comfortable in my sin and God “gave me over” to it, whatever that was supposed to mean. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t really know what to feel. After all, I was still just a naive 15 year old who knew nothing about LGBT issues or same-sex attraction, absolutely nothing. All I knew was what my church told me, and it told me that I had to fight it. But fight what? The attractions themselves? How was I supposed to fight something that I couldn’t even control? And why? I wasn’t lusting. I wasn’t doing anything. So why were they still trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing? I didn’t know.

yes, ask me things!

Again, I just want to thank everyone who visited this blog yesterday for being so overwhelmingly supportive and wonderful. It really means so much more than you think, and I appreciate it so much. God has been so good, and everyone has been really awesome. That being said, I also received a minor flood of messages and things like that yesterday filled with support and also questions. I may have forgotten to mention that I absolutely love hearing your thoughts and your questions. If there's anything specific that anyone would want me to talk about, look into, or address, please, please, please feel free to message me, text me, email me, whatever you want.

The whole point of this blog is so that I can share what God has been teaching me, and if you can help God teach me more by asking me hard questions, I'd absolutely love that. As I said in my last short post, everything I write here is for His honor. So, if there are questions, please ask them. I'd love to address them here for the benefit of everyone.

Jesus loves you <3

what celibacy really means (for same-sex relationships)

I just want to start off this post by saying that I've been wanting to write this specific post for a long time. What I'm about to write here is something that I truly believe God has personally taught me, and the reason that I waited to write it is because I wanted to make sure that I was right with Him and knew exactly what I wanted to say, because this is something that's (possibly) so simple and yet shook my whole world and turned it upside down. It's that important to me (and most likely for many of you). Basically what I want to do in this post is articulate what exactly I believe celibacy means for gay Christians. I've already expressed my frustration with the way that the church chooses to handle and talk about celibacy in another article which I'll link to here, but in this post I want to talk about what celibacy actually looks like, in a realistic and practical way, because I believe that the church and most Christians do not have a correct understanding of what celibacy is and what it requires, something that profoundly affects daily life for gay Christians and the way that they interact with the church. Finally, I also think that having a correct definition of celibacy can be very freeing for gay Christians who feel "stuck." This should be just radical enough to shake things up a bit.

To start off, I want to address the fact that many churches and pastors across the country will appeal to the fact that Christians have been "eroded by culture" in their acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in this country. However, (and I touched on this a little bit in the post linked to above), I think that what they don't see is that they have been swayed and influenced by western culture too, a culture in which everything is hyper and oversexualized. For most Americans, it is impossible to conceive of a serious relationship without any sexual activity, and this mindset has crept into the church and Christian culture as well. Why else did the church go through an entire purity-centric phase? Why else would courting be a thing in conservative Christian circles? It's because whether the church is willing to admit it or not, it too has been immersed in the oversexualized culture of the west, and that is part of the problem. Sex has become such a central part of our culture that it is simply assumed that it is going to be a part of serious relationships at some point or another. And that's where the problems start.

It has become impossible to imagine a serious relationship with the absence of sex, a mindset that has also crept into Christian culture.

Gay people are attracted to people of the same sex. Gay people enter into relationships with people of the same sex. Christians and the church assume that these people are having sex (rightly so sometimes). Said Christians and the church start whipping out clobber passages condemning homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9, etc...). Gay people get horribly offended at their intolerance. Radically conservative Christians call gay people horrible names and tell them they're going to burn in hell. The general consensus is seen as Christians hating gay people. Lack of love. Lack of grace. Lack of Christ-likeness. Culture war.

The only slightly more Christ-like response has pastors and churches demanding that gay people remain celibate for the rest of their lives without really supporting them or helping them figure out how to do that. It's not a pretty picture either way. The point is that we're not loving people and those same people are getting turned away from the church and from Jesus and that's not what what we're trying to do.

So how do we fix it?

I think the first step in even starting to address this problem is understanding what exactly gay people are hearing when pastors and churches demand that they be celibate for the rest of their lives (and let me tell you, it's not the most encouraging thing in the world when you're already struggling with something that a lot of society doesn't accept and you barely understand yourself).

I think that I speak for most gay Christians (and if I don't, someone please correct me) when I say that "celibate" is not one of our favorite words, or at least it's not something that we're about to jump into with 100% enthusiasm. After all, its connotations include deprivation, asceticism, and "the lesser of two evils." I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like the most attractive combination of things.

The reason for that is that what gay Christians are really hearing is this:

You aren't allowed to have a special relationship with anyone.

You're going to be alone forever, and you have to accept it because that's what the Bible says.

You aren't allowed to have sex.

This is the choice that you are left with because of who you are.

You don't get to have what everyone else gets to have; too bad that you didn't choose to be this way.

Singleness sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do to be a good Christian.

This is your punishment for being the way that you are.

The list could go on and on. Those are just some of the things that I've personally thought when I've heard the word "celibate," and I'm sure I'm not alone there. How many of those things sound like things that you would voluntarily sign up for? How many of those things would sound loving being preached from a pulpit in that form? How many of those things would you like to be told or feel?

That's what I thought. It sounds terrible, doesn't it? Depressing. Soul crushing.

In reality, only one of the statements above is true. To find out which one, let's take a look at the dictionary definition of celibacy: abstention from sexual relations. That's it. That's all it says. And you know what, sex is also the only thing that all those clobber passages talk about too, and that is so freeing. Why?

Because we can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy, as explained in this video if you care to watch it. Now, Julie Rodgers in that video would probably disagree with me, but in my opinion, the Bible only speaks out about homosexual sex while it says nothing at all about same-sex relationships. That's good news!

The Bible only speaks out about homosexual sex, while it says nothing at all about same-sex relationships.

Thus, for me, all that celibacy means is refraining from sex, not all of the other baggage that comes with the term that many Christians use in churches right now. Who says that you can't have a close, loving relationship without sex? In my opinion, that is a much more manageable call than to simply refrain from having a close, unique relationship at all, and I think that it's a lot more comforting too. It gives us the possibility of something!

And it says this:

Yes, you can have a relationship.

Yes, you'll have someone to love you a little more than everyone else.

Yes, you'll have someone to go through life with.

This is the gift that God has given us.

You won't get exactly what everyone else gets to have, but you'll get the next best thing.

Singleness sucks, and God isn't going to force you into it.

This is the way that you are; own it in your own way.

Yes, it's not going to be exactly the same as what straight people have, and it's going to look a great deal different, but I think that's the compromise and the taking up of our crosses that we'll have to do, and that's okay with me. I would much rather have a person and give up sex than not have a person at all. (I'll talk more about some logistical/practical things related to this type of same-sex relationship in my next post.) And I think that a close, committed, loving same-sex relationship without sex can be just as emotionally and spiritually fulfilling as a straight relationship with sex. Yes, it'll take some adjustment to get out of that western culture mindset, but it's honestly so freeing and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and for me, it helped me see God's goodness again, especially in a situation where most of us would see anything but that.

So let me give you some encouragement from the lives of Jonathan and David. A lot of people will claim that there are some homosexual undertones or whatever in their relationship, but I believe that it is just an example of how fulfilling a close, loving, celibate, same-sex relationship can be and this was life changing for me.

In 1 Samuel 18:1-3 it says this:

And after David had finished talking with Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, becoming one in spirit, and he loved David as himself...and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.

And in 2 Samuel 1:26 David laments the death of Jonathan with these words:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, surpassing that of all women.

Right there, David says straight up what I believe to be true (and he had like a bajillion wives so...), that his relationship with Jonathan was more fulfilling to him than a straight relationship, and I think that's because the love becomes even more pure when you take away the physical aspect of it. You can't get "caught up in the moment" when there's no physicality. You can't "love" someone just because the sex is good. When that's gone, all that's left is the pure, selfless love that is supposed to be at the heart of every relationship, gay or straight, which reminds of this article. Also, I really like the way that some translations say that David and Jonathan "became of one spirit," because it creates such an amazing parallel between how God said that Adam and Eve "became of one flesh." Seriously, how beautiful is that picture? Because I think it's amazing.

It's really a beautiful parallel when it says that David and Jonathan "became of one spirit," in contrast with how Adam and Eve "became of one flesh.

That is the kind of same-sex relationship that I believe in, a celibate one and one that can be just as emotionally and spiritually satisfying while also standing within the guidelines that the Bible has established. It's the kind of relationship that I'm longing and hoping for myself. And I know it sounds like a shortchanged version of what everyone else gets to have, but just think about it a little bit. Yeah, it'll be different. But I also think that it'll be so worth it.

That's my take on celibacy. How's that for a revamped definition?

What about you guys? What do you have to say about this? What sounds good and what sounds troublesome for you guys?

Oh! Oh! I almost forgot. There's a brand new button at the bottom of every page where you can subscribe to follow this blog via email, so you'll get an email every time I put up a new post. I'd love to be able to interact with more of you, especially for those of you who are reading my stuff through other sources. I just wanted to put that out there as well! Thanks guys!