When It’s Time to Write a New Chapter

man looking out at the water

 

I thought my life was over when I buried my dreams in the ground. They weren’t just dreams, but a cultural paradigm. Good Christians get married, have kids, and impact the kingdom; the rest of us are just sitting around, waiting to participate in the action. …Or something like that.

 

Every time I contemplated a life of intentional singleness I’d laugh. Who does that? I’d never seen celibacy modeled. I had no idea what a celibate vocation looked like. I didn’t even know if a celibate could be genuinely happy. Near the end of 2013, I realized I’d run out of options. Celibacy was the only solution that made sense for me. It allowed me to embrace the theology I just couldn’t abandon and it provided the freedom to accept my sexual orientation with grace and without shame, somehow believing God could use my experience to sanctify and redeem my soul.

 

So I went back to the blogs that saved my faith a few years ago. Brent Bailey mostly, but then I began to re-read Julie Rodgers with an openness I hadn’t given her before. I hungered for hope in my bitterness and sorrow, and Julie presented a fabulous feast of joy and inspiration. Suddenly the idea hit me. What if I started a blog? What if I gave my life to love and serve LGBTQs like me? I needed to rediscover meaning in my life and to process what I was experiencing. So I wrote my first blog post February 1st, 2014 and began applying to Regent’s clinical psychology program that summer. The experience broke me, revealing all my deeply rooted insecurities. But God strengthened my spirit through the encouragement of a wide community of family and friends—friends from Bryan College, from local churches in my hometown of Gadsden, from coworkers, and many readers I still haven’t met in person. I stepped out in faith and every time I stumbled, my support system came to my aid. I’m convinced a community is the only way you survive a controversial blog and grad school applications.

 

So here I am, already starting a new adventure. I was just beginning to see what transparent community life could look like in Gadsden, and now I can go further and invest my time and energy into community here in Virginia Beach for the next four years. No secrets, no hiding. My story is part of me and part of how I connect to you. We thrive through storytelling.

 

A few months ago I was burned out with blogging and announced on Facebook and Twitter I would no longer publish posts once I began grad school. Public life had been hard, dealing with criticism from both sides of Christianity while never feeling like I “arrived” as a gay Christian writer after all those hours writing and editing posts, trying to network, and reading everything I could find on the craft of writing (all while working a full-time job and trying to get into a doctoral program). As much as I believed I was writing for the art form and ministry to LGBTQ Christians, I discovered how much I wanted the attention I’d never possessed before. I couldn’t enjoy my blog until I learned to appreciate the writing process more than the response I received. Sometimes a post went viral and received a couple thousand views (ok, just the one…) and then some of my favorites received less than a hundred views. It took awhile to realize page views are a fickle and unreliable measure of my worth. Tim Keller wrote a short but excellent book called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness that helped me a lot this summer. He exhorted me not to care what others may think of me, even to let go of what I think of myself (both my self-hatred and self-esteem). All that matters is how God sees me through Christ: beloved. Rather than worrying if people like me, my only responsibility is to faithfully love others to the best of my ability. It took awhile to apply and embrace Keller’s insight to my craft as a writer, but it was liberating once I could let go of my need for validation from both gay Christian and faith writers (though some did notice my work and liked it). I’m learning not to care so much about “fame,” but to love the people God brings in my life, whether a few close friends or multitudes who receive emotional and spiritual nourishment from my written words. God simply asks me to be faithful in loving people well with whatever influence he gives me, not to magnify Seth Crocker, but Jesus, the Savior of the world.

 

I don’t know what the next chapter will look like for this blog. I may try writing during school breaks or perhaps publish a post every month or two depending on how much I can handle. I don’t have expectations. To borrow some of my favorite terms from Andrew Marin, there are plenty more bridges to be built between conservative churches and the LGBTQ community and many more conversations that need to be elevated above the gay sex question. I’m hopeful I’ll find all kinds of inspiration as I live transparently in community as a celibate gay Christian, as I study sexual identity in Dr. Yarhouse’s research team (fingers crossed I get in), and pursue opportunities to interact and befriend sexual and gender minorities on campus and in the area.

 

So for now, thank you readers for journeying with me, whether in agreement or disagreement or a mixture of both. I’ve appreciated your willingness to listen to my story and the needs of LGBTQs in the church. This is an ongoing conversation and I hope you will continue to listen and dialogue. And most of all, I’ve been honored to hear your stories. I’ve cried and laughed with you and shared your frustrations. You’ve validated my desire to minister to LGBTQs by becoming a clinical psychologist. Thank you for your trust, your many kind words and encouragements, and for your challenging questions.

 

I look forward to seeing what God has in store for the years ahead.

 

Much love, friends.

 

Seth

ocean waves at the beach

Image Credits

A Child of God

c. o. g. movie

Photo Credit

There’s a scene at the end of the independent film C. O. G. (Child of God) I just can’t shake from my mind. C. O. G. is loosely based off a series of essays from American comic writer David Sedaris. The film stars Jonathan Groff (Glee, Looking) as Samuel, a pretentious Ivy League graduate who decides to move across the country to Oregon to experience life among the working class, picking apples in orchards and later taking up a third-shift job sorting apples in a factory.

 

Oh, and Samuel likes guys.

 

As Samuel works at the factory, he develops a friendship with Curly (Corey Stoll, House of Cards, The Strain), a forklift operator. Curly savors Samuel’s dry humor and educated perspective. Both friends are aware of their growing physical chemistry; a language spoken only through eye contact and flirtatious smiles. Yet Samuel’s sexuality doesn’t play a central role in C. O. G.; it’s not until the end of the film that Samuel chooses to see his attraction for men as a defining characteristic of his personality, though Samuel never seems torn about his feelings.

 

c. o. g. movie

 

But what makes C. O. G. intriguing for me is how Christianity weaves throughout Samuel’s story. A Bible-pushing ex-con asks Samuel on the trip to Oregon if he knows the Lord. Samuel tries to brush off the conversation, but eventually states religion is for the simple-minded.

 

“The Bible says…” begins the zealous Christian.

 

“I know what the Bible says,” Samuel interrupts.

 

“So what’s your problem?”

 

“It’s poorly written.”

 

Yet the enlightened atheist finds himself surrounded by Christianity in rural Oregon. When Samuel’s friendship with Curly goes sour after discovering Curly’s, uh, weird sexual interests, Samuel abandons his job at the factory and asks for help from Jon, another Christian Samuel meets in his journey. Jon makes clocks out of jade stone and hands out Bible tracts labeled “C. O. G.” on the street corner. He’s a veteran and recovering alcoholic with a quick temper. Jon agrees to let Samuel stay with him, keen to influence Samuel with his faith.

 

c. o. g. movie

 

But Samuel’s no longer the same guy as he interacts with Jon and the family from church who shelters the two of them. There’s a sense of humility we haven’t seen before, a desire to observe the world around him without pride or bias. Samuel goes to church and one Sunday Jesus just clicks. When the pastor asks if anyone in the congregation would like to receive Christ, Samuel raises his hand. The pastor beckons Samuel to the stage, asks Samuel several questions, and instructs Samuel what to pray. Tears stream down Samuel’s face as he asks God to forgive his sins and smiles as acknowledges Christ’s love. But his grin fades into discomfort when the pastor encourages Samuel to ask God for a wife and children. The satiric scene is meant to be funny, and in a sense the moment is hilarious knowing Samuel’s sexual orientation. But it’s heartrending too when you’ve grown up around straight privilege your whole life and you know this scene is more than exaggerated caricature.

 

It’s not clear whether Samuel’s newfound faith sticks or if he just got caught up in the moment (interviews I’ve read with the director seem to suggest the latter), but Samuel continues working with Jon creating clocks to sale at the upcoming fair, going to church, and handing out tracts on the street corner.

 

When the day of the fair arrives, everything changes. No one will buy Jon’s over-priced clocks, just the little boxes Samuel constructed from the leftover scraps of jade stone. Jon becomes frustrated and begins to snap at disinterested customers as Samuel tries to pacify his irate spiritual mentor. On the drive home, Jon projects his anger and failure on Samuel, needing someone to blame. Samuel remains silent as Jon berates him, a far cry from the young man we met at the beginning of the film.

 

Jon stops the truck.

 

“You know what, there’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I didn’t think I should have until now. Back in the war… One day my squad was ambushed by a—oh, a couple of local fools, just the five of us and the four of them. It was nothing serious. We took out the towelheads, but not before one of them shot one of our members in the gut. He was bleeding out all over me… Nothing we could do for him. I would have prayed for him, but this was before I knew Christ, so I didn’t do shit for his soul. And so I asked him, you know, ‘Do you know have any last requests?’ He looked me right in the eye and he asked me if I could hold him.”

 

Jon scoffs at the idea.

 

“That’s what he said to me. He goes, ‘Can you hold me?’ Jon mimics with disdain.

 

“I had both my legs then and I used them to kick the shit out of him. …There are a lot of sick people in this world, Samuel, and you gotta watch out for them.

 

Jon pauses and turns to look Samuel in the eye.

 

“You’re that way too, aren’t you? You’re sick like that man, aren’t you?”

 

Tears form in Samuel’s eyes. Samuel’s tone is soft, but he speaks with unflinching strength.

 

c. o. g. movie

Photo Credit

I’m as sick as they come.

 

“God.” Jon turns away in disgust. “You’ve used me—my tools, my patience, and now you want me to pat you on the head like you’re a good little boy. You know what? You’re not a good boy. You’re not even a good girl,” Jon sneers.

 

“You’re a user.

You’re a taker.

You’re a faggot.

 

Christians aren’t users.

Christians aren’t takers.

And they certainly aren’t faggots.”

 

Jon tosses Samuel enough money for the bus and abandons him on the road. The camera stays with Samuel as he walks along the road ruminating in silence, an array of emotions running across his face—disbelief, rejection, frustration… Samuel looks over his shoulder one last time, sighs, and a subtle expression of quiet strength comes over Samuel face as he looks up to the sky and walks out of sight. I can’t help but wonder if this concludes Samuel’s brief flirtation with Christianity as all fades to black.

c. o. g. movie

 

c. o. g. movie

Image Credit

/          /          /

C. O. G.’s final scene gets to the heart of the Christian vs. Gay debate, doesn’t it? Is it possible to be both? While many conservative Christians would show more civility than Jon, they still arrive at the same conclusion—the two are always incompatible; Christians cannot be gay. But what stands out to me is Samuel’s silence; he doesn’t seem to disagree with Jon. As Samuel finally embraces his sexual orientation as an external, identifying characteristic of his personhood, it’s possible he believes he must relinquish his newfound faith to become an integrated human being. Maybe he simply doesn’t want Jon’s ugly faith. When our pastors incite shame and homophobia and Christian organizations like The Gospel Coalition urge Christians to acquire a gag reflex for LGBTQ people, the results can only be devastating for sexual and gender minorities in our congregations. The only hope of survival for many LGBTQ Christians is to run away from the faith that raised them.

 

Despite the fact many of our church denominations are seeing declines in membership and conversions, the number of LGBTQs who identify as Christian continues to grow—the Pew Research Center estimates 48% of sexual minorities now identify as Christian. C. O. G. encapsulates the conflict between the church and LGBTQ people, but it doesn’t begin to offer the nuance this conversation deserves.

 

Paul appeals to the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God as part of their spiritual worship. He further exhorts the church not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by renewing their minds so they can discern God’s will and determine what things are good, acceptable, and perfect. What does that mean for me as a gay man? Am I conforming to the world by identifying with my sexual orientation? How do live my life as a living sacrifice to God as a Christian sexual minority? What is God’s will for me in the middle of this explosive debate?

 

As I’m winding down my blog over the next few weeks in preparation for my next adventure in graduate school, I want to consider these questions from scripture along with some other concluding thoughts.

 

Until then,

 

Grace and Peace.

 

P. S. As of July 2015, you can still watch C. O. G. on Netflix if you still have any interest in watching the film after all my spoilers. It’s rated R for strong language and sexual content, just to let ya’ know.

The Year the World Turned Upside Down

couple watching fireworks

 

2014 was the year I planned to topple walls and slay monsters. This was to be a year of dreams, a year where anything was possible. The year I stopped running.

 

Writing is hard; I discovered that. Writing forced me to face difficult questions that rarely had concrete answers. People didn’t always like my conclusions, and they occasionally told me. I learned the art of deep breathing while reading private Facebook messages and e-mails, graciously disengaging from pointless arguments and attempting to find elements of truth amid the ignorance.

 

I read a lot of books on writing. They told me not to compare my skills to other writers, but I couldn’t help it. Everything I wrote felt like crap, but it would take time to realize we all begin as crappy artists. Art becomes great after intense struggle and through many trials and errors. And yet people responded with such sweet kindness to my poor artistry. Sometimes an individual would message me for advice, but more often people reached out with their stories, just needing an understanding stranger to listen to their heartache and loneliness, but also their hopes and dreams.

 

Blogging gave me an opportunity to examine my motives. I found my heart was not entirely noble nor selfish, just a complicated mixture of the two. A blog can empower the silent and marginalized, people like me. I was the guy in the background so paralyzed by all my perceived flaws, and suddenly I was speaking and people were listening. Life held purpose, not just dreams. My words were helping people and occasionally the established writing community of faith noticed my existence. It was exciting until it became terrifying. Becoming a public figure meant finding an appropriate balance of being myself—but not too much, because, well, I’m kinda awkward, silly, and melodramatic. And wordy. Lord, am I wordy (not in person, mind you, just when I’m typing). But I digress.

 

Transforming from an awkward, quiet guy into a public figure was excruciating. I hoped people would finally see me, and would suddenly love what they saw. All those years of neediness became so apparent and oh so consuming. I misused many of the opportunities God gave me because I was still in victim-mode. Oh, poor celibate, lonely Seth. I expected other people to come to my rescue and fix that. Surely with a platform the ache could be repaired and the void filled. If I could only get into certain niches and belong in certain friend groups, then I could be content. I would be whole. I would become this suave fellow with the perfect script for every situation. However, I wouldn’t be Seth, the guy who listens and smiles more than he speaks. I’m a guy with a complete personality who doesn’t need to be molded and erased to belong. I’m already an actor with a part to play in God’s redemptive drama.

 

This was the year the world turned upside down. I battled my toughest insecurities and experienced a great deal of rejection and disappointment. But all through my life God has been forming a persevering spirit within me. For all the people who have hurt me, God has blessed me with family and friends who became my crutches until I could learn to walk secure in Christ. People may not like the man I became this year. That’s fine. I’m still a man very much in need of sanctification and spiritual formation, but I’m a man who found his voice and courage. More importantly, God taught me about rich, costly grace this year—grace for myself, a misunderstanding church, and for the conflicting and diverse convictions of my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I was troubled and didn’t know what to say, God told me to lean into the tension. When scripture presented a complicated and paradoxical deity, I took a deep breath and said ok. I looked to Jesus and trusted Him for one more day. When evangelicals spoke with black and white confidence and emergents spoke with gray mystery, I said ok. I continued to journey with my diverse friends for one more day. No more running.

 

I don’t know what to expect for 2015, whether this experiment crumbles, my blogging ministry expands, or something altogether different. I hope this year finds me at Regent, beginning my professional development as a clinical psychologist and learning to live transparently and honestly in community. But maybe that’s not God’s plan. Maybe this will be a year of reframing and rediscovering. Whatever happens, I hope to continue faithfully writing and listening. I hope to be more giving and less self-centered. I hope to become more human.

 

Thank you for reading in 2014 and may God’s presence and grace uphold you this new year. Shalom, my friends.

shoes rainy pavement

When I Suck at Celibacy

I spend a lot of time trying to stress in my writing that sexual orientation is more than sex. I like the word gay because it doesn’t contain the word “sex” to describe itself (like homoSEXual or same-SEX attracted, or even SEXUAL minority). “Gay” does a better job of expressing a vocation apart from sex, at least I think so.

 

I compartmentalize the discussion of sexual orientation so much that I tend to avoid talking about sex itself. I can almost make myself sound asexual or a spectator in the discussion. In actuality, this conversation affects my life just as much as the lives of the Christian LGBTs I write about.

 

So why hide the fact that I’m just as much a sexual being as any other gay man, or for that matter, pretty much any other human being? It’s safe, I guess. I don’t like to admit that I struggle maintaining my purity. I don’t like to admit that I’m occasionally a screw up.

 

Good Christians just don’t talk about that.

 

Secrets fetter us. A gay friend once told me that Satan holds power over the things we keep in the dark. It’s only when we bring our secrets to the light that we find freedom in Christ. …But it’s still frightening. When I admit I struggle with lust, pornography, and hooking up, I’m saying I don’t always do a good job of living out what I believe.

 

I’m saying I’m a hypocrite.

 

And sometimes I’m ashamed to talk about sexuality because it reveals some of my ugly insecurities. I’m not attractive enough. I need a man to affirm that I am handsome and valuable and loveable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more comfortable with celibacy because I have an excuse to be “just the friend.” I can beat rejection to the punch. And that’s a really lame excuse for such a rigorous and beautiful vocation.

 

Confession is hard. We want people to think we have it all together. We don’t want others to see the dysfunction and the messiness. We want love and respect. Choosing vulnerability can strip us of the friendships we treasure. …But if they’ll stick with you, you will find a way of living that’s abundant, life-sustaining, and healing.

 

~             ~             ~

 

To state the obvious, lust feels great. Our brains reward us with all these lovely feel-good neurotransmitters that keep us coming back again and again. It doesn’t matter that we have our nice, organized biblical sexual ethics. Or that we know nothing good will likely come from another eight minutes of stupidity. Lust is a drug and a darn addictive one at that.

 

Sometimes we don’t want to be accountable because we’re not quite ready to give up the high. We’re hesitant to say no to instant gratification.

 

One of my favorite books on Christian sexuality continues to be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Winner had difficulty embracing the biblical sexual ethic of chastity until marriage after she converted to the Christian faith.

 

There’s this quote I love as Winner describes her progression of thought about scripture and sexuality. She writes about a confessional with an Episcopalian priest:

 

I was there to confess a long litany of sins, not just sexual sins—lies I’d told, ways I’d screwed up friendships, a whole host of mistakes and missteps. Somewhere in the middle of confession I came to the sexual sin, and my confessor said, gently but firmly (which are the two adverbs I believe should apply to Christian rebuke),

 

“Well, Lauren, that’s sin.”¹

 

Sin’s not one of my favorite vocabulary words. It makes me uncomfortable. And that’s the point—it’s a word that reveals I’m not perfect. It reveals my dependency on Christ to make things right. It’s God’s grace working in me to will and do of His good pleasure. I’m not really interested in becoming a Bible Thumper. And maybe that’s my issue with this three letter s-word. I’m accustomed to hearing the harsh judgmentalism from the pulpit. I expect prejudiced, gossipy, and unmerciful remarks from Christians. Sin sounds like a word they would say. It’s Aramaic or Hebrew translation seems foreign on Jesus’s lips.

 

But when I read Winner’s view of confronting sin, I see something a bit different. After all, it was Jesus who said not only to forsake adultery, but also lust. Jesus came to the world to reconcile us to God and emancipate us from the slavery of evil. Sin is a serious problem with the world; it’s a serious problem in my own heart. It’s definitely not a light issue. This freedom that the Messiah purchased for us leads to the restoration of the original creation, and that starts in me as I battle my selfishness with God’s aid. And yes, sometimes we need gentle but firm reminders from good Christian friends when our ways are out of alignment with God’s awesome design for His kingdom.

 

So what is this design that God has crafted for our sexuality? Stephen Long recently published a post that included one of my favorite quotes from James Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. It offers amazing insight into this discussion.

 

We cannot say with our bodies what we will not say with the rest of our lives. Bodies are not indifferent, and what we do with our bodies is not indifferent. Sexual union is deeply metaphorical, and when we strip sexual union of the wider metaphorical kinship meaning intended by Genesis 2:24, we cease to live in the ‘real world’ governed by God’s purposes and decrees.²

 

Scripturally, marriage is the only place where God blesses sexual intercourse, though we may differ on how to define marriage. Brownson writes from a perspective that affirms same-sex marriage and critiques gay culture through the lens of scripture. There just isn’t a theological case for promiscuity, and Brownson believes that’s an area that needs to be sanctified through marriage. As gay believers, we can’t just accept everything that gay men do and tack on the label “Christian” to justify our behavior. God’s Word must take preeminence.

 

But if premarital sex is consensual, why does scripture condemn it? Brownson points out that our bodies manifest striking symbolism. Sex is a sacred act—an act of culmination that symbolizes the joining of two separate people as one unit in the work of God’s kingdom.

 

The Apostle Paul writes,

 

“…Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-20 ESV)

 

As a single Christian man, my body belongs to God. The Spirit dwells in my body as an instrument of grace to minister to others; to be Christ in flesh to my brothers and sisters and continue the work of the incarnation. But when I’m hooking up with some random dude, more stuff is going on than just sex itself. Obviously I can’t minister to this guy when I’m sexually objectifying him and using him for my own pleasure (and vice versa). You can’t seriously and explicitly share the good news of the gospel in a promiscuous lifestyle. And you can’t implicitly live out the gospel either, which is more often my style for sharing Christ.

 

Rather than advancing shalom in the world, I’m resisting it, particularly in my own sanctification. Love is giving and transformative. Lust is destructive and selfish. In both marriage and celibacy we learn to kill our selfish desires and put others before ourselves. Promiscuity promotes destructive self-love that characterizes many marriages in our culture, even in our own churches. You must please me, rather than I am called to serve you. Which sounds like a better way to glorify God with our bodies?

 

~             ~             ~

 lost man

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Vincepal

 

So I suck at this celibacy thing. But it remains my personal conviction for how I should navigate this journey of faith and sexuality. I have friends (gay and straight) who feel the biblical prohibitions against premarital sex are antiquated—and I still love and respect them. I have gay friends who are trying to live out Brownson’s vision of chastity until marriage. They seem to do an impressive job without some or all the support that straight Christians have available. Ultimately I’m not the final judge; that’s between the individual and God. I’ve long given up determining my view on Hell. It joined a long list of other theological subjects that if asked I will politely respond “I don’t know.” I know my calling to love God and my neighbor and that’s hard enough.

 

Christians tend to fuss about Hell more than the emphasis of scripture itself. Sure, you can find plenty of passages about it, I won’t deny that, but sometimes we make it sound like the whole point of Christianity is the avoidance of eternal punishment. We make a big deal about when we got “saved.” But saved to what? Surely there’s a bigger story in the Bible than an escape plan from Hell.

 

There’s one book that I think should be mandatory reading for every Christian. You must read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. It’s one of the best articulations of the kingdom of God. And it’s one of the best motivations to go to battle with lust day in and day out. Our personal salvation and sanctification is a piece of a greater puzzle. By choosing chastity, I’m choosing life and affirming true love. I’m creating shalom. That’s partly how we make God’s will done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

 

~             ~             ~

 

When I screw up, grace and redemption restores me. Gentle but firm people walk alongside me and encourage me to try again. And courage says to speak when I’d rather hide in my shame.

 

 

Come everyone who thirsts

Come to the waters

and he who has no money

Come buy wine and milk

Without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:1-2

 

Come, love. There is healing here. Your Father is making all things new. You can always begin again.

 

Featured photo by Laura Merchant at Creationswap

 

1. Lauren Winner, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005, 13.

2. James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013, 102.

depressed woman

When I Fear God Is Not Good

God sometimes feels something like Sid from Toy Story.

 

A sadistic kid with evil plots for his toys.

 

I grew up in a denomination that emphasized God’s sovereignty over history and our salvation. God chose some through predestination to Heaven, while abandoning others to their fate in Hell.

 

We had proof texts like

 

“For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,

and he does according to his will among the host of heaven

and among the inhabitants of the earth;

and none can stay his hand

or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34-35 ESV.

 

I believed in God’s absolute sovereignty without question like any good Reformed Christian. I believed scripture was black and white. God is good because He promises I can trust Him.

 

But there came a day when I didn’t trust God. I realized at Bryan College I was never going to become straight and I didn’t have a clue what that meant for my life. It scared me. Celibacy scared me. The idea of marrying a guy scared me.

 

I had invested all my hope in healing my sexuality. I am not gay. I cannot be gay. I AM NOT GAY. I just had to figure out God’s secret plan to make myself straight. I felt at home among conservative, straight Christians because I believed eventually I was going to be one of them. Beautiful wife. A couple kids. The American dream.

 

I woke up.

 

What now? The church hadn’t prepared me for this reality. I didn’t feel like God had prepared me to be gay in the church. Suddenly the safe, familiar home amid conservative, straight Christians felt foreign and threatening. Everything I believed was called into question.

 

Who are you, God?

 

C. S. Lewis wrote amid the grief of losing his wife “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”¹

 

After college I developed friendships with other gay men. I didn’t want to freak anyone out, so I kept my new friends a secret from my family and church. Secrets kill the soul and damage relationships. I made a lot of mistakes and got hurt multiple times. But over those years I made a few friends and acquaintances I still care about. Out of a lot of men driven by lust I found a few who loved Jesus or at least had the maturity to value friendship.

 

I found myself in a tension of old beliefs and new ideas I wanted to believe. The God I had known was one who loved the elect, not every single human being. I didn’t want to get on His bad side. How could I reconcile this image with the Jesus who came in grace and truth and hung out with sinners? But I also felt like a man looking into two storefront windows. One, the conservative Christian church; the other, the lives of my gay friends. Some of my gay friends were very dear to me. One pastor had told me that not only were gay Christians going to Hell, but they had an even worst place in Hell prepared for them because they knew the truth and used Jesus to cover their sins. That really helped my anxieties.

 

Could I be more righteous than God for loving those He refused to love?

 

Suddenly my faith fell apart. I felt that in order to be a Christian, I needed to give up my compassion. It made sense why so many evangelicals stick to their own. They have certainty that the people they love will be with them in Heaven. You don’t have to be stressed out, anxious, depressed, and angry all the time. You can coldly tell someone, you’re a sinner. Repent or get the hell out of my life.

 

I was mad at God. I could totally relate to Lewis when he wrote, “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God.’”² Scripture told me not to be anxious, but how can you surrender your anxiety to God when you can’t trust your Heavenly Father?

 

I was mad at Christians. Their ignorance and lack of concern for the marginalized infuriated me. I ranted on Facebook. A lot. My friend count dropped as I offended my evangelical acquaintances. I drifted away from church. I didn’t go most Sundays, and if I did, it was only out of obligation.

 

God felt silent. I could only read scripture through the paradigm of my denomination and it hurt. I had questions and the answers Christians gave me were hallow. The answers closed off my spirit. If I wasn’t working or in a class, you would likely find me in bed. That’s all I had energy for those days. When awake, my mind would go back to the same questions. They repeated over and over. I preferred sleep over the migraines I gave myself worrying about others. Worrying what this all meant for my life.

 

“Go to Him when your need is desperate,” Lewis wrote, “when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”³

 

It’s one thing if you’re conservative and believe in complete free will. Maybe you can convince a loved one to change. But if you’re convinced that God predestines all things, then you’re powerless. If everything is preordained, why pray? God’s made His choice. Why feel? I might get attached to a Hell-bound sinner. Maybe I had chosen to be a Christian because I feared Hell more than I loved Jesus. Maybe that’s what God wanted—my fear rather than my love. I finally assumed this must be what it means to be a reprobate; incapable of accepting the harsh reality of God’s nature. I was a bad Christian. Bad, Seth. Bad.

 

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So here I am today. I’m still a Christian. I’m still in love with God. And many of my questions still remain.

 

I met a new acquaintance earlier this year. He said something in a coffee shop that shifted my perspective. Maybe when God leaves a question unanswered, the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question.

 

C. S. Lewis came to agree with this concept.

 

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace child; you don’t understand.’

 

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.”4

 

I lost sight of grace. I’d been drenched in Calvinism for so long, I had forgotten what grace feels like.

 

I believe salvation is all of God. It’s not what I do, believe, say, think, or feel. It’s what Christ accomplished and finished on the cross. It’s not of works. It doesn’t demand perfection, because I can’t meet that standard.

 

I don’t know exactly how grace works. Where does God’s regenerating work end and man’s freedom of will begin? I don’t know.

 

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13 ESV. Awesome. That clears up everything.

 

I know many Christians want to have their I’s dotted and their T’s crossed, but I’ve realized if I want to have a thriving relationship with God I don’t need to have perfect doctrine. I need Jesus. I need His relationship. I need to discover Him in scripture, prayer, and community to shape me into His image. I don’t have to know everything.

 

There will always be a tension between passages like John 3:16 and Romans 9. You can choose either side and use one to interpret the other. We can get lost in debates over which perspective best glorifies God. And it’s a major issue for some Christians. It’s all scripture though. And maybe we’re supposed to wrestle with these questions. It’s nothing new for me as a gay Christian—spiritual wrestling and questions.

 

The Bible is more than systematic theology. Scripture is a narrative of how God redeemed us from our depravity and brokenness. We don’t want the Bible to be a story. We want to know the basics. Tell us the rules. Give us a life manual. How do we avoid Hell? But the Bible is so much more. It’s His love letter. It’s our history. It’s our vision for the future. If we strip it down to doctrinal points, we lose the hope of the gospel. We lose the opportunity to know God.

 

Lewis continued from the quotation above and wrote, “And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.”5

 

My compassion is not weakness. I need it to live out God’s overarching commands. I fell in love with the people the church ostracized; the ones who may never come to the “right” conclusions. That’s real agape love. I don’t love people with an agenda. I don’t have a timetable for you to conform to my beliefs by a certain length of time. I just love people. And I love Jesus.

 

I’ve found comfort from a passage of scripture as I’ve returned to God:

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 4:43-48.

 

I’m thankful for this passage. If God calls me to love my enemies, what does this say of His heart? Would God call me to a higher standard than He can meet? God is the standard. I am to love my enemies because He loved His enemies. When I fear God is not good, I turn to one act, God’s substitutionary death on the cross, and it reveals something of God’s character. Rather than Sid, an immature, evil brat, I see Aslan. Fierce, dangerous, and holy. But most definitely good.

 

I don’t really have a position on homosexuality. I’m not “Side A” or “Side B.” I’m a man who wants to walk alongside the church and LGBTs and get my hands dirty with love and grace. I’m not positive what God thinks on the subject. I’m not God. But as I’ve encountered my Father apart from hardcore Calvinism, I’ve found a God of mercy and compassion. He’s not so much wrathful as He is concerned with justice in a corrupt world. I have held my gay friends tightly in my fists. I had to solve the questions for them. And I finally trust God enough to let go. They’re in good hands. Whatever eternity reveals, I know my responsibility in this life. Love God. Love my neighbor.

 

I’d better get on with that.

 

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Yuliya Libkina

 

1. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1961), 18.

2. Ibid, 40.

3. Ibid, 18.

4. Ibid, 81-82

5. Ibid, 82.