When You Don’t Have to be Extraordinary

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The world around us seems to give one consistent message: be extraordinary.  Post amazing pictures from super cool locations on Facebook or Instagram, mingle with powerful and influential people to boost your own public image, do crazy hard things to change the world or your life may not matter. Be charismatic, witty, and attractive so you can be universally adored.

It’s not a sustainable way to do life, but man, the pressure weighs on us.

When I graduated from undergrad I stumbled across writers like Julie Rodgers, Brent Bailey, and Wesley Hill who reframed my life narrative. They didn’t present their sexualities as shameful or unwanted, but either had integrated their sexuality into their identities, or at least they were making a brave attempt to find congruence between their faith and sexuality. Their words revealed the importance of my own story, and for a shy dude who had spent his life avoiding intimacy and feeling crushed with loneliness, I was hungry to share my life with as many people who would listen. Essentially, I wanted to be Julie, Brent, and Wesley, because if my life looked like theirs, then my life could mean something. And man, was I disappointed when that didn’t work for me.  So many of my LGBTQ Christian acquaintances went viral and were recognized in both the broader faith community or the LGBTQ Christian community. But for me, writing felt like an exhausting treadmill that would sometimes lead to broader attention, but mostly my words went ignored. I wrote less as it became a soul-crushing endeavor.

But even as I shifted from a blogging identity into the role of a clinical psychologist in training, I found this pattern continuing in my life. I met a gay Christian psychologist and in my hunger for direction and validation, I incorporated his interests as my own and wanted to craft my training to look like his. I processed this dynamic with one of my professors two semesters ago, and she encouraged me not to become this psychologist I idolized, but to live out my own story in my clinical training. The world already had his story, she told me, and what the world needed was my unique contribution and voice. That would only come by pursuing my own interests and developing my own personality that I’d spent a lifetime trying to hide from people.

Possibly the best cure for all the strivings of social media, public platforms, and fame is found within community. These past two years at Regent have been some of the most transformative years of my life as I’ve attempted to live transparently and vulnerably with the folks who entered this program with me, and the upperclassmen and faculty who have mentored, supported, and befriended me in the process. I’ve felt loved as I am, even when I felt so much needed to be changed in me to be accepted. They’ve taught me that my story doesn’t have to look like any of my role models, and my narrative is more authentic and meaningful when it’s being told and lived through my own words and actions.

But perhaps one of the most profound discoveries was realizing how much I can help others by swapping places and becoming the audience to my clients’ life stories. Unless my clients Google me or have a pretty decent gaydar, they don’t know I’m gay, and in this context, that’s not what matters. So much of my life I’ve needed other people’s approval and validation to reassure me I’m all right. I’ve been unsure if my love had any significance or whether people actually wanted to be loved by me. Maybe all I could hope for was the pity of others. I wasn’t sure if I could ever be an equal, and certainly not a mentor or vessel of grace and redemption to others. Becoming a student clinician has added depth to how I see myself in my calling. I can matter in a context where the focus isn’t on me, and I have seen lives transformed in both radical and small ways that provide confirmation that my presence and warmth is both wanted and desperately needed.

I may not be a public figure who writes consistently popular posts, or receives hundreds of likes on my social media accounts, but fame isn’t the goal in vocation.  Anyone who receives fame has worked through insecurity and failure, and is by no means universally adored. They do have the privilege of making a profound influence on so many people, but for those of us with far less influence, our contributions to God’s redemptive plan are just as significant. I would argue there is greater redemptive impact by the investments we make in a few people, as we reveal the love of our Heavenly Father by consistently showing up and remaining in relationship with people through the good and the bad, by maintaining healthy boundaries and modeling lives of vulnerability and humility. These characteristics create thriving therapy alliances between therapists and clients, but they also form life-giving relationships between friends and families.

So if you’re feeling exhausted and depressed scrolling through your social media accounts, remember that recognition and influence are fleeting. What endures is your love for others—given from your unique calling and voice. Whoever you’re comparing yourself to, whatever you think you must accomplish to feel like you’re enough or worthy of love, rest in your lovability as the unique human God has shaped you to be. Strive to accomplish great things as an expression of the love you already possess, because you are already deemed beloved, worthy, and enough.

You may not be adored by the masses, but I believe you will find freedom and peace by living the story God has given you. I also believe you will find an audience who both supports you and needs to hear your story to navigate their own life narratives. Life can be extraordinary not in our potential for greatness, power, and fame, but in our capacity to be vulnerably known in such a way that fosters redemption in both our lives and others.

In a world full of people who compromise the beauty of their identities to obtain attention and fame, walk in the freedom and integrity of your vulnerable self.

That’s actually pretty extraordinary.

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Weekend Prayer

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Weekends scare me. All the normal rhythms of the week to come to an end; all the little opportunities to interact with other students, my professors, and my clients cease, fading into silence. And now it’s just you and me, God.

 

It’s funny… I came to a Christian graduate program to incorporate my faith into my education. I believe that clinical work is redemptive. Brokenness pervades every crevice of our hearts, and I bear the honor of being a vessel of healing and a witness to wounds no one else sees, but you, Father. Yet the further I take this path, the more I find my own scars—scars from my perceptions of who people say you are. I study at a Christian university, and yet I avoid you in all the business of classes, clinical work, research, and meetings. I know you’re there, waiting for me to acknowledge you, but most days it hurts to look you in the eye.

 

I’ll be 30 in a little over a month, and the past three decades have taught me how little I actually know about you. Christians seem so confident about your personality and character, whether they be conservative or progressive. But I realize I don’t quite know you anymore.

 

I don’t believe I’m in any danger of walking away from you. I can’t imagine a life without you remaining a defining participant within it. I’m just finding there’s more to you than I knew before, and I haven’t found a way to process and integrate all the pieces and unknown variables. And it’s the uncertainty that wrecks me.

 

Maybe marriage feels this way when one spouse feels like the other has become a stranger. The kids are grown and gone, and everything feels awkward and out of place. What do we say? What do you even think of me now? I sit next to you weighed down by your silence.

 

I don’t know what it means for you to be holy and full of justice, and also loving and merciful. I don’t know if your grace is freely given to all or to a group of people you selected. I don’t know if your silence about lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships indicates you’ve made a clear point either to condemn or affirm this possible option for my future. I can overwhelm myself into paralysis ruminating over all the deep questions of theology.

 

Yet for all the ways I do not know you, and the tough conversations I avoid, I realize I do not want to carry the weight of caring for others alone.

 

This is where I lean into your mystery. In all the ways I fail, I still pursue you, holding onto the slightest hope you might want me to be part of your story. It’s hard to say from my perspective if my life is some kind of ironic tragedy or a narrative of resilience. But somehow I live it anyway with all the vulnerability I can muster. I move forward even when graduate school feels like a sinking ship I won’t survive successfully. I choose to believe there’s light and hope even when I don’t know how many dark days are ahead and how many will be lost to my own mental illness.

 

Rather than shutting down in defeat, I choose to hope for my own redemption. If I believe your redeeming love journeys with my clients, I can embrace it now in the imperfection and disorder of my own life in this present moment.

 

No, I don’t know you, God. Your silence makes my soul ache with loneliness and anticipation. But I’m here at the end of a Friday night, facing you, mindful of all my fears and wounds and yearnings. But with a little faith, I once again choose to fall into your grace, trusting you will catch me—and hoping you will catch me throughout life and whatever comes the moment after my last breath.

 

Despite the uncertainty, I love you for one more day, and by faith I trust I am loved by you in return.

 

Amen.

Costly Obedience is a Two-Way Street

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Hey Church, let’s sit down for a few minutes and talk about costly obedience. It’s a concept that brings up a lot of emotions for me. I’ve been told my whole life that death is a major theme in Christianity. Coming to Jesus means putting all kinds of vices to death that interfere with our ability to relate to God. For many sexual minorities of faith, the message we’ve received from you tells us our sexuality is disgusting and displeasing to a holy God. We’ve been told to change it, suppress it, and kill it. And for many without any form of support, that death becomes literal. Costly indeed.

 

Now, I’m not denying there’s selfishness and objectification in the LGBTQ+ community that could use sanctification and redemption, but there’s sacrificial love too. There’s a community who supports each other and cares deeply for marginalized people. I’ve learned a lot about love from these people, far beyond what goes on in people’s bedrooms.

 

And speaking of what happens in the bedroom, that’s about all I heard from you in your pews as you discussed the LGBTQ+ community. Hook-up culture seemed to eclipse all other facets to sexual minority experience, and yet even within a hook-up you seemed oblivious to other motives that could be driving acting out behavior other than just sexual pleasure.

 

What if hooking up is more than steamy sex with a dude from the gay club or Grindr? What if it’s less about lust and more about loneliness? What if it’s less about craving an orgasm and more about a need to receive physical affection? What if a gay guy just wants to feel seen by another human being for a night?

 

In your call for costly obedience, what are you willing to lay down to make your vision of sexual ethics livable for sexual minorities? When I wrote about celibacy, people often told me how I brave I was for making this sacrifice for my faith. They expressed empathy for how hard this must be for me, but these individuals had the privilege to return to their families at night. They had the luxury to fit me in their schedules every couple of weeks when they could make time. I felt like I was living out some kind of tragic life story for other people to pity, and it wasn’t life-giving or redemptive. I certainly didn’t feel enthusiasm for calling other sexual minorities to live like me.

 

My perspective shifted as I moved out of state for grad school and had the opportunity to meet other sexual minorities like me. I found a lot that could be redeemed in same-sex relationships and even hook-ups. I found people hungry to connect, some going from guy to guy, perhaps unable to accept the goodness of their capacity to love and be loved by another man. Others showed commitment, kindness, sacrifice, humility, and so many other great qualities through their romantic relationships and in how they interacted with others. I saw people connecting and working towards a flourishing community.

 

So Church, how do you propose to compete with spouse and family we could have? Or even the casual lover who puts his life on hold to focus his attention to another for one night? It feels like you leave us to fend for ourselves while you have the opportunity to thrive in your families and in your churches that promote and nurture you. Where do you expect us to fit within your system?

 

From where I’m standing in the arena of my life, I see a bunch of Christians in the stands telling me how to live my life. If I make the wrong choice, then I’m a Christian who has fallen from grace. If I make the right one, you’ll put me on a pedestal as the answer to the gay problem. But that pedestal can be a lonely place to live, cut off from the LGBTQ+ folks like me while you fit me in your lives where you can.

 

People having been sending me messages the past several years asking me how to make celibacy work and how I deal with loneliness. I’ve never felt like I answered that question adequately, because I was still figuring it out for myself. It wasn’t until I read the research and heard a psychologist explain loneliness like thirst or hunger—good biological drives directing us to homeostasis. Loneliness may be a biological mechanism pointing us to our daily need to connect and look outside of ourselves. Just as we cannot thrive off one meal a week, so we cannot thrive off superficial conversations after a Sunday morning service. We are social beings who need each other to reflect God through our love. And research has suggested that lonely people are at greater risk of death than possessing physiological risk factors.

 

I’m not here to sway you one way or another on same-sex relationships, but I am asking a simple question. What are you willing to sacrifice to make the lives of LGBTQ+ people emotionally and spiritually richer? Sexual minorities can’t thrive off the crumbs of love you have left for occasional catch-ups over coffee. We need to be integrated into families where we can love people deeply and experience love from others. We shouldn’t feel as if our lives are burdens or tragedies, but just as meaningful and worthy and beloved as yours. As fellow image-bearers of God, we deserve a place at the table.

 

This is a two-way street, you see. You can’t ask everything from us and expect us to be all right on our own. I don’t have answers to all the moral questions about same-sex sexuality, but I do believe our love is a gift. We have so much to give if you could see all that we are. If you made room in your soul for an LGBTQ+ person like me, I think you might be surprised how much your life could flourish.

 

Christianity isn’t an easy religion; I totally agree with you there. But please stop making it an impossibility for the LGBTQ+ community to encounter Christ. I believe there are ways to hold your convictions and love sexual minorities well, and you are capable of doing a better job at it, Church. So let’s work on that.

Not Looking

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What are you looking for?

 

If you’re a gay man navigating gay subculture, you’ve probably been asked that question more times than you can count. It’s such a common question that we have a HBO show entitled Looking which explores the complexities of hooking up, dating, and love between gay men. I sometimes wonder if what seems like such a superficial question could actually speak to something far more meaningful than a hookup. In all our searching, maybe we’re hoping to finally be found.

 

The decade of my twenties provided a lot of opportunities to begin this journey of interacting with other sexual minorities. I can’t say I’ve always been proud of my actions or that my motives have always been unselfish. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to assuage my loneliness through ineffective means which only perpetuated and deepened the angst.

 

Moving away from home and beginning the chapter of adulthood didn’t go quite as I had planned. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I’ve been a fairly conservative thinker when it comes to same-sex relationships. I didn’t believe anything could change my perspective until I lived with the reality of singleness in a new location with a bunch of strangers. For a guy who has depended on people to help regulate my emotions, I was a mess. All the questions I’d suppressed resurfaced with a vengeance, especially as I experienced life with other gay men and encountered their humanity and rich perspectives. I ended up with more questions than answers, and I haven’t been in a rush to discover the latter.

 

Based on my circumstances, I could begin the process of dating if I wished. I’m studying at a school that probably forbids same-sex dating, and definitely has rules against same-sex sexual behavior. I’m sure that hasn’t stopped other sexual minorities from forming a compartmentalized life where they display one persona at school while they present a different persona in the LGBT community. There are times when the idea is attractive, especially when the loneliness feels unbearable and everyone I know is busy. There have been some weeks where the only deep conversations I’ve experienced have been with patients sharing their stories with me.

 

But I’m not a fan of secrets and closets. I’ve seen the damage they’ve done to my soul for years of my life. Relationships need community to flourish, just like individuals do. It’s not a fair situation for anyone involved, and yet it’s a messy situation that many of us Christian sexual minorities find ourselves navigating at Christian universities and colleges as human beings who want to be seen and loved like anyone else. We’re humans who need physical affection, and like all single individuals, we’re starving to be touched, to be affirmed that we’re worthy of something as simple as a hug. From a biochemical level, we need other people for our bodies to mass release oxytocin, a hormone that combats the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol and binds us to other humans, creating the feelings of closeness and belonging.

 

What are you looking for? Casual sex? Or maybe your soul craves an oxytocin release to feel less alone for a little while.

 

I don’t know God’s best for my future. I’m a part of two worlds who hold strong beliefs and feelings with what I should or should not do with my sexuality and my desires to be connected to another human being. Many sexual minorities cannot comprehend a future without a partner, while the future eludes me. I feel convicted that sexual minorities who pursue same-sex relationships are not damning their souls and bodies to Hell, yet I’m not convinced I’m meant to pursue a romantic relationship.

 

I see so much of my shift to affirming theology as an emotional response to my deepest fears of abandonment and being seen as unlovable. I think there are many compelling arguments within affirming theology, as well as difficult questions that traditional theology doesn’t answer well—and vice versa. It’s a tension I usually try to avoid—usually pushing myself to settle in one position of certainty or another. Our world pressures us to pick a side, either by warning us about our salvation or internalized homophobia. This leaves us with little breathing room to just be, to just live life in the assurance of God’s grace and mercy, and to experience the love of a community who extends the freedom to let us be our authentic selves.

 

My whole life has been a journey of developing a secure attachment—knowing in my moments of loneliness that love is just around the corner. Rather than falling apart and needing other people to affirm I see you and I value what I see, I trust and rest in the stable love I receive from my family, my friends, and my academic community, even when it is not always present. I can regulate my own emotions, and I don’t need a man to save me from myself. If I choose to someday date, that decision will be from a place of security and out of a desire to pursue a vocation of love as a team, not because I need marriage to hold my spirit together. While I’m pursuing a calling to become a psychologist in an environment that dictates what I can do with my life, I choose to live in the light without secrets and experience the redemption found in showing up to community day after day, no matter how hard or messy it may be at any particular moment. I am loved as I am; I am enough as I am.

 

My life is not on pause; I’m in the middle of one of the greatest adventures of my life. So no, I’m not looking. I’ve discovered what my soul needs to thrive in this season. I’m embracing singleness as a gift, as an opportunity to love and grow where God has placed me. I resonate with these words from Eli Lieb, a gay singer-songwriter:

 

“All of my life I’ve been waiting around

Waiting for someone, but I’m the one I found.

Everything now comes easier to me

Waiting for no one

Now that I found me.”

 

No Prince Charming needed right now. In the vastness of God’s love, I’m found.

The Cost of an Authentic Life

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I still remember the first time a group of frat guys called me a faggot. I had just graduated from Bryan College and I was working that summer in Tennessee. One particular weekend I hung out at a park in Chattanooga with one of the first gay men I’d ever met. I wore a tank top and shorts to endure the humid Tennessean air. We walked around for at least an hour as I asked questions about what it meant to be gay and how the other guy had accepted his sexuality. As we wrapped up the conversation at his car, one of the frat guys yelled from across the parking lot, “Hey, faggots!” They continued to hurl one obscene remark after another, and then they finally laughed and walked away towards the park. I felt gross and exposed, ashamed that I didn’t have manly muscles or that I hadn’t worn a t-shirt or something less…gay. I projected a little of that internalized homophobia by abruptly leaving the other guy at his car and ignoring his calls and texts afterwards.

 

I was afraid.

 

We all tend to operate under invincibility complexes that shield us from the truth that we’re finite and fragile. We’re aware of death, but that’s a foggy idea somewhere in the future. Premature fatalities happen to other people, not us. But we all have moments when the veil lifts and we see our mortality. Six years ago I saw antigay hate expressed in real life and directed towards me. I saw how one aspect of my personhood could be devalued and dehumanized. I wasn’t as invisible as I had hoped, and it was a terrifying realization.

 

I felt that same sickening fear today as I read the updates on the shooting in Orlando where fifty people were killed and fifty-three more were injured. People had been out celebrating Pride Month in a club intended to be a safe shelter from homophobia and hatred, not knowing they would become casualties in our nation’s deadliest mass shooting.

 

Oh yes, the veil has been lifted.

 

There is something truly brave about living an authentic life. Brave not just because one may lose a career, hopes and dreams, and the love and support of friends and family, all of which can destroy a person’s soul. But as last night demonstrated, the bravery of living an authentic life may require an additional steep sacrifice: when people hate a part of your identity so much that they come to believe the world is a better place without you in it. ….And they act on that conviction.

 

If I had to guess, the moment I came out publicly increased my probability of being murdered in a hate crime. It’s a risk sexual and gender minorities take to make their true selves known so they can be loved unconditionally. I have heard countless stories of my friends being harassed in public as they went about life with their significant others. As a blogger, I’ve personally seen the obsessive hatred of Internet trolls who wouldn’t leave me alone, and I’ve heard worse stories from other fellow bloggers. When you risk showing a little vulnerability to the world, there will always be people who despise your unique humanity and desire to crush your spirit.

 

As I was preparing to reveal my identity on this blog awhile back, I had lunch with one of my best friends. We discussed the pros and cons of coming out publicly, and I admitted to him that this choice could result in my death by some crazy homophobe. I compared it to living transparently as a Christian in a country fueled with antichristian hatred. If God called me to live in the light so others could be helped and saved, the result could be a martyr’s death.

 

“Would it be the same thing to die as a martyr as a gay man as it would be as a Christian?” he asked.

 

I paused to think.

 

“If I can show LGBTQ people the love of Christ, I believe so.”

 

It’s a scary existence living as a minority. We live in an evil, broken world and we feel like we’re thrown into a perpetual cycle of suffering. When does it get better? Where is hope in all the darkness? My faith tells me God is working to restore all things, but so often I can’t see this process of shalom occurring in my life. Most days I’m barely standing on God’s promise. But by faith I believe I have the unique opportunity to contribute my life—my body, soul, and spirit—to God’s mission to save his creation. My voice can bring a little more life to a dying world, a little more light to extinguish the darkness. This evil world may consume me, but I am part of something larger than my individual life. I know how this story ends.

 

But tonight my heart breaks for the victims in Orlando and their families. My heart breaks for the LGBTQ community as we experience emotions of fear, anger, grief, confusion, and numbness as we realize how much hatred is still directed towards our existence and just how fragile our lives are. Yet through this pain I must believe this life is too precious and too short to be spent on safety. Safety means silence, isolation, and living without love because no one can know us. The world becomes a better place when we all risk living transparent lives. Baring our souls to one another may cost us everything, but I believe the gamble is worth all the moments of meaning, beauty, and connection with the people I love and those who I hope to spend my life serving.

 

All the homophobes in the world can’t take that from us.

The Stories We Live

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Growing up as a homeschooled teenager without real-life friends I turned to online message boards to find some sense of connection—some way to feel less alone. As a hardcore Calvinist, I could be offensive, unyielding, and closed-minded. I cared about people with other beliefs, but I wanted them to know what I thought and hoped God would work in them to see “the truth” just as I saw it. When my message board friends and I discussed homosexuality after years of talking, I opened up that God had healed me of same-sex attraction. I knew it wasn’t the truth; I had probably looked at gay porn the day before. But I believed change would happen. God couldn’t possibly keep me this way.

 

One story.

 

As an undergrad, I realized my sexual orientation hadn’t changed. People told me to keep praying, maintain faith, and God would just zap me with straightness one day. I didn’t buy it anymore. If God didn’t hold out hope of healing for all kinds of other sad conditions, why should homosexuality be any different? I saw my sexuality as broken, as my thorn in the flesh that I had to endure. If I couldn’t marry a man, perhaps I could marry a woman and have a relationship primarily built on friendship. I could sacrifice my yearnings for sexual and emotional intimacy with a man to do what I believed to be right. All the while I distanced myself from developing meaningful female friendships because I would panic, fearing I was talking to “the one.” I wasn’t ready. I began to wonder if I ever would be.

 

Another story.

 

I felt lost after college. I hadn’t moved on to grad school as planned. Life seemed overwhelming, so I moved home. Friends dated and married while my future seemed hopeless. My faith fell apart and I didn’t know if I believed Christianity anymore. I made my first acquaintances with other gay men and listened to their stories with ravenous curiosity. How did they learn to embrace their sexual orientation? How did they deal with the shame and guilt and the anxiety and depression? How could I stop feeling like my insides were going to rip apart? I developed my first infatuations and felt the repeated sting of rejection as some distanced themselves and ignored me while others redirected me to friendship. I also discovered Gay Christian bloggers who showed me I could hold onto two realities—that I could be gay and Christian and experience peace within that tension. I found myself returning to God, unsure how this was going to work.

 

One more story.

 

As I returned to God, I couldn’t shake the anxiety I felt in prayer, reading scripture, or sitting in church. I felt condemned and disobedient. I was a healthy adult, yet my blood pressure became hypertensive because of anxieties of Hell. I had started reading celibate gay Christian writers like Wesley Hill and Julie Rodgers, but I just didn’t want a life of celibacy—not because sex was that important to me, but because I didn’t want a lifetime of coming home alone at the end of every day. But I couldn’t assuage the worry, no matter how many affirming books or blogs I read. If I wanted sanity, something had to go. So I gradually embraced celibacy as part of my identity. I decided I would find my purpose by becoming a clinical psychologist and sitting with others in their suffering, just as I had known suffering.

 

And many of you have witnessed that story.

 

And now I’m beginning another chapter I never expected I would live. I can’t say I’m fully convinced of revisionist theology. There is too much gray for me to have complete confidence about my beliefs. But rather than feeling weighed down with anxiety, I find assurance in grace. As I have listened to hundreds of stories over the years from sexual minorities with all kinds of convictions about sexual ethics, I’ve taken a step back. My theological background emphasized sin and brokenness and upheld a fairly pessimistic portrait of human beings. While I certainly believe humanity is fallen, I have learned to trust in redemption and hope. Each human maintains some trace of goodness that reflects God’s image. With each progression I’ve made, I’ve seen this more clearly in the LGBTQ community. So many times I’ve seen breathtaking glimpses of the gospel in the lives of sexual and gender minorities. Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we’re all screwed up, imperfect, struggling to be our best selves and yet falling so short of the goal.

 

But there’s grace and redemption in Christ.

 

When Christ starts a good work in us, he doesn’t let go.

 

Faith means holding on to that promise.

 

My story has been all over the map, through basically every option a religious sexual minority can consider to find congruence between faith and sexual identity. As a clinical psychologist in training, it’s a reminder to affirm the stories people are living. We’re born with different genetics, raised in different environments, and God works in us differently. No two stories look alike, and rather than fearing these disparities, we can stay in relationship amid the dissonance with respect and kindness. You can disagree with me if you can treat me like a human being—not as project to be fixed or trash that needs to be put in its place, but as a friend to journey with throughout life regardless of how time and experience transforms us.

 

Through this process we live out gorgeous and raw narratives of grit, resilience, and redemption. We have so much to learn from each other. There are so many ways to be challenged and grow; so many ways our hearts can expand, break, and repair again.

 

So sit around the fire and share your stories, friends. Recount your hilarious moments that make us laugh until our sides hurt. Be brave and vulnerable and share your heartbreaks that bring tears to our eyes and connect soul to soul. Or maybe say nothing at all, knowing your presence is wanted and you belong just as you are.

 

Beloved one, your story matters. Live it well.

Finding Grace in the Wilderness

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The wilderness resonates with me. It symbolizes uncertainty, internal wrestling, and solitude. I find myself wandering the wilderness every now and then, as God shifts my perspective and turns my world upside down. Comfort and certainty transforms into tension and reservation. I’ve found myself back there since moving to Virginia. Real life uncovers questions I’ve tried to suppress and ignore. But the more I learn and the more diversity enters my life, the more tentative I become–the less tightly I hold onto my assumptions. As I’ve interacted with LGBTQs over the past few years I’ve found less confidence in definite positions. I don’t have absolute assuredness about Side B or Side A, celibacy or same-sex relationships. I just know grace. I know I can trust God with these gray areas, because I believe he is good and he loves. Oh, yes. He loves.

~     ~     ~

I was recently interviewed by Nico Lang about my experience as a celibate gay Christian. My thoughts revealed some of my internal tension and some of my doubts as I shared pieces of my faith that I found beautiful and inspiring. The article arrived with little notice, so I sighed a breath of relief and moved on.

 

But then Queerty featured a story about me that was, well…interesting. The story revealed a major misrepresentation of my faith, and the comments stung with cruelty as people hit below the belt. But as I reflected on the piece, rather than experiencing anger, I felt a desire for compassion, grace, and forgiveness. So I wrote Queerty an email they may never read, but I want to share it with you:

 

“Hi there,

My name is Seth Crocker; your website recently ran a piece about me regarding my interview with Nico Lang for Mic.

I would like to humbly submit your article mischaracterizes me and my faith. I have repeatedly stated in my public writings that I have no desire to convert other gay and lesbian people to my perspective. I believe God loves all people, and that includes the LGBTQ community. You don’t have to change your sexual orientation or choose a life of celibacy to be ok with God. God loves you just as you are in this moment.

I have spoken publicly about celibacy to share with a specific demographic my story of faith and sexuality. It’s never been intended to shame anyone or change anyone’s mind. We live in a multicultural world filled with different perspectives and values. I respect your dignity and autonomy, and I would hope you would respect mine even if you disagree. The beauty of our diversity is our ability to challenge each other so we can grow.

I realize my position may trigger negative emotions and painful memories with insensitive and homophobic Christians and traumatic experiences with the church. I can simply say I don’t condemn anyone. You don’t have to be celibate, or even believe in God for me to love you. You are loved unconditionally.

I confess that I could be wrong about my position. I have doubts and uncertainty. I’m ever seeking to learn and interact with other Gay Christians and local LGBTQs. I might not always be celibate. Who knows. I’m simply doing my best to reconcile my faith and sexuality according to my conscience. Others will choose different paths, and I extend no judgment to them. I’m just trying to make it through life like any other human by God’s grace.

Much love to you and your readers,

Seth”

~     ~     ~

I’m still journeying through the wilderness. I don’t black and white answers. Maybe celibacy isn’t the answer for me, or maybe the future will strengthen my previous convictions. Despite my doubts, I am committed to deepening my relationship with Christ and following where he leads. If I’m learned anything, it’s that the world hates uncertainty. It pressures and intimidates, when we just need room to think and reframe and breathe. No one can interact with God’s Word and the world and remain unchanged. A dance occurs between scripture and the stories we tell. Each reveals something marvelous about the other. The more we learn from both, the more questions we may discover than comfortable answers–at least I have. I question whether I’ll ever find certainty again–maybe it’s just an idol holding me back from trusting God. To my surprise, I’m finding peace sitting with this tension. “Walk by faith, not by sight.”

 

So what I want to extend to Queerty, to every sexual and gender minority, every Christian, whether conservative or liberal, is grace. The wilderness may seem barren and lonely, but there’s grace here. God is here. And I’m learning to extend grace to myself. Grace to question, grace to learn, grace to grow.

 

Grace to live life.

When Jesus Redefines Masculinity

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Since coming out you might notice I cross my legs. When I’m animated or struggling to find words, I wave my hands around. I communicate primarily through my facial expressions, and when I do share my thoughts, my voice tends to be tentative and soft. I’m passionate about relational and artistic subjects like social politics, theology, psychological and spiritual flourishing, literature, spiritual memoirs, the craft of writing, film, and music. Culturally speaking, I’m no man’s man. By many churches’ standards, I’m a failure as a Christian.

 

I’m not a biblical man.

 

Or am I?

 

One of the many aspects I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to interact with other writers. Over the past year I’ve become somewhat acquainted with Pastor Nate Pyle after he shared a lovely post with me about his intention to stay in the LGBTQ conversation. Nate recently published a book on masculinity called Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. I despise most books on biblical masculinity and gender roles, but Nate’s message resonated with me.

 

Man Enough by Nate Pyle

 

Nate stresses multiple times throughout his book that there isn’t one single biblical definition for masculinity, but multiple ones. Rather than restricting men to a narrow definition of manliness, Nate offers a far more liberating, countercultural perspective:

 

“It is time to stop defining masculinity by what men do and start defining it by who men are. It is time to stop pushing men to fulfill a role and start focusing on helping men become human. Rather than focusing on making men breadwinners, warriors, or even better husbands, it is time to focus on encouraging men to be fully human and alive. If men can learn to be courageous—and not a ‘run into a burning house’ courageous but a ‘be authentic about who you are’ courageous—then men will be better husbands, better fathers, better coworkers, better neighbors, better friends. Better humans. Embodying characteristics such as vulnerability, integrity, gentleness, and courage will serve men far better in a changing world than forcing them to accept some predetermined role.”¹

 

At first, Nate’s message felt obvious for me. I’m nearly 30, and I’ve journeyed far enough in my story to care little about how others perceive me. I’m never going to be the guy who likes sports or hunting or understands the mechanics of a car. I’m never going to date a girl, get married, and have kids. But truth be told, I feel pressure to act more masculine. I lift weights most weeks and in my early twenties I trained myself to say “Man” and “Dude.” If I want to be recognized as a writer, speaker, and activist in a heteronormative culture, then I’m going to feel pressured to act “normal,” meaning masculine. Gay culture, even Gay Christian subculture, values masculinity in gay males. It’s seen as more attractive, confident, and strong. I once pursued a guy I liked during my brief Side A experience. He told me I was cute but not enough of a “bro” to be his boyfriend. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t man enough.

 

What I appreciated most about Nate’s message in Man Enough was his call for men to become authentic human beings. It’s a message that doesn’t bash masculinity or femininity, but recognizes of our unique personalities that suffocate under rigid gender role designations. Nate offers a strong warning: “Using the gospel to reinforce gender roles and ideals redirects our attention away from its central goal: that men and women will become like Jesus.”² This goal of developing Christ-like qualities lays the foundation of Nate’s argument. Popular culture and even church culture divides our humanity, esteeming some characteristics while minimizing others. But in Jesus we see complete humanity. We see a man who experiences righteous fury in the temple but also weeps when a friend dies. We see a man willing to face death, but is also comfortable when John lays his head on his chest. We can see great might and courage in Jesus’ personality, but also countercultural tenderness and intimacy.

 

The queer community has a lot to offer the church. Sure, it means pushing people outside of their comfort zones, but why is that such a bad thing? When the church can esteem my masculinity for who I am in Christ, not for my ability to perform certain cultural expectations, the entire church benefits. Straight men are given freedom to be Christ-like without being seen as pathetic and women are elevated as equal image bearers of God and not seen as inferior or a symbol of weakness. I cannot, and will never fit within any kind of biblical masculinity mold, and I don’t have to. God intends for my life to reflect his son, not some hollow macho ideal I could never attain.

 

Most days I don’t worry how masculine or effeminate I appear to the world around me. It’s subjective and not worth my time or energy. Grace establishes the foundation for the Christian faith. It’s not what I do, but what Christ has done. As Ephesians 2 notes, salvation is not of works lest we should boast. So I don’t need bulging muscles, sporty cars, wilderness survival skills, or an impressive career to matter. I’m thankful for Nate’s reminder that I’m man enough right now and I don’t need to prove anything to God or to the world. I’m free to be vulnerable and I can rest knowing who I am: a beloved son of God.

 

  1. Nate Pyle, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, p. 61.
  2. Ibid, p. 157.

When We Find Our Resilient Selves

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I’m not ready.

 

Words I’ve said too many times over my lifetime. I’m not ready for adulthood and responsibility. I’m not ready to risk rejection within community. I’m not ready to pursue my ambitions because maybe I don’t have what it takes.

 

I spent five years after college waiting for some spark of bravery to ignite my life and burn away all the fetters that kept me from moving forward into adulthood. I would start a goal and panic when the struggle became too intense. I learned to run from my problems and retreat within an inner prison where no one could reach me or know me.

 

Blogging became one of my first steps out of the shadows. I wanted connection with the Gay Christian subculture, and if I could befriend the writers and speakers who represented it, then maybe I’d finally be someone. Maybe my voice could matter. Many established Gay Christians did become aware of my existence and then moved on. I doubt their disinterest was personal, but I took it as another crushing reminder that I wasn’t good enough—that I would never be good enough for any community.

 

I’d write a post and sink into depression for weeks because I had no idea what I was doing. Clearly I wasn’t ready to write publicly and connect to readers and other writers. Most of my life I’ve convinced myself I’m trash: useless, worthless, and undesirable. The more I spoke, the more I revealed how pathetic I was. I just wanted to quit and go back to my invisible life.

 

But then I’d write again and slowly my posts became less about obtaining the attention I’d never possessed, and more about the art form. I began to feel life through my story. I experienced moments of growth as I took another step of faith through one more blog post, one more vulnerable conversation, one more deep breath.

 

Every month I cycled through depression, refinement, and redemption.

 

Studying under Dr. Mark Yarhouse had been my dream since transferring to Bryan College to study psychology in 2008. I intended to apply to the clinical psychology program every year since graduating, and every year I would tell myself I wasn’t ready. But blogging changed something in me; it provided a sense of courage I’d never known. Surviving a year of blogging had taught me readiness would never come. I could only try and wait for God to make the next step clear.

 

And then to my delight and terror, Regent accepted my application.

 

Like blogging, I arrived in Virginia Beach with many unrealistic hopes. I thought I’d left my depression back in Alabama because now I had purpose. I was out as a gay man in a Christian academic community that valued diversity and I even found quick support in my new church. I would belong, God would fix all my issues, and everything would be perfect for the rest of the semester.

 

Not so much.

 

It didn’t take long for my doctoral studies to overwhelm me. When I freak out I shut down, and when I shut down I isolate myself from others, and when I isolate myself I begin to self-destruct. The melancholy would sink in every Thursday evening after classes ended for the week. I would spend my weekends in bed, weighed down by anxiety and sadness because I wasn’t connecting. I’d worry if the loneliness would define the rest of my life and maybe I’d just made a stupid, super expensive mistake. I started turning in homework late and I declined offers to hangout with others. By midterms I ruminated about dropping out. I had set my ambitions too high; I’d flown too close to the sun.

 

I am trash. I am nothing. I am invisible.

 

The week after midterms I initiated a meeting with one of my professors about my late work. She empathized with my pain and fears, but also challenged me with compassion to receive the help I needed to continue moving forward.

 

Find your most resilient self, Seth.

 

An old friend from Bryan encouraged me to open up to a few people in my cohort. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t want them to see me as unstable or to further alienate myself if I somehow managed to survive the semester. But I finally brought my depression, anxiety and other self-destructive tendencies into the light to a few cohort mates and upperclassmen. I learned telling people I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m out of the closet—emotionally I’m still there. But by lowering my walls just a bit I could receive my friends’ grace and lay the foundation to meaningful relationships that provided the support I needed.

 

The first night I knew I would be okay happened as I went out for drinks with a few cohort mates. We walked across the street to a club and I danced for my first time in public as the music blared. I mimicked the other dancers and laughed at my terrible dance moves. I didn’t feel like the depressed, crazy guy for one night. I was with friends and I was wanted and I was okay.

 

Redemption happens in unexpected places. God is everywhere, even on a dance floor.

 

I found my first moment of purpose towards the end of the semester transcribing an interview of a sexual minority student at a Christian university. The interview reminded me how grateful I am for this honor to tell our collective story—even statistics and research data reveal an art form; themes that resonate and unite our individual narratives. I love moments when I feel part of this beautiful and diverse community of sexual and gender minorities—a community who has so much to offer the body of Christ. I needed this reminder. There’s a reason why God wants me at Regent and it’s worth the stress, tears, all-nighters, loans, and five year commitment to fulfill this calling.

 

God has already enabled me with the ability to pursue my calling. I will never be ready until I step out in faith, fail, and pick myself back up. I’m still learning how to be human; it’s an awkward, painful growing experience. I’m a man lost and thirsty in the wilderness, but like Hagar, I’m finding my salvation in El-Roi—the God who sees me. Not seen as trash, but as a beloved child. Transformation is happening, and slowly I’m becoming the man God is shaping me to be. Slowly I’m allowing people to touch my life.

 

Resilience only requires one step at a time.

When You Feel Oppressed by My Faith: A Love Letter

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Yesterday I listened as a local affirming Gay Christian shared a little of his faith story with me over private Facebook messages. At one point he stopped and told me he wanted nothing to do with the oppressive message of the Side B/traditional sexual ethic position. The conservative church had told him his sexual orientation was sinful, a mistake, and contrary to his status as an imager bearer of God. He didn’t want to waste any more energy around it.

 

I paused as I reflected on the weight of this man’s words. It’s easy to become defensive when someone slams my personal beliefs—to feel I need to justify my faith. But I’ve been Side A and affirming. I remember what it was like. I truly know how the conservative church’s teaching on sexuality can oppress the spirit. My faith felt like trying to stay afloat in a tumultuous ocean. I fought so hard to keep my head above water, gasping for oxygen as the waves crashed over me. Does God really love me? Am I a reprobate? How do I reconcile the chaos going on inside me? As I struggled to survive, Christians would come and share Bible verses, platitudes, arguments, and their fears for my salvation. All of these felt like weights I couldn’t carry as I sunk into the ocean’s depths. If I was going to live, I needed to run. So I left the church for over a year.

 

“I get it, man,” I told him.

 

~          ~          ~

 

But I have no agenda, no expectations on friendship. You don’t have to become celibate for us to be cool. I understand if I bring up painful memories with the church and I won’t be offended if you need to walk away. But please know I don’t think you’re disgusting or a mistake. I believe you’re always within God’s grace—the same grace we all depend on as fallen creatures in need of a great Savior.

 

I know you’re doing your utmost to honor the authority and integrity of scripture. This is not a light manner. I know the depression and anxiety; I know the stakes. But I have to believe God’s grace is more efficacious than my ability to check off every correct theological box. I’m a reformed Christian, at least that’s my background shaping my interpretation of scripture. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate us from God’s love. I have to believe God’s redeeming grace covers me and my self-destructive tendencies; that it covers our blind spots and biases. I have to believe God looks at the entire story; that he’s more than an apathetic robot.

 

I’m here for the journey with you. Not to remind you of our differences whenever tensions and disagreements arise, but as a friend who supports and loves you through life’s beautiful joys and aching sorrows. I’ll have coffee with you and give you high fives when you share about the new love interest in your life. I’ll go with you to the dark places through the break-ups. I’ll celebrate with you at the wedding and I’ll hold your hand at the funeral. I’m in this with you.

 

I want your faith to thrive. I don’t want to be an obstacle keeping you from experiencing the power and beauty of the gospel. I want my friendship to reveal a little bit of Jesus and his unceasing love for you. Perhaps my friendship will reveal a celibate calling for you, but more than likely it won’t. And I’m ok with that. Maybe you can discover a deeper appreciation for friendship, learning that life can be purposeful in this present moment even without a romantic partner as you participate in God’s kingdom, assisting in redemptive work. But this I know for certain: I will learn from you. You have much to teach me.

 

I can’t change how scripture speaks to me, how it informs the way I feel called to live my life. But my life is not the standard, and I’m humble enough to admit I could be wrong. When I speak about sexual ethics, I can only speak for my own story. In stories we find common themes and resonate with similar experiences, but each story is unique. My story isn’t a weapon to tear you down or invalidate your perspective. I’m just one thread in a diverse tapestry.

 

When you feel oppressed by my faith, please know I don’t extend judgment or condemnation to you. Just grace and a hospitable heart.