Pleasant Surprises

For about a year, I’ve wanted to add a little more texture to the story I started telling here. This post is my attempt at expressing the ways I have been surprised by God’s grace in my life as a celibate gay Christian.

I’ve been committed to celibacy now for coming up on 5 years. It was a decision I made for myself shortly after coming to terms with my sexuality and reconciling it with my faith tradition.

For me, celibacy has never meant denying myself of relationships. Reading the writings of Wesley Hill, Julie Rodgers, and other contributors of Spiritual Friendship, I started making intentional efforts to have a life full of meaningful and deep friendships.

I’ve been blessed to build honest, vulnerable, sometimes-messy, and often-beautiful friendships here in West Michigan. These have been the sorts of relationships that have kept me sane while I transitioned to being “out” in the public sense a year and a half ago. My friendships have taught me what hospitality actually looks like. You know, the kind of hospitality where it doesn’t matter if you’ve got laundry sitting out on the sofa or kids needing a time-out. It’s the sort of hospitality that says, “Don’t bother knocking. You’re family.”

Besides these great friends locally, another blessing from God came in the form of an online community. After I went to the Gay Christian Network Conference in 2014, I became a part of a truly unique Internet group for Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted and are seeking to live out their life through the lens of a tradition sexual ethic. Building friendships within this group has been truly life-giving. There’s something comforting about being among people who understand what it means to be the same kind of different as you. Within our online family, we have build actual friendships. We support each other, pray for one another, disagree with each other at times, celebrate with one another, and weep with one another. Over the last year, I’ve had a handful of friends from this community come stay at my home here in Michigan, and I’ve visited some of them, too. This community has truly been a wonderful thing.

We had a retreat last summer in the mountains of Virginia. It was a beautiful weekend where people from all over the US and Canada came together to get to know one another deeper and take off their “masks” for a few days. My friend Gabriel at Mudblood Catholic wrote about his experience at the retreat. He describes what it was like better than I ever could.

After I got home from the retreat last summer, I found myself on the receiving end of another unexpected gift. I was going about building deeper friendships within this community when I realized that I was being drawn into a different sort of relationship altogether with one of my friends. After a lot of prayer and talking with some close friends, I entered into a committed celibate partnership with Joe.

While I have friends who are in similar relationships with their partners, it was not something I was expecting, pursuing, or even asking God for when He surprised me with this gift. I have been surprised over and over again by how God is teaching me about intimacy and vulnerability within the context of this new relationship. Joe and I have been together now for 7 months, though we’re still separated by many miles. He lives down in Austin, Texas, and I’m finishing up grad school in the freshly thawed state of Michigan. We have every intention of closing the distance between us at some point so we can combine our lives together in a single home, as a family, serving together and showing hospitality in whatever ways we can. We’ve been praying to discern how God is leading us into our future together, and we ask that any of you who love and care for us would also pray that we would listen to God as he directs our next steps.

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Jesus Died for Bryan Fischer: How I Learned to Let Go of Anger

This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference. In its 10th Annual Conference, held in Chicago this year, roughly 700 folks attended the 4-day event. I have a suspicion I’ll be processing my experience at the GCN Conference for quite some time to come.

Rachel and I

On Saturday morning of the Conference, Rachel Held Evans spoke in the morning session. Her talk, titled “What’s So Annoying About Grace?” was certainly something I needed to hear. Rachel challenged us all with remembering that God’s table is open to all who trust in Him. This was a message that so many of my fellow attenders needed to hear, but it carried a flip-side. The annoying part about grace is that it covers all of us who don’t deserve it. Not just those of us sitting in the conference room, but also those who may have hurt us deeply. Rachel mentioned a few names that have been more controversial in recent times: Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll. These are certainly folks that have made me cringe a few times. They’re on my list of “People Who Give Christians a Bad Name.”

But grace covers them, too. It covers their ignorance and careless words the same as it covers my pride and gossip and self-promotion.

We Christians like to put things in the way of God’s grace, according to Rachel. We don’t want it to be as inclusive as it is. We try to build up things to put in the path of God’s grace. We seek to exclude because we think some people don’t deserve God’s grace.

The annoying (and amazing) part of God’s grace, Rachel shared, was the way it is lavished upon people that don’t deserve it. Like me. Like you. Like Phil Robertson.

I used to work in foster care. I drove all over West Michigan to visit my foster kids and attend court hearings. And after I left that job, I took a job that had a 45 minute commute on the way home every day. During this time, I started listening to Christian Talk Radio.During this point in Rachel’s talk, my mind drifted to a horrible habit I carried off and on for a couple of years.

At first it was just out of curiosity. What are they saying? What are they telling thousands and thousands of Christians every afternoon? What concerns them? What do they see as the issues? Some things didn’t surprise me. They cared about ending abortion. They cared about people coming to know Christ. They even had fun trivia games that I would play along with every now and then. But, there were things that got under my skin. Things like talking derogatorily about undocumented persons, the poor, and the LGBT community. The messages about gay people weren’t just focused on “defending traditional marriage.” I heard their hosts bemoaning anything that protected the rights or safety of their gay neighbors.

While many different hosts of American Family Radio’s programs were deeply offensive, the hardest to listen to was Bryan Fischer. He hosts “Focal Point” every weekday afternoon. You can Google him if you really want to know the garbage he has said. It’s not the intention of this post to drag out countless examples of how he’s perpetuated a hatred of LGBT folks for years.

I was disgusted with the things I heard him saying. They wounded me deeply. They made me feel that as a person who happened to have a gay sexual orientation, that I was ‘less than’ or ‘unworthy.’ But, in my disgust, I kept listening. I listened to keep myself angry at the vile things that certain Christians were saying. I knew he was wrong. I knew he was misrepresenting Jesus. But I kept listening. I was so upset with what he was doing that I listened to keep reminding myself of how horrible he could be. And guess what?

It hurt me. It hurt my relationship with God. My building up these reserves of disdain for this man didn’t hurt him one bit. I was the one affected by it. Duh.

I ultimately stopped listening because I realized it was destroying my soul. It was hardening me and taking away my tender-heart. Staying away from American Family Radio helped my mood. It helped my disposition. It helped my relationship with God. It felt like I had dealt with it. All better, right?

That’s where Rachel’s Saturday morning talk intersects with this story. I was still trying to withhold God’s grace from Bryan Fischer and the other conservative talk show hosts from American Family Radio. I still wanted to them OUT of the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn’t want them representing me or my friends as examples of Christians.

But I was challenged to give up the anger I was holding towards Mr. Fischer. I can’t be angry at God for being generous towards someone else because I don’t think they deserve it. Because guess what? I DON’T DESERVE IT EITHER.

And that’s what’s so annoying (and amazing) about grace.

Thank you, Rachel, for reminding me of this.

Answering a Few Questions

Over the last few weeks I’ve been wrapping up my first semester of Grad School and am finally on my Winter Break. The weather has taken note of this fact and decided to send a snowstorm.  This newly found free time and the horrible conditions of the roads means that tonight is the perfect opportunity to sit down and hammer out answers to some of the questions I’ve been fielding since November.

1) How do you feel about the exaggeration of sexuality in our culture? Do you think it’s overemphasis plays a role in homosexual issues?

Great question.  I think it’s unfortunate how much the physical expression of our sexuality has been emphasized above and beyond all other forms of relational intimacy. Many people it seems, don’t know how to build emotionally intimate friendships outside of the context of physical sexual relationships.  This tragically affects men even more than women as I think women are given a script in society for how to have deep friendships with other people outside of sexual partners.  We are all sold lies that sex is the pinnacle of human experience and, more specifically, of all intimacy.

There are dozens of ways this negatively impacts our relationships.  Sex is brought into the equation when it’s not appropriate.  One or both partners may not be ready for it, but could be diving in under a belief that it will create better intimacy or fulfill their needs. Sex does not equate to happiness.  It is certainly pleasurable, but it does not automatically lead to relational bliss.  Our desires for physical sexual intimacy have led to the explosion of the porn industry.  With sex portrayed as the end-all, be-all the use of pornography, especially by pre-teens and teenagers, seriously damages the ways we build intimacy with others.

I think the overemphasis of physical sexual activity does negatively impact the conversation about other sexual orientations. When sexuality and relationships are discussed, we have a difficult time of separating feelings, emotions, and attractions from physical sexual behavior. This is especially true when the Church is asked to consider the plight of ‘sexual minorities’, those whose desires are not heterosexual. Our sexuality and orientation is so much more than genital behavior or arousal. It affects the ways we build connections and relationships, especially in the arena of emotional intimacy. Limiting the conversation regarding LGBT issues to the realm of physical sexuality is unfortunate.

Of course, gay pride parades don’t make it any easier to have this nuanced conversation. In the LGBT community, we are just as susceptible as anyone in our society to make sexuality all about the physical. But think of orientation in terms of the way you are wired in all aspects of your relationships. And don’t boil anyone’s sexuality down to “what happens in the bedroom.”

 

 

2) How do you feel about those who have the same attractions as you do, but find that they are able to re-interpret the Biblical text so that they can reconcile with their faith? How do you see their point of view, and how they interpret the text?

If someone loves Jesus, follows Jesus, and puts their faith in Him for their salvation, then they are my brother or sister in Christ. It’s hard to find anyone who is a carbon-copy of ourselves in how they interpret the Biblical text. I have met many fellow gay Christians who have interpreted Scripture differently than myself and also follow after Christ with great faith. It is not my place to say that they are “unsaved” or “unrepentant.” If anyone is curious as to how someone could follow after Christ yet interpret Scripture differently when it comes to gay sexual relationships, read this link from Justin Lee.  Basically, it is not my job to judge anyone’s heart.

How do I see their view? When someone like Justin, who loves Christ and respects the Bible as much as he does, espouses this interpretation that differs from mine, I respect him for it. I love him as my brother.

Personally, I have looked at the centuries of church tradition and historical interpretation of the Scriptures to affirm a more traditional view that same-sex sexual activity is outside of God’s will. I see God’s design in human sexuality to be for a man and a woman to reflect the unity/diversity of God within the marriage relationship.  I believe that there are other ways for us to reflect the glory of God outside of a marriage (serving one another, living sacrificially, creating and celebrating beauty, being agents of redemption, etc). Therefore, I don’t believe marriage is a more holy calling than a life of celibacy.

I will be honest. There are nuances to this conversation that I am always in the middle of processing. Normally that happens in the context of close friendships and is spurred on by the things I read all over the Internet with regards to being gay and following Christ.

 

 

3) How do you feel about a married pastor, or any Christian really, exemplifying celibacy/sacrifice on the part of folks who have the same attractions as you, but yet are married themselves? Do you see it as insensitive? Or hypocritical?

This question really burrows into the emotions that come with the territory of navigating this whole “celibate gay Christian” thing.  I am not particularly comfortable being held up as a “poster child” for talking about this issue just because I’ve chosen a life of celibacy.  I don’t think any individual gay Christian should be held up as the example for how everyone should live their life.

When a married pastor (or really any married straight Christian) preaches a message of celibacy for all gay Christians without acknowledging the needs that such a gay Christian would still need to have met, that’s a problem. I am appreciative when a straight friend can recognize and address the fact that being asked to commit to celibacy is ridiculously difficult.  I think any pastor worthy of the title should also go to great lengths to ensure that the body of Christ is fulfilling its role to those in my position.  I am blessed with a great community of friends around me.  But I know that not everyone is so fortunate.  Too many celibate folks (straight or gay) are suffering from crippling loneliness while a church community sits by, ignores them, and focuses on having “family time” or forming more “couples groups” or “young marrieds studies.”  This leads to singles of all stripes being horribly excluded and left feeling like second-class citizens within the church. That is unacceptable.

A healthy dose of compassion and empathy make all the difference when talking about celibacy for gay Christians. When I hear someone talking about “gay issues” without compassion and empathy, it is really hard not to cling to bitterness.  I need to show grace as much as I need to receive it, and this is an area where my limits are always being stretched.

 

 

4) Are you happy?

Yes. I do feel like my needs are being met. I also feel that I have a positive calling within the church to service and to friendship. Am I ever lonely? Of course. I don’t know anyone who’s exempt from loneliness. Are there times when even my solid community of friends is not enough? Yes. And when that happens, it hurts. A lot. I seek God, and seek out honest conversations with my closest friends about what I need. I have to communicate my experiences and cannot expect everyone to be mind readers. I have found that when I truly NEED a friend, they’re there when I reach out. It’s when I withdraw or tell myself lies about how much I don’t matter that I wind up feeling the worst.

 

 

As with everything I write, I want to reiterate that I would rather be understood than have assumptions made. If you would like something clarified or if something I wrote in this post sparks a follow-up question, e-mail me or put it in the comments.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Questions, Anyone?

The response to my post from yesterday has been overwhelmingly positive, and I appreciate the great support that I’ve felt from everyone.

I wanted to take some time to solicit some questions from you all, as I know that many of you may have things you’re wondering.

In keeping with the spirit of my last post, I want to be clear that I’m open to dialoging about my experiences at any time. I often repeat this phrase, “I’d rather be understood than have assumptions made.”

So, if you have questions for me, leave them in a comment, message me on Facebook, or shoot me an email at ajasdell@gmail.com.

After a couple weeks, I’ll write up responses to the questions I receive. And I promise to keep your questions anonymous if you choose to submit them privately.

Telling My Story

I know I haven’t blogged in over three years. That is for several reasons. One was because I started working in social work field and two years of my time was doing foster care. Another reason is that most of what was on my mind was related to faith and sexuality and I wasn’t ready to process my thoughts publicly. However, this summer I began making preparations for talking about this openly.

This morning, at my home church in Muskegon, I shared a great deal about the journey I’ve been on the last several years. A copy of what I read this morning is below.

November 17, 2013

To my Calvary Family:

It’s good to be here this morning with friends and family. As we have been wading through what God has to say about our human sexuality, we’ve reached a topic of conversation that we as a community do not engage with very often: Homosexuality.

I have not often talked about this topic outside of close friendships, but when I heard that Calvary was spending time trying to better understand those who experience life as a “sexual minority” I felt that I needed to contribute.

I am one of you. I worship with you, serve with you, rejoice with you, celebrate with you, and weep with you. However, I am also gay.

I did not choose my sexual orientation. I did not choose to only be attracted to people of my same gender. However, this is the experience I found myself in as I entered into puberty and started growing into an adult.

As I fought through adolescence trying to ignore my growing attractions, I assumed this was something that would fall away as I grew into maturity. However, I was alone with my thoughts, feeling afraid that I could never be honest with anyone about this. The first time I came out to anyone was to my good friend Jeremy. When I finally said the words, that I was attracted to men and not to women, he showed me love and acceptance. He told me that he would always be there for me and that our friendship would not change because of this.

He helped me find the courage to talk about this with more friends and pastors. Despite great fear, I opened myself up to more believers that I trusted, and I found many loving people who accepted me and supported me. They gave me a great environment to keep processing my experience, and they stuck with me faithfully when I experienced the highs and lows of trying to figure out what it all meant.

As I stared into an unclear future I knew two things:
1) I was exclusively attracted to other men.
2) I desired to live a “normal” life with a wife and children.

Four years ago, I entered into professional counseling to talk about my conflicting desires, and hoping that maybe I could find the cause of them so I could deal with it and experience the “normal” life I wanted. A definitive “cause” never surfaced, and I don’t believe it ever will. I learned to let that part go. And, after much counseling, prayer, and reflection, I realized that my attractions were not changing. I also realized that I did not wish to bring a woman into what would surely be a complicated and difficult marriage.

I was faced with a choice of how I would live. I had grown up my entire life in the church. My convictions were strong. My faith was not simply a matter of the intellect, but was deeply rooted in my heart. Faith was not something I could simply “take off” or set aside. I continued to study Scripture and God affirmed the conviction I held that same-sex sexual relationships are not what God desires of us. In light of this, I found that the only decision I could make that would be consistent with my experiences and my faith would be one of celibacy.

Celibacy isn’t a word we use a whole lot these days. It is a ‘churchy’  word that means a person will not engage in any sexual intimacy for either a period of time or for one’s entire life. But I’ve also come to see that it’s a positive calling towards serving the Kingdom without the responsibility of a spouse. While a life of celibacy is what God has for all of us who are unmarried, it is not assumed that many believers will take on this burden for a lifetime. The assumption is that all will eventually get married and pursue a spiritually, emotionally, and physically intimate relationship with their spouse. But for me, I had to work on figuring out what it would look like to never pursue a sexual relationship with another. I had to face a future that would set me apart from my friends and peers:

I would never have that one person whom I cherished above all others.
I would not have that partner who walked with me through all of life’s good times and bad.

I was choosing a life where I would have few people to look to as my role model. I was choosing to spend many evenings alone. I was choosing to open myself up to a deep pain and loneliness that would be hard to combat no matter how strong my faith was. I still have times where it feels overwhelming to look ahead to my next 60 years. However, I have remained convinced that this is the life God has for me.

I will not lie to you. This is often a difficult road to walk, trying to be faithful to the Gospel’s demand on my life. We all are called to sacrifice much in order to best follow Christ. My sacrifice just happens to include sexual intimacy.

I have continued along this path as I have served among you and share life with so many of you. Several close friends have been there every step of the way. They’ve cried with me, encouraged me, welcomed me into their families, and allowed me to pour out onto them all the extra time and love I have to give.

Some of you may be wondering right now why I would feel the need to share so much of my story with everyone here today. Trust me when I say this was not a decision I came to lightly.

While I have several “safe spaces” where I can talk about the joys and sorrows of my life, the broader Church has been very much a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment. I read a sermon this summer that explained this really well.

Pastor Dan Scott from Christ Church in Nashville preached on homosexuality back in June or July. Some of you may have read or listened to this same sermon as Pastor Bill and a few others shared it on Facebook. I appreciated the entire thing, but a couple of points really stuck with me. Allow me to highlight them:

“It would be far healthier for a church and its people if a homosexual person were able to appropriately reveal their struggle than to force him or her into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. When congregations quietly accept a person’s contribution to their church while suppressing the reality of their struggle, it corrupts the integrity and witness of that church. It also creates denial mechanisms that disillusion individuals who grow up in that church.”

“The bottom line then is that many people we love are attracted to members of their own sex. Just like the rest of us, they struggle to live godly lives. If they are not welcome among us, or if we must shame them into an unreasonable silence about the nature of their struggle, we simply don’t have much to offer the world except condemnation. For all these reasons, we must become more mature in the way we deal with our friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ who experience same-sex attraction.”

It’s as if what we communicate by our silence is that I will remain a welcomed part of this community as long as I don’t talk about this aspect of my life. I would not say that this is intentional, but it is an unhealthy dynamic that exists within the church. I came to see that one of the only ways to help make the church a safer place was to step up and speak. That’s why I’m up here sharing this morning. That’s why I’m opening myself up to answer any questions you all may have. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll gladly share my heart with you all and keep the conversation going.

I stumbled upon this quote from Tim Keller last month and found it to be profoundly relevant as to why I felt I needed to share this morning.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”

Another great thing that I found was a blog post written by a man named Matt Jones. He recently came out publicly and wrote some beautiful articles about the reasons why he chose to begin talking openly. I found that I resonated with these reasons and wanted to share a few of them with you.

Matt says, “This isn’t just about me. There are still countless men and women whose knuckles turn white when the pastor mentions homosexuality because, suddenly, he’s talking about them, who feel like they are walking this path alone and are haunted by anxiety that someone may discover their secret. I know they are there because I’ve been one of them.”

He continues, “Living out of the closet as a celibate, gay Christian gives me the opportunity to speak to a world that has lost its mind when it comes to sex and relationships. The culture at large (including the Church) has drunk deep the lie that sexual activity is essential to being human and that true joy or flourishing are impossible to find outside of a romantic relationship.”

After all that, Matt says, “As I stand up and speak out, reminding the Church what it is called to and how it could love more fully those in and outside itself, the Church will do the same for me. I’m choosing to live openly because I love the Church too much to let it love LGBTQ people so poorly, and because I know that as I press into it I, too, will learn to love better.
“And so we will all become a little bit more like Christ, together.”

For ALL of these reasons, I felt it was important to help open up the dialogue at Calvary by sharing my story.

And to the Church family that has mentored me and encouraged me these last 12 years, thank you.

In Christ,
Andrew Asdell

PS: A word on causation. 40-50 years ago, a common psychological theory was that homosexuality is caused almost exclusively by very dysfunctional parenting. The popular theory attributed male same-sex attraction to a distant father and over-bearing mother. Social research has by and large disproven this theory. Many who experience same-sex attraction do not come from these dysfunctional homes, and conversely, many who have had traumatic or difficult childhoods have grown up to be straight. I want to clarify that I, in no way, believe that my upbringing created these desires within me. No unifying theory of causation has been determined. It is likely a very complex combination of factors, and knowing the exact cause of same-sex attraction does not make a difference in how we in the Church are to love others and treat those who are different from us.

Part 2: My Visit with Andrew Marin

This post is the conclusion to what I wrote in “Part 1”.

That Friday morning, I was riding the train from West Michigan down to St. Louis.  I arrived in Chicago only a few minutes late, and had a little over an hour to make it across town to meet with Kevin Harris and Andrew Marin.

After I exited the train, I rushed to get a bus pass and entrusted my destiny to the reliability of my phone’s Google Map application to find me a bus route to the north side of Chicago.  A couple of attempts later, I boarded the 22 bus northbound and waited.  I had written down a few topics and questions that I wanted to discuss with Andrew, but was still not sure what to expect.  I expected that to them, I was just some kid fresh out of college who doesn’t have a position of influence or anything to offer them.  I doubted whether or not this was even a good idea.  As I passed Wrigley Field and knew that I was getting closer to Boystown, many of my concerns were set aside when I realized the man that just boarded the bus and sat down in front of me was Andrew Marin.  I got his attention and introduced myself.  He was friendly and told me he’d walk me over to their office when we got there.

On the walk over, we discussed baseball (he’s a Cubs fan, and I’m a Tigers fan).  He told me a little bit about playing Division 1 baseball in college (on the same team as Curtis Granderson, my favorite former Tiger) and asked me a few questions about what brought me through Chicago.

When we arrived in the tiny office that Andrew shares with the rest of The Marin Foundation staff (Kevin and Nathan), he sat down to get some work done and I went out to lunch with Kevin Harris.  Kevin is Andrew’s assistant and is in charge of community relations for The Marin Foundation.  Kevin shared about some of the things they’ve been working on and about the crazy amount of attention their “I’m Sorry” Campaign has been receiving.  We shared stories with each other and then walked back to the office.

Once there, Andrew and I got a chance to get to know one another. He shared some about a recent trip to Vienna where he was attempting to assist the UN as they reach out to folks all across the spectrum on AIDS prevention and treatment.

I also talked with him about the wide range of criticism and encouragement he has been facing since Pride weekend at the end of June.  I got to share how his book had impacted me and caused me to re-assess how I love others.  Andrew often talks about “living in the tension” when it comes to the complexities of faith and sexuality, and his book has certainly made the tension a better place to be.

*****

I also asked to know more about what it looks like for the church to love the gay community in a real and tangible way.

Andrew shared with me his thoughts on faithfulness and how that plays out in our relationships with one another: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.  He told me he believes “Faithfulness is the new evangelism.”  In fact, faithfulness is the only thing that truly builds the Kingdom and sustains relationships modeled after the way Christ loved.  Marin said that this sort of faithfulness was characterized by sticking by somebody through it all, whether they’re in line with where you think they should be or not.  Being faithful to someone means they know you’ll “have their back until their dying day.”

When talking about this, he quotes Billy Graham.  During the Clinton scandal of the late 90’s, Billy Graham was asked why he was still offering his support to the president.  Graham responded “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”

Marin takes this responsibility to love very seriously, and says that it’s really the core of what we’re called to do.  That’s our job in how we relate to everyone: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.

As I wrestled with Andrew’s approach to the gay community of letting God convict and change hearts, I often came back to the passage in Matthew 18 where Jesus taught us how to interact with a brother who is in sin.  Jesus lays out a process of going to a brother in sin first one-on-one to show them where they are in sin.  If he or she will not listen, then approach them with one or two others.  If they still do not listen, then take it to the entire community of believers.  From this “last resort”, the person in sin is to be treated as a non-believer.

One of the things I had been planning to ask Andrew was how he reconciled Matthew 18 with his stance of simply being faithful and loving towards the gay community.

Most of Evangelical Christianity holds that all homosexual relationships are sin.  From that position, they often create a barrier that prevents them from being able to love a gay person.  They have a fear and anxiety that if they love their gay friend unconditionally and their friend eventually meets Jesus and begins to follow Him, that they’ll have to renege on their unconditional love to “call out” their gay friend’s sin.  This creates a tension of wondering when they should “call out” their friend.  Should it be when they’re getting close to accepting Jesus, or maybe up front before you even talk about Jesus.  Maybe it should wait until after they’ve been following Christ a few months.

Marin would say that it’s not our job to convict people of their sin or to judge them.  It’s simply our job to love.

So, what do we do with Matthew 18?

As I re-read Matthew 18 on the train to Chicago, I came across something that I had never noticed before.

15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Did you catch it?

Jesus lays out clearly that this teaching is NOT about giving us the ground rules for how we can most self-righteously call one another out.  This teaching is NOT about one Christian exercising control over the life of another.  This teaching is given for when “your brother sins against you“.  This teaching is about restoring relationships when we inevitably hurt one another.  He’s laying out how to love one another when we have been wronged.

Seeing the words “against you” for the first time stopped me in my tracks.  When I was talking to Andrew Marin, I asked him about what he did with Matthew 18, but also added what I had noticed while reading on the train.  In that moment after I brought up my observation, we were both silent.  The fullness of Christ’s words and the intentions He had for us to be reconciled and to love one another unconditionally hung heavily in the room.  I considered all the ways I missed the boat in that area.  And for Marin, the simplicity of the words “against you” seemed to help one more piece of the puzzle slide into place for how we as the church relate to those around us.  These two words had been there all along, but for years I had ignored them and I had heard them ignored in countless sermons and discussions.

Actually living this out requires giving up responsibility for another person’s life.  It means that your primary concern is no longer being right but loving right.  It means that we have to trust God to be in control.  A simple, yet daunting task.

*****

Moving forward from there, we resumed our conversation talking about ways that local churches can begin building bridges with the gay community.  We talked about how many gay folks move away from rural and small town areas to come to the bigger cities where they can join a larger GLBT community.  We discussed how it seems that Christians and gay folks are starting to listen to each other more, and it’s really only the furthest liberal and furthest conservative camps who are digging in their heels.

At one point, I asked him about how he balances some of the national and international work The Marin Foundation is doing with the face-to-face relational ministry they have had going for years.  He said that it helps living right there in the neighborhood and knowing that Kevin and Nathan can be there even if he’s out of town.  His first commitment is always to the community he’s lived in for 10 years, and he plans to stay faithful to the folks there no matter how much work he does elsewhere.

Then, after all questions had been asked and stories had been shared, we prayed together.

Andrew walked me back to my bus, and I made my way back to the train station where my journey would continue down to St. Louis.  I jotted down a few of my thoughts from our conversation, and marveled at the fact that I had been welcomed in by two strangers with whom I had only Jesus in common.

We had never met before, but by the time I left, I considered them to be friends.  They encouraged me, and I tried to find ways to lift them up and encourage them.  My time filled me with a sense of hope, knowing that I had just met brothers in Christ who were living out this Kingdom life, too.  They were wrestling through the ins and outs of faith the same as I was.  Just as I am learning to do, they chose to love first without having all the answers spelled out in black-and-white.

Part 1: My Experience With The Marin Foundation

This post is the first in a series of two describing my experiences with The Marin Foundation, Andrew Marin, and his book, Love is an Orientation. This post is more of an overview of my thoughts on the book and the work of The Marin Foundation. Part 2 will chronicle my visit with Andrew Marin which took place at the end of July.

Last week, Friday, on my way to visit friends and family down in Missouri, I had an Amtrak layover in Chicago.

Knowing that this was an inevitable part of my travel day, I sought out something to kill my 6 hours in the Windy City.  But before I tell that story, I should give a little background.

A few months ago, I read Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, and it had given me a lot of “food for thought”. Working in a Christian bookstore, I am aware of the typical fare for books talking about homosexuality and the church.  The grand majority consist of warning the church of the “gay agenda” and touting “love the sinner, hate the sin” while stirring up so much fear as to render that mantra an impossibility.  This book was different:

From Amazon.com:

Andrew Marin’s life changed forever when his three best friends came out to him in three consecutive months. Suddenly he was confronted with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT) firsthand. And he was compelled to understand how he could reconcile his friends to his faith.

In an attempt to answer that question, he and his wife relocated to Boystown, a predominantly GLBT community in Chicago. And from his experience and wrestling has come his book, Love Is an Orientation, a work which elevates the conversation between Christianity and the GLBT community, moving the focus from genetics to gospel, where it really belongs.

Why are so many people who are gay wary of people who are Christians? Do GLBT people need to change who they are? Do Christians need to change what they believe? Love Is an Orientation is changing the conversation about sexuality and spirituality, and building bridges from the GLBT community to the Christian community and, more importantly, to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Andrew Marin has been living in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago for the last 10 years.  First on his own, and now through The Marin Foundation, he has been helping those who have rejected the church find Christ and work out what it means to follow Him.

When I first started to read Marin’s book, I was looking for the chapter when he would answer those hot-button questions.  However, the book didn’t lay out simple yes/no answers to any of the yes/no questions that both the church and the gay community tend to ask of someone who stands in between.

  • “Is homosexuality a sin?”
  • “Do you think gays and lesbians were born that way?”
  • “Can a GLBT person change their sexual orientation?”
  • “Do you think someone can be gay and Christian?”
  • “Are GLBT people going to hell?”

When Marin does address these questions, he answers them not with a yes or no answer but with deeper discussion that attempts to elevate the conversation.  He has experienced that when someone asks these questions from either side of the fence it’s because that person wants to know which “side” you’re on. They want to know if you are an ally or an enemy.  As long as we are thinking in terms of allies and enemies, then we aren’t building bridges and we aren’t loving those around us.

By the end of the book, I realized that I didn’t need to know Marin’s exact stances on all of these questions.  Rather, I was left to keep thinking and wrestling with these ideas for months after I closed the book and passed it off to a friend. So often we desire books that will tell us what to think, what to believe, and how to believe it.  Love is an Orientation is the rare book that encourages discussion and dialog to continue after you’ve set it down.

Since I finished this book at the end of May, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.  Through reading posts and interacting with folks from all across the spectrum on Andrew’s blog, I have had the chance to keep working out what this means for how I live and for how I love others. The blog has also been a good way to keep up with what The Marin Foundation has been doing in Chicago.

At the end of June, The Marin Foundation showed up at the Chicago Pride Weekend with a message that they were sorry for how the church had treated them.  Their signs had messages like “I’m sorry for how the church has hurt you” and “I used to be a Bible-banging homophobe. Sorry.”  You can read more about the “I’m Sorry Campaign” here.

While it was not their intention, this simple message from The Marin Foundation to the GLBT community gained national attention.  In the time since then, Andrew and The Marin Foundation have received a lot of support and encouragement from folks world-wide who believe in what they are doing.  They have also faced some criticism from both Christians and the gay community. Some in the gay community have accused Marin of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing seeking to lure them in and then force them to change their orientation.  Some Christians have said that he is too liberal by not expecting orientation change from those he interacts with.

You can’t blame either side for being skeptical of what Andrew and The Marin Foundation are doing in Chicago.  The gay community has been scarred by Christians who have treated them poorly and dehumanized them.  The church is afraid that the things they believe in are under attack.  However, Andrew’s goal is to build bridges between the church and the gay community where both sides can learn to relate to one another outside of the rhetoric of the culture war where both sides demonize the other.

As someone who has been a part of the church my entire life, the stories found in his book were eye-opening.  Andrew loves gay people.  He also loves Jesus, and he longs for those he meets to come to know Jesus in a life-giving way. This kind of love for the gay community is rarely expressed well, and I wanted to know more of what it looks like for The Marin Foundation to put this into practice.

This is why, when I realized I had plenty of time to kill in Chicago, I contacted The Marin Foundation to sit down with them face-to-face. I got in touch with Kevin Harris, a staff member of The Marin Foundation, and we set up a time to meet during my afternoon in Chicago.

To Be Continued…

Since this blog is always meant to host discussion, and I realize that a “To Be Continued…” is more likely to cause people to hold their comments until later, I’d like to add a few questions to this post.

  • For those of you unfamiliar with Marin’s work, what are some of your first thoughts or first impressions?
  • For those of you who have heard of The Marin Foundation or read Love is an Orientation, what are some of your thoughts on what they’re trying to accomplish?

God’s Irony

Ironic: Coincidental, unexpected

So, it’s been a week and a half since I last blogged. The morning after I wrote the blog post about being content, I woke up to hear that my great-grandmother who lived with us wasn’t doing very well and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. In the midst of the EMT’s getting her situated, I received a phone call calling me back for a second interview. My first interview with this organization had been back in March, and in many ways I had lost hope that I would hear back from them about a job.

Talk about irony. The day after I say that I’m content to let things happen in God’s timing and that I will serve Him right where I am, God moves.

I counseled at the summer camp where I used to work last week. I had to check out of camp for a few hours Monday morning in order to go down to Grand Rapids for my interview.

I realized on the way back home that I was spending a lot of my mental energy on evaluating the interview and speculating as to whether or not I was going to “get the job”.

Knowing that I had to go back to my 10 campers by lunch, I had to consciously choose to live in the contentment that I’d claimed to have found. I chose to live in the moment and to be faithful with where I was, which was camp.

To not worry and stress about whether or not I would get the job for the rest of the camp week was incredibly freeing. I got to live in the moment and be present with my campers. I got to encourage them on the zip line and climbing tower. I got to invest in their relationships with God by encouraging them to follow Him more closely. I got to develop relationships with some of the other staff members and spur them on for the rest of their summer ministry.

If I had been my “old self” and had been worried and anxious, I would have still done those things, but wouldn’t have been fully there. I wouldn’t have been able to stay focused on my mission with the campers and the staff. My mind would have been too much on my job prospects.

I’m grateful that God gave me a chance to put into practice what He’d been teaching me. When the rubber hit the road last week, I stumbled around at first, but then realized that God simply wanted me to trust Him in the ways I’d been claiming to.

As my great-grandma still is gaining back her strength from her time in the hospital and I am still awaiting to hear back from those who interviewed me, I hope that this lesson of contentment will be something I continue to hold on to, in the peaceful times and the turbulent times.

I know that life has far more difficult things to throw at me as I move forward from here. But I know that God will be faithful through everything and that I can choose to rest in that and be content.

I am Here.

In the past week, I’ve come to the realization that I am simply content right now.

For all my life, I’ve been a planner.  I have enjoyed knowing plenty of details of the next month, next week, next hour.  Without enough details, I faltered.

I can’t explain what’s changed, but over the past few months, I’ve gradually become more at peace with the moment.  Instead of having to know all the details, I have found that I am content to let things happen as they will.  To live in the present.  To trust that God’s best for me is better than any amount of planning I can do.

When I realized last week that somewhere along the way I began to accept where I am, a part of me wanted to rebel against it.  To draw a line in the sand and come up with a definitive 5 year plan for my life, career, relationships, ministry.

While I’ve always described contentment as an ideal, finding that I was actually moving in that direction, created some discontent in my life.  In some ways, I was fighting off the thought that being content with my current “transition” phase meant resigning myself to be stagnant and lazy.

In some segments of Christianity, the concept of “God’s will for my life” is idolized.  This is the idea that God has a very specific task for you to do that is huge and important and only you can do.  So, until you’ve finished college, got married, bought the right house, and had kids, you find yourself waiting for the time you can finally get settled into exactly what God has for you.

While I worked at Grace Adventures summer camp, Steve Prudhomme, the president of the camp, used to talk about God’s will.  Except Steve didn’t talk about it in the ways that I described above.  He said we were asking the wrong question if we were seeking out “God’s will for my life”.  The right question to ask is “What is God’s will?”  God’s will is far more broad than where I should go to school, what job I should take, who I should marry, etc.  God’s will is what God desires for all of creation.  It’s big picture.  It is the story of the redemption of the world.  God’s will is to restore the world to its pre-fall condition.  To make everything new.

God is achieving this through His Church.  He invites us all to join in with Him in setting things right in the world by ushering in the love of the Kingdom now.  This is something that God started with Christ and is continuing up until that glorious day when everything has been set right.  From a right view of “What is God’s will?” the only next step is to find ways to join Him in what He’s already doing.

This means that no matter where we are, we can be in God’s will.  Simply by loving others and finding ways to live out that Kingdom love, we are freed up to no longer need a 5-year plan from God.  We don’t have to be anxious about getting to this place where we will finally be doing God’s will for our lives.  We can do that HERE.  Now.

RELEVANT Magazine had a great article about this a few months ago.  The article was simply called “You are Here” and encouraged those of us living in the mundane to be content where we are.  We don’t have to go somewhere far away or start some giant new project in order to be serving God.  We can do that HERE. Now.

As all of these thoughts have rushed in to combat the lie that being content means I am somehow less productive, I have found peace.

Sure, I have plenty of reasons to worry, fret, and be anxious, but I am not.

I’m on the “job hunt”, unsure of what exactly I’ll be doing once the job I’ve been waiting for comes along.  Will I still be in my hometown?  Will I find something a little further away?  A lot further away?  Will it be part time, full time?  Will I go back to school to further my career options?  Will that be in a few months, a year, a few years?

I don’t have the answers to those questions yet.  But it’s OK.  There are plenty of things I can’t answer.  For the first time in my life, I’m fine with that.  I’m fine without having a detailed plan.  That doesn’t disqualify me from serving God.  I can do that HERE. Now.

Why “Tethered Soul”?

I was thinking about the title of my blog today.  Titles are important, you know.  They’re supposed to be unique, creative, yet still sum up what you are intending to create and present.

“Tethered Soul” came to me late last night as I was sleep deprived and had the idea “I should start a blog again!”

When I stopped to decide if I really wanted this to be my blog title and URL, all I could think about was tetherball and Napoleon Dynamite.  My soul was the bright yellow ball and I was forever connected to Christ by a thin rope.  I admitted this image seemed sort of ridiculous, but the title still “felt right”.

As I backspaced out “tetheredsoul” and tried a few other options, I couldn’t seem to shake that first title out of my head.

In my mind, I was thinking of the last verse of “Come Thou Fount”

Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, Oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

This verse has always resonated strongly with me.  I think it portrays a beautiful picture of the grace that God has for us even as we wander, doubt, and question.  In my life, there are definite times that I struggle with God. There are times that I wrestle with His truth and the world in which I find myself.  There are times when I’m frustrated that I’m having to live in uncertainty.  I get anxious and restless.  There are also times of rest and pure joy as I throw myself down at His feet admitting that I don’t have all the answers.

In this blog, I hope to capture these moments, as a wandering soul eternally tethered to my Creator, my Abba, my Savior.  No matter how confused or tired or frustrated I may get with some of life’s circumstances, I can never escape the redemption of His love and the rest that He provides.