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!

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.

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.

Loosening My Grip

As I begin this blog, I would love to open up conversation about an area of my life that is constantly in need of growth.

If you know me, you know that I have opinions, and I tend to hold to them pretty strongly.  When I enter discussions about any of my “hot-button” issues, I am very stubborn and resistant to change.

Certain friends and family members have learned what topics to avoid with me.  If they disagree with me, they know that I’m unlikely to change my mind and hear their point of view.

However, on topics that I’m just beginning to explore and gather information on, I can be open-minded.  If I feel that my opinions are still being formed, I’m likely to listen to just about any reasonable voice in an effort to have the “right” answer.

Having the right answer and being right is something I’ve always valued.  I pursue knowledge in order to be right.  However, it’s been on my mind a lot lately that being right is not what it’s all about.  The Pharisees had strong opinions and used their strong opinions to keep people down.  Jesus condemned them for that.  Their opinions were so strong about the Sabbath for instance, that they couldn’t see the bigger picture of what Jesus was doing when He healed a man on their day of rest.

Once I have decided that I have the “right” answer, I hang onto it so tightly that no one can budge me.  I clench my fists and close myself off to further growth on that topic / issue.

This post is a statement that from here on out, especially as I blog about things that have been on my mind, I would like to loosen my grip.  To allow myself to be more open to truth outside of my rigidly held opinions.

If Peter hadn’t loosened his grip, he wouldn’t have gone to Cornelius with the Gospel to open up the Kingdom to people of every nation and ethnicity.

If Paul hadn’t loosened his grip, he would have dismissed the vision of Christ that was calling him to a better life.

In a way, I believe this goes hand in hand with humility.  Humility is that unattainable buzzword that it seems every Christian struggles to attain.  Thinking of yourself with sober judgment.  Not thinking too highly of yourself.  Putting the needs of others above the needs of self.  Humility will probably be another blog post down the road, but I thought I’d at least mention it here.

My nature is to anticipate reactions of things before I do them.  As I think about this blog post, my most anticipated reaction would be one that talks about when it is appropriate to NOT loosen our grip on our beliefs and opinions.  So, the question I ask to you, the reader, is this:

How do you discern when a belief or opinion needs to be held tightly or loosely?

I have some thoughts on that question, but in an attempt to listen and learn before I speak, I’ll wait for responses and continue the discussion in the Comments section.

May we all loosen our grips when appropriate, and spur one another on towards more growth in Christ.