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.

A Place at the Table

For gay Christians, there are a lot of forces that can keep us from feeling that we have a rightful place at the table of the Lord.  While I have always felt allowed to partake of the life of the community, there were times when I was certain it was only if I kept wearing my mask. My straight mask. The one that hid my story. And now that it’s been a few months since I’ve shared my story broadly, I wanted to reflect on what it is like to be in this position. To be a gay Christian who is choosing to live a celibate vocation.

It sometimes feels, in this conversation about what it means to be both gay and Christian, the space for stories like mine is being squeezed out from both sides.

And speaking of “sides” it may be helpful to define some terms as they are commonly used in this conversation. These terms have been around for quite a while, and have been brought into more widespread use through the Gay Christian Network and many bloggers and authors. If you’re already familiar, you can skip this aside. (rimshot!)

Side A
In this whole conversation typically people who hold a belief that says that God affirms committed gay sexual relationships are referred to as “Side A.” Side A is becoming much more apparent in American and European churches. Many more people will become familiar with this perspective from the book written by Matthew Vines, “God and the Gay Christian.” Side A Christians have been more commonly associated with mainline Protestantism or a more liberal view of Scripture. The trends lately are that more and more Evangelicals are re-examining their theology and becoming more affirming of gay marriage for Christians.

Side B
Those who believe gay Christians can reconcile their faith and sexuality through adhering to the more traditional sexual ethic are referred to as “Side B”. Side B gay Christians have typically accepted that their orientation is not likely to change, yet believe that sexual intimacy with someone of the same gender is outside of God’s will. Thus, they choose celibacy or maybe an opposite-sex marriage. For Side B gay Christians, openness and honesty are highly valued. Relational needs are to be met through healthy relationships and positive expressions of same-sex love. Community is another shared value among this group.

Side X
A view that LGB Christians should totally denounce their orientation and pray for/pursue a heterosexual marriage no matter what. Many in the conservative Christian world are familiar with the legacy of Exodus International and reparative therapy that spawned the phenomenon of “ex-gays”. That’s where the term “Side X” comes from. The danger in Side X comes when stories of “change” are held up by certain Christians as some sort of mold that we must follow in order to be “in line” with Jesus. They would question our walk if we happened to still identify with the adjective “gay” to describe our experience and orientation. Side X tends to commonly say that orientation is changeable and that we should not acknowledge our attractions or find any positive attributes from them.

In this conversation, Side B is positioned in a sort of middle ground or “no-mans-land” between the two polar opposites.  We’re not afraid to be honest about our orientation, and what it means for our lives. But we’re also holding to the historical and traditional teachings of the Church for the last 2000 years.

When the “Culture War” heats up because some guy in camouflage with a sweet beard made some ignorant statements in a rocknroll magazine… or a global relief organization lost childhood sponsorships because they were (briefly) willing to hire married gay people, that’s when we most acutely feel what it’s like to be squeezed from both sides.

These “battles” in the Culture War get a lot of press. A lot of blogs written about them. A lot of Tweets. A lot of impassioned Facebook posts.

But in everyday life as a celibate LGBT Christian, it feels like the fighting never really stops. It feels like we’re being squeezed out from all sides, even weeks after the dust has settled from the last kerfuffle.

Whenever a gay-affirming Christian pities the plight of the celibate, we are pushed from one side.

Pity takes several forms. Regularly, I’ve been told these things, and have watched my friends get told the same:

“By choosing celibacy, you’ve been brainwashed.”

“Stop repressing your sexuality.”

“You’re hurting the LGBT cause by telling your story.”

“Stop lying. You’re not happy. There’s no way you’re content in your choice.”

“You need to repent of your conservative beliefs. They’re harmful to you and others.”

And from the other side, I hear the following:

“Naming your orientation means you’ve internalized it.”

“You wouldn’t identify as a thieving Christian or an alcoholic Christian, so you really shouldn’t call yourself a gay Christian.”

“Once I let go, and surrendered it all to Jesus, the same-sex attractions really started to diminish.”

“You probably shouldn’t talk about this.”

“Stop being so negative all the time. We’re supposed to have joy in Jesus.”

“You are never going to be happy if you don’t get married.”

When these things are said, we are pushed from the other side. Our already tiny space is shrunk down even smaller. How are we to have a place at the table and fit into the church when even other gay Christians can say things like that?

And how does this impact the broader culture of the Church?

For straight bystanders and onlookers, it is not always easy to take a nuanced view of the whole conversation. Unless a straight Christian has direct experience with a close friend or family member who is gay, or they happen to have read many stories of gay Christians, it is not very likely that they understand the differences present here. For the average Christian, they see this is a two-sided conversation.

The pro-gay, affirming camp, and the ex-gay, pro-Jesus camp.

For most conservative Christians, they would love to buy into the Side X script that says gay folks turn “normal” when you just add Jesus. “Pray the gay away” is a widespread concept, and it is the simplest one for straight Christians to grasp onto when they have had limited real world experience with an LGBT person.

The flip side of this is that all of the gay folks that aren’t “ex-gay” can then be seen as the enemy. It’s “the gays” who are dismissing Scripture or destroying family values. When viewing the world through this lens, it becomes easy to view all gay people as “militantly pro-gay” or “gay rights advocates”.

It becomes clear then, how, all of a sudden, there is no room in their script for a Side B gay Christian. We have to fit the mold of either Side A or Side X. From straight Christians we can hear things like:

“Why would you identify as gay? Aren’t gay people the ones that are splitting ABC or XYZ denomination?”

“Every gay Christian I have read about is twisting Scripture to line up with their own desires.”

“If you’re not actively living the lifestyle, I don’t get why you would even call yourself gay.”

“You’re not gay gay.”

“My friend’s cousin used to be gay. There’s hope for you, too!”

“Hey, my natural orientation is to have sex with every beautiful women I see. We all have to deny ourselves. But I still don’t call myself a ‘lustful Christian.'”

“Homosexuality is a sin. It’s pretty cut and dry in the Bible.”

“You can’t be both a Christian and gay.”

“Sure, it’s not a sin to be tempted, but it seems like you’re proud of your temptations.”

“Are you still talking about this gay thing?”

As I’ve said earlier, it is difficult for us celibate gay Christians to thrive without healthy connections to the church community.

So, how do we create space for this middle ground to be widened and explored? How do we ever find the space to stop pushing back on the two sides that are squeezing us out? How could we ever possibly be able to take a rest and sit down when it feels like standing still is the same as losing ground?

We tell our stories.

We educate our friends. Our families. Our pastors. Our priests.

Not everyone is called to stand up on a stage and tell a few hundred people all at once, but I am a firm believer that our strongest tool is our stories. If our stories aren’t being told by us, then someone else is telling our stories for us.

Tell a friend. Lovingly correct the bad assumptions you hear people making. Define your terms for others. Don’t let them define them for you.  Seek community. Be vulnerable. Let the joys and sorrows of your life both be seen. This plight of ours is not a death sentence for intimacy.

So, tell your story. To someone. And then maybe someone else.

And all of a sudden, the Church will be better equipped to see the space for us where we fit into this diverse Body of Christ.

And the healthy church will protect this diversity. Maybe they’ll even scoot over to make us a little more space at the Lord’s table.

To give us some breathing room.

Isn’t that what we all want, anyways? A chance to breathe in the midst of the culture war?

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!

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?

Standard of Living

Disclaimer: This post is fairly long, and it rambles a bit, but please stick with it. I would love to hear your feedback, no matter where you have landed on these questions or how confident you are in your answers. Thanks.

The title of this post really says it all. One of the biggest questions I’ve been entertaining for years is “What standard of living should I aspire to?” Worded another way: “What standard of living is appropriate given my commitment to follow Christ, love God, and love my neighbor?”

For as long as I have been considering this question, I’ve never once heard someone make a definitive statement. I understand the nature of this question needing to be answered on an individual basis, but I feel that too often we are simply dodging the real answers.

I’ve mentioned before that I read The Irresistible Revolution a few years back and that this book has radically changed my outlook on what it means to follow Jesus.  In the book, Shane Claiborne tells his story of living among the poor and giving up his middle class lifestyle to serve “the least of these”.  He does it selflessly and calls others to find their own way to follow his example.  It was probably reading this book (combined with my very limited experience of serving the poor) that made me first re-consider my ideal of making enough money to “live comfortably”.

At this point, I was still planning to be a research biologist or possibly even a medical doctor. I knew that I could make a very comfortable living this way. A small part of me that was ever growing wasn’t content with this ultimate destination for my life.

I worked at a summer camp for 3 summers making very small amounts of money. I believed that the amount of money wasn’t important as long as I was serving Jesus. Because of this, I wasn’t saving very much throughout college. I wasn’t building my credit or establishing myself financially as I know some of my peers were.

Then, I decided 3 years ago, to change my major. I had been very unsettled in the field of Biology for quite some time, and eventually everything came together and I felt that I was supposed to get my degree in Social Work. I wasn’t thinking about money when I made this decision. Of course it would be somewhat less, but I was far more motivated to change my major because of where I felt God was leading me.

As the reality of how little money I’d be making settled in, I began reasoning out that I would simply further my education by getting my Masters Degree. Once I had my Masters, I could make enough money to live comfortably.

Well, now I have my Bachelors degree, and I still want to get my Masters, but I have chosen to delay going back to school in order to get some work experience first. When I consider my financial future, there is still a part of me that wants to go back to school just for the chance at more money.

I desire to ultimately make this decision based on factors other than money, but before I can, I feel I need to have a better grip on God’s desire for his followers when it comes to their finances.

More recently, my small group has been reading and discussing the book Crazy Love. Throughout the entire book, Francis Chan has been challenging the reader to fully follow Christ and love others in such a way that we have to trust God to take care of our needs. He is encouraging us to love unconditionally and to give sacrificially as an outpouring of our love for the Creator who has pursued us relentlessly. He poses some of the more difficult questions about what this means for Christians and their financial affairs.

I am going to list off some of the questions he has asked and some that he has inspired me to ask:

How much money should a Christian keep back for their living expenses?

How should a follower of Christ go about planning for their retirement?

When it comes to saving money, what is the difference between being a good steward of our resources and hoarding?

Should a Christian’s giving to the church and to the poor be based on an income cap, or a percentage of income?  For example, Chan suggested that a possible way of setting our standard of living would be to give away all of our income above the median US income.

If Jesus told the rich, young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, what does this mean for the rest of His followers?

If Jesus sent out his disciples without any extra supplies to go and bear witness to Him, where should we draw the line in our abundance?

Why do we put up with so much inequality within the church if the early church sold their possessions so that no one was in need?

If we are to be servants of Christ within an American context, there are certain luxuries that are almost commodities in order to serve effectively. How do we live counter-culturally when we are still connected to so many things that set us apart as wealthy? (ie Internet, television, movies, music)

Why is the church so reluctant to believe that Jesus really meant what he said about sacrificing our material comfort to follow Him?

Why do some segments of Christianity balk at the idea of giving to the poor when they have an abundance?

When those who are more socially-minded try to focus our attention on helping the poor, why are they deemed radical?

Shouldn’t those who are trying to follow Jesus more fully be an example we try to follow rather than an exception that we talk about as if they are impossibly out-of-touch with reality?

Why do we most often consider God’s blessing a financial thing?

What was the last thing you (or I) did that actually required that we have faith in God’s provision?

On top of reading Francis Chan’s book, I was also upset by another source:   Glenn Beck.  In a segment of his show where he was attempting to debunk “Black Liberation Theology” to protect his viewers from the socialists, he said a few things that I disagreed with strongly.  He was very clear that he “earned” his wealth and “earned” the job that he had and it was his

right as an American to hang onto it as tightly as he wants.  This angered me because as someone speaking to Christians, he seemed to be more concerned with them being good Americans than with them being good followers of Christ.  Christ was never about hanging on to what we have earned.  Every time the early church is spoken about or instructed in the New Testament regarding money, it seems to always be about giving freely and supporting one another.  Besides the familiar passages in Acts 2 and 4, we have this one in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

In all of this, I am still trying to discern what this means for my own life.  I feel guilty at times for how I spend my money on entertainment and fast food when I could be finding much cheaper alternatives to enjoy my free time and feed myself.  Yet, it’s so hard to make changes in these areas of my life when I look around at the church and see Christians living in extravagant houses with new cars, sailboats, jet skis, etc.  (The notion of comparing the way I follow Christ to others is a separate post).  I am not making a ton of money right now, and there are many people who would advise me right now to save as much as I can and look towards providing for my future and the future of my family (which I don’t have yet).  And this message seems to be fine if I want to live comfortable and achieve the American Dream.  However, when I listen to Scripture and other voices that I respect, I hear a different message of sacrificial giving and sacrificial living that seems to be the opposite of comfortable.

I would greatly appreciate your discussion and input on this topic.  I asked a lot of questions in this post, and after having read back through all of it, I believe I have captured many of my thoughts and have represented them as scattered as they are in my own mind.   Whether you tackle one question, two questions, or all of them is up to you.  Maybe you will offer an entirely different perspective than I have entertained.  Either way, I hope you won’t let that stop you from sharing.

The question that sums up all of this post, and the question that I aspire to ask any time I approach the Bible is this:

How then should I live?

Final Disclaimer:  This post is meant to be about how a Christ-follower lives out Kingdom values.  If any of my questions or ramblings seemed to make it into a political / economic discussion, I apologize.  This is meant to be about how we choose to live our lives as an expression of our love for God, not about how we vote or pay taxes.

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.

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright

This afternoon, I started reading a book that I’ve been wanting to read since before I even knew of it.

For my entire life, I’ve been in a predominantly Baptist context. For the first 18 years of my life, much of my theology fell in line with mainstream Evangelicalism. As a young teen, I eagerly soaked up what I could only consider the “gospel truth on the End Times”. You guys know it as the Left Behind series. Sure, I knew that Tim Lahaye hadn’t personally seen a vision of all the details of the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming, but I knew he had to be pretty darn close.

As I entered college and started work at our local Christian bookstore, I began to learn about all those other “wrong perspectives” in the Christian world.

One of the books I read during college was “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. This book really gave me a vision for how the Church could go about being the body of Christ within the world and living as the Kingdom NOW.

As I took in all of these new ideas, read still more books from unfamiliar perspectives, and discussed these with friends and mentors it seemed as if the way God designed the church simply wasn’t compatible with the End Times theology that I had always accepted as truth.

Followers of Christ aren’t looking to escape, they are supposed to be living the Kingdom here and now in a way that is counter-cultural. As the Church fulfills the mission of Christ, the world will still be broken, but we should not be withdrawing from it. We should be changing it from the inside out. If Christ has set about to restore all things, why are we so convinced that He won’t start doing it until the end?

It seemed as if my understanding of how the Church was to fulfill Christ’s mission and how it was all going to end were simply incompatible. And over the last few years, I’m looked for a book that addresses this inconsistency.

No one seemed to be speaking about what Christ restoring the world would look like apart from sensationalist fiction and fatalistic prophecy books. All of the authors and voices within the Church that had shaped my theology of LIVING seemed to be silent on the theology of end times.

I started reading NT Wright last year when I wanted to understand the debate between him and John Piper over the doctrine of justification. Then, my small group spent the better part of 8 months studying the book of Romans as led by NT Wright’s study guide.

My first impression of NT Wright was that he was a brilliant thinker and writer who really put the entire Bible (especially those pesky Old Testament parts) in perspective under the umbrella of Jesus. He really gave me a fresh understanding of Scripture and sparked in me a desire to learn more. A coworker loaned me a copy of Simply Christian and I consumed it happily. In a way, it was a modern-day Mere Christianity, but so much more big picture.

After finishing the study of Romans and reading Simply Christian, I was talking with a customer recently who also greatly enjoyed NT Wright. We were talking about theology and he, a pastor, mentioned how much NT Wright had opened his eyes to reading the Bible in a fresh light. He also mentioned how his End Times Theology had deeply been impacted. With this, I was floored. I asked him what it was that helped him come to some clarity, and he said it was NT Wright’s follow-up to Simply Christian, titled Surprised by Hope.

Now, I finally had a tangible starting point to finally coming to my own clarity on how a theology of Christ’s Second Coming and New Creation relates to how I live NOW and how I work within the Church to live out the Kingdom.

The past few weeks since that conversation have been busy, and I’d been trying to find a way to get my hands on a copy of Surprised By Hope.

Today, during my lunch break I finally began reading this book. I’m only a chapter into it, but already I can tell that this is the book I’ve been waiting years to read. I plan to post more of my thoughts in a much more detailed post. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be doing this every few chapters or after I’ve finished the book, but I am excited to learn and grow from it.

Have you read this book, (or anything by NT Wright)? What were your thoughts on it or his writing?

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.