A Taste of Home

Moving to a new place is hard. You leave your community, your family, behind; your apartment is dusty, and the heat is oppressive. But you get to know your roommates, you sweep the floor, and slowly it starts to feel like home.

The ache in your heart never seems to disappear, but you scrounge together the ingredients you have — a box of vegetables you ordered online, too ugly to be sold at a market but perfectly good inside. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. Green beans.

You brought pieces of home with you: rice, which you put on the steamer, and a packet of Japanese curry — it was your dad’s signature dish. He made it every family gathering, every time you came home from college, and just any time you ever asked.

It takes you almost two hours to finish. You salted too late, you’re missing the chicken, and you forgot that vegetables have water in them. The sun has long set by the time you fill your bowl, but you know it was exactly the right dish to make.

You’ve forgotten why your heart hurts so much, but it only takes one taste to remind you. Your eyes unexpectedly sting with tears, and your cry for the first time in a long while. Because you did it all on your own, and so long as you have the arms to cook, and the mouth to eat, you carry your father with you.

Because when you eat, you live. But more than that: so does he.

The Weight of a Body

Sometimes I feel I am barely a body,
a tenant by chance in a lodging of flesh.
Its hunger, its sweat, its carnal desire
seem to weigh down the flight in my chest.

A temple, a gift, a lease on this life —
I’m supposed to be finite and yet satisfied?
And what of this nagging, persnickety tug
on my heartstrings? Damn, he’s so cute I could die.

I’m more mind than meatbag, or so I might think;
I’m inclined to decline the things it requests.
I’ll mind-over-matter it! That is, until
the weight of my body makes clear its behest.

The things that I’d do to be by his side…
WAIT NO. You stop that. Dumb body. Behave.
Just take a deep breath and try to be cool;
he’ll think you’re a weirdo — or worse yet, he’s straight.

I’ll try to remember that bodies are good,
though twisted and tongue-tied’s my talking untucked.
I wish I could scrape off the rust in my brain,
’cause right now it’s busy repeating “oh HECK.”

It’s okay, it’s fine. EVERYTHING’S FINE.
He’s laughing; that’s good. He believes I’m not a socially-anxious-overanalyzer-who-focuses-way-too-much-on-everything-that-could-go-wrong.
At least then today I’ve made a new friend!
But don’t hold your breath — you’ve talked far too long.

As soon as it’s over, I’m proud of myself.
I didn’t seem crazy or over-the-top.
The weight of my body keeps dragging me down,
but I’m thankful for vocals that know when to stop.

And though I’m confounded by much of my form,
it’s taught me a lot about knowing oneself.
The hunger reminds me of how much I’m blessed;
the sweat keeps me humble and thankful for health.

The hole in my heart is a question to ask —
will I still find meaning in life lived alone?
Yet surely it isn’t a sin to desire
the weight of a body pressed down on my own.

I wonder if Jesus felt weighed down like me.
Does being embodied mean feeling askew?
Or maybe it’s simply a matter of space:
that I am a body to be here with you.

Ephemera

Today I fell in love with phantoms,
serenading sand and light,
watching from their weeping ashes
memories of joy and strife.

We built ourselves a house of paper
wilting underneath the rain,
kneeling in a soft cathedral,
singing hymns to ease the pain.

Taking up our fists of gravel,
burnished dust, and frozen stone,
carving out a refuge world
from a war of flesh and bone;

Steadied by those iron bastards,
whetted arms by sparkèd force
blazing into hellish glory
shedding corpse by silver corpse.

Those haven walls became our downfall —
buried by the broken glass,
dust to dust from earth surrender,
scattered by the sky to pass.

Yet flowing on, our phantoms echo
through the silent stream of life,
building us a new cathedral,
safe from every storm and blight.

But even strongholds fixed of iron
crumble to the sands of time;
still every moment founds the next,
an ever living-dying rhyme.

The phantoms which I call beloved
are known to be ephemera,
the phoenix ashes spread among
the flowers in memoriam.

So to your grave I take my love,
my hate, my joy, my guilt, my peace…
knowing each new path begins
with letting go. With setting free.

Be Not Afraid

screenshot2016-11-09at10-05-31amLast night I delivered a short homily to my college’s choir before our first performance of the annual Christmas festival. This is the full transcript of that.

The Lord be with you! Therefore: let us not fear — that’s this year’s theme, right? Fear not. Easy.

Personally, when someone tells me not to be afraid, I admit it’s not actually very helpful. It feels almost dismissive, like they’re unwilling to take my fear seriously. I am afraid of a lot of things — spiders, dead things, peanut products — or on a more serious note, I am afraid of failure… of loneliness… of my uncertain future.

Some fears keep us alive. Some fears keep us from living.

We’re all deeply afraid of something, so “fear not” can sound like an impossible task — as if it’s some sort of rule we’re expected to follow. And as someone who suffers from anxiety, I tend to think this way a lot. But sometimes we need to be reminded that these are words of comfort.

This is God’s promise to us:

When you walk through the waters, I’ll be with you;
you will never sink beneath the waves.
When the fire is burning all around you,
you will never be consumed by the flames.

When the fear of loneliness is looming,
then remember I am at your side.
When you dwell in the exile of a stranger,
remember you are precious in My eyes.
(Excerpted from Philip Stopford’s “Do Not Be Afraid”)

It’s not a matter of if we face fear, but when. And when that time comes, how will we respond? It’s unrealistic to assume we can will our fear away — in fact, I think that’s dishonest.

Rather, “fear not” isn’t the end of it. Listen to the words of Joshua 1:9…

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for YHWH your God is with you wherever you go.

“Fear not, for I am with you”. Therefore, be bold.

All of us are afraid of something, whether it’s of making a huge, life-changing decision, or of coming in fortissimo on page 2 of Virga Jesse. But I encourage you not simply to “fear not”, but to own that fear. Face it head-on, for you are not alone. God is with you and for you. All of us are with you and for you. Be strong and courageous — so boldly we pray:

O branch of Jesse, You have blossomed in fullness of both divinity and humanity, restoring peace and reconciling in Yourself the lowest with the highest.

Tonight, as we rejoice and sing on behalf of Your people, remind us that You are with us wherever we go, whether in the valley of the shadow of death, or in the candlelit glow of a Presbyterian church.

Lord, help us to not be afraid; help us to be bold,
for You have redeemed us,
You have called us by our names.
We are Yours,
we are Yours,
we are Yours.

Amen.

A God of Love and Surprises

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
– 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)

Exactly one year ago, I publicly came out as gay. Today I’m formally coming out in full moral support of same-sex relationships. You probably saw this coming (especially if you read my latest post), and if you know me in person this is no surprise. But I felt it might be helpful to tell the story of how I ended up here — though if you’re looking for a theological exploration, I’m afraid that’s for another time.

Back in the summer of 2015, a friend I found on an online group for LGBT+ Christians was considering becoming a Catholic priest, and one day, he struck up a conversation with me about celibacy. I confessed to him that I had only tentatively parked myself on Side B and maintained celibacy because it was the “safe option”.

In truth, something felt very off about my experience with “lifelong” singleness. I felt trapped by my faith, forced into a vocation I never desired for myself. And though I tried to convince myself I could learn to love it, I could never shake the feeling that I was living a lie.

My primary concern through everything has always been to remain faithful to God. I never set out to prove any particular viewpoint right or wrong — I just wanted the truth, but in order to do that I needed to look further into affirming theologies. A lot of what I came across didn’t strike me as very convincing, but I was willing to dialogue with this new friend of mine, who ever so graciously walked me through his beliefs. We respectfully disagreed and began to learn from each other’s experiences.

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The Art of Being Broken

9439696-vintage-metal-world-globe-lies-cracked-and-broken1Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
– Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)

Things are very much not okay right now. There’s so much crap going down all over the world (see: wars, hurricanes, political shams, etc.) that it’s hard to tell if I just notice all the bad in the world now that I’m older, or if things really are getting worse. It’s become very hard to hold onto hope amidst all this chaos.

And then there’s my wreck of a personal life. These past few years have been the most growing I’ve ever experienced, but they’ve also been the most trying. This year in particular has wounded me the deepest, and I’ve never felt closer to the brink of falling apart. In the span of the last 12 months, I:

I might as well buy a t-shirt that says “emotionally unstable” on the front. Living under the weight of everything above, plus generalized depression and anxiety, has taken its toll on me. I am an expert at pretending to be okay, but I can’t continue to do that every time someone asks me how I’m doing. Because the truth is this:

I am broken.

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A Posture of Mercy

college-photo_15333Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
– Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

Three years ago, I fell in love. It was Preview Weekend at Westmont College and the air was alive with excitement, with perfect Southern California weather beaming down on a group of hopeful students just dipping our toes into the pond of postsecondary education. I had never felt so welcome before, so at home — so loved. My mind was reeling with the possibility of attending such an amazing place, and as soon as I returned north I sent my application in. I chose to love Westmont, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

But much has changed since then.

I used to wear rose-colored glasses when it came to my school. Choosing only to see the good, I found it easy to accept the rules and regulations expected of me when I became part of the community. And yet I still vividly remember sitting at my desk, my eyes fixated on a single sentence on my computer screen:

The college does not condone…occult practices, drunkenness, theft, profanity, and dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.
– 2013 Westmont Community Life Statement (bold added for emphasis)

This was before I accepted my sexual orientation, and still I found myself reading that one clause over and over just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t know what even constituted “homosexual practice,” but it made me nervous. Several conflicted minutes passed before I hesitantly clicked the “agree” button. Deep down, despite my tightly locked closet, I knew that rule was directed towards me.

And perhaps this made sense — a boy who spent his life feeling estranged, unloved, and dissociated from himself ran to a place of security. A place where he could find himself, find joy, find Jesus.

I trusted Westmont because I thought it would be that place. I hungered for the true knowledge and love of Christ, and I fought down my hesitation because I thought Westmont would be the place I finally tasted it. And for a while, it was.

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The Illusion of Breath

“Do you see it too? Sometimes it looks like he’s still breathing; we’re so used to seeing the motion that our eyes trick us into seeing an illusion of breath.”

My brother and I stood at the side of the bed where our father’s still body lay. Half an hour prior, our family had gathered to be with him as he drew his last breaths. The morning sun was shining through the shades, casting a warm glow around the room. After 61 years of struggling, our dad had finally finished his journey, and for what might have been the first time, he looked truly at peace.

The two of us hadn’t spoken much as we stood by the bedside, but I nodded my head in agreement with my brother. Every little movement in my dead father’s direction prompted me to look harder, to keep searching for that wisp of breath that could have been his. The natural rising and lowering of his chest was no longer there, but my eyes couldn’t seem to give up expecting it — as if somehow he’d suddenly wake up, gasping and flinging his eyes open like in the movies. But he didn’t.

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An Inexhaustible Grace

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

The past few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. So many terrible things have happened around the world, and as hard I try, it’s become more and more exhausting to respond in a gracious and compassionate manner.

I saw many of my LGBT+ friends experience this particularly after the Orlando Pulse Shooting, when we flocked to social media in mourning, but were met with constant misunderstanding. Despite the pain of our community, we found ourselves having to explain why that tragedy mattered to us, and many of us even had to talk down opposition to our sorrow.

Marginalized individuals should never have to defend their existence to majority parties, and the problem is only exacerbated when the majority invalidates those minority experiences. And quite frankly, it’s thoroughly exhausting on our end.

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Pulse

orlandoTo the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.

Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
my brother-sister-neighbor-father-mother-friend,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.

You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because

sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.

Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”

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