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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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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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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Running from Joy

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
— Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

I admit: I’m a glutton for self-punishment. Not in the bodily, masochistic sense, but I’m a prototypical perfectionist who sets impossible standards for myself and then proceeds to beat myself up when I inevitably fail to measure up. I was raised with the concept of total depravity — the idea that there is absolutely nothing good in me apart from God, and that anything good is from God alone (which I have no actual part in).

Growing up, I internalized this entirely unhealthily. The idea that I was nothing but a worthless sinner may have made the concept of grace easier to grasp, but that never sunk in. I latched on to depravity so obstinately that my self-perception erased most of my humanity. I learned to see myself as a monster beyond redemption, every prayer and every good deed a worthless attempt to earn the affection of the Father who would never love me. And who was I to question that?

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Glory in the Liminal

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

– Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

I was only 13 or so when my uncle asked me something that would change my life. It was just an ordinary visit from him (which albeit didn’t happen very often because he lived so far away), but in the middle of our conversation he posed a rhetorical question:

“Jason, how do you learn things?”

I hadn’t really thought about it too much before that. You learn what you’re taught and you’re taught what is true. After some unsatisfactory guesses from me, my uncle suggested an answer that has stuck with me ever since — you learn by asking questions.

Before you tell someone what your name is, you first need to ask, “what is my name?”. Before you put on your clothes, you first need to ask, “what should I wear today?”. Before you ponder a deep question, you first need to ask, “what should I think about now?” (wow so meta).

Call me a skeptic, but questions are the backbone of knowledge. We cannot answer anything without having first asked a question, and it is my firm belief that the deepest answers are given to those who ask the deepest questions.

Though recently, I’ve been increasingly bothered by what happens when we don’t get an answer.

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To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

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An Exploration of Love (My Testimony)

On April 14, 2015, I had an article, which I intended to call “The Expectation of Love,” published in Westmont’s school newspaper, in which I briefly discussed my perspective on romantic love as a celibate gay Christian. It left a lot of questions unanswered, and I felt it deserved some elaboration. This is my story, along with a few extra thoughts — without a 750 word limit.

Coming out at Westmont was the third best decision of my life; the first being my decision to follow Christ, and the second being my decision to attend Westmont.

Although I expected a bit of backlash from the controversial nature of coming out as gay at a Christian institution, in reality I received the largest outpouring of love I’ve ever experienced.

I continued to brace myself for the insults and the condemnation, but it never came. For that I’m extremely thankful, but I also know that as an openly gay man in the modern evangelical church, the road I want to travel is one filled with pain and difficulty. It always has been.

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Singled Out

There’s a reason everybody freaks out when someone’s about to get married.

Families get involved, venues are booked, banquets are planned, gifts prepared, invitations sent, dresses tailored, decorations, music, cakes, photos, friends you haven’t seen in three years, and oh my word thank God there’s an open bar.

It’s a freakin’ big deal. But why? Why do we spend so much time, money, and energy on a single day of rituals when couples nowadays can simply get a marriage license and elope? Why do we all care so much?

Contrary to popular belief, a wedding isn’t all about the soon-to-be-married couple.

In a traditional nuptial, after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows, the celebrant asks the wedding attendees this question:

“Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”

To which the congregation responds,

“We will.”

The presence of this question, or at least the spirit of it, conveys the prime reason that nonaffirming Christians often refuse to attend same-sex weddings — whether or not that’s what they might be consciously thinking. When asked to formally voice their support for a gay union, answering in the obligatory manner would be simply dishonest.

It’s interesting to note that we often don’t think about this passing formality in weddings while it’s happening. We only subconsciously note it when we have something to be opposed to, like a same-sex marriage. In the last wedding I went to, I was too busy keeping myself from crying because my cousin looked so beautiful in her wedding dress to really dwell on the gravity of my affirmation.

But lately, especially in juxtaposition to gay unions, I’ve been beginning to realize that the public commitment of a marriage is one of the most inextricably important elements of a wedding. It is what holds the couple accountable in faithfulness to one another, and holds the community accountable to recognizing and nurturing that relationship.

In a sense, the marriage covenant solidifies the ties between each individual and the community — formal recognition forces the bride and the groom into the public eye, almost as if they have become full-fledged members of the world at large.

Which is great, except that it’s kind of a problem.

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Running from Grief

The room is dark except for the blaring stage lights going off during the concert, and mostly everyone has moved down to the ground floor to get a better view of the singer. She’s a young, African-American alto who vaguely reminds me of Jamie Grace, though I know it can’t be her. Among the few remaining in the balcony seats are me and another boy; and since neither of us appreciates crowds, we’re happy to enjoy the performance in relative solitude.

We’ve been good friends for a while, so it isn’t particularly strange that I’ve nestled my head in the crook of his neck. I feel comfortable and secure, enjoying the brotherly affection I can openly share with my friend, until he slips one hand into mine and lays his other on my thigh. Suddenly the contact doesn’t feel so brotherly, and I freeze up, unsure of what to do. Part of me craves the warmth of his hand in mine, longs for more human touch than I’ve previously allowed. The other part of me panics at the boundaries he’s just crossed, but doesn’t want to damage our existing relationship by drawing back. We need to have a discussion.

Talking over the deafening music would be nearly impossible, so I walk him out of the concert hall, never breaking the hold between our hands — something I desperately want to last, yet at the same time want to end immediately. While we walk in the dim light of the hallway, I get a good look at his face: short, sandy blonde hair; bright eyes I can’t quite tell are blue, green, or grey; and a well-defined but delicate jawline. He’s deathly cute, and the way he locks eyes with me and smiles nervously only enforces that.

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