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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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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Alone in the Darkness

It is not good that the man should be alone…
– Genesis 2:18b (ESV)

streetlamp

I’m not the kind of person that views the idea of home as a specific place — I’d be glad to rewrite the adage “home is where the heart is” as “home is who the heart is with.” It’s been a difficult concept to wrestle with, and it’s only been these past few years that I’ve discovered what that means in relation to spiritual friendship and the community of Christ.

So in a sort of roundabout sense, home is where the friend is. And my friends… well, they’re all over the place.

I think of Westmont College as my home because that’s where the majority of my current friendships have been formed. But when school isn’t in session and everyone goes back to their geographical homes, I can’t help but feel that I lose my spiritual home. My community splinters every few months, and while I know that kinship still remains, it’s just not the same.

Is it too much to admit that I’m lonely?

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Clipped

Originally posted to my Facebook on June 8, 2015.

They say that just to touch the sky,
to see the world with eagle’s eye
is our pure joy, our apex grand,
our purpose, and our life’s demand.

And great it seems, to watch the dance
of shifting wings in sweet romance;
but what of us who cannot fly
who cannot soar, not touch the sky?

“Your wings are bright,” they say to us,
“too bright and far too dangerous;
the color of your plumage bright
shall blind all others in their flight.

“So do not fly! Do not succumb
to sweetened poison on your tongue.
You wretched thing, we’d pity thee
if we weren’t so far up this tree.”

And thus I stayed here on the ground,
tethered to the earth, and bound
fast to running our good race
for Him above, for His good grace.

But dust and dirt, they sting my eyes;
they stifle every sound and sight.
Perhaps this life here in the soil
could use a Friend to share the toil.

For all who touch the floor will leave,
and each step leads to parting grief;
but until then we share the dust,
and until then we walk — we must.

Although this race below the sky
can still be run if we can’t fly,
this path on which we slowly roam:
it needs a wing to walk us home.

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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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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Family Matters

This past week has been quite the whirlwind in the gay Christian world. Julie Rodgers, a prominent Side B Christian, recently published a post on her blog, in which she came out as a supporter of same-sex relationships. Despite how gracious and honest she was in her writing, it didn’t take long for the internet to explode afterwards, resulting in some scathing reviews (which I refuse to link to, but Eliel Cruz touches upon in his news report). Julie has been a role model of mine ever since I entered this conversation (and still is), in part because of her convictions and character, and also because of her bold decision to minister at Wheaton College as a part of the Chaplain’s staff — a position she has since resigned from.

Especially since Tony Campolo voiced his support for the full inclusion of gay couples in the Church, this tilting of the scales has been made more evident as more and more Side B Christians trickle into the Side A sympathy boat. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing — many of my good friends are Side A — I am extremely upset that there’s always a vitriolic response whenever it happens.

If I’m to be honest, I’m scared. Frightened at the possibility of being the next generation to take up that mantle — a mantle that’s already been burned, scarred, and martyred beyond recognition.

But this is not just me being a coward — more than fear, what I feel right now is intense sadness. I weep because we’ve made factions of “good gays” and “bad gays.” I weep because we’ve put ourselves in God’s judgment seat. I weep because the voices of peace and vulnerability have been weaponized for everyone else’s agendas.

A mentor of mine recently said that she feels Christianity has lost its identity as a whole, and though I may be taking her words slightly out of context, I agree completely. We have lost what it means to be the body of Christ — we have forgotten what it means to be a family.

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