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.

Continue reading “The Art of Being Broken”

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?

Continue reading “Running from Joy”

Alone in the Darkness

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

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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?

Continue reading “Alone in the Darkness”

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.

Continue reading “Glory in the Liminal”

A Light unto the Nations

I serve as a chaplain for my college’s choir, and I was asked to give a short homily before the dress rehearsal of our annual Christmas festival. This is a transcript of the message I gave earlier tonight.

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Let me read you all a quote from the great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Yesterday the United States were struck by tragedy once again: mass shootings in Savannah, GA and San Bernardino, CA. This disturbs us, and rightfully so — but it doesn’t surprise us.

According to a mass shooting tracker on Reddit, defining a “mass shooting” as one that injures/kills 4 or more people, this brings our tally for the year up to 355.

I’ll let you do the math.

In times like this it can be especially hard to see the good in the world. These are just tragedies that made the headlines; how much more suffering goes on that we don’t hear about?

Sometimes it’s easier to offer an obligatory prayer and move on with our lives — we don’t always have the emotional capacity to deal with all of it, and we know it goes on all the time. We’d just prefer not to think about it — I know at least I’m guilty of this.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that we can’t run from grief. We can’t leave our problems at the door and put on our happy faces while we worship. We can’t conquer our pain unless we face it.

There is good news here. We are not alone.

Tonight we celebrate the coming of the God who didn’t run from His people’s pain, instead taking on human flesh and sharing in it — feeling it, bearing it, and taking it for us.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:4-5

This is the God of every cell and every galaxy, who redeems the world, and in His love deigns to receive our supplication.

O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with lovingkindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.

Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of thy blessed body.
– Ancient Latin text, “O nata lux”

So keep praying. But after you’ve done that, act.

God didn’t call us out of the darkness just so we could spend our lives avoiding it. That pain, that anxiety, that sorrow — we all have bits of brokenness with us today, and I want to encourage us to be honest and vulnerable with it. My hope is that when we’re here, surrounded by our brothers and sisters, we can let our walls down and really come to the cross together, casting our cares on Him, for He cares for us — for you.

Because when we let God shine in our darkness, He lets us shine in the darkness — to be a light unto the nations.

So tonight, when we sing, play instruments, carry candles, ring bells, or whatever, I hope we aren’t putting on our happy faces and doing it just because we have to. I hope we’re doing it to follow the example of Jesus Christ — walking headfirst into the darkness so that we can bring Light to it; celebrating our Lord’s First Coming, and looking forward to His Second Coming, when the Light indeed wins.

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

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.

Continue reading “To Chase the Light (Coming Out)”

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained
in this our earth where hot seeks cold, up down?
Your right seeks right, and thus forsakes its crown,
for left is Right, and right is left as stained.
Yet conflagration bright still burns as white as first of day;
and passion laid to waste, self-spurned, cannot imprisoned stay.

You ask me much, o love, this price to pay,
of crosses borne alone with no respite,
with rusty thorns to add to sorry sight,
and yet expects to steady, come what may.
What good is faith when trials come? when brothers shake their feet
and spit on those to thirst succumbed? How fragile this conceit.

Or hast thou, love, seen brokenness so sweet,
that comfort overcomes your wish to live?
That desperation surely shall forgive
the broken soul so joyful in defeat?
When gentle tethers turn to chains that on the heartstrings fray,
all heaven’s mercy does contain the jury’s cold dismay.

And wilt thou, love, press on and seek to pray
for God to be your only evermore?
Since witnesses betwixt thee wage their war,
what hope is there to down their weapons lay?
If murderers and whores shall find their company with Christ,
then friends among the outcast bind their hearts together thrice.

O love, your conflagration seeks no ice;
it burns to be contained by equal flame.
But Nature’s heralds turn such warmth to shame,
as if for every fire shall snow suffice.
The blaze alone, they say, shall raze the paradigm set forth
in Eden, when in Adam’s gaze good eros showed its worth.

How tragic is your face, o love, to Earth,
whose soil feels the wretched sting of sin,
and groans to be redeemed as once had been;
and loveless love, you mourn your day of birth.
How different should your hope appear had ice been your desire?
Would grace still quell your fearless fear, still tame your fireless fire?

For years to come, o love, shall you yet tire;
how long to still believe in rest at last?
If barely crawling through the race, surpassed
by all, then love, will you so soon expire?
If goodness comes to those who seek the will of God divine,
then let me hear the ones who speak out life from Christ the vine.

And as the deer who pants for streams and longs for fall of rain,
my pining soul cries out; it screams for balm to ease the pain.
O thou, o love, in darkness will you shine?
Will doubtless doubt be yours to still contend?
Will unto hope you hang until the end?
So long as Jesus’ righteousness be mine.

If God alone forevermore

The following is a repost of a poem I wrote this past Valentine’s Day on my Facebook. Being a celibate gay Christian in a time like this, I’ve been feeling a wide range of emotions for the past couple days, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. This poem is for everyone whose only love will be God.

If God alone forevermore shall be my only love,
why then, o soul, do you still want? Is heaven not enough?
For hearts can ache and bodies break for lovelorn days aside,
and still my yearning soul cries out, lest all my fears subside.

If God alone forevermore shall be my desert song,
then from parched lips and swollen tongue may all my praise sing on.
For if by Him I am assured eternal rest above,
then surely thirst for forty days cannot negate His love.

If God alone forevermore shall be my sword and shield,
then for the sake of righteousness could I my passions yield?
For yet while others seek to gain the blessings God ordained,
my lot is salt, my treasure light, my destiny the rain.

If God alone forevermore shall be my strength and stay,
then surely I have naught to fear, but save my fallen way.
For if by Jesus’ sacrifice I have been washed anew,
why then, o joy, are you so small, your moments far and few?

If God alone forevermore shall be my only light,
then in the darkness there I find a hope in fire bright.
May love and hope and mercy great all but burn away
my sin and shame and shadow in the Lover’s blameless name.

2/14/15