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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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.

11thAnnualxmasfestival

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.

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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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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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