emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

I’ll be much more than okay.

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

“Why have we fasted,” they say,
“and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?”

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice,
and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-

when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;

then  your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or spreading idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

-from the book of Isaiah

 

When I was in college, I spent my summers working at a Christian family resort in the recreation department. Each morning the Rec Staff met for devotions and then launched the day from there. (Well, sometimes the day launched with a 5:30 am canoe trip, and then we met for devotions after getting back.) One summer morning – my last summer there – we were reading from Isaiah. While my boss talked, I remember flipping a few pages ahead and stumbling across Isaiah chapter 58. As I read that chapter, my blood froze in my veins and I suddenly felt so veryheavy, as if the atmosphere was pressing me down into the thick mats that made up the floor to our climbing wall room upon which we were sitting.

The words on that page shook me to the core, and I remember thinking right then that this section of scripture was going to be very, very important in my life. I didn’t know what it would look like or when or how it would happen, but I knew then that Papa was saying, “This is important. Really important.”

In the timeline of my life, that morning sits just after my radical reorientation towards the Father and the Kingdom of Heaven that came through the discipleship semester and just before the Great Fall in which I systematically lied, cheated, stole, and flushed away nearly every single relationship that ever meant anything to me at all. I mean, sure, I’d had lots of “Falls” before, but they all paled in comparison to the Great Fall. Sitting with the Rec Staff that morning, reading Isaiah, I didn’t have a clue what lay before me. Never in a million years would I have imagined, in that moment, that I’d become the man I am today, having seen and done all that I have seen and done. It would have been incomprehensible to me.

Yet I am me. I’ve been everywhere I have been and done everything I have done, and I’ve crawled broken and bruised back to my Father. In the two years since I’ve had my ups and downs, and gritted my teeth more than once at the horrendous consequences of my actions as they limit my daily life and my dreams of a future.

My future.

That’s been a big thought in my head the last few months. I’ve been praying for Papa to help me realize that my idea of a future may not be his, and to help me accept with joy the future he does have planned, and on his timing. None of my prayers, talks, readings, or daydreams have helped me feel more confident and trustful in Papa’s future than this blog post by Richard Beck in which he uses, you got it, Isaiah 58.

No, I have no clue what my future looks like and yeah, I’ve disqualified myself from quite a bit.

But boy howdy, when I read that passage, I forget all about that.

When I read that chapter of Isaiah, I remember that it’s just not about me at all. It’s about Papa and his Kingdom, and if ever there was good news, well, that’s it. He’s big enough to handle me and transform me from a self-centered idiot that ruins himself and everything he touches into a man that spends himself on behalf of the heart of the Father. And if I never have anything else in this life – no money, no car, no house, no bed, no phone, no family, no friends, even no man at my side – then I still have Papa, and that’s enough.

So even if I’m at the absolute bottom -which I’m not – there’s still a future worth something. God’s still faithful, and that is awesome.

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A New Law?

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music
don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
just give me that new law

don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice
don’t teach me about loving my enemies
don’t teach me how to listen to the spirit
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
just give me that new law

cause what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything?

do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
oh, do not be afraid

do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
oh, do not be afraid

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Oh, do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Derek Webb

It’s Time.

So for the past few months, I’ve felt something *coming.”

Have you ever felt that? The onset of something that you know will change things? It seems that I’m always finding myself in that situation. I can sense when I’ve lingered too long in a place, and if I do nothing about it, I begin to feel that there’s some sort of on-coming storm. And then, invariably, something happens. My dad, or a pastor, or a friend, or somebody finally calls me on stuff. Or else some sort of situation happens and shifts everything, forcing me into action. Something. Either way, in the past I’ve always been the guy that only moves forward in constructive, healthy ways when I’m being forced to.

But lately I’ve been feeling that it’s probably time to grow up.

So instead of wallowing in my rut, I’ve been getting charged up. I began paying (more) attention to things, searching for something. I began pointedly asking Papa for “it.”

I didn’t know what “it” was, but I knew he’d know. Whatever was needed to jolt me out of the rut and get me going, that’s what I wanted. I was sick of remembering better days, and wanted to move again. Live again. Thrive again.

Then I ran across a sermon series online, and I was pleasantly surprised that one of the pastors behind the series was somebody that I used to know in my old life, a fantastic man named Tim. Watching Tim on the screen, preaching a series entitled “Time to Move” infused my heart with a beautiful combination of nostalgia and ambition, and I decided that I was done with waiting for something to come to me.

I’m taking myself to… well, Papa.

I’m jumping into a season of intentional pursuit – just for a season. I’m not looking for a formula to fix things, but instead I’m looking for a bit of discipline and change to upset the balance and help me move onward. That’s why it’s just for a season. There will come a day, probably a few months from now, when my new routine will no longer be appropriate for where I’ll be. And with the fluidity and communication that comes with a relationship with an involved and Holy God, my interactions and routines will change.

With that in mind, I’m enacting a few new rules for this season. Things like getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier, eating healthier, and getting in more exercise. Things like intentially initiating communication with Papa multiple times throughout the day. Not just quick, whispered prayers when I’m frustrated, but rather intential communication. Updates on how I’m feeling, what’s been going on, and the like. As if Papa were a boy that I’d just met, and we couldn’t help ourselves from getting in touch several times a day just to fill one another in with what’s going on.

Also, I’ve added a few intentional prayers for a morning meditation with Papa, something that I want to do before anything happens when I wake up. I made a rough draft of the list tonight:

1) My Matins prayer: Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to a new day

2) My family. Parents, siblings, in-laws, in-laws-to-be, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

3) My bosses, my co-workers, and my community. Both in general and specifically, as things arise.

4) My loved ones from my past.

5) For love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

6) For my future. Finances, circumstances, relationships, and the like. Specifically for faith to trust that Papa has got all that, and it’ll be just fine. Also, I’ll be praying for my future husband. I don’t know who he is or when I’ll know him, but I want to invest purposefully into him now. To that end, I’m being intentional about becoming the kind of guy he’s looking for, and about praying for him.

7) For a closer communcation with Papa throughout the day; for a constant connection with the Holy Spirit.

So that’s that. For a season – and possibly exactly that – that’s what I’ll be up to. My goal is to be more like Christ at the end of this thing than I am now. We’ll see!

It Gets Better.

I was reminded today about my high school experience, and just how different I am from the young man I was then. What I know, what I believe, how I see the world and respond to things. So different. I thought about the It Gets Better campaign and ruminated on what kind of video I would send myself at 17 if I could. I’d tell myself that it’s only a season, and that it does get better. Don’t get discouraged, work hard with what and where you are, and that sooner or later seasons will change. I’d remind myself that my perspective was too small to accurately judge the value of what was happening.

Then I realized that that same advice can apply to me here, today.

So I’m going to pretend that I got a video from a 37 year old Ethan. He’s telling me not to lose heart, and to hold on even now, because my perspective is far too small to accurately gauge what’s happening. He’s telling me to work hard and love well. He’s telling me that it does get better.

Thank God. I was beginning to lose hope.

Here we go again.

Have you ever found yourself thinking that your life is just one big cycle?

I have.

My cycle usually revolves around me screwing up.

Me? Nah. Well… maybe.

My life is pretty much the same circuit: I take a step out, learn some things, grow a lot, and right when I’m feeling pretty good about who I am and what I do… WHAM!

I find out that I’ve screwed up in some terrible way. Now it’s not always “out of the blue” or whatnot – quite often it’s something that I know will probably come back to get me sooner or later. But sometimes it is completely out of the blue. Something I wasn’t expecting at all.

Like this time. I hurt some friends, I think. Badly from the sounds of it. I didn’t see it coming, and still don’t know exactly how. But I do know that it has to do with my words on this blog. Somewhere along the way, I said some things that left at least one good buddy stinging. Open mouth, insert foot.

I’m not sure yet just what it was that I wrote or exactly how it was taken, but that really doesn’t matter at all. I’m not in the least interested in defending myself and rushing to give context to justify “my side” of the story.

And why?

Because this guy is my buddy. He’s lived love to me, so very well, over and over so many times that I can’t even count. I love this guy. I love his wife and kids. They are precious to me, having carved out a spot in my heart through time, trials, and testing.

So it doesn’t matter what I said, or what I meant, or how he took it.

What matters is reconciliation, and stepping up to the plate. It’s been on my mind rather heavily today, and I found myself talking to Papa about it. I realized a few things. Well, re-realized them. “Remembered things that I once knew” is the phrase I like to use.

Words are powerful. Recklessly throwing them around has become the norm in Western culture, spurred on by this idea of not being “fake.” I get that. But maybe sometimes I need to stop and remember that it’s entirely possible to retain authenticity and yet carefully filter and choose my words as well. Taking an extra few minutes to form an answer doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m thinking of how to lie to you; most often it means that I”m thinking of how to respond in a way that loves everyone involved well: you and me. Because if I just say what you want me to say, that’s not loving myself well. But if I spout off without thinking, I could end up hurting myself and you with a careless tongue.

So perhaps I also need to be much more careful with my words in my writing, as well. I forget that not everyone reading these posts is privy to my thoughts, and so of course the only thing they’ll have to go on are the words I write. And if those words leave someone I love hurt and bleeding…? Yikes.

I think I’ve learned, these last few days, about loving people well. Again. Deeper. And that’s not so bad, is it? With that perspective I begin to think that sure, I may be in a constant cycle of screwing up, but each time brings a chance to grow a bit more. A chance for the principles of the gospel to expand a bit more in my heart and mind; to become rooted more firmly in my soul and from there to reach out further and more effectively to those around me.

So thank you, Papa, for another chance to understand how to live love better in this life I’m living. I’m sorry for being reckless with my words, and I’m especially sorry for the pain it has caused. I recognize that placing value in people above all else means doing just that: placing more value in my buddy than myself and my ideas and thoughts poured out on a blog. Help me to do that, Papa.

Help me to do just that.

Four years ago, and four years from now.

Every now and again I like to stop and remember back to where I was (and who I was) in a different season.  I often do it like this: today is 5 April 2012. The fifth day of April is my sister Jennifer’s birthday. (Happy Birthday, Jennie!) Where and who was I on the fifth day of April a few years ago?

Well, on 5 April 2008 I was on a non-stop flight from Hong Kong to New York. I was sitting next to Stephanie Whitmore, who is now married and has a new name. We literally talked for five straight hours without realizing how much time had passed. If you’d have told me that day that just six months from then I’d be at Stephanie’s wedding and seeing the last of her for the next three and a half years, I’d not have believed you. If you had told me that I was really just six months away from not only the end of my friendship with Stephanie but was also going to launch heavily into a new phase of a terribly complicated and drawn-out self-sabotage cycle that would completely wreck my life and decimate my communities and relationships, I’d not have believed you.

But it’d be the truth.

I look back to that 23 year old Ethan, sitting on that plane, and think of all the terrible mistakes he’d already made. Then I think of how they all pale in comparison to the terrible mistakes he’s about to make in the next year and a half of his life. He’s literally going to destroy, systematically, every relationship he has in his life through his lies, his deceit, and his monstrous self-centeredness.

He’s going to find himself, within just a few short years, heartbroken and humbled at his terrible sins.

But then I think on who that Ethan was, really, and what he knew and believed. Suddenly the desire to be able to go back and keep him from making all those terrible mistakes vanishes, because if I did that then *I* would vanish. At 23 years old, I was sure that I was gay, but I really had no idea what that meant, and there was a big part of me that was still very concerned about being sent to hell for it. At 23 I was still very much naive about life and the consequences of my actions and decisions. At 23 I just couldn’t comprehend being 27 and knowing what I know, having experienced and learned what I have experienced and learned. It may have been learned through terrible hardship and with a wretched cost, but the experiences and lessons are so worth the price paid that I daren’t imagine a me without them now.
 
And it strikes me that even though I know that my 23 year old self, sitting on that airplane, isn’t aware that his biggest regrets and most shameful betrayals are still ahead of him… well, I know that he’s going to make it through that okay. Papa’s going to look out for him, forgive him, grant him grace, and provide for him. Papa’s got a plan for him that will bring about growth, reconciliation, and peace. That kid’s gonna go through hell from 2008 on, but by 5 April 2012 he’ll sure have learned a lot about life, love, and the Father.
 
And when I think on that, suddenly all my problems and my worries about the future and my current circumstances seem… completely manageable. Because I’m sure that on 5 April 2016 I’ll be looking back at my 27 year old self and saying much the same thing I’ve said about me at 23 years of age.
 
And I’ll know then, at 31, that Papa already had his hand on me, and worked to faithfully and lovingly take me further up and further in. Can’t say that I have any clue what that will look like, but I certainly believe that it’ll be true.
 
In short… God’s big enough for my life.
 
And thank goodness he is.

Value people.

It’s been quite some time since I found myself thinking that it’s probably more in line with the heart of the Father to value people over all else. By that I mean I like the idea of cutting through discussion, conflict, scandal, etc. to just value and love people over who or what they may bring to the table.

Someone may come to me with something that I don’t understand, something that makes me extremely uncomfortable. But if I move to value that person above my feeble understanding of “Biblical morality” and rules, then I show up to love. To listen. To walk through life together. I don’t have to understand. I just have to love.

Today I came across this concept in a blog and I loved how the author, Scot Miller, phrased it. He said this:

“Which reminds me that I hope I am prejudiced to value human beings over moral or theological principles.

When Jesus was caught breaking the Law by gathering grain on the sabbath, Jesus said to his accusers, “The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

In a similar way, I suspect that the Bible and moral principles are made for human beings, and not the other way around.”

 

Oh, I love that.

The sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath.

Value people over your ideas of righteousness?

Help me to do just that, Papa.

I’d Have No Faith Without My Sexuality

In the fall of 2003, my father dropped me off at Roberts Wesleyan College. After a brief stop at the bookstore to ensure that I had my textbooks and every form of Roberts clothing item the store offered, Dad took his leave and I blinked a few times, trying to comprehend what was happening. Somehow, in a way that didn’t quite make sense to me, I’d found myself here, and I couldn’t quite make the pieces work.

As a senior, I knew that college was the next step. As a Christian teenager, I thought that I was expected to attend a Christian school. My older brother had attended Houghton, several of my friends were already at Christian schools, and several of my peers were considering Christian universities. I didn’t really want to go to a Christian school, because I had a big secret: I was a fraud.

Yep, I didn’t really believe it. I grew up in the church and I knew how to say all the right things to evoke all the right responses, but I wasn’t sold on any of it. One of the biggest reasons why was because at the age of 14 (roughly) I found myself becoming sexually active with the boy next door, and that had confused me. My parents and Christian community had shielded me fairly well, and I wasn’t even really sure what was going on. I had a theoretical understanding of “gay” from attending a public school, but really I was clueless. And the little I did think I understood had to do with one thing: doing that meant going there. Yeah, you know what I mean. Hell.

So after some months my parents caught on to what was happening, and they put a definite stop to it. We prayed, and everything was supposed to be fine. It wasn’t, and I knew it, and so I believe (honestly) that I hitched the veracity of my faith to the status of my sexuality. Christians aren’t gay, gays go to hell, and so if I was earnest or a real believer then God would… I don’t know… fix it. Right?

Nights turned to weeks, months, and years and many of them found me exactly the same: sobbing into my pillow or staring blankly out the window, deep into the night, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The Left Behind series was in its prime, and I became obsessed with being a  genuine believer. I did not want to wake up one morning and realize that I’d missed the Rapture, and I knew that if it happened I would miss it, because I still found Justin Timberlake extremely attractive and couldn’t even bring myself to entertain the idea of thinking about girls. Also, I had watched (like, a thousand times) that scene in “Dude, Where’s My Car” where Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott make out  and just couldn’t get it out of my head. Because I liked it.

But I wasn’t, you know, gay.

There was just a problem that Jesus would fix as soon as I really, truly, honestly believed. When my faith was sufficient. You know.

As the years went on the guilt and shame became obsessive, and the deadening sorrow carved out more and more of me. I didn’t realize it, but I fully believe that I was in an extremely deep state of depression. My drive to become a true believer and shake all this off had carried me to a Christian school, and now there I was. Except one problem: I had fully imagined Jesus fixing me by the time college actually arrived.

I wasn’t fixed, I couldn’t possibly be a believer, and I was at college.

Things were a mess.

They only snowballed from there, and a bad habit of lying (gee, I wonder where that could have started?) became an addiction; a way of life. Instead of merely lying to cover up my sexuality, I now lied about practically everything – even if it didn’t matter. It’s no wonder that I don’t really have many friends left from my college years… I was a monster. Seriously.

I lied to myself  (convincingly) and had myself fooled into thinking that God and I were fine, and that I wasn’t gay, not at all! It was just a phase thing, and soon enough I would grow into women, and into my faith, and boy howdy life was going to be great when that happened!

Except it never did. What did happen was that my lies were exposed as such, and I lost nearly all my friends. At the same time, my sexuality was exposed, and let me tell you… at a Christian college, that’s a big deal. I don’t care how liberal and accepting it’s supposed to be; LGBTs at a Christian school are still outside the norm, and that really rocks the boat.

Life was wretched, and I knew that a great deal of it was my fault, and I couldn’t deal anymore. And then, to top it all off, Death swept in like a gypsy and stole away two friends of mine within 18 months of one another.

I quite literally couldn’t function any longer. I stopped practically everything – including my studies – and became a hollow shell of the person I once was. And he wasn’t all that great to begin with.

It was at the wake of my friend Jilian that something happened. A young, wonderful couple named Ryan and Carrie pulled me aside and said, “We don’t care if you’re gay. We don’t. We want you to come over, and we want to  get to know you.” I couldn’t understand why, but they were reaching out to me. And they spent a good solid year loving on me when I didn’t deserve it. They poured into me all that they had, and they paid some very dear prices for it. It was through this couple, and examining the last year of Jilian’s life with them, that I began to realize that something was amiss, and it was God-centered.

You see, we were all Christians. But these people, and from what I could tell, Jilian too, at the end, they were… well, different. Crazy different. Stupid different. Paying-a-very-dear-price-to-do-things-that-just-didn’t-make-sense different. And I noticed. And it was attractive. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. So I developed a theory: either these types of Christians were just insane, or they were tapped into something that the vast majority of Christianity was missing.

So I put God to the test with my theory, and I literally prepared for a last-chance-test. I withdrew from school and enrolled in a semester-long discipleship course. If there really was something to this God that I’d grown up believing in, he’d show up. If Jilian and Ryan and Carrie weren’t crazy, then God was at work, and he’d show up.

I don’t know why I had faith in that, after he so clearly hadn’t un-gayed me, but I was going to give it a shot. I think I really was expecting to come out of the semester convinced that Christianity was a lovely thought, I guess, but like communism was just a joke. Looking back, I recognize that I was preparing for the moment when I justified dropping my faith to my parents by saying I literally tried everything. That’s really where I expected to end up, and, being there, I would finally have sorted out the mess of my sexuality: I’d be gay, and any problems with that would be chalked up to the mess of religion left in my mind, junk to be swept out of the way to make room for, I don’t know… whatever kind of life gay people lead, I guess. I’d find out soon enough, right?

But that wasn’t what happened at all. The Holy One showed up with more power and passion and life than I could ever have imagined. He radically reoriented my life, and infused my soul with the gospel. The Spirit of the Living God blasted open many doors, and junk came flooding out. I walked away from that semester -still gay – but a gay Christian. A man reconciled in his sexuality and his faith.

Now there was still a helluva lot of junk left in me – habits that break hard. I’m not proud to say that the worst of my sins came after the discipleship program. My deceit, my horrible lack of love, my abuse of people and trust… it all came to a head later. I’m still working through a lot of that, but thank God that he’s big enough to handle that. But unwavering from that time is the belief that I am gay, that I believe God made me that way, and for a very good reason.

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who was amazed at the level of theological knowledge I had packed away inside of me. I’ve never been to seminary, and I’m not claiming to be anything extraordinary, but I do know that my story led me to pursue all I could find theologically about sexuality and faith. And my struggle with my sexuality and my faith was what fueled me to continue going, even when all other motivations were gone.

She was also amazed at the depth of emotional control I had. She couldn’t fathom comprehending “enemies” like I apparently do in her eyes. She is angry at Christians that I am not, upset that they could think and act towards myself and so many other LGBT people as they do. I explained that, having come from their camp myself, I have a unique ability – forged in the Lord’s fire of trials and mercy – to know where they’re coming from, and to love them even though they may not be able to love me. Not that I’m perfect or even impressive, I told her, but just that in this specific part of life, I was solid. Consistent. Purified through fire, and able to stand confidently and firmly in love through whatever was thrown my way.

It was in striving for an answer regarding my sexuality and the Holy One that false gospels like the fear of missing the Rapture peeled away. False gospels like treating human beings as anything less than the most treasured possession of the Most Holy, Everlasting God. These were unable to stand in the face of the real good news. It was through the search for an answer to my gayness that I learned about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the love of my Papa, the ability to listen to the Spirit and allow the Living God to transform me into a better agent of his Kingdom, and so much more.

And it hit me: I am grateful that everything happened this way. I didn’t think I would ever say that, but I am so very grateful. Because now, while my life still may not be what I imagined, I am secure in who I am, and who my Father is. Through the paths he walked with me, I have been forged into an articulate, informed, passionate believer in the Kingdom of Heaven. I stand firm at a witness to the gospel of the Living God, and living and loving well to bring that to earth today. All the prayer, articles, meetings, books, ridiculing, conferences, belittling, and manipulating that anyone has ever done in order to get me to “embrace Jesus and turn from homosexuality” had led to this: they have sharpened me and unwittingly delivered me into the Father’s hands as a confident,  gay Christian man.

The exact opposite of their intent, but I think probably exactly what God intended.

Without my sexuality, I would have no faith.

Without my weaknesses, I would have had no conflict.

Without my struggles with faith and conflict, I’d have no story worth telling.

And I’m just one man!

Imagine the generation that is coming! Countless LGBT Christian youths being sharpened and delivered – much like Joseph – through trial and hardships, each level intended to break us, but each level being used by God to forge us into educated, confident members of the body of Christ.

My prayer is that, like Joseph, we can remember mercy and use our power and position for reconciliation and to save many lives, to the glory of the Holy One and his Kingdom.

An Unexpected Occurence Poses a Serious Question: Can a gay Christian date casually?

I was having a rather splendid moment this afternoon at work. My friend Jess and her daughter Johnni came to visit me, and we were laughing and talking about our days. It was a slow period and there were no customers, so we had some time to ourselves. Then the phone rang, and my sister Molly (who works there with me) answered it. With an unexplained look of intense curiosity, she handed me the phone whispering, “I think it’s JT*.” *Not his real name.
 
I was a bit taken aback; JT is an old friend from childhood. We’d been very close for years, and then I’d thrown him under the bus in high school to protect what little popularity I had, as well as to distance myself and protect my dreadful secret: I might – just might – be gay.
 
Wasn’t sure, mind you, but there was reason to doubt my heterosexuality, and JT could have been the, ah, star witness at that trial. You see, JT was the literal boy-next-door, and our teenage years and shared lives led to a bit of experimentation. Enough to say that my parents found out, forbade me any further contact with JT, and led me in a prayer casting out the demon of homosexuality.
 
Which was oh-so-effective, obviously.
 
Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge. My parents did the best they knew how to do at the time with the best of intentions, and thankfully we’re way past that now.
 
I hesitated for a second, and then spoke into the phone. We had a pleasant and short conversation, in which he asked if I ever had any free time. I told him I had Mondays and Tuesdays off, Jess loudly corrected that I did indeed have Tuesdays off, but I belonged to the Andrews family on those nights from now on. I laughed and told JT that any Monday I would potentially be free. He asked me if I’d like to go out and grab some coffee or something, and I said I would love to. I hung up and was surprised to see both Jess and Molly staring at me, wide-eyed.
 
“Was that… JT?” Molly asked, just to clarify.
 
“Yeah. He wanted to go out for coffee.”
 
Molly and Jess exchanged girl glances far beyond my ability to read, and then they launched into a rapid-fire explanation of what had actually just happened, but I had been too dense to comprehend.
 
“Did you know that he broke up with his boyfriend! That means…”
 
“…and yeah, they’re broken up, so he was probably…”
 
“You just got asked out…”
 
“And didn’t even know it!”
 
I blinked a few times, and then everything rushed into place as my eyes widened with the all-too-probable truth. To fully grasp the concept, I’ll have to fill you in on a few little things. You see, JT is the son of my bosses. Yep. So I’d been running into him off and on for the last several months, and we’d slowly walked our way out of that awkward I-was-totally-an-ass-to-you-in-high-school phase and into a more civil tone in which we could both chit-chat for a few minutes before going on our way. Since I work with his parents every day, I figured I would have heard about JT’s breakup. I didn’t. Apparently, Molly did. Somehow Jess did too. But that little piece of information his parents chose to keep from me.
 
And then, this phone call, and a request to meet for coffee. The ladies and I reasoned that if he was simply looking to re-build an old friendship then he could have started doing so months ago. It was much more probable, they were sure, that he was looking for a casual date. Just a quick coffee thing, to test the waters – on multiple levels. For him, it’d probably be an easing of the way back into the dating pool. For us, it’d be a chance to see just where we were and where we might be. Nothing too serious, just a casual date.
 
I scrunched up my eyebrows in confusion and slowly let the logic work its way through before conceding that such a turn of events could be one of many possible reasons for the phone call I’d just experienced. I shrugged, Jess had a quick laugh at my cluelessness, and we moved on.
 
But as the day continued, and my sister and I talked more about it, I began to think more seriously about things. Sure, it’s entirely possible that we’re reading way too much into things, and it’s really only coffee with an old friend. But even if that’s what it is, the situation still brought to my mind a question that now burned in my conscious thoughts: What do I do about dating?
 
It’s a thought I’ve had before, for sure, but I always put it off, reasoning that it was a scenario so far into the future that I figured I’d just cross that bridge when I came to it. But now, it’s possible that “it’ may be here far before I’m ready, and I don’t know what to do.
 
On the one level, I know that I’m looking for a partner. I really am. I’m a hopeless romantic, I’m fairly lonely, and I’m a sucker for a cute guy with a lopsided grin. I’m looking – albeit in the future in my mind – for a guy that really loves the Holy One and loves others well. Not someone perfect, but someone gloriously human that embraces the Father and his Kingdom. Someone with whom I can build a future together as agents of that Kingdom. Someone with whom I can share a life as equals, loving each other (yep, I’m gonna go there!) as Christ loves the Church.
 
I want that. I pray for that guy, and for that day when I meet him. I often despair of that day ever coming to pass because, well, I live in a tiny town far away from any major population centers. The Christian community up here is fairly conservative, and so the pool of gay Christian guys (who are okay with it) is really, really small. Meaning, so far I’m the only one I know of within a 200 mile radius.
 
Yeah. I get lonely a lot.
 
Anyway. Then there are days that I’m thankful I’m located here, and I think that maybe I’m in this time and place for a reason. Perhaps I’ve got some growning to do, and perhaps so do my family and friends. Maybe we’re not ready, as a Christian community, for Ethan to have a boyfriend. Maybe God’s got me here because he doesn’t want me to have a boyfriend just now. You see how the thought process goes here? Yeah.
 
All of those thoughts and the inner dialogues they sparked all came rushing into my mind this afternoon, and I thought… Oh boy. So… what do I do if a guy asks me out to coffee?
 
Truth is, I don’t know. I don’t have a clue. So here’s what I plan to do:
 
I plan to go. I mean, what if it’s just me reading into things? So I’m gonna go. Coffee could just be coffee. But during that coffee time, I’ll try and discern what’s happening. Is it a date? Is it a casual testing-of-the-waters-to-see-if-there-could-be-a-date date? When I get the feel of what’s going on, I’ll be a bit better prepared, and can go from there.
 
So my answer to can this gay Christian boy date casually?
 
Sure, if what that means is going out to coffee to spend some time getting to know each other better and determine just who we each are and what we each think is happening. But continuing down a path that I don’t see any real future with? No, no I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair to him. It wouldn’t be fair to me. 
 
So if a guy calls me and asks me out to coffee, I’ll go, I’ll smile and be myself, I’ll pay for my own coffee, and I’ll chat with him. I’ll go out to coffee a thousand times with a thousand guys, if asked, but if you’re looking for coffee to turn into something else, well, that’s a whole different arena.
 
Cause you see…
 
I’m not really interested in casual dating. The amount of turmoil it would bring to friends and family would just not be worth it. Casual dating would be, I think, causing brothers and sisters to stumble. My community and their beliefs? Yeah, it’d be unnecessarily stirring up a whole lotta trouble. It’d be forcing my sexuality upon them, in a way, and I firmly believe that love doesn’t force. Love asks, and is gentle.
 
I am interested in getting to know someone and advancing into dating if it’s clear that the foundation of the potential relationship is the Father and his Kingdom. I don’t mean that to sound elitist or arrogant, but quite honestly: I am not my own. Now here’s a kicker for the Christian community: I’m not averse to his relationship with the Father looking or sounding different than I may be used to. It may take me by surprise, and then again it may not. Who knows? But I do know that the Kingdom looks an awful lot like chains of injustice being loosened, poverty being defeated, and the forgotten and voiceless being raised up. It looks like humanity being valued, like time and materials being poured out like a drink offering. It looks like love, patience, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and self-control. So if I’m seeing that in a guy, I don’t care by what name he’s calling Papa. I’d be open to getting to know him better to see what could be, or what could not be.
 
I know that when (if?) I find a guy like that, and we start to realize, “Hey… you know what this looks like? This looks like we’re, you know. a couple.” Well then, I believe that dating him – publicly and proudly – isn’t really causing brothers and sisters to stumble, but instead asking them to grow. I get that some of them may not be able to, and I won’t try to force it. I’ll leave it in the hands of the God who is big enough to handle all things, and look forward to a reconciliation some day. I’ll strive to love and live well, and to show the Church the fruits of a gospel-powered gay romance, and how it’s no different (really) than the gospel-powered romances they experience. I’ll kindly ask for the grace needed when I fail to do that, too.
 
And hopefully one day, that gospel-powered gay romance will burst forth into a covenant of marriage.
 
Oh, I really hope that. I really do.
 
 

Getting to know my neighbors… again.

There’s a family in my small town that I’ve known all my life. The two youngest kids were just about my age (one a few years older, one a year younger) and we went to school together. They live – literally – across the road from one of our corn fields. They’re wonderful.

Roughly nine months ago or so, I was picking corn for dinner. The corn wasn’t quiteready to sell at our produce stand yet, but there was enough for our family. I realized that if I gave it a good throw, I’d be able to land an ear of corn in their lawn. It suddenly dawned on me that I should probably take an armload across the road for the Andrews family. I did. Mrs. Andrews wasn’t there, but I got to talk to both Cat and Jess, the sisters I knew from childhood, and see Jess’s beautiful daughter. I walked back to the corn field with a heart bursting with happiness.

Cat called me up a few weeks later and asked me to apply for a job where she works as a pharmacist. I didn’t get the job, but it jolted me back into relationship with these wonderful people. My friends and neighbors.

I realized that it had literally been *years* since I’d talked to them. Sure, I always waved from across the road or as I drove by the house… but that was it.

It started slowly. Fall came, and I brought a few pumpkins over. Then some apple cider. We had a Family Fun Day at the farm, and rented a cotton candy machine. I grabbed a few bags and off to the Andrews’ I went.

Winter came, and Jess called to invite me to go sledding. It was phenominal fun. So was the next time, and the next.

Jess and I caught a movie last week, and had a blast. The other night we boiled maple syrup, and I brought a quart of it over.

And stood in their kitchen for an hour and talked and talked.

Tonight I spent a fantastic night with Jess, just talking and watching television. Our conversation went deep, and we started sharing life with one another. It was… excellent.

Beyond excellent.

I was blessed. Really blessed. And I think Papa was smiling.

I know I was.