Sunday, October 28, 2007

Authentic Expressions of Love


One of the biggest fears I had when I was in the closet was that if I entertained the notion of being gay, then that meant compromising the fundamental beliefs that I held so dear. When I realized that it was okay for me to journey through my questions and fears and beliefs and things that seemed to define me, it was important to me that I remained solid in my faith.

But when we talk about sex, sometimes the assumption seems to be that engaging in it is crossing a spiritual line that reveals a faltering of faith. I see it differently.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about sex and how I didn't use the lens of sexual morality anymore. I was just unpacking what I had been thinking and processing about at the time and I've continued chewing on these things. I appreciate the comments from friends in that post and have considered those things as well - particularly the concepts of sexual integrity and relativistic morality.

Is the act of sex a compromise of sexual integrity? Is having sex an indication of having loose morals? Is saying that I think it's okay to have sex a demonstration of relativism?

In context to my post about discovering that balance of consistent intimacy, to those questions I'd answer both yes and no . . . .

Yes, I believe in sexual integrity. No, I do not believe that having sex in the context of genuine love is immoral.

I may say that I don't look through the lens of sexual morality but that doesn't mean I lack it. Rather, it means I own it differently.

When it comes to sex, the issue i'm concerned about is expressing genuine love authentically. I think scripture that talks about sex is raising this very issue. I'm realizing that before all this, I defined my sexual morality based solely on the "letter of the law" - which pretty much said (not in these words), 'Don't have sex with anyone who is not your spouse'. The emphasis there seemed to be the 'Don't have sex' part. The translation here for me used to be that if I did have sex, then I was being immoral. But what i'm realizing now is that my sexual morality needs to go deeper than that. I think the "spirit of the law" always has as a foundation authentic expressions of love. On the subject of romantic love, there is a context for sexual physical activity that is moral.

That being said, I'm not using the lens of "sexual morality" because to me the phrase is too closely attached to the "letter of the law". That lens is not useful for me because there doesn't seem to be an answer to the question of when it's moral to have sex. I prefer to use the lens of "love" because that requires me to be authentically honest with myself about whether or not it's actually love that i'm experiencing or if it's a lesser form of love (lust) or a premature form of love (genuine romantic care and interest) or an immature form of love (infatuation or crush). The question for me is what kind of physical expressions of intimacy match each of those forms? As Peterson alluded to in his comment in the other sex post, perhaps there are appropriate expressions of physical intimacy or even sexuality that are not sexual acts.

This is what I meant in my previous post about sex. I said that emotional intimacy should be consistent with physical intimacy - both growing at the same pace. If we're using that old baseball diamond illustration describing phases of sexual accomplishment - "getting to" first base, second base, third base, and home plate, (holding hands, kissing/making out, feeling each other up, having sex) then I would include the emotional elements of the relationship to match each base. As the relationship develops (not necessarily marked by time or events but rather by genuine love and trust), each physical milestone (base) matches up with each emotional realization of love in the relationship. So hitting a "home run" on the first or second date is no longer a trophy nor worthy of significant applause.

At the height of a developing relationship, there is marriage - that covenant relationship keeping and maintaining emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy. (For those using that "other" lens, this would describe reserving sex until marriage.)

In my opinion, this new lens of love and consistent expressions of intimacy does describe "sexual integrity".

However, the other issue that I raised was that of finding the balance. It's not so easy. For one, I don't have a whole lot of sexual experience so I'm just honest about the fact that I'm trying to figure out what kinds of physical intimacy parallel certain emotional feelings. The other thing that I'm just honest about is the fact that sometimes I want to have a sexual encounter that is detached from emotional feelings. So yes, there are times that I want to 'hook up'. That doesn't mean that I actually do every time I want it. That just means I've gotta figure out what to do with those desires when they do occur. If I do decide to 'hook up', i'm not excusing it as acceptable and i'm not relativistically shifting my moral compass to accommodate my behavior. Rather, i'm owning up to the fact that it's not an authentic expression of love and it's something that I must have a conversation with my God about.

Secondly, I don't think that sexual activity is a lack of sexual integrity. If i've already lost my virginity, does that mean I forever lack sexual integrity? No. It's not about "having sexual integrity" (or losing it once a certain activity occurs) but rather it's about "learning sexual integrity". This is the difference between fooling myself with a license to have sex versus learning the lessons and consequences of having sex.

So I'm saying that I'm not afraid of having sex simply because it's sex. I'm saying that using the lens of love helps me to balance appropriate expressions of intimacy. I'm also saying that I'm giving myself room to figure it all out so that I can grow and learn.

As I continue my journey, I am thankful for friends who share my desire to be faithful to the desires of God. I don't want to walk the tight rope of relativism. I've always believed that conversations about sex should be had within our spiritual communities so that we can speak into each other - this way, there would be far less Christians turning to unhealthy outlets. This is all a continuous process for me of chewing on thoughts, learning lessons, and figuring out how to live out this lifestyle of faith as a gay Christian.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Abandoned Friendship

He used to talk about me that way.

I sat across the table listening to him tell others about how this other guy was right for the project we were doing. It was hard to hear the praises of someone else when we had formerly worked so well together. I was feeling replaced and for this past week, I've had to come to terms with some hard realities.

I think I was wrong about the substance of our friendship.

It was easier for me to always describe him as the straight friend who walked with me through my journey. As I shared my story, I would reference him as a friend I came out to and supported my process. He was someone I could bounce ideas off of - someone I could process my questions with. I wasn't alone on my journey because he was there.

But when I look back, that isn't what actually happened. We talked about the issue occasionally. He read my blog every once in a while. We saw each other every day because we worked together, albeit for God, and even talked passionately about vision and community and the things of God together. But when I reconciled my faith and my sexuality, he abandoned the friendship.

What happened to him walking with me? He was simply supervising my struggle . . . .

We've known each other for nine years. We shared hearts and passion and vision and paradigms. We had a synergy that I've not shared with anyone else. We both spoke the same language and God used our complementary strengths and weaknesses to serve His Kingdom. We were a pair. And when I came out to him, he supported my struggle.

I wanted to change. He wanted me to change. But he was patient with my process and he was willing to wait through my struggle. I participated in ex-gay programs for two years. He remained a supportive outside observer. He affirmed our friendship. I posed questions as I journeyed through the struggle. He loved the questions because it's refreshing to our faith. It led to interesting conversations, plus it was a good story for him to be able to say that he had a friend struggling with homosexuality with whom he was "walking with".

Then God began in me a process leading towards reconciling my faith and my sexuality. It started to complicate things. It started to challenge his own belief system about the issue. But he was still engaging the questions. How do we respond to the brothers and sisters within our Church who struggle with being gay? Celibacy seemed like the best compromise. I saw him journey from having a Side X view of believing heterosexual transformation was necessary to having a Side B view of believing that gay Christians ought to abstain from such activity. I saw it as growth in him.

Then I did reconcile my faith and my sexuality, claiming a Side A view that it's okay to be gay and Christian within the context of monogamy, commitment and faithfulness. I began to believe that there was no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals and that we all are capable of unhealthy sexual sin but we are called to an authentic and genuine love - for God and for each other. I began to see through a new and fresher lens.

But he knew me. I didn't fit in his box of what those gay Christians were like. I walked with God and my faith as a lifestyle was real and sincere. I short-circuited his belief system because if it were okay by God for me to accept myself as gay (even though I had been gay this whole time), then that would require an adjustment to his beliefs - something that would apparently require too much humility.

I became Side A and since he couldn't follow me there, rather than remaining at Side B, he found it easier to return to his Side X beliefs. He had to. His belief system was in jeopardy and he could either walk onto unknown waters on faith based on what God had been showing him so far or he could return to familiar ground.

I remember the conversation. He needed time away from our friendship so that he could sort everything out. I had stepped away from our public ministry because my potentially controversial presence would have been a distraction from our vision and message of unity within the Church. Ironic. But he needed to figure out how to function within that public ministry without me - without his pair. And we both needed to grieve that loss.

Our ministry relationship had been divorced and so it was easier for him for us not to be around each other. It may have been convenient for him as he eventually replaced me with a ministry team of people with whom he could lean on. That was a blessing for him and the organization. But I was still alone, feeling like our friendship wasn't worth maintaining.

Today's blog post was triggered by a blog post that Peterson wrote last week for ex-gay survivors. He listed off many of the ways we've been harmed by ex-gay experiences. One of the things he described was harm to our relationships. He mentioned, "friends who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship..."

He asked for survivors to share how they've been harmed and this is an excerpt from my response comment (that eventually led to me writing today's blog post): " . . . . This still has hurt me tremendously. I thought I had a friend who was walking with me but that wasn't true. Rather than continuing to walk with me despite how it challenged his paradigm, he chose to distance himself to repair his original theology. Knowing me screwed him up. And it hurts accepting the fact that he really wasn't walking with me. His compassion for me was limited by his conditional acceptance."

He joined the ranks of those who ostracized me - those who ex-communicated me from their regular fellowship. The problem was that his actions weren't consistent with his stance of friendship when we were on the phone or in person. So I held to the illusion of a friend who walked with me because I didn't want to admit the fact that he abandoned the friendship long ago.

I'm realizing that at the core of our relationship, it was a ministry one. When we removed the shell of ministry, we had no other interaction. We shared no common interest outside of the call to community. Our ministry relationship was divorced and we continued forward living out the call separately. Now, God has brought us back together into a different context - both a part of a broader community collaborative, now representing separate organizations.

Honestly, it's hard for me to see him succeed because I feel like he chose that over our friendship. Could he have had both? Perhaps. Or maybe he needed to distance himself from me in order to remain in the good favor of the pastors he was networking with. And I think there's some bitterness in me there too. I'm glad to see the work of the public ministry succeed. But my heart is still there because it was an organization that God birthed out of the two of us.

I voluntarily stepped away from the organization so that it could succeed in its vision. But he should have fought for me. He should have defended me. And that admission is hurting me right now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Discovering the Balance of Consistent Intimacy

I need to get laid.

There are many days when i'll call or text my close friend and the two of us will joke about that. We're joking because we're serious. It's fun to have a friend that I can be that honest and raw with who totally understands the feeling of just wanting to get %*$#@!@.

LOL, okay that's a bit crude, but still. It's true. There are times when that's what I want and that's all I can think about. But I suppose the question for me would be "In what context do I want to have sex?"

Is pre-marital sex okay? What about for those of us who can't be legally married either by the state or in most of our churches? What is marriage even? Is it okay to have casual sex? Can I just have a "hook up"? Is it wrong to have a f*ck buddy? Is there anything wrong with having 'friends with benefits'? If i'm having sex, will that just help me get my mind off being in a relationship? If and when I am in a relationship, when is it okay to have sex? Do I have to wait that long? Is it okay to have sex with two guys I care about? What do I consider sex? Is oral sex . . . sex?

No, in case you were wondering, I'm not writing about this because Eric's been getting "it". Sure, i'll admit, at times I'm horny as hell. But no, i'm not getting any action. Over the past two weeks, I've been having conversations with numerous people about these very questions . . . .

I was reflecting on some of my previous posts about sex and it's interesting to see my very first post on the subject two years ago and how my perspective and approach to sex has evolved.

Sexual morality.

I don't use that lens anymore. It's attached to judgment and there's tons of baggage attached to the words. (Ah! So the critics are right! The gay Christians don't have real morals!)

No. That's not what I mean.

I just think that sexual purity is not the goal of my journey. My exploration of sexual freedom isn't the goal either. The goal of my journey is and has been about exploring my authenticity. And part of that is sorting through the questions of sex and relationships.

My lifestyle is characterized more by my faith than my sexual orientation. So while I can be honest about my very real urges, decisions, and actions, I think it's important for me to process these things with my God. Therefore, I no longer use the lens of 'morality' in asking these questions. When I was a churchian, I held to morals defined by what I read and what people told me. But I could never fully own those morals because they weren't really mine. So now, I use the lens of 'genuine expressions of love' in examining these questions. I have found that this lens is more effective in discovering what I can and can't own about my faith, beliefs and lifestyle.

I used to hold my virginity up like a trophy. When I lost it (years ago when I was still in the closet and so happened outside of a loving context), I felt regret. It was a virtue that I held on to for so long and after having that sexual encounter I felt like I gave in and showed my weakness.

I don't think that way anymore. Abstinence doesn't hold much substance for me if I can't own why it makes sense. And so I no longer see the choice not to abstain as a weakness. I see it as an experience that requires interpretation.

Keep in mind, I say all of this in the context that I'm not just freely having sex. Yes, I've had sexual encounters in my life but for me it's not about giving myself the freedom to do whatever I want. It's about giving myself the freedom to walk and learn from God the life intricacies of sexual intimacy and relationships.

It's not about a license. It's about a lesson.

Here's what I've learned so far. Asking questions and framing the issue in terms of whether or not certain sexual conduct is moral doesn't help me. What does help me is reframing the question in terms of What expresses genuine love most authentically?

The first thing I ought to own up to is assessing how I actually feel towards a person. Do I actually love him? Am I lusting him? Am I just crushing over him? Is this infatuation? These are things that I need to be honest with myself.

The next thing would be assessing how I choose to express those feelings. It would be inauthentic to express physical or sexual intimacy in a way that is inconsistent with the level of emotional intimacy that I have with him. What do I mean by this?

It's not about morality. It's about having balanced and consistent levels of emotional and physical/sexual intimacy. Is it okay to have sex before marriage? Well, if I reframe it with my new lens, I would say let's examine our intimacy levels. If i'm still getting to know a guy, then I am still in the early process of developing trust. This means that I have minimal emotional intimacy with him. If I then choose to have full-on sex with this guy, then my level of physical intimacy with him is way off. I barely know the guy, much less trust the guy. If I don't know him or trust him, then how can I actually be loving him?

However, if we've gone on a few dates with each other and we're both mutually discovering an emotional connection with each other, then it would make sense to kiss him because that form of physical intimacy is consistent with the level of emotional intimacy that I have with him. As the two of us continue to develop our emotional intimacy with each other, it would also make sense for our level of physical intimacy to increase accordingly and at the same pace.

I think that physical intimacy is a tangible expression of genuine emotional intimacy. I also think that emotional intimacy is the intangible substance of physical intimacy. I think marriage is a covenant that describes a relationship that has realized (and is committed to keeping and maintaining) emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy. If full-on sex is considered to be the highest form of physical intimacy, then it would be most consistent to do it while in a relationship that experiences the highest form of emotional intimacy with him. Marriage.

I know, i'm not exactly providing proof-texts for any of this. I'm just trying to unpack how I see the process and development of genuine love. I don't think it's realistic to say that a person completely loves someone in the beginning. It takes time. And balancing levels and forms of intimacy seems like the healthiest way to experience love in a relationship.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't have all this down pat. I don't always keep it all balanced. But i'm not afraid of making mistakes or discovering for myself where those lines of consistent intimacy are. These are just things I'm thinking about - things that i'm learning as I try to figure it all out for myself. It's direction. I'm not having tons of sex. But when I do have a sexual encounter, i'm not feeling super guilty because I had the sex. I simply sit down with God and talk it through - this is what I did, this is why I did it, this is how it made me feel (emotionally, physically, spiritually), this is how I think it made him feel. And I try to use the lens of authenticity. If I was just plain horny, then I'll own up to it. If I actually had feelings for the guy, then was I physically expressing what I emotionally felt for him. If yes, what does that mean? If no, what does that mean? Did I do this out of temptation or out of affection?

This just has me honestly evaluating the emotional, physical, and spiritual consequences of my intimate relationships.

So after all of this, I guess what i'm saying is that i'm not concerned about morality as much as I am concerned about authenticity.

Yes, there are times when I really feel like getting laid. Sometimes it's because I'm lonely. Sometimes it's because I had a really bad day and would like a distraction. Sometimes i'm just freaking horny. Sometimes it's because I'm longing for an intimate connection.

If i'm going to have sex, I want to at least be authentic with myself about why I'm doing it. It is these lessons that help me discover what I can and can't own about my faith, beliefs and lifestyle.