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Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’


The controversy over the Revoice Conference is producing plenty of heat. For me it is a frustrating conversation because of the heightened emotions, quotes that may or may not be taken out of context, a lack of civility and the presence of shibboleths. It is hard to work through the maze of opinions to identify actual facts.

One of the key note speakers is Wesley Hill. This seemed like a good time to take his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality off of my shelf and read it. It is only about 150 pages, and slightly larger than mass market paperback pages at that. Therefore the book reads quickly. I read it in my spare time over about 3 days.

He lays out the book like this:

Prelude: Washed and Waiting

1. A Story-Shaped Life

Interlude: The Beautiful Incision

2. The End of Loneliness

Postlude: “Thou Art Lightning and Love”

3. The Divine Accolade

Wesley grew up in the Church. As a member of the Anglican communion, he holds to general biblical orthodoxy. Wesley also struggles with same sex attraction, and has as long as he remembers.

“I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the confusion and sorrow and triumph and grief and joy of the struggle to live faithfully before God, in Christ, with others, as a gay person.”

Wesley notes that his homosexuality has hindered his life and flourishing spiritually. It has not helped him. If I could put words into his mouth, he wishes God would flip a switch so he would no longer be a homosexual. Homosexuality is one of the many ways human nature has been distorted by sin “and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially for those who trust in Christ.”

“So this book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman.”

He has concluded that it is healthier to live as one whose struggles are known to close friends than to live in the dark. He admits that he is young (late twenties at the time of writing it). He is in need of growth, knowledge and wisdom. He is writing as a homosexual Christian to homosexual Christians about being a homosexual Christian.

And here we come to one of the shibboleths! Some disagree with the use of that term. Rosaria Butterfield, for instances, argues against using it in her book on the basis of the fact that our identity is in Christ. Our identity shouldn’t be in our sin. Others have put for “sexual sufferers” as a suitable option in light of that. This too, however, focuses on our sin or at least the thorn in our side.

A novel idea might be to ask people what they mean by the phrase before we jump to conclusions and indicate we are not a safe person to talk to. Hill offers what he means by this phrase. In the introduction he mentions that “gay” or “homosexual” is an adjective because the main idea is the noun, Christian. That is his identity. Homosexuality is part of his life. A stubborn, painful part of his life.

In his prelude he focuses on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6.

“Washed and waiting. That is my life- my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do.”

He’s a Christian with a struggle. We all have a struggle. His makes him feel like “damaged goods”, something he mentions periodically in this book. I want to take this seriously as a pastor. To continually remind someone who feels like damaged goods that they need to repent for this disordered desires is like rubbing salt in the wound. They already feel damaged, broken, like a misfit. Some seem to want to exacerbate this loneliness and isolation even more. They know they are messed up- they need to know they are loved by a holy God.

It is hard to think that all your life will be an attempt to struggle well, not to actually succeed. Most homosexuals don’t experience a change of sexual attraction. This is due to the remnant of sin. Hill paints a picture of this struggle as he tells his story throughout the book. Many of us conservative Christians would be wise to listen. Not to excuse, but to exercise empathy. Too often we act like we’ll catch a disease.

Image result for island of misfit toysAt times it would be easy to dismiss him. Some of us have also felt profound loneliness for extended periods of time. Some of us have felt like misfits for most of our lives. We identify with the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s not saying only homosexuals experience this profound loneliness. Only that they do in fact experience it.

In A Story-Shaped Life he explains why he resists his same sex desires. He accepts the Story, not just some texts. I mean the story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Those texts reflect the creation. We were not designed for same sex relationships. They are part of the fall brought about by sin. We all have disordered desires, and disordered sexual desires. Sin is living out of accord with how God made us to live. The Story includes redemption too. He’s a forgiven sinner, not a condemned sinner. He was washed, justified as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6. It is not our sin that defines us, but Christ in our justification.

“I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.”

And so should we abstain from our deviant sexual desires. This story is a balm for our often raw soul.

“The gospel resists the fallen inclinations of Christian believers.”

While not explicitly calling his same sex desires sin, he frequently uses similar phrases. He doesn’t delight in them, or ask others to delight in them. He groans because it is difficult to be faithful in the face of such desires. But this is his goal, and the purpose of the community. These desires are an unwanted burden.

He explores Lewis’ comments on temptation from Mere Christianity.

“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know that it would have been like an hour later.” C.S. Lewis

Before his extended reflection on loneliness, he has an intermission focused on Henri Nouwen. He kept his homosexuality a secret shared only with a few of his closest friends. He lived faithfully to the biblical sexual ethic. He was wracked with self-doubt, despair, loneliness and insecurity. In desperate need of intimate relationships, he seemed to also keep them at arms length fearing they would turn into something they shouldn’t. Here is one of the push-pulls of homosexuality: the need for healthy same sex relationships but the fear of sinful attraction. Like Nouwen, Hill longs to feel at home in the Father’s embrace.

In The End of Loneliness Hill focuses on the need for community. This is the very thing most people with sexual disorders fear. They don’t want to be exposed, revealed. In the gay community there is no need to keep your attractions and desires secret. This is part of the big attraction- feeling like you fit in. The Christian community feels threatening to homosexuals, and I fear we don’t help ease this fear. It is often a place of hardship, particularly since you likely can’t find someone to share the rest of your life with. It’s not just that you haven’t found a spouse, but that your desires run in the wrong direction.

The longing for love is human. But in this case it is disordered, bent and twisted. One can begin to curse the longing that reflects our humanity.

“They are trading what seems to be the only satisfying relationships they have or could have for ones that will prove to be at once more painful (because of all the myriad effects of sin) and most life giving.”

In Thou Art Lightning and Love Hill introduces us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. This section included a rather uncomfortable quote from Frederick Buechner about Hopkins. A quote about “a beautiful boy in the choir” and “some street child” when moves closer to pedophilia. Yet Hopkins struggled to remain faithful despite his isolation and despair. Hopkins eventually saw this struggle as part of God’s loving purposes.

There is also a quote from Dallas Willard which distinguishes between temptation and sin: “But temptation also is not wrong, though it should not be willfully entered.” This seems out of place with the rest of his comments on same sex desire, so I’m a bit confused. It is temptation to sin, and must be rejected. We are tempted by our inordinate desire, or desire for something inherently sinful. Jesus was also tempted, though not by inordinate desire. He was tempted by others to commit sin. This the splitting of a theological hair: is it sinful to have a sinful desire? Or is the sin in letting the desire bear fruit? This is not a topic Hill takes up, which is unfortunate.

At the end he refers to Martin Hallett, a celibate homosexual Christian. Hallett speaks of his sexual orientation as a “gift”. Not that homosexual is a gift in itself, but that the struggle was a gift “because, under God’s sovereignty, it can lead to blessings.” In other words, God works good out of it that He couldn’t work in any other way. As John Newton noted, there is nothing given that is not needful and nothing needful that is withheld. God uses this struggle to humble, and to reveal the greatness of His grace and redemption.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Ps. 119

Because this is a book, and a short one, of reflections it is not a book of theological exposition. Some may criticize it for that. There are other books for that. This is a book explaining why & how Wesley Hill struggles with his desire rather than following his desire. It is a window into the struggle for those of us who are heterosexual. You could treat this as the conversation you need to have but don’t have a friend with whom you feel comfortable having it.

CavWife and I both have had friends who punted on the faith to live in homosexual relationships. We have friends who left families too, to satisfy the sexual desire they told practically no one about. Some of us may have suspected, but there were no conversations about the struggle until they gave it up. I wish they’d shared this with friends. Maybe it would have turned out differently. But maybe it isn’t too late, God may grant repentance.

 

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Peter Hubbard, like Jesus, is not content for us to merely be gracious to homosexuals in Love Into Light. He’s not content to change the climate in the church regarding people who struggle with same sex attraction (SSA). He wants repentant, believing strugglers to be a focus of outreach and part of our community.

This doesn’t happen accidentally. We need to be wise in how we live in community and go about outreach. In talking about community, he starts with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is a pretty good place to start. Community is important, essential, but it can often be idolatrous too.

“The one who pursues community to escape loneliness is trying to escape from himself.”

I’ve seen that happen. I’ve experienced that to an extent. We just experience the loneliness, and don’t really understand what is going on in the heart. We should not forget that we are made in the image of God, however. As a result, we were made for relationship; for community. God is the eternal community of Father, Son & Spirit living in loving harmony. We were made for that. We also recognize that each person within the Godhead is differentiated. They have a sense of self. Loneliness can be a sign that we don’t have a strong sense of self, or enjoy being by ourselves.

“So in one sense we don’t need each other (God is enough). Yet in another sense we desperately need each other (He reveals Himself to us in community).”

Many people in the church who struggle with SSA often agonize alone. They fear rejection, if people knew. They need the acceptance of the group, and the group needs their honesty. This is a hindrance to community if there are any sins that are kept private. We don’t let anyone into our hearts and are … alone.

He relates how his congregation had a frank discussion of homosexuality. It prompted one member to think more deeply about their sin, and how it was “natural” to them- meaning they had a predisposition to anxiety.

“I”m being challenged to realize that we all may have something in our ‘nature’ that is sin, and we cannot choose to condone our own sin, even though we have a propensity for it. He have to fight against it as the Holy Spirit frees us from it.”

Community deepens as we recognize this fact about ourselves. If we do, we see that while their sin is different in the details, it is not different in kind. If worry is 2nd nature to you, a life-dominating sin, you can understand what it would be like to continually be attracted to the same sex. Just try to a second to consider what it would be like to know that your very attractions are wrong. Every day presents numerous opportunities to stumble in your heart. Of course, even heterosexuals face this as our hearts are tempted to move beyond fidelity, lusting for our neighbor’s spouse or a single person.

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Earlier in his book Love into Light, Peter Hubbard talked about change. There he talked about unrealistic expectations for change. Change is an internal thing.

Discussion of change for a homosexual (as well as for any sexually immoral person, like addicts) eventually gets to the issues of celibacy and marriage. How you understand yourself if important to this discussion. If you view yourself as the world labels you (“homosexual”, “pervert” “misfit” or “dirty”) you will live out that reality. If you view yourself as God views you if you are in Christ (beloved, holy, son) you will begin to live out of this new reality. No, not perfectly. It is a progress. But God’s labels for those in Christ provide something of the goal.

He notes that we struggle with this notion of an “assigned” life or label. Deep down most of us suspect that God doesn’t have our best in mind. Deep down we think that we know the path to a fulfilling life better than God does. We forget that this is what got us in the deep hole we were in in the first place.

Additionally, Matthew Vines, he notes, talks about how homosexuals often feel left out as their friends marry and have kids. This is not something particular to homosexuals. I didn’t get married until I was 36, and a father until 39. I saw so many friends get married and have kids. I felt left out, forgotten and as if it would never happen to me. That’s the funny thing about sin, it deceives us into thinking we are the only one who feels this way. We don’t realize that others who don’t share our reasons also feel the same kinds of things. Marrying late wasn’t really MY choice. I wanted to get married, but experienced that frustrating reality that the people I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. And the people who wanted to marry me were not ones I wanted to marry.

I, like many in my state, wondered “what if God is calling me to be single, forever?” It seemed a fate worse than death at times. I wasn’t struggling with SSA. This is a human problem, not merely a SSA problem. My wife and I have many older friends who have never been married.

There are a number of people in the Bible who were never married or were widowed and remained single and alone with no outlet for their sexual desire. Jesus is pretty prominent there. As fully (hu)man, He would have experienced sexual desire. He would have found particular people attractive. But he never acted upon such desire. He mission trumped all those internal feelings and desires, such that His food was to do the will of His Father.

We also see Paul (probably widowed since he was a Pharisee of Pharisees). Paul was a sinner, like the rest of us. Paul lived in a culture with few if any sexual boundaries. There was temptation without and within. Surely there was loneliness and frustration. As the head of her household, Lydia was single or widowed as well. As that head of household, there would have been slaves or servants she could use to satisfy her sexual desires, as was common. But every indication is that she lived a faithful, obedient life that flowed out of her faith and love for Christ.

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The Cavman is on vacation. One of the many benefits of vacation is the ability to catch up on the reading I’ve been meaning to do. Since we flew across the country, I had plenty of time (except when CavSon was rambunctious) to dig into Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. If you haven’t read Sinclair Ferguson before, I ask you “Why?”. I always find food for my soul in Ferguson’s books.  This book was no exception.

This book, a companion to his recent book In Christ Alone, is different. Ferguson utilizes a hymn by African pastor Emmanuel Sibomana to explore the amazing nature of God’s grace. Each of the 7 chapters uses the corresponding stanza as a spring board into good pastoral theology. By that I mean the application of theology to pastoral/personal matters.

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes. … Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.'”

My Chains Fell Off– the gospel begins with liberation. Ferguson begins with the bondage we experience before being liberated. Christians look back and see their prior bondage. Non-Christians often don’t even notice the chains they are so accustomed to them. There were a few twists I did not expect. He quotes part of the Kinks’ song Dedicated Follower of Fashion.  Later he quotes the Rolling Stones’ (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [one of the few Stones song I like]. I thought of a few more songs that illustrated depravity while reading along.

“Every time she walks on by, wild thoughts escape” U2God Part 2

“‘We’ll walk on thru heaven’s door and proudly raise our heads.’  I said, ‘Man, you must be crazy, our hands are covered blood red.'”  The CallBlood Red

We are in a bondage from which we cannot free ourselves. But when we forget the depths of our bondage grace becomes boring. Part of the bondage is that when it is pointed out, people feel insulted. “How dare you call me a sinner!” Until we grasp the severity of the bondage we won’t grasp the wonder of the freedom. Even from respectable bondage, like those which enslaved the Pharisees.

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The final section of Dan Allender’s The Healing Path calls us out of our individual journey to embrace the redemptive community.  Though God works in us as individuals, he also brings us into relationship with one another so we can growth through mutual ministry, and engage in mission.  We are not on the healing path for purely selfish reasons, but to love God and love our neighbor as Jesus has loved us.  This last section calls us out of our narcissism.  This is a message far too many of us need to hear.

“A radical life begins with the premise that I exist for God and for his purposes, not my own.  … A radical life has eyes and ears for the deepest purposes of God.  Yet to live for his purposes it not to forsake the passions and burden of our daily life; rather, we are to give them to him for his glory.”

The first is Christianity, as well expressed in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catchism; Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  The second is the kingdom of me, where God exists to fulfill my agenda.  And when we are suffering, it easily becomes all about our agenda.

I often talked about this in my ministry at Good Shepherd/Cornerstone.  God is not asking us to add more to our list of things to do so much as seeing those things as part of his purposes to redeem people.  We purposefully & creatively engage the people with whom we interact that we might enter into their stories.

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Dan in the Real World represents a definitive shift in Steve Carrell’s career.  No, still doing comedy.  No, still has that under-current of sadness in his character.  The shift is to playing a family man in a (mostly) family-friendly movie.

Dan is a widower raising 3 growing girls by writing an advice column for a local newspaper.  Since his wife’s death he has focused on raising the girls.  As they begin dating and driving Dan finds that he’s really struggling with the changes, and the loneliness that is beginning to grow more pressing.

The movie takes place over the course of a long weekend.  Each Fall he and the kids return to his parents’ beach house in Rhode Island to spend time with the whole family and close it up for the Winter.  They arrive in the midst of their own relational turmoil.  Ironically he is being considered for a syndication deal.

His whole family is there, always there, to watch him basically come undone.  Banished from his girls by his mom, Dan meets a woman at the local bookstore that unknowingly exposes the overwhelming loneliness and seems like “the one” for him.  One problem: he soon discovers that she is the girlfriend of his brother the perpetual bachelor who finally wants to settle down.  This sets up the total meltdown as the answer man has no answers.

His meltdownIt is a sad, sweet comedy (the director talked about “comedy tempered with pain and sadness”) that has some good laugh-out-loud moments.  It also has some of those “uncomfortable” moments when you know he’s doing the wrong thing (like in Swingers when Mikey kept calling the girl and leaving really long messages).  You really pull for him (or maybe it’s just because I’m the father of a little girl and I am not looking forward to those dating & driving moments when I am forced to surrender control).

In today’s society, his family could come off as suffocating.  They do everything together all weekend.  There are so many siblings and cousins there that he has to sleep in the laundry room.  This is close to how I feel when we are on vacation.  It is lots of fun, unless you need some alone time or are suffering a personal crisis (often the 2 go together).  It is great to see a family-affirming movie.  They are not perfect people- they hurt each other- but they love each other and accept each other.

This is a remarkably clean movie.  There is a mention of “self love”, and you watch him struggle with his own attraction to Juliette Binoche’s character.  There is also one scene where they are situation that was handled well by the director.  He focused on how the embarassment real people would experience rather than going for an opportunity to show some skin.

I wasn’t expecting much, and was pleasantly surprised.  CavWife really liked it and will recommend it to her parents.  They should feel like life on the Farm has been recaptured (although there are no love triangles on the Farm).

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