Life Abundant

Life Abundant November 29, 2011

The following post in the ongoing series on identity in relation to faith and sexuality is from Will.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”

-John 10:10

As a young man, I knew I loved other men. This knowing wasn’t sexual, or even physical, but rather something profoundly onotological.  Deeply rooted in myself was a desire to spend my life, my self, pursuing an intimate (emotionally, physically, spiritually) relationship with another man.  This same desire for relationship existed in my pursuit of faith.  I’d long known a love for and the love of God, a commitment to Christian community, and the hope of justice and grace I found present in my experience of Christianity.

In John 10, Jesus speaks of himself as shepherd, reconfiguring his role as Messiah to one of inclusion, acceptance, and abundant living.  At the heart of this passage, I believe, is Jesus’ commitment to ensuring all people’s ability to fully live into themselves; to have their humanity loved and recognized in a diverse and grace-filled community.

This deep recognition of one’s being granted the hope of not only being fully human (and therefore fully one’s self) but at the same time allowed the possibility of participation in the Kingdom of God.  The invitation to abundant life, more profoundly, speaks to the hope of community that affirms mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual well-being.

When we speak of sexuality, we are not simply speaking about someone’s eroto-physical attraction, but something far deeper; an indivisible part of our being.  For translesgaybi individauls, sexuality is an ontological reality, a part of being inexorably intertwined with every other part of ourselves.  As a personal example, my vocation as pastor, and love for the work of Christ, is as much a part of my being as my attraction to men.

When Christian communities suggest that “homosexuality is not God’s best for us,” this is not a rejection of some foreign object, a sin to be exorcised, but of a part of someone’s soul.  Not only, then, do we create for our translesgaybi brothers and sisters a self-perpetuating identity crisis, but we in effect deny them the very opportunity Jesus offers in John 10:10.  Rather than offering abundant life, the hope of community, or the promise of grace, we ask them to build boundaries within themselves, effectively relegating them to a half-life of loving God without knowing intimacy with another.

In the abundance of life offered to us through Christ, I cannot escape the thought that there is room in this abundance for me to be both that young man that loves Jesus and men.  And what I have found throughout the course of my ministry is that as I live more fully into who I am as a gay man, I find myself growing ever deeper in my relationship with God.  As these two parts of my whole self find recognition, and acceptance, in the love of Christ my life is being transformed and renewed.

Ultimately, it is this experiential revelation that has led me to reject the notion that my desire for relationship is “not God’s best for me.”  The reality of God’s on-going presence and participation in my life, as well as the ever-deepening nature of my relationship with God confirms that in living into my sexual self I am indeed living into who God is calling me to be.

As Christian communities continue their struggle to understand the interplay between faith and sexuality, I recognize not only Christ’s abundant life calling me to be both a gay man and pastor, but inviting those communities to live into that abundance for themselves and share that abundance with the world around them.  This is my prayer.  This is my hope.  That all might know life and have it abundantly.

Much love.

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  • James W

    Will makes a leap in this post that I can’t accept. He makes his attraction to men an ontological part of his very being. I understand that this is his perception. But is that truly reality? Is that how he is truly made in God’s image?

    And if he is right, then does that mean a man who is attracted to other men cannot have an abundant life if he chooses to refrain from acting on that attraction? Or if he is able, while still feeling some attraction to men, able to marry and deeply love and be committed to a woman? Because I know two men who fit those descriptions, who do not feel they are denying an ontologically true part of themselves, and who are experiencing an abundant life.

    What Will is doing is not living in the tension — he has relieved the tension by accepting his attraction to men as being part of his very design. I would be interested in his explaining how he makes this leap from what the Bible has been understood to teach for thousands of years.

    I struggle with my own areas of sin. Some are so deep they feel ontological — because they are. That is what the New Testament calls the “flesh” or our “old nature.” So I am the last person to condemn Will when I know how often I stumble and fall. But making same sex attraction something that is justified to act upon because it is (or seems to be) a part of my “being” goes far beyond any biblical text I can find. And that is certainly not what I understand Jesus to mean when he talked about abundant life — on his own way to his own suffering and cross. Abundant life is about God, not about us and our feeling fulfilled.

    James W

    • Frank

      Very well said James!

    • Not every heterosexual makes the same life journey. Some marry. Some live lives of celibacy. Some marry gay people. Those who marry don’t negate the legitimacy of those who don’t. Will’s journey doesn’t minimize the life choices that your friends created for themselves, nor vice versa.

    • Skandar

      Do you know what I’d do if an angel descended from heaven tomorrow to tell me I must remain celibate for the rest of my life?

      My first impulse would be to end it all, although I probably wouldn’t because if angels really do exist then so does God and if suicide is a mortal sin then I can’t use it as an escape route. Pity. It would be the cleanest and simplest way to get round the life sentence that had just been imposed on me.

      Suicide being off the cards, I’d probably look at other ways of shortening my life that wouldn’t require me to pull the trigger or string the noose myself. I might join up and ask for a posting to Afghanistan. Or I might decide it would be nice to go on a sailing holiday off the Horn of Africa. I might volunteer to work with Ebola patients. Or I might even decide I could earn good money testing risky new drugs for a living. There’d be no point in taking a safe office job once I knew I’d neen sentenced to a lifetime of celibate misery. The more dangerous, the better.

      I’ve lived alone for a couple of years now following the breakup of my last relationship and what keeps me going is the hope that I’ll meet someone else. But if I’m to be alone for the rest of my life then I quite simply don’t want any more life.

      Being alone blows. It’s like living with acute hunger in the midst of a world stocked with food. Everyone else gets to eat, but not you. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how many groups you belong to, when you don’t have a partner you feel a constant ache that nothing can take away. Christ is not enough. He isn’t a warm presence to hold. He doesn’t walk with you through life sharing the ups and downs. He’s an idea in your head, who may very well exist, but who isn’t there to love and support you. Scripture recognizes this when it tell is that it is not good for man to be alone. And yet that is what the Church tells me I must do.

      Well bollocks to that! I’ll find a partner and I’ll be as happy with him as I can be. If God chooses to chastise me for that after I die or possibly even condemn me to eternal hellfire and damnation then I guess that will be my fate. So be it. And those of you who were good boys and girls will be able to look on with self-satisfied smiles and say “I told you so” as I’m judged.

      Hope it makes you happy.

      • Drew

        Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying it like is is. How weary I grow of Christians who say “no” to same sex relationships but fail to provide any kind of “yes” that will even begin to fill that resulting hole in one’s life. They’ll tell me that God is enough or that service is the answer. Even God, as you pointed out, said He wasn’t enough, at least in the here and now, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise. And almost invariably, they haven’t really had to find out whether God is enough since they’re enjoying the richness that their (sanctioned/legitimized) partnerships and families provide.

        And thank you for (implicitly) pointing out that it’s not all about sex. It’s about companionship and intimacy, the things that make living bearable, make it worthwhile.

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Will. 🙂

  • Jack Harris

    I stopped listening to the “celibacy gay christians” a long time ago. I never actually EVER considered celibacy as I have been in a long term relationships with loving partners most of my adult life. If you think God is calling you to celibacy then I say go for it–you need to do what you feel God is calling you too. However, the rest of us gay affirming christians see Gods call for our life differently and we hang our hat on the fact that God asks us to live our lives more abundantly. I dont need anyone “admonishing me” for being same sex attracted or whatever your term is for it these days. Nor do I need “gracious space” to get though this time until I ultimately decide to join you and the rest of the gay celibacy folks at the local church fellowship hall whilst heterosexuals look on with pity and thanksgiving that its not them. SOOO…. I am in a committed long term relationship with a wonderful man and we manage to live our lives out day by day together as God has called us to do. I have no desire to be the creepy single guy that has five cats with really bland recipes for beef stews to give out to little church ladies. Life has more to offer than that–just ask God–SHE will tell you. End of rant.

    • Kevin Harris

      As I was not completely sure who this comment was directed to, I just wanted to clarify that in the piece that I asked Will to write, he was not implying that he is seeking celibacy.

      • Jack Harris

        My comment was just a general one that I have been wanting to make for quite some time–this was just the moment it came flying out of my mouth lol

  • Skandar

    “They’ll tell me that God is enough or that service is the answer.”

    This is what I really don’t understand. Why do they think that we’d ever be satisfied with “God and service” when they’d never be satisfied with such an empty existence themselves?

    The argument that our situation is no worse than that of a heterosexual who hasn’t been able to marry for whatever reason is just specious. Even the ugliest, dumpiest, most pious Christian spinster can still hold out hope that one day her prince will come. We’re unique because we’re required to have no hope whatsoever. I’m 45 and it’s bad enough contemplating another 40, maybe 50 years of guaranteed solitude. What must a 16 year old think?

    Without hope we’re nothing. And if I didn’t have hope of a relationship, the years would stretch out in front of me like an interminable prison sentence. If I believed this drivel about love being wrong whenever the people who feel it happen to be of the same gender, I don’t think I’d be here now. The one sure way out of a life sentence is death, after all.

    • Drew

      Yeah, I’m 50 and thought of the last few decades lived in solitude is terrifying. (“I like to kick, stretch aaaaand kick. I’m 50.”…oops, almost forgot where I was.)

      Hope. Yep. That truly is what keeps us going.

      I wonder what things would look like if the Xian community actually put its money where it’s mouth is, i.e. provided a life giving YES along with their NO. YES, you’re part of my family now. We’re tied together from now until the end.

  • Skandar

    “I wonder what things would look like if the Xian community actually put its money where it’s mouth is, i.e. provided a life giving YES along with their NO. YES, you’re part of my family now. We’re tied together from now until the end.”

    But who wants to live as an appendage to someone else’s relationship? The eternal third wheel, included out of a sense of duty like some elderly relative but otherwise surplus to requirements.

    I’m reminded of the unenviable fate of the governess in the nineteenth century as written about by the likes of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. Doomed to eternal spinsterhood whilst they witnessed family life at close quarters, governesses were universally pitied as the most miserable of creatures. Their only alternatives were to lose themselves in their dreams of Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester, or sink into a bitter and profound loneliness. Suicide rates amongst governesses were three or four times higher than in the general population. And they at least had their dreams. We’re not even allowed those.

    It seems to me that this kind of position is basically untenable. You can’t insert yourself into someone else’s family because there simply isn’t room for you there. The limits of Christian charity are reached when straight couples “adopt” a gay person out of pity and a sense of duty. Such arrangements are infantilizing and patronizing. They reduce us to the status of problems that have to be dealt with. I certainly don’t want some narcissistic straight couple to come to my rescue. I couldn’t think of anything worse than living with them and witnessing their complacency and sense of entitlement on a daily basis. If it’s a choice between solitude and having that rubbed in my face every day, give me solitude every time.

    Luckily though that’s not my only choice. I can find love or at least seek it. If and when I do find a partner, we can link our lives together and experience real marital intimacy no matter what the Church or the State tell us is right or legal. This is the reality of LGBT lives in this day and age and no amount of homophobic Christian admonition will alter that. When I’m with a man I love, I know I’m not committing sin. Church types can rant on as much as they like about Leviticus this and Romans that. Their interpretations are plain wrong because they’re not rooted in love of the other. They’re rooted in love of the self and a desire to impose their own will on everyone else. They’re profoundly sinful. Rather than occupying themselves with the log they perceive to be floating in my eye, they’d do better to sort out their own motes. If they did this, they might well find a great deal more lumber than they realize. Enough to build a proper church that welcomes everyone, maybe…

    • Drew

      Yeah, I think you’re right. I guess there’s a part of me that hasn’t quite let go of the “traditional” interpretation but I think I’m almost there.

    • Jack Harris

      The thing to remember Skandar is that love always sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Be expectant, live faithfully and keep your heart and mind open–the right guy will come along. I promise.

  • Skandar

    Yes, the trouble is that love all too often sneaks up on me but the other guy sees it in the nick of time, turns tail and runs a mile. 🙁

    But hope springs eternal in the heart of this man, so I’m hopeful I’ll find a partner one day. And when I do, I won’t let ancient Jewish cultural taboos sabotage my relationship with him.

    • Jack Harris

      I am glad you are staying open. If you ever need to vent feel free to shoot me an email.

  • James W

    I was single till 35, and did not otherwise have a partner before getting married. So I do know how hard it is to be single. Yet the fear that God might ask us to be single bothers me. Are we saying it is impossible to have an abundant life outside of marriage / having a life partner? Without meaning to, we are making our abundant life dependent on someone other than God. In addition, we have no concept of eternity. What God has to offer us in eternity is far greater and better than sex and marriage, which is why Jesus said there won’t be marriage in Heaven. He is not removing a good thing but replacing it with something far better.

    God’s grace is great. I know it is new every morning, in spite of our disobedience. But His wisdom is also great, so I will trust what he says and find my abundant life in obedience (even though it a struggle as it was for Paul (Romans 7)).

    • Celibacy should be a gift, not a tax.

      I’m all for people choosing a life of celibacy or even a life of chastity until marriage. I’m not for arbitrarily denying the option of marriage to an entire group of people (i.e., gays and lesbians). If individual gays and lesbians choose lives of celibacy, I’m fine with that. But even Paul admitted that celibacy isn’t for everyone, which is why marriage exists.