I didn’t want this to be my first blog post (and maybe it won’t be; I might not have the guts to publish and/or share whatever I’m about to write). I pride myself on being fairly positive, even in the midst of trying to live with the burden of likely life-long celibacy as someone in my early twenties, when almost everyone in my age group is getting married or wanting to get married. Or at the very least, wanting to be paired off romantically.
But today a hard thing happened, right in the middle of a beautiful thing, and that feels important, so here we are.
I do, in fact, have ample reasons to be positive about my life, and especially about my life as a celibate, gay Christian. There’s the obvious first reason, which is that I’ve been given all I could ever need in Christ. And I don’t say that just because I have to, but because I believe it. At least, I want to believe it. He really is enough.
Then there’s the fact that I have what is probably the safest, most ideal community in which to wrestle with all this. I have the St. Louis Side B community, of course. And I have close relationships with several pastors, including my boss, who know me and love me. I have the unprecedented freedom to be open about all this, even in Christian circles. Add to this a handful of other close friends who have loved me so well, and continue to do so, and a job that I absolutely love, and I should be thriving.
To be honest, I am thriving. It’s hard not to feel like I’m living a charmed life, living the best possible version of how this story could be going. This is all through no merit of my own: I was assigned to St. Louis, I didn’t choose it. I didn’t have to work through a series of painful experiences to find pastors and friends that are compassionate and understanding (in a word: safe) even as they’re orthodox and unwavering in their commitment to the truth. This is all proof of God’s hand in my life. For these things, I am grateful. I honestly sometimes have a little bit of some odd form of survivor’s guilt, I think; most Side B Christians aren’t even half as lucky as I am. Their faithfulness is harder won than mine, and by their witness, I am humbled.
Today was a microcosm of my charmed life. I was invited to hang out with my pastor, at his house, with his family. Not for any particular reason, just because. I get there, and we talk about light things at first, like recent presidential debates and the women of Big Little Lies. We laugh together about the absurdity of Marianne Williamson and the mere concept of someone slapping Meryl Streep.
We move on to more important things, like our denomination’s recent annual gathering, in which a lot of men who almost completely agree on the topic of homosexuality had some intense debates about the (very small) areas in which they do not agree. I tell my pastor about the parts of those debates that were hurtful. He listens and empathizes. He is also upset with how things went. He tells me his perspective, which helps me to see the situation more clearly. We still find things to laugh about, even in this conversation. I express to him (again) how unfair it all is. He acknowledges (again) that yes, it is. I am reminded (again) to be thankful for him.
The conversation reaches that point that many conversations do, when there is so much more to be said but we know that we can’t say it all today, so there is a moment of silence as we’re both thinking. Eventually, my pastor and his wife invite me to come with them to take their kids to see the new Spiderman movie. I accept, feeling more and more thankful to be invited into quotidian family life like this. We all eat a quick lunch together before we go, my pastor’s young sons theorizing out loud about what will happen to Spiderman in a post-Endgame world. I think to myself, This is it. This moment around the table, so mundane, is where God’s grace is most evident to me. This is enough. This is more than enough. This is how I know I’ll be okay.
Because this is the stuff Side B people have been writing about and dreaming about. Finding an answer to our loneliness (and fear of future loneliness) by being placed in families, as God has promised in Psalm 68. I think of another line from the psalms, one that’s been a theme lately: The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed.
It was the actual movie that pulled me out of this celibate bliss I was feeling. Thanks, Marvel!
But in all seriousness, I am becoming more and more convinced that stories told well are our single best apologetic tool, because they move the heart in a way nothing else does, whether for good or bad. (It’s no accident that before the Gospel is anything else, it is a story.) And despite the fact that I am predisposed to not like Marvel movies because I’ve never been a huge fan and I find them so predictable, I think Spiderman: Far From Home is a well-told story. I won’t spoil anything major (or anything significant at all, really, I don’t think) going forward, but if you’re a purist and want to know absolutely nothing going into this movie, you should probably stop reading now.
There is a scene as the movie transitions from the first act to the second act, in which an older character who is talking to Spiderman (a teenager in this latest iteration of the franchise) in a fatherly way, asks him point-blank, “What do you want?” This is where Spiderman, who’s just been lamenting his woes over feeling the burden of literally having to save the world, finally puts into words, exasperated, his biggest internal conflict in this movie (I’m paraphrasing): “I don’t want to save the world. I want to go on my school trip. I want to be sixteen, and go to Paris, and take the girl I like to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and tell her how I feel, and then give her a kiss.”
I love to read into things, so bear with me here. But that scene struck a nerve for me emotionally. My calling is not to save the world, like Peter Parker’s, but he is struggling with a set of unchosen circumstances that are keeping him from being normal, and enjoying the normal things of life that sixteen-year-olds are supposed to be enjoying. Particularly, young love and a first romantic relationship. To push the analogy further without spoiling too much, he tries to take an easy way out of the situation by relinquishing his responsibility, and it backfires spectacularly; for me, this would be the equivalent of giving up on celibacy, I think. To sum it up: his situation is that he has a huge, burdensome responsibility, that is completely not his fault and not very fair, and yet it’s still his responsibility to bear at the cost of giving up some things that other people (rightfully) enjoy.
So yes. It made me feel things. I started to question whether I really would be okay.
But what was particularly hard about this is that, this being a movie, he gets the girl anyway. The young couple gets their moment of awkwardly confessing their feelings to each other, they get their first kiss, they get the moment immediately after that kiss in which they just look at each other sheepishly because they don’t know what to say or do now, they just know that they delight in each other and it’s all exciting and new. All I could think while that scene played out is, I will never get to have these moments.
And unlike if this were a gay couple, there was no reassuring myself that I believed this was wrong, no matter how good and pleasant it appeared. There was nothing inherently wrong with two high schoolers figuring out their feelings for each other, together. This is what people are supposed to do, and romantic love rightly expressed is beautiful, Godlike even. I think that made it even harder. Here is a true and good beauty that I will not experience in this life.
This forced me to admit that even as I’m so glad and thankful for the life I currently have, some part of me, a not-insignificant part of me, wishes my timeline were just a few years pushed back. Couldn’t I have just had a high school fling? A boyfriend in college? St. Augustine’s prayer was, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet,” and it feels like mine is, “Lord, you’ve made me chaste, but why so soon?” I know this is utter foolishness. Sin always over promises and under delivers; I wouldn’t somehow be happier right now if I’ve had those moments I want so badly. Not to mention, I am hardly confident enough to say that God has made me anywhere close to totally chaste yet. It will take plentiful more grace to protect me from my own impulses.
Even now, I hear Jesus remind me of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. I feel like the laborer hired early in the morning, and I foolishly grumble and begrudge the generosity of my Savior. He reminds me, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
And therein is my measure of comfort. I belong to Him, and in the end, this is all that matters. And He can do with me as He chooses.
After the movie, we piled back into the family car, and my pastor’s sons excitedly chattered away about how awesome the movie was, talking about superheroes in the way only little boys can. Another beautiful familial moment that I was given. I hope and pray that my heart learns to love these moments more, and to let go of the dreams of the moments that God has, in His infinite wisdom and grace, kept from me.