A Leap from Certainty to Faith

I grew up in a very certain world. My dad worked in a prominent position at Focus on the Family and my mom was both the homemaker and the primary home-school teacher to my brother and I. My dad was home by 5:15pm every night and my mom always had dinner on the table. My mornings started with family devotions over breakfast at 7am and ended with family dinners that often included Scripture memory. Church was on Sunday mornings and Awana’s on Wednesday night. I had the coveted Christian upbringing and the epitome of a “godly family.” Life was scheduled, predictable, and safe.

But this certainty came with a pricetag. Our list of rules and regulations of how to live and love others caused us to not only exist within a very confined space but it also forced us to wear a façade. The tiniest bit of doubt or unbelief was seen as weakness. Although it wasn’t overtly stated, the underlying belief was that if you had enough faith and trusted God enough, you should have your shit together. But of course, no one really has all their shit together, so instead, we just pretended like we did. We hid the broken pieces of our lives behind a happy smile or a “I’m blessed” response when asked how we were doing. If people didn’t see our mess, then hypothetically, it didn’t exist.

While causing us to hide our true selves, this also caused a level of judgment when it came to our fellow believers. If they were going through a difficult time or experiencing hardship, we first, took pity on them, and second, concluded that it was most likely due to a lack of faith (aka certainty). We then committed to praying for them. So in essence, we had this Christian thing figured out and they were still working on getting it figured out. See where I’m heading?

Everything was black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. We had all the answers. We were certain. It was so easy to judge the lives of others, so easy to point a finger or make an accusation with these “right” and “wrong” tools we possessed.

It was easy, until that person experiencing hardship became you.

Then when something unexpected happens in your life (a diagnosis, the loss of a child, a divorce, or the discovery of an LGBT identity), you suddenly begin to see things very differently.

At first, we often put ourselves under the same scrutiny that we would for others.

What did I do wrong?
Why can’t I fix this?
Maybe I really don’t have enough faith.
I promise I’ll try harder God, if only (fill in the blank).

We beg and we bargain with God to take away the pain so our certain and sure footing can be restored.

But we’ve completely missed the point.

A belief system based on certainty doesn’t really require any faith at all! If we have everything figured out, if we have all the answers, what do we need faith for?

Faith and certainty aren’t intended to mix as we so often do with them in Christian circles. Faith is awe and mystery, questioning and wondering, room to breathe and room for the unknown. Faith is belief in the absence of certainty. That is true faith. That is true dependence on God.

Before I came out as gay, I thought I had most the answers. I’d admit I didn’t know everything, but I was pretty comfortable inside my box and the box I had put God in. Stepping out into my true identity and embracing myself for who God made me to be, now that required faith. I knew coming out could have a price tag. I knew it would be questioned among my family and peers. I knew it could potentially cost me everything. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that it actually would.

Loosing absolutely everything (my family, my relatives, my friend, my church, my hometown) required faith unlike anything I’d ever known. I was completely and utterly dependant on God to survive, to pull me through, and to provide for me. I had nothing. I lost it all in the face of authenticity. Suddenly, I didn’t have it all as together as I thought.

Not having it all together, not having all the answers, not knowing what the future held, yet taking each step forward as God asked it of me, took more faith than anything I’d ever faced before.

People sometimes ask me, “How do you know with 100% certainty that God approves of you sexuality and marriage to your wife,” and I say, “I don’t. Not anymore than you are 100% certain that God approves of your sexuality (gay or straight) and your marriage to your wife/husband.” I’m relying on faith. True faith that leads me to complete reliance on the fact that God is loving and good, and he doesn’t make mistakes. And faith in the belief that good trees produce good fruits and that is what I am seeing in my life today.

I would never return to the life of certainty I once led, even though it was far more comfortable. Faith may require discomfort and being stretched outside my box, but it has also led me to a much deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life. I am more happy, more free, and more complete now than I’ve ever been because I choose daily to let go of certainty, and walk and live in faith.

Will you join me?

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Purity Destroyed: A Guest Blog from Austin Pierce

This week, I’m featuring a guest blog by Austin Pierce. Austin is passionate about discovering what it means to bridge the gap between two seemingly opposing communities: being gay and being Christian. In this guest blog, Austin talks about sexual ethics and what he’s learned and come to value in regards to sexual purity. Give it a read…


About five years ago, I was introduced to this term: “Purity Culture.” You may or may not have seen the phrase that describes a segment of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s characterized by the Christian church’s emphasis on sexual ethics and boundaries for marriage. Chances are, if you heard the term, it wasn’t in a positive context.

For me, this idea of sexual purity seemed like a noble pursuit, but would later be recognized as a shame-based ideology that hindered many Christians as they got older. When I first heard the term, I didn’t feel like it had much bearing on me growing up. I had friends whose parents revered the Christian best-seller “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” a book-length manifesto about dating authored by a then 21-year-old virgin. Fortunately, my parents didn’t embrace the book and these circles of thought, so I felt unaffected by Purity Culture’s ideology. Or at least it seemed so.

During my last two years of college, I had my own apartment. One day when I was leaving for class, I heard the loudest scream I’d ever heard. Panicked, I walked out onto my porch to see what was wrong and I saw five police cars in the parking lot. Knowing I’d be late for class, I sat down in my chair to see what was going on. Moments later I saw a hysterical mother make her way to the stairwell of my building. She sat there, screaming at the top of her lungs in anger and sadness—her son was found dead in his apartment.

With the grieving mother now blocking my way down the stairs to my car, I sat frozen in my chair listening to this lady process the first hour of life without her adult child. I looked down on the floor at my backpack and realized that I was about to leave for a typical day at class, while this lady’s life will never be the same again. It was hard to wrap my head around—the pain this woman was experiencing. I looked around the complex that day, confused, because it felt just like a normal day. Within an instant, this mother’s entire world was destroyed. A perfectly sunny autumn day cloaked in a tangible, invisible, painful darkness. It was terribly confusing, but too familiar just the same—I had felt this similar feeling once before.

It was another perfectly sunny Phoenician day. I remember leaving his apartment and driving up the 101 thinking, “What did I just do? I promised myself I would never do this until I was married…to a woman, nevertheless.” I had just slept with a guy for the first time. It wasn’t who I was supposed to be—I wasn’t supposed to have ever just hooked up anyone, let alone a guy!

I felt darkness. I felt nothing.

The same feelings of darkness that surrounded that mother in grief surrounded me that afternoon as I drove home reflecting on what I had just done—the most inconceivable thing that I promised myself I would never do. While everyone driving past me was having another mundane afternoon, I felt destroyed inside.

It was here where the idea of Purity Culture waged its war on my heart.

I would never be the same. My sexuality was officially sealed inside my heart through this hook-up and I had officially done the irreversible thing. God wouldn’t change this. God was angry with this. He was angry at my interest in pornography, He was hated me because I like guys, but He was officially done with me now that I had taken this step into the fire.

Eventually, my heart would grow numb from the shame. I would give up on caring about this portion of my life, as I went through swelling phases of hooking up and sexual stupidity. After all, I had already ruined myself, so there wasn’t any going back, right? Even as I type this, I can clearly hear the voice of God, through His knowing laughter saying, “You really had no idea what I was capable of back then, Austin!”

The shame of my lifestyle was perpetually destroying me inside. The shame’s voice was the collective sound of my youth pastor and various retreat speakers telling me that virginity was non-refundable, that sex was irreplaceable, and misuse of sex was detrimental. These thoughts were torturing my ability to connect with God, as if He didn’t have His hands on this portion of my life. I hid sex from Him, as if He had no bearing on it.

I’ve read many stories like mine, many of which come to the conclusion that Purity Culture was of Satan and that none of its constructs should be valued or upheld today. As I reflect on this, I’m not sure it’s all to be thrown to the side.

During my phase of attempting to hide sex from God and instead of embracing the religious backing for Biblical sexual ethics, I frequently read and re-read pop psychology research that discussed the various stresses and pains that are caused by sexual deviance. There was non-religious research to prove that pornography is actually changing people physiologically, affecting their ability to engage in healthy sex. There was empirical data to show that sex outside of marriage statistically reduces the longevity of marriages. It was in this research, that I began to see the practical truth to the traditional sexual ethics that I was taught.

It still has me wondering why my Sunday school teachers didn’t lead with this type of research?

It was absolutely fascinating to see that secular culture was discovering the value of these seemingly conservative sexual ethics. Purity Culture in practice may have been shame-producing and damaging to thousands of Christians like myself, but seeing the secular statistics of it, I can now see that its intentions were mostly pure (pun intended).

None of this ever became more important than when I met the guy who would be my future husband. As we started the first month of our relationship, we had a choice to make. We had to decide if we were going to honor the sexual ethics we grew up with or if were we going to honor our personal desires on sex. Without much of a struggle, we chose not to have any sort of sex while we were dating. At the time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, so I knew we’d have to figure that part out if our relationship were to progress, but in the meantime, we chose to yield to the sexual ethics we were raised under.

Frankly speaking, I wasn’t convinced that honoring sexual ethics would make any difference since we’d already overlooked them in previous relationships, but I figured it was worth a shot. Fortunately, we were wrong, and the overwhelming message of Purity Culture was wrong: God can renew us.

In our dating and engagement phase, we saw the power of bypassing the physical for a chance at emotional connection. A dear friend of mine described abstaining within a relationship as, “…a chance to channel our sexual desire into creative ways to emotionally connect.” I’m sure some pastors wouldn’t like me saying this, but we were familiar enough with sex that we had a firm understanding of what we weren’t doing.

It was beautiful to experience restoration. It wasn’t as if my past was scrubbed clean. We brought the inherent baggage into our relationship—baggage that would not have been there had each of us not had sexual pasts. But God didn’t shame me for my past. He didn’t give up on me because I failed to honor Him in years past. The start of our relationship was where God showed me that He revels in His ability to restore me. 

I’m not sure that’s something Purity Culture could have ever taught me.

 

Austin Pierce is a Phoenix-based writer trying to understand what it looks like to be gay in the Christian world and Christian in the gay world. He’s searching the LGBTQ community for something deeper than resentment and the Christian community for something more wholehearted than protest. He’s believing, higher than any theological argument, God seeks to create bonds between these two communities that model a Christ-like love. Instead of engaging seductive apathy, he’s chosen to walk a bit more closely into each community.
 
Connect with Austin at betweencommunities.com or find him on Twitter and Instagram @austinpierce.

Honored to Be Featured in Another Blog

This morning I am humbled and honored at all the ways God is using my story to reach others across the nation and, in some instances, even around the globe. This blog is one I received last night from someone who heard my recent interview on Benjamin L. Corey’s podcast “That God Show”. It comes from Darrell Lucus at LiberalAmerica.org. You can read it here:

Focus on the Family Exec Had Own Daughter Thrown Out for Coming Out

If you missed the full podcast interview with Benjamin L. Corey and Matthew Paul Turner, you can click the link below to listen as well:

That God Show Podcast-Full Interview

Thanks to each of you who are helping to make my dream a reality by standing in the gap with me as we try to change the culture for LGBT Christians. Just a reminder that I am also booking speaking engagements for this calendar year. To book me for a conference, retreat, workshop, teen event, etc. please visit my Contact page where you can fill out a Booking Request Form and submit it to me via email.

Blessings to you all in the name of our wonderfully diverse God,

Amber

Scandal, Mercy and Grace

Every once in awhile I enjoy using my creativity to imagine what some of the stories we read in the Bible must have really been like. For my blog this week, please enjoy my take on what this story of scandal and mercy must have been like for the adulterous woman who encountered Jesus…

The setting is ancient Israel…a riot takes over the crowd in the marketplace. Men in leadership, Pharisees, are leading in their pious way through the street, robes of dark crimson flowing as they make their way to the town square. Following quick behind them are more of the same, dragging a young, exposed woman for all to see. She was naked, her body completely bare, save for a thin sheet that was quickly thrust at her as they snatched her from her home. Taking the long way through town to the square, the Pharisees had it in their nature to publicly humiliate those “not as righteous as them” as much as they possibly could before reaching their destination. Doing so only exceeded the height of their status in other peoples eyes, or at least, so they thought. Arriving at the center of town, the girl was thrown to the gravel as those nearby began to make a mockery of the scene. All the woman could see were the dozens of sandaled feet covered in a reddish brown dirt several layers thick. She didn’t dare look up at the faces staring down at her. She didn’t want anyone to recognize her in this moment of such shear shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. Men threw jokes at her like dung in the face, as if to let her know that was all she was worth. Women looked on with compassion for the girl, while covering the virgin eyes of their young. Some of the voices she swore she recognized. Fighting back tears so as not to show weakness in the midst of an already unbearable moment, the woman kept her eyes unmoved on the ground before her.

Suddenly, a hush came over the crowd as a man walked through the mobs of people. Who he was, she did not know, only that his very presence held the power to silence a crowd. Using her long, dark brown hair to cover her face, she waited for what she knew could be the last few moments of her life. For at any moment, she knew she could be stoned for the accusations against her. Lying with a man other than your husband always carried a penalty of death. And now, she fear death awaited her.

The man that passed through the crowd seemed to be headed straight for her. Was he to be her first accuser? Stopping just short of her, he knelt to the ground and began to write in the dirt. Uneducated as she was, and unable to read or write, the woman could only wonder what it was that was being written. Her death sentence? A negotiation? A man in the crowd broke the silence with a rough tone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law says we must stone such a woman. What do you say?” Teacher? This man was a teacher? The pieces slowly began to come together in her mind. Jesus! This is the man that so many had been speaking of! The one who made blind see and lame walk. Jesus. Could he help her? Would he help her? The moments that followed awaiting an answer were quiet enough to hear a piece of dirt scrape on the gravel as the man called Jesus knelt back down to write in the sand again. The few moments that followed felt like decades as the woman waited in anticipation for what was to come. Questions began to rise from the crowd, more vigorously now than before and Jesus answered them all with one convicting requirement… “Anyone who is without sin may cast the first stone at her.” All voices ceased. Without sin? Fists raised in anger began to drop to their sides, realizing they didn’t qualify. Stones ready for execution, held a moment longer as if some thought they might be exempt from the statement. Yet after a couple seconds, dropped one by one to the ground with a thud in the sand, breaking the heavy silence. Starting with the eldest of the group, wise enough to know their own sin, all the way down to the youngest standing, the crowd began to slowly disperse.

Still desperately afraid to raise her hazel eyes, the woman couldn’t help but feel relief as she heard each stone drop to the ground, each one releasing more of the breath she’d been holding. In just a few moments time, the accusers were gone, leaving only her and Jesus at the scene. He knelt to the ground once more, but this time not to write, but to gently lift her eyes to meet his. The moment they did, her heart was overcome. His eyes held such peace, such calm, such love. The tears she had earlier refused could no longer be held back, and she began to weep. With compassion Jesus asked, “They have all left, has no one condemned you?”

“No one sir” she replied with tears and disbelief.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Now go, and leave your life of sin.”
Written by Amber Cantorna
Copyright 2016

Ron DiCianni

Painting by Ron DiCianni

More Than a Greeting

The question of “How are you?” has become a familiar one, hasn’t it? Maybe too familiar. How many times a day does somebody pass by you at work and say, “Hi, how are you?” continuing to walk without even waiting for a reply…as if the two statements were meant to be lumped together to create a cultured American greeting, rather than an actual question that awaits a response? How many times have you been guilty of doing the same? If you’re anything like me, the number is probably more than you’d like to count. Could it be that we don’t really want to know the answer? Could it be that to actually await a response might inconvenience our lives for more than the mere five seconds it takes us to ask it?

But what if “How are you?” was more than a greeting? What if when we asked the question, we actually made eye contact long enough to receive a reply? What if? Could it be that we might earn the opportunity to peer into the lives of those we pass by? That we might actually get to be Jesus to a person who’s dying for someone to stick around long enough to listen to the answer?

13852_618427308208298_1352514157_nBut that’s our fear, isn’t it? We’re not sure we want to know the answer. Doing that might require work, time, sacrifice. We’d rather live our cookie-cutter lives where everything flows smoothly and we don’t encounter any detours. But a fabricated life created from construction paper and glue is rarely as exciting as the real photograph containing vibrant color. The journey may be smoother, but the picture is quite dull.

Several years ago I found myself on the asking side of this scenario in the teacher’s lounge on a Professional Development Day in the elementary school in which I worked. As I sat down with two other co-workers, one of them began to describe the fear she was wrestling with as her daughter approached ever closer to the day in which she would undergo brain surgery to remove a tumor that was discovered during her recent pregnancy. The count was now down to less than 72 hours and I could tell each hour wore a little harder on the co-worker beside me, her daughter miles away in a hospital rather than by her side. I listened intently as she poured her heart out to the two of us and it suddenly occurred to me that before me lie a great opportunity. The question was, did I have the courage to take it? Wrestling with idea for a brief moment, the Spirit of the Lord prompted me and I found myself saying “Why don’t we just pray for your daughter right now,” spoken as more of a statement than a question. My friend seemed to appreciate the offer. So the three of us joined hands in a circle and I lead out in intercession for her daughter’s life. The power of God was evident among us as we prayed and a boldness was infused inside of me that melted away my fears of what other people were thinking as they walked in and out of the room. This was the common area for teachers after all, and this was a public school. I found myself not caring though and the situation almost comical as I heard people walk in, suddenly realize what was happening and, in embarrassment, turn around and walk back out, as if they had just walked in on someone in the bathroom stall.

When we were finished, the tears streaming down her face and the long embrace she gave told me I had done the right thing. And I was so glad that I listened to the Spirit’s urge within me rather than letting my fears of what other people would think override that still small Voice. Had I not offered, I would have been the one that missed a great opportunity. Yet how many other times have I done exactly that? How many other situations have I flippantly passed by hoping someone else would take care of it, letting my fear of people’s opinions win over the what I knew God was asking me to do? Or perhaps it was because my delayed response closed the door for me before I was able to act. My prayer is that my number of obedient actions will increase and tip the scale so that delayed or fearful responses won’t even be a considered option any more and serving will win every time.

And what about you? Are you willing to risk, even just a little, to invest in someone’s life? To see and experience the vibrant color rather than the cardboard cop-out? If so, what would you see? Reality? Yes. Pain? Probably. The brightness of the sun is often mixed with some stormy clouds. Yes…storms will come, I guarantee it. But I also know that the shadow proves the sunshine. And don’t we want it to? Isn’t that the way life was meant to be lived? God created our lives to be intricately woven together with the lives of those around us. Is it never easy and rarely convenient, but it’s the only way His perfect will can be complete. He chose us, simple human beings, to be His vessel. Let’s together resolve to ask more people “How are you?” more often, and echo the prayer of Thomas A. Kempis who asked, “Lord do what You will, as You will, when You will.” And as we look more to the needs of others and less to ourselves, maybe “How are you?” will become more than just a greeting.