Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sometimes It's All About Presentation

Sorry about the blog silence. This past week was crazy. I was not at home at all and I did not have access to a computer. Period. I tell you, you really don't know what you got till it's gone. Here's what was going on.

The scholarship program that is paying most of my college expenses requires that all rising Sophomores take a bus tour of the great state of North Carolina. Each night the 500 scholarship recipients from fourteen NC colleges stay at dorms on a different college campus, and then they tour local school systems (it's a teaching scholarship). Over the week I was at five college campuses, located in areas ranging from the mountains to the coast. I had to wear a suit every day (it was stressed that I could possibly be meeting future employers, and I actually did tour a high school that I fell in love with an might consider once I graduate), but after I arrived at the "college of the day" I got to take off the dress clothes and mingle with the various other students.

While many of the other kids from my school stuck together, I decided to find new friends from other schools. We were encouraged to "network," after all, and if I may say I think I'm pretty good at networking. ;) I enjoy the thrill of meeting new people. I like to talk, I like to listen, I like to interact. I guess I'm a social butterfly. Sometimes I can be quite an awkward butterfly, though. I can rush into social situations and come off "too strong." But oh well, I enjoy it. Reservations never did anybody any good.

Presentation, however, is important, and that's what I want to talk about today. Now there's the standard version of presentation: combed hair, nice clothes, smile, firm handshake, proper English, etc. I can do that easily. I hate it sometimes (mostly the hair and clothes thing; I hate dressing up), but nonetheless I can do it. But then there's Godly presentation. I think it's something that a lot of Christians worry about. Namely, do we always present ourselves in a way that brings glory to God and is good in His sight?

I don't think I did this past week. The trip was like a social pressure-cooker. Out of 500 college-aged kids, I knew about 30, and I only saw about five on a regular basis. I can't tell you how many introductions, how many presentations, I made. Some were good, but some I could have done better on. For example, my usual rule of not calling myself "gay" unless I have time to explain the details went out the window, and pretty early. I had time to mention that I was a conservative and a Christian (and even a Calvinist), but I found the Side B stuff was too cumbersome and controversial to mention. After all, the kids that I usually find myself "clicking" with are of the more liberal/artistic stripe. It leads to awkwardness among friends back home, so among strangers I was less inclined to share it.

I suppose I'm just wondering how to be a better witness. Presenting yourself as a Christian is important, and sometimes it can be hard. I met a very handsome gay student over the week, and (almost instinctively) I turned on my "charm." I'll make a note that he was the one who made it a point to introduce himself to me (how he heard I was gay is still a question. Either someone else told him or his "gaydar" really is that good). But either way, until I found out he had a boyfriend back home, I presented myself as an available gay student.

I think I did it because it was a "safe" situation. He goes to another school, we were only going to see each other for a few more days, and flirting with him was fun. I mean, I just turned 19. I'm young, I'm moderately good looking (those who have seen complete pictures of me can debate the truth of that), and looking back, the extent of our "flirting" was playing Ultimate Frisbee and sitting next to each other during a group conversation in someone's dorm room. That and a hug. Maybe it wasn't even flirting at all. Maybe it was just two similar people coming together in a very random social situation.

I am proud of one way I presented myself, though. When the guy in question started talking about his opposition to religion (not uncommon among gay men), I spoke up about my beliefs. Not my Side B beliefs, mind you, but I did say that I was a Christian, that I was devout, and I think I sad something along the lines of "we're not all bad." Maybe it will amount to something. I hope it does. Anyway, he said we'd keep in touch. I doubt anything more will happen between us, but I am concerned about how I'm going to present myself to future gay men who might take an interest in me.

How far do I let the relationship go before I shut it down? How do I become friends with them when our ideologies are going to be very different? How do I witness to them without driving them away? When it comes to gay and lesbian friends, how can I be anything other than happy for them when they get boyfriends or girlfriends? I mean, I know the pain that the mere prospect of lifelong celibacy can cause. How can I rightfully ask it of anyone else? Am I even required to? I've always said that my Side B ethics are "personal." I don't ask it of anyone else, but I do ask people to examine the Bible and what they feel God is calling them to do. Because it is a calling, just as salvation is a calling. But like salvation, after you've answered the call, there are a lot of little nasty details to work out. I guess I better get started. It's not all about presentation anymore. This has to come from within me.

On a side note, I would like to ask for prayers for a friend of mine. She and her mother are going through financial difficulty. Her mother is working two low-paying jobs in order to help put her through community college. She barely has enough money to fix the car that she needs to get to class. She's not a strong Christian (she hasn't been to church in years), but she's an amazing person and I want the best for her. Pray that she'll be able to make it to school, get good grades, and forge a better life for herself. Pray that for the millions of people in similar situations.

11 comments:

MR said...

You said, “I know the pain that the mere prospect of lifelong celibacy can cause.” Well, I guess I can speak with a little authority on lifelong celibacy. I am a Christian man and I have been celibate 46 years by God’s grace, even though I have been attracted to other men since I was 12. Yet, I am happy – very happy. I am happy because I “deny myself” a comparatively small thing (sex in this life) while looking at “the joy set before him” (that most intense everlasting pleasure God will give us forever in His presence!)

Luke 9:23 (ESV) And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV) "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross..."

Jesus told us all to deny ourselves. We need to follow his example and call others to self denial, too. It is the only way to real happiness anyway!

Amanda said...

I know the pain that the mere prospect of lifelong celibacy can cause. How can I rightfully ask it of anyone else?

Jay, it's important to realize here that you're not asking anything of them. God is.

Robert said...

Hey Jay!

I think MR has some good thoughts on some of the issues you raised. If there is a stereotype that I think has some basis in truth is that gay men in general feel more comfortable in the company of other men without any affectations taking place. Hugging and kissing a man can be a profound sign of platonic love and not sexual. I love my best friend dearly (who is also a gay man), but I would never have sex with him.

I think your challenge will be to look inside yourself when you are drawing closer to a man and candidly examining yourself as to why you are doing so. If there is a sexual attraction between you, it will be extremely difficult to maintain a close friendship without it moving in another direction.

Jay said...

MR and Amanda: Thanks, guys. You're both right, but I think my feelings are still the same. Yes, we are all called to deny ourselves, but you have to admit that, from the outside looking in, it looks like gays are asked to deny more than others.

And I know that it is God asking, not me. But how do I explain that to someone who doesn't know God? For me, it's something I want to do (no matter how hard it is) because I have felt God's presence and want to repay Him.

Basically, I want to witness to my gay friends without a shadow of celibacy looming over the situation. Once they know God, they may understand why it's there. Before that, though, it could get in the way. Does that make sense?

Robert: Thanks for the encouragement. What you say about platonic love is true. There's a fine line between the two, though. Self-examination is required to find the boundary, I guess.

David said...

Jay,

I have to say I find it a bit surprising you presented yourself as gay at all. I don't, and I'm Side A! But I guess it is a personal decision, after all...

I also don't quite get Side B being controversial. I could see some people looking at you a bit weird (he's celi-what?), and certainly a few crazies might be offended, but seriously, try being Side A with Christians in the South! There is no belief that's not controversial to someone. I agree with you about not letting it overshadow relationships - I refuse to talk about this in view of salvation (which is far more important) - but I don't see why it should be an encumbrance, so long as it is not central.

I'm tempted to write something about the notion of self-denial, what it means and how it should be viewed (and how it should not), but I will let that pass. :)

I will pray for your friend.

Jay said...

I'm tempted to write something about the notion of self-denial, what it means and how it should be viewed (and how it should not), but I will let that pass. :)

Hey now. You can't dangle that out there and then not follow through! :)

Honestly, I won't be offended. Write what's on your mind.

MR said...

Jay,

It is so good in your response on self-denial to see your passionate love for God coming through! You said, “For me, it's something I want to do (no matter how hard it is) because I have felt God's presence and want to repay Him.”

One thing I find helpful is not to think in terms of repaying God. Instead, I just remember how great and satisfying God is and seek pleasure in Him. I demonstrate by my choices that He is better than sex, money, men’s approval, or even life itself!

David,

I would also be interested to hear your ideas on self-denial. I read some of your blog on the side A / side B debate. You put so much thought into your writing and it is obvious that your decision process was NOT too easy or quick.

I also grew up in the South and I have to respect your courage in admitting your side A views. You are much more of a man than straight guys who just conform to that culture.

Joe said...

I am proud of one way I presented myself, though.

And so you should be. The Side B concept is too unwieldy to reference in the first few hours, days or even months of getting to know someone. You did just fine with Mr Cutie with a boyfriend back home. I hope you get to play Ultimate Frisbee with all the handsome students in North Carolina. :-)

Also praying for your friend and her mother.

Jay said...

I hope you get to play Ultimate Frisbee with all the handsome students in North Carolina.

So do I Joe, so do I. ;)

Thanks for the prayers. They mean a lot. And now that I see your blog is back online, I am so gonna link to it. :)

Brandon said...

Jay,

I'll admit that I've asked myself a lot of the same questions a great many times. I'll also admit that staying celibate can be a very hard thing to do. Sometimes I can get to feeling so lonely I just wish like crazy I could have a boyfriend. I've found myself at times wanting to flirt with other guys and put myself out there, only to catch myself and back away from them. But I know exactly what you're talking about. I think this phrase can sum things up pretty well, "Keep falling forward."

God bless, and I'll make sure to pray for your friend.

Brandon

Jay said...

Thanks, Brandon. That means a lot to me.