Rumours of the Askani
In the future world of Marvel Comics, a word survives, whispered in the shadows. A mighty word of fear and release. Askani: outsider. In the culture’s dystopian tongue, this word has burgeoned beyond its direct denotation and has become the name of a small underground pseudo-religion that holds forth in desperate times, nourishing secrets of the future and past. They are forgotten and rejected by their world, but it is in their hands that the death, and thereby the survival, of their civilization rests.
This word has stayed with me as a perfect melding of form and content. With the grace and precision of an actual language, the word holds in its very syllables the weight and expanse of a concept. Outsider, yes, but tinged with power. An awkward beauty stained with purpose. It is a martyr word.
While I cannot explain the breadth of ‘askani’ (that is the genius of the word), I often use it among myself. It is often useful in describing those who will never have their own sitcom, who stand in their own country and share the rest of the world.
I, for the bulk of my life, have swum in the waters of the askani. The overweight intellectual Christian teenager in a rural public high school, I grew into the conservative homosexual American at a Reformed Dutch Canadian university.
The full content of this previous sentence has very likely been eclipsed in your mind under the weight of another powerful word. Homosexual. Or Christian. Or very likely both.
A Survey Course in Me
A brief history: Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I experienced markedly homosexual attraction. When I left home for university, these desires burgeoned into a self-concept against my own conscious will. Never did I doubt the Scripture’s injunctions against homosexuality (though I tried very hard to), and God preserved me, even in my most degraded state, in His hand.
Even before I identified myself as gay, I was well aware of my own askani nature. For whatever reasons, cultural or constitutional, I did not fit into the schema of society. I felt excluded and inferior around men and obviously separate from women. I felt a constant unease around my peers and had little idea of how to interact in a social setting of any kind. Most of my friends were females, relatives, and/or adults.
I had been raised by public television and afterschool specials, however, and so I knew not to let my ostracization bother me. And this worked. I was seldom aware of disliking my place in the world or my personality. I made the most of both and ended high school with a generally agreeable relationship with most of my classmates.
It was not until my mid-twenties, however, that I realized the true effect of my early life. I did, in fact, feel a large amount of self-hatred. I did intensely dislike my place in the social structure of the world. I did feel generally rejected and unfit. I believed it all. But I banned it from my conscious mind.
As I grew into an autonomous adult at university (and more and more slipped into a gay identification), my inner sense of difference worked its way out. I began to dress and act in ways that set me apart not only in my rural Pennsylvanian hometown but in my new urban adult home in Ontario as well. I embraced my sense of difference so as to alleviate the shame involved, but my own sense of inadequacy and outsiderness grew. Each act of self-definition set me further apart from those around me and fed my sense that the real me was unacceptable. In fact, I didn’t have the slightest clue who that real self was.
Perhaps this requires some elucidation. I take it to be self-evident from Scripture and Spirit that homosexuality is non-creational and non-normative. The debate of this point is too unwieldy for the focus of this paper, but this is my fire-kilned starting base. A brief account of the nature of homosexuality is, however, crucial at this point.
Disclaimers and Proclamations
Allow me to present a couple of maxims.
1) Homosexuality is not a disease.
It is always important when discussing sexuality to refer to the insightful words of musician Charlie Peacock: “Sin is a sickness, not just something you do from time to time, like stumbling or fumbling or having to sneeze [from “The Point” on the album strangelanguage distributed by Re:think].” Sin is a condition from which we all suffer. Sins are the manifestation of this ailment. The disease is the same, but the symptoms differ. It is common sense that treating the symptoms will not cure the disease (although it may provide the opportunity to perform safe surgery). The very same root causes of He-Man masculinity and passive femininity, as well as narcissism or codependency or countless other neuroses, are those found at the base of homosexuality.
What is it, then, that makes my symptoms homosexual and yours altogether different? Our unique askani nature. Most gays will tell you that they always knew that they were different. Many will relate childhoods that were marked by isolation or eccentricity when compared to the average. This palpable distance is not in large part a sign of their gayness but the mark of their unorthodox personality. These are often the artists, born out of the box. They are children who were created special and preciously unique like golden pups in a litter of black. And it is those of this constitution that are susceptible to, and bent toward, homosexuality.
2) Homosexuality is not a choice. (But being gay is.)
It should be clear, then, that these youngsters seldom choose to be gay. Their own constitutions simply lead them to this glut of symptoms in the same way that yours leads to your own special bundle. Homosexuality is not an identity statement, but a collection of desires and predilections. Being gay is a decided identity.
To illustrate this, I often point to the difference in meaning between “lesbian Christian” and “Christian lesbian”. The noun in the phrase will betray your identity while the adjective simply modifies it. It is when I took my homosexuality to heart that I truly became gay. This decision for me was slow and gradual, but a point of change did come when my sexual nature became my core being.
Gay at the Gates
I have always said that there are few positions more marginalized than that of the repentant gay Christian. (Notice the identity structure communicated by placing the word “gay” first.) Those within the Body of Christ are seldom welcoming to a “same-sex struggler”, and the gay community is intolerant of one convicted of their sinful proclivities. Such a one occupies a sparsely-populated no-man’s land where insecurities and frustrations blow.
The tension of this life is not easy to bear and leads to secrecy, despair, and a need for release. That release may be suicide, a double life, or the resolving of the conflict with God or the gays. As God’s way is never the easy path, it is more common for these outcasts to conform to the gay model of all-out “self-acceptance” and surrender themselves blissfully to the life that that brings.
And so it is with some great familiarity that I come to the term “askani”. Tortured by my outside status, God nonetheless would not let me go. Even after I became gay and placed my pleas for change on a back-burner, they continued to simmer away. Lost in this lonely half-house squeezed between faith and self, I spiraled down into pornography, fractured relationships, and a constant construction of a fragile “self”.
Truly Coming OUT
A year ago, however, everything began to change. I attended a healing discipleship group called Living Waters where I learned mighty truths about God’s nature and His desire to name me Himself. I received weekly prayer and enjoyed incredible small group times. By the end of the thirty-week program, I had surrendered the self-hatred and deep-seated fear that fed my gay self, I had been delivered from that identity and the patterns of homosexuality, I found myself interacting easily with a large and ever-growing group of wonderful friends, and I was experiencing a truly transformed walk with God that informed and deepened my true sense of self. I emerged a warrior in the midst of the battle but rooted in my identity as a heterosexual man of God.
The central truth here, however, was not that I needed to change and become more like everyone else. I did not become like anyone else. I became more truly myself, with all of its idiosyncrasies and paradoxes, but rooted in and empowered by the Spirit of the Living God. God’s constant message to me was precisely that I was different, that I had a different destiny, that I was set apart and truly unique. I was a polished arrow hidden away in His quiver.
The askani perspective I had had all my life now was revealed as a blessing. I held a priceless middle view, the sort of picture only available to someone far enough outside of the church and the gay community. I had been given insights that could bring the two together. I was the force of change, nourishing a word of both fear and release, a secret of the future and past.
The Clan Askani
The secret is this: we are God’s people. We askani. We are the fishermen, the tax-collectors, the shepherds and harlots. Satan has corrupted us by bending our unique powerful differences into destructive and sinful patterns. But he has done so precisely because we are the mighty army of God, and he cannot stand before our true selves, firm to destroy the ways of this world with radical difference, strong to usher in new life in the path of the Lord’s askani. We are the voices Satan wishes to use because ours are the powerful tongues. We are the children born on earth to a divine Father who designed us to stand as His great front line. We are God’s people.
This is a truth that needs to be grasped in true spiritual humility by each of us who struggles with a sense of powerful difference. More so, however, it is a truth that must be reflected in the Body of God. The church has a very unflattering history with the dispossessed and odd. Wendy Gritter, director of New Direction for Life Ministries, is truly prophetic when she points out that the church needs -- that Christ is calling out for -- the lives and voices of the gay community. The talents and personalities that have been abandoned to the world are the very pieces missing from the church. By adding to their marginalization (however unpurposefully and with the best intentions), we are cutting off the feet of the Body.
Think of even the strides possible when the church has embraced the artists and is empowered to move in truly rich and skillful arts! Imagine Christian media that is not of lesser quality than the world’s but greater! Imagine breaking hearts tuned to the askani of the world, knowing what it is like to be broken. Imagine the Body of Christ, whole and healthy, confidently striding over the gates of Hell.
This is the truth of the church! We were never meant to fit in. We are called to a radical, radical way of life. We are called to embrace the unlovable, invite the unsavable, and guide the unchangeable. These prohibitions mean nothing to God and nothing to His united Body. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We are the askani. We are all the askani.
The very thing that sets us apart from the world, making us outsiders, is our insider status. As God’s children and confidants, we are privy to a secret proclaimed out loud: this world is a bent but beautiful place. It could be said that it is the world’s present state, and not our radical ‘outside life’, that is the exception. We are pushed to the margins, and we rejoice, for we know that those margins are the real centre! The Lord’s way is normative, the world’s way outside.
It is quite simple to speak of a radical lifeway, but the reality is harder to grasp. It is to look only to the Father, His Son, and His Holy Spirit for identity, wisdom, and even paradigms of understanding. It is to constantly be stepping back to the true centre when we repeatedly drift toward the world’s false one. It is to be an outsider by the very fact of being present in the world. It is to accept the perspective of He who is truly outside and within. It is to be whipped and stripped and hung to die, unswerving in the knowledge that you are standing on the true crux, at the still and living point. It is a path of surprising and un-sought-for simplicity arising from joined complexity. It is, in a sense, to be the even one out.
Isaiah 49: 1-7
1Listen to me, all of you in far-off lands! The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. 2He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword. He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand. I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver.
3He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory."
4I replied, "But my work all seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose at all. Yet I leave it all in the LORD's hand; I will trust God for my reward."
5And now the LORD speaks--he who formed me in my mother's womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring his people of Israel back to him. The LORD has honoured me, and my God has given me strength. 6He says, "You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."
7The LORD, the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel, says to the one who is despised and rejected by a nation, to the one who is the servant of rulers: "Kings will stand at attention when you pass by. Princes will bow low because the LORD has chosen you. He, the faithful LORD, the Holy One of Israel, chooses you."