Saturday, December 24, 2011

Done!

Aaandd I'm done writing my talk for the upcoming GCN Conference. I can't believe I managed it with all the holiday chaos going on. Merry Christmas, everyone, and hope to see many of you in Orlando in 2012.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

One hundred!

Oh yeah! Thanks for helping us to hit the 100 mark on the followers list.

John Alsdorf
Jordan Haynes
William Lenz
David
Allen
D.J.
katybraden
The Fried Doctor
Julia Paterson

I'm grateful to all of you, both the official and unofficial followers of this blog, for teaching me, encouraging me and supporting me through this journey.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A dose of reality


Wow. This captures why I think civil rights in society and freedom of conscience in the church must be respected when it comes to this issue. Every Christian with conservative views on homosexuality has to allow him- or herself to be tempered by the reality of what gay relationships are all about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Side B, with qualifications

I get labels. I understand them, I embrace them. Sometimes people just want to cut to the chase and know what you're all about. Who are you? Where do you stand? What's your deal? I'm straight. I'm an evangelical. I'm Reformed. I'm a homeschooler. Only later on you'll find out that I'm a straight person with a lot of gay friends. I'm an evangelical who is uncomfortable with evangelical culture. I'm a Reformed Christian that most Reformed Christians reject. And I'm a homeschooler with two kids in public school.

Ah, nuances. How they upset one's neatly labelled world.

I'm also "Side B." What does that mean? Well, within the realm of those who call themselves gay Christians there are generally two camps, labelled Side A and Side B. Side A gay Christians believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. Side B gay Christians believe that God calls them to lifelong celibacy.

These terms can be stretched a bit. For instance because I'm involved in the dialogue between the two groups, people often ask me which Side I hold to. Since I'm straight they are not asking about what choice I'm making for my own life, but are inquiring about my theological view. Which do I think is biblical?

Biblical. When I hear people use that term, I know I'm heading for trouble. Since I'm straight the only way I can deal with the Side A/Side B question is to imagine what it would be like if I were gay. What choice would I make? What would I understand the Bible to be telling me? Notice that this is an extremely theoretical question, having to do with me living a life that I've never actually lived, and asking myself what I would do in a situation that I've never actually dealt with. What do I think would be biblical for my own personal life that isn't actually my personal life but only exists in theory?

Yet I do try to give an answer because I don't want to chicken out, get defensive, or press my hands together in a steeple and start philosophizing about how life is full of complex questions. I feel that people deserve an honest response. I look at the Bible, I look at myself, I talk to lots of gays and lesbians and try to imagine myself in their situation. I know I hold to the traditional creation-fall-redemption-consummation view of the Bible. And I know that I'm the type of person that tends to make the hard, conservative choices for myself in my own personal life, whether in the area of marriage, women's roles, or parenting--even though I don't ask other people to make the same choices for themselves. In other words, I know that I fit the profile of someone who would choose gay celibacy.

I think if I were lesbian probably the most difficult situation for me to face would be if I met someone who was also lesbian and Christian, we got along splendidly, we were completely spiritually compatible, there was potential for happiness and spiritual health and excitement about a future for myself and for her--and yet I have this theological hang-up that gay relationships aren't biblical. I imagine I would be sorely tempted to shelve the theological conviction and move forward with the wedding bells. I might even plead with God for leniency on this point; yes, it isn't ideal but look at the spiritual good that has come out of it, that will come out of it, if we got married. And since there are a lot of good Side A arguments out there, it's possible that I might be able to put my conscience shakily to rest about it.

The point is, even when I try to picture my non-existent, best-case-scenario married life with a lesbian partner, I imagine that I would have a far greater struggle of conscience trying to live as Side A than Side B. That's why when people ask me point-blank, cut-and-dried, to put a label on myself, I spit out: "Side B."

This has caused me some problems. I have discovered that labeling myself Side B conveys the idea that I think Side A gay Christians aren't really saved, that all gay Christians should be celibate otherwise they're living in sin, and that my agenda should be to befriend Side A people for the purpose of converting them to Side B. And I have to wonder, what ever happened to respecting the consciences of others? I believe I can manage that as a Side B person. And nothing about what I believe concerning my imaginary choice as an imaginary gay person in an imaginary scenario blinds me from the reality of seeing true Christian faith in the many, many Side A gay Christians I meet all the time.

From what I've experienced I don't think the Side A/Side B divide is nearly as great as the divide between those who do and do not recognize that there are some cases where taking a "biblical" side is more about a personal choice than a cosmic mandate. I side with those who believe in strict moral convictions for themselves but much leniency and charity for others. I wish there were a label for that group.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Book Review: "Out of a Far Country"


Christopher Yuan emailed me over the summer, asking if I would be willing to review the book he and his mother, Angela Yuan, co-authored called Out of a Far Country. Some months earlier I had seen a video clip of Christopher and Angela discussing the book, and then it happened that a staff member at my church stopped me one Sunday to ask if I had read it. So awareness of the book was already hovering at the edge of my consciousness.

I told Christopher that I'd be glad to review the book, but because of my son's surgery it would take some time before I could get going on it. After a couple more email exchanges it wasn't long before he had the publisher send me a copy of the book gratis. I guess I'm a novice in the business of book reviewing because I was fully expecting that if I promised an author I would review his book, I should be glad to go out and buy a copy of it myself, because a promise is a promise. And besides, I wouldn't want to be accused of giving a biased review because I got a free book out of it. So, wrapping up this statement of full disclosure, I just thought y'all should know that those are the circumstances under which I am writing this review, and you can decide for yourself whether I'm being biased or not.

Out of a Far Country is a story told by both mother and son about how they were once both spiritually lost and headed in separate directions. Christopher's coming out as gay is what caused Angela to embark on a spiritual journey that would lead her, and eventually Christopher, to return like prodigals back to their heavenly Father. Christopher and Angela tell their stories in alternating chapters, giving their differing perspectives on the same events, yet showing how God worked over a period of eight years to bring their once widely divergent paths to merge together into one by his grace.

It was a fast read, the story never dragged and contained plenty of fascinating elements. It wasn't until I was finished that I began to wonder whether this book was really about homosexuality at all. It could have been the story of any rebellious child, and of any mother's ache to see a son or daughter find peace with God and within themselves. So I read it a second time and confirmed that the strongest connection I made with the book was as a parent, not so much with the gay issue. It seemed to me Christopher's rebellion wasn't so much about being gay as it was about the feelings of rejection that led him into drug addiction and some of the darker aspects of '90's gay society. Yet the main drama centered around Angela's quest to find healing and hope in Christ, to resurrect her dying marriage, and to mend her broken relationship with her son while pointing him to the way of true inner peace.

I worried that the story would be about Angela's attempt to make her son ex-gay, but it wasn't about that. Even though she pursued that path at first, it became apparent as the story unfolded that she was slowly learning to surrender her son entirely to God and allow him to carry out his own plan, not hers, in her son's life. And even though Christopher's story of rebellion appears to play right into the hands of the evangelical stereotype of the "gay lifestyle," his post-conversion reflections about the need to live in "holy sexuality" as a follower of Christ who is still gay would definitely be off-message in many conservative Christian circles. He spends only about four and a half pages explaining how he came to the Side B position, coming off as neither dogmatic nor resentful, but rather as someone who fully and willingly embraces it.

I didn't care for the study guide questions at the end. I'd rather not have each chapter presented to me as an object lesson when it is really the broader strokes of the story that display the mysteries of how God works in our lives. How he raises life out of ashes and dust, how surrendering everything to him is the only way to true happiness, how hope is never truly dead when you seek the one who holds all things in his hands. I can't tell you if the message of Out of a Far Country is more for straights or gays, but its message is definitely Christian.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Honor Thy Children"

First off thanks, everyone, for your patience while I took some time off from blogging to care for my five-year-old son post-surgery. He is now out of his surgical casts and is learning to walk again just like a baby. The house is a mess, my health is slightly neglected, and I spent way too much money on take-out and frozen food these past two months, but other than that we're doing great.

Okay, enough about me. For those of you who live in the Greater Los Angeles Area, I want to let you know about a unique opportunity to hear Al and Jane Nakatani speak at the Japanese American National Museum on Saturday, September 24 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. You can find more information at this Facebook page if you're interested. Or go to the JANM page and check out their Events Calendar.

In the book Honor Thy Children, Al and Jane Nakatani tell author Molly Fumia the story of how they lost all three of their children. Their first son, Glen, came out to them as a teenager in 1977 and they essentially disowned him. Glen later died of AIDS in 1990. Their second son, Greg, who was straight, was shot to death in an altercation in 1986. So when their third son, Guy, also came out as gay, Al and Jane were initially horrified, but they soon learned to embrace him unconditionally. Guy was diagnosed as HIV positive, and as he went around speaking at schools and businesses about homophobia and HIV, his father Al accompanied him. Guy died of AIDS complications in 1994 at age 26.

Since then the Nakatanis have traveled around the country speaking out about homophobia, bullying, teen suicide and the importance of loving your children unconditionally. While their message isn't necessarily religious, they are often invited to speak at churches. I understand that at the September 24 event they will be presenting a short film that chronicles their story. If I can resolve a scheduling conflict, I'm hoping to be there myself.

Friday, July 29, 2011

GCN Conference 2012

So, if you haven't already heard, I've been blessed and honored with the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming 2012 Gay Christian Network Conference. The conference will be in Orlando, Florida, and I understand that the super early bird registration deadline is this Sunday, where you pay only a $99 reg fee. It would be cool to meet some of you guys in person, so if you're at all inclined to spend January 5-8, 2012 in sunny, balmy, home-of-Disney-World Orlando, come on out and join us!

You'd think that this would be the perfect time for me to get busy writing and take advantage of some of the free advertising that GCN's conference publicity has given this blog. But it turns out I'll be doing no such thing. See, my five-year-old son just had major surgery on his feet, and while he recovers for the next five weeks in his casts and wheelchair, he needs me to do just about everything for him, including entertaining him by playing a lot of computer games. Hours and hours of Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled 3. So instead of imagining that I'm in front of my computer right now coming up with some brilliant thing to say at the upcoming GCN Conference, picture me fetching medication and the urine bottle in between sessions of bombing zombies and exploding hypercubes. If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's okay. I just thought I'd disabuse you of any glamorous notions about my life, in case you were tempted to have any.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nine more!

I let a few months slide innocently by and when I next check, nine new followers have joined this blog. You guys really encourage me. And thanks to everyone who has written in and commented on this blog over the years. You are my teachers and I have learned a great deal from you.

So let's welcome our newest followers:

Michael OB
Stefan
Caroline Croad
William Baldwin III
Cody Dickerson
brian dockery
Personal Secret
Dan Dorman
HEATHER

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The call for stories continues

In a previous post I put out a call on behalf of Huffington Post blogger John Shore who is compiling a collection of stories by gay Christians for a book (whether an e-book or a traditionally published book remains to be seen) aimed at enlightening a general evangelical readership on what it means to be gay and Christian. I talked to Shore recently and learned that he needed only about a dozen more submissions before he'd have enough stories to move forward with this project. (But of course, ideally, it would nice if he had about five dozen more submissions, because the more the merrier.)

So once again, here are the details about the project in his own words:
I’m exhausted with the absurd notion that gays can’t be just as Christian as any pastor in any pulpit in any church in the country. And I have found that nothing can more trenchantly drive that point home than gay Christians simply telling their own stories.

And if gays can be Christian, then … well, then we’ve necessarily got ourselves a whole new dialogue about Christianity and homosexuality.

So let’s do it. Let’s make that dialogue happen. Let’s force the change. Let’s present what will be impossible to ignore.

If you’re an LGBT Christian who would like evangelical Christians to hear your story, here’s your chance. Write your story in the first person. Try to keep it under 2000 words. (But basically just use however many words you need; we can later adjust the length if necessary.) Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or any of that sort of thing; I can edit it for you. (And I’ll certainly get your okay on all edits before publishing your testimony.) I don’t care how well “written” your story is; I just want your raw, true, and heartfelt words.

The stories in the collection will presented anonymously. Identity-wise, all I need from you is two initials, and whatever city you (want to say you) live in — same as in the bylines for What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear.

Submit your story to me either via my “Contact Me” page, or by email to: john [AT] johnshore [DOT] com. Sending me your story implies granting me obligation-free permission to include it in the (as-yet-unnamed) collection. You won’t be compensated for your story; just knowing evangelicals will read it has to be motivation enough for you to write it. (I could no sooner track and deal with ongoing payments to fifty different people than I could win a Flamenco dancing contest.) I don’t yet know if I’ll publish this book as an e-book, or with a traditional book publisher.

If you believe in this project and would like to see it happen, please spread this post to wherever you know gay Christians gather online. The more stories I get in for it the better.

Shore's full post is here, where you can also get updates on how the project is going. As far as I know, no deadline has been set yet. So if you have a story to tell, I hope you won't pass up this opportunity to tell it.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Angry at God

I grew up in an angry household. My dad's family had a lot of tough things happen to them over past generations and Dad carried the anger of his own father inside of him. When my brothers and I were young, he would do plenty of shouting if he was unhappy with our behavior. Now I carry his anger around inside of me. It's like a flame that catches from one person to the next.

Anger is the easiest emotion for me to conjure up, more than sadness or fear or joy. It's also the easiest emotion for me to understand in other people and in God. But unlike God's holy wrath, human anger is often a distrustful mix of wounded pride and uncontrolled passion. I try to freeze my own anger down with cold hard reason, or channel its energy into doing good for others. Sometimes I have to accept that my anger is simply there, telling me that I'm not at peace with myself or with another person. It's presence is like a warning light indicating that there's something I need to confess or give up, or someone I need to confront or forgive. A lot of times there isn't much I can do but wait it out, just let the fire die out into a heap of embers.

Most people I know are afraid of anger, and they are also afraid of God, which is why you rarely hear anyone confess to being angry at God. If it does come up, people quickly backpedal. "No, I'm not angry with God. I wouldn't say that." But anger is a deep and complex emotion. You can be angry at someone and not want to be angry at them at the same time. You can be angry at someone you love and even feel both anger and love simultaneously. And just as we tend to hide from God, we hide from our own feelings about him too. Of all the relationships we have or will have in our lifetime, our relationship with God is by far the most dysfunctional.

The thing is, even if you don't want to admit being angry with God, you'd have to admit that in a lot of cases being angry with God makes more sense than being angry with people. Here's what I mean. If your family rejects you for being gay, for instance, you might be angry at them for awhile. Or you might turn your anger toward the church for teaching people to have negative attitudes against homosexuality. But then as the years pass by, and maybe you've gotten involved in activism or in trying to change people's minds, you start to see how people are already too weak-minded and ignorant and prejudiced to resist the simplistic things they are told. You start to realize that you yourself often fall prey to prejudice and the temptation to demonize others, and you wonder if it's just inevitable that gay and lesbian people would be misunderstood by a largely straight society. Then the Bible comes along and seems to reinforce these attitudes and misunderstandings in people. So if there's anyone it "makes sense" to be angry at, it's God. Isn't he the one who set up this whole impossible situation in the first place? Why did God allow you to be gay knowing it was going to be like this?

I wish I could say that I have the answers to those questions, but I don't. I only mention all this stuff because it's what I hear people saying. I've read a lot of emails and talked to a lot of gay Christians, and I hear people hinting at their anger toward God all the time. Of course it's easy to deny you're angry with God just because you don't feel a red hot rage, but anger can also take the form of cold resentment, the kind that avoids or gives the silent treatment, where you talk to God only when you have to, and even then you just mention the safe stuff that you think he wants to hear, hoping to mollify him and send him on his way.

The missionary Jim Elliot once wrote in his journal about growing in enough confidence to be able to laugh in the presence of God. I used to marvel at that. Laugh? Who would dare? Who feels such freedom? But for me it's always been about anger. Do I have the confidence to express my anger before him? At him? Being honest instead of feeding him lines like, "No, it's not you I'm angry at, it's the situation. And I'm not really angry, just hurt and disappointed." Coming clean seems too frightening. Am I really going to risk affronting the God who holds my life in his hands?

But somewhere along the way I crossed a forbidden threshold and found the freedom and confidence to express my anger at God, not for the purpose of telling him off but to lay it before him. It has helped to think of it this way: God already knows everything. He knows more about you than you know about yourself. He even knows what you're going to say before you say it, and what you're going to feel before you feel it. So if it happens that somewhere inside you are harboring a deep resentment against him, he already knows it and has already taken care of the sinful aspects of your anger in the death of his Son. So he's good.

The problem is entirely on your side when you do not own up to this anger. Your heavenly Father sees you coming before him day after day pretending that the anger doesn't exist when he knows very well that it does, because he sees your heart as plain as day. He knows that the reason you won't admit to being angry is that you're afraid of his rejection, and yet here he is loving and accepting you in Christ every day, patiently putting up with your resentment against him, which you deny that you have, and waiting for you to come around to the truth so that you can finally unload that awful burden off yourself. So given that this is the situation, which is the better course to take? To admit your anger before him, or not to?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pastors' Conversation video available

New Direction's livestream "Pastors' Conversation" video is now available here. Thanks, Wendy Gritter!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York beats California to it

This is something I wish our California state legislature had done instead of allowing us all to get dragged through that nasty 2008 battle over Prop. 8, in which the side that spooked the most voters with shameless, bald-faced lies prevailed. I don't know why I've remained a registered Republican all this time--I suppose it's because I could never feel politically at home with the Democrats. But today I can be a proud RINO in view of this Republican-led effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. Interestingly, CBS News reports that a critical factor was that two fence-sitting Republican senators, one of whom opposed an almost identical marriage equality bill in 2009, turned in yes votes in the end.
Ultimately, gay couples will be able to marry because of two previously undecided Republicans from upstate regions far more conservative than the New York City base of the gay rights movement.

Sen. Stephen Saland, 67, voted against a similar bill in 2009, helping kill the measure and dealing a blow to the national gay rights movement. On Friday night, gay marriage supporters wept in the Senate gallery as Saland explained how his strong, traditionally family upbringing led him to embrace legalizing gay marriage.

"While I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know my vote is a vote of conscience," Saland, of Poughkeepsie, said in a statement to The Associated Press before the vote. "I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality.

Also voting for the bill was freshman Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican who also had been undecided. Grisanti said he could not deny anyone what he called basic rights.

"I apologize to those I offend," said Grisanti, a Roman Catholic. "But I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday. I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protections for all its residents," he said.
Some of these senators have put their careers on the line to cast this vote, and I don't expect it will turn out well for them. No doubt many longtime, liberal supporters of gay marriage will look at these Republicans and say, "Well, duh! It's about time!" Yet as a conservative supporter of civil same-sex marriage, I know what it's like to experience that dawning upon your conscience, when everything you once thought to be true and right is being challenged within your own mind, and you realize that this new idea which you once opposed is actually more true to your sense of morality and decency than your former position. It is an unsettling and frightening realization, particularly when you picture yourself trying to explain how you came to this "new moral conviction" that also happens to take sides with the half-naked guys parading down Castro Street with nothing on but their nipple rings and leather jock straps. Can't wait to get up in front of everyone and make a speech about this one.

Speaking of which, you are now faced with a choice. It would be so easy to hide what's going on inside your own mind and heart. If you did, you can keep your religious conservative friends, all the people who love and respect and support you; and if you're a senator these are the people to whom you owe your political career. Or you can dare to be "wiser today than yesterday," as Sen. Grisanti said, and risk losing everything. Hats off to those senators who dared. Whatever happens to them in the future, I trust that today they are at peace with themselves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Calling all gay Christians

If you're a gay Christian, here's a project you may want to consider participating in. Straight Christian writer/blogger John Shore is planning to publish a collection of personal stories by gay Christians that communicate what they wish straight evangelicals knew about them. It is similar to the idea behind Shore's earlier book, What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear*, except it will be what gay Christians want straight Christians to hear. Shore explains all the details in his post. Here's an excerpt:
If you’re an LGBT Christian who would like evangelical Christians to hear your story, here’s your chance. Write your story in the first person. Try to keep it under 1500 words. (Eight hundred words is about ideal. But basically just use however many words you need; we can later adjust the length if necessary.) Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or any of that sort of thing; I can edit it for you. (And I’ll certainly get your okay on all edits before publishing your testimony.) I don’t care how well “written” your story is; I just want your raw, true, and heartfelt. 
The stories in the collection will presented anonymously. Identity-wise, all I need from you is two initials, and whatever city you (want to say you)  live in — same as in the bylines for What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear.  
Submit your story to me either via my “Contact Me” page, or by email to: john [AT] johnshore [DOT] com. Sending me your story implies granting me obligation-free permission to include it in the (as-yet-unnamed) collection. You won’t be compensated for your story; just knowing evangelicals will read it has to be motivation enough for you to write it. (I could no sooner track and deal with ongoing payments to fifty different people than I could win a Flamenco dancing contest.) I don’t yet know if I’ll publish this book as an e-book, or with a traditional book publisher. 
If you believe in this project and would like to see it happen, please spread this post to wherever you know gay Christains gather online. The more stories I get in for it the better.

*6/23/11: Correction: the name of John Shore's earlier book is, I'm OK--You're Not: The Message We're Sending Non-Believers and Why We Should Stop. (I love that title.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So many topics, so little time

Just got done watching the livestream "Pastors' Conversation" hosted by Wendy Gritter. I wish my 5 year-old didn't get so suddenly needy during the broadcast or I might have been able to follow the conversation more closely. But I was very impressed with Wendy's moderation job and her incredibly well-articulated insights that she was able to throw out there as if she were discussing the weather. As someone commented in the chat room, I feel like I could listen to her talk forever.

Wendy promises to have video of the livestream conversation available soon for those who missed it. You can check the Facebook Page or the website for further news about that. There was so much to discuss I felt like the hour and a half flew by much too quickly. So many conversations got started with so little time to explore them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Check out this live stream event

I'm sure this will interest many of you. Wendy Gritter of New Direction Ministries is organizing a live stream event called "Pastors' Conversations: Navigating LGBT Issues and Questions" that will take place Tuesday, June 21 at 2:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time). The event is free and interested participants only need to RSVP via Facebook or Eventbrite by clicking on one of the links on this page.

I'll be checking it out too. I understand there will be a chat room for online participants, as well as a time of Q& R (I'm guessing that means "question and response") with the Pastors' Panel. (I love that . . . Q&R instead of Q&A . . . acknowledging there may not be answers to some of these questions!) Personally, I find chat rooms intimidating so I don't expect to be making comments left and right. But I am looking forward to listening in on what people have to say and tuning in to their concerns.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giving your best anyway

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

— Mother Teresa


I wish more people would talk about death openly so that I wouldn't feel like the only freak who has no problem bringing up the apparently morbid subject. I think about my death a lot because 1) it's one of the few things in life that I can be absolutely certain I will have to face; 2) it helps me to clarify what my priorities should be and whether, today, I am living according to those priorities.

This past March marked my 25th year of knowing Jesus Christ and this coming August I will turn 43. Even if I live to an optimistic 86 years old, I am already halfway done with my life. And as I look forward to the next half of my life, possibly another 43 years, or possibly less, I figure I'd better spend it focusing on the right things and learning from some of the wrong things I've pursued in the past. After a lot of misguided idealism, running down blind alleys, crashing and burning, and meditating on the scars left from hard knocks, I've come to the brilliant conclusion that life--in particular my life as a Christian--is about loving God and loving people.

Any five-year-old Sunday School child could have told me that. What's both profound and mysterious is why on earth it eludes me so easily, and eludes most Christians I know. It sounds deceptively simple. Just love. Love will keep us together. All you need is love. At church even our praise songs about love fill you with such a wonderful, sentimental feeling you start thinking that love must be like floating blissfully along on a soft cloud, eating chocolates. You forget that the last time you tried to truly deny yourself in order to love someone who didn't return the favor, the effort took so much out of you you wanted to take the rest of the year off from humanity. If you haven't experienced what's it's like to be hurt, disillusioned, embittered, humiliated or ill-used, you probably haven't stepped out far enough in faith to obey Jesus' command to love. And unless you are able to rise from your wounds and know that Christ sacrificed so much more because of his love for you, you won't make it very far as his disciple.

Despite of all our glib talk about love, deep down we are aware of these hard truths, so we try to make following Jesus about everything but putting his love into practice. I've been down the road of trying to make the Christian life into a cause, a self-improvement program, a path to the American dream, an area of academic study, and an occupation. Anything but about loving people and loving the God who asks me to love people, because every day I wake up and encounter new reasons not to love people.

I don't know a great deal about Mother Teresa, but from her insightful words above I can tell that she understood the secret of loving others. You have to believe that giving the best of yourself to other people isn't the equivalent of flushing your life down the toilet. Because ultimately you are offering your life to God, believing that none of it is in vain, and that he is the rewarder of those who seek him.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spiritual fretting

I thought I was going to go the entire month of April without posting, but here I am. I've been a bit over-stressed spiritually. I still find I'm able to give to others, that hasn't changed. Christ is the living fountain in my life and amazingly he always supplies me with plenty of strength when it comes to serving others. But it's another thing to feel at peace in the in-between moments. Walking with Christ means keeping my eyes on him each day and not looking around too much, and maybe that's where the discouragement has leaked in.

Right now there may be too many distractions for me to gain fully that sense of security I want in him. While reading in the Psalms before the Easter service yesterday I was arrested by the first line of Psalm 37: "Do not fret because of evildoers." Ah yes, the temptation to fret and lose focus. That must be my problem. The more I go on in life, the more I see that we live in a world where selfishness and dishonesty seem to gain the upper hand while those who try to practice patience, submission and love are shoved aside. Psalm 37 gives assurance that this state of affairs won't last forever, but in the meantime it does grieve the soul.

I know that the big thing right now is to believe in a God who is too loving to judge us or require atonement for our sins, but frankly I have trouble believing in a God who isn't offended by evil. A God who isn't provoked by the selfishness, the greed, the arrogance, the exploitation, the deceit, and the cold-heartedness that pervades our society, our relationships and our churches? Really? This stuff grieves me more than it grieves him? Somehow I highly doubt that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking with today's young gay teens

Since my daughter will be attending high school this coming Fall, I took her to a welcoming event on the campus for prospective ninth grade students. Outdoor booths were set up featuring the swim and dive team, the ASB Club, cross country and track, varsity baseball--basically clubs and sports teams trying to recruit the incoming freshmen. As we were walking around I spotted the booth for the Gay-Straight Alliance Club and told my daughter to go on ahead. I wanted to stop and talk with these guys.

I figured the best way to scope out the bullying situation at a high school is to talk to the gay kids. They would be the most obvious target of bullying, and what they had to say would be a good litmus test whether a school is serious about the "no tolerance" policy they are supposed to enforce. We are in the Los Angeles Unified School District, famous for its inefficiency, bureaucracy and misuse of funds. But this was a charter high school and came highly recommended to us. I was curious to know what the Gay-Straight Alliance Club had to say about their school.

I had never talked face-to-face with gay kids so young, just teenagers. There were five girls manning the booth, which didn't surprise me. I've come to expect that such a club would either be male-dominated or female-dominated. I've noticed that even gay groups that intend to be co-ed get quickly lopsided either in the male or female direction.

The first girl who responded to my question about bullying had short cropped hair with green highlights. She said that the kids on campus were friendly and generally cool, and if there were any negative incidents they involved isolated individuals. She said one time in class a fellow student asked her point blank if she was gay. Everyone stopped and turned in their direction, and when she answered "yes" the onlookers said, "ooooooh." A giddy sort of response but that was about it.

An African-American girl wearing a rainbow headband then spoke up and told me just that day she had been harassed by another student for having two dads, to the point where she was reduced to tears. The hostile student was quickly dealt with by the school administration. Everyone in the booth agreed that having the administration's support was key to their sense of well being on campus. They felt that the administration had their backs and took seriously any bullying incidents that involved targeting kids because of sexual orientation issues. When they participated last year in the Day of Silence, they told me, even some of the teachers voluntarily talked to their classes about what the day meant and explained about the problem of bullying LGBT students. These teachers were able to give a voice to the participants who, because of their vow of silence, could not do any explaining.

I ventured to inquire specifically about their encounters with the religious clubs on campus. Did they feel any hostility from them? One girl spoke up, whose more confident demeanor made me think she was a senior. She said she was a part of the Jewish Club on campus and never experienced any problems from them. "But what about the Christian Club?" I pressed. "See, we're Christians and my daughter is interested in joining the Christian Club. But I won't let her if they're giving you a hard time." "Oh, the Christian Club is really laid back," the senior girl said. "I actually know some of them and they're really nice. They've never given us a hard time." I expressed my surprise. Really? "Yeah," she said. "But even if they wanted to give us a hard time, they wouldn't be able to. We're protected from harassment by law, and the school administration is good about enforcing it."

I came away from that conversation with the feeling that perhaps times are a-changing. Gay kids saying that the Christian Club kids are "nice" and "laid back." (If there was a Christian Club booth around--and there wasn't--I might've gone over and high-fived them on the spot.) A school administration in a conservative Hispanic/white/Asian suburb of L.A. taking a hard-line stance against sexual orientation discrimination. Young lesbian teens and children of gay parents who were out to their teachers and classmates, who still had to deal with the occasional obnoxious kid but understood their legal rights ("It's called AB 537 in the California Education Code," they informed me. "You can find it on the GSA Network website.") I was impressed. Yeah, I'll let my daughter go to this school. I felt sure of it, even though I didn't stop by any more booths that day. I'd already found out all that I needed to know.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thoughts on Obama and DOMA

Most of the reaction to the Obama administration's refusal to defend DOMA has been tepid. It's certainly not an announcement that will lead to the immediate legalization of gay marriage in all fifty states. And sure, someone else can always step in and do the job of defending DOMA in court. Yet to me Wednesday's announcement by President Obama and the Attorney General is significant not so much legally, but symbolically. In my bones I feel the impact of it, and I'm struggling to put into words what I sense is a shift in the moral tide of this country.

Last summer I spent countless hours going over Judge Walker's Prop. 8 ruling so I could blog out a summary of it here. That study impressed upon me how difficult it is to defend the position that homosexual couples should be treated differently than heterosexual couples without sounding like some kind of bigoted, backwater, religious nutcase. Think about it. In order to defend such a position, someone has to take the witness stand and explain from the perspective of hard facts and scientific research that gay couples are less stable, less worthy, and less valuable to society than straight couples. You'd have to show that gay couples make worse parents, threaten the fabric of society, endanger religious freedom, or corrupt the nation's youth. This is not a political rant on a street corner, or a Sunday sermon that quotes a few ripped-out-of-context Bible verses. This is court testimony by an expert witness who must deliver a convincing objective account of the facts of the case, who must stand up to the cross-examination that follows.

Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Attorney General refused defend such a position, and you can understand why. So instead the people who ran the pro-Prop. 8 campaign volunteered to defend it, and look what happened. Four of their expert witnesses were no-shows. Of the remaining two witnesses, one did not have the credentials to be an expert witness and his testimony was deemed unreliable, while the other qualified as an expert witness but gave testimony that was largely irrelevant to the case. Reading between the lines, my guess is that the proponents had so much trouble getting their case together because no self-respecting sociologist, psychologist, historian or university professor who cares about their career and reputation wants to publicly defend the position that gays and lesbians are inferior human beings.

The California Attorney General would later admit reluctantly, when pressed, that he thought Prop. 8 was unconstitutional. I got the impression that he and Governor Schwarzenegger were trying to slip out of having to publicly make that admission, or they were at least trying to be as low-key about it as possible. But this past Wednesday President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder come out with a formal announcement that they will not defend DOMA. They were not being shy about it. What's more they put their finger directly on the heart of the issue, which is that "classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny." In other words they don't think it's right to argue for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Just as Schwarzenegger couldn't stomach it, neither can Obama, except Obama calls a press conference to say it. And he's the President.

I can't help but think that President Obama's announcement is somehow, either directly or indirectly, a consequence of what happened with the Prop. 8 ruling. Even if someone else wants to step up and defend DOMA, how do you avoid a repeat of the pro-Prop. 8 case? Where will you get your witnesses? How will you argue the case? What will this do to people's professional or political credibility? I think the Obama administration must have realized all this and now they don't want anything to with the case. And if that realization has hit the highest level of our government, then that is significant indeed. It should only be a matter of time before the repercussions pervade throughout the moral fabric of this country in the coming decade.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No defense for the Defense of Marriage Act

The big news today is that President Obama announced that his administration will no longer oppose legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages or extending to them the same benefits that heterosexual married couples receive.

Here is the letter to Congress from Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. The legalese may be difficult, but if you were following my blogging on the Prop. 8 ruling last year, you should be able to understand the basic flow of thought. For review, read the introductory section of this post to refresh yourself on some of the terms.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Photo-genetic



I can't stop looking at this blog. The "Born This Way" blog features childhood photos submitted by readers that reveal something about their LGBT identity, some at a very young age.

As a parent I have observed the extent to which all three of my kids came "prepackaged." The 13 year-old who doesn't like to express her feelings was once an eighteen-month-old who used to hold in silent tears whenever she fell and scraped her knee. The ten-year-old who folds her own clothes without being told and has all her stuffed animals organized at the foot of her bed was the one who already knew how to dress herself in color-coordinated outfits at age two. (As for my four-year-old who owns a hundred toy cars and trucks, trails dirt into the house, knocks holes in our dry wall, and gives me the big-brown-puppy-eyes-look when he knows he's in trouble--I can only imagine what ten years will bring.)

All this to say: the idea that sexuality comes with the package when a child enters the world has never been a difficult concept for me to grasp. Yet still I find myself surprised and fascinated by these photos and the short essays that accompany them. While I know that not all gay men and women fit the stereotypes, it's apparent that many who do fit them more closely expressed themselves early on.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One reason I blog?

Because I don't want to be embarrassed in front of my grandkids. The Onion issues this warning.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thoughts on Ian Charleson

I recently realized that the movie Chariots of Fire, which I watched for about the fifth time last weekend, would have completely failed if it weren't for the brilliant acting of Ian Charleson who played Eric Liddell. That may seem obvious: Eric Liddell's character is the inspiration of the movie. He's the Christian missionary who ran for God's pleasure, who risked throwing away three years of training and a chance for Olympic gold because he felt he could not run an Olympic heat on the Christian Sabbath.

People think it's the story itself that captivates us, but I think it is Charleson's performance that sells it. His job as an actor was not just to play a good man but a saintly man, pious yet likable, reserved but not dull, conflicted yet steadfast, vulnerable enough to draw our sympathy yet strong enough to stand entirely alone. Then he had to make it look so natural the audience would be tempted to think this guy Ian Charleson must just be playing himself; yet I can't think of a more difficult acting role. One misstep and the whole thing is ruined: we're left with a story about a self-righteous prig who's determined to put the hopes of an entire nation on hold because of his personal fanaticism. The difference between that disaster and the Academy Award winning picture we got is Ian Charleson's ability to hit exactly the right note.

I got curious about the man who was able to pull off this subtle, multi-layered, highly spiritual performance. I thought, "I really like this Charleson guy. I'll bet he's either Christian or gay." I googled, then wikipedia-ed. Charleson was gay. And reading between the lines he was probably also Christian, judging from how eager he was to play the part of Eric Liddell, saying the role would "fit like a kid glove." He studied the Bible intensively to prepare for the role and wrote the post-race speech Eric Liddell delivered to the working class crowd himself. Charleson died of AIDS in 1990. He was 40.

It was all news to me. Maybe ten years ago such a discovery would have shocked and disgusted me, but now I find it makes sense, and I even guessed beforehand that maybe a gay man pulled off this remarkable performance. But why did I have that hunch? So many times when I encounter a song, a performance, or a piece of art that strikes me as so true and subtle and poignant and uplifting I feel almost a spiritual connection with it, I later learn the artist behind it is gay. It's happened so often I now take it for granted. Maybe there's something about being gay that enables an artist to see more clearly what it means to be human, to identify certain truths about us all. Maybe it is the ones who are forced to the margins who truly understand what it is we all have in common.

Now that I know Ian Charleson was gay it occurs to me that the dimension he grasped about Eric Liddell, which made that character seem so authentic, was his loneliness. To run for the pleasure of God had to be a lonely calling, one that neither your coach nor your missionary sister could easily understand. It's too religious for the athletic world and too secular for the Christian world. The Eric Liddell that Charleson portrayed was a man caught in between, and while both worlds sought to foist their own agendas upon him, he insisted on marching to a tune that he alone could hear, indulging in a private joy which, though mixed with pain, enabled him to carry himself with dignity throughout the chaos. Who else but a gay actor could understand so intuitively how these complex elements fit seamlessly together: to stand seemingly on center stage and still feel like an outsider looking in, to navigate through so many apparent contradictions and other people's attempts to define you, to drop an anchor deep within yourself and stay centered upon it with a conviction that reaches near spiritual heights?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Words of wisdom from Derek Webb

I don't follow the contemporary Christian music scene at all. However, I am extremely impressed with this Huffington Post interview with Christian musician Derek Webb. It's not the first time I've heard about Webb or his stance against homophobia and other ills in the evangelical church, but this interview captures the seriousness of thought he has given to his life and calling as a Christian.

Some quotes I resonated with:

At a time when everybody in our culture is talking about tolerance, it seems that tolerance has the highest premium of any response -- "If we just tolerate one another..." But my feeling is: Who wants to be tolerated? People don't want to be tolerated; they want to be loved.

I personally don't think that any Christian who doesn't have a friend -- not just a token friend, but someone they love and care about -- who is gay should speak out about the gay issue. I think that should almost be a requirement to publicly voice your opinion, because I can't tell you how it changes your posture and your language when you're not just talking about a "behavior" or a "faithless" group of people, but a family member or loved one -- someone who, when you're done saying what you're going to say, you'll have to deal with.