emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

Monthly Archives: November 2011

A story.

"The Secret Garden" by David Howells

There once was a great King who ruled over a vast land. In the center of his capital city sat his great palace which housed the many offices of his government, his treasury, and his most precious possession: his family. The king had a very large family, with sons and daughters filling his halls with life and laughter. The King was very particular about the way he wanted his children to be raised, and to that end they were given the Book of Guidance. The Book of Guidance was compiled by the king’s servants and ministers, and contained a vast amount of facts, stories, and rules that the King’s servants had determined were values held dear by the King. Much of its material was made up of actual quotes from the King himself, or stories in which he featured heavily.

The children each received a copy of the Book of Guidance in order to help them learn more about their father’s heart and his hopes for their lives. This was their only formal schooling; they had no classrooms, no teachers, and no homework. The only additional part of their education was individual meetings with their father. In each child’s bedchambers there was a silver rope near the door. Whenever one of the princes or princesses desired to meet with the king, it was necessary only to pull the silver rope and then walk to the royal gardens. The King would be waiting for his child just inside the gate, and together they would walk and talk for a time.

Some of the royal children took advantage of this, and spent their walks engaging with their father about the things they had read in the Book of Guidance. Others took greater liberty, and began to speak with their father about things that had nothing to do with the Book of Guidance. One or two of the wisest princes and princesses thought to ask their father directly about what he valued and what he wished for them to do with their lives.

As the children grew, and as more and more royal children were born, the palace officials began to grow concerned. As far as they understood, the purpose of the Book of Guidance was to help the royal children learn to become more like the King. Surely then as time went on the children would begin to resemble the King better? And since all of the children were on the same quest, surely they should begin to look more uniform? Surely, they thought, it should resemble the something akin to the Palace Guards? A soldier chosen for the Palace Guard at first didn’t fit in; didn’t look the same. But as he went through the rigid training programs and received his uniform, he ceased to be the individual soldier and became an interchangeable member of the guard; exactly as protocol dictated.

The officials began to meet with some of the elder princes and princesses. They chose the ones that showed the most promise in meeting their ultimate goal: a Royal House of the King’s children that uniformly resembled their sovereign’s heart. The elder royals began to call their other brothers and sisters together and share with them the new vision of their royal education. To ensure a proper understanding of our royal father’s heart, they explained, everyone needed to work together in the new system to find out how best to know it.

Most of the royal children found this new approach vastly easier than before. Only the wisest children, the ones who had asked their father directly about their education, chose to remain with their previous form of study. The officials and elder royals founded a school for the royal children to attend. In the school they would learn from the officials and their older brothers and sisters. There they would hear from the very men and women who had the great privilege to have seen their father govern and interact with his subjects. All that the children had seen of their father was the man in the garden, walking and talking with them in the cool of the evening. Many of them had never even experienced that. Here was a chance for them to finally learn who their father really was! And, just as the officials hoped, the children began to act more and more like a uniform group. The only problem was that the more the children excelled in the system, the less the silver ropes were rung. The officials decided that since the king had said nothing about the declining walks then it must not be an urgent concern, and so the school’s curriculum continued unchanged.

One day a young prince was scampering along the palace halls on his way to the school. He passed one of his older sisters in the hallway, and she was headed towards the gardens. He called to her, reminding her that school began in just a few moments. The older princess smiled at him and knelt down to speak to him, straightening his collar as she did so.

“My dear brother,” she said. “I am on my way to the garden to learn from our beloved Father himself. If you wish, you may come with me and take my spot for today. I happen to know that Father would like that very much.”

The boy looked eagerly back towards the hallway that would take him to school, and then back at his sister.

“How could you know that Father would like this?” he asked her. “There is nothing about that in the Book of Guidance.”

A tear slid down the princess’s cheek as she absorbed her brother’s comment. Finally she answered him, “My brother, I know this because our Father told me so himself. He is always with us, you see. He will always meet us in the gardens, and speak to us about what he values and how he desires us to live our lives.”

She stood up and walked over to a bench and sat down, patting the seat next to her. The young prince joined her.

“Royal brother, does not the Book of Guidance quote our Father as saying that there is much that he wishes to speak with us about, but we may not always be ready to hear it?”

“Yes,” the prince answered. “The Book of Guidance says that our Father will reveal those things to us in time.”

“Then my brother, how can you hope to learn more of our Father’s heart when you never listen to his living voice?”

The young prince’s mouth fell open, and he followed his sister’s gaze towards the gate of the royal gardens. Looking up at her, he pointed to the gates. She smiled down at him and held her hand out, inviting him to walk with her. As they approached the gates, he heard his father’s voice call out for his sister. She stopped walking, and urged her brother on alone.

The young prince stepped through the gates and immediately saw his father seated under an apple tree. His father’s face lit up with surprise, and the king ran to his son. After a tender embrace, the prince nervously squeaked out that his sister had invited him to take her place today.

“Of course she has!” the King responded, an infectious smile on his face. “She well understands my heart towards you, my boy. Come, and let us walk and talk.”

As they paced the garden paths, the boy waited for his father to begin speaking. After some minutes, the prince realized that his father was waiting for him to start.

“Father?” he asked. “The… the Book of Guidance says that you value clean robes.” The prince put all of his hopes for approval into his next sentence. “Father, I keep my robes clean as best I can!”

The king stopped walking, took his son by the hand, and sat him down by a reflection pool.

“My son, the Book of Guidance says many things. And for every word you find in it, each of my children could find a dozen different ways to interpret the meaning.”

The boy allowed this to sink in before exclaiming, “But my father! Is the Book of Guidance useless then?”

“Never, my boy. It was I who first instructed my counselors to write it. It was I who supervised their work. I have always intended for you and your brothers and sisters to have the book. But my dear son, the Book of Guidance is only of use to you so long as you can interpret it through me. I will always meet you here, and you can learn all that you need to know about my heart and my plan for you from me. Read the book, my son, and talk with me about it. Ask me about things that you don’t understand. Ask me about things that you do not like. Ask me about things that are nowhere to be found in the book. Listen to my voice, my son, and heed what I tell you, and you shall do well.”

They rose and resumed walking. Presently the boy asked another question.

“Father, what if I hear your voice and don’t understand what you meant? What if I act on something only to find that it isn’t what you wish for me to do?”

The king grinned, bent down until he was face to face with the prince, and said, “Dear one, you will undoubtedly do so. But remember what I say to you now. Whenever you make a mistake, remember this. Whenever you think you may be wrong, remember this. Whenever your brothers and sisters, or my counselors and officals, tell you that you’re wrong or chastise you, remember this: You are my son, and I love you with all my heart. You wear on your finger my royal seal, and as such you walk in the full authority of my crown. When you are wrong, I alone will be your judge. When you are right, my praise alone is sufficient for you. Each and every day, you are clothed and fed and cared for by my word alone. And each and every day, my boy, you have my love.”

The boy wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, and the great king lifted his son up in his arms. They walked on like this for some time until the prince asked yet another question.

“Father, what of my brothers and sisters, and your officials?”

“What of them, my son?”

“They teach in the school about you, and now that I have talked with you, I think that they are teaching about you wrongly.”

“Ah, my child, rest your mind. Whether they are right or wrong is for me to discuss with them, is it not? Just like yourself, they each answer to me and me alone. I will deal with the school when the time is right, and I will determine what good and harm it has caused in each and every individual case. But be at peace, child. The school can do nothing that I cannot set right.”

The prince lifted his head from the king’s shoulder and asked whether or not the school did any good at all.

“Of course it does, my son. If not for the school, would you know what is in the Book of Guidance? Many of your siblings left their books to collect dust in the library before the school was opened. Now, those same children learn from the book I commissioned. Through the school, the foundation of my desires is made known to them. And one day, my boy, they will find themselves in the garden with me, just as you have today. In time, my son, everything will be made right. In time my will shall be done.”

With that, the king set the young boy down on the ground again. The prince looked around and saw to his surprise that they had returned to the gate. He looked up at his father, and saw that the great king had tears in his eyes. His father reached down and ever so gently cupped the prince’s face in his hands.

“One last thing for today, my dear boy. You will find, as you grow, that some of the others in the palace may grow to dislike the changes that will take place if you continue to listen to my voice. They will attempt to rein you in towards what they see as my desire for your life and how it should be lived. They may even become hostile and very angry. The root of their intentions is a strong desire to heed my commands, my son, but that doesn’t mean that you should ever value their plan above mine. They desire to make my children as the Palace Guard are ordered, unified and interchangeable. It was never my design for my royal heirs to be so ordered. The guards, son, are guards. But you are my son. My son.”

The prince reached up with his tiny hand and touched a tear streaking down his father’s face.

“My father,” he whispered. “Is this another thing that shall be made right when the time comes?”

The king smiled, kissed his son on the forehead, and said, “You have listened and learned well. Now run along and think on these things, lad. We’ve covered much in a very short time.”

The boy walked towards the gate that would take him back into the halls of the palace in which he lived, but as he reached the massive stone pillars that framed the gateway, he suddenly turned back around.

“Father? What should I do when I have questions about what we’ve talked about, or if I forget some of it?”

The king was walking down the center path that led off into a maze of hedges. He flashed a pleased smile, and shouted in a jovial voice, “My love, use the silver rope! Rest assured that you can ring it as often as you wish, and I will always come.”

The young prince’s heart was ready to burst with joy as he ran from the garden into his sister’s waiting arms. They walked slowly down the corridors and talked of their father and the garden for the rest of the day. Many hours later, as the castle slept, the young prince slipped from his bedsheets, tip-toed to the silver cord, and pulled it firmly. Securing his bathrobe about his waist, he opened his door and made for the garden gate to see his father.

The End.

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The Muppets… made me cry.

Today is (one of) my sister’s birthday, so last night (one of) my brother’s and I took her out on our weekly Sunday night dinner/errands/shopping/movie run. Yep, that’s right – the same brother from the infamous Tea Guy incident. So their specific names are Ira (19) and Molly (21 today). We grew up watching The Muppets in our family, so the three of us were pretty psyched about seeing it. I think I was much more nostalgic about it than they were, though, and I think that specifically has to do with just those few years in between us. I’m not all that much older than they are, but just enough to be intimately familiar with The Muppet Show, whereas they only know the various movies that still sit in our family’s movie collection. The all-time family favorite, of course, is The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Well, at least it holds the record for Most Watched Muppet Movie in our family.

So when we sat down and the movie began, my chest immediately seized up with that feeling you get when you’re so emotionally moved by something that you almost can’t breathe, but you’re not yet ready to cry. I think perhaps that I’m especially sensitive to such nostalgia, because anything that reminds me of happy, innocent times of childhood resonates so strongly with a good fifteen years of… well, an extremely tough road.

Either way, the movie was custom made food for my soul. It encouraged me, comforted me, and equipped me. I think I’m still processing the ways that it affected me. I’m not kidding. Yeah, it’s just a Muppet’s movie. But man, it’s art. It’s creativity. It’s… humanity fully alive.

Why is it that art, music, creation is so powerful? I think it’s when we tap into that vein of humanity made in the image of the Creator: we’re relational, creative beings as our Heavenly Father is. Well, he’s the authentic one, isn’t he?

Anyway my point is that I experienced The Muppets on a level that I think speaks to its spectacular quality of production, all around. Without fear, the movie embraced life holistically: the good and the bad. It spoke of a life with highlights and regrets, and pushed through it all in a way that encourages people to live and live well with themselves and their loved ones. It spoke of the changes life brings as we continue living and then challenges us to meet those head on, again in a way that loves and lives well. In community. Community! They hit it! They tapped that artery that we as Christians know is essential.

Ah, it was solid.

I’m rambling, I know, but I just had to get these thoughts down. They’ve been bursting in my head since I got in the car to drive home last night.

Also, I told my brother and sister that I “almost cried” during the movie, which was not completely true. I did cry. During the performance of “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit and Miss Piggy, when they’re joined by the entire cast and audience, I lost it. I cried quite a bit.

You can listen to it here.

“What are you thankful for, Ethan?”

My family has a dinner tradition. As we sit down at the table for dinner, we hold hands and my father asks us all in turn what we are thankful for tonight. Generally, we’re supposed to answer with one thing that we’re specifically thankful for in that particular day, but my youngest siblings always try for some cop out like, “soccer” or “water” or something. Dad lets it slide once or twice, but invariably he’ll guide us towards his vision for the exercise: to unite the family in gratitude and reflection, and to encourage us to learn about one another’s day. After we’ve all said what we’re thankful for, Dad will share his thanks, and then he’ll say grace.

I used to hate doing this, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I’m rather attached to it. So in the spirit of Dad’s nightly exercise in gratitude at our dinner table, and in honor or Thanksgiving Day, I’m throwing out some reasons why I am grateful in this season of my life.

I am grateful for my parents. They love me, and that well. They seek my success, and not my ruin. They want to see me launch into all that God has planned and prepared for me. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the generations that have worked hard to keep this farm that I live on here. I’m thankful for the love and support I get from my extended family.

I’m thankful for my job. I have a job. That’s more than many can say. Thank God for that. It’s paying the bills. It’s getting me back on my feet. It’s nowhere near as glamorous or crucial as I always dreamed, but it’s here.

I’m glad that I have friends. Through thick and thin, there’s a few true blue companions that have always stuck by me, even when I’ve not stuck by them. They’re much more than I deserve, and I don’t have words to express how I love them.

I am grateful for humanity fully alive. My days are filled with the trivial and shallow. I get home and flop in front of the computer and find sweet sustanance in the beautiful creative expressions of artists, authors, speakers, and more. Blogs, songs, paintings, videos, articles, and more bless me, challenge me, move me. The other night I returned home after an exhausting and frustrating day at work and switched on Pandora. My station played Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” from the Planets movements. For eight minutes and eight seconds, I sat unmoving. Eventually tears slid down my cheeks. By the end of the piece I was reborn; the power of creativity, and the window it gave me to the Creator, brought grace and strength for the next ten minutes to me. I was okay. (By the way, I highly suggest clicking here to listen to it.)

I am grateful to the Living God. Papa, it’s you. You’re the central pillar. You’re the definition of reality. Forgive me for all the times that I forget that. Thank you for all that you’ve given me; all that you’ve done for me. Thank you for the beautiful disaster of a life I live out. Thank you for your faithfulness to me throughout it, regardless of how badly I screw it up. Thank you for your love. Thank you for who you are, and what that means. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for what you will do. Thank you for the relationship you’ve forged with me.

That one’s a really, really big one. Thank you for the relationship that you have forged with me.

Thank you, Papa, on this day of Thanksgiving.

Totally like whatever, you know?

I was watching a TED talk by Chris Seay (side note: I loved it) and in the talk he recites a poem by Taylor Mali called “Totally like whatever, you know?” which challenges us to recapture speaking with conviction. I loved it. I love it. It’s been something clawing at my mind for quite some time now, so I thought I’d share it.

Totally like whatever, you know?

In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences – so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not –
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don’t think I’m uncool just because I’ve noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It’s like what I’ve heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I’m just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we’ve just gotten to the point where it’s just, like . . .
whatever!

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we’ve become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

By Taylor Mali
www.taylormali.com

Finding God in a Christmas Tree Search

Today I was a member of Operation: Rockefeller.

Really, that’ s just my pet name for the annual search for a Christmas tree to grace the front of the church my family attends.

Operation: Rockefeller began when my sister got married just a few days before Christmas. She was married in our church. Our church meets in an old elementary school building that we bought after our previous facility burned down. The meeting room is one of those old gymnasium/stage combo deals, which is kind of cool, right? Except when you’re getting married in it.

 In an effort to make a gym seem less like a gym, we went all-out with Christmas lights and trees. Up front, we placed an enormous Christmas tree. Somewhere in the 20 foot range, I think. A simply wonderful woman named Margaret was in charge of the decorating, and between her, myself and a few others we got that tree looking beautiful; white lights up all the way to the top. Everyone joked that we looked just like Rockefeller Center with such a tree.

Well when it came time to decorate for Christmas the following year, people didn’t want to be underwhelmed by a smaller tree, so we went for another large tree. I had only just returned home after my ill-fated attempt to run away from all I knew, and since I had experience, I was again part of the Tree Finding Squad.  We chose a monster. If I remember correctly, this one came in at the 24 foot mark, and nearly touched the ceiling in the gym. I strung most of the lights on that tree by myself. To get to the top, I had to climb up this ladder that has got to be older than my grandfather. Carefully, I’d twist lights into the branches, then climb down to move the ladder before climbing all the way back up and putting more lights on in a new area. I didn’t mind; I kind of loved it.

Another year swept by, and over the last few weeks I watched as various homes and businesses began putting up Christmas decorations, and I knew that soon it would be time for Operation: Rockefeller. I no longer attend that church due to work schedules, but my dad’s an elder in the congregational leadership, and I grew up there, so to an extent that church body will always be part of me. About one week ago, as I stared at the inflated Santa in the yard of a neighbor’s house as I walked by, I remember smiling because I knew that even though I don’t attend that church anymore, I’d still be right there choosing this year’s Rockefeller Tree. I’d be there stringing lights on the branches, perched atop that old wooden ladder that’s stored underneath the stage.

This morning – my day off – the phone rang at 8:00 in the morning. Margaret was ready for her tree. Circumstances had panned out well, and I was free to join this year’s hunt for a tree. I met her at the tree farm, dragging my brother along (yes, the same brother from the Tea Guy incident) and the three of us began our search for this year’s tree. Operation: Rockefeller 2011 was in full swing.

 As we searched the tree farm for just the right pine tree, we began to notice something. Trees that looked spectacular from twenty paces away didn’t seem so spectacular upon closer examination. When we stepped right up to the trees, we would notice that entire sections of the branches inside the tree were not any good at all; the pine needles were dead and brown, ready to fall to the ground. In some cases the branches themselves were so fragile that they would snap off. In both cases, the root of the problem was that the tree would never make it through to Christmas. As beautiful as the tree may seem just now, we knew that once the tree had been cut, transported, and displayed for weeks in the church, it wouldn’t have even a semblance of beauty to it. Just death and decay.

 We couldn’t use these trees! No, we needed to find a tree that didn’t just look good, we needed a tree that was good. We wanted a holistic tree: beautiful, yes, but also healthy. Through and through. Our search continued.

Margaret directed my attention to a tree that wasn’t quite yet tall enough to fill our needs, but stood brilliantly erect, branches full and green and healthy. Not this year, but perhaps another year or two and this tree would be perfect for an Operation: Rockefeller searching party. I stared at this tree, and I decided that I would name him Ethan. I hope that nobody else buys Ethan this season, or even next season, so that he can one day become an Operation: Rockefeller tree for my family’s church.

The thing is, Tree Ethan is just like me. He’s been around. (Ah! I’m so funny!) Literally, the base of this tree’s trunk is a circle, roughly two feet in diameter. Somehow, this tree grew crooked and warped when it was young. But then, either through intervention on the tree farmer’s part or nature’s course, Tree Ethan began growing straight up. So when we looked at it now, a 10 foot tall evergreen so perfectly shaped and full of life, you’d never know that Tree Ethan had a rough start. Until you looked down, obviously, and saw the inexplicable circle formed by the trunk just inches above the ground.

Now we didn’t linger long at Tree Ethan, and I certainly didn’t tell my fellow tree adventurers that I had decided to name that tree after myself. Soon enough we found this year’s tree, cut him down, and moved him out. Tomorrow night I’ll climb that ladder again and put lights on it.

But that image – that stark image of the tree trunk in a circle – stuck with me for the next few hours. It’s a powerful image for me. It correlates with my life. I’ve been around. But our Heavenly Father directly intervened in my messed-up growth patterns, and he’s tenderly and patiently directing my convalescence and progress. It may sound stupid, but that tree gave hope to a 27 year-old screwup. It gave me a glimpse of a future in which I may not be as worthless as I feel; as hopelessly broken as I’m constantly reminded that I am. There may be a future in which yours truly stands tall and firm, a testament to the ultimate love and mercy of the Everlasting, bringing the Kingdom to others through my story and the obvious faithfulness of the Living God throughout the years.

Whether that’s ever a part of my story or not, Tree Ethan acted as a conduit of God’s faithfulness to me today, and infused my lonely heart with the hope I needed for this season. The hope that I constantly need to be reminded of: the hope of the gospel, and the awesome power that it brings to my story.

Thank you, Papa.

A Gay Christian’s Explanation: What being gay and Christian means to me.

Recently I was out shopping with my brother. Currently, he doesn’t hold to the Christian faith as expressed by myself, my family, and our community. We walked down the aisle in the grocery store, looking for tea. Well, I was looking for tea. He was just along for the ride. As we approached the tea section, it became clear that the rather attractive young man at the end of the aisle was also browsing through the tea section. The Earl Grey was on the other side of him, necessitating that I excuse myself as I reached in front of him to grab a box. I glanced at him and certainly appreciated being in close proximity to such a ruggedly handsome man, but really that was the extent of my thoughts on the guy.

Not so for my brother. Once out of earshot, we began a (to my mind) hilarious conversation regarding the possible sexuality of the Tea Guy, the assumption that even if he was gay then I would somehow get involved with him, and the confusion over whether my gayness trumped my spirituality or my spirituality trumped my gayness. Finally, reaching the electronics section, our conversation turned to discussing which of the $5 DVDs we should consider buying, and the night went on as normal from there.

That night, in the middle of the movie we were seeing in the theatre, the reason for that conversation hit me square in the face. My brother was confused. He wasn’t sure what or who I really was at the end of the day. When life happened, like bumping into a cute guy in the supermarket, who was I? How did I behave? What guided my thoughts and actions? When all the talk and fronts were stripped away, just who was his brother? He didn’t know.

I realized in that instant that it wasn’t just my brother that was unsure. My entire family, indeed probably my entire community, is right there with him. And honestly, that’s not their fault. It’s mine. I go so far out of my way to accomodate every situation and every person that I have failed to live authentically as myself and who I believe the Living God has created me to be. In the name of loving others well by trying not to rock the boat, I have failed them all, and my Heavenly Father, by subscribing again to a system of living in a way that does not reflect my authenticity.

Yikes.

And suddenly I wondered how many other gay Christians there are out there, walking on eggshells constantly in an effort to not rock the boat and thus feeding a culture of confusion and insecurity. Because honestly, how can I ever hope to show my community, over time, that the fruits of my life as a gay Christian are good fruits that please our Heavenly Father when I’m never living up to the call of who I believe our Heavenly Father has made me to be? In a way, I’ve silently acknowledged a sense of shame associated with my sexuality by living this way. The message I’ve been sending to all who know me is that my authenticity with my Creator is subject to their veto. That is false.

Called to love them well and serve them? Absolutely. At the cost of my authenticity? Becoming something that is less than the Spirit tells me to be because it’s easier for a brother or sister to deal with? No way. I’ve been so obsessed over not offending those who don’t eat meat that I’ve painted both sides into a corner where we’re starving. I’ve been putting my life on hold indefinitely, never challenging the milk drinker to move on to more solid foods, all the while depriving myself of meat. I’ve capped growth for us both. Well, no more. Not that I’m going to callously inject my sexuality without pause or thought, not at all. The Romans passage on offending brothers and sisters holds true; there are times and places to know when to be silent in order to love well. But I’ve adopted a routine of always being silent. That’s what I mean when I say no more. There will be times to be silent, but there will be times to speak up. Times to hold my tongue, and times to live out loud and proud.

This thought has only occured to me just now as I punch it out on the keyboard, but perhaps where iron sharpens iron is where our authenticity clashes with that of our brothers and sisters. Where the core of who we are with the Everlasting clashes with who the core of another is with the Everlasting. Perhaps that’s when we really learn to love as Christ loved, and to give grace. I mean because really, I believe in a God that’s big enough to handle those situations. Big enough to eventually show us where we’ve been wrong, right, and right but wrongly. And the whole mess of a process along the way is called life together. Community. Submitting to one another in love.

When my father and I clash over our beliefs of the death penalty, I believe that we are iron sharpening iron. I adamantly hold to the belief that it is fundamentally against the Kingdom of Heaven to take a life. My father fundamentally believes in the justice of God. Yet at the end of the day, we each can allow for the other’s beliefs to still be covered by the wide and ever-patient reach of God. Even though I believe that one day my father will come to see my point of view, and my father believes that one day I’ll see he is right, we extend grace enough to agree that God has got the situation in both of our hearts. We’re doing just fine.

I trust God with that situation. Now why can I not trust him in the same way with the daily living out of my sexuality? The answer is that I can, but I’m scared. Scared that he won’t prove trustworthy this time. Which is why I know that I have to. Because he is completely trustworthy, even if it doesn’t seem to be working out so well at first.

So taking a breath and praying that God is still trustworthy, I think it’s time to own up to the fusion of my sexuality and spirituality. The issues I’ve been avoiding in the name of love and harmony I now must live out, even if it rocks the boat. I’m trusting that God’s got my back in this, even if time and the Spirit reveal to me that I’m currently wrong. (I don’t think that, obviously, but I think you know what I mean there.)

So here’s what being gay and Christian is to me. Well, at least in part.

I believe that God created me to be a guy that is attracted to other guys. I believe that in exactly the same way that my heterosexual brothers can innocently be attracted to a girl at a supermarket, I can innocently be attracted to Tea Guy. I believe that hooking up with Tea Guy would be wrong and thus I will not do that. I believe that asking Tea Guy out for casual dating does not jive with the deeper heart for a potential relationship submitted to Christ. Because asking Tea Guy out implies something that is more than a friendship from the start, and that’s not okay with how I want to live out this life. And because striking up a friendship with someone that I find attractive isn’t really about a friendship, not on my end. Yes, at the end of the day, my sexuality is submitted to my spirituality in a holistic way that I believe resonates with the Spirit of the Living God.

I believe that one day something will happen with a man who loves the Lord God with his whole heart, soul, and mind. I believe that somehow, somewhere along the way we’ll understand that what we’re about to embark upon is more than just grabbing coffee. I believe that somehow, in some way that isn’t clear to me yet, we’ll date in a way that honors and respects the gospel of Jesus Christ in the same way it honors and respects the brothers and sisters in our communities. Ideally, one day he and I will make sacred vows to one another and our Creator in a marriage covenant. But if not, then we’ll break up. Just like everyone else. And if that happens, then I’ll meet someone else.

I believe that doing so, living authentically, will probably rock the boat pretty hard, but that ultimately God is big enough to handle that. I believe that love – the love of God – will win out over all the clashing of differing viewpoints and convicitons that will erupt from this happening. And when I say love, I mean God’s love. The love that’s painted out here:

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship, that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the  truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I though like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the things of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I don’t believe that any aspect of living this out is a sin. I do not believe that living and loving well within a committed, monogamous, Christ-centered homosexual relationship is something that will grieve the Spirit, if ever that happens for me. I don’t believe that living and loving well as a single, Christ-focused gay man grieves the Spirit any more than living and loving well as a single, Christ-focused straight man does. Quite simply, I think that the only thing that the Heavenly Father is looking for in my sexuality is me submitting it to Him entirely. And I believe whole-heartedly that my sexuality is currently submitted to Christ, and is entirely pleasing to the Father as it is right now.

I get that you might disagree. That’s a conversation for another day.

Today was about providing clarity to myself, my brother, and my community about who I am in the grocery aisle when all the cards are down. Who I am, really, as a gay Christian.

A new day…

Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day. Thank you. Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thanks, Papa. Thanks for another day.

Trusting God and extending love is hard.

I currently live in my parent’s house. There are nine of us here: my parents, myself, three adult siblings, and three younger siblings still in school. I have two other siblings, but they’re both married with kids and out of the area. So yeah, from ages 27 right down to 9, there are seven kids at home still. Four of us have jobs, but we still live at home. It’s a financial thing, really. In this economy and with college debts and the like, it’s hard to get your feet under you. So we live at home.

I’m going somewhere with this. And, um, it’s not somewhere very pleasant, but it’s got a fantastic application to real life, so I hope you bear with me. And yeah, it airs some dirty laundry from my family, but I don’t mean to do so in a way that tears them down. Instead, I want to use this to infuse gospel power into not just my family’s torn spots, but into the Church and her torn spots. Because you see, in this my family represents the Church. And our wounds and failures are the Church’s wounds and failures.  And hopefully this post can help both my family and the Church to heal and grow through the power of the Living God, to his glory and praise. Of course, I’m just a nobody from nowhere who writes words on the internet that very,very few people read. So it’ll have to be God that does the healing, both for my family and for Christ’s Bride. But God’s in the business of doing that, so that’s a good thing.

Oh yeah, also, I totally don’t want anyone to think that I’m trying to paint myself as some sort of wronged victim here. That’s totally not the case at all. Seriously. I am every bit as human and broken as everyone, and there’s absolutely no difference between any people in this analogy. We’re all interchangable here. We’re all of us broken.

Here we go.

The average day for me involves the very real and exhausting chore of finding out what kind of family I have today. My parents are pretty much constant, but I have many siblings whose attitude towards me shifts like the sands. Sometimes they’re giggly and loving and warm, and things are great. We laugh, share old inside jokes, and have a grand ol’ time. But that’s not the norm. The average sibling encounter involves me wishing that the house would have a structural problem and the section of ceiling just above my head would collapse. Usually I’m faced with stony silences and cold shoulders, refusing to acknowledge my presence in the room unless absolutely necessary. When I must be acknowledged, the words are short and mean-spirited. I’m relieved when they go up to bed, so I can have an hour of peace without feeling like I should be on trial for some kind of war crime.

And you know what? I can’t say that I blame them. From their perspective, I’m a horrible person. I’m the sibling that systematically ruined my life, ruined theirs, ran away, hurt my parents and them incalculably, and then showed up again a year later in worse shape than ever. Now they have to deal with me every day. I can’t blame them. They have every reason in the world not to like me and to treat me poorly. And since I’m the black sheep anyway, and believe and act so very differently from them, then nearly everything I do is a living reminder to them of my failures. Since how I think, talk, and act is so different from how they do, every action or word I say grates against them, reminding them that I’m not the same, that I’m different, and brings to mind the entire history of how that’s been, historically, a very bad thing.

I’m sidelined. I’m dehumanized. I’m put in a box that it’s impossible to grow out of. And they have every reason in the world to do this.

Every reason in the world. But not in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, they’re called to surrender their hearts in this matter, to live and love well in community with me. To trust that God is handling me and my issues. To extend love not because I deserve it, but because Jesus asks for it. To forgive not just for me, but for Jesus and for them.

I think it’s just the same in Christian community. In this broader sense, I can put myself in the position of my siblings and them in my position. And that’s good, because again, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m beating up on my family here. Because I’m just the same in other areas, you see. I’m a very liberal Christian, and they’re very conservative. I have trouble sometimes reconciling how my family’s faith is lived out with the God that I interact with. I see righteousness chosen over love, justice chosen over mercy, and arrogance chosen over humility. That’s hard for me to deal with. Some days it’s so hard to deal with that I want to pull my hair out and scream, “Do you even know the God you claim to love and serve? What is WRONG with you?! You cannot possibly be who and what you say you are!”

But you see, now I’m in the wrong. Now I’m sidelining them. Now I’m failing to adhere to Kingdom standards. I’m not trusting that God has got them and is doing something there. I’m not extending love. And the way I’m doing it is every bit as damaging and evil as the way they do it to me. We’re none of us exempt.

No, none of us, because I think it’s a widespread occurence among nearly every school of Christian thought that is at odds with one another. That’s why I have friends who curse Mark Driscoll’s very name. That’s why I have friends who curse Brian McLaren’s name. And then all of us in between who do the same thing in different ways. We take it upon ourselves to determine not only who belongs in the Father’s House, but also who is worthy of receiving the love that we’re called to give freely.  

Well, of course, that’s wrong too. We don’t get to decide who gets in, and we don’t get to decide who deserves the transformative love of Christ. We are called and required to extend that love to all, whether we want to or not.

But it’s so very hard. Trusting that God is doing something in me is hard for my siblings. Trusting in that and then extending love because of that is hard. That’s why most days I navigate a family filled with cold, isolating silences and less than cordial words to me. That’s why they have to endure my maddenly-arrogant abuses towards them for not being loving like me, dammit!

Yeah. That last bit was sarcasm, just so there’s no mistakes. I was sarcastically pointing out that for all my talk about love, I fail to love them well.

So today my prayer is that Papa will give me the patience, faith, and trust I need in order to live and love well with everyone, not just those with whom I find it easy to do so. I ask Papa for the love I need for today in order to have the next ten minutes with my family be a time of harmony, love, and growth rather than one of bitterness and resentment. For the next ten minutes, and the next, and the next. And so on. 

For the grace I need for today in order to surrender my will to his. To see his Kingdom come.

Thank God, literally, that he’s in the business of doing just that.

A servant who’s not serving…

Yesterday I read a blog post by Professor Richard Beck in which he talks about a Bible study he leads at a prison. Beck writes that is occured to him recently how sufficient he was finding scripture to be in the prison. That is, he could just read large portions of the Bible without needing to doctor it or expound upon it.  The idea, which I much agree with, is that in our churches we doubt that the congregation would sit still throughout such a long reading of scripture, and so we doctor it up with stories, anecdotes, definitions of words in the original Greek, etc. Beck was surprised to find that the scripture itself was sufficient when reading to prisoners. There was no need for anything else, just reading the words achieved all that Sunday morning programs, so carefully planned and tweaked, hope to achieve and more.

Beck’s says that his “initial hypothesis” is that perhaps the books of the Bible, because of their nature and messages, really only make sense out on the margins, where life is desperate. Now I know at least for me, this idea makes a lot of sense. Because it sounds an awful lot like a theme found in some books I know. The books of the Bible, specifically.

As I pondered Beck’s post and the idea of scripture’s power coming alive and being released “out on the margins,” I realized that there’s a distinct trend in my life, and it follows this pattern. I summed it up in the comment I left in response to Beck’s post. I haven’t altered it at all, so the style, spelling, and grammar may be off, but here it is:

I’m having trouble forming the words to express how I feel about this and what it woke inside of me. I lived the first two decades of my life nowhere near the margins, where life wasn’t really desperate, and I struggled to care about the books of the bible and the faith that my parents raised me in. It was only after, when I found myself flung outside the margins, as you put it, that the words seared themselves into the very fabric of my soul. The Spirit woke me heart and I came alive for the first time. In the handful of years since, I have had seasons where my bible remained untouched and dusty, and I have had seasons where I was pouring over the texts and gasping for breath as the Spirit steamrolled me. Reading your post this morning, I realized that when I ignore the marginalized, the dispossessed, the poor, the hurting, the oppressed in favor of living the life of a quiet, comfortable guy with his stuff and his loved ones, safely packed away far from any situation in which life is desperate… I’m dry. I’m unsettled. I’m empty. I’m a hollow, shallow shell of who I’m meant to be. I’m meant to be an agent of renewal, a bringer of the Kingdom. I’m meant to be a servant, serving where my King and Father directs. And when I do, my life may be chaotic, but it’s bursting with joy and, well, life!
 
This may seem absurd, but what was really going through my head as I wrote this yesterday was the song, “Be Our Guest” from  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In it, the servants sing about the hollowness of their lives when they were not fulfilling their functions. The emptiness that comes from not living their lives for the purposes of the kingdom.
 
Like these servants,  I find life hollow and empty when I am not fulfilling my Kingdom function. But oh! when I do…
 
Life, and that more abundantly. Hey… that sort of sounds familiar…

My Great-Aunt Vivian

So about a week ago, I ran into my Great-Aunt Vivian. I hadn’t seen her in years, and immediately felt guilty about it. We chatted briefly, and I promised to come visit her soon. She smiled, but her eyes didn’t light up, and said she’d like that. I tried to put it from my mind because , quite frankly, I’d always heard that Aunt Vivian was a bitter, mean old lady. I’d heard from my family about how she’d been mean and bitter against everyone for years, and now she was all alone with no one to blame but herself. I didn’t know much about all that , and I didn’t care to find out. I figured that was that until I ran into her again sometime in the next few years.

That night I kept on thinking about her, and specifically her eyes. Her mouth had obeyed her brain’s commands to smile, but her eyes carried a sad look about them. The eyes are supposed to be the window to the soul, right? I knew she didn’t believe me when I said I’d visit. That’s why her eyes didn’t light up as well. Pangs of guilt shot throughout my chest. I tried to shake it from my mind, but I kept thinking about her eyes.

My last year attending Roberts Wesleyan, I had a class with a spectacular girl named Lindsay. She was – and I hope still is – brilliant, kind, compassionate, and authentic. I didn’t know her extremely well, and so never thought about her all that much. About a year later, I found myself working with Lindsay at a summer job. In the time that had passed, I had dropped out of school, attended a semester-long discipleship program, and finally – FINALLY – heard the gospel. The Spirit moved in my heart, and my eyes were opened  to the good news of the Living God. Fresh from this experience, I went to this summer job, where I ran into Lindsay again.

One night, while we were walking around after spending some time together, Lindsay brought up the subject of us being in that class together, nearly a year previously. She commented on my eyes. You see, the tables in the classroom had been arranged in a large square. Lindsay and I always sat on opposite sides, and Lindsay had paid attention to me throughout that semester. My eyes, she said, had been dark and vacant. There was no life in my eyes, no spark. My facial features obeyed my brain, but she knew that when I smiled or laughed it was only skin-deep.

Lindsay brought this up, she said, because over the past few weeks she’d been struck by the intensity and life in my eyes. They were burning, fully alive. She loved it. She was so happy for me. I was so happy that she told me that. It was a moment of beautiful, deep honesty between us that I feel honored the Father. I feel that, for that brief second, Lindsay and I tapped into true community. Sadly, life took different turns for us both, and I’ve not seen her since that season. But I remember that story, and I think I always will. I hope I always do.

I thought about Lindsay and her comments on my eyes as I contemplated what to do about my Aunt Vivian. I had the next day off from work. So I showed up at Aunt Vivian’s door, and she threw her arms around me in a bear hug. When we went inside and sat down, her face was beaming, and her eyes were smiling. It felt spectacular. I stayed a little while and we made plans for lunch one week later.

So this afternoon, I took Aunt Vivian to lunch. We laughed and talked and she proudly showed me off to all of the people she knows at the diner down the road. I was the only person there under 70, I swear. I had a blast. After lunch we sat in her living room as she pulled out photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings from my great-great-great grandparents time all the way down to the present day generations. We looked at the family through the many years and talked about all the different family traits. With a smile, Aunt Vivian told me that she had heard me whistling as I walked out to the truck last week. I told her I whistled constantly, usually without thinking about it.

I never knew it until today, but my great-uncle used to whistle. Constantly. Without thinking about it. We talked and shared on and on, and suddenly I realized how lonely my aunt was. She was desperately starving for community. I could’ve been visiting her for years, but I didn’t. In a flash, I suddenly comprehended the will of the Father in this situation. Who cares if Aunt Vivian was to blame for being all alone. She’s still a human being, and a widow at that. God has a lot to say in the Bible about widows. I realized that perhaps my family members – mom, dad, aunts, uncles, and the like – can’t reach out to her yet. Perhaps they were hurt too badly, and they just can’t do it. But I can. I most certainly can.

I don’t know the future; I have no idea how long I can continue to visit Aunt Vivian. I don’t know how long she’ll even be around. But I am determined to press in and find out what the Spirit has got for me and us in the meantime. I didn’t think I was doing much, and perhaps I wasn’t, but to Aunt Vivian it was a lot. And somehow, the light of the Living God is going to shine through this love I show to her. I don’t know how, I don’t know when or why. I don’t even know if it will make any difference in her heart at all.

But I know that it’s my Father’s heart to show her love. So I will, as best as I’m able for as long as I’m able.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I looked back and saw Aunt Vivian waving and smiling from her window. I smiled back at her, hoping that my eyes were smiling along with my mouth. I know hers were.