Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Last week I had the rather eerie experience of shopping in a half-empty supermarket - "half-empty" referring to the shelves, not the number of people in the store. Due to severe weather issues many stores had missed out on getting deliveries for several days; as a result, the supermarket's inventory was running low in multiple departments. The bread aisle was completely empty except for a half-dozen loaves of raisin bread, and the only toilet paper left in the store was two jumbo-sized packs of a bargain brand.

By the time I came by to do my shopping, deliveries had resumed and employees were beginning to cart pallets out of the stockroom, but it was still a surreal sight to see so many empty shelves. And yet for most people in most parts of the world (and in just about any past era), the concept of a supermarket stocked with every imaginable type of food would seem like an inconceivably wild dream.

It's easy to take for granted just how incredibly privileged I am to live in a time and a place where I can afford to assume that my basic needs will be met today, tomorrow and into the foreseeable future. Whether I'm in the mood for a burrito or a steak or a carton of raspberries, chances are I don't have to go very far to obtain it, much less worry about where my next meal is going to come from.

It makes me wonder how long I'd survive if I were suddenly thrust into the conditions that most of the world's population face on a daily basis. Smart as I am in a bookish sort of way, it's hard to say whether you'd be better off betting for or against me.

Something to ponder as I go back to playing around on my computer in my warm, comfortable apartment with its fully stocked kitchen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas

This is the same video I posted about last year, but some things are worth revisiting. Plus, now I know how to link it directly to my blog.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Since the subject of dreams has come up a few times recently in the blogosphere, I don't feel out of place talking about some of my own.

For the most part, I don't remember my dreams. I'll be aware that I dreamed something, but usually all that's left after the radio wakes me up is the impression that something interesting just got interrupted. I haven't been troubled by nightmares since early childhood, though frustration is a common emotion in my dreams, and there are certain themes that recur from time to time in the dreams I do remember.

I'm not particularly inclined to ascribe mystical meanings to any of my dreams, though I do see reason to believe that dreams can pinpoint aspects of our mental and emotional states that we may not be consciously aware of. In one of my most commonly recurring dreams, I'm going back to school (sometimes college, sometimes high school, even elementary school more than once) and trying to find my way around. If I have my class schedule, I don't know where my classes are, and sometimes I don't even know that much. Throughout the dream one thing after another keeps coming up, until finally it's so late that I've missed my class entirely (either for the day or for the entire semester).

Since starting the whole 'coming out' process that dream hasn't bothered me nearly as often as it used to, which gives me some thoughts about where those feelings of being 'stuck' come from. This past week the dream came back in a slightly different form; this time I had taken a job with a previous employer (one I hadn't been sorry to say goodbye to), and the first assignment my new boss gave me was something I had only the vaguest idea how to accomplish and which nobody else seemed to be of any help with. The remainder of the dream entailed trying to make progress toward figuring out what I was supposed to do without getting any closer to actually doing so.

Given that I'm currently feeling trapped at a job where I don't dare come out to anyone (much less advertise such details as the existence of this blog or the church I've been attending), it doesn't seem much of a stretch to connect that with the most recent incarnation of that dream.

The difficult part is that I generally like my work and the people I work with, and I have a boss who frequently lets me know that he hopes we're still working together decades from now. The latter, especially, makes it feel like a betrayal to even think about looking for another job, yet I know I can't stay here for too much longer. Even aside from concerns about being 'discovered,' I increasingly dislike the dishonesty (even if only by omission) that's effectively demanded of me as long as I remain here.

And that's not even getting into how much I may be holding myself back by staying in a job that no longer challenges me, or whether being considered indispensable is a healthy dynamic for anyone involved. So while I know that it's time to move on, it's very difficult to actually take that next step knowing that it's going to move me way out of my comfort zone, and God doesn't seem to be very interested in providing any hints.

Of course, I guess I shouldn't expect life to suddenly become simple just because I'm afraid of making a mistake.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Last night I was rewatching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which I just acquired a used copy of on DVD), and I was struck by something that had always bothered me, but that I'd never known quite what to do with.

Namely, Chinese civilization dates back thousands of years, yet up until relatively recently none of the ancient cultures of the Far East had any recorded contact with Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter). According to most strains of Christian theology all of those countless millions of people are now in hell, all because God never revealed his true name to them. All of the beauty they created - art, music, literature, philosophy, technology, martial arts - was apparently pointless because of geographical barriers that they had no control over.

For the diehard fundamentalist there's nothing to question; if the Bible seems to suggest that all of those people deserve to go to hell, then that's simply all there is to it. Less dogmatic Christians would reason that we simply don't know the whole story, and that a just God will certainly take what they don't know into account when passing judgment. Like CS Lewis, they might posit that those who wholeheartedly seek after God will find him even if they don't call him by his proper name.

As we move away from the more conservative traditions, we'll find Christians willing to acknowledge the glimpses of truth found in Eastern philosophies, and even the notable similarities between Christian and Buddhist thought, and with such acknowledgments one can conclude that perhaps those thousands of years of Far Eastern history aren't as worthless as some unquestioningly assume.

As a Christian I still believe that the Bible presents the best picture we have of who God is and how he wants to relate to us, and that while different religions contain their own glimpses of eternity they aren't necessarily equally reliable paths for those seeking God. At the same time, though, I find myself increasingly convinced that the Holy Spirit can work and is at work outside of the context of 'orthodox' Christianity.

To acknowledge that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life is to recognize that our salvation is entirely dependent on him, and not necessarily on the labels we place on the boxes we construct in our constant attempts to define the infinitely powerful Creator of the universe we inhabit. There will always be those who reject him, but ultimately it's not our place to speculate on the eternal destiny of others.

At the same time, many who appear to have rejected God have, in reality, merely rejected a false impression of God that they were given by the bad example of some Christians. And the god that many 'believers' present to the world is small, petty, fickle and utterly undeserving of anyone's worship. That many who reject Christianity conflate those gods (lower-case g) with God (upper-case G) does not necessarily mean that they have truly rejected God, even if they carry that mistaken impression with them for the rest of their lives. As evidence of that we see many 'nonbelievers' who live godlier lives than the 'believers' who drove them away from the church.

But I digress. At the end of the day, all of our debates about God are rather like a group of two-year-olds arguing about the nature of the grown-up world, when any attempt their parents might make to explain to them what it's really like would go almost completely over their heads.

That isn't to say that God is completely unknowable, only that there's so much in this vast universe that we can just barely begin to comprehend that the best God can do in reaching out to us is to give us just enough knowledge of him to provide a starting point for managing our own lives. Fear and pride continually drive us toward the notion that we can bring others closer to God by micromanaging their lives for them (and even many who preach against such legalism with their words say something very different with their actions), but in the end we are no more qualified to do so than a toddler is capable of running a household.

There is tremendous beauty to be found in Far Eastern cultures. The fundamentalist has no choice but to dismiss that beauty as meaningless, but I'm convinced that the God who authored beauty is honored whenever human beings strive to emulate their Creator's creativity. Without devaluing my own beliefs I can affirm the good that I see in those who may not share my theology, and through those relationships build on my own understanding of the God I strive to know.

And no, that doesn't really have much to do with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's a beautiful movie, though.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Thought

In the wake of my recent mention of the thought process behind my writing style, I was reminded of a paper I wrote back in college for one of my biblical studies classes.

The topic was women in ministry, and we were to argue either for or against women being allowed to serve as pastors. At the time I was against the idea, being fairly conservative in my theology.

I'd done all of my research well in advance, had my citations picked out and had a pretty good idea of what I was going to say, but didn't actually sit down to write the paper until the day before it was due. As I got to the end of my essay, I suddenly realized that I'd just written an argument in favor of women serving as pastors, and changing my argument would have required rewriting the entire thing - which I didn't have time for by then.

The professor gave my paper an A.

I never was quite sure what to think of that...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Play List

After a period of not paying much attention to the music scene, I've found myself going on a CD buying spree (yes, I still listen to CDs - so sue me) over the last year or so. A lot of my purchases have been older albums that I either missed before or just never got around to acquiring. Fortunately there are two really good used CD stores here in town to save me from premature bankruptcy.

Because I know you're all terribly excited to hear about it, here's a sampling of what's now helping to weigh down my shelves:

Burlap to Cashmere - Anybody Out There?

Creed - Human Clay
(mostly for the song "Higher")

Tonio K - Romeo Unchained

Kerry Livgren/AD - Reconstructions Reconstructed
(a remix of one of my all-time favorite Christian rock albums)

Matchbox Twenty - Mad Season

Alanis Morrissette - Jagged Little Pill

Pet Shop Boys - Discography
(one of those groups I wouldn't have dared admit I enjoyed back when maintaining a state of denial entailed avoiding anything that could have even remotely linked me to the slightest possibility that I might be gay)

Sam Phillips - The Indescribable Wow and Martinis & Bikinis
(I understand now what she meant when, upon walking away from the Christian music scene in 1988, she compared evangelical Christianity to a 100th-generation photocopy of the real thing - a slight exaggeration, but only slight)

Second Chapter of Acts - With Footnotes/In the Volume of the Book
(copied for me by a friend, as it's been out of print for years)

Sixpence None the Richer - Divine Discontent

Spin Doctors - Pocket Full of Kryptonite

Switchfoot - The Early Years
(actually a new compilation of their first three albums, but close enough)

They Might Be Giants - Lincoln

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - The Lost Christmas Eve
(okay, so this one isn't very old)

U2 - Achtung Baby

Now, if I could just find a copy of Ideola's Tribal Opera that doesn't cost an arm and a leg...

Thursday, November 30, 2006


As I've explored a number of times on this blog, we are all unique individuals who differ from each other in countless ways - everything from temperament to hobbies, talents, family, culture, education level, work history, life experiences, environment, nutrition and medical history, to name a few, all of which work together to shape each of us in ways that no other individual in history (even an identical twin) can claim.

We all acknowledge this, at least on an intellectual level, but we still tend to fall back on the assumption that others share our basic perspective, and nowhere is this more evident than within the church.

Just as the majority of people never progress beyond a Stage Three mentality in their spiritual lives, so most of our churches have developed a culture and a theology that corresponds with the needs and attitudes of its members. Thus Christianity so frequently becomes perceived as a system of laws and expectations; even those who speak of it as a relationship with a living God almost inevitably conceptualize that relationship in terms of dos and don'ts and how well one conforms to the commands of one's spiritual leaders.

When an individual does reach Stage Four, he quickly discovers that the community that once sheltered him from the outside world is no longer a safe haven. Stage Three individuals are simply not ready to accept the existence of a world that's larger and more complex than the rules system they perceive as encompassing all Truth, and thus they view anyone who raises dissent as a traitor or an agent of the devil, or at the very least as a troublemaker.

Not that everyone in Stage Three fits the stereotype of the narrow-minded fundamentalist, of course. But even the more ecumenically-minded ones see the world in terms of simple, all-encompassing truths and strict boundaries, and view doubt as a shortcoming to be confessed and routinely expunged through application of Bible verses, sermons and devotional readings.

Even in the best Stage Three churches, the Stage Four individual is regarded as a lost or backslidden soul in need of 'fixing.' Questions are tolerated only as long as the individual ultimately accepts the answers given (no matter how unsatisfactory they may be) as articles of faith. When the complexities of life play out in ways that contradict "the Truth", it is reality that must be reevaluated to conform to doctrine; the doctrine itself may only be questioned as part of an academic exercise with a predetermined outcome.

Church doesn't have to be this way, though. The early Baptists gave individuals room to follow their conscience, even if doing so put them in conflict with church teaching. Other Christian traditions over the centuries have made similar allowances, acknowledging that life is never as clear-cut as it may appear in the theologian's study.

The authors of the New Testament advocate just such a policy, boiling down all of the Law to two simple rules: love God and love others. Many evangelical theologians recognize this and acknowledge that one who wholeheartedly strives to follow those two commands will have no need for lists of rules and restrictions. Somewhere over the years, however, it became an accepted assumption that the dos and don'ts scattered throughout the Bible could be combined to form a clear and complete picture of what it means to love God and others, and that therefore one could still judge another's righteousness by how well they conformed to all of those regulations.

By way of analogy, they have effectively dictated that one can judge another's bicycle riding skills by how well the rider's movements fit within the narrow range of actions that would be possible if training wheels were attached to the bike. That training wheels quickly become a hindrance and even a danger once one leaves the safety of the neighborhood sidewalk is irrelevant, since the existence of training wheels proves that there can only be one correct way to ride a bike under any circumstances.

It's a point that can only be pressed so far in any church led by Stage Three individuals, since such leaders would see such an elevation of individual conscience as the beginning of a rapid and unstoppable slide into total moral depravity, but it's one that nonetheless needs to be made for the sake of those who have outgrown their training wheels.

Whether or not it's within the realm of possibility for any one church to meet everyone where they're at, there's still plenty of room for improvement even within the bounds of what's realistic. If nothing else, it might be helpful to remember that the early church was able to expand rapidly across the known world, not because of its rules and regulations, not because of its rigid and concise doctrines, but because of its love.

Genuine, self-sacrificial love transcends all differences and requires no explanation. Stage Three, Stage Four or otherwise, there's room there for all of us to find common ground.

Monday, November 27, 2006


And now, to draw your attention away from the fact that I did absolutely no writing over the holiday weekend, here are a couple of links for you.

-A still-relevant quote from Barry Goldwater regarding the dangers of involving the church as an institution in politics.

-Jim Burroway on one of the unintended consequences of refusing to grant any sort of legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

-Peterson Toscano on some of the ways that we inadvertently slander God.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Everyone has different needs when it comes to ordering one's life. Some could literally not get through the day without having everything planned out and scheduled in advance, while others feel suffocated by even the slightest constraint on their ability to be spontaneous. Most of us fall somewhere between those two extremes, and a person's inclinations can shift over the years.

Similar principles apply in other areas of life as well. I took piano lessons all the way through my elementary and high school years and became a reasonably good musician as a result, but I stuck almost exclusively to classical music. I could master relatively advanced piano sonatas, but would have been hard pressed to improvise so much as a grace note to save my life. With the proper training and a strong dose of determination I no doubt could have become competent at more free-form styles of music like jazz, but it most likely never would have been my forte.

Along the same lines, I get no enjoyment from the types of dancing that go on at most dance clubs. I know full well that it's just a matter of "letting loose" and going with the flow and not worrying about what I look like, but I still find it tedious at best; my mind just doesn't work like that. Teach me a dance with actual steps, on the other hand, and I can have fun with it for hours. Hence I can enjoy line dancing even though I've never been much of a country music fan.

Such a structured approach doesn't work as well for me when it comes to writing, however. An outline can be a useful starting point for longer pieces, and even for shorter essays like the ones on this blog I'll begin with a mental picture of where I want to go, but the end result often looks very different from my original plan. More often than not whatever I'm writing takes on a life of its own and heads in directions I hadn't even thought of at the start, and somehow the finished piece still works - usually better than what I'd first envisioned.

Within the church, different people prefer different worship styles. For some, the rich structure and imagery of a liturgical service is a source of meaning and life that draws them closer to God, while for others the experience quickly becomes a deadening routine. For my part, while I can appreciate the meaning in liturgical readings, I fall into the latter category; I'm much more likely to encounter God within the looser structure found in most evangelical and emergent churches.

Simply put, each of us is unique in thousands of different ways, and the systems that best account for those differences when addressing our various needs enable the greatest number of people to thrive. Many highly intelligent individuals do poorly in school and even drop out entirely, not because of any real deficiency on their part but because their learning style was incompatible with the methods employed by the schools they attended.

Where the church is concerned, that extends beyond the way services are organized to the different ways we relate to God and to each other. Some people feel lost if they don't have rules to follow and authority figures to tell them what to believe, while others see such a system as oppressive and even overtly abusive.

In truth there is room within Christianity for both approaches, though it may often seem otherwise as churches - and even entire denominations - heap condemnation on those who simply have different spiritual needs. But now I'm getting into differences that are largely developmental as opposed to temperamental, so I'll save the rest of that line of thought for a separate post. I know, I know, I hate seeing the words "to be continued" too...

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Communication is something we often take for granted. We tend to assume that the meaning of what we say will be conveyed accurately to the recipient - and indeed, without such an assumption it would be virtually impossible for us to hold even a simple conversation with another person.

The modern world, however, has taught us that it's never quite that simple. Even among those who share a common language, culture and history there can sometimes be a signficant disconnect between individuals over their understanding of different words and phrases. The further separated those individuals are in their life experiences, the greater that gap becomes.

On the internet we see examples every day of such miscommunications, where an idiom used by, say, an American from Texas might be misconstrued by a reader from Canada (not to mention those from even further away).

The church learned this lesson a long time ago, at least as far as foreign missions goes. Early missionaries who tried to superimpose Western assumptions onto potential converts in Africa, India, China and elsewhere met with limited success, while those who took the time to really get to know the culture in question all the way down to its nuances, and who adapted their message to a context that their audience could connect with, were able to make much deeper inroads.

Unfortunately, while missionary organizations have come to understand how people groups with similar languages can nonetheless be light years apart in what they will respond to, the church has largely failed to apply that concept to what it considers its home turf. The American Evangelical church has developed a subculture that is imitative of the broader culture around it, yet sharply distinct from it. Value differences aside, evangelicals speak their own language with a complex array of idioms and theological terms that mean next to nothing to those outside of the subculture (and even to some within it).

Despite this rift, most evangelicals continue to engage with the outside world the way they did 100 years ago, back when they still spoke largely the same language as the rest of American culture. They have become more savvy about employing popular forms of media and even using current slang terms, but they continue to make the error of assuming that, because both they and the culture around them speak English, a 1:1 correlation still exists between what they are trying to communicate and what the outside world is hearing them say.

That is beginning to change as the emerging church seeks to define Christianity within the context of a postmodern culture, but many in the larger evangelical community look on their efforts as heresy and stubbornly insist on trying to make the rest of the world come back to them on their terms.

We see a similar language gap within the ex-gay movement, which has its own set of terminology ("freedom from homosexuality," "change is possible," "ex-gay," etc.) which is very internally consistent, but which communicates something very different in meaning to those on the outside. To those who are adequately steeped in the evangelical subculture, it makes perfect sense that an exclusively same-sex-attracted individual might identify as a "former homosexual" or even as "straight" while admitting to still experiencing "temptations," due to the unique (if not necessarily biblical) way evangelicals define identity. That the rest of the world (and even some evangelicals) interpret those catchphrases as a claim that the individual has actually shifted his or her attractions from the same sex to the opposite sex is irrelevant, since the ex-gays' use of those terms is the correct one and everyone else is just playing word games around what they naturally understand deep down inside to be "the Truth."

But it's not word games, and it's not rebellion - it's a different language altogether. And so ex-gays get accused of dishonesty, a charge that's difficult to avoid when political activists use ex-gay testimonies as "proof" that gays don't really exist and therefore need no legal recognition, but one that merely exacerbates the situation, since what those ex-gays say about themselves is true within the context of the language they speak. Those accused of dishonesty feel persecuted and lash back at their accusers, who in turn see the retaliation as proof that their suspicions were correct.

Of course, the debate over homosexuality runs far deeper than misunderstandings over word usage, but speaking a common language would be a step in the right direction. The evangelical church may feel that it's the rest of the world that needs to accept their definitions, but the simple fact is that the rest of the world feels - and in truth bears - no such obligation.

If the leaders of Exodus believe they have a positive, redemptive message to communicate, and don't want to be seen as cynical shills for a political agenda, it's up to them to translate that message into terms that clearly convey the correct meaning to their intended audience. Just as the burden lies on the advertiser to make sure they don't inadvertently tell their audience to bite the wax tadpole, so Exodus - and evangelicals in general - cannot expect others to do their job for them.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Once, in a session at the ministry I was attending when I first began asking questions, I shared about a testimony I'd read online of an ex-ex-gay, and the joy he discovered when he came to a place of self-acceptance. The response I received from our group leader was (to paraphrase) "I'm sure my life would be a lot easier too if I stopped working on my major life issue."

Even at the time his response seemed overly dismissive to me, even though it was technically consistent with the Christian doctrine of self-sacrifice and wrestling against sin. But are we necessarily correct in making the assumption that condoning gay relationships is the equivalent of giving anyone a free ride through life? It is true that some who are supportive of gay relationships have made assumptions based on an inadequate understanding of traditional Christian teachings about the role hardship plays in our spiritual lives, but it's no less shallow to dismiss all gay-positive theology on the grounds that it would supposedly make life too easy.

The conservative position is, of course, far more nuanced than that, but it is interesting how easy it is to fall back on the assumption that making corrections to our understanding of what constitutes sin necessarily lets anyone off the hook. I struggle no less than anyone else with pride, lust, greed, general self-centeredness and a host of other sinful inclinations. It's true that I experience more peace in my life now that I'm not trying to name and claim my 'natural heterosexuality', but last time I checked peace was still listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.

It's interesting to watch the verbal gymnastics that conservatives will engage in when describing gay individuals. On the one hand, all gays are miserable and dysfunctional because of their lack of repentance; on the other hand, if a gay person appears to be happy and well-adjusted it's because they've surrendered to their sin. Any unhappiness or self-destructive behavior observed in a gay individual's life is directly caused by their homosexuality, even though many heterosexuals deal with exactly the same issues (perhaps they're all gay and they just don't know it?). Any doubt that a gay Christian experiences is the conviction of the Holy Spirit, while any doubt that an ex-gay Christian experiences is the whispered lies of the devil.

Christians who in one breath acknowledge the dangers of legalism will lose no time imposing legalistic rules on those whose behaviors they disapprove of with their very next breath. Real-life experience must conform to 'biblical' rules that confirm the sentiments of the majority, no matter how many details have to be ignored or whitewashed to make those rules appear to work.

I say this without pointing any fingers at that small group leader; he is one of those rare individuals who consistently and faithfully practices what he preaches, and he makes considerably less noise about it than your average religious right activist. For that matter, it's both interesting and telling that those who shout the loudest about the 'selfishness' of gay couples are in most cases married (sometimes more than once) and enjoying the comforts of a middle-class American lifestyle. It's quite easy to preach about the hardship God's path requires when the preachers consider themselves exempt from the hardship part.

It's also quite telling that those who truly model a lifestyle of hardship and self-sacrifice tend to be the last to heap demands and ultimatums on others. While the Christianists are busy practicing the "do as I say, not as I do" approach to world conversion, those truly committed to following the example of Christ preach first and foremost through their actions, which speak louder than any rhetoric ever could.

Celibacy can be a rewarding vocation for those who voluntarily choose to commit themselves to God in that fashion - for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. But God calls each of us to a path that's uniquely tailored to our individual needs, and no human authority can ever be wise enough to chart that course for us. When God requires a sacrifice from a person, the end result of submitting to God's command is greater joy and peace. When the church, claiming to speak on God's behalf, demands identical sacrifices from everyone in apparently similar circumstances, the result for many is a loss of joy and peace, and even the destruction of their faith.

Such a demand for conformity is in fact a double standard since it does not take into account the unique needs, experiences and characteristics of each individual. Defenders of the conformist approach will level charges of relativism at anyone who challenges their rules-based 'one size fits all' version of Christianity, while rationalizing away those parts of the Bible that contradict their methodology. At the same time, they place their greatest focus on those rules that affect them the least. In so doing, they become like those denounced by Jesus in Matthew 23:4:

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Righteousness is manifested through the love that we show to our neighbors, not through the demands we place on them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I've held back from the trend of posting videos on my blog, but this one is pretty awe-inspiring. What an amazing universe we live in.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Given that the whole Ted Haggard scandal is still breaking news, it's far too early to reach definite conclusions about what did and didn't happen. If there is truth to the allegations, Haggard's former followers are likely to eat him alive, but that only leads to the one point I do want to make.

Namely, if the church were truly the safe haven it was intended to be, if people could be totally honest about their lives there and still find unconditional love, grace and acceptance, scandals like this would be far rarer, and would be far easier to resolve.

When the church becomes a political power, when it treats some people as worse sinners than others, when it becomes image-conscious and numbers-driven, then the church becomes a breeding ground for dishonesty where people are encouraged to live double lives.

The closet kills...

Update: I like Andrew Sullivan's take on this.

Monday, October 30, 2006


So if the future really is unwritten, even for God, what does that mean for how we approach life? That's the kind of question that can take a lifetime to answer; it certainly has implications for every aspect of our theology. And aside from beginning to shed the general sense of fatalism that's colored my view of the world for as long as I can remember, it's a question I'm only just beginning to explore.

For some issues it has very direct implications; some of the biblical passages that Christian Universalism uses to build its case, for example, take on a very different meaning when filtered through the lens of Open Theism. Although universalists wouldn't necessarily have to abandon their position in order to adopt Open Theism, it would require them to reformulate a number of their arguments.

And the notion of praying for one's future spouse (before one has met that individual) only makes sense if one can assume that God already knows who that individual is; if the future is indeed unwritten, then such a prayer is an exercise in futility. Not that such a prayer was necessarily biblical in the first place, but it's nonetheless become a part of popular evangelical culture.

In terms of the Great Debate that I've examined on this blog over the last year, it doesn't appear to provide any significant advantage to either side. Those who are most inclined toward ex-gay philosophy are among the least likely to accept the idea of Open Theism, for reasons that have nothing to do with the issue of homosexuality; they're simply likely to come from those conservative camps that regard such a notion as heresy.

And yet Open Theism can arguably be used to support their position. If God already knows the future, then he knew from the beginning of time exactly who would turn out gay and which of those individuals would ultimately leave the church (or never gravitate toward it) as a result of the rejection they would face at the hands of his people. Within the traditional model, then, it's difficult to truly escape the implication that God is the author of same-sex attractions, since at the very least he did nothing to prevent that which he fully knew would take place. Of course, theologians have written entire libraries debating over statements like the one I just made, but ultimately it all comes out sounding like an endless exercise in semantics.

Meanwhile, Open Theism offers the genuine possibility that homosexuality is something that God honestly did not intend. It's not a slam dunk argument, as it still requires that one accept certain preconceived assumptions, but it does potentially dampen the wind in the sails of the "God made me gay" camp. One still has to address the fact that God would have seen the introduction of homosexuality into his creation as at least a strong possibility - I say 'strong' since its consistent presence in similar proportions in every known society throughout human history (not to mention the animal kingdom) argues that its potential (if not its inevitability) was present within the matrix of God's original design.

(Not that ex-gay advocates are necessarily averse to such a possibility; Elizabeth Moberly's theory on the origins of homosexuality, which is still popular in many ex-gay circles, states that same-sex attractions are the byproduct of a reparative process that's hard-wired into our psychological makeup. Of course, Moberly's theory also assumes that this reparative process can be tapped into to restore an individual to heterosexuality, a conclusion that the real world has yet to vindicate, so the ex-gay movement would probably be best served to move on in search of better theories.)

On the other side of the debate, if God does not know the future in advance, then it makes perfect sense that the Bible would stick to addressing situations that were actually being faced by the biblical authors. Many of the issues we face in contemporary society, though similar in some respects to those faced by previous generations, were mere possibilities in biblical times. Had God tried to address every possible future situation in the Bible (even just the likely ones), it would have had to be hundreds of thousands of pages long.

Thus one wouldn't expect the Bible to address the issue of same-sex marriage, since such an idea wouldn't have occurred to people (even those with homosexual orientations) living in an age when marriage and procreation were economic imperatives and romantic love was an incidental byproduct that followed after marriage, if at all.

The existence of individuals that are predominantly same-sex attracted wasn't completely unknown in biblical times, but that makes it all the more instructive that the Bible's condemnations of homosexual behavior were directed specifically toward its manifestations in idolatry and prostitution, just as it does under the traditional view of God and time.

The debate still comes back around to the question of whether homosexuality is directly contrary to God's character or merely an unintended variance from his original template (or something he intentionally and positively brought into being, but that argument is beyond the scope of what I want to address here). If the former, as most conservatives would advocate, then no homosexual relationship could ever be a good thing, regardless of any other considerations. Such a stance requires reading certain assumptions into the relevant biblical texts, however, so it ultimately becomes as much a matter of defending those assumptions as it is of debating over what the Bible actually says.

If the latter is true, however, then the idea of same-sex marriages is not necessarily beyond the bounds of those principles that we use to judge other relationships: self-sacrificial love, fidelity, tempering of character, trust, mutual respect, creativity, etc. It may not have been what God intended when he first created Adam and Eve, but we serve a God whose plans cannot be thwarted for long, a God who can use even the most seemingly useless person in incredible ways, a God who revels in making good come out of what appears to us to be the bleakest of situations.

The same God who used a bloodline that included liars, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, Gentiles and idolators to rule over his chosen nation and to ultimately give birth to the Messiah is certainly great enough to make use of a group of people (homosexuals) that many of his followers regard as the lowest of the low. In fact, it's precisely the sort of thing that a student of the Bible ought to expect from such a God.

Whether gay marriage lies within the scope of God's will is a debate that won't be resolved anytime soon, but in any case it would be worthwhile for Christians on both sides to remember the heart that the God they worship has for "the least of these."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back in a Few

I won't be gone that long, but in case it takes me a while to get back on track with blogging, I wanted to mention my impending absence for the benefit anyone who hasn't taken me off their reading list after my most recent ventures into heresy.

In the meantime, here's some random humor to help pass the time...

The Council of Elrond

Star Trek Meets the Knights of the Round Table

The Gay Agenda


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


One discovery that continues to surprise me is how many of the Christian beliefs I was taught growing up are ultimately based on assumptions that aren't necessarily as biblical as everyone assumes them to be. In this case the assumption is that God, being eternal, exists outside of time and therefore has already witnessed all of history, past, present and future. Although there are a number of biblical passages that can be used to support that belief, there are even more that seem to suggest otherwise. At its core it's a doctrine whose roots lie in Greek philosophy (Plato in particular) and not necessarily in the worldviews of the biblical authors.

This belief requires that we allegorize or otherwise explain away the many times in the Bible that God changes his mind or expresses emotions like surprise, regret and hope. Proponents of the traditional view most commonly assert that God was speaking in such terms purely for the benefit of his audience, even though there's little discernible benefit in such a practice unless God is, in fact, being honest about his feelings.

I'm currently reading Gregory Boyd's God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, which makes a strong case for Open Theism - an alternative interpretation of these types of passages that doesn't in any way diminish God's sovereignty (though it may at first glance seem to).

According to the Platonic view that influenced early church theologians, time is an illusion, an element of the physical universe which itself is an illusion. In modern terms we most commonly view time as a dimension of the physical universe, along with length, width and height. Therefore, for God to be all-knowing and all-powerful, he would necessarily exist outside of time and be able to simultaneously view all of history from the moment of creation to the moment the universe ceases to be.

But what if time isn't a dimension as we define it, but merely our acknowledgment of the linear progression of events that is a necessary element of existence? Steeped as I am in a modern scientific mindset that has been heavily influenced by ancient Greek thought, that's a difficult concept to absorb. Under this alternative definition of time, however, God would not be diminished by not knowing every detail of what lies in the future, since the future does not yet exist. An omniscient being knows everything about that which exists, but logically does not know that which doesn't exist. An omniscient being would envision all future possibilities, but since the future exists only in terms of possibilities, such a being could still be genuinely surprised by which of those possibilities actually come to pass.

In fact, once I stop viewing time as a created 'thing,' I begin to see how much sense it makes that God would experience the passage of time as well - not because God is inferior to time, but because a being whose existence did not include any sort of linear progression would be completely static and unable to engage in relationship with other beings in any meaningful way.

Furthermore, it arguably enhances God's greatness if he can be confident in his future plans despite not having prior knowledge of every last detail of what is to come. God, who knows the laws of physics, biology and human nature far better than we could ever hope to, can direct the broader path of human history by setting certain events in motion, and simultaneously leave each of us fully free to determine our roles in those events. He can know generally what is going to happen without knowing what each of us will individually choose.

And how else could free will truly exist? If God knew everything that would ever happen in our lives before we were even born, then in reality we're completely helpless to alter our destiny for better or for worse. Even if God technically didn't decide who would ultimately go to hell, why would he create people that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt were going to make the choices that would ultimately lead them there?

We can either end our explorations at this point and conclude that, since God tells us he is loving and just, that such actions are in fact loving and just even though every God-given instinct in our bodies screams out that there is nothing even remotely loving or just about such a scenario, or we can step back and reevaluate some of our assumptions. Adherents of the traditional view would tell us that we simply cannot understand the full answer (it's true that there are things our finite minds can't fully comprehend), and that we should not let our fallible human reasoning skills take priority over the words of God - and yet the traditional view itself is based more on human reasoning than it is on what God has actually said to his people.

Although there are passages in the Bible that describe God as eternal and perfect, it is one thing to be immortal and unchanging in character and quite another to be completely unable to change in any way. Everyone faces situations where they must reconsider a course of action if they don't want to compromise their integrity, and by allowing each of us to freely choose how to conduct our lives, God must necessarily adapt his plans (at least on individual levels) according to the choices that we make.

There's a lot more that could be argued in both directions on this issue, and short of reproducing the entire book I couldn't touch on all of the relevant biblical passages. Having only read this one book on the subject I'm not ready to declare the issue settled, but I do find that Open Theism resonates with me on a deeper level than the traditional view ever did. It's one thing to give intellectual assent to an idea, as most Christians do with the traditional view, and quite another to truly believe it in the depths of one's being.

Suddenly prayer has an importance that it never truly had when I viewed God as being outside of time. No matter how many different ways theologians come up with to try to convince us of the importance of prayer, none of them really ring true in a universe where every outcome has already taken place. If the matter has been eternally settled since before the beginning of time, what's the point in trying to change it?

But if the matter isn't yet settled, if the future hasn't yet been fully decided, if we are, in fact, participants with God in the creation of what is to come, then we have both an incredible freedom and a tremendous responsibility to work toward making this world a better place.

Yes, God will prevail in the end, but what that means for me and those around me depends in part on my actions. Christian theology has always assumed as much, even though that assumption contradicts our long-standing view of the nature of God and time.

If that's heresy, then may the church find a way to make orthodox beliefs even half as inspiring.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


One of the more positive trends in evangelicalism in recent years is the movement toward increased dialogue and a stronger sense of unity between denominations by returning to an emphasis on the basic tenets of Christianity, as defined by the early church creeds. Christians who agree on the short list of assertions in those documents are free to disagree on other matters of doctrine.

At least in theory. In practice, all but the most liberal evangelicals still maintain a list of pet issues that, although officially regarded as nonessentials, are in practice treated as non-negotiables. Homosexuality is the most obvious example of this double standard; although no mention of it or any related topics appear in the creeds, and although the biblical passages used to condemn homosexuals are all surrounded by significant disputes over context and word translation, many evangelicals who otherwise advocate unity would still break fellowship with any Christian who disagreed with them on this issue alone.

Another issue that remains a hot button among evangelicals is that of biblical inerrancy. Although the exact definition of "inerrancy" remains open to debate, it's nonetheless an issue that conservative Christians largely agree on. Interestingly enough, though, it's not a concept that has much direct biblical support; the closest that the Bible comes to calling itself inerrant is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

From that it's a matter of defining and extrapolating from the term "God-breathed" and reasoning that, if God was involved in the process of inspiring the authors of the various books of the Bible, he would have ensured both that what was originally written was free from error of any sort, and that the copies made of those original manuscripts would remain free from all but the most inconsequential of errors.

That still leaves a can of worms to dig through, of course. Are all of the Bible's historical accounts literally factual in the way that we keep historical records today? Should every statement made about God in poetic works like the Psalms be taken at face value as though it came from an encyclopedia, or should the authors be allowed some room for poetic license? Does inerrancy extend to the Septuagint? The manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls? The King James Version? Does it extend to the books of the New Testament, which hadn't been canonized (and in some cases hadn't yet been written) when Paul made the above statement? What about the books in the Catholic Bible that most Protestants consider apocryphal?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Advocates of inerrancy have answers to every objection that's been raised to their position, of course, as well as to those who disagree with them only on particulars, but in the end it's a doctrine that relies more on human reasoning than on anything actually asserted in the Bible. Most evangelicals take inerrancy for granted as a doctrine that's essential to the Christian faith, without ever realizing the irony that a belief system that views human reason as suspect and prone to deception would place so much weight on a doctrine that has its roots in human reason.

For my part, I'm not sure. Archaeological discoveries have repeatedly vindicated the existence of people, places and events mentioned in the Bible. Does that mean that Noah's flood literally covered the entire globe? I don't see why the validity my faith ought to hinge on such matters. Just because God himself does not make mistakes, it doesn't necessarily follow that he micromanages his people to the extent that most versions of inerrancy would require.

Does the Bible have to be completely error-free in the modern sense of the term to be a reliable foundation for the Christian faith? Can it still be "God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" even if Genesis 1-3 doesn't provide a C-SPAN-style transcript of how God brought the world and its first inhabitants into existence?

I run the risk of conflating two separate debates here, since not all inerrantists require that the early chapters of Genesis be taken completely literally, but many of them do. One of the core concerns of inerrantists is that if the Bible is found to contain even the slightest error (or anything that could be considered 'fiction' by the modern definition), then all of it must be regarded as equally unreliable. Although that's not how the real world works, it's a very real fear in the minds of those who require absolute certainty.

I'm not ready to discard the doctrine of inerrancy, since I do see validity in some of its claims, but neither do I see it as an essential doctrine that should be used to draw the line between "true believers" and "heretics." While I understand the fears of those who advocate strongly for inerrancy (and those fears aren't completely baseless), I've also come to see how a need for absolute certainty, far from being a component of a healthy spiritual life, is in fact a sign of a weak and immature faith.

For my part, I'm willing to live with a healthy dose of uncertainty. It may not always make for a comfortable life, but when did God ever promise us one of those?

Friday, October 06, 2006

One Year, 100 Posts

It seems somehow significant that I was able to reach those milestones at the same time - in part by delaying another post that's sitting half-written in my queue, but that one would have been #100 at roughly the same time if not for this one. 365 days ago I said hello to the blogosphere, and somehow I'm still here typing away.

I'm not going to get mystical about it, since sometimes a coincidence really is a coincidence, but it is kind of cool that it worked out that way. Although my 200th post is unlikely to fall on my two-year anniversary, here's hoping that I'm still around to note both of those events.

And it's been quite a ride. As an example of both how far I've progressed and how slowly change comes, here's an excerpt from the letter I shared back on that first day:

So where does that leave me, except in a state of perpetual uncertainty? Since God has not seen fit to give me a straight (no pun intended) up-or-down answer, all I can do is go back to Him on a daily basis for guidance. And perhaps that’s how He wants it to be; it’s easy to become spiritually and intellectually lazy when we think we know all the answers. Will the answers He gives me over time match the expectations of those around me? I don’t know. I keep discovering over and over that God doesn’t fit neatly into the theological boxes we perpetually try to stuff Him into.

But I do know this: God wants to do something big in the gay community. I’m not the only one who senses that, though I don’t know of anyone who has a clear picture of what it’s actually going to look like. The church, both liberal and conservative, does more to hinder than to help, but the stubbornness of God’s people won’t hold back His plans forever. His Spirit is already moving, in ways that aren’t necessarily going to please people on either side of the divide. And something new is clearly needed. Exodus isn’t the answer. Soulforce isn’t the answer. Focus on the Family is, unfortunately, part of the problem.

I’m sure that all sounds very vague and pretentious, and I could be wrong about any or all of what I’m predicting. But God has not abandoned the millions of people who experience same-sex attractions, even if many in His church wish we’d all just go away (we’ve tried; we can’t). On that much I’ll stake everything.

Here's to whatever God has in store for the next twelve months...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Just about everyone in the blogosphere has already beaten me to this, but it's worth publicizing as far and as wide as possible. Jim Burroway has written what may be the definitive parody of anti-gay literature, in which he copies their wording and methodology and then shows exactly how he doctored the facts to make the "heterosexual lifestyle" look absolutely horrifying.

Sadly, the people who most need to read this (i.e. the ones who made it relevant in the first place) either won't go near it or will completely miss (or ignore) the point, but it's well worth passing along to anyone who is willing to listen.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


It occurred to me recently that, after 11 months of blogging, I'd only made passing references to the Myers-Briggs personality types. Most people seem to be familiar with the system these days anyway, but here's an online test for those that aren't. (I'm actually not fond of short-form tests like this one for reasons I'll get to, but as long as you take it with a grain of salt it's a good place to start.)

Discovering the Myers-Briggs in college was literally a transformational event for me. Even setting aside sexual orientation issues (which were still relegated to my subconscious back then), I thought there was something seriously wrong with me as a teenager. I know that a lot of teenagers deal with similar feelings, but I was all too painfully aware that my mind didn't work the way most people's minds seemed to. My stepfather and I couldn't understand each other at all, I couldn't relate to most of my peers, and none of the things I was taught in church ever worked for me the way they were supposed to.

In retrospect, the latter is more a commentary on the state of the church than it was an actual problem on my part, but at the time it contributed to my conviction that I was hopelessly deficient in some way, despite the fact that I always did well in school.

When my roommate first introduced me to the Myers-Briggs via a book (Please Understand Me) he was reading for a class that semester (the fall of our sophomore year), I approached it with some curiosity. The test in the book told me I was an ISTJ (my stepfather's personality type, not coincidentally - I still had no idea who I was at that point), but the description given for ISTJs just seemed like it was missing something important. I could relate to parts of it, but there was so much more that it seemed to leave unexplained that I nearly gave up on the book in a fit of depression.

Fortunately I chose instead to begin reading through the book, and as I got to the section on the NF (Intuitive Feeling) temperament, things began to click. The concept of the NF's quest for identity sounded a bit odd at first, but it also resonated with me and soon began to make a lot of sense. From there I read the individual descriptions for the four NF types, and when I got to the INFJ I realized, "this is me." The fact that INFJ is the rarest type among men (and fairly rare among women as well) helped to further explain why I'd always felt so out of place.

For the first time in my life I knew there were other people in the world who could relate to me, who thought the same way I did, who experienced the same seemingly out-of-place emotions. I can hardly describe the dramatic change that realization made in my outlook on life except to mention that most of the people from my college years who disliked me knew me as a freshman, and most of those I became close friends with were either just getting to know me or came along later.

I know that sounds like the sort of transformation that's supposed to come out of a conversion experience, and in a sense it was a conversion. I'd been a Christian since a fairly young age, but for the first time I understood that God really had made me to be the way I was, and that it was a good thing. When I began to consciously realize that I had sexual orientation issues some time later it would throw all of that back out of balance, but for the time being it was the most liberating feeling I'd ever experienced.

On a side note, that also explains why I don't put a lot of stock in short-form tests like the one in that book. Out of curiosity I retook the tests at the two links above as I was putting this post together; one pegged me as an INTJ and the other told me I was an INFP, and while there are some ways in which I can relate to those two types, I can state with certainty that neither result is accurate.

Having said all of that, the Myers-Briggs isn't a miracle cure by any means, but it is a valuable tool for helping people to understand themselves and others and for improving communication. I have friends who dislike the system because they don't like being "put in a box" (all of them ENFPs, incidentally, but don't tell them I said that), but anyone who uses it as a box is abusing the system.

The Myers-Briggs is meant to describe the structures that underlie our personalities, not unlike a skeleton. Whereas a box (or shell, to complete the analogy) traps and confines it subject and forces its contents to conform to its predetermined shape, a skeleton helps to define its bearer while facilitating free movement and maximizing the potential for growth.

As human beings each of us has roughly the same number and type of bones (barring exceptional circumstances), but we still vary widely from each other in terms of height, weight, gender, strength, skin color, eye color, hair and so on. Despite those differences it's still easy enough under most circumstances to recognize another human being and to tell a human apart from an ape, even if all one has is their respective skeletons. Likewise, a roomful of ESTJs would contain individuals who might be vastly different in terms of their overall personality, but underneath there would be basic similarities in the way they process information, reach conclusions and act on them.

The "skeleton vs. shell" analogy also works for contrasting different approaches to theology, but that's a topic for another day, perhaps.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Odds and Ends

First up, a collection of thought-provoking essays from another Stage Four individual who awoke one day to discover that evangelicalism's fancy new Christianist coverings were nothing but a birthday suit:

The Event Horizon Rider

Next up, an interesting discussion that touches on the question of what it means to be a Christian:

The Nicene Creed and Christianity

Thirdly, a handy-dandy guide to the US government's various terrorism warning icons. Do you know what to do if your lungs and stomach start talking?

Finally, an observation. It's more of an impression, but it's one of the things that has fueled my questioning along this leg of the journey. Many Christians would deny that such a thing is even possible outside of the context of Exodus ministries, but God is at work in the gay community. So far it's subtle and easy to overlook, but I'm certain of it, and I know I'm not the only one who's noticed.

What it's all leading up to is anybody's guess, but I believe that God is up to something big. Exodus and the ex-gay movement may yet have a place in those plans, despite the countless people that their political posturing has driven away from God, but most likely not in any way that they might expect. I wish I could say more than that, but it's nothing that I can substantiate or even put my finger on beyond an intuition.

These are interesting times to be alive. As Switchfoot might advise us, don't close your eyes. If you blink, you may miss something significant.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Downfall, Part 1

It's no secret that, for many conservative Christians, the crusade against gay rights is fueled by the belief that God will destroy any society that becomes even moderately tolerant of homosexuality, which in turn is based on the church's long-standing misinterpretation of the Sodom narrative as an anti-gay object lesson. Thus, for these individuals, the drive to persecute "unrepentant" gays and deny even the slightest vestige of legal recognition to their relationships is seen as nothing less than a "do this or die horribly" imperative from the Almighty.

The sad fact is that the United States is indeed on the brink of calamity, but it has nothing to do with the battle over gay marriage. If anything, the religious right's almost exclusive focus on crushing the gay rights movement has distracted millions of voters and left the politicians they elected free to drive up the national debt at a rate that ought to alarm even the most optimistic proponent of deficit spending.

The federal deficit for 2005, calculated according to standard accounting rules, totaled a staggering $760 billion. That number rises to $3.5 trillion if unfunded future obligations to Social Security and Medicare are factored in. Even discounting the latter (a bill that will come due as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age as opposed to money being borrowed today), we cannot hope to sustain that rate of borrowing indefinitely; it's only a matter of time before the national debt overtakes our economic output, rendering the United States effectively bankrupt.

It would seem that even most conservatives today have forgotten one very salient fact: debt is slavery. The lender wields a very real power over the borrower, as anyone who's ever become mired in credit card debt can attest. The Bible condemns usury (the lending of money with interest) far more often and far more clearly than it allegedly condemns same-sex marriages, yet even among the devout many don't think twice about taking out large loans (at sometimes exorbitant interest rates) to purchase cars, vacations, education and any number of other things. Granted, our modern economy is structured in such a way that only the very wealthy can avoid borrowing entirely, but how many American Christians seriously try to live within their means?

In past decades, when the federal debt was relatively small and owned largely by American banks and individual citizens, it was easy enough to ignore. Now, however, the largest holders of American debt are the central banks of foreign governments, entities that by their very nature cannot be relied upon to have our best interests at heart. It may be in China's interest, for now, to maintain friendly relations with the United States and to prop up our economy by financing our debt, but eventually China will need to do something with all of the dollars sitting in its coffers.

Already state and local governments are beginning to sell off public assets in a short-sighted attempt to forestall insolvency. Even assuming the most benevolent intentions on the part of the Chinese government (a very dangerous assumption), why would they not start using their dollars to invest in our infrastructure and in what's left of our industrial base? And once enough of our strategic assets are owned by Chinese and other foreign interests, what's to stop them from dictating terms to our government? Given how many of our politicians already bend over backwards to appease the Chinese government, the answer seems pretty apparent.

How long can a nation prosper, much less remain independent, when its economic infrastructure lies in foreign hands? We speak so often in terms that assume American invincibility; no doubt many Romans maintained the same mindset even as the barbarians were swarming down the Italian peninsula.

With a handful of exceptions, the biblical authors spend far more time addressing economic matters than they do discussing sexual ethics. Those who view the Bible as authoritative would do well to rediscover that fact and to readjust their priorities accordingly.

It's sadly ironic that the Christianists who speak so loudly about saving America have given a group of cynical politicians free reign to sell our country out from beneath us, all for a little lip service to "family values." Esau at least got a full stomach in exchange for his birthright.

Of course, given what a convenient scapegoat those "wicked homosexuals" make, don't expect to see religious right advocates taking responsibility for their misplaced trust in politicians anytime soon. The rest of us can take comfort in knowing that God will judge rightly in the end, but in the meantime keep your seat belts fastened.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


In the course of updating my tagline last week, it occurred to me that the statement "This blog is the chronicle of my efforts to reconcile my faith with my sexual orientation, without losing my faith in the process" would likely be interpreted by some who disagree with my conclusions to mean that I was picking and choosing those beliefs that would enable me to "justify my lifestyle" (whatever that really means).

That's not at all the way that events unfolded, but I know that there are those who will nonetheless hold unwaveringly to their preconceived conclusions about my motives (or, barring that, will insist that I have been "deceived by the devil" with equal dismissiveness). To them, there's nothing more to say; perhaps one day they will come to understand that their judgments reduce others to two-dimensional caricatures, and that this is as grave a sin as any committed by those they condemn, but until that day there's little dialogue that can take place when one side is unwilling to listen.

And it's easy for me to fall back into the pattern of giving those individuals the power to define my life for me. In fact, it's downright hard sometimes not to slip into those old, familiar cadences of shame, fear and condemnation. It's so easy, in moments of doubt and insecurity, to forget how much more anxiety I lived with back in the days when my focus was on winning the approval of the evangelical community I'd always called home.

Of course, there's now a part of me that wants to react to their stern disapproval by fighting back, by throwing condemnation back in the faces of those who would try to manipulate me into conforming to their expectations, by denouncing them and the tiny box they've constructed to contain the God they purport to serve. But to focus on them to that extent, even negatively, is to allow them to continue to wield power over me, and as such no less idolatrous than it was to worry about winning their approval in the first place.

After all the effort God has undertaken to get it through my thick skull just how much he really loves and treasures me, I should know better. Whatever sins I may have committed along this leg of my journey, the greatest was allowing the voices of other human beings (no matter how wise and authoritative I once thought them) to drive a wedge between me and the One who created me.

That said, I can't think of anything I've written on this blog that I would retract. The process of being forced to reexamine my beliefs in depth has led me toward a purer understanding of the faith I've adhered to since childhood, and helped me to begin stripping away the layers of cultural baggage, political entanglements and majoritarian biases that have all but smothered the essentials that still lie waiting to be rediscovered at the core of the Christian faith.

And it hasn't been as much of a solo effort as it might seem. God has brought friends into my life at precisely the time I needed what they had to contribute to my explorations (and vice versa), in addition to the support and feedback I've received from those already in my life. I've also benefited from the writings of others who have undertaken similar journeys, whose works have so often come to my attention just when I was ready to hear what they had to say.

Not that I would claim to have any special revelation from God; none of the conclusions I have reached so far lie beyond that which many other Christians have rediscovered. I am no more or less fallible than anyone else, but I cannot turn away from the path that God has set me on just to appease those who claim to speak for him, even if the majority still follow their lead. I do not want to be an anarchist, but neither can I avoid responsibility for what God has entrusted to me by abandoning it at the behest of some human authority.

I can no more go back to letting others define my faith for me than I can go back to subsisting on milk fed to me through a baby bottle. Life would be so much simpler if all of its issues and conflicts could be resolved by referring to simple lists of dos and don'ts, but it's too late to turn back to that state of blissful immaturity. There's nothing left to be done for it but to press forward, trusting God to guide even when the path is less clearly defined.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


This past weekend I spent three days and two nights at a hotel across town playing board games at the local semi-annual gaming convention (not to be confused with gambling, despite Las Vegas' attempts to hijack the word, or with videogaming, which is only a single subset of gaming and one that holds little interest for me). Personally I can't think of many things I find more enjoyable than settling Catan, building railroad lines across Europe, slaying dragons and defeating the Axis.

Is gaming escapist? It can be, I suppose, but it's also a hobby that sharpens the mind and teaches good sportsmanship (to name two qualities that seem to be slowly vanishing from the world). And as I've become a 'regular' at the local cons, I now have a circle of friends (or at least friendly acquaintances) there among the other regulars. People there know me by name and they respect me for my gaming skills. I lose a lot more games than I win, but I can at least give the top players a run for their money more often than not.

For the most part these aren't my close friends (apart from two individuals that I first met in another context), but it nonetheless occurred to me this past weekend that I'd sooner spend any amount of time in a hotel conference room full of diehard gamers than even an hour in your average evangelical church or gay bar (and no, I don't apologize for pairing those two otherwise disparate venues). Not just because gaming is more fun, but because I feel more at home - and less judged - there.

Most people at a gaming convention don't care about your politics or your sexual orientation, and it certainly doesn't matter whether you've got washboard abs and a pretty face. For that matter, it isn't all that important how good a player you are, as long as you're reasonably well-behaved and willing to play the game. And at a gaming convention the game playing is straightforward, the rules apply equally to everyone and the losers get a warm welcome if they come back for the next round. If your average church was that humble and friendly, people would be beating down the doors to get in.

Even so, I don't want to overgeneralize; not all Christians are shiny happy hypocrites, and not all gay men are shallow and image-conscious. Not by a long shot. Likewise, gamers are just as flawed and fallible as everyone else and no more or less human; I've met a few along the way that I'd just as soon permanently avoid. Yet there's something about the sense of fair play that a person has to have to enjoy the hobby that makes gamers, on the whole, a group I'm not embarrassed to associate myself with, despite the 'geek' stigma that still sometimes clings to it.

At the end of the day I'm still a Christian, I'm still gay and I'm not going to dissociate myself from either of those widely diverse groups. Heck, if I could find a local group of gay Christian gamers, I'd jump right in. But I have to wonder how much I'd be harming my own growth by hiding behind all of those labels. Conformity is comfortable, but it only takes you so far in real life.

Hmm, I think I've just mixed together several partially-developed points, and I'm not quite sure where to take them from here, but hopefully they're not muddled beyond recognition.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Jim Johnson recently posted about a dialogue he has been having with an individual who disagrees with him on the issue of homosexuality, a connection that's all too rarely made in today's world.

It seems that in recent decades we've lost the ability to truly coexist with those who don't hold our viewpoints. The rise of the web has only accelerated that trend as anyone with an internet connection can find people who share their interests and viewpoints while shutting out those that they don't see eye to eye with. Compounding the problem is the relative anonymity of the internet, which emboldens some individuals to treat others in ways that they'd never dream of treating another human being in real life, and soon the world begins to look very one-sided. Those who validate my interests and beliefs are my friends, and those who disagree with me are idiots, enemies or both.

For those who think that Christians are any better, just try going to an evangelical message board and posting something (no matter how politely written and well reasoned) that challenges any one of conservative Christianity's many sacred cows (especially, but in no way limited to, the issue of homosexuality). Even many of those who are civil enough to refrain from flaming you and consigning you and your entire family out to the fourth generation to the pits of hell will respond in a condescending manner that reinforces my primary point: We as a society have forgotten how to live with those who don't agree with us.

Not that there's ever been a time when everyone was civil to everyone else (outside of particular groups like the Quakers, perhaps), but in less prosperous times people had little choice but to learn how to coexist with their neighbors, on whose generosity they might someday have to rely. We still pay lip service to the idea of "live and let live," and pride ourselves on the progress we've made in breaking down racial and economic barriers, but in their place we've segregated ourselves based on our opinions.

Not that I have a perfect track record in that regard, either. I've never been one to engage in flame wars, but I do sometimes feel threatened by those who don't share my opinions, especially on issues that directly affect me. I'd much rather spend my time with people I can agree with (and who wouldn't?). But is that really God's plan for the church, to be a club for the pastor's or bishop's yes-men (and yes-women)? American tradition has long been to separate ourselves along denominational lines. Those lines have begun to blur in recent years, but we still tend to steer clear of anyone whose doctrine isn't pure in our eyes. Even when it comes to politics Democrats and Republicans tend, more often than not, to attend separate churches.

The problem with those dividing lines is that God created each of us to be unique. If conformity had been his goal, he would have made us to all look and think and talk alike. By hiding among those who most closely conform to our own visions of perfection, we miss out on the many things that we can learn from the different experiences and perspectives of those who dare to disagree from us. We don't have to surrender our own belief systems in order to do this; we simply have to acknowledge that, as finite beings, we don't know it all.

Many conservative Christians would consider a homosexual-free world to be a significant step in the direction of utopia, but in reality they are stunting their own growth (and that of the church) by taking their convictions to such an extreme. Even if the conservative Christian belief that homosexuality is nothing more than a consequence of the Fall and contrary to God's plan were to prove to be correct, the fact remains that we are here for a reason, and as human beings created in the image of God we have something positive to contribute to the world whether or not we conform to the demands of the conservative church.

The converse of that is equally true, of course. I sympathize with those gay individuals who have been severely wounded by Christians, but trying to cut them out of our lives completely isn't the answer. Even the Fred Phelpses and Osama Bin Ladens of the world have lessons to teach us, not that they're likely to give us the chance (dialogue requires cooperation from both parties). In such extreme cases separation is, unfortunately, necessary, but I can still hope for the day when both sides are equally willing to view their opponents as human beings of equal value in God's eyes, and as individuals who just might hold an important piece to the puzzle we're trying to put together.

Until that day, I suppose I need to do my part to make it possible. Not that I particularly want to engage with those who view me as the story's villain, but it's got to start somewhere. Maybe tomorrow...

Friday, August 25, 2006

To Rule Them All

"You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?" [Frodo asked.]

"No!" cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. "With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly." His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. "Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me."

-The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2

With apologies to anyone who thinks I should move on already, I'm going to revisit The Myth of a Christian Nation one more time. At the root of Gregory Boyd's argument for keeping the church out of politics is the concept of "power over" versus "power under." "Power over," of which political power is one type, is how the world attempts to solve its problems. "Power over" brings about a desired outcome by force, whether the coercion be physical, economic or psychological. The compliance of the other parties is all that matters, no matter how they actually feel about being forced to cooperate or what other consequences may result.

In stark contrast to that methodology, "power under" seeks to influence others in an entirely different way. Instead of lording over those who disagree with them, individuals following Christ's example humbly set aside their "rights" and their "moral authority" in order to serve others without expecting anything in return. Through acts of self-sacrificial love, practitioners of "power under" seek to slowly transform others from the inside out, even surrendering their own lives if necessary to bring about genuine change. It's a counterintuitive and seemingly illogical notion, but it's the example that Jesus set during his time on earth, and the method that enabled the early church to spread across the known world in the face of open hostility and persecution.

So what does that have to do with Gandalf? JRR Tolkien's conception of the One Ring fits very well as an analogy for the Church's perennial dilemma of whether to succumb to the temptation to use worldly power ("power over") to usher in the Kingdom of God. Tolkien, of course, made it clear that The Lord of the Rings wasn't meant to be taken as an allegory - not that that's stopped fans throughout the years from using it as one for everything from World War II to various presidencies to the Christian's spiritual life.

Nonetheless, Tolkien was writing mythology (in the best sense of the term), and as such various elements of the story can be seen as archetypes. Each generation faces its own epic challenges, and myths help us to view our own struggles from a different vantage point.

The best description of the One Ring that I've come across (and I wish I could remember where, so I could give credit where it's due) is that the Ring represents, not merely power, but coercive power - the power to dominate others and to force them to bend to your will.

Power in and of itself is not evil, it's simply an element of the world we live in. Many of the 'good' characters in The Lord of the Rings - Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Tom Bombadil, etc. - were beings of considerable power, and at different times they used their power in opposition to the forces of evil. The difference between them and those on the side of evil is that they never used their power to override the free will of those around them.

Sauron's purpose in forging the One Ring was not merely power (which he already possessed), but the power to dominate. With it he transformed the nine human kings who wore the rings he had given them into the Nazgul, dark minions who existed only to serve him. And with it he sought to bend all of Middle Earth to his will.

With the power of the One Ring, Gandalf knew that he could overthrow Sauron himself, but in the process the Ring would have corrupted him and he would have become the very tyrant he sought to destroy. Each of the characters who came into contact with the Ring faced the temptation to take it for themselves, and in the end even Frodo found that he didn't have the willpower to relinquish the Ring.

Ultimately the Fellowship's quest succeeded only because Frodo chose to spare the life of Gollum, even though doing so imperiled his mission as much as it aided it, and even though he would have been fully justified in exercising what power he wielded to end Gollum's seemingly evil and miserable existence.

Had Frodo (or Gandalf, or Aragorn, or Galadriel, or Faramir, or even Elrond) succumbed to the temptation to exercise "power over" as a means to overcome evil, all would have ultimately been lost. Although the concept of "power under" only indirectly plays into the story, that is effectively what each of them chose when they rejected the easy solution of taking the Ring for themselves, even though it increased the risk to their own lives.

In the real world we already see the cascading effects of the American church's decision to take hold of and wield its own Ring by organizing as a political force, rather than choosing the more difficult path of unmaking the Ring by following the example of Christ. Even if the religious right ultimately succeeds in its quest to remake the United States into a 'Christian' nation, it will have done so at the cost of its own soul.

Government is a necessary institution in an imperfect world; without that impartial force to mediate disputes and protect individual citizens from predators (human or otherwise), civilization could not exist for very long. But as soon as the power of government is coopted to override free will by forcing others to conform to one group's definition of "goodness" - whether that coercion is used to punish "sexual sin," to impose "democracy" on unwilling nations or to confiscate the wealth of the rich in a quest to eradicate poverty - it becomes the very evil it set out to conquer.

By overriding the freedom of others in pursuit of some abstract ideal, we cast moral judgment on them, a job that only God Himself is qualified to undertake. By placing ourselves in God's role, we recommit the first sin from which all other sins flow: the sin of pride. If those we seek to judge are deserving of God's punishment, how much more do we make ourselves worthy of his wrath by usurping his authority?

When we take the power of the Ring for ourselves, Sauron wins even if he loses.

Monday, August 21, 2006


I know this has been making the rounds on the internet for a while now, and I know there's undoubtedly a perfectly good explanation for how they do this, but it's still pretty darn impressive...

Quick Change Artists

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Back when I first started questioning the ex-gay party line - and even, for the most part, when I started this blog last fall - I was looking for definitive answers to the issue of homosexuality (which I had come to realize the ex-gay movement didn't have). What I found instead was even more questions. Why was God actively at work on both sides of the fence? Why does he give different people seemingly contradictory answers? Why are the conservatives who claim to have all the answers so readily willing to propagate outright falsehoods in defense of the "truth"? Are we all just deceived (I'll let readers define "we" for themselves), or is there more to the issue than meets the eye?

The answer I've found, as much as it can be called an answer, is that the questions are ultimately more rewarding than the answers. We race through life so focused on "arriving" that we fail to realize that the journey is our purpose in this life. The day we cease to have questions is the day we leave this life (and the very need for questions) behind. There is so much that our finite minds are incapable of fully comprehending, and yet we arrogantly settle time after time for incomplete answers that we can wrap our minds around, even though the process of labeling those pieces of the truth that we possess as the Whole Truth necessarily renders them untrue. We spend our lives futilely constructing boxes that we label with a stamp marked "God," only to be surprised when God inevitably violates the boundaries we've set for him.

And no, I don't believe that God is unknowable, though we are strictly limited in our ability to know (and define) him. The Bible gives us a solid starting point for getting to know him, but to call any finite work, no matter how divinely inspired, the final word on everything that there is to know about God is to pridefully place him back into a box of human construction.

Faith, then, involves placing our trust in a God we don't always understand, who doesn't play by our rules and whose actions we can't necessarily predict. We trust that he will keep the promises attributed to him in the Bible, but that still leaves far more that's undefined (and therefore beyond our control) than that which is defined.

Given that, why would we ever place our trust in any mortal who claims to have it all figured out? Anyone who thinks they have 'arrived' in this lifetime has settled for a destination inferior to the one that we Christians supposedly strive toward. And yet people fall every day for flashy demagogues who claim to know what God's will is for everybody's lives and how they can achieve it. Life is so much easier when we abdicate responsibility for our own lives to those who claim to know better than us, but how much do we lose when we refuse to grow beyond infancy?

Not that any of us can undertake the journey of life alone, of course. But as valuable as it is to listen to the perspectives and experiences of others as we seek the best possible course for our own lives, no other human being can ever possess the knowledge necessary to chart more than the smallest portion of that course for us.

But I digress. In short, life is a journey; the destination is reached only after we exhale our final breath. When we do discover truth we should treasure it while humbly acknowledging that what we know is only a thread of a much larger tapestry. Why does God give seemingly contradictory answers to different people? Perhaps what appears to us to be the same issue shared by each of those people is merely a superficial resemblance. Perhaps "homosexuality" is not one issue with a single answer but millions of individual issues with less in common than we assume from our limited vantage point.

We may never know for certain in this lifetime. Our role is to engage in relationship with the One who created us, seeking that knowledge that we need for our own journey and trusting him to know better than we ever could what is best for the persons walking beside us.

Or at least that's how it looks from where I type. The journey is far from over. Enjoy it while you can.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Romantic love is big business. Even within the church, one can't help but be deluged by all of the books, sermons, audio and video series, seminars, retreats and Bible studies on the topic of romance and marriage. An outside observer could easily come to the conclusion that marriage was the most important tenet of the Christian faith, ahead of all other theological considerations. And keeping romance alive within marriage is, apparently, of vital importance.

Of course, for the homosexual the rules are different. Heterosexual marriage is still generally seen as the ideal state, even for those who have never experienced so much as a glimmer of an opposite-sex attraction. But, of course, since we're all naturally heterosexual according to conventional Christian wisdom, getting married should lead to the development of those attractions, even if reparative therapy has failed up until that point.

Never mind that groups like Focus on the Family simultaneously counsel women to steer clear of men who have ever experienced same-sex attractions, thus leaving those men in a Catch-22 in which they ought to get married even though they are seen as bad husband material.

(Granted, these men also have the option of celibacy, though in practice evangelicals tend to view celibacy as an inferior state to marriage if not something to be looked upon with pity.)

And it's true that such marriages have a very high rate of divorce. Some mixed-orientation couples do manage to make their marriages work, but the majority don't. Even when the husband cares about his wife enough to set aside his deep longings for another man, the wife still has to live with the fact that he will probably never desire her in the way she wants to be desired. On a romantic level, the connection between them rarely develops into a fully two-way bond.

The question, then, becomes whether that should make a difference within the Christian definition of marriage. What if the church's idealization of romantic love, and not the lack of it in mixed-orientation marriages, is the real problem? It does, after all, arguably lie at the root of the mindset that makes pro-gay theology possible. And what has it really produced other than a fixation on personal fulfillment and the warm, gooey feelings that accompany being in love? Would we have a 50%+ divorce rate if people entered marriage with an attitude of duty and self-sacrifice instead of expectations of being swept off of one's feet?

Perhaps a return to arranged marriages and the church's traditional stance on sex would be for the best. Love could once again be purely an action instead of an emotion. Couples would come together for the primary purpose of producing and raising as many children as God sees fit to give them, and would stay together for life whether it felt good to do so or not. Widows under 60 would be allowed to remarry, but if divorce did occur for whatever reason there would be no second chance. Sex would once again be a purely procreative act - no birth control, no 'just for fun' sex, no weddings performed for sterile couples.

Some of those ideas sound laughable to us, of course, but philosophically they're far more consistent with the demands made of homosexuals than the modern church's indulgent (and sometimes idolatrous) attitude toward heterosexual marriage. Of course, the heterosexual majority would never stand for such restrictions no matter how many centuries of church tradition and theology supported them, and the pastor who advocated them would quickly find himself without a flock.

Instead, heterosexuals who didn't want to submit to church authority would simply organize their own "romance affirming" churches and come up with an interpretation of scripture that supported their lifestyle - the difference being that they would quickly acquire a majority of practicing Christians, with the traditionalists shunted into the fringes almost overnight.

Most conservatives will laugh my hypothetical scenario off, of course. The concept of romantic love between a man and a woman can be fit into the imagery of Christ and the church as a married couple in a way that a same sex couple's love cannot (though how a man is supposed to feel about being Christ's wife on the other side of that analogy is seldom addressed). It also, very conveniently, happens to fit reasonably well with the 'natural' feelings of every heterosexual Christian, and as such has become a no-brainer in most Christian circles. But the symbol of Christ and the church works just as well in a world of arranged marriages, and removing romantic love from the equation makes it easier to reconcile our concept of marriage with other scriptural passages.

Nonetheless, the ability of people in our modern world to vote with their feet (and their dollars) virtually guarantees that calls for righteous living will continue to emphasize those sins that the majority can feel good about opposing with the least amount of personal inconvenience. Holding gay believers to the highest conceivable standards of 'holy living' and self-sacrifice costs the vast majority nothing, and simultaneously shifts that pesky spotlight away from the possibility that a God who demands so much from a few might have similarly high standards for the rest of his followers.