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.