Friday, August 27, 2010

Poppycock Redux

In the earlier rounds of America's Got Talent I thought, "I really like this guy, but he doesn't stand a chance of winning in the popular vote." Now I'm thinking anything's possible. He's a spectacle, he's very different, but in a good way. Win or lose I hope he ends up with his own tour; I'd pay to see it, and I haven't been much of a concertgoer since I was in my 20's.

On a side note, my posting of Prince Poppycock's first audition received a number of Google hits from people trying to figure out if he's gay. I don't know the guy personally, but I have to say that I can't imagine there's a heterosexual man anywhere on the planet who could come up with costumes this fabulous...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life Soundtrack 23

No Such Thing, by John Mayer

An anthem for anyone who's transitioned from Stage Three to Stage Four in their lives. If only it were this simple to awaken those around us to what we've seen beyond the box we once inhabited...

Thursday, August 12, 2010


One of the key turning points in my theological journey - and in the journeys of many gay Christians - was coming to realize the full implications of the law of love: if all of the biblical Law can be summed up in the command "Love your neighbor as yourself," then any commandment that does not make sense within that context must either have been misinterpreted or misapplied.

Far from being a license to do whatever feels good, as some worry, the law of love forces us to get out of our own heads and consider the needs of others - needs we can only understand as we get to know them beyond the acquaintance level. Still, not everyone is convinced that the Christian life can really be boiled down to something that seems to dismiss so much of the Bible. "Ah," they say, "but that is only the second greatest commandment. The greatest is love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind."

It's a valid point, even if those making it see it as justification for retaining whatever legalistic strictures they deem important. Who could argue, after all, against the idea that a Christian's highest priority should be to love and honor God, whatever the cost? Indeed, that priority lies at the heart of ex-gay theology - that no sacrifice is too costly if it is done to please God. That the need for the sacrifice in question cannot be reconciled within the context of "love your neighbor as yourself" (except through broad speculation) is quickly dismissed, since love for God necessarily comes ahead of all other considerations.

What this argument necessarily sets aside, however, is what the biblical authors lay out as God's primary requirement from his followers:

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6, Matt. 12:7)

Matt. 25:34-46, Luke 6:32-38, James 1:27, Isaiah 58:6-12, Jeremiah 21:11-12, Ezekiel 16:49, Micah 6:8 and numerous other passages reiterate that God is honored by how we treat others - not by how many vices we can catalog to be avoided. That's not to say that God is unconcerned with any other aspects of our lifestyles, but those areas, when they don't overlap with how we conduct our human relationships, are left to God's direct governance through the Holy Spirit (an agent that legalistic believers inherently distrust, since the personalized nature of the Spirit's ministry leaves them without any leverage that they can use to regulate and micromanage the behavior of others).

The only topic in the Bible that comes up more frequently (at least in the Old Testament) is idolatry - which makes perfect sense when one realizes that the Israelites did not truly become monotheists until after the Babylonian captivity. Idolatry can also be understood as anything we allow to take priority over God in our lives, which takes us right back to the previous argument about the greatest commandment.

Were it really all about following a bunch of rules, one would expect the New Testament authors to have written in a style that could more easily be codified into lists of commands and restrictions. And one would have expected a far different outcome to the parable of the Good Samaritan; from our vantage point it may seem like a no-brainer that the priest and the Levite were in the wrong for refusing to aid the injured man, but in fact they were honoring the requirements of the Levitical law by avoiding any activity that would have rendered them unclean, and thereby disqualified for service in the temple until they had properly atoned.

In other words, meticulously observing the letter of the law does not produce righteousness - it gets in the way of righteousness! As Jesus emphasized repeatedly in his teachings, it's not the person who colors neatly within the lines whose conduct is pleasing to God, but the one who is extravagant in the love that he or she shows for others, especially "the least of these." I can attest from my own experience that a lifetime centered around the negative (and self-centered) goal of abstaining from a laundry list of sins leaves little energy left over for the positive goal of selfless compassion.

Again, all of that isn't to say that God doesn't care about the other aspects of our lives, but we would do well to take more care in the judgments that we make about the behavior of others. Perhaps that person isn't ready to deal with what we see as their sin - or perhaps it really isn't a sin for them. It is the Holy Spirit's job and not ours to guide each individual believer according to God's unique, personalized plan for their lives.

And for those points where individual interpretations of what constitutes a loving action begin to conflict, the church exists. Not to issue authoritarian edicts or enforce conformity, but to provide a community in which our efforts to become more compassionate can play out. The church can offer both a forum to share and debate those ideas, and a testing ground for discovering what does and doesn't work.

Within such a functional, loving community we would most likely find ourselves making greater sacrifices than we would in an institutional church - not to appease a picky deity or to earn another check mark on our list of dos and don'ts, but because we have cultivated a desire to do what we can to improve the lives of those around us according to their unique needs. Not to increase our suffering for the sake of earning heavenly brownie points, but to decrease the suffering of others.

Such an ideal community seems like a pie-in-the-sky notion most of the time. My own selfish preference is for that old list of rules, where I can still make everything revolve around me. But in the end it's not God I'd truly be pleasing.