Friday, March 26, 2010

Rejection . . .

They say that ignorance is bliss.

I believe them.

In some sense, I really am hoping that this wedding season that my partner and I are in right now will pass quickly. Don't get me wrong, there is a significant extent to which I want to savor every moment of this process. But then, there are all of the "conscientious objectors" who won't come to our wedding (mostly for religious reasons), and it stings just a little bit more every time we get another one of those letters.

Life was so much easier when everyone thought J and I were just fucking around (and to be honest, I'm sure some of them thought we were out fucking a lot of other guys too - they could not be more wrong, in either accusation). But ever since we've actually made plans to enter into healthy, sanctifying, committed partnership together, many people have suddenly found a need to place their proverbial stakes in the ground. It's their right to do so, obviously. God bless 'em. Most of them can even acknowledge that doing so pains them, and knows that it will pain us. However, most of them have not an inkling what it *actually* feels like to have their love invalidated in such a way. They have no idea how much it hurts to be told by the people they love that they won't attend THE seminal event of their lives :(

People keep saying to me "well, you have to understand how they feel", and frankly, I DO understand how they feel. I was faced with a similar, tough situation when a good friend of mine from college (a girl who attended the Bible study I led, no less) decided to marry a Muslim man. My deliberation was quick, but difficult. I decided my love for her was worth putting my squeamishness aside for an evening, so that I could remain a part of her life. After all, how do you expect someone to trust you to be a part of their life, if you refuse to be a part of their love? It is precisely the sort of decision I figured Jesus would make in the same situation. I think Christians have an infinitesimally small understanding of exactly how scandalous it was for a rabbi to be eating with the likes of tax collectors and harlots! Communion and sharing with someone - even a sinning someone - is not necessarily condoning everything they do. But it is affirming their value and worth as human beings with human hearts and human ways.

My parents are coming to our ceremony. I am in no way deluded into thinking that this somehow means they agree with our sexuality being God-ordained. I understand their attendance to be the sign that they want to continue to be a part of our lives. God forbid if they did not come, and something were to happen to J. Do you think I would actually ever feel as though I could trust them anymore? With my hurt, my loss, my heart, my feelings? No, I couldn't. They made their decision. Not being a part of our love means not being a part of my life. That's how I feel about the matter, simply put.

And so, I want the days of ignorance back. I want to go back to the days when everyone pretended to love me perfectly well when they thought we were just fucking, and getting this out of our systems. I want to get beyond the wedding, so that people can revert to the simple life.

Can you tell that this past week has been hard for me? :)

I guess I'm just feeling the weight of being rejected so thoroughly by J's family. Of course, things could be a lot worse. As it is, they smile in my face, and secretly pray that I go away, while ignoring me whenever they can . . . I guess it's easier that way. Maybe I'd do the same in their position. But they *could* just be rude, evil, vindictive, and spiteful to me to my face. And that would probably feel worse than this. But this feels pretty shitty all the same . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010

To All the Sincere Christians (Pt. 2) . . .

So I have gotten some very good responses to my previous post "To All the Sincere Christians Uncomfortable With Gay Relationships . . ."  I am grateful to my friends Jeff and Christina for their very thoughtful, graceful, humble, and respectful questions and critiques of my post.

Unfortunately, I do not allow anonymous responses on my blog, and she's too stubborn to get herself a username and password, so my beloved audience cannot be privy to the exchange we've had.  But let me assure you, it's been VERY good stuff!

Jeff, on the other hand, responded on the post.  His first response seemed quizzical to me, so I pushed for clarification, and he offered the following:

DJ, thanks for the follow-up. I would've responded sooner but life got busy.

My initial comment was not meant to be focused on the "sex part". It was meant to be focused on your statement "If it is love, then how could it be sin?" From a scriptural standpoint, it is a weak argument, and since your blog post was titled "To all the sincere Christians...", I thought you need to have a better foundational question to your argument, since I know many evangelical Christians that would jump all over that question if you addressed it to them. Teenage couples having sex, unmarried Christian couples living together, bigamists, polygamists, incestous relationships, adulterers, all could ask the same question - "If it is love, then how could it be sin?" It does not leave any room for making the case that some relationships are disobedient to the Word.

That being said, I have read arguments (including one Xanga blogger that I can no longer read because he gets me too riled up) that no gay relationship could be considered true love, and I find them hard to take seriously, although I still hold to the belief that Christians should not be in same-sex sexual relationships (let's just agree to disagree there). I have loved other men, and I love other men now, and I know the strength that love can have. I long for a couple particular friends even now, and sometimes wish there was more to our friendship. It is a strong emotion, and I cannot doubt that two men or two women love each other in very real ways. Heck, David even said his love for Jonathan was stronger than his love for a woman. So I am not a "dissenter" with you on that point. Christians who argue that two men or two women cannot truly love each other just have to get past their "ick" factor to understand and see them as individuals in a loving relationship, whether they approve or not. To say that someone cannot love another is just avoidance of the fact that it really happens.
I really feel like Jeff has addressed some very important issues here, and I think in some sense he's speaking more on behalf of the average Evangelical, than 100% for himself.  But since other average Evangelicals have not responded, I'll have to take those points seriously and reply despite their silence, because I agree with Jeff that most Evangelicals would minimize my question in a similar way that Jeff describes.  Since I respond somewhat thoroughly, blogspot chided me for having so many characters, so instead of breaking it up, I'll just post it all below:

Ahhh.  Ok, Jeff.  I see what you're saying.

I think your comment still missed the mark in a couple of very important ways though.

1.) The comment is predicated upon a presumption that the question is "an argument", when in fact, it is a question.  And a very deep question at that (which I think you will see once you begin to seriously answer the question.)  Which brings me to my next point . . .

2.) The "argument" you use (or rather, that perhaps a conservative evangelical would use) to state that the question is invalid, doesn't actually answer the question.

Thus, any Evangelical who jumped all over the question, would no doubt bring up some of the same points that you did (teen sex, domestic partnership, incest, polygamy, etc.)

The big problem with those things is that they are all "answers" to the question that don't actually address the question.  It’s a classic straw man argument: talk about some OTHER sexual issue which is a priori assumed to be "wrong", and thus demonstrates that the question at hand must be wrong too.

Only problem is, straw man arguments are on philosophical, logical, (and in this case, theological) shaky ground at best.  For example, the a priori judgment that teen sex is wrong STILL must be shown WHY it's wrong.  If the 2 do in fact love each other, and they are having sex, then what's wrong with that?  If it is in fact sinful, then there must be a reason for it.  so you either have to support a theology which states that there are some kinds of love that are bad/wrong/sinful (which is impossible to prove Biblically), or you must posit that there is something ELSE wrong with what they're doing, but that the love is fine and beautiful (if it's love at all, beyond the emotions of "falling in love" - M. Scott Peck gives the best distinction I’ve ever read on the issue in The Road Less Traveled).  

I would imagine that most reasonable evangelicals would choose the latter (i.e., that there's something else in the relationship that's sinful), and they are thus stuck with trying to explain why the SEX ACT is wrong, and thereby establish that everything else about the relationship is absolutely fine.  (Do you see now why I came to the conclusion that your answer to the question is really focusing on sex, and not the actual question at hand?)

However, if you try to extend that same line of reasoning to the gay couple, Evangelicals start to get very uncomfortable, b/c they don't in any way want to affirm that gay people might actually love each other.  It’s easier to answer the sex question, and make the judgment about the sex question absolute for all aspects of the relationship.  It’s intellectually inconsistent, dishonest, and fallacious.

They might similarly feel uncomfortable in the case of incest.  It’s an interesting example to look at.  What exactly is "wrong" with incest?  I think any Christian who takes the Bible seriously would have to say that NOTHING is inherently wrong with it.  That’s right.  There is NOTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH INCEST FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE.  Why is that?  Because if there was, then why did God create all mankind from only one couple?  If the population is to proliferate, then Adam and Eve's children must then procreate either with them, or with each other.  That’s called incest.  And God created a world that required incest to get it off the ground.

So if there IS something wrong with incest, it's not in the act itself (or else you're admitting that God forced mankind to sin), nor is it in the love that the family members might have for one another.  It must be something else.  Personally, I feel it's more a cultural necessity to avoid incest, but you start to see the problem as we get to this point . . . you either have to evoke "Divine Command Theory" (as it's popularly called in the philosophy world - i.e., it's wrong only b/c God said it was, even though it was right before), or you have to evoke some other moral/ethical theory to explain why it's wrong. 

So let's return to the gay couple.  Most evangelicals would say that a gay relationship is sinful.  We then must ask WHAT is wrong with it.  The friendship?  The emotions? The longings? The affection?  The attraction?  The commitment?  The love they have for one another?  Or just the sex?

Biblically speaking, you can only make an argument about gay SEX being wrong (and I, of course, would debate that particular issue), but I don't think any Evangelical has a leg to stand on if they assume that all aspects of my relationship w/ my partner are wrong .  Why? Well, b/c the grand majority of the relationship is based on love.  And there is no law against love.  Anywhere. In. The. Bible.  Or in any other ethical metanarrative thereof, or elsewhere.  

This is why folks like your (former) Xanga buddy must insist that there is NO love b/w gay couples - b/c if you affirm anything, it becomes a bit more difficult to talk about why gay SEX is wrong - you no longer have a straw man to fall back on.  And most Evangelicals will have to fall back on Divine Command Theory, which is quickly becoming insufficient for most of Christendom.

Of course, I know quite well that there are some good debate points that both sides could make for why gay sex is right or wrong.  But that's a completely different issue from the one I asked about.  The question is about gay love, and SPECIFICALLY about gay LOVE for a reason.  As I said previously, the sex question is peripheral, and must be viewed on both sides of the cultural divide through the lens of the love question.  The love question is absolutely preeminent, and THAT is the reason the question is there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To All the Sincere Christians Uncomfortable With Gay Relationships . . .

J and I both have a number of dear friends and loved ones who emotionally range anywhere from befuddled to dismayed about the nature of our relationship.  Many of them are very loving, compassionate, graceful people . . . but they have a hard time reconciling gay relationships with the (Evangelical) lifestyle.  Certainly I understand their hesitancy . . . after all,  I didn't come out of the lifestyle until about 5 years ago myself.

Last night - by referral of a friend - J and I watched a wonderful French gay film called "Just a Question of Love" ("Juste une question d'amour").  Now, if you are at all familiar with gay cinema, you realize that they are generally full-on camp, with sparse acting talent, and far too much sex not to be considered soft (sometimes hard!) porn!  That's why we generally stay away from gay films.  But this film was absolutely refreshing: there was very little nudity (and what nudity there was, was actually a woman . . . and you know how those French are more artistic about human figures than stereotypically sexual), it was done rather tastefully, and the acting was pretty darn good.

The story follows a young man (Laurent) during his coming of age, and his coming out to a family that previously rejected a nephew when he came out of the closet.  Since losing his cousin, Laurent has been having a hard time relating to his family (even resorting to pretending to date his roommate and friend, Carole, just to fit in), and a hard time in school.  He is subsequently forced to work an internship, or be kicked out of school.  His tutor, Cédric, is older, more seasoned, and clearly disinterested in falling for someone with the kind of baggage Laurent has.  Yet, they do fall in love, and in a heart-wrenching turn of events, must find a way to deal with the messiness of human relationships.  It's really quite a beautiful tale.

Aside from the many parallels that this story has with our own (e.g., Cédric's "I'm gay; take it or leave it" approach with his family, compared to Laurent's more deferent approach with his own), what I really walked away with was the masterful way the film underscored the issue of love as being foundational to the moral and relational questions that come to bear when discussing gay issues.  So, in the spirit of humility (having previously seen the world from the lens you currently own, and living the subsequent lifestyle), and in the spirit of genuinely wanting to understand those that disagree with the current lens I own, I would like to offer some questions to those sincere Christians who are uncomfortable with gay relationships:

1.) Would you describe the relationship that J and I have as one that is based on love (i.e., do you think we love each other)? (Unfortunately, this question requires you to know us - but if you don't have that privilege, relate it to any other long-term gay couple you know.)

This question was rather salient to me last weekend, when J's family (his brother B and his brother M along with M's fiancee) came to visit us.  Not having had the opportunity to ever really broach "the gay issue" with them directly, I facilitated a conversation about their approach to our relationship, and why it's different from their parents'.  At one point, B stated "you guys must love each other", to which I replied "we absolutely do; otherwise, we wouldn't have gone through all this mess!" 

*Editing note - I should be clear that J's brothers have been really quite gracious.  While they do hold a more conservative view on this particular issue, they have NOT let that get in the way of relating to us, and loving us very well.  They're pretty cool :) *

Had the conversation not gone in another direction, had I more time, I would have followed that up with "if you acknowledge that we love each other, why exactly do you think that our relationship is sinful?"

Think about that.  As Derek Webb says "Love is not against the law."  When I was living the Evangelical lifestyle, I could never say that a gay couple actually loved each other.  By definition, their relationship was sinful, thus any apparent "love" was surely some form of counterfeit love . . . maybe even lust.  I knew the second that I thought of this as love, I didn't have much theological ground to stand on to call it "wrong."

Perhaps a more conservative-leaning postmodern would say that I am errant for posing such an "either/or" query (i.e., "either you say that we love each other, and we're thus living a Godly life together OR you say that we are sinful and therefore couldn't love each other").  The pomo Christian might say "I think there are indeed many ways in which you genuinely love each other, but the physical aspect of your relationship is lust, or at the very least 'not-quite-love'"  And to them I would say "very well, then support and affirm our relationship in all of the ways in which it is loving: comfort us when we've hurt each other; advise us when we are confused about each other; attend our ceremony when we pledge our undying, Godly love to and support of one another; accept us; and relate to us as kindred spirits and brothers in Christ."

But the question is there for you.  If it is love, then how could it be sin?  If it is lust, then are you not blind? ;)

2.) If Jesus incessantly demonstrated that relationships and loving people supersede religious rules and customs, why do you place heavy burdens (that you don't have to ever bear, mind you) on LGBT people, instead of submitting your fundamentalist religious beliefs to God?

In other words, if you've gotten to know any gay people at all - at all - you would be well-acquainted with the grief that comes with having the worst of all crosses in the entirety of the Bible: being gay.  (I'm being somewhat facetious, but unfortunately, this is what many people feel in their heart, even though they confess with their lips that "all sins are equal.")  Why then - knowing the anguish that this "struggle" causes, and the number of LGBT who have committed suicide and/or were suicidal in an attempt to "not be gay" - do you insist that your religious leanings on the issue must be correct?  When the Pharisees placed heavy burdens on the masses with legalistic rules about the Sabbath, Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  In the same manner, if Jesus were to speak on the issue of homosexuality today (considering he said nothing on the issue - at least nothing that made it into the Gospels), would he not say to us that sexual mores were made for man, not man for sexual mores?  And in that way, wouldn't the definition of "sinful sex" be those practices which are inherently unhealthy, and thus lead to lust, greed, selfishness, objectification, and all other manner of evil?  Wouldn't healthy living for the gay person be to relate in such a way that lead to the fruit of the Spirit (love, patience, kindness, etc.) in their lives?

In my own life, even my parents acknowledge that they've seen the manifestation of these very fruits - not to mention a lot less depression in my own life - since harkening to the voice of God and accepting my sexuality.  They now see me living the "abundant life" that John speaks about in his Gospel - that I'm experiencing "everlasting life" (i.e., "life of the ages") more now than ever before.  And yet, they insist - despite clear evidence of the Spirit - that their interpretation of the Bible is true, and lasting, and could not be incorrect.  Is this not the true sin?  Aren't people who do such things modern day Pharisees who hold to the supremacy of their religious rules at the expense of relationships and loving people? (Thanks to Brian McLaren, whose thoughts on pluralism as illustrated in his exegesis of the Gospel of John inspired much of the thinking behind this question.  See A New Kind of Christianity)

These are, of course, open questions.  Feel free to answer or not.  But if we're ever to see any bit of the Kingdom here on earth, I'd say this is necessary dialogue to have.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jennifer Knapp is back!

Last Tuesday evening, J and I had the opportunity to hear Jennifer Knapp at an intimate venue in Annapolis (Ram's Head On Stage).  She apparently picked up her guitar again in 2008 (after a nearly 7-year hiatus from the CCM scene, and probably Evangelical Christianity itself).  She's been writing songs for the past year, and is set to release her new album, Letting Go, on May 11, 2010.

This album is a marked departure from her previous ones, with cuss words and provocative lyrics.  Perhaps that's why she's paired well on this tour with Derek Webb, who's also been a controversial figure in the Christian music scene, with songs like "Freddie, Please" - a direct challenge to Fred Phelps and his ilk - on his new Stockholm Syndrome album, as well as the bonus track "What Matters More" (vid here) - a compelling exposé of Christian hypocrisy, which was apparently too edgy for Derek's record label (you can download it for free on his site).

Knapp has managed to retain the sonorous strum of her guitar, that unmistakable sultry voice, and those signature deep, bare-bones-honest lyrics which make you ponder the ethereal world of the soul.  For pre-ordering Letting Go, she gave away a free album (Evolving), with simple, acoustic versions of some of the songs on the new album.  Tracks like "Inside" give us a glimpse of some of the pain that she's faced while finding herself, and anticipating some opposition for coming back differently.  She admitted during the concert that she's had to deal with a bit of a guilt complex about not writing "Christian songs" anymore - for fear that it somehow made her less "Christian". 

Our favorite song was "Fallen", with the hook:

Even though they say we have fallen,
Doesn't mean that I won't do it twice.
Given every second chance,
I choose again to be with you tonight.

You can imagine how my partner and I must have felt hearing such words that night.  It captures our experience, and our love, so well.  I can't stop listening to it :)  It's clear to me from her songs that this is a woman who is well-acquainted with the grief, sorrow, and redemption that I have found in Jesus.  I can't wait to get the new album, and I look forward to hearing more from J-Knapp in years to come!

A Must Buy . . .

If you call yourself a Christian, or are in any way interested in it as a religion, then A New Kind of Christianity is a must buy!

First, I will make my appropriate disclaimer: I am a huge Brian McLaren fan, and he seems to espouse a view of Christianity that Phyllis Tickle calls "orthonymy" , or "right harmony/relationship" (see The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why - another must buy, which pairs beautifully with A New Kind of Christianity).  As this authoritative structure makes most sense to me, I am generally in agreement with a lot of what Brian says (though this book more than any of his others has me unsure of his conclusions, but I find them to be fascinating nonetheless).  So with that in mind, you can dutifully take my words with a proverbial grain of salt.

Brian is very clear about what this book is not.  It is not a book of answers for all of the major questions facing Christians today.  But it is a very insightful, relevant, propitious, and succinct conversation-starter for what ails us as a society trying desperately to make sense of the world around us, as we've outgrown the modernist answers that worked in centuries past.  What Brian is a genius at is seeing the abstract picture, and cogently re-painting it for the masses.  He adeptly weaves current scholarly thoughts ranging from fundamentalist to ultra-liberal (think Jesus Seminar leaning) into a coherent, past-future understanding of the Gospels, and the Christian faith.

Something else Brian adamantly says the book is not: "right".  It's not an attempt to say "Ahhh, this is what we've missed all along, and now we've finally gotten Jesus' message correct; we have arrived", despite what some of Brian's critics (like Kevin DeYoung and Scot McKnight) have asserted. (Those 2 reviews are actually some of the more gracious ones, and I think both raise some very good questions worth discussing - I only wish they asked them in a slightly more graceful tone which garnered discussion, as opposed to dismissive ignorance and vitriol by some of their "followers" and colleagues.)

In short, Brian has once again shown me - through his thoughts and his humility - that there is perhaps something powerful and meaningful to this man we call Jesus, and to the Way in which he called humanity to live.  He makes me want to understand the mystery that surrounds the Man, and be enveloped by the "Kingdom" of which he spoke.

Oh yes, and to my friend Christina, who specifically asked me to write about what Brian says about the so-called "Second Coming of Jesus".  No, he does not at all deny the second coming, but he does place the verses that speak of it in what I think is their proper context.  I would summarize it, except that I don't think I could do justice to it.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around his poignant thoughts, and the many ways in which Scripture seems more harmonious to me than ever before.

Go buy the book.  Read the book.  Highlight it, ear mark it, and take copious notes.  And maybe, read it all over again, just to properly imbibe these thoughts.  Your mind will churn and crank, and you (perhaps your spirituality?) will be better for it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Milestone . . .

Last night, I officially ended my counseling sessions with Lance.  I thought I'd be crying a lot, but I think I got most of my tears out a month and a half ago at our previous session when I first articulated that I felt it was time to move on.  But last night was more a night of remembering and reflecting.  We talked about all the ways in which I have grown.  Wow.  Seriously amazing.  Especially when I go back and read over my Xanga entries from 2004 - 2005.  As Lance so aptly noted last night at the start of our session: "You were a mess!"

Amen!  Truer words were never spoken!  I used to think that you had to be pretty fucked up to have to go see a counselor.  And then I realized, "I'm pretty fucked up!"  So I went to see one.  Last night, Lance recounted (from notes he took) that I said to him that I wasn't sure if he could handle my mess.  He doesn't remember how he responded to me, but I told him that I'd never forget.  He looked my right in the eyes and said "Darren, I would be shocked, if you could shock me."  Those were exactly the words I needed to hear.  Lance was the first of three counselors that had been referred to me by Exodus.  But after he said that (and after discovering he actually knew who Brian McLaren was, and really liked some of his work), I knew this was the one for me, and I abandoned my intro meetings with the other two counselors.  Lance and I connected pretty well, fairly quickly.  Perhaps because we're both NFP's (of the Myers-Briggs variety) :)

But after my first year of therapy, I started thinking that things should end.  And then I was there for two years.  That's when I started to get really nervous.  I always figured counseling would be a very temporary thing, ya know?  After all, only really fucked up people need counseling for years!  And then I realized, "I'm really fucked up!"  And after awhile, I started to get comfortable with that concept:  I'm not perfect, I don't have it all together, I have some major wounding, and I have a lot of stuff to work through.

I also started to get nervous around that time because Lance began to consistently bring up how closed I was to him.  I kept thinking "What the hell is he talking about?!  I've told this guy every single detail of my life!  Everything from family shit, to sexual depravity!"  And thus began the slow process of learning the profound difference between being open, and being vulnerable.  To be sure, genuine healing takes place in being open, but the real heavy soul work is in the place of vulnerability.  I still have trouble with that today.  Let's face it, the world is a scary place, and there are a lot of people out there who don't deserve to have you heart.  But as Lance shared incessantly (did I mention how patient this poor man is??), when you build walls to keep all the bad out, you keep all the good out with it. 

Truth be told, I'm still a pretty messed up guy.  I've still got a looooot of growing to do.  But, I think it's the kind of growing that happens in the every-day-ness of experiential living.  God's been really good to me, methinks.  And Lance was one of the best gifts he's ever given.  Thank you, Lance.  I'll always remember you as my greatest, most reliable help in the darkest of dark days.  You instructed me in the ways of the heart, and you faithfully walked with me as I learned how to live them out.  You are a treasure.  Look for me again beyond the horizon.  I'm sure there's more darkness to beckon me in days to come, and I'll be running right back to you when it does :)

Oh My God . . .

I don't know what it is about Jars of Clay's "Oh My God" that makes me cry nearly every time I hear it (Find a sample at Amazon here, or listen to the whole song on my buddy Mike's Xanga page here).  Perhaps it's because more than any song I've ever heard, it most adeptly captures the tension of the "not yet and the already" of the Kingdom.  Perhaps because it demonstrates the beauty of the morose, and the wonderful tragedy of this thing we call "life".  Perhaps it has extra power today because of my own emotional struggles with my partner and our dealings with his family.  Either way, it brings such peace to my soul.