SIDENOTE OF THE DAY: Wait ’til Marriage

(This didn’t fit either the tone or topic of my previous entry, so I thought I’d add it as a little “extra”) 

So I’ve been waiting and waiting like a stood up prom date for the whole “wait until marriage to have sex verse.” And then, just as Hebrews came to a close, I stumbled upon it.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Hebrews 13:4 (NIV)

I could argue that by saying keeping the marriage bed “pure” the author refers to adultery, which is mentioned a mere six words later. But hey, I can’t die on every hill.

Falling Away, Pt 3: Hebrews 10 – 13

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
Hebrews 10:23 (NIV)

(This is the final part of a 3-part entry. I recommend going back and reading part one and part two)

The plans began immediately. Gay marriage was legalized on a Friday morning, giving all the sodomite cities of the left coast a full day to prepare an entire weekend’s worth of celebrations. There would be a rally on the streets of West Hollywood, followed by all night partying (of course). Then, it seemed, most of the gays of Los Angeles were heading up the coast to San Francisco to continue the festivities. It made sense. That weekend just so happened to be Gay Pride for San Francisco. It was like it was meant to be. I got invitations from a few friends to join in on the craziness, but I had to say no.

“My friend Will is in town,” I said. “I promised him we would hang out.”
“Is Will gay?” They asked.
“Yes, he is most definitely gay.”
“Invite him then, come on!”

But really, it didn’t make any sense. We wanted to catch up and reminisce for the first time in almost a decade. A giant, night-into-day rave would have made that difficult. Besides, chatting with Will sounded way more fun, even on the night of such a historic event.

We bought a flask of whiskey and headed for the beach at dusk. The Manhattan Beach pier stretched out into the ocean, dotted with nighttime fishermen and couples enjoying the waves. We sat on a bench and put our legs out over the water, passing the bottle back and forth between laughs, wincing with each swig.

We talked church and romance, old friends and aging parents. We made jokes that everyone in our Bible Study was probably gay, and they would come out one-by-one over the following years. The joke had no basis in reality. Most of our friends were married, actually. I smiled and said, “Well hey, now we can get married too,” and we toasted the distant Supreme Court behind us some 3,000 miles.

Will had been there throughout my most formidable church years, so we had a wide breadth of material to discuss. We talked Pastor Hank and his controversial energy, and Mr. Frank and the scandal and the victims (those friends of ours who fell for his charisma and deception), and then Cate and how maybe I would turn out straight and marry her, and Briana and how she never gave up on the church, no no, she never would give it up, and not to forget my brother and sister and mother and father and their views and how they are unshakeable rods stuck far down, like the pillars of that pier dug so deep that the water could rise and flood and the pier would remain, like a monument to resiliency, can’t you see Will, I know your mother and father and brother and sister, I know they are all fine with you and your “lifestyle,” so even with all of that, can’t you see what it’s like over here? and yes Will I stopped talking to my parents and no Will it did not matter (the resiliency), so I have given up on trying, and I think they have given up on me, maybe, but then there’s the blog, he wonders, why do you keep writing it then, and reading that book, that book that hates us, that book with the 100% unreal God, that book that made it illegal for us to marry until just hours before, why do you keep engaging with it? and Will may be smart and all with his Ivy League education, but right now, he’s not very original, because everyone asks, everyone wonders, why Jesse, why are you still reading that book? and it’s hope… I think, it’s got to be hope, it’s hope that there’s an answer there somewhere, that all of that experience and doubt meant something, that my fears matter.

It’s just that. Hope.

Falling Away, Pt 2: Hebrews 7 – 9

Ever Heard of Melchizedek? The New Gets Rid of the Old. Christ’s Blood Is Better.

“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
Hebrews 8:3 (NIV)

(This is the second part of a multi-part entry. I suggest that you read the first part here)

This blog has been a painful process for some of my family. I am in the minority among them when it comes to the views I express here, particularly that queerness is not wayward to a healthy life. They believe in the Christian God. Some were converts – some since birth. Regardless of when they became spiritual, there is now a fundamental disconnect between us. Ultimately, it is regrettable, and logic says that we ought to be able to overcome this disagreement. We are family. What could keep us apart?

My mother has told me before that it is impossible for me to truly fall away from my faith – God has said so. I think she is referring to John 10:28, where is says that no one shall “snatch” a believer out of God’s hand. It was to my surprise that I read this verse yesterday:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (6:4-6)

Will told me that he was no longer a Christian – that he was “100% sure” there was no God. I quoted that adage that my mother had so often told me – that a true Christian could not lose his salvation. I don’t know why I felt the need to say this… In retrospect, I am sure that I was trying to one-up him somehow. Well even if you say you’re not a Christian, YOU STILL ARE. He had a convincing argument against that. He said that he felt he had been duped about it long ago, and that in his heart of heats, he never truly believed.

I was deeply troubled by his admissions, particularly because his faith had seemed so assured. Also, I did not like seeing a truly intelligent person deny God; it seemed like all the world’s intellectuals did understand how anyone could be Christian.

Finally, it seemed like his sexuality had been a significant factor in his newly turned faith. Yes, that was incredibly troubling to me. 

We kept in touch over the years, despite only seeing each other a handful of times. We were late night AOL Instant Messenger buddies until that app became obsolete: then, we switched to text messages.

I told him I was bisexual somewhere near the end of my Freshman year of college. That stuck for a while until I changed it to gay. But then, I kept finding myself in relationships with women, so I switched it to queer. It was all semantics. What I was really trying to tell him was “I understand you.” He got the message.

This past June, he ended up in Los Angeles for a conference, so we decided to get together to reminisce. I woke up that morning to near constant buzzes from my phone. As it turned out, the Supreme Court had just ruled on gay marriage. It was now legal.

More tomorrow.

Falling Away: Hebrews 3 – 6

Move Over Moses. Disbelief and Falling Away. The Sabbath Is important. Jesus at the Top. Swearing on Others Higher.

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.”
Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV)

I know a number of people who have fallen away from the church. Like me, they grew up with the doctrine firmly planted in them. They stood and sang the songs every week, swaying and clapping along with the other faithful. They prayed, and no, not just for show. I listened with pointed attention when they prayed, because their words were inspiring. I saw things in a different light due to their thoughtful prayers. I dated a few of them as well, and our union was held in high regard by others. Maybe they will get married some day, those around us thought with kind smiles on their faces.

There was Will – a scruffy guy even in middle adolescent with radiant blue eyes. You could not look at him without thinking of his eyes. He went to a school planted two towns over and joined our Bible Study when some friend of his encouraged him to go. He converted almost instantly, bringing a level of intellectuality to our group that no one had so far. He fell headlong into spirituality. I envied that – I envied most things about him. He was smart, which made me a little uncomfortable. He worked hard to get into an Ivy League school, and when they finally accepted him, our Study threw him a little celebration. I congratulated him in spite of my jealousy.

Don’t mistake my emotions; I really liked him. He joined in on a Mission’s Trip to the Dominican Republic. We worked hard during the day to disciple to children and clean a hospital, and then stayed up late at night debating philosophy and the wonders of God. On the plane ride home, we read selections from Mere Christianity about time and creation and discussed what it meant to us as an emerging spiritual generation. Then, bad turbulence hit, and we prayed and found supportive verses for those particularly scared. He was a model individual.

In the first week of summer after our senior year, Will sent me a message on AOL Instant Messenger that said: “I am gay, and I have been my whole life.” My internal dialogue went crazy. I was in the beginning stages of realizing that I was also queer, but I had no words for it. See, I knew it about myself in my heart, but I also knew the stakes. I was a Thought-Only gay man, someone who could only accept the shame of admission in my own head. Soon, I thought, I might have been able to move into a Written-Down, and then maybe an Out-Loud. But Will had surpassed all those steps, as he was an Out-Loud-to-Others. That was unimaginable.

Here was Will being honest, and here was another reason to be jealous of him.

I engaged in the conversation as any decent Christian would. I parsed words, said I loved him and I was there for him, no matter how hard the struggle.

But see, Will didn’t see any sort of “struggle” involved. He followed up my support by telling me that he was no longer a Christian. I think I replied, “Oh.” I may have also asked, “Why not?” I may have also said, “That’s a shame.”

My words are hazy in my memory, but his response is clear. He said, “I am 100% convinced that there is no God.”

I think those words made the first crack in my faith.

More tomorrow.

The Perfect Plot: Philemon, Hebrews 1 – 2

Forgive Your Brother. Hierarchy: God, Son, Angels, Man, Beast.

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”
Hebrews 2:10 (NIV)

I have always liked my fiction and movies to be messy, leading some of my friends and family to label my tastes “dark.” I certainly wouldn’t deny that assessment – I loathe squishy rom-coms and neatly tied plots. Grittiness tends to win out for me, even though I avoid gross out violence of any kind (from war to torture porn, it doesn’t really matter – not a fan). I like plots that are complex, even esoteric – I want to search for the meaning rather than having it handed to me on a platter.

In essence, I’m a 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of guy – not Interstellar (which was objectively garbage).

The Bible has a classic good vs. evil plot with little gray areas in large swaths, but more complexity the closer you look at it. God created the universe but favored one planet – Earth. On it, He put humans who were meant to tend the planet, as long as they would remain faithful to their Creator. They sinned, and for a long, long time, everyone kept sinning. Then, God decided to send a perfect example of man, who was also God Himself, in the form of Jesus to save all of us.

I think that would be a nifty little Amazon description for the Bible. Maybe.

But there’s one thing that the New Testament keeps mentioning that puts a bit of a wrench in the story. God planned it all to happen this way before time was even created. So He knew that creating man would lead to their fall, knew that they would one day need to be saved, and knew that things would one day be righted again into perfect harmony. In essence, He has created Earth as a testing ground for man – who is worthy of paradise and who is not. And He’s God so, He can do whatever He wants.

The “dark” critic inside of me goes… then why do it at all? Doesn’t this seem like a strange story that begins at stasis and returns to that same stasis? Couldn’t God just smush the Devil with his pinky, if He is all-powerful?

The religious answer is “count it as one of the mysteries of God.”
The atheist answer is “SEE, THIS is what we’re talking about!”

After a brief read of a brief book (sorry Philemon, I have 20 entries left and I just have to move on), I started to read Hebrews, which aims its sights on both the certainties and mysteries of God. We hear about the “Son” (meaning Jesus) and how he is fully human, yet above the angels, perfect in creation and practice. Then, the writer mentions God’s plan – that from the beginning of time, He planned to send the Son to Earth to suffer, so that grace might be made available to those who seek it, thus destroying the Devil’s power over death. Jesus was sent for humans (referred to as “Abraham’s descendants”), not angels, which is a distinction that is notable for how specific it is.

So in two chapters, we got the Devil, angels, the Son, and all of humanity. We got the beginning of an explanation as to how God’s plan works, and what we should expect from it.

This book will be both complex and yet classic, and we’ll see if my ambivalence holds.