Moms: 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

Good Work Thessalonica.

Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (NIV)

It started in kindergarten. “Can I go to the bathroom, Mom?” Even at ages five and six, my classmates knew I had committed the ultimate embarrassing faux pas. You see, my Mom didn’t work in my classroom – I had just called my teacher “Mom.”

My face fell as the laughs came on, and she knelt before me in order to hedge off any impending tears. “I take it as a compliment,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things to hear.” I was instantly relieved when she said that. Her approval meant more to me than that of my classmates, so as long as she remained on my side, I was good.

I have frequently been “adopted” by nearby mothers, beginning all the way back in toddler-hood. In Middle School, my friend Briana and I used to spend our lunches hanging out in Mrs. Nelson’s office – that is, the office of our assistant principal. We’d chat about the goings on in school, or sometimes even just sit there in silence while studying. We even ingratiated ourselves until she let us perform the morning announcements and prayer. She just loved us.

We were also major dorks.

High School brought in a few more Moms – from school and church – but the wider audience meant differing results. I started dating, and the moms of my girlfriends either loved or hated me (those feeling the latter are probably thrilled to hear of my coming out). I had a tall and dominating presence, even though I initially presented as quiet (and got louder and louder the more comfortable I became). I don’t know – some Moms didn’t trust me, sure that I had ulterior motives. Others thought I was a good kid.

No ulterior motives. I hope time (and this blog – and the fact that I’m super gay – just kidding, a normal amount of gay) has proved that.

Now, I have several Moms. I am living with the family of one of them right now actually, tucked away in an immediate suburb of Atlanta. When I feel sick, she offers me an assortment of treatment options, and when I am hungry, she starts heating up foods without even asking me. I taught her son improv for several years, and our formal relationship burgeoned into a personal one over some time. When I came out of the closet, she was there – complete with conversations and support. I even drove with her to Plains, GA, about a month ago to meet the former President Jimmy Carter.

I have other Moms here, too. One funded a short film I wrote and tells everyone I am her son’s adopted brother. She’s a lesbian, and we bond over queer shit. Then another, her son starred in my short film. We text when we’re bored and pop into each other’s head, and we even talk on the phone to catch up, which I hate doing normally but not with her. Beyond that, I have a whole gaggle of Moms from the theater company I associate with – they even call themselves the Drama Mamas. One housed me after a surgery. Another took me in after a horrible panic attack. They all have been there for me in my extreme times of need.

My Mom – my actual birth Mom that is – has never been threatened by it. She often says that she feels grateful for them, for keeping me safe and warm away from home. When all the drama happened after I came out, someone told me that I needed to “make my own family.” I have mentioned that on this blog before. It is true – since I have come out, these Moms have been unbelievably supportive. Most affirm my lifestyle, while some may disagree but  never talk about it. I suppose if one was outright in her disapproval, well then, she wouldn’t be one of my Moms. That would be a difficult hurdle to leap, although not impossible. More likely than not she would just… fade away eventually.

But not my real Mom. Things have been tough, but we have fought to remain relevant in each other’s lives. I feel sad about it often, about how much easier this would be if I just… liked women. I often use it as an excuse… if this was a choice, would I really choose something so obviously against my closest allies?

But we fight and we fight and we fight. We fight for each other and with each other. That’s just what Moms and Sons do.

Set in Stone: Ecclesiastes 7 – 12

When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 6:14 (NIV)

We have a pretty lax view when it comes to bigoted grandparents. Almost everyone has a story. “I brought home a black boyfriend and” fill in the blank. “I told my grandma I was gay and” mild trauma ensued. These instances rarely inspire deep hurt – grandparents tend not to have much influence in our day-to-day lives so we end up laughing off their insanity.

Why do they get a free pass?
Because… old.

But their bigoted views are wrong…
True, but they were put in place a long time ago. They’re stuck.

So why not expect them to learn?
Because the older we get, the harder it becomes.

All of my grandparents were pretty benign; if they went to say something remotely off color, my parents managed to both project its arrival and then squash it. In middle school, fellow lunch-Bible-study-leader Briana and I struck up a short-lived romance. I went to her black church (oh yeah, she’s black), and she went to my exceedingly white church. We went to Chili’s and ate ribs with her dad. We spent the day in my backyard and jumped on the trampoline. Then, on the first day of seventh grade, I dumped her because… I don’t know, I was thirteen, and I COULDN’T HANDLE THE PRESSURE.

Anyway, my family loved her. Not that this was a surprise, Briana was an all-around amazing girl – devout, pretty, kind. We sat at dinner one Sunday night to discuss it – everyone was in agreement about her. Then my grandmother said, “But you would never marry her, right?” After lots of silencing coughs and nudges, she clarified, “No, no, not because of, no.” We all breathed a sigh of relief. Then, she continued, “The wedding would just be so complicated.” And what did we do? We just changed the subject and kept eating.

Ecclesiastes takes a turn away from flat lamenting in its final dozen sentences. Our Teacher spends the greater part of the book taking meaning away from a variety of human experiences – wisdom, joy, toil, and life itself. Now, he talks of children and the behavior of youth. Remember God when your young, he commands us as he rattles off a list of analogies, remember God before the sky grows dark, before trees blossom and doors close, before the days of youth disappear…

Why, oh Teacher, must young people remember God?

Because the older you get, the harder it becomes.

The Fate of All: Ecclesiastes 1 – 6

Wisdom, Pleasures, Folly, Toil, Advancement, and Riches Are Meaningless.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)

Briana and I wanted to revolutionize the seventh grade with encouragement, so we decided to start a Bible Study during lunch. Here was the deal: We would each take a week in rounds planning out scripture to study – prepare a little lesson and discussion – spread the Word. We had a core group of five, filled entirely with those that had little social obligations during the lunch half hour (meaning, we weren’t the most popular bunch). Briana and I took it the most seriously. She often picked passages on grace before God and His unfailing love for us – positive, uplifting verses meant to encourage us as we navigated the waves of junior high school. I admired her attraction to these parts of the Bible – what an outlook for life.

My first week of lessons centered on the signs of the coming of the end of the world from Matthew. Wars and rumors of wars – the sun blotted out – one world government and leadership – I took all these triggers and divided them into “Already happened” and “yet to come” categories. I concluded that the end was nigh. Then I moved on to Revelation to show everyone what the end of days would look like exactly – a devious antichrist – wandering horsemen – a glorious appearing. Finally, I moved on to Ecclesiastes, whose message is that all life on Earth is meaningless.

The group dissolved shortly after my final lesson. I don’t like to speculate, but maybe it had to do with that last bit, you know, about how all life is meaningless.

In defense of my 12-year-old self, Ecclesiastes really does say that. In the book, a seemingly fictional king states his sorrow over life. He has come to realize that his work, interests, and riches are meaningless in the face of death. If God created us, he posits, then there is truly nothing new under the sun. If all men die the same way, then what is the point of living a holy life? Better to eat, drink, and be merry and live through our days, taking pleasure in the small things.

Not the best thing to read if you’re feeling a little depressed.

Christians have a great remedy for the nihilistic blues – Eternal life through a belief in God. This eliminates the cornerstone of the king’s dilemma… that both the holy and unholy end up with the same fate.

But with 6 chapters left to go in Ecclesiastes, let’s see if our pessimistic narrator comes to the same conclusion.

Jonathan and David: The Case for Friendship

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
    you were very dear to me.

2 Samuel 1:26a (NIV)

Let’s start this kerfuffle by digging into the exact interactions between David and Jonathan, and what this English version* literally states. There are four interactions between Jonathan and David to clue us into the nature of their relationship:

  1. After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18:1) We do not know why, but David immediately feels a pull towards Jonathan. Briefly after meeting, Jonathan makes a covenant with David and then gifts him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt. This behavior is certainly meant to prove to the reader the level of bond between these two gentlemen, however unjustified it may be. But nothing specifically indicates the nature of their bond. Here, we merely learn that they are very, very close.
  1. Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him…” (1 Samuel 19: 1-2a) The acts of kindness heat up when Jonathan jumps in to protect David from his father. At this point, Saul begins to feel extreme jealousy towards David, particularly in the praise he received for defeating Goliath. But Jonathan reminds his father of the good of this man, how he has done nothing worthy of death, and reestablishes David’s servant-like nature. Saul agrees to spare his life, though quickly reneges and attempts murder. The act of defending an outsider to your father is certainly a potent one – one that further exemplifies the extreme fondness Jonathan holds for David. This may be fairly normal in a modern setting, but in ancient Israel, with bloodlines and inheritors at stake, this raises an eyebrow. But still, nothing romantic or sexual directly implied. They could just be best buds.
  1. Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?’” (1 Samuel 20:30) David fears for his life and confides in his friend. Having just protected David, Jonathan now appears to come to the defense of his father – he says that he knows David will not die, because Saul has made no indication that he will actually go through with the act. So they devise a test… David will hide and Jonathan will explain away his absence accordingly – if Saul becomes angry, he will try to kill, and if not, all is clear. But when told, Saul throws a completely irrational fit, throwing a spear at his own flesh and blood son, shouting about his perverse and rebellious nature. Many liberal commentators point to this argument as a clincher… Why would Saul exhibit such rage, and then refer to his son as “perverse?” At first glance, this does appear strange, and even reminiscent of many parents’ reactions to their children coming out of the closet. But let’s remember that in this time period, the mere act of a son betraying his father for an outsider is “rebellious” and “perverse.” They do not need to be lovers to elicit such a negative reaction. This could be mere disappointment over his son’s new loyalties.
  1. “…Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.” (1 Samuel 20:41b) The tearful goodbye is certainly the most powerful evidence for a “more-than-friends” argument, particularly in the description that “they kissed each other and wept together.” From this, we can certainly glean that this is a profoundly sad moment between David and Jonathan (and not-so-incidentally, the last time they will ever see one another), but I am not ready to definitively say it is sexual. I have friends that kiss me, even on the lips, when we say goodbye to one another, and no one looks weirdly upon this – particularly because they assume I am gay, and that it is completely nonsexual. In our culture, two men who would kiss goodbye would immediately be labeled GAAAAY, even if there is no sexual interest. Some assume I have no attraction to women, and thus I can kiss women whenever I want without repercussion (noooot true). So then, by the same token, why can’t two men kiss goodbye who have no sexual attraction to one another? I argue that they could, while acknowledging that it may not be true in this particular case.

So I can certainly understand the pro-friendship argument, particularly in the English reading of the text. I asked a friend of mine (and reader of this blog) to comment on it. Her name is Bri Dupree, and she is a revolutionary blogger (Echoes of Grey), pastor, and friend. She told me this story to exemplify her viewpoint.

I met with a friend of mine to catch up. We’ll call him Dave. Dave and I had started working in churches and wanted to talk life and ministry. I’ll fast forward to about 20 minutes into our conversation when he told me that he was gay. He had experimented in college and chosen celibacy (it is his belief that this is the only way to please God). But he went on to tell me that all he really wanted was intimacy. Not even sex, really, just a close friendship with another guy. If you’re not familiar with the Christian college scene, it is not uncommon to walk into a room and see girls cuddling watching a movie together or see two girls holding hands skipping down the sidewalk. And they’re straight (well, some of them). Dave expressed that he longed for this type of intimacy with a guy without being labeled ‘gay’ or ‘queer’. He didn’t want the label, he wanted the relationship. This desire is what caused him to pursue other guys.

He brought up David and Jonathan and how close they were. Dave was looking for that type of friendship. I hadn’t read the story in a while, so I went back and read about David and Jonathan’s relationship. I was surprised by the strong language used to describe their affection for one another. 1 Samuel 20:17 says, “And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” He loved him as he loved his own soul. That is beautiful. Simply beautiful. So what does this mean? Were Jonathan and David more than friends? I don’t think so. But then again, I don’t know.

I forgot to mention something…I’m a pastor. I’m currently in seminary. I graduated from a Christian college. And church has been apart of my life from day one. So I know how to explain away the perceived intimacy between Jonathan and David. Type their names into Google and you’ll find folks on ‘both sides’ of this issue who are way smarter than me who can give you a more effective explanation.

But I want to focus on Dave’s story. Perhaps we’re all just trying to find intimacy. And you can’t explain that feeling away. I believe the Bible (most of the time). So I guess we’ll have to keep wrestling as we continue to read. Let’s not forget our humanity in the process. Jonathan and David didn’t.

I just love this story. So here we have Dave, a guy who struggles with the moralistic nature of homosexuality while still admitting his desire for intimacy. Yes, David and Jonathan had an intimate, passionate relationship. Who cares if it was physical? And why does the mere thought of it being sexual somehow sully our image of them?

Because – ! Wait. I’ll save that discussion for…

Tomorrow, let’s take the opposite viewpoint, and argue why David and Jonathan had an icky, heathen, gay relationship.

And be sure to check out Bri Dupree’s blog Echoes of Grey for more thoughtful reflections on tough biblical issues.

*Important Note: As I have stated before, I am reading these from a surface level, meaning that I do not look into the original languages that these passages were composed in. Having said that, there is a great deal written about the original texts and how they may indicate the nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship. That is not my expertise, however, so I will leave those arguments to others.

OT: Balloons on the Floor

My friend Bri Dupree asked me to write an essay for her blog “Echoes of Grey” answering the following question: “What do you fear?” Here was my response:

Balloons on the Floor

Mathematics encourages me. Something about the laws and the numbers is comforting, particularly in their rigidity. It is certainty – predictability. It feels warm like a woolen blanket on a subzero morning. Here are the little measurements that go in, and here is the result. What palpable security in a world of chaos.

But then, there is entropy, a sneaky little Law shoved into the realm of Thermodynamics. Entropy is simple – everything is constantly in a state of decay, losing energy over time. Think of a joyous helium balloon bopping around a Toys-R-Us ceiling. Where is it just three days later? Trailing along the floor, being kicked and stomped on by toddlers. That is entropy. What made it float is now gone, and unless we take the time to refill it’s gases, it will never rise again. It is simple mathematics.

Consider a desert. The heat of the day launches the temperatures to often unbearable degrees. But the moment the sun falls below the horizon, the heat is immediately lost. Cold – the absence of heat. It is barren.

Then, there are relationships. Your best friend walks with you between classes every day – you got lucky, they gave you both the exact same schedule. The teachers even let you put your desks together. Constant connection, chatting, and cheating. And then next semester, the powers-that-be discover your system. They scramble your schedules. You see one another in passing, and you try to make it count. But something has changed. She has new jokes with her new schedule-mates, references you don’t fully understand. The balloon begins to drop to the floor. But you won’t give up on the relationship.

So you call her after school and play catch up. And weekends become devoted to your fellowship. Special trips to the movies and even sleepovers with pilfered wine. No, no you won’t let the relationship deflate, to succumb to decay. You will combat entropy with… new energy. And that is the only way to do it.

Renewed energy. If you want your car to remain brand new, you have to wax and wash, vacuum and polish. Boyfriends only stay boyfriends with attention, kisses, measurable progress, and trips. Parents only remain confidantes as the conversations widen, the phone calls increase, and the visits home recur. Otherwise, it risks getting stomped on by a toddler and popped.

Entropy terrifies me, because it makes maintenance a reality. We cannot create something and let it be. For everything that is created must be maintained or risk the destruction of idleness. I dream of being – simply that – just existing. But that is impossible. I will succumb to hunger, thirst, loneliness, despair. And so I must maintain and clean and eat and travel. I must fight at all hours of the day, for the moment I begin to rest, entropy immediately kicks in. It does not rest until all is dust. An effective villain.

Have I lost your interest? I will need to try harder next time.

Please check out “Echoes of Grey,” a spiritual blog that focuses on community and conversation in the spiritual world.

Church Is Boring (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 9)

That’s right, I said it.

Catholic mass is especially boring. My traditional uncle asked me to be a junior groomsmen at his wedding when I was 12-years-old, and I excitedly agreed (like I even had a choice). I got to wear a tuxedo, which made me feel like James Bond, my personal hero. So I bought a little cap gun, I donned my tuxedo, I shoved the gun in jacket pocket for posterity, and I took part in the wedding.

And it was so boring. All I had to do was sit still for an hour and try to look vaguely interested. But the priest started chanting monotonously is gibberish (read: Latin). Then there was a sermon. A sermon? Really? At a wedding? Then communion. Then more chanting. Then the priest held up the Bible and started humming Do-Re-Me, I swear. And as I fought the urge to sleep, as well as the impulse to take my cap gun and play-execute everyone, I had a thought. Is this what heaven is like? Forever and ever of this crap? And thus began my fear of heaven – and eternity. Who would want a forever of this?

My protestant church was archaic. Not so much in its presentation – there were far less “ceremonially” elements than the Catholic counterpart – but it certainly needed a revamp. The kids at the congregation called it “big church,” because to us, it was meant solely for “big people.” Because there was nothing there to hold the interest of children. The sermons were too complex. The hymns dragged on for far too long. They forced us to take communion as well. I told my mother that the cracker needed salt. She told me she wasn’t taking me to big church anymore, because I clearly was not ready for it. She was right. Is heaven like this? I wonder what hell is like? Maybe I should give hell a shot. My mother decided to send me to the church service designed for elementary-aged students.

But “kid’s church” was asinine. The leaders smiled too much, and they tried too hard to make connections that were obviously nonexistent. My parents had never sent me to our church’s summer camps, which was where all the kids has become close friends, so I was on the outside. Typically, I sat in the back row and played my Gameboy up until the moment the service started. They gave out raffle tickets and awarded prizes. Such tactics to engage. Yawn. They sang Christian rock songs in place of hymns, but they were so repetitive, and no one dared to sing it above a whisper. None of the strategies to engage y young mind worked. I was disengaged.

But not all churches were boring. Black churches, for instance… They were the absolute best.

I started dating this girl Briana over the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and as a hang out idea, we decided to attend each other’s churches. She came to my kid’s church first, and she was the only African American person there. We sang our worthless songs. We sat through our worthless raffle. She functioned well and even pretended to have a good time, but secretly, I was embarrassed for her. What lifeless worship.

But the next week, we went to her church. Singing and dancing up the aisle. Three voluptuous black women crying their hearts out on the edge of the stage. A boisterous pastor spouting the positive aspects of a faith in God (imagine that). Altar calls that felt unforced. Singing with actual group participation, above the volume of a mouse. Some of the congregation even seemed to be praying in different language, which sounded almost like gibberish.

To everyone in that room, church was the absolute best part of the week (imagine that).

When I arrived home after the church date, I told my parents all about the experience, and a minor look of concern came across their face. The behavior I witnessed, they said, was something called “speaking-in-tongues” or “charismatic” for short. I wasn’t so sure they had it correct. I had seen people speak in tongues on the TV, often in association with fake healing rituals, and this seemed much more legitimate, much more heartfelt.

But for some reason, my parents did not seem thrilled by this type of worship. Not like evil, but just a tad wayward.

Which made me ask:

Is heaven like our church, or is it like Briana’s church?

I could see their wheels turning, like they suddenly had to make up an answer.

So they said: Maybe it is both. We have our place in heaven, and they have theirs.

Oh. So heaven is segregated.

I never understood why everyone loved the idea of heaven so much. As an adult, I get why people want to go, but as a kid, there’s nothing to conceptualize it. It is just not dying. That is the only appeal. Unless there are roller coasters and televisions aplenty. What is fun about worshipping God? There has to be something to it. Most people seem to enjoy it.