New Revelations: Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:1-13 Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here…”

Mark 9:5 (NIV)

My mother has a rule not to discuss her life before she came to Christ. The generalized (and assumed-to-be watered-down) version of events is that she ran a tumultuous childhood until her father died. She dropped out of college, looking for a religion or ideology to call home – and she tried them all. Then, she met my father, and once they gave birth to my sister, the pressure to pass on a healthy legacy overtook both of them. They became involved in a church and wah-lah, here I am with my extraordinarily devout parents. My brother and I used to beg my mother to “give us the goods,” that is, to tell us all the dirt and sins and mistakes of her life, but she would and has also continued to balk at this. “You don’t need to know about my life before Christ,” she says. “It’s something I just do not like to think about anymore.”

My father’s childhood was similarly veiled while I was growing up, but one day, an odd mood struck him. We walked across the street to our neighborhood pizza joint and plopped down in one of the booths. And when I shoved the first bite of pizza in my mouth, he said, “You can ask me whatever you want.” There was always one area of intrigue about my Dad’s past: his first marriage before my mother. He agreed to tell the story.

See he met his first wife during high school, sweethearts throughout, and they immediately married post-graduation. And in lieu of any sort of college education, he joined the army, unaware that the Vietnam War was secretly revving up in the background. When news came down from his station sergeant, they all knew the inevitable – all these boys were going to be shipped off to Vietnam, the first boots on the ground for what would surely be a long and brutal fight.

He prepared to go. He made his peace.

And then, with just a few weeks until deployment, he sauntered into his home, opened the door to his bedroom, and found his sergeant in bed with his wife. They jumped up, mortified, but he just closed the door behind him. He slept on a friend’s couch. And then, when he reported for duty the next morning, this sergeant called him into his office to give him an update on his deployment. Vietnam was no longer on the table, and instead, they were sending him to Alaska. Now, that dark, cold assignment is usually saved for the worst men in the bunch, but my father had a thought that perhaps this was his way of making amends.

I slept with your wife. So no war for you.

Jesus reveals himself to Peter, John, and James during an event he dubs the “transfiguration.” They go up to the top of a mountain, where Jesus appears to be the brightest white imaginable. Then, Moses and Elijah step down and join them, and the disciples fall to the floor prostrate. Finally, a cloud envelops all of them, and the voice of God is heard… affirming Jesus’ stature as His son and encouraging them to believe.

This is a profound moment for the disciples, as they finally experience first hand the awesome power of Jesus and his divine connection to God. Suddenly, they get it.  They have a new perspective on this man that they have been following for years now, all because he revealed his true nature.

And I have to say, when my father told me about his past, I understood him – and it only added to my adoration of his stature.

Family Ties: Mark 3:7-35, Luke 6:12-26

Jesus Crowded. The Twelve Appointed. Detractors Emerge.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:20-21 (NIV)

Who wouldn’t chase after a man who could heal all ailments with the mere touch of a hand?

So Jesus is extraordinarily popular. We have already seen that desperate followers will go so far as lowering their disabled brother from the rafters of the ceiling, just for a moment of the Messiah’s time.

Not all appreciate Jesus’ newly acquired celebrity status, particularly his “family.” Up until now, the only family we know of is Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his sort of father, and since this passage is particularly vague, we truly have no idea who exactly Mark refers to. Here’s what we do know: Jesus barricades himself inside of a house with his disciples, and his family does not appreciate the crowd that followers him around. They go to “take charge of him,” telling him in particularly impolite terms that he must stop the charade (the exact phrase: “He is out of his mind”). Not the most encouraging words from “family.”

I fully came out as queer to my family about a year ago. My reason for the qualifier “fully” is that I believe I actually came out much early, when I told my parents that I had been in a longish relationship with a man. They believed this was merely just an “art school phase.”

Either way, I cemented my status later, and it devastated them. I had heard many horrorifying coming out stories. I briefly dated a man who after coming out to his father, was immediately sent halfway around the world to live with his mother; it was his father’s belief that only she could “fix the damage” within him. For every gay individual I meet with a particularly negative experience, I know another with a complete non-experience; so many gay people go years without telling their family for fear of such a response. And even for every one of those, I meet yet another who has completely supportive parents – ones who “knew all along” or “could not care less who they love.”

My family fell right in the middle. Non-supportive but also non-reactionary. They “do not agree with the lifestyle” but love me “no matter what.”

What do I do with that? A lesbian friend of mine said that this blog felt like a love letter to my parents. I found that ironic considering they viewed it as narcissistic nonsense at best (and deceptive and cruel at worst). She told me that it was time to create my own family – one that was fully supportive of me – with my close friends. Others told me to latch on, to not give up, to accept them for who they are, to love my parents unconditionally. Initially, I gave them an ultimatum – accept this or leave me alone. I balked shortly thereafter – I just couldn’t stomach it.

How does Jesus react to his family calling him insane?

The crowd informs him that his mother and brothers are outside waiting for him. Jesus tersely asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33) He then looks around the room, declaring his mother and brothers are already sitting next to him, because “whoever does God’s will” is his family (3:35).

Jesus made his own family when his was unsupportive. But I cannot think that these situations are parallel.

Adolescent, Abandoned: Luke 2:22-52

Jesus Visits the Temple.

After three days they found [Jesus] in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 2:36-37 (NIV)

My father abandoned me in a Dick’s Sporting Goods store when I was eight-years-old. He disappeared. It took me about ten minutes to realize. I cried and then sprinted out into the parking lot. His car was gone. A young couple found me balled up on the macadam, wailing.

None of that story is true, but that was how it felt to me in the moment.

In reality, my father and I had gone into a Dick’s Sporting Good store during a family outing to the mall. My mother had split off with my sister to a different store, which required them to drive over there (it was a very big mall). My dad sauntered down the golf aisle, telling me to stay put while I stared at the camping gear. After a few moments, I turned around forgetting his instructions, and panicked. Without searching the store, I flew out as quickly as possible to find our car, but it was gone. Not because my father had abandoned me, but rather, because my mother and sister had taken the car and parked it elsewhere. But I was eight and alone and hell, do you blame me for overreacting?

As this happened, I recall going over the story of young Jesus at the Temple in my head. We do not get much in the way of information about Jesus’ upbringing; it’s glossed over much in the same way that the Lion King just jumps over all of Simba’s time as a teen lion in the jungle (until we got Lion King 1 ½ that is). For Passover, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to their busy temple in Jerusalem. After the event ends, Jesus secretly stays behind while his family trudges on back towards home. After a day of travel, they realize their mistake and rush back to find him, only to discover that he has been happily bopping around the with the priests and holy men. When they ask him about it, he replies simply, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49)

Many Christian boys and girls know how to call upon this story in order to reverse-justify some rebellious behavior. “Why did you run away?” “JESUS RAN AWAY AND IT WAS NO BIG DEAL.” That strategy rarely worked.

More importantly, this is Jesus’ first example of bending the rules in order to adhere to a more logical approach. Technically speaking, Jesus disobeyed his parents by choosing to stay behind without them, and he must have understood the worry that such an action would cause them. But we all know Jesus is blameless, so this cannot be seen as a sinful action. He bent the rules for a good reason – in order to seek out God more fully and begin his ministry on Earth.

Interesting… The “rules” are already starting to find some exceptions…

Finally, here’s a picture of adolescent Simba:


(War on) Christmas: Matthew 1:18 – 2, Luke 2:1-21

The Birth of Jesus. Gifts of the Magi. Flight to Egypt.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Luke 2:10 (NIV) 

Christmas was never a religious holiday to me for one major reason: presents. No child is going to give a crap about celebrating the day Jesus was born when presents are at stake. My mother always made a big deal out of the holiday – her entire family would come over on Christmas Eve for a near all day affair. First, antipasto; then, wine and dinner and television. Finally, presents. My father tried to institute an “open one gift every 15 minutes” rule that never flew. He also always hid one of his presents so that he was the last one to open his gift – a cruel way to twist the knife in our sides once post-present depression set in. After all the drink and food and presents were done, the extended family dispersed until no one but the five of us were left. Then, on Christmas morning, we ate brunch and saw a movie – depending on the year, most likely an entry in the Lord of the Rings series. That was Christmas.

Easter felt religious to me. We got up super early and went to church – wearing suits and dresses. Sure we got candy, but that was hardly worth getting up at 7 am on a weekend. Then, there was the script: “He is risen,” and the reply, “He is risen indeed.” No anticipation necessary for Easter – just pre-emptive exhaustion. It never felt even remotely celebratory – much more solemn and revered. Take that anecdote for what it is.

Some religious pundits (read: the Fox News Channel) have mentioned a “War on Christmas” in recent years – it even has its own Wikipedia page. I am sure the majority of you are familiar with this fight, but for the uninitiated, the gist is that we as a culture are secularizing something that ought to be left wholly religious. This all feeds into a larger argument about our religious nature as a country – namely if we are at our core values are a “Christian nation.” As someone who grew up in a Christian household that revered this holiday, I have trouble remotely identifying with this supposed “war.” I knew intellectually the Christ-based importance imbued onto this day, but none of it felt even remotely spiritual to me. In fact, the emotion I most commonly associate with Christmas is nostalgia.

Who knew that the “War on Christmas” began all the way back at the first one?

King Herod rules right at the time of Jesus’ birth. When the Magi come through town in order to tend to the new Messiah, Herod catches word, calling on them secretly to keep him updated on Jesus’ whereabouts. They ignore this command at the warning of an angel and travel back home via a different route. Meanwhile, Herod issues a decree to have all baby boys born under the age of two to be executed, and the baby Jesus and his family flee to Egypt to escape his death grip.

Now THAT’S a war on Christmas, ladies and gentlemen. A round of applause please. These silly liberals just try to remove Christmas ties and pray around festivus poles, but they are wusses compared to the tyrannical King Herod. He actually did something. He killed thousands of babies for no reason, just to stop Christmas.

I did not go home for Christmas this year. No one did anything wrong – there were no arguments or dramatic hair pulling. I just needed a small respite after coming out. A “holiday from the Holidays.” This hit my parents hard. The tradition of Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without all of us together. I agreed. It would be a change on Christmas. But for a few moments, it felt like a “war.”

Let me be clear, there is no “War on Christmas.” There is a “Change on Christmas.” Some people don’t associate this day with religiosity, because we as a culture have already secularized it.

Scoot over Christians, other people have celebrations as well. What a war.

Call me when they start burning the nativities in effigy.

Here is a link to one of Bill O’Reilly’s segments on the “War on Christmas.”

Sins of Inaction: Obadiah & Jonah

[The Lord said,] “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:11 (NIV) 

I played Jonah in my eighth grade school play. I never fancied myself the acting type; that role in my family fell squarely on my brother’s shoulders. But he was not around the middle school anymore, so that left a big vacancy in the small drama department at Penn Christian Academy (with only 45 students in the middle school… well that was not too surprising). So when audition sign ups posted, I puffed up my chest and signed up. Who cares I couldn’t sing, dance, or act? There was no more shadow to stand in!

The play was “Go, Go Jonah,” a musical interpretation of the minor prophet’s trip into the belly of a big fish and then out again. Musical theater aficionados may recognize that title as being strikingly similar to the song “Go, Go Joseph” from another biblical production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Well that’s because this play was a not-so-subtle rip off of that much more successful musical. Sheesh.

c-go-go-jonahAnyway after my audition, I was just as shocked as everyone else my name next to the title role. How could I, a musical theater shmuck, be given such a role? Maybe the surly drama teacher saw something in me that no one else did…

But at the read thru, I realized that I had been fooled. As I excitedly flipped through my script, I noticed that the character of Jonah, despite being the title character, had absolutely zero lines. He was presented as a mute with a burly beard that muffled all of his speech. The website for the musical states that “The Jonah is a non-speaking part, so any kid can be the ‘star.’” A noble goal, except that I distinctly remember the character description in the script reading: “Jonah is a perfect role for an eager youngster without traditional acting and singing ability.” Ouch.

I did the part, though I no longer felt motivated. My parents came and sat and cheered, like good parents do. But I don’t know, my taste for this classic Bible story grew sour after that experience. Yes, I have been holding a 13-year-old grudge against thus story.

I remember the story of Jonah as being fairly straightforward. God calls Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh, but he flees on a ship to avoid the responsibility. Then, God sends a storm as punishment, and the crew throws him overboard where a giant fish snatches him up. After three days of prayer, the fish vomits him up, and he goes to Nineveh to finish the job. That’s it. Right?

As we have seen before, the children’s versions of Bible stories are often edited for graphic and adult content, and Jonah is no different. Jonah successfully ministers to the people of Nineveh, and they turn from his ways. Jonah proves himself to be a worthy prophet, right?


Afterwards, he laments to God about the lack of punishment for the people, saying that He promised to do it, and he ought to follow through. He goes as far as to say:

“Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3) 

A deep depression falls over him, and the book ends with a sunburnt, abandoned Jonah in the wilderness, contemplating God.

My grudge is over. Here is a character worth studying. Someone who listens to God, fulfills a promise, and then wonders about the outcome. Sure, that outcome involved the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ninevites, but still, I find myself empathizing with the guy.

God gave him the lead role and then took away all of his lines.

An Ideal Marriage: Psalms 141 – 150

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
     no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
     no one cares for my life.
I cry to you, Lord;
     I say, “You are my refuge,
     my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalms 142:4-5 (NIV)

My greatest fear growing up was that my parents would get divorced. I had neighborhood friends all around my block, and every one of their parents seemed on the brink of splitting. They would argue right in front of me, something totally foreign to me. I had a habit of running up to my friend David’s house right after school in order to play his Playstation. Metal Gear Solid had just come out, and since I had a Nintendo 64, the only way I could play would be at his house. I loved his house, because his mom stocked Snickers bars in the pantry – my mother would never do that. Anyway, one day I was beating Psycho Mantis with a Snickers hanging half out of my mouth when David’s mom walked in and just shut the game off. She told me to go home immediately. Then, David’s dad walked in and called her a bitch. Then she yelled something about his job – maybe he had lost it. Then his dad looked at me and said, I think she told you to go home. I grabbed my bag, shoved the latter half of the candy bar in my pocket, and shuffled quickly home.

My parents never acted this way – never argued at each other in public, or even in front of us. You know that whole strategy of asking the one parent for something when the other had already said “no?” Yeah, that never worked on them, because they were annoyingly always on the same page. Even if they disagreed on how to proceed, they discussed it in private and then presented the plan to us. The process was completely hidden from us.

Even so, I worried about the state of their relationship. I had an image in my head of marriage, which was “perfect unity” from God. At a young age, I assumed that the best married couples were those that never fought or disagreed, because those marriages were from God. So even though my parents disagreed so rarely, they still disagreed sometimes, and to me, that made them a candidate for divorce. This was my misconception to have as an anxious little boy.

And obviously, my ideas of marriage were wrong. The happiest and most hard-working couples fight – some say that the fighting is a sign of health in a marriage. Disagreement and compromise build character and strength. With all this talk about “marriage equality” for LGBT couples in the public, it has been fascinating for me to read about how the Bible characterizes marriage. So far, it has been a loveless affair (and if couples did love each other, like Abraham and Sarah, it was incidental). Marriage was a command for all young men and women and often involved an agreement between fathers or the trade of land.

This is obviously not the case with modern marriage. We get married when we love someone else and decide of our own free will to partner with that person. And the overwhelming thought I had while reading the 150 chapters of Psalms was, wow, this is all about marriage. No, not man-to-woman marriage, but rather, our marriage to God.

The emotions run the gamut in this book, but the subject remains constant. Every writer of Psalms discusses – whether though praise or questioning – their relationship with God. Some question their commitment to Him. Others thank Him for His love. The same people will then worry about their safety in times of need, because to them, God is the independent partner in the relationship, one who could do just fine without their presence. But they are in deep need, asking for the marriage in order to survive in a chaotic world. They need God much more than He needs them.

And this is why there are so many contradictions within the book. Some chapters claim that God will give spoils to those for following Him while others say that He challenges the faithful without regard to their behavior. Some tell us to love everyone while others commend those who hate their enemies. There is no consensus.

And I think that is because there is not one kind of marriage. It is like me as a child, thinking that my parents would divorce because they argued sometimes. I was convinced that the only kind of marriage was the one with full love where no disagreements ever took place.

Psalms has convinced me of the goodness of faith. When success or despair happen upon us, it is most healthy to look to the heavens and say, “I have little control, so this is not of me.” This is healthy because of the humility that must be present to have such a thought. The truth is that none of us have much control over our lives, and the thought that we do often leads to anxiety and hopelessness.

Psalms is schizophrenic in its description of God – because our emotions and circumstances force us to have different views of Him.

And I think that is A-OK. Your ideal is not my ideal, and neither is God’s ideal. So just live and look to the heavens and remember – we don’t have much control.

Pretty Little Things: 2 Chronicles 1 – 9

The Gift of Wisdom. To Build a Palace and Temple. The Ark Arrives. A Prayer. Wisdom: Tested and Proved.

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue…

2 Chronicles 1:14-16b (NIV)

I named my pet turtle “Jupiter” after the street of my boyhood home. We moved a year after I was born, but since my parents were sentimentalists – always showing off photos and gesturing stories – I still felt a deep connection to the place. My first home. It did not matter that I had no memories of the place or that it existed only in the words of my family. It was still an affectionate piece of me: I could not explain the nostalgia.

Jupiter found his way to me through a co-worker of my father’s – a fellow parent who no longer wanted to take care of it. I had spent the better part of the year guilting him into a pet, since my brother had fish and my sister had a guinea pig. It’s only fair, I whined. I am old enough for a pet. Honest. So one day, he came home with a turtle in a tub and told me to pick some rocks from the nearby creek for its new home. We never sprung for the full on aquarium – no, Jupiter stayed holed up in that same blue dishwashing tub for the entirety of his life.

I had my little responsibilities. Each morning, I took five pellets of turtle food and placed them in different spots of the tub (so Jupiter would get exercise as he snacked). Then once a week, I sprayed down the tub with a hose, while Jupiter laid sullenly on my bedspread. About a year into his residence, my mother suggested adding a weekly lawn trot onto his regimen, “outdoors” time if you will, so Jupiter would not totally lose his animalistic nature. It seemed like an innocent suggestion, until I realized my mother’s true intentions. She hated the turtle. It smelled musty, and the tub was an eyesore. And Jupiter was the last surviving member of the children’s pets (the guinea pig developed a tumor, and an ill-placed crayfish ate all the fish). She was done with pets – Jupiter had to go – and I think my mother secretly hoped my carelessness would result in the turtle waddling away during rec time.

That summer, she put the kibosh in it. You’re going to take Jupiter, she instructed, and let him go into the pond. I cried over the loss like a child would mourn a pet’s death, because that was what it felt like to me. It was like capital punishment – but for a turtle – institutionalized banishment. It was sentimentality and the lingering nostalgia of my first home. Jupiter represented a piece of my youth, and I never liked change. You could have taken my toys and dumped them, tossed my computer or whatever. Take away all my things, my mass produced things, and leave me my memories and the tokens that represented them. Don’t take my turtle.

Jupiter would not go. I placed him on the edge of the pond, but he just sat there. Maybe the mud was too deep for him. So, I dropped him in the actual water, but no, he froze there too. Turtles needed water, right? What if the years of the tub-existence had drained him of his instincts? What if he stayed out in the sun and fried to death, all because we kept him contained in a plastic cage?

So I picked Jupiter up and with my best throw, pitched him out into the center of the 50-foot-pond.

My father recalled the story differently, laughing over dinner later with the rest of the family. He said I had skipped Jupiter across the top of the pond with a sharp flick of my wrist. I denied it. But the myth grew, and soon everyone knew about my turtle’s end. Tss-tss-tss, right across the surface, 15-odd skips until plop! into the center. Regardless of the way it happened, they knew as well as I did: that turtle was dead.

Solomon installs all of the God’s holy things, and it ends up being his most pertinent contribution to the Kingdom. As this is our second pass through this story, I will not reiterate the nature of these things, but recall that it is all extravagant, costing top dollar to buy and decades to build. In the end, we end up with a tip-top palace and a temple fit for the Ark of the Covenant.

Why such preciousness? We do not know. We do know that this God likes the first of the lambs to be sacrificed, the best offerings of crops and drinks, and well-fed priests with the most succulent portions. These things are important – a way of showing respect and dedication. God values them.

Years later as I approached pubescence, we drove by the pond where I parted with Jupiter. This was not an odd occurrence; we lived right up the road from the pond. But today it was different. The pond was bone dry, fizzled by a particularly dry summer. It reminded me of the turtle, and I wondered if maybe he survived the traumatic journey across the top of the water. My mother and I talked about him for a moment, both of us smiling. She recalled the “stone skip” myth, and we laughed about it with the relief of retrospection. But after the memory waned and my expression fell neutral, I noticed that my mother maintained her smile. What’s so funny? I asked her.

The name of my boyhood street… It was Juniper, not Jupiter. I had named the turtle incorrectly, based on a mis-memory of the street’s title. She thought the mistake was cute back then and never had to heart to tell me.

A Place for Everyone: 1 Chronicles 23 – 29

Some Are Priests. Some Are Musicians. Some Gatekeepers and Leaders and Overseers.

[David said,] “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

1 Chronicles 29:14 (NIV)

Everyone Has a Talent to Contribute, reads the invisible motivational poster hanging up in every church in America. Some people were great orators and gifted with leading Bible studies and sermons. Then there were all the praise and worship people, the young rockers and the blonde singers who took charge of the band. Some people were greeters. They were good at… holding open doors and smiling and setting out muffins.

Mine was “tech,” like audio/visual support. I was good at that. Except that I wasn’t, it was just the best for me at church. Math was my talent growing up, and that really had no place in a pre-teen church service. But Math was sort of like Science which was sort of related to tech, so there you go. But I genuinely liked it, even though I had no idea what I was actually doing, because it was a role for me to fulfill. We laid out cables and pushed the “next” button on the slides. My close friend and techie master Ian did all the real stuff, like mixing the audio and solving in-the-moment problems. I mostly took orders, stood by if someone needed a body or a mic cord needed replugging, but I genuinely enjoyed it. Purpose, however contrived, felt good.

But secretly, doesn’t everyone want to be one of the musicians? Some admire the pastors, because they are in charge. But what’s cooler, the boring guy on the pulpit or the singers and dancers and praisers? Anyone can read a Bible verse and put a group of teenagers to sleep, but few can strum chords on beat and sing with perfect pitch. Their talent transcended the church experience – it was cool in any setting.

Not my domain though, and such a shame. My brother had taken all the shares of the music genes allotted for our family – none for Mom, Dad, Sister, or me. He was so good that he did not even have time for the praise and worship team at church. No, no, far too busy traveling to Australia and South Africa, and singing on Saturday Night Live*. This sounds like sour grapes (because it is), but I had a hard time grasping why my brother got all the “visible” talent. But I got over it as time went on and settled into my position far behind and above everyone else (in the tech booth, obviously). I never got good at electronics and stuff, though, nope. Just learned to be passable until the church offered another position that suited me better – which they did a few years later when they introduced the high school “drama team.”

What does this have to do with 1 Chronicles 23-29? The author makes a very detailed list of all the roles that God set aside for each of the tribes of Israel – which is a rehash of a similar list from the Law. It is comprehensive, taking into account roles for musicians and leaders, ark-attendants and soldiers. Everyone has their place.

But it is not based upon interest or talent. My church… they tried to match up individuals with jobs with some sort of logic, but the men and women (read: men) of the Bible had their positions endowed based upon birth. Levites had it the best – acting as the priests of the group. They got to go near the Ark of the Covenant and took the best portions of the offerings.

They were like the “Christian rock band kids” of the Old Testament. They even had it better than the musicians.

*For real. He’s one of those kids in the red jackets in the back.

Pride & Disappointment: 1 Chronicles 16 – 22

God Loves David. God Punishes David.

[God said,] I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth.

1 Chronicles 17:8 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 21:11–12 (NIV)

Today, we get a retread of a high and low of the David-God relationship. At first, things are looking as bright as ever, as David offers to build a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant but God wards him off. You’ve worked enough and been a loyal servant, God says. That will be someone else’s worry. This prompts David to go on a chapter long reflection of God’s love and kindness; you can sense his genuine appreciation for the life God has provided.

But then, things take a sour turn as David knowingly disobeys the Lord’s will. He decides to take a census of all the soldiers in under his command, which is (inexplicably) against the wishes of the Most High. This leads to a quick condemnation, even from the sinner himself, and three options for punishments are offered: three years of famine, three months of wartime losses, or three days of famine. David chooses the latter, and the result is tens of thousands of Israeli deaths. The scorn is palpable throughout, and on my second time reading this story, I felt much more understanding for David’s pain. He genuinely wants to please God, his spiritual father. That is not a ridiculous desire.

Seeking approval has been a pastime of mine since the beginning. It started with teachers; I just loved teachers. When they wanted us to hush down, I would look around and shush detractors. Homework was always done properly and on time. I volunteered for the little jobs no one wanted to do – like collecting papers and holding the door. I frequently called my female teachers “Mom.” Yeah, I was that guy. In high school, that obsessive need to please moved on to peers, and I became hung up on anyone who took a special dislike towards me. If someone gossiped about me or threw a nasty comment my way, my gut reaction was to “fix the issue” rather than defend myself. It rarely worked. Now, as an adult, it is all of the above – friends, bosses, co-workers.

But I always wanted to please my parents – nothing felt completely right without their approval. It was something about their expectations for me. They wanted me to be happy – all loving parents want that – but they also pushed me to be a good person, a role model. Following the pack would not do, because most of the time, the “pack” stumbled in the wrong direction. No, they desired something more for me – an intelligent mind but more importantly, a resplendent character. They more than desired it; they expected it.

So I once I realized that my nature (read: MY QUEERNESS) contradicted my parents’ intentions, I learned how to adapt given the situation. Around Christian folk, I puffed up my chest and spoke the words and spouted the values. Then, in secret – and more and more in public as the years went on – I would sing a totally different tune, a show tune if you will, about attractive guys and alt-lifestyle living. I was either liberal or conservative, but never moderate – activist and relaxist in one. Needed someone to hear you out? You called me up. I had serious opinions about Lost and whatever writing project I was working on, and that was pretty much it. And for about eight years, that dual-nature was ordinary to me, just a part of who I was. And I did not mind it at all. I mean it when I say… I was prepared to keep it up forever.

You can interpret my flip-flopping behavior as well-meaning or completely nefarious (though neither would absolve me from the deception involved). I honestly believe that it was both empathetic and illusory. I wanted to present my best self to everyone I came across, which made me weaken my self-image when confronted with dissension. It was incredibly easy to go with the flow and adapt myself to the company that I encountered, and it usually ended in my favor – with new friends and strengthened bonds. However, I also genuinely empathize with most people and see their perspective – that is a huge reason behind this project. Believe it or not, I sense good behind even the most challenging opinions of Christianity, and due to my religious history, I feel the need to figure it out.

That is not a ridiculous desire.

Also, hey, I forgot to mention something about this narrative. The passages outlining David’s sin start with a very memorable sentence:

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

That’s right readers. The devil himself Satan finally comes in to play. We’ve got to talk about this

See you Monday.

The Unfortunate Vow: Judges 9 – 12

The Rise of Abimaleck. Three Years of Kingship. A War. A Stone. A Sword. Then, Jephthah – the Illegitimate. Promoted to Commander. A Successful Campaign. An Unfortunate Vow. The Sacrificial Daughter.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

I took the Unfortunate Vow somewhere around birth, but it did not kick in until mid-adolescence. That’s when everyone started to notice something. Now I don’t want to mischaracterize my brother as a flaming faggot – one of those gay guys that no gay guy seems to want to be. I think homosexual men run from the phrase, because it implies a shallowness that permeates an entire personality. There were some warning signs for impending homosexuality, and my brother had a few of them. Interest in theater/arts – loud and aberrant – a touch of flamboyance – and an ever-growing collection of deep-v tees. I loved my brother as he was, even if I kicked in my fair share of jokes about his clothing choices, but his budding sexuality meant devastation to me.

I mentioned in a previous entry that my brother and I engaged in a queer sibling rivalry that lasted up until the moment he came out. He came out as gay, and I was in the closet – so it was a race. A race to disappoint the parents first so that other would be stuck with the responsibility of the Unfortunate Vow. And so on Christmas morning 2009, my mother woke me up with her presence alone. She sat in my room until my eyes opened, and I shot up.

What’s going on, Mom? I asked.

Mark had just come out of the closet. On Christmas morning.

And now he was making brunch, complete with eggs benedict on English muffins and mimosas for the family. I suppose us partaking in the gayest meal ever was appropriate given the circumstance.

That evening, I renewed the Unfortunate Vow.

Judges takes us through a few more of its leaders before arriving at Jephthah. He is the illegitimate son born to his father and a prostitute, and so his half brothers drive him away to claim his part of the inheritance. However, Jephthah is an enormously strong man, and so when foes of Israel arrive, they call upon their forsaken brother to come and lead the army. He reluctantly agrees.

So Jephthah does that job and does it well. We are told that after defeating all the enemies with his military prowess and blunt strength, the spirit of the Lord enters him.

Moved, Jephthah instantaneously makes a vow. The first thing to wander from the doors of his home will be given up on the Altar of God as a sacrifice. He arrives home, happy to fulfill this vow, when his only child, a daughter, runs out into the yard.

Jephthah falls onto his knees for making such an Unfortunate Vow. Now, he must sacrifice his only daughter to God. She takes it well, only requesting a two-month respite to mourn and say goodbye. And when the day comes, the deed is done. Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter to the Lord.

The Unfortunate Vow… I am starting to think that we all have taken one – to fulfill a duty that seems both foreign and unfair, and yet it is demanded for no other reason than those in charge of us demand it. God created us, and now we are indebted to Him – so we must honor laws and vows that have absolutely no logical backbone. We must perform symbolic actions in order to please those above us, for their own personal reasons that are completely unexplained. And that obedience to the Unfortunate Vow makes us holy. I must be straight because the other one is gay and the parents need some son to be straight. Why? For manhood and the image of the family and normalcy. Doesn’t that make sense to you?

I think a father who breaks a vow in order to protect the life of his virginal only daughter is a man I would want to emulate.
I think a child who honestly states their interests and passions is a child headed in the right direction.
I think a God who demands a man to kill his daughter for ritualistic reasons is terrifying.
I think parents who encourage many activities for their kids and find ways to challenge them so that they grow beyond their own intentions are doing a damn good job.
I think a God that values the bond between father and daughter is just.

I am no longer the son that my parents want me to be. I have broken my Unfortunate Vow. Because I never truly made it by my own free will. So why keep it?