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:


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.

Queer Sibling Rivalry: Genesis 25 – 28

Abraham Dies. Jacob and Esau. Prophecy of Conflict. Abimeleck – The Constant Fool. Stolen Birthright. Stolen Blessing. A Dream.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21 (NIV)

Jacob's Dream by William Blake (c. 1805)

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake (c. 1805)

When you look at your 22-year-old brother, and he’s wearing jean shorts cut up to his mid-thigh and a deep neoprene V-neck tee and he’s tousling a hand-weaved hemp bracelet between his fingers, then suddenly you realize there is a race between the two of you to come out to your parents first. You see, there is an unspoken rule in the multi-gay-children-born-to-conservative-parents world: the first son to come out is a disappointment; the second one is just a dick. My brothers’ early eccentricities evolved into a more outright flamboyance during his college years – his quirky humor became aberrantly outrageous, and his sparkling persona took on the energy of a constantly traveling showboat. But besides these amusing superficialities, his rhetoric and demeanor deepened. He began voicing concerns over more “left-wing” causes, such as the AIDs crisis and universal healthcare, and suddenly, he had doubts about some of the standards of behavior set out in the Bible. My parents viewed this as a direct result of his college experience, but in reality, it was probably just a natural release of pressure. His personality always contained these facets, and now he was just opening the valve. No need to calibrate anymore; he was among friends.

My brother came out to me on the eve of his college graduation. He asked if I preferred gin or whiskey for the pre-grad party that evening, then he asked if I was dating anyone, then he told me he was bisexual, and then he took a shower. He seemed eager to drop the bomb and then run away so he did not have to witness the potential destruction. I was left to strike up conversation with his roommate – this beautiful Yugoslavian woman with a raspy voice.

I said: So my brother is bisexual.
No, she replied, He’s gay. He just doesn’t want to disappoint you.

Too late. This was a huge disappointment. My brother was unaware of my budding sexual debacles, and while I always knew he was gay, I never wanted him to be confident enough to come to that self-realization. I now realize the cruelty in this attitude – that I actually desired my brother to squelch his sexuality so the pressure would be taken off of me and my transient appetites. For the rest of the night, I wouldn’t make any sustained eye contact with him, wouldn’t actively celebrate his graduation, wouldn’t really talk to him. He assumed the obvious – that I disapproved of his sexual preferences and that his admission had stunned me into silence – but the truth was far worse. I resented it, and I resented him for learning to be open about it. Suddenly, our relationship had an inherent competition. There was only room for one queer son in this family, and that honor appeared to be shifting towards him.

Back in the Bible, Abraham dies, and we join his ailing son Isaac on the brink of death himself. He marries Rebekah, and with her, they bear a pair of fraternal twin boys who are in a competition of their own. Esau beat Jacob out of the womb by a hair – thus granting him the right to the family bloodline and birthright – and yet God sets forth a vow that the older (Esau) will end up serving the younger (Jacob). This is a shocking prophecy for the times as it completely undermines the structure previously set forth for determining rightful heirs. Eldest sons carry the family name. End of discussion.

The story continues with a dramatic turn of events that unfurl the contents of God’s foresight. First, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for some stew when he is particularly famished. Then, due to some dissatisfaction over Esau’s choice of wife, Rebekah and Jacob conspire to steal his blessing from the almost blind, almost dead, almost senile Isaac. She dresses up her seconds-late second-born son Jacob, douses him in the scent of the burly Esau, and leads him into his father’s tent. Isaac falls for it. He gives his blessing to the wrong son. Jacob – the younger son – is now the rightful heir.

The Bible finally dishes up its first bit of Telemundo-worthy melodrama with this story, and while the nature of the conflict may seem antiquated to some, the idea of the family birthright still carries deep, yet admittedly altered, importance to many modern Christian families. Wives still adopt their husbands’ last names; dowries are still paid; men still run households. And sons are still meant to acquire their fathers’ best qualities and build upon them, so that they may one day lend their name, collect their dowry, and run their household. It may seem ridiculous to those born outside the Christian faith, but these traditions are far from dead. And for my family, these traditions were more like religious rites, and the pressures to adhere were massive. Somebody had to carry on the family name. My sister couldn’t, and my brother wouldn’t. My brother’s honesty had guaranteed my continued deception. He had beaten me to the punch. He had cloaked himself in a sequin gown and doused himself in the musk of perfume and was now shuffle-stepping off over the rainbow. And the only one left in the tent with the almost ready, almost hopeful, almost fulfilled father was… me. It was left to me. After all, the second son to come out of the closet – to ruin that lineage and to destroy all the plans and to embarrass the family by being the second one and to negate the birthright, the tradition, the blessing, the name – that second son is such a dick. I would never be able do that to my parents.

After his conflict with Esau crescendos and then drops, Jacob wanders away from his family to find a suitable wife. After entering a strange new land, he falls asleep on the ground and has a prophetic dream. He sees a large stairway that bridges Heaven and Earth with angels ascending and descending. Then God appears and establishes the terms of his newly acquired blessing. This land now belongs to Jacob, and all will be blessed through him. Jacob awakens and makes a feverish vow. “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking,” he says, “…then the Lord will be my God.”

This prayer struck me as odd at first. Firstly, Jacob’s loyalty is conditional, second only to God’s protection – a big no-no, I assume. Secondly, and more importantly, it is potently vague. Watch over me on this journey. That is all encompassing. It is wonderfully generic. It feels warm.

Not make me strong.
Not make me fatherly.
Not make me love a woman.

Just watch over me.

God, I love that prayer. And I love that it comes from such a lying, deceptive, jealous, human man.

Watch over me Watch over me Watch over me

I just love that.


For additional reading, check out this Huffington Post article about a new study on gay brothers and genetic links in homosexuality.