Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Friend, the Satanist

 



Coming Out

My life was in an upheaval. In all honesty, it seems that happens more often than I wish it to. I had just come out as bisexual and with all the consequences that entailed:  I lost my job, my house, transportation, pension, insurance, etc. I went through in actuality a quite amicable divorce, but it was still the worst thing I had ever gone through in my entire life.

I had never been in a same-sex relationship before. After waiting about a year after my divorce, I thought that maybe I could try it. My first ever approach at even talking to someone turned disastrous. There was a parlance that I was unfamiliar with, even as it was titillating. My being in the closet for such a long time meant that I was just as foreign to the LGBT world as I was to the straight world.

It felt very much like the time I moved back from Germany to the United States. The reverse culture shock was worse that moving overseas. When I speak German, I have a very slight American accent. It is faint enough that most Germans are surprised when they find out I am American. Often I was confused for being Dutch or Danish. When I came back to the United States, I had a slight German accent when speaking English. What was worse is that I would forget common English words and would get stuck on the German word, or the German word made much more sense than the English phrase.

I felt just the same in the LGBT community.

A well-meaning pastor, who is also gay, told me about this dating app, called Grindr. Let's just say that was like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool after only having one swimming lesson. For those of you unfamiliar with the app, comedian Andi Osho describes it perfectly:


My "hunting" expedition turned out to be farcical and was probably closer to a comedic tragedy, where I was the fool.


Twitterverse

Enter being on Twitter. I am on Twitter occasionally. I don't have that much of a following. That's ok with me. In fact, I currently am following more people than those who follow me. That's probably kept me sane.

Oftentimes someone will follow me on Twitter to get me to follow them back. They often have a blog or a podcast that interests me. When I do follow them back, many times they promptly unfollow me. It's a tactic for a content creator to get more people to follow them.

So one person started following me who had a blog, called "Sacred Tension." I quickly perused it and like what I read. At the time the author, Stephen Long, was a progressive Christian, who was also gay. He had also been a witness and a victim of a mass shooting at a YWAM campus in Colorado. I followed him back. I read some of his pieces and one of them struck out at me. He had written a piece on whether or not YWAM is a religious cult. Reading this piece was fascinating. It started me on my own journey to see whether or not my former denomination, The Salvation Army, was also a cult.

So I reached out to him by Twitter and talked to him about my own experiences deconstructing my faith and whether or not my old denomination was a cult. (I came to the conclusion that it is not a cult, but does have tendencies to become one.)

We had a great conversation and got to know each other. Then I told him about my disastrous exploits dating. We exchanged phone numbers and had a great conversation. It was so nice to finally talk to someone who had been through something similar. Stephen was in a stable relationship and it was great to hear how he somehow made it safely through his own deconstruction.


The Podcast 

A couple of years later Stephen started a podcast. To get his feet wet, he actually interviewed me. I was so happy to do so. It was a bit rough in cut and there are still 8 minutes of silence at the end, but I was very happy with how in turned out.

He started a Patreon account, which I happily support to this day. He would often have patron-only podcasts, too, which were often unedited and definitely unscripted. Sometimes I was on these podcasts and then eventually joined him full time as a podcaster, but only on his Patreon page, which is behind a pay wall. Sometimes Stephen will release one of these for the general public to listen to. I was slightly mortified when one of these was entitled, "Cat Ejaculation."

Becoming a Satanist

I started noticing a slight change in my conversations with Stephen. He started talking a lot about Satanism. I knew from my time as a pastor that most Satanists don't actually worship Satan. They aren't making child sacrifices. I had the view that it was a protest religion, protesting Christianity (for the most part) and the evils that Christianity has imposed on our society. What evils? Freedom of Religion is enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but is often not upheld or is flaunted (such as putting "In God We Trust" on US currency to erecting statues of the 10 Commandments on public property).

However, to say that Satanism is a protest religion would not be entirely accurate. They certainly protest, but that is not the extent of who they are. Many people think they just troll Christianity. That is also not entirely accurate. There are Satanists who definitely troll, just as many Christians troll, but that doesn't define who they are.

Privately to his close friends and me, Stephen told me that he was going to become a Satanist. What won him over were the Seven Tenets of The Satanic Temple. (See the link for a better description.)

Stephen no longer felt home in Christianity. He is gay. That excluded him from most congregations. He is in a committed relationship with another man. That excludes him from even more. He was constantly being attacked for those beliefs. Is it any wonder that he fled Christianity?

At first I was bemused. Then a bit bewildered. It wasn't an overnight thing for me to fully comprehend and understand the change that Stephen was going through. However, he did find comfort in Satanism. He found people who accepted him and loved him for who he was. He became one of their most ardent supporters. He is now an ordained Minister of Satan.

Love and acceptance does that to you. When I am loved and accepted, there isn't anything I wouldn't do for that other person.

A Better Person

What I have noticed about my friend is that he has become an even better person than many other Christians I personally know. Stephen has never condemned me for my beliefs, or lack thereof. He has listened to me when I was going through heartbreak. When I was going through a particularly low moment, I am convinced he probably saved my life, just by being there for me and listening to me cry my eyes out.

At the same time, I am not trying to proselytize him nor he me. He is happy and content with Satanism. It has made him a better person. Why in the world would I want to disturb that?

As much as I value right thinking (orthodoxy), I value right actions more so (orthopraxy). It is not so much what we think, but what we do with our beliefs that matters perhaps more so in the scheme of things. Even the writer of James would agree with this statement (See James 1:22).

When I was down, Stephen was there for me. He listened to me. He supported me. When I was in need, Stephen helped me out in more ways than one. He doesn't condemn me. He loves me as a brother.

My friend, Stephen, the Satanist, is perhaps one of the best Christians I know.

Does that sound shocking? Perhaps. I would even think that Stephen would disagree with me about my conclusion. However, I truly believe it is not our correct thinking that defines who we are, but how we act. How we treat each other. How we love each other.

In devoting himself to the Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple, my friend has become one of the best Christians I know and I will always be grateful to him for that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Way, the Truth, and the Life


(An erotic cinema, located across from The Salvation Army in Hamburg, Germany)

Missionsteam Hamburg

The year was 1997. I was completing my practicum for my Master's Degree while living in Hamburg, Germany. I was with The Salvation Army's "Missions Team," which was made up of a group of young people who were trying to either do a year of social work (if they were male to avoid the compulsory military service), or they wanted to do the German equivalent of a Gap year.

When people who know Germany find out you have been to Hamburg, the next question usually is:  "Did you go to the Reeperbahn?" The Reeperbahn is the main thoroughfare in Hamburg's St. Pauli district, which is the notorious Red Light District of Hamburg. The Salvation Army was located right in the heart of that district. Appropriate, in my eyes.

The Red Light district was also the poorest neighborhood in town. Not only is prostitution legal (and regulated in Germany), but this area was filled with erotic cinemas, gambling, etc. The stench of urine and feces permeated the area. Our Missions Team would feed the homeless, distribute clothing, and for some odd reason they made me a barber (even though I had NEVER ever had any experience cutting hair).

Once a week we would hold what The Salvation Army called an "open air" meeting. It was like a street church service. We would form a half circle and do skits, sing songs, and give a short message on a Scripture passage. 

I recall one time when we were having one of these Open Air meetings, we were being filmed by a local news crew who was doing a report on us. With the added cameras there, this brought about more attention from the local populace. Along came a large bearded man. You could smell the alcohol and body odor on him. While the cameras were rolling, he yelled out in German:

Ich bin der Weg, die Wahrheit und das Leben! Niemand kommt zum Vater dann durch mich!

For those of you who cannot speak German, he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life! No one comes to the Father except through me!"

This man then charged through our circle. He knocked over some of our team members, turned around and shouted again:  "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life! No one comes to the Father except through me!" Needless to say we were all shocked by this performance.

This, of course, was not my first experience with those words. This sentence, spoken drunkenly by this German, was something that Jesus was recorded as saying to his disciples before he was executed for treason (John 14:6). The disciples were celebrating the Jewish festival of Passover and Jesus was giving them what I would consider his last final instructions. I imagine it as if he was trying cram all of his knowledge and comfort to them before leaving them.

I sometimes think that the disciples here were confused. They were young people who had triumphantly followed Jesus through a whirlwind of miracles, speeches, and a flagrant flaunting of religious authority. I can only think that they might have thought they were invincible. Suddenly Jesus was saying that he wasn't going to be with them. He was going to leave them, but he was also preparing a place for them.

I would be perplexed. Apparently, Thomas was, too. He asked the question I would have asked: "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (John 14:5 CEB). Jesus answered him with the answer given by that drunk German.

Jesus was giving comfort to his disciples.

Too often Christians use these words of Jesus as some sort of exclusionary tactic or litmus test for people. They especially use it against non-Christians to make it an "Us versus Them." This type of dualism can lead to unnecessary strife.


OnlineCorps

When I was a Salvation Army officer, I was invited by some officers in the USA Western Territory to participate in some online Bible Studies. We then started a course for comparative religious studies. The goal of the studies was not to show how Christianity was somehow "better" than other religions, but rather to give people an understanding of other religions and how we might engage with them. We jokingly called it:  "Let's Talk About Sects."

Everything was going great until we came to Islam. During our discussion, I was asked by one of the participants (who was a Salvation Army soldier (layperson)) to denounce Islam as a false religion. I refused to do that. To denounce Islam as a false religion would be to say that Christianity is better than other religions. Christianity should be a religion of humility and putting others first, not of denouncing others as being wrong.

This soldier then asked what I did with Jesus' statement that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. My answer is what I gave above. Jesus was attempting to comfort his disciples, knowing that he would be dying soon most likely. He was trying to reassure them that by following his example of living, they would never be apart from Jesus. To follow Jesus is to be with Jesus. To be with Jesus is to be with God. In that sense, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Well, my answer displeased them. Some others who had listened to my statement started a protest letter which they sent to the Territorial Commander (somewhat like a cardinal). It resulted in OnlineCorps being immediately suspended and then eventually cancelled. It had the also unfortunate effect of an employee being fired and another officer being transferred. Since I was not under their direct supervision, a protest letter was sent to my personnel secretary. When I was terminated as an officer, one of the reasons for my termination (besides being bisexual and advocating for LGBT inclusion in The Salvation Army), was this whole incident.

Wow. To put it mildly, I was flabbergasted.

I still believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. However, I stand by what I said those years ago:  Jesus is not a litmus test to see who is a Christian and who is not. He is not the Way to Heaven. By following Jesus, we are building Heaven now, not later, here on Earth.

How is Jesus the Way? How is Jesus the Truth? How is Jesus the Life? In pursuing Jesus, in following Jesus, we can find the meaning we are looking for. It isn't one of exclusion. It isn't one where Christianity is superior to all other religions. In following Jesus, we can experience that life in abundance.


photo credit: txmx 2 Talstrasse8 via photopin (license)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Is The Salvation Army homophobic?



It’s that time of year again. Decorations are out. In the town I currently live in, Branson, they skip over Thanksgiving and put up Christmas decorations on November 1. 

I am slowly starting to be able to celebrate Christmas with joy again.

When I was a Salvation Army officer, I dreaded this time of year. The emphasis was on making money and trying to raise enough money to be able to support ourselves for the next coming year. Any joy that I had was taken away by the need to make money. If we didn’t make enough money, our finances were micromanaged by our headquarters and we were restricted as to how to spend our funds.

Most people do not realize that The Salvation Army is actually a Christian denomination. Their theology is very similar to the Methodist Church. It would fall under the Wesleyan-Arminian (Holiness) tradition. They just use military jargon for all church descriptions. Officers are pastors. Soldiers are laity. A congregation is a corps, etc. They have one general and he or she is like the pope.

As a denomination in and of itself, I could never count on my parishioners’ donations to fund the services that we did. We were always a small congregation and we barely had enough money. There was no way I would even be able to make my wages.


Is The Salvation Army homophobic?

I am always invariably asked whether or not The Salvation Army is anti-LGBTQ.

The answer is a resounding YES.

“How could this be?” You might ask. The Salvation Army has put up numerous websites, trying to refute the evidence that they are anti-LGBTQ. Some of these are very, very effective. Others are less so. You see, The Salvation Army tries to place a distinction between their “practical” services and their “theological” services. In the end, their theology informs their acts of service. Unfortunately, that includes the belief that people involved in “homosexual” relationships are in fact sinning.

My own personal belief is that they are trying to straddle the fence. On one hand, The Salvation Army receives millions of dollars from various governmental services to provide all sorts of assistance to people. There is always the caveat that these funds must be used without discrimination.

At the same time, The Salvation Army‘s actual theological stance is a very conservative one. They believe that being gay in and of itself is not a sin, but acting out on homosexual tendencies is a sin. I am forced to laugh at this. What do they mean? Having sex? Looking at someone of the same gender as attractive? Having rainbows for decorations? As a person in the LGBTQ community, you would only be welcome to attend their services. You would not be allowed to become a member. They certainly would not officiate at any weddings. Any Salvation Army officer (pastor) who attends a gay wedding must do so out of uniform, or else they would be terminated.

The Salvation Army has removed all position statements about LGBT issues from all of their websites, but they still exist. They just refuse to publish them because they are so inflammatory. On the one hand, they want to be true to their policy of discrimination against the LGBT community. On the other hand, they do not wish to lose out on funding from the general public and from government sources.


Money

In the end, it’s all about money. This time of year especially is vital to The Salvation Army. When I was an officer, I was repeatedly informed that we normally receive half of our monetary donations during the holidays. 

I view it this way: if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, The Salvation Army is obligated to help you out, especially if they have government funds. However, their theology does not allow them to accept you or to support you. If you just take a cursory glance at the many social media sites, especially those on Facebook, you will notice that there are several groups set up by members of The Salvation Army in direct defiance of anything LGBTQ inclusive. They regularly publish conversion therapy websites and links to “ex-gay” ministries. Technically they are not officially affiliated with The Salvation Army, but they do represent the majority opinion.

I will grant that there are discussions right now in The Salvation Army regarding “conversion therapy” and inclusion. However, because The Salvation Army is a military hierarchy, with a top down structure, any theological change will need to be taken from the top. A grassroots movement has largely been ineffective. I even challenged those who should be allies in The Salvation Army to take a more vocal stand and risk their beliefs for censure and termination. That challenge was met with derision. It is too much for them to risk losing their spiritual home.

And I get that. I didn’t want to leave The Salvation Army. I was made unwelcome there. They were my spiritual foundation. I am who I am because of them. However, because I am a member of the LGBTQ community, I will never truly ever be welcome there again. It really is a type of spiritual abuse.

It goes the same way for The Salvation Army if they were to suddenly become accepting of the LGBTQ community. Many members would leave an already small denomination, leaving them with only social workers and pastors, ill-equipped to handle an already behemoth charity organization.

What would force The Salvation Army to change? In one word: money. If people stop donating to The Salvation Army and let it be known that it was because the Army is anti-LGBTQ, then maybe, just maybe, The Salvation Army will change their stance. It’s sad, but true. This year, especially because of the pandemic, The Salvation Army is already expecting a drop of about 50% in the United States for their donations. As the founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, once said, "That and better will do."

Instead, donate your money to agencies that don’t discriminate. It would be one thing to stop donating to The Salvation Army. It would be better, though, if you used your funds to donate to causes that do not discriminate whatsoever. Even better, donate to organizations that actively strive to help the LGBTQ Community.

I used to love The Salvation Army. They showed me what it meant to care when no one else would care. They had no problem going to where the need was greatest. It was when they told me I was no longer welcome because of my orientation that I saw them for what they truly are:  hypocrites.



photo credit: SchuminWeb Salvation Army bell ringer via photopin (license)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Psalm 137

A Paraphrase

By the rivers of the Rio Grande, there we sat down and wept when we remembered our homeland.

Upon the sands of the desert we laid down our burdens.

For there are captors demanded of us documentation and our tormentors required proof, saying:

"Prove to me that you fled your homeland because someone was trying to kill you."

How can I show them the terror of my children as guns were pointed to our heads? How can I show them the coercion we faced at the hands of our oppressors?

Oh, America, doomed for destruction! How happy are they who do to you what you did to us! How happy are they who take away your children and lock them in cages!


An interpretation of Psalm 137 from the view of asylum seekers to the United States.



Monday, October 26, 2020

On Being Bisexual




I don't always like talking about my sexuality. It's a personal issue for me, one that has led to both many joys and many heartaches. If I were honest with myself, the heartaches were more frequent than the joys, but when the joys came, they came in overflowing passion. Yes, I realize that they etymology of "passion" comes from suffering. So I see the irony in this as well.

The questions and comments about my sexuality sometimes overwhelm me. The comments come from both straight people and people in the LGBT community:

"I don't agree with your lifestyle, but I still love you."

"If you're bisexual, doesn't that mean you want to have sex all the time?"

"Being bi is the holding spot for fabulous, when you become gay."

"Isn't it possible that you're gay and not bi?"

"Have you ever heard the term, 'Bi now, gay later?'"

"How do you reconcile the Bible with your lifestyle?"

"Aren't you afraid of going to Hell?"


So, in a (perhaps futile) attempt to clarify who I am, I felt it might be time to explain what it means for me to be bisexual. I am by no means an authority on bisexuality. My experiences are mine alone. They may or may not be similar to other bi people's experiences.


When did I know?


No, I don't fall into the category of:  "Somehow I always knew." I didn't know what was going on with me. Growing up, I noticed myself being attracted to both men and women. It was at times disconcerting and confusing for me. I was scared to have any relationship, with either a man or a woman. I knew immediately that if I tried to have a relationship with a man, I would be disciplined by my parents. This is not a criticism of them, either. This is just a statement of fact. For them, any same-sex romantic relationship was a sin and a choice.

And . . . I at first believed that. I went on some dates when I was in high school. I was attracted to several girls at different camps, but my introverted self had so much difficulty in even approaching them. I didn't feel handsome. Going through puberty, who ever does? Having a bad case of acne, which could only be cured through Accutane, made my life a living Hell.

I went to Homecoming. Believe it or not, I was asked out. The whole situation for me was both great and awkward. She asked me out. She paid for dinner. She had the car. I felt like I was in a no-win situation. In retrospect, I should have realized that she showed so much interest in me and I should have been flattered. Instead, I was embarrassed:  Embarrassed that I didn't have a car at the time and embarrassed that I liked her, but didn't know what to do. I didn't go to prom at all while in high school. I just didn't have the courage to do so.

Do I regret that? Absolutely.

It was because I was attracted to women that I kept on thinking to myself:  "Being gay is a choice. It's not something that's genetic. People are lying and living in sin." How wrong I was.

You're probably thinking:  What about being attracted to men?

Yes, that happened, too, and came on in a fury. I hid it all, too. I saw guys my age and was attracted to them. I couldn't explain it, either. When people ask me what attracts me to men as opposed to women, it's hard to quantify. 

The Camp Years, with hair still!


Did I . . . you know?

I am not about to give away names, but this is perhaps is what was most difficult for me to do. Being attracted to both men and women, I would most often spend time with other guys my age. Sleepovers and camps sponsored by my church were the opportunities I had to experiment at all.

And, as with any church camp, the very next day was accompanied by amnesia and the guy I had the encounter with would normally deny it or act like nothing happened. Being a recluse, I was scared to even bring it up at all. Since those encounters happened at church youth retreats, church camps, or church sleepovers, the guilt placed on me by my church was overwhelming. It normally led to praying at the altar afterwards. (In my old denomination, this was a place near the front with a prayer rail and a place to kneel. For young people, it was only acceptable to pray at camp or a youth retreats, never during actual church services.)


The College Years




College came and matters only intensified themselves. My roommate, God bless him, was the best person in the world to me. I never discussed my sexuality with him and he was definitely only interested in girls.

And then it happened:  I fell in love. I fell in love with my best friend's girlfriend.

That sucks. It hurt like nothing else I had been through. I cared, though, more about my friend and never told him anything about it at all. When he moved back to Norway, his girlfriend insisted on spending every minute with me:  lunch, study breaks, on the phone. It was mostly to talk about him, but it became pure torture and pure bliss for me.

I was so confused. I didn't know what to do. My college offered counseling and I took advantage of it.

It was the first time I ever mentioned to another soul what I was feeling. I cried. I cried until it hurt to cry and I ran out of tears. All of those pent-up emotions came pouring out like never before. I felt so much better. Believe it or not, that counselor never told me what I was feeling was bad at all. He never said having same-sex attractions was a sin. That surprised me because I was attending a Christian college. I just assumed he thought that.

After my good, long cry, I was at peace again.


The Marriage Years

And then I was married! Those thirteen years together with my wife were some of the happiest and saddest times of my life. I had fallen in love with the most beautiful person in the world. It was wonderful. We had three beautiful sons together. The first son we struggled to have after a miscarriage. The second was a total surprise. Our last came during our difficult transition back to the United States from Germany.

In all that time I never discussed being bisexual with my wife. I had decided for myself that this was definitely a choice. I was happy with her. I enjoyed my life with her. I loved our ministry in Germany. I repressed everything I thought about other men. To my everlasting shame, I even told one of our members of our church in Germany that he should leave when he came out to me as gay.

At the same time, something terrible began to happen with me:  Depression. I was going through classic depression. I spent all my time in my office, buried in my computer or a book. I stopped talking to my wife. She became frustrated with me, too, and understandably so. It was during that time that our denomination, The Salvation Army, decided to send us back to the United States, not telling us why.

Only after being home for a year and a half did they tell us that they brought us home because of our marriage difficulties and thought to set us up with counseling when we returned. That didn't happen until we asked for help.

Instead, we were sent to a small congregation that had a history of financial problems, never having ever led a congregation in the United States. We floundered.

Our thrift store wasn't making any money. We just broke even. Our headquarters took over the store. It still only broke even.

I came out . . . as a liberal.

It was during this time that I had to face certain things about myself. I had changed. I had lived for 10 years in Germany:  from 2000-2010. I lived there before the attacks on September 11th. I came back to a changed and paranoid country. I was changed, too, but couldn't admit it to myself.

I started realizing I was a liberal with the horrendous healthcare system we have in the United States. My wife and I had decided to use a midwife to give birth with our third child, just as we had done with our first two children. This would have been covered by our insurance, but we had to find a doctor to give us prenatal care. Initially the doctors we talked with refused to even see us because we were giving birth at home. They felt that if we gave birth at home and something happened to the child that we would sue the doctors.

This was insane. We moved from a country where midwives are the standard for every birth and obstetricians are only called in case of an emergency.

So we had to pay for the birth out of pocket. Still, it was probably even cheaper than had we given birth at a hospital.

I started to complain about our situation on social media. Most of our friends, especially those in The Salvation Army, simply told us that we would get used to it again in the United States. We didn't. It seemed to get worse. Then they began to openly criticize us.

After detailing all of the frustrations I was having with the insurance and the absolute lack of any recycling facilities in our county, one of my parishioners told me, "You're a liberal." I was shocked. Me? A liberal? I voted for McCain in the election of 2008 (a decision I have since come to regret). Then I had to admit to myself. I was indeed a liberal.


The Progressive Salvationist

During this time, I thought to myself that I couldn't be the only one in my denomination who thought the same way. There had to be other people of a liberal persuasion.

Indeed there was. I found a fellow officer who posted many great posts about socialism and how Christianity is closer to socialism than capitalism. I approached this friend of mine and asked him what he thought about creating a group just for Salvationists of a liberal slant. We agreed and called the Facebook group:  "The Progressive Salvationist."




This was the beginning of the end of my career as a Salvation Army officer.

It was exciting. I met many other Salvationists, at first in the United States and Europe, but then worldwide, who were also progressive. We let anyone in at the beginning, as long as they were respectful. (This changed when people began sending screenshots to our headquarters to "report" on us.)

I began hearing very similar stories from our new members:  "I was an officer in The Salvation Army, but left because I am a woman and wanted to marry the woman I loved."

"I got kicked out of the Army for being gay."

I started then to think about this logically. When Jesus was on this Earth, he associated with people society had rejected:  Prostitutes, swindlers, unpatriotic tax collectors, lepers. If Jesus were here today, who are the marginalized of our society? The immigrant, people of color, the LGBT community. Jesus didn't ask them to change. He loved and accepted them. So I loved and accepted our members who were in the LGBT community.


What about you, Timothy?

I started then to logically think about myself. If you can love and affirm these other people who are in the LGBT community, what about yourself?

Can you be honest with yourself?

I. Am. Bisexual.

I cried. I came undone, but I was finally honest with myself.


The End

I came out to a friend. My messages were discovered, copied, and given to others against my knowledge and will. My wife was understandably upset. Although I still loved her, she wanted a divorce. There were other reasons, of course, but I will not disparage her. She is the mother of my 3 sons and I see the love of her in them as well. Divorce is never pretty and she will always be special to me.

Unfortunately, since we were going through the divorce, The Salvation Army terminated us as officers. They also told me that because of my stance on LGBT issues and because of my orientation, I can never become an officer again. My ordination was terminated irrevocably.

I lost everything:  My family, my job, my home, transportation, pension, etc.








The Beginning

I have talked in other posts about these issues before and what happened afterwards. 

Being bisexual openly is a new thing. I have had many friends come out to me personally, but not openly yet. It is comforting talking to them about what it means to be out. It is very difficult. It devastated my life, but it also opened up a new life.

What does it mean to be bisexual then for me? I have the best of both worlds. Loving all people no matter their gender is perhaps one of the godliest things I can think of.

I am reminded that Jesus said that the Greatest Commandments were to love God and to love others. All other instructions for life stem from these two. My being bisexual does not go against either of these commandments.

I am discovering God in a new way than I have met God before:  Bigger than the god of my childhood and evangelicalism. 

Awhile ago I wrote these words on Twitter:

One thing I miss about Evangelical Christianity is the anthropomorphized god I worshipped. This often centered on Jesus, which is not good for a good Trinitarian. It was as if this God were somehow tangible, giving rise to the "Jesus is my boyfriend" worship songs. That made it very confusing for me, growing up bisexual. In discovering mysticism, God became both impersonal and more personal; closer, but more aloof. In all this, I am still discovering who and what God is, leaving behind the god of my imagination and discovering the Mystical One.




photo credit: Arturo- The Last Waltz - Variações via photopin (license)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Jesus Was a Pharisee

Mark 2:23-28 (CEB)

Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of the wheat. The Pharisees said to Jesus, "Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?"

He said to them, "Haven't you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God's house and ate the bread of the presence, which only priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him."

Then he said, "The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren't created for the Sabbath. This is why the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath."



Pharisees

Ah, the poor Pharisees. They often have a bad reputation in Christian Scriptures. Some of it is deserved, but most of it is undeserved. The Pharisees were a religious order that sought to open up religion to all Jews. There were the Sadducees, who were mainly a priestly order. They were very strict and only followed the Torah, what Christians would call Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Then there were the Essenes:  a Jewish monastic order that sought to purify themselves from the rest of society, living by themselves. Some people speculate that even John the Baptist might at one time have been a part of this order.

The Pharisees, however, wanted to have God for all the people. As with any religious group, with their size, they developed into factions. There was one faction that wanted to be precise in their worship of following God. They wanted to be so certain that God's commandments were followed that they gave commentary on how the instructions were to be followed. In this instance, the disciples of Jesus were eating grains of wheat. Eating wheat on the Sabbath was not breaking the law for these Pharisees. What was breaking the law was that they were actually husking the wheat to eat the kernels.

The scandal! [I keep misplacing the sarcastic font.]

There was another branch of Pharisees that were more generous in their understanding of Scripture:  the heart of the Instructions needed to be followed, not the letter of the Law.

In this sense, Jesus was a Pharisee.


Jesus wasn't a Pharisee that was a strict interpreter of the Law. Just the opposite. He continuously stated he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. What was the fulfillment of the Law? Jesus stated that it was to love God and love others. (See Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:27.) All of the other instructions we see in the Scripture, especially the ones that contradict each other, should fall under the guidelines of "loving God and loving others."

Religion changes over the decades. This is why we see at one point slavery being condoned and regulated with Scriptural support. This is why we see women being oppressed and demeaned and not allowed to have any voice in the Church with Biblical support. This is why we people in the LGBT Community being condemned and murdered with Christian support.

We miss the point.

The Bible is not God. Fallible human beings wrote the Bible. They contradicted each other. They made mistakes. The Bible is still useful to us as a guide, but we must keep in mind what the Christ desires from us:

Love God. Love others.

The rest is just theology.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Where or Who is a God Like You?

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity, overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance? He doesn't hold on to his anger forever; he delights in faithful love. He will once again have compassion on us; he will tread down our iniquities. You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will provide faithfulness to Jacob, faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our ancestors a long time ago." -- Micah 7:18-20 (CEB)

If you were looking for a sign this is it.

Who or Where is God?

Several years ago I learned a German worship song, based on these verses.  Here is the song, if you wanted to hear it:


Interestingly enough (at least for me), the version of the German verses state:  "Where is a God like you?" I haven't been able to ascertain why the translators of the German text (starting with Martin Luther himself) decided to translate it this way, but this translation was shocking for me. It knocked me down. As incorrect as it is in its translation, it was still a provocative question.

"Where is a God like you?"

I'd like to know where God is.

Sometimes I feel abandoned by God, lost, alone, and afraid. Not knowing where to turn to.

Where was God when George Floyd was murdered? Breonna Taylor? Ahmaud Arbery? Emmett Till? Malcolm X? Martin Luther King, Jr?

Where was God when I was assaulted for being bisexual?

Where was God when I went through a divorce?

The search behind the answers to these questions brings little comfort to me. No amount of Footprints in the Sand can assuage the pain I went through.





Maybe That's Not the Point

Maybe I'm not supposed to know the answers to those questions. Maybe it's up to me to do my part through the pain. Pain happens all the time. Suffering and pain are so much a part of life. Buddhism itself is a response to that pain and suffering.

That certainly does not make it any easier at all. For some people, there is no answer to the question:  Where is God? It is simpler for them to say that God is not there. It is harder to say God is there, but God does not interact because God is not omnipotent or God does not care.

I remember, however, that I am not guiltless either. There have been countless times when I missed the mark. I have made so many mistakes in my life that I am really overwhelmed that I'm still around:  the mistakes I made as a parent, as a son, as a student, as an adult, as a missionary, and also as a pastor. I remember all of the things I used to believe, the choices I had made, the burden I became to others.

I feel ashamed. Maybe God does not act because I have not acted.


WHO is a God like you?

Despite my German Christian friends' Luther translation, the correct translation is "Who is a God like you?" It's almost like a play on words of the prophet's name:  Micah. Micah means "Who is like [God]?"

I've made tons of mistakes. More than I can count. More than I care to dwell on. Even through all those missteps, God was there for me in my life. Some people in traditional Christian circles call these errors "sins." They had a more forbidding aspect to them:  eternal damnation.

Thank God (literally), this is not the case. God does not hold our mistakes against us. He does not hold our sins against us. However, maybe in this instance it might be better to use the feminine pronoun, "she" for God. Verse 19 states that God will have "compassion" on us. The English translation of "compassion" means to "suffer with."

In Hebrew, however, this word has more to do with the love of a mother for her children and the root base of the word is actually "womb."

So God, in Her compassion, takes care of us and throws our mistakes deep into the sea. For the ancient Hebrews, the Sea was also an ancient deity (Yam), more dreadful than Poseidon, Neptune, or Ulmo (for Tolkien fans). It might also explain why the ancient Hebrews were never really a seafaring nation, despite being located on the Mediterranean. So our sins, our mistakes, the wrong we did in our life, has been cast into a place only those looking for fear and terror would venture. It's best to leave them there.

Have you messed up in life? Have you needed to start over? Have you stumbled and fallen and felt that life is over? God is compassionate. God doesn't count this against us. God does not condemn. God is love and will be there for us. We are not alone. We have each other and in that connection, God is there, too.