Pi and pluralism...


Over the last couple of weeks, I've done more thinking than usual. I'm getting close to my two-month anniversary of not having been to church (apart from chapel services at Garrett). I've been busy writing papers for courses, slowly working on bits and pieces of my final integrative project. I've been watching movies, cooking, walking. More than anything else, I've been having conversations. Mostly, when these conversations have pertained to my own faith journey, they've revolved around or ended up on one major topic: pluralism.

Also over the past few weeks, after going to see Cloud Atlas with Frankie and seeing the trailer for Life of Pi beforehand, I decided to read the book. I'd been getting tired of re-reading the same stories over and over (which should tell you something since, prior to this year, I hadn't read a new fiction novel in quite sometime, but instead kept reading old favorites like the Harry Potter and Ender's Game series as well as The Giver), and so I figured it would be a good one to tackle.

Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, I do want to address one particular aspect of it...

In the first part of the novel, we see Pi (the main character... clearly) going through a crisis of faith. Pi is a Hindu, both by culture and by practice. He knows the stories, goes to temple, and lives his life according to the principles foundational to his faith. While on vacation, however, he comes upon a small, rural Catholic church, and his curiosity gets the best of him. He has several conversations with the cleric, wrestling with questions about the Christian faith that stem from his Hindu understanding of divinity and the relationship between divinity and humanity. Ultimately, before concluding his vacation, he rushes up to the priest shouting his desire to be a Christian, after which the priest tells him he already is one because he has searched.

Here's the thing: Pi never renounces his Hindu faith. In fact, he has no desire to do so.

He has found God in Krishna. He has found God in Christ.

Later, Pi encounters a Muslim baker, an ordinary man who, in the middle of explaining the intricacies of making bread to Pi, is interrupted by the call to prayer, excuses himself for a few moments, and returns to the boy picking up right where he left off. Pi is so astounded by the man's devotion and humility that he feels compelled to know more. As with the Catholic priest and Christianity, he begins to explore Islam more in-depth, ultimately becoming a practicing Muslim himself.

Again, he never leaves Hinduism, and he never turns away from Christianity.

He has found God in Krishna. He has found God in Christ. He has found God in Allah.

One unfortunate day, while out for a walk with his parents, the trio encounter another, one made of up the priest, the imam, and the pandit who have served as Pi's religious guides. None of them know about the other, and all three experience a sense of shock and horror to know that Pi has been, well, triple-dipping. They're confused, and their confusion leads to outrage, which leads to questions, all of which are directed at Pi, who by this point has nearly wet himself. His mother asks for his response.

He answers, "Bapu Ghandi said, 'All religions are true.' I'm just trying to love God." (p.69)

I was awestruck. Something about Pi's words resonated so deeply within me that finding words to describe it is proving difficult.

For some time now, I've felt my faith growing and transforming, but not in the direction I expected. Questions have surfaced. Contradictions raised. Some things were making more sense, and others were making less.

After announcing my decision to leave the United Methodist Church, several friends asked me what my plans were. Would I go back to church? Would I pursue ordination elsewhere? Initially, the answer was yes. Now, in all honesty, I'm not so sure.

In my twenty-eight years of life, the vast majority of my faith journey has taken place within the confines of Christianity. Since starting seminary and studying theology, I've experienced a transformation that has far surpassed my own expectations or imagination. I'm at a crossroads, and the words of Pi have helped articulate the direction I see myself taking.

For several years, I've been superficially curious about other faith traditions and belief systems. In the past, any time I studied another faith, it was always through the lens of a Christian author, speaker, or spiritual leader. I never left the safe bubble of my own background. I am, indeed, a cultural Christian, and it's taken me this long to realize that.

I've been feeling the desire, the urge, to explore, to delve into the beliefs and practices of other faith traditions and ideologies. Not simply at a superficial level either, but in a fully immersed fashion. I'm not entirely sure what this part of my journey will look like, especially given that I still have slightly over a year left in seminary. I do know that Jesus is (and probably always will be) important to me in a more unique way than I can express. But if Jesus is God, and God is omnipresent, then there is a possibility that Jesus, or more accurately the Christ spirit (the Logos), is present in a more expansive way than I personally have ever seen or experienced. The motto of the United Church of Christ is "God is still speaking." I, for one, want to make sure I'm listening.

Pluralism is often defined as the acceptance of all religious paths as equally valid, promoting coexistence. For many, this is manifested in a sort of tolerance of other faiths, a belief that "I believe this. You believe that. We're never going to change each other's mind, so we might as well put up with each other." That's not enough for me. I never want to feel as if I'm simply putting up with another person, another human. I never want to look at them and think that, because they believe something different from myself, that they are somehow unable to truly be a part of my life. For me, pluralism is about identifying with the other, making him or her a part of myself. It's about saying, "I believe this. You believe that. We might not change each other's mind about anything, but I'm sure there's something we have in common, whether in belief or goal."

It may be that this journey will lead me right back to Christianity, albeit as a different person with a broader understanding of God, faith, and spirituality. It may lead me elsewhere. I honestly can't say for sure. But like Pi, I simply want to love God.

Whose cross...

Yesterday, I found myself with a few more friend requests on Facebook. One of the individuals told me he heard of my story on Towleroad. Out of curiosity, I decided to Google myself and see what showed up. One result was a post from a contributor at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. It took reading over it several times before I could fully make sense of what was being said, or more importantly, in this case, what was not being said.

The article, in addition to being, well, a grammar Nazi's nightmare, reeked of subtext. There was more being unsaid than said. In any case, speaking to a friend who shared more with me about the organization, her words when picking up the phone were, "Congratulations on getting quoted by the IRD." Apparently, among my circle of friends, to be quoted (or more importantly, attacked, albeit in a very subtle fashion) by the IRD is a sign that you're doing something right. It's the good kind of scarlet letter. And so I felt a certain sense of pride.

I also felt a sense of angst. There was this tone of manipulation and coercion that was present, and I don't fare well with either of those. This is my response to the article:

I did not pass to move on to full ordination. I was certified as a candidate. The United Methodist ordination process is a long one, usually taking 5-7 years. I'm still in seminary and have taken more time than most to get to this most recent stage of ordination.

"This concern that somehow we won’t be “true to ourselves” or “authentic” when we become Christian puzzles me. As Psalm 51 one says, “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We all have baggage as we step into Church. If being Christian required us to be perfect before our baptism, no one would get baptized."

I understand that from your perspective, my sexual orientation should be construed as "baggage." But I feel you missed the point. As a person called to ministry, I believe that authenticity and integrity are vital to effective ministry. The reality is I'm a gay man (not homosexual... if you want real dialogue, don't be so condescending), partnered who has wrestled with my sexuality for most of my life and, after much thought, prayer, and discernment, has come to the conclusion that I am neither called to celibacy nor any attempt at changing my sexual orientation.

You say you're not here to offer reasons as to why homosexuality is sinful. I'm glad for this, and here's why: if we want to be honest about it, scripture never addresses homosexuality as an orientation. In fact, it doesn't address the idea of sexual orientation at all. The concept was foreign up until the last couple of centuries. Also, as for holy scripture and Christian tradition serving as foundational reasons for why homosexual practice is sinful, let's not forget that both scripture and tradition rationalized the subjugation and dehumanization of women as well as the rightness of slavery in North America. When we look back on those issues today, scripture was not right... at least human interpretation of scripture was incorrect.

Throwing in buzzwords like "lifestyle" and insinuating that any sexual orientation other than a heterosexual one is not an inborn part of a person doesn't prove your point or make you right... it shows your fear (not you necessarily as an individual, but the systemic you). Fear of losing power. Fear of change. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being in true relationship with anyone whom you might categorize as "other" or separate. Fear of abandoning yourselves to the real message of the gospel, the one that challenges the status quo, that makes the first last and the last first.

It's been said that perfect love casts out all fear. I pray that you and many others might experience this perfect love in a way that forces all fear out of you, allowing your hearts to be filled with true grace and your lives to be overflowing with abundant relationships with *all* people.

Peace, Michael

When I think about the cross that we are called to bear, I believe we must all wrestle with the ways in which we are to "crucify" ourselves or allow ourselves to be crucified. Denying who I am and who I love is not the cross I am called to bear. My cross, as I've understood it recently, is vulnerability—being someone who experiences the broken, fallen nature of the world to a deeper extent than most, and to do so while embracing a call to love and show grace to all, including those who would vilify and ostracize me. God's love is extended to all, and as a person who has experienced that love, I feel called to spread it outwards, to bring to light those places and actions that are shadowed by the absence or rejection of that love.



Over the course of my life, one question that's been asked of me time and time again is why I still have faith. After having my biological father give up his parental rights, after struggling with my sexual identity, after being raised in a verbally, abusive household, why do I still believe... both in the existence of God and in the goodness of humanity.

My first response has always been this: nothing else works for me. I've tried not believing in any sort of higher power. I've looked to science. I've meditated. I've lit candles and incense, sitting in silence in awkward poses. No matter what I do or where I do it, there has always been that gentle whisper calling to me. Whether I'm in the middle of a sobfest, laughing my ass off, in the throes of passion or surrounded by a quiet stillness, I still find myself face to face with something... someone... bigger than me.

In my particular case, this someone is Jesus. Oddly enough though, sometimes I've encountered Jesus in the Gospels, and other times, I've recognized him in the Quran. He's shown up in parts of the Torah as well as Bhagavad Gita. I see him in Ghandi and the Dalai Lama, in the girl at the Subway down the street, or the homeless man I took there for lunch the other afternoon. Since coming to seminary and diving into theological studies, an endeavor many friends said would destroy my faith and "take away my Jesus," I've learned to see him everywhere and in everything. I've also learned from my old ways and grown to understand that, for some people, many of whom I'm blessed to call friends, the message (or more often, the messengers) of Christianity and Christ is not all that compelling.

Having dealt with crippling depression for a number of years now, one would think that faith has been seemingly useless to me. From where I'm standing, though, it has been anything but. In times where I struggled with an eating disorder, the temptation for self-injury, and ideations and fantasies of suicide, something kept me tethered to this life and all that it has to give. Sometimes, I could put a name to it... sometimes I couldn't. This much was for certain... it was bigger than me, but not in a controlling, overpowering way. It has always been gentle, loving, even during those times that it challenged me and pushed me to my very limits.

"Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don't see." These are the words I heard growing up concerning faith. It makes it all sound so easy and simple, doesn't it? Well, truth is, for some people, faith is a simple reality. It comes quite naturally with little effort and significant ease. For others, including myself, faith takes work, struggle, and in many cases, a whole boatload of heartache. I'd be lying if I said I felt it was always worth it, at least in the moment. In time though, after realizing how surrounded I am by the faith of others, I frequently see my own faith strengthened. Sometimes it's in shouts and screams. Sometimes it's in tears or laughter. Mostly, though, my faith finds its strength in mere whispers.


Over the past few years, I've learned something really intriguing. For many of us, we learn who we are through the eyes and words of others. Some of us are able to develop a sense of self in a mostly independent fashion. The rest of us need a little bit of help. Unfortunately, our own brokenness often keeps us from seeing others as they truly are, especially those part of them that we might envy or feel missing within ourselves. When someone else's wholeness makes us more aware of our own lack of wholeness, we have a tendency to put on blinders.

I strongly believe that every single person suffers from some level of brokenness, but I also strongly believe that every person is capable of wholeness. Even more importantly, I think we all carry a piece of the Divine within us... a God-mark. I've been blessed to have a number of people in my life who could see that God-mark within me and told me so, most often during times where I was really struggling to see it in myself. When I can't see it in myself, it's often harder to see in others. In fact, when I don't feel it myself, I tend to project my lack of self-worth onto those around me. Thankfully, over time, I've learned to become more cognizant of this tendency and become more able to stop it mid-process.

Being in seminary, something about the environment tends to bring the depths of our brokenness out. It takes a lot to endure having your beliefs and presuppositions deconstructed and torn down. Sometimes, it gets the better of you. Now in my third year, I've witnessed a good amount of frustration in myself and in my peers during this journey of deconstruction. Often, it ends up getting directed at others (I do this as well... I'm not placing blame). The stress of being transformed turns us into something other than who we are... something angry, violent, judgmental... something weary, worn-out, burdened...

The biggest danger we face is a lack of self-awareness... a lack of perspective. When in a place that's strange and unfamiliar, we can't see who we are, and by proxy, we can't really see who others are. It's like being in a funhouse, full of mirrors that distort us and make us feel discombobulated. We have to be careful... we have to know that we're all on this journey together, and that we still all have that divine breath inside us. Everyone feels shattered from time to time. We can't take that out on others, especially those who seem more whole to us. When we speak to each other, we need to do so in love. When we make another person aware of a way in which they are manifesting brokenness, we need to do so gently, with compassion and understanding... even when we don't want to. Let's face it... one reality of being human is that we don't always like everyone we meet (for various reasons). But we are called to love them... a call that is not always easy.

Imagine what the world would look like if we engaged with others from a place of love and a presupposition of worth. Imagine if we put our whole selves out on the table, and in kind we respected and valued when others do the same instead of attacking their vulnerability because we're fearful of our own. Imagine being able to trust the ways others perceive us because we trust their love for us. Imagine telling others of the wholeness we see in them... both a wholeness already present, and a wholeness prophetically spoken into existence by the hope we carry within us. Imagine being a part of making someone else whole... of making everyone else whole...

How's that for a change of perspective...

Missing: Jesus...

Sitting down today with some classmates, we talked about a shooting that happened recently in Evanston. A 14 year old young man was shot through the chest on his way home from a party. Our group leader spoke of a candlelight vigil that was held in his honor for the boy's family. People who gathered spoke of the communal nature of raising children, yet of the 200 people gathered, only ten were persons of Caucasian descent. So much for community, right?

               In times of such visible evil, such tangible sin, where is the Creator? Does God take sides, and if so, whose side is God on? What does God have to say about the ways in which we treat each other? I'm not simply talking about the violence and murder. I'm talking about something as simple as responding to the homeless person on the street who asks for some change. I'm talking about giving thought into what purchases we make, not because we want to be thrifty, but because we care about the person on the other end of that dollar bill who makes the things we buy. I'm talking about taking control over the way we think of and perceive those around us... the ways we label and judge and criticize them.

We were talking about what it means to carry a prophetic message into a congregational setting when we came across the dilemma over how to deliver a challenging message while not isolating yourself from those whom you serve. Simultaneously we were discussing how to be faithful to God while honoring the covenants and oaths we make to the denominations who ordain us. In a moment of righteous anger and frustration, I believe I said something like this: "As for delivering the tough message, Jesus said he came to bring life and life more abundantly, and since he's not here in person, that leaves us to do the work, or at least to be a part of it. And since we can't do it alone, nor should we have to, if we don't bring those we serve into a place of action outside the church walls, then we may as well shut the doors. I'm not there to play house... and when I am, I still leave sorely disappointed. Last time I checked, my obligation is first and foremost to the Gospel as I understand it... not to some organizational charter. I understand the reason for being asked to be faithful to a denomination... there has to be some unity. But don't ask me to put your set of rules over and above the red letters." Some of this may have been in my head and not spoken, but that's the blessing of hindsight, right?

Is Jesus ever really missing from the work we do to build community, to see the world around us redeemed? I don't think so. He's only gone when we ask him to be... when we want to take the credit, as if redemption is our idea. But when we ask him to be present, and to empower the work we feel he's called us to be a part of, then he shows up, loves both on us and through us, and makes it possible for us to change the world around us, and change it in a way where his handprint is visible. But we have to be willing to do it. Even more so, we have to be willing to step outside and across the lines we've drawn that keep us from sharing that work and that burden with those who are also called to catalyze redemption... people of different colors, genders, nationalities, denominations, belief systems, sexual orientations, or any other identifier we use to delineate "us" and "them."

Jesus isn't missing from the world. He's there with both the sinner and the sinned against, loving on both equally. What's missing most of the time is our attention, our conviction to live out the challenge he's called us to. What's missing is our love for his other children. And as long as that's gone, the process of redemption, I think, gets stunted... slows down. I don't want to be the one to put limits on how God changes the world. I want to be the one who is there when God does something big... or little. When something redemptive happens, and I'm there, I get to see Jesus, even if by another face or name than I usually see or hear. Redemption is hard to miss...

Unless you're missing...

Speak up...

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching for our "contemporary" chapel service. It was the first time I'd preached since my last sermon at Irving Park last spring. It was my first time preaching at my school outside of the classroom setting. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous.

Part of my nerves came from having had a lot happen lately. I'm in my third year of seminary. I'm taking a course that forces me to think both of my entitlement and my oppression. I'm interning with an organization that engages the very denominations who look at queer people like me and see nothing but stereotypes and often feel nothing but disdain. I've just recently had a talk telling my mother that our phone conversations often left me feeling hurt and unheard, and therefore needed to be put on hold until the holidays. I've been working through my grief more. I've continued watching my diet, though my yoga practice has been put on hold due to a shoulder injury (a.k.a. stupidity on my part). I've decided to go a different route with my ministry, at least denominationally.

After writing my sermon last week, I sent it off to my former preaching professor for some edits and feedback, all of which I took into consideration when compiling my final draft. I got up there, and I just let go. From the first word, it was out of my hands. Now I personally think (or prefer to think) of preaching as an intimate act. It's a giving of myself to the people listening, and it comes with a prayer that they will be able to use part of that gift to deepen their own spirituality. Part of the challenge with seeing preaching as an intimate act is that I have the habit of dropping my volume as if in the midst of a sincerely intimate conversation. Unfortunately for preaching, this doesn't work all that well.

Another challenge for me, when it comes to preaching, I have a hard time believing that anything I have to say, to add to the conversation being had, is all that valuable or beneficial for anyone else to hear. Granted, according to what I've been reading in Henry Nouwen's Life of the Beloved, this is just a form of self-rejection, of denying the reality that I'm a beloved child of God with a uniqueness about me that no one else has. In any case, it's hard... not just for me, but for many of us.

After the service was over, several classmates and professors came up to me with affirmations and encouragement. But one in particular meant a lot to me. This particular professor is a self-admitted hard-ass with a tendency to be intimidating. I feel alright writing this because we've already had a conversation about this. In our brief encounter, he offered a much-needed critique about projection and articulation. I know it's an area of struggle for me, so I wasn't surprised. What did surprise me was when he looked me dead in the eyes, with a smile on his face nonetheless (something else that's often hard to earn), and told me, "You've got some really quality stuff here. You've got something important, really important to say, and I want to hear it."

It's hard to put into words what this compliment meant to me. Having come to some difficult conclusions lately about life, the universe, and everything, it's been challenging to trust my own voice, my own views. It's been hard to believe in my own value and worth. So to have this man whom I've not had as a professor and who only knows me in a fairly superficial sense speak this blessing onto me was invaluable. Personally, one of my strongest love languages is words of affirmation. It's important to me for those whom I love to know that I love them and to know why I love them so deeply. This is something we all need... someone to tell us that our voice matters, that our smiles and hugs make a difference, that our existence makes the world better. While it might not always feel like it, everyone in our lives is there for a reason, has something to offer us, and and has something to gain from our presence in their lives. It's a simple reality in theory, but it's difficult to assimilate and put into practice. Regardless, I strongly believe that when we remind others of their belovedness and we let others remind us of our own belovedness, we make community happen, and we make life better for everyone.


One particular topic that I seem to keep thinking about is bitterness. I've fought for a long time to not let it take root within me. Apparently, I've not been completely successful. This has taken awhile to realize, and it's not easy to admit. Bitterness is something I see in my mother, and as I've said before, the last person I want to be like is her... at least not what I consider to be her bad attributes. I remember one conversation with a prominent female member of my former home church. She was a staunch believer that homosexual tendencies both could be and should be reversed, or at the very least, repressed as deep as one possibly could. She told me stories of how being infected with HIV was inevitable for anyone who decided to be gay. Even scarier, she promised me that, if I chose "that lifestyle," God would harden my heart beyond repair and wash his hands of me, turning his back on me, leaving me to a life of unforgivable sin and irreparable heartache. This didn't have the effect she thought it would. This didn't push me further into repression. This didn't make me more passionate about reparative therapy. Instead, this only worsened my already strong belief that I was truly worthless. That there was no way God could ever love me. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to leave the church.

Six years later, I found myself back in a church community. I sang the songs. I took communion. I became a member. I made friends, sang with the choir, and cooked for potlucks. What I still couldn't accept was that God loved me, accepted me, made me. I was stuck in this limbo between having my faith, my love for God, rekindled and continuing to feel the immense brokenness of my past. This limbo started making me cynical, jaded. About God. About the church. About humanity. I felt the seeds of bitterness, of unforgiveness taking root, wrenching my heart, compressing it. I could not let this happen.

Here I am today. Another Monday. Another therapy session with Blake. Another realization...

I am loved. 

I... am... loved...

Three simple words, starting to take root within me, choking out those seeds of bitterness. The awareness of a love the exists for me, for all of us, started to envelop me. I have a storehouse of love surrounding me. My partner. My friends. My church family. My aunt and several cousins. My professors and mentors. These people who know me, my faults, my flaws. These people who share my laughter and my tears. These people who ask challenging questions and make me grow, make me strong. Their love shapes me. Most amazing though is how this love seeps into my pores, into every cell of my body and soul, reviving me, chipping away at the bitterness and cynicism within me. It touches those places within me that are broken, cauterizing the wounds with affection and acceptance. This love from my God and my neighbor makes me whole, piece by piece, bit by bit.

Another realization coincides with this one: there are also people in my life whose love for me, while it exists, comes with conditions, expectations that will never be met. This kind of love often does more harm than good, and as someone who is trying to better himself, becoming the man he truly was created to be, I cannot continue to let this version of love be a perpetual part of my life. I'm not sure what to do, but I know that I'm changing. I'm finally beginning to love myself. I'm beginning to heal, finally, after all these years of waiting for healing to begin. I can feel the bitterness, the pain within me dissipating slowly, being replaced by the irrefutable truth of how much and how deeply I am loved.

For queer persons raised in families and faith communities like mine, the journey to self-love is long and arduous, often riddled with destructive behavior and self-sabotage. It often takes therapy, and significant trial and error when it comes to developing and building one's created family or family of choice. This is the danger and struggle of being human, but in the end, we are stronger for it. We don't have to be bitter, cynical, or jaded. We don't have to look, find, and settle for cheap imitations of love. Real love is always there, being offered with the promise of more abundant, more fulfilling life. Its only condition is that, in receiving it, one is called to dole it out to others in need of it. It comes from the most unexpected places, sometimes in the weirdest forms, and can often be overlooked because of its simplicity. Let it fill you up, wrap its arms around you, and heal those wounds that only you know about. The pain takes time to go away, but when it does, the life you're left with is beyond description.

You are loved.


I have something to admit... I like contemporary Christian music...

There. I said it. And I'm glad I did. We're talking Point of Grace, 4Him, Nichole Nordeman, Jennifer Knapp, PlusOne, Jars of Clay, Third Day, Big Daddy Weave, FFH, Al Denson, Twila Paris, Avalon, dcTalk, Casting Crowns, Newsboys, Rich Mullins, David Crowder, Sonic Flood, Kari Jobe, Bethany Dillon, Jeremy Camp, Hillsong, Ray Boltz, Sixpence, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Stephen Curtis Chapman, and several more. This doesn't include the slew of praise and worship groups present, or my list of Southern Gospel artists either.

I have my reasons though. Growing up, raised under the teaching of "in not of," I believed that music within this genre set me apart. In reality though, it just made me part of the in-crowd of Christianity. It made me part of the "us" group instead of the "them" group. Back then, this was something that made me proud. It made me feel like I belonged.

Additionally, this music provided a way for me to escape the reality of the self-hatred I've dealt with for so long. If my focus could be on the message of the music rather than the truth of who I was, then I would be alright. Everything would be okay. The pain would eventually disappear and fade into nothingness. I could hide behind the clichés and the platitudes. At least that's what I thought.

During the six years I spent away from a faith community after coming out, this brand of music was the last thread connecting me to my Christian belief system. I wasn't going to church. I wasn't reading my Bible (something I still struggle with). I wasn't talking to God. All I had left was the music, and in a fight against crippling, overwhelming depressive symptoms, I could not let go of it. I would not let go of it. I felt that it was keeping me alive. If I let go of the lyrics and the often shallow theology, I would be letting go of God for good. This scared the living hell out of me.

These days, I still have my picks that I can listen to and still find nourishment, and there are artists or songs that I can barely stomach, mostly because two years of seminary education and three years of attending a progressive United Methodist church have drastically changed how I perceive God and my relationship with God. Still, in the place of life that I'm in right now, one song recently came to mind.

One of my favorite CCM trios has always been Phillips, Craig, & Dean. This group of Evangelical pastors turned CCM staple has always had a way of putting music out there that speaks to me. Granted, some of the theology can be troublesome, but the song in question still has relevance. It's called "Blessing in the Thorn". The chorus goes as follows:

When does the thorn become a blessing When does the pain become a friend When does my weakness make me stronger When does my faith make me whole again I wanna feel your arms around me in the middle of my raging storm So that I can see the blessing in the thorn

When I first heard this song in middle school (which makes me feel old), I imagined it being sung with a tone of sadness, of longing, and of hopefulness. This morning when it came to mind, in light of my conversations with Blake recently about the hostility present in my life, something changed. It didn't come to me as it had in the past. Instead, I imagined singing or speaking these words with a tone of anger, of frustration, of questioning, and of despair. I imagined a sort of Psalm 13 conversation with God, yelling, maybe even cursing.

It's taken a long time for me to realize and accept that it's okay for me to get pissed off at my Creator, and to express that emotion authentically. I was raised to believe that whatever happens, God's will was never to be questioned or challenged. While I'm sure the village responsible for my upbringing had good intentions and sincere beliefs, I think they were mistaken. I think that, as children of the Creator, we're allowed to question. If the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 who tells Jesus that "... even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Matt. 15:27, NRSV) can have her daughter healed after changing Jesus' mind, I think it's okay for the rest of us to question God and the ways in which God acts in our lives. It's alright for us to have doubts about what God's doing in, around, and through us. If prayer is meant to be a conversation between friends, then it makes sense for the occasional argument to be perfectly natural.

Recently, because of conversations with Blake and Audrey and others about my ordination process within the UMC, it's come to my attention that some of my hostility relates to a topic with which I thought I'd found peace: my sexuality. Turns out, I've still got an issue with it. Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of separating from my partner and re-entering the world of Exodus, Alan Chambers, reparative therapy, and excessive chauvinism. I've had a long, had battle in getting where I am. Apparently, there's still more work to be done and more healing to experience.

The short list: I'm hostile towards God for creating me this way (this is not an opening for a nature vs. nurture debate) and for doing so apparently with a very big purpose; I'm hostile towards those who raised me to believe that any sexuality other than hetero is wrong; I'm hostile toward my body for betraying me; I'm hostile towards all those who made me feel "less than" because I didn't have the perfect body, perfect smile, perfect wardrobe, perfect hair, or perfect _______; I'm hostile towards those who believe that who I am was in any way, shape, or form a "choice"; I'm hostile towards those who force me into a box of superficial descriptors simply because of who I am; and I'm hostile towards any who would make me feel shame for who I am. This isn't a comprehensive list by any means, but it's a starting point, a launch pad from which I can start to find peace and acceptance. It's a reality I must face if I'm ever going to live into the authenticity I so desire for my life and for my ministry. It's my thorn, and while I haven't found it yet, I know there's a blessing somewhere within it.


Heart heavy...

I talked with mom last night, twice actually. Lately we've only been talking about every other week or so, and only for a few scarce minutes at that. Since the ordeal with her mammogram and my stepdad's heart attack, I simply backed away from previous issues that were on the table, primarily that of my relationship with F. I love my mom. We did not have an easy relationship growing up. After her car accident, for many years, there was sporadic but ongoing physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Most days, I feel that I've reconciled myself with all that took place. Other days, it makes me aware of why Jesus said to forgive those who harm you 70x7 times - that's how often the pain can rear its head in your life, and each time takes forgiving them again. My relationship with mom is no different.

Shortly before Memorial day, my parents came to the city to visit me for the first time since I've truly lived on my own (dorms don't count to me, and even then, they rarely visited there). More importantly, this is the first time they have met a significant other. By that point in time, F. and I had been together almost 9 months (we will hit a year right around the Fall Equinox). In my mind he's not going anywhere, and he confirms this on a regular basis. This is where the challenge with my family comes in.

During the visit, my parents, though cordial, were distance and not engaged. I could tell the felt uncomfortable and awkward, and I tried my best to assuage as much of this as possible. When they left after the weekend was done, I thought it had gone well. Yet a couple of days later, in conversation with Mom, I realized it had not. They could not and would not accept my relationship as valid or right. Their claims while I was a child of "wanting me to be happy" apparently had conditions and stipulations that had not been previously made known to me. They said that F. was not welcome in their home and that this was an indefinite decision. I don't think my heart had ever been broken that badly before. It's most definitely still on the mend.

F. has been the most supportive individual I think I've ever had in my life. He put up with my schooling before while working full time, my crabbiness, my confusion and fear about the correct career path to take. And now, while still in the midst of pain caused by my family, he shows me more love and grace than any human has before, and in it, in him, I see a grace and love somewhat comparable to that of the Father, of Jesus. My neo-pagan gay partner shows me a more perfect version of Christ's love than many straight Christians I know. Think on that one for a minute...

In the meantime, back to my talk with mom last night. She said, "So you really don't think you'll ever change..." "No, I don't. If I wasn't with F., it would be someone else. But right now, I have no desire and don't see it being with anyone else but him." She cried, as she does sometimes. I know there is a loss there, a mourning and grieving that she must go through. This grieving for her, however, has gone on for somewhere between 11-17 years, the first signs of my identity and personhood showing up when I was as young as 9, maybe even earlier. I told her that I loved her, but that from here on out, I was part of a packaged deal. I could not and would not come alone again. That was my truth. It would not change that I loved her and Dad, and that I respected their wishes. But ultimately, the kind of relationship they had with me was no longer dependent upon my actions and decisions, but upon theirs. They would choose how involved and how close and how intimate they were with me. The second conversation happened mainly because I've been trying to determine the best way of getting the money I owed them from my tuition deposit to them in a timely and dependable fashion. It ended with my again reassuring mom that I loved her and was there for her and Dad in whatever way I could be, and that I appreciated their help financially.

F. and I went out last night because last minute he was asked to help with a demo at Touche. I was glad to go and spend time with his friends, whom I have been getting closer to over the past year, who have welcomed me into their world and given me space to wonder and question and learn and explore. Now I'm an open person to begin with, but a rough conversation with Mom and a couple of drinks, and that's definitely intensified. Yet they did not shy away from hearing a glimpse of was was happening in my life, but rather listened intently and offered empathy, advice, and support. At the end of the night, Frankie did the same when I shared discomfort of having him help me financially so often lately. The term partner definitely fits him perfectly.

It's nice to feel that I have developed a family here in my own locale, between his friends/brothers and my own friends from college, from GCN, and from Holy Covenant. Yet there is still a hole present from feeling as if I have lost a part of my family, a gap that right now hurts and seems to outweigh the parts of me that are filled up and that have been mended and healed. I would like to hope that things will change and get better. I don't know if that will be the case though. In the waiting though, God makes himself known as both the strong Father that I want to show me the way, and as the nurturing mother that yearns to share and alleviate my pain, placing people in my life to help along the way and remind me of how not alone I am...

All that being said, thanks be to God.