I was reading Pandagon again, searching for something else about which to rant, when I came across a link to website from yet another old friend.
Jason and I worked together at a Boy Scout Camp in high school. He was a year or two older than me, and I remember being jealous of his Lord of the Ring’s walking staff. It was a sturdy branch that had a perfect Gandalf face carved into the head. I told him I thought it was cool and I asked where he had purchased it, hoping I could score one for myself. He told me that a friend of his had carved it, that it was unique, and that I was not likely to find another of its kind anywhere. He still let me use it on occasion, when I wald take my group of kids through the woods to the river or over to Camp Craig for swimming.
This was before The Lord of the Rings was popular. Back before it was cool to be uncool.
My Boy Scout troop dissolved after its first year, so I got stuck working for the day camp crew, fighting with little kids who wanted to do nothing but scream loudly and set stuff on fire. Jason worked as either the Hiking or Nature instructor (I can't remember which). He had one of the cool gigs in the shade. Jason was a full fledged Boy Scout with high honors. He and another staff member once rigged a zip line that flew a full thirty feet, around a large pine tree, and into a pile of needles and leaves. We never let the kids do this, of course, but when nobody was looking we’d grab the bar, fling ourselves into the air, and fly like laughing idiots around the tree and into the not-so-soft pile of leaves.
I could be wrong about some of this. It was a while ago and memories have a way of fading over time. But I could be right. Sometimes memories stick with you. Sometimes they stick.
We’d hang out playing cards at night when the campers were asleep and the parents went home. There was a large group of us, the core consisting of Joe Dermody, a short wrestler and football player from Finneytown; Rick Berrish who, despite the fact that he was overweight and looked nothing like him, did an amazing impersonation of William Shatner; the Stephens twins, one as spastic as a Chihuahua on speed and the other as laid back as a Zen master locked in a fridge freezer; and Amy Schweitser, who once explained to me the mysteries of AP chemistry while we sat by the pool watching our kids flail and kick in the deep end.
I had the hots for Amy at the time, but then I had the hots for all the girls back then. I was fifteen, so that kind of went with the territory.
I remember once when I remarked to Jason that I was a fan of hard rock and heavy metal, the finest example of which I believed to be Metalica's "Master of Puppets" album.
He said, “You should listen to Led Zeppelin. They are the true gods of rock.” He was right, of course, and I currently own every Led Zeppelin album produced by either Atlantic or the Swan Song lable. I can count the number of Metalica cds in my collection on zero hands (or one hand with no fingers, whichever you prefer).
Jason was a good guy back then. From the looks of things, he still is.
But with the present being the way it is and the tendency of our aging minds to both broaden and contract in the face of different situations, you are likely to now ask how I, a Christian, can hold such a high opinion of a gay man. That is a good question to ask, assuming you are honest and true in your intentions. It is a question which, I fear, has not been asked enough in our society. No, not enough.
This is, in fact, a question I posed of another friend, Donald ??????, while walking through the hallowed Residence Halls of Wright State University in the Spring of my second sophomore year of college. Donald and I were both Resident Advisors for the dorms and we were on our nightly trip through the halls in search of underage students making asses of themselves under the drunken gaze of the God of Beer. The night was slow, so I posed my question.
“Hey,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you get pissed off at me or anything, so please don’t be mad.”
“What?” he said, not quite sure what I had said. I am normally a quiet person, so outbursts like this are not in my nature.
“I want to ask you something,” I said again, this time slower. “But the subject is likely to be offensive. It’s a question I’ve had for years and nobody has been able to give me a good enough answer, so please don’t assume that I’m trying to piss you off or come off as self-righteous or anything.”
“Ok,” he said, wary of what I might ask.
“Remember how we went to that seminar about religion in school a few weeks ago?” I started.
“Yes,” Donald said, beginning to understand what I meant to ask him. A few weeks prior to this conversation, a group of Resident Advisors made a trip down to Cincinnati for a Residence Life convention. One of the seminars was on religious expression in Residence Life, particularly among state schools where many believe it should be locked in…well…a closet.
Donald and I were among the attendees, and Donald had squared off against another person on the subject of religion in the dorms. Donald said that he believed we should remain open to planning activities of this nature. He also mentioned that he, a Christian, had planned several over the years, and he would continue doing it regardless of what others thought of him.
I was surprised to hear this. In case you haven’t guessed it, Donald was (and probably still is) a gay man.
We slowed to a snail's pace halfway through the hallway and I paused for a moment, wondering if I had gotten myself into too much trouble. Not caring, I continued.
“How do you reconcile being both a Christian and gay,” I asked.
Now I didn’t expect him to get too excited or anything, because Donald was always calm in the face of adversity. But I did expect him to get at least a little mad. It has been my experience that the majority of people, regardless of how intelligent they appear, are incapable of engaging in rational discussions about even the most mundane of subjects. And this was certainly less than mundane.
He didn’t get mad, though. True to his nature, he smiled and spoke calmly.
“Joe,” he said, “Thank you for asking. I understand how it might seem strange, but that’s just who I am. I was raised a Christian and I will always be a Christian. Likewise, I have always been gay. When I read the Bible, I don’t see homosexuality as a sin. I know that others do and I’m guessing that since you’re asking, you do too.”
”Yes,” I said, almost embarassed. “Yes I do.”
“I look at it this way,” he said. “I am in search of truth in my life. For me, that means God. At the moment, I do not find homosexuality and God to be at odds with each other.”
We stopped in the stairwell and he continued.
“Now this doesn’t mean that it will always be this way. I believe that God is leading me closer to him and I believe that he will eventually show me different Truths that shock me. That might mean he will one day show me that homosexuality is, indeed, a sin. He also might not. The point is that I am seeking God and I am seeking Truth. Right now, I see the Truth of God and I see the truth of my homosexuality. While I don’t believe it to be so, if homosexuality is a sin, God will lead me to that particular Truth when the time is right. Until that time, if it ever comes, all I can do is wait on Him, and remain as fully honest and true to myself and to God as I can.”
It gave me a lot to think about, for sure. Christianity often talks about Truth and God as existing separate from ourselves. I believe this. Christianity also teaches how God does things in his own time, how he loves us individually, and how we have a relationship with Him that is wholly unique; like Jason’s walking stick or Rick's stellar impersonation of William Shatner, only infinitely more beautiful and infinitely more pure. I believe this as well.
I understood these things before I went to college, but it wasn’t until I spoke with Donald that I felt I knew them. It wasn’t until that night in the stairwell that I had a firm grasp on what it means to say that God is Truth and God is Love and that these things, whatever they are, are certainly not us. And definitely not me. In those few moments of conversation, I learned, through the example of a gay Christian (a type of person which, until that moment, I did not believe existed), what it meant to truly submit yourself to God; to believe that he is capable of challenging even the core of your being; and to believe that even in the depths of your understanding, or lack thereof, he is constantly making you more fully human.
I learned that God can, and most certainly does, work through those who are vastly different from us. Here was a man with whom I disagreed on a multitude of subjects, and yet he was still a child of God. It was painfully obvious.
I truly believe that God was speaking through Donald then. I truly believe that Donald was (and probably still is) a believer in Christ. I also truly believe that homosexuality is a sin. And thus we are back to the question of the moment. How can I speak of these men, to whom I owe a great deal of respect, as sinners?
I think it stems from our inability to truly understand sin and how it effects both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Problem of Pain,” tells us to think of the worst possible human imaginable. Then he tells us to look up, because that person is likely closer to God than we are.
We do, indeed, suck; and greatly so.
The truth of sin is that we all do it in one form or another. And we are quite often oblivious to the worst offenses. Lewis likens our view of sin to that of a tennis player who sees his accomplishments and says that he is, by and large, a good player. The sad truth is that he is a very bad player, who occasionally makes a decent shot now and again. And even these are lucky. We fail to comprehend the depth of our sin by a vast margin, so for us to worry over the faults of others is quite hypocritical despite our intentions. This is what Jesus meant when he said to remove the plank in your eye before addressing the speck in your neighbor's. To do otherwise is merely a case of the blind leading the blind. You'll get somewhere, no doubt, but it isn't likely to be anywhere of use.
I do not call homosexuality a sin out of some sense of moral superiority. We all fall short as far as God is concerned. To claim moral superiority because of a particular sin I have not committed is not pious. It is arrogant, selfish, and stupid. I am not a better person or even closer to God because I am not gay in much the same way I am not closer to God because I do not partake in other sins.
In fact, my whole idea of sin is flawed. Which means that I may, in fact, be wrong in my belief that homosexuality is a sin. People have said that I am a sinner for pointless reasons. They called me a sinner because of the way I dress, the length of my hair (when I had it), the music I listen to, the political beliefs I hold, and countless other things. These opinions make no sense to me. And I imagine my opinion on the subject of homosexuality makes no sense to Jason much in the same way it made no sense to Donald. Much in the same way their opinions make no sense to me. These are not statements of value or human worth. I am not deriding Jason and Donald. I am not even saying that I am 100% sure I am right. I am more than willing to entertain discussion on the idea of homosexuality as a sin and I am quite willing to accept the possibility that I am wrong. I wouldn’t be the first time and it won’t be the last.
This is merely my opinion of the facts as I see them.
I am in search of truth, which means that I am in search of God. I believe that God, like Truth, is separate from me and that he is leading me closer, ever closer, to him. He will eventually show me Truth that is challenging. He will eventually show me Truth that shocks. This may mean that he will one day show me that homosexuality is not a sin. Or that some core belief of mine is, in fact, quite false and quite sinful. It might not. Until then I will keep seeking Truth and I will keep seeking God. I will continue to wait on Him and remain as fully honest and true to myself and to God as I can.
This means realizing that my opinion on homosexuality, or any other sin for that matter, does not give me the right to look down upon Jason and others, judging them against my imperfect view of God’s moral standard. All I can do is Love people to the best of my ability.
In my opinion, this does not mean thumping people over the head with Bibles. It doesn’t mean shouting scripture at them through a bullhorn. It doesn’t mean painting unfair and untrue pictures of homosexuals the way a lot of people do, especially those in the church. It doesn’t mean shying away from them merely because I do not agree or understand the way they live.
And it certainly doesn’t mean sharing a God who promises only fire and brimstone. This God doesn't exist, in my opinion.
It means Love in the truest sense. It means attempting to understand the relationship that Jason shares with his husband even though this is something I am likely incapable of doing, and continuing to ask God to show me the Truth even if that means I will have to change my mind. It means continuing to love others even if God strengthens my beliefs.
It means believing that God loves him just as much as he does me. And it means hoping that one day he will lead us both to his Love and his Truth in the fullest extent.
In the meantime it means praying that God will bless both Jason and his husband, and that he will bring them closer, ever closer, to his heart.
Which is the same prayer I have for everybody else.