Runaway George

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Among many things that have captivated my attention in this book is it’s handling of Christian theology in relation to slavery.

Here we find George, a runaway slave. In this scene, his former employer, Mr. Wilson, recognized George inside a hotel lobby and promptly approached him, asking if he would accompany him to his room to have a little chat. Mr. Wilson is a good man, but he fears that George is going against God and country, and thus requires his guidance.

First he tries logic.

Then he tries scripture.

“But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.”

“Don’t quote Bible at me that way Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is A Christian and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty- I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”

“These feelings are quite natural George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ‘em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case-very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,- don’t you see?”

 

George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.

 

“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence- shouldn’t you?”

 

I resonate with George’s story.

That’s not to say that I think slavery and homosexuality are parallel tales of misunderstood scripture.

But I’ve got my fair share of Bible burns.

They tell me, “but both the New Testament and the Old Testament speak against homosexuality”

I say, “I understand, but there are others who view-“

“1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, have you not read this?”

I’ve been reading and rereading these since I was in the sixth grade.

“It sucks, but you know what? It’s God’s word, and Christ calls us all to sacrifice in one form another.”

Usually my thoughts echo George’s response to Mr. Wilson.

The detachment from empathy is so palpable in today’s Christian culture when it comes to homosexuality.

In these rock and hard place moments, I just want to pull out every Bible verse that should convict them of the same charge.

Perhaps what Jesus said about the wealthy, or the proud or the judgmental.

But by now, I’m burnt out.

So I bite my tongue.

Beyond George, there are countless runaways out there, carrying the card of some form of Christian contradiction. Divorce is one. Just the other day, I heard one coworker open up about his sisters painful divorce. The listening, coworker, my sister in Christ, said something akin to, “A vow is a vow. It seems they didn’t try hard enough.” Unwed mothers are another. I’ve heard people say about a friend of mine, “I wonder how many baby daddy’s she has? So sad.” Or the poor, “Why should my dollars go to their drug habits?”

Our Christian culture has become a bag of wonder bread, and if you’re made of a different morsel, you’ve been misplaced. I know better than to generalize about a whole group of people, and I fully believe that there are those quietly keeping their cupboards locked tight.

But the trouble with tribes like ours is that we thwart any attempt at transparency. Tears belong behind closed doors. Support calls for a certified shrink. The Bible is a bludgeon, not a buoy. Dialogue destroys doctrine, leading us down that oh so slippery slope towards hell. Raise your hands high and give us that sweet smile.

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to attend one of the Marin Foundation’s “Living in the Tension” gatherings. There I was, surrounded by fellow travelers on a similar journey of my own. All of us came for the same thing, reconciliation between the scriptures and our sexuality. All of us, looking around, greeted each other’s eyes with an “I get it.” When the meeting came to a close, I was embraced, told I was loved and encouraged to keep searching and questioning. It was a transformative night for all of us. My mom, who went with me, said later on, “that’s what the Kingdom looks like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Runaway George had a similar experience. Having reached refuge outside the grasp of slave catchers, and finding his son and wife there as well, he reclaimed his faith in the father. Looking around the dinner table at the Christians that saved his life, he reflected:

“This, indeed, was a home,-home, –a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone.

May our community become that “golden cloud of protection”.

RR

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Lean In

In the world of television- NBC’s Parenthood is perhaps the most underappreciated work of art out there. The reason I love this show so so so much is that it ditches the dramatic gimmicks utilized by so many other programs and takes the viewers down into a reality-based dumpster. Whereas on other shows, the problems the plague the normal are written off as BORRIINGG, Parenthood paints them in a way that resonates strongly with its viewers. It’s just so relatable. Which makes it so good.

Kristina has just found out she has cancer. As her and her husband Adam are thrust into this dark and challenging road before them, they find themselves almost always in a place of uncertainty. Uncertainty in their choice of doctor. Uncertainty in their choice of treatment. Uncertainty in who they tell. Uncertainty of when they tell their kids. Uncertainty in how they talk to one another and uncertainty in how they should feel.

Lying in bed Kristina takes a deep breath and refocuses on the now. And in the now, she stops trying to feel the way she “should” and instead embraces honesty.

The two of them had been getting ahead of themselves lately. They were furious and desperate to attack the tumor that was on the verge of ending her life. Adam, worrying that if his wife felt worried it would harm her chances of survival (kind of a mind over matter thing), refused to allow her to show any signs of surrender. He watched her carefully as she surfed the web, fearing she would find the survival rates. Every time he saw tears, he would reassure her that it was “normal” to feel scared, but to remember to stay strong.

As many of my brothers and sisters in the crosshairs of faith and sexuality will tell you, the aftermath of exiting the closet can be exhausting. My parents deferred the decision to me, asking me if I wanted to be gay. Quite honestly, I said no. More than anything I wanted to be free from my status as a freak. They never pressured me towards reparative therapy or required me to resist my feelings. They simply asked me what I wanted, and I told them.

Except I didn’t tell them I was scared. Each time I looked up ex gay stories I felt unnerved and unacceptable. I read up on suicide rates of those in therapy and the loneliness of those in celibacy. I needn’t look too far to find out what happened to men who tried to be straight- enough prominent pastors had shown how that went down.

At a crossroads I stood, and I hated every path. I hated the idea that I needed to fall into a category and move forward with a game plan. I hated that I hated these options. I wished things to be clearer.

During this period I started seeing an incredible therapist who listened through my tears as I talked about my options. There were pros here, cons there, and I wanted to hear what his opinion was. Mid-monologue he raised his hand and said, “stop.”

“Stop- please. Stop trying to paint a pretty picture when that isn’t what you feel. Stop with the talk of reparative therapy. Stop thinking you will be alone your whole life. Stop and accept the reality that this is very hard. Accept your fear; allow yourself more time to grieve. Your whole life you have had to watch straight siblings who are going to live a life free from judgment and condemnation and you can’t. You need to accept the gravity of this. Stop thinking you can move forward without embracing where you are now.”

That was a turning point for me. I stopped engaging in reparative therapy sessions. I stopped making five-year plans. I stopped thinking about getting a dog to fill my void of loneliness. I stopped the mental gymnastics. I stopped it all.

Instead I let myself mourn, kick and scream, and check out for a while.
I let myself lean in.

When I explained the session to my folks, they understood my feelings better. And in turn, I understood them more. I understood that their need to continue to affirm me and lift me up stemmed from their fear of my suicide. That when they told me “everything will be alright” they weren’t referencing my sexuality but my emotional stability.

Strange as it sounds, I could not regain perspective with positive reinforcement, or by sinking my nails into the slope I was slipping down. I couldn’t through self help books or praise and worship songs. I certainly couldn’t in reparative therapy.

No, I had to raise my hands up. Scream in terror at the drop. Feel the adrenaline filling my veins. Accept the uncertainty. Wait for the bottom hit.

Instead of running around like the little Dutch boy plugging holes in the dam, I had to relax and know the thing was gonna blow anyway.

I had to accept that my life prior to coming out was no more, and instead of trying to preserve any semblance of that charade, I had to build a new one from the core pieces of who I am. Until my feelings could be validated, I couldn’t move forward. By leaning in I let the whole thing collapse so I could rebuild my respect and find rationality in the chaos.

Leaning in was the best choice I could make. It threw me in the arms of my family, friends, and my savior. Only then did I understand who was in my corner. It made me recognize how little control I have over my future, and despite how scary that is, it doesn’t have to be.

It helped me realize that I couldn’t reach relief from the outside in. That’s backwards.

I had to let it burn and build again.

RR

“I thought I walked”

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON SEEING THE FILM, LAWLESS, DON’T READ.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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“Jack, we’re survivors, we control the fear, without the fear, we are as good as dead.”

Of all the Wild West films I have seen in my life, the latest flick by the Weinstein brothers, Lawless, may have just made it to the top of my list. It follows the real life story of the three Bondurant brothers, famous moonshiners in the period of prohibition. In all of their dangerous exploits with the shadiest of characters, they always survive unscathed. Their hometown held the eldest of the brothers, Forrest, to be someone or something… different. Only in whispers would they confess their belief in his God-like indestructibility. And it’s not surprising! Forrest is played by Tom Hardy (remember Bane), a man built like an ox with fast reflexes and a deep deep voice. Brave men trembled when they crossed his path.

But one day he meets his match, in the slim and decked out, chilling Charley Rakes, special agent from Chicago.

Rakes had heard of the Bondurant brothers’ success and demanded a cut in their earnings. If they didn’t, then they would pay dearly.

Standing outside his bar, Forrest stood inches away from Rakes, stared deep into his beady little eyes, and whispered low,

 “We don’t lay down for nobody.”

And so starts the incredible, and unnecessarily gruesome, war between Rakes and the Bondurants.

In the most dire moment of the movie, I watched, through the slits between my fingers, Forrest stepping out of his bar into the cold dark night. Things had been violent between the two camps lately; Rakes had killed many of the Bondurants allies and the Bondurants still resolved to stand their ground. Walking towards his vehicle, he suddenly stops in his tracks. Out of the hood of his car, he sees a few stray wires hanging out on the side. Naively, he bends down and drums his finger on his chin. At this point I am whisper-screaming “ruunnnn Forrrressst ruuuunnnnn!” Then in a flash, he is jumped by two of Charley’s men. One stands him up, grips his hair to hold back his head, as the other brandishes a knife and begins to saw open a huge gaping holein Forrest’s neck. He falls to ground, hands clenched on the severed skin as blood gushes out (too much? I thought so too.)

As if this scene isn’t enough to turn over your stomach, his girlfriend Maggie, arrives at the bar a bit later looking for him. Not noticing his writhing body beside his car, she enters the dim saloon and calls out his name. She thinks she sees him as a figure emerges from the shadows. She smiles. Until he is actually they and a hand extends out holding bloody knife. As they grab her the scene fades to black, and we are led to believe she is raped. (Thankfully, they do not show this part.)

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Forrest survives. In the following scenes, he lies in a hospital bed with a stitched up neck resembling a choker necklace and we hear the doctor say, “he just walked in!”. The hospital was 20 miles away from the bar. As expected, folks in Franklin no longer whispered about his invincibility, they had their proof.

As the movie comes to a close, we find Forrest in his bedroom, frantically suiting up for one final showdown with Rakes. Maggie rushes into the room, crying, pleading for Forrest to stay with her. She tells him that she cannot watch him die. Not again.

Forrest’s ears prick up.

Not again?

 

Yes, not again. It was Maggie who found him outside, after she was raped by the two men, and it was Maggie who held her hand over his throat while she drove him to the hospital.

Taken aback, Forrest utters:

“I thought I walked.”

What the Bondurant brothers expose in this film is our absurd belief in our independence and invincibility. We have all these titles we take upon ourselves. Surnames like survivor, superman, and success story. But the reality is that behind these names is a community that gave us the boost. The God that gave us the boost.

And when we choose to move into our own islands, believing that we built this and that, we neglect Christ’s call to carry one another’s burdens. Our independence is completely antithetical to the gospel story. It actively stunts Kingdom Come. Today, It is so paradoxical, yet so prevalent, for Christians to boast in their own accomplishments as they look back at “how far they’ve come”. When they reread their personal history, they remember the things they learned, but they forget those that taught them. The pain that was felt clouds out the cushion that was provided. In essence, because of our worst days, we feel entitled to a title. We believe that we are the sole survivors.

But the fact remains, your success story, my journey, your climb, might be nothing more than imaginary.

If you really look back, thoroughly, you may be surprised to see the loved ones that prayed for you in secret, cried for you behind closed doors, supported you, loved you, and drove twenty miles with one hand on your artery and the other on the wheel.

When I saw this movie, it became clear that Maggie was the unsung hero of story. The Christ-figure if you will. She set aside her life, her rape, her pain in order to care for her love on life support. Even when Forrest was in the middle of his miraculous recovery, she didn’t say a word about what happened, her focus was Forrest.

Thinking about your own rise out of the rubble, do you often forget those that threw you the rope? The unsung heroes that patiently put off homework, their job, dinner, down time, so they could be a rock you could rely on, a provider of perspective, the holder of the Kleenex, the back rubber?

What I hope to grasp, and I hope all of you will grasp, is that we are here because of those between the lines. Those that placed all their bets on us even after we folded.

We are not the survivors

We are the rescued

The Maggie in my life (not in a romantic sense mind you) is my very best friend.

Every time I hit rock bottom she dried my tears with her encouraging words. Even though she was in the midst of her own dilemmas, she chose to bring all of herself- all of her energy, grace, know how, and love- and pull me out of my spiral. Even though she couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be gay and Christian, she still showed me how hard she was trying. One time, she even said:

“Every time I leave our conversations, I pray for God to give me your pain. To let me feel what you feel.”

That is the definition of empathy folks. That is carrying one another’s burdens. That is walking two miles when you’re asked to walk one.

This one is for the unsung heroes.

Recognize your rescuers today.

RR

 

*Photo Credit

Runaway Ragamuffin

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“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. ”
― Brennan Manning

Befriending the Boogeyman

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“Hey, Mike, this might sound crazy but I don’t think that kid’s dangerous.”

“Really? Well, in that case, let’s keep it. I always wanted a pet that could kill me.”

Sully and Mike had just past the point of no return in bringing little Boo back to their apartment after an accidental breach of security. And even though Mike didn’t admit it at the time, the scales were certainly falling from his eyes. They both sat there watching her, laying across the floor, coloring with crayons and humming sweet songs to herself.

Monsters Inc may be one of the greatest achievements of Pixar, or at least, my personal favorite. The plot revolves around two monsters living in the alternate universe of Monstropolis. As Scream Collectors, their job is to cross portals that take them into bedrooms of little boys and girls, with the sole objective of getting them to release the most gut-wrenching scream possible. The screams power the city’s energy system. A “necessary evil” you might say.

But scaring kids never really conflicted with their conscience. Kids were public enemy #1, the piranhas of the ocean. As the CEO of their company, Mr. Waternoose, put it:

“There’s nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child. A single touch could kill you. Leave a door open, and one can walk right into this factory; right into the monster world.”

After Sully accidentally brings Boo into the world, the accusations from Mr. Waternoose start to seem a bit silly. Neither him nor Mike shown signs of illness, nor did Boo appear to be aggressively attempting to kill them. And the veil continues to tear as he sees that she not only comes in peace, but has an enormous affection towards him.

As the film comes to a close, the villain, Mr. Waternoose, reveals himself as the mastermind behind the lies about children. And, if this wasn’t criminal enough, he says that parents have given children too much confidence about the non-existence of monsters in the closet, and due to the eventual energy shortage, he planned on taking Boo hostage as a permanent source of scream power.

When Mr. Waternoose is taken down, Mike becomes the new CEO,  and shifts the business model from frightening children, to making them laugh. Laughter is found to be much more palatable to the public and a much more powerful source of energy.

In our non-fiction world we have a tendency to towards the Waternoose model. We pick camps, draw lines and hold seminars about why the other side is made up of sadists. Any attempt made at upholding the dignity of those with whom we disagree is crushed as we crank up the volume on a five-second sound-byte.

In our abandonment of Christ’s call to a reconciled human race, we forfeit the game. The pictures we paint of our perceived enemies are only as true as they are convenient. And the worst part of all of this is that our stereotyping only serves to widen the Grand Canyon between us. Christians that have not met gay and lesbian people have no reason to believe that they are nothing more than glittered up, sex-crazed, pawns of the devil. Gay and lesbian people that do not know conservative Christians have no reason to believe that they are anything more than hateful, narrow-minded, prideful bigots. The wells we drink from color our world in the shades that suit our opinions.

We are something akin to the dad telling his kid not to name the stray he found in the storm. Inevitably he will fall in love with it.

Think about what would happen if we chose to call each other by our names. What if instead of seeing the bigoted Baptist pastor, we got a glimpse of his ten adopted children or his weekend plans at the local soup kitchen? What if instead of seeing the gross gay couple kissing in protest of anti-gay legislation, we flipped through the scrapbook of their mission trip to Haiti and heard about their own accounts of suicidal thoughts? What would happen if we called the other by their name instead of the ones we pick for them? What if we befriended the boogeyman?

Too often I hear both ends of this story. I have the rare experience of standing in the portal between the two worlds, and I have heard every lie imaginable about both.

“gays are trying to destroy the church”

“Christians are trying to force their views down my throat”

“scripture says clearly that these people are an abomination”

“Christians are idiots in their interpretations of the Bible, selectively picking and choosing”

And too often, I add my own fuel to this fire. My previous post about Mark Driscoll was written in anger, something one should never do. But if I am totally honest, attacking Pastor Mark makes me feel better, like somehow I am contributing to the greater good.  Calling him “Pastor Macho” becomes a means to an end type of thing. But I don’t know Pastor Mark. I may think his views are destructive, but that doesn’t mean his intent is destruction. He is likely a very good man, good husband and faithful follower of Christ. AH! Just typing those words makes me cringe because it starts to unravel the boogeyman of my own creation. Which is a good thing.

Maybe we need a Boo invasion, or (in a Biblical parallel) to be swallowed by a whale and shot out to Ninevah. Maybe we need to be forced on a walk around the block until we learn to respect each other, or possibly, love each other.

RR

the Artist known as Jesus

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One of my favorite attributes of God (apart from him being love) is his artisan spirit. Being alone with God’s Creation is when I feel most intimate with him. Especially at that the magical time of twilight. When light becomes three dimensional bringing all the colors of the forest beyond my front yard, slowly dancing to their last crescendo of day, I need no convincing of the composer. Furthermore, my imagination will take me to how God made this beautiful place we call home. It’s an appealing image thinking of a God meticulously painting the Robin and the Rainbow Trout, giggling with satisfaction at his work. Or even making us, piecing together different parts of who we are, stepping back, stroking his chin, and then curling his lips to a smile shouting “YES!” The God of art speaks deeply into my soul.

The other day, I was researching into the historical Jesus (always a fascinating study), particularly, what he did for the thirty years prior to beginning his ministry. Having heard the classic “carpenter” tale, I decided to look more deeply into what that meant in its historical context. Turns out, Jesus may not have been a carpenter at all! This is huge! Certainly it’s not the central part of Christ’s story, but its how we have always assessed his pre-ministry life.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

–       Mark 6:3 (emphasis mine)

The word carpenter in this passage derives from the original Greek word Tekton, which, in its historical context, could mean that Jesus was a designer, architect, builder of bridges and so on. What I am trying to say is- whether carpenter or architect- Jesus was truly an artist.

As an architect, he would clearly need to see things through a symbolic lens. A porch was not a porch, it was a place where both greeters of good news and messengers of misery would stand. He had to have a keen eye and creative spirit that accommodated aesthetics and honored the foundation it was built upon.

As a carpenter, he was no less an artist. Perhaps, he was even more of one. If he made tables and chairs, you can imagine him sweating over sanding a surface. Deciding on how large a table should be and how tall, and what impression it would make upon guests. The design of the chairs themselves required a sensitivity to his customers (likely poor folks), by not giving them an appearance of luxury.

These early years provided Jesus with an aptitude for inspiration. And we see their fruits in his teaching.

Think about his preoccupation with parables. He answered arduous questions through the telling of fictional stories. Renowned Biblical Scholar, Peter Enns, reflected on this in an article on the Biologos Forum:

“Speaking in parables is indeed similar to an artist’s craft. Neither are systematic, logical arguments aimed at intellectual persuasion. Rather, they create impressions, whole new worlds of meaning intended to turn old worlds on their heads. Further, they do not always clarify, but actually can by design obscure a deeper reality. To apprehend that deeper reality, one must—like a patron facing a timeless painting—continue to seek, ponder, and meditate on what is being said.

As a storyteller, Jesus uprooted his audience and dropped them into a world that went by another order. Instead of simply telling them what the Kingdom of God was, he saw it better to show them, through incredibly vivid imagery (remember the camel trying to go through the eye of a needle?) He was a poet, in addition to being a craftsman.

Even more fascinating is the idea of Jesus, being a work of art. I know I know, we are all masterpieces from God, but think about Jesus as being what the Sistine Chapel was to Michealangelo. Or Starry Night to Davinci. God created an icon in his son, one that would be celebrated and expressed for all future generations. Christ’s life has evoked emotion for centuries now, and has been emulated over and over on canvas and through stone.

BeliefNet posted an article about Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on Jesus. His insights were brilliant.

“To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all,” wrote Wilde. “To him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it was not so. With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece. 

“…And feeling, with the artistic nature of one to whom suffering and sorrow were modes through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful, that an idea is of no value till it becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing.” –Oscar Wilde (as quoted by Dan Wakefield)

Keep in mind, this was written by a fellow runaway. Wilde was shamed by the church because of his sexual orientation. Classic tale of the tortured artist.

The gorgeous words Jesus spoke provoked a generation to rethink eternity. It brought religious bullies to their knees, and lifted up the lost. He stirred our imaginations and thus, revived an old language between God and man. We share with Him in our love for the creative, inventive, strange, and unique. The artistic passions of our creator provide for us the energy needed to challenge old ideas. To dream about what Kingdom Come looks like.

All we need to do is open our eyes to his glory.

RR