There is a place – a family farm – that means so much to me. One hundred acres of trees, water, tall grass, and rocks. But getting there is the best part. The road to the farm is breathtaking: winding, full of dips and curves, bumpy in parts with stretches canopied by trees. Driving along that road, I can sense new possibilities, opportunities to explore. Life.
Which reminds me of a story. One night, not so long ago, I was preparing for an event for the organization where I was serving. I had been selected to lead in the formation and building up of the community through activities and intentional times of togetherness. As I was walking from my office to the room where we had planned the event for that evening, I was stopped by one of the executives of the organization.
“Hey, when you get a minute, I would like to talk to you. Are you going to be around?”
I’ve grown more cynical as I’ve gotten older. I know this and I own it. Part of the issue is as I’ve become an adult, I’ve become less of a big picture thinker and more of a detail oriented person – not that being a big picture person is bad, or that being detail oriented automatically predisposes you to being cynical, but you start to realize how much work goes into things you thought would be so easy and natural.
The other part of it is more grounded in the times; every day my phone or computer delivers constant updates of tragedy and heartbreak. Every hour there’s another school shooting, police brutality, queer bashings, environmental crises, I could go on, but I’m fairly certain you probably feel the same way. Elected officials tasked with serving people serve only themselves and the corporations they get donations from. Church leaders cry about the name of Jesus being twisted in the public square for decidedly un-Christian legislative agendas but they don’t do much else about it but hem and haw and play it safe….All while people die easily preventable deaths.
According to the Luke version, “And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs…” He is diagnosed as demon possessed with chronic demonic fits: “For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As a young Christian, I memorized this passage of scripture from Galatians. Elsewhere Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by their fruit,” and I assumed he meant the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian struggling with attractions to other men, I wanted to fill myself so much with God and God’s Spirit, that they would drive out what I believed were evil desires. I didn’t just say NO to homosexuality; I said yes to a full life of pursuing God. I believed the fruit of the Spirit would crowd out the bad seed that was planted in my flesh. I wanted that fruit.
To be honest, that was not all I wanted. I did not want to go to hell. I did not want to get HIV/AIDS. I did not want to lose my Christian friends. I wanted the acceptance and affirmation that was showered upon the straight people at church. I wanted a family. I wanted to be “normal.”
The other day during Morning Prayer I found myself reading a passage from Ezekiel, the famous “Valley of Dry Bones” vision:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. (Ezekiel 37:1-5)
This is probably one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. Coincidentally, I had also read this passage during the Easter Vigil at church. That was my first time ever attending an Easter Vigil service; when I was a child, my parents didn’t go to the Vigil because it’s a super long service. As beautiful as this service was, I wasn’t filled with joy. I had a recent falling out with some friends, work had me really burnt out, and I was reminded of how lonely I felt in Boston, especially since I usually spend this holiday with my family back home. I sat with this passage, thinking about Easter and the empty tomb, and silently prayed: “Lord, breathe into the places in me that are dry and dead. Fill those places with life.”
What if asking more questions could help you find a way to save lives? Would you do it?
What if it cost you something?
I haven’t been writing much lately.
I sometimes open up my blog and I push the “Write” button and then I sit in front of my computer and I wait. I wait as if I’m hoping someone else will show up and write the words I need to say.
But no one is going to do this work for me.
So what am I waiting for?
’m tired. Really tired.
I’m tired of helping people understand why I should be allowed to exist. I’m not supposed to say that, either. I’m supposed to be happy to do this work.
But I’m not always happy. This work is sometimes dehumanizing. It’s often exhausting.
And I keep doing it. Over and over and over again. Giving to the people who hurt me. Giving them time. Giving them energy. Giving them patience. Because what else am I going to do? This is worth it – this fight for more justice.
More people need to understand so that fewer people have to be hurt. And I’m sometimes not bad at this work. And I really do think it is worth it.
I know some might say there’s no need to add to the noise. That it’s not that big of a deal — that staying silent is some sort of testament to the unapologetic inherency of who I am. I understand those arguments, and I can comprehend their validity. I don’t mean to nullify them in any way. But when I lay my head down at night, something continues to reverberate within me; to pull me deeper into the tides of its freedom, its power, its incredulous vulnerability. The world is supposed to know our stories, and I have believed for quite some time now that its only by them that we can liberate others to live out the sheer and unguarded beauty of their own.
I don’t mean for this to be a big, hairy deal. I hope it doesn’t come across that way. Sometimes, culture and truth simply collide in a way that demands of us a moment that pushes history forward, both personal and corporate, and leaves upon the soil a mark that otherwise would go unseen and unscathed. I believe these moments exist to define a generation, to reshape our culture, to bring truth back out unto the frontlines — where it has quite honestly always belonged. But most importantly, I believe they exist to liberate ourselves. To let our shame slink away like a weighted necklace at the bottom of a deep, deep ocean. And yes, I realize I just pseudo-referenced a James Cameron movie in a relatively momentous blog.
I imagine you’ve heard a sermon about the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. It’s still regularly preached in Evangelical churches I attended. Still, from the dozens of Acts 8 sermons I consumed, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this famous eunuch.
What is a eunuch anyway? Eunuchs in the Bible were typically castrated before puberty, sometimes with their consent, but usually not. They retained high voices. They didn’t develop body hair or facial hair like men. They looked and sounded different from the men and women around them.
They were also mostly single and childless. Never having children myself, I feel drawn to these solitary eunuchs. In a world where everyone seemed to be part of a family unit of some sort, they stood out as loners.
I am torn because the last six months have been really crazy. And I want to write about them. But I don’t know how to do it anymore.
I try to write about the place I find myself in right now, but each time I write a sentence and then delete it. I am so tired. I cannot defend my feelings anymore. I cannot explain all of the situations in the last 10 years or even four years or even four months or even four weeks that have helped me question my sanity. I feel like all I can do is find and hold the broken pieces of what I wanted to be. I can’t even explain what went wrong anymore. I just know that I’m holding broken things – broken pieces of something that used to be whole – and they are pointy and heavy things and my hands are bleeding.
And I am tired of making my bruises and cuts and scars teaching tools. I know it is good, but I am tired. It’s confusing and complicated. This often feels like the only way I know how to make meaning out of the pain – I want to point to the scar and say, “Look. This is real. Let’s not do this to others.” I want to point to my scars and say, “Hey, me too.”
More and more of my friends have expressed in recent years their disenchantment with the church. They struggle with a deep desire for authentic intimacy within a faith community. They long for simplicity. They feel as if life is not worth living without an experience of God’s presence within community. They are willing to sacrifice anything. But instead of these things, they find Christians who seem to have become wedded to American culture along with its promise of riches and relaxation for those who work hard and live well. And relationships, where they exist, seem shallow.
Please don’t get me wrong. These Christian communities are full of men and women who have spent their lives serving Christ and growing in Him. I’m part of one of these communities, and I know many here who faced similar struggles in their youth. But that was then. Life is much more comfortable now. And safe.
Even though I hold pretty strongly to the Evangelical side of my Evangelical Friends tradition, I find it difficult to adopt the view, often associated with Evangelicals, of the Inerrancy of Scripture. Having actually read the Bible (like, all of it, more than once) I can admit that there are some stories that seem pretty historically improbable, some parallel accounts that are contradictory, and some descriptions that seem scientifically inaccurate. For the most part, this doesn’t bother me. As a Friend, I see the Bible as a secondary source of revelation. In my experience, it’s the direct, unmediated revelation of Jesus that is central (though, like Robert Barclay, I don’t think the two necessarily contradict).
Brought up by parents at opposite poles of the spectrum (my mother a temperance union officer and my father an amateur connoisseur) I’ve wrestled with conflicting ideas about alcohol’s place in the Christian lifestyle. With no definitive bible verse stating whether the consumption of alcohol is right or wrong, we find ourselves sipping from different theological cups. I’ve seen believers turn defensive and hypercritical toward each other at the mere mention of alcohol, breaking into spats that rival the ugliest barroom brawls. But I’ve discovered that instead of outlining a code of judgment, God’s word uses the subject of alcohol to pop the cork on a discussion of how to live a Spirit-filled life.
There are times when I’m struck by what I read in scripture, challenged to stop for a moment and think about where I’m going, about whether my life is consistent with what I claim to believe. Take this passage, for instance, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person.”
I’ve taken a different path, standing up for my rights, demanding justice when I know I’ve been wronged. And Christian culture applauds. Why is that?