I’m a fan Fridays!

BG-Im-a-FanI’ve decided that on Fridays from now on, I’m going to post something from YouTube, or some other site, that I’m a fan of; something I think is awesome.  Most likely, it will have something to do with the performing arts, but don’t hold me to that.  Who knows what I might be moved by?  That’s what makes it awesome!

So, let’s start with this…

James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma playing a George Harrison piece of brilliance.  Anyone else a fan?  Enjoy

Advertisements

The other othering

othering1This morning I ran a route I don’t normally run.  I knew where I was going; I just don’t normally go that way.

I was about a mile away from my home when I found myself running past my absolute favorite house.  It’s this old farmhouse that’s been remodeled and the owners have a barn in the back of the property that’s also been remodeled.

I always imagine how they must constantly use that renovated old barn to have cool music festivals for just their friends and family, or world premiere readings of new plays for producers who come down special from the city, or that the walls are hung with brilliant works of art.

When I heard the oncoming car toot its horn, I suddenly realized that I was having a “Norstadt moment.” Norstadt was the kid in that Mel Gibson movie, “The Man Without A Face.”  He was the young boy who lived down the road from Gibson’s troubled character, and he’d go into these episodes where he’d stare off into the distance, thinking about something and wouldn’t come back to reality for who knows how long.

I was standing there, staring for who knows how long, envying the owners of that farm house, when I realized I’d just bumped myself up against another side of othering.

othering2

Let me back up.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of othering for some time now.  I’ve written about why I feel like it is our greatest impediment to truly coming together in this country and around the globe.  Othering is basically defined as,

“…any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.” (1)

This wasn’t what I was experiencing, though.  Well, not quite.

I wasn’t experiencing them (the owners of MY house!) as “less human” but in a way, “more human.”  I was projecting on them the notion that they had it all; that they had this perfect life and it was the one I wanted for myself.

This wasn’t the first time I’d done this.  I used to do it all the time, early in my career, when I’d go see a Broadway show or a great movie.  I’d think to myself, “Those people are so awesome! I wish I were them!”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking up to someone or aspiring to certain situations in life.  I’ve drawn inspiration and motivation from what other people have and what they’ve done with their lives many times.  We all need to have something to shoot for.  I’m talking about something different, though.

When we other someone in this destructive way, we elevate the other to pedestals on which they don’t belong and, more importantly, lower ourselves to statuses we don’t deserve—statuses of self-loathing or even possibly self-hatred.  Seeing others as so much better than we are can be just as bad, in the end, as seeing others as so much worse.

Either way, othering is a form of insecurity that we need to recognize and stamp out.  Like so many other things, it sells magazines, sustains our broken media and propels our modern popular culture.  But, it doesn’t have to.

A few years ago, my sister in law gave my daughter a lovely little necklace.   On the charm are the words, “You are enough.”

You are enough.

Those may seem like just words to you.  You might think that those words are just fine for someone else, but your situation is different.  If only you were more like her; or if only you had that car he has; or if only you had that cool farmhouse with the awesome renovated barn.

If only what?  Your life would be just perfect?

No, it wouldn’t.

Live your life.  Get all you want out of it.  Get all you can.  I’m cool with that.  But,only you are you and there will never be another.  Only you can do what it is that only you can do.

You are all that.

 

 

 

THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN’

HSfootballI dropped my son off at the high school for practice this morning.  He’ll be a freshman in a week and this is his first year playing organized football.  Today was a particularly special day because it was the first day the freshman team practiced in helmets and pads.

Today they started hitting.

He was excited and ready.  I was excited and nervous and scared and worried and overprotective and weepy and prayerful and decidedly not ready.

The entire fifteen-minute drive on the way there I was silent.  I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to say something profound—give him some kind of father to son speech about what it means to take a hit and get back up no matter what, like Rocky gives to his son in “Rocky Balboa.”  I wanted to tell him to stand tall, no matter what, and never back down.  That’s the kind of thing a father says to his son, right?

I remained silent.

I wanted to tell him that if any of the boys hurt him that he was to give me his name, and I would go over to his house and speak to his parents.  Nobody hurts my boy and gets away with it!

I remained silent.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I realized how metaphor and reality were colliding and dancing around my brain, and I could hardly bear the irony.  My boy is growing up.  He’s about to get hit, figuratively and literally, and I just don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how I can protect him.

I didn’t want him to play, but I decided not to stop him.  He brought it up last fall and has been looking forward to joining the team for an entire year.  It’s not that I don’t love the game; I do.  It’s just that I don’t want my boy to get hurt.  Nobody can blame me for that, right?

In our modern-day world of parenting, I feel like sometimes we think we’re the ones who have taken the hits, and will continue to take the hits, so that our kids won’t have to.  But, they want to take their own hits; they need to.   I know this intellectually, but emotionally, I only want him to wrestle on the bed, with pillows all around him, like when he was four.

I pulled up to the curb to let him out.  He said, “I’ll call you when we’re done.”

I patted him on the shoulder and then he exited the car with his bag, jersey and pads like it was no big deal.  I wanted to say, “Good luck!” but I didn’t want to jinx anything.  I watched him join the other boys as they got out of their parent’s cars and walk toward the field.  I felt proud and sick at the same time.  Then I drove home.

I remained silent.

THE STORIES WE TELL

storiesHow real are our memories anyway.  I mean, how much of what we remember actually happened and how much is colored by what we either wish happened or what we think should have happened?  You get the idea.

I guess I’m doing a lot of remembering lately.  I’m not sure how great an idea that is, to be honest; my memory tends to lead me down paths I’d rather soon forget.  In fact, there are things I thought I had forgotten for good that are once again making a play for my current thought’s attention.  On the other hand, an occasional stroll down amnesia lane can sometimes lead to a pretty good story or two.

When I look back to my recent past and recall my days as a teacher, I remember my dear students, seniors in high school, struggling to find their way, children trying to break free and begin their lives.  Everyday I wanted to say two things simultaneously: 1. Relax and slow down a minute.  There’s no rush, you’ll get there. 2. Go for it and go for it BIG!  Change the world and don’t think for a minute that you can’t!

When I would tell these students stories of my time “back in the day,” as I was often wont to do, I tried to be as honest and truthful as I could.  To me, it just doesn’t make sense to try to earn and keep someone’s trust by lying to them from the get go.  I may have changed a name or two to protect the innocent and all that, but the stories were all true.  At least they’re true in my recollection. And that’s what’s getting to me– my recollections, my stories. Do they matter?  Does anyone really care?

Stories are important. We learn from them. They shape who we are, both individually and collectively as a society.  When we meet one another for the first time we ask for them, “What’s your story?”  From stories, we learn what people are like; we learn where they’ve been and where they want to go.  When my late grandmother told me stories about her childhood during the Depression, it had an impact.

Why is that?  Well, I guess it had something to do with trust; trust in the fact that she told me things so that I would learn something; trust in the fact that there can be reason made from experiencing a thing, reason that may not otherwise have seemed reasonable.  Maybe it’s just comfortable to share experiences. Yeah, maybe it’s about sharing.

Whatever the case may be, I’ve realized something about delving into the past– experiences and recollections are so very personal. Our perspectives can sometimes cloud our memories. How we recall events, places, and people has so much to do with how those things affected us. What we’ve become as a result of our encounters with those people, places and events cannot be undone.

I saw the Mona Lisa with my own two eyes in 1987.  I can never unsee it.

I also saw a woman choking to death one time.  I can’t unsee that, either. (She’s fine, btw. Interesting story…)

IT’S LIKE FINDING THE PERFECT HALLMARK CARD

greetingcardI have sometimes wondered why the greeting card industry is so huge.  Why would I (especially as a writer) want to send somebody a card written by someone else when I could just as easily use my own words?

As crazy as it might seem, sometimes someone else has articulated exactly what you wanted to say in exactly the way you wished you could have said it.  They’ve captured the moment perfectly.

So, why mess with perfection in this moment?

Now, admittedly, this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I figure, why reinvent this particular wheel when it’s rolling along quite nicely on its own?

When it comes to something like expressing my love to my wife for no particular reason or sending Happy Birthday wishes to Grandma or Happy Bar Mitzvah to my neighbor’s kid, I’ll pop into the local Hallmark store and see what I can find.  Most of the time, I’m amazed at how a card writer, who knows nothing about me, can articulate the feelings I have for that particular occasion.

I like it.  It makes me feel like I’m not alone– that other people share very similar feelings with me. I’m not bothered by not being “original”, as if I’m the first one in the history of love to ever feel this way, or that someone else also had a grandmother that looked like Maxine.

But it’s not just in the realm of greeting cards that I’ve found this phenomenon.  I find it all the time in music, art, literature and even conversation with other folks.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with exactly how to articulate my faith.  How can I put into words what I’ve come to understand about what I believe?

I know that’s quite a step away from my neighbor’s kid’s bar mitzvah, and it’s something that is constantly evolving as I continue to grow, but, never the less, I’ve come across something so striking, I wanted to share it here.

In the video below, Peter Rollins is being interviewed about the Emerging Church movement, something I’ve been fascinated by.  The questions are solid and the interviewer is not lobbing softballs.  His answers, though, are a perfect articulation of what I would like to think I would have been able to say if I had been in his seat.

In sharing this video, I’m not abdicating my responsibility to speak for myself; I love talking about his kind of stuff.  I just thought it was a really nice place to start, like a really great Hallmark card.

I hope you’ll take some time with it and give it a look!

Enjoy!

THE GREAT EQUALITY DEBATE Part 7

ED7August 19, 2013

Well, we’ve gotten this far, and not without some bruising.  Truth be told, this has taken a lot longer to do than I had originally intended.

I was going to bang out a couple of posts and that would be that.  I knew it would be controversial, but I didn’t stop to think about just how impactful it could be…for all sides.

I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to study this and share it with you, even as the chips have fallen where they have fallen.

Let’s move on, then, to the final verses in the New Testament portion of this argument and put this to bed.

The verses in question are: I Corinthians 6: 9-11 and I Timothy 1: 8-11, and what has been made clear to me more than anything else during the course of this study is that so very much can be lost in translation.  Translate a particular word to mean a particular thing and that word can become a feather or a sledgehammer.

So, while context means everything, it is not the only thing.  Translation of particular words goes a long way in the direction of holding tight to a particular agenda.

In prior posts, I’ve gone into some detail about the etymology of the word homosexuality and its derivatives, and my argument throughout this entire series has been that, specifically regarding these words, we have interpolated meaning into texts that wasn’t there at the time of their writing.

With respect to I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1, there are two Greek words that are at the core of this translational juggernaut.  They are: “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” , and some scholars speculate the former seems to be a word coined by St. Paul, himself.

“Malakoi” is translated in modern Bibles as:

  • effeminate  (NASB)
  • men who practice homosexuality  (ESV)
  • male prostitute  (NIV)
  • pervert  (CEV)
  • homosexual  (NKJV)

Arsenokoitai” is translated in modern Bibles as:

  • sodomites  (NKJV)
  • men who practice homosexuality
  • homosexuals  (NASB)
  • men who have sexual relations with other men  (ESV)
  • one who behaves like a homosexual
  • those who practice homosexuality
  • those who participate in homosexuality
  • sodomites
  • people who have sexual relations with people of the same sex
  • people who live as homosexuals
  • those who abuse themselves with men
  • perverts  (NIV)

So, clearly, what we have here is a vast range of meanings, from effeminate to prostitute, sodomites to perverts, and quite a bit in between.  That is a very wide berth and none of those meanings have anything to do with loving, committed relationships.

With this many possibilities, it seems that interpretation of the two texts only makes sense within the situations that Paul is correcting when directly addressing the Corinthians and Timothy.  This takes us back to context.

In both I Corinthians and again in I Timothy, Paul is listing behaviors that are unrighteous, behaviors that are unlawful.  The Law, Paul says, is made for the unlawful not the righteous.  In other words, the only reason there is a Law in the first place is to hold accountable those who live in opposition to the will of God.  The Law makes straight the paths of those who stray from God and guides them back to communion with God.

But Paul’s ultimate argument is always that righteousness is not found in the Law but only in the fulfillment of the Law; and that fulfillment of the Law is Jesus.

Over and over again, in the New Testament and the Old Testament, the overarching will of God is that Humankind should love one another.  If God is Love, then to be like God is to love, to live a life full of love.  If Jesus was God made flesh, then in Jesus, we see what a life filled with God looks like.  If in Jesus, God has reconciled the world to God’s self by fulfilling the Law, then what does Humankind have left to do but live lives filled with love?

To those who seek to use the Law as a tool to repress, separate and subjugate, Paul reminds them of the fulfillment of the Law:

 Romans 13:8-10  Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

So, where am I going with this?

To be entirely truthful, part of what’s taken me so long to write these seven pieces is the fact that I honestly felt like I was basically done at the end of the first post.  I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, but by way of reminder, here is what I wrote the day before Easter of this year:

“For me, God is love. Even the most conservative Christian would agree that God is described as being like a “refiner’s fire.”  Therefore, love, itself, is a refiner’s fire. That is to say, love burns away hate. Love is more powerful and overcomes all evil, leaving only love standing in the end. When hate is confronted by love, it cannot stay. Hate cannot exist where love continues to reside.

And so, I begin with love, and thus, I begin with God.”

When all of these verses on homosexuality are broken down, and arguments on hermeneutic have been made, what comes out on the other end for me is, Where is love in all of this? 

At the end of the day, when I seriously consider Paul’s writings on this subject, I see Paul’s list of vices and problems of unrighteous living, and then I see him offer a solution to those problems.  The solution is always found in love.  Paul exhorts his readers to change their unrighteous ways by returning to the ways of God.  If God is Love, then, following the way of love is following the way of God.

So, if there are those in the gay community who live their lives with the claim of truly seeking to be the authentic and complete version of what God created them to be, and in their searching find another with whom they desire to spend the rest of their lives living in a committed and God centered relationship (and there are many!), those who defend a traditional reading of the Bible on homosexuality can conclude nothing less than those people are simply lying; they are not truly following the convictions of their hearts but are actually deliberately perverting what they know deep down in their hearts to be the truth, that they are not actually homosexual, but have simply given themselves over to a perverted and unrighteous way of behaving.

I cannot buy that argument.

I know too many people who have so painfully struggled with who they truly are and have spent many an hour trying to “pray away” their homosexuality.  I cannot disagree with the notion that we all have our own individual struggles to work through in this life, while on our way to trying to grow into what God has truly intended for us to be.  But, I cannot put homosexuality alongside a bad temper or a proclivity toward gambling as vices on which one needs to work and pray about.

So, I conclude this series here and will move on to other things.  I have never considered that I have the definitive scholarly view on this subject, but only claim that I have done all I can to see this situation with my heart and mind committed to love.

If this subject is a struggle for you, please study it for yourself.  Pray for guidance and compassion as you also pray for wisdom, and keep your compass always pointed in the direction of love.  It is only in love that we find peace, compassion, understanding and hope.

For it is in love, and only love, that we find God.
I wish you peace,

Scott

THE GREAT EQUALITY DEBATE Part 6

ED6July 31, 2013

We begin with Part 6.

I say, “begin” because, for a significant number of Christians today, the Old Testament (or, Hebrew Bible) has been largely supplanted by what they refer to as the “New Covenant”–that being the New Testament.

In other words, the Old Law has been done away with and does not apply to Christians, today.  It’s only the New Testament that truly matters in terms of what is required of us in living our daily lives as Christians.  So, while the Old Testament scriptures we’ve been examining so far may be argued away as being irrelevant or no longer applying to the modern Christian, if the New Testament says that homosexuality is a sin, then the argument is over.  Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker:

“The Bible says it. I believe it. That’s the end of it!”

But, the obvious next question for me is: Do the writings in the Bible (and, more importantly for most Western Christians today, the New Testament, in particular) actually mean what we’ve come to say they do?

I take us now into the New Testament passages of the Bible that many point to when they refer to what they believe Saint Paul has to say about homosexuality.

Perhaps Paul’s most significant comments on what we call homosexuality occur in Romans 1:26-27.

“26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

The first thing to be remembered here (as I’ve written about this in earlier posts) is that Paul is not writing about homosexuality as we have come to understand it.  The idea and science of sexual orientation simply did not exist at the time of Paul’s writing.  What Paul is writing about here is the fallen nature of humankind, and it is in this fallen nature that humanity exchanges the truth of God for a lie.

To back up a few verses to Romans 1:16, Paul, here, lays out the main idea of his argument: that the Gospel is for all.  His intention is to unite the Jews and the Gentiles by proclaiming the message of the Gospel, that a life filled with God is a life filled with love, compassion, and understanding; in others words, a life “in Christ.”

Paul proclaims that it is only the grace of the Gospel that unites because, though everyone knew God, they rejected God anyway.  According to Paul, Jews would have known God through God’s revelation and their election, and the Gentiles would have known God because of what can be inherently known about God through the creation itself.  Paul speaks of the Gentiles, beginning in verse 19, when he writes:

“19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Paul makes the point that all of humanity had knowledge of the ways of God; God had given it to all.  Yet, all of humanity rejected God, and God allowed them to give themselves over to their own lusts and evil ways.  It is the corrupted humanity that separates all people from God and it is the grace of the Gospel that restores everyone to God.  All of humanity has a choice, and Paul is making it clear that there are many who have chosen to go against the ways of God and, though they claimed to be wise, actually became fools.

In making this argument, Paul goes on to list a set of vices that would be associated with those who have rejected God and God’s ways and describes what it’s like to be one living in this fallen state.  Evidences of this way of living are clearly seen in the world of Paul and those who have given themselves over to their own lusts would have seen the consequences of that way of living.

What would not be known at the time of Paul, however, was the idea of sexual orientation.  The first century Roman world saw sexuality on a spectrum of lust, meaning, sex for procreation on the lowest end of the scale and the abandoning of relations with opposite sex partners for relations with same sex partners on the other.  In other words, the assumption would have been that everyone is created as having a natural desire for the opposite sex and then those corrupted would exchange that natural desire for someone of the same sex.  They would have given themselves over to the unnatural desires of their fallen hearts.

Dio Chrysostom, a first century Greek orator, writer, philosopher, and historian put it this way:

“The man whose appetite is insatiate in such things…will have contempt for the easy and scorn for a woman’s love as a thing too easily given…and will turn his assault against the male quarters…believing that in them, he will find a kind of pleasure difficult and hard to procure.”

What we have come to know about human sexuality in the 2,000 or so years since the writings of Paul and other first century writers, both anecdotally and scientifically, is that for many, the natural state of their existence is one in which they have a sexual desire for others of the same gender; this is what is natural for them.

My claim in this series of posts on homosexuality (as is my claim on all discussions involving the Bible) is that context is everything.  When the book of Romans is taken as a whole, it becomes clear that Paul is talking about those who have chosen to reject the ways of God for the ways of a corrupt and fallen world.  His context involves taking what God has created and called “good” and exchanging that for something opposite.  If one is created by God to naturally have a desire for someone of the same sex, then that is what is natural for him.  He has been created homosexual.

The passage is not intended to speak about gay couples who are living in loving, committed relationships.  It is intended to speak to those who are naturally heterosexual and have abandoned that natural propensity for homosexual relations.  Paul is clearly speaking of heterosexual men and women who have thrown aside what is natural for them in order to fulfill their own lustful desires.

If we were to actually take this passage seriously, knowing what we know now in our modern time, wouldn’t we have to say that it is sinful for a man or woman, who knows in his or her heart that they are homosexual, to engage in relations with someone of the opposite gender?

At the root of my fight for equality is the notion that God has created each and everyone of us just as we should be.  We are who we are, and each of us have our own individual quest to become all that we were meant to be.

It is most natural for us to be called into loving relationships with our fellow human beings.  Where love is, there is God.

In my next post, I will bring this discussion to a close as we examine the final two passages of Scripture wrongly used to condemn homosexuality.

Until then, peace to you all!

P.S.  If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter at: @scotylang