Apr 15 2012
Sex and Loneliness and Jesus

"Please tell me: What was the name of that book you were talking about, about the struggle to live a celibate life, even in the midst of loneliness...?"

I got a lot of calls like this.  I'd talked about the book, Washed and Waiting, and hoped many would read it. When they called, I felt like I needed to give a disclaimer, in case someone would be offended for whatever reason.

"Just so you know: This book is incredibly relevant for everyone, but the writer is writing about his homosexuality."

And no one seemed to blink.

"Well, that sounds like exactly what I need to read, and..."

------

A friend gave me this little book this week, and I read it in two sittings. Honestly, there's not much here I haven't already thought about, but I couldn't have written this book, for a simple reason: I don't have license to write it.

I'm married, sexually content, and have been since age 20. I barely remember singlehood. Sure, there are many struggles, and my own where-is-God? questions, but when I go to bed, my flesh-and-blood lover is there. So if I wrote this, you could critiicize it as mere theory. And preachy. And it might even sound like one of the recent spate of high-profile pastors, trying to out sex-talk each other to sell stuff and attract new customers. ("See?  Isn't married sex awesome, everyone? You should really have a super-sexy marriage like me, everyone!")

...yes, thanks, pastor. Problem: Most people aren't married. And many who are married can't have the awesome sex life you enjoy talking about. So there's that.

Oh, I could write this book... but I wouldn't be bleeding on the pages.

Wesley Hill did. And he wrote it in the midst of his loneliness, not on the far side of it, as though he applied three quick principles, and fixed it.

-----

"Faithfulness is never a gamble. It will be worth it. The joy then will be worth the struggle now. In the end, I think this is how I am learning to live faithfully as a homosexual Christian." - p. 79

Let's be honest: When most of us want something, REALLY want something, we'll rearrange our theology to get it. We'll develop new belief systems, no matter how gymnastic our thinking must become, to justify what we really want. This is one reason so many modern stories don't work: The writer presumes the evil people are the interesting ones.

That's exactly wrong. The most interesting people are the ones who align their behaviors with what they know to be true, rather than the other way around. Any great hero story involves someone doing something they don't want to do, rather than giving in, and taking the easy, or the obvious, way out. These are the stories that resonate over ages, because they are heroic.

And Hill strikes me as a hero.

He is not shying from the tough questions. He engages the relevant scriptures. He asks, how the Gospel could possibly restrict love? How could the church seriously expect people who are homosexual to abandon their deepest longings? How can these longings actually be met? Aren't the Biblical texts essentially cruel?

What is he to do, during his nights when his loneliness, and longing for sex, reaches the level of overwhelming? Why are heterosexual Christians allowed marriage, but he can't experience it, unless his orientation is reversed? How is this possibly consistent with the idea of a loving God?  

Those are just for starters. And any book on this topic that didn't address these things, for me, isn't worth recommending.

-----

So Wesley Hill shares his answers to these questions. No, it's not math, and it's not another "Christian" self-help book. Your struggles aren't neatly resolved at the end of the equation. But what he offers is Jesus-centric hope, for those who yearn so desperately for something that God is - I almost don't want to say it - denying them. It hurts. 

I'm not doing him justice, but these ideas are all fleshed out in a single chapter, if you want to read the book:

We all want things we can't have. Every one of us. 

God takes us very, very seriously. This is why there are consequences. Our lives matter.

In the New Testament, when the passages deal with homosexuality, the text very rapidly turns to his stunning redemptive effort for all of us.  He condemns homosexual behavior, and then, "amazingly, profligately, at great cost to himself, lavishes his love on homosexual persons."

We can't understand ANY of God's rules, apart from the greater story.

God simultaneously love us, and threatens what everyone wants, by nature. He wants to transform all of us, without exception. No one "naturally" forgives their enemies. It hurts.

Living with unfulfilled desires is not exceptional for humanity. Not even close. It's the rule. 

Even married people - perhaps most of them? - are living lives (in Thoreau's words) "of quiet regret."

God works through pain.

Having sex does not, contra our culture, make one "fully alive". Jesus is our God-example of the fully-lived life. And he was celibate. This destroys our reigning cultural lie.

-----

A last observation from this chapter, "A Story-Shaped Life", the one that struck me the most: If you are resigned to living a celibate life, a self-denying life, despite your loneliness, because you love God...

You WILL be rewarded.

Jesus makes it clear, for those willing to give up houses or family (and surely, Hill adds, something as profound as sex) for him.  You'll be rewarded a hundred times over for what you are doing.  And not only that, but God is actually praising YOU, and glorifying YOU.  That seems impossible, and doesn't fit our theology, for most of us, but Hill unpacks the scriptures that say so. It's a fact.

Homosexual, heterosexual, divorced, single, married and miserable, whatever: God sees you. And a heart that is turned to Him is incredibly pleasing to him. People don't tell you that enough, I'll bet. But after reading this book, I want to remind you: You will be rewarded. Your struggle against sin has a name: Faith.

I read this and thought of my friends who are gay, my friends who have left homosexual behavior behind but struggle with same-sex attraction, my friends who are heterosexual and desperately don't want to be single but are, my friends who are in marriages that are disasters, with so little seeming hope.  I know I can't relate to you on this particular struggle, not like Hill can. But reading him, I'm reminded I am part of your family, and honored to be part of it. It's a family that is transforming me, too. Meantime, you have a special status with a God who knows your name, your story, your struggle, your loneliness.  And your story is going to take a wonderful turn.

Hill:  

Slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning to do this. I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. 'Well done, good and faithful servant," the Lord Christ will say. "Enter into the joy of your master."

Apr 10 2012
The Myth of Private Sin

There is no private sin. Jesus makes no distinction, and we do not live in a vacuum.

A friend of mine did smething really, really bad a couple years ago.  Real bad.  Not illegal bad, but...bad enough it's followed him, years later. It showed up on page two of a metro newspaper, a thousand miles away from where he did it.

I love this guy. He's fun, smart, and fairly new to Christian belief.  He's accepted responsibility for what he did, and he's had to live with it every day.  He told me the other day he was sorry even I was having to deal with it now. "I'm amazed how many people this has affected.  One stupid, wrong decision I made and it keeps affecting so many people.  My wife, my kids...it just keeps going."

And so it does.

We marveled at that, and, just stood there, quietly, just shaking our heads.  Amazing?  Yes.  But not really surprising.

The older I get, the more convinced I am there is no private sin.  They don't all wind up on page two, but the surface of the pond is never undisturbed by the pebble. The ripples move well beyond ourselves, and, in many cases they radiate through generations. 

Or, another recent example:  One day, you're a minister getting in a quick ego-stroking flirt, thinking you're in some kind of private soap opera...and soon, there are 300 people in a flourescent-lit room, on metal folding chairs, discussing what you did.  And they're cautioning each other not to judge you, and then they talk some more about what you did.

And then, some little kid, one you don't even know, has to hear some stranger talking in church about how the pastor-guy won't be back, he did something called "sexual misconduct."  

Yeah, your soap opera?  It wasn't private.

Sins on the computer aren't private.  Larry Ellison, from Oracle, said years ago: If you think he doesn't know what's on your hard drive, you're kidding yourself. Like the Huffington Post wrote recently: "Google knows you better than you know yourself." Don't kid yourself. 

But even if they didn't know, the sins in your head aren't private.  Mine affect my attitude.  They keep me from being concerned about other people.  They make me a jerk, in seemingly unrelated ways.  ("Why's Brant a jerk?"  "Probably something seemingly unrelated.")

There is no "private sin". Turns out few things have done more harm than the "do no harm" ethic.  The as-long-as-it-doesn't-hurt-anyone-else construction of morality is built atop the swamp of affluence. We afford this lie, because affluence loves not only privacy, but the fantasy of it. But like the 77's said, "The lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life -- drain the life right out of me."

And then, when the life is drained out of me... I'm not the person I'm supposed to be. I'm less creative. I'm less joyful. I have less social energy. My patience is gone. I care less about my neighbors. Let me make this clear: There is no sin that affects only you.

Private rebellion.  Public consequence.  And if it seems unfair that what my friend did was so horrible, but what you or I do in our minds is somehow not so horrible -- well, you agree with Jesus. There IS no difference.

The ripple metaphor works.  There's a better one, really, for what our "private" sins do to one another, but I don't want to gross you out with a picture of a fan being hit by organic material. I have higher standards than that. Plus, I googled for a full five minutes and couldn't find one.

Tags: ,
Categories:
Actions: Permalink | Tell A Friend! | Comments (36) | RSS comment feed Comment RSS

Apr 03 2012
If Jesus Had a Blog: Big-Time Leaders

 

(From Brant, an explainer, for those new to the series: The "comments", directly below, are NOT real. They're just my best guesses, if Jesus had a blog, what the comments would look like.)

If Jesus Had a Blog

Man, this has been a tough week. Things are winding down. Good thing, as far as this borrowed Gateway laptop is concerned.  I think it's got about four days left, too.  Everyone else here at this coffee place in Jerusalem has a Mac. I feel kinda retro-cool.

Anyway, there was this crowd today, and all these big-time religious leader fellers.  These guys LOVE being recognized, being significant, being "The Man" and all that.  And people give them the accolades, too:  "Ooh, it's my teacher!  MY leader!" -- that kind of stuff.  So I says (and I'm quoting myself from the New Living Translation, owned by Tyndale):

Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.  And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant.

Were they cool with that?  (Snort.)  Uh...no, they weren't cool with that.  I told them that the people who thought they were "all that" now, with titles and what-not, would get humbled, and the humble would wind up being "all that".  That didn't fly, either.

Truth is, these guys get accolades, but you know what?  They just make life harder for people.  I told them that.  

Big news, coming later this week: I'm about to make life a LOT easier for people...

Posted:  Today at 6:32 p.m.

--------------------------

Comments (13)

Well, this doesn't surprise me.  You've been anti-clerical for a long time, ignoring thousands of years of tradition.  This kind of caps it for me.  Not fair.

-- BigBob209

I guess I see where you're coming from, but really:  They're ALL bad?  You've apparently had some bad experiences in the past, and I'm sorry for that, but you don't need to make big blanket statements.

A lot of good comes from these guys, and you can't argue with how big their followings have gotten.  Maybe a jealousy issue...?  I don't know.

-- davec3410

I was there and all I heard was, "Blessed are the cheesemakers"...?

[Edit from J:  Don't take me literally.  I meant ALL makers of dairy products.  BTW, Peter, we've got to rent "Holy Grail" next time.]

-- pete_the_rock

You sure like rocking the boat.  I think you're throwing some good people overboard. 

Some of these guys are our top experts on scripture, and I can't see how calling one my teacher is such a bad thing.  Yes, there are a few bad apples, but what are we supposed to do, stop learning?

You say you, Jesus, are they only real teacher? 

Uh...are you going to personally be in every religious building? 

I bet you won't.

-- vision4life2020

Yeah, I gotta piggyback on vision4life up there.  I usually get where you're going, but we need people in the offices of the teacher or the leader or, in some traditions, "father". 

You've got to delegate, and have somebody have some kind of stand-in status.

 Fact is, you're one dude, and you can't be there every time two or three people get together.

-- terpsfan98

My Pastor has seven books.  I don't see any of yours in our church BookTime CoffeeCenter. 

-- luv_n_grace

This post made me cry.  How dare you.

My husband is our church Teacher.  He is a man of The Word, and there's nothing wrong with recognizing that he is Anointed to be the Leader.   It's not like this is a glamorous position -- he's had to put up with jerks in every church he's led.  Now, he's being called to be the Leader of a different place, we think, and so we're going there, and if they want to act like he's their official Teacher, I don't see the problem with that, and they offer a better health package.

Point is, you're really judgmental.  The real leaders are the servants?  Who's going to be on the church stage?  Why don't you put the volunteer custodian up there, then?  See how many people come to THAT church!

-- deb4213

Why did you say, "You're all equal as brothers and sisters"?  We knew that.  No one believes otherwise.  What's your point?

-- someguyscaredtousehisownname

I think you guys aren't being fair.  Chill.

I think Jesus is only saying here that we shouldn't be Catholic or Jewish.

-- intheword4ever

So teaching the scriptures makes life "harder" for people?  Good.

Studying IS hard.  Keeping the Word IS hard.  Keeping track of the right stuff to do IS hard.

No one said the yoke would be easy.  No one said the burden would be light.

-- cubbies1908

Gee, nice post.  Real well thought-out.

I can see why your Technorati rank is like, twenty-millionth.

-- lifecenterworshipguy

You need to spend some time reading the epistles, apparently.   What Bible College did you go to...?  Are they really accredited?

-- DTS_09

hi jesus i like it when you sai d if i love you then you will take care of me :)

-- horsegurl9