Dec 05 2012
On Saying "Merry Christmas!"...or "Happy Saturday"

(Here's my response to the now-tired "Christmas wars", I wrote for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel a few years back. I post it during the - ahem - "Holiday Season", in case you want to pass it along, or start some discussions with it with those who might object to "Merry Christmas!" Or, you know, school districts who don't want to acknowledge our cultural history. And, by the way...Merry Christmas.)

Happy Wednesday!

No, wait. Check that. You likely know that “Wednesday” really means “Woden’s Day” -- a nod to the Teutonic god.

I, for one, do not worship Woden. I'm not wont to worship Woden, and, well, wouldn't worship Woden. Perhaps you pursue a personal relationship with Woden. But maybe not.

So forgive my insensitivity. Granted, in this culture, the fourth day of the week is, most obviously, “Wednesday” – why, it’s as obvious as, say, December 25th is Christmas – but we shouldn’t simply say things like that out loud because “it’s been that way” for centuries.

It’s time to recognize, and celebrate, our differences. Joining the celebration of religious expression is easy: Simply be offended by everyone else’s religious expression. Celebrate good times, come on.

What’s disturbing: Our own government continues to refer to this day as the Day of Woden, clearly embracing one religious view over others. Even our public schools embrace Woden, throughout school publications and practices. While I’m not steeped in Teutonic lore, I suspect, based on our monthly cafeteria calendars, that Woden remains the Teutonic Lord of pizza square, pear, brownie and choice of milk.

Not to mention these “Saturdays” we keep having! I try to be open-minded about this stuff, but c’mon: “Saturn” is just the Roman equivalent of the Greek god “Cronus”. What did Cronus do? Oh, boy.

“Cronus was the ruling Titan who came to power by castrating his Father Uranus. His wife was Rhea. There offspring were the first of the Olympians. To insure his safety Cronus ate each of the children as they were born..."

That's pretty much not cool. I don’t want to judge, I'd have to walk a mile in his shoes, etc., but -- I don't know, man -- this just seems out of line.

But he gets his own DAY for that. He castrates his dad, eats his kids…and then mall stores honor Cronus with “Saturday Sales Events”? I don’t even want to know what goes down at those things.

So yeah, stop saying “Saturday” around me. New rule: Even if the culture is steeped in it, and even if most even prefer it; even if it might seem to be reasonable to expect I could accommodate it, heck, even if it IS Saturday: don’t say it.

I remember my public high school (!) marching band, performing that song by Chicago: You know what day of the week, in the park, I think it was the fourth of that month named after a militaristic dead white guy. I doubt the whole crowd at the Assumption, Illinois football game was into Cronus. Krokus, yes. Cronus, pretty much no. Couldn't we have found something else to play? Times are changing.

Let’s re-name everything, and pretend our culture appeared out of thin air, thirty seconds ago. Sure, it would be a massive, and massively strange, project. We could make a court case out of it, since the Constitution itself doesn’t afford different protections for expression of mostly-dead religions and expression of religions more widely practiced.

Or, we could just chill, and recognize that, for example, Saturday is Saturday, whether I worship Saturn or not.

And we could even say that December 25th is “Christmas” whether you’re a Christian or not.

Heck, maybe then, with one of the most painfully annoying melody lines ever written, we could even wish you a merry one.

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."

Mar 27 2012
Katniss and Her Friends: Why "The Hunger Games" Resonates



So every teenage girl, it seems, wants to be Katniss.

I'm not surprised.  I would, too.

The Hunger Games is about culture, and more specifically, Katniss vs. Culture. And it's our culture, of course, through the lens of caricature.  

It's our culture, and every teenage girl, it seems, would like to pick up a bow, and fire an arrow directly into the heart of it, and watch it die.

-----

In the books (I haven't seen the movie, yet) Katniss is substance, and adult culture - embodied and enforced by the Capitol - is all about appearances. It's mean, it's selective, it's heartless, it's cruel, and it pits one-teen-against-the-other.  

Katniss cares about her appearance, but not very much.  It's the Capitol, the culture, that cares very much, foisting makeup and fashion experts upon her, each charged with making her understand how important outward beauty is to her survival. They convince her: Change, and change outwardly, and extremely... or you will not survive.

Katniss has romantic feelings, but they don't control her story. It's the Capitol, the culture, that wants romance to control her story, to define her, and give her meaning.

Katniss wants to protect her younger sister from this culture. No girl, she thinks, should be drawn into this, but certainly not one so young. But to her horror, the Capitol, the culture, wants to draw in the youngest, the pre-teen, girl.

Katniss wants to provide for her family, in the absence of her father. The Capitol, effectively, took her father from her, through his work. Forced to work in mines, he was killed in an explosion.

Katniss wishes she didn't need to hunt, but she is willing to do what it takes to make it work. The Capitol, the culture, literally sets up barriers to stop her.

Katniss finds a boy/man who is flawed, but self-sacrificing, protective, warm, and committed to not being changed by the culture. He will not, he says, become a self-seeking "monster." The Capitol, the culture, is patronizingly charmed by that... as it is fully committed to changing him into a self-seeking monster.

Katniss knows truth matters. She's no philosopher, but she knows loyalty matters. She knows sacrificing for the vulnerable matters. She knows there is such a thing as Good, even if she can't articulate it. The Capitol, the culture, tries to convince her otherwise.

Katniss loves her family. The Capitol finds that quaint, and valuable only in that it adds to an entertaining storyline, since amusement is, of course, the ultimate goal. And a human, a teenage girl, only has value to the extent the Capitol, our culture, is attracted to her.

No wonder Katniss wants to kill it.

And millions of teenage girls want to help her.