Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Women, Attraction, and Me

Warning:  In dealing with both sexuality and my struggles, this post is more frank at times compared with some of my other posts dealing with such matters, which are more "polished."  Reader discretion is advised.

In an ironic twist of fate, I actually never thought of myself as "gay"--that is to say, with same-sex attractions to the exclusion of any real opposite-sex attractions-- at least not consistently, until some point during the last year.  That's right, after being married.  I'm going to say, right now, that I think I was wrong to ever come to that conclusion, but right or wrong, I had rarely held that belief about myself before.  There was a brief period of time when I was fifteen, when I first realized I had same-sex attractions, that I actually did consider that I might just be "gay."  But after that there was a three to five year period when I didn't really notice the same-sex attractions at all, and then even after they returned full force and never let up again, I tended to think of myself as having both same-sex and opposite-sex attractions.  By pop-cultural labels (although I don't justify the use of these labels at all) this would make me "bisexual," not "gay."

So what happened?  Why, after so many years of not believing I was exclusively attracted to men, did I finally cave in and say that I wasn't attracted to women, that I loved my wife and enjoyed our intimate life and was attracted to her in certain ways, but that it wasn't a "straight" sort of attraction?  Why?  Because I finally succumbed to the pressure of society's lies about attraction and sexuality.

We live in a culture that is absolutely obsessed with lust and eroticism.  This has become so predominant that it has made its way even into Christian culture.  Christians have, often enough, conceded that sexual attraction must be the same thing as a raw, powerful urge.  Sexual attraction has been reduced to "Which gender would be most likely to 'turn you on' if the person walked into the room naked?"  That's it.  Visual stimulation and raw arousal have become the "litmus test" for sexual attraction.  So, for example, no matter how much I may enjoy being around my wife, no matter how beautiful I may think she is, no matter how much I may love her, no matter how much I may enjoy our sex life and long to engage in it with her, our society (and, sadly, many Christians) would say that I don't have a legitimate sexual attraction to her unless the simple sight of her naked body had the power to arouse me, the way that the image of a nude man might (if the context were sexually charged or suggestive at least; I do not get outright aroused by mere nudity on either gender).

Woah, duuude!  I totally can't even concentrate around
hot girls, man...

Now, I will say that there are times, sometimes more common than others, when I do have the sort of attraction to my wife that society would admit is a genuine sexual attraction.  And because I know my wife feels good about herself when I have those sorts of feelings toward her, I do seek to cultivate that and I hope that such a thing becomes more and more common.  I do want that, even if it's not necessary, because it is nice, it's enjoyable to have those sensations.  So I hope it gets more frequent, with time, and stronger.  Eventually I'd love to consistently have that reaction.

But I think I was wrong to ever believe that I had to experience that in order to believe that all the other ways I have been attracted to her were and are real.  A sexual attraction is simply that:  Attraction toward having sex with someone.  It doesn't matter if the reason you enjoy and desire it is because the very sight of her nude body drives you mad, or because you find the idea of sex with her to be the highest sort of affection, unity, and security with her.  Both are legitimate expressions of genuine sexual attraction.  The former is more raw and immediate, but the second is just as valid.  

I've had that second sort of attraction to women throughout my entire life.  And until I was fifteen years old, and stumbled upon gay pornography, that second sort of attraction was the only kind of attraction I'd had to anyone, and that "anyone" was solely female.  I wasn't all that interested in pornographic portrayals of women, because my attraction to women was more holistic.  I wanted to love a woman, to become one with her, to be by her side, to have us comfortably and lovingly (in marriage) explore one another's bodies just as we explored each other's heart and soul.  I wanted to give of myself to a woman, including my body.  I deeply desired to one day make love to a woman who was my wife.  But it was not a desire that was easily susceptible to the pornographic appeal our culture insists must be part of an attraction, because it was not primarily about certain visual stimuli "driving me crazy."  But did this make it any less real?

Well it says here that--
Oh...rhetorical question...

In recent months, I've finally started to reclaim what I once knew about myself:  That my attraction to women, and my wife in particular, is just as real and valid as any stereotypical "straight" guy's attraction to women.  It may not always look the same as his, nor the same way that my same-sex attraction looks (although, like I said earlier, sometimes it does, and that's happened more often over the past half-year and I have hope it will happen more often still), but that doesn't mean that it "doesn't count."  

It will take me a while, I think, to regain the confidence that my attractions to women do count.  And why?  Because it's taken years to tear down that confidence, so it's reasonable to think it might take years to get back up to it.  As of the time when I was a senior in college, no one could have convinced me that my attraction to women, although it certainly looked different from my attraction to men, was not real.  People who knew me back then can vouch for the way I openly pined for girls, and it was not an act!  But it was different.  While other guys looked at a beautiful girl and might have a reaction "below the waist," I--although I could certainly muster such a reaction and while throughout that period I often thought of a hypothetical "wife" during my struggles with masturbation--had a reaction primarily in my chest.  While other guys looked at girls as potentially "hot," to me they were "amazing" and "magical."  

So it took the greater part of a decade to reach the point to where I no longer thought my brand of attraction to women was legitimate.  I never really found myself addicted to "straight" porn, but had a terrible habit with "gay" porn; an empty meaningless fling with a woman wouldn't have done anything for me, while an empty meaningless fling with a guy (despite still not being nearly as appealing as a meaningful connection with him) did have a certain raw appeal that had no counterpart in females.  I let myself fall into the trap of thinking that my porn habits and the question of whose body by itself would provoke my desire the most was the key to determining my sexuality.  So more and more, I felt that maybe my opposite-sex attractions were an illusion, wishful thinking.  Less and less did I consider myself attracted to both genders until, one day, I nervously confided in my wife that maybe I had no actual attraction to women at all, aside from the capability of enjoying sex with her and obviously loving her.  It could take at least just as long, and be just as rocky a path, to get back to where I once was:  Confident that my attractions to women "count," even if they differ from the average male's.  

There are some things, however, that have given me pause, and have tempted me to sabotage my own efforts at recovering my full awareness of the validity of my opposite-sex attractions.  During my time of thinking I was simply "gay" I developed, as a consolation, a passion for one day being a beacon to others who were exclusively same-sex attracted and yet who were, like myself, people of faith. "This is possible:  Marriage to an opposite-sex spouse, having a family, without compromising traditional Christian values; you can have that even if you're gay, and it can be loving and authentic and real."  And I still believe it's possible.  Examples such as Josh Weed (look him up) make me believe that.  But if I am not "gay," then I am not an example of that possibility myself.  

Oh no!  How will they get along without your
shining example?!

Another such thing is fear that I am just kidding myself about the opposite-sex attractions.  That tempts me to just decide my attractions to men are exclusive, so that at least I won't have the experience of being disappointed if I find out the attractions to women are an illusion.  I'm an obsessive person, by temperament, so I'm constantly fretting that maybe I'm engaging in wishful thinking, as if I only imagine my attraction to women, even if I have more moments lately where that attraction seems more acute, jarring, and physically strong, as the typical "straight" or "bi" guy's attractions to women are.  It's easier to just call those flukes.  Because it would require less work to simply assume the most difficult reality is the true one, then anything else can seem like a mental house of cards, fragile and prone to collapse.  I get scared of that collapse, and run right back to thinking "No, I'm just gay; I'm happily married, love my 'private' life with my wife, and love her dearly, but I'm still 'gay,'" because it's easier to just "accept" that than it is to summon and maintain the mental energy that goes into overcoming my obsessive fretting and worrying in order to have confidence that it might be otherwise.  

In the end, the state of my attractions to women is not simple.  As a flawed human being, sometimes a particularly confused and stressed one, I reserve the right to be inconsistent.  But sometimes I do muster up the courage to not only resist but outright defy the definitions society places on what it means to be attracted to someone.  Sometimes, I feel on the cusp of some paradigm shift that will truly liberate me.  Will it make me "straight?"  Probably not.  My attractions to men may be here to stay no matter what my attraction to women is like (although to be sure I can integrate those attractions into my life in ways that are healthy, acknowledged, but not sexually acted upon).  But maybe I can find it within me to not put my sexuality in a "box," and to know that, whatever labels society might like to put on it, it may well be more malleable and fluid than labels could ever suggest. 

Note:  The article "Against Heterosexuality, by First Things, is an argument that labels and categories surrounding sexuality, even including the so-called natural "heterosexual" orientation, are all artificial constructs anyway that actually do harm to traditional Christian sexual ethics.  I quite agree with this article, whatever my own sexuality may look like at any given time.  So it's worth a read!

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Poem for My Lord

I confess, I'm having a bit of writer's block, so here I'll just share this poem that I wrote years ago, to my Lord Jesus Christ. I often forget the passionate affections I have had for Him in the past, but at my best--sadly rare lately--I crave such closeness with Him that the longing for Him is equal to any (non-sexual) description of being "in love." I've not really approached such sentiments for a long time, and my love has had to be expressed through the action of living my Faith, without feelings to accompany it so much. But still, this poem captures some small picture of my longing for Him when I on rare occasion have just a sliver of insight into how amazing He really is...

My Love Who for the World did Die 

My Love Who for the world did die,
For Whom my heart now yearns;
To be the apple of Thine Eye
My soul now aches and burns.

 My Love, Whose dear beloved John
Did lean upon Thy chest,
May I, too, linger thereupon,
And find eternal rest.

 My Love, Whose voice commands the tide,
Speak sweetly to my ear,
For with Thee always at my side
Whatever shall I fear?

 My Love, as Bride finds ecstasy
Within her husband's arms,
I beg Thee, rapture all of me,
Engulf me with Thy charms!

My Love, as noble Jonathan
Loved David, chastely so,
So too may I, a lovesick man,
Find Heaven in Thy Glow.

My Love, oh please consume me whole,
For Thine I wish to be.
I crave for body, mind, and soul,
To be made One with Thee.

-By Joshua

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fishing for Love and Grasping at the Wind

There's this thing that I do, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  It's simple, instead of coming right out and saying I need something, I hint at it; I make the need known in some indirect way.  You've heard the phrase "fishing for a compliment" before, I'm sure:  When a person says something like "I'm ugly/plain/fat/dumb/insert-something-negative-here" in hopes that a good and reliable friend or relative will jump in and say "No, you're not!  You're insert-high-praise-here!"  Rather than coming out and asking for the compliment or reassurance, you're sort of "casting a line" and hoping that the other person will take the bait, and a compliment will be caught.  Well, I'm not above doing that.  However, I don't only do it where compliments are concerned, I'm known to "fish" for pretty much everything.

I've gotten a little better about it over the past year or so.  Now, I actually have occasionally told someone, most often my wife, my desire or need plainly.  For example, I might say "Tell me that I'm not stupid because I did X, that it's something understandable that anyone could easily do," instead of "I'm stupid for doing X; who would ever do that, besides a moron?"  And what about if I need some sort of affection?  I've been more willing to tell spouse and friends alike that I would like a hug from them, although when it comes to friends I'm generally (and ironically) only comfortable enough to ask for such a thing from friends who happen to live too far away to provide it more than virtually (and this really is coincidence; I genuinely sense no subconscious avoidance on my part).  Still, it's progress.

Excuse me sir, but I might sort of kind of maybe like a hug.
(Who am I kidding, if I was this adorable I'd get hugs without asking!)

But why am I so afraid, as a general rule, to ask for what I need or desire outright?  I can think of a few answers to that question.

First of all, there's the fear of rejection.  If I avoid asking a question directly, I can't be directly rejected.  Let's take the "fishing for compliments" scenario.  If I ask "Do you think my face looks dry and too old for my age?" then I risk the person saying "Yes," whether bluntly or gently in a doomed attempt to soften the blow.  If, on the other hand, I say "I think my face looks dry and too old for my age," then it's more likely, if the person thinks my complaint is true, that they just won't say anything. In theory, that should sting less than having them dash my confidence outright.

The problem with this line of thinking is probably obvious:  Try to remember a time you fished for a compliment this way, and the person said nothing.  Did you really manage to avoid taking that as anything other than a confirmation of whatever answer you didn't want?  Yeah, neither did I.  If I complain that "I'm afraid I'm too short," and Friend A just sips at his beer and stares at the ground in silence, or otherwise avoids directly confirming or denying my fear, he may as well have said "Yeah, man, it's true."  I'm gonna end up thinking "Well, he had nothing nice to say, so he's saying nothing at all."  Which defeats the whole "protecting my own feelings" purpose of not having just asked the question outright in the first place.  At least, if I asked the question directly, I might have had a chance to talk it out with him about how that makes me feel, maybe coming to some resolution that makes me feel a little better in spite of the ugly truth.  And who knows, maybe his answer would have been something positive, and his lack of comment when I only hinted at my question was because he hadn't gotten the hint, meaning I will have tortured myself for no reason if I let myself assume his silence was an answer to itself.

Over-thinking; it's what I do.

Another thing that causes me to be so indirect is a fear of putting someone else in an awkward position.  This is both for their sake and mine.  It's for their sake because I know what it's like to be asked for something I'm uncomfortable giving, and I don't want to risk putting someone else in that position.  It's for mine because, naturally, they may eventually want to avoid me if I become that guy who asks too many uncomfortable favors.  Maybe I'm asking for a hug and the person doesn't like giving hugs.  They have to face the dilemma of not wanting to hurt my feelings but not wanting to hug me either.  Maybe they'll feel too guilty to say no.  

But I realize that this thinking is formed by my own encounters with people who didn't know how to take no for an answer.  When someone can't take no for an answer, his request is no longer a request, but a demand only disguised as a question.  He will punish the "wrong" answer by fuming, sulking, or otherwise emotionally blackmailing you.  The solution to the fear of putting people "on the spot" isn't to disguise my needs and wants in clever--but not-so-clever as to fail at getting the hint across--laments and games, it's rather to make it clear that I am willing to take no for an answer.  I'm not going to unleash my wrath, whether direct or passive aggressive, on the poor soul who denies my request.  Just because I've faced the experience, far too often, of having things demanded from me in the guise of requests doesn't mean that asking directly for something is inherently bad or "too forward."  

The worst thing, however, with only hinting around at my needs, whether for affirmation, affection, or whatever else, is that it leaves love to chance.  I'm fishing, you see, for more than just compliments or favors; in a sense I'm fishing for concrete expressions of love.  But the thing about fishing is that sometimes you don't get any bites.  How many friends and loved ones might be only all too eager to show me expressions of love, but I don't ask!  Even Jesus said "Ask and you shall receive," not "Hint around and you shall receive."  I can only imagine all the affirmation, the affection, the quality time, the utter outpouring of love I might have experienced if I'd only had the courage to be direct!  Instead, I've cast a net that may or may not come up empty, and I'll find that all my "fishing" was just a vain grasping at the wind.

MY wind!!!  You no can have!

There's also the fact that my fears point to a deeper insecurity; namely, that if others express love in a different way than I would receive it--and thus say "no" to some request of mine, because that's just not how they express love--then this means they don't love me, or at the very least that they love me less than I love them.  

I won't say that a person should not be willing to express love in ways he normally wouldn't, for someone who receives love in those foreign ways; in fact, I think that we should try to love people the way they need to be loved, the way they experience love, because when it comes to giving love it would be ironically self-centered to insist that you'll only give it on terms you find comfortable.  That said, though, when I am the one receiving love, I have no control over whether the giver will make that proper effort to love me the way that is natural to me.  I can only control whether I adapt and receive love in the ways he or she is willing to give it.  So yeah, while it may not be very loving for the giver to tell the receiver "This is how I give love, so you'll just have to take what I give you," it's also not going to accomplish anything, assuming the giver is that inflexible, for the receiver to be just as stubborn and refuse to feel loved unless it's on his terms.  Ideally, both should be willing to speak (and hear) the "language" of the other.  If both parties are doing their part, no one has any reason to complain or feel unloved.

So if I can learn to not take it personally when someone just can't manage to "speak my language" when it comes to love, then perhaps I'll finally be a lot less afraid of having some request of mine politely refused.  Maybe then I won't see it as a rejection of me, but just as a declining of that particular expression of love for me.  Maybe then I can ask for what I need more clearly and confidently.  I'm certainly not there yet, but by the Grace of God maybe one day I'll be closer.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Caring for "The Least of These"

I confess:  I don't do enough for the less fortunate.  To be more specific, I don't think I do anything, really.  It's true, a certain level of our income goes to charity every month, but it's hard for me to feel like this counts.  My wife takes care of the payments, and some of them--such as our donation to our parish--are on auto-pay.  So it requires no more real commitment from me than having my tax dollars go to welfare.  It happens without my needing to do anything.

So I'm stuck in a position where what little I actually do for the unfortunate comes so automatically that I have no more merit for it than I have for providing trees with carbon dioxide when I breathe.  Hardly the stuff to warrant a "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!"

Now I've heard it said that "charity begins at home."  I've also had people try to comfort me with the fact that I do take care of my family, and so I'm told that's my way of caring for "the least of these."  But there are reasons that these consolations ring hollow.  It's true that taking care of my family is incredibly noble and good, but it should never be an excuse to be lazy about caring for the poor, the infirm, the imprisoned.  First of all, Jesus was pretty big on saying Christians had to go above and beyond what pagans would do.  And even most of the "pursue your own happiness" philosophies often admit, if maybe grudgingly, that a person should take care of his own family.

So basic even a hedonist can understand it...sometimes.

Also, when Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats, where the "goats" who didn't care for the unfortunate were told to depart from Him, do we really think we can get away with saying "Well those people didn't even provide for their families!"  That's a pretty big assumption that doesn't fit with the spirit of the parable at all.  It's obvious that w'ere obligated to care for people other than our families too.  If we care only for our families, Jesus might rightly ask, "Do not even the pagans do the same?"

But if I am without excuse, then why don't I get out there and do more?  Why am I not out there working soup kitchens, giving money to homeless people I see on the street, giving company to the homeless, or hope to the imprisoned?  This question is too complicated to answer simply.  One answer is that I don't know where to begin.  For a man without a job, I do have a lot of demands on my physical presence.  My wife needs me to be bodily present at home more than is the case in many marriages, due to chronic health problems.  So one of the major reasons I don't have a job is, in part, also a reason I can't be out there in homeless shelters multiple times a week.

But there is also fear.  What if the less fortunate take advantage of me?  What if, when I give a little, they keep asking more?  What if I can't say "no," and then start neglecting my family?  This is probably rooted in my life experiences.  I have had people in my life who didn't know when to quit, and I did have a hard time saying "no."  I've had times when close loved ones, even my own wife, have gotten understandably nervous that, when someone asks me for help, I would give in even if it meant neglecting my family or taking more money out of the family funds than I ought.  It's all too easy to project all of that onto the unfortunate.  "If I give an inch, I'll end up giving a mile.  I won't know when or how to stop."  So, in fear of getting in over my head, I instead do nothing at all.

To be honest, I think a huge problem here is that I lack faith.  Specifically, I lack faith that something is better than nothing in God's judgement.  So if I can't be a regular Mother Teresa, I tell myself that smaller "easier" things will count for nothing at all.  As if I will reach Heaven and God will say "Depart from me, because even though you gave a little, it hardly inconvenienced or burdened you, so you may as well have not even bothered!"  Growing up, I often heard it said of Christian giving, "You have to give until it hurts."  And while I think that's the saintly thing to do, and I think that there will be great reward for those who do so, I can't help but think that there's a danger to this sort of thinking if it's taken too rigidly:  If I absolutely must give until it hurts in order for it to even "count," then it's tempting to not even waste my time giving anything at all unless it hurts.  It becomes "all or nothing."  This is obviously self-defeating.

Well, it's not a Thanksgiving Day feast, exactly, so
I'm sure they'd be just as well off doing without.

In the parable of the ten servants who were given one coin each, the only one the Master rejects is the servant who did nothing; we don't hear of Him rejecting even a servant who only earned one measly coin.  In fact, Jesus said "He who gives so much as a cup of cold water to the least of these little ones will by no means lose his reward."  And a small gift like that is something the giver won't even miss.  That's not an excuse to fail at continually trying to pluck up the courage and motivation to "give until it hurts."  The more you give, the greater the blessing.  But even if I never master that, God will not discount what seemingly pitiful good I do just because I could have done better.  Even mere dollars or tens of dollars a week, even an hour or so a week, it's all better than nothing.  It's a "cup of cold water."  There are plenty of "cups" in the cupboard and "water" in the fridge.  Neither I nor my family will even know it's gone.  What am I waiting for?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

To Thyself Be True: The Get-out-of-Marriage-Free Card?

My wife recently came across an article which she passed my way on Facebook.  Being that she's married to a man with same-sex attractions, the article tells the story of my wife's worst fear:  The author--whom we're taking at her word strictly for the sake of argument, and if she's misrepresenting her spouse then the words that follow may not apply to him in particular--writes that her husband, after years of marriage and having fathered several children, decided to be "true to himself," and leave her for a man.  Having embraced an identity as "gay," he threw away everything he had built with his family in order to pursue that identity, an identity that we are told in our current cultural chaos must be fulfilled at all costs.  In his case, the cost was borne largely by the little ones and the wife, who weren't permitted any real say in this shattering of their family.   He was gay, and that was that.  According to the author, this same man fought for primary custody of the children, presumably won it, and forced the children to be part of his gay "wedding" even against their own reluctance to celebrate an event that, y'know, formalized the tearing apart of their family.

What do we make our children do next?
Tea parties in honor of the car that hit and killed a beloved pet?

The thing that was even sadder, however, is that a man like this husband often receives accolades and sympathy in our culture.  Keep in mind, I'm not saying that it's bad that people have sympathy for people who do wrong things.  But he's not merely receiving sympathy.  People like this man often are actively encouraged to break their vows in so permanent a way.  "It's okay," our society consoles them, "You have to be who you are!"  Actually, it's almost as insulting to people who are attracted to the same gender as it is to this man's wife:  Evidently, we are not real adults.  We don't have to be held to our promises.  When we make vows, we are evidently too stupid, or too scared, or too spineless to really know what we're getting ourselves into.  So then, when one day we want to leave our spouses to "be true" to ourselves, it's okay, because when we made the vows we just didn't "know any better."  Gee, thanks, culture.  I feel so supported.

Where did we go so terribly wrong?  The answer, sadly, is older than the gay marriage debate by decades.  We as a society began to accept the notion of no-fault divorce.  Not only did we legalize it, we began to condone it.  We began to accept that "Sometimes, it just doesn't work."  Sometimes, we argued, it was okay to break a solemn, lifelong vow for no other reason than just being unhappy with the arrangement.

What, though, is a vow even good for, if it's okay to break it at your own discretion?  The marriage vows generally contain some variation of "til death do us part," AND "for better or worse."  Those two sentiments have huge implications.  It means, when you marry someone, you are making a promise that not only will you remain spouses until one of  you dies, but also that you'll live up to this no matter how bad it gets.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be a variation on "for better or worse" but would be something more like "as long as times are good or I consider the hard times worth it."

A vow so touching it deserves its own Valentines Day card!

People have stopped thinking before they enter into marriage.  When a man (and all this would be true in the gender opposite scenario too) decides to leave his spouse, no matter how she wants to keep the marriage together, and his reasons are anything short of fear for his life and safety at the hands of real abuse,* then I see only three possibilities:

1.  He was lying about those vows, even as he made them.  This is despicable, and I don't need to say anything more about it.
2.  He hadn't really thought things through about what the vows meant before he made them.  The meaning of the vows are pretty obvious, though, so if he hadn't thought hard enough to grasp the meaning of "for better or worse," he had no business making the vows in the first place.
3.  He has "changed his mind."  This is about as despicable as the first one, because a vow means nothing if it's okay to just "change your mind" at a later point in time.

In all of these cases, the vow isn't being taken seriously.  The first man wasn't taking the vows seriously in the present.  The second man wasn't taking the future implications of the vows seriously.  And the third man isn't taking seriously a vow made in the past.  In all three cases, this is an enormous problem.  Vows, by definition, have to be taken seriously in all tenses:  Past, present and future.   And yet our no-fault divorce culture winks at a person who failed to take them seriously in any one of those tenses, or even all three.

If a woman can easily be excused for leaving her husband because "the feeling of love isn't there anymore," or a man can be excused for leaving his wife because he wasn't attracted to her anymore, then it was inevitable that eventually a man or woman could leave a spouse for someone of the same gender, and our culture would smile upon it as "doing what's necessary for your own happiness."

Yet the man or woman who breaks a marriage to enter a gay relationship is being praised with a deeper and more sinister irony than his heterosexual counterparts:  More so than any other person who leaves his or her spouse, the gay man who breaks faith with his wife is praised for being "honest," reportedly with himself and his spouse.  Let's get this straight (no pun intended):  A person who made vows that he either never took seriously or has ceased to take seriously, is praised for being "honest" for that very same fact.  Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?  The ultimate act of dishonesty--throwing a vow casually to the wind and no longer even trying to live up to it--is now called an act of honesty?!

You might wanna sit down while you
try to figure that one out.

If that's the sort of grace and mercy our culture has for men in my shoes, then I'll pass.  I don't need that brand of "love" or "tolerance."  It's insulting.  If the best way to be compassionate and loving to me is to teach me that my responsibilities aren't binding, and that the best way for me to be "honest" is by being profoundly dishonest about a solemn promise, then I want no part of that.  Besides, if that love and compassion are as unpredictable as society says my wedding vows are allowed to be, I'm not missing out on much anyway.

*Note:  I'm not being inconsistent at this point in the post.  As a Catholic, I really do think a marriage vow covers "no matter how bad it gets" even including abuse, but that is one of the few scenarios where a person can be understood for physically separating and maybe even get a "civil divorce" for his or her own safety or that of the children; but even then the vow underlying the marriage still exists, if it was taken seriously:  Yes, that does mean that vowing "for better or worse" is so serious it borders on scary.  If you vow "for better or worse" or "to death do us part" or "forever" or "for life" or any other such thing and don't think it has such scary implications, or you think these plain and obvious words have some sort of hidden "escape" clause, then you haven't thought it through enough to be making the vow.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Devil's Blackmail

Okay, I'm just gonna say it:  I do some stupid things.  Throughout this blog's short lifetime, I have made no secret of the fact that I'm not perfect, and I've talked several times of one of my chief temptations, namely my same-sex attractions.  But I want to make it abundantly clear that, when I say I do thing that are gravely and humiliatingly wrong, I'm not just talking about in the past, some time long ago that was magically resolved at some point--like when I met my wife, or married her, or when I became a father, or any other milestone that so many people might claim "turned my life around."  No, I still stumble.

In fact, I stumble in ways that leave me open to public shaming and embarrassment, things that could come back to bite me.  I won't go into details, because the details aren't relevant here.  But I've foolishly opened myself, even in recent times, to exposure.  I wrote a post about misuse of the word "hypocrite" not that long ago, and even if the word is often misapplied by "the world," I've certainly given the world potential fuel to misapply it to me.  I behave in ways that are unchristian, and sometimes when I behave in these ways I don't even show any sign that I'm remorseful or that I have any conscience in the matter.  By all accounts, it might seem like I'm a "traitor" from either point of view, whether from the view of faith or the view of the "anything goes" culture.  Two-faced.  Duplicitous.  To be honest, I'll admit one thing where I am a genuine hypocrite:  I find it scary and off-putting when others behave that way, and yet I do it myself and don't think I am scary.  It's very humbling for me even to admit that, because I am often as guilty as any Pharisee of thinking that "I'm more honorable than those sinners."  I'm not.  Not by a long shot.

What will I do if they find out I'm human?!

Anyway, the point is that there exists in this world, for all I know, the means to "expose" my sins, and to show everyone that not only are my failures still very much ongoing, but also that when I'm in "sin mode" I am a very different person than the person I want to be, the person that I would be proud to be.  I am no better than anyone, and I say that from the heart.  The reality of "me" is not always pretty or responsible.  I can be as stubborn or shameless as any other sinner in the whole world.  The only difference at all is that, by God's Grace, I am ultimately willing to admit that my sins are sins, but even then "in the moment" I sometimes put that reality on the back burner and won't mention it if it would be an "inconvenience" to the wrong deeds I'm pursuing.

God knows my sins.  And unfortunately, so does the devil.  And that snake would love nothing more than to use them against me, to intimidate me from doing anything good that might put my reputation on the line.  The devil is more shameless than any human sinner could ever be:  He is not above using cheap blackmail, and ever since I reached puberty he has used it against me.  Now, perhaps, he has more to work with than before, since as a family man it's even more "embarrassing" that I have the struggles I do.

Here's an example:  In very recent times I've even second-guessed whether or not I should continue promoting this blog, or ever consider attaching my real identity to it.  The fear is that if this blog, by some miracle, should ever really "take off" well enough to make a difference in people's lives, then it will also tick off all the wrong people.  Digging could be done to discredit me, and if someone dug deeply enough, I in my foolishness have left enough of a trail that their work could pay off.

"Give it up," the devil whispers, "If you'll stay out of my way, I'll stay out of yours.  Just live a quiet life, keep your religion and your values to yourself, and there will be no reason for anyone to ever make your fears come true."

I offa you a deal out of the kindness of my heart.
If you refuse my generosity, I can't be held responsible
for what happens.  I'm just sayin'.

But I don't intend to do that.  By the power of Christ Who strengthens me, even my writing this post is a defiance of the threat.  I may not be giving details, but I'm admitting here that you shouldn't be surprised by the types of failures I've known and continue to know.  The devil wants me to be afraid that you might find out I do some really rotten things even as I write and speak about healing and faith, so I'm beating him to the punch and confessing it here.

I think that's why the scriptures say "confess your faults to one another."  I don't think that's only about confessing to a priest--there are other scriptures suited for that case--I think it's because being open about our imperfections and shortcomings cuts the fangs of the devil, and robs him of the fuel he has to use against us.  It's a scary thing, but we are called to be courageous.

I hope that if you take nothing else from this post that you take this:  If you're in a similar position, if you've ever worried that your mistakes might catch up with you, if you've ever felt torn between wanting to make a difference but also wanting to cower safely in obscurity, you're not alone.  I feel that very same way.  We're in it together.  Let's see if we can muster courage together too.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Judgmentalism: More Secular Than You Think

We Christians are often accused of being judgmental.  "You people think everything is a sin," the secularists and modernists say.  Now, for one thing, I would question someone's creativity if the majority or entirety of everything fun or good they can think of falls under the banner of what we Christians would call sin.  It seems to me that if you must dip into sin to have a full life, you're doing something wrong.  Because the reality is that the number of things the Church and scriptures teach to be sinful is dwarfed by the number of things that are beautiful, good, and desirable.

But that's beside the point.

Get it?

I would argue that defining and identifying sin has nothing to do with being judgmental in the way that the word is usually used.  Usually when someone makes that accusation, they believe that we are judging people.  In fact, only God can do that, and Christians have taught that for centuries.  What we can do is judge actions, and point out that these actions lead to material and spiritual doom if left unchecked and not repented.  But actually, we are called specifically to not judge the sinner himself.  We are supposed to forgive.  That doesn't mean that, in certain cases, there are not consequences for sin, but it means that we do not hate nor loathe the sinner--not least of all because we are sinners too, and have no right!  If a Christian ever says of anyone, "He's a monster for what he has done!  He's disgusting!" then he is out of line, because all sin is a horrible offense against God, so we may as well be looking in the mirror and seeing a monster too; and if we do, then we've no right to turn up the nose at that "other" monster, if that's how we're so determined to define another human being; which we shouldn't in the first place.

Even so, the secularists and modernists paint a picture of Christians as looking down on everyone who sins.  They claim to be more enlightened, more merciful.  The basis of this is that they, or so they say, are not so quick to judge actions as wrong.  If you feel that something is right for you, whether it's getting drunk on weekends, or having sex with whomever you want, divorcing the spouse to whom you vowed yourself for better or worse because you "just don't get along anymore," or whatever else, the modern "enlightened" world tells you "You do what you have to do to be happy.  No one can say it's wrong."  And from this, they say they are more forgiving than we terrible, bigoted Christians.

There's an obvious flaw with this logic.  How can you "forgive" something that you haven't even judged as wrong?!  If I don't even think the man and woman who have a premarital fling are sinning, how can I forgive them?  You don't forgive someone for doing something that's morally permitted in the first place; you can only forgive them precisely because there is something wrong to forgive.

The truth is, when it comes to someone who does something they do think is wrong, the modern world is more cold and unforgiving than a Puritan in Salem.  Think about it.  The biggest things that our open-minded society still condemns are those things which "infringe on someone else" in some way, especially those things that both infringe on someone else and are illegal.  And once you cross those lines, our society turns its back on you just as quickly as the leaders of one of those cult compounds surrounded by walls and barbed wire fences.  You are labeled a monster; the media openly remarks on how disgusting you are; the internet is aflame with calls for your death, preferably not before you've first been tortured in ways that would make crucifixion look tame.

Unless  you happen to be a filthy criminal offender.
Then we'd rather you "NOT EXIST".  Sorry 'bout that.

But the worst thing is this:  We Christians are often affected by it.  We buy into it too.  I've been guilty of it myself.  Think:  You can probably think of at least one crime, probably several, that makes you think of the perpetrator as vile, as a monster.  There's probably some wrong deed that immediately pops to your mind as you read this, that makes you think "Well I know that I and my loved ones are better than that!"  It's as though we need someone to look down on.  In the modern world, where we are progressively more understanding and compassionate toward sinners, which is a good thing as long as we still recognize the sin as sin, we still reserve a certain place in the darkest spots of our minds for those other sinners.  They are the sinners that we gauge as being in a totally different category from most.

In the most extreme cases of our judgmental attitude, and that of the secular world as well, we will judge sinners as monsters whose motives or intentions are not even all that different from ours, but just happen to be oriented toward a sin with greater consequences and more tragic effects.  There are sinners in prisons--and some rightfully so (to send some people to prison can be necessary to protect society, and is not inherently judgmental if it isn't coupled with disgust and hatred)--who never desired to harm anyone, whose deeds did not even arise from cruel intent or a lack of empathy, but who were simply addicted to certain sins, just like any of us; but the sins to which they have the distinct misfortune of being addicted happen to hurt people in more obvious ways than ours do.

Instead of realizing that we were simply blessed that our own temptations and struggles happen to have less obviously dire consequences, we fill ourselves with pride:  We are not merely blessed; we are better people than those terrible, vile criminals.  We would never do that.  Never mind the fact, of course, that often we don't have the faintest notion of what it's like to be tempted to do "that."  And strangely, insanely, we think that our not being tempted gives us even more of a right to look down on those who are!  As if our not being tempted is something we accomplished, and not a gift from God, "lest any man could boast!"  How prideful, how arrogant, can we be?

And what about those sinners, even, who have had harsh or cold intentions, but who have since repented?  Can any of us say we have never had cruel or spiteful motives?  Most of us, if we are honest, have probably entertained thoughts we would be horrified to have made public knowledge, in moments of anger.  Ironically, we ourselves often lack empathy toward those who commit crimes we consider especially heinous, and some of us entertain, with sadistic passion, fantasies of them "getting their just desserts."  Would we wish to be forever "branded" by those moments?  We serve a God Who once said that to sin in the heart is to have truly committed the sin (although surely to do it in actuality would be to repeat it, so that doesn't mean we "might as well do it"), so we too are guilty.  Should we not show the mercy toward even "those" sinners, as we desire mercy?

How much grace we could share with the world if we lived up to a higher standard than that of the world!  What if we Christians were truly radically forgiving, loving sinners that even the world, with all its notions of "tolerance" and "open mindedness," rejects and demonizes?  What if we could visit the "worst" sinners in prison and, although we were wise enough to protect ourselves from those clearly not yet freed from their harmful vices, we would not nurture disgust for them, but rather pity and empathy, the recognition that "If only my temptations had been different, that might have been me?"  If we did that, then perhaps we would do what the earliest Christians did:  Attract souls from the truly most marginalized and rejected members of society whom no one in the world of unbelievers was willing to love.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When Two Men Love Each Other

I read an article recently where a man told the story of how he "fell in love" with his best friend, and then started a dating relationship.  I won't deny it:  I had a thrill of delight as I read the details of how this man slowly began to realize that he cared deeply about his friend in a way that was far from casual.  As he mentioned the way that he began to light up when his best friend entered the room, the depth with which he missed his friend when they were apart, the charge that existed between them, my own heart was caught up in the tale.  And that pivotal moment when, finally, he told his best friend how he felt and, after a tense pause, his best friend actually said, to his surprise, that he felt that way too, I was happy to hear that the feelings were mutual for them.

Uh, think you managed to sound gay enough, there, buddy?
(Be sure to read that in the voice of the "Bush's Baked Beans" dog)

I couldn't share in their joy, however, in the next part of the  story, where they decided to actually date.  It's not that I don't understand the desire, but just that both my religion and my philosophy affirm that such a step is a mistake, spiritually and psychologically, and does more harm to the relationship than good.  Even so, I delighted in their feelings and affections for one another.  Far from thinking the feelings in themselves were false, I believe that they felt exactly what they claimed to feel.

But I'm not convinced that it required dating or, ultimately, sex in order to be authentically expressed.  They say that they're "in love," and I'm willing to say that by their definition they may well be.  What is their definition, however?  In the article, the author mentioned that they miss each other when not around, and that they get really excited to see each other.  If that's what it means to be in love, then I'm in love with a great many people, male and female alike!  However, I realize that this is simplifying.  So instead of assuming that they really think that's all it takes to mean you're "in love," I've looked up some quotes about what people in our society think it means to be in love, and I assume that a lot of that would define what these men felt for each other as well.

I think the following quote, from someone on Yahoo Answers, captures the common perception quite well, although it's about being "in love" in general and not specifically about two men:

"When you always want to be together, and when you're not, you're thinking about being together because you need that person; and without them, your life feels incomplete. It's when you trust the other with your life; and when you would do anything for each other. When you love someone, you want nothing more than for them to be really happy- no matter what it takes because their needs come before your own. It's when they're the last thing you think about before you go to sleep- and when they're the first thing you think of when you wake up. Love is giving someone the power to destroy you, and trusting them not to. When they're with you, your heart races. When they touch you, you get butterflies in your stomach. [...] It's when you can't get the smile off your face; and you feel like you've been touched by an angel. [...] Love is miraculous, and when you find it, don't let it go."

I don't think that anyone would dispute that, if we're talking about feelings, this is a pretty powerful representation of what often comes to mind when people in our culture think of being "in love."  This is much more detailed than the description in the article I read, but I imagine that the gentlemen from that story would nod and say "exactly!" when faced with that quote.  There was originally a part of the quote that said "When you kiss it takes your breath away" but I think that's circumstantial and could easily be replaced with other tokens of affection for the points I'm going to make, so I haven't included that part of the quote here.

Besides, something may be wrong if
kissing means needing one of these.

There are a couple of problems with the definition, as beautiful as it sounds to me.  For one thing, much this description is not actually about love, but about the feelings that are often associated with love.  These are two separate things.  Love is something you do.  Love is when you stand by someone, and make their needs a priority (the parts of the quote about actions were the most accurate in touching what love really is).  Love is commitment; it's loyalty; it's willing the good of the other.

Read the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, on love:   

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.   Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

Notice that feelings and butterflies and sentiment are not mentioned, but rather acts of the will.  Love is often accompanied and made easier by nice emotions, but the emotions are neither necessary nor reliable for love to be real.  The confusion between love and feeling is one reason we have such high divorce rates, or why friendships fall apart:  When the feelings fade and fluctuate, people think the love is gone.  But love is a choice--empowered by God, Who is Love--and that choice can be made regardless of whether the feelings match it.  

But all that said, I myself am a man of strong feeling.  Feelings are important to me.  I do not rely on them in order to tell me if I love someone, but I certainly value them and enjoy them.  I do not believe that love is defined by the feelings in the quote from Yahoo, but those feelings are still wonderful and desirable.  This brings us to the second problem with the definition, as far as someone may use it to define dating/marital love:  None of those things requires a sexual expression to be true of the relationship.  Not one.  So if these feelings are being used as a basis for why a guy should date another man, or eventually have sex with him, it's a woefully flawed basis.

Two men, or two women, or cousins, parents and children, anyone could feel all of those things for one another.  Those feelings could be just as intense between two people who have no intention of ever having sex with one another as between two same-sex "lovers."  The things described by the men in the article as well as in this Yahoo quote are things I could easily imagine being shared between two best friends, two siblings, or any other meaningful relationship.

I think it's untrue that the natural and highest fulfillment of such feelings between two people of the same gender is a relationship that must be consummated in sex.  In fact, it's false that it's ever necessary for two men to have sex in order to "consummate" their love, or fully express their feelings for that matter.  It suggests that  love or feelings between two men who are not having sex are somehow incomplete because of what they don't do with their sex organs; that, no matter how devoted to each other two men (or two women) are, or how deeply they feel for each other, their relationship would still be lacking something, because if sex is necessary to "consummate" same-gender love or express their feelings, this would mean by default that two men who love each other but aren't having sex are falling short of that.

And that would be rubbish.

And evidently there should be a fine for it.

Two men can share their hearts, they can afford one another a full look into a place far more intimate than their bodies:  Their very souls.  They can share a tenderness and affection that expresses their feelings and care more deeply than sex ever could.  They can cultivate a trust that is as profound as any that so-called "lovers" can experience.  They can realize that, even when they are apart and are not interacting in any way, they are with one another, part of each other, their lives irrevocably intertwined.  And most importantly, they can do all the things for one another that define love.  It's something that sex could not possibly offer any improvement upon.  There is no need for that sort of "consummation"--if by that word we mean the highest expression of love that can exist between men--because there is a spiritual and devotional "consummation" between them that is at once chaste and without lack.

David, the Biblical King and hero, once lamented of his recently fallen friend Jonathan:

"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!  Most dear have you been to me; More precious have I held love for you than love for women."

When a Biblical hero pays such a tribute to the love that can exist between men--and scripture shows no hint of disapproval--there is little doubt that the love between two men, and indeed their feelings as well (although the feelings come and go, and should never be the primary thing), can be so precious that the act of sex could add nothing in intimacy or intensity that their love and affection do not already have.   That's what it means to me when two men love each other.  It's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

H-Words: Hypocrisy Vs. Honesty

Closely related to my last post, I'm sure that I'm not the only person who knows this feeling:  You're a practicing Christian, who really takes your faith seriously.  You don't believe in picking and choosing which parts of your religion to believe in, so if the Scriptures and Church say that something is wrong, then you accept that.  Not only do you accept it but, taking seriously your Christian duty to share the truth with others, you strive to warn others that these sins lead to destruction and eternal loss.  But there's something that scares you.  You too are a sinner.  Some of the very things you warn others not to do, you do yourself.  You know, all too well, that the modern world has a word for people like you:  "Hypocrite."  "Who are you to tell anybody right from wrong?" they'll ask, "You do the same thing you condemn!  You hypocrite!"

Suddenly, your credibility has been called into question, and the very thing you wanted to accomplish--being a witness for Christ--seems to have been sabotaged in one single insult.  Are your accusers right?  Jesus did a lot of preaching against hypocrisy.  That was one of the titles He applied to the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day with righteous abandon.

Sounds like a rock band:  Get your tickets to see "Righteous Abandon" live!

Actually, the "H" word is used way too lightly these days.  It's nonsense to say that anybody who does X has no right to say that "X is a sin."  If that were the case, the only way you could avoid being a hypocrite would be to think you were perfect.  Think about it, if you never say that anything you do is a sin, the implication is that you don't sin.  The irony of this is that that's exactly what the Pharisees did.  That's right:  The people that Jesus called hypocrites were doing the exact opposite of those against whom the word is often used today.  The Pharisees didn't condemn sins like pride and hardness of heart, in spite of the fact that they did those sins.  No, they conveniently ignored the duty to speak out against those things, and focused only on condemning sins that they didn't struggle with.

To be sure, there is a kind of hypocrisy that involves criticizing others for doing something you yourself do, but that's only if you think the rules to which you hold others don't apply to you.  If I struggle with kleptomania and steal everything in sight, it doesn't make me a hypocrite if I simply warn others that stealing is wrong.  It makes me a hypocrite if I insist that it's wrong when others do it but not when I do it; or if I say that thieves should all be punished by law, but yet if I get caught, I backtrack and say that I am a special exception, rather than admitting that I deserve the same punishment that I say anyone else should get.  Religiously, I am a hypocrite if I tell other people they may go to hell for a sin if they never repent, but I think that if I died without repenting of that same sin "God will understand."  Basically, you're not a hypocrite just because you commit the sins you preach against, but only if you have a double standard about whether it's wrong when you're the one committing it.  Otherwise, it's not hypocrisy; it's another "H" word:  Honesty, namely about right versus wrong. 

It's true that Jesus said we should remove the beam from our own eyes before attempting to pull the speck out of our brother's.  However, this is something very practical.  This has less to do with telling your brother he's sinning--if he is, that's a fact, and there is no hypocrisy in saying so--and far more to do with attempting to "fix" your brother when you yourself have issues of your own.  If I struggle with alcoholism, for example, it's okay to tell my fellow alcoholic that drunkenness is a sin.  But until I myself have conquered my own habit through God's Grace, it just stands to reason that I can't hope to show my brother, or especially a sinner less overwhelmed by his sins, "how it's done."  How can I, if I haven't done it myself?  But that doesn't mean I'm doing my brother a disservice in calling a spade a spade...just as long as I realize it's a spade in my own life too.

Hey, if I call this a spade, but I inwardly mean the playing card,
does it count as a lie?

This is especially relevant to me.  Some of the sins that have claimed me time and again, in some capacity or other, are hot-button issues in our culture today.  They are precisely the sort of sins that people who hate the Church's values love to dig up on Christians, so as to invalidate the message of a believer who happens to be exactly what he says he is:  A fellow sinner.

I hope, as time goes on, to have the courage to speak the truth openly (in love, of course), even when I myself have sinned against that truth.  Because honestly, which is more selfish?  To tell people that a certain path leads to destruction even if I myself have a tendency to flirt with that destruction, or to decide that, if I'm willing to risk my soul, I shouldn't warn anyone else of that risk?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jesus: Friend of Sinners, but Enemy of Pride

Recent events have many people in orthodox Catholic circles discussing the old standby:  The question of whether Jesus would speak out strongly against the rampant sin of today's society, or whether He would "eat with sinners" while only publicly reprimanding the religious elite.  After all, the argument goes, Jesus was always gentle with the prostitutes, fornicators, adulterers and the like, while he spoke in scathing terms against the Pharisees and experts on religious law.  To the sinners whom society rejected, He patiently said "Go and sin no more," while He made no end of deriding the "doctors and lawyers" who were supposed to be "upstanding citizens."

My prescription is that you be more like me and less like
a terrible, good-for-nothing sinner.  (Okay, wrong "doctor")

The way that people interpret this, often enough, is that the "mean, self-righteous" hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well as those Catholics who dare to take the Catholic Church's teachings seriously, are the ones whom Jesus would criticize most openly today.  The people marching in the gay pride parades, the atheists who spew nothing but vitriol to Christianity, the celebrities selling sex to the highest bidder, all of these, it is presumed, would be handled with kid gloves by Jesus, just as he was cordial to the downtrodden, guilt-ridden sinners of His own day.

There is one significant problem with this presumption:  Many of these groups, in today's cultural context, are a far cry from the equivalent in Biblical times.  When our Lord walked the earth, the quintessential prostitutes and tax collectors were not outspoken mouthpieces for the subversion of traditional morality.  The sinners with whom Jesus ate, by every indication, were not rallying for their sins to be accepted and promoted by society.  In fact, it is reasonable to assume, in such a conservative society as ancient Israel, that these were sinners who knew they were sinners.  Yes, they persisted in their sins, quite probably, but in every instance where we actually get to see a detailed interaction between these sinners and Jesus, they humbly admitted that they were sinners.  These were not open critics of religion or traditional moral values.  These were the sinners, like in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collectors, who contritely hoped that God would "have mercy on me a sinner."

On the other hand, the Pharisees, as we so often seem to forget, were sinners too.  We often say "Jesus ate with sinners, but was angry at the Pharisees," as if the Pharisees weren't sinners.  What, however, was the sin of the Pharisees?  Why did Jesus treat them with less respect and gentleness than the other sinners?  The answer is obvious:  Pride.  In Jesus' day, a prostitute knew she was sinning.  An adulterer knew he had done wrong.  But a religious figure, a Pharisee or a priest, they committed sins of arrogance and callousness, and had the audacity to insist that they were righteous, as though their sins weren't sins.

Tell me, when we observe the crowd of today's times who attack traditional values, or the unbelievers who openly mock people of faith, which sinners does their attitude better reflect?  Are they like a poor, ashamed sinner in first century Israel?  Or are they more like the Pharisees, smugly insisting that they are righteous in their deeds, while mocking anyone who would dare to question their superior judgment and knowledge?  For a relevant example from present-day, is a gay activist who calls anyone who disagrees with him a "bigot," really the same as the woman caught in adultery, humbly listening when Jesus said to "go and sin no more," implying that he does concede that his actions are wrong?  Or does he behave with the self-assurance of the religious leaders of Christ's day, thinking himself of superior character to those he calls "bigots" just as surely as a Pharisee found himself superior to fornicators?

Dear God/Universe/Inner-Self/Brain,
I thank Thee that I am not like those bigots at the church down the street,
Nor like those simpleminded religious folks who are ruining this world.

Don't get me wrong.  There are still plenty of self-righteous people on the religious side of things.  There are still "devout" Catholics who look down on others who sin in ways they consider dirty or gross, especially on those whose sins include sexuality or drunkenness.  I've seen it myself.  As a man with same sex attractions, I have personally encountered those who, no doubt with upturned noses, insist that if I fall to my temptations that I am far worse than they are if they fall to their conveniently different temptations.  The brand of Pharisee-ism that lived in Jesus' day is still alive and well in religious establishments the world over, and will probably thrive in some capacity until the end of time.  

Likewise, there are still plenty of us who struggle with sexual sins, or perhaps sins against sobriety, and other sins that the aforementioned self-righteous people traditionally look down on, who are as willing to admit that we are sinful--that we are in the wrong, and need to change--as any prostitute in Jesus' day might have admitted.  So it's not as though the tables are totally turned, so that now the traditionally shamed sinners are suddenly all Pharisees, and those who were once Pharisees are now all poor humbled sinners.  

Still, we mustn't believe that Jesus would have gone soft on the downtrodden sinners of His day if they had been prideful, when His treatment of the Pharisees shows exactly what He thought of pride.  If the tax-collectors and "unclean" sinners of His day had been just as willfully blind to their own faults--while judging the faults of others--as the Pharisees, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that He would not have shown them the same tough brand of love that He showed the Pharisees (and He did love them:  So much that He later prayed "forgive them, for they know not what they do").  

Now, I'm not saying that we should all be so bold as to give prideful "I'm so much better than you" sinners a good tongue-lashing the way Jesus did.  I don't doubt that some Catholics are called to that, as some of the great saints certainly weren't afraid to break out the harsh words.  Still, that doesn't mean we're all equipped with the talent for it, nor the wisdom to know when it wouldn't do more harm than good.  But either way, we are also not called to pretend that just because a sinner's material sins may be the same as those whom Jesus handled with great care, that the sinner himself is more like those sinners and not, in fact, like the pharisees.

Pride is the worst of sins, the sin that caused the rebellion in Heaven that gave us demons and the devil himself.  It is snobbish pride, not any other brand of sin, that caused Jesus to be so harsh on the Pharisees.  Because such pride always needs to be taken down a notch.  And whether you're the sort of sinner who would fit right at home with the scribes and lawyers 2000 years ago, or whether you'd fit in more at a brothel or a bar, if you have the sort of pride that leads you to deny your own sinfulness while smugly looking down on those whose sins are different from your own, you have just as much to worry about as the chief priest himself did while our Lord walked the earth.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Prayer for Vindication

Dear God in Highest Heaven,

We trust to Thy mercy, now as ever, the souls of those men and women who have lost their lives by the hand of the evil one;
So too we offer our prayers for their loved ones, left alone and bereaved, that they may always find more peace and consolation.

The enemy destroyed their bodies, Lord, and the vessels of his wrath dared call it a service to God!
But Thou, the One and Only God, can snatch victory from the talons of the enemy,
For although he saw these brethren killed in body, Thou canst see to it that eternal death shall not claim them;
Thou canst see the enemy fall into rage and despair that he could not kill the souls of those whose bodies he treated with such ill regard!

How long, Lord, must your servants await vindication?
We know that the enemies against whom we fight the war are not flesh and blood; 
Against our fellow man we do not ask revenge, nor do we seek the destruction of mortals.
But who shall avenge us against the true enemy of all humanity, the serpent, the devil?
Who shall vindicate us against the prince of darkness and his fallen angels?
Who shall see them reduced from their pride and their victory, made desolate so that they shall cry tears?
Who shall see them made low, the dragon reduced to a worm, his elite soldiers made into beggars?
Who shall see the powers of hell, which roar so that the foundations of the world are shaken,
Made impotent so that their roar becomes a whimper?
Who indeed shall cut out their fangs, shatter their swords, and bind them in flame and darkness as they once bound the helpless?

It is God on High, the Lord of Hosts!  Thou shalt repay their atrocities in kind!  
Thou shalt come in a cloud of glory with thy celestial army, a Mighty Lion leading a host of giants,
So that the dragons look small in Thy presence!
Thou shalt roar, and they shall be deafened!
Thou shalt strike, and they shall be dashed asunder!
Thou shalt bind, and they shall never be loosed!
Thou shalt win victory after victory, until the world shall look upon Thee in praise, singing 
"Blessed is the Lord, Who has delivered us from the hands of so great an enemy!"

Then shall the Lamb of God, His Likeness and His Glory, shine brighter than the brightest star,
And the Spirit of God shall dwell in His people.
Then shall they dwell at peace, One God and One People, and we shall be ever with Thee, our God!

For this we ache, we pray; we wait in confidence, even as we implore with great longing!

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we entreat Thee, Almighty Father,
Until the Day of the Lord comes upon us.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Unto Us a Son is Given

Yesterday, my second child and my very first son was born.

This is neither me nor my son, but isn't he adorable all the same?!

You'll recall from a previous post that I was worried about how it would go.  I worried that I would immediately descend into an anxious, depressed state and be trapped inside my own lonely world, isolated from my wife and from my child.

I'm happy to say that none of those fears have come to pass.  This has been a powerful experience, and if ever there is any testament to the healing I've made in the past year, it's that this birth has been far more uplifting and joyous than the first experience we had.  Some of that healing has been physical:  My anti-depressant medication, for which I thank God, has no doubt resolved some of the physical causes for the depression.  Some of that healing has been mental:  Seventeen months of raising a child, and simply having gone through the birth experience before, has left me better prepared for what comes with it, and we've lived and learned from our mistakes the first time around.  Finally, all of this has to do with spiritual healing, the Grace of God raining upon us and helping us through this.

Whatever can be said about the sources of my healing, the difference between this birth experience and the first is like night and day.  The first time, I was numb and withdrawn.  I resented my situation, I resented fatherhood, and I dreaded life.  This time, I'm excited about the journey to come; I'm cherishing the days to come, and looking forward to getting to know my son better and to care for him.

I know that there probably seems to be a dark side to this.  It may seem like my poor daughter has gotten the proverbial short end of the stick; and I think, to my great shame--this is seriously not an easy thing for me to admit--it really was like that for months after her birth.  I think that it all made it harder for me to connect with her and to realize how blessed I was.

It's elementary, my dear fellow:  You're a terrible parent.

My sweet baby girl, if the day ever comes that this blog is still active, and you read these words, know that you are loved just as much as your brother, or any other siblings you have.  Your father was affected by forces beyond your control.  You were a wonderful baby, and everyone always commented on how good you were (and are as I type these words).  A wise woman who has worked with countless babies, in fact, has said that you are one of the top three babies, for being easy to work with and look after, that she has ever seen.  Be proud in that, and know that you are so easily lovable.

The thing is, now that my son is here, it has impacted everything for the better.  I am more excited about fatherhood itself than I have been, and the important thing is that this excitement is not limited to my relationship with my son.  Having a better birth experience this time around has given me a better sense of how special this role is, period.  That includes with my daughter.  It's like I realize, now, what I've had all along, and as ashamed as I am of not having recognized it--emotionally speaking--sooner than this, I'm grateful that I've realized it now.  Now, while my daughter still hasn't possessed the gift of speech, while her young memories are still in formation.

It's a funny thing.  I had worried that, if this birth went more smoothly than the last, I might end up showing favoritism, and like my son more than my daughter, due to having easier, less traumatic memories to look back on surrounding his birth.  On the contrary, I have learned to look at my daughter in a new light, so that now I feel more connected with her than before.  Oh, I know that when I return to the daily routine at home, putting these realizations into practice will not be a piece of cake.  I expect to get bored with parenthood, to have a difficult time motivating myself, just as has been the case before.  I think that happens to most parents.  But something has changed.  My attitude, my sense of how blessed I am, and what an honor it is to be a parent.  Not just any parent, but the parent of these children, son and daughter.

And by that, I think that I'll be a little better at loving both of my children (and any future children) with all the fierceness and dedication they deserve.  It won't be perfect.  It won't be simple.  It'll be messy.  But it will be real.