Letters to Laurel — Keep Your Eyes on God

The following is a set of responses that I wrote to my ex-wife, Laurel.  I share these letters because they are reflective of the way I think about a topic that is close to me: Homosexuality & Christianity.  I hope that these thoughts will be instructive to others as well when finding themselves needing to reconcile religion & faith to the fact of the homosexuality of a family member. (I’ve changed and deleted personal matter that was either too personal or not directly relevant to the main points I wanted to make with Laurel, in case you were wondering.)
I’ve added section headings after-the-fact in order to facilitate comprehension of the whole.

A life with children … now that’s a full life indeed. No one can say that raising kids ain’t work. And being a “professional volunteer and Mother” — it’s not what I imagined you had planned for your life. But then, I didn’t really know you all that well. You had plans that either you didn’t share or I was too blinded in my selfishness to figure out.

A Little Perspective on Where I’m At

But I’ve figured out selfishness since then. Did a ton of theological studying. Wrote a number of treatise on the subject of sexuality and Christianity. And have been fairly well adjusted since! That’s not to say that my estimation of humanity has changed much. I still think that we humans are pretty much a cancer on the planet, consumed with our petty concerns and using God as a means to get to know ourselves rather than Him, arrogating unto ourselves knowledge of the divine Will that we don’t/can’t possess, and superimposing our pathetic (as in measly) capacity to comprehend over the top of the infinitely divine, hobbling what God can be to the minds of so many.

Christianity, to me, has ceased being a path toward knowing God, but more of a device for sanctifying prejudice and shallow thinking, and co-opting the name of God. (No offense.) One of the things I so loved about the young pastors we had in college is that they were thinkers. They knew that, once you “came to Jesus” and fed on milk for a while, you needed to graduate to the stuff of adults; that knowing God was the only reason to be on the planet; that “knowing” God meant getting to know HIM with study; and that there were three sources of information (revelation) that one needed to combine to arrive at even the remotest possibility of something one might dare to call a “just” judgment.

A little story that I like to tell is the one where my daughter calls me to tell me she got baptized Mormon. She was 10. I asked her why, and got a bunch of predictable childish blather. I asked her if she knew what prejudice means. Her reply, again, was predictable: “It’s when you discriminate against other people.” I said, well, that’s sometimes what happens, but that’s not what it means. It means: if you have an opinion that you cannot defend from your OWN KNOWLEDGE, knowledge gained by attainment, then you are simply perpetuating someone else’s judgments. It’s therefore only your “opinion” because there you don’t have any facts to support it. The judgments that you’re telling me, then, are pre-judgments: supposed conclusions you have no foundation for except that someone spoon-fed it to you and you swallowed it, and then you built other conclusions on it. (Of course, ZOOM, right over the top of her head.)

But I tell you this so that you might know a little of my current spiritual path: it does not include a “body” whose teachings are milk-based, whose knowledge serves to reinforce prejudices rooted solidly in shoddy scholarship. I remember telling my mother one time that her reference to listening to the Spirit looked suspiciously like she was listening to the voices of lessons past, so deeply buried in her years of living that should could not discern truth from what she grew up “believing” to be true. I really think God appreciates critical thinking, especially since that is the only way to know him past the rudimentary.

Every Issue/Moment is a Getting-to-Know-God Opportunity

But that is part of a larger story, one that had a happy ending when she suspended her human tendency to judge the soul of others, and used what was transpiring as a way to learn more about God. I really give her big kudos on that. One of her big stumbling blocks was Leviticus. She studied the context; she studied the importance to a culture pre-Lamb; she studied the vocabulary used (or reported as being used by virtue of “translation”). And when the pieces of Biblical truth and God-given capacity to reason (as in, “let us reason together”) finally trounced years and years of human theory and cultural bias placed on the interpretation of the Word, she learned soooo much about God that it made her cry.

She cried because of the years she felt she wasted sitting in the comfort of her little church and nodding amen to whatever the pastor was saying; but she also cried because, even though she was “old,” she had taken a step toward “knowing” Him better. And that one step, spring-boarding off a “hot” topic, brought her closer to God than she had been in years. One step was enough to feel the heat of His presence and re-awaken a soul that hadn’t realized it was asleep with a intravenous drip of milk. And she knew that there was purpose behind actually getting to the bottom of why one believes what they think they believe.

It’s like, Getting to know God is progress toward knowing the details of Him. For instance, if I say I know someone, the first question one might ask is “How well?” “How well” you know a person is in the details!! The nuances. And in every single possible context. But if you’re concentrating on “knowing God” by how you deal with your own earthly concerns, you’re really only USING GOD to know yourself, not Him. That is what she learned, and she let the issue of sexuality diminish to the place it actually holds in the spiritual lives of those with a nature she does not share: Nothing.

Whew … don’t know where all that came from! Sorry. <he says, thinking about deleting it but wondering why he felt compelled to share it.>


Sexuality as a Getting-to-Know-God Opportunity

So M [close family relative and minor] has come out of the closet. That’s gonna be rough for you because, suddenly, conflicts in your thinking that you didn’t know existed are going to surface and demand reconciliation or resolution.

My sister K, in answer to my mom’s question to her about how Ron was doing, replied: “Oh, he’s gay you know.” Thanks K. Well, my mom’s reaction was colossal, and she didn’t speak to me for four years except to, in collaboration from Marie, send me these Bible-ish based hate mail. Still being a super-strong Christian, I dived more deeply into theology than I had ever done before. I wrote at least two treatises on the subject in an attempt to expose the components of their arguments — not for the purpose of refuting them, but to explore whence they came.

In the course of this exploration, I encountered ministers of various faiths, gay children of ministers and religious families, and Patrick (and his family … story forthcoming). I studied Strong’s Systematic Theology (both volumes, twice); I read pro’s and con’s from every angle I could find and evaluated them as objectively as I could, and I studied logic so that I could monitor the quality of my thinking processes, all the while maintaining MY eyes on my path toward God. What I learned is intensely complicated and very hard to distill down to talking points that mean anything to normal people. But I have some that I can use to open dialog along different veins.

Before my heartfelt recommendations, the stuff about Patrick’s family.

He comes from an INTENSELY religious family of varying faiths. Patrick’s brother (1 of 3), a Mormon bishop and a lawyer, once took me aside to talk quietly. He said: “I do not know everything God knows, nor can I comprehend everything he has revealed, so I cannot pretend to judge you with the assurance that I’m absolutely right.”  (This is one of the most righteous things I’ve ever heard come out of a human’s face.)

Another of his brothers, who was the head of Family Life Ministries in Europe, came to our home one time to discuss my evaluation of some tapes he had sent me that he considered “the most loving treatment of homosexuality in all of Christendom.” They really were anything but “loving.” Anyway, during the course of the conversation, I brought up the bit about there being three sources of Biblical revelation (Nature, the Spirit, the Word) and that he was deliberately ignoring one – and as he was deliberately cutting out a source of information, how could he begin to think he had enough Godly data to judge my soul to hell. He said: “I know all that I need to know to know that you are wrong and going to hell.” That ended all contact with him until…

Several years later, we get a phone call from England from his FLM brother who was moving back to the States (AR to be exact), tears choking his voice when he announced that he, too, was coming out of the closet. He told us first because he felt he hurt us the worst. (He didn’t actually, except that shortly after his “I know all I need to know” conversation, I abandoned the “body” of Christ to walk a solitary path, free of the “communion” of people who share and feed the same biases and prejudices and pass them off as the Will of God.) Not long after that, he met another extremely strong Christian, and their lives working for God are amazing and inspiring.

Recommendations for Freeing the Mind of Godless Clutter

So, my first recommendation for you, Laurel, is: SUSPEND judgment and concentrate on keeping the boy on track with Christ, not worrying about the compatibility of sexual plumbing. If you and your church are like so many other representations of the modern Body of Christ, you have a lot of unlearning and learning to do. For me, it is a cop-out to say that one will “rely on the Spirit” because that is only one of three revelations. It’s the revelation of the Word that has been so often skewed; and too many people mistake the voices of their past and deeply buried learnings for the direction of the Spirit. While the Spirit is important, the Bible definitely says to try and test every “spirit”, and the only way to do that is by triangulating with the two other forms of revelation. God is pretty smart.

I would like to attach a PDF of a document written by a pastor that I, oddly enough, ran across ONLY a couple weeks ago! I think it will help you. While I don’t agree totally with everything, and I think that certain points are not raised or clarified, it is still a good start for someone in your shoes. Actually, I’ll send it to Cheryl, and she can forward it onto you in the most appropriate way for you. When I’m done with this letter, you can ping her for it.

Using that document, I can fill in, explain, and illuminate a whole bunch of stuff.

My second recommendation, then, is STUDY! Christ didn’t say the Bible was meant to teach everything because we weren’t ready! Job also teaches that, even if we were ready, there are measures we would simply not be aware of. Getting to know God is progress toward knowing the details of Him. As I said in my last letter: getting to “know” God is a mandate for actual progress toward him, not about surviving in the mundane. “How well” you know a person (in this case, God) is in the details!! The nuances. And in every single possible context. Remember: if you’re concentrating on “knowing God” by how you deal with your own earthly concerns, you’re really only USING GOD to know yourself, not Him. (I love copy & paste! Saves a lot of wear & tear on the ol’ digits.)

If you truly want to know God and continue your progress toward Him, learning the details also means clearing away the chaff, the clutter, the non-truth from the truth. For instance, knowing what Leviticus is all about and asking yourself what “man lying with a man as a woman” referred to and why that was important to a nation that was ritualistically oriented (sacrificing animals was still prescribed because the Lamb hadn’t died for us yet) and what Holiness (“being set apart as a sign of dedication to Him”) meant. I can tell you more about Romans 1, and much, much more. And please realize that this “learning” did not come as a result of trying to justify being gay! In fact, it was just the opposite: I studied to find out why it was wrong because I definitely didn’t want to be one of “those guys.”

But the main point here is that you suspend judgment until you have distinguished truth from non-truth and are in, truly, a position to deal with the topic in a way that furthers your walk toward God and doesn’t jeopardize hisThis isn’t about homosexuality: it’s about learning more about God!! This is a prime opportunity to get into the meat of your faith, rather than continue to sip on the milk of the superficial and basic. One cannot be an adult in Christ if all s/he can say is, “Come to Jesus” but can’t tell you how to grow in knowledge of Him.

Anyone who still refers to being gay as “a choice” is still using some human’s opinion for Truth. Anyone who doesn’t study the topic (contexts, words [like ‘nature’], translations, and comparisons) he is attempting to judge is arrogating unto himself knowledge, skill, attainment, etc. he doesn’t actually possess; and substituting his grace for that of God’s, which is infinite.

PAIN IS PERSONAL, and personal is a focus on the self; focus on the self is selfishness, which is the root of all evil. (Ask yourself what Adam & Eve’s motivation was for munching down on some forbidden fruit.)  Remember that sermon we listened to by the two brother pastors (really, really smart, thinking fellas) on Pride? They said there is the one side of pride we all think of when we hear the word: Look at me (all eyes) because I’m great; and Don’t look at me (all eyes) because I’m wretched. At each end of this spectrum, the concern is for the focus on self.  Both focus on the “me,” and that is the root of this deadly sin.

We Each Have Our Roles

Earlier I mentioned something about having conversations with people about destinies and “purposes.” One of those conversations was with the Conservative Christian mother (living in Yakama) of a lesbian. During the course of our conversation about purposes, she asked me what mine was. I frankly hadn’t pursued that particular line of thinking as it concerned myself, but WHAM the answer was right there. Whenever God used me in the most powerful ways, it was to pull back the curtain that obscured either truth or falsity.

My job, it would seem, is to bring order from mental chaos, to expose bias and such so that it liberates the person who is trapped within those confines. My job IS NOT to provide answers, but to clear the way for them. And I do it a lot. Luckily, I really like my job and continue to hone the skills that facilitate it.

In one instance, I was hiking with a young man whose father was a Lutheran minister. Man was his heart in turmoil. At one point, we were talking about how one can “hear” God. I told him, it requires some perseverance because one of God’s words can take an entire year to finish reaching our ears. From there, there are sentences, paragraphs, etc. The trick is not to jump to conclusions before you reach the end of the sentence or extrapolate from only of a couple words. To begin with, I told him, think back on what you’ve heard previously and didn’t realize; and begin to “decode” (a linguistics term used to describe listening to spoken or written language and the mind deriving meaning from) it.

The main lesson, I think, for you Laurel is keeping your eyes on God, not self and not the mundane.  Remember that story of St. Peter walking on the water — he didn’t do that by force of will but by keeping his eyes on non-mundane matters. By staying the Godly course, propelled by spiritual efforts, there is no “trying” to walk on water, but rather that walking on water is a “fruit” that being spiritual simply bears.  Where walking on water is not a goal, it’s a side-effect natural to approaching the divine in nature and within His presence…i.e., getting to know Him.

I hope that my “purpose” can help you in this case.

-ron

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6 Responses

  1. The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.

    ~Albert Einstein

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greene/albert-einstein-and-the-s_b_800936.html

  2. A reply to a facebook inquiry:

    Oh man, I’ve got a ton o’ thoughts on that. Let me *try* to summarize in brief. (stop laughing)

    While I don’t claim to be Christian (anymore), I still believe that the Bible is chock full of spiritual truths grounded in the heavily mystical roots of the Jewish faiths. This is one of those.

    The fact is, with our free will, we attempt to will things to happen. Even if we weight ourselves down with lots of rules, strictures, and dogmas, those are only attempts to work out holiness as a physical trait, hoping that an empty habit translates to spiritual metamorphosis.

    But the fact is, divinity is a spiritual trait — and we cannot buy it or earn it. We have to ‘be’ it, starting with where we place our values, thoughts, and devotion. Devotion to ritual & rules is confused with devotion toward actually getting to know the Divine being.

    And “getting to know” God is the whole point. It’s the key, because to know him, you have to approach him.

    A passage from my blog:
    It’s like, getting to know God is progress toward knowing the details of Him. For instance, if I say I know someone, the first question one might ask is “How well?” “How well” you know a person is in the details!! The nuances. And in every single possible context. But if you’re concentrating on “knowing God” by how you deal with your own earthly concerns, you’re really only USING GOD to know yourself, not Him.

    Consequently, as you come to know God (approach the Divine), you find yourself in an altered environment, one that folds in and supersedes the physical plane all at one time.

  3. John 3:16

    So that was the core of our basic message: If you love the Creator, you must love the creation. And caring for creation must also mean caring about creation. And that means wanting to know more about it — wanting to learn as much as you can learn about every facet and aspect, every realm and region, nook and cranny, quark and quasar.

    Imagine someone who didn’t know their spouse’s middle name, or favorite foods, or hobbies, occupation, background or family. You would assume — rightly, I think — that such a person couldn’t possibly really love their spouse, because to love someone is to desire to know them better.

    http://www.patheos.com/community/slacktivist/2011/10/06/evangelicals-vs-science/

    ~~

  4. All of us have the (proven) innate tendency to gravitate toward what we perceive is like ourselves. Choosing a “Jesus” that thinks like we do makes walking the path that much easier.

  5. http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/biblical-literalism-magisterial-inertia-sacramental-pelagianism/

    ..the combination of Biblical literalism and magisterial inertia, which are the two principal ways in which human knowledge is idolized at the expense of being able to receive God’s infinite wisdom through the testimony of His scripture. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not seized it” (John 1:5). That’s a verse I can take literally, because it captures the epistemological gap between our knowledge and God’s wisdom. When we try to seize His light for the sake of our power, we end up with a fistful of darkness, because no divinely inspired word of God can be reduced to a single univocal, “literal” meaning; each word is perpetually pregnant with new wisdom that it births for those who are patient and humble.

  6. http://johnshore.com/2013/02/05/to-matt-moore-the-christian-ex-gay-blogger-found-on-grindr/

    God doesn’t want us to know him better through our sinning. He wants us to know him best through our love.

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