Sunday, March 30, 2008

Surprise of Suffering

There is a surprise of suffering in love.

I am learning to love. I am learning what true love is and what it means to love every day. The more I learn of Love, the more I am drawn to it as the fundamental state of my being as a human being.

But I realize that the "struggle" of love comes from the conditioning that I have absorbed for so many years--from infancy--to do and be what others expect of me, and not do what and be who I was created to be.

So I have been surprised with suffering. It's nice. And alliterated. But what do I mean by this?

I was surprised to realize that there is no distance of space or time in love. There is no separation really. And it's perhaps a bit metaphysical or spiritual for some, but I have found it to be the truth.

The suffering of the one I love grips my heart and I feel it deep in my soul. Even though the suffering may not be my own and even though I know that each of us is responsible for his or her own pain and suffering, I feel the pain my loved one feels.

Perhaps I am finally beginning to understand the words I memorized so easily and thoughtlessly as a child. Perhaps I finally understand the meaning of "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sweet Surrender

(Listen to the words of this song as you read this post and allow them to minister to your heart. See if you too, don't find comfort and courage in the idea of surrender.)

Commitment for me has always come from the idea of "leave and cleave" that is derived from the Scriptures. Embedded in the context of the idea of commitment is the idea of holding on--of clasping the object of love.

But I have seen the love of Christ expressed recently in my life, and it has challenged what I have always believed of commitment.

It seems that the commitment most of us believe in is the selfish idea where "I" commit my life to "you." Why do I say selfish when it seems that the exact opposite is true? Because, by 'committing' to you in the traditional sense of the idea, I am trusting you to hold me and to care for me and to nurture me.

I have realized that within the context of relationship, only Christ can fill this role. It is true that He often uses those closest to us to demonstrate His love, but He alone fills the role of lover, friend and Lord. When we depend on one another and need each other to fill His role, we fail each other and ourselves. To the extent that I love you as Christ loves you, I am able to be His vessel for service in your life.

The greatest sign of commitment in the Garden of Gethsemane was when Christ prayed a prayer of surrender, "Nevertheless, not my will..."

But loving means letting go. Letting go of my hopes for who you are to me and who you will become to me. Letting go of my desires for future happiness. Loving means trusting, and that's scary.

We are conditioned to possess one another. "Normal" relationship means that you are my girlfriend or my boyfriend. Commitment is not so much about "cleaving" to you, but it is about resigning my claim to you. It is about trusting Christ to be your comforter and caregiver at every stage of relationship. And that is difficult.

But I am finding strength and comfort in surrender. I am learning courage at the hand of dependence. And when all is said and done, there is one truth. Christ alone is Lord. And that's enough. I trust.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Questions Are Many, Answers But a Few.

I have a very distinct need for uncertainty. However, I also feel the tug between uncertainty and the desire to know what I want.

I don't know whether this conflict is due to living in the closet for so many years or if it's just a common condition to all of mankind. I have a suspicion that it is more of the latter than the former.

In some areas of life, I am confident and I know exactly what I want. In others, I don't know what I want. Or I know what I want, but I second-guess my desires. It really is a fear of what others think, or what I think they think. Why is it so important? Why do I fear so much the disapproval of other people who are no more enlightened than I am?

How can I bring the same level of authenticity to the uncertain areas of my life as I have in the areas over which I exercise complete clarity and peace?

Perhaps it's taking my own advice that awareness is the first step. Perhaps asking these questions begins the process. And perhaps the next step is loving myself enough to say, "the choices I make based on the desires that I have are good for me despite what anyone thinks."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Embracing Grace

I use Google Reader to keep up with several blogs that I like to read. One of the ones that I've found interesting is Eugene's blog entitled Paradoxy. What a great title for a blog describing the growth it takes to reconcile one's sexuality and Christian faith.

Several of his recent posts are pertinent to the conversation I've been having on (and off) this blog. In the post entitled Total Surrender, he talks about legalism in the context of normal human nature.

This is a fascinating idea, because I just finished reading the biography of Jay Bakker (son of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker), Son of a Preacher Man. In it, he describes what happened to his parents in the 1980's. What struck me, though, was the way that his dad's poor choices seemed to be "preyed upon" by other up- and-coming preachers, who turned out to be the bulwark of the Christian Right, the Moral Majority and modern evangelicalism.

Many of these men, and pastors across the country who took their cues from them, openly ridiculed and mocked the Bakkers during their time of greatest personal suffering (both personal and private). They used their pulpits as literal bully-pulpits, instead of pronouncing the amazing grace of God--God our Father and Redeemer!

It's interesting to see the inherent need we humans have for creating "rules, boundaries, and concrete structure." Eugene goes on to point out that this tendency extends to an attempt to manipulate others to comply and follow the rules.

In his book, Jay tells about the weight of this manipulation by godly, well-intentioned people, after he began his return to God. Attempting to lay aside the bitterness and hatred that he'd harbored all through his teenaged years, he found that when he came back to the church as a wounded and hurting spirit, he still could not "measure up" under the expectations of others.

But then he experienced God's grace! Jay says that before that time it had been "nothing more than a song." Grace truly is amazing.

Yet it's a fearful thing. It requires complete trust--the kind of trust that is the only way-maker for the true lordship of Christ in a believer's life.

But how do we switch from the way we've been taught to live, and embrace God's grace? That is the question Eugene addresses in the subsequent post called, Freedom in Practice. If grace is Christ's example, how do we follow it in "real life," especially when most everyone who's maintaining the spiritual status quo will probably separate themselves from us?

You see, when you grow in grace, it makes me uncomfortable, because you are alive and you are growing. I am made aware of my lack of growth, and I will respond one of two ways: either I will embrace your growth, become your cheerleader and will begin a revival in my own soul. Or, I will despise your growth because I am embarrassed of my own shortcoming, I will seek for a way to slow or stop your growth; and when that fails, I will alienate you.

But grace is the "gift of God." It's the way of salvation ("by grace you are saved through faith"). Grace is "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us".

Sometimes we forget. But grace is the gift. We either embrace it or we can reject it. We either embrace His love and offer it to others, or we withhold it from them because we cannot receive it ourselves.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rules! Rules! Rules!

As I've shared on this blog, I've wrestled a bit with the balance between holiness and its practical application in everyday life--specifically when it comes to the subject of sex.

Raising the Questions
When I came out, for the first time, I realized that I needed to really think about what I believed about sex. What were my convictions? What would be my guidelines?

How do I set boundaries? Are they important? Why? For most around me, these questions are kin to heresy. GASP How can you question boundaries when it comes to sex? The prevailing thought seemed to be "stay away...far, far away!" And that is just how I'd been raised as a child of conservative evangelicalism.

For the first time in my life, I needed more. I had to have a better understanding. Because I wanted to know, "What does God think?" and "What does God expect from me?"

As I've walked this road over the past 2 years or so, I've made some decisions that I wish I had made differently. I've made others for which I'm thankful. But as I continue to weigh these tough ideas, I am struck by the balance of sin versus grace. The Apostle Paul seemed to be thinking of this same idea when he said, "Should I sin that grace might abound?" (loose paraphrase of KJV)

"God forbid." In other words, "absolutely not!"

Yet grace is a "many-splendored" thing. So I ask myself, Why do I feel compelled to create rules for myself? Why do I need definite "black and white", "yes or no" rules?

What Does God Expect?
An honest heart more than an outward show.

Then Samuel said, Do you think all God wants are sacrifices - empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him! Plain listening is the thing, not staging a lavish religious production. (I Samuel 15:22 The Message)

A just, merciful, humble and loving heart.

But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don't take yourself too seriously - take God seriously. (Micah 6:8 The Message)

Pursuit of His heart.

And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!" When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God's kingdom." After that, no one else dared ask a question. (Mark 12:33-34 The Message)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

So why am I compelled to create rules, measures and judgements of my holiness? I've come to the conclusion that it's not for God's sake, but for my own. And perhaps that is the most sinful thing of all.

For it is really my selfish and self-centered attempts to do something for God. God does not require that I do something for Him, but that I become something for His glory. When I am seeking to do something for God, the only result is my own glorification (i.e. "Look what I have done. Look at how 'holy' I am!").

Holiness is something I am, not something I do. It is not just having a "form" of godliness without the power of God's Spirit within me, but it is becoming Christlike through the work of God's Holy Spirit.

If I am struggling to become Christlike, it is because I am struggling, not God.