Posted in God, Life

Homosexuality, The Church, and The SCOTUS Ruling (Yeah, I’m Going There)

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay. I imagine it’s something like being a Christian in a secular culture. You know people hate you and everything you stand for. So, you have to almost be undercover and wait for the opportune time to reveal yourself. Then you gauge their reaction, and if it’s “safe,” you can let down your guard. If not, then you tuck it away.

This is how I saw it work with a guy I worked with. I’ll call him Mark. In his early twenties, Mark was everything you would expect from a millennial gay guy. Lisp, theatre major, freelance graphic designer, giggling over “dick pics,” and the occasional soliloquy on why people can’t decorate their Christmas trees properly. I’m so clueless. I still wasn’t sure.

It took him casually telling a story about making out with another guy before I was finally convinced. I took it all in stride, not missing a beat or even raising an eyebrow. So, it wasn’t long before he felt comfortable with me and even introduced me to his latest crush. I was never quite sure how to respond to all of this. I knew the polite way, the politically correct way.

But what was the God way? How would Jesus have responded? I came and went out of this guy’s life, without making a single impact on him. As a matter of fact, that was deliberate. I so badly didn’t want to offend him, or make him feel judged. I even felt uncomfortable mentioning my own faith, because of the anti-gay stereotypes Christians are known to have.

Of course, Jesus would have responded in love. Show the guy love. Acceptance. But, Jesus would have left him with something more. He would have left him changed. But how?

How do we love people where they are, and yet love them too much to let them stay that way? Especially with something so politically and emotionally charged as sexuality? Obviously, my brief co-worker relationship with Mark never reached that depth.

But, as I am thinking about the Supreme Court’s ruling, I am reminded of Mark. I think the modern church has a strong, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” approach. And despite what the news media would like to have people believe, most churches have a pretty good handle on that concept.

But the truth is, legalized gay marriage was inevitable. As much as people might want to fight it, it was an idea whose time had come. The battle for same sex marriage was won the second it was paralleled it to the Civil Rights movement. It just took about a decade for ‘Murica to come around. And largely they have.

It wasn’t hard for most people to see the parallel. No one wants to be the redneck southern restaurateur who stands in the doorway, drawling, “No hippies, no Injuns, no coloreds.” History frowns upon that guy. And everyone would like to think they are much more enlightened, much more advanced than that.

I have heard a lot of arguments against gay marriage….The Bible is clear that it’s sin. It creates lopsided families. It creates hazy discrimination scenarios for wedding/marriage related professions. It’s part of a larger plan to degenderize our culture. Historically, open homosexuality has been the beginning of the end for a culture. Homosexuality is built upon pedophilia.

I don’t know how I feel about any of those. But, on the other hand, I have seen many people come into the church, plagued with guilt and sexual preferences they can’t control. Some of them have been prominent people on playing their conflict out on the main stage of Christian culture (Jennifer Knapp, Ray Boltz etc).

And yet, with all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men, we couldn’t seem to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Even when Humpty Dumpty was a multi-platinum selling recording artist who made the entire church cry with a super sappy song about children’s church volunteers and overseas missionaries. We liked that guy. We needed him to stick around.

And yet, the best answer we have is tucking your sexuality away, or deliverance prayer sessions that quite honestly don’t seem to work. I’ve even heard that God gives “celibate grace,” to gay people. None of this seems to be the answer either.

I think if the church wants to take a stand against homosexuality, we need to find a better way to respond. We are largely silent on the topic of homosexuality, other than to say, “it’s wrong.” But, much like my encounter with Mark, we don’t know where to go from there.

If we claim we are people who have the answers, the way, the truth and the life, then we need to have them. If we can’t find the answer, then why are we upset that the culture and the law have provided one?

The Supreme Court ruling is an indictment on the modern church’s silence. The only “Christian” voice culture hears, is a backwoods nut job version of the church, with their “God hates fags,” protests. We know that’s wrong, too.

God loves my friend Mark. God’s heart passionately longs for a relationship with him. There is a part of God’s heart that only Mark can fill. And God watches Mark, and laughs when he laughs, and smiles when Mark does right, or loves well. God is actively at work in Mark’s life. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling, that my brief moment in Mark’s life was for a reason. Did I fulfill it? Was my response to uncomfortably laugh at pornographic texts and shake his boyfriend’s hand, all part of God’s plan to reconcile himself to Mark?

Maybe. But I doubt it. If we don’t know how to impact these people, if we don’t know what to do beyond accepting them, if we don’t have our theology together, then how should we then live?

Posted in Writing

Poem: The Captain

The waters are calm tonight
Pristine.
And the boat
Blinding white against God’s deepest blue
Slices paths through foaming waves
With immaculate precision
Calculated down to art

And at the hull, the captain sets his jaw
Eyes deadlocked, straight ahead
He sees nothing, save the land yet unseen

So the crew grumbles and their muscles ache
The cupboards are all but bare
And their throats, hoarse and dry
Dare not question the man
(At least not to his face)
So day and night the stoic captain stands

Unmoved.
Unhindered.
Unflinching.

Sail on, my friend
Sail on

You’ll get where you’re going
But you’ll get there a hell of a lot faster
If you’d compromise a little now and then

(Or would you?)

Posted in Life

What Are You Prepared to Sacrifice for Your Dreams?

I know I’m a little late with this, but I think with graduation still in the air, I can get it out. But today, I want to talk about the topic closest to my heart—dreams. As children, we are taught, “Reach for your dreams, follow your heart. You can be anything you want to be. You just have to put your mind to it. It’s your American right.”

And, all of that is true. Even the American right thing. There is a certain responsibility to being born in the world’s largest economy. (And yes, if you are old enough to read this, we were the world’s largest economy when you were born). I like to think of it as, “To whom much is given much will be required.” So, our barometer of success and achievement is different here.

Dream big, we tell you. Reach for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars, we say. You are asked from a young age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Couch potato, basement video game player, is never an acceptable answer. From the start, we encourage you to dream big. And, most of us do.

Then, we graduate you. And in a shower of confetti and mortarboards, you don’t really hear the point behind, “Oh! The Places You Will Go.” Not really.

We hear that we can do anything we put our minds to, and sometimes, it will be hard. But if you “stay true to yourself” (whatever that means) by the end of the third act, you will reach your dreams, with the whole thing taking about a hour and a half. (Oh, and in the process you’ll find an attractive love interest that you would have thought to be unlikely). What a load of crock.

Here’s my question: how hard? How hard are you going to let it get before you turn around and give up?

My freshman year in college, Bill Wilson, a very famous children’s minister who works in the heart of New York City, spoke in my campus chapel. He told this story of a bright eyed nineteen year old student, who had passionately told him, “I want to get where you are.”

Bill laughed. “Son,” he said. “You don’t know where you are, much less where I am. And certainly not what it takes to get there.” Bill then went on to tell stories about how he had picked abused children out of the snow, with roaches nesting in their ears, to take them to church. He talked about a colleague in Haiti who had found a dying orphan with his guts literally falling out of his body. To get the child medical help, she had to bribe criminals to take them across a dangerous river in the middle of the night. “That’s what it takes to get where I am,” Bill pounded the pulpit.

Administration later softened the sermon, and in a round about way, tried to strike it from the record. It was too harsh.  Today’s students needed to hear, “If you graduate and work hard, then you’ll be prosperous.” Simple mathematical formula.

But I think Bill’s sermon was some of the best career advice I ever got in college. Everyone wants to be great. And we all have big dreams.

And if your dream burns passionately within you, that’s great. You want to be this, and in the Christian world, we say, you are “called,” for that. Or, you have had prophetic words that you will do this, or prophetic dreams about that…As if destiny was just waiting there, ripe for the picking.  That’s not the way it works. If it were that way, then why wouldn’t everyone reach their potential?

Not to invalidate your calling, anointing, or destiny. I think it’s  wonderful. But how far are you willing to go to get there?

Are you willing to give up everything? I mean everything. Are you willing to give up financial security? Are you willing to take detours that make no sense? Are you willing to hear, I mean really hear, that you are crazy and throwing your life away?

Are you willing to forsake the advice of everyone who loves you, to do what you know you have to do? Are you willing to watch your contemporaries pass you up, and tell yourself you will get where you are doing, some illusive “one day”? And most of all, are you willing to fail?

Because for everyone who dreams big, this is what it takes. This is what Disney doesn’t tell you, when they say to follow your heart. Dreams are life’s biggest blessing.  It is our fundamental right to being human.

Dreams are what we mean when we say, “the land of the free…” and “Give me liberty or give me death.” We are demanding the right to be, and be whatever our minds conceive. That’s what freedom is.

But, what they don’t tell you, is that freedom can hurt like hell. And, then what do you do? Are you strong enough to handle destiny?

 

Posted in Writing

Poem: Silent Sigh

When the words are all dried up
And you can’t see beneath your tears
When your head spins like a top
Around the doubts inside your mind

When your dreams are just this close
And then you feel them dashing in
Smothered by the lies of desperate hope
That you told yourself time and time again

When you feel the light inside you fading
Like the lantern on a dimming switch
And you wonder if any of it will pan out at all
Or if everything you’ve worked for, dreamed for
Was meant to gently rot

When you blush from feeling foolish
That you’ve wasted all the years
With those dumb starry-eyed delusions
Of being born for something great

When you begin to wonder
If you would have fared better
Building life on average,
Rather than this meager one,
Sacrificed, set apart for something more

When you begin to wonder
If you were ever just as special
As you once you believed that you would be
That maybe you’re just normal
A vanilla slice of human
Just like all the rest

Know that I’ll be there.
And I’m the one that etched desire
On the canvas of your heart
And I’ve come here to carry you
Through your silent sigh

Posted in Life

Un-Googling Ourselves: Image, Honesty, and Online Presence

I was recently hired to do some marketing for a tiny start-up business. The owner was a serious corporate professional, and this side project was her fledging venture into entrepreneurship. Okay. Great for her.

When I sent her some of the marketing I had written, she read and it hit the roof. She vehemently insisted her name be nowhere in any of the promotional material. She said, “I don’t want my name associated with this. I don’t want someone to Google me and find some little….shop.”

I was confused. I had never heard of a business owner who didn’t want to be associated with their own business. Most, as a matter of fact, take great pride in their businesses, some even to a fault. But, it got me thinking about the power of Google. Have we become so entrenched in managing our online presence, that we can’t be who we are? We have to be “Google-friendly?”

For a business, business owner, career professional, entertainer, celebrity, it is the Google searches that make or break you. Celebrities have Google alerts set up, so that they can keep track of what people say, what they want, and their ever revolving image. For an aspiring novelist, if you don’t fare well by page two of a Google search, a publisher won’t even breathe on your e-mails, much less read your manuscript.

There is an entire science on learning how to maximize this in your favor. Publishers have entire courses of recommendations for the aspiring novelist. Celebrities pay loyal fans pittance to make strategic online mentions, and get them “trending.” Businesses get customers to review them on popular sites, and some even advertise freebies in exchange for reviews. A new brand of web writing, called SEO, helps business owners to incorporate certain keywords so that their page shows up higher in Google results. There are entire corporations who do nothing but SEO.

I guess this is fine to an extent, but when is it too much? Can we “Un-Google” ourselves? Or have we sold our souls to Big Brother, to compete in a marketplace dominated by an “online presence?”

Posted in Life

The Houston Native’s Guide to Surviving a Gulf Coast Hurricane

So, it’s hurricane season again. Everyone’s talking about preparedness and tropical storms and water’s all over the news…blah, blah, blah. It sort of reminds me of this Facebook status I read last winter. It was from a Michigan native who was living in Tennessee. He was whining because his kids were driving him crazy being kept home from school because of snow. “When will Tennesseans learn,” he wrote, “SNOW IS NOT THE ENEMY!”

That’s about how I feel when I read hurricane preparedness propaganda. Or when people from other states get all riled about tropical storm this, and hurricane that. Please. I grew up in this town. Yes, I see the footage too. But, I got a news flash for you— KRPC, KHOU and Fox 26 want ratings. And their reporters…want to advance their careers. As such, they will go find the one lawn chair that got knocked over and report on it all day. (I’ve seen it happen. It’s actually quite amusing).

So, if you are a non-Gulf Coast native, and totally petrified by chilling images of Katrina victims with their social security numbers written on their forearms, calm down. Those were people who lived in a bowl, and were warned multiple times to get out. We don’t live in a bowl. That’s not usually what happens.

Not to say there’s nothing to be worried about. Sure, there are definitely some common sense precautions to take. But, let me put it this way. In my thirty years, I have lived in about thirty different places in the Houston area, and have seen many storms come and go.

I went through Ike (2008) Rita (2005) and the Houston backspray of Katrina (also 2005). I also went through the infamous Tropical Storm Allison (2001). I have been told that I was an infant during the legendary Hurricane Alicia in the early 80’s. I have also been through countless unmemorable tropical storms, and probably a few other hurricanes that came and went without my notice. The worst, the absolute bar none, worse hurricane experience I have ever had was during Ike. We lost power for seven days. And yes, Ike was a doozie. But, for many people, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the photos.

I was between jobs anyway when the Ike hit.  It was a small apartment with three adults, no kids. We were on the second story of a complex on higher ground anyway. So, we waited it out. Once we lost power, we spent a week hanging around the house, chilling, barbequeing, whatever. We read books and played cards by candlelight. About the second day or so, the grocery store down the road opened on generator and let people in thirty at a time. Everyone was a bit tense, but acted very patient and understanding.

Our roads got cleared pretty quickly, so we could drive around our little neighborhood and had a good time surveying the damage, oohing and awing over downed trees and branches on the roads. And then, at precisely the moment when the power outage thing got really old and we felt like we couldn’t take another minute of it, POOF! The power came back on. And that was it.

With most hurricanes, the death toll is below twenty people, and almost all of them are preventable. They are usually the result of two things. It’s frequently because of exasperating a pre-existing medical condition (respiratory problems, or a handicap that didn’t allow someone to seek better shelter during flooding). This is why you are urged to fill your prescriptions before the storm, and elderly or handicapped persons are advised to find alternate housing for the storm period.

The other reason people die is just plain stupidity. Having a “hurricane party” on the beach during the storm, or going out driving in the middle of it, or not paying attention to downed power lines in the aftermath….these are the things people usually die of during hurricanes.

In the aftermath, you may experience some property damage. Do talk to your neighbors about what to expect in your area. Houston in general, tends to flood a lot, but this will completely depend on where in town you live. Some areas will be badly flooded. Many will be perfectly fine. Only your neighbors can tell you what to really expect.

Again, reporters need to advance their careers, so don’t let the news freak you out. After Katrina, there was a lot of talk about the role of the media in disaster preparedness. So, now if two trees got knocked over, they call out FEMA and the National Guard.

For most of us, especially on the Northside, a hurricane is sort of like a thunderstorm on steroids. Once you get past the fear, the nature part of a hurricane is actually rather neat. When i was a kid, my Mom  would get the free hurricane tracker charts from the grocery store, and then we watch the news every night and track the coordinates together as a family. As kids, it taught us a lot about coordinates and weather patterns. It also taught us that hurricanes were a unique part of our culture as Houstonians, and not to be afraid of it.

During the storm, you “hunker down,” as we say, in your house for the appointed period. Many families like to make it a fun time, with blankets and snacks, and watch movies until the lights go out. Pets come indoors, and everyone waits it out together. You watch the windows, and the bravest among you periodically stands on the front porch to comment on how bad the wind is. Then you wait some more, until you fall asleep and then assess the damage in the morning.

Do all the common sense things the meteorologist tells you to do, but don’t stress about it. Outside–garage your cars. Bring in your plants. Clear your outdoor furniture. Inside, stock up on flashlights, batteries and candles. Most natives keep a regular hurricane kit, and just restock it when a storm’s on the radar.

Fill your bathtubs, so you can flush the toilet. Once the storm hits, most people stock a pitcher and flashlight in each bathroom. After you do your business, fill the pitcher from the bathtub, and pour it down the tank so you can flush. Seems small, but trust me, several days with no flush power is no small thing.

Be prepared for a power outage for several days. This means, don’t open the refrigerator all that often, and many people fill their coolers as well. Stock up on food with little to no prep, like sandwiches. For the first day or two with no power, people like to grill all their meat so it won’t go bad. Invite the neighbors, make it fun.

Do invoke hurricane karma by sharing your resources and ideas with others. People come up with some pretty cool survival ideas. As long as you are neighborly, Houstonians are known for uniting in a common bond against Mother Nature.

Don’t give into the panic. Hurricane panic is a great way to spend WAY too much money and make enemies out of neighbors. During Ike, there was a news reel of someone driving through town in a pickup truck with a generator in the back. Taped to it, was a large sign reading, “LAST GENERATOR IN THE HOUSTON AREA…MAKE AN OFFER.” Panic.

Another iconic moment was the gas shortage during Rita. Rita came a few weeks after historic Katrina, which had wiped out New Orleans. Most of the refugees had come to stay in shelters in Houston, and many Houstonians had volunteered in some way or another. So, when forecasts of Rita hit, the images of washed up bodies on rooftops and refugees camps in the Astrodome scared everyone shitless. So, everyone–meaning around 10 million people–tried evacuate Houston at the same time.

All the freeways were literally parking lots. Then the entire Houston metropolis ran out of gas. News channels broadcasted up-to-date listings of the last open stations, and people lined up for blocks just to buy gas. (This was before smartphones). The people lucky enough to get to the pump, were filling milk jugs with gas and selling it to motorists down the line for profit.  Continue reading “The Houston Native’s Guide to Surviving a Gulf Coast Hurricane”