Category Archives: Religion

Spiritual Questions: What is your purpose?

Over the weekend, my eighteen year old niece contacted me to ask me a bunch of questions for an AWANA project.  I found the questions interesting, if a little simplistic (and maybe slanted), but I did the best I could to give her short, somewhat simplified answers.  I’ve decided to take at least some of the questions and turn each one into a blog post, where I can explore the thoughts that the question brought up for me in a bit more depth.

Why are you here on earth?

I think that the answer to this question flows directly from the answer to the previous question.  If I am a part of the Divine Universe trying to grow and recreate itself, then my purpose for existing is to help continue that process.

First and foremost, that means that my purpose here is simply to live and to celebrate and honor that life.  This means that insofar as it is my power, I am called to live an abundant and passionate life, one that is as full and vital as possible.  Life is not meant to be drudged through or born as some grand test, but to be enjoyed.

Of equal importance, as part of the greater whole, I am meant to celebrate and honor life collectively with the rest of the universe.  A hedonistic life of abandon that ignores others who struggle to merely survive or a life that thrives at the expense of others is not in line with my part of the greater whole.

There is also the continuance of the creative process after my own time passes.  As I mentioned, my actions and the legacy I and those around me leave behind will lay the foundation for the future as creation continues.  As such, my purpose is to help keep the whole thing going and to build something that will allow for the lives of all who come after me to be even better.

 

Spiritual Questions: Where do you come from?

Over the weekend, my eighteen year old niece contacted me to ask me a bunch of questions for an AWANA project.  I found the questions interesting, if a little simplistic (and maybe slanted), but I did the best I could to give her short, somewhat simplified answers.  I’ve decided to take at least some of the questions and turn each one into a blog post, where I can explore the thoughts that the question brought up for me in a bit more depth.

Where did you come from?

When I answered this question, I stick with the simple and “mundane” answer of where I was born.  However, I got the impression that there’s a greater metaphysical intent behind the question.  And that’s what I’d like to explore more in this entry, as for me, answering it involves considering the nature of existence, the universe, and the Divine.

I tend to be a pantheist, in that I believe that the Divine is immanent in all things.  To put it more succinctly, I think the universe and the divine is one and the same, and that the various “things” — whether we’re talking about particles of dust or human beings — are a part of that Divine.

To me, the Divine and therefore the universe is driven by the dual principles of being and changing.  From the gigantic cosmic explosion that got the ball rolling to everything, the Divine Universe has sought to grow, expand, and recreate itself.  It’s that impulse to become that spawned the astronomical bodies, the rocks, the plants, and little old me.

So where did I come from?  The Divine Universe.  But that implies that I am separate from it.  I am not.  I am still a part of that greater whole.  I occupy another series of moments in that great history of the Divine Universe’s self-creation.  I am a part of that process that continues to this very day.  However small, my actions will help lay the next layer upon which successive efforts in that ongoing self-creation continues.

May what I help create be filled with beauty and other virtues.

 

Musings on Alan Chambers’s Apology

[Content Note:  Anti-LGBT Discrimination, Sexual Orientation Change Effort, Ex-Gay Rhetoric]

Just saying.
Just saying.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Alan Chambers offered an apology to the (other) members of the LGBT community.  I wanted to take a moment and look at it and offer my thoughts and reactions to it.

Before I get to the apology itself, I do want to offer a bit of criticism of his lead-in commentary.  Let me just say that I can sympathize with the fact that Chambers is taking a lot of flak from people who used to support him, not to mention the continuing flak that many in the LGBT community might be giving to him.  However, I also have to say that I find it highly inappropriate to start talking about one’s own struggles and how you feel you’ve been wronged when building up to an apology to the people you yourself have wronged.  Apologies 101 says that you keep the focus on the hurt you’ve caused one another.  I think that’s something Alan needs to keep in mind.

He opens the apology itself by telling a story about a four car collision that he caused.  He tells this story to draw home an important point:

I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.

This is actually something a few of us were concerned about.  We were concerned that Alan would try to pass off any harm done by Exodus and its member ministries as “accidental.”  It’s good to see that he instead chose to tackle this head on and say that he’s responsible for even the “unintentional harm.”

He then goes on to name some of the ways — mostly the more extreme ways — in which some people were hurt by their experiences with Exodus member ministries.  He even admits personal culpability in the fact that he wasn’t always up front about how much he still struggled (struggles) with same sex sexual attraction, thereby reinforcing a false image that others hoped to, failed to achieved, and felt grief and shame over.  He goes on to talk about the ex-gay narratives that shamed parents.  He confesses to not standing up against those Christian supporters he had who said horrible things about LGBT people.  Overall, Alan lists many criticisms that have been leveled against him and Exodus, acknowledges them, and apologizes without defense or excuse.

The one thing I note as lacking is that Alan never challenges how Exodus’s message of “change” was often used as political cover.  The relationship between those who promoted Sexual Orientation Change Effort (whether based in religion, some form of therapy, or a combination of the two) and those who would deny LGBT the full protection of the law and the same rights as their non-LGBT counterparts has always been mutually reinforcing and symbiotic.  Those who would deny LGBT people rights and protections often point to the ex-gay narratives and say, “See?  They don’t need these protections.  They can just turn straight.”  Similarly, the difficulties that LGBT people face due to discrimination and social stigma perpetuated by anti-LGBT activists also keep many LGBT people in a state of misery that makes them more susceptible to promises made by ex-gay organizations.  Alan’s failure to acknowledge those relationships between the two groups and apologize for contributing to the overall toxic mentality toward LGBT people is troubling to me.

Also, I note that Alan does not seem to acknowledge that, while Exodus will be closing its doors and he will personally be getting out of the ex-gay industry, the legacy he helped to build will still go on.  This apology will not stop people from building on the foundation he and the rest of Exodus have already laid.  It will not stop people from continuing to point to his relationship with his wife and his past words as “proof” that LGBT people everywhere should make the same choice and condemn those who don’t.  I hope that this is a truth that Alan comes to wrestle with and considers what more he might do to loudly decry those who would continue to build on the legacy he’s left.

Furthermore, an apology will not heal any of the wounds already inflicted or any of the damage already done.  That takes more effort, and I find myself wondering what Alan is prepared to do to go beyond simply apologizing and restoring those who he and the rest of Exodus have hurt.  Perhaps that is part of his and the other board members’ vision for the new organization they hope to start.  Only time will tell.

The End of Exodus International

[Content Note:  Brief mentions of Sexual Orientation Change Effort and those who have promoted such efforts, both past and present]

Exodus International has announced that it is closing its doors.  In their announcement, Alan Chambers indicated that they have realized that the organization has become “imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”  Chambers continues thus:

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.

Exodus Off SwitchThat’s a pretty stark, honest, and self-incriminating statement for Chambers to make, who has often been (justifiably) accused of equivocation in the past.  His apology, which he offered the same day as this announcement (and which I hope to cover in a future blog post), was equally candid and vulnerable.

Of course, Alan and the other Exodus board members don’t intend to merely disappear.  They hope to build a new organization:

For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

It will be interesting to see how this new organization shapes up and how they plan to live out their goals.  I’m curious to know what fear they hope to reduce?  Are they hoping to reduce the fear that many LGBT people justifiably have of many conservative Christian individuals, churches, and organizations?  Are they prepared to consider what they really may have to do to truly undo that damage and transform their churches into places that some LGBT people might again find welcoming?

Or will those involved fall into those same old patterns that are so familiar to them?  Will they fail to see some of the subtler attitudes and behaviors that will continue to leave many LGBT people feeling wary of them?

And as always, will they give up their own sense of safety in order to meet LGBT people where we are and where we already feel safe, or will they remain in their “more welcoming” cloisters and wonder why still so few seek them out?

One thing is for certain, while this is the end of Exodus, it is not the end of Exodus’s legacy or the ex-gay movement among Christian movements.  There will still be other organizations — such as the relatively new Restored Hope Network — to carry that torch for years to come.  All the same, I’m glad to see the Exodus board pulling the plug and refusing to carry that torch any further themselves.

Musings on Mimir’s Well and Ocular Sacrifices

WellOne of my favorite myths is the myth of Odin’s sacrifice of his eye in order to earn the right to drink from Mimir’s well.  It’s one of the myths that explains how Odin gained his wisdom.

One of the most common interpretations I have heard of this myth — promoted by people like Edred Thorsson — is that Odin gave up his eye and dropped it into the well so that it could forever scan the well’s depths, giving Odin knowledge of the secret wisdom contained in the well itself.  It’s an interesting interpretation, but I’ve never really cared for it.  I came to my own understanding of this myth.

I’d say that my own understanding was greatly influenced by the fact that I lived almost the entirety of the first three decades of my life with strabismus, which caused me to learn a good bit about stereoscopic vision, depth perception, and how important two eyes that work in cooperation are to one’s vision.  When I finally had surgery (actually, the second one, this time as an adult) to correct my strabismus, I learned how messing with your eyes can severely alter the perception of the world around you.  (Imagine reaching for a glass only to realize that it’s several inches further away from you than you thought, for example.)

To me, Odin’s sacrifice seems to be more about a change of the way he looked at the world, giving up old perceptions rather than clinging to them.  To me, this is a powerful mythic message for the rest of us.  To gain wisdom and knowledge, we first have to admit that maybe the things we think we know, the way we look at things, our very assumptions, may need to be sacrificed.  Refusing to let go of these things keeps us trapped and bars us from the new wisdom that is being presented to us.

Interestingly, while doing a quick search in preparation for this post, I ran across a post by Wytch in the North.  In it, she describes a couple interpretations of the myths that come close to my own.  Those interpretations differ in that they seem to see the sacrifice as a shift (or a partial one) from linear/logical thinking to esoteric/creative thinking.  I’m not convinced of that, as I think that a true change of perception that can be caused by the loss of an eye affects both of those categories of thinking.  (I’m also hesitant to draw a huge distinction between those to modes of thinking, anyway.)  All the same, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s taken a different view of this myth than giants like Edred Thorsson.

Meditation: The Web of Wyrd

I originally received this meditation as a working to do with my coven during our first year together.  I thought I’d share it on my blog.

Cosmic WebClose your eyes.  Breathe in slowly and deeply.  When you lungs are full, hold in the air for just a moment, then allow it to leave your body, exhaling fully.  Then pause and breathe in once again.  Continue this pattern, allowing any tension, negativity, and distraction to leave your mind and body with each breath expelled from your lungs.  Each time you breathe in, draw in light and life and divine blessings.  Allow your body to become filled with these things.

Become aware of fiery red and gold strands of energy that criss-cross all around you and touch you.  These are the strands of wyrd.  See how they support you and make up everything around you.  Appreciate the substance and energy of them.  Study these strands of energy as they flow away from you, connecting to other people in your life.  Family.  Friends.  Coworkers.  These strands are what hold the universe and connect all things together.

Notice how your actions, your choices, affect these strands.  Notice how each choice you make is woven into their web and change the energy that flows through them.  Consider how these changes affect everyone and everything else through their connections to you in this web.  Watch how their choices and changes to the web of wyrd likewise affect you.

After a few moments of studying the web of wyrd and appreciating how it connects you with the rest of the universe, allow the image of the web to fade from your mind’s eye, knowing that it is still there.  Allow yourself to become once again more aware of your body and your present circumstances.  Become more connected to your body as you return to regular consciousness, never forgetting your experience.

Musings on following life-affirming gods

All Your HeartOne of the things that I love about being a devotee of Freyja is that she is extremely life-affirming.  Her embrace of passion and raising the idea of a life lived fully and joyfully to the point of being sacred is something that says, hey this life is more than a mere training ground for the next life.  It’s not something that is to be endured as a test for worthiness.  It is something that is supposed to be celebrated and lived out for its own sake1.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Freyja promotes a purely selfish and narcissistic form of hedonism.  After all, one can enjoy the joys and pleasures of this life and still find a framework for morality — even one suggested by the desire to enjoy such things.  One of the things that I love about serving a goddess who delights in and encourages such celebration of life is that she also often offers advice on how to do so in a way that is good for everyone involved.

Of course, life still has it’s down sides.  Sometimes the tears come.   But one of the things I have also learned is that sometimes, the tears come because of the joys and show just how precious those joys have been.  In some ways, I think that if the loss of the good times don’t drive us to a certain amount of wailing, we should really wonder how good those times really were.

So today, I offer this toast to life.  May you live yours to the fullest and find it well worth living.


1I suppose this is why I tend to gravitate toward a view that reincarnation is a desirable outcome rather than something to be escaped, as I mentioned in another post earlier this week.

Morality, the Afterlife, and other disjointed thoughts.

A couple months ago, I sat through a religious service as part of my family obligations.  You know, one of those things I go to because the vast majority of my family is Christian and being part of the family sometimes involves participating in their observances to some level.  Fortunately, it’s not something that I have to do very often and I’m able to manage through with ample amounts of patience and graciousness.  This particular service was particularly difficult for me, however, as it included a sermon that was hypothetically geared toward evangelism1.

One of the stories that the minister told was about an exchange between a couple of people during a lunch break.  He talks about one person who says that it’s not possible to be “make up for all the wrong we’ve done,” only to have another person, a woman, respond with “Well, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.”  The minister told the story from the point of view that found the woman’s response mystifying.

I didn’t find the comment mystifying at all.  In fact, I found myself in total agreement with the woman’s sentiments — or at least what I perceived them to be.  I do believe in doing everything I can to make up for whatever wrong I have done.  This is because justice is a central theme of my understanding of morality for me.  If I have done something wrong, then I have hurt another person.  It is my duty to do what I can to if not completely undo that damage, at least mitigate it to the best of my ability.  That is the moral thing to do.

I also consider it my duty to do what I can to help mitigate and even undo the damage that other people have done.  That’s another part of justice.  I do this kind of justice and seek to act morally because I believe that by doing so, I am helping to make this world a better place a little bit at a time.  Quite frankly, I want to live in a better world than we currently have, so I do what I can.

No, I can’t make everything perfect.  Some scars I’ve created will always be there, even if I help make them fainter than they originally were.  And being a fallible human, I’m still going to screw up from time to time and cause more wounds.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying, just like that woman in the minister’s story.  If I stop just because I can never get it perfectly right, then I have “made perfection the enemy of good.”  And neither my sense of justice nor my sense of morality will allow me to do that.

The reason the minister found the woman’s statement mystifying and confusing is that he was looking at the statement in a different context.  He heard the original statement as “we can never make up for all the wrong we’ve done well enough so that we can go to heaven.”  He assumed the woman’s statement was her way of saying she was going to try to do enough good to cancel out the bad she’s done so she can earn her way into heaven.  Now, I don’t know if the woman meant it that way or was more thinking along the same lines I was when I heard her statement.  I’m not sure the minister really knows.  The point here, though, is that the minister — and at least some of the “unsaved” people he doesn’t understand — are coming from completely different contexts and understandings and that the minister doesn’t even seem to realize that.

For me at least — and I suspect for many others — acting morally and making up for those times our actions hurt others have nothing to do with trying to “earn” their way into an afterlife.  My understanding of the afterlife doesn’t work that way.  Morality is about the here an now.  Justice is about the here and now, not some future judgement with pie for the moral (and/or pardoned) people and whippings galore for the immoral people2.  While I believe in an afterlife, I do not believe its nature is determined by how moral or immoral I was in this life3.

In effect, the minister’s story looked completely different to me than it did to him.  And his failure to understand how and why it looked differently to me is the reason it didn’t have the “desired” effect on me.


1I say “hypothetically” because (1) I find it hard to imagine that anyone attending the service beside myself actually needed to be “evangelized4” and (2) as part of the alleged “target audience” of the sermon, I found it hard to believe that the arguments had actually been successfully tried out on anyone who either wasn’t already “saved” or at least highly sympathetic to evangelical thinking and theology anyway.

2One of the things I’ve noticed about many — though not all — evangelicals is that their idea of justice differs in mine int hat they seem focused almost solely on a system of justice in which the righteous (and/or pardoned) are rewarded and the unrighteous are punished.  To me, justice is about restoring dignity and well-being for all.  I don’t care that they person hurt someone else is punished.  I care that the person who got hurt is restored and the person that hurt them is prevent from hurting them again.

3In fairness, I tend to think we’re reincarnated and that this reincarnation is a desirable outcome, not something to be escaped.  I will also admit that one of the reasons I believe in making the world a better place is so that it’s a much more enjoyable place to celebrate the cycle of life in my future incarnations.

4Well, barring that whole thing that a lot of evangelical churches and ministers tend to think that half the people in their pews aren’t really “saved” and are just “going through the motions” of being a Christian.

An interesting article about a retreat for LGBT Muslims

As a white, middle class gay man from a Christian background1, it’s easy to forget what other LGBT people who face further problems due to other bases for marginalization they may face.  It was with this in mind that I read a Washington Post article about the experiences of people attending a Pennsylvania retreat for LGBT Muslims.

The article brought home the whole concept of intersectionality and why it’s important when they quoted one attended:

“On the one hand, I was bullied at school for being a Muslim,” said Alam. “On the other, I was worried my parents and other Muslims wouldn’t accept me for being gay.”

When there are multiple prejudice-based reasons for people to hate or mistreat you, the number of people who will accept you for all of who you are shrinks even more.  That’s something that’s easy to forget for some of us.  (We mustn’t forget, no matter how easy it is.)

Of course, it’s also easy for many of us who have fought with the dominant religious culture in our society — Christianity — over our worth as human beings who happen to be part of a sexual minority to forget that there are those LGBT people among us who are having those same exact fights within their own minority religions.  How well do we support them in that fight, I wonder.  (Not very well, I suspect.)

I highly encourage everyone to go read the Post article.  It gives a brief description of what the retreat meant to and has done for a handful of those who attended.  I really have nothing else to say, other than, “Listen to them.”

(Related:  I also highly recommend watching A Jihad for Love, a documentary about the lives and struggles of LGBT Muslims worldwide.)


1While it’s true that I’m now part of a religious minority, I think that the fact that I started life and spend over two decades as a part of the mainstream family of religions her in the U.S. still grants me a certain amount of privilege.

Spotlighting a Couple of BTG Posts

I really don’t have much to say today.  This is fine because it gives me the chance to point out a couple of posts written by Wendy over at the Bridging the Gap blog.  The first post is where she gives a brief summary and a few thoughtst about about the GSCR.  As I’ve blogged a bit about my own experiences at the retreat, I thought some readers might be able to hear someone else’s thoughts.  I particularly liked the sampling of quotes Wendy included from various attendees toward the bottom of her post.

The other post I want to draw readers’ attention to is one in which Wendy talks about a video showing a discussion between Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson in which the topic of the morality of same sex sexual relationships comes up.  Wendy offers her thoughts on how she might have responded to Wilson’s comments and questions, had she been in Bell’s position.  Her detailed and thoughtful analysis of some of the underlying questions — questions that don’t always have to do with human sexuality no less — that must be answered, as their answers will greatly influence how someone approaches the whole topic.

Wendy, being who she is, ties it back to Generous Spaciousness:

My point is not to argue for Rob Bell’s position. My point is that there are robust theological reflections that help us to understand why we can come to such different perspectives on matters such as our theology and ethics of sexuality. My point is to try to demonstrate that generous spaciousness is not some weak, compromise that is simply motivated by keeping up with culture and trying to make God relevant in a gay-positive context. Rather, generous spaciousness costs us our pride, it costs us the luxury of arrogant certainty. Generous spaciousness costs us our security in our exegesis, our hermeneutics, our interpretations. (especially when such exegesis and hermeneutics result in prohibitions for others that do not personally affect ourselves) Generous spaciousness forces us to find our security in the wild, untamable revealing of Jesus Christ to us through the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, through tradition (including contemporary tradition), through the academic disciplines, and through our experiences. And the truth is that this revelation is not in our control – it is in God’s control. This demands our humility, our openness, our fearlessness, our willing to risk following – even when it seems God is doing a new thing.

I absolutely love it when Wendy — or anyone else — talks about humility and then goes on to practice it.  I find her willingness to let go of determining what is right for someone else’s life and leave that in God’s hands refreshing and powerful.  I also think it takes no small amount of faith, personally.

If you haven’t done so already, go read Wendy’s posts.  The whole blog, if you have the time.