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Pharisees

As a child I remember reading the Bible and having a hard time figuring out the Pharisees. Adults would always paint them as the bad guys; people who were so wrapped up in the letter of the law that they forgot the spirit of it. They could quote the scriptures and lived their lives the best way they knew how. They also didn’t demonstrate love to their neighbor or understand why Jesus would break His own rules to go out of His way to help someone. What struck me as a child, and grew with me to adulthood, was how these men were cast as the villains of the story when they reminded me so much of many of the Christians I would meet in day to day life.

I live my life by a certain code that many people would consider legalistic and stringent. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t gamble. I don’t swear. I don’t have sex before marriage. This is what is expected of me as a soldier in The Salvation Army. Like many of the kids I grew up with in the Army, I felt compelled to sign a covenant, my Articles of War, that declared God and I have a legal understanding. I have given up these things not for any earthly reward but as a thank you for heavenly grace and a desire to live my life for God. I would hazard to say the vast majority of kids I knew growing up in the army no longer hold themselves to these standards, and yet here I am. I don’t consider myself any better than they are. Nor do I believe they are sinning because they have a glass of wine with dinner or buy a lottery ticket. It’s not for me, though, because I still see these rules I grew up with as decent guideposts as to how to live my life. When you have been surrounded by addicts your entire life the appeals of drugs, alcohol and tobacco are stunted. When your parents, through daily interactions, show a love and intimacy that is exclusive and special, the idea of a one-night stand loses its lustre. When your family promotes creativity and literacy, along with mutual respect, you tend not to curse each other out. When you need to express your anger later in life, you do so, but in a way that is not hateful.

I follow the rules because they make sense. If they didn’t, I would need to re-evaluate them. This is how I know that I am not a Pharisee. Everything I do, all the rules and laws the Bible give me and I give to myself, make me a better and more loving person. When you come right down to it, that’s the difference between the Christians and the Pharisees. Love. Jesus followed the laws set forth by Father God in so far as it did not interfere with His other great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. The Pharisees hated Jesus because, even though they read the same scriptures, they didn’t have love in their hearts and were unable to see the purpose the law was to fulfill.

For many evangelical Christians, they have the scriptures about homosexuality memorized and cited. Yesterday, when World Vision publicly declared their decision to allow gay and lesbian staff members who are married to their same-sex partners to continue in their ministry, the entire conservative culture lost their collective minds. World Vision is a para-church organization, not connected to a single denomination, that works through sharing Christ’s love with the world without overt evangelization. As a number of churches are becoming more and more affirming, it has become necessary for them not to take a stand about same-sex marriage but to recognize the diversity of opinions their partners in mission have. As such, they called their gay and lesbian employees to be held under the same moral standard as their straight counterparts. Not more stringent or less, simply the same. Because of this, numerous individuals and conservative groups are calling for a boycott of World Vision. It appears as though, through simply stating that discrimination is bad, World Vision has put its programming at risk.

I call upon the Lord, here and now, to judge me by the same standard that I hold other people to. These Christians are Pharisees. If they were supporters of this organization before but decide to stop giving because their blind legalism is keeping them from helping marginalized children in the developing world, they are not keeping to the true spirit of Christ’s Christianity. Yes, there are other organizations they can and hopefully will support. But not opening themselves to the conversation, closing off their minds from examining why they choose to believe what they believe, is synonymous to closing off their hearts. In as much as I believe that salvation can be achieved through faith alone, I also believe that it is impossible to call yourself a Christian and not have a heart for justice and those most marginalized. That is not to say that those who disagree with me on homosexuality or any other issue are worse Christians than I am or are unsaved. What I mean is that the sin of the Pharisee is to blindly follow the law without question and the inability to keep an open mind and an open heart. Everyone can be guilty of this, both liberal and conservative.

Matthew 23 as a whole is one chapter you should read, but I want to direct you to verse 23. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Go and demonstrate love to one another, not because it’s what the Bible tells you to do, but because it is what the real and living Spirit inside of you guides you towards.

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The Ex-Gay Movement

Ask anyone who has gone through a postgraduate program and they will tell you; after schoolwork, life commitments, family and friends there is little room for anything else. I’m sorry I haven’t written anything since December. I’m going to rehash an old excuse that I had in my toolbox from before; I started this blog in a time of my life where nothing was really going on. I will hopefully have some time to breathe in the next weeks. Even so, this is a topic I thought was worth dusting off the blog for.

The closing of Exodus International after many years of operation has made international headlines. I would suggest going to whatever news source you like and reading up on them. Basically, one of the premises of this organization was that LGBT-identity could be changed with prayer and the right direction. As such, they helped advocate for “Ex-Gay” Reparative Therapy for a long period of a time to help people “overcome same-sex attraction.” A couple of years ago I actually had the opportunity to meet Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus International. I threw a pen at him, and to this day I will claim that to be accidental. In my brief interactions with him and conversations with friends who had more time with him I had gleaned he is not a bad man. He is a man of God who was, up until recently, doing what he believed to be the best thing for Christians who identified as gay or lesbian. It was also terribly misguided and led to numerous horrors.

The closest thing I can relate to the Ex-Gay Movement in the Christian church would be the Residential school system in Canada. There are, obviously, some serious differences. With residential schools young children were taken away from their families as an act of cultural genocide. In talking to some of my friends who are ex-gay survivors though, there can be startling similarities. In both cases, young people were being told they were “less than” and forced to change to fit the norm. Every aspect of their life was to be monitored so they wouldn’t fall back into what was deemed a subversive culture. Both physical and mental torment commonly occurred. It is not my place to tell the stories of anyone else, but what I can tell you is that more than one close friend has admitted to being electrocuted during their time in ex-gay therapy. And, in both cases, it has left lasting scars. Out of all the closest people to me who have gone through Ex-Gay therapy a large percentage have also engaged in self-harm and attempted suicides. These, on top of many other reasons, are why survivors are pushing to make Ex-Gay Therapy illegal.

Perhaps I’m too forgiving, but I don’t believe people who work in the Ex-Gay camp are fundamentally evil. I think reparative therapy is the textbook definition of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Many people recognize that life-long celibacy is a gift given by God and not handed out to everyone. And so, gay people who want a relationship are given a choice. Either stay in the church and find yourself an opposite-sex partner, as dictated by centuries of culture, or leave and risk eternal damnation. For most Christians this isn’t much of a choice. The problem is that the indicators of successful change in orientation are spotty at best. Some see the existence of homosexuality in a person as a condition of not surrendering it to God. And speaking for myself, who cried to sleep on a regular basis and presenting myself wholly as often as I could, I reached the conclusion that things weren’t going to change. That hating myself was not what God wanted for me. There is no dispute that coming out to myself and starting to be comfortable with the fact that I was gay was a huge turning point in my life to stop eating myself to death.

God doesn’t make junk. Regardless of whether or not you believe same-sex attracted people should be in a relationship, trying to change their orientation has been proven to be both psychologically and spiritually devastating. Starting from this point is critical to continuing the dialogue between the gay and Christian communities. Exodus International is gone, but there are worse organizations in the world who are much more extreme. Blessedly, The Salvation Army’s positional statement on homosexuality claims that the vilification of gays is morally wrong and that homosexuality is not, in itself, blameworthy. This is a good place to start. Even though you may disagree with people leading an “active” gay lifestyle, the mental anguish caused to many LGBT Christians cannot and should not be ignored.

Christians separating themselves from others using their interpretations of God’s laws is not new. Ephesians 2:11-22 speaks to the issues arising from Jews and Gentiles quarreling over how the Gentiles were expected to live their lives. “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Coming together in spirit does not being the same. Being equal is vital to building a lasting Christian community, but it must take into account the diversity of human experiences we bring. Trying to make a person like you is a huge slap in the face to the God who created us all. Starting from a point that God makes people gay and that will not change is vital to having any sort of dialogue with the gay community.

Politics and Religion

Hey all,

So I suck. There’s really no other way of putting it. I started this blog at a time when there wasn’t a lot going on in my life, and thought I could continue updating it twice a week indefinitely. Then I entered postgraduate studies. I’ve dedicated myself to getting through my program with learning as much as I can and putting in as much effort as possible to get the most out of it. Because of that, I have neglected to update this thing. I’m sorry about that.

What some of you may know and what most of you probably forgot, I actually studied political science in my undergrad. Now having a BA in Poli Sci by no means makes me an expert, but I do believe it has made me more conscious as a global citizen. Since my last blog post, America had yet another election. Now I’m a proud Canadian in the sense that, although our government and electoral system are by no means perfect, it is a system that largely works. If you don’t like either of the largest parties, there are other serious contenders you can vote for. For those of you who don’t know anything about Canadian politics, the best way of describing our politicians is like a box of baking soda in the back of the fridge. The majority of Canadians just ignore them until they start to stink, then they replace them with something else. As such, politics doesn’t play a key role in our day to day lives. Some would disagree with me on that, but that’s their opinion. Why the American election was so closely watched by Canada, however, was that the outcome of this election could greatly influence our own way of life.

Politics is a nasty business that can touch upon almost every aspect of who a person is; socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, etc. One of the foremost topics of this election cycle, however, surrounded the candidates and their religious affiliations. President Obama, an avowed protestant who I’ve seen work prayers into numerous speeches, was accused, once more, of being ‘secretly Muslim.’ This is stupidity on multiple levels. If a person claims to be a Christian, actively talks about their faith and is not ashamed of it… they are a Christian. I also find it extremely sad we live in a day and age where calling someone a Muslim can be considered an insult. Every single Muslim person I have ever met has been nothing but sweet, caring and smart who show more Christian compassion than most Christians I know.

One of my best friends (yes, I’m calling you out on it) is a Mennonite, and how they approach faith and politics is rather unusual. If you go into a Mennonite church you won’t see any national flags. When a Mennonite gets sworn into court they write a statement declaring that what they are saying is the truth rather than swearing on the Bible. Politics and faith are kept completely separate from each other. In my undergrad, I took a course on Israeli politics that I found fascinating. Messianic Orthodox Jews refuse to see Israel as a Jewish nation. They view it as a nation of Jews that respect Jewish customs and beliefs, but a truly Jewish nation can’t be built until the Messiah comes. To be completely honest, I think both beliefs are correct.

There is no Christian nation on this planet. America isn’t one. Canada isn’t one either. Even Vatican City, a nation-state filled with Christians, could not be considered a Christian nation. It is my belief that a true Christian nation will only rise when Jesus returns. How we view issues such as poverty, arms control, gay marriage, abortion, etc. are all influenced by our faiths and viewpoints. Just as God has the power to force us all to love him, stripping away our free will, so too do Christians in predominately Christian nations have the ability to impose our beliefs and morals on everyone. But we do not have that right. For centuries it was believed that a woman’s place in the Christian church was to be subordinate, but Catherine and Evangeline Booth helped shape the faith I’m proud to be in today. Battling Christian culture, challenging everything and seeing what is best for society and for ourselves, separately, is the challenge for all Christians. And it is difficult. Take alcohol as a perfect example. The majority of people in the world drink, and most of them drink responsibly. There are many however who abuse alcohol and from that it can lead to physical and mental abuse of other people, drunk driving, a decline in their own health, etc. As a member of civil society I have every right to ask my government for protection and prosecution for and from these individuals. As a Christian, I can feel compassion for them but it’s not my place to legislate morality or make their choices for them – which sucks, because I think I have a pretty good handle on how the world is supposed to work.

Daniel 6, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, is still one of my favourites. Daniel, who refused to stop praying to God even though it went against the law, was saved by an angel. Speaking of Daniel’s God, my God, King Darius clearly says “his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.” (Daniel 6:26) As a Christian I serve a higher power that trumps nationality, and even my own faith and view of the world. I am part of a heavenly and earthly kingdom. So when you’re trying to make political decisions stop asking “what would Jesus do?” and start asking what is best in this situation. Chances are, most of the time, these two things will match up. And when they don’t, God is still in control.

Halloween

Happy Haunted Holidays! Last week I had 3 midterms, so forgive me for not updating this blog.

I find it interesting how, even in the liberal Christian circles, there is a discussion as to whether we should be celebrating Halloween at all and to what extent. You can probably tell how I feel.

I love Halloween. Any excuse for dressing up and scaring someone – that is a holiday should be celebrated. Also gorging on candy. And watching scary movies.  I understand why some people don’t like it, but it also seems a little hypocritical.

How we celebrate most Christian festivals nowadays have pagan influences. Christmas trees come from ancient rituals to keep life in a household. The idea of using bunnies to symbolize Easter also comes from faiths older than Christianity. But that’s not the problem people have with Halloween. Halloween is a festival that has very few Christian ties, and must therefore be demonic in a lot of people’s minds. It’s the old “I don’t like it, so Jesus doesn’t either” argument.  But before we carry on, let’s get a few things straight.

  1. Halloween has a number of Christian influences, mainly from the Roman Catholic faith, in relation to All Saints Day and related festivals.  
  2. Jesus wants us to have fun.
  3. Halloween is fun.

So… relax. The Salvation Army as a church serves in a number of countries that aren’t Christian. People need to act, dress and eat things that typically aren’t associated with Christianity, but that doesn’t make them any less Christian. As long as you act with faith and love you’re acting as a Christian. Dressing up as a Zombie, Ghoul, Ghost or Ajuma (the scariest of all) is fine as long as it’s done in fun. Be mindful of what you’re doing and why, but don’t let other people hold you back from fully experiencing cultural festivals. Regardless of what you choose, it will be pleasing to God. Romans 14: 5-6 states “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” Or in other words… whatever floats your boat. Just keep Jesus in mind and you’ll make the right choice as to how to live your life.

The Not-So-Grim Reaper

As a Christian, I have a funny way with death. I understand that for every year I live there are millennia where I have not and will not exist. I am a grain of sand on the bottom of the sea. But that doesn’t mean my life doesn’t have significance. Nor does it make grieving any easier.

My grandma went home a little over a year ago. I called into work and asked for the day off, and spent the first few hours crying and reflecting. Then my mind started wandering to all the times we spent together, and I couldn’t help but laugh. When I was 11 and she and I would take turns scaring each other when we were coming out of the bathroom. The time I was watching Buffy and she refused to let me turn it off because she liked seeing the vampires turn to dust when they got staked. And I still swear, to this day, one time when I was pushing her wheelchair and she started singing Ridin’ Dirty. She was hilarious and incredibly loving, singing me to sleep every night she was in my home before I went to bed. “Teach me how to love thee. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to serve thee, better day by day…” It became a mantra for my life.

I can’t smell juicy fruit or watch the Secret Garden without thinking of her. And it makes me smile. Grief is, inherently, a selfish thing. Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, this person no longer feels pain or grief. Compound that with the fact that I know I’ll see her again, and I’m left with an overwhelming sense of peace.

“Where, oh grave, is thy victory? Where, oh death, is thy sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55 is one of my favourite verses. I know it’s weird to say that. But when you lose your fear of death, you gain victory in life. Grief and death go hand-in-hand, but, whether for a day or until the end of time, I’ll use my life for living.

Straight-Acting

So, post-graduate life has swallowed me whole; combined with Doctor Who marathons, whose awesomeness I am just discovering. Life has been hectic of late. But, since it’s thanksgiving weekend in Canada, I now have some time to relax and catch up with this blog. One of the reasons I started Gay Salvationist was to give some insight into life as a gay guy to straight people who would otherwise not have this experience. This means sharing both the good, and not-so-good, aspects of gay life.

If you hang around gay circles long enough, especially in the single and dating world, you will hear the term ‘straight-acting’ tossed around from time to time. What is ‘straight-acting’ you may ask? Definitions will vary, but you can either define it as someone who behaves in a stereotypically straight way or in a way that is opposite to the stereotypically gay guys. It isn’t a guy who is closeted, but simply someone who appears to be straight. When you think of a stereotypically gay-acting guy, what characteristics come to mind to you? For me it’s someone who talks with a lisp, lets his hands go limp, wears tight-fitting and fashionable clothing, is only interested culturally in Lady Gaga and design reality shows, etc. A straight-acting gay guy will rock out to heavy metal, dressed in an outfit he threw on in the morning, while on his way to pummel a guy at an MMA fight. Two very different people with two very different ways of life united by the fact that they are both gay.

I have been accused, much to my chagrin, in the past of being ‘straight-acting.’ I can understand why, since there are no ‘tell-tale signs’ of my orientation in day to day life. In my room, right now, I literally have only one shirt hanging up. The rest of my clothes go from the floor, to the laundry room to a hamper in my bedroom. I’m currently making my way through the second season of the Walking Dead and am counting down the days until The Rescues come out with their new album. None of this is in an effort for me to appear straighter, and honestly I get insulted when people assume it is. When I order butter chicken in a restaurant, it isn’t in an effort to appear ‘more Indian,’ it’s because that stuff is freaking delicious. I am comfortable enough in my own identity and sexuality to rock out to some ABBA then follow it with Dragonforce. As a very good friend once told me, paraphrasing Popeye, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. You may not like who I am, but I really don’t care…”

When you look at the terms ‘gay-acting’ and ‘straight-acting’ most people focus on the gay or straight where they should really be concerned about the acting part. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know a few people who only claim to like something or act a certain way because they are expected to. And, in my own humble opinion, I think those guys who insist on only dating men who act like straight guys are still battling some internalized homophobia. I couldn’t see myself dating someone who refused to go to a lacrosse game because ‘that’s what straight people do’ or wouldn’t want to go see Wicked because ‘that’s what gay people do.’ I’m fine with seeing someone whose wardrobe consists of solely flannel or who feels the need to wear eye shadow every day as long as that’s who they really are and they’re open to trying new things.

A bit of a shout-out to my Mom, who reminded me of this verse, Philippians 4:11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” A big part of learning to be comfortable with being gay is seeing how to integrate it into your life. Whether I’m in gay circles or straight circles I know I have plenty to talk about with anyone. If someone claims to be acting a certain way, who are they really?

Family

So… life has gotten crazy hectic. Family commitments, starting school, reading, reading, reading, wiping away blood from my eyes, reading… you see where this is going. But I have a few moments to breathe and I thought it was time to talk about a topic I’ve been pondering for some time. What is a family?

My parents are a font of wisdom, but there is one saying I grew up with that I don’t believe to be true anymore. “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Obviously it’s true on the surface. I had no choice whatsoever whose blood I received at birth; that was completely up to God. But being gay has proven something to me over the years that quite a few people have come to understand, sharing blood has nothing to do with being a family.

I am aware how extremely blessed I am to have the family I do. I have a Mom and Dad who love me and support me; which goes beyond and includes the whole gay thing. Every award I won they were at the ceremony, even at the most inopportune of times. I have a brother who, after watching a play I wrote in High School about prostitution and drug use, kept a closer eye on me to keep me from going emo. I thank you to this day for that. And now I have a sister-in-law who shares my love of baking and torturing my brother. Even if I could change these people I wouldn’t. But my family story is sadly one of the happiest I know. So many people suffer from abuse, both physical and mental, rejection and neglect. This is doubly true for LGBTs.

I have a friend who, upon hearing I was gay, exclaimed “my dear, you’re family! We’re all part of the fabulous family!” And if you hung around my LGBT friends long enough you would see how true that statement is. One of the defining aspects of family for me is the comfort that comes with being yourself around people who know you and won’t judge you. I am a part of such a community of loving support that I see that demonstrated every day. We may not always get along but we love each other and that is what family is all about. I started applying what I came to understand to be the truth to my life; that existence here is too short to waste. That we may be born into a family but that love can shape who and what is important to us throughout our lives. That I can have sisters who are brown and brothers who are black who are important enough in my life to be called family. And that if the only thing that connects you to a person is DNA, it isn’t enough to live a happy life.

1 Timothy 5:8 says “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” We are called to protect and help those we love, beyond the physical, in order to ensure everyone’s need to be loved and respected are met. You can’t choose who you love, but you can choose who you call family.

What Went Right Today?

Enough of the doom and gloom for now…

In my long and sordid history in the working world I was, briefly, a cashier at an amusement park. During our training they were talking about how one negative experience can take away the positive for the rest of the day. Even if the whole afternoon was sunshine, short lines and great food what you’ll truly never forget is seeing your friend scream at the top of her lungs after one of the performers surprised her. It seems rather obvious, but at the same time it bears repeating. Even while they were saying it I remembered how on one of my own trips to this same amusement park, I was stuck upside down for what seemed to be several minutes on one of the rides. And I honestly couldn’t tell you about the rest of the trip.

I would argue that we as humans are programmed to see the negative aspects of everything. Looking back at my own experiences it’s only the very good and the very bad that have stuck with me; and the bad can sadly outweigh the good at times. While at work a while ago, a co-worker lost a list she had spent a lot of time making. She started to worry, but I saw it lying on the ground behind her and picked it up for her. She laughed and I insightfully said “we always seem to focus on what went wrong in a day, don’t we? I think it’s time we need to focus on what went right.” As she walked away she yelled back “I agree, but it’s much harder to do that.”

There are a million different things you can give thanks for throughout the course of a day; Having your alarm clock work properly; having chilli cheese dogs AND chilli cheese fries for dinner like I did last week (I know, be jealous); not falling down the stairs and breaking your clavicle. I added that last one because I know someone who did it. I used to use the phrase “everything that could go wrong, did go wrong” but I’ve never been bitten by a zombie or hand an elephant sit on me. The sheer amount of bad things that could happen to us at any moment is baffling. And yet, we either ignore that nothing bad has happened or disregard the good.

I sometimes forget how good I have it. Not only that I have a loving and supportive family and awesome friends, which I do, but I also have enough food to eat, an education, clean water and political freedom. Not everyone in the world can say that. As a Christian, it’s hard to give praise to God for everything he does in my life to make it awesome. I would need to be in a continual state of prayer with every breath and every step being sent as a word of praise for keeping me going.

Hebrews 13: 15 says “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” It’s strange to be thankful for everything good in my life, but I think focusing on the positives is always a good start. I’m free because of the gift my faith has given me, and because of that I will continually ask myself “what went right today?”

Suicidal Depression

I wanted to start off with two points:

a) I’m sorry I haven’t blogged in a long time. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but wanted to read it over and come back to it to make sure it said what I wanted to say. Big things are happening in life right now with weddings, illnesses, gearing up to go back to school and living life. I will do my best to update this more regularly.

b) What I am about to tell you is my own personal ideas and story. Please do not take it as a guideline for mental health, it’s just a road map of where I’ve been. If you are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts I would STRONGLY encourage you to seek out help as you can.

And so… here we go…

I wanted to talk today about a topic that’s really uncomfortable for me to speak about. It has a happy ending, don’t worry about that. I’ve just believed for the longest time that since my life is so positive right now it’s not great to reflect on the negative things in my past. The problem is the same struggles I have gone through in my life so many people are currently fighting. Others really don’t understand the odyssey I was on to reach this sense of peace. So I think it’s time to get this out there to help others… it definitely isn’t something I like to think about. But, truth be told, my story could have just as easily have had an unhappy ending.

Twice in my life I have seriously contemplated suicide, both of which the main reason being that I was gay. When I was 12 and other boys really started noticing girls I realized I was noticing other boys. Despite me doing my best in order to change, it just wasn’t happening. Add in the fact that I was fat and socially awkward, having just alienated my best friend at the time who I have not spoken to since, and I was ripe. My Middle School had a balcony that overlooked the foyer and I remember one particularly bad day standing there and looking down and seriously debating with myself whether or not the world would be a better place if I jumped. But I was able to suppress the gay part of myself, convince myself that it really wasn’t the truth and lived my life more or less happily for the next 7 years. This is the thing about depression caused by being closeted to yourself in my experience. It isn’t really a gnawing sensation if you ignore it, and it is possible to be genuinely happy in other areas of your life. That is, until, the walls come tumbling down.

Once I started attending University for the first time in my life I was being exposed to other gay people on campus. I came to the realization at 19 that this was what I was and no matter how hard I would try over the next 2 years God would not help me change it. I was the fattest I have ever been, even more socially awkward and now faced with the realization I would live and die alone. One night I had the house to myself and I remember sitting with a knife in my hands wondering if I should just end it all. As a man of faith I’m not afraid of death, it was the thought of living like this that was bugging me. But in both of these experiences, although I thought about it, I didn’t actually attempt. And strangely enough, it was my study of conflict theory that gave me perspective enough to understand why.

When studying why countries don’t go to war, some conflict theorists talk about negative and positive peace. ‘Negative Peace’ basically means you don’t want to go to war because you don’t like war; people die, buildings blow up and it’s bad all around. ‘Positive Peace’ means you have reasons to remain peaceful with this other country beyond simply not wanting to go to war; you’re linked by culture, trade and a mutual respect. This tied in very much with my life. I didn’t kill myself not because I was afraid of death, in fact at that moment I welcomed it. I kept living because, despite having to deal with some obvious crap, I loved my life. I had a loving family whose crazy antics always kept me entertained. I had a future ahead of me that looked bright and promising; places to visit and people to meet. I was given a purpose to help people who couldn’t help themselves. Ultimately I had reason to get out of bed in the morning. And so, in both situations, what stayed my hand was the simple truth that God wasn’t finished with me, so I shouldn’t be finished with myself.

I don’t want to belittle anyone else’s experiences with suicidal depression, but just present my own thoughts. I am blessed that my own experiences with depression are comparably mild to a lot of folks. I was bullied, but not as badly as some of my friends. I went to a dark place, but not darker than others. Despite depression being a problem for a number of people regardless of their status or race, it is largely undisputed that those of us who are LGBTs face even more pressure due to societal and cultural pressures. What is worse is that many of us who consider ourselves Christians and are fighting our sexual orientation do so in secret.

Once I came to terms with myself, started opening up and coming out, I could feel weight being lifted off my shoulders. It started gradually at first to the point now where some days I feel like I’m flying. Despite always having been and hopefully always being a positive person sometimes circumstances in life get you down. A couple of weeks ago I walked barefoot in a pile of dog excrement and it wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to me that day. But I have a great life and a future and I push on. And, as you were probably waiting for me to say this, it does get better. God created you for a purpose in his plan, just as you are, and you can only really see that come to fruition if you’re here. There are days where you feel like Job, and the best thing to do is talk about it. In Job 7:11 he states “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” It has been my experience that when dealing with depression silence is the real enemy. When I found friends who were going through a similar struggle my soul was lifted. And even now, when I have a bad day, I have people in my life I know who are willing to listen. When I talked to God he started to show me why my life had meaning, despite things becoming crap and falling apart around me. And so if you’re dealing with depression there are a number of resources that can help, people who will listen and sincerely care. Keep fighting the good fight.

Letter and Spirit

I have mentioned in the past how I have had the opportunity to travel to Israel to study a few years back. A story keeps coming into my mind these past days.

While I was living in Jerusalem there were no Christian churches nearby that I felt comfortable in attending. Even though I’ve never been a strict adherent to The Salvation Army, Israel is one of the countries where the church can’t even be found. In any case, I was invited to join the Jewish students in their Sabbath celebrations at sunset Friday and Saturday nights. Coming from a church that prides itself on being non-sacramental it was interesting to participate in the ceremonies and rituals of a culture and faith that were at the same time familiar and foreign. According to my Jewish friends the Rabbi did the Sabbath meal in a very formal and traditional way; as my experiences with ceremonial hand-washing and singing songs in Hebrew are apparently not the norm. It was a lot of fun, and something I made my way to experience whenever I was free.

One Friday evening I was heading back to campus with a friend when one of the students I commonly saw at Shabbat came hurrying towards us. “Are either of you not Jewish?” he asked, a look of desperation on his faith. “I… I’m a Christian.” I replied having absolutely no idea what was going on. I could see relief wash over his face. “Perfect! Come with me!” And so I followed him to the hall where the Shabbat meal is held, and to a sight that intrigued me. The Rabbi and all of the students who were attending that evening were standing around the refrigerator looking forlornly at it. Then, as the student announced he found a gentile, everyone turned and stared at me. I’m trying to make this as accurate of a description of the events that night as possible without making people sound menacing… the whole experience from start to finish was more curious than anything else.

The Rabbi, whose name I will withhold due to the subject of the story, approached me and led me to the side of the room. His face was as serious as everyone else as he began to speak. “We’re finding ourselves in a bit of a situation tonight. Our fridge is hooked up to a timer which turns the power off during the Sabbath. Somehow this timer has malfunctioned and our fridge is still running so we can’t use it. Unfortunately all the food we had for tonight is in the fridge. There is a switch to manually turn off the power; however I and the students are not allowed to flip it. I’m also not allowed to ask you to flip it. If you were to take the initiative to do so, I wouldn’t stop you and the dinner could proceed as planned.”

Now I can be a little dense at times, but even I could see that he was asking me to turn off the fridge. Even though I was more than happy to help, the problem was I didn’t know which switch he was talking about, nor did I know how to ask him. As I walked over to the fridge I was considering how to broach the subject. As I leaned over the timer I said “so hypothetically, if I were to turn off the refrigerator would this be the switch to do it?” The Rabbi responded that it would be, and as I flipped the switch a chorus of cheers from the other students rang forth. To this day, this has to be one of the most surreal experiences I have had.

From a purely legalistic standpoint The Rabbi did nothing wrong. He found a way of bending the rules of his faith without breaking them, something many of us are guilty of. And honestly, I don’t see God as having a problem with it. This man did everything he could in order to have this religious experience go off without a hitch for the students, until something outside of his control occurred. Our God is a God of rules, but he’s also a God of understanding.

There’s a song we sing in The Salvation Army on occasion that’s quite popular, it may be at other churches as well. The lyrics go “I am not under Law, but under Grace.  It is Grace that rescued me.  It is Grace that set me free…”  It’s a celebration of the fact that since Jesus died, we as Christians no longer have to live by oppressive rules but can be secure in our freedom through Christ. The problem remains that a lot of Christians, myself included, take this freedom and stretch it to serve our own purposes. Either we disregard the law completely or we begin talking ourselves around it in order to justify breaking it. One glaring example that rears its ugly head has to do with my love life.

I’ve written before on LIFE AS A CHASTE VIRGIN. When I tell a guy that I’m a virgin and believe in waiting until marriage before sex two questions seem to always pop up. A) What do you define marriage as? B) What do you define sex as? For Question A I’m always happy to provide an answer since the question bears a considerable amount of weight. In most countries in the world LGBTs can’t be married, and in many Christian churches (including The Salvation Army) they don’t perform the spiritual rituals associated with getting married. Marriage to me is the commitment, after a considerable period of time growing together in love and maturity, in front of loved ones (and God in the Christian context) that you will do your best to stick together and not kill each other until you both die of natural causes. This can be done by a priest if you find a church that blesses same-sex marriages, a government employee if your country/state recognizes you legally, or just with friends in your backyard. It is in this sense no one can be kept from being married. As for question B, I grow tired explaining to people what sex is. They want me to draw diagrams and make charts, when in truth all they really want to know is how far they can go before they have to be committed to me. Gay or straight, most men are the same. And so I impose rules that can’t be bent and pray that someone recognizes the spirit of what I’m trying to do while looking past the letter of the law.

2 Corinthians 3: 4-6 says “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Very few times do we as Christians live in moral ambiguity. I don’t know if the Holy Spirit has a bullhorn, but when I’m doing or about to do something I shouldn’t he starts screaming at me in a way that I can’t ignore. Things are rarely black and white, Jesus himself bent rules he helped create, but as long as we live our lives to honour God, serve others and improve ourselves we can stand confident in our faith. Too many rules and too many freedoms both come at the same price, which is bondage. Find that middle path and let Jesus lead you where you’re supposed to go.