Tag Archives: Christianity

Something to be thankful for

While most people are out shopping or enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m trying to finally find the words of gratitude for an unlooked for moment of healing and reconciliation.

If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to go take a look at the comments left on my last post from Nov. 16. Julia Smith, program coordinator at Student Life and director of the Sexuality Series at Calvin College, left some very heartfelt, honest, and perceptive thoughts that, frankly, took me aback.

Years removed from “Memogate” (a nickname I’m hereby disavowing for its crass intonations), I expected that this was something I had gotten over. In the ensuing e-mail exchange between Julia and myself, however, I came to realize how much hurt and resentment I was still carrying around.

As you may see documented in past writing in the Chimes and message board discussions, the response towards the LGBT community’s outrage was pretty condescending. Though they too were indignant, some in the faculty told us to settle down and let them sort it out because it was nothing to do with us, it was purely a question of academic freedom. Let the adults handle this one, kids. Meanwhile, the administration insisted that nothing had changed and that we were simply clarifying and reaffirming our stance in regards to homosexuality.

As I read back through the words I wrote in September of that year, my own anger surprises me.

If we wish to move forward together, then we must act visibly together from the top of the administration all the way down to the student body. Panels on academic freedom are not enough; running the Synod’s prayer for reconciliation into the ground with overuse only exacerbates the issue after a point. Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi’s words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” might be a place to start as we think about practically living out our call to reconciliation rather than just praying it once or twice every year. Rather than simply clarifying the Memo, a public apology to an already ostracized minority and a public reaffirmation to strive for a more hospitable campus could be in order — if such a commitment still stands.

To move on, we must remember the grievance. To rejoice in the new direction we are taking, we must acknowledge where we’ve been. And I do believe that we’re headed in a new direction.

Just a brief aside that I would like to make clear:

Although Julia took it upon herself to apologize, I have never held her responsible for the actions taken by the Calvin administration. She was a bystander in what took place. I find it all the more humbling that she took it upon herself to intervene here where there was no need on her part, and I take inspiration in her actions as an example of what it means to take part in that great Reformed tradition of the renewal of God’s creation. She’s showing us a beautiful example of what it means to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for renewed hope, new beginnings, and new friendships in unexpected places. Though there’s work to be done, I’m grateful for a bright future for members of the LGBT community at Calvin College and the progress that’s being made year-by-year, one conversation at a time, through the diligence of some remarkable students and dedicated folks in the faculty and administration. I’m grateful for the power of one voice speaking out in truth and love.

Julia, you are an inspiration for us all in your desire to heal, your desire to learn, your desire to undo injustice.




Filed under My heart I offer you

Kudos to the Calvin Chimes

Wanted to give a shout-out to the folks at the Calvin Chimes, the student newspaper at Calvin College, for the great feature story that they ran this week.

Allowing minorities to define themselves and put their own stories in writing is a powerful thing, particularly in the sort of atmosphere fostered by Calvin College where, as one writer this week pointed out, LGBT related questions are so often purely speculative or “academic,” since few students are willing to put themselves forward as members of the community.

Other writers pointed out that they felt unsure of being able to find their place on campus were they to come out of the closet.

The articles are all pretty short. Go ahead and check them out for yourself.

I suppose I was pretty struck by how all the stories sound like the stories we were telling when I was a student at Calvin College. Reading through many of the articles, I thought to myself, “I remember when I thought that! I remember that point in my life when I said that, too.”

Although I haven’t been gone from Calvin all that long (I graduated in 2010), it’s disheartening to see that little has changed. I don’t go back, so I’m only peripherally aware of what’s going on at Calvin through reading the Chimes, the Facebook grapevine, etc. but I felt as though everything I’d been hearing from folks was that “things are changing, things are getting better.”

I have only one critique to offer the good folks at Chimes, which I do so lovingly: Everyone in this story is, so far as we can tell (there are a couple silhouetted photos), white, and almost everyone is male. Calvin is such a white institution as it is, I believe that it must be downright isolating to try and establish a place for yourself on campus as both a racial minority and also as a member of the LGBT community. There are stories there that need to be told. A writer I already linked to pointed out how very few queer women are out at Calvin College. I’m not quite sure why the atmosphere at Calvin lends itself to this sort of climate where there are lots of gay men and relatively few queer women.

What are your thoughts? Any other Calvin alums seeing this as a sign of positive change? 

Again, kudos to you, Calvin Chimes. You are the best thing about Calvin College. (And how I miss that old office.)



Filed under My heart I offer you

So close, and yet so far

Two weeks ago, my alma mater, Calvin College, hosted gay Christian theologian Wesley Hill to share his thoughts about friendship, intimacy, and the Church’s responsibility towards its gay and lesbian members.

Hill’s talk was particularly frustrating for me because, in many ways, he’s right on the money in what he has to say about our society under-appreciating deep friendship and overstating romantic love as a be-all, end-all; yet the way in which he framed his discussion seemed to be completely off. LGBT people already understand the fundamental need for deep friendship in a world where we often face rejection – from our families, our religious communities, our neighbors, etc. Deep friendship is how we survive.

Hill’s talk seemed eager to get this point across to the Church while seeking some form of approbation for these relationships. I wrote a former professor of mine on the subject.

I don’t understand Wesley’s needs for a legitimacy from outside forces for his friendships. I realize that I’m a crazy, left-field progressive, but the whole talk seemed a little Eyeore-ish to me, and that’s precisely what breaks my heart.

The only thing that I can say in my own defense for making that comment is that I once believed all of this. Up until I was 20 or so, I was wholeheartedly committed to lifelong celibacy. I think that this mindset of, “I can’t, I’m gay” is unhealthy and rotten to the core and needs to be dismantled as swiftly as possible. If God has called you to be celibate, then I admire you and your calling. However, I don’t believe God calls people on such shallow and superficial grounds as their orientation. I don’t mean that smugly, either. Perhaps I shall be called to celibacy in my life. I could accept this. I cannot accept that choice being made for me by others, however, when they know so little of my situation. I don’t want to see others buy into this mindset that the choice has already been made simply because they are LGB.

I wish to reiterate that I do appreciate the prophetic call Hill offered, asking the Church to reconsider the way that we have placed marriage on a pedestal as the ultimate form of love.

One of my biggest critiques of this sort of discussion is that it perpetuates an obsession by the heterosexual world with the sex lives of LGBT people. I think that the deeper longing most of us feel for a significant other is not about someone to have sex with but someone to wake up to in the morning, someone with whom you can share life’s big moments, someone who will tell you that everything is going to be okay when you have more bills due than money in the bank.

Hill himself pointed this out in his comments, pointing to a letter which he received from a friend who poured out his longing for a companion who could be there with him and for him in such times.

So why can’t we be content with friends to share these moments with? Why don’t we simply live in intentional community? Well, why don’t we pose this question to the heterosexual community?

Here’s some of my reaction I wrote to a former professor of mine from Calvin College who took the time to write me some of her own thoughts:

There is an implied choice: relationship or friends. I don’t consider that a legitimate choice that needs to be made and, in all fairness, I imagine Wesley would agree. The talk, however, is quite explicitly targeted to LGB folks and how they might be able to compensate for lacking a significant other. I find this troubling because I think that there are many straight folks out there as well who are celibate and could use a word of encouragement in this. What troubles me is not the talk of celibacy but rather the implications that this is a special domain specifically for LGB folks. When we talk about the need to move away from a church that glorifies the bourgeois family, I’m all on board… I think that there is a real place for this discussion. I don’t believe in creating a false choice, however. 

Hill later went on to talk about the coinciding need for friendship and romantic partnership during the Q&A session. While straight folks got brought into the discussion a little bit more during this time for Q&A, the question of how the Church community can support celibate folks is not on equal ground when you are pulling aside a subset of your congregation and telling them, “The choice has been made for you.”

Calvin President Michael Le Roy gave an interview to Christianity Today a while back where he brought up the issue of loving the LGBT community at Calvin and what that might look like.

All of the language of serious, committed faith is obedience language—take up the cross and follow. It’s the cost of discipleship. It’s not pretty stuff that you can make nice. It’s pretty rugged stuff, but that’s the gospel. Theologically, how do we convey that truth in a graceful way and not water it down? Then that has implications for all the other issues.

Of course every Christian college president is worried about this, but homosexuality is a very real issue for campuses. We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, “What does this mean? How do I live?”

I wonder, is this what Michael Le Roy meant when he told Christianity Today that we need to find a way to communicate our love to the LGBT students at Calvin without watering down our theology? By finding a water-carrier who is in fact gay? I for one don’t happen to believe that it’s loving to pat someone on the back, tell them we’re sorry, but this is the way it’s gotta be, and then invite them over for dinner afterwards.

I am reminded of the poem “Dinner Guest: Me” by Langston Hughes. Although it is written on a very different topic, it makes me think of my time at Calvin and how people love to talk about “the problem,” people love to talk about love and loving the LGBT community; “Solutions to the problem,/of course, can wait.”


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Calvin College’s new president speaks out

Over the weekend, someone who is a member of the Calvin College Support and Celebration group shared an interview of Calvin College’s new president, Michael Le Roy.

Don’t let the article’s subtitle mislead you when it promises that we’re going to talk about something besides homosexuality.

At the bottom of page three he starts talking about the “biggest theological challenge” facing Calvin College in general terms of how do we call others to follow Christ? How do we gracefully ask people to carry their cross without watering down our message and yet communicate compassion and sympathy when the message seems hard?

By the top of page four, Dr. Le Roy is directly applying these questions to the college’s gay student population and that’s how the article ends with the president reflecting on Calvin College’s continued desire to avoid “political” issues.

Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I myself am very disappointed in Dr. Le Roy’s seeming commitment to keep on keepin’ on with regards to the LGBT community on campus. But I’m disappointed not simply because Calvin College and its new president are keeping to the same path they’ve been on for years – that’s no real surprise. What’s more surprising is that Dr. Le Roy, unprompted, decided to make the connection between the call to carry one’s cross and Calvin’s LGBT community – as if they needed any reminding of the cross they have to carry!

To a certain point I appreciate the humility that comes through when Dr. Le Roy says, “Anybody who speaks in platitudes or thinks it’s simple to be a faithful and wise Christian in these issues [regarding homosexuality] is overlooking something.” When you consider that the group he’s speaking to is primarily hostile to the LGBT crowd, this kind of aside matters.

Dr. Le Roy and many others at Calvin College don’t want to be “political”, which I interpret as meaning controversial – which you may also interpret, if you wish, as meaning that they don’t want to upset donors.

By my definition of what it means to be “political” in this context, Calvin College is ignoring the Gospels. Jesus was never one to avoid controversy. During his ministry, Jesus associated with tax collectors and Samaritans – two groups of people who were viewed in many ways as the LGBT community is viewed by many in the Church today.

Jesus called on the Samaritan woman and the tax collector both to go and lead good and honest lives – which he calls each of us to. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to be Samaritan no more or the tax collector to change professions.

This comparison, of course, is far from perfect so I don’t want to push it too far.

When Jesus went to oppressed groups of people or when he spoke to those who were looked down upon by the who’s who of religious society, he never went to them with a message of, “Here. Take this cross and follow me.” He went to them with a message of liberation and freedom that he had to offer. He went to them with hope.

The most difficult message that Jesus had to give was to the wealthy man, the individual of privilege, who was respected and virtuous. When he asked what else he must do to enter God’s kingdom, Jesus said that he must adhere to the law – which he already did, the man said. What else? Go, Jesus told him, sell all you have and follow me. The message was difficult for him since he was so well off.

That’s quite the burden! And Jesus didn’t go giving this burden to the downtrodden. He gave this message to the well-off and powerful.

A little bit of humility from those who carry on Jesus’ message today would be a good starting point. Simply saying, “I’m sorry you feel bad about our message to you” is hardly an embodiment of humility or grace.



Filed under My heart I offer you, Religious Wrong

Religious but not spiritual

I don’t know how exactly to consider myself from a religious standpoint.

I was on the Sojourners website and I came across this blog post from a Gen-Xer writing about the importance of creeds and the way that creeds have changed for this 21st century Spiritual but not religious generation. Rather than the Apostles’ Creed, it’s U2 that resonates with us.

As much as I love “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and even though I crank it every time it comes on the radio when I’m in the car, I don’t feel as though I’m having a religious/spiritual experience when it comes on.

Maybe it’s because I’m too young, or maybe because I’ve never been to a U2 concert. I hear they’re pretty incredible experiences – even spiritual experiences.

But then again, I don’t really consider myself a spiritual person. I’m not anti-spiritual, either. My not being a spiritual person is informed primarily by my youth, when I was a very spiritual person, constantly seeking spiritual highs; my life was more or less a roller coaster of highs and lows, a series of emotional experiences where God was present to varying degrees depending upon how attuned my heart was, or maybe God was trying to teach me something through the lows and then maybe trying to reassure me and comfort me that everything would, in the end, be OK through the interspersed mountain top moments.

Now that I’ve come out on the other side of a few turbulent years, I no longer consider myself spiritual. The constant quest is too tiring. It is true that without this sort of lens through which to see the world, by which you can judge every event, every moment of boredom, every let-down, every triumph, you are left a little unsure of yourself sometimes. I wrote about this problem last November here on this blog, as I tried to reconcile myself to this new position:

Personally, I’m left with deep admiration for the Gospels, for the idea of a god who would lower himself to such a humiliating state and respond to it in such a superhuman, transcendent way. But frankly, it’s not the same. I’m left with a feeling of smallness, a feeling of being a breath in the wind, a tiny dot of life floating on a rock hurtling around its corner of the universe.

In place of a “personal relationship” with God – a concept that appears in the Bible nearly as many times as homosexuality, by the way – or considering myself “spiritual”, I’ve settled on something new: Being religious, but not spiritual.

I’m not doing a very good job of it, but I think it’s a significant step up from seeking spiritual highs while you’re listening to CCM on the radio or trying to figure our what God is teaching you through depression.

This summer I saw some of my dad’s family for the first time in years at my sister’s wedding; a couple of them remarked to me something along the lines of, “Joel, you seem so much happier than we remember. You’ve turned into such a nice young man.” It was strange, because I didn’t feel completely at liberty to explain why I was so much happier than they remembered me. The truth was, I stopped fighting myself. I stopped my little roller coaster life of irreverent prayers for good grades and God to protect me from being gay. Sure, I’m betting a lot of people would point out the less nice things about me ever since: My language. My lack of church attendance. My out-of-check, flaming homosexuality.

But at the same time, now that I’m no longer fighting myself or constantly trying to hear the voice of God, I’m much more where I am, if that makes any sense. Now that I’m off my little quest to be God’s perfect soldier who measures each day’s success not through the impact he’s had on others, but rather through the lack of infractions, I am free to be where I am, to love others more freely because I am able to love myself more freely.

Being able to love others is worth missing out on that spiritual roller coaster. And I can still enjoy U2.

Of course there is some conflation here. You can definitely be spiritual and gay, but for myself, I choose otherwise. If I were straight, I would choose otherwise. There is great value to being a person of spiritual interest and perhaps one day I may yet learn how to live a healthy, spiritual life.

For now, I am happy to be happy.

More to come.


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War on Christmas

While I don’t normally do this, I wanted to pass along a great article from Mark Sandlin at Soujourners. Reading it, I wish that I had such eloquence to say something which I feel so strongly.

I know that for many people today in the United States, there is a lot of discomfort with this holiday and we don’t know how to talk about it. I received more comments and feedback on my own post two weeks ago than anything else I’ve written (which is to say one comment and three e-mails).

The more we are silent in our reservation about this problematic holiday, the more we allow corporate America to hijack this holiday. The first Christmas made the establishment scared. Christmas today in the western world does nothing but to make the establishment wealthier and wealthier at the expense of the downtrodden, the poor, the marginalized.

Here’s a little excerpt:

Yes, there is a “War on Christmas,” and we Christians have been supporting it. If the present day, white-washed version of Christmas continues to be the dominant version, then I believe a great darkness will smother us in a sea of privilege and perverse oblivion to the struggle of those most in need — the oppressed, the downtrodden.

And here’s the rest of the article.

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The annual quest for meaning

I went to church for the first time in a year or so tonight.

Maybe I’ve been taking the whole French thing too seriously and I’m turning into a French Catholic who only attends at Christmas and Easter.

My relationship with church attendance is weird. Like a lot of people I went as a kid because it was obligatory in my family. Then, after high school, I was all over the place. Sometimes I was in chapel three or four times a week, sometimes I didn’t go at all as I became increasingly cynical about my institution of higher learning.

Since then, it’s been pretty dry for me. Whenever I do find myself in church, I’m incredibly self-conscious about what I’m doing there; I usually spend half of the church service trying to think of reasons to give if anyone asks me why I’m there. What if they ask to see my baptism card? What if they try to make me go to their young adults group? Where’s the nearest window I can jump out of if I need to?

Oh, and another thing: I’ve changed denominations. Ish. Kinda… sorta.

After having had enough of suburbans megachurches over the first 20 years of my life, when I do go to church now, it’s been at either Reformed Churches in France (not quite the same as the American CRC) or Episcopalian churches here in the U.S. (I still can’t spell Episcopalian, Alissa.)

You know what? There’s already enough sparkle and glitter on the TV and at the shopping mall this time of the year, I don’t need any more when I go to church. I don’t particularly want an overdone Christmas drama with thousands of lights and tear-jerking stories. There’s already enough noise.

I went to a service tonight at the Episcotheque down the road from me (there’s a story behind that) and the service probably would have been far too dull for most people. There were only about twenty people in the room. There wasn’t even any singing.

This time of the year I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Christian and, you know what? When you start to think about a god who deigned to lower itself not just to the level of a mortal, but to the level of a homeless person, a marginalized Jewish man living on the fringes of the Roman Empire, you start to wonder what he would think about a bunch of white, privileged folks getting together in their nicest clothes on a Sunday morning. Every church has it’s own problems and there is no perfect denomination, but having spent 20 years in evangelical megachurches, I can’t fathom going back. This time of the year in particular, though, I can’t help but think of all the extraneous things that we associate with Christmas and, you know what? Most of them aren’t intrinsically bad or wrong – definitely not immoral or anything like that.

On this, the first night of advent, I wonder why we so often prioritize these extraneous things over what the gospel is really about. The gospel is GOOD NEWS, and not just GOOD NEWS but GOOD NEWS delivered to the poor, the oppressed, to agricultural workers on the fringes of the empire.

Why aren’t we taking the GOOD NEWS to the fringes of the American empire? Instead, we use our money to support the empire. We go out on Black Friday and buy loads of shit that’s going to be out of date within six months or broken or forgotten.

Sure, maybe, just maybe we’ll donate a meal to an underprivileged family. That’s really great – I think you should do this. Donate two if you can.

But we need a fundamental change in the way that we celebrate Christmas.

I’m not suggesting anything but that you try to figure this out for yourself.

For me, that means that I’m trying to attend as many advent services as I can.

I’m buying my loved ones gifts, I can’t lie. But I’m trying to give preference to supporting local businesses by doing things like purchasing gift cards from local restaurants or buying gifts on Main St rather than at the mall.

And I’m particularly inspired by Cory Booker living on food stamps for a week. I’d like to try to do that as soon as I can find a meaningful way of being able to participate – maybe it won’t be until after Christmas. I’m not sure.

Like I said, I’m trying to figure this out and I’ve been trying to figure it out for a while so I’m writing about it, not to make myself look better, but to help myself figure it out and maybe encourage anyone else out there who is living in the empire and trying to figure out an ethical way of participating in this holiday season.


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