Hoosiers: An American Classic for a Reason

hoosiers

There is much to love for everyone in the triumphant American classic, Hoosiers.   It contains elements of many things that are on the public mind these days like diversity, the meaning of work, prejudice, and what it means to “believe in yourself.”  There’s a lot of redemption, fortitude, and humble pride in this sports biopic that takes place in rural Indiana in 1951.  There’s refreshing honesty on what it takes to be a strong person in America and life itself.

Gene Hackman’s character Norman Dale is the new coach of boys’ basketball at the local high school. We gather from learning about him, that he’s  also a teacher, divorced, and had had some recent, possibly self-induced, tough circumstances.  His fresh start is met by the fresh mouthed Myra, a fellow teacher played by Barbara Hershey.  She comes off as a shrew from her first sentence.  They immediately clash which means as most movie clichés go, they eventually get involved.

Another cliché we encounter is the “small town people are dumb” idea, where at first the townspeople are portrayed as staid yet close minded, and wholesome in a way that might offend some city folks. This cliché does eventually lessen and we see something currently lacking in today’s Hollywood culture; diversity of thought.  A person freshly graduated from a liberal arts degree program may ignore a film like this at their peril.  Indeed most of the characters in this film are young white males who are unapologetically not facing an existential crisis about their “privilege.”

What we see depicted in the film instead is a demonstration of good old fashioned individuality combined with willfully choosing team work and hard work. Initially Hackman’s Coach is encountered by yet another unfriendly staff member in the school who attempts to undermine his authority.  Coach Dale gives the guy the what for and some whiney boys leave the team in protest.

Like other sports films, there are members of the basketball team who are happy to stay and try to work with the new coach. This includes a short player who in spite of teasing, has courage enough to play a game typically dominated by tall people. This underdog character, as well as the coach’s later dealings with townspeople, exhibit an ability to keep from being overtly judgmental towards one’s self or others.  They show it’s not necessary to be like other people or take them down either.

There is this lovely wide shot scene where Coach Dale visits the would-be star basketball player who is skipping class to avoid being persuaded to rejoin the team. We learn later why the boy is off the team, but it turns out the coach isn’t there for persuasion.  Amongst the open fields at the homemade Podunk basketball hoop, Hackman abruptly says to the kid “I don’t care if you play on the team or not” turns, and walks away.  The coach is in essence saying “this is bigger than you so get over yourself.”

This scene highlights the difference between believing in or trusting your innate morality vs. thinking you have to be a God or part of some deity regardless of how vague, in order to be worthy. Hackman’s character is there to do a job.  A job he probably would rather not do, but is doing regardless of whether he, his coworkers or his potential team members like it.  This is the essence of the American ethic and a true citizen of the West.  Someone who no matter how much flack they get stays true to working hard and believing in their sense of moral intrepidity.

This leads us to Dennis Hopper’s character of the town drunkard who happens to be the father to one of the ballplayers. Hopper it turns out is a basketball savant who has a preacher like accuracy of understanding the game.  He’s so accurate, the coach asks Hopper to be assistant coach.  Hopper though struggles greatly under the weight of what is essentially his own weakness.  After improving then failing a couple times he finally goes to a hospital to dry out.  The longer he put off his need to change, the harder it was to do so.  His courage finally came, but at a self-inflicted steeper price.

All people go through such a personal transformation, but many of us, don’t feel a need to talk about it all the time after it happens. Later in the film Hershey’s character finally warms up to the coach, and she asks him about a violent episode he experienced when he hit a player as a coach years prior.  He explains without self-pity or exaggerated responsibility that he’s still trying to understand what exactly came over him.  I think we’ve all been there.  Some psychoanalyze such an event and build a character around it, while others pick up and eventually, move on.

Eventually the wayward star player joins the team while confidence in the coach grows after he displays humility yet forgoes apologizing after losing some games. The star saves the coach’s job and the coach returns the favor by doing it.  Both the boy and the coach refused to cower to popular opinion, and in doing so they were able to work together and likely trust each other in a way that would have been grossly changed if group-think had been adhered to.

Right before the Regional Finals the coach makes a speech saying:

“Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again.  Most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.  If you put your effort and your concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can; I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”

Do your best. Get over yourself.  Trust in the inner mechanism we have in our souls to not go too far for too long.  Work hard, quit complaining, think for yourself, don’t give up, and don’t be a jerk.  Movies like this display the kind of pioneering ethic this country was founded on.  Regular folks, also known as the dreaded bourgeoisie, don’t need to let so-called experts tell them how to think.  They utilize common knowledge that works per given situation but they don’t feel forced to adhere to such knowledge when the time is not right.  The coach at one point pretended to be a jerk to help the drunken dad, and at another time his actual jerkiness led to ruin.  Free choice isn’t always fun or easy.

Doing our best, as Hoosiers depicts, is only for the adventurous. Towards the end of the movie, a boy gets hurt and Hackman’s character eventually decides to pull him out of the game.  Coach Dale was free to keep the boy in, which was familiar and easier for a game win.  Taking the injured player out was more challenging but better for the player and the coaches moral conscious.  At that moment, the coach had to choose the unstoppable unknown and risk the game, his reputation, and the players shame.  No one was going to give him a better answer than the one in his own moral center.  Being a winner is about doing one’s best in the midst of fear, rather than robbing fear of its rightful place in our hearts.  Who needs to watch Halloween part XVII.  Just listen to your moral compass to have the adventure of a lifetime!

I won’t tell you who won at the finals or what happened to the coach. Instead I’ll tell you what happened to the most marginalized character in the film, the smallest player.  Amongst boos from the crowds our underdog did his best.  He didn’t get a moment of earthly glory because someone else made things easier for him.  He retained his confidence by daring to make his best effort.  That best effort or moment when we focus all of what we are into that second, minute, hour, or lifetime, and let ourselves live our choices, is when we are free.  Sometimes it means we win the game, other times it means we keep our souls for another day or moment.  From small towns to big cities, Hoosiers is a perfect reminder to embrace tenacity, exemplify freedom, and endure fear.  It’s never too late to simply, humbly, freely, do our best.

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Rainbow Lies

rainbow

I remember the first time I read about the possibility that the truth of the Matthew Sheppard case may not have been accurately depicted in the media. After reading an article reviewing author Stephen Jiminez’s book entitled “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Sheppard” I decided to read the book because I was curious.  The narrative of the Sheppard story was a powerful one that affected gay and bisexual people on a personal level.  The issue was one of safety for us and in certain ways, freedom.  Were we free to love, to hold hands, to simply be ourselves, particularly in smaller or religious communities?  In 1998 I had been out of the closet for seven years and had witnessed brutality towards people perceived to be gay.  I saw the bruises on the face of a teenage friend who had been tied up in his parent’s basement, beaten, and thrown out by his dad.  The Matthew Sheppard case seemed easily plausible to many of us then because of the reality of violence toward us.  Why at the time would anyone who was or supported gay and bisexual people doubt the narrative?

After reading Jiminez’s compelling work I thought long and hard about what was represented to the public via the media. Any person who thinks about media enough will concede that it is often used to stir up emotions and even manipulate public thought and discourse.  But most of us think were discerning enough to see through anything nefarious.  In fact many of us would say we watch/read the “good” or “accurate” channel or newspaper.  Some say NPR or Democracy Now is the real deal whilst others say Fox or Breitbart is true.  But really almost all news is some way is owned by someone who has an agenda.  Maybe the agenda is only to make money, but what exactly is sacrificed to bring in more revenue (btw I’m in no way anti-capitalist)?  Is it possible that since all news sources ultimately wish to stay in business, that at some point they have to go with whatever the most compelling sound bite sized narrative is so people will keep paying attention to them?  Is it possible that in this dance of terror as a twisted form of entertainment, that accuracy sometimes goes out the window?

At the end of the day even facts can be subjective due to interpretations based on previous experiences and expectations. That being said, it’s always helpful for thinking people to have whatever facts are available and not purposely obscured.  Even better is to present information in a way that lets people decide for themselves what is or isn’t true when it comes to events, crimes, and situations.  William Randolph Hearst knew that neutrality didn’t sell papers nor did truth in its purer forms.  Before we vilify him though we must remember that he sold those papers filled with yellow journalism because people like you and me most likely bought them.  It’s likely even then people knew they weren’t being told of many of the facts but they just didn’t want to know that they knew.  Is media really any different today and are we any less (allowing of being) fooled, regardless of news source?

Hearst was also rather smart in his technique of expanding his readership by way of combining some facts or some truth with the narratives that were being disseminated. Few people are likely to bother reading/watching/listening to something that is perceived with assurance as false.  Some part of the story has to have a percentage of reality or potential for reality in order to peak interest.  A carrot must at least look like a carrot before we’re willing to take a bite and mass media is no different.  If a story comes out and we know the situation is possible because of previous experiences or narratives we’ve been exposed to, then we are more likely to take a proverbial bite.  As a lady who’s spent time in a boat with a rod and reel, I’ve learned they don’t call it fishing for nothing.

“The Book of Matt” presented new information about the potentially previously misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented narrative about Matthew Sheppard’s murder. Do I know for sure if he was killed for being gay or killed for methamphetamine dealing?  No.  None of us ever will except for those involved.  But now I have a different perspective that challenged me to discern what I was initially told.  If the tables had been turned and the story was represented with big flashing lights, tears, and drama about drugs, and a campaign had been launched that changed not only opinion but laws, and in reality his death was really more about him being gay, I’d feel the same way.  I’d feel like I would have liked to know more about the facts than the fiction of the event.

Today is June 23rd 2016 and the latest narrative about gay people has to do with a mass shooting at a gay themed nightclub in Florida.  Almost 20 years later we’re seeing the same flashing lights, tears, and drama.  Only this time we have not only TV, papers, and radio, we have social media that serves as the great distractor and constant reminder that whatever we’re being told by the media is “true”.  I don’t know about this Love is Love campaign but I can say tragedy is tragedy.  And if indeed a shooting occurred and people died, then this tragedy is no laughing matter regardless of the murder’s motives or who was involved.

Since we live in a time where people can and do sometimes question mass media in particular, stories have come out disputing the narrative around the whole event from whether it actually happened at all to if the killer’s motivation was hatred of gays. Most of us know by now it is easy to find people willing to lie so that they may get attention or money.  We also know attempts to shape opinion by how a story is told and what facts are or are not included is possible if not probable in a great deal of major stories (WMD’s for example).  We’re really no different from folks during Hearst’s journalistic reign.  If it seems to have the possibility of truth with enough attention grabbing technique, we’ll bite.  I’d like to think that nowadays we’d think a bit more before we chew and digest what is told to us.  And some do with websites and blogs featuring their version of truth and facts that differ greatly from the popular narratives.  Yet these sources I believe are no better or worse than those they seek to differentiate themselves from, especially if their information is also presented in a sensational way.

Personally I question the gay hate narrative from this Florida event and so does my wife and a number of other people. But I don’t have to seek out mainstream or alternative internet sources or any other narratives.  All I have to do is go with experiences from the past which helps me to employ a healthy dose of skepticism to anything I see or hear from a screen.  In addition because we don’t pay attention to the news and don’t participate in social media (other than this blog) my wife and I are able to sometimes see a bigger picture that is not obscured by the “bread & circus” of it all.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21) Our treasure is where we spend our time and where our money goes.  If my attention is spent getting emotional by purposely exposing myself to half-truths presented sensationally then that says a lot about my values or what I treasure.  Satan is the father of lies.  It’s important to remember that, which is why I pray for the Lord’s protection from the snares of evil in all things.

One more thing I want to say is that those going around saying “love is love is love is love” don’t represent me or my wife. The only reason I even found out about this Florida story is because an older and very emotional woman came up to us in the parking lot of our local organic grocer and started crying and touching us and telling us how we needed to “watch out for each other.”  Though I love my neighbor, I don’t appreciate being targeted by anyone, regardless of how well meaning they are, because I’m in a same-sex relationship.  We don’t like being used to further some possible agenda that we don’t belong to even if we appear to.  I’ve been contacted by old friends concerned for us and a currently married to a man ex. girlfriend told me she put a 20+ year old photo of us on her facebook profile page as what I assume was a sign of support for the victims in the Florida case.  Even family has sent photos with rainbows as a show of solidarity.  Typically when a major news story happens I can look away but this time it became personal, and my sense is all the hype has many people upset who care about gay and bisexual people.

But what happened in that bar has nothing to do with my family. Love is not dancing in a nightclub, getting inebriated, cruising for sex, or loud music.  That all may be fun for a lot of people regardless of romantic orientation but it is not love.  Perhaps the saying should be “fun is fun is fun” because people don’t generally go to bars and clubs for love but for fun.  And fun is fine.  This is a free country and since it’s legal to drink, dance, and cruise, then by golly people can do that.  But those activities don’t represent a shred of our lives as a couple now or when we got together.  We have no “gay lifestyle.”  A lifestyle is the way you live by way of who you spend time with, where you go, what you do, and what you pay attention to.  I don’t appreciate anyone assuming to know, regardless of intentions or alliances, what our so-called style of living is.  Yes I’m married to a woman but that is not who I am or how I live and I certainly don’t define real love by being in a crowded bar regardless of who is there.  Bias goes both ways in terms of liberal and conservative.  It’s ugly regardless.  Bias may sell papers and make people cry, but it doesn’t mean whatever media represents the event as, is or was, true.

No one speaks for our sake. Not gay movements, nor those trying to ban guns, nor those who say their looking out for “people like us.”   My wife and I are not interested in any rainbow lies (whether or not they are for supposedly our sake).  If it could happen to Matthew Sheppard, then it could be happening now. Don’t believe the hype indeed.

Apparently I Like Sipping Wine

For 16 years I did not touch a drop of alcohol.  When I did drink from the ages of 21-24 I drank like most young adults in the U.S. do, which is a lot.  Actually though after figuring it out with a friend, my drinking during that period was pretty mellow in comparison to most folks.  I got smashed somewhere between 5-10 times (smashed meaning drinking to the point of throwing up).  Quite frankly I hated & still hate throwing up so when an ex got me to try pot, I took to it like a dog to a bone until I retired my ways at 24.  Once weed came into the picture I hardly drank and when I drank I never focused on tasting the beverage.  The point when drinking until I found pot was to party.  The point of drinking after I found pot was to fill in if I ran out.

My high school drinking was also rather sub par in comparison to my peers and really, does anyone before 18 drink alcohol for the taste of it?  Did I sneak it sometimes?  Did I get drunk?  Yes to both questions, but I guess getting drunk twice & drinking about once a month from 16-18 years old is not very much.  Who knew?!

From 18 to 21 years and then age 24 to 2 months ago I didn’t touch any alcohol or  illegal (or now legal marijuana) substances.  I still won’t touch pot (or hard alcohol or drugs) with an 80 ft. pole but that’s another story.  Most of my adult life I’ve been sober.  Not just dry, but in recovery sober.  To be honest I always thought I would be, and today I’m so grateful to be out of recovery and know I’m not and never was an alcoholic.

There is a whole long story around how I came to be in and stay in AA and later Al-anon.  That will be a post for another time.  What I want to say today is that I have left behind a world that never truly felt genuine and for most of those 22 years I tried to make myself fit into a paradigm that never gave me any enduring joy, freedom, or serenity.  If alcohol panic is the means to spiritual enlightenment, then I’ll never get there.

Prior to trying drinking the wife & I came up with some rules.  First & foremost is that we pray before having a glass of wine or beer.  Someone recently thought that was odd when I told them, but we feel nothing should be hidden from the Lord.  Once I try to cover up (like Adam & Eve in the garden) anything I do, then it’s clear I ought not do it.  We also decided to pay attention to our behavior when drinking and committed to never get drunk.  There is a strong Biblical basis for this.

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. -Ephesians 5:18

The Bible discusses drinking, especially wine, quite a lot, in both the positive and negative.  There is debate between Christians about what the Word says regarding if believers should drink but it doesn’t appear to be an either/or issue.  What is not ok is drunkenness. And this makes sense because if I’m putting booze first, ultimately that’s idolatry.  In fact most of the times in the Bible where there is a lot of immorality going on, idol worship of various kinds is happening.  One could almost say idolatry & debauchery go together because when we’re not putting the Lord first, were swayed to follow foolish ways.

In a way this is what happened to me in 12 step recovery.  I put AA theology before Jesus Christ.

Over the last couple months our drinking has been tentative.  We’ve taken our explorations one by one asking for God’s protection along the way.  To my amazement not only am I able to stop at one drink, I prefer it!  It is not a joyful experience to feel buzzed.  My friend last week said “I like sipping wine rather than drinking it” and that is the perfect explanation for how I ingest it too.  It’s not a struggle to “keep from drinking too much” or something I have to think much about, though I do continue & will continue to pray about it.  One doesn’t go from brainwashed sober renegade to a lady who knows 2009 was a good year for wine in Chile without some scrutinizing of motives.

All that being said it has been very exciting to learn more about wine and craft beer.  It’s been fun to learn what I like (Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, sour ales, and semi dry ciders) and what I don’t (anything sweet or bitter).  At my first ever wine tasting at a lovely winery in Hillsboro I learned that I’m a natural at picking up subtle flavors in smelling and tasting wines and my palette could be of use in the wine business.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot to switch from a life of fear of drinking to working in a business that required my being able to make distinctions in tasting wine?!

How wonderful it has been to be set free and have choices.  Do I have to “control” my drinking?  Sure.  What in life don’t we attempt to control from eating to intimacy to having pets?  All the gifts God gives us requires us to think, evaluate, calibrate, and try to use the gifts to glorify Him.  But that’s what maturity is…having to make choices over and over again if and when we’ve gone too far and sinned.  Instead of eliminating something that is not in and of itself depraved, we bring our burdens to Jesus.

We have been blessed and protected in our wine adventures.  I have this great tee shirt that says “Jesus is enough.”  And truly He is!

 

 

Forbidden Trees

city tree

What are the forbidden trees in your life? This week I looked at the deception Eve experienced in Genesis 3.  Thanks to a study a godly friend lent me entitled “To Stand and Not be Moved” by Fran Sciacca, my understanding of what happened to Eve and how it affects my life has been of great impact.  Some Christians don’t talk much about Satan and this I believe is a real disservice to the church.  Some preachers say the Adversary is behind everything bad and other preachers say He & His evil doesn’t even exist.  I suspect Satan is more cunning than we give Him credit for, more pervasive than we realize, and yet His power over us can be fought.

In Eden Eve was distracted from seeing the bounty of beautiful edible trees that surrounded her because the Adversary got her to simply change her focus. His first communication to her was a subtle yet pointed question: “…Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden? (Genesis 3:1)”  Talk about a loaded question!  This is literally the original loaded question.  At this point Satan didn’t have to make a promise, do a song and dance, or make the fruit more pretty.  He asked a leading question that she decided to respond to.  Her sin began not when she ate the fruit.  Nor did it begin when she believed His lies about becoming immortal and being a god that knows good from evil.  Her sin didn’t even really begin when she was distracted.  It began when she lost her gratefulness for God’s bounty.

The story of original sin demonstrates some clear points on the road of sin. This is my interpretation & I always encourage you the reader to have a Berean mindset about anything I say.  So with that in mind:

Points on the road to sin

  • Not being thankful to God for His many blessings
  • Distraction, usually by subtle means
  • Doubt in our Lord
  • Attempting to usurp God (ie. There is no God, God is in me, we are all Gods, etc.)
  • Pride in ourselves
  • Becoming less happy
  • Becoming fooled and lacking good judgment
  • Attempting to self sooth with sin after sinning or feeling shame

This is not exact and varies in a given situation but overall some or all the points happen. For example Eve became distracted by Satan and changed her focus to the forbidden tree because she was susceptible to it. She was vulnerable to this ploy because her heart at that moment wasn’t thankful for God’s enormous bounty. From there all it took was the most subtle of distractions which was Satan getting her to change her focus from bounty to what was forbidden and what she didn’t/couldn’t have (what appeared to be missing in her life).

Her doubt wasn’t articulated but was demonstrated when she believed the serpent, rather than obeying God’s commandment to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was at that point she chose to doubt what God told her and believe some-one or some-thing else. When the Adversary told Eve she could be a god and she believed Him, she was trying to usurp God and His authority. Her pride came from the desire to gain wisdom from the forbidden fruit that she was deceived about. She wanted to be smart, immortal, and a god for what purpose? Because she thought it would make her, as we say in the West Coast, totally awesome. Without gratefulness for God’s abundance, without knowing one’s proper place in life, without believing all she needed was or would be provided for, she was ultimately unhappy with her circumstances, though she was in God’s bountiful garden.

In unhappiness, pride, doubt, and deception, it becomes much easier to be fooled and make foolish choices that harm. Eve took that fruit because her judgement was poor. John 7:24 tells us to judge righteous judgement rather than go off appearances. Jeremiah 17:5-12 demonstrates that when man trusts in man (or serpent) above God his heart will be departed from the Lord & he will “inhabit the parched places in the wilderness.” Those that trust God shall not be moved like a tree planted near water that always bears fruit. Eve was not strong like that an unmovable tree because she was weakened first by ingratitude and eventually by a wicked unhappy heart. Eve became a fool, fooled Adam, and experienced the pain that comes from separation from the Lord.

Now I’m sure you dear reader have never experienced what Eve went through so I’ll use myself as an example of what that road to sin has looked like. Now keep in mind this happened rather quickly & quite frankly I had forgotten it until I prayed in repentance for something unrelated. Anyway I was at Trader Joe’s with the wife and checking out with the cashier. As the young man started to scan our items, I saw one item go past the scanner but didn’t hear it make a beep sound as it went by. I looked at that bottle, then looked to see if the price of it showed up on the display, didn’t see it, and thought “I’m not saying anything.” Now keep in mind I pray several times a day and thought that was enough. But in Trader Joe’s I was distracted by all the goodies and at that given moment I was very distracted because I thinking about the conversation I had just listened to between the previous customer and the cashier.

On another post I’ll talk about why I don’t pay much attention to politics and especially this particular presidential election, but for now I’ll just say I was disturbed by what I heard and well, annoyed that I had to overhear the conversation. My heart wasn’t grateful for being able to buy food at such low prices or for the car that brought us to the store or for my wife being there so I didn’t have to push the cart or most importantly, that the Almighty had blessed us with so much at that moment. My distraction was not sought out yet I was tempted by thinking about how different I wished modern day politics would be. I forgot about the Lord and instead of having faith in His plan, in my pride thought of how things should be, according to…well me.

In that moment I made myself into a god and became all the unhappier for it (even if it was momentary). Though I don’t believe I consciously said to myself “hey getting this product for free with make things better” I fooled myself into thinking doing something that is against my morals & values (stealing) was ok because it wasn’t direct. It was subtle and of poor judgement. Ironically when I looked at the receipt a day later it turned out we did in fact pay for the product. But I had already committed theft in my heart and it all started because I didn’t look to “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2).

Am I saying “the Devil made me do it?” Not necessarily but I’m still working out theologically what such a saying might mean for me. If indeed Satan is more pervasive & subtle than I understood then maybe a Trader Joe’s visit is indeed a lesson on what vulnerability to Satan looks like. Perhaps this is the most boring “confession” you’ve ever read but I don’t care. When I repented this sin my heart became less foolish, unhappy, prideful, and ungrateful (Romans 1:21-22). Yet the good news is that I am more free thanks to confessing to Jesus and so very thankful that he saved not only my soul, but gave us His holy Word to live our lives by.

What is the forbidden fruit in your life? Where does your lack of thankfulness bring unhappiness? What is in the rest of your garden? What has God Almighty given you? For me it is clear being in the world means there will be both times of need and times of abundance and usually they occur at once. I take much comfort in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he says:

I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound:to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

 

 

 

Don’t Go There or There or There

love saves

Within the span of three weeks there were four different encounters I had where my faith was involved and there was either rejection or mercy. Actually 3 out of the 4 instances involved less than good fruit yet one was the epitome of James 3:13-18.

The first encounter occurred after a preliminary search to join a Bible study in town. Because my spouse and I are not members of a church community yet (because we have either been not welcomed or have been not able to abide by a particular churches theology) a friend, after hearing of my desire to find others to worship with, suggested I join a Bible study.  Many if not most churches have them, but again, this would involve trying to find a church that makes sense.  Instead of searching church by church to find such a study I went onto my favorite search engine and looked up Portland-Oregon-Bible-Study.  It turned out the website Meet Up had groups holding Bible study’s so I joined the site (though I hate joining anything online) and inquired with some groups about their study.

A group suggested to me was a Portland LGBT Christian group that showed that they have Bible studies and other activities like book clubs, dinners together, etc. Though I don’t identify as gay per se, the sex of my spouse sort of puts me in that category by default, and so there you go. I was allowed to join the group and was informed about an upcoming book group where Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” would be discussed.  Having worked with religious books for years I knew that Borg had very liberal and to us, heretical beliefs that we feel contradict basic tenants of Christianity.  Because of this book pick, which sadly didn’t surprise me in some ways, it seemed time to ask the group leader if this was a group that would be beneficial to us and us to them.

My questions included how we may fit into such a group since we believe the Bible is the Word of God and infallible. I asked if books along the lines of theology that Borg and those of his ilk (including Matthew Fox, Henri Nouwen, Harry Emerson Fosdick) espouse were the norm for book picks.  Finally I asked if a more “conservative” couple that seeks to live out 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 in all we do, would be accepted into the group and find other kindred Christians like us there.  All this I asked respectfully with a willingness to answer any questions or clarify any statements.  My wife checked over my email and felt it was direct yet gentle, reasonable, and without negativity.

The response? I received an email 2 days later from Meet Up explaining that I had been removed from the group.  In addition I was blocked from being able to contact the organizer with any further communication.

The second encounter involved a cashier I’ve been acquainted with for years at our local co-op. After casually asking her if she had any Easter plans, she went on to tell me about an article she read recently about the poet Nikki Giovanni.  She noted that the poet was raised Baptist and now rejects the faith because of its obsession with death.  The cashier went on to note that wearing a cross was a further symbol of a culture of death and that those who wear them probably celebrate the electric chair or gallows.  That day I just happened to be wearing my largest and most ornate cross due to Easter week.  I pulled it out as she shared and asked without malice “you mean like this one?”  The cashier went on to literally make a gag sound, say yuck, and continue her comments.

Since we are hoping to find a church community to join, the third encounter involved calling a Lutheran church a few miles from our home to inquire about their overall theology and if we, as a same sex couple, would be tolerated and/or accepted. Though neither of us know much about Lutherans other than that some family members are, we thought “why not?” so when I got the pastor on the phone I prayed and asked him if their theology was influenced by New Ageism or Christian authors who were influenced by types of spirituality that deviates from the Bible.  My second question was about my wife & me attending, with the clarification that we have no interest in changing the church as is, and respect their right to religious freedom.

The pastor answered my questions honestly and respectfully. Though he made no effort to get to know me or what my spouse and I were about, and assumed that which he cannot see. I appreciated him being upfront in letting me know that, no, they do not preach another gospel, and no, we would not be allowed to become members (only visitors) of his church.

In three weeks I experienced 3 kinds of rejection. In the first, apparently we were “too” Christian.  In the second, I was apparently too obsessed with the death of Jesus.  And in the third I was too gay.  How can one be both too Christian and too gay?  I have no idea! Thank the Lord that the above mentioned scenarios have taught me the road is indeed narrow and to follow it, it means the road looking very different from how we might have imagined.

Interestingly this week I had two dreams involving narrow roads. In one I had to walk upon a narrow dirt path in the woods carrying an ill pit bull mix to find it some help.  In the other, my wife and I were in a car on a skinny one lane road in the middle of the ocean, being driven by a confident and bubbly young lady.  In both dreams I had to leave fear behind and trust I’d get to where I needed to go.  I’m reminded of Matthew 14:22-33 where Peter trusted Jesus and walked on the water.  Since I have given my life over the Jesus I’m continually amazed by where being His follower has taken me.  After the three above encounters I felt moments of rejection.  Rejection is a really great way to take away one’s hope and plant disturbing seeds of hypocrisy that have to power to wither bodies and souls.

But this is when we Christians faithful to God’s Word are blessed! Luke tells us in chapter six that it is when we’re reproached, rejected, and hated for being believers that we can rejoice for our reward is great in heaven.

One could argue that in the third situation I was not rejected for being too Christian but not Christian enough!  That I refuse to repent for my marriage and get legally divorced from my wife so I may enter the kingdom.  This reminds me of the seven Woes’ in Matthew 23.  We sometimes attempt say certain people, based on the potentially poor judgment of going by what we cannot really see, cannot enter the kingdom and shut doors (physical & metaphorical) to them without having taken any time to know them.  We try to make believers into our own image rather than God’s.  We tell people they must follow the rules of this church or that sect or some other theology that is not in the Bible or misinterpreted.  We trade legalism for the heart of the law.  We all do it not only as the faithful but as humans in whatever set of beliefs we follow.

When we persecute other Christians (or anyone) regardless of what their sin or perceived sin is, we sin. Yes we can separate ourselves, but we first learn who someone is and attempt to meet them & hear them.  No matter what our final decision is about their place in our lives, churches, or organizations, we love them, pray for them, and remain peaceable and without hypocrisy (let me know if you’ve perfected that).

So girding my emotional loins I called a church a friend’s friend had recommended on our behalf. Having just had those dreams previously mentioned, I felt it was time to change my approach.  Just as I want people to meet with and get to know us beyond whatever labels others define us by, I also want to meet and get to know them.  I called this church and spoke with one of the pastors explaining that we’d like to meet with the appropriate clergy to discuss potentially going there.  My situation was briefly explained and I told him that more than anything, we just want to worship the Lord with others who are devoted to Him, without deviation from the Bible.  His response?  Excitement!  The main pastor is currently out of town so he suggested we set up a time to meet with both pastors.  He was everything written in James 3:17.  Pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, merciful, impartial, and without hypocrisy.  Our conversation bore good fruit because we both communicated in the vein of James 3:13.  I could even tell we may have some disagreement on points, but that we respected each other as believers growing in Christ.

To be true to our faith doesn’t mean we sign off on what isn’t acceptable to us. It also doesn’t mean we blindly reject others either.  This was not the narrow road I expected, but God continues to give me the strength to walk it.  We are blessed indeed!