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For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Friday, October 30, 2015

How God revealed to me that "He" wasn't a small god

In a comment that I offered about my last post, I referenced a post over at The God Article w/ Mark Sandlin entitled "A Minister's Letter to a Small God." You can view that piece at this address: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/2015/10/a-ministers-letter-to-a-small-god/ In the post, the author describes how he gradually came to the conclusion that the god that most people worship wasn't worthy of such adoration and respect.

Well, I have my own story to tell in that regard. In a private response to my last post, it became clear to me that some of the folks who read this blog on a regular basis are not familiar with my own background and story. Although I have shared parts of my story in previous posts, it occurred to me that it would be easy for folks to miss a post here and there and consequently miss some or all of the story behind my expansive views regarding the nature of God. Hence, I am offering this more complete treatment of my own story to explain how this blogger came to be aware of the fact that God cannot be contained.

I was aware of God at an early age. I remember my grandmother reading the Bible to me as a toddler. I also recall laying across my father's bed, next to my younger brother, and listening to Garner Ted Armstrong talk about God on my dad's little transistor radio. These experiences had a profound impact on me. As a boy, I began reading the Bible on my own and studying the literature of the Worldwide Church of God. Moreover, although my father did not join the church, I began attending on my own as a teenager and was baptized into that organization at the tender age of seventeen (something almost unheard of in that church).

All of this irrespective of the fact that I was physically attracted to members of my own gender. I was convinced that those feelings were wrong and dirty, and that God would help me to overcome them. As a consequence, I pursued a life within what I believed to be God's one and only TRUE church. Indeed, I was so scared and repressed with regard to anything sexual that I ignored both genders throughout my adolescent years. I did not date or establish intimate/close friendships with anyone during this period. I told myself that I was saving myself for marriage, but the prospect of marriage really scared me and seemed a remote possibility. Looking back on it now, I was a miserable, opinionated and self-righteous young man who had a very narrow view of myself, God and the world around me.

And then, wonder of wonders, I met a bright, attractive young woman in college. I felt comfortable around her. I could talk to her. Even more astounding than my own interest, this young lady appeared to be interested in me! For the first time in my life, I began dating (I was 24 years old at the time). In time, I grew to love Darlene and began to imagine that it might be possible for me to have a "normal" life. After all, wasn't that what God expected/wanted/demanded?

There was, however, one big problem (other than the fact that I was GAY): Darlene was not a member of the one and only true church. Why was this a problem? Because we (the members of the church) were not supposed to be unequally yoked - we were not permitted to date outside of the church! Being the innocent, naïve and silly young man that I was back then, I went to the ministry and told them about Darlene. Much to my surprise, instead of compassion and understanding, I was immediately disfellowshipped/excommunicated for breaking the church's dating rules!

The Lake of Fire yawned before me. What was I to do? I was on the outside of the one and only true church. Nevertheless, I knew that this might be my one and only opportunity to have a "normal" life - to do what God expected all men and women to do. I wanted to have children. I desperately wanted to be within God's will and to do what I thought God wanted me to do. What was the right decision?

I broke up with Darlene. I was miserable, and she was too. Even so, I was told that I would not be allowed to return to church until I had "fully repented" of my sins. Now I was really alone. Talk about depression - I can tell you a thing or two about the "black dog."

In the meantime, my father had joined an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God that had been founded by that same Garner Ted Armstrong whom I had listened to as a child. In desperation, I wrote to my dad for advice. I poured my heart out to him and asked him what I should do.

Miraculously, in spite of everything that had happened, Darlene was even interested in my religion. The church, however, was not interested in her.

My father quickly wrote back to me. His letter was full of compassion and assurance that God had not abandoned me. He would not tell me what to do, but he assured me that God would be with me if I asked for "His" help and guidance.

I decided to marry Darlene. Suddenly, it became clear to me that God was bigger than the Worldwide Church of God. I had an epiphany: A God of love and mercy would not condemn me to a life of loneliness and hopelessness.

Of course, none of this addressed the much bigger problem that underpinned everything else that was going on - I was a closeted and repressed homosexual! Even so, I told myself that God would bless my efforts to live the kind of life that "He" wanted me to live. Selfishly, it never crossed my mind just how unfair I was being to Darlene. I didn't allow myself to stop and think about how a Gay man could possibly expect to satisfy the physical and emotional needs of an attractive and vibrant heterosexual female. I told myself (truthfully) that I loved her, and that that would be enough.

But, it wasn't enough. Although we had two beautiful little girls together (the joy of my life), the marriage was falling apart. I was a reasonably good dad and provider, but I sucked as a husband. Oh sure, I was technically faithful to my marriage vows; but the entire relationship was built on a lie. I was not (and never would be) sexually attracted to females.

I wanted to overcome my "perversion." I wanted to do what was right in God's sight. I had prayed. I had begged God to change me - to make me "whole." Why hadn't God answered my prayers? Hadn't I done everything in my power to do what "He" wanted me to do?

The marriage finally collapsed under the weight of my own self-denial. To say that I was bitter and disillusioned would be the understatement of the century! How could God allow this to happen? Hadn't I done everything that "He" expected of me? Hadn't I done the right thing?

For a time, Darlene and I went our separate ways. We all suffered (the girls, Darlene and me).

Eventually, however, Darlene and I were able to focus on the love that we shared for the beautiful daughters whom we had created together. We both came to realize that they were more important than our petty differences and mistakes. We both came to understand that God was much bigger than we had thought "He" was when we first met each other. For the first time in our lives, we were honest with each other and God about who we were and what was really important to us in life. And, we finally forgave each other and fully accepted each other exactly where we were. In short, we embraced reality and a much bigger conception of God and what It wanted for us and our children.

Darlene and I have lived together as friends, parents, companions and family for many years now. She has stood by me through thick and thin. She is my very best friend in the world, and I love her with all of my heart. We have been devoted to God, our children, grandchildren and each other for years; and I can't imagine any other kind of life now.

Yes, I am still a homosexual. I will always be a homosexual (at least, as long as I inhabit this tabernacle). And, although I now believe that I would be free to engage in a committed relationship with another man if I chose to do so, I have learned that fidelity/faithfulness extends to things way beyond a physical relationship between two people. Love is much more complex and diverse than I ever imagined before. Moreover, my current circumstances (of not being in a homosexual relationship or overtly acting on those feelings) enables me to be a voice with the weight of a considerable amount of moral authority on the subject of homosexuality (and sexual orientation in general).

I have learned that God's grace is sufficient to save me (and any other homosexual who wants it). God is big enough to love me, to help me and to someday enable me to stand in His/Her presence! I no longer believe that God hates me, or that "He" is capable of hating anyone. I now understand that men have created an image of God that is inconsistent with the reality of God. And, I can now clearly see that even men and women who are (or have been) inspired by God are capable of making mistakes and presenting false ideas about God and "His" will. Even a book as grand, beautiful and special as the Bible is not big enough to contain God or explain all of "His" purposes. In short, God is much greater than you or I have ever imagined!

Anyway, that's my story; and I'm sticking to it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

There they go again!

Wayne Hendrix (this blogger's father) and Bill Watson of the Church of God International (CGI) are featured in yet another web chat on that organization's website. It is entitled "Satan and Demons," and can be viewed here: http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2015/10/15/satan-and-demons As with many of the group's recent offerings, the discussion is eventually diverted to a negative commentary on homosexuality. Hence, if one was expecting a serious theological discussion on the nature of the Devil and his minions, that person will be sadly disappointed in this program.

In the piece, homosexuality is labeled as a satanic perversion of the God ordained purposes for sex and marriage. Although they stop just short of saying that homosexuals are demon possessed, they strongly imply that Satan and his minions are behind the phenomenon. They reason that since human reproduction is a reflection of God's plan of salvation for mankind, and that human reproduction is only accomplished through the union of one man and one women, that a sexual relationship between two members of the same gender is thereby shown to fall short of God's standard. They go on to imply that homosexuality is an addiction that must be overcome by those who are afflicted with the condition and equate it with drug addiction and alcoholism! They conclude their discussion of homosexuality with a warning that those who indulge in the behavior are opening themselves up to demonic influence. Really guys?

What about sexual intercourse as an expression of love between two people? What about sexual intercourse as the symbolic melding of two souls into one? If marriage is solely for the purpose of reproduction, then why are heterosexuals who are physically incapable of having children permitted to marry or have sex? What about older folks who remarry after the mother/father of their adult children has died? What about those couples who choose not to have any children? Are same sex couples who adopt or care for children contributing to human reproduction? Isn't this CGI argument against homosexual relationships a little simplistic and tired?

As for their reference to addiction, most experts would say that almost ANYTHING that humans enjoy has the POTENTIAL for turning into addictive behavior. Smoking, drinking, eating, taking drugs, gambling, shopping, sporting, watching television, internet surfing and having sex can all become addictive behaviors. For instance, there are some heterosexuals who are addicted to pornography and having sex with multiple partners. There are some heterosexual men who think about women, their bodies and having sex with them all of the time (some would characterize that as an addiction). Likewise, there are homosexuals who are afflicted with the same kind of sexual addictions.

Nevertheless, we should all be able to see that it would be inappropriate to say that all heterosexuals or homosexuals are in the grips of a sexual addiction. We should also all be able to acknowledge that sexual attraction does not qualify as an addiction. Are young heterosexual males who think about young females sexual addicts? Is physical attraction or sexual desire inherently addictive? Does the enjoyment of an occasional beer or glass of wine make one an alcoholic? I would be very interested to hear some answers to these questions from Mr. Hendrix or Mr. Watson, but I'm not going to hold my breath until I do.

As for the "Prince of the Power of the Air," I expect "he" is having a good chuckle right now. Satan must find it extremely amusing and satisfying that "he" has so thoroughly deceived the world about the nature of human sexuality. That Old Serpent has been very successful in making most of us ashamed of our own bodies. Lucifer must be extremely proud of the fact that "he" has succeeded in turning something that God ordained to be enjoyable, beautiful and good into something that is regarded as disgusting, hideous and evil by a majority of Christians. We are told in Scripture that Satan is the father of lying - that "he" likes to twist and pervert that which is holy and good. I don't know about you, but it certainly seems to me that the Prince of Darkness has scored a dramatic triumph relative to the way that most people (especially Christians) think about sex.

I know that God has the power to change hearts and minds, but "He" clearly has "His" work cut out for "Him" on this one! And I'd like to leave my readers with a warning of my own (well, OK, I wasn't the first person to issue this warning): The standard you use in judging others is the standard by which you will be judged by Almighty God!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Glory of God

My favorite time of the year is here again: Autumn. I love the beautiful fall colors everywhere I look: The crimson red Sumac along the roadsides; the orange, yellow, pink and red of the Maples; the multi-colored Oaks and Sweet Gums; and the Golden Rod and purple Asters. They are glorious!

And what about the processes which are responsible for this show? The process within the leaf that replaces the green chlorophyll of summer with the other pigments of fall. Also, the structures and process within our own eyes and brains that allow us to appreciate them. What a magnificent and complex phenomenon it is!

Even so, we must remember that this is just one small part of our world. It is one aspect of an even more grand and complex system that we experience as residents of planet earth, which is one small corner of a vast and glorious universe!

I love to stand outside on a starry night and gaze up into the heavens and think about the billions of stars out there (many of them with planets swirling around them. I wonder about how many of them contain water - maybe even life. Scientists have determined that water exists on other celestial bodies in our own solar system, and they've recently discovered that water still flows on the surface of Mars! What an exciting time to be alive!

I think too about the glorious complexity of my own body and its many systems. There is a complex system that allows me to respire, circulate blood, digest food, eliminate waste and experience the world around me. I understand well the statement of the psalmist reflecting on the construction of his own body that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." When I think about the things of which the human brain is capable, I am humbled. Consider the art, music and architecture that mankind has created through the ages. Think about the mind power that produced the Theory of Relativity!

All of these things are glorious, but they're only bits and pieces of a much grander whole. The universe is full of beauty and complexity. And yet everything in it is composed of the basic building blocks that we call atoms. Moreover, atoms are themselves composed of sub-atomic particles and held together by forces that we are really only beginning to understand.

What is the point of all of this musing about us and our surroundings? How do these things relate to the glory of God?

God is greater than the sum total of all of the parts! Try to imagine, try to appreciate the mind behind all of these phenomena. David said: "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world." (Psalm 19:1-4) Paul told the Romans that non-believers are without excuse: "They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature." (Romans 1:19-20)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is God Disgusted By Girls Who Menstruate?

A friend forwarded me an article that appeared on NPR yesterday. The article is entitled "A Girl Gets Her Period And Is Banished To the Shed." You can view the article here: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/10/17/449176709/horrible-things-happen-to-nepali-girls-when-they-menstruate-15girls The article was written by Jane Greenhalgh and Michaeleen Doucleff, and it's riveting.

The authors tell the stories of two beautiful young Nepali girls, Kamala (14) and Prakriti (15). Sadly, Kamala is forced by her family and friends to live in a shed when she is on her period. The authors report: "Kamala believes that if she enters the house while she's menstruating, the people and animals will get sick. The gods will be angry and she'll bring a curse onto the house. She's also been told her hands will curl up and become deformed." Likewise, Prakriti told the authors "When I'm having my period, I can't touch my grandmother, I can't eat while she's eating. I can't touch the table while she's eating. I can't touch my father, I can't touch my mother."

The initial reaction of most Westerners to these stories will probably be one of horror and outrage that young girls could be subjected to such treatment in this day and age. Many will make disparaging comments about the Hindu religion that inspired such treatment. Nevertheless, many of these same folks will gather in Christian churches today and proudly profess that every word in the Bible on their laps is from God. But how many of them have read what that book says about females who menstruate?

We read in the book of Leviticus: "Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening. Anything on which the woman lies or sits during the time of her period will be unclean. If any of you touch her bed, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. This includes her bed or any other object she has sat on; you will be unclean until evening if you touch it." (Leviticus 15:19-23, NLT) By the way, these instructions follow others that pronounce a male who happens to have a wet dream unclean for a day. (verses 16-18)

Several questions come to mind: Is menstruation a natural biological process? Where did it come from? If God designed women's bodies to function in such a manner, how can "He" declare it/them to be unclean? Is the blood that flows through our veins dirty? Is semen a dirty and disgusting fluid? Where did these notions originate? Did they originate in the mind of God? Or are they the product of ignorant and primitive men and societies that did not understand human biology and bodily functions? What do you think?