Wild the World

Before anything else: I am 2/2 for cute Chicago Airbnb cats, this one was so very bedraggled and old and too precious for this world. We had us a good snuggle.

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This past week, I attended the Q Christian Fellowship annual conference in Chicago. And it was a lot. Basically, a bunch of queer people and allies talking about Jesusy stuff. I’ll tell you a little about it, and my feelings about it, but then I want to take some time to tell you about one of the main things that I heard and want to remember.

So. I drove down Thursday morning, arrived that afternoon, met people and did stuff and kept doing that until Sunday morning when I left. It was pretty non-stop. I didn’t go in with super high expectations for two reasons: I’m not really connected with the organization itself much and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be; and conferences in general aren’t typically a format that I love, especially when I barely know anyone there, because big groups are a strong no from me usually (this conference was ~1,400).

In the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the conference part–the general sessions, the breakouts on various topics, the activities and organized things in general. I wouldn’t say that I was deeply moved by much of it but it was well-done and I enjoyed that part more than I expected to.

The meeting people part was difficult, of course, because that’s how I do, but I think I managed alright. Met in-person a number of people I kind of knew online, so that was nice, and met some other people for the first time in any context. Hopefully, at least a couple of those relationships will continue/grow. It would be really nice to have friends, real friends, that I talk to regularly from this group. Getting there.

I won’t list for you here the topics and specifics of the things that I did, though you’re welcome to ask me. I’ll just take a sec to try and describe how it felt being there and then finish up with the thing I can’t stop thinking about.

It was kind of like Pride–but with an even smaller and more specific affinity group. In other words, there was a shared experience that connected us implicitly with nearly everyone there; that connection is something that I rarely feel in my everyday life and I recognize just how precious it is. To hear the thoughts I’ve thought in my darkest moments spoken by another, to feel a thousand hearts that have hurt and beat and come alive just like mine.

We all live unique experiences, of course, but occasions like that make me feel known and un-alone in deep and powerful ways.


One of the sessions I went to discussed the formation of an ethical framework. The speaker used two lenses to describe how it might be done: bounded or centered. Bounded being where behavior is circumscribed by rules and centered where behavior is evaluated based on core values. She had two metaphors for this. The former is like livestock in pens–moving, eating, drinking is controlled by fences that also protect the livestock from the dangerous wild animals outside. The latter is more like a watering hole–animals come and go, their movement and behavior is unrestrained, but all must come to the water because it is the source of life.

This idea kind of radically changed the way I think about things–not because I was suddenly thinking differently but because I finally had a comprehensive way to think about things I already was moving toward. So that was cool. Lots of things to think about this. I actually drove back on Sunday and immediately went to lead an small group where I kind of co-opted the topic to bring this up, had some great conversations.

But in the midst of explaining this metaphor, the speaker said something that has been echoing in my mind all week.

God is re-wilding the world

I don’t even know if I can tell you how much I am in love with this idea. It builds on so many things I think and feel.

In the most direct context, she was talking about how God is in the work of freeing us from our rigid, legalistic fences and allowing us to live together in diversity by acknowledging the core values we share and the centrality of Jesus to all of us. That’s awesome, especially because the conference itself contains such diversity on pretty much every aspect of life.

But I believe it can be expanded further. Another idea I heard at the conference, as a part of talking about queer theory, is that a queer lens, like feminist and Marxist ones before it, offers a way to interpret the world that upends existing systems of power. Ethics is not the only area in life where people erect fences. There are labels and containment structures all over the place–gender and sexuality, of course, and race and ethnicity and nationality and ability and education and politics and age and socioeconomic status and so on and so on and so on.

Part of the gift that I bring to God’s kingdom and to the world as a queer person is my ability to re-wild some part of the world. I very much think that God is in the business of erasing our artificial and often harmful, if sometimes convenient and useful, barriers. God is not a God of walls. He invites us, ever so gently and graciously, to come drink at the watering hole and welcomes us gladly whenever and however we may arrive there.

I have so many thoughts, metaphorical and concrete, about what this may look like and what it means for us. But I am reminded of something a pastor of mine often said growing up, in reference to the communion table: Come not because you must, but because you may.

So come, let us drink from the watering hole, and let us make the world a little bit more wild.

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His Law is Love

Although I’ve been anticipating Christmas for some time, it has once again kind of caught me off guard. Snuck up on me. How is it so soon? In Korea, I could understand, but how am I not prepared? I mean, I am prepared in the most direct sense but I feel like I need another couple weeks to really be adequately mindful of it. Alas, I guess.

Anyway, I will be flying home for break which is very nice. This week here has seen almost all the snow melt away so I don’t think I’ll be missing out on a white Christmas. Importantly, the Christmas party that I could not hold last year has been reinstated. So that’s a yay.

I have some thoughts below and they may be a little scatterbrained but, like Thanksgiving, I feel like I ought to say important things to indicate how important Christmas is to be. So I try. That’s all that can be asked. I hope you have had and will continue to face a lovely holiday season.


Phrase that I heard this week which moved me: participate in love. I’m not sure why it struck me so, it’s not an unfamiliar concept to me. But here I am, deeply reminded. Love takes work. To take part in loving is to exert effort to make that love blossom. Doesn’t matter if it’s romantic, platonic, familial, neighborly. It’s not enough to refrain from roughness, one must be tender. It’s not enough to allow relationship, one must pursue it.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my favorite carol is O Holy Night and my favorite part is the title of this post. Lately, I’ve been pondering theology a bit. Not reading and researching but more just evaluating where I’ve come from and where I think I might be going. How important is it to me that other people believe exactly as I believe.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the only thing that matters is love. Christmas brings to my mind the immediacy of love–the whole premise of Immanuel, it seems to me, is giving us as much evidence of God’s unconditional and incomprehensible love as we humans can handle. Jesus fulfilled the law. The time of the black/white, yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad dualism is over. This is not to say that moral relativism is the point of Jesus. I retain a moral and ethical framework that I have developed and am still developing in response to faith.

However. We tried a system of ‘rules first, love second’ and I don’t think it worked well. Let’s try love first and see where that gets us. Because honestly, I can’t conceive of the desperately irreligious nature of casting out your own children because they’re gay (or whatever the case may be).

And let’s be mindful of participation in love. Love cannot be expressed passively. One must do in order to love. It does not always have to be big–loving cats does not generally require a great deal–but sometimes it does. Sometimes loving requires enormous sacrifices, sacrifices of time or of money or of vulnerability. Love asks much.

But one of my favorite things about being a disciple of love is that it is patient, it is kind, it forgives. In the end, love actually requires nothing. It may ask but mostly it gives, and gives generously.

When I say the law is love, I do not mean to imply that there are criminal proceedings and punishments when we do not succeed in loving well. I mean more that love is the color of the universe and to grow close to its creator is to paint with that color as beautiful a picture as we are able.

To participate in love takes work. But Love is not a demanding god. It is not laborious drudgery but a work of joy, peace, hope, and faith.

I’m really wandering now but I hope you get the gist. Love is just so important to me. And if God really is love, then I will always believe in the power of the love that came down at Christmas.

Kind

This week of vacation has been very pleasant for me. Mostly, I have done nothing, or nothing of note. I did take a quick trip to Cheboygan–or, let me rephrase, I drove three hours to Cheboygan, spent maybe forty-five minutes there, then drove three hours back through a bit of a snowstorm. Not much to see or do in Cheboygan, MI but I did get to look at Lake Huron which was the point.

Yesterday, had a lovely time seeing Ralph Breaks the Internet with friends, going to an Asian buffet (apparently the best in Traverse City, which is a tough time), and then eating the pumpkin pies I made and chatting the evening away. Very well enjoyed.

I don’t expect much in the way of happenings today, other than calling up relatives, as one does on Thanksgiving. I’m sure the video chat will be passed willy-nilly around and I won’t get dizzy at all. It’s cold outside (last night had a low of 14°F) and there’s plenty of snow on the ground so I’ll be tucked away inside all day and I’m perfectly content with that.

Anyway, a few quick thoughts on today that almost led me to title this post The Walk but I did not because while seeing another movie this week, this song was playing on repeat in my head and very nearly bringing me to tears.


The thing about me posting my blog on Thursdays is that I always post on Thanksgiving. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Trying to have good words for you on a holiday that I very much care about. Trying to think of things that feel as weighty as the premise of a holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

Words, however powerful, are only words. I do believe, strongly, in the strength of words. Actions, though, are the very substance of life. So on this day, and more frequently hereafter, may we not only give lip service to gratitude but may we allow our words of thanks to change us. May we not only say “Peace on earth” but also act as peacemakers. May we not only say “Love your neighbor” but also act in kindness to people different from ourselves. May we live out the things we say, and behave as though we believed in our own ideals.

This kind of sentiment is expressed well in the words of John F. Kennedy in his  Thanksgiving proclamation of 1963. I don’t really hold with the quasi-deification of the founding fathers, but I appreciate that it emphasizes the ideals toward which, in our best moments, we can strive.

Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers —  for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Decency of purpose. Why do we do what we do? Why are we who we are? I’m not sure, but I am thankful that each day is another chance to figure it out.

Reading and contemplating these sentiments, I am mindful of a line from 1 John: “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” In other words, may we not talk the talk but walk the walk.


Also this week, I went to see the movie Boy Erased. I have no eloquent words for it. It made me sad. It made me hurt. It was important.

It made me grateful for all I have, for the world that has changed around me, and for a knowledge of self and of God that leaves only room for love.

I am thankful that I am happy and whole. I am thankful that my God is kind. I am thankful that I am myself. In this time, I pray that you feel–beyond any doubt or fear or hurt or guilt–loved.

A Love of Books

I have found another link in the chain of my past lives in the person of Richard de Bury (24 January 1287 – 14 April 1345). He seems to have been an exceptional man and I can only hope to approach his love of books as epitomized in his grand work, The Philobiblon. Writing and subsequently reading this work, which I’d like to discuss at some length, appears to be about the best possible use of anyone’s time in the fourteenth century.

I just need you to be prepared for what will follow. I will elaborate upon that volume and that is all that the rest of this post contains.

First, I would like to share with you the titles of the twenty chapters because each and every one is so wonderful and delightful.

  1. That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books
  2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Books
  3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books
  4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted
  5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners
  6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants
  7. The Complaint of Books against Wars
  8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books
  9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns
  10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books
  11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law
  12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared
  13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets
  14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books
  15. Of the advantages of the love of Books
  16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old
  17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books
  18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure
  19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students
  20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers

This guy seriously loved books and, therefore, is a hero. Loving books was neither a common nor a generally acceptable pastime in medieval England.

I must confess, I have not read The Philobiblon in its entirety. However, I have perused a large number of quotations and have found them, one and all, to be exceedingly correct and meaningful and wow. I will not here present all of them but I do want to call a couple to your attention.

How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity.

The chapter goes on to relate how, in books, the whole of the world is opened to us, from digging minerals and jewels from the earth the the North Pole to the Milky Way. Through history and the lessons of those who came before; through  science and a growing understanding of the world around us; through diligent study of literature and scripture–a mind and a world are opened.

An argument oft repeated in his work is that the whole of wisdom is contained in books, and thus the title. You may know that philosophy comes from the Greek for love of wisdom and, accordingly, philobiblon is the love of books.

This second quotation, which I encountered via a picture of the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as inscribed over an entrance, inspired my journey of getting to know the venerable Richard de Bury. It says,

Books alone are liberal and free, they give to all who ask, they emancipate all who serve them faithfully.

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Books cannot give you everything in life, I confess. But what they can give, they will provide without fail. The freedom of the mind is the freedom of the soul, and books are one of its favorite tools. A love of books has always served me well. In times of loneliness or companionship, melancholy or joy, faith or doubt; reading has seen me through. May we all be grateful for the gift of books without which life would be that much darker. Books are not perfect but they are, I think, perfecting. They continuously add to the global body of knowledge and they lift us as a society when we need lifting.

They give to all who ask.

Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

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Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

More Than This

Surprise! It’s Thursday (or is, at least, when this is published). This very much caught me off guard because I’ve lost track of the days in the short time I’ve been officially resident in Michigan. Because, guess what, I live in Michigan now. I really wanted to talk about the last part of my drive and first impressions but apparently it wasn’t to be.

Suffice to say, for the moment, that I have arrived safely, am settling into my school apartment, and things seem generally to be looking up. I feel like I have some valid feelings about things but 10/10 it all seems at the very least livable and twenty times better than Korea (though work training stuff doesn’t start until next week).

Ugh, there’s so much I wanted to say but because I try to post these at mostly the same time, even being in the eastern time zone I’m running late today. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), I have something that’s been hanging out in my drafts for a sec. It’s long-ish, thoughtful, maybe controversial, and I’m not sure that a) I express myself well or b) I know exactly what I’m trying to express. But it’s a thing so here you go. Good luck.

I was reading an article about Queer Eye a while ago (because how else was I, a temporarily unemployed gay man, supposed to spend my time). I didn’t agree with everything that was said but overall it was quite remarkable, chock full of immensely insightful and quotable lines. One particular bit really shouted at me and I’ve continued to think about it. The author had been talking about comfort zones for different groups of people, and how it felt to live your life entirely outside of the majority’s zone. She said,

Many political roadblocks would be more navigable if the general public did not so often mistake their comfort zone for the moral high ground.

What would it be like to consider for a moment, not only that your way of life isn’t the only one, not only that it may not be the best one, but that it may not even be a good one? To realize that other people’s perspectives have more than just heartwarming value-added witticisms but an entirely new and sometimes better way of doing things? I want to challenge you, even as I strive to challenge myself, to simply be mindful of the thoughts we have and the decisions we make and the reasons we make them.

What have you done lately to listen to someone very different from yourself? Have you critically evaluated your worldview, tested its assumptions, and investigated alternatives? Do you believe that you are living by the best possible system of values? If you believe that your values are the best, how closely do you adhere to them–in deed and not just in word? When you are confronted with someone living outside of your comfort zone, are you willing to consider their actions and motives in a generous, loving, compassionate way?

I have two thoughts about this, the first has been clear to me but the second has taken more time for me to really recognize. First, learning from the lives of oppressed people helps those people secure themselves in a society where they were previously marginalized. For example, as LGBTQ+ people become more accepted, they can live out of the closet more comfortably (there’s a lot to this but you get the gist I’m going for, I hope).

The second, though, isn’t about the marginalized group at all. When you learn about other ways of life, you’ll inevitably encounter some things that strike you as better than what you’re doing. You come to identify the harmful and oppressive mechanisms in your own system that you had previously not noticed because you were simply accustomed to them. For example, the more straight cis people engage with not-straight and not-cis people, the more clearly they can see the hurt done by cleaving to strict and unattainable standards for gendered behavior.

When you willingly relinquish the power that comes from living in the comfort zone of the majority, you will learn–I hope–that sometimes the seaweed is actually greener in somebody else’s lake. Giving up your privilege and power doesn’t mean you become oppressed, it just means you take a step toward the place where the rest of us live–outside a comfort zone that we didn’t construct. As someone who still resides in a multitude of privileges, I can only tell you this about stepping out: finding that you have more to learn about living a good life is scary but also invigorating. The status quo isn’t as good as it gets. There is more than this life you’re living.

Listen. Be open. Learn. Mostly, love.

Smoke

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So I woke up this morning in Banff, Alberta because why not. My route on the way to Michigan is this: Gig Harbor, Kamloops, Banff, Regina, Grand Forks, Milwaukee, Traverse City. So far, the drive has been plagued with lots of smoke from wildfires (I’m very thankful I’ve never been threatened by a fire). Even so, it’s been beautiful.

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The thing is, it’s hard to (try to) look at all this beauty and reconcile the gross things people do. Obviously, forest fires happen naturally and are sometimes necessary for the ecosystem. But also humans have clearly changed the calculus. And when I see people smoking while looking out over an incredible landscape, truly just the tip of the melting iceberg, I really can’t stand it.

I know that people can be so good, so loving, so caring, so compassionate and considerate and conscientious. But, especially coming on the heels of my Alaska trip, I also know that people are trash. With everything going on in the world at large of late, it’s easy to feel like the trash part is the only part (this also comes from self-awareness, it’s not like I’m immune).

I’ve been thinking of late about how to balance these two ways of looking at the world and I’ve come up with, I think, an apt and succinct summarization. Three things that I believe to be true. I don’t think it’s quite a syllogism but it’s a something.

Assertion 1: humans are trash.
Assertion 2: I am worthy of love and I have good inside me.
Assertion 3: humans are trash but are worthy of love and have good inside them.

In practice, this means two things. First, I expect people to be the worst and am not surprised by how horrible we can be. Second, I go through this world seeking the good in others and loving freely, even when I don’t find it. Or, at least, that’s the goal and you’ll pardon me if I’m not always excellent at achieving it.

So, driving through this fabulous land and preparing to be an Adult Someone to a bunch of high schoolers, that’s what I’m trying. Humans can be just as beautiful as the Coquihalla Canyon and Mt Rundle. Even if it’s all obscured by smoke, the beauty’s there. Very metaphor, I know, but whatever it takes right?

I don’t really know what I’m driving toward. I have a job, I know the basic description of suture, I’ve looked up the area approximately one zillion times. But mostly, it still feels unknown (I guess this is a trend with me, moving far away without knowing what I’m doing). I’ve been battling a relentless negative attitude but it all comes down to the fact that I’m going, I’m willing, and–to paraphrase Bill Widener–I’m going to do my best with what I have where I am. In other words, bloom where you’re planted.

Bloom, it might be said, not only for yourself, but for others. Maybe even others first. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love first, there isn’t really a second.