Monthly Archives: June 2013

Wisdom from Above

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:13-18

In verses 13-18, James addresses the subject of wisdom and understanding. He is concerned with demonstrating the sharp contrast which exists between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom that God gives.  Godly wisdom leads us along paths that lead to life. The alternative to following God’s wisdom, choosing to live foolishly in God’s world, is to risk our lives. Well clearly it’s better to be wise than to be foolish. It’s better to live a life that’s blessed by God than to risk missing out on the good things God has planned for us. But how do we do it? How do we get wisdom, and once we’ve got it, how do we show in our lives that we have it? 

How do we show that we have Wisdom? If you want to be wise, you need to show your wisdom by the way you live. And how is that? By your good life. Through works done with the gentleness that’s born of wisdom. James highlights what this means by showing the opposite sorts of behavior. “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” Now of course it’s not politically correct to be negative about someone, is it? There’s some sense to that when it comes to talking about others. It’s always easier to think of things to criticize about someone than things to praise. Not to mention that if you can criticize something in someone else, you feel justified in thinking better of yourself. But what we’re talking about here is self-examination. Here James is asking us to look honestly at our own hearts, at our own actions and motivations, to work out whether we’re truly acting with wisdom. 

What is it you see when you look at your behavior; when you listen to yourself talking? Are you envious of others? Do you envy them their gifts or their success, their family, their jobs, their looks, their new car? What is it that motivates you? Are you motivated by selfish ambition? By the desire to get to the top no matter what? Do you desire power in the roles you take on? Do you avoid positions where you know you won’t be able to exercise the power you desire? When you make decisions, how much do you focus on the effect they’ll have on you, or on your own agenda as opposed to that of others in the community? How about in your speech. Are you prone to boasting? To exaggerating for effect? Do you tend to emphasize how good you are, or your family is, or your church is, while downplaying others’ successes or focussing on their failings?

Now I could say I’ve seen that sort of behavior in others, but that would be to fall into the very trap of foolishness that I’m talking about. No my job is to ask whether I’ve done any of that, whether I fail in any of those areas. Believe me, I will be the first to admit that I fail in many of these areas.  However, just because I have failed does not mean that I cannot do my best to correct my own actions and ask for forgiveness.  I need to understand my own behavior and understand where that sort of behavior derives. I know that it doesn’t derive from godly wisdom.  This sort of wisdom derives from the fallen world in which we live. Far from being spiritually based it’s the work of the devil. 

Well, enough for the negative, what’s the positive side of wise living? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” It seems to me that this is a tough list to live up to. Purity has the idea of being morally upright, innocent, blameless, motivated only by the sincere desire to serve others, ignoring self interest. That’s the first test. Then there’s the test of peaceable, gentle behavior. This is in stark contrast to the bitter envy and selfish ambition of the worldly person. The wise person seeks peace above selfish desire. They’re willing to yield to others even if their own desires aren’t being met. They’re full of mercy in the way they approach others. They bear good fruit, without any sense of partiality or hypocrisy. 

You’ve probably noticed that some people do lots of good works, but their motivation is actually self serving. They’re working to boost their own sense of importance or they do good things for people they think might be able to do favors for them at a later date. But the wise person acts out of pure motives, not seeking their own welfare but only that of those they’re serving. 

And notice the result: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” The result of wise living is that we enjoy the peace that only God can give. Wisdom is worth having. So how do we find wisdom? We begin by realizing that God is the source of all wisdom and then we ask God to give it to us. How do we show that we’re wise? By our good lives; by works that are done with gentleness that’s born of wisdom. By our purity of life, by behavior that’s peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and goodness. Show that sort of behavior and there will be no doubt that you have the wisdom that comes from above.

Moment of Zen: Love Wins

Stonewall Uprising

Stonewall Uprising . American Experience . WGBH | PBS
Something unremarkable happened on June 27, 1969 in New York’s Greenwich Village, an event which had occurred a thousand times before across the U.S. over the decades. The police raided a gay bar. The events that followed marked the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement.

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

In this 90-minute film, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE draws upon eyewitness accounts and rare archival material to bring this pivotal event to life. Based on David Carter’s critically acclaimed book, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, American Experience: Stonewall Uprising was produced by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner.

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the historic Stonewall Inn Riots in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City.

The birthplace of the gay rights movement, The Stonewall has been the preferred location for celebration (or commiseration) anytime something significant happens regarding LGBT rights and this once again proved to be true this past week as thousands packed the street in front of the legendary bar to celebrate marriage equality.

Here’s to the queers, misfits, trans people, drag queens, homeless LGBT youth and everyone else present who led the fight starting in the early morning hours on June 28, 1969. They are the reason we have Pride in the first place and our community and our country couldn’t have made its historic leaps without you.

For more information about the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement in the United States and the Stonewall Riots, please check out my series of post on Stonewall.

DOMA and Religion

Yesterday was a momentous day for LGBT equality.  The Supreme Court’s first rulings on same-sex marriage produced historic gains for gay rights Wednesday: full federal recognition of legally married gay couples and an opening for such unions to resume in the nation’s largest state.  The divided court stopped short of a more sweeping ruling that the fundamental right to marry must be extended to gay couples no matter where they live.  With the addition of California, more than a third of Americans will live in a jurisdiction — 13 states and District of Columbia — where same-sex marriage is sanctioned. Whereas, neither of these decisions will do anything for Alabama, it is still a victory for America.  However, religious institutions are already stirring up hatred and despair.  One church pastor stated on the news last night that for each Supreme Court ruling in favor of homosexuality, the less favor God will show the United States.  These kinds of statements are what drive so many LGBT adults from religion.
The Pew Research Center recently released a study that examined the lives of LGBT Americans. One portion of the study, which has garnered significant media attention is the relationship between LGBT people and religion. The study found that LGBT people tended to be less religiously affiliated than the general population, and views all major religions as unfriendly toward LGBT people.
According to the study by Pew:  “Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender adults are, on the whole, less religious than the general public. About half (48%) say they have no religious affiliation, compared with 20% in the general public; this pattern holds among all age groups. LGBT adults who do have a religious affiliation generally attend worship services less frequently and attach less importance to religion in their lives than do religiously affiliated adults in the general public.”
My Christianity is a very importent part of me.  Just as I know that I am gay, I also know that God exists and that He, as Jesus Christ, died for my sons on the cross.  I also know that God is love, and no matter what other Christians may believe, God created me as I am for a purpose and with his love, I can conquer all.
Also according to Pew, “A third (33%) of religiously affiliated LGBT adults say there is a conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation or gender identity.  That sentiment is even more prevalent among the general public. About three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants (74%) and a majority of all U.S. adults with a religious affiliation (55%) say homosexuality conflicts with their religious beliefs. Among all adults in the general public, there is a strong correlation between the frequency of church attendance and the belief that homosexuality should be discouraged.”
Some anti-gay activists will look at this figure and say, “Aha! See? Those LGBT people are anti-Christian. Look, half of them even eschew religion of any kind!”
This figure is largely of their own making. There was a time when religion (all of them) were solidly anti-gay. Human sexuality wasn’t discussed, except in hushed tones and fraught with shame. If someone came out, they had to leave everything behind. Often, their job, their family, and their faith community. While those bad old days don’t exist in the same way they once did, the stigma lingers.
This is an example of where educating the public can do so much good.  What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  The answer is very simple: nothing.  What does the New Testament writers say about homosexuality?  Again, the answer is nothing.  Yes, Paul of Tarsus wrote about some homosexual acts, such as ritual sex and pedophilia, but he does not write about homosexuality in the way we understand it today.  If you believe that God is omniscient and omnipresent, as I do, then why did he not specifically place the love between people of the same gender in his list of prohibitions?  Simply because He knew what the future held.  Christianity would expand exponentially; Judaism would not.  Judaism needed a prohibition on homosexuality in Leviticus because it needed population growth to survive.  Christianity, on the other had, converted many and spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.  Much of this, however, is misconstrued by religious leaders who fear what they cannot understand, which is why so many LGBT adults turn their backs on religion.
Nonetheless, about half of LGBT adults (51%) have a religious affiliation, including a sizable minority of all LGBT respondents (17%) who have a religious affiliation and also say religion is very important in their lives. Most of those with a religious affiliation are Christian (53% Protestant, 26% Catholic and 1% some other Christian faith). Among LGBT Catholics, two-thirds consider the Catholic Church unfriendly toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population, while 26% say it is neutral and just 6% see it as friendly. By contrast, among LGBT adults who are white mainline Protestants, most say that non-evangelical Protestant Churches are either friendly (20%) or neutral (54%) toward them, while 24% see these churches as unfriendly.
The stigma of LGBT feeling unwelcome by religion is still propagated. Even when LGBT people have reconciled their faith and their sexual orientation or gender identity, there are those within religion actively trying to reestablish that inner conflict.
The dominant impression is that religion is inherently anti-LGBT, and the amount of work that the Religion, Faith & Values program of GLAAD, the LGBT religious organizations like the Gay Christian Network, Muslims for Progressive Values, or Keshet, alongside of so many denominational LGBT advocacy groups, has not yet changed that perception.  It also means that, for those denominations who are LGBT-inclusive, or who have made strides to become more LGBT inclusive, that there is still more work to do.
I say this last part as a Christian and as a gay man. LGBT and allied people of faith need to speak up. Not only for the good of the LGBT community, have who continued to face conflict in religious communities. We also need to speak up for the good of our own faith. I write posts about my faith because I care about the reputation of my church and Christianity in the world. If you truly love your faith, you must make that known. It is only by speaking out that we change the negative perception surrounding our faith communities.

Gay Camping?

I’m not for sure I would actually go through with this, but I would love any advice you guys could give me.  I have been considering taking a weekend vacation by myself, just to get away for a few days.  With little money to spend, I was considering going camping.  I can borrow some camping equipment (a tent and air mattress) from my sister, so it seems doable.  As I was looking at campgrounds, I found that there were four gay campgrounds here in Alabama.  Each is clothing optional and secluded.  Here are the four campgrounds and a description of each:

Private, membership only GLBT campground. 18+. Clothing optional, secluded, heavily wooded 40 acres. Mostly men, women welcome. Offering seasonal sites, tent sites, RV sites (some are pull through) with full hook-ups (30/50 amp electric, water & sewer) and cabins. Dump station, laundry, showers, swimming pool, hot tub, campfires. Clubhouse & Cabana Bar and Grill. Weekend DJ. TV Lounge. Day passes available.

Male only, 21+. Gated and secure clothing optional members only retreat on 44 acres in the Appalachian mountains. Open all year, membership is $15.00 for an entire year. Mix of singles & couples. Located atop Chandler Mountain, accommodations range from tent sites & bunkhouse, to basic cabins and deluxe cabins, pull thru RV & camper sites, with or without hook ups. Sites are available daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally & yearly. Day passes are also available. Club house, swimming pool, shower house plus outside showers. Fifty minutes from Birmingham.

A private retreat for adult men in a serene, stress-free environment. Lodge & camp located on 33 secluded, wooded acres two hours by car from Atlanta or Birmingham. Camp features trails and primitive tent camping sites, one RV hookup 30 amp electric & water, no septic dump (suitable for small RV or pop-up – this is not an RV camp.) RV campers and tent campers have access to kitchen, bathrooms, hot tub and swimming pool. Open weekends for day visitors. Overnight guests are welcome during the week by prior arrangement.  Drop-in visitors are discouraged – please call in advance.

Alabama’s newest private membership, clothing optional LGBT campground on 11.5 secluded acres on the Georgia border in Southeast Alabama. Lizard Landing is situated on the Omussee Creek, which feeds directly into the magnificent Chattahoochee River System. Amenities include 25 RV sites (all with city water), full septic hook-ups, and 30 or 50 AMP service. Other amenities include an in-ground pool, a clubhouse and gathering porch, plus 1850 feet of creek frontage. Guests can canoe and kayak from their docks to the Chattahoochee River (about 1/2 mile from the property). Lizard Landing is less than 2 miles from Columbia, AL, which is convenient for quick shopping trips, and only 18 miles from Dothan, Alabama. The campground is open 7 days a week, 12 months of the year.

So those are my options in Alabama.  Black Bear Camp Men’s Retreat is the closest to me, but all of them are within a 2-4 hours drive.  I’m not for sure though about the clothing optional part.  There is a large part of me who is very intrigued with the idea of returning to nature au natural, but another part of me is scared to death.  I’m not in the best shape, so will I be the only fat one there?  I know I’ve always heard that at most nudist areas, the men are not the most fit.  From what I can tell, Black Bear Camp Men’s Retreat is mostly a retreat for bears (the big hairy gay men, not the animal).  So would my out of shape body fit in, even though I’m not very hairy?  Do most people go fully nude at these places, or are their varying degrees of the amount of skin shown since it is clothing “optional”?  (Lizard Landing is the only one where nudity is restricted to the pool area only.) Also, if you go to the bar or cafe for dinner, are you expected to get dressed for dinner or go nude or nude to whatever degree?   It sounds like these places would have quite a sexually charged atmosphere, but any type of sexual activity is to be done in private, according to the rules posted on their websites.  Most have a “tool shed” or otherwise named playroom, and most have hiking trails which they each implies is for cruising.  Sexually charged or not, what do you do if you get a whopping erection?  Do you ignore it or use it to your advantage?  What is the etiquette here?  I’m very naive about these things.

I have so many questions.  I’ve researched online and read as much as I could about gay camping and the websites and reviews for each of the campgrounds above, but none of them answer my questions.  I’ve never gone to a nudist gathering, so I don’t know what to expect.  The only thing I really know about them (other than what I have read online) is from an episode of Golden Girls when they go to a resort and find out it is a nudist resort.  The ladies finally get the courage to leave their rooms without their clothes on, and they show up for dinner where everyone else is dressed.

Do any of you have any experiences with gay camping, especially in Alabama? Do you know of any other gay campgrounds in Alabama not listed on this site? Do any of you have any advice to share?  Let me know – leave a comment below.

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death (712)
Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me – 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility – 
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring – 
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
We passed the Setting Sun – 
Or rather – He passed us – 
The Dews drew quivering and chill – 
For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
My Tippet – only Tulle – 
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground – 
The Roof was scarcely visible – 
The Cornice – in the Ground – 
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity – 

About “Because I could not stop for Death (712)”

In a letter to Abiah Root, Dickinson once asked, “Does not Eternity appear dreadful to you…I often get thinking of it and it seems so dark to me that I almost wish there was no Eternity. To think that we must forever live and never cease to be. It seems as if Death which all so dread because it launches us upon an unknown world would be a relief to so endless a state of existense.” 

I remember memorizing this poem in high school, and then when I was college, I learned that all of Emily Dickinson’s poems could be sang to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”  In fact, any tune written to a 4/4 beat can be used because Dickinson wrote her poetry using a 4/4 meter.  That aside, I chose this for my poem today for a few reasons.  Yesterday would have been my late Grandmama’s 90th birthday.  I went to check on her grave and make sure that everything was as it should be.  Also, I helped a neighbor of mine take care of a different graveyard.  We have several small graveyards around here that are either with a church or are small family graveyards.  My neighbor takes care of this graveyard which is her families old graveyard.  We pulled weeds, weedeated, and cleaned up around the graves.  We will go back another day this week and finish up by putting out new flowers.

I know that some people find cemeteries to be creepy; others see them as a solemn place of eternal rest.  I find them not only as a solemn place, but also as a fascinating place.  Gravestones  and the cemeteries that hold them can tell so many stories.  As an historian, cemeteries interest me to know end.  I love them for the history and stories they contain.

Monday, Monday

The beach (Pensacola, Florida, if you were wondering) this weekend was wonderful.  The eye candy was fantastic, so many hot guys.  It was hot and sunny, but not too overbearing. Also, the water was the perfect temperature, and my tan is coming along nicely.  For the most part, it was a nice weekend.  However, I am worn out.  I had planned on writing a longer post, but I just can’t seem to stay awake long enough.  Thankfully, it’s summer, and I don’t have to go to work today.

Also, I want to thank everyone for their comments on my post “Love/Hate Relationships,” and for those who emailed me, I will get back to you as soon as I can.  Your comments and emails truly lifted my spirits.

Taming the Tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. 

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
James 3:1-12
What James has to say here in the third chapter is very true, practical teaching. This is lesson number one on how to be a good disciple. James says it very plainly in verse 2. “For we all stumble in many ways.” No question there. “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” He’s not saying anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect in speaking, but is perfect, period. Because if we can get hold of what comes out of our mouth, it will keep everything else we do in check. It’s the same thing that psychologists have been telling us, that Jesus told us long ago — what comes out of the mouth reflects what’s in the heart, and it’s what’s in the heart that makes us do the things that we do. Sin begins first in our heart. We get the next indication of it as it comes out of our lips. Then finally, as we have felt it inside, as we have spoken it aloud, we create it.

We often don’t pay much attention to sins of the tongue—gossip, slander, lying, exaggeration. Perhaps it’s because we so mindlessly commit these “respectable sins” that we don’t regard them as seriously as we do sins such as hate or adultery.

Also, let’s admit that bridling the tongue is tough.  All of my life, my father told me that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Nevertheless, I grew up speaking “rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Proverbs 12:18). As I matured as a Christian, I tried to follow the advice of my father by cutting back on my cutting words—behavior modification. But I discovered I was focusing on the wrong organ.

I got help from the New Testament writer James, who calls the tongue a fire, a world of iniquity, a restless evil full of deadly poison (James 3:6, 8). That’s serious!  James continues, saying that although many birds and reptiles have been tamed, “no human can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). And James leaves it at that—without a how-to formula!

Then James seems to switch subjects. In 3:13-18, he says that evil behavior comes from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart. This heart-mouth connection sounds like the teaching of his half-brother, Jesus: “For his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).

Our words create and they endure, and James tell us we have got to watch what we say. The very first step in Christian discipleship is being able to keep track of what comes out of our mouths, and to guide and shape that to make sure that the words are good, kind, loving, and truthful. It’s the most basic form of self-control. As James says, if we get that right we’re likely to get everything else right as well. The basic rule for Christian speech happens to be the basic rule for all the rest of Christian action — do it in love. If you can’t do it in love, don’t do it. Whether it’s speech or action, love is the guiding principle that underlies every law in scripture, that underlies everything God wants from us. We need to think about that.

So I encourage you to look at the things you say. How much of it is criticism? How much of it is loving? How do those weigh out in the balance? If you put them on a scale, do the loving words weigh heavier than the critical ones?  The most important thing is that you say what you say with love in your heart. Remember that who you’re talking to is someone made in the image of God, and a person for whom Christ died. They may be driving you crazy, but say that to yourself again and again until you can speak as if you were speaking to Jesus. Then, nine times out of ten, whatever you say is going to be all right.

Moment of Zen: The Beach

Either is fine with me!

Going to the Beach

I’m heading the the beach this weekend.  It’s a family trip, so it’s not really my ideal of a vacation, but I’m going to do my best to have a great time.  The beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast don’t exactly look like these: the sand is whiter and there are no mountains.    However, hopefully I will see some sights like the ones in this picture.

The longest day of 2013 is finally here — but this year, it comes with a twist.
While the solstice in the northern hemisphere traditionally falls on June 21 — and this year it will occur on that date at 1:04 a.m. EDT — it will begin on Thursday, June 20, for parts of the western U.S., according to the website of the Clark Planetarium. The time of the solstice depends upon your position on Earth and, as a consequence, where you are in relation to the sun.
The summer solstice occurs when Earth’s axis is the most tilted toward the sun — the angle is known as “maximum axial tilt.” As a consequence of this specific orientation, the sun rises at its most northeasterly point along the horizon and also sets at its most northwesterly point in the northern hemisphere.
The solstice isn’t the only big celestial event this week. Skywatchers are gearing up for the arrival of the 2013 supermoon, which is set to peak June 22-23 and deliver the biggest, brightest moon of the year.