Monthly Archives: May 2015

Plenty of Hard Times

  

 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’ And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.


Acts 14:21-28 (NRSV) 

When I read today’s passage, I was powerfully drawn to the last sentence in verse 22, where Paul says, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” I found myself captured by this thought and needing to understand it better. I think each of us has been through numerous trials and tribulations, whether it is because of our sexuality or other issues in our life, such as my current job search.

The fact that Paul uses the word “must” really grabbed my attention. Paul doesn’t say that we “might” have to go through persecutions to enter the kingdom. He doesn’t even say “probably.” He says that it is a “must.” There is no way to enter into heaven, Paul says, unless we are willing to go through persecutions and be able to keep our faith while doing so.

What does “persecutions” mean? Paul and many apostles faced persecution, torture, and death for their belief. Most early Christians didn’t face that level of persecution, but all of them faced hardship in life — as do we. How we react to those hard times will determine whether we make it into the kingdom of God.

James tells us the same thing in James chapter 1:

 …whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
(James 1:2-8 [NRSV])

James tells us that we must look at the hardships of our life and “consider it nothing but joy.” I know that sounds odd to most of us, but as I said last week, when God closes one door, i.e. we face a hardship, He is opening a new door for us. There are better things to come. And as James says, we must endure and we will be “lacking in nothing.”

With the loss of my job, the frustration of the job search, or the everyday problems of being a gay man in the Deep South, I could get angry with God, grow cynical, and walk away from my faith, and many people do, especially with the reaction they receive from many people who call themselves Christians but then condemn others for what they perceive as wrong. Instead, I do my best to respond by drawing closer to God, knowing that through God I will find the strength not just to endure, but to prevail in the midst of hardship. If we lose faith and question the intent of God, then God knows that and He will not reward our lack of faith. Therefore, my faith gives me great comfort in times of stress and difficulty for I know that my faith will bring me closer to God.

One person’s hardship may not be ours, but we all have our own hardships. How we react will make all the difference. “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” Instead of becoming discouraged, don’t view hardships as a sign that life has gone awry. Embrace them as learning opportunities for the soul and rejoice.


Moment of Zen: My Boyfriend 

  

Last week, I had nothing that was Zen worthy.  I felt like my world had crashed down on me, but I am so grateful to have a wonderful, thoughtful, and caring man as my boyfriend.  When he told me to meet him last Saturday, I had no idea that he planned on surprising me with that trip up the mountain for dinner.  He’s also been extremely supportive this week, even helping me with job applications.  I couldn’t ask for a better man.

By the way, I used that picture because the guy looks as if he’s trying to find a signal on his cellphone, well that is one of the nice things about that mountain retreat: no cell service (actually it’s just very limited). However, it is nice that you don’t have to worry about being disturbed.  It’s like we are in our own little world together and none of the outside influences can bother us.


A Big Thanks

  

I want to thank all of you for your love, support and prayers this last week.  Also, I want to thank you for your many great suggestions.  I’ve looked into mos tod them and have been preparing application materials for them.  Many of you have sent personal emails, and I promise that I will answer them as soon as I can, hopefully, sometime this weekend.  I have largely been concentrating on getting out applications this week.  When I had my job, I mostly used my school laptop for work, but now I’m using mine which is Windows 8, instead of Windows 7 like the one at school.  Let me just say, Microsoft has to come up with something better than Windows 8.  It is absolutely the most frustrating operating system that I have ever dealt with.  I’m afraid the next version might be worse.  As for browsers, I love Google Chrome, but for some reason it just won’t work with my version of Windows 8, so I have to use internet explorer, which is so frustrating.  I do as much as I can on my iPad, but you cannot email multiple attachments in the same email.  If you can, I’ve yet to figure it out.

By the time I got to a stopping place yesterday, I had such a massive headache that I just went to bed.  If Macs were even remotely affordable, I might get one just to save on the headache of using Windows 8. Obviously, computer retailers know that Windows 7 is a superior operating system to Windows 8, because if you want a computer with Windows 7 instead of Windows 8, you almost end up paying twice as much.  I’ll get it figured out and get applications sent out.  I’ve already sent out about a dozen.  There are a few of them that I would really love to have, so I’m praying and keeping my fingers crossed.

You know, this time last week, I had been planning on writing book reviews for most of my posts this week.  The book reviews though have needed up,on the backburner for the time being.  Maybe I can write some this weekend, since I need to schedule posts for next week because my boyfriend is taking me to New Orleans.  And speaking of my boyfriend, he did something incredibly sweet last Saturday.  He took me to dinner at the restaurant on the mountain that we’d gone to during spring break.  He said that it had been a happy place for us, and he thought I needed a happy place.  I’m so lucky to have this wonderful man in my life.

P.S. Sorry about this ranting and rambling post.


Reflections/Perceptions 

  

All of this week, I have been applying for jobs. In academia, it’s all about the curriculum vitae, and in the rest of the world it’s more about the cover letter and resume. Therefore, I’ve had to retool my job application material. Sometimes that means turning my CV into a resume or retooling my CV for a specific job. The same goes for the cover letter. As a marketing friend of mine would say, I’m having to brand myself and create an image of not just who I am, but I also have to create an image, while being completely honest, of the person that someone will want to hire. This takes a lot of self searching on my part. I’m having to examine who I am and what direction I want my life to go.

When you look at yourself in a mirror, what you see depends on the quality of that mirror. Similarly, our mental images of ourselves help determine how we react to daily highs and lows of life. If we think of ourselves as worthwhile and valued, that quality will come across to other people. Molded by both internal and external forces, our self-image makes a huge difference in how we feel and act. Self-image is both a conscious and subconscious way of seeing ourselves. It is the emotional judgment we make about our self-worth. We form our self-image through interaction with others, taking into account their reactions to us and the ways they categorize us. Their responses are affected by their own distortions in worldview, however, so we don’t always get an accurate reflection of ourselves.

In the job search process, I’ve had to think a lot about how I would describe myself to a stranger. My answer largely depends on my mental image of myself. There is a problem with this. First, I think about how I am a very good historian and teacher. I know my material, and I know how to present it in an interesting way. (If I didn’t have a track record of this, would you still be reading this blog?). This is the side of me that I have to present to a potential employer.

However, the loss of my job has greatly damaged my self confidence. If I were so good, then why did the school decide not to renew my contract? From talking to several people, I’m pretty sure I know why, but the question is: why me? There were some teachers who constantly were stirring up trouble, and teachers who barely taught at all, in fact were barely in their classroom. I was always in my classroom, and I refused to get involved in the petty bickering. Yet, I lost my job. This does not help ones self confidence. However, I have to find my self confidence when applying for jobs.

We can’t help but compare ourselves with others, much as we might try not to. We usually compare ourselves against the expectations of friends and family. Often society gives us roles and expectations, such as having a successful career or being a good husband. This contributes to how we see ourselves. This becomes even more complicated as a closeted gay man. We have ways that we are expected to be perceived. We assess ourselves continually.

A positive self-image leads to confidence and self-acceptance. A negative self-image leads to a sense of inferiority and even depression. Those who develop a mature and realistic self-image will not come undone by every critical comment. This is especially difficult when you’re on a job hunt. Some jobs, you may know are long shots; others, you think should be a sure thing (or at least you should warrant an interview). Then you submit application after application and you get rejection after rejection, or even worse, silence. This job hunt has just begun, and I thank all of you for your suggestions. However, I’ve been on the job hunt for a permanent position in higher education for nearly seven years, so the job hunt isn’t something new. This time though, I don’t have the luxury of having a job while applying for positions that I find ideal. I’m branching out and looking at non-teaching positions, and the thing is, this may have been what I’ve needed to do all along.

I’m taking a good look at myself, and doing my best to remain positive about what I see. Trust me, it’s not always easy at times to be optimistic, and I have had a fair number of pessimistic moments this week. I will hold my head up high and continue the search.


William Etty: Artist and Callipygian Enthusiast

  

William Etty (1787-1849) is probably the most controversial artists of whom you have probably never heard.  A high-minded bachelor whose private life has defied all attempts to unearth smut, Etty was acclaimed in his day but eventually sidelined because of his defiance of moralizing, often hypocritical, critics. He was a shy man and remained a bachelor all his life, which at the time was practically a statement. There is no way to confirm Etty’s sexual orientation since he’s long dead and lived in a time when no one really identified as gay. However, the paintings may speak for themselves. He was a successful Royal Academy artist, but his work fell out of favor after his death. But while he was an active painter he was both admired and condemned for his detailed renderings of the naked human body.

Critics felt he focused too much on the female buttocks, but if you Google Image search for his work, you find a surprisingly large number of male nudes, many with a focus on the male buttocks as well. Seems none of his contemporaries were interested in commenting on that, but it’s obvious that Etty’s was a butt man, no matter his orientation.

Whereas his contemporaries, like J.M.W. Turner changed how people saw art, Etty wanted to change what people saw. Etty broke the rules of decorum by painting humanly realistic nudes rather than idealized gods and goddesses. Most of the criticism questioned the appropriateness of Etty’s female nudes, while the male nudes quite often found praise as “heroic.” Tragically, the critics got personal in their comments, essentially charging Etty with deliberately trying to corrupt the viewing public. 

“He is a laborious draughtsman, and a beautiful colourist,” one critic began innocently enough, “but he [Etty] has not taste or chastity of mind enough to venture on the naked truth […] we fear that Mr. E will never turn from his wicked ways, and make himself fit for decent company.” “[T]he spectator can see in [Etty’s female nudes] nothing beyond the portrait of some poor girl who was necessitated to sacrifice the feelings of her sex for bread,” another critic accused. “Nudity is all that the artist has to show us, and when unassociated with anything like incident or sentiment, the spectacle is offensive.” Etty defended himself as an innocent lover of nature’s greatest creation—the human form. Even after evoking the Biblical phrase that “to the pure of heart all things are pure,” Etty’s explanations fell on deaf ears.


Doors opening, closing on us

  

Doors opening, closing on us
By Marge Piercy

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.

About This Poem

“The poem actually started when I was thinking about the use of gates in the Yom Kippur service. I was thinking that doors are more concrete somehow as an image of going from one state or another, one era, one phase of one’s life to another—because you can’t see beyond a door when it’s shut. There can always be a surprise on the other side.”
—Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of Made in Detroit (Knopf, 2015). She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her husband, Ira Wood.

 


The Fire is Lit

  

For the past five years, I have not really been happy.  I love teaching, but their were aspects of my job that I was really not happy with.  I was constantly frustrated with the students and their lack of ambition, and I think some of that had worn off on me.  I’d looked for other jobs, but if I am going to be truthful with myself, it was only a half-hearted effort.  I was comfortable with my job, even if I was unhappy.  Losing my job has lit a fire in me to search for better employment, employment that will be fulfilling, and employment that I can be proud of.  I am going to continue looking into teaching positions, but I am also turning to the museum sector and other areas where my degrees will be useful.  Maybe it is time for a new path.  Many of the museum jobs require a degree in history, and I have also had some training in public history.  Museums often look for someone who can be an educational resource, so they often look for someone who has educational experience.  It’s a small glimmer of hope, but you can’t get a job if you don’t apply, so I am applying to as many places as I can.  If anyone has any suggestions or can offer any assistance in this endeavor, I’d be greatly appreciative.

If you’ve ever lost your job suddenly and without any type of prior warning, you probably know the emotional roller coaster that I have been going through the past few days: shock, anger, hopelessness, disappointment, but also hope for better things to come.  (By the way, I’m almost certain that I was let go so that they could make room for the new football coach. If that is the case, I am better off not being at a school that puts athletics so far above academics.) My post yesterday was about that hope, and I’m clinging to that for dear life.  I refuse to let depression overtake me again, and I will be more proactive in my life circumstances.  I’m going to make this a positive experience, even though my heart hurts right now with the feelings of betrayal from a school I’d poured my heart and soul into making a better place.

As Gloria Gaynor famously sang:

Do you think I’d crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?

No, not I, I will survive
Long as I know how to love
I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive

It may be taking all my strength not to fall apart, but I will survive.  I want to thank all of you for your love, support, and words of encouragement during this period of tribulation.

It’s easy to get bogged down in my own self pity and forget that today is Memorial Day and what it actually means but this day signifies so much that is important to the freedoms we have in this country and the freedoms we strive to expand upon.  Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead.  

On this Memorial Day, I want us not only to remember the men and women who have died, but to especially remember those gay, lesbian, and bisexual veterans who died serving in silence in the times before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  They served and died for a country that denied them their own freedoms, many in hope that one day their sacrifice would lead to greater freedoms in America.  Most of those gay, lesbian, and bisexual service men and women would be shocked to know that not only can gay people serve openly in the military but that they can be married to someone of the same sex and receive spousal benefits, or that the majority of states allow same-sex marriage and that we seem to be on the verge of it becoming legal nationwide. We cannot let their sacrifices be in vain, and we must continue the fight for a better and more free America.


God’s Doors

  

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.Acts 16:6-10

The world is not always a kind place. It is filled with bitterness, hatred, and betrayal. Life is just not fair at times. At times like the last few days, it seems like there’s no way out of the situation I’m in. I pray and pray (day and night) asking God to open up the windows of opportunity for me, but what can I do when all the doors seems to be closed. I looked to God and the Bible for an answer. I found e beautiful passage above.

In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, Paul was on what many refer to as his second missionary journey. He and his companion Silas had traveled to Derbe and Lystra, where they were joined by Timothy. They then departed through Phrygia and Galatia. Luke says that while they were passing through this area they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word. When they came to Mysia, they wanted to turn to the northeast and take the gospel into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not allow them to go there either. While in the Mysian city of Troas, in a vision at night, Paul received the Macedonian Call.

“So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:8-10).

Determining that they had been called by God, they went to preach to the Macedonians. Paul was very successful on this journey. Several important and noteworthy churches were established; including churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus.

There are times when we pray and ask God for things. “God bless me with a job; give me that promotion at work; help me to pay my bills and etc”. We ask God for a lot of things. Most often, I ask God to guide me on the path that he has chosen for me. However, we never ask God to open doors He wants to be open and shut doors He wants to be closed.

Today, I’m looking for a job, which I’ve been doing for the past seven years. My last teaching job was never, in my mind, meant to be permanent. Other jobs I’ve applied for, I have been turned down for time and time again. With this latest setback, the loss my very flimsy safety net, I realized that God has something better in store for me. My plans are not always His plans.

Sometimes the things we pray for aren’t the things God has in store for us. Oftentimes, we pray for little things when God wants to bless us with bigger things. Sometimes we pray for God to bless us with the wrong things. I had to encourage myself and tell myself: when one door closes, another one opens, just as many of you and many others have told me in the past few days.

You may be going through a situation right now feeling as though nothing is working out for your good. You might want to give up and throw the towel in. I know in the past two days, I have certainly felt that way at times. I am hopeful one minute, hopeless the next. My emotions have been a roller coaster. I want to encourage you today, as I have done my best to encourage myself, so not to give up.

When God closes one door He opens up another. It could be that God wants me to have or be somewhere else in life. Or that God simply has another route for me to go down. Sometimes we have to hear no in order to get to where God wants us to be. Sometimes door closes not because God is against us, but simply because it’s used as a tool to guide us where God wants us to be.

When you feel as though you want to lose hope; don’t! You want to give up; don’t do it. Know that God is with you. This has done more for me these past few days than you could imagine. God is guiding and ordering our footsteps. He has a specific path just for us to travel down but sometimes as children wondering we lose track and go down the wrong path. I’m not for sure that this job I lost was not the wrong track for the past five years, but it has gained me the experience I needed in education. Because of this, God put road blocks in the wrong paths to get us going down the right path.

I am encouraged and know that God has the key to open every door; change every situation and open new windows of opportunities. Sometimes, road blocks are there to lead us to the path Jesus would have us go.  It may feel like your naked in a hallway of closed doors, but eventually, we will all come to an open one.

I am encouraged and know that God does everything for a reason; not for our downfall, but for our good and to His glory. The road blocks we face is simply God guiding us. Be encouraged in Jesus name knowing that when one door closes, another one opens. I want to leave you with the words to a song we will be singing in church tomorrow (I know this because I will be the song leader tomorrow, a job I do when our regular song leader is not there):

Farther Along

Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long;
While there are others living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.

Refrain:
Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Sometimes I wonder why I must suffer,
Go in the rain, the cold, and the snow,
When there are many living in comfort,
Giving no heed to all I can do.

Refrain

Tempted and tried, how often we question
Why we must suffer year after year,
Being accused by those of our loved ones,
E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.

Refrain


Flabbergasted 

There will be no Moment of Zen tomorrow.  I am not sure I will be posting for several days.  As I was leaving school today, I was called in to the principal’s office and told that I no longer had a job.  I have no idea what I will do, except look for a new job.  There was no warning, no reprimands on my record, no hint of me not returning for next year.  I was simply told there had been complaints made, though no one can tell me what they were.  It is a mystery to me, and a mystery to all those who I’ve spoken with about the issue.
I can’t stop crying, and I’m just in shock.


Hallelujah 

  

I gave my final exam yesterday.  The kids are gone.  There is a little more paperwork to do today, and I have to attend graduation tonight.  Other than that, school is out for the summer.  I am so happy, and for the next few weeks, I’m going to spend as much time with my boyfriend as possible since he will be out of town most of the summer.  I am going to miss him so much.

By the way, my headache finally subsided.  Hopefully, it will continue to get better.


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