Monday, August 25, 2008

Time Makes You Bolder

As many of you know, Danifesto is observing two milestones this year. One landmark is turning 35, halfway to the big 4-0! The other relates to the relationship I've had with the person I met six years ago in Korea. Both anniversaries offered a valuable opportunity to reassess and take stock. After discussion with my partner, we have, with both regret and respect, decided to part ways.
The discussion started out with observations I made that led me to come to the same conclusion Miranda did in Sex and the City: "He's just not that into you." When this was confirmed, the discussion ended with something very similar to what Carrie said to Alexandr at the end of the series:
"I'm looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love. And I don't think that love is here in this expensive suite in this lovely hotel in Paris."

There's more to say of course but there's really nothing more boring that hearing someone rehash everything that went wrong in mind-numbing detail. Rather I think I'll just close with the following. From Dreamgirls of course, what else?

We didn't make forever.
We each got to go our separate way,
And now we're standing here, helpless,
Looking for something to say.
We've been together a long time.
We never thought it would end.
We were always so close to each other;
You were always my friend.
And it's hard to say good-bye, my love.
Hard to see you cry, my love.
Hard to open up that door.
You're not sure what you're going for.
We didn't want this to happen,
But we shouldn't feel sad.
We had a good life together.
Just remember,
all the times we had.
You know I'll always love you
You know I always care
But no matter how far I may go
In my heart
You'll always be there
And it's hard to say good-bye, my love.
Hard to see you cry, my love.
Hard to open up that door.
When you're not sure what you're going for.
But we've gotta grow,
We've gotta try,
Though it's hard, so hard
We have to say good-bye
Though it's hard, so hard
We have to say good-bye
We didn't make forever.
But I will always love you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

(taken from the BBC News feed) I liked how this gave both points of view in a succinct way.
Confused how two groups of church-goers can have such conflicting views about whether it's OK to be gay?
Both sides of the debate about homosexuality in the church, which threatens to split the worldwide Anglican church, hold their views sincerely and after much study. So how can their views be so contradictory?
The Bible makes very few mentions of homosexuality - lesbianism isn't mentioned at all in the Old Testament - and as the examples below show, interpretations of the verses that do exist differ hugely.
Following each of the verses below is a brief illustration of what a hardline pro- and anti-gay position might be. (Most Christians hold views somewhere in between these two stances.)

An illustration of the division can be seen by what either side might say about the friendship in the Old Testament between David and Jonathan. One verse reads: "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; dear and delightful you were to me; your love for me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women."
PRO-GAY: A pro-gay position might be that this is a clear indication that King David had a gay relationship, and to pretend otherwise is naive.
ANTI-GAY: An anti-gay opinion might be that the friendship between the two men was exactly that - a very close and loyal allegiance.

Similarly, the tale of Sodom is often debated. In it, Lot has two angels staying in his house. The men of Sodom surrounded the house. "They called to Lot and asked him where the men were who had entered his house that night. 'Bring them out,' they shouted, 'so that we might have intercourse with them.'"
To protect his visitors from an act which Lot describes as "wicked", he offers the crowd his two virgin daughters instead. The crowd are not satisfied and break the door down - the angels then make the intruders blind and Sodom is eventually destroyed by "fire and brimstone".
ANTI-GAY: An anti-gay argument might say this story demonstrates the immorality of homosexuality, as has been accepted for generations, hence the term sodomy. Elsewhere in Genesis, God says of the men: "Their sin is very grave." It's an example of behaviour degenerating.
PRO-GAY: Of course the men's behaviour was wicked, but it was wicked because it's a tale of sexual assault and rape. When Jesus mentions Sodom, hundreds of years later, it appears to be in a context of a discussion of hospitality, rather than one of sexual morality.

There are several verses in the Bible which are similarly contested - there are however a much smaller number of seemingly clear statements. The most famous of them is probably from Leviticus: "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; that is an abomination."
ANTI-GAY: An anti-gay position would be that this line is unambiguous. It is also repeated elsewhere in the book. The speaker of the words is God, so this is an explicit indication that homosexuality is wrong in God's eyes. It was one of the sins that justified God in giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites
PRO-GAY: A pro-gay argument might say that other verses in the same book forbid a wide range of sexual activities, including having sex with a woman who is having her period. This is an indication that the passage embodies specific cultural values rather than God's law.

There is some debate about how relevant rules in the Old Testament are to Christians. Some would say they are binding, since Jesus said he did not come to abolish the old laws. Others would say that Jesus set Christians free from the old laws, highlighting instead that people should love God and their neighbour.

Jesus himself says nothing explicitly about homosexuality. There are though two statements by him which have been interpreted as having a bearing on the subject.
"[A] man shall leave his father and mother, and be made one with his wife; and the two shall become one flesh."
ANTI-GAY: This indicates Jesus saw heterosexual relations as the proper way of behaving.
PRO-GAY: Jesus is actually talking about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage

Later in the same conversation, after Jesus has spoken about divorce, the disciples say to him it is better not to marry at all. Jesus says: "That is something which not everyone can accept, but only those for whom God has appointed it. For while some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, or made so by men, there are others who have themselves renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let those accept it who can."
PRO-GAY: This shows that Jesus is more concerned with people looking after their own relationship with God, than with enforcement of rules. The reference to being "born so" indicates that heterosexual marriage is fine for those who are heterosexual, but it's OK to be different. Again and again Jesus reaches out to those on the margins of society, like prostitutes and tax collectors, to include them.
ANTI-GAY: Jesus here is actually talking about people who were born incapable of having children, or people who were castrated - not about gays. He is actually saying that marriage and chastity are both within God's purpose. Jesus does appeal to the sinners, but once he has called them, he tells them to go and sin no more.

The letters of St Paul provide the other traditional support for the position that homosexuality is sinful. He writes: "God has given [people who worship false gods] up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and their men in turn, giving up natural relations with women burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males and paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion."
Paul later writes: "Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolator, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers of drunkards of slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God."
PRO-GAY: A pro-gay position might be that the word Paul uses for homosexual here could alternatively be translated as "male prostitute". In any case, Paul's writings are clearly of his time, and there are plenty of other verses which people have no difficulty in ignoring - for instance: "a woman brings shame on her head if she prays or prophesies bare-headed; it is as bad as if her head were shaved." This should be viewed like that.
ANTI-GAY: Anti-gay argument might say this line is crystal clear in establishing that Christianity and homosexuality are incompatible. Paul is actually quite clearly referring to homosexual behaviour, and includes lesbianism. You can't just pretend that St Paul, who did so much to influence our understanding of Jesus, didn't know what he was talking about. He's clear that homosexuality is an offence against God and against people's own bodies.

Part of the reason the views diverge so much is because Christians think of the Bible differently. Some see it as literally the word of God, divine inspiration which humans should not question. Others see it rather as a book which is a witness to God's message, but one which was written by humans and thus has flaws.
Trying to find common ground between the two positions is no simple matter - one of the reasons that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is having such a tricky job keeping everyone on board.
Quotations are taken from the New English Bible.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

And It Feels Like Home

It's summer in "T-dot" and that means Danifesto has been making the most of it! Toronto has lots of festivals in the summertime (one of the biggest of course being Pride). I love walking through our 'hood, seeing the Filipino men clustered around little tables playing card games, the blankets laden with "treasures" outside Food for Less , and the fruit and vegetable stand where everything is sold for a "toonie."

As you many (or may not) have noticed in my previous posts, lately I've been making church attendance more of a priority in my life. After being extremely active in the small town church in Kansas, I moved to Korea and sporatically attended a variety of churches. My main issue at the time was that I didn't feel like I was able to bring my whole self to the worship service. Most English-speaking churches in Seoul were/are fairly conservative. Talking this over with a Korean friend of mine, he said something that stuck with me. After hearing my litany of issues, he replied "Well that may be true, but you know who you are."

At the time it seemed really condescending but later that statement kept rolling around in my head. (Perhaps God was speaking through him to get to me?) Who I am is a person who goes to church and has most of his life. My father was a minister (ABC-USA) and now is a chaplain at a hospital in Kansas. So all my developmental years were spent immersed in the church, its music, its rituals, its seasons and holidays. Most of my childhood memories revolve around church-related events (Vacation Bible School, camp, men's breakfasts, sunrise services, Christmas plays, potluck dinners, candlelight vigils, sing-a-longs, Maundy Thursday services, Sunday school).

This is why going back to church on a regular weekly basis has meant so much to me. First of all, it's a church that's "a house of prayer for all people" (This is written on the front under the pipe organ- taken from Isaiah 56:7). Everyone is welcomed, not just tolerated. Also, there is no creed that you are required to believe in. They have bedrock beliefs that you are asked to affirm (be aware of) but I was surprised to discover that not everyone agrees with them. It's been a challenge for me to interact with others like this because I excel at making distinctions between myself and others. I had assumed that one's church should agree with everything you believe in and vice versa. But I see now that there's no room for growth in this paradigm- on my part nor in the church's. I liked the metaphor of a mountain that has many paths leading up to the top. The paths may start out far apart but all end up in the same place.

The demographics of my church are also interesting. According to the minister (a former Baptist who went to an Anglican seminary), the majority of church members are former Roman Catholics. The second largest group are former United Church of Christ members. These two major groups were followed by Anglicans (16%) and those we term "unchurched" (6%). Intriguingly enough however, now these last two groups have switched places with a rise in people who have no previous church experience. Over 30 ethnic backgrounds are represented with over 20 countries reported as a place of birth. More than 20 different languages are spoken. Surprisingly, given the origins of this church, the population of the church that identify as heterosexual is 15% and growing.

I've been asked why this church is experiencing growth (an average Sunday attendance of almost 600 with 4K at the Christmas Eve service). I would guess this would be due to the attractiveness of progressive (liberal) theology. Additionally the worship style is both traditional yet dynamic at the same time. There numerous active groups committed to social justice, helping the poor, sick, the church upkeep and worship etc. I think the main reason that this church is so popular is word of mouth. It's a place that people are proud of and enjoy telling others about. New people come to see what it's all about and feel a sense of home and belonging.

Last month, when the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto celebrated it's thirty-fifth anniversary, it seemed somehow fitting that soon I would be celebrating the same number of years. I thank God for sending me to this place and hope that both of us will continue to grow old together!