I am fearful of fundamentalism, but not fundamentalists (and so can you!)

 

Recently I and a friend were invited to a fundamentalist church to attend for my church incognito project, but as I was finding out about the church I was cautioned about some of its practices and corporate beliefs. Now it’s not that often I am warned about a church and honestly I find it interesting when this happens.

I had the opportunity to attend this past weekend, and as it closer and closer to the time for the service to begin I thought less and less of attending. I gave thought to contacting my friend to join me, but I chickened out in extending the invitation. As I backed out in going I started thinking of the reasons why.

First off, I was worried about what my friend would think; he heard the caveats but he didn’t understand it to the extent that I did, and so I was worried he might not get it until we were in the midst of the service and then the “a ha” moment might kick in. Secondly, I was worried about my interaction with the members of this church; I attend a spiritually and emotionally healthy church, and I “forget” (suppress perhaps?) that fundamentalist churches are still out there.

I do realize that Christian fundamentalism hasn’t always been the anti-science, anti-thinking, anti-Bible questioning, anti-smoking, anti-drinking, infallible / inerrant bible believing, substitutionary atonement, homophobic, misogynistic, patriarchal authority figure it appears to be nowadays (and granted, more or less of what I’ve just posted). It was once about the fundamentals of what following Jesus looks like, but as technology advanced and science explained more about the world and its origins, beliefs that were once held with an open hand became closed.

Instead of engaging in science and technology, walls were fortified and fundamentalism became a system of security responding out of fear rather than love. And over the years, more things have caused the typical fundamentalist Christian to build more walls. At times I wonder if the walls are built to keep them in or to keep others out, and I’m left thinking it’s a both/and answer.

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It’s out of this framework that I am fearful of Christian fundamentalism on a personal level, but at the same time I intentionally try to see the humanity and divinity of those who align themselves accordingly. I’m told I need to engage structures more, but personally speaking if I’m to do this I bound to make assumptions and lose sight of what actually matters.
I am also fearful of Christian fundamentalism and it’s marginalization of “the other” and I am someone who has LGBTQ+ friends, Muslim friends, Atheist and Agnostic friends. There isn’t a place for them at the table of Christian fundamentalism, and that’s why I bring it back to me; to widen my doors, to set more tables, because I am fundamentally inclusive to ALL.

This system exists, but I am glad it will not always exist. It sustainability depends on naivete, gullibility, fear, and power. When people pull back the curtain and see the wizard for all he is, there’s no need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and thus the fire of Christian fundamentalism will be snuffed out. Thanks be to God!

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Holidays with the Harrisons / The beauty of messy hospitality

My roommate Brian is a swell guy, and in getting to know him better I have also gotten to know his family as well. They have invited me to several family functions, mainly holiday (and soon, a wedding) and today on Easter it was no different.

It started off with going to Easter at 11am at Springbrook Community Church where Brian’s father is the lead pastor.

I was a little early for the 11am service, so I waited around till Brian arrived and then we went into the sanctuary as it was starting…

It was a good Easter service with a few sleigh-of-hand’s by Brian’s father, a lot of laughter and a lot of celebration of the resurrection. From there I met some people Brian knows, and it was nice and social. From there I drove over to their house for Easter lunch, which was great because they do a good job at being themselves and being hospitable.

“Messy Hospitality” is a phrase I’ve heard before to describe hospitality as-is, no hook lines and sinkers, no catches, what you see is what you get, and so on. The Harrison’s home is such a place, and there’s a welcoming in that family that is “as-is” and I love it completely.
Messy hospitality can get complicated as its fractured and untidy. But I suppose that’s the beauty of it, it comes unvarnished and doesn’t have a shine to it for appearance’s sake. As Leonard Cohen croons in Anthem;

                                                              Ring the bells that still can ring
                                                              Forget your perfect offering
                                                              There is a crack in everything
                                                              That’s how the light gets in.

Growing up my family’s life was very private, and consequently my life was very privatized and compartmentalized. Some of it A lot of it was operating out of fear, and fear compounds itself on fear and before you know it you have this massive fear stack that you have no idea how you’re going to dismantle it…except, say if you move in the direction of honesty (to self inasmuch to others), even if that means transparency and, ultimately, messy hospitality.

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Messy hospitality is what I aim to do where I am at in every walk of life unto everyone I associate with. I might not bare my heart on my sleeve, but I will be unflinchingly transparent where needed be. We all need boundaries in our lives, and so there are some things I will withhold from others and my blog for my own emotional and mental health.

For what I cannot wrestle on my own or with the help of others (which is statistically 92.5%) I take it to God in prayer. Occasionally Most of the time my prayers are detailed and very much “warts and all.” God gets me more than the other way around, but with that being said I lay it on thick.

I no longer fear what others think about me (most of the time),
I don’t have a nagging in the back of my mind to keep up appearances that are contrary to how I am feeling and responding to what’s going on inside and around me.
I don’t have a need to wait till I get “there” when it comes to hospitality, my door is wider and my table is inclusive to all.
It took time to get here, but may God be honored by the journey I’m on.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Deo Gratias for Saints past and present in my life

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Happy All Saints Day! 🙂

Consider this a tribute post of sorts. A brief recapturing of my story thus far and saints in my life, both in my past and in my present…enjoy!

Deo Gratias for…

My sisters 3; oh how I love them and don’t tell them it enough. Their uniqueness and gifts that they utilize, for their smarts and witty senses of humor. There’s also the dynamic of when we all hang out together, which lately has been seldom but we sure know how to have good times all together.

My parents who instilled in me knowledge and the desire to further my education; it hasn’t always been a classroom setting, as so much of life is learning through experience. It is because of them that I have cultivated my own passions and stand-up-fors; they started a pregnancy information in town, the abortion clinic has closed while what they started still exists to this day. I and my desiring to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community has roots in their drive many years ago. I have been a questioner my entire life, and I see that some of that comes from them as well.

My friend Mark. We have a hodgepodge history that had entwining before we actually were friends. We have clashed heads and hearts together, we’ve shared good times and bad times together, and last year I was in his wedding. I am glad to call him my friend, he has helped my sorry ass numerous times and he knows how to equally make me laugh, think, and cringe.

My youth pastor while I was in high school; I was a loner, an awkward troubled kid out of place, but he spoke into my life and encouraged me a great deal. He heard me out in my silent screaming, and loved me despite what I brought to the table as to the shit that was going on in my life at that time. I still feel called to youth ministry and helping students out to the best of my ability, and so much of it comes back to his influence in my life.

My youth ministry students over the last 10 years. I went from staying in lines that youth pastors walk, but when I stepped out on faith and did things apart from Sunday mornings and night, I stepped out onto something bigger than me. With my latest bunch of students I have dreamers, doubters, hopefuls, thinkers, processors, and intellectuals in my midst. I am glad to help facilitate the group and wish I was that way when I was younger. They think I’m teaching them, but I think there’s a symbiotic relationship taking place.

My pastor. He inspires me and believes in me despite me not believing in myself at times. I’m getting a better grasp as to who I am and what I’m called to do, in part some of that has come through his encouraging me in his own way.

My coworkers and my clients. Yes I do work with individuals who have various types of mental illnesses, but they are humans first before they are their diagnosis. There too with my coworkers and clients is a symbiotic relationship at play. Even when I was on vacation they were on my heart, I want the best for them as they deem the best. My coworkers are phenomenal at working with our clients, I have faith in their capacities to do a damn good job in my absence.

My grandmother who recently passed away. We didn’t get along well, it was very unhealthy, but I do have good memories of her. I remember her frozen yogurt place in the late 80s, I remember being at forehead height and arms length to the gummy worms and Whoppers 😉 I got the earnest nature to her love for my father and his siblings. She had a wonderful flower and fruit tree garden, and there were plenty of nice days in Phoenix spent just being with her.

My grandparents on my mother’s side. I miss them and having seen them both pass away in the care of my aunt and my family respectively. I care for who they were out of their limitless kindness despite limited resources.

My online friends. It’s kind of weird at times to think of the internet as a community, but sometimes with certain eFriends there’s a community there that me feels like I am at home. I haven’t been home figuratively speaking for quite sometime now, but I’m getting there at making a home for myself as well as for others.

Mr. Rogers. I never met the guy but I wish I had. His cheery demeanor, his Agape love for his community of viewers across the tube, across time, and across the world. His optimism and unending kindness may have been written on a script first, but I truly believe he took it to heart.
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That’s all the saints that come to mind at this time, but there’ll be more opportunities for me to reflect at later times.

~Nathanael~

reclaiming my sexuality from Christians

re·claim

[riˈklām]

verb (used with object), re·claimed, re·claim·ing

retrieve or recover (something previously lost, given, or paid); obtain the return of.

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Truth to be told I heard diverse perspectives about sexuality growing up. In my immediate family, mum was the word. Amongst my peers it was something talked about in secret braggadocio whispers about who did what with whom, and in church…well, in church, purity was put on a pedestal.

I was never part of any True Love Waits conferences, the quintessential Evangelical event that coerces instructs kids to make a pledge to save sex for marriage and only marriage. The pledge is as follows: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.”
It is sexual to some degree education but solely from an abstinence perspective. While there are some things within the program that might be beneficial, I truly believe that followers of Christ who aren’t willing to give kids a well-rounded/holistic view on sexuality might be setting them up for failure or worse if kids have sex (gasp!) there might be some sense of worthlessness per no longer being “sexually pure”.

This is my story so I will get back to it. Despite not going to any conferences that were promoting sexual purity and waiting for marriage to have sex, some of it seeped into my subconscious. I didn’t ever write off any of my peers if they were not being “sexually pure” or anything like that, but I did know of some peers who seemed adrift and perhaps even at a loss when they went “too far”.

My first dating relationship was to a woman who had two sons, and while in that season of life I loved her unconditionally, it was sad to hear indirectly people talking about my relationship with this woman who had two children who wasn’t married. It pissed me off for many  reasons, but there was the nature of they didn’t even know her and they made assumptions about this ‘promiscuous woman’ I was dating.
I have a great deal of respect for single parent households, it’s a tough position to be in and having been in a relationship with a woman who was for a while I learned quite a bit. Still among Christians there’s a taboo about it. To those who talk and whisper and cut down such individuals to their face or behind their backs, to those who do that fuck your actions!  Engage them in conversation and maybe you’ll find out where they’re coming from.

Now what confuses me is the pedestal in which sexual purity is placed amongst followers of Christ. There’s no reference of saving sex for marriage in the Bible because in that day and age sex was marriage, and even the nature of it was more procreational not necessarily recreational, although if you read Song of Solomon and between the lines, yeah it was to be enjoyed. Marriage was also transactional; to keep peace between family members or tribes, a daughter and son would unite to hold things together in that way. Plus there’s the age in which people were getting “married” in that day and age, individuals in their early to mid teens! Nowadays people are getting married later and later in life, statistically via Huffington Post; “For men, the average age at first marriage is 28.7, while the average woman is getting married for the first time at age 26.5.
There is also the nature of shaming those who are no longer virgins. Everything revolves around being sexually pure and once that comes to an end, you’re used up and discarded. I know I have felt collective guilt in the past for making out, and it was never really my own guilt! I do see that if you’re feeling guilty by your own guilt and not because of some collective guilt…well, maybe that should be your cue if anything.

When it comes down to it I have for sometime now reclaimed my sexuality from Christians. I reclaim it because I realize having lived life for 29 years now that sex is important, but people are more important. I cannot snob or look down upon someone who is having sex or had sex, that is their purgative and not mine at this time. I am a sexual being, but I am a sexual being in waiting; I will learn, I will ask questions, I will cross “Christian” lines to educate myself sexually instead of just siding with “don’t have sex until you get married/abstinence only” rhetoric.

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When the time comes to have children of my own it is my intention to give my children a holistic sexual education.  That includes bringing up abstinence but also different forms of protection for safer sex. I will share with them my story without getting into details that will freak them out to the point of not wanting to discuss sexual matters out loud with my wife/their mom and I, the last thing I want for my children is to feel like they cannot talk to me about anything, now whether I’ll be ready for said conversations time will tell. 😉

Sex is important, and it can be very good at times. It needs to be talked about in a way that doesn’t elevate sexual purity in a way that one’s worth is defined solely on whether someone has had sex or not. In recognizing and engaging my own sexuality I realize that there’s more to sex than sex and certainly there’s more to purity than purity. I am doing what I can to live holistically and through this stance this is how I choose to reclaim my sexuality from Christians.

~Nathanael~

Making plans/Life happens sometimes all the time

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. ~ John Lennon

Truth to be told I like structure in making plans. I do have moments of spontaneity of just “going with it” some times, but I like plans and making plans. I, however, do not like hiccups in my plans, either personal or external, it works it way under my skin and I get irate and I have panic attacks because my plans have been thwarted.Yesterday was one of those days where nothing seemed to have gone my way. I did not like it, and I was worked up in frustration and anger for not getting my way. Yet grace was given to me by Jimmy, my foot in the door contact in Memphis and the I’m Sorry Campaign: Memphis edition. As soon as I realized I wasn’t going to be getting out to Memphis on my schedule (am I saying my too much? I just want it to bear witness to my internal chaos) and subsequently I wasn’t going to be able to cook for him or his roomies…he forgave me, he thanked me for communicating that I wouldn’t be there. He wasn’t upset! He was more full of grace to me than I was to myself!

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Now even though I am a cynical asshole to myself and to others sometimes, I get grace, I really do. Do I get it every time? Whether the getting grace or getting the nature of grace, no, but I’m trying to get grace like that on both accounts. I don’t write it off as southern hospitality as to why Jimmy was kind, I realize the grace I believe in so much of the times others do too, and when they extend that grace to me in moments where all my plans are shot down, it is a balm, it is a cool drink of water on a hot summer’s day. Grace, I love it, and need to extended it to myself more often equally as much as I extend it to others.

So here I sit on my couch in IL for the last time in 20 days contemplating grace and BEing in grace, and I like it. Any ounce of anger or frustration is gone. Life happens sometimes all the time, and I need to allow room for error, but I also need to allow room for grace to myself for things not going as I would have liked it to.

Lesson learned, moving forward and upward and down to Memphis. I’ll be there today, at least I plan on it.

~Nathanael~

Tennessee Vacation

Tomorrow morning bright and [not so] early I will be starting a 20 day vacation out to Tennessee. My itinerary at this point is sporadic with the only definitive plans being:
– Memphis Pride on Saturday
– Spending time with friends in Nashville
– Jack Daniels’ 25th Annual World Championship Invitational Barbeque in Lynchburg

I hope to go camping, hiking, swimming, BEing, writing, blogging, dining out, networking…it’ll be a blast 🙂

Follow along here and via photos on Instagram (my user name is nvphotography).

I will be doing some blogging per what I’ve started plus some new things that have been buzzing in my head like bees, it’s time to deal with the swarm of thoughts.

~Nathanael~

Making peace with my past

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it” ~ Richard Rohr

It hasn’t been too long now that I have made peace with a part of my past.

It hasn’t been that long that out of anxiety, out of not wanting to get past it, not wanting to move forward in my life that I still dreamt and dwelt upon a future that’s never going to happen. A future with my ex-fiancee (she has a name, I address her as such in prayer, but only there I speak her name out loud) and her sons.

My pastor Scott has shared with me some of his story, and how some things he had issues with had come to a resolution to a point where he pronounced peace and blessing over that closed chapter in his life. Now I hold on to a lot; I could say some of it stems from seeing parents who don’t resolve much, and if anything the enmity between them have made a rift ever-widening. Seeing and hearing a mother who is good at forgiving but not forgetting to the point where areas of contention past are brought to light in the form of verbal ammo. I grew up hearing 1 Peter 4:8 when it says that “love covers over a multitude of sins” but I have never seen it lived out in my family life.

So with that sociological tale of woe in my life, what was I to expect when it came to holding down a healthy relationship (at that time, nowadays I have a better idea, thanks to healthy people in healthier relationships)? Love is a verb, it needs to be acted on daily and even secondly, but I in my younger years knew how to love…but then I switched on cruise control and moved forward but with no work on my part. I failed at loving my best friend, and I paid for it by our relationship ending.

I probably have pinned more blame on her for it coming to an end. It sometimes can seem like the one calling it quits is the one to blame, I mean c’mon, if you’re willing to get out and not fight for love’s sake then you sir/ma’am are the loser…perhaps I had this kind of mentality at one time, but it didn’t make it any easier.

I didn’t rebound after that relationship into another relationship for nearly 3 to 6 months later. It wasn’t healthy and it was over quickly. I was in another relationship since that relationship, and it was none the more healthier; when you get wrapped up in dopamine and oxytocin, sometimes it is what it is, and for me that doesn’t equate to stability and the bedrock of a good relationship. In the moment it feels good (it really should) but it doesn’t feel right, at least, not to me.

So with 3 relationships failed in my life’s rear view mirror, some kind of resolution needed to take place; either I could squirrel away my emotions and what I feel and what I think and stay there, or I could shake off my emotional baggage, forgive myself and forgive my ex-fiancee and get here. I chose the latter, and let me tell you, it is freeing! 🙂

Unless you’ve gotten to this point in your life having gone through a similar if not the same experience, freedom doesn’t seem attainable. Your mind wanders, you remember and reminisce healthier moments in a particular relationship and dwell there. But if you’re dwelling there you are not in the present, you are not here, and it sucks to be caught in flux like that because I think at times people want to be both there and here but you really can’t, you’re a whole person in either environment but you can’t be healthily divided in both.

Here I am, broken and healing man, typing away to the tunes of Steely Dan whilst drinking some black Columbian coffee and eating some pumpkin bread. That’s one thing I have been doing to get here, exercises of mindfulness per what I am learning in DBT. Here I am broken and healing man who is able to pronounce blessing on this part of my story, here I sit smiling at making peace with my past. It needed to be done, I am glad that time is now.

~Nathanael~