Visiting An Old Friend

Today was the first time I had darkened the doors of a church, as a visitor, in a long time.

I was raised in church and the “churchy” culture of, at first, a nondenominational variety and then the A/G persuasion.

I warily went with some friends who invited me. It felt like being invited to a former friend’s house who you probably should’ve kept in touch with, but didn’t. Walking into the sanctuary, I couldn’t escape the heavy feeling of shame that came over me. It wasn’t even sin shame. It was more of a “We didn’t keep in touch and it was definitely my fault” shame. I had been the one who kept the relationship strained and distant. I was angry, beaten down, and defeated by the Church and its members, and by association, God.

The songs begin and the Hillsong-esque lyrics flash upon the screens at the front. People jump into singing about how they love God “so so so so much!” It felt like watching a Kid’s Bop version of worship. The lyrics remained fairly vague and repetitive. It wasn’t until the 3rd song that I legitimately felt something.

“There Is Nothing Like” is one of my all-time favorite worship songs. I’ll know the words until I die. In the midst of being ashamed and feeling awkward, it felt like God began singing this song to me. It felt like he had switched around the person of the song and telling me that “he’ll love me forever.”

It was like he accepted my silent apology in song. “Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been dealing with my own stuff. I didn’t want to talk to you.” “That’s ok. I’ll love you forever.”

The rest of the service rambled on through the end of worship and through moments of speaking by exuberant people as they read scripture, update the community, and preach a sermon.

I probably won’t return to this church, just because it’s too similar to the churches I’ve been raised in and that I’ve worked in; but there was definitely a reason for me to be here today, even if it was only for God to let me know that he still knows I exist and that he loves me.

Today, for the first time, I felt wonderstruck.

Moving Time

I’m currently making the move from Dallas, TX to Springfield, Mo. As such, my blogs will become much more sparse until Mid-June. I’ve been here since April 22nd, which is why there hasn’t been a post since. My access to computers is very limited. The good news is, I do have a job up here, and a place to crash until I can afford an apartment. This is an exciting new chapter in my life and I look forward to the adventure these next few years may hold. :D

Thanks for understanding!

-Sam

One Less Lonely Person

In the evening of April 16th, 2013, on a whim after having seen it on Amazon on a recommended list, I purchased the book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate” by, Justin Lee. At roughly 5:40 a.m CST, as a thunderstorm raged and lit up my room with flashes of light, I finished the book whilst curled up in my blankets with my smartphone plugged into my charger as the Kindle app ran continuously. I couldn’t get enough of the book and the reasoning for this is pretty clear to me. Once again, in the middle of the night, God was letting me in on something; I am not alone.

I know, I know; simple right? You’d think so for most people, but as someone who is both gay and a Christian, this feeling is more prevalent than you would think.

Justin and I share much of the same story, though there are some deviations throughout. We both grew up in homes where both parents were incredibly loving. We both grew up in the South (in the good ol’ Bible Belt). We were both raised in Christian homes. The deviation comes when we take into account things like my being molested by multiple men in my life. Justin wasn’t (this is actually a discussion point in his book). Despite the differences, reading through his book was like reading a template of my life’s progression. As he chronologically ventured into each area of his life, I found myself becoming more and more captivated by what would occur, if only because I wanted to know how alike our stories were. I wanted to know if he encountered the same things I did. I again wanted to know that I wasn’t alone.

Justin eloquently delves through the journey of his life, pitting the traditions of the Church against the experiences of himself and others. He doesn’t do so in a way that is flippant of either side of the tracks. This isn’t a gay Christian lawyer versus the evangelical Christians of today. This is a man who has been making, and is still making, his journey through understanding how sexuality interacts with Christianity. There is no “Us-vs-Them” dichotomy in the book, merely an experiential outline and struggle. Justin’s views stated in the book aren’t easily come to. Though there are many gay Christians who decide that, based on experience, they can’t make themselves straight so being gay MUST be OK, (Justin addresses this view in the book) Justin isn’t one of those people. He fights with the scriptures and wrestles with them before forming and then elaborating on his positions in this debate.

I had known of Justin before reading his book, but only in a passing manner. Other gay friends of mine had mentioned him to me and had mentioned his network. I had read his stance on gay relationships through his page here and had agreed with much of it, but hadn’t gone much further than that. I was midway through the book before I looked him up on Google and was like, “Oh yeahhh. That guy.” What I had known of him before was good, but reading this book made me respect him.

As someone who loves a good debate, one of the things I can’t stand is when people hold beliefs that they can’t defend; or when they defend them in a flippant manner such as, “I just believe this.” I love hashing out ideologies and reasonings and listening to people’s apologetics. To me, it’s a sign that someone has come to their belief through good critical thinking and time. Justin is one of the people I would get along with in debates, for he is such a person. I can’t recommend this book to my friends enough. Especially with the way current events bear down on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, books like this shine a light in a really dark room.

Justin’s book takes a look at all sides of the debate whilst not painting anyone as a “villain.” There are people and stances he takes issue with, but never in a condescending or condemning way. Even if you don’t agree with the theology in the book, there’s no way you could read it and feel unloved. Justin is a shining example of Christ’s unconditional love for all, and that light shows itself throughout the pages. Pick up this book. Seriously.

Print

Amazon: Here

Barnes & Noble: Here

Official Site: http://www.tornbook.com/

The Journey Through the FAYZ

I just finished reading “LIGHT” by, Michael Grant. It’s the conclusion of the GONE series. I find myself seemingly overwhelmed by the impact these six books have had on me. They’re absolutely incredibly, but will leave no person unchanged should they decide to pick them up and journey through the FAYZ with the characters they’ll grow to love, hate, and fear.

I started reading the GONE series 5 years ago. My first year in college I had picked up GONE and from there I was hooked. I awaited each book release with excitement and trepidation because I knew that whatever was going to take place on those pages was going to be an emotional roller coaster. There are moments that are beautiful, moments that are terrifying, and moments where you think the situation couldn’t POSSIBLY get any worse, but you’d be wrong.

There is something different about reading through this series as opposed to other series’ that have similar themes or scenarios. The Hungers Games may be brutal, but GONE is harrowing. It’s Lord of the Flies with super powers and a lot less hope. Don’t get me wrong, there is hope throughout, but the world presented here is so bleak for so long that you almost begin to lose hope as some the characters do.

The stories of the children in these books are so powerful though. Quinn, Sam, Lana, Edilio, Caine, Diana, Brianna, Orc, etc. They are all meaningfully laid out through each of the novels. These kids go from being young, innocent teenagers to powerful, thoughtful adults, even over the course of the year and a half or so that they’re in this situation. Some kids lead, some run away. Some kids kill, some protect. Factions are built. People choose sides. Lives are lost. The whole time you’re reading through this epic war-like scenario that thought keeps springing to the forefront of your mind, “These are kids. Good God, these are kids.”

There has been talk of the series being adapted for movies or television and I hope to God they find someone who understands the darkness of the series and why that darkness matters. I hope they find a channel like AMC that will let them get away with the brutality that this content needs to work. In 50 years, The Hunger Games won’t  be in a conversational about incredible movies because they sacrificed content for a PG-13 rating. The Hunger Games was decent, but sacrificed the brutality of the books for ticket sales. At the core of a series like The Hunger Games or GONE you have to remember that the power of these characters’ journeys stems from the incredible odds they have to overcome, and yes, sometimes that means killing other children to survive.

The violence, sex, drugs, etc in the GONE series is there as a reminder. A reminder that sometimes, sometimes the world can be an incredibly dark place. The people who get up in arms about the content of these books and the situations that these kids are placed in are missing the point. You’re supposed to be horrified, just as these children are, but you’re also supposed to understand something; for every bit of darkness, there is light. There is love. There is mercy. There is friendship. The children of Perdido Beach all make their journeys along that spectrum. Some end up embracing the darkness and the evil, but some embrace the hope; the light, and that’s all that matters.

One Powerful Republic

onerepublic-native-2013-2000x2000Sometimes an artist I enjoy will release an album and it will terrify me. I’ll be terrified because I think they’ve set a benchmark that will be hard for them to ever compete with, especially with their own records.

Coldplay did it with X&Y.

My Chemical Romance did it with Welcome to the Black Parade.

U2 did it with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. 

OneRepublic just did it with Native.

Native is one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to and is definitely the best outing from OneRepublic. This is saying something, because I thought Waking Up was fantastic. They took a different turn from Dreaming Out Loud and went into a more poppy, radio sound. Native sounds like a mix between both of their earlier albums. There are songs that hit the road with the pop sound and will be played all over radio stations for months to come. “Counting Stars,” “If I Lose Myself,” “Feel Again,” “I Lived,” the list just keeps going on songs that work.

They also turn it around on some songs and go into some of the more deep motifs from Dreaming Out Loud. “Preacher” stands out as a track bursting from the seams with emotion. It seems to be more of a story set to music than a song meant for the radio. It’s almost as if the band is sitting us all down for a story in front of a fireplace. Ryan Tedder tells us the story of his grandfather and the lessons that he passed down. It’s a truly great track.

When I judge albums, I judge them on one factor more than others. I judge it on how much I want to press shuffle, or how much I want to listen to the album 8-track style. 8-Tracks, for those who don’t know, are un-skippable, un-rewindable, tapes. You have to listen to the whole album all the way through before listening to it again. Very few albums achieve something like this nowadays. With iTunes, Amazon, MP3 players, etc; it’s easy to skip through songs. Native keeps you in the moment though. You just fall into the album and let it wash over you like a cool wave. It’s just that good.

A solid 9.5/10 from me. It loses .5 for “Feel Again” being an almost direct rip off of “The Dog Days Are Over.” The song is still great, but it’s impossible not to notice the huge similarities.

 

Escaping Cancer

For the last few months we’ve had to deal with some hard truths in my family.

My mom has cervical cancer. She has one 1-ft mass and another, smaller, one in her body.

This whole ordeal started on my 23rd birthday as my mom was rushed to the hospital by the girl who lives with us in the early hours of the a.m. She was in incredible pain. The doctors at that hospital didn’t really give her the time of day (we don’t have health insurance) and she scheduled an appointment with a specialist after getting some massive pain meds. Through the appointments, the scans, and the biopsies, we found out it was cancer.

My mom turns 50 in April. This is incredibly scary for me. Not the turning 50 thing, but the realization that on Monday morning (the 25th) she goes in for surgery and might not make it out. She’s super optimistic about the whole thing, brushing off whims of danger as if she were Jay-Z and they were simply dust on her shoulder. I’m optimistic, but wary…careful. This is a big deal.

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Throughout this experience I’ve dove into some video games with the sole purpose of not thinking about this thing. Tomb Raider, Fallout: New Vegas, and Mass Effect 3 have kept me plenty occupied in times where I need to escape. Hospitals freak me out and make me nervous. My mom was in one for 5 days when they found out she had diabetes a few weeks ago. They had to acclimate her body to the insulin and get her blood sugar to the right levels. It’s supposed to be between 70-110. It was 366 the day she checked in. They don’t know if this is a side effect of the masses or what, but we got everything worked out. I visited her once or twice and bought her some presents (A gurlfriends card and some beach wisdom from Cracker Barrel :D ), but mostly I stayed home while others visited her because looking at her in a hospital bed freaked me out so much.

I don’t want to lose my mom.

So again, I dove into video games. Logging hundreds of hours over multiple titles. These games kept me sane. They kept me in a place where it was OK to be scared, but that eventually, good wins out. I wasn’t worrying about day to day things. I wasn’t worried about surgeries, or medicines, or hospitals. I was free.

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On March 26th, the day after my mom’s major surgery to get everything removed and fixed, I’ll be playing BioShock: Infinite. That’ll be my coping mechanism for the week. This time she’ll be in the hospital for longer, so I’ll visit her more often (she keeps telling me that she understands, but she loves it when I’m around because I make inappropriate jokes around the hospital staff and that makes her laugh). It’s just good to know that there’s a place for me when I need it. This moment’s place is a city in the early 1900’s called Columbia. Should I get too stressed out or worried, it will be my home.

This is why I play video games.