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God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships

April 21, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

God-and-Gay-ChristianEver since I became a Christian LGBT ally, people have asked me how I can claim to respect the authority of scripture, while also affirming same-sex relationships. There’s no short answer to that question, one I can sum up in a sentence or two, but the closest attempt I can give is, “There is only one Bible, and one God, but there is not only one correct way to interpret scripture.”

All it takes is a visit to three separate churches to see how differently the scriptures are interpreted. Baptism, pre-destination, women’s roles, elders, deacons, saints – the list of variations in how we view God’s word are endless. Yet rarely, at least not blatantly, do people go so far as to say that if someone doesn’t share their churches view on say, the role of elders, that that person isn’t really a Christian. You don’t see leaders of huge church denominations writing 10 page diatribes on why people who sprinkle instead of dunk during baptisms are clearly trying to deceive people away from Christ, and are going to hell.

Well, at least not anymore.

What you see today, instead, are church leaders and Pastors warning their flock that there are people who seek to bring down Christianity by encouraging the acceptance of homosexuality. You have leaders of denominations warning that a “revolution” is coming, one that might split and irrevocably break evangelism, if we allow it. And who are the purveyors of this impending religious holocaust?

My friends. And myself, I guess.

Which is news to me. Seeing as how, in all the conversations, meetings, and moments with these friends that share my beliefs, the one thing we’ve all consistently agreed on is our goal – not to destroy Christianity, but redeem it.

Why would I say that Christianity needs redeeming?

Because numbers don’t lie. Because if anything is going to irrevocably break Christianity, it’s not going to be the Christians trying to welcome more people into it. It’s going to be the Christians driving the hurting and rejected away.

It is daunting to read the statistics that show that the number one reason young people are leaving the church today is because of its attitude towards homosexuality. Not because sex is something young people are unhealthy focused on, but because sex is the thing young people have seen the church care more about than anything else. When the only time the American church rallies and comes together is in order to stand up against a group of people defined by their sexuality, it’s easy for those curious about Christianity to turn and walk away.

Which is why I am so happy, excited, hopeful, and yes, a little jealous, about the release of my friend Matthew Vines book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I’m happy because I believe this book can be something that can help bring people back to the church. I think it’s something that can help heal the wounds caused by years of Christians saying that, “you can’t be one of us unless you look, act, and think the way we want you too.” Matthews book says, “You don’t have to choose the Bible, or your identity. Jesus loves you for who He created you to be.”

I’m also happy because, unlike the people writing emotionally charged, panicky reviews about the book, I’ve met the author. I’ve talked to him. I’ve heard him speak about his heart for the church - not just for the LGBT people in the church, but the church as a whole. Hell, I’ve even seen him cry. I know then, in a way that you can only know when you’ve looked someone in the eye – that Matthew Vines book was not written in an attempt to deceive or hurt anything. It was written out of a love for, above all else, scripture.

That’s why I want to encourage everyone I know to purchase and read Matthew’s book, which is desperately needed today. It’s a clear, definitive answer to that question I get all the time – “how can you be a Christian, and support same-sex relationships?”

If you’ve ever wanted an answer to that question, I suggest you read Matthews book.

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Fred Phelps is Dead and I’m Grateful

March 20, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol
Fred-Phelps-650x381

Fred Phelps, eponymous patriarch of the Westboro Baptist church, is dead. The 84 year old man who spent most of his years bringing pain and torment to family and strangers alike, is no longer on this Earth. In the wake of this news, many people are not sure how to react.

Should we celebrate?

Should we mourn?

Should we just ignore it?

While my desire is to celebrate, as this man was by all accounts evil and deranged, I know that celebrating his death would just be trading evil for evil. It’s possible no other human will actually mourn this man’s passing, but I have to wonder what God’s reaction will be. Did God see Fred Phelps as a disgusting and vile creature that He eagerly cast into hell? Or did He view Mr. Phelps as His child, a person that He loved and sent His son to die for? Did Fred ever know God at all?

I have no idea what Fred’s personal life was like, when he was all alone with no cameras around. I don’t know what motivated him. If he was driven to hate by some kind of mental defect or sick need for attention, or if he really did hate gay people and America as much as the signs he crafted said he did. I do know though that God says we are to be judged by our fruit, and the things that Mr. Phelps produced were far too bitter, vile, and foul to be anything resembling nourishing fruit.

I also know that on some level, I’m grateful for Fred Phelps.

That might sound shocking, but it’s true. I’m grateful that Fred Phelps made hating gay people seem deranged, and crazy. I’m glad that, with his crudely drawn bright color signs, he looked foolish. He made the word “fag” something that only hateful people, not “Christians,” use to describe gay people. Fred became the clown of homophobia that everyone else laughed at, or mocked, and distanced themselves from.

Fred Phelps showed homophobia for what it was – a sad, angry, misguided belief.

Yet at the same time, I have to give credit to Phelps for at least being honest with himself and others. He thought gay sex was disgusting, and abhorrent. He thought it was so awful that it caused 9/11, and would result in the demise of America. Phelps was so horrified and angered by homosexuality that he didn’t care about offending people by protesting the funerals of soldiers or murdered kids – he just wanted people to know that “God Hates Fags.”

Fred Phelps would never say that he “loves the sinner.” He just hated the sin.

This is different than the more deceptive, “loving” homophobia that many other Christians advocate for today. They would never ever dream of holding a sign that attacks gay people, or protesting a funeral. But they will vote against the rights of LGBT people, claiming “religious freedom.” These people will talk about how awful Fred Phelps was, yet put forth laws that would make it legal to turn a LGBT person away from a restaurant, hospital, or public space.

Which homophobia is worse, the kind that offends with signs, or the kind that oppresses with laws?

Fred Phelps may be dead, but homophobia sure as hell isn’t.

Maybe Fred wasn’t a clown after all. Maybe he was just a man who was willing to say what so few others wanted to; that their obsession with gay sex far outweighed their care for gay people. Because really, if Mr. Phelps was the crazy one, what does that make the lawmakers and people supporting the very things he put on his signs? “Fags Burn in Hell” might seem crude and crazy, but how crazy is it when multiple countries right now are passing laws criminalizing homosexuality?

Even more frustrating is that fact that some Christians see nothing wrong with ostracizing Fred Phelps, while at the same time defending people like Scott Lively. Fred just spread his hate with signs. To my knowledge, Westboro never actually killed anyone. But Scott Lively has made it his life’s mission to travel the world, trying to influence governments and pass laws that would make homosexuality punishable by imprisonment or death. He has gay blood on his hands. And if we want to talk about “crazy” he’s also a man who wrote a book on why homosexuality played a role in the holocaust. Despite all this, one of the most powerful and influential Christian organizations today, the Liberty Counsel, (aka Liberty University) is defending him against charges of gross human rights violations. They’re on Scott’s side.

Honestly, I’m much more worried about the lives that Scott Lively can still destroy, than the ones Fred Phelps already might have affected.

Here is my hope and prayer, in the wake of Fred Phelps death: that people, Christians especially, will not paint Fred Phelps as the now-deceased leader of dangerous homophobia, but instead recognize the alive leaders still spreading hate all over the world today.

Maybe instead of mourning or celebrating Fred Phelps death, we should be paying attention to the men, like Scott Lively, who are still alive, wreaking damage.

 

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The 20 Most Misunderstood Verses in the Bible

March 10, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

(This is a piece I originally wrote for CuratedQuotes.com, but they ultimately decided it was too big for them to run. Since I spent quite a bit of time on it though, I wanted to go ahead and share it. Would love to hear your thoughts.)

Anyone who grew up in the church, or with friends and family who did, is familiar to some extent with the Bible. It’s the foundation of the Christian religion and the book that millions of people claim to live by. Yet even though we’ve spent over 500 years trying to fathom it, many people still get what it says wrong. You can blame this on bad interpretation, teaching, or cultural bias, but the fact is many religious people don’t know the meaning of the core verses they pass around. Here is a list of 20 of these most commonly misunderstood Bible verses.

1) Jeremiah 29:11 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Entire churches have been started on the misinterpretation of this verse, found in the Old Testament. The most popular understanding, that spurned the “prosperity gospel,” is that God wants you, yes you, to prosper. How? With money of course! And happiness. A future of prosperity is enticing enough to fill whole arenas with Christians every Sunday, eager for their share.

But mansions and Mercedes and a life free from worry is not what the Lord was declaring in this verse. As Thomas Turner, writing for Relevant Magazine, so perfectly explained,

“This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with vocation or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire [Israelite] nation…in Jeremiah 29:10, God lays down the specifics on this promise: that He will fulfill it “after seventy years are completed for Babylon.” In other words, yes, God says, I will redeem you—after 70 years in exile. This is certainly a far cry from our expectation of this verse in what God’s plans to prosper us really mean. He did have a future and a hope for them—but it would look far different than the Israelites ever expected.”

For this verse, and every verse in the Bible, context matters. And the context for Jeremiah 29:11 removes any notions that God promises you a future of riches and comfort.

2-7 on this list is devoted to the most popularly referenced verses when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. These are sometimes referred to as, “the clobber verses,” because the effect on the people they’re lobbed against is often hurtful and damaging. Here’s why the religious people using them this way have it all wrong.

2) Genesis 1:27-28

“27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

This verse is used most often to defend the argument that gay marriages, and therefore gay rights, are against God’s design because gay unions cannot be “fruitful” and produce children. This argument, from the start, makes two mistakes: 1) Wrongly assuming that the creation story was meant as a model for all humans, not just the first two (who had to populate an empty Earth,) and 2) Ignoring the fact that what God gives in this verse is a blessing, not a commandment.

Dr. James Brownson writes an entire chapter on this misinterpretation of the verse in his wonderful book, “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Marriage.” Among his many sound observations on the true meaning is this:

“…to “be fruitful and multiply” is not given merely to the man and the woman. It is also given to the animals (Gen 1:22) and is thus not a directive given uniquely to human marriage. This in itself calls into question whether the essence of marriage is in view here…”

Furthermore, if the main purpose of marriage was to produce children, then we would see infertility as a biblical grounds for divorce. But no where in the Bible does it say this. Neither does the church refuse to marry older couples who are past the age of child-bearing.

3) Genesis 19:4-5

“4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

The source of many misconceptions about homosexuality can be traced back to this verse, taken from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Despite the fact that “the sins of Sodom” are listed in various other verses in the Bible that recall its destruction, yet not once is “homosexuality” mentioned, many Christians maintain the belief that this story is about the fate that will come to any people who accept homosexuality as normal.

Here’s some problems with that interpretation: 1) the men who surrounded the house were threatening gang rape, not sex, 2) rape, as we know today thanks to a modern understanding of psychology, is not about sex, it’s about power and de-humanizing another person; rape is not “gay,” and 3) The point of this story was not to teach a lesson on sexual immorality, but rather, to show the importance of hospitality, and the punishment for treating visitors or guests with ill will.

4) Leviticus 18:22

“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is an abomination.”

This is a great time to remind people of something they need to hear: the Bible was not written in English.

The word that was translated in King James, to “abomination” was written in the Hebrew Bible as “toevah.” This word is used over 100 times in the Bible, to describe a host of things that are permissible for one people group, but not another. It does not mean that gay people are an abomination, in the way we think of the word today.

5) Romans 1: 26-27

26 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Some religious people find this to be the most damning of the “clobber” verses. It’s hard to read any interpretation other than that homosexual acts are unnatural. The verse even clarifies that these were homosexual acts of lust, not rape, which many people before have tried to claim the verses against homosexuality were really condemning. As an extra condemnation, this verse is the only one that specifically references female same-sex acts, making homosexuality seem not something isolated to pederasty and soldier rape, like other pro-gay Christians have claimed.

But once again, context is everything. It wasn’t until I dove into early church history, rabbinical texts, and again, Dr. James Brownson’s book, that I saw the true meaning of this verse. It wasn’t a warning against homosexuality, it was a warning against excessive lust, which, in biblical times, and for hundreds of years after, most people assumed homosexuality was a result of. What does that mean? It means that for hundreds of years the church, and society, assumed that homosexual acts were committed by men who were so “inflamed” with lust that they grew bored of “natural” relations with women, and moved onto “conquering” other men. The concept of sexual orientation wasn’t discovered until the 20th century. And what was “natural” for most of the earlier centuries wasn’t just heterosexual sex, it was heterosexual sex acts that resulted in procreation.

What religious people need to understand from this verse is that lust is sinful. Any acts driven by lust, gay or straight, outside of marriage, can be understood as sinful sexual acts. That is what Paul is warning against here, and that is what happened to these people when they turned their backs on God. But that has little to do with two committed, loving, monogamous adults of the same sex today.

6) I Corinthians 6:9-10

“9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Once again, the Bible was not written in English. The word used here that is roughly translated to “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word “malakoi.” This literally means, “soft.” In ancient times, the insult of “soft” was hurled at men for a variety of infractions, like wearing perfume or luxurious clothing, not wanting to work, or loving women too much. Yep – loving women too much, or wanting to have sex with a woman “too” often could get a man labeled “soft.” Sure, there were plenty of men who were “soft” who also engaged in same-sex acts, but a look into history shows that not all of them did.

Over time, “soft” became “effeminate” which the people that translated the book into English apparently took to mean, “men who have sex with men.” Of all the clobber verses, this one is probably the most grossly mistranslated and understood. How we got from “soft” to “men who have sex with men” just shows how much damage can be done by people who don’t understand context.

7) I Timothy 1:9-10

“9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”

The condemnation of homosexuality in this verse depends on one of the most debated and little understood words in the Greek language -“Arsenokoitai.” It’s found first in the Bible and very few places other than scripture,  leading many scholars to believe that either Paul made it up, or it was so rare that all other references to its origin were lost. It translates, literally, to “male bed” or some other combination of those two words (bed referring to sex.) It is notably a different word than what was used in 1 Corinthians above. Because of the rarity of this word, and the lack of it in other texts, different interpretations of what it means exist. Some think it refers to male-male sex acts, others to male sexual expression, and others still think it refers to men who engage in sex trafficking, as the word falls into an ordered list and precedes a condemnation of slave traders.

Regardless of what the word means, what religious people tend to get wrong with this Bible verse is the meaning of what was being said – that the law was not for the righteous but the lawbreakers and rebels, which we all can count ourselves among. All of us. So to single out “Arsenokoitai” from this verse, and use it to condemn gay persons, is a horrible misinterpretation.

8) 1 Corinthians 14:34

“34 Women[a] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

True story: once, before my mother left for a mission trip she was leading in Africa, she asked if she could say a prayer in front of our church’s congregation. One of the male leaders refused, and said, “in my Bible, it says women should stay silent in church.” This man later cheated on his wife and left her and their five kids, but that’s beside the point. Many men (and women) would agree with him, that women have no place speaking or teaching in church. Here is what they don’t understand.

This verse is part of a letter from Paul, written to an actual congregation. It was meant for specific people, experiencing a specific problem. As Rachel Held Evans puts it, these letters were written for us [modern Christians], but not to us. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, context matters. The context here is that this specific church that Paul was writing to had a problem with a large group of women that were becoming disruptive and distracting, and possibly hurting the reputation of the church. Paul’s instructions were for how to deal with them. But for whatever reason, unlike his other biblical instructions (like that church members greet each other with a holy kiss) this one stuck as universal and absolute for many Christians. It shouldn’t be. There’s no reason for us to take this verse, and not the whole movement of scripture towards women (more on that later), as what to reference as far as female roles in the church.

9) I Timothy 2:11-12

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

This, like 1 Corinthians, is an epistle and letter; Paul wrote it to help his friend and colleague Timothy with his ministry in Ephesus. So most of the arguments made about context in number eight above apply. What makes this verse all the more frustrating when it’s used to oppress women, is that it only takes a cursory reading of Paul’s other letters to see that he has no problem with women who teach.

Again, to quote Rachel Held Evans,

“Obviously, Paul didn’t have a problem with women teaching in general…he honored Priscilla, a teacher to the apostle Apollos, and praised Timothy’s mother and grandmother for teaching Timothy all he knew about faith. He recognized Junia as an apostle, Phoebe as a deacon, and Euodia and Syntyche as church planters.”

If Paul truly did not permit all women to teach and to be quiet, then it would make no sense for him to honor and praise the women above. In fact, he likely would have called them out by name, and said exactly what it is he thought they were doing that dishonored God. Paul was not shy, or subtle.

10) Ephesians 5:22-24

“22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

As a woman, I struggled with this verse for most of my faith. Why should I have to submit, just because I am a woman? Does Paul think God created women inferior? How can I call myself a feminist and a Christian, if I follow a religion that says my husband is the “head” of me?

See, like many religious people, I was misunderstanding these verses. Thank goodness for Rachel Held Evans (seriously, read her stuff.) To understand this verse, you need to understand two things: 1) Greco-Roman “household codes” and  2) the biblical culture of patriarchy.

In biblical times, women were literally property, like cattle and slaves. In fact, as Rachel points out, the verses preceding the ones above are all instructions to slaves and masters, because these fell under the same category. When reading Ephesians with this understanding then, it’s incredibly subversive because it goes on to command husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church.

It is another example of the ways the Bible, when looked at as a whole, lifts women up from their societal place of property, to one of loved and honored children of God. A person needs to look no further than Jesus repeated treatment of women to prove this theory. What people need to understand from this verse is not how women should submit to their husbands, but how we all should submit to one another, as Christ gave himself for the church.

11) Proverbs 31: 10-31

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies….She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks….She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy…She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple….She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Oh this verse. Imagine being a young woman growing up in the church, trying to figure out what kind of person God wants you to become, and being told to read this. Or listening to guys in your singles group talk about how, “hard it is to find a Proverbs 31 woman.” Yeah I bet it’s hard to find a woman who does all of those things (especially being able to afford servants and a vineyard while finding the time to make all those linens.) This verse has been used to make far too many young women feel bad about themselves, or strive to attain something unattainable.

Here’s the problem with trying to be a “Proverbs 31” woman: you can’t. And you shouldn’t want to be. Why? Because trying to mold your personality and life by one proverb of the Bible causes you to miss the whole point of the rest of it – your value isn’t in your works, but in Christ. I’m a wife, and I pretty much never arise before the sun. I also have no children to call me blessed. But while I agree that beauty is fleeting, I also agree with the message of the Bible that says my worth is not in the quality of the linens I make, but my commitment to Christ.

12) John 11:35

“Jesus Wept”

You would think that the shortest verse of the Bible would be the hardest to misinterpret, but then you would be wrong. This is included on the list thanks to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who, in response to the Supreme Courts ruling that DOMA was unconstitutional, tweeted, “My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: “Jesus wept.”

As a former pastor, you’d imagine that Huckabee would know Jesus was weeping in John not as a result of homosexuality (or any “sin”) but because of a profound feeling of compassion. He saw and felt the grief of his friends family who mourned the loss of their brother, and wept himself, even though He knew He could and would resurrect him. The point of this short verse is to show the dept of Christ’s compassion. It does not exist for pundits to throw it around whenever they disagree with a culture shift.

13) Psalm 37:4

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I have been guilty of doing the same thing many religious people do when they read this verse: seeing only the second part, and not the first. What I mean by that is I would look at this verse and see only, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Here’s the thing so many people miss: if you follow the first part of the verse, and take delight in the Lord, those desires of your heart are going to change to what God desires for you. But most people don’t think that way. They go to this verse when they’re already desiring something they badly want. They think that if they just take the minimum required delight in the Lord and wait a bit, then bam! What they desire is delivered to them. That’s not what this means though. What this verse is saying is that the more you delight yourself in the Lord, the more your heart reflects His. Which means maybe that job, or husband, or fat book contract might not be given to you – but something the Lord desires for you, will.

14) Isaiah 53:2-3

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

There is almost no chance that Jesus looked anything like the handsome, striking actor Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Him in 2004’s The Passion of the Christ. First of all, Jesus wasn’t white. He was a mediterranean Jew, who likely had dark skin, hair, and more pronounced (less chiseled) facial features. Many people forget this, mainly because when we think of Jesus face, we either picture the Person of Interest actor, or a painting or work of art we saw hanging in a museum. Or the YMCA. But, of course, none of those images were actually of Jesus. We don’t know what He looked like. But we do know, thanks to this verse, that there was nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. Which means He was not as gorgeous as art has made Him out to be. He was probably very plain and average.

15) John 2: 13-16

“13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

Someone on Twitter said this, about the above verse: “When asked, ‘what would Jesus do’, just remember that chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.”

We often forget this side of Jesus, and fail to understand what the verse above means. He got angry. Really angry. And kind of violent. This contradicts the picture of Jesus most of us have, of a serene, gentle man holding a teeny lamb. Jesus did that too, but He also screamed at people for abusing the church. What we need to understand from this verse, but we often overlook, is that His Father’s house is not a market. Now what that means is certainly up for debate, but I think it’s fair to say Jesus is angered by the use of the church for profit.

16) 1 Corinthians 10:13

“13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Have you ever been in the midst of something horrible, like a break-up or job loss, and someone has said to you, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle?” Turns out that is found nowhere in the Bible. What is found is this verse above, which promises that God, in his faithfulness, will not tempt us more than we can bear. Of course, being tempted with sin and feeling the weight of grief or depression are two totally different things. But over time the two have gotten confused, leading people to mistakenly assume that God will not put on us more than we think or feel we can bear. All it takes is reading the book of Job, or sitting with a friend who just lost a spouse or loved one, to see that this is simply not true.

This does not mean God is cruel, or that He abandons us. It just means that life is hard, and while He will be by our side when we experience hardships, becoming a Christian does not free us from great pain.

17) Proverbs 13:24

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

One of the most dangerous books out there today was written by a Christian pastor. It’s called, “To Train Up a Child,” and it’s been cited in numerous child abuses cases as a catalyst for often fatal abuse. In the book, Michael and Debi Pearl give instructions for how to use a quarter-inch thick length of plumbing pipe to hit misbehaving children. This is what they call, the “Rod of Reproof.” The inspiration for this rod came from the Proverb similar to above, 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

If parents want to take literal instructions from the Bible on how they should discipline their children, they should just drive themselves straight to jail. Among the many things parents in the Bible did, or were instructed to do, were; stone disobedient sons to death,  bash infants against rocks, sacrifice their sons to God, offer their daughters up for gang rape, or offer their daughters up as rewards. The moral of the story? The Bible is not something you can read and pick and choose what you want to take literally. That’s not the purpose of the Bible.

Almost all psychologists agree that spanking and physical punishment harms children. And a reading of the Bible as a whole, shows that the last thing Christ would want is harm to fall on any child.

18) Phillipians 4:13

“13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

If Bible verses were movie characters, this one would be Rocky, triumphantly reaching the top of the steps, arms raised and fists pumping. This verse has been plastered on everything; T-shirts, mugs, posters, football players faces - everything. But is it really telling us that, with enough faith, anything we want or need to do is possible? Will the Lord really give us superhuman strength to accomplish any feat? No.

As Ben Witherington on Patheos puts it,

“The problem is, that this translation absolutely makes no sense of the context, and is not a literal rendering of the verse in question at all. The verb ‘to do’ is nowhere to be found in this Greek verse. The verb ‘ischuo’ means ‘to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful’. That’s the only verb in this phrase. You have to fill in the helping verb, and the context absolutely doesn’t favor the translation— ‘to do’ as in ‘I am able to do all things….’ Not at all…What Paul is saying is that no matter what his circumstances, God has given him the strength or ability to endure and be satisfied, even when he must do without, even when he must go hungry.”

Too many religious people have taken this verse as a motto for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, with Jesus help. When in actuality, Paul was saying not that God will give us the strength to do anything, but that God will give us the strength to do the only thing we need to focus on – following Him. Because really, isn’t that the only thing that mattered to Paul? And shouldn’t it be the only thing that matters to us?

19) John 8:10-11

“10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, [a]Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more”

This is one of the most famous stories of the Bible, of the time Jesus saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by her accusers. Ironically, many religious people today focus not on Jesus declaration that, “he without sin” should be the first to cast the stone, but on Jesus last words to the woman, “go and sin no more.” They see the moral of this verse not as one cautioning against self-righteous judgement, but that Jesus wants us to,“sin no more.” Aside from that glaring misinterpretation, another common mistake is made with this verse.

That is the confusing of it with the story of the woman at the well, told earlier in John 4. I’ve had many religious people tell me, while discussing homosexuality and the church, that, “people caught in sexual sin are loved by Jesus, but he still told them to go and sin no more, just like the woman caught in sexual sin at the well.” The problem with that, of course, is that Jesus never said that to the woman at the well, in John 4. He simply shared the gospel of eternal life with her, and treated her as a human being should be treated – with respect and not judgement.

20) Matthew 22: 36-40

“36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Appropriately, I saved the most important misunderstood verse for last. What more religious people need to understand is this: that the greatest commandment is first to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and the second is like it, to love their neighbors – their poor, gay, immigrant, female, male, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish neighbors as themselves. Every other law and commandment found above and in the Bible, depends on this. If more religious people asked themselves, before voting, preaching, and commenting on Facebook, “am I loving my neighbor as myself by doing this?” the world would truly be a better place.

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Don’t Read the Comments….Especially From Christians

February 4, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

One of my favorite websites (both to read and write for) published a piece I wrote today on the power of internet comments. Tony Campolo said it was “very personal” and while I never said those words, I have to admit they’re true. This is a very personal topic for me, because it’s effected me and my love ones.

Here’s a snippet of the piece, to read the full thing please head on over to Red Letter Christians.

 

“In the minds of these commenters, what they’re doing isn’t trolling. It’s witnessing. Preaching. Doing God’s work. When they attack a gay man who just shared how hard it was for him to come back to Christ after accepting his orientation, they’re just trying to make sure he doesn’t “submit to sin.” When they call a progressive Christian woman who supports birth control a “feminazi baby-killer” they’re just trying to restore society to it’s proper gendered order. And when they download software that allows them to mask their IP address, so that they can keep commenting after they’ve been banned weekly for three years, they’re just showing how hard they’re determined to support the kingdom.

Only they’re not doing any of those things. Not because dialogue among people who disagree can’t be helpful. But because dialogue is not what these commenters are after. What they’re after is the ability to unleash their frustration, anger, and dissonance on people who they think are wrong. It’s never been about wanting to “help” those people see the light, because if it was, the comments would not be so biting and nasty. It’s always been about tearing others down, so they can feel superior. “

See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/dont-read-comments-especially-christians/#sthash.bEA2tiyX.dpuf”

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How Do You “Love Like Jesus?”

January 14, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

I have a relatively thick skin. Even before I became a writer, which both entails and invites constant criticism, I was used to mean comments directed my way. Being an unapologetically fat woman requires a certain level of toughness. So does being a vocal Christian LGBT ally. That’s why normally when people I don’t know (especially people on the internet), insult me for whatever reason, it rarely effects me.

While I’ve never cried or spent the day in bed over cruel internet comments, I will admit that I have allowed some of them to stick in my brain, irritatingly refusing to go away. I’ll be trying to think about something else, but this comment, which has burrowed its way into my consciousness, demands to be acknowledged.

The comments that seem to do this the most often are ones from Christians. They’re the comments that have been popping up lately, from different people, on different sites, all saying the same thing.

“It’s important to love one another, but remember how Jesus loved: he did this by first encouraging people to ‘sin no more.’well

The “sin no more” of that sentence has been covered perfectly by Rachel Held Evans, so it’s not that part of the comment that gnaws away at me. What gets me is the word thrown around, but never examined - “love.”

Why do Christians never seem to spend time defining what it means -what it actually looks like – to “love” one another? Especially when this “love” is directed to our LGBT brother and sisters?

I remember  sitting through a sermon a few months ago, where the pastor was talking about how important it was to “love like Jesus.” I completely agreed with him, but I was wanting him to go into more detail, and talk more about what this “love” not only looked like, but how it made the people it was directed towards feel. That seems to be where the disconnect exists.

Some people think that the best way to love our LGBT brothers and sisters is to point out their sin, so that the person will feel convicted enough to repent and flee their unfleeable nature, into the arms of Jesus.

What these people never seem to ask, is whether that kind of “love” is what Jesus advocated. They often point to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery, and say, “See!! Jesus shows us that loving someone means pointing out their sin to them! If we don’t do this, we’re not loving like Jesus!”

But, like Rachel Held Evans pointed out, in doing this they completely and totally miss the main point of these stories, which was that by merely talking to these women (that they were women is very important) and acknowledging them as human beings, Jesus was loving in a radical way that went against the religious tradition. Jesus didn’t see these women only as sinners, in need of their sin being pointed out. He saw them as His children who He loved so deeply, so fully, that when the women left Him, they couldn’t help but proclaim to everyone they saw that the Son of God had spoken to them. They who were ridiculed, ignored, threatened, or abused by the religious leaders of the day.

It’s a reversal. They went into their encounter with Jesus weighed down by the sin of  their past failed marriages and sexual infidelity – but Jesus didn’t treat them as everyone else did, by first and foremost pointing out this sin – He talked to them as people, and treated them with respect first. He made them feel valued. Seen. It was only when He first turned their entire perception of a religious man on it’s head by valuing them that He even mentioned their sin. If He mentioned it at all – most people forget that in the John 4 telling of the woman at the well, the “sin no more” is not recorded.

I’m not secretive about my belief, based in intensive scriptural study, that homosexuality – as an orientation or an act between two monogamous, committed* individuals - is not a sin.

However, many Christians I both love and respect remain convinced that it is. Most of them are “Side B” and believe that people don’t choose to be gay, and being gay is not a sin, but acting on those desire is. They believe life-long celibacy (or an opposite-sex marriage) is the only way a gay person can honor God with their sexuality. Many of these people, I am happy to say, are able to act in the same respectful, valued way towards their LGBT brothers and sisters that I believe Jesus would. They don’t see a gay person and see only an “unnatural” sexuality, they see a person who they value and love.

It is possible to believe that LGBT sex is sinful, and act lovingly.

The best way to do this is by treating your LGBT brothers and sisters like you’d treat any fellow Christian  – as someone you love and respect. No, “but’s.” No, “…although you should know I disagree with your lifestyle.” Just as someone who you look at and see a friend – not a sex act you think is wrong. Because if you believe homosexual sex is sinful and you have a gay friend or family member, you should see them the same way you see all your other friends and family members – as someone loved by God. As just another person who needs Christ’s gift of grace. An equal. Someone you want, more than anything, to feel the love of Christ.

But that doesn’t seem to be what so many of these internet commenters see, or think, when it comes to our LGBT brothers and sisters. They see only the sin that they feel the need to point out, repeatedly and forcefully. They don’t ask the question I wish more Christians asked themselves, before they pointed out someone’s sin – either in an anonymous internet comment, or in a conversation.

How is what I’m about to say going to make this person feel?

Remembering, of course, that in every single instance, the way a “sinner” who encountered Jesus felt after leaving Him, was joy, peace, and newfound hope.

To do this, to ask themselves this question, an important realization has to be made; that all of these conversations, debates, comments, and Facebook arguments aren’t just about beliefs or Biblical interpretations. They’re about people. Real people, who will see them, and more often than not, feel anything but loved by the Christians pointing out their sin.

In my opinion, the answer to the question, “How do you define love?” is simple. Love is something that makes the recipient feel valued, seen, respected, and worthy. Love is something that when directed towards someone, causes them to grow. It’s nourishment.

Love is not something that causes people to hate themselves, become depressed, or contemplate suicide. It’s not something conditional, based on whether or not someone changes. And sadly, love is not what has been poured out on the LGBT community by the mainstream Christian church.

I have hope though, that this can change. That even if I disagree with their conclusions on the Bible, my “Side B” Christian brothers and sisters can see the damage done by those who seek to take away the legal rights of their LGBT friends and family. I hope that eventually, everyone, gay, bi, straight, transgender, queer, whatever, can be seen and valued as human beings first, not sexualities or identities.

The reason I have that hope at all, is because I know what it feels like to be loved.

 

 

*I say committed and not marriage because in some states and many places in the world gay marriage is not legal.

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My Book Is Out! Here’s How You Can Help.

December 27, 2013 - Author: emily.timbol

There’s an episode of Adventure Time that will always hold a special spot in my heart. In it, one of LSPmy favorite characters, Lumpy Space Princess (or LSP as she’s known) decides to write a book. Being somewhat lumpy myself, I felt a camaraderie with LSP; when she revealed the cover I thought, I want to be able to say that someday.

Well that day has come!

Like LSP, I wrote a book. And because my year spent trying to get it traditionally published was unsuccessful, I published the book myself.

Did you know there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year, as many as half (maybe more) of those self-published?

Did you also know, that on average, those self-published books sell only between 100-250 copies?

I knew these daunting stats when I decided to self-publish. What gave me hope and enough confidence to go ahead and try was two things: 1) The “platform” I’ve worked hard to build over the past four years, which gives me options for getting my book noticed, and 2) You.

That’s right. You. Part of the reason I decided to self-publish was because I had so many friends telling me they couldn’t wait to read my book, who believed that it needed to get out there. Plenty of times over this past year I didn’t believe that myself, but because of your encouragement I kept going. And now I need your help.

Here is what you can do:

Buy The Book

  • This is kind of a no-brainer, but some people will just assume that everyone else is buying it, so they don’t need to. I’ve done the same thing for books I wanted to support. But I priced it as low as I could without me having to eat any costs, so if you can afford it, please buy a Kindle or print copy. Or five. Whatever floats your boat.

Write a Review

  • I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Up until a year ago, I had no idea how important Amazon and GoodReads reviews were for the traction of a book, but they are of the upmost importance. After you read the book, please take 5-10 minutes to write a short review of what you thought. If all you have to say is, “Meh,” so be it, I want honest feedback. But if a certain chapter, character, or theme resonated with you, please, please include that in your review. This is the best way for Two Words to get noticed by readers outside my circle of influence.

Post About it on Social Media

  • One of my goals for the “promotion” of Two Words is to not turn off and alienate all of my friends, by becoming that person who talks about nothing but my book, and spams everyone in my Facebook and Twitter feed. I figure, if I can just get my friends to do it for me, then no one will hate me! Kidding. But if you don’t mind sharing the book on Facebook or Twitter, I would be incredibly grateful. Also, you can re-pin my book on Pinterest, if you have a “books to read” board, that will help too!

Pray for Me, and the People Who the Book is For

  • This book is a spiritual memoir, about real people, many of whom faced real attacks and persecution. Pray for them. Pray that the people in their lives will be more loving, and open to The Holy Spirit. Pray for the City Council of Jacksonville. Pray for the people who cheered while me and my friends filed out of City Hall, with tears streaming down our faces. And please, pray for me. Pray for me to be reminded that this book is not about my fame, glory, or success, it’s about trying to enact change in the church, for people whose voices need to be heard more than mine.

     Thank you again for all your love and support.

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It’s Here!! My First Book, “Two Words: Why Hearing “I’m Gay” Changed My Straight, Christian Life”

December 6, 2013 - Author: emily.timbol

Cover

I am thrilled, nervous, and excited to announce the release of my first book, Two Words: Why Hearing “I’m Gay” Changed My Straight Christian Life.

It’s been five years since I first started writing the book, and so much has happened in that time - I met my husband and got married, I acquired my adorable and slightly evil dog, and I built a small but respectable name for myself as a writer and vocal LGBT ally.

The first words of the book were typed out in 2009 after talking to my best friend Chris* and asking him for permission to write about my feelings and experiences after he came out to me. When I started the book, I had just published a few articles for Relevant magazine, and had begun pursuing a career in writing.

For a few years, between 2010 and 2012, while I experienced the things that happened in the book, I focused on “building my platform.” I slowly created a resume of websites that had published my essays, joined a community of progressive Christian writers, and built a small, but growing base of followers who liked my work.

When I finally completed the book in late 2012, I assumed that finding an agent and publisher would take almost no time at all. I had done everything right that I was supposed to do, in order to “make it.” I spent the years doing the work to lay the foundation that everyone said you need to get published. I took all the advice. Followed the rules. Respected the formula.

I gave myself one year to land myself an agent and publisher for Two Words.

But from September 2012, to September 2013, I faced nothing but rejection.

There were a lot of, “This is not quite right for me,” straight-forward rejections, but there were also a few soul-crushing ones that said, essentially, “This is good writing, with an important message, but I just don’t know if it will make money.” I kept submitting anyway, hoping that someone would take a chance on me. There were little spikes of hope, like when agents would request my full manuscript. One of those agents very kindly rejected me, citing the above concerns about profits, and the other two? I’ve been waiting to hear back from them since February and May.

Secretly, I hoped for at least one rejection that would be devastating enough to make me quit altogether. Something that said I just didn’t “have it” and would never make it as a writer. But not a single rejection I received had anything but praise for my writing. Which in many ways, hurt even more. I wasn’t getting rejected because I wasn’t good enough. I was getting rejected even though I was good enough.

Of the five years spent with my book, 2013 was by far the hardest.

While I said from the beginning that if I didn’t find an agent, I’d just self-publish, the truth was, I never really thought this was a possibility. I hated, hated the idea of self-publishing. To me, it was for authors who just weren’t good enough to get traditionally published, or were too scared to tackle the mountain of rejection you have to overcome to get an agent and publisher.

Self-publishing, to me, was the ultimate failure.

It was admitting that only you thought you were worthy to be an author, not everyone else. I was seeking that validation from others. The gate-keepers. And when I didn’t get that validation, I didn’t know what to do.

For most of 2013, I battled frustration, disappointment, and anger, mostly with the person I blamed the most. Not me, of course - God. It was all His fault. He was the one who gave me the ability and passion for writing that I’d had since a kid. He was the one who first introduced me, in a way only God can, to the person who would become my writing mentor and friend. He was the one who could easily “inspire” an agent to sign me, and a publisher to pick up my book.

But He wasn’t.

I spent many car rides to and from work angrily shouting, or crying, at God. Begging Him to do something. To not just abandon me after opening all of the doors that had brought me to where I was. I felt like someone who had spent years training and preparing for an event with a coach who never bothered to tell me I failed the qualifier.

When the year was up I had sent over 100 queries, yet was exactly where I was when I started – with no agent, and no publisher.

It was then I stopped being angry at God. Instead, I started wondering if maybe, just maybe, there was a lesson in this He was trying to teach me.

There was. I had ignored a huge important part of the subject God originally put on my heart. I was writing about the LGBT community and bringing focus to their stories and experiences. I was urging more people in the church to be allies. But through the process of trying to get published, what I focused on most, was the “I.” When the rejections came in, part of me was frustrated because the stories of my friends weren’t getting told. But the bigger part of me was frustrated that people wouldn’t let ME tell them. That is what mattered most to me, for the majority of 2013.

A few weeks after I begrudgingly started the process of self-publishing my book, I felt God speak something to me. A question I never asked.

What about trusting me?

See, I thought I was trusting God. I was trusting him to get me an agent and publisher. That’s what I was focused on, for the entire year. Those two things. Once I secured that, I just assumed the book would get into the hands of the people who needed it most. God’s job was to get ME the recognition I wanted, and set MY career up, so that the book could get out.

It never occurred to me to trust Him to get the book out, without giving me the recognition I wanted.

But it makes perfect sense. One of my biggest struggles is with pride. I think I can handle everything on my own, and whenever something good happens, I want the credit for me. It’s so hard for me to acknowledge that maybe what I have I have because of God. That’s why it’s so perfectly ironic that the area God gave me the biggest passion for, is one in which, to be the most effective, I should be as invisible as possible.

As an LGBT ally, the goal should not be for me to get all the attention for telling the stories of oppression my LGBT friends have faced – it should be for me to direct the attention back to them.

Which, for someone like me, is really, really hard. I don’t want to hand attention over. I want it all for myself.

Looking at the past year through this lens puts everything in a totally different perspective.

I’m not going to get all the author attention that comes with an agent, publisher, and best-selling book. There probably wont be tons of people clamoring for interviews, wanting to spotlight me, the author. My face isn’t getting plastered on some publishers website.

Instead, the book is going to have to be the focus.

The book that tells the stories that need to be shared, of what my Christians LGBT friends faced when they came out to their churches and families. What is going to have to make the book sell is those stories, and how people resonate with them.

That is what success for this book will be. Not an interview with the New York Times and a shelf filled with Random House printed hardcovers. Success is people who might question what they believe, and how they act, because of a small book someone told them to read, from an author they’ve never heard of. This idea of success for the book is hard for me to digest, because it’s changing the focus from what I want, to what I know is best.

Maybe self-publishing is a huge mistake. Maybe the smartest thing would have been to put this book in a drawer, and write something else that could sell. But when I started writing this book five years ago, my goal wasn’t to be “smart.” It was to help people, and tell the stories that changed me, in the hope they could change others.

Success for this book then, needs to not be about me, but about the people who I wrote the book for. If they read it and are positively affected, that is what matters most.

With that said, I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, and share it with the people who will be challenged by the stories within.

 

*Not his real name, the name I gave him in the book.

 

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For When You’re Not Feeling Thankful

November 25, 2013 - Author: emily.timbol

There’s only a few days left until Thanksgiving. And thanks to social media, people haven’t been waiting until right before the turkey is served to say what they’re grateful for. Many have been using the entire month of November to share with Facebook and Twitter what in their lives deserves thanks. This is good, and helps to give perspective for how we’re all blessed.

But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we just don’t feel thankful. Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving-2927689-375-479

We feel other things. Like depressed, anxious, or in my case, embarrassingly jealous.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to share something I wish I could be thankful for, but due to my own shortcomings, I’m not. This is in the hopes that my honesty can maybe help others who are feeling guilty about their own lack of gratitude, in this week of reflection.

Some of my friends know that my Dad is also a writer. They know this either because they know him, or because they’ve heard me complaining about the fact that he is also a writer. Allow me to explain.

Growing up, my Dad always talked about wanting to write a book. A series of books actually. He’s always loved sci-fi and adventure, and his love of literature trickled down to me. I started writing short stories when I was in elementary school, but like my Dad, talked about writing more than I actually wrote.

When I was 25 I decided to start pursuing writing professionally. I did it the “traditional” way – writing and submitting small pieces to online magazines, working my way into writers groups, networking, attending workshops, and slowly working on my first book. That was almost four years ago, and while I definitely have progressed as a writer, and have an online presence/platform, I still don’t have an agent, published book, or any kind of career based on my writing. It’s still mostly a hobby.

At around the same time I started working on my craft, my Dad decided to write his first book. He didn’t do it the way I did. Instead of doing any of the “base” things most writers do to try and break into the scene, and perfect their craft, he just wrote. When he finished, he self-published.

I’ve always been competitive. This was no different. It bothered me that he waited until I decided to start writing to begin his book. However,  I convinced myself that if anyone was going to “make” it, it’d be me, since I was doing all the hard work.

I was wrong.

While I was focusing on being a better writer, my Dad was making connections. He’s always been good at marketing, as this has been his career for decades, and all that experience paid off. Through chance, luck, experience, whatever, he got connected to someone who knew someone in Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood. They were interested in his book. His book that at the time had sold zero copies.

I scoffed when I first heard this. There was no way my Dad, who had zero writing experience, could get noticed just like that. Especially not while I was working my butt off trying as hard as I could to make a name for myself.

Every new development that happened I convinced myself would be the last. While my sister and mother cheered on my Dad, thrilled for what this could mean for him, I rolled my eyes. They eventually stopped giving me updates. I told myself that everything was going to fall through soon, and it was just smarter not to be happy for him.

What I was ignoring was the fact that over the last year, while I was getting dealt rejection after rejection for my book, my Dad was hearing exciting updates about his.

I ignored it all. I ignored it when the producer of “The Kids Are Alright” signed onto the project, after regularly communicating with my Dad. When paperwork and contracts were signed, I still pretended nothing was actually going to happen. Even when my Dad flew out to Los Angeles to meet with the screenwriter who would be adapting his book into a script, I kept my head buried in the sand, unable to face the truth.

Then came this.

I have no idea why a simple webpage is the thing that made reality come crashing down on me, but it is. My Dad’s book has an IMDB page. This is really happening. His very first book, which has sold fewer than a hundred copies, is being turned into a movie. He got all of this without ever sending a single query, or getting even one rejection.

And I could not be less happy.

Isn’t the truth horrible? I’m not happy for my father. Not at all.  I love my father. We have a great relationship. He was loving and supportive to me growing up. There is no reason for me not to be just as ecstatic for him as my Mom and sister are.

Except.

Except, to be happy for someone, you have to be able to see things from their perspective. To remove yourself from the equation. I’m able to be happy for my friends when they get pregnant or engaged, because I’m already married and I have no desire for a baby, so that has nothing to do with me – I can focus on them and their happiness. But when someone has the exact same thing you want, and you can’t get it, being happy for them takes a huge amount of selflessness.

For the past year, longer even, I have not been able to be happy for my father, because all I could see was myself. My own failure. My inability to “make it.” While he was progressing and catching breaks, I was running face first into the walls keeping me from success. My eyes were focused on where I was going, and looking over and seeing my Dad running past me on his own path only made me bitter and angry. Worse, I didn’t even see his path as his own. I saw him taking the only path available to success, leaving me alone to wallow in failure.

You know what makes being thankful easy? Humility. You know what makes being thankful hard? Pride.

All along, I’ve wanted not just to “make it.” But make it on my terms. By myself. One of my biggest fears was that if my Dad became successful before I did, any success that came to me after, people would think was due to him. I didn’t want to be Sofia Coppola or Bryce Dallas Howard. I wanted my name to be MINE. It was more about me than anything.

What was lost in all this was the whole point of why I started writing in the first place. It was never supposed to be about me at all. It was supposed to be about other people. About reaching, helping, and positively affecting the people who read my writing. I didn’t start writing to get an IMDB page or a book contract. I started writing to say what needed to be said. My Dad reaching a level of success that I may never have doesn’t negate my ability to carry out my purpose for writing. It just requires me to do it with a bigger level of humility.

I wish I could say that in the end, I’m thankful for my Dad’s success. I’m working on getting to that point, but I’m not there yet. But what I can say, is that I am thankful that his success has caused me to come face to face with my own ugliness. I know, because of all of this, I have a lot of growing to do. I also know that when it comes to the past, it’s only been when I’ve learned the lesson God’s trying to teach me, that I finally get what I’ve been working towards. And I’m not there yet.

This Thursday, before my Dad cuts into the turkey that he’s spent all day cooking, we will do what we always do and go around saying what we’re thankful for. I’m not sure what I’m going to say, but I know that there are a lot of things I have that deserve to be recognized.

Success or no success, I know that one of those things I have to be thankful for, is my father.

 

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I Don’t Think David Sedaris Likes Me

October 29, 2013 - Author: emily.timbol

I met David Sedaris last night.

I’ve met David Sedaris multiple times over in my fantasies. While antique shopping, waiting for coffee at an airport Starbucks, or at a book signing, like the one last night. My fantasy conversations usually go like this:

Me: “It is such an honor to meet you. I’ve thought before about what I’d say if I ever got to meet you, and everything included some version of, “I’m a big fan.” But knowing how you think, I was afraid you’d look at me and think, ‘Yes, she certainly is.’”

David: (Laughing) “Oh that’s good, I’m putting that in my notebook.”

Me: “I’m honored. It’s been a dream of mine to make it into your notebook. Well I’d prefer to make it into one of your books, but I can settle for the notebook. As long as I make some kind of impression.”

David: “I bet you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

This is followed by 20-30 more minutes of witty conversation which turns into an exchanging of email addresses, and a life long friendship. He loves me in my fantasies. Thinks I’m funny, and brilliant.

What will surprise no one, is that meeting David Sedaris last night went nothing like that.

Firstly, there were about 1,800 more people there last night than I would have preferred. Secondly, I had a blinding migraine that made me feel like my head was about to explode, which put a huge damper on my wittiness.

Even through the searing pain I was able to enjoy the readings David did. Hearing an author reading his own words to an audience ready to drink them up is simply fantastic. You could see, and hear, the way he was relishing every syllable. Getting high off every laugh–and there were lots and lots of laughs. As a writer, I understood exactly what he was feeling, because I’ve felt it myself, during much smaller workshops. But I’ve dreamed of standing where he stood, and affecting people with my words the way his affected me.

Ryan and I sprung for Orchestra level tickets, which meant we were only a dozen or so rows from the stage. What neither of us thought about when purchasing these tickets, was the disadvantage this would give us when trying to get in line for the post-show book signing. By the time the theater trickled out and we made it into the line, we realized with sinking feelings that we were in the back. The very back. Behind at least a 100 people.

A hundred people in line at Disney is no big deal. If you’re stuck behind one hundred people in a line on Black Friday, you might wait for an hour, but you’ll be moving.

If you know anything about David Sedaris’s book signings though, you’ll know his lines move very slow. Unlike some authors who barely look up after scribbling a generic message before their name, Mr. Sedaris loves talking to people. He talks in his books and essays about how much he enjoys these signings, and the conversations he has with the people at them. I desperately wanted to be one of these people he remembered, and wrote about later.

An hour passed and we moved about twenty feet. During this time my headache, which I had kept manageable with a double dose of Tylenol, spread from behind my eyes to the back of my skull, my shoulders, and my neck. Standing on my feet was making it worse. Another 30 minutes passed, and we moved fifteen more feet. By the time we were only five people away from Mr. Sedaris, it was half past eleven. Any anticipation or excitement I had previously felt was gone, bludgeoned to death by my headache.

Finally, after two and a half hours, it was our turn to get our books signed. I hobbled up to the table and forced a smile.

David: “Do you teach?”

Me: (blank stare, followed by three beats of silence) “uhhhh. No. Not really. Ugh I’m so tired, I had all these plans to be witty and impress you and make a good impression but that line was horrible and I’m so tired.”

David: (awkward chuckle) “It’s ok! (Looking at the slip of paper in my book with my name) What do you do Emily?”

Me: “Well I write.”

David: “What do you write?”

Me: “Things that don’t get published.”

David: (frowning) “Well, you’re young. You’re what, 26?”

Me: “That’s nice. I’m 28.”

David: “That’s still young. I didn’t have my first book published until I was 35.”

He started drawing in my book then, and I asked him if when he was starting out, he ever struggled with being jealous of other writers. While still drawing, he told me a story about a woman who taught a writers workshop he attended. He remembered her speaking very negatively about another author, simply because he had a house in the Pokono’s.

David: “That woman was bitter. I didn’t want to be bitter.”

Me: “That’s good advice, thank you.”

He handed me my book, and I thanked him. He then spoke to Ryan for a few minutes, after which we both walked away. I stood there, delirious with pain and disappointment, while watching David speak to our friend Andrew, who we had taken with us for his birthday. To my horror, I saw David’s face light up when talking to Andrew, the way I had hoped his face would light up talking to me. No, no, no. Not him! That smile should have been for me! When I saw David reaching under the table, I let out a defeated groan.

Andrew was getting a present.

One of the unique, extremely cool things that David Sedaris does is give out small little gifts to people at book signings. Not everyone gets one of course, only special people. People like Andrew.

David reached into a black backpack and pulled out a smaller brown paper bag. Inside this bag he pulled out an even smaller black container, and from this he pulled out a single white card. From a few feet away I heard him telling Andrew about this card, which was made of thick expensive paper, and had embossed on it in small font the words, “Stop Talking.” This was for Andrew to give to customers at the store that wouldn’t shut up and let him get back to work.

Andrew walked over to us and I smiled weakly at him, trying to not be jealous. I was happy for Andrew, it was his birthday, and if I was being honest with myself, it didn’t surprise me all that much that David would be pleased with him. Andrew is funny, and a bit odd, and above all unique. Of course that would attract someone like Mr. Sedaris.

Trying to console myself, I said to Ryan, “Can I see my book? I want to see what he wrote.” At least I have my book signed.

And that’s when I saw it. The perfect ending to my story of meeting David Sedaris.

He drew a snail.

No words, no snarky message, no personal advice.

A snail.

I don’t think we’ll be becoming friends anytime soon.

photo

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Some Resources and Readings From The Reformation Project

October 3, 2013 - Author: emily.timbol

I’m mostly recovered from the incredible, but spiritually and emotionally exhausting Reformation Project conference in Kansas City, MO. If you’d like to read more about it, check out this piece I wrote for Red Letter Christians.

Quite a few people have asked about the prep period and readings that the reformers did prior to the conference. There were over 1,000 pages from dozens of theologians and authors, and two complete books, so I can’t feasibly list everything. What I CAN do though is provide a summary of the articles that I found the most helpful, infuriating, inspiring, and insightful. The ones below should give you a good idea of what we debated, learned from, and dissected, on our journey towards being affirming Christians.

Affirming:

John Boswell, Logos and Biography, Chapter 31.

“Finding oneself in conflict with the church is a hallowed Christian tradition. Suffragettes, abolitionists, pilgrims, Protestant reformers, St. Joan of Arc, St. Francis, early monastics - almost every major reformer in Christian history was condemned and opposed by other Christians for beliefs or lifestyles of both.

Although it took most of a century, the claim by Southern segregationists that blackness was the curse of Ham eventually inspired more disrespect for its white supporters than for the black people they hoped to keep in servitude. It is worth remembering, however, that many of those who argued for it at the time doubtless believed that they derived their views from the Bible than from social prejudice.”

Gareth Moore, A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality, Chapter 5 – “The Bible for Heterosexuality?”

“Is this [the Garden of Eden] not a model for us? Are we not presented here with a model of humanity such as God wills it, and are we not therefore obliged to follow it? No. We are not disciples of Adam, but of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. What is essential for us here is not the will of Adam but the will of God.”

Jack Rogers, Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, Chapter 5 – “What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality.”

“When we see Jesus as the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17), we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws, but rather, with Jesus, to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40).”

“The claim that the image of God is rooted in the male-female relationship leads us away from the biblical text. When I was on the task force on homosexuality at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, one of our members, a former missionary with a PhD in New Testament, argued in favor of the Barthian view that a person was not fully human unless in a heterosexual marriage. His argument offended various committee members, including a never-married woman who was a former missionary. Our one gay member quietly said, “That sure makes it hard on Jesus.


Martti Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, “Chapter 6: The New Testament.”

“But condemning “homosexuality” is not Paul’s main concern. His words about same-sex conduct in Romans 1:26-27 are one example he chose from his tradition to illustrate how badly the world needs grace and, at the same time, to set a trap for anyone who would read his words with feelings of moral superiority or religious bigotry.”

Phyllis A. Bird, The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation Concerning Homosexuality: “Chapter 5 - Old Testament Contributions.”

“This perception rests, I believe, on a fairly understanding of Scripture and its relationship to experience. It treats the Bible as divine oracle or law, abstracting its words from their literary and social contexts and absolutizing them as statements of timeless rules of principles that stand over against changing social practices and values.”

Dale Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, “Chapter 7 – Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32.”

“Ultimately, my purpose is to insist that modern scholars cannot blame their heterosexism on Paul precisely because the form their heterosexism takes-its assumptions, logics, ways of framing the question- is completely different from the form of Paul’s heterosexism, as can be seen through my sketch of the different (indeed, conflicting) grammars of the ancient and modern ideologies.”

Traditionalist:

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, “Chapter 16 – Homosexuality.”

“Can homosexual persons be members of the Christian church? This is rather like asking, ‘Can envious persons be members of the church?’ (cf. Rom 1:29) or ‘Can alcoholics be members of the church?’ De facto, of course, they are. Unless we think that the church is a community of sinless perfection, we must acknowledge that persons of homosexual orientations are welcome along with other sinners in the company of those who trust in the God who justifies the ungodly…..at the same time, I would argue that the pastoral task of the church is to challenge self-defined homosexual Christians to reshape their identity in conformity with the gospel.”

William Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, “Chapter 2 – A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic.”

“While continuing a negative assessment of homosexuality today, even of its least offensive form, the Christian community should reserve its greatest denouncement for the vilest forms of homosexual activity. A second cultural difference is the increased awareness today of various environmental and biological influences in shaping sexual preference. While these influences should not overturn a negative assessment of same-sex relationships, they should clearly give us a greater degree of compassion for those who struggle with homosexual feelings and behavior.”

Robert Gagnon, How Bad Is Homosexual Practice According to Scripture and Does Scripture’s Indictment Apply to Committed Homosexual Unions?

“It is my contention that homosexual practice is a more serious violation of Scripture’s sexual norms than even incest, adultery, plural marriage, and divorce…Are we being unreasonable in giving precedence to some sins over others? Should we concede these other matters as well and be more consistently disobedient to the will of Christ? I don’t think so.”

Mark D. Smith, Journal of the American Academy of Religion LXIV/2, “Ancient Bisexuality and the Interpretation of Romans 1:26-27.”

“Paul’s proscription must be taken in the context in which it is presented. For him, humanity is full of corruption, as is evident in the lives of all persons, and Paul (as well as other biblical authors) does not place any special emphasis on censuring homosexual activity; rather the opposite is the case. Paul devotes many more pages to the unjust use of money than to homoerotic activity. Nevertheless, I do not think there is any avoiding the conclusion that Paul considers homosexual behavior to be sinful.”

Informative/Neutral:

George Chauncey, Jr., Christian Brotherhood Or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and The Construction Of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era

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