His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’
— Job 2:9
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
— John 1:14 (The Message, Eugene Peterson)
I recently saw an ad for a television show on the Learning Channel. It featured a teenage mother holding a premature baby with heart problems on her lap. She looks teary-eyed into the camera and sobs, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” The next commercial was for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
God never gives us more than we can handle. Bullshit.
If it had just been coming out … I could handle that.
If it had just been leaving the ministry … I could handle that.
If it had just been the Nazarenes asking me to return my certificate of ordination
… I could handle that.
If it had just been breaking my arm … I could handle that.
If it had just been finding and losing love within a two-month span
… I could handle that.
If it had just been having the Sheriff Admin job being cut from the County Budget just before my final interview … I could handle that.
If it had just been the State refusing my claim for unemployment benefits
… I could handle that.
If it had just been burning the toast … or the flat tire … or the fourth day of rain
… or looking at myself naked in the mirror … I could handle that.
But it is the compounding of those things in my life over the last six months that has overwhelmed my like oceanic wave that has left me staggering for breath. I rise gasping and then feel a cosmic hand pushing me under before I can refill my lungs.
There is no cosmic hand. God does not spend Divine days adding things to the measuring scale that is our lives, seeing how precariously close he can come before he has added one tragedy too many. God is not about controlling the details as about being present in the details.
Religion is about control. Spirituality is about growth. I have lost patience with religion. And now I am looking for God in the details. The good thing about tragedy is that it strips away non-essentials rather rapidly. Take money for example. I had reached a point in my professional life where money was not a major concern. I did not have to think about money. All bills were paid in a timely fashion and there was enough excess to entertain myself and to be charitable as the occasion arose. I now think about money constantly. When all your money is gone the details become vivid. Take church for example. Church was my life. I had spent years and thousands of dollars becoming a pastor. Every waking moment of my life was somehow impacted by the church. Preach. Pray. Push paper. Now Sunday morning is Sunday morning. Maybe go to church. Maybe sleep in. No one will notice and God is not keeping attendance records. When I encounter God now it has to be on purpose and it almost always in the small details.
So what are the details in which God can now be vibrantly present for this self-proclaimed Job whose life has been reduced to boils, tombstones, and fickle friends?
Just before I broke my arm I had started dating a man, Picasso. He was a local artist. Our times together were fun and exciting. Then I broke my arm. Many men would have fled at that point. Instead Picasso came and gave me a sponge bath. And he took me to the opera. He came and dressed me in an oversized gray sweatshirt that would fit over my arm brace and sling. I sat next to him at performance of La Boheme looking like a baby elephant.
One night Picasso came to give me a sponge bath. As he was bathing me he said, “This seems somewhat spiritual … almost Biblical.” Picasso was not a religious man for the most part. I assured him that it was spiritual and encouraged him to hurry up and get to the good part of the sponge bath. Cleanliness is next to godliness. After the bath we made love (lovemaking with a broken arm is a challenge) and then lay next to one another to fall asleep in his arms. It had been difficult to get in a comfortable position. Sleep had become difficult for me during the first month of my fracture and spent every night sleeping on the sofa. I raised myself in bed and woke Picasso and told him that I would have to move to the couch to sleep. I drug a pillow in my good arm and moved to the couch and tried to sleep. A few moments later I saw Picasso emerge from my bedroom. He was dragging blankets and a pillow. “I want to be next to you.” He lay down on the floor beside me and reached up to hold the hand of my good arm. God is in the details.
Picasso and I have broken up. But it was not before Valentine’s Day at the coast and some more times of lying in bed with smiles on our faces. Just another stripping away … another opportunity for God to be seen because there is nothing left obscuring the view.
A well-meaning Nazarene pastor wrote me a letter expressing his concern about my descent into the “depraved life of the homosexual.” It was laced with words that in the past would have sent me scurrying to the altar. Today they just cause me to sigh deeply. In his letter he said, “You will never find happiness as a gay man …” If it had been about happiness I would have remained in the closet. But it has never been about happiness … it has only been about authenticity. As it turns out, a high percentage of gay men are flakes … a high percentage (me included) can be obsessive about sex … high percentage of gay men have had it with religion … but in meeting them … talking with them … making love to them … praying with them I have discovered that I was not alone. In a sense, in meeting them I have discovered God for the very first time. I discovered God in the details.
One of the favorite pictures I have from my childhood is of me and Christy Huntsman. We are five or six, she is holding my dad’s sandwich wrapped in wax paper and I am holding his Bible. He is on his way to work. My dad was a devoted Bible reader.
He was very proud the day Governor Mark Hatfield came to his barbershop for a haircut. He had the governor sign his Bible.
I was talking with someone recently who told me that Mark Hatfield was gay. I cannot confirm that allegation, but the source seemed knowledgeable and credible.
After hearing that I remembered the signature in my father’s Bible. In a weird way it would have been helpful to me if when signing my father’s Bible Mark had said, “And by the way I’m gay.” Or at least made a pass at my father. And then my father could have come home from work and showed me the governor’s signature and said, “Look, the governor signed by my Bible! Did you know he was gay?” And I could have said, “Yeah, just like me!”
I now have a rainbow sticker on the bumper of my Honda … just in case there is the son of barber somewhere that needs to say, “Hey, he’s not the governor but he’s gay … just like me!”