“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry.
I’m the sort of person who likes to know where I’m going and, what’s more, the best way to get there. Once I know my destination, I work hard to get there fast. I like efficiency, but I also like to think of myself as a generous soul. I’ll do all that I can to help someone else get where they need to be—as long as it doesn’t slow me down.
Since 1988, I have sought to be a faithful follower of Jesus. “Christlikeness” has been my destination and I’ve set my eyes on the prize of growing in discipleship. My faith has been grounded in a conservative reading of Scripture, but as I’ve studied Scripture, I realized a few years ago that my reading was too literal. I began to question passages such as “slaves obey your masters” (Colossians 3:22), “you must obey my decrees – do not wear clothing of twos kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19), and all of Exodus 21, which describes Hebrew servant behavior. I live in the South, after all. We remember how dangerous these slavery texts can be.
As I tried to be sincere in my own pursuit of Jesus, I had to be honest that I’d been picking and choosing verses that seemed important to me while discarding others. This was a difficult realization. As someone who likes to know where he’s going, I had enjoyed thinking of the Bible as a roadmap filled with clear directions for me and my fellow travelers.
But I was also learning a truth that was challenging me to grow in my faith. I was waking up to the idea that discipleship is a relationship, not an achievement. Maps are helpful tools when our main goal is to reach a destination. But when the end goal is a relationship, simplistic formulas and easy answers can become roadblocks preventing the very progress they promise to aid.
God was teaching me this through Bible study, but looking back I realize he was also preparing me to face this reality in my life. For eleven years I had tried my best to love my wife, Laura. I was faithful to her in the literal sense, but our marriage was slowly dying. By 2012, we barely talked. We were not emotionally or physically intimate. I was consumed with work and our four children.
February 26, 2012, brought a crisis. Laura confessed to having an affair with her best friend, a woman. Those who have experienced adultery know that the anguish is overwhelming. In one moment, trust is extinguished. On top of that, I also had to wrestle with homosexuality. I wept. I yelled at God and Laura. I wanted revenge.
The next morning, I went to see a pastoral counselor. He began to teach me that “love is the opposite of control and that any man can have sex but very few men learn intimacy.” It was a hard lesson. Anger rode on through 2012. I was desperate. I cannot tell you how many times I told my wife that she “was wrong.” I even called her an abomination. But God helped me realize that I was the one in the wrong, not Laura.
I had been a man seeped in work and in myself. I knew my destination and how I was going to get there. But I wasn’t intimately pursuing the kindest woman I know. God began to change me. My heart began to shift from control to love. I began praying for kindness, peace, and gentleness. A deeper appreciation for my wife grew. I began to learn that life was not about me. God kept teaching me more and more about intimacy, love, grace, and forgiveness. I understood that Paul was right: suffering does lead to perseverance, perseverance to character, and character to hope in Christ.
Finally, through the journey of covenant marriage, God opened my eyes to homosexuality. As a conservative, I was not open to considering gay orientation or gay marriage. Marriage was between a man and a woman. But I kept hearing a call to reconsider my understanding of the Bible. I researched. I read about 60 books on homosexuality (conservative, moderate, and progressive). I learned that the word “homosexuality” was not in the English Bible before 1954 (little wonder the church doesn’t know how to talk about it!). I began to understand that a literal translation of marriage in the Old Testament would allow me to marry several wives and then sell them as pieces of property. Jesus taught that women are not property or “sex objects.” They are to be intimately loved (“husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church”). Jesus even made it clear that I had committed adultery by “looking at a woman lustfully.” This was all incredibly convicting.
Further study helped me understand the depth and complexity of God’s creation – a creation where no zebra has the same stripe, where a quarter of male black swans mate with other males, and where there are over 1200 different types of watermelons. Surely human beings are also unique. I might be 99% heterosexual and my wife might be 50%. We are different, and each of us is loved and beautiful in God’s sight.
Finally, I came to the conclusion: why the fuss over gay marriage? I have heard all the concerns about confusing children, about the impact on traditional Christian marriage. And I also know that 55% of Christian marriages end in divorce. We should be having a conversation about the critical lack of intimacy in families, but we blame gay people instead.
I believe God designed marriage for man and woman. I also believe, based on my four-year journey with my incredible wife, that marriage is about intimacy between two people: intimacy that is emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual. If marriage is viewed in this way, why should we deprive a gay person from experiencing true intimacy, true covenant love with a partner and with God? Who are we to judge and convict?
Thus, I am with Wendell Berry, able to celebrate the gift of not knowing which way to go. While so many things seem unclear, I’m focusing more and more on the centrality of the two greatest commandments – love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Though I am baffled, these instructions give my whole self plenty to do each day. Impeded on my race toward personal achievement, I’ve discovered time to sing with Laura and Jesus and all the rocks in the stream.