Saturday, December 10, 2016

Proverbs 2: Delight v. Danger

Chapter 2 of Proverbs continues with the theme of Wisdom. I cannot help but notice the greater presence of hope and joy in this chapter. In 2:6, Solomon says, "the LORD gives wisdom," continuing to say that God is a "shield," "may guard" paths of justice, and will protect those loyal to Him.

Solomon states that after God has blessed someone, it "will enter your mind and knowledge will delight your heart" (2:10). The theme of delight seems to bless this chapter with a particular emphasis on feeling of liberation from the the things one feels in the absence of wisdom.

"Discretion" also figures now as a companion to wisdom, indicating that with discretion one finds protection from various threats: "those who abandon the right paths to walk in the ways of darkness ... and celebrate perversion" (2:11-12).

For where I am right now, I have to balance this call for discretion with the need to seek help from others to resist temptation. What worries me is that too much discretion gives someone with my particular struggles the tendency to hide and dissemble--conduct that can be deadly for someone who hopes to be delivered from the darkness of homosexuality. The answer to this concern of mine comes at the end for the chapter when Solomon says, "follow the way of good people, and keep to the paths of the righteous" (2:20-21). This reminds me that it is good to share struggles with people you know you can trust, rather than struggling in silence and hoping that secrecy will somehow protect you from falling away from God.

The proverb presents various examples of people to avoid: perverts, the devious, "forbidden woman" (2:16), "a stranger with her flattering talk" (2:16) who seems to abandon friends and forget the covenant of her God, only to see her house sink down to to death. The proverb stands as a solid reminder that many stumbling blocks that might trip up a man seeking righteousness are human threats: conduct, behaviors, habits, that one might misinterpret as normal when one surrounds oneself with them.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Welcome to a Series of Posts: Atonement through Proverbs

I came to a trusted spiritual adviser earlier this week to confess a grave sin, and to beg for mercy. It was not a physical sin, but one of thoughts and speech. He is a very devoted Christian, not a little older than I am. He was instrumental in accomplishing the Lord's grace for me and delivering me out of the troublesome work I did in California.

My identity as one who escaped the darkness of homosexuality has become public and even high-profile. On the last day of class this semester, my students gathered together Christmas cards thanking me for being a good teacher. From time to time I receive emails from people praising me and gratitude for my witness.

This public identity forces me to observe a high standard for truth and integrity. When I turned to my spiritual adviser, I was at the nadir of a horrible ten days of melancholy. I had to admit something that I could not bear to hold inside any longer: After so many years of marriage to a woman and freedom from the thoughts of sodomy, I was struggling again. Though I had done nothing in the flesh, my thoughts were being "darkened," as it is described in Romans 1, and I found myself increasingly drawn to thoughts of going back to homosexuality. I kept remembering the foul odors and humiliation of the restrooms in the 1980s, the racist gay sex trade and underground dungeons of the 1990s, as well as the lurid websites that set in during the early years of the Internet.

In my sinful pride I had thought that "pride" would never be my downfall. Yet it was largely pride that had caused my fall into despair. Having escaped the doldrums of Los Angeles, having emerged from an extended war with Big Gay unscathed, and having found new success with the premiere of the play Sunlight, I had assumed that I was untouchable. All the struggles were behind me, and I wasn't even feeling homosexual urges or any nostalgia any more--or so I thought.

In the run-up to the premiere of Sunlight, I had the misfortune of being betrayed by a young gay actor who took an advance salary to play the role of "Bobby," basically me, in the drama in London. He quit two days before the show saying he didn't feel "safe" or "protected" being in the play, citing the homophobia of its likely audience. Since many tickets had already been sold by the producer, I was forced to play myself as a young man during those years when I spiraled into confusion, promiscuity, and sodomy. I had only one day to memorize all the lines (thank goodness I wrote them, so it wasn't that hard) and rehearse.

I was happy with my performance, but found that it was not good to be thrust back into one's earlier, dark years. This reminded me why I had hired an actor in the first place. Having to remember and revive the images of the 1980s and 1990s, when I was desperate to be loved by a father figure and scarred by the racial violence of Buffalo's blue-collar suburbs, I flew back to the United States feeling as though I was in a time warp.

I was back there, back inside the mind of a young Puerto Rican man dependent on older white homosexuals to survive. I wandered into conversations with people still in the gay world, still steeped in the taboo-breaking fantasies and vulgar thrills. The aftermath of Trump's election had placed both sexual hysteria and racism back at the front of the media's shrill reportage. My personal situation interacted unhealthily with what everyone else was talking about. I found myself in conversations with people who found excitement in breaking the politically correct taboos that Trump had ostensibly torn down. Even gay whites who had not voted for Trump suddenly felt liberated to speak in perfect frankness about their stereotypical fantasies.

Breaking taboos can usually be as enticing as throwing repression to the wind. But I fell into an emotional tunnel for a little over a week, feeling as though my struggle might be far longer and harder than I ever could have imagined. I was back in the "gay underworld," after so many years, and now with a wife and children who must know nothing about the thoughts in my head. Part of me found the memories irresistible and even fantasized about quitting my current life, going back, and living the life of an underground prowler once more.

Part of me wanted to minister to people around me, all thrown to and fro by the racial and sexual passions unleashed by the Trump election.

The gravest blow I felt, however, was to pray and feel that Jesus no longer wanted to hear my prayers. My lips had spoken foul words, and my heart had fallen prey to sinful thoughts once more. It seemed I could not get God to answer my prayers.

So I went to my adviser and offered to give him all the cards I'd received from my students. "These are all honoring a man who does not exist," I said. "They think I am someone who conquered sin, and I haven't. This is all a lie."

But my adviser was firm and unyielding. He told me that this was the spiritual battlefield, that I was confronting the devil face to face now, and I must ask God for forgiveness and move forward with my career. Surrendering to these disturbing thoughts would be the truly evil thing to do.

His kind words reminded me that there are many men who want so badly to get out of homosexuality, and my life serves as a potential example to them. If I were to succumb to this sadness and give up, then go back into it in the flesh, I might not only doom myself but many others.

My adviser suggested that I spend each night contemplating on one chapter of the book of proverbs. So here I will engage in this. I will keep a diary online so that others who face similar struggles can pray for me, lest I slide, and also so that I can pray for them, even without knowing their names, lest they do.

Proverbs 1

This proverb must be dear to anyone whose job is to teach and advise others. Most of it is about "learning what wisdom and discipline are" (1:2). Both wisdom and discipline matter, and the proverb develops a sense of what each means.

This chapter acts as an introduction to all the proverbs in a sense. The wise man, we hear, will "listen and increase his learning" (1:7). Maybe it was not entirely wrong for me to open my ears to the thoughts of men still trapped in the racial inequality of the homosexual world, for it is proper that I should know what awaits all of us in the traps that Satan sets for us. The higher purpose, of course, must be to find parables and riddles that I can grow wise enough to understand, in order to avoid the traps and live a life of discipline.

I feel affirmed in my cause and the public positions I've taken in 1:8, when Solomon says to listen to both the father's and mother's lessons. My public stance against homosexuality is based, first and foremost, on the essential importance of having a mother and father--and here Solomon backs me up. The problem, perhaps, is that I have been too prideful in my argumentation, believing foolishly that I was above the dangers of lapsing into the actual lusts that drive homosexuals to suggest motherless or fatherless families.

"My son," Solomon says, "if sinners entice you, don't be persuaded." (1:10). This was the line that I failed to follow in my youth. To be truthful, when I was a boy and a young man, I was a handsome Latino. In the gay world, all I had was my beauty and eagerness to make older men with money feel good. The racist remarks that would come about during such interludes were part of the charm of the situation, and I thought that I could get the coddling and attention without feeding prejudice and injustice. Here I was wrong.

"Such are the paths," says Solomon, "of all who make profit dishonestly; it takes the lives of those who receive it." (1:19)

Wisdom appears personified as a woman, almost sounding like the appearance of Philosophy in the writings of Boethius. She threatens to mock those who keep ignoring her counsel and choosing to do foolish things. Yet her closing words are a consolation to those who feel the darkness I am just now emerging from: "For the turning away of the inexperienced will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; But whoever listens to me will live securely and be free from the fear of danger." (1:33)

To listen is to change--this is the ending note of the proverb.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016