Being Gay at Bethel: Revisited

Being Gay at Bethel: Revisited

Here’s a piece I wrote back in the spring about some good changes and things I see happening back at my alma mater (that sounds weird to say…).

Bethel is one of my favorite places, and I’m thankful for the ways God is moving there, especially in the sense that LGBTQ students are starting to feel safer and that the atmosphere is shifting for the better. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

Editor’s Note: The following article is a reflection on discussion prompted by the piece, “Being Gay at Bethel,” published May 2015 in the Clarion. Because the article was published in the last month of the year, the Bethel community had no opportunity to discuss and respond to the article, and many in our community left Bethel with more questions than answers regarding Bethel’s policies and attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. In publishing this article, we hope to inspire further conversation. In the first chapel of the year, biblical studies professor Juan Hernandez Jr. challenged the Bethel community to speak up for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed, imitating Christ in this way. At the Clarion, we strive to speak up on issues that matter most to the Bethel community. Venegas, a junior linguistics major at the time “Being Gay at Bethel” was published, has since graduated and now works at Cyber Village Academy as an office administrator.

There’s…

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have we become the pharisees?

Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I’m working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I’m transitioning back to writing some fiction, I’ve been finding that it’s taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that’s more normal than I’m giving myself credit for.

With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that’s not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.

Continue reading “have we become the pharisees?”

how I finally learned what love is

The air was cool for Minnesota summer, and a fire crackled and snapped over wet logs in the fire pit in front of me. I was about to tell a story I had only told once before, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the words still felt almost fake as they churned inside of me, bringing a new sensation of reality to the term word vomit. It just didn’t feel right. In a way, it felt selfish, what I was about to do. At a cursory glance, everything about my life seemed to be just as it should, if not better, but I was about to confess that for the majority of my life I had felt like I had to earn love and wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant to be loved.

 

I mean, honestly, I’m 19 years old, have a college diploma hanging on my bedroom wall, my family is great to me and always has been, my friends are some of the best you could ask for, and I have everything I need, among other things, but I couldn’t escape the voice of God trying to convince me, for the umpteenth time in however many years, that there was no possible way for anyone to ever earn someone else’s love. But along with that, He also seemed to whisper that the reason was that you didn’t have to. His love, as well as anyone else’s authentic love, doesn’t need to be earned. That seems like such a simple, basic concept, but it’s one I’m honestly still processing and learning to be true.

 

Continue reading “how I finally learned what love is”

when our words kill friendship (part one)

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”

 

As a writer, you could say that I think about words a lot. Part of both the joy and frustration of writing is being able to find just the right word to express exactly the sort of sentiment you want to convey. For the most part, the English language usually does a pretty good job of supplying words that have the proper nuance, but something that I’ve been thinking about recently is how sometimes we don’t have enough words to capture the depth of some things that we consider to be so basic. Friendship is one of those things.

 

In English, our single word ‘friend’ encompasses such a wide range of meanings that other languages might divide into different words in order to convey the proper amount of nuance behind them. I mean, I think it’s a little strange that we use the same word to describe people that we’re connected to on Facebook, many of whom we might not even talk to or interact with on a regular basis, as well as people that we share our souls with and can call late at night to cry with. It seems almost disrespectful to use the same word for both of those kinds of relationships. After all, many people call their spouses or their siblings their best friends, and yet we’ll still use the same word to talk about that person we might’ve shared a class with freshman year of college or high school and haven’t talked to since.

 

That’s one of the things I loved most about being a linguistics major. By at least rudimentarily studying several other languages, you gain a broader understanding of how other people express different ideas across different languages, and the subtle nuances that those untranslatable words and phrases carry tell you quite a bit about how that language or culture thinks about and treats various aspects of life. With friendship, I think the contrast between English and other languages is quite striking. Continue reading “when our words kill friendship (part one)”

when your friends strip you down

This is the third entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”

 

Vulnerability. Intimacy. Authenticity. Those are all pretty popular Christian buzzwords as of late, usually accompanied by an Instagram photo of daybreak from a mountain view or a crashing waterfall in the middle of an evergreen forest with a hipster backpack brand or some sort of “supply company” tagged toward the margins. Cheeky, right?

 

I’m not going to lie. I love a great nature shot or artsy portrait on a curated Instagram feed as much as the next millennial, but I think that perhaps we’ve turned those words into a brand in and of themselves, passing over their actual etymology in favor of a trendy aesthetic. All of a sudden, words like those get commoditized into hashtags and lose their meaning and appeal just as fast as the Billboard Top 40 and cheap gum, the difference being that people still listen to the same overplayed songs and buy $1 gum while we’re quickly losing the ability to actually be vulnerable and authentic. Continue reading “when your friends strip you down”

when marriage has a monopoly on love

This is the second entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”

 

American society seems to be going through something of a love crisis if you ask me. We’re completely captivated by love, or at least the idea of love. There are hundreds of songs, movies, books, plays, and talk shows, among other things all revolving around the concept of love. I’d wager that it’s probably one of the most commonly talked about things in this entire country. Without our fascination (or perhaps obsession) with love, I would also be willing to bet that the majority of pop musicians and young adult authors would probably be out of work.

 

But at the same time, it appears as if we don’t really know all that much about love despite our insistence on saturating our existences and media with talk of love. According to the American Psychological Association, somewhere between 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, with subsequent marriages only having higher rates of divorce. For the one relationship that we’ve all been taught and socialized to view as the epitome and encapsulation of love, it’s not doing the best job at upholding the standards that we’ve been spoon fed with love songs and romcoms. And yet, we still hold to these sensationalized stereotypes of love that don’t seem to quite square up with reality. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Taylor Swift album as much as the next (and seeing her in concert is still up there on my bucket list), but I think that all the emphasis that our culture has heaped upon love, specifically romantic, idealistic love, has poisoned and tainted our view of what love really is and how it covers a lot more ground than American pop culture is willing to give it credit for. Instead of giving us a well-rounded, holistic view of what love is, we’ve been offered a distorted version of love with all the rough edges blurred out until it’s been censored to a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that gets us drunk on fairytale delusions and leaves us with false hopes when reality rouses us from our stupor.

Continue reading “when marriage has a monopoly on love”

when christian superstars come out

Perhaps you’ve heard and perhaps you haven’t yet, but Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday just came out as gay about a day or two ago. This follows similar coming out stories by the likes of Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp who have gone on to lose much of their music careers, with Beeching instead moving on to religious commentary and other projects in the UK, including a book that she’s currently working on. But at any rate, just like those other coming out stories, this one has already generated its own fair share of controversy and reactions from the general Christian populace, both positive and negative, as larger outlets such as Yahoo and Religion News Service have picked up the story.

Unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few opinionated responses coming from a handful of Christians, with many lamenting the fact that he has chosen to come out after having married a woman and having children among other things, and this is specifically what I want to address in this post. With more and more people finally acknowledging the basic fact that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice, what I’ve seen is that many Christians have instead chosen to go the route of lambasting Pearson for his decision to come out now after having been married to his wife for over 7 years and having had children with her, and I think that perhaps I understand a little bit of where that’s coming from, as misdirected as it might be. Continue reading “when christian superstars come out”

when grace puts you at stalemate

Amidst all of the culture wars that our world and society are currently embroiled in, it goes without saying that there’s always room for more grace, and I believe that’s true. If you’ve ever read any books or articles about conflict resolution, they will usually tell you that the blame for a problem can very rarely be 100% attributed to one party. In most cases, both or all parties have contributed at least a little bit to the overarching problem, regardless of whether that split is revealed to be 97% one party’s fault and only 3% the other party’s fault. That’s a pretty significant split, and that doesn’t mean that the one guilty party hasn’t done something wrong. In simple terms, most conflicts usually involve one party who was wronged and another party that committed the wrong, but what this conflict resolution strategy does is to point out that in any given conflict, there were often factors on both or all sides that were key to the situation unfolding the way that it did. And this is the perspective of grace with which I try to approach the raging controversial debates, but so often, it feels like maintaining a posture of grace is getting you nowhere, which very quickly becomes exhausting. Continue reading “when grace puts you at stalemate”

coming out: on feeling normal again one year later

coming out: on feeling normal again one year later

It’s been just about a year since I’ve come out, and I think it’s only now that I’m starting to feel normal again, after two months of summer school in another state, four months living abroad in a different country and immersed in a different language, and a year out of church. Yeah, I’m only starting to feel normal again now.

And what does “normal” really mean anyway, especially in this context? I guess you could say that I’m not really normal in any sense of the word. I’m a gay person of color who goes to a Christian university, is younger than everyone in his graduating class, and also happens to be the child of first generation immigrants. So, I suppose normal isn’t really the best descriptor of me to begin with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s taken a full year for me to start feeling like myself again, and feeling comfortable as myself again.

For a long while after coming out, I felt like I was trapped between two repelling magnetic poles. The church didn’t want me because I was an anomaly, unnatural, choosing sin, in need of healing, or whatever other spiritualized phrase they chose to describe me, and I certainly didn’t fit into the LGBT community because of my faith that many saw as being in direct opposition to identifying as LGBT. Even many of my closest friends weren’t immediately sure how to respond to me, which isn’t a bad thing. I know firsthand how complicated and difficult to navigate intersectional issues like this can be, but that didn’t keep it from being any less isolating or any less discouraging as I started out on that road. It felt like I didn’t quite fit into any of the spaces that I was accustomed to occupying, and I felt a little lost. Continue reading “coming out: on feeling normal again one year later”

the ring by spring dilemma: lgbt edition

Note: I was originally going to post this later in the week, but after hearing a guest speaker in one of my classes this morning, I decided that it was worth posting today, even if it’s a little later in the afternoon. Talking about some aspects of Bethel specific culture, she noted that having all of these expectations regarding relationships in college often sets up students for disappointment when things don’t work out the way that they’ve romanticized them to be, something which I find to be especially true for Christian LGBT students who experience many of the same things in a college setting.

So, yeah, that’s just a little bit of the backstory behind this post. And again, as with any post I write, I’m not trying to attack anyone or anything necessarily. I just like to reflect on cultural elements and the impacts that they have that are often much larger and much farther reaching than many realize. Cool. Here we go.

If you go to, have ever been to, or perhaps even just heard of a Christian college, you’ve probably heard of the term “ring by spring.” For the uninformed, what this rhyming little cliché is talking about is the stereotypical understanding or assumption or expectation or whatever that by the spring semester of your senior year of college, you will or, perhaps more importantly should be engaged to the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. Yeah, essentially what “ring by spring” is saying is that you should probably be getting married the summer after you graduate from college, otherwise you don’t really have your life together, and you’re probably also not a good Christian, because otherwise God would’ve brought someone along by now. I hope that everyone can see the problem with this. Continue reading “the ring by spring dilemma: lgbt edition”