My Son, Myself and Fire

When I was about three or four years old, my mom and dad were smokers. One day I picked up a book of matches. I played with them on the coffee table by batting around, flipping it here and there. Finally, I got around to opening it. And I fingered the little red matches long enough and one came out. I finally figured out how to light the match, and was mesmerized by the flame burning brightly… until it hit my fingers and I screamed! Bad experience. However, it didn’t deter my love of the flame. I’ve always liked fire. I’ve always played with fire.

Fast-forward ___ years….

My one year old son really, really likes fire too. When I start the wood stove in the morning (a near daily affair), he loves to come and watch. He’s learning to stay back, but we do have a fence up to remind him not to get too close. He likes to test us. He wants to make sure we really mean no. He thinks his way is best. Did I already say, he’s one…?

But I realized his nature: fire intrigues him. I realized that watching the fire was in his very core of who he is. He just wants to touch it. He loves to watch when I start the fire. He loves to lay in front of it when he gets his diaper changed – and will lay still while I change him, if he can just watch the fire. I love to watch fire too. It feels good. It’s relaxing. It’s mesmerizing.

So? Should I let him?

A few nights ago, we decided to open the doors of the fireplace/wood stove and roast hot dogs (should’ve done marshmallows, but didn’t think of it until now). As 4 of my kids crowded around the fireplace with the metal sticks and hotdogs a-roasting, my son crowded in behind them. He wanted to get close too. But he couldn’t. He was like Zacheus – He was too short to see over the crowd. But he JUST HAD TO SEE IT AND GET CLOSE AND TOUCH IT. I mean, it’s in his very nature. He is attracted to fire. (He’s not attracted to cold – go figure….) Then he saw a way around the girls and went for it. He ran beside them and was going to get in close. Fortunately the 12 year old saw him and stopped him. He screamed, he cried, he really wanted in to touch that brightly colored fire.

I know what he was saying. I don’t speak in tongues, but I still knew – I could see it in his eyes and read his facial expressions. “You don’t love me, or you’d let me!” “You must not care for me, you are telling me no!” “It’s who I am! I want that!” I could see it. I could hear it. Believe me, I could hear it!

Should I let him, because he wants to? Because it’s in his nature? Because he was born that way?

Of course not! The most loving thing any parent can do at that point is to say no. Love doesn’t mean agreement. Love doesn’t mean acceptance of everything, but it does mean acceptance of everyONE. I did the most loving thing I could do – I provided a safe place for my son because I told him no and put the fence back up after the hotdogs…. And one day, when he realizes what could have happened to him, he’ll thank me. I’m sure of it.

It ought to be the same at church. I would hope that when I’m headed down a faulty way, someone (ANYONE!) would tell me to stop. I’m not talking about people outside the church. I’m talking about people inside the church. We help and support each other. Church should be a safe place. And a safe place isn’t where I’ll get burned. A safe place is where I choose to follow the “law of liberty” the Bible talks about. Any help along that path, I’m grateful for.

8 thoughts on “My Son, Myself and Fire

  1. SMDH. No one lets a toddler play with fire. The comparison to a more mature person figuring out he or she is gay is just silly.

    But let’s fast forward about 12 or so years. And let’s say your now teenage son still has a intense interest in fire (as most teenage boys do.) You, the parent, have two choices. One choice is to deny your son’s interest in fire and teach your kid that fire is dangerous, unmanageable and completely off-limits. At some point, your son is going to find a way to play with fire on his own and possibly get burned..

    Your other choice is to accept that your son has an interest in fire. You can take the opportunity to discuss fire, teach your son how to handle fire safely/responsibly and give him support as he learns the power of fire. And who knows where that could lead? It might result in a truly safe and healthy kid, happy camp fires, a degree in fire science, a career in firefighting or pyrotechnics?

    That’s the real comparison. How do you, as a parent, respond when your child grows up and starts to define his or her own interests and identity?

    • True, the illustration is weak Chris. I knew that when I started to write it out. Perhaps this isn’t the place to have this discussion with an issue going on in my church right now…. As to a child grows up. I have a 23 year old son too. He’s defined himself pretty differently than the values I have. I’ve let him know he is loved, that I’m proud of him, and that I can’t wait for him to come home any time he pleases. Yes, any parent should/would feel that way.

      So yeah, the illustration has holes. Absolutely. No question. See my response below for other issues pertaining to this…. I’m all ears, if it’s a friendly discussion. I’m okay if we disagree. I’m seeking to understand….

      • Thank you for your reply, Adventureman. I appreciate your desire to understand. This conversation would be so much more productive if people would listen to each other and put themselves in each other’s shoes.

        You say, “I’m not into condemning, nor judging anyone” when it comes to homosexuality. But, in a way, you have already passed judgment. You’ve decided homosexuality is a “propensity” akin to adultery, alcoholism, pride, anger, and selfishness. These things clearly have negative connotations. Left-handedness, musical talent and altruism are also propensities. Why didn’t you draw parallels between homosexuality and those things?

        You’ve also judged homosexuality to be nothing more than a “lifestyle.” Since you are not gay, it’s easy for you to say that. However, a gay person would say that being gay is an integral part of who they ARE. And many would argue it’s how they were BORN. Just as you have a natural attraction towards women (or one special woman, your wife), a gay person can develop the same feelings towards someone of the same sex. What a gay person experiences is no less biological, powerful and meaningful than your heterosexual experience. That being said, no one would ever reduce your attraction to your wife as a “heterosexual lifestyle.” And no one would try to parse that out from who you ARE. Gay people want the same courtesy and that’s why the word “lifestyle” is so offensive.

        I am gay. I am Christian. I am also a sinner. But loving my same-sex spouse, standing with her through good times and bad, enjoying a lifelong conversation with her and raising up a family with her is not my sin. Anger is my sin. I am tired of turning the other cheek to religious leaders, politicians and businessmen who toss around the validity of my life and love like a football. I am tired of straight people (who have no experience of being gay) reducing my relationship to a principle, or a “propensity,” rather than a meaningful and life-affirming bond between two people. And I am tired of seeing gay people turn away from God and the churches as an act of self-preservation. The messages they are receiving – that their life is a “lifestyle,” that God doesn’t approve of this part of who they are, that their fondness for another person is nothing more than a sinful propensity like adultery, alcoholism, pride, anger, or selfishness – are leaving them broken and without hope.

        Since I confessed my sin of anger, I would also like to note that I don’t believe being gay is sinful. The other things you listed – adultery, alcoholism, pride, anger, selfishness – are sinful because they hurt others. Being gay hurts no one, especially when people are allowed to live their lives in the light rather than being pushed into a dark closet.

        I hear where you are coming from. Yours is an admirable and challenging calling. I assume a major part of your job is guiding people to Christ and helping them live better, more faithful, more fruitful lives. May I ask when people come to you for spiritual guidance, do you impose your personal beliefs on them or do you meet them wherever they are on their journey? Most gay people and their families know what the Bible says. In fact, many of them have been battered and bruised by Scripture. So they are quite familiar with its content. They’ve also had the beliefs of others imposed upon them over and over again. But don’t gay people and their families also have a right to develop their own deeply held spiritual beliefs as part of their personal relationship with Christ?

        This is where any church can make huge strides forward on this matter.

        First, the church can acknowledge there are over 50 different English versions of the Bible alone. I honestly think there is room for scriptural exploration on this issue. The word “homosexual” wasn’t even coined until 1869. So, why does that word appear in so many Bibles now? The answer to that is reflective of the many translations and interpretations the Bible has seen over the centuries.

        The original texts condemned ‘arsenokoitai.’ As you know, that word has been the source of much theological discussion and debate. Many scholars still say that the original texts condemned homosexuality. But there are others who suggest ‘arsenokoitai’ was related to ancient practices of sexually exploiting servants, slaves and prostitutes. Regardless of anyone’s views on that word, there is no explicit Biblical condemnation of two persons of the same sex committing to each other and loving each other as they do in modern context. There’s no need to abandon Scripture on matters of arsenokoitai/homosexuality. Instead, why not share the original texts and the historical context of Scripture? What is the harm in doing that and letting people draw their own conclusions?

        Also, the churches can focus on the gay person as a whole. Why dwell on that small part of a person’s life that revolves around intimacy? Gay people are people who just happen to be gay. Personally, I’d describe myself as a Christian, a woman, a mother and a hundred other things before I described myself as gay. Given the choice, most other gay people feel the same way. So why don’t we focus on all those other parts of a gay person’s being? If the church could do that, they can truly guide that person to live a more Christ-centered life. The church can embrace the gay person, their life partners and their families as valuable members of the congregation. In exchange for the gifts, talents and diversity the gay person brings to the congregation, the church can offer individual support, relationship mentorship and guidance on all other matters of faith. The churches can lead gay people to lead healthier, happier, spiritually strong lives by encouraging honest and respectful conversations about their life experiences inside and outside the church… instead of preemptively reducing their lives to “lifestyles” akin to negative “propensities.”

        All this is to say, there’s a middle ground where gay people and their families can have a life-affirming and faith-affirming experience in the church. It would lead to so much healing. It would lead to more love and understanding within the church community. It would also lead more people back to Christ. And isn’t that what’s most important to you? I personally think it’s a much better option than having gay people and their families leave the church “burned” and/or losing their faith in God altogether.

        Thank you for listening. And thank you for caring.

      • I hear you Chris. Thank you for writing. I do speak as someone who had a lesbian couple to Thanksgiving dinner because they had just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I’ve had friends and former church members who would’ve considered themselves LGBTQ. I speak as someone who has 3-4 LGBTQ people in my church. I have said for years about all things, God called me to minister, not be a policeman. I’ve never felt it my job to point out people’s problems. No I don’t push my belief system on individuals. I do try to preach in more general terms and not about individual’s issues. My job is about principles, I ask the people to apply those themselves.

        Ah, but I have a different view of scripture than it seems you do. And that is probably the never ending line in the sand. Yes, I realize the word homosexual is a relatively new word, however the concept certainly isn’t. I believe the controversy about the meanings of words are weak. It seems to me, that when you get back to the original languages in the OT and the NT the issue is fairly straightforward. Yet, I am willing to acknowledge there are differences of opinion about this. There are other things the church is in disagreement about too….

        I would also say that you would be more than welcome in my congregation. We aren’t haters and do believe that all people should receive grace and support on their path to walk with God.

        So, propensities….yes, I lumped it with other things we could generally call sinful. I do that based on my understanding of scripture. I base it on a long history in Christendom’s view. So to me, it matters not how you identify yourself. We can be friends. But I do see a difference between homosexual understanding and lifestyle. I’m not trying to be pejorative. I’m not trying to judge. It does come down to my view of scripture.

        Judging, to me, isn’t about me telling you what I see scripture saying. Judging is when God chooses to act in the final moments of history as he sees fit. That’s not for me to know. That’s not for me to question probably. However, judging could also be me telling you that you and your spouse can’t come to church because God hates you (I would never say that to anyone by the way). So, even if we disagree, we could still be in church together….

        I have a guy in my church who lived over 40 yrs in the gay community. He lived a long time in the large homosexual community in Key West. But he, on his own, determined he was living wrong, and has chosen to live a celibate life from this day forward. Hard? You bet. Sure his homosexuality is at his very core. Yet, (and you won’t like this) just because it’s at his core, doesn’t mean it’s right. His interpretation is that he will always be same sex attracted, yet this is the choice he has chosen to live based on his understanding of scripture. I happen to agree with him, but I didn’t teach that to him.

        So, no, I don’t believe I am judging. I don’t think it’s healthy that our generation accuses people of judging when they voice their differing opinions. So again, I am seeking to listen. I am not condemning some and saving others. That’s the job of Jesus and I’d like to leave it in his hands. I’d make too many mistakes.

        Every week when I finish my message, I say to my congregation, “Go in God’s grace. He loves you!” And in my view of scripture that grace trumps all sin and theology. Titus 2:11-12 tells us we are saved by grace and we must be changed by grace. We can’t just love God and do as we please. We are called to do as He pleases. Depending in your view of scripture…. I just happen to believe my view is right (my tongue is in my cheek). 🙂

  2. Rodger, I wouldn’t normally leave a comment, but because you have the title “leading through listening”, I feel compelled. I have a gay child. Though you don’t outright say that you believe being gay is sinful, your underlying implications seem pretty obvious. (“should I let him play with fire because he was ‘born that way’?”) So, your saying that in accepting my child as being gay and not “punishing” her for it, I can only expect that she will be end up being “burnt”. (in eternal flames, I assume) I have seen the damage this kind of thinking has done; damage that includes families torn apart and suicidal kids. I have seen the restoration and joy that happens when families are freed from seeing their child as inherently evil just because of a sexual preference. I am done finding my “safety” in a church that needs to keep tabs on my sin (all in “love”, of course) and can tell me which ones will land me in hell and which ones won’t. Sorry for being snarky, but this has been a very painful journey. Please allow me one question to end; if your child was a hermaphrodite (truly “born that way”; neither male or female) what rules would you give them to keep them from being “burnt”?

    • Thanks for writing Kelly, I am not trying to say that being gay is a sin. I am not trying to say that gay is worse than some other things people do (nor better). I’m very sorry for the idea that has been presented by some in the Christian world (excuse me for repeating this, but the “God Hates Fags” kinds of things). That is so unchristian and that is not me. I’m so sorry for the pain and suffering you’ve gone through at the hands of Christians. I don’t believe God hates anyone. I believes God loves all of us and I didn’t mean to give off any other impression than that. I’m not into condemning, nor judging anyone. It matters not to me whether someone is born homosexual, or chooses it. I believe grace should be extended to everyone and they are welcome in my church. In fact, we have 3-4 people who identify as LGBT coming now, and maybe some I am unaware of. We don’t talk about it. I’ve never preached a sermon about it. They aren’t condemned, but are treated as individuals, with grace, kindness and any other qualities each of us should expect.

      That being said, I don’t know how to redirect what the Bible says about the homosexual lifestyle. In other words, I’m separating the lifestyle from the “being” aspect. Yet, again, I don’t think it’s any different than being born with other propensities that God doesn’t approve of – adultery, alcoholism, pride, anger, selfishness. In other words, I have propensities too. And I don’t know how to ignore what God says about my propensities towards things he doesn’t approve of. I’m not worried about others. I have enough problems to worry about in my own life. But I can’t just wash those things away and say that God’s sovereignty doesn’t apply to me in this area. If he really is God, then I have to let him call the shots, not me, right? Am I missing something? I don’t want a fight – I really do seek to understand and I am trying to listen.

      I don’t see anyone in my church going around pointing fingers. This stuff really only comes up when people ask for understanding of where God is leading them. Then I begin talking about it individually. I’m not out seeking to cast people into hell or into heaven. That’s not our job – not at all….

      I’m open to hearing more….

  3. You wrote, “So, propensities….yes, I lumped [homosexuality] with other things we could generally call sinful. I do that based on my understanding of scripture. I base it on a long history in Christendom’s view.”

    Just because a view has been around a long time does not make it right. Once upon a time, there were many Christians who supported slavery. Like you, they also argued that there was “a long history” of slave ownership that dated back to Biblical times and was supported by Scripture. Once upon a time, there were many Christians who vehemently fought against a woman’s right to vote. Like you, they said there was “a long history” of men having authority over women. They used countless Biblical verses to support their view. Slavery and women’s rights are just a few examples of historical views that weren’t necessarily the right views.

    You wrote, “I have a guy in my church who lived over 40 yrs in the gay community. He lived a long time in the large homosexual community in Key West. But he, on his own, determined he was living wrong, and has chosen to live a celibate life from this day forward.”

    Why do you mention his story when it has nothing to do with my story? That’s really no different than telling someone in a heterosexual marriage (with kids) that you knew a straight guy who lived in Amsterdam’s Red Light district for 40 years, who decided to become celibate. When I asked whether you imposed your personal beliefs on others or met them wherever they are on their spiritual journey, this is example of imposing your personal beliefs. My life is nothing like anything else you’ve said about gay people… including your original reference of comparing them to infants playing with fire.

    But it’s your last comment that leads me to see our dialogue was fruitless. “We can’t just love God and do as we please. We are called to do as He pleases. Depending in your view of scripture…. I just happen to believe my view is right (my tongue is in my cheek).”

    You could have said, “I respect your views.” You could have said, “We are all entitled to develop our own beliefs based on how Scripture speaks to us.” Instead you said, “I just happen to believe my view is right.” And that,
    Adventureman, is a conversation killer every time.

    Please, if a gay person ever comes to you for spiritual guidance, please remember my words before comparing him or her to a toddler playing with fire.. or reducing his or her life to a “lifestyle”… or telling them flat out that you are the only one who is right. That is all I can ask.

    Take care.

    • I’m sorry if I’ve offended you Cris. That has not been my intent. I’m sorry that I tried to do subtle humor in my writing – I should know that doesn’t work. I apologize if I’ve left you feeling less than welcomed. I did not tell my examples of dealing with my gay/lesbian friends to say I knew your story – I did not. I don’t know much about your story, other than your brief allusions to it here. I simply gave those as examples to say I’ve had some, albeit limited, contact with people who are gay. I didn’t mean to say they were all inclusive.

      However, I do still say we stand on a different view of scripture. Yes, I could have said a lot of things differently. However, I’m not sure I would have in every instance. You would like me to simply let each person do what they want with scripture, and I do that, yet that is what Judges 21:25 says is the condemnation of why the book of judges was actually written. Despite my attempt at humor, by saying, “I just happen to believe my view is right (tongue in cheek)”, I think pretty much everyone is of the belief their view is the correct one. However, I did say throughout my reply, that even if we have different views, you are welcome to hold that view with no condemnation from me or my church.

      Again, I’m simply trying to listen. I’ve learned a lot from you in the short interaction we’ve had. I am open to learning more. As I learn, I’m trying to equate your understanding with my view of scripture. I would love to see those come together. Here’s a well-written piece that I think expresses the those ideas I’m seeking to express:

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