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Follow the Master


He who would valiant be
’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

—John Bunyan; mod. Percy Dearmer

We’re all pilgrims on this earth. We all walk alone.

It’s just us and God; me or you and God. A lonely journey, a solitary existence.

All we have to go on is our own understanding, and we know our own thoughts are unreliable. We’re more apt to be deceived by ourselves than by another person.

(This is why Christians cannot worship God by themselves in the woods or online; we need the correction of a community. Five hundred heads are better than one.)

So with apologies to Mr. Bunyan, a Baptist who was imprisoned after the English Civil War for not conforming to the Church of England, here are my thoughts as one little pilgrim.

First let me note that it was common back in those days to refer to Jesus as Master.

Slavery was legal back then and Bunyan seriously considered it. He saw himself as a willing slave to a spiritual master.

We’d reject that today as part of a culture of cruelty. No one ought to be enslaved, even by a loving God. It’s beneath human dignity. It’s also beneath the dignity of the loving God, who never compels, but only invites.

So what did Bunyan mean?

He was a Puritan, a horrible perfectionist who wrote a bestselling book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

He had very little education and was a tinker by trade. But he became very famous after his allegorical novel, in which a poor man seeks to follow God no matter what.

It’s a story of great faith, which is why it became a bestseller. It’s a hopeful story; the pilgrim makes progress. He gets closer to his goal of spiritual union with the one he calls Master.

What does this matter in 2009? I think Bunyan was right, and that his insight especially applies to guys like me, whom he’d never have approved of.

God is magnetic. Once you acknowledge him or her, she inexorably draws you to her.

God becomes your Master.

This is very strange for Gay guys, who understand “masters” in a sadomasochistic context.

I’ve spent my whole life running away from “masters.” They’re not my cup of tea.

But God is a serious Lover, and I’m inexorably drawn like iron.

God’s that attractive.

But God isn’t male, much less a porn star; he doesn’t mind using my erotic desire, my physical imperative as a mortal, sexual being; whatever works.

If I like to think of God as male, that’s fine with her.

Jesus was male; he had to be one way or the other, and so he was male. The world would have crucified him at 13 if he’d been Trans. So he wasn’t; this gave him 20 more years to try to get through to us. Then the inevitable happened.

Now in 2009 he struggles to get through to me; it might seem strange to say “God struggles,” but humans are tough nuts to crack. Jesus looks for a vocabulary I understand.

No big surprise, he’s figured out that I know the language and the imagery of pornography.

I know what a Master is, and the only one I’d ever accept is a Lover.

To the SM uninclined, Jesus doesn’t have to jump through all these hoops. Lover is sufficient; they understand that.

Life’s even easier for heteros; but then, it always is. All they need’s a God, and Jesus is there for them.

But what can be done for the abused; for those who’ve become accustomed to being vilified?

Maybe they’ve resisted their whole lives long to dictators in leather and tinfoil hats; how does God get through to them or me?

I think he just puts on his chaps, strides in and asks for love.

Only when love is returned does he reveal that he’s way beyond all this; that our perception was our projection, the way we needed him to be.

God is way, way past that; and yet he’s not; she’s not.

God can appear however we need her to appear. And she’s kind enough to be whatever we need to think of her as, without once denying her selfhood.

To John Bunyan she was quite the taskmaster, because he was so excellent a pilgrim. She made him that way and loved him for it.

To Hillary Clinton she’s Ms. Gorgeous In Pants.

To President Obama, he’s got dark skin and is really macho, but quiet about it.

To Ruth Bader Ginsburg, God’s a Jew.

To Muslims she’s probably an Arab. God can be anything she wants to be.

So what’s she like to an abused Gay guy?

I don’t entirely know; but she does speak my language, she knows where my hands have been and what my eyes have seen, and she will do anything, everything to draw me to her, like magnet to iron.

It’s not proper to sexualize God, because God is so much larger than our sexuality. Sex is something mortals get into, not angels. God’s got bigger things in mind.

But as the inventor of sexuality, he’s perfectly free to use it to draw us closer to himself.

When the Master calls, follow; even though you’re scared. Follow.

He isn’t the least sadistic, so you can trust him. He wants you to live.++

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