Joe Hays


from brklyn to the lou; from preaching to teaching

homosexuality and the gentiles

I ended my last post by saying that I get, totally, how someone might come to the conclusion that homosexuality is wrong based upon the creation stories and Romans 1. I also noted in my last post that those other scriptures that some rely upon to make a case against homosexuality are tricky and are hardly worth using to back an anti-homosexuality argument.

So how in the world do I get to a place where I think homosexuals should be welcomed and affirmed, as they are, in church and in the Christian community at large? Acts 15. That’s how. Let me sum it up for you.

Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others shared the good news of Jesus Christ with gentiles. (Gentiles are anyone who aren’t Jews.) They (Peter, Paul…) were shocked when the gentiles received the good news of Jesus Christ and were even more shocked to see the Holy Spirit work through them. But there it was, gentiles were believers! Well, word got back to the “powers” in Jerusalem and they weren’t happy. Why? Because scripture said that to be included in God’s kingdom, these gentiles had to radically transform themselves from being gentiles to being law abiding Jews. There had to be a total change of self. It wasn’t enough, according to scripture, to just declare belief. There had to be circumcision, adherence to sabbath laws, etc… So the powers in Jerusalem called in the rogue disciples of Peter, Paul and Barnabas and said, “what gives? These so called believers aren’t following the law!”

The powers had scripture on their side! The same scripture that time and again Jesus declared was good! In this Jerusalem council, the powers were throwing around scripture. Once they were done, the council turned to Peter, Paul and Barnabas to hear their side of the story. You know what they had? Nothing but stories. They just simply reported what they experienced; what they saw. It was as if they were saying, “Look, I know that you have scripture on your side and we adhere to the laws just as you do but you should see the work of God in these gentiles!”

And you know what won that day? Story. Story trumped scripture.

So when I think of homosexuality, I think of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. I hear the opposition saying, “we’ve got scripture on our side! It’s so clear what needs to happen. God loves homosexuals but they need to radically change their behaviors if they want to be considered God’s. They need to abstain from their unnatural desires and follow the rules! In short, they need a total change of self!” And then I hear the chorus of ministers like myself who time and again have seen God’s work and the movement of the Holy Spirit in homosexuals. Along with Peter, I say to you, the council, “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”


Filed under: Bible

the bible and homosexuality

After my last post, several of you sent me an e-mail asking to clarify what I meant when I typed, “I started with the Bible and found the six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. It didn’t take long to realize that the verses were often misused and misunderstood.

Before jumping in and explaining what I mean by “misused and misunderstood” you should know that my explanation here won’t be exhaustive. You should also know that it’s very possible, and probably very likely, that you and I read the Bible differently. So even as I explain what I mean by “misused and misunderstood” I’m keenly aware that there’s not much I could say here to change your mind or even give you pause. If you didn’t like my last post, it’s not like this post is gonna clear it all up for us.

But I am, apparently, a glutton for punishment because I’m actually going to entertain your desire to clarify what I meant when I used the words “misused and misunderstood” with regards to how we interpret the verses in the Bible that mentions homosexuality.

So there are six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. Four of them are in the Old Testament…the Hebrew Scripture. Of those four, two are in Leviticus. Out of one of those verses comes the phrase that is most often used by those opposed to homosexuality: “it is an abomination.” I’m always a bit amazed that Christians will go to Leviticus to back up their stance on homosexuality because Leviticus is a hot mess! For example, the Levitical law says that if my kids disobey me or curse me, I should put them to death. And on the Sabbath, I’m not to go anywhere. If I do? Death. So using Leviticus and it’s wording to combat homosexuality is problematic. The other two places in the Old Testament that mention homosexuality are stories found in Genesis and Judges. Both stories are dramatic narratives of a mob of people who are acting in perverse and profane ways. What they do, the lot of them, is very very wrong. However, these stories have nothing to do with the issue of homosexuality. They have everything to do with gang rapes and a kind of perversion that most of us have never had to experience in real life. Thank God.

Then there is the ambiguous scripture in 1 Corinthians 6 and the not so ambiguous scripture in Romans 1. Most thoughtful Christians who oppose homosexuality hang their hats on Romans 1. I say “thoughtful” because they understand that using those 4 Old Testament scriptures isn’t so helpful. They also understand that 1 Corinthians 6 is slippery and so they have built their opposition on the creation stories of the Old Testament and Romans 1. I get that. I really do. But,…

Check back soon to see what I have to say about that…

Filed under: Bible


I’m supposed to be done with this blog in a month and a half. I’ve got some work to do! Here’s where I am with it:

  • my progression of understanding regarding homosexuality (today’s the day!)
  • the five things I’ll do to become the Secretary of Education (DONE!)
  • my still undying love for the Yankees but my growing affection for the Cardinals (DONE!)
  • an update and final word about Ira (DONE!)
  • the need to say something about church (who knows if this will happen?)

There’s a huge part of me that wants to talk Aggie football and all things #JFF! I also would love to share news with you regarding Ira and all the things that have happened with Make A Wish. The support behind that effort has been amazing. And I am continually upping my teaching game and feel like the best is yet to come in my professional career. But the reality is that this blog needs to be put to rest. And so it is here that I’ll start sharing my thoughts about homosexuality. Who knows if I’ll say anything about church. Let’s get this party started.

Let me be clear about where I stand: God created heterosexuals and God created homosexuals. God loves us all. God welcomes us all. With that said, I’ll share a post I wrote a while back ago for another blog:

I listened.

When my more conservative friends ask me how I got to where I am with homosexuality; when they grill me on How in the world can you support the rights and lifestyles of homosexuals? Why is it that you help them realize that God loves them the way they are? Why do you tell them that to be fully human they must, THEY HAVE TO, embrace their created selves so that they can fully glorify God? I simply reply with, “I listened.”

I started listening while at seminary preparing to be a minister. A dear friend of mine who I knew while we both studied ministry at a conservative Christian college enrolled at the seminary where I was doing graduate work. One day at lunch, my friend sat me down and said, “Joe, I’m gay.” This was news to me but I tried to act cool and collected. So I responded with, “tell me your story.” He graciously did. I listened and as I did, I’m sure my friend waited for a response but I gave none. I just listened.

His story was intense. I felt for him, for the secret life he lived since he was a boy coming of age but I was confused. I was confused and conflicted. So I didn’t deal with it. I stored his story in the back of my mind not thinking that I would ever need to call upon it again. After all, I was trying to make my way as a minister in the conservative denomination in which I grew up. I figured I wasn’t going to be meeting very many gay men or gay women at the churches that I would serve.

A few years passed and my family moved to New York City. We planted a church and it became evident rather quickly that my friend from college/seminary had a story that many shared. Bill (not his real name), a guy in our church plant, came to me with his struggle with homosexuality. My response was the same with Bill as it was with my friend from seminary, “tell me your story.” As Bill shared his story, he cried. His pain, the hurt he experienced was excruciating. Once again, I just listened.

This time I couldn’t ignore the story. I wanted to deal with my confusion. I went home and started reading. I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I started with the Bible and found the six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. It didn’t take long to realize that the verses were often misused and misunderstood. I read pieces of literature from people against homosexuality and from people for homosexuality. I read and read and read. And I prayed. A lot.

I met up with Bill again and listened some more. As he sat in front of me, he told me how hard it was for him to live as a heterosexual. He just ended yet another relationship with a girl. But Bill was convinced that he had to do this; that he had to live as a straight man. As he sat there falling quickly into a state of depression, it hit me: to fully glorify God, to give yourself fully to God, to serve God fully, you need to embrace your orientation and move on with life. He was stuck and he didn’t have to be. I said these words to him and as I did, as they came out of my mouth, I felt free. I felt liberated. And if I felt free and liberated, I’m guessing my friend felt even more of it. I ended up saying these words to many others and witnessed time and again as people started living life to the fullest.

As I said those words to my friend, I felt a new call in my life. The church in Brooklyn became a safe place for all people to share their stories. It became a place where gay and straight people could worship without fear of retribution or scorn. It became a place where all could fully glorify God, where all could fully serve God.

Of course, I was doing this while still serving in a denomination that condemns homosexuality so you can imagine how the rest of the story goes for me. I’m no longer serving as pastor but I still look for people who might be willing to hear the words: you must embrace your created self so that you can fully glorify God.

Filed under: Uncategorized

yankees v cardinals

I feel like a famous athlete who has announced that he is retiring at the end of the year and is playing in his last games. Everyone comes out to see him play because it’s their last chance to witness his greatness. I feel like exactly like that with this blog. I’ve announced that I’m shutting it down at the end of this calendar year and these posts are the last ones I’ll ever write. So the famous athlete and I have a lot in common…except I’m not famous…nor am I exactly great at this blogging thing…and these days, I’m lucky to get 10 people to stop by this blog. But other than that, I feel exactly like that famous athlete.

Below is a condensed list of subjects I said I would write about before 2012 ends. Thus far, I’ve blogged about two of these items.

  • my progression of understanding regarding homosexuality (I’m thinking this subject will need to be treated in several posts and I probably won’t broach this topic until the very end so as to keep some of you around until then. I’m guessing many of you will tune me out when you hear what I have to say.)
  • the five things I’ll do to become the Secretary of Education (DONE!)
  • my still undying love for the Yankees but my growing affection for the Cardinals (today’s the day!)
  • an update and final word about Ira (DONE!)
  • the need to say something about church (Coming Fall of 2012.)

You hate the Yankees. You’ll tell me you hate them because they spend outrageous amounts of money on their team; that they buy the best players and steamroll over smaller market teams; that they have easily hate-able players; that their management is ruthless and cunning; that the players are all juiced up. And you’ll use all these excuses to wave off their 27 World Championships and claim that the Yankees didn’t earn these championships but cheated their way to them.

Blah, blah, blah.

Here’s the thing: your favorite pro baseball team would spend outrageous amounts of money, too, if they had the means. Your market sucks. Deal with it. But if your market didn’t suck and they did have money, they would buy talent. As for management, I haven’t known many CEOs of successful companies that aren’t ruthless and cunning in the board room. It’s just that the Yankees management is ruthless and cunning in public as well. As for being juiced, that’s just silly. Of course some Yankees juiced, sauced, slopped, partook in that Red Power Ranger Go-Go Juice. But so did some dudes from your favorite team. That was (and still is, probably) the culture of the league. Not just of the Yankees.

So I love them. Always have. Always will.

But the Cardinals won me over this past season as they marched toward their 11th World Championship. Sure, watching a Cardinal game at Busch is pretty boring (the traditions at Yankee Stadium are rich, friends) but those fans are loyal and they know the game. It was hard not to root for them this past year as they dug deep to win their 11th. And now that they are minus their big gun (Albert Puljos) it’s even more fun to watch them overcome the naysayers.

If these two teams ever did meet, there would be no question who I would root for (Yankees…duh) but I like having a NL team I can follow. Go Cards!

The view from the dugout


Filed under: baseball, Yankees

Ira Lester Hays – 7 years old

Here’s the (condensed) list of subjects I said I would write about before 2012 ends. Just a quick reminder, I’m shutting this blog down but want to do it properly. I mean, there is a proper way to say goodbye, isn’t there?  Thus far, I’ve blogged about one of these items.

  • my progression of understanding regarding homosexuality (I’m thinking this subject will need to be treated in several posts and I probably won’t broach this topic until the very end so as to keep some of you around until then. I’m guessing many of you will tune me out when you hear what I have to say.)
  • the five things I’ll do to become the Secretary of Education (DONE!)
  • my still undying love for the Yankees but my growing affection for the Cardinals (it’s coming!)
  • an update and final word about Ira (Let’s get ‘er dun today.)
  • the need to say something about church (Coming Summer of 2012.)

I’ve said it before but it’s worth noting again: many of you found your way to this blog when Ira arrived on the scene. My first post about him was in December of 2004. That’s when Laura and I found out about Ira’s CDH while at Laura’s 20 week sonogram. You then followed his story for as long as you could stand it. If I was able to do one of those word clouds for this entire blog, Ira’s name would be monstrous, bolded and right smack in the center of the word cloud. For more than a year, Ira’s life hung in the balance. Even when he came home for good near his first birthday, we knew that one sickness could be the end.

For three long years, Ira needed the help of machines to keep him alive. These machines became a very real part of who Ira was. Ira was not Ira without the machines. Gradually, over time, he stopped needing those machines. And consequently, we could all breathe a little easier. Literally. Gradually, over time, Ira’s life no longer hung in the balance. For so long, Ira walked that line of life and death. For a long time, we woke each morning wondering what the day would bring. And now? Now Ira’s thriving.

He’s seven years old on April 21. He’s been attending an incredible school, Miriam, for children with special needs. This next school year, he’ll attend the same public school where Sophia is a student. We will hold him back so that he can repeat first grade again hoping that the pace will be just right for him. He loves getting to saddle and ride Merrywood every week at hippotherapy. He obsesses about movies and video games and will ask complete strangers to take him to a movie. If that doesn’t work, he’ll ask them for their phone so that he can play games on it. He’s absolutely unafraid of any and all kinds of animals and has never met a stranger.

Physically speaking, Ira’s currently in a good season. This past December, he had surgery on his heart to open an artery that was narrowed. Eventually, he’ll have yet another diaphragmatic hernia because Goretex doesn’t grow, my friends. (Psst, his diaphragm is made of Goretex.) And he’ll then have surgery on that same diaphragm again. And again. And again. And those aren’t minor surgeries. I don’t really like to think ahead like that because it scares me a bit. Oh, and there’s the eating thing. You see, Ira never learned how to eat.

Think about it, one of the first natural things a newborn does is eat. Sucks, actually. A newborn learns to suck which is fundamental. Ira never learned that. Those fundamental pieces of the eating process were missed. With intense therapy in New Jersey, Ira learned to tolerate eating pureed foods. That’s what he eats. Pureed foods. Laura and I are masters at pureeing foods. Masters, I tell you. Like, they should give us our own puree show. But to get Ira to the next step – of chewing, negotiating food in his mouth moving it side to side, turning it to mush so that he can swallow – is beyond us. It would be nice to get back to New Jersey for an intensive summer session to get him over that next hump. (It would also be nice to make tons and tons of money to be able to do that. Anybody vote for teachers getting a raise?) Ira’s fully aware of this limitation of his but for now, he’s okay with it. As he says, “I’m afraid of chewing because I’m afraid of choking.” For a kid who literally fought for every breath when he was young, his fear of choking is warranted.

But all these details are probably boring you so let’s just let Ira speak for himself. Click here to see what Ira says about himself, life and, well, Power Rangers. Or, heck, you can just watch it below:

Filed under: family, Ira

the road to Secretary of Education

Have I mentioned lately that I love teaching? Right, I haven’t blogged in, like, years so of course I haven’t said that lately. So let me say it again: I love teaching. But I also like leading and inspiring adults to be their best selves. To combine those two passions, I have decided that I will someday be the Secretary of Education so that I can lead and inspire teachers by putting into place policies that will enable teachers to be the best they can be. (Unless Ron Paul wins the presidency in the near future and does away with the Dept. of Ed. Sigh.)

So I’ve mapped out the journey I’m going to need to take to become Sec. of Ed. To follow are the five things I need to do over the course of the next decade to make it happen:

1) I need to become a master teacher. I’m not there yet and have much to learn. The difference in the master teacher and the average teacher is that the master teacher is always anticipating what’s next. In fact, the master teacher is about five steps ahead and correctly anticipates the needs of the students. The master teacher has, not one plan in place, but several plans in place as the lesson goes forward in order to meet the differing needs of the students. I have work to do to get to that place.

2) I need to become a principal. I would love to work alongside a teaching staff to make a school recognized for, not only its academic achievements, but also for its place of service within the community it resides.

3. I need to become a superintendent. But not just any ol’ superintendent. The kind of super who turns a poor performing district into a high performing district. The kind of super that is on top of the latest educational reform movements and deftly implements those strategies that are right for the district.

4. I need to know people. I’m a realist, folks. To scale the political ladder, I’ll need to know people. Important people. People who can help me get to know even more important people. Which leads me to my final need:

5. I need to kiss some…butt. Again, realist. It’s not just about knowing people, is it? It’s about kissing their butts a bit. I don’t want to be just another forgettable person to those important people I need to know. They need to remember me. I’m going to kiss their butts.

Ok, now that I’ve got the master plan in place, I should let you in on a little secret: I love teaching so much that I can hardly imagine my professional life outside the classroom. I can imagine myself as a principal but that’s about as far away from the classroom that I would be willing to get…which means that I really don’t want to be a super and I certainly don’t want to be Secretary of Education. But that’s a fairly good blueprint for becoming Sec. of Ed., no?

So that means that my professional goals are rather simple (yet complex): I want to become a master teacher and I might look to become a principal in the future. In the meantime, I gotta figure out how to teach my next science lesson. Bill Nye the Science Guy, where are you?

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

2012 – the end is near

Let’s face it, neither Harold Camping nor the Mayans have a clue about the end of time. What would have been a safer bet was to prophesy the end of blogging for Joe Hays in 2012.

In reality, this blog has been dead for a while. I’ve tried, a couple of times, to bring it back to life but my interest in writing in this capacity has waned more than waxed. So here’s the deal, after 8 1/2 years of writing, I’m putting this blog to rest.

But before I officially do that, there are a few more things I want to chronicle here for my own sake; for my need to feel that proper closure has been issued; for the “circle of life” thing to be true.

Under the category of things I want to chronicle here before closing shop are the following:

  • my progression of understanding regarding homosexuality,
  • the five things I’ll do to become the Secretary of Education,
  • and my still undying love for the Yankees but my growing affection for the Cardinals.

Under the category of needing to bring closure is:

  • an update and final word about Ira. This blog was invisible to most of you until Ira hit the scene. While Ira’s story will continue on long past the life of this blog, Lord willing, I feel the need to say a few things about him that will help close this out.

Finally, under the category of the circle of life thing is:

  • the need to say something about church. The whole reason this blog started back in 2003 was to chronicle my church planting endeavor in New York City. With strong support from Manhattan Church of Christ, I gave that a go. Now, two and a half years removed from that experience, and from being a minister in general, my outlook on church has completely changed.

So look for 5 – 10 more blogs here before I officially close the doors

Filed under: Blogging

the gap…it’s huge

Have you noticed that, of the few times that I’ve blogged, I haven’t written about my new gig as a 5th grade teacher in a suburban school?

Here’s why: I haven’t really learned yet how to talk about it. In a nutshell, things are great with my new gig. My principal is encouraging and positive, my coworkers are helpful, the district is working really hard to make sure the new teachers of the district are well-trained, the students are eager, and the parents are involved and affirming. So like I said, things are good. Really, really good. And that’s not okay. Because this is not the way it was at my old gig. My old gig was really, really hard. (Don’t you love my bland descriptive words? Work with me, folks. That’s about all my brain can muster these days.) I can’t even begin to articulate the difference between my old job – teaching at a resource-poor inner-city school – and my new job – teaching at a resource-rich suburban school. (I guess I better figure it out if I’m gonna follow-up on my big book idea.) This is what I can say: the difference between the two jobs, the gap between the two gigs is monstrous. Huge. It shouldn’t be. But it is. Like I said, that’s not okay.

So when people ask me how my new job is, I sheepishly respond, “It’s great.” I know that my nonverbals speak otherwise and I guess that’s what I’m trying to communicate, “It’s great but that’s not okay.”

Filed under: teaching

don’t talk to strangers

I’ve talked about strangers before on my blog. Specifically, I’ve written here about our need to take care of strangers. What I haven’t written about is that age-old piece of wisdom that we pass on to children: don’t talk to strangers.

Now, maybe more than ever, we direct our kids to exercise extreme caution when it comes to dealing with strangers. After all, there are some real creeps out there who look to take advantage of kids. But I hate to think like that. Of all the lessons that parents are supposed to teach their kids (look both ways before crossing a street; mind your manners; wash your hands after using the bathroom; do not, I repeat, do not use “I” when you should use “me” and vice versa or I’ll take ten cents off of your allowance!) it’s this lesson about strangers that doesn’t sit well with me.

Ira is drawn to people. And for whatever reason, people are drawn to Ira. Ira has absolutely no problem approaching a stranger and engaging them in conversation. Just tonight we were out for dinner. He finished with his meal, got down from his seat and walked over to a woman who was all alone. He started talking to her. I quickly jumped up and pulled Ira away. More than anything, I was worried that Ira as invading this woman’s space. She smiled politely as I apologized for Ira. Laura then started in on Ira on the whole “we don’t talk to strangers.” He asked Laura about the meaning of strangers. Once she finished, Ira walked back over to the woman and said, “are you a stranger?” The woman, who overheard Laura’s and Ira’s talk said, “yes, I’m a stranger.” Ira came back to report, “mom, she’s a stranger.”

Thing is, it’s so natural for Ira to talk to people and I hate taking that away from him. What would you do, friends? How would you teach this global, age-old lesson about being cautious with strangers while also giving Ira room to be who he naturally is?

Filed under: family

on death and dying

I used to be one of those guys. You know, the guy who rolled his eyes when someone broke down in tears because their cat or dog died. In my mind it was always, “are you serious? It’s just a pet, dude.” And now my pet, my dog, my Jersey, is dying. I’m no longer the guy who rolls his eyes. I haven’t been for years, actually.

photo by Jeremy taken in Central Park

When Laura and I graduated from grad school in New Jersey, we celebrated our hard work by buying a yellow Lab Retriever. While we weren’t sure where we were moving, we knew we probably wouldn’t be staying in New Jersey. We thought long and hard about names and kept coming back to “Jersey.” (For the record, our neighbors had a cat named “Jersey” and we asked for their permission to use the name. It just fit. Our dog would remind us of where he came from and the time we spent in New Jersey.) We got Jersey in May of 2001. Laura and I were both done with school and didn’t have jobs. We spent a lot of time with Jersey training him to be the perfect dog.

Like most Lab Retrievers, Jersey was, indeed, the perfect dog. (Okay, so maybe he ate everything in sight and chewed on things he shouldn’t have chewed on when he was a puppy but he was perfect for our family.) Jersey’s true colors were on full display as Laura and I started having kids. It was not uncommon to find the toddler Sophia reading books to Jersey. Jersey was/is a huge reason Ira is with us today acting as an all-inclusive therapist. And Opal can be found sitting on Jersey demanding that he get up and go. She’s pretty sure he’s a horse.

And now, 10 and 1/2 years into his life, Jersey’s been diagnosed with lung cancer. There’s nothing that can be done. He’s been given 2 weeks (give or take some days/weeks) to live. The vet said, “pick his favorite three things and when he can’t do those things any longer, bring him in.” So we’ll wait until Jersey’s not interested in eating, retrieving or swimming.

In the meantime, we have to talk to our kids about, not only death, but the process of dying. We learned to talk to Sophia in frank and literal terms about Ira’s illness and so we’ll do the same with this but I’m wondering, do you have any advice for us as we proceed with these conversations? How do we need to process this with Sophia and Ira…and even Opal? We need your help.

Sophia "reads" to Jersey

Opal "rides" Jersey the Horse

Ira and Jersey about to wrestle

Filed under: family

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