Tag Archives: church

The Other L-Word: Do We Really Know Lust?

Recently I did some art for a church series that paired vices and virtues. It’s an interesting concept– I like the idea of looking at both together and trying to see what is real between them.

Of course I chose to do a piece on lust and chastity, because why wouldn’t I? No one else was jumping at it, from an artistic perspective it has the potential to be edgy and interesting, and come on! What church kid isn’t going to choose lust and chastity. Seriously.

I was one of two artists who braved this pair and now that it’s lust and chastity’s turn in service they’ve asked us to each create a video describing our inspiration for the art and to speak specifically about one half of the pair. *I was asked to cover lust.

I have to admit that when I found out I needed to make this video and speak about lust on it’s own I initially felt unexpectedly vulnerable. I mean, sure, give the single girl in her 30’s lust and chastity to the married woman with kids. I highly doubt that it was intentional, but right at the beginning I felt a little… singled out for lack of a better term. And then I got over it.

If I’m being honest, the subject of lust really drove my piece (which I will eventually post a picture of). I very much wanted to take the opportunity to take lust and chastity out of their usual context and look at them in a less obvious sort of way. Christians get really specific when we start talking about sex. We really think we have a handle on what lust is. I’ve also noticed that with those very specific ideas, by and large, we target men and women on opposite ends of the spectrum– we associate men with lust and women with chastity. Even if we aren’t necessarily accusing all men of being lustful, or assuming that all women are naturally inclined to chaste behavior, we use the lenses of lust and chastity to speak to men and women differently about sex. I don’t think I can comment on this point as to whether I think that tendency is necessarily right or wrong, however I do think it’s short-sighted if nothing else.

Stepping away from the traditional definition of lust, which is almost exclusively viewed as an intense sexual desire, I have to ask myself, “Is intense sexual desire the problem itself, or is it symptomatic of the real issue? And if it is a symptom, is it the only symptom?”

I strongly believe that physical lust is symptomatic of what is at the core of all sins: a void that we are trying to fill with something other than God. There is a difference, I feel, in how lust effects us compared to other symptoms like greed or gluttony, however.

With greed the void is filled through the rush of having in excess and gluttony fills its void through wringing more pleasure out of a thing than it is meant for, but both of those function externally. With lust the void is filled by consuming and making the object of our lust a part of US. We conquer and devour what we lust after in a way that forces it into our spiritual and emotional DNA. With that in mind physical lust is an easy example, but I think it’s important to understand that it doesn’t stop there and that just because you may not struggle sexually doesn’t mean that you do not struggle with lust.

One of the defining characteristics of lust is its ability to dehumanize. This comes up a lot when we talk about porn, for instance. The process of possessing and devouring takes a person from human to object and we see clearly how this happens with porn. What we fail to see is how it also happens all of the time within causes we “fight” for.  I’ll use the pro-life movement as an example because I think it’s the most ironic. A cause, the purpose of which is to protect human life, can often be found demonstrating outside abortion clinics in a way that completely dehumanizes the women walking in the doors. In our lust for moral vindication and power we stop seeing people and only see objects. It seems counterintuitive to put pro-lifers and porn addicts together, but lust can manifest itself just as powerfully in good causes as it can in licentious acts.

Lust is insidious, we allow it to creep into the areas of our lives where we least expect it and the fact that we think we know lust just to be related to sexual desire makes us easy targets. Any time we try to make something a part of our identity and create objects out of people in the process, lust is showing up.

The great danger of allowing lust to creep into our lives is so much more than the obvious risks and consequences emotionally and physically of promiscuity or porn. The only thing we are created to fuse our identity to in such a deep way is the Holy Spirit. When we try to make these other things a part of ourselves, we’re not only dehumanizing others, we are being dehumanized ourselves.

Goodness, what a lot to think about.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

No Fear In Love

love:fearA couple of posts ago I mentioned Project Just As I Am . Sunday will be our first live photo booth event at NewChurch Georgetown. I think we’re all pretty excited about it.

Since the beginning of the project I keep finding myself drawn back to certain passages of scripture, actually, in a lot of cases whole books of the bible.

In the last couple weeks the words “No fear in love” have been playing on repeat in my head. They’ve popped up as I’ve faced difficulty in my relationships, they’ve been echoing through my mind as I’ve listened to students tell me about different situations going on in their lives. I’ve heard those words loud and clear as I’ve thought about what life is all about and how I should be treating the guy serving my coffee or the lady bagging my groceries.

1 John 4: 18 says,

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

I’ve always thought about this verse from a first person perspective. don’t have to be afraid when I am grounded in God’s love for me. And I believe that’s true and it’s a place to start, a jumping off point for this verse. It’s extremely important that we know ourselves through the eyes of the unconditional love God has for us. Brennan Manning says in The Raggamuffin Gospel, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” If we ignore internalizing how we are loved by God we inevitably will spend our entire lives trying to earn something that is already in our possession and miss God’s calling for us. Thank God for grace.

All of that said, in the last couple of weeks as the words “no fear in love” have been the background music for all of my thinking and living, I began to wonder what it would look like if I applied this verse, which I had only been applying to myself, to the way I love others. It opened up a whole world for me, which I have to admit wasn’t exactly comfortable at first.

Without intending to, I think, we practice a lot of fear in the way we “love” others. I mentioned that several days ago in this post. We have our Christian disclaimers because we’re afraid of what it will look like we condone, or believe, or have taken part of if we just love people as they are. We constantly want to spell it out for people, “I MUST REMIND YOU THAT YOU ARE A SINNER” and then we wrap ourselves in turmoil over how to relate– Do I go to the gay wedding? Do I give the homeless guy on the corner money? Do I baby-sit for the teen mom?

And most of the time we DON’T– whatever our specific question is– because we’re afraid that the most loving thing we could do will be enabling, or condoning, or supporting something that we are morally opposed to. And I get it. But I think collectively we DON’T get IT.

Over and over again the bible says, “Love God and love each other”. I don’t see anything that says to make sure we stand daily on our moral soap boxes or that it is our personal mission to convict the sinful pants off of each other. Instead of being “salt and light” we Christians seem to be in the constant business of isolating ourselves and alienating others. It’s wrong, it’s backwards and it makes zero sense if we pay any attention to Jesus.

Jesus made the first move every time. He reached out and touched the dirty, he approached the prostitute, he surrounded himself with the broken, the outcast, the rejected, and then he DIED for all of us. ALL OF US. Without any promise that we would even understand what that gift meant, without any down payment from us. He said, “You know what, they are mine, make me liable. I claim them.”

If there is no fear in love then there should be no fear in how we love others. Jesus set the bar really high, so I feel like it’s safe to say that we cannot err too far on the side of love, because love is the point. The whole entire point. What do we really think all of our “good” and “moral” insistence means if we are missing the point? St. Paul says it pretty clearly in 1 Corinthians 13,

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If we love without fear we change the world. Because that’s what Jesus did and the more we do it, the more we become like him… “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus. ” (1 John 4:16-17)

I know this is a lot.

Trust me, I’ve thought through the ramifications– it means self-sacrifice, and going out of our way, it means not caring what other people think, even other Christians, it means taking risks, taking personal hits, it means giving ourselves away… any of that sound familiar?

We can do this.

We have to do this, the world desperately needs it and so do we. I heard Rebekah Lyons say recently that anxiety is the result of unfulfilled purpose and I believe that’s true. It seems to me that the majority of the Christian community is experiencing a great deal of anxiety.  Could it be because we are not fulfilling our purpose? I think so.

There is no fear in love.

Let’s begin loving fearlessly, church.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Gaming For Good

When I was seventeen I was a group leader for a youth event called 30 Hour Famine. During the Famine event youth didn’t eat for 30 hours and were involved in community service projects, parents and friends pledged money by the hour and at the end all of the funds raised were given to a foreign mission group.

People pledged without blinking an eye, this was a good thing that these kids were doing, right? Right!

What I remember most about that 30 hours is that being trapped in a room with a group of extremely hungry teenagers has to be the closest I’ve ever been to a real life Walking Dead situation.

 

sardinesThis weekend I spent 25 + hours with a group of teenagers who had gathered to support one of their peers as he gamed for 25 hours with an organization called Extra Life to raise funds for a children’s hospital.

When the young man told another leader and myself about this project I was really excited, I thought, “What a fantastic way to engage people where they are at and give greater purpose to something they are already doing and are already good at!” What came as a bit of a surprise to me was some other people’s reactions.

As we started spreading the word I heard a lot of what sounded something like this, “Oh. 25 hours of playing video games, what a HUGE sacrifice that must be!” accompanied by eye rolling and dripping with sarcasm.

The general feeling seems to be that its not really a service worth doing or perhaps not service at all if it’s not something sacrificial in a way that means we are dirty, sweaty, hungry or otherwise physically or mentally uncomfortable and I have to disagree with that way of thinking.

 

God made us and he said, “This is good work.” and then he made us good at all kinds of different things. This young man is good at gaming, it’s evidence of the way God created his brain. How he enjoys it is a part of the way God is communicating with him and I LOVE seeing him engage in opportunities to use how God made him to love other people. It was also awesome to see how his peers rallied around him to support him, to play with him, keep him company all night long.

We have to get out of this habit of compartmentalizing our lives into groups of “This is me”, “This is what I do for God”, and “This is what I do for work”. We also have to get out of the habit of looking at certain types of service and believing that they are the only real kinds of service.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Video Tuesday : The Cure.

 

This Video Tuesday is brought to you by an amazing, life altering book called The Cure. You’ve gotta read this. From the book …

the cure“We thought we were cured. 

We thought so, but most of us unwittingly carried an old, dead outlook into our new life. We couldn’t measure up to the standard we created, so we convinced ourselves it was God’s. We read his words through our grid of shame and felt ourselves fall farther and farther behind. We took it out on each other; judging, comparing, faking, splintering. Some of us retreated from the whole charade, becoming cynical, mistrusting, jaded from hope. Our marriages, churches, families, friendships, our marketplaces, our culture… they all need the cure. 

But God’s cures rarely come in the form we expect. 

What if, indeed, God is not who we think he is… and neither are we?”

Check it out at truefaced.com

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Mrs. Hall

Dear Mrs. Hall,
I work in youth ministry, it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, so when your blog post directed at teenage girls showed up in my Facebook feed this morning it caught my attention and curiosity.
I’d like to preface this note by saying I am neither a mother or a married woman. I do not have a family of my own, but I am an Aunt to two precious nieces and four rough and tumble nephews and I hope and pray that I care for the youth I serve as if they were my own children. It is the deepest desire of my heart that the young men and women in my care are ceaselessly pointed towards the God who fearfully and wonderfully made them. And that they come to respect and care for the opposite sex the way God intended. I’d also like to make it clear that I am in NO WAY promoting the use of suggestive facebook (or any other social media for that matter) pictures.
That said, I was more than a little disappointed in your blog post. I respect, applaud, and admire your desire to raise young men who honor God and respect the young women in their lives, however, I’d like to suggest that there might be a better way to do that than the way you’ve chosen. Again, I know I’m not a parent and I’m fully aware that fact might discount my entire opinion for you. But your blog post reflects something I see happening in culture, not simply in parenting, and it concerns me.
First there’s the obvious double-standard that’s presented when you chastise (in a friendly way?) young women for their scantily clad photos on Facebook, while illustrating your blog post with topless photos of your male family members [Edit: Due to the overwhelmingly negative response to these photos Mrs. Hall has recently changed the blog post to only include fully clothed photos of her sons and removed or edited some of the statements commenters voiced concern over. While we appreciate this effort, the concerns we voice in this post remain the same.You can read the post in it’s original form here.] The comment thread on your blog indicates that I am not the only one to notice and be bothered by this mild form of hypocrisy. Let’s hope for the best and assume that we all have common sense and clearly understand that yes, there is a difference between young women imitating poses only naturally assumed by amateur sex-workers and young men enjoying a fun day at the beach, but as other commenters mentioned, given the tone of your blog post this seems like a really poor choice on your part. Especially considering that, for a woman who clearly values protecting the purity of the young male mind, you didn’t give a moments thought to the young men with same sex attractions who may come across these photos of your sons.
But the pictures aren’t even the bigger cause for concern for me. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the strong emphasis on female modesty is one step away from Sha’ria Law, that we live in a country that is about to start yet another war because we’re supposedly against Wahabi Islam and that St. Paul talked about freedom in Christ, not hajeeb. It’s the underlying messaging of your writing that is the problem for me. I realize you may be completely unaware of it and I have to believe for the best and hope that you don’t mean to sound as condescending as you do. Please allow me to explain my perspective.
The biggest problem I have with your post is that you are unwittingly perpetuating the exact messaging that encourages those girls on Facebook to dress and pose provocatively– Value based on performance and behaviors. Culture says, “You are valuable when…” you are sexy, when people are attracted to you, etc. Your blog post sends the same message using a different method– “You are worth my son’s time and attention when you are modest”. In both cases the message is that value is measured by the ability to act a certain way, in neither case is the emphasis on our value as human beings who are loved by God. This is a problem because the consequences of believing you must seek value for yourself versus knowing that you have value are devastating.
You mentioned at one point in your post that the provocative image of a young woman, once seen by a young man, cannot be unseen. While this mentality is frustrating to me because I believe feeding the stereotype that all men are slaves to their sexual impulses is dangerous and relieves them of fully learning the discipline of self-control, I’ll use your comment as an example to say that the same sort of principle can be applied to young women– Once the seed of doubt about their value has been planted, they cannot unlearn to question their value as an instinct. They will fight the rest of their lives to understand how they are valuable and a life lived seeking value will result in a lot of painful lessons, the least of which is not confusion about their personal relationship to God.
Posing in sexually explicit Facebook pictures becomes the least of our worries when we start to pay attention to the young men and women committing suicide because they feel no sense of value or purpose. There are children in the world starving themselves to be thinner, requesting plastic surgery to be considered more attractive and therefore acceptable, having sex and reproducing to feel loved, and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain when they don’t measure up. And all of it extends out beyond youth and into adulthood and then the men and women we have left have no sense of who they are, no sense of who God is, and no sense of what it really means to love or be loved.
I am sure, as a woman, you can appreciate and understand (perhaps have even experienced) how easy it is for teenage girls to feel unworthy and worthless. The self-esteem of most teen girls walks with a limp, they come out of the gate already believing that they have to get enough “likes” to matter in this world.
Dangling your attractive young sons like carrots in front of their female Facebook friends and denying friendship to those who fall below the purity line may well produce results, but I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Modesty motivated by a desire to gain value through someone’s approval isn’t any healthier or beneficial to these young women than provocative Facebook pictures motivated by the desire to have attention and feel valued is. The damage done to the girls through that message will be much greater than the damage your sons will suffer by encountering racy Facebook pictures. What will be truly damaging to your sons, however, is that you are objectifying them and thus teaching them to objectify others by making them bait to get young girls to do what you believe is right. Let’s be brutally honest, your sons are handsome young men, probably a part of the popular crowd, and you know that gives you some leverage with these young ladies. We wouldn’t be writing these blog posts if your sons were acne-prone and awkward and maybe that’s a little shocking of me to write, but we all know it’s true.
Bottom line– As Christian men and women, parents, leaders, and influencers of the young we should not be shaping children around their weaknesses. Reinforcing the idea in young men that they are subject to their sexual urges by putting so much emphasis on female modesty sets them up to fail the very first time they encounter temptation in the real world, and it insures that young women feel like their bodies are their enemies, whether because they attract too much attention or not enough.
If we really want to raise men who are Godly and treat women with respect and women who know their worth and are confident in their God-given beauty, adults MUST make relationships with young people a priority. Truth be told, Mrs. Hall, those girls you are blocking are probably the ones who need young men like your boys as friends the most and they would most definitely benefit from having a woman like yourself invest time in them. We should be trusting God with the youth in our lives and encouraging them to take every opportunity to see beyond sin and to the person. To look for what God sees in spite of what our impulses may draw our attention to and for love of God and other people, choose to recognize true value and build relationships rather than find offense and reasons to separate ourselves from others.
Sincerely,
Katie Elizabeth Brown
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Video Tuesday: Relevant Magazine A Conversation With Alan Chambers

This is just one video from a 5 part video conversation with Alan Chambers hosted by Eddie Kaufholz from Relevant Magazine. It’s so great, in the interviews Alan talks about his Upbringing, Exodus, Sexuality In Our Culture , God’s Intent for Sexuality ( my fav!!!)  and The Apology he made in June.

  • To read the article go here.
  • To watch all 5 videos visit the Relevant Magazine Youtube channel here. (scroll down to recent uploads for the list of all five videos or just click the play all button on the video above )

You can also read more about what is going on with Alan in a fantastic article just put out by Buzz Feed titled The Man Behind The Historic Implosion Of The Ex-Gay Movement .

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Food For Thought: Part 2

part2In yesterday’s post I used some quotes from this post by Brent Bailey.  I’ve decided that my thoughts and comments on this one blog post are probably going to be spread out over three posts of my own. I just can’t seem to cram it all into one or even two.

Today I am just going to write about a concept I started thinking more about after reading it and I’m going to start by telling you the story of one of the single most horrifying moments of my adult life. I bet you’re ready to read now, aren’t you? =)

In March of 2010 I moved to Dallas for work in the cosmetic industry. I was offered a promotion with the company I was with, and at the time it seemed like I was going to have a very strong future with this company, so I took it even though I had no family or friends in that area, and I had never lived that far from my friends and family in my life.

I had known that it would be a challenge, that there would be loneliness, and in His mercy God eventually brought me the best friend I could ask for (and Sarah if you’re reading this, I still believe that getting to know and hang out with you and Mark made Dallas totally worth it), but I was not prepared for just how lonely lonely could be.

I am a born and raised Central Texan and I like to be outside in the sun. I wasn’t expecting the extreme weather differences I’d experience in North Texas. In that first winter there I dealt with having to drive to work in three feet of snow, the most snow I’d seen on the ground in my life. I learned I don’t care for snow, or being cold. At all. Between the weather and the loneliness I was facing some pretty serious depression.  I knew I needed to try to find a church to get involved in, so I emailed a man I’d met through work who had become a youth pastor for the Fort Worth campus of a certain mega church in the DFW area and he put me in touch with a female friend of his who was a member of the campus closest to where I lived.

After a nice chat on the phone, I agreed to meet the woman in the church book store Sunday morning and sit with her group for service. I was so relieved to be getting some interaction with people outside of work, I gathered all my courage and braved icy roads and a 45 minute drive to get to the church on time.  The other woman and I met, her friends were kind and welcoming, and the service was pretty much what I expected at a church like that, which I don’t say to sound negative. It was just a typical Sunday in a BIG BIG church. After the service was over I was prepared to head home and have lunch, but the group encouraged me to come with them to a “class” they all attended after the service. Things had gone well, so I thought, “Why not!” This is where it all started to go downhill.

We went upstairs to what looked like a youth room… except for adults. As we were walking in the door the group I had been with dispersed and I was on my own. There was a guy greeting people, handing out name tags and assigning them a table. At that point I wasn’t overly worried, I’d seen similar things before. I assumed there would be small group discussion and table assignments were a good way to mix the group every week.

I headed to my assigned table where there was exactly one person seated. Something about her body language suggested that she wasn’t at all comfortable with the whole set up and that she was probably new as well. I decided to sit next to her, perhaps it would make us both feel better to be next to someone in a similar situation.  I’d barely gotten seated when she leaned over to talk to me and the conversation went something like this:

Worried Girl: You’ve never been here before have you?

Me: No, this is my first visit.  Have you been in this class before?

Worried Girl: Just once. Last week was my first time… Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into? Did they tell you what kind of class this was?

Me: *starting to feel nervous* No? I was told it was just a young adult class, I assumed it was something like a Sunday school class.

Worried Girl: *glancing carefully around the room and leaning closer to whisper* It’s not a young adults class… it’s a single young adults class. This is a class to teach you how to date. I didn’t know when they convinced me to come.

Me: *panic beginning to rise*  What!?!

Worried Girl: That’s right, a dating class! And just wait… in a minute this table will be full, there will be a talk about how to be more successful at dating and then the leader of this table will ask you really uncomfortable questions. Get ready.

Me: Is this just a series they are on right now? Will it be over in a couple of weeks?

Worried Girl: Nope. I asked. All of the people here are looking for spouses, so they have the class and mix the group and hope that they eventually find a match.  I don’t know why I came back, except I’m curious to see if it works.

Me: *panic rendering me speechless*

singleAt that point my worried friend took the opportunity of filling my horrified silence with talk about her cats, all six of them, and I started wondering if I was really awake or if this was all a nightmare. Sadly, she wasn’t exaggerating, it was absolutely a dating class and the horribly  awkward question I was asked during our small group discussion was if I would share how I learned about “the birds and the bees” in front of my whole table.  I passed on the question, much to the tables disappointment, and then passed on ever going back to that church again.

After I read Brent’s post, specifically the parts about knowing God’s intent for our lives and sexuality within the church, I got to thinking about this experience and it really sunk in how uncomfortable most churches are with singleness and the pressure and frustration that can cause for people.

Much harder to bear than my own feelings about singleness are how some of the people around me feel. The idea that one could be single and celibate for life is viewed by many as a last resort rather than a reasonable option. After some conversation about that very idea, I have to wonder if maybe that also plays a part in the observation I quoted yesterday about gay Christians in more traditional churches and their sense of belonging. Both Catholic and Orthodox churches have traditions of celibacy, which is something that Protestant churches have stepped far, far away from, but I think those traditions help keep singleness from becoming its own sort of taboo within the church and allows for less pressure on individual people.

I suppose, having most of my church experience come from Southern Baptist and Non-Denomination churches, I find liturgical churches fascinating. In my experience, especially in the last 10 years or so, there’s a lot of “what you see is what you get” mentality in mainstream church culture in an attempt to be very “authentic” and “real”.  Churches seem to want to be approachable and informal in a way that makes people feel welcome and accommodated, I just wonder if in that process we’ve lost touch with meaning, and more I’m starting to question whether this style of church is even coming close to accomplishing the end goal that’s supposed to be justifying the means.

Maybe, just maybe, some of the answers we’re looking for aren’t in something new, but in something ancient.

Look for Part 3 on Monday!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Food for Thought.

Food-for-thoughtYesterday I came across a blog post on Twitter  called The Crisis of Relationship with God by a man named Brent Bailey. I don’t know a whole lot about Brent just yet, but I really appreciated some of the insights I found in that blog post and wanted to share some important things I think it highlighted, here. I definitely encourage you to go and read the whole post for yourself though.

For me this blog post identifies some issues that I think are very much worth paying attention to and some that I, personally, don’t see come up very often. I’m going to use a couple quotes from the post and then respond to them with my thoughts–

It’s a bizarre time to be a gay Christian if you’re connected at all to conservative circles. Only recently has a gay-affirming sexual ethic gathered momentum on a broad level, and gay Christians who once received a conclusive answer from other Christians about homosexuality now encounter ambivalence when they seek to determine God’s will for their lives. That ambivalence can be soothing when it provides much-needed space to ask questions and give words to emotions that have long felt unutterable, but that ambivalence can become maddening when it sends gay people on a seemingly endless journey to determine what they believe and whether they’re prepared to handle the consequences of those convictions.

The key word for me that flew off the screen was ambivalence. I feel like I’ve been sensing this emotion permeating mainstream Protestant church culture for a while, but somehow never put my finger on it until I read it in that paragraph. I’m going to do a whole lot of leveling the playing field here because, while I understand Brent’s point is to speak directly to how these issues are effecting gay Christians, my purpose is to find common ground. And not only that, but to see Christians come to place of unity, where we recognize the issues facing The Body and support one another, not as gay Christians and straight Christians, or liberal Christians and conservative Christians, but simply as brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of the biggest problems I see in mainstream churches today is that there’s no real discipleship going on. I see it most commonly in “seekers” or “new Christians” and I can most definitely see it being a frustration for gay Christians as well. So many churches have adopted a habit of openness, which in theory seems good, grace-filled, and loving, but doesn’t actually give much direction. Once you cross the threshold of being out of relationship with God to being in relationship with Him, often people find themselves wondering, Now, what does being in relationship with God look like in my life? And, unfortunately, in a lot of mainstream churches you’ll be hard-pressed to get a real or consistent answer from anyone. We are very concerned that people know that God will meet them where they are, and that’s good, but the trouble is that instead of exemplifying that truth in the way we relate to the people around us while being committed ourselves to loving God back through obedience to Him in our own lives, we’ve kind of turned that on its head.

I know that it’s not something that’s limited only to my generation, but it’s something I see my generation in particular becoming more and more fed up with– Since love has become deluded down to a general sense of positive feelings towards God and other people, we don’t understand how love and relationship means self-sacrifice and what that looks like realistically in our lives. This should be where discipleship steps in, where we learn, through faith and church tradition, what to actualize relating to God and to others looks like day-to-day, but in mainstream Protestant church culture ‘tradition’ has come to be viewed as a dirty, oppressive word. Which leads to the next quote…

[Side note: A friend and I recently noticed how gay people involved in more established, historical traditions that emphasize submission to church authority, like Catholics, rarely seem to face this same uncertainty about what they ought to believe—not because they’re unthinking or uncritical, but because they’re confident in church teachings and trust the church will support them in their obedience. Those Christian circles with more diversity of belief seem more apt to engender the anxiety I’m describing.]

The emphasis there is mine because from my perspective this is really important observation. This makes me want to sit back, take a deep breath and just think for a while. It’s sobering to me on a lot of different levels. I don’t question that the intent of how we’ve tried to be open in churches has been bad, but that we’ve gone about it in much the wrong way, and as a result people are struggling inside the church with trying to relate to God. I am absolutely FOR people knowing that they don’t have to clean themselves up to know God and I am absolutely FOR churches discipling  people as they learn to relate to God and I believe with all of my heart that church tradition plays a major role in that.

Trust me when I say I know how old-fashioned this could make me look, and I know I run the risk of causing people to believe that I am too conservative or legalistic in some way or another, but if you know me at all, you have to know that is not true. I believe that these ancient faith traditions are bold, that they teach us to reach for something beyond ourselves in a culture that is constantly encouraging us to only look inside ourselves. I need that and clearly so do other Christians.

There’s a LOT more in this post that I can dig into, honestly, it has the wheels in my brain turning so fast I can hardly keep up, so I may revisit it in a second post of my own. Again, I want to emphasize that I feel really passionately about losing the labels we have for one another, and not to water down Brent’s experience as a gay Christian, for which I am really grateful that he took the time to share. I know that the mainstream church has only just begun to wrap their heads around the idea of gay Christians and that it’s still met with a lot of vehement opposition, but I almost feel as though we needed the label just long enough to undo it. That what we should be striving to see is that none of us should be a Christian with a subtitle, but that we are all Followers of Christ who sin and struggle with the common goal of relating to God and understanding how we are loved by Him.

I welcome your comments… unless they are to tell me that I’ve become and old woman, to which my response will be to throw my cane at you. ;>

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gay Parents or No Parents. What’s Better?

holding-hands-380x252Like being a hair stylist or a bar tender, when you work in retail cosmetics people tell you their stories. It’s amazing to me sometimes how compelled people seem to be to talk when I have them in my chair. I’ve had people weep, spill their deepest secrets, and talk all kinds of crap about their next door neighbor. You get used to it after a while.

Last week I had an interesting one. I say interesting for several reasons… I was working with a woman who I guessed to be nearing 60. She was a kind, soft-spoken woman who struck me as being a little overwhelmed in her surroundings. It was no surprise to me at all when a conversation about her skincare turned into a conversation about her daughter who was going through a divorce. She felt her daughter was making a bad decision and was concerned for both her child and her soon to be ex-son in-law, whom you could tell she loved very much.

After that she went on to lament how the world was changing. She took a long glance around the store I work in and then quietly asked if I work with many gay men. It’s important to understand that I live and work in a small town. This small town is pretty liberal in its views– to an extent. But at the end of the day it’s still a small town and the majority of the people here are senior citizens. I replied that yes, having been with the company for nearly six years I had worked with quite a few gay men. She commented on how places like my store and salons always had lots of gay employees, and then with a look of plain confusion admitted that the gay men who’ve cut her hair had always done the best job. I was doing my best not to chuckle and agreed that I’ve had many male co-workers who are amazing artists.

I could see in her face that she had more to say and just about the time I thought she’d decided against it she stepped closer to me and her thoughts just started pouring out. She told me that she is a social worker and deals with the placement of foster children. A lot of her job has to do with monitoring how a child is doing in their foster home and sometimes seeing to the details of adoption when the fostering goes really well. She was particularly concerned over a set of parents she would be meeting in a couple of days, gay men, who were fostering a little girl who had been removed from a heartbreaking abusive home. It was clear without her having to say the actual words that her moral compass dictated that she believe there was no way that this gay couple could be good parents for the little girl, the trouble was that all reports were to the contrary. Everyone she spoke to who had visited the couple couldn’t say enough about how much these men love that little girl and how well she was doing in their care. There was nothing but praise for their parenting.

As she spoke I could see the battle going on in her mind. Her face showed how she was weighing her genuine desire to see children safe and happy against her understanding of truth.  Right and wrong as she understood them were colliding in a way she didn’t know what to do with and were causing her to pour her heart out to a sales girl in a makeup store.

As I listened and wrestled with my own questions I felt compassion for this woman and grateful that she was wrestling too and not just making hard and fast decisions. Once she’d finished talking I asked  for myself as much as for her, “You said the little girl came out of an abusive home, can we trust God enough to believe that it’s better for her to be loved by two gay men than to be abused by a straight couple?”

In the moment I had forgotten where we were, that she was a client– we were just two people having a conversation about very real things in our world. As soon as the question was out of my mouth, however, I remembered and I was a little nervous that this was a little more than she’d bargained for out of her trip to buy cosmetics. Fortunately her response was one of gratitude, relief even. Maybe she just needed someone else to ask the question, I don’t know, but we both walked away liking one another better and with something to think about.

I’ve been thinking about it for a week now, actually I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.

It’s interesting to me that the conversation happened at all. If she’d have gotten pretty much anyone else in the store to help her and had that conversation the chances high that she would have offended them. So I just wonder why, knowing nothing about me personally, she felt safe to talk? I can only assume that it was God.

I haven’t been able to get that little girl off of my mind and a couple of nights ago as I was thinking about her and the whole situation God brought a new question to my mind.

“I can use all things for good. Can you consider that maybe I am using the love of two fathers to teach my child who I am?” 

I can’t imagine being a little girl in a world where the mother and father you are born with aren’t the anchors of love and safety they are meant to be, but instead are the cause of pain, fear, and abandonment. It is humbling and powerful for me to realize that maybe for the hurt she has suffered, the love and protection of two fathers is exactly what she needs.

I believe in a God who can use all things for good. Because He is God.

This understanding doesn’t change my ethics when it comes to sexuality, but it does change my heart for the way that we, as followers of Christ, view the bigger picture and how we relate to other people. Whether or not that gay couple adopts that little girl, they have made an impression on her life for love. What will it say to her about God as she grows if His followers are dead set on condemning the people who showed her kindness and protection when she needed it most? The answer to that question bothers me.

This is a challenging place to be in, it’s a challenging way to force myself to think, and yet, I have to. I have to believe that we can do better than we’re doing.  I’m not suggesting that we give in, or that truth doesn’t matter.

We need to be careful to focus on individual people, not categories and labels. There is no universal solution to a problem based on categories or labels, only individual solutions to individual problems based on individual people. It is a lot harder and messier, but it is the only way to be loving. In the thick of things it’s easy to lose sight of the actual lives involved. I see it happen all the time– a lot of Christians seem to want to think that because only families made from married heterosexual couples are “real” families and so all of the pseudo “families” out there can’t possibly have real bonds to one another and we become disconnected to their real human feelings, we don’t empathize with the fact that from where they’re sitting it sounds like we’re determined to tear their families apart. When we make a habit of categorizing people and giving them labels instead of relating and engaging with the people, we dehumanize them and justify treating them as though they have no feelings.

We also need to consider that if we’re going to be opposed to a solution, such as gay couples adopting and fostering when there are SO many children who need safe homes, then we have to have an alternative solution that we personally help make happen. We have no right to kick and scream when gay couples foster and adopt when we aren’t doing anything ourselves to solve the problem of parentless children. Remember, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me.”  The problem it’s easier to fight other people’s solutions than to find them ourselves, and I think in doing that we’re missing the entire point.

Through it all we can’t lose sight of truth, which means actually and actively seeking it. It’s hard work, it means not only investing in our relationship with God, but being invested in relationships with others and it will cost us everything we have, but it’s worth it. The problem with our culture is that people want everything to be not only black and white, but black and white all the way down the column–  If you think same-sex attraction is a sin then you’re anti-gay marriage, anti-gay fostering and you don’t want any gay people (even chaste ones) in your church. Likewise, if you think it is ok for gays to adopt then you can’t possibly believe what the bible says about sexuality and that you must completely condone homosexuality. The thing is nothing, not people, not issues fits into these black and white standards and we miss what God is actually doing when we try to force them.

What it all comes down to is that we can’t allow a desire to affirm the good in a bad situation turn into a willingness to let what is merely good not be better. We have to let what we believe speak through our actions, we have to know what we are for and then give our lives for that, rather than sitting back and raising hell about how other people have sought to meet needs in the world around us. This is where we find the balance in truth and love, when we take responsibility instead of casting blame, when we choose to find reasons to relate instead of reasons to draw a line in the sand and choose sides.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Am A Unique And Delicate Snowflake !!

Beautiful Snowflake The thing about really good friends is that sometimes they tell you things that you don’t want to hear and sometimes (a lot of times) they are right.

Jim often responds to my description of my feelings with something along the lines of, “… everyone feels that way.”  This used to infuriate me. It seemed harsh and as though it minimized my astronomical problems into something generic and unimportant. There was a time it just felt unkind to me for him to respond that way, however, I have come to understand it as one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has ever done for me.  What I’ve come to see is that I have this habit of trying to let my problems be the defining source of my individuality. No one understands me, no one can truly help me, because no one in the known universe has been through what I am going through as me. Maybe they have experienced something similar, but they aren’t me so they can’t possibly know what I feel and understand.

 

I AM A UNIQUE AND DELICATE SNOWFLAKE!!

Over time “everyone feels that way” stopped sounding so harsh and started making me think about something other than myself. If everyone felt the same way, even if those feelings manifest in different ways, it meant that we could relate to one another, rather than be isolated in our own snowflakey corners and that according to scripture our differences make us a part of a greater whole, not an island unto ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 says,

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I think Christians have formed a bad habit of doing exactly what I was doing with myself… catagorizing people by their problems and concluding that they have nothing to offer to people who’ve had different struggles than there own. I’ve heard church leaders suggest things like no one can minister to, say, the victim of sexual abuse the way that another victim of sexual abuse can, and at this point I have to strongly disagree with that. I don’t mean this to sound like a minimization, but pain is pain. We all have it, and what we need isn’t painkiller, what we need is relationship. What Paul is telling us is that the best relationships aren’t necessarily between things that are identical and that all of our pain boils down to broken relationships. I certainly have known the comfort that comes from relating to someone who’s pain has been similar to my own, however, a lot of the most healing relationships I’ve been in, have been with people who’s pain is completely different. And not just because their response to me is different than it would be if they had “walked a mile in my shoes”, although that certainly gives sight to some of my blind spots, but it’s been in stepping outside of myself and trying to relate to them. I get out of my own head and my own pain, and I see how they hurt and because I know what it feels like to hurt, it doesn’t so much matter that I know exactly what it feels like to be in their circumstances, so much as I know that it matters to walk beside them, to be their friend.

I don’t say this lightly, because as I’ve pointed out, I am guilty of it in my own life, but thinking this way isn’t just selfish, it’s lazy. It gives us permission to stay safely within our area of comfort, never having to really get messy.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,