Runaway George

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Among many things that have captivated my attention in this book is it’s handling of Christian theology in relation to slavery.

Here we find George, a runaway slave. In this scene, his former employer, Mr. Wilson, recognized George inside a hotel lobby and promptly approached him, asking if he would accompany him to his room to have a little chat. Mr. Wilson is a good man, but he fears that George is going against God and country, and thus requires his guidance.

First he tries logic.

Then he tries scripture.

“But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.”

“Don’t quote Bible at me that way Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is A Christian and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty- I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”

“These feelings are quite natural George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ‘em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case-very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,- don’t you see?”

 

George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.

 

“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence- shouldn’t you?”

 

I resonate with George’s story.

That’s not to say that I think slavery and homosexuality are parallel tales of misunderstood scripture.

But I’ve got my fair share of Bible burns.

They tell me, “but both the New Testament and the Old Testament speak against homosexuality”

I say, “I understand, but there are others who view-“

“1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, have you not read this?”

I’ve been reading and rereading these since I was in the sixth grade.

“It sucks, but you know what? It’s God’s word, and Christ calls us all to sacrifice in one form another.”

Usually my thoughts echo George’s response to Mr. Wilson.

The detachment from empathy is so palpable in today’s Christian culture when it comes to homosexuality.

In these rock and hard place moments, I just want to pull out every Bible verse that should convict them of the same charge.

Perhaps what Jesus said about the wealthy, or the proud or the judgmental.

But by now, I’m burnt out.

So I bite my tongue.

Beyond George, there are countless runaways out there, carrying the card of some form of Christian contradiction. Divorce is one. Just the other day, I heard one coworker open up about his sisters painful divorce. The listening, coworker, my sister in Christ, said something akin to, “A vow is a vow. It seems they didn’t try hard enough.” Unwed mothers are another. I’ve heard people say about a friend of mine, “I wonder how many baby daddy’s she has? So sad.” Or the poor, “Why should my dollars go to their drug habits?”

Our Christian culture has become a bag of wonder bread, and if you’re made of a different morsel, you’ve been misplaced. I know better than to generalize about a whole group of people, and I fully believe that there are those quietly keeping their cupboards locked tight.

But the trouble with tribes like ours is that we thwart any attempt at transparency. Tears belong behind closed doors. Support calls for a certified shrink. The Bible is a bludgeon, not a buoy. Dialogue destroys doctrine, leading us down that oh so slippery slope towards hell. Raise your hands high and give us that sweet smile.

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to attend one of the Marin Foundation’s “Living in the Tension” gatherings. There I was, surrounded by fellow travelers on a similar journey of my own. All of us came for the same thing, reconciliation between the scriptures and our sexuality. All of us, looking around, greeted each other’s eyes with an “I get it.” When the meeting came to a close, I was embraced, told I was loved and encouraged to keep searching and questioning. It was a transformative night for all of us. My mom, who went with me, said later on, “that’s what the Kingdom looks like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Runaway George had a similar experience. Having reached refuge outside the grasp of slave catchers, and finding his son and wife there as well, he reclaimed his faith in the father. Looking around the dinner table at the Christians that saved his life, he reflected:

“This, indeed, was a home,-home, –a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone.

May our community become that “golden cloud of protection”.

RR

Six Reasons Rick Warren is NOT the Boogeyman

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Recently I shot out a tweet to Rick Warren that I… half regret. I say half regret because the second half, in which I said, “who have you become?”, was unfair. The first half, asking him why he still hasn’t responded to the Human Rights Campaign’s call to again condemn and reach out to those in Uganda in an effort to stop the Kill-the-Gays bill from passing, is still very concerning to me. But there are many things I do not know. For instance, he may be doing it covertly and sees a public condemnation as the worst path to reconciliation. You attract bees with honey not vinegar.

 

But after thinking about that tweet and who Rick Warren is, I came to the conclusion that I had written him off as a Boogeyman. My timing is also in sync with many other organizations and blogs have come after him. His perceived silence and stupid comments regarding the LGBT community (Piers Morgan the other night when he compared homosexuality to arsenic).

But many of these writers don’t know how the inner rings of conservative Christianity work, and many do not see how, in the grand scheme of things, Rick is further along than his peers.

 1. He Regrets 2009- Publicly

When Proposition 8 was up for a vote, Rick Warren released a video expressing his support for the measure. What many of us didn’t know was that it was a video only for his church. He wasn’t working in conjunction with the National Organization for Marriage or the GOP.

 

Recently he said that if he could do it over again, he wouldn’t have made the video. A humble admission.

 2. He battles ignorance

Boogeymen love ignorance. It’s what feeds their followers and creates a reality separate from those pesky facts and reasonable people. 

 

Earlier this year, Christian radio host Bryan Fischer, called HIV “harmless” and not the cause of AIDS. And then he basically went back to the AIDS-to-gays is as God-to-judgment analogy, a grotesque theological belief. Even more, he didn’t think AIDS victims were the type of people Christians should care about.  Warren’s wife was first to condemn Fisher, calling his remarks, “indefensible”.

 

Later on they released a joint statement saying:

 

“People living with the virus are people that Jesus created, loves, and died for. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that when you find someone bleeding on the side of the road, you don’t say ‘Was it your fault?’ You just help them in love! Let’s be very careful about what reality we deny; lives are at stake.”

 3. P.E.A.C.E.

Rick and his Church launched the PEACE Plan as a way to use their treasure and influences to change the world for the better. The acronym goes: Promote Reconciliation, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, Educate the next generation. So far this program has been wildly successful and has brought many folks around the world to Christ.

 4. Kay

When an individual is married to someone as wonderful as Kay Warren, they are probably not a boogeyman. Kay Warren is a champion for finding the cure to HIV/AIDS. She has been a relentless advocate on issues within Africa and around the world. Kay is not simply the woman behind the man, but a force to be reckoned with in the dumpster of poverty and disease. The world is better because of her.

 

 5. He doesn’t use the pulpit to belittle others

Pastor Warren only discusses his views on homosexuality when he is asked, which happens to be a lot since it is the most divisive issue in the church today. He doesn’t hit the gay community from the pulpit and the only time his platform was used as a way to push back gay rights, was in 2009 which he has regretted doing.

 6. He is a Bridge Builder

Pay attention- this one is important.

 

I watched an episode of HuffPost Live this morning, where the interviewer asked about the controversy (in culture) about his views on homosexuality. Warren rightly pointed out that if he disagrees with some on this issue he gets called a hater or a homophobe. Which makes no sense to him because he doesn’t hate anyone nor is he “afraid” of gay people.

 

The pivotal point came when he said that he bases his views on Bible, while others base it on other things like the world and culture. At this moment, the interviewer interrupted him and said, “other people base their beliefs on the Bible too, but have a different interpretation.” Instead of doing what I thought he was going to do, roll his eyes or skip on to something else, he said this:

 

“that is very true. What we need are the kind of conversations you and I are having right now. Non inflammatory, non flaming throwing, not saying ‘you must be a bad person because you disagree with me’ in fact, you can’t convince me to agree with you if you’re saying I’m a bad person… we’re losing our civility in civilization.”

 

THIS IS WHAT MY BLOG IS ABOUT! I love that he said this, because it is so reflective of a heart pursuing reconciliation. That we should never forget the difference between righteousness and rudeness. It is one of the best statements, I believe, he has made on this issue.

 

And some may argue that what he said doesn’t take much to say, but when you think about the other power players in the conservative Christian community who are so rigid in their loyalty to doctrine, this could potentially become a chink in his armor. That is, if they choose to attack him on it.

 

 

Pastor Warren is not perfect, neither am I and neither are you. He has said stupid things about sexual orientation, made ridiculous equivalents to homosexuality, and he will probably continue to do so. But he is not the Boogeyman. He is a faithful pastor who actually has a desire to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the most controversial issue facing the Church today. And he’s learning quickly how to do so in a manner that makes grace and love a top priority.

 

As I said in my post about Mark Driscoll, just because I think Pastor Warren has said destructive things, doesn’t mean his intent is destruction. And even further, he’s a huge net positive for the world. He chooses to take action instead of cheap shots.

 

No Boogeyman here!

 

RR

On (nearly) Betraying my Blog

I came close to making a mistake. A big one.

Living across the pond didn’t spare me the media coverage surrounding the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. For the past year I have watched between the slits of my fingers as Christian leaders from all four corners of the state crusaded up the steps of the Capital, establishing themselves as Biblical Bodyguards.

At first, of course, there was a sting. It never feels good to hear people talk disparagingly about you. But after awhile… it all sorta blended together. I developed a weird tolerance for their intolerance.

Then someone very close to my community began to vocalize his support for the measure. He wrote an article that opened wounds I thought had closed.

The post he penned advocating for the amendment left me distraught and brokenhearted. It wasn’t simply his support for the measure, I know wonderful people who voted yes. No, it was because his message endorsed myths about LGBT people. The very myths that used to color my own self-image. And his tone felt condescending. And the facts were fuzzy. And the “I feel for…” felt phony. All of which left me lost and sad. And then angry.

Swiping the cursor across the screen, I fired up Microsoft Word and began a long and emotionally draining response to his post. With every word, my hands trembled. I intended this letter to be an open one; I planned on pinning up his picture on the blog and to call on all of you to hold him accountable.

Cause that’s all I was doing right? Holding him accountable? Just like a good Christian brother should.

After much editing, reading and rereading, I worked up all the courage I had and went to the Registered Runaway site. Staring at the composition, I stole a glance at my Aunt and told her what I was about to do.

“Send it to him first. It’s a letter after all. Let him respond. Take the honorable route.”

I think, deep down, I was hoping she’d say that.

So I sent along my letter to the pastor using my anonymous email account. I made it clear that he had until 10 PM to respond, the letter would go LIVE then.

For the next hour I checked and rechecked my phone for any reply. I was anxious for his argument, and already preparing my counterpoints.

Another hour passed and then I heard the quiet chirp of my phone. Looking at the unopened message felt like looking down the basement stairs to check on a spooky noise. I just didn’t know what would happen.

I didn’t anticipate an angry response or an ugly condemnation. But I did expect a response, perhaps a more grace filled and compassionate argument reiterating his support for the Amendment.

But what I got, I’m not sure I deserved.

The email was from his wife. Her husband was away speaking at a conference, and she was left to handle his mail.

In one of the most thoughtful emails I have ever received, she apologized for how the post made me feel. She informed me that his post had now been deleted from his site. She wanted me to know that it was never her husband’s intention to hurt anyone. She said she understood that the question of “homosexuality” is far from cut and dry.

She talked about my blog, told me how it moved her and spoke of her sadness about LGBT experiences with the Church (capital C).

 

And she wanted me to know that I am loved. (She bolded that one).

This started a wonderful conversation that resulted in a suggestion from her that I get coffee with her husband. I accepted, telling her I would love to when I return from Europe.

 

Closing down my Mac, I felt a lump rise in my throat.

I had come so close to letting myself down.

 

On this blog, I have been fighting for an end to fighting. A cease-fire.

I’ve been loud about listening and unconditional loving.

About soul saving through story telling.

Maybe it was the miles from home, but I nearly offered bitterness an undeserved audience. I wasn’t just ready to shame a man. Worse yet, I was ready to shame a phenomenal pastor. Someone who is, by all measures, good and Godly. A man I have seen shape the lives of those I love most.

I tried to tell myself I was speaking truth to power, holding my Christian brother accountable, love through correction and all that.

But the reality is- I just wanted vengeance. I wanted to believe that he was attacking me. The caricature was convenient, it allowed my conscience to OK the letter. I made him into an imaginary boogeyman.

And the lump lowered as I realized something else.

I had just been a participant in a holy act of reconciliation. Far more was done in that email exchange to heal my conflict with the Church than a viral protest ever could. While this pastor’s wife could have written me off as a bully, she took the time to visit my blog and read my story. Meanwhile, she disarmed me. She showed me that her husband is not the boogeyman I believed him to be. If only I would sit and talk with him.

This event took me back to previous posts I had written.

Like this one in which I said:

“In our abandonment of Christ’s call to a reconciled human race, we forfeit the game. The pictures we paint of our perceived enemies are only as true as they are convenient. And the worst part of all of this is that our stereotyping only serves to widen the Grand Canyon between us.”

And the post on the family forgiving the man that killed their child:

“This is a staggeringly similar story to God’s forgiveness upon us for taking his one and only child. Tim chose to invest in Takunda and spare him a punishment that probably wouldn’t even begin to match his crime. He chose forgiveness that wasn’t warranted or expected. Forgiveness that was unfair.”

I even glanced back at my “about” page:

“It’s not about the bullied becoming the bullies nor rebel retribution.”

Thank God my Aunt held me accountable. After I told her about the response, she said aloud, “I just got goosebumps! This is good, talking is always soo good.”

In putting the pin back in the grenade I remembered how reconciliation felt.

A lot like hope.

RR