A Good Storm

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Years ago, in some school by some suburb, sits my old and bland and slightly grumpy Science teacher. To kick off a semester of pig dissection and significant figures (“sig figs”), he scans across the classroom to find some squirmy and vulnerable freshman to call on for his geeky trick question. It’s his way of fun.

“You… uh, Sir, what is the best kind of fertilizer?”

The question was random and didn’t even sound scientifickish. Not being much a gardener myself, I looked to the left and the right for someone that was. Coming up short, I think I mumbled something like,

“Horse Manure?”

“Sorry! But no.. OF COURSE it’s not horse manure. No, no, no, as a matter of fact, it is lightening!”

A storm is born when a center of low pressure develops inside a system of high pressure. It can bring about a devastation that is all too familiar for us. These terrors shoot with ice and rain and tornadoes and hurricanes, setting forests on fire and flooding streets and collapsing homes and sending death tolls sky high.

But it makes for good fertilizer. It was a tough sell to a class exiting a summer of tumultuous stormy weather. Many of our homes had been damaged due to falling trees and our cars from falling hail. Days of cleaning up the yard had become too routine and fertilizer didn’t feel like much of a silver lining.

But that wasn’t really his point. When lightening struck the ground it gave way to a season of blossoming. Something of a beautiful interaction between earth and sky. And danger, while temporary, was necessary for growth.

For whatever reason, that first class of that first day drifted into my mind the night after our first LITT gathering. Maybe it was a tangent off my anxiety that was telling me I was messing with Mother Nature. I was asking people of diametrically opposed beliefs on an issue, one that has infiltrated both the church and the state and the Boy Scouts and Chicken coops, to sit in the same room, eye to eye, to find new ways to talk. A betting man would say this plane was sure to crash. The souls stamina would stand until the end, while the restless ran for the door.

Strangers are like storms, aren’t they? Foreign beings and their different ideas always hold the potential for danger. They have the strength to topple our towers and leave us broken and wanting. A change of posture can resemble a tsunami and a snap remark an earthquake. With the words they use and the sources they cite, our inner sirens drown them out until they are mimes. We only hear what we fear they are saying. Someone’s two cent’s can land like a clap of thunder in the mind of the other opposed. Their tone carries the same tension as the sky within the eye looking for a forming funnel.

The fear of the different drives us underground. We batten down the hatches, pull the blankets over our heads, and rock back and forth to the sound of our own voice saying, “you’ll be okay, you’ll be okay!”

But then that ominous cloud starts taking the shape of a story. There’s a mother and her son escaping out the doors of a chapel, her hand over his shoulder and his hands over his face. There is the student pacing out in the hall after a professor called his beliefs bigoted, fingers dialing that person back home who knows what to say. There are the turning heads toward the two young girls walking hand in hand through their Church retreat. They put on a good front, but they are breaking apart inside.

And abruptly, we are disarmed and found running out the front door. Into the wind we throw ourselves because we know it all too well. Outstretched hands meet and we enter into the insecurities and isolation of the one we thought was a threat.

Their position, it seems, is just a mirage we imagine because we too fear their humanity. We fear that our justification in their demonization will not be vindicated. They are sinners and bigots first, not mothers and brothers and friends and faithful. They judge, so they must hate. They rebel, so they must not believe. They take when we give. They kick when we are down.

They this and they that…

Friends, I give you our fallenness.

Storms can sink ships and lightening ignite fires. There isn’t always a silver lining in the cloud coming down on us. But every now and then, when forced to face the ones we fear the most, we walk away a bit more than we were. We grow. Convictions become challenged, modesty comes back and soon enough, the equality of our depravity charges in like a long lost friend. We blink away our barriers of belief and start seeing souls again. All of us with roots below and budding new beliefs in the meaning of relationship and reconciliation and what it means to be human and what it means be one of many.

It may be a bit too rosy and idealistic, but that’s the silver lining I see for the season ahead.

Blessings,

RR

I asked and you answered… Now let’s keep this thing going.

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So tonight, we had our first LITT (Living in the Tension) gathering and, I think, we are off to a wonderful start. There were perhaps 12 of us there, and within this number, there were vastly different views represented. It was beautifully tense you might say. Passions flared for but a moment, which is good because that means people care A LOT about this group, and then we huddled ourselves back around the fire of love and community and Christ.

We got this, I know we do.

Earlier in the day I solicited advice from my friends on twitter about different questions/topics/approaches/etc to make this group be something spiritually redemptive. A success for both the church and LGBT community. A place where we can feel brave enough to wonder out loud and safe enough to share the most vulnerable parts of our story.

I have absolutely incredible people in my corner on twitter. Seriously. The responses I received meant the world to me.

But. I don’t want it to stop there. We have to keep talking about this.

46thpsalm, the blogger behind Radical Grace:

“I think the best approach is to make church members recognize commonalities. People like to suppose #LGBT are different.”

“Emphasize that God’s love is for all, and that respectful disagreement is even OK, so long as it’s done with dignity.”

“I would stress that our job as the body of Christ is to show God’s love, not presuppose his judgment.”

“can’t make everyone agree with us or condone something they don’t approve of. But you can demonstrate our inherent worth.”

“I might also use examples of Jesus associating with people the “average person” doesn’t accept, such as tax collectors, etc”

Charlotte Norton, the blogger behind Middle Ground:

 

“how to make ministry/worship welcoming to LGBT people. How to translate theory/belief into practice that honours personhood”

“lots of thoughts…1. language used . People need to know appropriate terms for describing/speaking to LGBT people “

“2. dialogue. people need to know it is possible to co-exist with someone who has a different opinion “

“3. outreach. the LGBT community needs to know you are there for them”

“4. needs. the LGBT community has specific needs and “issues” – how to deal with someone who has previously been hurt? “

“5. relationships. LGBT people need to be supported and befriended as they are.”

“6. Related to 5. LGBT people come in couples and many need support like straight couples. How will church deal with this? “

“the main thing is that the church needs to decide what the vision is before figuring out how to implement it (to avoid giving the “wrong message” about itself to LGBT people and its own members)”

Julie ( 🙂 ), the blogger behind Incite Faith:

 

“Let everyone speak from experience. Everyone will have different denominations and beliefs. Creates productive dialogue.”

“Let them speak in the 1st person– and from personal experience. “I feel,” “I believe” are good prompts.”

“Have others share their stories and empathize the space is safe to share their thoughts and opinions on their sexuality.”

“Facilitator should focus on healing given the emotional pain inflicted by the Church w/o making them feel like a victim”

Rohan Salmond, blogger behind Hey! Crunch King!:

 

“My major thing is making sure Side B folk don’t let properly homophobic rhetoric slide when it’s in the news etc…”

“I’d like to challenge the notion that LGBT folk aren’t able to lead small groups etc too.”

“Is barring us from broader theological conversations in that way actually healthy for the life of the Church?”

“Questioning the narrow definition of masculinity churches hold would be good. “Men’s retreats” are always about sport etc.”

“Asking how to encourage a safe environment to be questioning would be a good broad question to ask too!“

The dynamic duo, Tony and Jordan, bloggers behind gaysubtlety:

 

“Sorry, late to the party (was playing soccer). Story based to start (allows people to feel heard and known, prevents eventual disagreement from being mired in ignorance. Practical, local initiatives you could partner with.”

“And I agree with Charlotte Norton that the church should come up with a vision statement that the whole church has access to.”

“Important that this not just be a side-group to discuss LGBTQ things, but a think tank for the church body and its future.”

Amy Mitchell, the blogger behind Unchained Faith, offered some much needed encouragement:

“I will continue to pray for grace and love in the conversation.”

In the air tonight, as we reached the end of our time, was a palpable understanding that we were headed for minefield. We agreed that we can only cross it if we do this together. But only if we choose to love and learn from one another. Something noticeably absent in the broader church and cultural dialogue.

I am both hopeful and nervous.

And your responses have made a HUGE difference. I am showing these to my Pastor leading this thing.

There is a clear consensus for ensuring a safe space where love is emphasized and stories are valued. That is what will lead us forward. That will be what fuels us.

But, now, I must call on your services again… We are looking for topics to cover in our gatherings. Things like bullying, gender identity, progressive revelation are a few on my mind.

But do you have any others? What are some topics that we can start with that will set us on a firm footing? Ones that aren’t emotionally explosive? We’re new at this and the last thing we need is a nasty fight.

Any good Bible Stories that can relate to gay folks or reconciliation?

Any excellent books that we could read?

Any movies or documentaries?

Any tough but critical questions?

 

What about those who are curious about the LGBT community?

What questions do you have?

What is the best way for you to learn more about us?

What do you want to know?

How can we help you?

Again, I don’t care if you are LGBT, a woman or a man, old or young, black or white, conservative or liberal, Christian or not, I want your input because you matter to this conversation. And you most certainly matter to me.

Fill me in!

RR

Why We Need Andrew Marin

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Third and final reflection of last Sunday night.

I was at a lonely place when the book-that-changed-everything fell into my lap.

It’s not that my family wasn’t there for me, they were very much there, but none of them could understand what it all was like. I had known I was gay for over a decade and they only a couple months. They were playing an impossible game of catch up while at the same time battling to reconcile what I had told them with what they heard the scriptures said.

The words I gave them were inadequate. It was like I was looking at them through the glass of a sound proof room. Nothing made sense, and I was anxious with every word I uttered, knowing that the slightest hiccup could send them sliding into a pile of more questions. And that was maybe the hardest part about it all. Everyone assumes that when you say you’re gay, that you know what that means for your life. I didn’t then and I don’t know now. And that, my friends, is not weakness. I choose not to choose because I want to be faithful and I want to get this right. So I sit with my questions and search for answers, both within my heart and outside of my self.

Then, one day, a coworker of my brother gave him a book:

Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin.

Sure, there was skepticism of him on my part about empathy from a straight perspective and a worry that it may be just another “pity them” tales with nothing concrete to offer.

And then I actually read it. Then I thrust it in the face of everyone in my circle. Then the ripples started and eyes cracked wide open.

Through words on a page, he translated every single feeling that I could not say out loud. He spoke in a language we could all understand. In a small, but HUGE, way he built a bridge between my family, friends and little old me. The words he wrote affirmed my skeptical spirit. It made me feel like I wasn’t a man without a country, that there were others out there like me. Others who didn’t wake up one day and make a plan for their life. Others that wrestled as hard as I did… As I do still.

~~~

On Sunday night, we all watched the bridge builder in the flesh. In his folksy fashion, he threw out several reflections about how loving well is not contingent upon agreeing on everything.

Make no mistake: Agreement doesn’t precede reconciliation. It’s not even that relevant.

“Christians talk to Christians too much! We need to stop talking to ourselves and instead start talking to everyone else.”

This is a form of discipleship that doesn’t get much airtime. Apparently it doesn’t hold the same sex appeal as picketing and cussing. It is, as he calls it, incarnational activism. Dwelling amongst the other. Living in the tension of disagreement. Seeing the human being behind the theological and political position. Choosing conversations that celebrate togetherness over pot shots that celebrate the self.

See, it is so easy to put up a Facebook post or a 160 character critique, but actually looking at the skin and bones of those who you talk about can make the mirror turn on it’s self.

Andrew moved into Boystown as a homophobic 19 year old chasing after a brief moment of divine calling. He has lived there for over a dozen years. He set down roots there, he has started a family there, he gets his hair cut there, he buys his groceries there, he checks up with the doctor there, and he has given all of his energy to a group of people that he had been taught early on to hate.

And it is because of that testimony that straight Christians can get a hint of how heavy my boots have been. He has had the eyes of both a homophobe and an ally, making him uniquely qualified for this space in the center. He relays our stories to those that don’t understand, speaking in a language that we cannot.

Folks, in the context of reconciliation, that really really matters.

Case in point.

At intermission I spoke with a few friends that were unaware that they already had a gay friend.

“I could listen to him forever,” one said.

“I have never heard it put that way before” said another.

“You staying for the Q & A? Yah, me too!”

His message was a gamechanger for this Church. It marked a turn toward conversations over confrontations.

~~~

Being a bridge builder doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles you may think.

Andrew gets hate mail every day.

In fact, he may be the most uniting force for conservative and progressive Christians alike. Nothing brings a family together like a common enemy. In their eyes, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A cloud of suspicion hangs above him whenever he walks into their camp. What’s his real agenda? They ask. What does he want from me?

And in a show of disgust, they fold up their wallets and walk away. Back home to their villages where everyone looks the same, sounds the same and believes the same things. Where difference is dangerous and those that step out are counted suspect.

Their mindset is the same

If this guy doesn’t picket with us, he must be with them.

And this is why I worry for Marin.

Because if his foundation falls- my questions won’t have a home. With their “Living in the Tension” gatherings, the Marin Foundation has set aside an acre where it’s safe to wonder out loud. If I went to a PFLAG meeting with the kind of questions I still struggle with, I would be laughed out the building. If I went to a conservative Christian meeting about this, they would tell me that I am struggling against my sinful self, because, after all, that’s what the Word says and we all agree, so just get with the program.

Andrew is important to me because if he goes away there is no one else. Seriously, there’s no one. There is no one else, as I have seen, that is willing to enter into no man’s land and endure hate from all sides, in order to advance the Kingdom cause. There is no one else that thinks reconciliation and relationships are far more important than agreement and uniformity and victory.

There is no one else out there bold enough to keep personal positions private on behalf of the greater good.

Even in the face of struggling finances and only a handful of courageous churches willing to support their cause, Andrew refuses to let the foundation become someone else’s rubber stamp.

And yet, things would be so much easier if he did.

It would be so simple if he just came out and said that after much thought and reflection, he had become convinced of the position against same-sex relationships. His coffers would fill to the brim. Conservatives would rally to his “reconciliation” cause because they knew he was working on their behalf. You’d hear James Dobson and Rick Warren speak about him like a modern day Billy Graham. Reconciliation is fine as long as they walk over to our side of the bridge.

Similarly, if he came out and said that after much thought and reflection, he had become convinced of the position in support of same-sex relationships, the progressive Christian community would rush to his side. They would plaster his face on their emails and broadcast his voice as much as they do Justin Lee’s. It would be the single greatest fundraiser his organization has ever seen, because progressives would know that he was fighting for their cause.

But the Kingdom doesn’t come through the election of a party.

God’s got that job already. If we miss that, we’ve missed something pretty significant.

Our title is Reconcilers. Shalom speakers. Hand holders. Story listeners. Shoulder’s to cry on. Prayer warriors. Examples of God’s creation in both the bigot and the drag queen.

Nothing can change until we start seeing people instead of positions. People not positions. People not positions. People not positions. (repeat this to yourself every morning.)

I am still hopeful for the foundation’s success, even though reconciliation is a tough sell these days. I have hope because what I have seen them do with my own eyes. And that, to me, suggests that someone bigger than all of us is chugging them along. Someone who came 2,000 years ago to reconcile himself with us, so that we might reconcile ourselves with one another.

And someday we will.

But, for now, Andrew carries the torch for us all. For those that think we should never stop learning. Those not in a rush to reach a theological conclusion. Those that don’t place the weight of their faith in a ballot box vote. The peacemakers and the religious skeptics. The outcasts that just want love, acceptance and a bit of normalcy from the communities around them. The runaways that dream of empathy and empowerment.

All of us that live under the scarlet letter.

We’re ripe for a reconciliation.

RR

If you want to tithe to the foundation like many of my friends and myself do. Click here.

Words I Had Waited For

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The second reflection of last Sunday

~

The earnestness in his voice was too strong to ignore. Nothing about it felt rehearsed or forced or phony. His realness brought on a tension that rolled through the pews. Everyone knew the stakes of this moment. We waited on held breath and seat’s edge to see how he would set the tone for this series.

Pitch, posture and adjectives all became the difference between a weeping and a rolling eye. Before him sat a crowd that was hardly homogenous. It was filled with diverse thoughts on theology and decades of life histories. Playing on the safe side would be tricky to do, but possible. He could make it across this bridge without pissing off both gays and conservatives.

It was possible.

But it was far from relevant.

Through eyes brimmed with tears, I watched as he went the whole mile. I think he knew it was a moment for grace not groans. And as he went on, it became clear to me that he got what grace was. Or better yet, what grace does.

That night there was a change in routine. Typically, communion was held at the close of every service where every attendee would line up to receive the elements and then return to their row for personal prayer and reflection.

This night, he wanted us stay where we were. There was something that he needed to say and something we needed to do and it was way too important to ignore.

Staring across the divide between altar and audience

he made a call to repentance.

Not some generic repentance of how “we are all sinners and fall short”;

No, this was direct and it was specific.

He called for forgiveness for how we as the Church and as individuals had inflicted pain upon the LGBT community.

He uttered one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard. His words outshining every one of my Sunday mornings.

I didn’t hear a party platform.

There was no disclaimer of “We the Church believe” statements

I didn’t hear excuses and I didn’t hear explanations.

All I heard, over and over, was an apology.

And what he’s heard of heartache and marginalization.

And an acknowledgement of his own ineptitude in understanding.

And his commitment to walk humbly and ask questions and listen to stories.

It was a meaningful surrender.

So much so, that I surrendered too.

A choice that had lay dormant in those dark parts of my soul started to stir. Dripping words and the breathing of believers around me became deafening.  They were all saying sorry to me. They were all saying they loved me.

I don’t recall reconciliation having a more beautiful birth. This just couldn’t be ignored.

Soon forgiveness was fighting its way out and I had no choice but to give in.

And over and over, under my breath, I rocked and hummed to the harmony of,

“thank you, thank you, thank you”

and

“it’s forgiven, it’s forgiven, it’s forgiven”

The gorgeousness of this bridge bended most of my barriers to the ground. As I saw more clearly where he had just gone, a gratitude arose that was inexpressible. His prayer was a blend of an apology and a plea. An honest call to both the divine and the shoved out. It was deep crying out to deep.

It felt like communion made perfect. And it could not be ignored.

~~~

If grace has taught us anything, it’s that it is far from safe. It is a hurricane. It is a force to be reckoned with.

Grace is more significant than a thousand of your theological disputes.

Even in the whisper of a child, grace silences the chorus of millions.

It is an imperative.

It is piercing.

And It refuses to be ignored.

And at the end of the day, it was grace that brought me back to the Church. It was grace that bound my wounds and redeemed what I thought to be a ruined religion.

It was grace.

it’s sweet sound.

That threads apologies and love and redemption

into the loveliest of tunes.

RR

God Did This

Sunset over hay field and St Mary's church near Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada.

The house was packed. Reverberating off the vaulted ceiling were the echoes of a thousand conversations for why they came and what they expected. I could hear some say “because of my friend” a few others, “because of my child” and even a couple that came, “because of me”. There were others too. They wouldn’t describe themselves as culture warriors, per se, but they knew which side they stood on. Perhaps it wasn’t out of doubt in their captain that they came; maybe it was more of a wonder as to why we have teams at all.

Weaving his way through the huddles of chit-chat that lead to the altar, the Pastor met me at the back of the sanctuary. Shaking my hand and pulling me close, he whispered his wish to mention my involvement in it all. No name would be spoken, just a nod to the anonymous soul in the pews. How fitting for me.

“This is all happening because of you.” He whispered. “You did this.”

Had I been a more a holy man, I would have locked eyes with his and then rolled them upwards, smiling and sighing,

No, no, no… He did.

But I forgot. Instead I stepped away and did a “who-me?” laugh and said something sorta like,

Oh, you, you… you get outta town!

But seriously, it wasn’t me. I couldn’t have contrived a more backwards organic beautiful ridiculous plan then the one that panned out.

I couldn’t, even if I tried.

Something greater did this.

~Now, would you please join me in a series of events that just so happened over this past year? Perfect.~

Probably whistling a tune while writing music at his workspace, my brother is approached by a coworker. Said coworker hands him a book, he’s startled, since said coworker knows nothing about me.

 

Brother takes home the book, reads it in a day, hugs it for an hour, and then texts me all about it, including the hugs.

 

 Through his persistence and patience, I reluctantly pick it up and give it a go. In the last chapter I could be found lying in a blanket of Kleenex with a cup of hot chocolate, clutching the book like a late friend that I needed now more than ever. It understood me and it made me feel safe.   

 

My folks flip through it fast and gates of empathy open wider. Whole family feels it now. Best friend reads it, and then reads it again, and then five more times, and then calls me to say “this book has changed my entire life”. She is not gay. And, by the way, it didn’t matter that I was either, it was just that edifying.

 

Mom and I head down to Chicago for some more of this stuff. Our stomachs aching for just a crumb of community, empathy, maybe an emotional release. That night, we are met by so much more. I see others and they’re real and I can touch them. I hear their stories and they receive mine, mom hugs another mom, I hug a few new friends. They say they love me and I say I love them and soon I start warming to the idea that it’s okay to love me.

 

Walking away, mom says, “that’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven.” We leave and go home and then I fly back alone for another round. I meet with Andrew Marin and tell him that I need these gatherings. I need them in my city. It was like a drug and I was in detox. And the withdrawal was growing stronger.

 

At home again, I am fitted with frustration by what I hear, which is nothing. I hear nothing when I wanted to hear a chorus of Christian leaders stand up to sadistic southern pastors in the news wanting me dead. So I go find a pastor to lay the smack on.

 

Coffee date was set along with my catalogue of Church crimes. And then he disarms me. He asks for my story and I tell him. And then later on I get to the withdrawals. The withdrawals of understanding and feeling normal and okay and loved. He listens. He tells me he wants something to happen but he’s not sure how.  Its so emotionally charged, he says, and inevitably explosive. How?-He asks, How? I hand him Marin’s book.

 

He reads it. He wants to hear sermons by Andrew so I send him those too. He listens, he prays and he thinks. He too starts getting withdrawals, but for something he had never tasted. He consults my brother and he consults me and comes to the conclusion that his Church has a responsibility to do something. He wants more community and he wants it bad.

 

So while I am away doing my thing overseas, they work their tails off to get this Andrew guy up to Edina and make plans for a new season at their church. One that doesn’t leave conversations unsaid. One that brings people together. One that craves honesty and stories and doubt and conviction and all of who we are and all of who He is.

 

Andrew Marin arrives along with his Associate Director Michael Kimpan. and… I’ll leave that for another post.

But did you see what God did there?

A coworker gave my brother a book and several months later a Church and a town came ten steps closer heaven. God did that.

I spoke with Andrew Marin about coming to Minneapolis, at the time it was a pipe dream. God did that.

I met with a pastor ready to complain, only to leave all the more humbled and honored in my journey. God did that.

 

Andrew took to the podium in front of a larger audience than this church had seen in some time. God did that.

For all our planning and attention to detail, any number of things could have gone wrong. Scheduling conflicts, Church politics, fundraising issues, messaging mishaps, missed flights, skipping the Chicago trip, cold feet in meeting with my pastor, finding out that the pastor could care less about the gay community, Andrew being too weak to defeat his fatigue from his sickness or the coworker that forgot to give my brother the book that started this whole thing in the first place.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that I shouldn’t worry about what lies ahead.

 

Because God is already there.

When I first touched the cover of Love is an Orientation, he was setting up seats for Sunday Night.

When I went to the pastor to make my case, he was preparing the hearts of the Church elders.

When I left for Europe, he made his presence known in Edina and stirred a community to curiosity.

He spread the Kingdom concrete, letting it sit and set… until such a time as Sunday.

It’s the same God that made a sea stand on hind legs so slaves could find freedom. The God that sent a sea monster to swallow Jonah, only to upchuck him into the mission field. The I AM that called Jesus into Samaria instead of the more scenic route.

The God we worship is a bridge builder. He is a path maker. He is the old man working on the railroad.  The one that makes a way into those stupidly impossible places we never seriously considered. He tills trails to ideas that we once were afraid to admit we had. He lets us think that we know where we are going. He surprises with where we find ourselves. Places we never knew we wanted so badly.

Our God is mysterious and meticulous.

And he is waaayyyy ahead of us.

RR