Runaway Easter

empty_tomb_104


“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

-Matthew 28:6, NIV

“And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?”

-Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat


Faith is hard. Only half the time I’m convinced of it, if that. I’ve got a heart that beats on hope and love. I’ve got a head that hones in on the flecks and blemishes. My eyes strain to see the Savior through all this smoke. And it’s hard.

 

Increasingly, over the years, I have lost trust in the leaders of our faith. There was a time when I was a rubber stamp Christian, willing to go to whatever great lengths they called me to. I believed and I believed so strongly that they knew God better than I. Until they spoke me out of existence. Until I heard them bark with such passion and anger about the likes of me, only to then, listlessly, half-heartedly, almost regretfully, mention how God loves me. But just barely.

 

Once you’ve felt the weight of those words and were hit with how incompatible they were with Immanuel, there’s no going back. But it’s not even that simple. Often, with our imperfect eyes and hearts we confuse Christians with Christ. In the process of parting ways with the Church, a part of you parts ways with God. Your belief becomes much weaker. You need to feed yourself now. Whatever faith there was falls to a limp. Dies a little every day.

 

And even if you’re not young and gay like myself, you’ve felt, from time to time, that this faith leaves you shortchanged. They pointed you toward the passages that spoke of “flying on the wings of eagles” of miracles and of angels. You were given books on how to be better because once you’re better, God comes nearer. And yet, after the emotional high and delusions wear off, you find yourself in free fall, back into the exact same pit you were in so long ago. And you feel shortchanged.

 

Your visits to the bookstore may have looked a lot like mine. You picked up another devotional, read through the endorsements looking for someone trusty and then, for a brief few seconds, slipped away into the abyss. You doubt. You wonder whether the whole thing is made up legend. Good story, but false hope. You feel shame at the thoughts that linger and play over and over like a broken record, but you have no ability to stop them. No idea if you should.

 

On Sunday nights you felt like a fraud as you raised your hands high in praise and worship. You desperately wanted those words to mean something to you. But in the sea of swaying fingers, yours felt still and cold, like a statue. You wrote down prayer requests in your youth group and it was always like a preparation for sin because you knew you would toss the list on your desk to collect dust until the following Wednesday. You were so busy trying to find a spiritual pulse that you had no time or competence to speak on behalf of others.

 

It took me a long time to realize that maybe it’s because I was living under the wrong God. A God that demanded certainty. Absolute allegiance. A vindictive and petty and arbitrary deity. A God that laid out conditions and contracts and asked for a signature right this minute. He wore evangelical attire with beach blond hair and bleached white teeth. He followed us around like a vigilante and we were all the bad guys. I couldn’t bear that kind of guilt. That kind of fear. It was too heavy. Especially with how outspoken they were about my guilt. I felt like I was either in his cross hairs or completely ignorable. So I’ve run away.

 

 But now, it seems, I’m back. Yet it’s different than before.

 

Unwrapping this Book and my memories and still fresh wounds has been a liberating and taxing experience. Sometimes, it feels like my faith relies wholly on me because I can’t trust them. Sometimes it feels like I am hanging by the thinnest thread wearing the heaviest boots. I feel like I have to figure out doctrine and right practice and where to stand on this and that and what it means to interpret scripture, what it means to interpret the Church.

 

And it all becomes too much. Too confusing to be real.

 

This morning, I look out my window at my beautiful lovely Minnesota and I see fresh resurrection happening. I feel the tick up in the temperature and I hear birds again. Bunnies are skittering here and there and the trees have this quiet aura that makes you think they are about to burst out green at any moment. I see resurrection happening all around me.

 

And I think about all my friends. The rogue alcoholic since his teenage years, stopping midway through his college semester to check into a rehab facility. I think of my never-known-God friend rifling through every Bible story to better understand how this whole thing works, she’s now one of the most spiritual people I know. I think of my friend finding faith after parental abandonment and minority status, able to walk into an almost all white church and feel seen by only God.

 

And I think about what it means to believe He came back.

 

Forget the theology and the denominations and the Eucharist and the dogma, but what does it mean to me if I can scrounge up a mustard seed of faith that this man God came back. That’s all. Just the God resurrection. Just a tiny hope like a flickering flame. Does that make me a believer?

 

 It’s been hitting me lately that behind the sparkling smiles and glassy eyes and arms raised high, you, me, all of us, are hanging by a shoestring. Hanging on this moment. Hanging on this emergence from the grave. Hanging on a persuasion of the mind and heart. Your life hangs on this.

Yet, somehow, that’s comforting.

Because I see resurrection all the time. I see renewal. I see things getting better and changing year after year like winter to spring. Mixing more with the water. The shadows becoming thinner and thinner. And belief in the God of renewal, the God of Spring, becomes compelling. Enrapturing.

 

That revival, that return to what once was, that is what this Easter means for me. It means He came back. It means that even if I don’t understand a lot of things about Him, even if half of the time He feels fictional, even if I fall so far short, He still came back for me. And that’s something I can hang on to.

RR

Picture This- A Painful Spiritual Practice for Good Friday

images

 

When the incomprehensible, invisible, ghost like God feels far away from me. When to be faithful means to be oppressed. When I forget to pray for months on end.

 

I stop in my boots.

 I close my eyes.

And I paint an excruciating image in my mind.

 

I envision someone I love carrying that cross to Skull Hill. I hear their shrieks, the lashes, see the life draining from their eyes, the blood flooding over the earth and I watch, unable to do anything. I see my dad, my mom, my brothers, my sister, my best friends, and sometimes, my dog. To know that it was all my mistakes that drove nails into their wrists and feet. To know that they went their willingly. For me. 

 

I do this because it is easy to think I appreciate what Jesus did without feeling it in my bones. Two thousand years of separation is something. It is a wall. If I am perfectly honest, it is difficult for me, a visual thinker, to imagine my God suffocating.

 

I remember feeling so guilty for being the only one not weeping in the theater showing of the Passion of the Christ. I remember feeling heartless. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

 

I think I didn’t because that was Jim Caveziel and I had seen a hundred other Jesuses dying in a thousand different ways. It rang false, even though for many, it is a powerful portrayal that turns the heart violent inside.

 

When I envision that day with someone I have touched and kissed and held, I fall completely apart. I lose it. I get angry. I get dark. I am broken apart like shattered glass. I don’t want to see any of that, but I have to. I do this in remembrance of Him. I do this in remembrance of the full and free and flaming love and affection and protection poured out on me. 

 

I think of my loved ones and to me, that’s a holy experience. Because that’s what God lived through. For hours. That was his love gasping for breath. That was his perfect child, the one that called out to Him, asking why oh why he had forsaken Him. The one who stayed silent until the sacrifice was satisfactory even though it broke him into a million pieces.

 

These souls have been Christ to me in so many ways. They have held me when I cried, led me out of depression, walked humbly and kindly as I journey out of the closet.

 

And they mean the world to me, just like Jesus does.

Just like Jesus does to God.

Just like I do to Jesus

 That is my spiritual practice for today.

 

What’s yours?

RR

Whispering Forgiveness On Us All

Full color painting of Jesus on the cross by Simon Bisley|Full color painting|Jesus|jesus,cross


“This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.” – Brennan Manning


Jesus-in-Garden

” Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said:

Father, it’s time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world.

6-12 I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.
And not one of them got away,
Except for the rebel bent on destruction
(the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

13-19 Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

20-23 I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.

24-26 Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.” 

– John 17 (the Message) (emphasis mine)

The Rubber Band

rubber-band-300x240

 

There was a week in high school when I wore a thin rubber band around my wrist. I first heard the idea through a quick comment in a cabin at church camp. My counselor, a cool long-haired 20-something, said that the way he conquered his lustful thoughts was by snapping a rubber band against his skin.

Involuntary look, snap.

Look leads to thoughts, snap.

Thoughts wander away, snap.

The rubber band idea stuck with me, I couldn’t stop seeing it. Training through repetition, through conditioning, always seemed to work. Like studying after an F or flossing more after dental work or even the way my dog would listen after a few squirts of sour juice in his mouth. Aversion was effective.

 

And yes, even then I faintly sensed how stupid this was.

But I had nothing else to lose.

I had tried everything.

 

I had knelt by the bed and prayed in sobs. Shouted for saints and rebuked the dark. I read scripture emphatically, with decision and eyes wide open. I wrote in journals, over and over, that I most certainly am not gay. Not gay. Not gay…

 

And yet, my orientation continued to settle in as I continued to grow up. It grew stronger. Despite all my writhing and raging nothing seemed to do anything. It felt inexorable.

 

The rubber band looked like something that could fling me from the darkness. I didn’t want to be gay and I didn’t want to come out, I just wanted the narrow, thin-aired closet to disintegrate all around me, like it was never there at all.

 

Every day I would walk through the school hallway and, inevitably, my eyes would betray me. I knew the “flesh is weak” so I snapped it harder against my veins. The sting and splotchy skin was, I believed, creating some sort of muscle memory in me. Something to make it all stop.

 

The pain throbbed through my arm, but I knew that this was the way. And truth be told, I kind of preferred this way. There was this internal zest whenever I cracked the whip on my sexuality. For such a long time, I hated it so much. Being gay meant being a sinner of the worst kind of sinners. It wasn’t the same as the other sins, which came through choices, this was more like an incarnation. I could not be clean, I could not be Christian unless I became straight. My sexuality stood between me and heaven’s small gate. It had to be slapped out of the way. One. Snap. At a time.

 

In sixth period I sat next to an Asian gothic girl who would always wear a baggy black hoodie and thick black eyeliner. We were in the middle of lecture and scrambling with our scribbles. She hastily raised her arm to pull back a stray lock, and her loose black sleeve slipped down to her elbow.

 

And that’s when I saw them. Big blue and purple zig-zags written down her wrist- still tender like they were born yesterday, rising and plump. I don’t know if she knew I saw, but she quickly covered them up like a child in winter.

 

I felt so bad for her, but I knew that the rubber band was a different thing. The exercise I was conducting was to correct a flawed part of myself. It was to make me normal. It was to purify my perverted soul. It was to save me from hell. What she was doing was savage and heartbreaking.

 

Only later did I learn about self-mutilation. Teenagers ripped the blade across the body for a variety of reasons, but all of them linked back to one: they didn’t like who they were. For a long time, they had tried everything.

 

They had probably tried to fit in, but the cliques kept them out. Perhaps they tried to change, but they couldn’t bring themselves to betray themselves.

Maybe they tried to do drugs and climb the social stepladder, but ended up addicted and alone. Maybe they tried to sleep with as many people as possible, thinking maybe, with just one, it would become first love.

They tried and got tired of fighting for themselves and, soon enough, started hating themselves. They became repulsed by the blood rushing through their veins; the sound of their own beating heart. Yet, they refused to give up and die. Maybe death was just too generous. They hated themselves so much.

 

And I looked down at my splotchy red wrist and looked up at the road I was walking down. Zig zags of dripping blood and ingested poison. Endless agony.

 

I started to wonder if this was the road of the suffering servant. If this is what it meant to walk with Jesus. And then I started thinking about God creating every hair on my head, my arms and my wrists, and every last detail down to each freckle. I remember someone say, “God doesn’t make junk.”

 

And the sympathy I extended to the girl with the Zig Zags felt like everything I ever wanted people to have for me. I wanted them to see me falling apart, disintegrating into dust. I wanted them to hold my wrist high and say that I am most certainly loved. I wanted someone to say Stop. I wanted someone to tell me that my sexuality need not be a burden or a blemish, but beautiful part of who I was.

 

On the bus trip home I took off the rubber band and stretched it between my fingers. So light and seemingly harmless. Venom in a veil. What I had first imagined was my way out, became another heavy chain, another damaging disappointment, another quick fix that would fail and let me fall. In that moment, on that bus ride home I knew there had to be a better way, even if I didn’t what it was.

 

So, I pulled it back and shot it out the window. Watched it hit the wind hard and fly off somewhere else. Never would I get that close again.

 

RR

Donkey King

baby_donkey_by_mcnish95-d4uef5t

 

 

Sunday night, I heard the same story again, but it hit me differently. I’m not sure if it’s how the pastor told it or how I’ve changed since last Easter but, anyway, it’s about Jesus on Palm Sunday. I completely understand this post is belated.

 

But did it ever strike you that Jesus rode in on a donkey? That His great entrance into His final week was on a donkey? For most of you, I’m assuming it did. It has always intrigued me. I’ve always seen it as an an allusion to his mother’s precarious caravan to the Bethlehem. That same carrier to the cradle, now, to the grave. I’m not theologically astute, but that is how it has always read to me.

 

Yet, still, it stopped me in my boots. In a similar, but different way.

 

 

I wondered what the crowd saw this move as. A poverty protest toward the rich Romans? Merely a matter of poor planning? Did they even care?

 

The Jews saw Jesus as the Messiah that would liberate them from Rome. His arrival in Jerusalem was construed as a kick off to the revolution. The first event that would start their glorious reclamation of city and rights and dignity.

 

But… He came in on a donkey.

No… He came in on a colt of a donkey. A baby donkey.

So small that His feet dragged easily on the gravel below.

 

What?

 

When Kings conquered cities they charged through the front gates on giant steeds. Like Clydesdale size. It was a mark of pride to hover above others on such a powerful beast, it mattered greatly to royalty.

 

And then you have the most anticipated King of all time riding in for his big moment on a tiny little donkey. What kind of King does that?

 

The king that also washes crusty toes and caresses leper skin. The kind that doesn’t care what He looks like. The kind that thinks spectacles are for Salesmen not Saviors. The meek like. The this isn’t all about me king. The we’re in this together king. The king ready to lay down his life for crooks and liars despite what the world thinks. The king that eats with cheats and whores and children. The king that empties all of himself- all of his love, all of his grace, all of his energy, all of his strength, and all of his blood on behalf of a guilty world.

 


 

The king that says, “this donkey, that Hill, these people, those people, these nails, that whip, this strangling, this whole frothing world. This is worthy of my death.”


 

 

That’s the kind of King that makes me weak at the knees.

What say you?

RR

 

Does Jesus Really Love Jeff Chu?

15818238A month or so ago, I was honored to receive an advanced copy of Jeff Chu’s new book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.

 

I knew I would like this book right off the bat, because it held the promise of wandering stories stitched together into one. A mosaic of christians trying to figure out faith as best as they can. As for me, I’m kinda burnt out on Christian theology and poll numbers, I like to hear directly from the folks that have some skin in the game. I like to see my story reflected in theirs.

This is Jeff’s pilgrimage across America and he’s trying figure out why so many who worship the same God can have such strong disagreements on the issue. Along the way he starts to understand, for perhaps the first time, what the church really is and what his faith really means.

Yet, he doesn’t make it all about himself. Not really. He approaches this as a pilgrim searching. He allows all of us to get lost in the heartbreak and joy of so many. To absorb them just as he has.

There is a story of lesbian soccer coach at a Christian college, fired from her job after she came out, and then embraced by churches all around town. There is a rather depressing, albeit honorable, story of a celibate gay man in the later stages of life, trying to figure out where God fits into his loneliness. There is a story of a mixed orientation marriage, the gay spouse describing sex with his wife as an, “acquired taste, like olives.” There is renegade LGBT newspaper at a conservative Christian school. There is Jennifer Knapp, there Is Ted Haagard. And there is Mr. Phelps.

Yes, you read that right, Fred “God-Hates-Fags” Phelps.

In the fringe crazy corner of Topeka, Kansas, inside the Phelps family fortress of Westboro Baptist Church, Jeff settles on in. This chapter may be worth the purchase alone. It is utterly fascinating. Particularly how Jeff describes the sheer normalcy of these folks.

“every member of the church we meet, except for Fred, is warm and welcoming. They’re good, easy conversationalists, chatting about everything from the Harry Potter books to photography to the movies. And they can be charmingly self-deprecating. One evening, we go over to Steve Drain’s house for pizza. “Do you want anything to drink?” he asks, opening the fridge to do a quick inventory. “We have Coke, Diet Coke, iced tea, juice, water. But we don’t serve Kool-Aid. It makes people a little nervous!”

Later on, Steve makes it clear to Jeff that he is, in fact, going to Hell.

It’s this stunning jump from man to monster that is so bewildering. Makes me wonder how someone can become twisted and evil and still human and then one day, like Megan Phelps, completely redeemed.

When Jeff and El Capitan Fred Phelps sit down, you see how strange this man truly is. You also get an inside look into who has influenced his beliefs and how he decided that the best way to spread gospel was to protest funerals of American soldiers, slaughtered children, churches and so on. It is crazy and infuriating, but interesting.

Inserted throughout the book are some beautiful gems of story. You hear from these folks directly, in their own words, and you see how God has spoken to them differently. It isn’t always like a testimony, with a world changed at the end, sometimes, it is people living like all of us do, slogging through this life hanging on to some semblance of hope.

Perhaps what I loved most about this book though, is the dignity Jeff gives to each perspective. He argues that most people that strongly disagree with one another are not bigots or Bible defectors, they are people loving in imperfect, sometimes damaging, ways. Their heart may be in the right place, even when their mouth is way out of line. They all are fighting for one another to save one another from the lies they believe the other has bought in to. Sometimes, that effort turns bitterly ugly. Like the Phelps’s who think that carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” may wake people up to God’s judgment and save themselves. Jeff once refers to the words we use as physical things, like bricks, we can either pave a road or build a wall. (or chuck one at our neighbor’s head, I would add.) An analogy that is fully applicable to today’s conversations.

 

If you are gay, you will hear your own story in this book, or at least something similar to it. It will mess you up in the way a good book does. You’ll ask more questions, you’ll open palms flat below the sky waiting for answers like manna, you’ll feel a wonderful euphoria of empathy.

But this isn’t just for gay folks. Hardly.

There are stories of pastors wrestling through all the muck. Trying to bridge their beliefs and their commandment to love. Trying to figure out how their jobs, their future plans, their role as leaders is going to change with progress towards equal marriage. Their struggle is important too.

And not to spoil the ending, but…

Yes.

Jesus loves Jeff.

Just like He loves you .

Just like He loves me.

RR

For the Closeted Ones

uscg_photo_2_signaling_for_help

 

I’m writing this for the closet LGBTQs, but in a way, I’m writing this for myself. When I was where you are, alone in agony, I wish someone would’ve written to me. Just a word from a world where there were others. A red flare far out in the dark.

 

And maybe your story is a lot like mine. Maybe you need these words more than I need to write them…

 

Maybe you heard it first at age nine from the front row pew. Your pastor said it in ten seconds and it felt like hell and hate hurling down upon you. Maybe you heard it in the car with James Dobson declaring to the nation, to your family, that perverts like you don’t get to have God. Maybe you heard it in everything that went unsaid.

 

Maybe you opened the Book and saw six or so verses with their crushing words, leaving your soul cracked wide open. Maybe you read them with a lump in your throat and tears down your face and trembling hands. Maybe a part of you died.

 

And the message was received, loud and clear. You cannot be known, because you cannot be loved. You will not be welcomed. You will not be saved. You will lose everyone you care about. You will be thrown away.

 

So you ran backwards. You receded down deep, laid thick bricks all around you to keep everyone out. You believed it all was true and you believed that hiding was protection.

 

For me, for a long time, I believed them too. I believed God could care less. I believed that the only way I would be loved and get my pardon from Hell was to be straight. I believed that sometime, long before memory, maybe as a toddler, I chose to be gay, because that’s what the Church folk said. This is merely a matter of choice.

 

I believed it fully in my decaying heart, until late one night, at my lowest point, He told me something different.

 

It was 1 am and I was below the stars wrapped up in the backyard hammock. I was hyperventilating- violently. Cries were choked out and breath was cut short and I was all past hope.

 

I asked Him how His people, His followers, His body, could be so cruel and tough and severe. Why are you like that? I spat. Why do they say You’re on their side? Why am I even here? Why can’t I be your child? Why won’t you take me?

 

I threw wild swings in the dark, imagining His face was right in front of me. I knew He was there, I believed it, but I was completely convinced that He didn’t care a bit about me.

 

He hated me and I was all past hope.

 

But in the middle of the madness, in the swinging and the cursing, a sudden seam was stitched. A bridge built between my before and my after. A moment that changed everything forever.

 

It came quietly, like the first drops of rain, gentle and cool. It was five words and they were the sweetest ones ever spoken to me.

 

“I am not like them.”

 

I was struck and lulled and captivated all at once. I lost my breath and my arms fell limp to the grass below. I placed my hand over my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut. I listened to it echo through my soul. Reverberating. Over and over, again and again, until it matched the rhythm of my returning heartbeat. I am not like them. I am not like them. I am not like them.

 

The great I Am heard me. Saw me. Spoke to me. Came to me.

The great I Am is not like them.

 

The cries and moans didn’t cease, but they came from a different place. A source of pure joy and adoration and peace and I hang onto this memory with all that I have because it is all that I need. I am His love, I am His joy, He likes me and He loves me and He saved me.

 

He reached out and wrapped His big arms around me and it was like He had waited forever for this.


 

He Loves me… and He loves you too whether you believe or not.

It’s true.


 

I know how that word sounds. Love. Every time someone said it to you, it never felt real because they didn’t know that part of you. If they did, they would have never said it.

 

Listen, if you’re going to hear anything from me, hear this.

 

That’s the monster in the closet talking. The enemy will tell you anything and everything to keep you there. To keep you ashamed. To keep you afraid. Away.

 

But God loves you. He loves you. He loves you. Say it. Out loud. He loves you. He loves me.

 

When God formed you, he named you Masterpiece. Did you know that? Not just another work of art, but the very best thing he ever did. When He came to dwell, he made his bed in the margins. In the closet.

The very ones despised by the religious order were the ones He identified with most. Those were His brothers and sisters. Those were His friends. Those were the ones that got Him. He is with the beaten beside the road. He is with the hurting. He is with the accused. He is with the LGBT soul drowning behind the closet door.

He has carved your name in His palms. He has counted the number of hairs on your head. He thought of you first. He loved you first. He made you on purpose. He gave you a heart and a soul and a mind and breathed life into all that you are.

 

You are the best thing He has done. He has so much pride in you that it borders on embarrassing affection. He is fond of you. He fawns over you. He loves and He likes you.

 

And I believe, more than anything, he wants you to know that..

 

God is not straight and God is not gay,

He is above all the labels, He is only Love.

 

The head over heels, can’t shut up about it kind of love. He feels this for me. He feels this for you. He’s waiting, desperate and still, for you to grasp that, and then maybe, to grasp Him.

 

RR

Grace to Breathe

Boy Rising from Swimming Pool

The sun is hot which only exasperates things. I just finished whipping through the afternoon playing basketball in the pool and I’m resting with family friends. It’s spring break and, for whatever reason, this small oasis has drawn much of our Minnesota network to this teeny corner of Orlando. For the most part, it’s great. After coming here for so many years it is starting to feel like a vacation home, a luxury I know, but at least its familiar and we’re all comfortable and I should, but I don’t, feel like apologizing for that.

Most of my parents’ friends know all about me except for a few and its not that we haven’t told them because of who they are or what they necessarily believe, the timing just hasn’t been right. In any case, I am sitting by the pool talking to my Mom’s friend, my former tutor, about the new Pope. She goes on about how much she likes him and I agree with her, and she goes further about her concern for the environment and global warming and I agree with her even more. And there’s this common ground that is felt whenever like-minded people meet.

 

“But ya know. If he goes too far… Like. If he says its okay to get abortions or if he says okay to be lesbian or gay. I’m done.”

 

I’m unsure as to whether she was done with Christianity altogether, because she’s definitely not Catholic, or if this was her way of saying she was done liking Pope Francis. In any case, her words didn’t wound, they sneered. And I felt my eyes narrow and I began to clear my throat and throw on my pre-emptive strike smile, because yes, I was Pissed Off.

I don’t wish to be anyone’s deal breaker, for anything. Especially for Christ. Especially because of who I am.

 

Sometimes, I wish all conservative Christians would have one gay kid in the family. I think we’d all understand and love each other better.

 

Before my claws protract and tongue puts a point on, another of my mom’s dear friends, a participant in the conversation, fully informed about my secret, interrupted and did exactly what, in my cool headed state, I would ask her to do.

 

“So, like, what does it mean to be a Jesuit Priest? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of that before.  It sounds interesting!”

 

Her question disarmed me and the conversation led to some lovely dialogue about oaths of poverty, even if I did grit my teeth for minutes after.

 

What I needed in that moment was an unbelievable amount of grace. Unbelievable amount. I understand the argument, “well what if she was talking about black folks or Jews?” but I have to reckon with the world I find myself in and I’ve made it a commitment to not shut any one out. My former tutor, had she known about me, would probably rethink things a bit and would definitely not come out the gate with that confession.

breathe

More importantly, I think as sexual minorities, we get justifiably defensive at thoughtless words tossed to and fro in the day to day convos. We get hit and we wince and all we want is war. We get frustrated at the folks with families and standing who have no idea how much they take their acceptance for granted. And when they talk down about people like you, yes, it feels like getting stung by so many bees.

But in those moments, we need people to distract us! The best thing our friends can do in conversations like these is provide a diversion before we say something we truly regret. For example, I let it slip that I can’t call myself an evangelical because, “they are so hard hearted.” I can’t tell how much offense she took to this, but in any case, I said it.


And, of course, we need advocates out there fighting for us on the daily. But we also need advocates that will hold us back from a fight when we need to. We need friends to look us in the eyes and ask if this is the hill we are willing to die on.


Because, normally, I will leave the conversation after its run its course, and I’ll remember that my tutor is a lover of Jesus and the planet and the poor. I’ll remember that she likely knows no gay people. I will remember that she is my sister in Christ. I will remember that she has no idea that I am gay. I will remember that the memory of her words, once she finds out about me, and perhaps, in twenty years when she changes her views, will be enough of a punishment for her.

 

And she’ll need me to forgive her. Which I’m ready to do now. Which would be harder to do if I fought and pushed her away.

 

Sometimes, biting your tongue is the best way to do grace.

Sometimes, its best, for friends to hold us back from ourselves.

 

Grateful,

 

RR 

Jesus as the Last Adam

Detail Showing Face, Gears, and Hands from Version of Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti

45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.” – 1st Corinthians 15:45-49 (NIV)

Strong’s Concordance

1st Adam- “Author of our Woe”

Last Adam- “Messiah, Redeemer”


 

The first time I broke my mom’s heart I was 15, red eyed and feeling last night’s buzz. I would like to say I came clean out of conscience, but truth is, my conscience was coerced by my big brother. He caught me red-handed slurring words right before dawn. It was maybe 3 am, I can’t remember- I was drunk, but I do remember him standing at my parent’s bedroom door, hand on the knob as I begged for mercy at the foot of the stairs, stammering out whisper screams, No! No! No! No! Please! Please! Please! Please!

In an act of grace or pity for my pathetic groveling, he gave me the next 24 hours to tell my folks, which I did… at the 23rd hour. It was a whimpering moan of I am soooo sorrrry!!! And my mom cried and cleaned out the liquor cabinet for the trash. It was a difficult realization for her- me passing into the caustic climate of this world. Losing innocence in just one night.

But they extended me grace. I wasn’t grounded or punished at all, because well, it was my first time doing it and we all figured the curiosity was satisfied.

One of my friends, a fellow Christian, argued that it was actually harder for us to resist temptation. We grew up in the evangelical tradition which said that sin is horrible but super easy to erase. Simply bow your head before your bed and ask Jesus to forgive you. Problem solved because he wanted to forgive us and we wanted to be saved.

And this seemed to be the way faith played out at a young age. Like punching in and out of the clock at work. Just paying quick dues. Little by little as we grew up and eventually passed on into heaven. Just ask for forgiveness because it is there, ripe for the plucking.

We were young and stupid and didn’t grasp grace.

~~~

If we take the creation account literally, Adam built up an unbreakable wall with the bite of an apple.

While I find myself skeptical of the creation story being completely non-fiction, I am drawn to Adam and Eve and God’s intimacy. Genesis captures some truly moving auras of the three meandering below the garden trees, perhaps hand in hand. Perhaps sharing meals over a fire and under stars on soft grass. Maybe they would sing and dance and fall in love every day for the rest of time. Maybe it was perfect.

But then there’s a betrayal and a breaking heart and a sudden departure. Everything ruined. Beyond fixing.

But God speaks a soothsay, a haunting word for Satan the Serpent. A redemptive one for us. Jesus is coming to crush you. Jesus is coming to save you. All will be back.

To me, it is both beautiful and terrifying and I don’t know if I will ever understand the God of the Old Testament. But I do understand something about Justice, and I do believe that part of Christ’s call here on earth was to take the bullet for us. To endure the most painful punishment for generations of sin past, present and future. That His body became a shield and His blood sprayed like grace. And the wall came a tumbling down.

Jesus is the new and last Adam, which essentially means He is free will lived righteously. Adam is the grandfather of our flesh, Jesus is the father of our souls. These two become knit in our atonement through Christ and we are no longer descendants of Adam, we are first descendants of God. Adam broke the law that God gave and we continue to walk in the outlaw spirit. But the difference now, is that the legacy we live in is of Jesus. As Paul says, “sin is no match to grace.” So despite our screw ups, what we once were, even when we’re consciously aware that we’re sinning, God’s blood is enough. The sacrifice has been made.

So, recap: Adam fell, Jesus picks us back up: Grace.

So often we belittle grace to sayings like, “I’ll give you a grace period” without really understanding that grace does not have a beginning or an end. In fact, you cannot bottle up grace, you cannot plan grace, you cannot write grace down. Grace is always out of reach. It is always the next best thing you could say to someone, it is always better. We cannot lay a claim to grace, because it always above us. The beautiful gestures that we often call acts of grace, are actually just reaches for grace. Reflections of it.

It is our tried and true attempt to return to that intimacy that once felt hot like sun on the skin. Some days we simply don’t care. Some days we give up entirely. And some days we give it one more chance because this world is too screwed up to have not fallen from something so much greater. So much sweeter.

We live in this eternal emergence from Adam. From our selfishness, from stupidity, from our prejudices and bad choices. All the while grace steadily showers our flourishing souls. Drawing us higher to the Holy, inch by inch, little by little. Grace never leaves.

That is our reality now. Some may call it cheap. Some may say it’s lazy. Whether you agree with it or not, it is real. It is grace. All we have to do is accept it.

RR

Lynn Osterman and a Moving Moment for Minnesota

Yesterday, the senate judiciary committee of the Minnesota State Legislature approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, moving it forward to a full congressional vote, likely to take place later this spring.

Sometimes I get moved by political events, both of Obama’s inauguration’s for example. And last Tuesday, there was this one testimony from former Republican state congresswoman, Lynn Osterman, that really did a number on me.

In the few minutes of her testimony, she wept and her words were stifled. It was a plea to pass the bill, but more to the point, it was her unfolding story as a woman seeking forgiveness from families and friends that she had a cast a vote against early on in her career. Her vote for the Defense of Marriage Act was one of political expedience, and ever since, she has lived in constant regret over it.

As she explains, she is the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister and knows every Biblical argument in the Book against gay folks. Yet, she made this compelling, and simple statement- no one had ever questioned the love of her parents as being something sinful. That love was never sinful. It was beautiful.

 

Maybe this moment hit me so hard because her tone was taken in that familiar Minnesota mom jargon heard around here by the local ladies baking bars or exclaiming in Uff-da! Perhaps, it was because growing up gay, I never thought anybody felt anything for me. That no straight white middle class Minnesota Republican woman would ever stand before the world, weep on my behalf and ask for my forgiveness.

It was powerful and dripped with authentic sincerity. And, as the blogger, “Slacktivist” notes,

 

“I have never seen anyone who described their former support for marriage equality as an oppressive weight or burden that they were later joyously relieved to be rid of. I have never seen anyone weep with remorse and regret for the votes they cast or the words they once spoke in support of equal rights. I don’t recall seeing anyone moving in that direction at all.

 

Instead, what I have heard from those who remain opponents of equality are their descriptions of the discomfort and reluctance they feel from taking a position they often say they wish they didn’t “have to” take — their half-apologizing assurances that they wish they could say otherwise, but that as much as it grieves them they are bound by an authority that supersedes their personal preference, their conscience, their sense of what would be more loving.”

 

Thank you for bringing this conversation back to people Lynn, for bringing it back to me. From one Minnesotan to another, you’re amazing. From one Christian to another, you’re a saint.

 

RR