There’s a Baby Coming, I’m in the waiting room!

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There is a baby coming. We don’t know his name or the color of his eyes, but I bet it’ll be Wyatt and his eyes deep blue.

 

We’re in the waiting room. The grandparents-to-be are lounging in leather chairs after a long eventful night spent between excitement and exhaustion. One of them has nodded off and the other three are close to.

 

They’ve been waiting here for hours, but in a way, they’ve been waiting for years. Waiting in line, watching their friends become Nanas and Papas, celebrating with them at showers and dedications. Stomping with impatience at home.

 

And it’s my first time being an uncle. And I am absurdly excited and terrified. At the very edge of falling apart.

 

And now he’s about to cross over, come out, breathe air for the very first time. He’s going to cry out loud, like a baby does, and my brother will too. They are my family and if there is anything anyone knows about this family it is that we will cry at the opening of our town’s Walmart. We are sensitive, sentimental, always at the edge of tears, and not a bit ashamed about it.

 

A tear cried happy is like an act of justice. Like a small offset to the sadder times. They come in those moments where you are so filled with joy and bliss and delight that it all becomes too much and spills over in laughter and hugs and so much kleenex.

 

I’m dreaming about this little nephew of mine. Thinking about how fast this world is changing and wondering what kind it will be when he charges all in. Where he’s going to land. What wild colors he will paint it with. What his very first memory will be. The places his boots might take him.

 

My mom reminded me that even after this boy is born, brother and sister-in-law are going to want some privacy with him. I looked at her, with feigned shock and replied, “this baby belongs to all of us. I know my Uncle rights.” And obviously, a joke, but in a way, this baby does belong to all of us.

 

He’s pushing his way into this family and we all have our roles to play here. We share a responsibility to serve his childhood well. Prepare him for this life. Encourage him to dream dumb, impractical dreams. Take him out for joy rides. Take him fishing. Take him seriously when we need to. Let him play when we don’t.

 

Teach him about a Jesus-God that loves him more than any of us ever could.

 

And that’s all for now, This kid is going to be the subject of so many more posts and while I would like to wrap this up sweetly, with some sort of cathartic last line, I won’t. These are just my continuing thoughts as I wait in the waiting room.

 

And we’re still waiting for him. Anxious and smiling and flipping our heads to the door every time the handle turns.

 

We’re waiting for you buddy. Hurry up please.

 

To be continued.

 

RR

“To Be Who You Know You Are”- Nathan Kennedy [Love Letter Series]

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Quick note: I changed the title of this series from “Open Letters” to “Love Letters”. Initially, the word Open meshed well because it flowed with my original post Open Letter to the Closeted I now know that the term “Open Letter” can carry some negative connotations. A lot of times it is a public indictment of someone or some institution that is meant to point out something the recipient of the letter has done wrong. And many times, they are justified.

But that doesn’t really fit this series at all. This is about loving others as you love yourself, empowering individuals to love themselves. That’s what this is.

~

Nathan Kennedy is an incredible writer. He is gay and he loves Jesus. I met him through twitter and then got to hang out with him over G + Chat. The piece you are about to read is both emotional and intellectual. It is understanding and poignant. It is one of my favorite reads yet. Seriously.

To read more from Nathan, check out his blog Petrychor.

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A middle school civics project once had me research the life, teaching, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was then that I had met one of my personal heroes, someone with whom I could identify, emulate, and look to for guidance. His ideals and his witness for the cause of racial and social justice seared into my imagination indelibly; I had found my first instance of an ideal of moral conviction and action. This project culminated when a local minister, the pastor of one of the community’s chief African American congregations, invited me to give a speech at his community’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. The invitation and the experience humbled and exhilarated me. At age thirteen, a lily-white, nerdy little middle schooler stood before a thousand strangers and preached about Dr. King’s legacy of love, tolerance, and peace.

 

And yet…

 

What nobody knew was that I had barely begun wrestling with the emergence of my gay sexuality. It terrified me more than I could say; growing up deeply religious in home and community, the tension was incredible. While I loved the experience of preaching to that congregation, it was the beginning of my feeling caught between two worlds, two equally distinct subjective realities, of being gay and Christian.

 

As long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve had at least the intuition that being Christian involves aspiring to be the best version of myself possible. Dr. King is simply an example of someone who modeled for me (and still does very much) how to become my best, fullest self through the Christian Way.

 

Therein was the dissonance. Being gay, you see, had nothing to do with my best self. My sexual orientation was “intrinsically disordered” away from Christlike, life-giving love and toward selfish, self-indulgent desires. I lost my faith as a teenager because I couldn’t reconcile these two worlds. I knew that being gay wasn’t going to go away. It seemed surer and truer than the platitudes preached in church. Thus, I decided late in high school that being Christian had nothing to do with my best, truest self.

 

I’ve since come around and reclaimed my Christian identity, and that is a story that is both very long and very much still in process. I wish to leave out a great portion of my story of struggle, not because there’s anything I wish to hide, but because to tell it would be to write an autobiography when my purpose is to share encouragement. My story’s filled with enough twists and turns to distract from that purpose, so forgive me if I leave my personal “testimony” unfinished. What my testimony strives toward is articulating how I came to see being gay as being a true and constituent part of my best and truest self – how my gay sexuality has moved me toward being more selfless, Christlike, authentic, and compassionate – and to help you to do the same.

 

In the years before my coming out, I wasn’t “gay”: I struggled with same-sex attraction. Nobody in my church community could know about it. I would bring it up in confession but that’s where it stayed. If I needed to “come out” to any of my church friends, we wouldn’t discuss it much for fear of “dwelling” or “identifying” with my flaw. Love isn’t self-indulgent, I would tell myself using different thoughts and different words every time. If you want to love, you have to hate yourself. Love is tough. Love will kill you. Love doesn’t look for self-serving affirmations.

 

The problem with struggling with being gay, all in the confines of my nice little closet, was that, in making it a “struggle”, I couldn’t see any value in it. It was a flaw. It was extrinsic to my true identity as a Christian, as a human being. It was a patch of mold on an otherwise good loaf of bread. Being closeted – feeling like I had to hide it – reinforced this idea. This is called “shame”. “Shame” is feeling like there is something wrong with you – not with your decisions, behaviors, or attitudes, but you yourself.

 

Coming out gave me the freedom to stop “struggling” with being gay and to start struggling with being human. Once I let go of shame, I was free to start focusing on becoming who I actually want to become.

 

For me, this means finding the confidence that being gay is no flaw at all. I’m sure many of you might disagree with that; acknowledging you’re gay is one thing, but acting on it through a romantic partnership is another. Who am I to second-guess your conscience? Who am I to tell you that what your faith tradition has taught you is wrong? If you have chosen the path of celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage you have my support, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye about the acceptability of same-sex partnerships. But I want you to know, that even if you believe that sexual or romantic actions with a person of your same sex is sinful, your attractions themselves aren’t. It is very important that you should know this. Consider it a challenge to Christians of either side of the debate to understand how if Christian tradition is correct, being gay is even then not a flaw.

 

It’s important, understanding how completely okay it is to feel the way you do, to have the attractions you have, and to want to love the way you want to love.

 

It’s important, because I’m sure that you have an idea of who you really want to be, the “best version” of yourself. You see this person hinted at in the heroes you have chosen and in the ideals to which you strive. You see it through Christ himself. And your sexuality is important to becoming that person.

 

Your sexuality comes from the deepest, most intimate center of your being. It’s the part of yourself that stretches out in search of connection, in search of intimacy, because that part of yourself knows that you have something to give. Your sexuality exists because you have something to give – and in giving that, you make the world the better place. You bring about new life, regardless of whether or not you have ever or will ever have children. You should never fear it, be ashamed of it, or want to get rid of it, because your sexuality is a part of the gift you have to give to the world.

 

Your sexuality exists because God made us to need people and to be needed by people.

 

This is true whether you realize that your best self should arise through a romantic partnership, or if you realize that your best self should arise through celibacy. Every relationship you have, whether it is family, friends, teachers, employers, coworkers, etc., is in a very broad sense “sexual”. “Sexual” doesn’t mean “genital” or “having sex” – it means “relational” and “reaching out for the other”. You are a creature of relationship and your sexuality is beautiful. Your queer sexuality is beautiful. It’s beautiful because you are beautiful – you are beautiful through your sexuality. Being straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a crucial part of what you have to give to the world. If you embrace it – if you embrace yourself in the very deep and intimate part of yourself – you are saying yes to what you have to offer.

 

It took me a lot of hard and painful lessons to realize this. It’s so easy to repress it out of fear and shame, or to turn it on itself by being a libertine. But to embrace it – to embrace your fundamental drive for love, relationship, intimacy, and connectedness – is to embrace your identity as a person of love.

 

Because, in those moments when we’re told by our own self-criticizing voices about the toughness and painfulness of love – sometimes given us by our own churches and families – we absolutely must remember that love is patient, and love is kind, and it keeps no record of wrongdoings (1 Cor. 13).

 

Love does not default to pain and suffering, but it goes there if necessary.

 

This is my challenge to you, whether you are in the closet or not: be who you know you are. Be everything you are. Being yourself takes courage, and it means discovering things about yourself that will shock and amaze you. You are stronger than your realize. You are more beautiful than you think you are and your sexuality is a part of that beauty.

 

Be brave. Be strong. Be who you know you are.

 

Love,

 

Nathan

 

 

Out of Hibernation

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I drove to the lake today because it is SPRING, at last. A part of me felt relieved when I got there. In my spiritual hibernation, when days were short and everything was cold, when I ran from the Living Lord, because everything felt cold, the possibility of a day at the lake seemed like a world away.

 

I drove to the lake and it was a sing song morning. The trees were growing green, the water was turning turquoise, the geese were zooming across the surface, splashing and honking out ugly hallelujahs.

 

I think, in this past season of sulking, winter wasn’t the only spell on my soul. For awhile now, I’ve been tuned into every twitch, every moment that makes me run from church, and I’ve grabbed onto them, held them close in defense of my desertion.

 

And there has been a lot of rickshaw religion, a lot of sermons and subculture summons that have left me feeling bloody and bruised and bitter. But, the problem is, their imperfections have been like dust in my eyes. They’ve been like a thick fog, a rising wall between God and I. And whether or not it’s my fault or theirs doesn’t matter anymore. The veil has sewn itself back together. God and I are not one.

 

This morning I read from Brennan Manning. He wrote about his meteoric rise to the pulpit, how he became intoxicated with applause and praise. How when it all fell apart, he needed to replace it with something, anything, so he uncorked the bottle and stayed drunk for a long time.

 

When he hit bottom, hard, he swallowed his ego and pride and one last sip, and then checked into Hazelden Rehab Facility.

 

As the alcoholic fog lifted, I knew there was only one place to go. I sank down into the center of my soul, grew still, and listened to the Rabbi’s heartbeat.

            What is the purpose of this disclosure? For anyone caught up in the oppression of thinking that God works only through saints, it offers a word of encouragement. For those who have fulfilled Jesus’ prophetic word to Peter, “Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times,” it offers a word of liberation. For those trapped in cynicism, indifference, or despair, it offers a word of hope.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The way he related to Peter is the way He relates us. The recovery of passion starts with reappraising the value of the treasure, continues with letting the Great Rabbi hold us against His heart, and comes to fruition in a personal transformation of which we will not even be aware,” – Brennan Manning, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat

 

I folded up my book and looked back at the lake. Watched the birds catching their breath. Listened to the swishing and crackling of spring swimming and shooting back to life. I realized that seasons all fall under the same Sun and Sky and Moon. That how we feel, what we’re told and how we react doesn’t change a damn thing about Jesus. He is a rock, a stream of love that will never ever go dry.

 

And even if I can’t move much. Even if my prayer that morning lasted less than a minute. There is a comfort I can take that my fleeing didn’t change his affection towards me. That my momentary fire, dowsed as I drove back home, is the exact opposite of his yearning for me. That he is always there, close as my breath, stubbornly chasing me down in love.

 

I’m not ready to reclaim this faith yet because the dust, the fog, still hurts my eyes. But I’m getting there, with every slow visitation, He’s wooing me. And it may look different in a million ways than it did before, but that love, that most-important-thing-above-all, is gripped and rooted through and through in my heart.

 

Little by little, I am feeling it.

 

RR 

Stories Still Matter

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On Wednesday afternoons the teachers and I gather in the math room for a meeting. It’s a weekly checkup- planning for spring graduation, roll calling classroom budget requests, announcing directives from the district, and, at last, a fast undoing of our zip locked lips.

 

We vent. Like chimneys we vent hot and ugly.

 

We love these kids. We really really do, but sometimes, I will say, they are a bit much. We would speak sense into them all, but a quarter of them show up stoned. We would ask them to not cuss us out, but then they just claim the first amendment. We would write it out on a note, all of these things we wish they would change, but it would probably take too long for them to sound out the words and they’d get bored and go back to facebook.

 

Sometimes we’re angry, most of the time we’re sarcastic with impressions and always, we end up worried. Carefully we comb through the grades of each student, discuss what we’ve heard in the halls about home, sigh over the drugs and the pregnancies, struggle to inspire suggestions as to what we can do about any of it.

 

We are the verbally abused, broken-hearted, care-too-much crew that cannot understand why we try so hard.

 

Throughout the seven-hour day we will be called bitch and motherfucker and occasionally get hit with a threat or two. We will hold ourselves together as best as we can, pushing the pencil back across the desk, stomping down the hall to cool ourselves off, inserting cordial words when we want to flip the hell out.

 

And sometimes, this works.

 

They are disarmed by our charm and unflinching smiles, and they sink back into their desks. They fuss and fuss but in the end, they usually get a little bit done.

 

But when they don’t, when their fury becomes rock hard cone of silence, it usually means something happened. After a lot of patience and space and private sit-downs, it will emerge out of their dirty mouths. It will make us clench our teeth tight, snap pencils on accident.

 

She’s pregnant again. The gang’s got him cornered. Mom won’t get out bed. Dad was thrown back in jail. Nobody listens to me. Nobody loves me.

 

It’s when I’m knee deep in devastation like this that I finally understand the meaning of story.

 

In the blogging world we sometimes dismiss story and a lot of times, it is justified. Like today, a favorite blogger of mine, Danielle, who writes at From Two to One, has been frustrated by the corruptive use of story. You can read her brilliant post here. And I agree with her. “Story” can be a tool of emotional manipulation to sneak in some theological statements here and there. Many times I have found myself at the fighting end of someone else’s “story” because sometimes it’s only a safe, criticism-free way to advance misogyny or capitalism or anti-gay sentiment. And sometimes, I am just as guilty of it.

 

But story, if told truthfully, is the bedrock of community. It is relationships in their first dawn-of-creation form. We allow others to Know us, a risky move that can reward us with love like we’ve never seen. We liberate people from heavy shame when they find out that there are others out there. Story is gospel like Jesus is love. It is Good News to give empathy and encouragement. It brings people inside with no one outside, because the one thing we all have in common is history.

 

And that’s never been as clear to me than when I am standing at the center of teenage misfits.

 

A few weeks ago one of our teachers gave a poetry assignment to her class. For most of the quarter, these kids had done zero work and given her zero respect, and at this critical, but cynical stage, she just wanted them graduated and gone. She just wanted to do her job.

 

On the due date, to her surprise, they all filed in with loose-leaf paper clutched in their hands, taking their seats soberly because she had made some suggestion that they read them out loud and they all looked nervous about it. Halfway through the hour, from down the hall, I saw her step out. She was trying to clear here throat, fidgeting with her hair as she walked briskly to the teacher’s lounge. I sensed there was something off so I followed her in. I found her leaning against the bookshelf in back, choking down a cry. I asked if she was okay.

 

“I can’t- I can’t go back in there. These kids… their lives.”

 

And nothing more was said and nothing more needed to be.

 

She could’ve almost been expressing what one feels when their loved one is dying. It was all in that hopeless hunched over posture.

 

Another teacher sat in for her, and he, later on, also came completely undone.

 

In that hour one kid talked about his addiction to prescription painkillers. One girl talked about her attempted suicide. Another talked about a father that sexually abused her since she was in preschool, she had been cutting ever since. None of the students sat in shock, all them sat in the security that shared pain brings. Darkness can only exist in solitude. Shared in a small room, it is a mass emancipation.

 

Story enhances the picture. It fills in the space between the lines. It changes the way we look at letter grades and extended absences. It reshapes what their hallway fights are really about. It makes us less hurt by all the hate hurled at us. It reforms our relationships with them, allowing us to be our brother’s keeper. Allowing them to sit back and know they’re not alone. Allowing us to catch a glimpse of the responsibility we hold.

 

Story can be a cruel way to advance an argument, yes. It can be manipulative and offensive, true. But perhaps, story is not the problem, maybe it’s the foreign subtexts. The great leaps we take from personal phenomenon to universal truth, applicable in any and all situations. Has to be applicable and if you’re not applying it than your life is wrong.

 

Story is more about bringing out empathy and understanding in the diversity of our lives. Bringing us to a place where we can talk. Where we can vent. Where we can share in a conversation over the most controversial of things and still have the capacity to care about how the other feels. Because we know their agony and they know ours. We know how to boost them back to the surface and they know how to breathe life back to our lungs. I think we are all good people when we aren’t ignorant of our own abilities to drown or to deliver.

 

Story is holding up our scars, saying yes, I have come this far, respect me as equal, love me as your brother, let me Know you too. Story, in it’s truest form, is simple. It is getting to know one another beyond gossip, small talk, email, and blog comments.

 

We learn to love, we learn to live, by the stories we tell and the stories we hear.

We cannot stop speaking in stories.

 

We just need to learn how to recognize when one is selling us bullshit,

and when one is setting up shelter.

 

And to be perfectly honest, I’d rather have mountains of bullshit out there- mountains of bad theology and ugly words and hate! If it means a million small rooms where scars are touched, filled with exhales and tears and the beginning of collective healing. Because at the end of the day, Love and Worth win out anyway. 

 

RR

Psalm 52: Flourishing

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1

“Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?
    Why do you boast all day long,
    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

2

You who practice deceit,
    your tongue plots destruction;
    it is like a sharpened razor.

3

You love evil rather than good,
    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.[c]

4

You love every harmful word,
you deceitful tongue!

5

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:  He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

6

The righteous will see and fear;
    they will laugh at you, saying,

7

“Here now is the man
 who did not make God his stronghold 
but trusted in his great wealth 
and grew strong by destroying others!”

8

But I am like an olive tree 
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love 
forever and ever.

9

For what you have done I will always praise you
in the presence of your faithful people.
 And I will hope in your name,
    for your name is good.”

-Psalm 52, NIV (emphasis mine)

 

To be completely honest, this Psalm was a little aggravating.

 

I was able to meet him half way. Once I read the whole story about who Doeg was and how he convinced Saul that a priest had betrayed him and aided his now enemy David, which was all a lie, and lead Saul to order the deaths of over eighty priests, I understood the violent, vindictive language. I understood it even more so when I learned that Saul’s soldiers refused the order, driving Doeg to carry out an extermination on his own of an entire town, including women and the elderly and children, just to advance himself into Saul’s good graces.

 

Once I knew that Doeg was to the world then what a terrorist is to us now, I was fine with David getting AT him… even though David was far from perfect himself. I was okay with the hypocrisy and the faint smell of an inflated ego, because in the end, I’m happy something was said about Doeg.

 

“But I am like an olive tree 
flourishing in the house of God;”

 

What frustrates me though, above all things, is the premise that God is always good to those who follow Him. That David, because he believes in God, is going to be just dandy. That may strike you as unchristian, but hear me out.

 

From what I have seen of this world, blessings don’t seem to fall on the good and curses on the bad. It’s more complicated than that. And it bothers me.

 

I think about Casey Anthony, who very likely killed her baby girl and yet, got off scot-free. Or O.J. Simpson getting away with the murder of his wife. I think of the thousands of innocent children dying every day from malnutrition. And the one billion in the world that lack access to clean water. I think of Newtown and the drug lords and Anne Frank and Goldman Sachs.

 

Why isn’t Casey getting plucked out of her protective tent?

Why aren’t the children of Uganda flourishing?

 

Here’s the small bit of sense I can make of all this. When I lose everything, when it seems like my life is imploding, I am able to fling out a fraught cry to God because… where else am I to go? I can’t imagine putting all of my security in possessions alone, because those can all be gone in a moment’s time. I know God as something of an anchor that I cling to tightly for hope of something changing, because I understand and I know that He is always there.

 

But I struggle to grasp how he is always good.

 

I believe there is an explanation out there- that he must be good, but I can’t make heads or tails of it. Seems like evil is so pervasive today and quite often, I’ve seen devoted Christians bear the brunt of some truly difficult heart-shattering decisions of life. Tragedies that have Shriveled families, not made them Flourish. And the whole time, I watched these poor friends recite, through gritted teeth, feel-good clichés about God’s providence.

 

This is a bit of a rant. A bit of projection. A slice of my confusion with the goodness of God.

But most importantly, these are the honest doubts that replay in my mind.

 

So help me.

What are your thoughts?

How do you reconcile God’s goodness with evil in the world?

What does it mean to flourish?

 

RR

 

~~~

The Psalms Journey community: a group of people writing through the Psalms. All posts are welcome. This is not about reaching some sort of standard. Or having the “correct” perspective on the biblical text.

This is about joining together as a community to rise up and declare the value and beauty and frustration and power of God’s Word.

(For more details, or to grab the button, click on the Psalms Journey page)

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“Speaking Up With My Friends”- Emily Maynard [Love Letter Series]

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Great writers across the blogosphere are like a few bright stars shining in the inky black sky. Rare and powerful. One of them is Emily Maynard. When I started reading her blog, I simply could not stop. She is a source of inspiration for me. A must read for me. If you aren’t a regular reader yet, fix that Right Now by clicking here.

As I’ve told Emily already, her heart is gold. She genuinely wants the world to know the love of Jesus, especially the shoved out and shut down. I feel so honored to have her voice Speaking Up here on my blog.

Lastly, take in these words with a box of Kleenex nearby. You may need them.

~

Hi Friend,

 

Emily 1I feel compelled to start with an apology, because I know the power of someone taking on the words that I need to hear and writing them out for me. I have felt the whispers of grace that come in the form of someone seeing me and offering support. I know the energy that rises when someone standing next to me grabs my hand and says “I’m sorry,” even when it wasn’t their fault.

 

What happened to you may not be my fault directly, but it is corporately. It is my fault in part because I participate and benefit from the culture that has kept you down.

 

I’m sorry.

 

What happened to you was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were told that something inherent in you was a dirty rotten choice and you knew it and you don’t deserve cosmic or human love. That’s so wrong.

 

I’m sorry people, even people in the church, said they were safe for you and then stared unflinchingly into your eyes as they led the angry mob forward.

 

I’m sorry for the things I said and did, the fear I let sink down in me, the “othering” I did to you and your life. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to publicly validate your love and worth. I was bullshitting around because I have the privilege to decide what I want to say about this “issue” and when, but it’s your life every day.

 

I’m sorry I treated you like an issue instead of a person.

 

If you need more apologies, if you want to trace your fingers over your past and name them for me, I will apologize for each one. Because you are not alone and the true words we speak together are part of the physical act of spiritual healing.

 

But if you are ready, I want to move past the apologies. Even those can set us apart, and I want to talk about the drawing together (which reminds me of my favorite cartoon).

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we also so much more than those attractions wired into us. We’re more than the shame piled on us when we step out of line.

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we’re so much more than those attractions we express. They are a part of our days, and some days they are ever so important, but other days they are the most minuscule, unimportant parts of our lives. We’re people: working, studying, crying, learning, praying, laughing, and being human. That’s what makes us people: the being, not the gay or the straight.

 

When we are being together, we are a community. We are common. Maybe we find that commonality because we’re both human, or both have crazy dreams about becoming BFF with Taylor Swift at a Rhianna show (oh, that’s just me?), or because we’re both trying to follow the same Jesus way.

 

I know that the church hasn’t been and still isn’t a safe place for you. It’s probably not the first place you think of when you think “community.” Some people there think the adjective “gay” negates the noun “Christian.” But I don’t think that. And I really don’t think Jesus thinks that, based on what is written about him.

 

It’s Jesus who shows me the power of taking on someone else’s burden and saying enough. I can’t carry you cosmically the way Jesus does, with the Spirit guiding and the Father pouring out love. But I can stand next to you. Together we can all echo the chant: this is finished.

 

This division has to stop. I hope the church, gay and straight, proclaims that Jesus alone takes the weight from us and we can stand as equals. We are equals together. I don’t think our biology or our behavior puts us outside the bounds of love.

 

Speaking of behavior, I want you to know that I don’t care who you like. I don’t expect you care who I like.

 

What matters most to me is Who loves you. (Pro Tip: it’s the Jesus God-Revelation I was talking about a few words ago.)

 

Second of most, I care about how you love and are loved. I care about whether your love is safe, growing, dedicated, fun, healthy, supportive, and chosen freely. I hope you care about those things for me, too, because that empathy is the foundation of community. It’s an action of friendship, and we both need friends.

 

I had a hard time writing this letter, Friend, because it seems to silly to have to say all this. I hesitate, as a straight and cisgender person, to tell you that you’re okay, because it could seem like I’m the one allowing you in. I’m not. It’s God who did that, who does that, by forming you and knowing you more than anyone ever could. That’s the God I worship and love, at least.

 

But I also know that I have privilege in society that you do not. I know that in some small way, my speaking up may invite others to let you in or encourage you to let yourself in. So I’m saying this: I’m handing you back your power and I will help break down the social and religious structures that say you’re not okay. There’s nothing silly about that. That is a serious, holy sort of work. It’s the work of redemption. It’s the action of friendship and community.

 

I think it’s better when we do it together.

 

Love,

Emily

 

~

Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She is a big picture thinker who gets excited about questioning, exploring, and watching people find their voices. She writes a column for Prodigal Magazine and blogs at Emily Is Speaking Up. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her nonsense and truth on Twitter: @emelina and Instagram: @emelinapdx

Truth is a Trigger

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After reading through Jonah and the Whale, he closes the Bible and gets to the point. It’s about Truth and speaking it Gracefully. Truth in Grace. A subtle unacknowledged shift from Truth in Love and even though it was different, I saw right through it.

 

He’s smiling when he tells us that it’s not the message that must change, Truth can’t change, it’s the poor packaging. We need more bubble wrapped words around our doctrinal beliefs, patterns and bows of Grace.

 

Truth is a trigger word for me. I hear it and my ears fold in on themselves and my mind packs up and travels elsewhere. It isn’t because I love lies and it isn’t because I think truth is relative. I believe that Jesus died and rose again and in some cosmic explosion, obliterated the partition between us. And I don’t believe that there is your truth and my truth. Truth is a river with no offshoots.

 

But sometimes we say it like it’s obvious and within reach. We say it without wincing when we should, oblivious to its’ impact on the audience, pretending it isn’t sunk under heavy sheets of history and interpretation and Life. And, let’s be honest, it is usually said to buffer criticism about something someone has already chosen to believe. It’s God’s Truth but it’s really just what you believe to be God’s truth. Which is fine, as long as you say it like that.

 

He says Truth and then mumbles on about Culture, which to me, through my bruised and burnt out eyes, is like cutting a commercial for Focus on the Family. It’s not, let’s seek the truth together, it’s let’s spread the truth together. Let’s march the truth out there. Let’s try to say it nicely, but WITHOUT COMPROMISE.

 

And I withdraw quickly because Truth has been thrust like a shank in me before.

 

It’s the flag, grenade and mantra of the Christian culture warrior. It is the default delivery during every political season- “Defend the Truth. Speak the Truth. Vote the Truth” And the truth is not that Jesus is Lord and King, it is that God is appalled by Barack Obama, that gays are the end of civilization and liberals are godless atheists. If you unpack it all, that’s the Truth.

 

Turns out, truth is not that narrow of a river. It is not clear and in bullet point form. It is not an ideology or a worldview or one that commits fidelity to a subculture over the hands and feet of the savior.

 

Truth is out there, to be sure, but more often than not, we’re estimating it. We scratch away at it with every question pursued to its’ end. We are surprised by it with every stereotype turned on its head. We step away from what we thought it was when we see how others read the same identical text with such different conclusions.

 

With all these scattered hearts and minds arriving messy in the pews, how can we even begin to talk about pitching Truth to anyone?

 

This word Truth, can make me squirm inside. It implodes every sermon I hear, conversation I take part in and every book I read. When one claims Truth, they lose me instantly. And I know that it’s because of the connection to culture wars, which often, is not what they’re getting at. But still. I feel it every time.

 

And one day, hopefully, it will shed all it’s baggage. It will mean something to me. The sound of it won’t send me running and missing out on the goodness that can come from the other words of others. But, like all my trip ups, this one will probably take time to overcome. A lot of time.

 

So for now. Let’s talk more about seeking the truth. Let’s look at this as an excavation. Let’s leave no stone unturned, no bridge uncrossed and no religion ignored. Let’s inhale every perspective of scripture out there. Let’s remember our history, let’s look to our future, let’s recall how claims of Truth have hurt us before and let us be slower now. Gentler. Humble.

 

“Nobody ever sees truth except in fragments.”

– Henry Ward Beecher

 

RR

Childlike Faith

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I can’t shut up about those chubby little toddlers in the daycare down the hall. So I’m going to write about them again.

 

The newest fellow, an eight month old peanut, has been stealing all my attention lately. He’s at that first evolution of life, learning about different in this world. Learning what’s fun and what’s not, making him greedy with the building blocks in the corner. Learning how to eat solid food and how to stand. Learning how to form babble sounds into words, mimicking us from time to time. He just keeps changing, growing before our very eyes.

 

And he’s fast.

Oh God is he fast. He doesn’t walk yet, but he crawls across the room at hummingbird speed. It’s scary, really.

 

These days, when I open the gate to the play area, he turns from the supervisor and is actually astonished that I’m back again. In a thousand small, quick motions, he scampers over to me. His chin is cocked, brown eyes fixed on mine the entire time.

 

Once he reaches my feet he does this thing where he rolls back on his knees and waves his fat little arms up for me to hold him. He’s wearing a dumb grin on his little face. Like a burst of bliss in his small world.

 

There is no other place where I can hold this kind of honest affection in my arms. Where I can squeeze it and become free from my own insecurity, wallowing in the wonderfulness of being wanted.

 

And these days, I need him. Between the hallways fights and the office meetings, this little guy is saving my life, five minutes at a time.

 

And every time I hold him I think of God because, in my mind, God is a kid.

An innocent, lying on a small grassy knoll beneath a partly clouded sky, imagination alive in the contours and colors of the clouds. I like to think of Him as a little girl that is above all the frivolous things we call “adult”, too busy picking flowers in a field for her mother. Perhaps a short idealist declaring to his third grade class that, if elected president, he will give us world peace. Or, maybe, just a little toddler that doesn’t rank people by their weight or height or economic status, but just meets them at their feet with his arms wagging high, his toothy smile and dimples and babble talk, all waiting to be swept up into arms.

 

And God seems to have this likeness with kids. This quality to Him.

 

When Jesus said we needed to become like little children, I’ll admit, at first, I dithered. It seemed like blind belief. Like starry eyes and shiny objects. Quickly sold. Not worrying about the rest of world withering away in poverty and slavery and tsunamis. Like a cult. Like He was asking us to abandon all skepticism. Give trust to close-lipped authority.

 

It really bothered me until I read this from the recently passed Brennan Manning:

 

“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.”

 

There’s a two year old getting locked into her high chair seat asking why she can’t hold her doll while she eat her sloppy joes. Because I said so whispers our drained daycarist. The little girl furrows her brow, crosses her arms, speechless as if to say what the hell does that even mean?

 

 

And you and I get that. Those answers that weren’t ever answers at all.

We still get it. We do it. We buy it. It’s all spoon fed.

 

 

We might say, they have yet to be overcome with the world. They haven’t been torn down the middle of life. Haven’t had to separate feelings from expressions, wedging walls and false selves. They are whole and proud and we love them for it. But, in a way, I think we long for what they have.

 

Our friends, our families, our pastors, ourselves, have a habit of harking on and on about what God says and what God wants. Yes, we all read the thousand year old texts, over and over, but we read with our elders’ eyes, not our own. We repeated the warnings about questioning Biblical authority, Meaning, our understanding of what Biblical authority means. Too often we think that curiosity, questions, will be the beginning of the end. We’ve grown tired, afraid, of trying at all.

And if only we thought like kids again. If only we asked where did God say that? Who said that God said that? To what people were they writing to? Why can Jesus break the Sabbath and I can’t so much as see an R rated movie without you breathing down my neck? Where does the sermon on the mount come in to play? What does it mean that all the other laws, everything in this whole wide world, hangs on the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor and self?

 

I thinks it’s time we thought through what it means to have faith like a child.

 

The importance of challenging the old doctrines, dusting them off for cracks. Throwing them into water, seeing which ones float. Reminding ourselves that the authors were humans, same as you and I, imperfect. Reacting with skepticism when ANYONE says they can speak for God.

 

Questions and doubts and challenges are the wine being poured in the new wineskins. They’re the faith like a child.

 

If you ask me, it is in the questions, in the resistance, that we will inevitably find our salvation.

 

RR

Psalm 51: Contrition

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“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17 NIV

 

 

(The psalmist here is praying a prayer of contrition to God. Contrition is a place of remorse for wrong behavior, thoughts and beliefs. It is a state of being.)

(The words contrite and confession and others like them have always driven me a bit mad. And I think it’s because we’ve always looked at them wrong. I couldn’t stop seeing this word in Psalm 51)

~~~

 

No, for a long time I was not interested in prayer.

 

It wasn’t because I lacked belief and it wasn’t because I was apathetic. Well, both played a little into it. But central to my dismissal, central to what kept my hands in my pockets through praise and worship and meditation and reflection was that I could not and cannot deal with a guilt trip God.

 

Yes, there were times when some big things happened and I knew I had messed it all up. I have felt the crushing weight of remorse pressing into my conscience. But, a lot of times? Maybe most times? I wasn’t sure why I should feel sorry at all. And the only honest guilt I would ever feel was just guilt for not feeling guilty.

 

Sometimes I would stand before God, wholly uninspired and, in a way, insulted. I didn’t understand why He demanded some half-hearted apology from me in the first place. Hadn’t I already done this? Isn’t this redundant?

 

How was I to ever know how much sin I had thoughtlessly spilled into this world since my last confession? Could I actually traverse through my days and recover every single one? Bring each one, with good intention, to His feet? What If I overlooked one? What would that mean?

 

With this line of thought, I did a clever little maneuver of heart and mind that always left me feeling… fine but not good.

 

I’d ask “Forgive me for all sins, remembered and forgotten” and I’d imagine a Holy touch on the heart, a new sparkling surface scrubbing out all the stains.

 

Doing that helped me sleep at night, but never really felt like anything special.

 

And it’s kind of like when you’re little and you go to your parents’ room, head down, lip stiffened, feet pigeon-toed, stammering out a sour, sorry. They knew, and you knew, that you wouldn’t even be saying it if it there hadn’t been a time-out. That if you didn’t get anything out of it, you wouldn’t be standing there.

 

So they’d ask you again, more pointedly, what are you sorry for?, and the tears would fall because you don’t want to say that you shouldn’t’ve mouthed off to them. You don’t want to say sorry at all because you still believe you are right.

 

In the end, all you got back was an acceptance of apology and a lecture on backtalk. They said, softly, you can’t talk to me like that. And with each lecture, you grew a little more out of childishness.

 

Looking back now, it seems so silly, doesn’t it? All our tantrums? How our parents must’ve screamed inside, when will they learn?!?

 

And even though my analogy may be weak, I am not saying God is as simple as parent disciplining her child. He is not wagging His finger in our face demanding a little respect. Confession is stepping back, seeing the immensity of who God is. Because I cannot enter into communion with Him until I understand that He knows better than I. That he is greater than I. Even when I believe I am right and I don’t understand. I cannot appreciate Him if I go in eyes shut.

 

Confession is not about guilt, it is about comprehending how things are. It isn’t about fear, it is about better understanding. It is about communication.

 

Confession, as I see it, is about knowing where you stand. Your sins are forgiven, the debt has been paid, that’s all over and done.

 

So why do I confess?

 

Because it’s preparation in my mind and heart for what I’m about to do. It is a preparation for Who I am about to talk to. It is about seeing myself standing before God. Sometimes I’ll imagine a small little me before the endless blue ocean. It stretches and roars and washes up on my feet. It is immaculate and full of mystery.

 

So when I think of surrender, contrition, right relationship, knowing where I stand, I look it as less of an abasement of self, and more of an opening of the eyes. Knowing it to be as true and fixed as gravity.

 

There’s no guilt in the understanding that you are imperfect.

There’s no humiliation in admitting that God is perfect.

 

This is simply what it is. You decide whether or not you’re aware of it.

 

Once I was able to grasp that God didn’t need my remorse and my guilt, but just wanted my presence, it hit me that this big and exquisite and beautiful being had once blown breath into my lungs. Pumped my heart to life. Made me into all that I am. Met me at my imperfect level. Forgave me of all that I am not. Redeemed me so he could only see me as perfect.

 

And suddenly I am looking at a perfect God that loved me so much that he actively chooses to see past how I hurt Him. A Father, a friend, with that kind of loyalty. The God that sees the best in me. Only my good, Because I am His and He is mine.

 

And I reach a place of gratitude. Feeling as natural and guiltless as gravity.

 

RR

 

~~~

The Psalms Journey community: a group of people writing through the Psalms. All posts are welcome. This is not about reaching some sort of standard. Or having the “correct” perspective on the biblical text.

This is about joining together as a community to rise up and declare the value and beauty and frustration and power of God’s Word.

(For more details, or to grab the button, click on the Psalms Journey page)

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God is Love- A.J. [Love Letters]

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I am incredibly grateful to this next Open Letter. AJ is one of the reasons I have changed my opinion about what kind of proximity the online community can bring. There were many times, many times, when I was going through difficult situations and after a quick tweet for prayer, AJ would respond, and then shoot me a direct message with words of encouragement. Most of the time- he is just plain witty and hilarious. He’s the real deal!

 

AJ also (with a bit of urging on my part) has his own blog that you can visit here.

 

This letter is one of my favorites. 

~~~

Dear Reader,

 

When RR first asked me to write this letter, I was tempted to send him the following email:

 

Hey RR, here is my post for your blog:

 

 

“God is love.”

 

 

….That’s it.  Best, AJ.

 

However, I thought that, along with being banned from ever writing on this blog again, some context may be helpful.  But really, if all you take away from this post is that God is love, it will have been successful.

 

I think people say that God is love so much that we become numb to it.  It becomes routine, dry, worn-out.  So, to help with this, I’m going to start off with a story.

 

It’s the story of why I am a Christian.

 

I was born and raised Catholic.  And like anything a person does from the time they are young, I became really good at it.  I had all the accessories: the rosaries, the hymnals, and the statues.  While some boys collected baseball cards, I collected holy cards.  I won an award for my mad altar serving skills and could tell you more about the sacraments than anyone in my grade.  Not to brag or anything, but if Church were a sport, I was on track for the Olympics.

 

Then things fell apart.  Why, exactly, is neither relevant nor helpful here, but by the end of college, I was pretty content with all that mumbo-jumbo being behind me.  Like the guy who finds the childhood basket of stuffed toys in the basement, it was a part of my life I saw as slightly pathetic and best to move past.  The rosaries and holy cards stayed in my dresser drawer, forgotten and dusty.  By the time graduation day rolled around, I was itching to set off on my new life: no God, no girlfriend,[1] and nothing holding me back from an exciting future.

 

Then the sad times started.  Like so many of us, I’ve always had my bouts with the sorrow monster, and not long after leaving my friends and the safety of college, he returned with a vengeance.  I struggled to make new friends.  I was not succeeding professionally like I had expected.  And I generally hated where I was living and what I was doing.  By the time the spring thaw came, and that first anniversary of my college graduation drew near, I was near full emotional free-fall.  And I didn’t have a parachute.  It was really, really horrible.

 

There are some moments you never forget.  It was spring day, though it was still cold.  I was working in my room when a rush of anger overcame me for no real reason.  I slammed the large book I had open shut and, looking straight ahead, I said out loud: “I’m gay.”

 

[Insert dramatic sound effect here]

 

If the statement ever had context, I honestly don’t remember it.  All I remember is the rush of words forming themselves in my mouth.  And then I said it.  And there it was.

 

Gay.

 

I’m sure many of you understand what I’m about to say next.  While this was not the first time I knew I had these feelings, this was the first time I understood this about myself.  They are very different things.  I knew how I had always felt about men, both abstractly and in particular, but a person just gets so good at lying to themselves, that it is easy forget.  I had become a master of the narrative, and it took this complete emotional collapse to allow myself to feel what I had always known: I’m gay.[2]

 

The next few years were a roller coaster, which themselves could fill many blog posts.  But, skipping to the end, something amazing happened: I learned what love is.  I had always subconsciously kept my capacity to love on a pretty tight leash, lest I love the wrong person or, worse, someone caught me loving the wrong person.  Yet, once I admitted my sexuality to myself, I found myself able to feel things anew: compassion, desire, and, most of all, love for others.  I was able to connect to people more authentically than I ever had before.  I was able to laugh with them more heartily and cry with them more honestly.  And behind all of these feelings, behind all of these joys and tears, I found something else.  I began to glimpse a transcendent essence that goes beyond human understanding underlying all of these emotions.

 

To be cliche, I found God.

 

I always get mad when people frame the conversation as “reconciling” Christianity with being LGBT, like it is some accounting error that needs to be settled.  This never made sense to me.  You see, I am not Christian despite being gay; I am Christian because I am gay.  Had I not been honest with myself and opened myself up to love, I likely never would have returned to the Church.  And I never would have experienced what God truly is, beyond the statues and laminated holy cards.

 

This is why I tell this story today, reader.  Because God loves you.  And He[3] doesn’t love you despite being LGBT; He loves you because you are LGBT.

 

As humans, we experience love in many ways.  We experience it through canoeing trips with friends.  We experience it by reminiscing with family.  But we experience it perhaps most powerfully through falling in love, in those moments when eyes meet and, even just for a second, the universe makes sense.

 

I don’t want this to become a post about what role same-sex relationships should have in Christian churches, if at all.  However, regardless of whether you feel personally called to act on your feelings, the fact remains that we, as LGBT Christians, experience love in a large part through same-sex attraction.  And regardless of all the ethical and theological issues, as LGBT people, we experience the world and human relationships largely through the lens of same-sex attraction.  And this includes relationships with the Divine.

 

Now, I’m not saying that there is a “gay way” to pray–of course not.  However, we come to the Divine as a whole person: body, soul, and mind.  And like any other person, our sexuality is a large part of who we are.  And were we to repress and deny this core aspect of who we are, if we were to shut down how we experience love, we would risk shutting down our pathways to each other.  And by denying God access to every inch of our being, we risk shutting down our pathway to Him, too.

 

So, reader, on those days when that you find yourself all a-twitter because that girl/boy looked at you in gym class, and you feel ashamed–

 

On those days when you criticize yourself for wearing that t-shirt and those jeans because of what people will say–

 

On those days when your world seems dark and empty because you are a [insert derogatory term here] and no one, not even God, could love you, take heart.

 

As I said at the beginning of this, God is love.  He is the heat that makes the calm waters of life boil over with passion, with joy, and with meaning.  He is the sun, the energy behind all of life.

 

And, above all else, He wants you to know Him.  He wants you to love others and, in doing so, love Him.

 

He wants you to love.

 

So, as you continue down this admittedly long road and discern how to best live your life, realize that the love you feel is holy and good.  And while we may debate what actions are or are not allowed as faithful Christians, we must never think that love, honest, true, and selfless love, is ever wicked. The accident of anatomy cannot make Our Lord a demon.

 

Yes, we may slip-up from time-to-time.  Because of our honesty about who we are and how we feel, we may sin.  But, if my story says anything, it’s my personal belief that loving too deeply, even if a temptation to sin, is better than the alternative.  It is better than denying yourself the ability to love at all.

 

And even if we fail, God is love–He will understand.

 

 

Peace,

 

–AJ


[1] Yes, I said girlfriend.

[2] I use gay, bi, not-straight, and LGBT interchangeably.  Don’t read too much into this–I mainly hate labels.  And, with respect, I don’t think the distinction is that important, really.

[3] To me, debates about the “gender” of God make about as much sense as debating how to count an auburn breeze.  I use He rather than She or (my preferred) It for convenience sake and because I don’t want to ruffle feathers more than necessary. But, again, don’t read too much into it.