Grace for Francis Chan. Forgiveness, not quite yet. And that is okay for now.

hurricane-60550_640

In my life, I’ve heard a million different descriptions about the nature of grace. I’ve heard it referred to as unearned love, like a fat tip for the server. I’ve read Brennan Manning who described it as being “seized by the power of great affection.” And the other night I finished Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies, and she said:

 

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.

 

The other night I found grace at the door of my anger.

 

It was my birthday night and I was in an argument with my brother over Francis Chan. A really bad argument. My brother is a pastor and I tend to lug all my spiritual baggage to his feet, perhaps unfairly, hoping he’ll help me sort it all out, maybe empathize with me, expecting him to try his best to not do that Devil’s Advocate crap he does.

 

But when I told him just how furious I was with Francis, that’s exactly what he did.

 

The whole thing started as a small crack in the heart, as it always does. After I watched the youtube video, I tried thinking of plausible reasons for why my beloved Francis would do what he did and I urged myself to not get angry- because it’s not anything personal or intentional. It’s not as if he saw my heart laying there when he stepped on it.

 

But it hurt. And it did feel personal and intentional. I did feel wronged.

 

Here’s-What-Happened:

 

I just found out that Chan went and spoke at the International House of Prayer, IHOP as it’s commonly called. It’s a place that has a reputation for cult-like behavior, uncontrollable charismatics, and where anyone can promote themselves to God’s PR person as long as they say, “God told me this ___, in a vision, just now.”

 

IHOP is run by a man named Mike Bickle. Mike Bickle thinks Oprah is the harbinger of the AntiChrist and he also really, really doesn’t like gay people. In an interview once, he noted our departure into the “demonic realm” where the demons like to touch us. He said gay marriage is a missile rocketing straight from the pit of hell.

 

And so imagine the inner stab of betrayal I felt when Francis stood on his stage and gave the most syrupy vow of undying love for Mike Bickle. Over and over, gushingly, he said it. It wasn’t enough to attend the controversial conference, he had to embrace my enemy in the most over-the-top way.

 

I am supposed to be about forgiveness, I know that. Christians are required to forgive friends and enemies as well as once-beloved authors. But even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I’m not sure I could forgive Francis Chan. I am not nearly there. Not now anyway.

 

Having said that, I’ve also been reading Anne Lamott and I’ve been learning about the balm of grace. About the poison of bitterness. About why I need to learn to calm and nurture my choleric heart.

 

I can’t do forgiveness with Chan, not genuinely, but I can let grace come in because it comes in gently. It takes me by the hand and walks me back aways, with time, through thoughts and conversation until I can quietly see the panoramic picture. After I declared Chan blacklisted from my private Christian collection of books and wisdom, my brother pointed out that Chan, besides budding up a romance with an Ass-Hat, has also rescued many of the homeless in San Francisco, and he’s distanced himself from the Mega-Church industry. He wrote a book once that gave me a glimmer of hope that God might possibly love me.

 

But I am not a side issue to the homeless, I snapped. Neither are they to you, he replied.

 

Grace.

 

Grace is good for me and I feel it. I feel it fine-tuning things in my heart. Softening me up, little by little, one adjustment in perspective at a time, pulling me to a place where I can truly forgive not just Chan, but many in the faith that have hurt me like this. Maybe even, one day, because anything is possible, I could find it in me to forgive Mike Bickle.

 

And I’m starting to understand that we are all sort of in the same boat in striving for goodness. Chan hurting me, even unintentionally, does not make him lower than me. Me getting angry and incapable of forgiveness does not make me lower than him. We’re standing on the same ground, still, always. Even when we think we are kinder, holier, better people, it’s all merely delusion. We haven’t gained a foot on the other person. Grace keeps us down like gravity. Lifts us up like equality.

 

As Phillip Yancey once wrote:

“Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.”

 

We stand on a ground flattened by grace. And grace lifts us. And grace tends to us. And it points us the way forward, the too-long path of forgiveness, and given the space to breathe a bit, we all will make our way there. Some stomping, some skipping and some dragging their feet. No way better than the other.

GCN Reflections

8514419418_9d8b7486d3

Just like any other Christian Conference would, the GCN Conference kicked off with praise and worship.

 

The band played the most current ballads, ones that stirred up a flutter of feelings, along with the liturgical hymns that took you back in time. The lights from the stage poured over the crowd in that dark ballroom and silhouetted arms rose up in front, some clapping and swaying, some beautifully still.

 

I closed my eyes for just a moment, because I wanted to hear them. I wanted to feel them. I wanted to capture this night into memory.

 

Because there was just something about our voices singing in that room. Something so subversive. We were singing loud and passionately up to the father who loves us, in defiance to those that say he never could, with sheer freedom and abandon to put on the banner of faith. To commune as a family under God.

 

Our voices, they were struggled for, longed for, and at some point, found. Found in the friend that said I love you and I love you and nothing could ever change that, found in the God that said, I am not like them. Found in the scriptures and the stories and the still small voice, murmuring beneath our hearts.

 

Our voices have spoken three simple words: I am gay, along with four other, far more scandalous ones: And I am Christian, and in a sweeping moment, they shook others to their core, made them look to God, awoke a sudden desire to love and only love. Our voices are powerful and prophetic.

 

But, of course, we know it’s not always this way. Some of us arrived here from families, friends that warmed us with hugs and affection, but others came from a door slammed shut, a frozen front step, a get the hell out! still ringing in their ears.

 

I bring this up now because, well, I get a little teary thinking about it, but several parents came to the GCN conference with pins on their shirts that said Free Dad Hugs! and Free Mom Hugs! They stood in a prayer room where they cradled many sons and daughters in their arms, whispering love into their ears.

 

And their voices matter too- the homeless boy and the mother to many- all of us learning that this world is a place of pain and darkness and fear, but also, rushing rivers of redemption. Big arms ready for the wrapping. Love for the taking.

~

The speakers were all fantastic. There was Dr. Christine Wiley who called us to speak out the “sound of the genuine” within us, liberate ourselves from our internal oppressor, and walked proud in our mark of creation, but humble too.

 

There was Linda and Rob Robertson, and if you do know their story, you know there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. (If you haven’t, you can read it here). They are the parents that once had a deeply broken relationship with their gay son, and then miraculously were restored in it. Their son’s birthday, who died years ago, was the week of the conference. Linda at one point read Psalm 139:7-10:

 

Where can I go from your Spirit?    Where can I flee from your presence?8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,    if I settle on the far side of the sea,10 even there your hand will guide me,    your right hand will hold me fast.

And then she said:

This is a God who pursues us… Jesus is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters. He loved you before you could even love him back.

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Linda later that night. She had gotten to know my mom online and after she heard someone in the lobby call me by name, she turned to me, bewildered and grabbed me by the arms, asked: “Are you Tami’s?!?” And when I nodded, she wrapped me in a hug. There aren’t many hearts out there larger than Linda’s.

 

The keynote speech was a special one for me, because Rachel Held Evans has been my champion. She’s been a bold and attentive and loving voice to the LGBT community and a personal supporter of my little blog here. And what I want you to know about her is this: She is the real deal. If you are hoping if she’s just as kind and gracious and funny as she is in her writing, she’s all that and more. It was such a gift to meet her.

In her keynote, there was a moment where I daresay she held back tears. It was subtle and moving:

 

This morning I feel more like I’m in church than I have in a really long time. So thank you.

 

I think we all felt that way.

Because our dream of Church was so real here, almost too good to be true. We felt it in the late nights in the lounge, talking to one another about struggles we faced, loved ones who left, the faithfulness of Jesus through it all. In the moments of prayer over one another, followed by shared lists of favorite books and movies and who our first crushes were. We drank Mimosas at brunch and sobbed our way through tender conversations. We loved and we loved fiercely. And that, to me, is church.

~

I could go on about the workshops, about conversations with Matthew Vines and Rachel, about the two girls who stopped me in the lobby and told me my blog was their support system and with just a few words, validated my world forever. I could go into detail of the stories I heard, the depth of vulnerability we reached, the community that knit together so tightly. Maybe another time.

 

I will say, I got sick at the end with the flu and was so sad as I sat in the Urgent Care, knowing I was missing the final night. I paid a pretty penny for the examination, too, because it was late hours, and I was so worried because I had spent so much already on gas and parking and the hostel I stayed in and I wouldn’t get paid for another week… But as I laid awake that night, drugged up to wazoo on cold and flu meds, I thought to myself:

I would’ve paid more if I had to.

This was so worth it. 

Power and Love

martin-luther-king-180477_640

Yesterday morning I attended a church that celebrated “MLK Sunday.” It was unlike any service I’d been to before.

 

The pastor ceded the floor to racial minorities to tell their stories. To talk about the dream unfinished. How the world is still against them on the cultural, structural and institutional levels. We often mistakenly assume that racism is dead, it’s not.

 

One woman, a lawyer who has committed her life to racial and economic justice, spoke on power and love. The two forces needed to enact real change. I was utterly captivated by her grace, her conviction, her story. She motivated me to be better. To start seeing this more. To do more. To be an accountable friend in the faith and the community.

 

She played an audio excerpt of a Dr. King sermon and I was just so startled by the truth of it, that I knew I must share it here today.

You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. 

Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes) Power at its best [applause], power at its best is love (Yes) implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. 

Why I Write

alphabet-15461_640

 

It seems to happen all of a sudden. You are striding through, page after page, day after day, hardly even editing, and even when you do, the tweaking is minor. You are unstoppable, a trailblazer, a king, until one surprise hiccup comes and your fingers twitch, stop, mind statics up with nerves and insecurities and shyness and an old heavy shadow comes sweeping over you. It hisses: You? No, you are not a writer.

 

This fear has haunted every writer that has ever lived and to my understanding, it always will.

 

My typical response, when I’ve already fallen down the dark hole of insecurity, has been to inspect the mechanics, the grammar, the flow, my ability to make the words sing, the success of my insatiable desire to create invasively good prose that will lodge into the readers’ minds like a vivid memory. Like something that made them feel in a way they hadn’t in a very long time.

 

And so I study, all the best writers, all the grammar books, compare my older crisper, cleaner work with my latest ambiguous, desperate, wannabe ones, and I try to do the old stuff again, but they seem inaccessible now. Their moods, inimitable. The craft, the dream, quietly collapse into a clump of nothing. I think, no, I’m really not a writer.

 

I hunched over, frustrated, in front of my laptop the other night, trying to write out a memory, and I kept deleting and rewriting, sweating and cursing, trying and failing, eventually falling back into the chair, asking: Why am I even doing this?

 

There. Right there.

 

Most often I think the source of our writer’s block/blues/funk/frustration comes from the fact that we forget why we write in the first place. We’ve memorized all the hows of it: Keep your butt in the chair, same time tomorrow, pick a room and build a small writing habitat out of it, select the perfect playlist to give you the right rhythm, keep your finger off the delete button.

 

And, of course, all these things are deeply important, but they are also bunk if you’ve forgotten why you are writing.

 

The why is the wind in your sails (to use a forbidden cliché). The Why is what drives you to finish the dang thing in the first place. It keeps your work from becoming nothing other than work.

 

After I spoke that pinnacle question into the air, the most simple answer returned to me:

 

Because I enjoy it.

 

Because I like sharing my stuff and hearing how it reacts in the lives of others. I like hearing someone say, You know what you said in that post? Well it got me think about ___. I like the feeling of knowing I made good prose. That I plucked the right words from the thick dictionary, and dropped them onto the dance floor. It’s fun and satisfying and it’s good to know that in the mountain of crap I can write, some work really shines.

 

And I thought of some others.

 

Because I like the way it moves people.

 

At the GCN conference (an event I promise I will write about) two girls grabbed my arm in the lobby and said “you’re Runaway, right?” I laughed nervously (this was the first time I met followers from far away) and they proceeded to tell me that my blog helped them on their own journeys, and then they told me specifically which posts. And that was such a gift. It was validation. It felt so good to know that over here, in my little corner of the internet, good things can happen.

 

Because there is joy in being the “host”

 

For this reason, I cede the floor to Anne Lamott:

 

“It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company.”

 

Because it pacifies my crazy

 

A lot that I write is for my eyes only, and will not ever- EVER, be published, but in both the private work and on here, I am able to process my thoughts and feelings. I can yank them out, one at a time, and evaluate them rationally, decide how true they are. If I am insecure, I write it down, work it out into words and then read it back to myself and, without fail, the insecurity is just that, insecurity. I do the same with my doubts, hopes, and sometimes my most honest prayers. I find new ways in understanding the world and I find that it’s okay to not see it the same way as everyone else does. That this is what it means to be human.

 

Because I have a story to be told

 

I think the great inner oppressor that spooks us all is that our story isn’t that important or impactful or priceless. It is a fear that often makes me shut down on the whole writing thing for awhile. What am I saying that is any different? What makes me so special? And, my personal favorite, What if your story, told in all its’ truth, somehow makes the world worse? These things I know how to brush away. I have read enough memoirs by completely ordinary people that have left profound impressions on me to know that this is all just the inner critic. I haven’t finished unrolling my past, nor have I come to completely understand it, but deep down somewhere inside, there is a light encased in a shell, and my job is to keep cracking away at it.

 

Because I learn more about my past and it impacts my present and future

 

I was talking to someone recently about writing and how, lately, I have written really long shitty drafts only to find out, several hundred clumpy words later, what it was that I really wanted to write. What my subconscious had been holding onto for dear life until, due to my relentless typing, it let go and I saw it fall out. I saw the thing I had felt beneath all the other things I thought I was feeling. I learned a little more about my past and my present. The way I perceive the world is different now. Even in the most basic conversations. I understand how I value some words and detest others, how I hold onto to some things and brush off others, without ever realizing it. Until years later, when I try to recover it through writing.

 

This is the way I break my writing pains. What is yours? Why do you write?

~

First Part of the 2014 Book List

 

In 2013, I purchased a whole lot of books. I read approximately 1/8 of them.

 

I’m not sure how it happened. I’m sure Candy Crush didn’t help. Nor the internet in general or the moving across the country or to a different country. It seems though, at some point,  I just became too lazy and hard to please. I’d buy a book impulsively on my E-Reader, give it a go for a half hour, then check my phone to get the time, see a tweet I’m mentioned in, maybe engage for a bit, check Candy Crush, since the phone is already out, try to win that next level, check my email for no reason at all, check Facebook, stalk, stalk, stalk, stalk… and a trillion distractions later, I am fast sleep, the book, all but forgotten.

 

And I used to be such a good reader. Not many years ago, this was me on books:

 

tumblr_mbhc30MDTZ1rd08rvo1_500

 

This is me lately:

 

opknPkz

 

So 2014 is going to be different. Drastically different. Specifically, seventy-books-in-three-hundred-and-sixty-five-days-differentAnd the ones below are (mostly) the books that went unread in 2013. Then I start selecting some new ones. The promise I am making here is that no matter how bored I am, or how distracted I may be, to get each one of them done. Books need to be read. And I need to learn to keep hope in the little things.

 

Here’s the first chunk

  1. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
  2. Benefit of the Doubt, Greg Boyd
  3. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  4. The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown
  5. The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer
  6. About This Life, Barry Lopez
  7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  8. Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich
  9. Surprised By Hope, N.T. Wright
  10. Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner

 

According to the math, I have about five days to finish each book, which seems doable. Some of the ones above will be difficult, though, I have good reasons for abandoning a few, such as  the lengthy, wordy, sort of fluttering here and there book, The Tender Bar or the OVER-MY-HEAD-THIS-IS-ANOTHER-LANGUAGE work of Barry Lopez. And I might give up somewhere down the line (life is unpredictable, books can be hard) But I am going to try not to.

 

I do need some suggestions, though, for the rest of the list. What books are you reading?

 

My One Word

sky-80230_640

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, George is on the run.

 

His friends have urged him to stop. They’ve told him that God loves the slave that stays under the authority of his or her master. The way Hagar and Onesimus did. This running is so much more serious than he knows; it is divinely criminal. Fantasies of freedom and reunion with wife are luring him forward, completely eclipsing the truth that his final destination is hell.

 

After ducking from town to town toward the North, George sneaks into a safe house in the dead of night. A rural post of the underground railroad.

 

Weary, but overjoyed to find his wife there in the company of such warm and compassionate people, he mulls things over at dinner one night,

 

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

 

I thought about George as I thought about my One Word.

 

I remember early last year when I began seeing some followers and fellow bloggers talking about their One Word for the year 2013. I was intrigued by it. These individuals seemed to be on some kind of journey. Trying their best to be different in the world, giving off a positive, life-giving purpose through a specific word. Gaining new understanding about life around, and, in the process, about the growth of their own hearts.

 

For those that don’t know, ONEWORD365 is a community that considers New Years Resolutions as wishful thinking. As an endless list of shoulds that in December are so important and necessary and doable, but by March, are hard to remember, scattered in the shuffle of Life. Their alternative to this is to follow one word throughout the entire year.

 

Words have a density to them. A historical wake. They are understood differently depending on the location, generation, or season of life of the hearer. They have a thousand different angles. Roots the length of centuries. A word can be spoken and studied and lived out for 365 days and even then, there are still great depths left unexplored.

 

I have gone back and forth, perhaps too much, over which word I would pick. I have debated between the specific and the general, the easy and the difficult, the spiritually lofty and the everyday practical. I started jotting down words weeks ago. The list was very long. So long that I began to worry my subconscious was trying to get an urgent message out about the need for some major renovation of the soul. I began dismissing the idea altogether.

 

But then, the other night, I crossed over some invisible red line and fell into a hole of unsafe people, a group of newly reconnected friends that did not know what they were doing to me. I’ll spare you the details, although if you follow me on twitter, you perhaps already know them. If you don’t, then just imagine me stuck in a box filled with booze and blunt opinions and someone shaking it wildly as I try to push my way out. Imagine me standing still by the apartment window waiting for my ride.

 

On day One of 2014, I woke up with bags beneath my eyes, a metallic taste on my tongue, and the realization that what I needed were boundaries.

 

I’ve long known this. It’s a thought that has been quietly lingering in the back of my mind. This past year, some conversations have affected me for too long, too many articles have left me foaming at the mouth, 140 character tweets have come at me like left hooks. But at the same time, the word “boundaries” has always carried a kind of uneasiness for me. I have always understood those with boundaries to be a burden on me. I must be trustworthy. And safe. Perhaps to a fault. I must meet impossibly high expectations with constancy lest the whole relationship unravel, and the blame, of course, will be on me, fair or not, it does not matter.

 

And I’ve also criticized boundaries with the Bible. I have pointed out that we are, after all, called to live in community: stand with one another, even our enemies, the only exception to this being that vague commandment to live “in, but not of the world” (and who knows what that really means). I’ve equated true Christianity with communal living and have found that often the most Christian of places are of the most dangerous.

 

I should’ve had boundaries. The way I see it now, setting boundaries is not about becoming reclusive and closed off and unavailable to most. It is not about disconnecting from the world. It’s not loading expectations on those trusted inside. Keeping boundaries simply means no longer broadly opening myself up to any and all people, without a thought to how they might wreck me inside. It means spending a few extra minutes mulling over the who what where and why of my evening. It means silencing that inner voice that says self-care is for the selfish.

 

And I think this extends to the internet as well. I don’t think it is healthy for me to check the Gospel Coalition every now and then, because more often than not, I find something very sad, or infuriating, and I cannot handle it. I have imaginary squabbles with writers a world away, and I know it doesn’t matter, but I cannot break out of it. I might benefit from a boundary there.

 

On twitter, I think this means starting to understand that there are people behind the brutal tweets. Stand up to them, sure, but their ideas first and foremost, their tone, too, but a boundary needs to be set between critiquing positions and attacking people. A line I have crossed too many times. Hurt too many with uncontrollable retorts.

 

I also need boundaries against myself. I am someone with a tendency toward self-destruction when I feel anxious or angry or wounded. I am lousy at coping. It is well documented. The other night, when I found myself in the lonely corner of a party, I quietly refilled my drink so as to feel things less. I know better than to nose-dive into drinking when I’m hurt. But I did it anyway. So easily. As if it were bound to happen.

 

I stayed at a couple friends’ apartment down the road and the following morning, one of my best friends and I sat sobering me up on coffee and talking things through. He’s the kind of person that does not know how to judge you, and yet, lives his life in such holy example. No bent toward self-righteousness, a truly rare kind of person. And we talked about safety and leaning on one another. We talked about our dislike for the word “accountability” in Christian culture, but also noted that, sometimes, it’s affirming to have others hold you to your highest self. Even if that just means being a listening ear the following morning. A phone call in the middle of the night.

 

Even though my head was sore, my heart battered up, despite my feeling all the feelings, I had a friend sitting across from me who made me feel Safe. Enough. Okay. It was morning. We were drinking coffee. We were laughing. He was helping me sort things out within a safe enclosure, the only place I could. And I found a kind of healing within the boundaries that I had been missing.

 

I considered George’s “golden cloud protection.” I thought about how my own family and friends have continually made spaces safe. How it is often, in the comfort of safe people, that the presence of God is most intense. The crook of shame is shoved out. The sense of self grows. The inner tendency toward destruction weakens. And I can rest. I can recover. That morning I left the house with a plan for my day, a vision for the following the 364, a dream of a year laced in gold.

~

My Word for 2014 is Boundaries– What is yours?