Follow Up: The Third Way (Station)

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Well, I suppose the post from the other day was kind of an upsurge of my annoyance with how the online Same-Sex Marriage-And-The-Church conversation has been progressing- or rather, regressing. It was my way of saying: We are getting off track here. 

 

What I was addressing, which many understood (though some did not), was that there is simply not a Third Way for Church Marriage policy. Many, lately, have said there is, but every single time I have asked for an example, crickets.

 ;

There is no Third Way on Marriage Policy, but there is a Way Station and I like that term better.

 

For one, it isn’t dismissive of much of the awesome work done by the likes of the Gay Christian Network and Believe Out Loud, the work I’m trying to do here and Kimberly Knight has done there and Matthew Vines has done in his book and with the Reformation Project and the work Wesley Hill has done to build community for Side B people.

 

Secondly, it doesn’t lie about the slow evolution that happens whenever we move from one position to another. Especially as a church. Especially when we consider the delicate process of Sempre Reformanda. There is an ancient wisdom in the Church of coming together, thinking critically and praying fervently, walking in faith toward where the Spirit leads them. There is a Church tradition toward change. 

 

The Way Station is the transitory place every non-affirming church either will or will not enter into. That’s the reality. And some churches might emerge out of it with a reformed view of same-sex relationships and some churches might emerge with a more thought out, but nonetheless unchanged position. Every church is allowed their process, but it matters that they enter into it.

 

How you start.

 

An analogy that could be helpful is that of starting a garden. Stay with me here. Conversations cannot flourish in a bed of toxic, party line, untruths. To get to the conversation, you need to uproot the weeds that will choke it out.

 

There is so much misinformation about sexual minorities in church. It is so saturated and threaded through the consciousness of congregants that much of it, I would argue, isn’t even intentional. In the echo chamber of conservative churches, where congregants are most trusting of the Truth they will receive from the pulpit and one another, fabrications about sexual minorities are the only fabric they trust. (Think of how hard-core conservative relatives regard Fox News as the only station “Telling us the Truth.” That’s how folks regard these churches.)

 

But it doesn’t simply stop at a building. Radio stations like Janet Mefferd, James Dobson, Tony Perkins lie about gay people all the time, something so sinister that I Actually Cannot Even. They simply must be spoken up to. Furthermore, you have websites like the Gospel Coalition that have made a name for themselves as the most unfeeling when it comes to what they’ll say about gays.

 

Luckily, none of these voices can argue with objective truth when it is slid across the table before them. Know your stuff. Speak for truth. Look at the APSA. Sexual Minorities are not confused victims of sexual abuse. They are not sex-crazed animals. Parenting doesn’t make kids gay. There is no radical Gay Agenda on the horizon.

 

Include Sexual Minorities

 

If there is no one in your congregation that is, themselves, gay, this becomes tricky. But all the same, it can be done. Invite Justin Lee or Matthew Vines or Jeff Chu and if they’re all booked, contact me. We’ll make it happen.

 

Proximity matters and hearing the story of someone in their own voice coming out of their own mouth as they stand directly in front of you does something powerful. In the very least, it disintegrates the caricature and allows the heart to be fully revealed.

 

While there isn’t enough room to talk about here, it is equally important to avoid tokenism. That is, making one voice your poster child of your progress. Typically these voices get the brunt of discord and are isolated as agitators or given the full blame for church disunity. Allow a multitude of voices.

 

Additionally, there is more than a single story.

 

Figure out a way to talk about privilege.

 

Here’s something that is wired into all of us in one way or another.

 

Whenever I talk about theology, which is at best at the amateur, layperson, still-learning level, I am immediately called into question. Held as suspect. Somehow, my sexual orientation makes me more biased than someone with a straight orientation. This privileged assumption says that heterosexuality is the only purely objective POV. It arises out of this belief that my vision, my heart and mind and soul, are too foggy from Sin to be able to read the Bible for myself. Gay Christians only see what we want to see.

 

Whether or not you regard same-sex relationships as sinful, we are all fogged over by sin. We read into the text our own stories, preferences, feels. None of us can dive into it 100% objectively, so we rely on one another, which is perhaps another reason why you need more diversity of believers. Who knows how much Truth is being passed over unseen?

 

Turn to those who know what they are talking about.

 

I am a little more brusque these days when people look at me helplessly wondering where to turn to learn about sexual minorities and reformed theology. My people-pleaser usually runs out first, but on the inside, I am groaning: GOOGLEIT.

 

There are stacks on stacks of books waiting to be devoured, dissected and discussed. Matthew Vines recently released his book, God and the Gay Christian and it prompted the SBC to cheat and release their own comeback the following day. Hell, read both! Let the arguments stand and see which ones hold water.

 

Other books: Read Resources page.

 

One book that I believe speaks well to the most conservative, the most rigid, cramped, grouchy group is Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation. This book translates well to the strict traditionalist and if we’re talking about movement here, from static and decay to rhythm and growth, this might be the book to begin with. I speak from experience in that this book has opened many, many hearts.

 

There are approximately one billion other things that need to be included here, but I figure this is a good place to start.

 

Look, it is complicated and difficult and frustration. It is exhausting. Sometimes it might not even seem worth going there. I get that. Really, I do. But I also know there’s a kid in your congregation quietly slipping away in harmful beliefs and attitudes. He is the least. He is being forgotten. And he needs an advocate, like you, to step up and see him.

For Parents Everywhere

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Did you know that there are homeless kids living on the streets of America? Or are you like me. Did you hear this once and think, okay, okay, no. C’mon. There has to be more to this story. There has to be.

 

Did you know that, statistically speaking, LGBTQ people make up roughly 7-8% of the population (not counting, of course, the closeted) and that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ? What is the story here? There has to be more to it. Must be. Right?

 

*

 

When I came out to my parents, I didn’t know how lucky I was. I was held close to my family as others were shoved out the door. Homeless. Orphaned. Wandering a world they aren’t ready for.

 

This doesn’t just happen.

 

The Gospel Coalition and Denny Burk and Franklin Graham perpetuate it; they might not know it, but they do. As does a particular reading of the Bible, the lazy literalist, quick google search kind, an approach that has a history of leaving other minorities bloodied up in it’s wake. And then there is the loss. The swift death of dreams, of weddings and holidays and grandchildren; a jolting adjustment to a future that looks different. That looks less than ideal.

 

LGBTQ people today are coming out so much younger in life- meaning: they are still under their parents’ roof. And with that comes the beautiful and painful tension flaring, making all things new. Hard hearts are being made soft. The bonds of family are strengthening. No one ever knows how much love there is until the unforeseen bomb drops, and everyone stays.

 

My parents knew they could never understand what it was like to be a gay Christian, but they wanted to figure out how to be good parents to one. They held the Bible in one hand, me in the other, trapped in a paralysis of unending questions and no understanding to be found- anywhere- from anyone.

 

When my mom emailed the Marin Foundation, it took them less than ten minutes to email her back. She called and they answered. They invited us down to Chicago. They took us in and listened and loved us deeply.

 

They connected my parents to other parents of LGBTQ kids. They built a community around a couple feeling isolated.

 

And now they have done something incredible. They’ve compiled a contact list of parents of LGBTQ kids for parents feeling beyond alone. Parents in the south, for example. Or parents in stuck inside fundamentalism. Those who disagree with their kid or with each other or with the church or with themselves, searching for some kind of path that cuts through.

 

The official announcement of the list came first on the Marin Foundation’s blog, which I’ve reposted below. If you’re a parent feeling alone, drop a line, to my parents or others.

 

Often, I talk about how we sexual and gender minorities are waves crashing and shaping the church into something new. But that’s nothing to say of our folks. These people are our protectors, our defenders, our activists and our listeners.

 

And they are only one call away.

 

From the Marin Foundation:

 

If you are a Christian parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) child you may feel alone. You may think that you are the only one who feels this way. You might even believe that no one else could understand your journey. But…

 

You are not alone.

 

The Marin Foundation has put together a a list of Christian parents who have LGBTQ children and have volunteered to share their experiences with you. They would love to listen to your story, talk with you, cry with you, laugh with you, and come alongside you. Most of these parents are not counselors or psychologists; they are simply fellow pilgrims on this journey. They don’t have all the answers. They may not have their theological positions all figured out. But these parents know what you are going through and want to help.

 

To see this list and some other resources for Christian parents of LGBTQ children, Click HERE.

 

The parents on this list come from all different backgrounds, Christian denominations, and beliefs about this conversation. They may not have the same theology as you or feel the exact same way about this topic but they will listen and give advice with compassion and understanding. While these parents are not official representatives of The Marin Foundation and may not reflect a particular theological position (whether conservative or progressive), we have heard their stories and know them to be great resources. What they have in common is a desire to love their children and stay true to their Christian faith.

 

We hope this list will help you in your journey.

 

Much love,

 

The Marin Foundation

hymnals and the way of faith in the story of church

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Thee, Thine, Thou never felt natural in my ears or on my tongue and the slow, few instruments that played had a way of boring me to sleep as a kid. Some Sunday mornings, I’d sneak a look at the back wall where a red digital clock hung. And by the time the sermon closed, I was lethargic, but straight up relieved.

 

At a certain point, my parents, seeing us kids in our shared listlessness, having noticed the slow blinking of our eyes, decided to take us to the later, contemporary service. And it was there that my faith was forged. Songs like “Light the Fire” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” and “In the Secret” seemed to inject me with a spiritual oomph I had not felt. I was moved to tears. I was dancing. Every chorus of those power ballads made me stretch my hands in the air as if to brush the Holy Spirit’s fingers.

 

Several years later now, with my heart weathered and worn, I’m at a kind of of standstill with church. Having been hit a hundred thousand times by evangelicalism, having become a survivor of the place that initially swept me off my feet, I am instinctively suspicious of all of it. All of Church. And also, wanting so badly to be a part of it.

 

But all the pop Christian jams still ring shrill in my ears. I am very annoyed by the use of music as a means of emotional manipulation when the pastor prays. And goodness, it takes every ounce of strength in my being to stay on the ground when I hear a secular pop song, sung by the worship band, sometimes with words changed. Stop the sale’s pitch! Stop your need to be Cool! I want to scream. I want to walk out. 

 

One such song was played last night at the Easter service and at the start, when I recognized it, I started shaking my head in a very obvious, take-note-of-my-disapproval way. I turned around to my family hoping to find solidarity but No. They were feeling it. Loving it. They were clapping joyfully and crooning out the catchy song from the radio. And I. was. appalled.

 

These little triggers, sensitivities, chinks in my armor are really all it takes to dirty up an entire church service for me. One cringe-worthy thing lingers in the back of my mind like a leaky faucet and it is Game Over. And I hate this about me. I wish I could roll it off my shoulders and just gel in with everyone else, but my heart is weathered and worn. Once I sense the evangelical spirit, with all it’s wrongness and past crimes against me, the dominos effect begins within. Everything is called into question. Every. Last. Thing.

 

And I don’t know why I keep coming back to this form of faith. The Evangelical. The bubble-gum joy. The cheap sentimentality. Because it’s all I know, but still. I wish I knew more.

 

The music slowed down for the next song. The electric guitar was set aside and a soft ripple of piano began. A steady, functional, reliable chord. I looked up. I felt a centering. A simplicity that made me want to cry with relief. And then the words:

 

I hear the Savior say

“Thy strength indeed is small

Child of weakness, watch and pray,

Find in me Thine all in all”

 

These are the songs I once hated, but they are meeting me right now with a precision and truth I cannot explain. In the midst of my own cynicism and sensitivity and anger, in the mess of all the wrong and unkindness of the Church, these plain and poetic words arrive standing before me, unadorned and beautiful, like peace, like Jesus out on the water.

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They don’t push me into an exclamation. They don’t pressure me to feel when I don’t. They don’t carry the slushiness, schmaltziness that transfixes everyone into a moment of emotional intoxication. They come wearing no mask, blowing no incense, dangling no carrot before me.

 

I speak them and I know what they’re saying: Jesus Paid it All. I feel a rush of gratitude at that lyric. I wonder why we feel the need to sing any other line. Then I heart Come Thou Fount, It is Well, and There is a Fountain and I know why. This the fabric of Church. This is her story.

 

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There is a timeworn dependability to them, too. I hold the hymnal in my hands and it’s crinkled, the paper, thin, the crush of a thousand fingers opening and closing and folding and leaving and returning, week after week, year after year. And there’s something about that history. I can trace these works through generations that have come before me, that have endured their own battles here, and maybe, for them, it was just this, this small little book with its’ crinkled up pages, that gave them the grit to come back week after week after week.

 

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And maybe it’s not about fitting back into something. Maybe it’s about being aware of the new shape of my faith. I’ve grown and changed and it’s different now, maybe better. In this season, I can’t hear the electric zest of an era that is still too raw, that left me high and dry and bitter and cold. Maybe I can only be with the old songs. The simple ones. I can lean into the sturdiness of lyrics long-lived.

 

As I return in my own battle regalia, week after week, searching for my own Sunday Morning, I am finding that for now, this is enough to hang onto. It’s a small raft, but it is mine, and it’s holding me up.

May We Never Stop Speaking

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Last weekend, I sat around a small stove fire on the driveway of my brother’s house with his friends. We were cracking open beers, listening to country music, talking March Madness (which I feigned stress over). And one of the guys brought up the World Vision fiasco and my responses and how I was going about mending from the tragic turn of events that steamrolled over last week.

 

One of the guys, who I didn’t recognize, looked back and forth at us.

“What?”

 

I then explained everything, starting with a stuttered, awkward, “Well, you know, first off- I’m gay and christian, and a blogger, and, also, I’m Ben- nice to meet you!”

 

Then I dove into all the details of everything that went down. All the excruciating messages I heard in the conservative response, the swift and unanticipated betrayal from World Vision, and then, I talked a bit about gatekeepers and their ever shrinking circles. The kid sat their blinking,

 

“So, you’re uh, gay and Christian?”

 

It’s a fair question. Especially after learning about his conservative background, which we share, and his current beliefs, which we don’t. He told me he had a total of one gay friend, but after he came out, that friend quickly walked away from the faith, and from him. And I found it so devastating, the end of a relationship that could’ve borne so much fruit in that tension. The faith his friend was told was not for him. All it did was prove the point right, gay and Christian are mutually exclusive.

 

We talked then, through theology and books and the very essence of Jesus. He posed some brave, awkward questions, ones that showed how little he actually knew about what it is to be gay. Do you believe it is a choice? As in, just tell me the truth, did you decide this? An ignorant question, indeed! But you know what? His eyes were wide open and curious. This was an honest wondering. To him, he explained, all he knew was the old retired debate of choice vs genetics.

 

I explained to him that, no, of course I didn’t. He asked, if it were possible, would choose to be straight. I said, years ago, yes. Today, without a shadow of doubt in my mind, no. And I also told him I wasn’t entirely convinced in the born this way assumptions. I believed it was a mix of things, but perhaps with a divine plan in place? Who knows? Not me. But that’s missing the point. For all we know, heterosexuality isn’t in the genes either. Here we are today.

 

Conversations about sin led him into what I thought was the classic, “but we all sin…” olive branch, but then, instead of passing it back to me, going into what he believed my sin was, we found ourselves standing together on the beautiful core conviction that shame is not of Jesus. We lamented over the obsession conservative Christians have regarding any and all sex. Grieved over our Bible, the way it had been sharpened into a shank against every one of us. All around the fire, friends nodded their heads. Gave sighs of agreement. And we began sharing stories- real, meaningful ones. And we talked about grace. That offensiveness of it. We gave a long hug at the end. He said this conversation was such a relief for him to have. And the truth is, it wouldn’t have happened had I not said I was a gay Christian.

 

Jen Hatmaker published today one of the best pieces I have read from the conservative corner. I was surprised by the warmth it left on me. Like love does, I suppose. And I was impressed with her grace, honesty and her pledge to continue to find ways to love one another (and her acknowledgement that not all Christians agree here, some are-heaven forbid- affirming. An important point which is not ever mentioned in the GATEKEEPER, “Gays are not Christians! Allies are traitors!” posts.) There are gay Christians like me out here, searching and finding and living, and that, my brothers and sisters, is a victory for the kingdom.

 

I am a gay Christian. I have come to feel the destabilizing truth of this declaration. It packs a punch. It pisses off the gatekeepers more than anything, and evokes a call to love and learn from those with searching hearts. It provokes conversations that are fruitful and drop seeds, into both our souls, as we learn the difference between hate and disagreement, gay pride floats and committed relationships, as we, as I, ply apart the person from the, now inflammatory, Evangelical.

 

And so I’ll keep saying it because I am reaping such a harvest, such a renewal of life is growing in the ground of my soul: I am gay and I am Christian. I’m a gay Christian. You are straight and you are Christian. You are man, woman, genderqueer, black, white, brown, and Christian and the kingdom is where we meet and grow together. Sling arms over shoulders. Open our hands and choose to see the best behind our eyes. Choose to stay even when it scares us.

 

God love us all and may we never stop speaking. 

These Hallowed Grounds: Brent’s Story

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I reached out to Brent awhile ago to see if he’d be interested in contributing to a series I was doing leading up to National Coming Out Day. Unfortunately, he is a full time Student and so busy with stacks on stacks of homework and Life and he knew it was best to not commit if he didn’t have time. Fortunately, he has written about experiences before and he took the time to send me the links. This is the one I selected to reprint today because it is most relevant to this conversation. Although, I might reprint a few of his others as the series goes along. They’ve all taught me so much. 

 

If you aren’t following Brent, you really don’t know what’s good for you. Kid is one of the wisest people I know in the conversation about LGBTs in the Church. I’m absolutely honored to reprint this piece today. After you read this, go check out his blog Odd Man Out. Trust me. It’s a treasure.

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I finally psyched myself up to watch the video of an airman coming out to his father the day DADT was repealed, a video that has received plenty of attention and over 4.5 million views.  I put off watching it because, although I already knew the outcome of their conversation, watching someone come out fills me with anxiety.

 

When it comes to social events and conversations, my memory is usually awful, but I remember clearly every single time I came out to another person.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had that conversation, but if you give me a name, I can tell you the time and place of our dialog as well as the reasons I decided to tell the individual.  It’s happened in dorm rooms, living rooms, and offices; it’s happened on walks outside at different times of the day; it’s accompanied meals at Jason’s Deli, Joe’s Pizza, and a Texas steakhouse; it’s lasted anywhere from ten minutes to two hours plus; and it has involved the mediums of face-to-face conversation, phone calls, and email/Facebook.  I can also remember clearly every time someone else came out to me, simply because I know how huge of a moment it was for the other person.

 

After watching Randy Phillips’ video, I thought it would be helpful to share from my experiences coming out.  What’s interesting about the list I created is that my generation has commandeered the phrase “Coming Out”  to refer to any sort of conversation in which one person reveals something about him/herself heretofore unknown to the another person, and I think this list will resonate with anyone who has made a difficult self-disclosure within a close relationship.  So, whether you are the person coming out or someone comes out to you, and whether the “coming out” involves being attracted to one’s own gender, doubting one’s faith, or even voting Democrat, here is what you should know about coming out:

 

1. It’s terrifying every single time

As the list of people I had told grew longer over the years, it became easier for me to find the right words to say and to prepare myself for the emotional exhaustion that would follow; but the anxiety leading up to each conversation never decreased at all.  Every time I came out, I had to take the risk of potentially ruining or changing a significant relationship in my life, and that gamble never gets easier.  The strange irony of it all is that my closest relationships caused me the most anxiety, because even if I could predict with near-certainty how the other would react, I still had the most to lose in those cases.  (This is the anxiety that makes it so hard to watch videos like Phillips’.)

If someone should come out to you, then, receive it as a gesture of trust and intimacy, because it’s not easy to say those words.  Recognize, too, that the person’s fear and hesitation may have nothing to do with your open-mindedness, your trustworthiness, your compassion, or your lack thereof; it’s scary regardless of the recipient.

 

2. The initial response is not nearly as important as the long-term response

I think some people feel a lot of anxiety about receiving self-disclosure because they’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing.  I may be unique here, but I care much less about how people respond to me in the moment and much more about how they respond in the days and weeks that follow.  Obviously, there are some major things you can get right or wrong in that initial conversation (my experiences have all been positive, but I’ve heard horror stories you wouldn’t believe), but those are pretty self-evident and are not likely to change much based on your reading this post.

Many of the people to whom I’ve come out had very little knowledge of homosexuality before our talk, and I think it would be selfishly arrogant of me to expect people to say exactly the right things and ask the most profound, penetrating questions.  I’ve been thinking very closely about the topic of homosexuality since middle school, but many of the people in my life haven’t had a pressing reason to do the same and may be in unfamiliar territory.  So—barring the obvious extremes—someone’s initial response is not going to permanently torpedo our relationship.

What’s been much more important to me is how the other person responded in the long-term.  Did s/he respect my wishes that our conversation remain confidential?  Did our relationship change drastically?  Did s/he stick around?  These questions matter much more for the future of the relationship than the first words out of the person’s mouth.

 

3. Conversations and relationships go two ways

Lest it sound too much like the outcome of any conversation or relationship depends entirely on the person who receives the self-disclosure, I do want to say the person coming out has a lot of power in the situation as well.  Even though I think the recipient should be as accommodating as possible in light of the difficulty for the one coming out, there are most definitely good and bad ways to disclose something big and to handle the relationship afterwards.  If a relationship goes bad after someone comes out, it’s entirely possible that it has nothing to do with the response given and everything to do with the baggage the person coming out was already carrying.

 

4. In the best cases, it leads to better relationships

As I mentioned above, I have been overwhelmingly blessed by the responses I’ve received.  In my experience, even people who know nothing about homosexuality care enough about our relationship to ask good questions and seek understanding.  Unfortunately, I’m starting to realize that my positive experiences are more of an aberration than the rule, and there are too many stories of self-disclosures that resulted in conflict, physical or emotional violence, and broken relationships.

When coming out goes well, though, it changes everything for the better.  There is nothing like the closeness and intimacy it allows.  The scriptures paint a beautiful picture of the kind of community that can develop if we are only willing to trust each other: we can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16), and “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).  I do not believe any of us were meant to be alone, and the fear of coming out to anyone can lead to crushing loneliness.

 

What are your experiences with coming out in any capacity and on either side of the conversation?  What has been the most helpful, the most difficult, and the most wonderful for you?

 

*Be sure to head over to Brent’s blog: Odd Man Out!

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

A Language Lost

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Last year at the University of Minnesota, PBS hosted a conversation between David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch and Blankenhorn are friends and nobody is sure why.

Rauch has long been a major player in the fight for marriage equality and Blankenhorn has been the thorn in his side, advocating for the traditional family and the mother-father parental model.

For years, these two have traversed the country while tearing into one another over their opposing beliefs. Rauch has called Blankenhorn a bigot.  Blankenhorn has called Rauch a radical.  The two were camped in polarizing places, maintaining a gridlock that would make congress blush.

 

But then something happened.

 

They grabbed coffee.

 

Through the honest hours of humanity that they spent together, a friendship was born.  Shortly after, Rauch wrote the preface for Blankenhorn’s book- a book against gay marriage. Rauch called it the best argument he’s heard yet.

The bond that blossomed between these two didn’t derive out of a change in belief (although, Blankenhorn eventually did). It came from changing the language. At the height of their mutual hostility, they experienced a crinkle of the conscience, one that begged them to be better. This epiphany awoke a newfound desire to disagree with dignity again. They had grown tired of demonizing one another, so they started an organization and co-wrote literature and connected over the ordinary in their lives.

Looking through the lens of how the real world works, this relationship is rare, if not impossible. But have we ever truly tried? Have we ever wondered whether we were simply situating ourselves in the tribes society told us to?

Let’s imagine for a second that there’s this Church function.

In attendance is George and Evelyn, an elderly couple from the rural parts of Pennsylvania. With a little grit and grace, they raised eight children on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They also happen to be Franklin Graham diehards and down ballot Republicans.

Across at their table sits a newlywed lesbian couple, just on the cusp of parenthood.

Through a little nudge and a proper introduction, a lay out of lives begins. The two catch a glimpse of anxiety and fret filling the young ladies faces- looks they know all too well.. And like the proud parents they are, they lean in and offer a few tricks up their sleeve. But then things get a little of hand. An hour passes and coffee is spat out of mouths during another hilarious trip down memory lane. Exhausting the stories the couples somberly reflect on how life is never what we expect it to be.

Is it possible that inside those intimate exchanges, nostalgia and naive dreams could collide and cross over… into closeness?

Call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I don’t think this is farfetched for us. Rauch and Blankenhorn did it because they reclaimed that redemptive lost language. The one that speaks to the soul, not the soldier.

The lost language beneath the wreckage of wrong worldview and cultural caricature is found in our shared humanity. Too often, instead of excavating what bonds us, what truly matters, our sharp tongues reflexively strike, injecting toxic turns that wither away whatever was growing.

But our stories disarm. In our familiarities we find ourselves unfilled and wanting more. Our differences don’t dissolve, but they become quieter and petty, unwanted interruptions of something valuable we have stumbled upon. Empathy is found in people we do not expect to find it from. Through stories of different characters, but similar sentiments a brave bond can be formed.  This is the language of lives lived.

Somewhere between Stonewall and Proposition Eight we lost sight of the stories beneath the banners. It was all about winning for us. We stroked our pride by pledging allegiance to the propaganda of our cause. Crimes were committed, to be sure, but the brush we painted the other with was too broad, too simple and completely dehumanizing. And as a consequence, we buried the language that bonds us.

If we could resurrect those refrains of common courage and struggle and hope and faith, maybe we could unearth what has been lost. Maybe we would hang on tighter to the words of Mother Teresa who said

“if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Could what divides be overcome with what bonds us?

The Kingdom tells us yes.

RR

The Church is a Whore

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I know firsthand how cruel Christians can be.

After all, it was Christians that told my Dad that he made me gay. It was Christians that asked me to recite a creed—out loud, that said that it was the devil and not God who gave me my attractions. And just last spring, it was a Christian that said all the gays should be killed while another called for fathers to beat their effeminate sons.

Shouldn’t forget yesterday, when the Christian media machine screamed “for shame!” over a speech in which a man told me I mattered.

And, obviously, this sucks. There are many moments when abandoning the faith completely is only a breath away.

But then I remember my brother—an employee of a church here in Minneapolis, saying something to me that at the time, changed everything:

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

These words from Saint Augustine carry the reminder of a debt owed. For all of her thistles and weeds and bullying and whoring, she kept the gospel from flat lining. She kept its’ essentials fresh.

And I love her too much to let her destroy herself. I love her for who she truly is- the body that is e pluribus unum. The one that is organic and diverse and skeptical, just like all of us.

But does this mean we simply, live and let live? Leave one another alone? Let the space between us grow larger?

Hell no. There is a far better way.

And it’s found in my story.

And yours.

And theirs.

Stories are so sacred. They put flesh and bones beside unchallenged beliefs so we have to deal with this life directly. We exchange our jagged caricatures for real faces and names and narratives.

As a consequence… the Kingdom expands a few acres.

Every one of us has a story, and until we share them, our projections of the other will dominate the dialogue. Stories bridge our souls over what once kept us apart; letting those things flow away like the water beneath us. We all share this space, this hallowed ground, where different lives meet on the floor of grace.

Here, we pay attention to one another and we affirm one another even when we diametrically disagree with one another. Here, we understand that Christ’s call for Kingdom Come wasn’t a command for top down conformity. Here we know that picking and choosing the conscience of our convenience is not the echo of a pursuit for truth. Here we listen and we learn and we walk together towards wherever God is leading us on this.

We share this space because it’s God’s.

And God isn’t the guest list type.

RR

A Good Storm

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

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

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

“Horse Manure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They this and they that…

Friends, I give you our fallenness.

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

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

Blessings,

RR

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

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

We got this, I know we do.

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

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

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

46thpsalm, the blogger behind Radical Grace:

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Norton, the blogger behind Middle Ground:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie ( 🙂 ), the blogger behind Incite Faith:

 

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

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

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

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

Rohan Salmond, blogger behind Hey! Crunch King!:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am both hopeful and nervous.

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

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

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

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

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

Any excellent books that we could read?

Any movies or documentaries?

Any tough but critical questions?

 

What about those who are curious about the LGBT community?

What questions do you have?

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

What do you want to know?

How can we help you?

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

Fill me in!

RR