My Quarter Life Crisis

It always starts like this for me: the new year rises up on the horizon and tells me it’s time to Get Serious. It’s time to start worrying about the future of my life, that blank page stretching endlessly before me, all that white space that should be filled with five-year plans, with narrowed down career choices and grad school applications, with all the things that I should’ve begun by now… because by now, I should be an adult.

 

My initial efforts to stop the downward spiral, my self-care regimen of deep breaths and I’m thankful for lists, were quickly thwarted by the daily reminders of Success Elsewhere: An email from LinkedIn telling me who now I needed to congratulate. A Facebook feed full of engagements and new houses and babies on the way. An instagrammed Paris. A tweet of a Book Deal. A claim on happiness. A life that is better.

 

I’d drive to Caribou and settle into the corner to make a “Life Plan” (Fix-My-Life Plan) only to close my MacBook five minutes later because the Future is too overwhelming. It is an anything-is-possible place, and for me, that’s terrifying. My anxious mind graffitis over it with all my worst fears. My biggest doubts.

 

This worrying is so ridiculous. My life is very good: I have a job that pays well and good friends to spend weekends with. I have a warm family, the best people, and they know me inside and out. I pay my own rent, do my own laundry, buy my own groceries and set my own bedtime. All things considered, you might call me an adult.

 

But there are these things that can work their way through the seams of your life. Inadequacy and Expectations. Wildest dreams, still unfulfilled. Altogether, they make up what the scientists are calling the Quarter Life Crisis.

 

I turned twenty-five this past month. A quarter of a century old. It was the first time I wanted to lie about my age.

 

///

In 2015, time suddenly became rare and valuable, and so I started scratching all the things that appeared extravagant like reading and exercise, blogging and writing, making even the smallest amount of time for others. Then I took that surplus time and spent most of it at Caribou, where I stared for many minutes at Grad School applications I never finished, skimming blogs about climbing out of the Quarter Life Crisis and Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Teacher and trying to figure out a great pitch for a big magazine somewhere. I was thinking hard and dwelling deep and worrying myself to the bone.

 

I began to seriously question my own worth and abilities, and that’s when I knew something had gone terribly wrong.

 

I knew where I had to turn- but I really didn’t want to do that. It felt like failure. Like a confirmation of my collapse. To turn there, to go back there, would mean I had forgotten. And I hadn’t… had I?

 

With a desperate voice, I just said it anyway:

 

I am accepted.

I am loved.

I am enough.

 

And I stopped shaking.

///

 

In a way, I was forced into these words. A friend had asked if I would speak at his church (which I have never done before) and I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. My story: from self-loathing to self-love, my journey into the heart of the God That Sees Me.

 

In my circle here in Minnesota, I told only a few about this church thing. I was terrified about it. I am not a public speaker. That is not how I am built. So I told them I needed them their for moral support, and perhaps some kind reassuring words after I botched the whole thing.

 

They all came.

I sat on the stool beneath stage lights in front of a handful of people, and I saw every one of their grinning faces. For a half an hour, I got to watch my people show up for me.

 

Near the end of my talk, I said this:

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

 

And it’s just three words, but they are my holy words. They are my song. The tied knot at the end of my story, the first words that started my ascent from the darkness, the words that found me.

I am accepted is such an easy thing to say, to yourself or to others… but believing it? That’s another conversation. That takes work. That takes a lifetime of learning and practicing and prayer. And if you’re here, in the Minnesota Winter of your Quarter Life Crisis, it can be impossible to hear it at all.

But in that moment, on that stage, my desperately hopeful theology was met with the proven witness gathered before me. The warm faces reminding me of the Success Here. The success in me. The success through me. The success to come. My words and my people, both pouring into one in my heart. I am accepted.

God is here, in the midst of my circle walking. In the coffee cups and the slouched sitting. In the panic and the fear and the rage, in the twenty-fifth year of my striving. He is here. And He is working something new in me. Something that cannot be rushed or scheduled or detailed down in a plan. God is saying to me, once again, for the millionth time: You Are Accepted. You are Loved. You are Enough.

It all adds up, even when it doesn’t appear to.

This is a weird winter and a weird season of life. I feel completely unprepared for it. But maybe it’s going to just be about those three words for now. That still small voice in my mind. That love, always there to catch me.

Faith by Sehnsucht

scenic-185234_640

 

On the last night of camp, we were released from the amphitheater with a promise that God loves us and an encouragement to go spend time in prayer with him. All my church camps ended this way. I loved it like that. I loved the silence, I loved the time. As an introvert, I loved the ability to wander off alone and know that no one was going to bother me and everyone else was doing the same because by decree, there was no talking until the foghorn blew.

 

But as a Christian, I kind of hated it. I hated the way so many friends would come back to the building with new life in their eyes and how they’d speak secrets given by God and the way they somehow seemed better, improved, reformed into a spiritual maturity that I did not understand. I went into it feeling excited and left feeling sort of defeated. Even when I felt slightly different, I chalked it all up to my emotions and the scenery of nature. I never truly believed it was God, because who can look out at a dripping with gold setting sun and not feel something?

 

This camp was nestled into the side of mountain in Colorado, and on the last night, I found a spot on a ridge overlooking the valleys steep and hundreds of feet below. The land was alive, flickering in the flood of light from the east. I breathed deep. Routine, I asked God to come into my heart again. Then I spent several minutes straining my soul to hear him. My mind drifted elsewhere, so I scolded myself for becoming distracted, as if God was something tiny as powder, I had to watch for him, lest he blow away out of my presence.

 

The table was set, all the pieces were there. The sun was standing on the horizon like it was patiently waiting, the soft wind, the warmth of summer, the colors, the code of complete silence, but I still felt like something was missing. I felt like it was my own heart. Like I was trying, once again, to be this thing called Christian, but it all felt so staged. The timing of the alone time, the light, the prayers, careful and rehearsed in my thoughts. I wondered what was missing. What I wasn’t seeing.

 

///

I have always been a doubter, a skeptic, and recently, a cynic, and more recently, a recovering one. Forget the exclusion I once felt from the faith community because I was gay. That was part of it. But it was also this pressure to believe which worked reverse in me. I reflexed, yanking my fingers out of the of that Chinese trap, and I wound up a little more defeated. A little more concerned that something might be wrong with me.

 

So, when Greg Boyd’s book landed into my life, The Benefit of the Doubt, I had my reservations. I thought he, like many before him, might try to rationalize my doubts in a way that made them less real. I thought he might try to be cute.

 

But I quickly learned that he was as honest in his doubts as I was. I read his words and there was an instant exchange of familiarity and empathy, and I couldn’t put the damn book down because finally, someone understood me.

 

Lately, I’ve been throwing myself into many of the old books lately. The Gospels, Paul, even some of the Old Prophets, and I’ve wondered, like before, why I’m not feeling it. Why the words feels like nothing more than words, written for people that are not me, and told in a cryptic way that feels less spiritual wisdom and more plain old corrupt religion.

 

There’s a part of Boyd’s book where he introduces this all important word. A word I want to stamp on my conscience: Sehnsucht.

 

“It’s an unusual word that is hard to translate, for it expresses a deep longing or craving for something that you can’t quite identify and that always feels just out of reach. Some have described Sehnucht as a vague and bittersweet nostalgia and/or longing for a distant country, but one that cannot be found on earth. Others have described it as a quasi-metaphysical sense that we (and our present world) are incomplete, combined with an unattainable yearning for whatever it is that would complete it.”

 

The sunset from the mountain wasn’t enough for me, and yet it was one of the most stunning scenes I have seen. A miracle was flickering inside of it, but I still wanted more. This feeling, it happens all the time. On my drive to the coffee shop I am now sitting in I saw grandma teaching her grandson how to bike, before I reached the door of the coffee shop, an old man ran past me to open the door to a woman in a wheel chair. These signals, these revelations, this light breaking through.

I choose to wander the park path at twilight, because the trees, they are backlit and the leaves are pressed in by the sun, making the air flow with an emerald tint that leaves me breathless, nostalgic for somewhere I have never been. Certain hymns steal me into silence, into a place I don’t want to leave. I type out a perfect sentence, think a new, thought and I am tripping over myself to keep the magic alive. Where did that come from? When Wyatt laughs in falsetto, when he smiles his toothy grin it’s like a gust of joy, rushing through the house. And I want to save the moment somehow. I want to enclose it in a frame. Cap it in a bottle. I think of Annie Dillard’s reflection of nature’s movements: “Now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t.” And it seems, for me, the way faith has always been. Even when I didn’t know that’s what it was. These crisp pinpricks of something… larger. It’s there, it’s gone.

 

Theology, I don’t know if I have one. Faith is a slippery thing I may never get a good grip on. I only have questions. I live on curiosity.

 

I live on the Sehnsucht in my bones. Ask me about God, and my answer will depend on the day, honestly, but I am always compelled by these moments that startle me. There is something more. Sometimes, it is silent. Sometimes, it is only seen and not understood or realized. But it’s just a little further. It’s not the shallow, theologically bankrupt, thumb-sucking beginnings of faith. It’s the beating heart of it.  

Faith in a Dark World

candles-224565_640

I see the sun for about twenty seconds on a given weekday. I fall in its’ path as I pull up on the rising freeway on my way to work. I watch it pour and sparkle across the snow shrouded homes and rows of trees until it comes on my face as I stare longingly into it. It gets dark very early now, so I know I won’t see the sun until this time tomorrow.

 

I’m in a darkness I do not understand. Winter, for me, always arrives in different degrees of intensity. Some seasons are very hard, then others, I can manage. Consistently, though, the darkness seems to play into some inner angst: I come swimming into the winter, working my way toward wellness, and I am at once hit by wave after wave of bitter cold wind and shorter and sharper days, but this winter is somehow different.

 

This winter, I know who I am and I love myself. All things inside are chirping away happily. All things considered, I have a clean bill of emotional health.

 

So maybe I should count it a blessing that this winter, I am not so inwardly focused. I am staring out. Eyes are wide open. Maybe I would, maybe I could, count blessings, if I wasn’t pinned on my back by the dark of the world.  It is a fallen wall on top me. The whole world is groaning. I hear it, I see it and I cannot stop.

 

I felt it first in the force of a six-year-olds’ anger: a small boy who tells me he likes to hurt people, whispers death threats on his teachers, and says red is favorite color because of blood. No matter how much I affirm him as good and kind inside, his haunting words keep coming out. And I can’t help, but wonder if God is asleep at the wheel with this boy.

 

The dark floods in again with the News and my inbox, suddenly filled with real stories of sexual abuse. And it is such heavy dark.

 

Two people stood on the church stage the other night, both recovering addicts, both telling their stories of failed suicide attempts. For one, the rope broke. For the other, the gun jammed. We stood in applause at the God that surely intervened, shoving them away from the abyss, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those for whom the rope held strong, the gun didn’t jam. Those in violent neighborhoods with bullets flying into their house. The family in Syria there, then gone. The unpredictable dark that keeps torpedoing all around us, and we’re so selective in how we question it.

 

It’s enough to make faith feel foolish.

 

It doesn’t help me when I hear one pastor (just the other night) launch into an exhortation about how “if you’re praying to Allah, you’re in trouble. If you’re praying to Buddha, you’re in trouble. We all have to bow down to the one true King.” There are other less toxic expressions, like God is God, and I am limited, and He’s Got a Purpose, but all in all, it’s the same rug covering of the hard questions no one wants to ask.

 

Because what about the Muslims? The Buddhists? Those raised to believe in something else entirely? What about those non-believers departed in successful suicides? What about the abused? The refugees crawling toward the border? The very old one suffering endlessly in a nursing home, ready for this all to be done?

 

What about the six-year-old boy becoming one with the darkness?

 

I am confused. I am looking up, like Sarah Bessey, asking, “where are you? Wake up! Take over! Heal! Be!

 

I am looking still.

 

I am waiting in the grief of longing. Of wanting my faith to fit in this world that is densely dark. I am letting Advent come to me, try and prove me wrong. I am hanging on to the early sight of sun. I am clutching my pouch of mustard seeds. I am trying and waiting and hoping, not in the impossible answers to arrive, but in some kind of real peace. The one that isn’t trite, that isn’t phony, that is not a rug. The one that sails this faith into the deep of the darkness and remains unaffected, floating, strong.

 

When Coming Out is Letting in

France, Eure, Vesly, flying with Northern Lapwing birds (Vanellus vanellus, paramotor landing field belonging to Yves Helary (aerial view

 

 

Deep in the crevices of Pristina, Kosovo is a small corner cafe where I would sneak off to Skype with my mom. It was a refuge for when I was caught in my can’t-win days. Those ones where the desk papers stacked to the ceiling- penned in a language I do not speak- on a subject I still do not get. On these days, I longed for a listening ear from a familiar face. A reassuring nod that let me imagine I could catch the sight of land.

 

One afternoon, she was chatting with me from the family room couch when a young black kid carrying a sandwich passed behind her; so casual as if he lived there.

“Wait, wait, hold on. Who is that?”

“Who? Him?” The screen shook and buffered until slowly, it focused and I saw him again- a deer in headlights chewing on a PB&J.

“This is a new addition to our family! He’s staying in the spare bedroom upstairs. ”

“New” was the key word here, because my mom had done this before, a couple times actually. She can’t turn away because she doesn’t know how. It’s one of the things I love most about her.

 

Now knowing him and his story- I can’t believe anyone ever could.

Two weeks after his birth she abandoned him. She abandoned him in Liberia because being an American was more important than being a mom.

“I don’t think I fit into her plans” he would later tell me.

Stepping into the gap was his gentle and gracious grandmother. She was the one that drew out his first word, toughed out his tantrums and taught him how to crawl and walk and run.

He was hers and she was his, until a phone call came from a world away came. It was her and she had changed her mind. And at the age of six, he left Africa for Minnesota to meet a mother he had no memory of. Twelve years later, she would remind him why. A brief argument with his mom’s husband had him running for the exits. She stayed silent as he kicked him out because a husband was, again, more important than being a mom.

So touched by this tragedy was my mom that she carved out a corner of our house for him to stay, as long as he wanted to.

And it didn’t take very long for him and I to hit it off. We shared in this sarcastic rapport that really few could ever understand. But we understood it and that’s all that really matters in a friendship anyway.

 

He was a member of the family now and I felt like I had to come out to him. Too much time had been spent already in whispered talks with my folks and frantic shelving of Justin Lee and Andrew Marin books whenever he came into the room. I was tired of it, and ready for whatever came.

 

On a drive to work with little courage and a lot of rambling and reciting of old lines, we finally crossed that bridge. As usual, my expectations were far better than I imagined (making me wonder why I ever even have them). He was unbelievably understanding and handled my confession with care, making me cherish every mile of that drive.

Parking in front of his work, he opened the door and started sliding out… But he turned back. Looking like he’d forgotten something, he stared up at me and said,

“I feel like crying”

I wasn’t sure why until I came home later that night.

Him and my parents had had a talk.

….

 

Perhaps somewhere between Africa and the curb he was kicked to, he owned every desertion like a limping leg. Forever he would drift through the windows and doors of this life, just passing through as he always had. Never stopping, never joining, always a foreigner. From an old country and a new parent, to fleeing his own front porch.

 

Just-a-passing-through.

 

But all it took was three little words to let him know that there was another stranger sleeping two doors down. A different kind of foreigner. An outcast bearing the burden of an easy target on his back. Someone else juggling others’ expectations of him. Different and delinquent and always denied dignity. The humiliated that had knocked his knuckles red on doors that would never open.

 

When he got home from work that night, he looked at my mom and called this house home. A safe haven. A boardinghouse for the bruised reeds. The turf where he was trusted with such secrets. Secrets that rooted him here, to this family, and to me.

 

To all of us, just searching for some glimpse of land.

 

RR

Why I Won’t Just Write About My Sexuality

Boy holding paper plane on Jinshanling Great Wall

Most of the top hits on my blog have packed the punch of emotional and cringeworthy stories, the ones etched in the far walls of my spirit. They are significant and, I believe, life-giving to those fellow marchers feeling the aches of chained ankles dragging dark memories and frightening futures. For however many of you that follow here, I hope these have helped you somehow.

 

But I gotta tell ya. I can’t keep writing only about sexuality.

 

It’s not that any of you have pressured me to, but I have taken the responses I have received and played them like broken records every single time I type. I am no martyr, but I feel like somehow I want to keep taking care of you. Especially my LGBT listeners. Beyond being gay, there are plenty of other passions and dreams that drive me forward. Stories of preventable genocide and teenage parents and God’s grace and my beloved literature continue to color my conscience. My journal is chalk full of stories that actually have little relation to being gay in Church. I think they can be encouraging and I want you to hear them.

 

I have so much to say, but sometimes feel stifled because I want the audience to get what the audience wants to hear. I want to keep getting emails about how this story and that story refreshed someone in their journey, but at times, I feel like I am writing with that end in sight. My real memories get muddled with what I want them to sound like and its stressful.

 

The experiences I have had with the church and their arrow flung messages are important for the body to know about. I won’t slow down on that. Our Church is a whore, but she is our mother, so I want to help her be better. Bind up the wounded others like me.

 

Additionally, I can’t linger in my thoughts too long. The more ruckus I make in my mind’s attic, the more unbalanced those emotions get and then the ghosts from closeted past rush back to haunt me. There are times to visit those vestibules and times to let the dust settle in on them. The other day I actually started writing a non-fiction novel (which is hard!) but I did it because I needed to get out of my own head for awhile. So much so that I started making up someone else’s story.

 

Every now and then I hear that tip-toeing of temptation to make up spiritual awakenings. Moments that opened my eyes to something- just so I can post about it. I’ve flirted with that ethical line before, but have yet to cross it. I am scared of a day that I am so dry on the divine that I cannot describe Him anymore. I need to relieve myself of the pressure of writing about sounds unheard and sights unseen. Some weeks there may be twenty + pieces, others, there may just be two. Whatever warps into my world that week.

 

This space has been so sacred for me, and I want to keep it that way. But I have to have my whole heart in it.

 

I have to take my eyes off the stats so I can see God better. Throughout all of this, I will keep you posted and I won’t hesitate to rant a little. But I think somewhere along the way I lost sight of what this page was born into. How it helped me to mature into something better than before. It allowed me to shed old skins for new ones. I need to recapture that good seed again. And make these gravel stones fertile.

 

Love you all,

RR

The List and The Name

Image

Tucked away in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, I sit in my chair and I mull over a Name. Pressed atop my thigh is the sketchbook that I sometimes use to make lists. Daily responsibilities, wandering thoughts captured, and some very big dreams.

In no certain order is a set of names. I squint at it and think about adding more. Pen taps the page as my mind moves elsewhere. What makes one trustworthy? Would I make it on that list?

I glance back at the page and there’s a tear at the top. And I too am torn. I’m torn because I don’t know if this is a list of-to-dos or a power grab. I wonder if He somehow had mapped out my meddling and weaved it into his own idea.

I’ve made marks by those that know– Some have a check and others are crossed off, but none of them share the same color ink- a reminder of how long this hike has been.

I’m in the in-between. The place where I’m free to walk out with certain company, but go back inside around others. It’s wearing and tearing, but necessary, I think.

My list isn’t arbitrary. The names are faces and they all take up ink on my social skin. With each one comes new sets of loaded lists. One of scenarios, one of bubble wrapped words, and most importantly, one about trust. Trust that they’ll keep this. Trust that they will wait until I can check or cross every other name off.

And it’s not easy for them. My those that know mingle with my those that don’t and they find themselves gagged. Held back from friends they have never had to before. All of them are loved by me, but some are not trusted. Can you say you love someone if you don’t trust them? I should start a list of questions.

Left to right I read each name and I know what I am suppose to do. Pray and pray harder.

And for whatever reason, there is one name I cannot stop seeing. It’s like the ink is moving and trying to steal my attention. Every time I open to this page, that name wakes up and I cannot stop seeing it.

So like a heat-seeking missile, my eyes zero in on the target until everything around it blurs and dims darker. Prayers whispered whirl down like a tornado to its touchdown. All I’m hoping for is a nudge. A chance meeting. Trying so hard to be courageous.

I leave the coffee shop and go home.

The next morning I look at the list and then at my phone. The name on the list called my phone. He’s just saying hey wondering what I’ve been up to. I look back at the list and give a nod- but I need more to go on than that.

But something was so different about today. Didn’t matter whether I wanted to or not, it was just going to happen. And I’m suddenly surprised by my lack of control. It was just a different kind of morning.

So I called one of the first names crossed off on the list and told her what was to happen today. I explained that it was unexplainable, just a feeling, a nudge, an inevitability. She told me she’d pray for the both of us.

I texted the Name and said we should hang out tonight

But as the day wore on and courage filtered through doubt, I decided against tonight. I felt the reins returning to my hands and I loved that I could choose again. I was aware that this red light-green light game started to resemble the pattern of a slow dieter. I’ll enjoy my distance today, but tomorrow, that’s when I’ll start being honest.

I called the Name and cancelled. Too much was going on, I said. I’m staying in.

But I didn’t stay in. The only place I wanted to be, that place I felt peace, was tucked in that chair in that corner of my favorite coffee shop. The baristas all know me here and when I walk through the door they say hello. Usually I walk on by waving, set my things down in my chair and then go back for my cup.

Turning the corner to the other side of the fireplace, a realization dawns on me and I am stopped dead in my tracks. I crossed a line. I ignored that voice in my head for far too long telling me to tell this person and that person, and to finish the damn list already. Fate would find me, it always does. Sitting in my chair is the name on my list and my mind.

He was sitting in my Naming chair. The place I would pick and choose who to bring in and who to leave out. All he thinks is going on is that I am caught in that earlier lie. He thought I was staying in. The Name looked more surprised than I did, but definitely didn’t feel it as much.

In a move of pure passive aggressiveness, I settle in somewhere else, telling him I have some “business” to attend to. I found a different chair. It was unfamiliar and had a big lump in the cushion and the whole time I saw and seethed over the boundaries fate had betrayed. Into my corner and into my chair. It had taken me out of my safe space and I kept my lips locked. You don’t get to choose, I boiled.

Closing time came fast and the Name meandered over to my makeshift study. Unsure of how to keep my cards close, so he wouldn’t know something was up, I agreed that I had nothing else to do and that we should go hang with some friends.

I drove behind him and I felt the wind at my back moving me faster. Any further, any more distance, any more silence and I would self-destruct. I had to let go. I had to exhale. I had to give in to where the wind was taking me. I had to have faith in fate. I had to, even if I didn’t want to. Gritting my teeth, I took out my phone and told the Name to pull over.

We sat in my the car and I told him my story. Beginning to end. All those times something seemed wrong and he knew there was, but I never told him. Why me and some others would sneak off to talk. What we were talking about and why he wasn’t invited. I told him that his name was written on my list and on my mind and my heart. It had been written so long ago. I always trusted him, but I always battled doubt.

And he listened and let me talk. His face didn’t fall out of place, it was calm and his eyes kept contact. Throughout my ramble he nodded and smiled and showed sympathy through the lines on his brow. Then he spoke and he called me courageous. He thanked me, THANKED me, for trusting in his confidence. Nothing would ever change because our relationship is built on a rock that can’t be shaken. Not by something like this.

And I saw how honest words can restore what regret took.

~~~

Trust is more ruthless and risky than all other exchanges. It asks us to be human and be liberal with this life. Let those that you care about in and never measure their love by the yardstick you use for yourself.

I think a lot about how fate and trust share the same sheets. I am Jonah, and I believe I have a safehouse. But fate always finds me. He finds me and throws me in front of my peas and says, “eat,”why?“Because it’s good for you.” And I cross my arms and scrunch up my mouth, and He sighs and replies , “got all day bud.”

Maybe my list and maybe my steps are all predestined anyway. Perhaps Papa God really held the pen to the page. Maybe its a partnership; another facet of faith. Another foot down the dim stairway. It could be true that my relationship with the list and the faces behind them are reflective of my trust in the Father.

Something else to think about as I sit back in my chair and stare again at the list. There are only checks and crosses. Not a single is scribbled or burnt off the page. Not a single face has fled me.

And this hike doesn’t feel so wearisome anymore.

It is a picture of how far I have come.

And all the country I have left to cross.

RR

A Language Lost

Image

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 Head and the Heart

 

There are times when the relationship with my redeemer feels like a long-distance one. While on occasion, this can be nothing more than a feeling of being stale in the faith, for most phases it comes during a season of busyness. Or at least, perceived busyness. I try to work hard, fill in time to write a short blog, catch up on emails, meet my social quota with friends and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. But rarely do I allow the schedule to dissolve and reveal the eternal reality before me. And when I get here- where I am today, I notice a couple things that have changed within me.

 

First- the Bible bores me terribly. It appears unattractive and complicated, and at the end of a chapter I will feel unmoved, even though I know I should be.

 

Second- I make the Bible into textbook. Feeling like a victim runs the risk of allowing yourself to dwarf the holiness of the words and convince you that it is only in academic study you satisfy your soul.

 

Over the course of the past several days I have tried to reconnect the dots of my faith. Burying my nose in the gospel didn’t give me a turn, so I listened to Christian music, for five minutes, then played T-Swifts new song. In the middle of the madness, I returned to the writer who has done more for my faith then any pastor ever has or could. That author is Brennan Manning.

 

Brennan has touched the lives of millions through his gorgeous works on God’s love and grace. I like to think of him, and many others like him, as a liaison between the spiritual wanderers and the father that loves them. I trust this man because of his honesty and his story of a life lived under grace. He has awoken my conscience on several occasions and consistently reminds me why I love this God so dearly.

 

One of his favorite passages of scripture-, which has become MY favorite passage of scripture- gives a glimpse into why oh why we love Him.

 

“My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,


11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.


12 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[a] has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.


13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.


Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.”

                        -Song of Songs 2:10-13, ESVUK (emphasis mine)

 

See, what I so often forget, when I reduce the Bible to a book report, is the intensity of our father’s affection towards us. This passage is so beautiful because of its imagery and its assurance of our belonging to him. The creator of the heavens and earth fell so deeply in love with us that he seeks to woo us, to court us, to make sure we know that he is mad with love for us.

 

There is a risk that I have found in dropping our brains at the door of the Church. But I have also found that there is a risk of our intellect overshadowing our hearts. We need both to work in conjunction.

 

Whenever I separate myself from that understanding of God as love, letting it slip into the recesses of my mind, I lose the sacredness of my search. Like the jackass student who I found out was homeless, I cannot understand God’s words without seeing the context of our relationship. I can’t look at the Bible in an attempt to reconnect with God without first understanding that this Guy is head over heels, weak at the knees, nails in the hands, in love with me. It’s a give and take. And obviously it’s a different type of relationship than ones of conversations over coffee.

 

But at the same time it is so much more reliable.

 

I look at this passage and I am reminded of why He means the world to me. It washes me in warmth over that inexpressible feeling of affection. Of being loved. Of perfect, uncensored, nails in the hand, kind of love that has the ability to bring a man back to life.

 

As Brennan wonderfully says:

“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair;” –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (emphasis mine)

 

 

I hope this Sunday you’ll sit with this scripture, and allow that affection to overwhelm.

RR