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

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

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

A Person not a Position

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Last night, Andrew Marin and Michael Kimpan stayed over at my parent’s house. Yes, you read that right. The two are here to speak at my brother’s church about the work that the Marin Foundation is doing and how the congregants can join in the effort.

Their timing couldn’t be more perfect. Minnesota is still reeling from the exhausting and absurdly poisonous “dialogue” that took place leading up to the November Marriage Amendment ballot initiative. I voted against it for the same reason many of my peers did- we wanted to give dialogue another shot. We recognize that we still have much to learn from God and one another and it would be shame if we effectively cut out a whole group from the conversation.

Over coffee this morning, Michael, my brother and myself, spitballed about how to facilitate a conversation between the church and the gay community without letting all hell break lose. At my brother’s church, they had already tried this over the marriage amendment issue. It didn’t really work out that well. The attendees had come to throw bombs, not extend hands.  Some folks showed up with their opinions literally Sharpied all over their shirts.

It’s important to note, Michael explained. This is the most emotionally charged issue of the day. Defusing those emotions can only occur if we change the way we relate to one another.

He relayed to us how he could see the avid intensity behind both sides. You hear a Church is talking about building bridges with the gay community and a conservative Christian may feel the need to bring a Leviticus 18 sign, in the name of slowing down the slippery slope and out of love for his church. But the mom of recently out gay kid may going to go to try to find some affirmation of her son’s sexual orientation, out her love for her child.. Get those people into the same room armed with prepared talking points and close ended questions, and the beautiful reconciliation bubble may burst.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Michael reminded me of the purpose of this foundation in the first place. So often as Christians, we look to the definitive answer on this issue through books, pastors, culture and the wells we drink from. Rarely do we ever simply sit back and watch Jesus walk. He was a relational being. There was no place he wouldn’t enter and no person he wouldn’t touch. He lived and breathed reconciliation. The end result of his journey was to square us away with Him. For eternity.

If we start removing the weight of the issue, the insult of difference, the mark we place on those who disagree, the names we call them, where we make them sit… when we finally stop projecting our own fears and prejudices against the other, we may actually get somewhere. We may start seeing the person instead of the position.

Our discourse has become so dysfunctional.

But it’s a wound that I know Jesus can heal.

If we let him.

RR

The Education of a Church: Eliminating Analogies

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A quick word before you read this next post. Things are moving in a great direction at my brother’s church. The head pastor recently said in a large staff meeting that what they were doing was not a “ministry to the gay community” but rather, “a ministry to the church”. The leadership of this Church has felt a call to learn more about their brothers and sisters in Christ that have been pushed to the margins and muted from the conversation. Their mission is about love and relationships and removing homophobia from the Christian community. Making community mean something. As I hear more and more about what this church is doing, I am becoming weaker at the knees. I love this church.

 

So, I am not real worried about this church struggling with the problem I am about to lay out to you. This is a recommendation to churches all over about how to start reconciliation with gay community in the midst of a continuing culture war.

 

 

There was a serious crisis. A crisis so threatening that those in the Church felt compelled to respond. It was the infamous “Day of Silence” observed by students in my high school. It was a day when individuals took sharpies to shirts in protest of bullying against LGBT students. It was part statement of tolerance and part memorial for students that had taken their lives as a result of bullying.

 

In the wake of this radical event, my family received a letter from a concerned Christian parent who told her story of having an alcoholic father and how she inherited tendencies toward alcoholism as a result. So ya, she knew what it was like to be gay.

 

During my freshmen year of college, a friend of mine opened up about his rough childhood and how he was predisposed to violence. Everyday he chose to use his words instead of his fists, even though it killed him not to throw a punch. So, he said, he knew what it was like to be gay.

 

Others have compared being gay to…

 

Eating disorders

Drug addiction

Pedophilia

Kleptomania

Anger issues

Terrorism (I actually heard this one)

And so on.

 

These are the types of analogies that are spoken off the cuff by both leaders of the faith and common followers.

 

But here’s the deal.

 

If you’re trying to understand something that you have relatively little or no experience with, don’t draw bridges where they don’t belong.

 

There is a gulf of understanding that has to be accepted. I cannot see from a straight person’s perspective. You cannot see from mine. I cannot see from a woman’s perspective and nor can she see from mine. I cannot see from the perspective of ethnicities other than my own. And even within my own, we all have our own crow’s nest.

 

Analogies are utilized to make the complex understandable. It simplifies things. But it can also be used to justify a perspective one has already prepared. To best distribute that perspective, its packaged in bite size sound bytes so the masses can spread it accordingly. It’s simple, it makes sense, and all of a sudden,

 

Children of alcoholics are the same as gay people.

 

I cringe in responding about the difference between alcoholism and homosexuality, so I am happy that the Women in Theology blog wrote a thoughtful piece on it:

 

“while genetic and environmental factors certainly predispose certain individuals to become alcoholics, no one, not even the most genetically and environmentally at-risk person, can become an alcoholic if they never take a drink of alcohol.  This of course is not true for homosexuals.  One does not become a homosexual only upon having homosexual sex.  People typically experience themselves to be gay prior to and independently of engaging in homosexual sex.  In fact, there are people who have never engaged in homosexual sex, either by choice (some priests and nuns, for example) or by circumstance, who still know themselves to be gay.  But why would anyone who has never taken a sip of alcohol consider herself to be an alcoholic?  If someone did do this, we would tell her that she was mistaken; quite simply, what she would say about herself would make no sense to us.”

 

If churches want to be part of the conversation, which I firmly believe they do, they need to stop killing it off with offensive analogies. Growing up gay, especially within Christian community, comes with a mixed bag of blessings and burdens. Our stories are not equitable. All comparisons do is strip away the dignity our testimonies’ deserve.

 

And when I look back- when I reread that parent’s letter, when I remember the time that analogies became staples to every sermon on the subject; that is the time I began putting padlocks on the closet door. After you hear enough people cast you off as an addict, a defected person, or in some cases, a pervert, like a pedophile, there is no reason to go public. You’d have to be stupid to. Instead, you just sit alone and hate yourself for the monster they said you are.

 

To bring the conversation back to the church, the analogies have to be dropped.

 

While I believe many gave analogies in order to establish a certain level of compassion for the gay and lesbian community, they have done just the opposite.

 

Because analogies to painful illnesses and evil behavior are inaccurate, unnecessary and truly offensive.

 

Having said this, any church wishing to chart a new course with us should also not give in to the temptation of creating new positive analogies. That still reduces us to our sexual orientation. Our identity is in Christ not in our attractions.

 

Take in our tales. Listen to the lies we heard for years. Let the shame we felt sink in. Our stories can do far more than analogies ever could.

 

It may seem like mere words, but to us, they carry a lot of weight. Analogies arm every churchgoer we know with the talking points on how to address us. They minimize us. Patronize us. They make us strain to see Christ through all of the mud being thrown.

 

And most importantly, they rob the church of needed yet neglected disciples that are valuable to the body of believers. It kills every good opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation to occur. It is a wrench in the machine.

 

With that, I leave you with perhaps the most important passage pertaining to how we should relate to one another. It’s found in the book of Romans.

 

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”(Romans 14:13-14 MSG, emphasis mine)

 

 

Comparative analogy and authentic testimony cannot share the same bed.

The church has to choose which one is more important.

 

RR

The Education of a Church: Recognize

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My brother works at a church which is making an aggressive push to heal the wounds between the (capital C) Church and the gay community. In one of the most honest and awesome efforts I’ve seen to build a bridge with the gay community, they are pulling together a vast number of resources to promote the process of reconciliation. This church is golden.

And, with this, my brother asked for my perspective on what I think the church should do to move forward. He texted me this question, to which I told him I would need much more time and writing space to articulate a proper response than I could in a TEXT.

There is just so much that needs to be said.

So, here is the first of a few recommendations I am making to him and his church.

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When conversations arise as to how to make churches more welcoming for lgbt individuals, a couple things come to mind.

First, Christian folks uncomfortable in the first place will inject definitions on the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” which swiftly slides into rather offensive statements about “their lifestyle”.

Second, there is an apparent lack of recognition of those already within the church. The conversers put the cart before the horse in talks of making the church more magnetic to gays outside its walls instead of recognizing those already isolated inside them. If anything is to change, this where to start.

My friend, and Oddmanout blogger, Brent Bailey, put it best when he wrote:

“It is not the church’s job to make room for LGBT members; it is the church’s job to recognize the room God has already made for LGBT members (just like God carved out space for everyone else) and then to delight in the diversity of people through whom God is revealed to us.”

Retracing the steps of church history, there is a clear pattern of struggle amongst the faithful when it comes to inclusion. Early on, the people of God made a real mess of things… They adhered to old rules and rituals, like circumcision, racial classes and gender roles. This essentially left every demographic different from the disciples disqualified from admission.

But a greater truth emerged. One that was lost on those peering down from pedestals.

God isn’t a brick and mortar building. He doesn’t keep some people in and other people out. God is not religion.

Only minutes after the ascension did the disciples start selecting saints like those captains in gym class. These earthly followers, being left in a divine power vacuum, struggled to find their sea legs for church ministry.

For centuries, routine fights would break out, disputes that divided brother from brother. There was always something wrong with this group or that group for the Church. Religious rule always trumped faithful community. This often led to a divine Last Word of sorts where God would step in and say, “yes, them too.”

If there is any story in the Bible that illustrates this best, it is that of Peter and Cornelius. At this point in Church history only Jews could be saved because of their heritage and their circumcision. Racial supremacy was simply an accepted practice of God’s people.

Cornelius had a hunger for God. He was a prayer warrior, an incredibly generous man in his community, and held to squeaky clean moral values. To him, even if the first row was forbidden, he wished to just eavesdrop on the message of the Messiah. It captivated him. He was a huge fan.

So imagine his excitement when an angel appeared before him, telling him that God had heard him from the back row and had a task for him to take on. He was to send a few men out to go find the apostle Peter and invite him over for a meeting.

Meanwhile, Peter, busy running the ministry and avoiding persecution, had a vision from God of a heavenly sheet dropping down with all different kinds of delicious animals before him. Then the voice of God commanded Peter to kill and eat.

“Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”

15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” (Acts 10:14-15, MSG, emphasis mine)

Awakening from the trance, a Holy whisper spoke to him: “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.” (Acts 10:20, MSG)

Upon Peter’s arrival, Cornelius broke down and began worshipping him. It’s important that this moment not be misunderstood, as I’m sure many have. Cornelius is on the outside, a wannabe, someone not worthy of tying the rabbi down the road’s sandal. At least, that’s what the world told him. His view of himself is an example of the bruised fruit of a faith that diminishes some and elevates others based on human characteristics.

Obviously uncomfortable, Peter stops him saying, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”(Acts 10:26, MSG)

Settling in and sorting out exactly what was going on, Peter first acknowledges that their meeting is unusual, after all, being in the company of men like Cornelius was a big church no-no. Then Peter curiously asks why Cornelius sent for him in the first place.

Cornelius, probably a bit puzzled, responds that God told him to extend the invitation. Nothing more than that.

Now, you have to take a break and laugh a little at this, because it sounds just like something a kid of separated parents would do to get them back together.

Like the kind where the wife meets her husband at their favorite table at their favorite restaurant, and says, “I loved the flowers you sent me!” and he says, “what flowers?” and then they sit confused, only to widen their eyes five seconds later and simultaneously sigh, oh…”

This is what happens to Peter. Ever since his vision from the previous day, he hadn’t a clue what God was trying to tell him.

And then it all clicked.

“Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38 “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”(Acts 10: 34-38, MSG, emphasis mine)

Cornelius’s conversion runs parallel to the Eunuch’s. Remember how the Eunuch asked Phillip the same question about baptism? The point is the same. The exact same. Christ’s body was broken for everyone. He plays no favorites, he sees no pedestals, he could care less about whether you’re black or white, male or female, left-handed or right-handed, or, gay or straight. The God we serve comes with no pre-reqs.

What he wants is for us to love him first and foremost, and then love our neighbor as ourselves.

Can the Church say its in obedience if its debating whether or not to let gay folks in?

The fact that the church needs to accept is that lgbt population does not need its approval to be a member of God’s family. It does not need the Church to measure and weigh the pros and cons of accepting their membership. That’s not church, that’s a country club!

The church needs to accept that we all stand as equals before the Eucharist.

The gay community does not need your help in finding God.

It was Christ that first cut the temple curtain. He brought the burn outs back in. He drank of their wine. He fished with their nets. He kissed on their cheeks. He washed clean their feet.

God’s been with outcasts like us for over two thousand years.

If the church is to be the body of Jesus, it has to be more like the Olympics and less like the country club. Instead of figuring out the best approach to allowing gay folks in the door, it needs to check its back closet and notice all its gay members hiding among the flock. Hell, notice all of the diversity within its walls. Stop seeing what you’re lacking and starting seeing those you already have. Racial minorities, women, the disabled, immigrants and so on.

So, for my brother and his church- Recommendation Number One: Recognize the space God has already created for the lgbt community. Just like he did for Cornelius, Hagar, the Ethiopian Eunuch, African Americans, mentally ill, women and so on.

This is a framework to move forward on.

RR

The Shooting in Connecticut

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Something horrifying happened this morning. It was one of those heartbreaking, stop in your tacks, wipe a tear from your eye and hold the hand of your loved one type of morning. A day where evil escalated to new heights.

27 dead.

18 Children.

A cold chill shot down my spine as I read those numbers this morning. It was one of those moments where the world stops spinning. If you haven’t heard, a father of a elementary student in Connecticut open fired on a school and took 27 lives, 18 of which were children.

When I first read this, I stopped. And knowing I should, but feeling bitter about it, I reluctantly turned to God. I briefly mentioned comfort and peace to the families but then got to my real reasons. My authentic anger. I prayed:

Why the fuck was this allowed to happen?

 

I am certain that as the dust settles on this event and the fog of grief and mourning starts to clear, the parents of those 18 children will be asking the same question. Perhaps even more profanely. And they won’t get an answer. They may get some clichés from family and friends like, “there’s a reason for everything” and “God needed another angel” (to which I think of Nicole Kidman’s character in Rabbit Hole, asking: “Why didn’t He just make one?”)

Senseless killings of innocent children will never make sense, but we should never stop trying to understand how they happen. The reaction of the status quo is to always claim insensitivity to those who call this what it is: a Wake Up Call. To those that understand when the pin is pulled the grenade will blow. That while we may not have pulled the trigger, we sure as hell missed something.

 

When gun related deaths in the city of Chicago outnumber slain soldiers in Afghanistan, we know we are living in a war zone. When bags have to be checked at movie theaters, when metal detectors are installed in high schools, when people shoot their girlfriends over episodes of the Walking Dead, we know something is not just wrong, but terrifyingly evil. This is hell on earth.

Our culture is fairly fucked up. We glorify violence in the theater and then are shocked when someone turns the gun on the crowd. We hold the 2nd Amendment above our heads as if God himself ordained the freedom to buy whatever weapons we please. We say things like, “People kill people, guns don’t kill people” and “if the victims were armed no one would have died.” To which I say look at the stats of our State. The US has both the highest number of people killed by gun violence and the weakest gun control laws in the developed world. As Michael Moore said after the Aurora shooting, “Who kills people? We do.” Arguments of the slippery slope, losing rights if you don’t use them and arming the public are red herrings to avoid the admission that 2 + 2 in fact equals 4. That when guns are as easy to get as groceries, blood will inevitably be shed.

And guns are a huge part of the problem, but they are hardly the whole of it. We live in a society where mental illness is considered weakness. We shame those afflicted in pain with stigmas in films and neglect their need for treatment. We encourage people to bury the very feelings that they know aren’t right. The thoughts that push people over the edge. These illnesses that are so serious are too often disregarded as the “blues” or “phases”, never given due attention until its too late. And religious institutions do not have clean hands when it comes to this. To some (key word) depression, mental illness, emotional disorders are considered crises of faith. Medication, something as essential as eating and breathing to the severely mentally ill, is thought of as a lack of trust in God. These are serious errors.

I understand that this can be read the wrong way, as insensitive in the early aftermath, but we cannot let this tragedy become just another rung in the ladder. There is a pattern of evil that is evolving at a rapid rate and it breaks my heart to watch us as we sit and simply respond with , “God has a plan”. Yes, God has a plan, and it’s us. He is counting on us to rebuild what is so clearly broken in today’s world. In this time when we know people will cling to their guns and claim the constitution as their protector, we have to take a good hard look in the mirror and see how we have failed. How have we made our children less safe? How have we allowed sick people to go untreated? How have we placed the constitution above the Bible? When will we wake up?

Why does evil happen? We allow it.

As you finish reading this, fight against the anger I had, and turn towards God and pray a prayer for each of those parents this morning, and the families of the other faculty that were killed. Pray for comfort and peace, even though they seem like unreachable requests. Pray for protection from the national spotlight on their personal tragedies. Pray for reconciliation and pray for future prevention.

Pray, pray, pray,

RR

Doubt and Civility like Coffee and Cream

Hand Pouring Cream into Coffee Cup

This post is born from this mornings read by one of the most empathetic intellectual thinkers in America:

David Blankenhorn is the President of the Institute for American Values who has long been an advocate against same-sex marriage. He has recently changed his mind, which surprisingly, has no bearing on my positive feelings towards him. Influential gay writer and one of the first proponents of marriage equality, Andrew Sullivan, wrote,

“He is perhaps the most clearly decent, intellectually honest, non-homophobic opponent of marriage equality.”

On his blog, Blankenhorn wrote a piece that is one of the most redemptive efforts towards reconciliation. Titled Doubt, Sweet Doubt, the content surrounds the necessity of uncertainty. It is about why doubt and civility are so intertwined with one another. Why there is no reason for disagreements to become disagreeable when there is an acknowledgment of our inability to be certain. This is such a breath of fresh air in every political and theological conflict that occurs today. It is healing and harmonious. Redemptive. Reconciliation-centric. He is tackling something that we all know too well, but never discuss.

This excerpt isn’t packed with an emotional punch, he’s an intellectual after all. But follow the link at the bottom to see the video that shows the beauty of bonding despite disagreements.

I won’t steal any more of his thunder, here’s an excerpt and a link to the full post:

“But at bottom it seems to me that, for the certain person – the person who is typically confident that he or she knows the truth of the matter – civility is mostly a question of good manners, or of moral correctness, perhaps also mixed in with the strategic recognition that demonstrating civility is tactically helpful as one seeks to persuade others of the true position.  In other words, for the certain person, civility tends to be behavior that is largely (though perhaps not entirely) selfless, essentially a matter of correct conduct and good deportment.

 

But for the doubting person – the person who is typically uncertain that he or she is right – civility is still correct deportment, but it’s also far more.  For the doubting person, civility is like oxygen.  It’s personally necessary.  Why?  Because without it, I can’t get what I need.

 

What I need as a doubting person is the wisdom of the other.  I need what the other has to offer, to correct my own acknowledged noetic shortcomings and to help my own views (which I know are always partial, we see in a glass darkly) become truer views.  As a doubting person, civility is more than being nice.  Civility is part of what allows me to eat what I must eat and drink what I must drink.

 

So that’s why I say that doubt and civility go together naturally.  But if you’ll indulge me, let me say a bit more, in praise of doubt. I’m 57, and I used to know much more than I do now.  As I get older, I find that I grow in doubt, and I’m grateful for that.  Intellectually, I depend on doubt.  Doubt is my friend.  I don’t mean that I’ve stopped having beliefs, or stopped being passionate about those beliefs; it’s just that I’m more and more certain, when it comes to the free life of the mind, of the importance of uncertainty.”  (Bold Emphasis Mine)

When we acknowledge that our convictions may be incorrect, we inevitably need the relationship of the other. We need the friendship. We need empathy to explore what life looks like in the other’s shoes. We require their company.

In discussing his relationship with marriage equality advocate Jonathan Rauch, especially while he was still opposed to gay marriage, he speaks to how intellectuals dismiss friendships and experiences as subjective, irrelevant and unreliable in the formation of convictions. But, the error that Blankenhorn points out is that when we sit in our studies drawing out theories of belief about the other’s positions, we build “barriers to belief”. In other words, we become creators of caricatures.

If you want to watch more of this reconciliation in color, here’s a video of his sit down with Jonathan Rauch, on Krista Tippet’s website, On Being.

RR

Redeeming the Last Post

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Whenever one posts something, be it blog, twitter, facebook, whatever, if mixed feelings come before the click, it’s probably best to sleep on it.

The other day my feelings were mixed, but I shot it out anyway.

Two things happened since then.

1) I emailed a buddy across the blogosphere (Julie of Incite Faith) and asked if she thought I came on too abrasively. Her response was a great wake up call.

““But the line must be drawn between good and poisoned fruit.”

The line is love.

Love is what bridges the gap.”

2) The post was also reprinted on another site. A commenter said he felt compelled to give a response of truth because Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”

Ouch.

I wrote about the bad fruits emerging from the ex gay industry and I meant it. The loud chorus of survivors coming out of reparative therapy doesn’t suggest a ministry of redemption. My own flirtation with it gives me insight into how the fruit tastes. I have seen too much and heard too much. I cannot cast this therapy aside as an “option” or “alternative”, because lives are literally at stake here.

And yes, I have some serious concerns about the fact that this is a business more than a ministry.

Having said that, I made the awful mistake of blurring therapy with therapists. Throwing babies out with the bathwater you could say. Maybe that’s why I had mixed feelings. And maybe I felt that the “poison apple” parallel packed a bigger punch, but in the process, I allowed a personal vendetta against Ms. Hamilton to reach a new low. And when you’re throwing low blows, you’re failing the Father.

There is something that I innately implied into yesterday’s post that is a gross mischaracterization: when I said “ex gay” I was referring to the therapy, not the clients or the therapists. It was a lazy mistake. But a big one.

I know people that have gone through the reparative process, and while they spoke of it’s damage, they never considered counselors to be cruel. Some even have fond memories of them. And we… I, need to entertain the idea that this may be true.

The words of Ms. Julie Hamilton had devastating consequences on my family, but that does not mean her intent was devastation. I don’t know her. And to be perfectly honest, she’s likely a wonderful person.

Ex gay counselors across the board may care more about gay folks than most people. It takes a special someone to trot into the trenches with strangers struggling with their sexual identity. And if that someone sincerely believes that reparative therapy is what’s best for their patient, then their reasons are rooted in love. More love than the words I wrote yesterday.

Justin Lee, author of the book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christian Debate, writes in his book… well, what I should have written in my post:

“Christians really are a compassionate bunch, even though the cultural reputation we have right now doesn’t reflect that. Because so many Christians- especially evangelical Christians like me- believed that gay relationships were sinful, they also wanted to believe that there was some way that gay people could become straight so that they could legitimately enjoy all the benefits of romance and marriage. The ex-gays wanted to believe this and to provide hope to others. Unfortunately, sometimes that desire for hope got in the way of being completely honest.”

If I start caricaturing even those with whom I most passionately disagree with, this blog is a fraud.

I missed the mark in my message. And I am sorry.

Burning bridges is always abrasive. It is always unhelpful. It is always hurtful. And it is always unchristian.

Cause bridges have no pre-reqs.

Disciples don’t divide. They put humility before vindictiveness and God before themselves.

Mother Teresa once said:

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

I traded a bridge for a partition in the last post, and its because I forgot their spot at the feast.

I forgot that no one is beyond redemption.

Not even me.

It’s a new day and God’s grace is fresh.

And I’ll try to be better tomorrow.

Blessings,

RR

Six Reasons Rick Warren is NOT the Boogeyman

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Recently I shot out a tweet to Rick Warren that I… half regret. I say half regret because the second half, in which I said, “who have you become?”, was unfair. The first half, asking him why he still hasn’t responded to the Human Rights Campaign’s call to again condemn and reach out to those in Uganda in an effort to stop the Kill-the-Gays bill from passing, is still very concerning to me. But there are many things I do not know. For instance, he may be doing it covertly and sees a public condemnation as the worst path to reconciliation. You attract bees with honey not vinegar.

 

But after thinking about that tweet and who Rick Warren is, I came to the conclusion that I had written him off as a Boogeyman. My timing is also in sync with many other organizations and blogs have come after him. His perceived silence and stupid comments regarding the LGBT community (Piers Morgan the other night when he compared homosexuality to arsenic).

But many of these writers don’t know how the inner rings of conservative Christianity work, and many do not see how, in the grand scheme of things, Rick is further along than his peers.

 1. He Regrets 2009- Publicly

When Proposition 8 was up for a vote, Rick Warren released a video expressing his support for the measure. What many of us didn’t know was that it was a video only for his church. He wasn’t working in conjunction with the National Organization for Marriage or the GOP.

 

Recently he said that if he could do it over again, he wouldn’t have made the video. A humble admission.

 2. He battles ignorance

Boogeymen love ignorance. It’s what feeds their followers and creates a reality separate from those pesky facts and reasonable people. 

 

Earlier this year, Christian radio host Bryan Fischer, called HIV “harmless” and not the cause of AIDS. And then he basically went back to the AIDS-to-gays is as God-to-judgment analogy, a grotesque theological belief. Even more, he didn’t think AIDS victims were the type of people Christians should care about.  Warren’s wife was first to condemn Fisher, calling his remarks, “indefensible”.

 

Later on they released a joint statement saying:

 

“People living with the virus are people that Jesus created, loves, and died for. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that when you find someone bleeding on the side of the road, you don’t say ‘Was it your fault?’ You just help them in love! Let’s be very careful about what reality we deny; lives are at stake.”

 3. P.E.A.C.E.

Rick and his Church launched the PEACE Plan as a way to use their treasure and influences to change the world for the better. The acronym goes: Promote Reconciliation, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, Educate the next generation. So far this program has been wildly successful and has brought many folks around the world to Christ.

 4. Kay

When an individual is married to someone as wonderful as Kay Warren, they are probably not a boogeyman. Kay Warren is a champion for finding the cure to HIV/AIDS. She has been a relentless advocate on issues within Africa and around the world. Kay is not simply the woman behind the man, but a force to be reckoned with in the dumpster of poverty and disease. The world is better because of her.

 

 5. He doesn’t use the pulpit to belittle others

Pastor Warren only discusses his views on homosexuality when he is asked, which happens to be a lot since it is the most divisive issue in the church today. He doesn’t hit the gay community from the pulpit and the only time his platform was used as a way to push back gay rights, was in 2009 which he has regretted doing.

 6. He is a Bridge Builder

Pay attention- this one is important.

 

I watched an episode of HuffPost Live this morning, where the interviewer asked about the controversy (in culture) about his views on homosexuality. Warren rightly pointed out that if he disagrees with some on this issue he gets called a hater or a homophobe. Which makes no sense to him because he doesn’t hate anyone nor is he “afraid” of gay people.

 

The pivotal point came when he said that he bases his views on Bible, while others base it on other things like the world and culture. At this moment, the interviewer interrupted him and said, “other people base their beliefs on the Bible too, but have a different interpretation.” Instead of doing what I thought he was going to do, roll his eyes or skip on to something else, he said this:

 

“that is very true. What we need are the kind of conversations you and I are having right now. Non inflammatory, non flaming throwing, not saying ‘you must be a bad person because you disagree with me’ in fact, you can’t convince me to agree with you if you’re saying I’m a bad person… we’re losing our civility in civilization.”

 

THIS IS WHAT MY BLOG IS ABOUT! I love that he said this, because it is so reflective of a heart pursuing reconciliation. That we should never forget the difference between righteousness and rudeness. It is one of the best statements, I believe, he has made on this issue.

 

And some may argue that what he said doesn’t take much to say, but when you think about the other power players in the conservative Christian community who are so rigid in their loyalty to doctrine, this could potentially become a chink in his armor. That is, if they choose to attack him on it.

 

 

Pastor Warren is not perfect, neither am I and neither are you. He has said stupid things about sexual orientation, made ridiculous equivalents to homosexuality, and he will probably continue to do so. But he is not the Boogeyman. He is a faithful pastor who actually has a desire to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the most controversial issue facing the Church today. And he’s learning quickly how to do so in a manner that makes grace and love a top priority.

 

As I said in my post about Mark Driscoll, just because I think Pastor Warren has said destructive things, doesn’t mean his intent is destruction. And even further, he’s a huge net positive for the world. He chooses to take action instead of cheap shots.

 

No Boogeyman here!

 

RR