Does it really get better?- Kevin Shoop (Love Letters Series)

 

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Today I am incredibly excited and proud to kick off the Love Letter Series. This is a big day for my blog. It is the start of something I have wanted to do for such a long time. Provide a place where my LGBT brothers and sisters can find encouragement and affirmation from a variety of voices, big and small. A place where love is the offering and hope is the message. A small push in turning the tide of evangelical vitriol toward the LGBT community. This is reconciliation. This is restoration. This is everything.

 

 The plan is to post one of these letters at the first of every month, creating a tab where they can be accessed easily.

 

For the first post, we have Kevin Shoop. I can’t think of anyone better to start off this series. I’ve read his story and it baffles me that he has had the courage and conviction to pursue Christ. He has wisdom to pour out, please absorb it.

Read more from Kevin here

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Does it really get better?

That’s a question I’m sure most of you have asked. Especially if one or more of the following is true about you today:

  • You identify as a Christian
  • You go to a non-affirming church
  • You are in the closet
  • Most or all of your family believe that being gay is a sin (or at the very least, unnatural)
  • You are trying to change
  • You have chosen a path of lifelong celibacy
  • You don’t know whether you want to be a Christian or not
  • You feel lonely and marginalized by either Christians or the LGBT community (or both)

Let me briefly share my own story with you, with the hope that you will realize the width, depth, and breadth of God’s love for you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

I grew up in the Bible Belt and faithfully attended conservative evangelical churches until my late 20s. My elementary, junior high, high school, and college years were spent in conservative Christian schools. I worked in a Christian bookstore for over three years. I’ve been to a number of Christian counselors, had mentoring relationships with pastors, and attended extensive ex-gay group therapy. My life was permeated with the American Christian subculture in the first 27 years of my life.

I was in the closet to family and friends during this time. Although I was determined to overcome homosexuality, I was equally determined to hide it. There was too much shame associated with being gay. As a result of hiding, my relationships with others became more distant and shallow. I became desperately lonely. My vision of God became a stone figure with a passive smile: yes, He loved me (signified by the smile), but He was powerless to change me and incapable of active love.

So I gave up.

One cold February evening in Northeastern Ohio, I gave up the fight. I had prayed too many times. I had spent too much time confessing my desires and fears with mentors and counsellors. I had tried too long to change. I had spent too many hours ashamed of who I was. I was done.

Aptly, it snowed that night. I woke up to grey skies and everything blanketed in white. I felt my relationship with God had ended, and that my faith had died. I was entering the winter of my spiritual life.

Interestingly, I wasn’t in despair. I was numb. And I also felt relieved. I felt I didn’t have to try to please God anymore, because He had already rejected me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that evening was not an ending, but a milestone. A turning point. I had finally and unapologetically let go. I had wrestled with the angel, and I was defeated—rendered incapable of fighting anymore.

Since that night, my journey has been interesting and unexpected. I’ve rejected God. I’ve come back to God. I went through a time of sexual promiscuity. I met and am now “married” to my current partner. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, and stopped reading the Bible. I started going to church again (about 6 months ago). The church I go to now is gay-affirming. Every week at the communion table, all are invited to partake wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith.

There is a common theme to my story. No matter what phase of life I find myself, Jesus continues to love me actively and passionately. He didn’t love me more when I was fighting to change. He didn’t love me less when I was hooking up with strangers over the internet for sex. He didn’t love me more when I was praying and reading my Bible and witnessing. He didn’t love me less when I questioned (and still question) his existence and his goodness. There are no qualifiers to his love. There are no “buts” to these statements. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Period.

Your journey is your own, and it is sacred. Whether you are fully embracing your sexuality, attempting to live a life of celibacy, trying to change your sexuality, have rejected the God of your childhood, are currently identifying as a atheist, or whether you are somewhere else on the continuum of faith and life, you are on holy ground. Your path may be different than mine, and in the end we may arrive at different places, but we are both loved without condition.

 

Much love,

Kevin

Picture This- A Painful Spiritual Practice for Good Friday

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When the incomprehensible, invisible, ghost like God feels far away from me. When to be faithful means to be oppressed. When I forget to pray for months on end.

 

I stop in my boots.

 I close my eyes.

And I paint an excruciating image in my mind.

 

I envision someone I love carrying that cross to Skull Hill. I hear their shrieks, the lashes, see the life draining from their eyes, the blood flooding over the earth and I watch, unable to do anything. I see my dad, my mom, my brothers, my sister, my best friends, and sometimes, my dog. To know that it was all my mistakes that drove nails into their wrists and feet. To know that they went their willingly. For me. 

 

I do this because it is easy to think I appreciate what Jesus did without feeling it in my bones. Two thousand years of separation is something. It is a wall. If I am perfectly honest, it is difficult for me, a visual thinker, to imagine my God suffocating.

 

I remember feeling so guilty for being the only one not weeping in the theater showing of the Passion of the Christ. I remember feeling heartless. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

 

I think I didn’t because that was Jim Caveziel and I had seen a hundred other Jesuses dying in a thousand different ways. It rang false, even though for many, it is a powerful portrayal that turns the heart violent inside.

 

When I envision that day with someone I have touched and kissed and held, I fall completely apart. I lose it. I get angry. I get dark. I am broken apart like shattered glass. I don’t want to see any of that, but I have to. I do this in remembrance of Him. I do this in remembrance of the full and free and flaming love and affection and protection poured out on me. 

 

I think of my loved ones and to me, that’s a holy experience. Because that’s what God lived through. For hours. That was his love gasping for breath. That was his perfect child, the one that called out to Him, asking why oh why he had forsaken Him. The one who stayed silent until the sacrifice was satisfactory even though it broke him into a million pieces.

 

These souls have been Christ to me in so many ways. They have held me when I cried, led me out of depression, walked humbly and kindly as I journey out of the closet.

 

And they mean the world to me, just like Jesus does.

Just like Jesus does to God.

Just like I do to Jesus

 That is my spiritual practice for today.

 

What’s yours?

RR

Donkey King

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Sunday night, I heard the same story again, but it hit me differently. I’m not sure if it’s how the pastor told it or how I’ve changed since last Easter but, anyway, it’s about Jesus on Palm Sunday. I completely understand this post is belated.

 

But did it ever strike you that Jesus rode in on a donkey? That His great entrance into His final week was on a donkey? For most of you, I’m assuming it did. It has always intrigued me. I’ve always seen it as an an allusion to his mother’s precarious caravan to the Bethlehem. That same carrier to the cradle, now, to the grave. I’m not theologically astute, but that is how it has always read to me.

 

Yet, still, it stopped me in my boots. In a similar, but different way.

 

 

I wondered what the crowd saw this move as. A poverty protest toward the rich Romans? Merely a matter of poor planning? Did they even care?

 

The Jews saw Jesus as the Messiah that would liberate them from Rome. His arrival in Jerusalem was construed as a kick off to the revolution. The first event that would start their glorious reclamation of city and rights and dignity.

 

But… He came in on a donkey.

No… He came in on a colt of a donkey. A baby donkey.

So small that His feet dragged easily on the gravel below.

 

What?

 

When Kings conquered cities they charged through the front gates on giant steeds. Like Clydesdale size. It was a mark of pride to hover above others on such a powerful beast, it mattered greatly to royalty.

 

And then you have the most anticipated King of all time riding in for his big moment on a tiny little donkey. What kind of King does that?

 

The king that also washes crusty toes and caresses leper skin. The kind that doesn’t care what He looks like. The kind that thinks spectacles are for Salesmen not Saviors. The meek like. The this isn’t all about me king. The we’re in this together king. The king ready to lay down his life for crooks and liars despite what the world thinks. The king that eats with cheats and whores and children. The king that empties all of himself- all of his love, all of his grace, all of his energy, all of his strength, and all of his blood on behalf of a guilty world.

 


 

The king that says, “this donkey, that Hill, these people, those people, these nails, that whip, this strangling, this whole frothing world. This is worthy of my death.”


 

 

That’s the kind of King that makes me weak at the knees.

What say you?

RR

 

For the Closeted Ones

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I’m writing this for the closet LGBTQs, but in a way, I’m writing this for myself. When I was where you are, alone in agony, I wish someone would’ve written to me. Just a word from a world where there were others. A red flare far out in the dark.

 

And maybe your story is a lot like mine. Maybe you need these words more than I need to write them…

 

Maybe you heard it first at age nine from the front row pew. Your pastor said it in ten seconds and it felt like hell and hate hurling down upon you. Maybe you heard it in the car with James Dobson declaring to the nation, to your family, that perverts like you don’t get to have God. Maybe you heard it in everything that went unsaid.

 

Maybe you opened the Book and saw six or so verses with their crushing words, leaving your soul cracked wide open. Maybe you read them with a lump in your throat and tears down your face and trembling hands. Maybe a part of you died.

 

And the message was received, loud and clear. You cannot be known, because you cannot be loved. You will not be welcomed. You will not be saved. You will lose everyone you care about. You will be thrown away.

 

So you ran backwards. You receded down deep, laid thick bricks all around you to keep everyone out. You believed it all was true and you believed that hiding was protection.

 

For me, for a long time, I believed them too. I believed God could care less. I believed that the only way I would be loved and get my pardon from Hell was to be straight. I believed that sometime, long before memory, maybe as a toddler, I chose to be gay, because that’s what the Church folk said. This is merely a matter of choice.

 

I believed it fully in my decaying heart, until late one night, at my lowest point, He told me something different.

 

It was 1 am and I was below the stars wrapped up in the backyard hammock. I was hyperventilating- violently. Cries were choked out and breath was cut short and I was all past hope.

 

I asked Him how His people, His followers, His body, could be so cruel and tough and severe. Why are you like that? I spat. Why do they say You’re on their side? Why am I even here? Why can’t I be your child? Why won’t you take me?

 

I threw wild swings in the dark, imagining His face was right in front of me. I knew He was there, I believed it, but I was completely convinced that He didn’t care a bit about me.

 

He hated me and I was all past hope.

 

But in the middle of the madness, in the swinging and the cursing, a sudden seam was stitched. A bridge built between my before and my after. A moment that changed everything forever.

 

It came quietly, like the first drops of rain, gentle and cool. It was five words and they were the sweetest ones ever spoken to me.

 

“I am not like them.”

 

I was struck and lulled and captivated all at once. I lost my breath and my arms fell limp to the grass below. I placed my hand over my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut. I listened to it echo through my soul. Reverberating. Over and over, again and again, until it matched the rhythm of my returning heartbeat. I am not like them. I am not like them. I am not like them.

 

The great I Am heard me. Saw me. Spoke to me. Came to me.

The great I Am is not like them.

 

The cries and moans didn’t cease, but they came from a different place. A source of pure joy and adoration and peace and I hang onto this memory with all that I have because it is all that I need. I am His love, I am His joy, He likes me and He loves me and He saved me.

 

He reached out and wrapped His big arms around me and it was like He had waited forever for this.


 

He Loves me… and He loves you too whether you believe or not.

It’s true.


 

I know how that word sounds. Love. Every time someone said it to you, it never felt real because they didn’t know that part of you. If they did, they would have never said it.

 

Listen, if you’re going to hear anything from me, hear this.

 

That’s the monster in the closet talking. The enemy will tell you anything and everything to keep you there. To keep you ashamed. To keep you afraid. Away.

 

But God loves you. He loves you. He loves you. Say it. Out loud. He loves you. He loves me.

 

When God formed you, he named you Masterpiece. Did you know that? Not just another work of art, but the very best thing he ever did. When He came to dwell, he made his bed in the margins. In the closet.

The very ones despised by the religious order were the ones He identified with most. Those were His brothers and sisters. Those were His friends. Those were the ones that got Him. He is with the beaten beside the road. He is with the hurting. He is with the accused. He is with the LGBT soul drowning behind the closet door.

He has carved your name in His palms. He has counted the number of hairs on your head. He thought of you first. He loved you first. He made you on purpose. He gave you a heart and a soul and a mind and breathed life into all that you are.

 

You are the best thing He has done. He has so much pride in you that it borders on embarrassing affection. He is fond of you. He fawns over you. He loves and He likes you.

 

And I believe, more than anything, he wants you to know that..

 

God is not straight and God is not gay,

He is above all the labels, He is only Love.

 

The head over heels, can’t shut up about it kind of love. He feels this for me. He feels this for you. He’s waiting, desperate and still, for you to grasp that, and then maybe, to grasp Him.

 

RR

New Series: Jesus the Advocate

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Starting a new series. As many of you saw from my little outburst on this post, I am feeling far away from God, completely because I haven’t tried to come to him. Coming requires courage, that which I didn’t realize until recently. Perhaps the only reason I have clung to whatever thin thread I have to this faith is because of Jesus. The birth into poverty, love for the least, and death on a cross have compelled me to continue to search. So in that spirit, I have decided to embark on an ambitious journey to learn more about the different titles of Jesus. There are so many that I hadn’t heard of until recently and I am excited to see Him from so many different angles. More than anything, I want to do this series to keep me grounded, tethered to the Bible. Seeing what it will reveal to me, be it good or bad. Hope you enjoy!

~

“Jesus feels for thee; Jesus consoles thee; Jesus will help thee…. In Jesus the weak are strong, and the defenceless safe; they could not be more strong if they were giants, or more safe if they were in heaven. Faith gives to men on earth the protection of the God of heaven. More they cannot need, and need not wish. The conies cannot build a castle, but they avail themselves of what is there already: I cannot make myself a refuge, but Jesus has provided it, His Father has given it, His Spirit has revealed it, and lo, again tonight I enter it, and am safe from every foe.” – Charles Spurgeon

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1st John 2:1-2 NIV (Bold emphasis mine)

Strong’s Concordance

Advocate ~ paraklētos

– one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor

– “Consoler” corresponds to the name “Menahem,” given by the Hebrews to the Messiah.

~

Part of me couldn’t bear it. My folks had to withold my secret from their best friends in the whole wide world. Another part felt a nudge, divine you could say, although I wasn’t completely convinced it was, but anyhow, it was there. A lingering flicker of thought, small proof that the next step for me was to bring my next-door neighbors into our story.

 

Late one night, we invited them over to talk. Struggling to digest all this new information they, understandably, had a lot of very good questions. My folks and I had been at this for several months, and we may have spilled far too much for one conversation to hold. We may have overwhelmed them with theology and the changing Church and what books we were reading and where we were then to where we are now.

 

But in the middle of it, my mom said something that quickened my exhausted explaining heart. She reared her Mother Hen head and said,

 

“Look, truth is, none of us know what God’s intent is here, but no matter what, I am always going to be on the side of my son.”

 

Advocacy.

 

Despite the fact that whatever I decide to do with my life runs the risk of some sin or missing out on God’s plan, she would stubbornly stand in my corner. She would shoulder me up. She would do her best to be delighted in my joy and always be ready to clean up after my mistakes. Whatever ups and downs will come in whatever choice I choose for my life- she will be my advocate, simply because I’m her son.

 

On my side, even if I’m wrong.

 

~~~

 

This is what crossed my mind as I mulled over this title bestowed upon Jesus by John. Looking at the original Greek there are two key words that jump out at me “intercessor” and “consoler”. The idea that Jesus would carry me close to his chest so I wouldn’t have to carry it all alone, while also fighting against every assailant wishing to throw me to the wolves. He’s like a pillar and a preserver.

 

The more I read and reread this verse, the more I see Christ adoring us despite how screwed up we all are. Yes, we have of our log of sins, spoken and unspoken. Nothing can hide our laziness or jealousy or our need for more and more stuff. The best of us have hearts that give themselves to so many other people and places and things other than God. Often times, I don’t express much of an interest for His company.

 

But in the thick of it, he says, “yes, but I have taken care of all of that. I love you, you belong right here. Lay your head on my shoulder, be at peace, I am with you.”

 

He is with us if we enter into a same-sex relationship or journey into celibacy. He’s with us when we wander away for a few years, because he bets on our about-face into his arms. He is with us when the world is throwing daggers and the stack of bills are insurmountable and it takes everything in us just to get out of bed. He is ready to reach into all of our shit and coax us toward the first steps to renewal. He is with us even when we are not with him. Even when we’re wrong.

Calling us saints when we live in shame. Whistling our praise when we’re singing the blues. Telling us its okay when we loosen the screws on our too tight halos.

 

He has already paid our portion, with whips and nails and suffocation. He has already satisfied the must for justice. To this day, he pleads on behalf of you and I. It is said that he is still absorbing the wrath, kneeling before God like armor protecting us. Nails re-piercing, whips still lashing, until the final day comes. It is also said that he is simply kneeling there, begging for God to give us more time, to not squash us like little bugs quite yet.

 

I don’t know if I buy any of that (mind you, I am an amateur, not a theologian).

 

I have to believe that since God “so loved the world”, he sent his son to die on our behalf, that the mission was fulfilled in his death and resurrection, ultimately rendering us to a life lived under the free gift of grace. Maybe my earthly mind cannot comprehend this disagreement between God and Jesus. Maybe that’s not what’s happening.

 

But I do believe he is advocating for us in every day that we live in this world. Against all the evil spreading its long fingers into the hearts and minds of our assailants. I believe he wants the world, each one of us, to recognize Him in the Other. To see that we are good, because he is good. To love ourselves, because there are times when we beat ourselves down to the depths of “least of these”. Despite our meager minds and hearts, always changing from fire to ice, he throws us over his shoulder because he is Enough.

He is fighting for us. He is loving us. Neither is earned, but given anyway.

Jesus is our advocate.

RR

Ten Seconds (Writing on Andrew Marin’s blog today)

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When I first came out to family and friends, there was one blog that we read religiously, Andrew Marin’s. Him and his book and his foundation have been a Godsend for me and those in my corner- so, I was really really really honored when he asked if I would be a monthly contributor to his blog on Patheos. He is trying to create a space where we can tell our stories and our perspectives and create an environment for dialogue to flourish. I feel so blessed to be a part of this. Here is my debut post!

Ten Seconds

I should start at the beginning and stop short there. It’s important to look at those small squares throughout the tape of memory. Those short significant moments in their every detail. True healing, I have found, has to come through something of a slow visitation. A breaking apart of the past, picking up small shards of where things went terribly wrong. Facing them. Saying them. Saying them out loud.

I need to use a magnifying glass and see the short breaths where big things happened. In this case, I want to talk about ten seconds.

Read the rest at Love is an Orientation

 

Brennan and God in Love

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I’ve been trying to rediscover, refresh, redo? my time with God. I say time because that seems to be the most telling indicator for where God and I are. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, I don’t go straight to scripture in these seasons. I visit with the spiritually wise. Those that have had the biggest impact on my own journey.

 

I’ve talked about Brennan Manning a lot on this blog and it’s because there is no one else that has had as big of an impact on my faith as he has. This is one of my favorite passages from his book, Souvenirs of Solitude. It hits me so so hard right now as I am trying to reconnect with who God really is. As I am trying to shake off the old stoic fart that sits on a throne with someone fanning him and lightening bolt in his right hand ready to strike.

 

This passage helps.

(Bold/Size emphasis me)

 

And the Lord summons me a second time. In the chastening solitude of the Pennsylvania hills, he extends a second invitation: “I want you to accept My Father’s love.” I answered, “But I know that. It’s old hat. I’ve come up to this deserted place seeking new insight. I’m in a fit of fervor, red-hot, wide open. I’ll listen to anything You have to say. Go ahead, Lord, dazzle me. Lay a new word on me. I know the old one.”

And He answers, “That’s just what you don’t know-the old one. You have no idea how much I love you. The moment you think you understand is the moment that you do not understand. I am God, not man. You travel the world telling others about Me-that I am a loving God. Your words are glib. How readily they roll off your tongue. My words are written in the blood of My only Son. The next time you preach of My life with such obnoxious familiarity, I may come and blow your whole prayer meeting apart. When you come at Me with your pedantic professionalism, I will expose you as a rank amateur. When you try to persuade others that you understand what you are talking about , I will reduce you to silence and hurl you flat on your face! You claim that you know I love you. Then gird your loins like a man. Now I will question you, and you tell me the answers.

“Do you know that every time you tell Me you love me, I say thank you?

“When a fear-filled child comes to you in the darkness of a thunderstorm and asks with tear-streaked face, ‘Are you still here? Will you stay with me until it’s light? Are you disgusted with me because I’m little and afraid? Are you going to give me away?’ and you are grieved and saddened over the child’s lack of trust, do you realize that you do the same to me? Or don’t you believe that I am at least as sensitive a father as you?

“Do you understand the word of My Son: ‘I do nothing by myself. I do only what I see my Father doing’ (John 8:28)? Who do you think first wept over Jerusalem when they refused to receive My own Son?

“Do you claim to know what We shared when Jesus withdrew to a mountaintop and spent the night with Me alone? Do you know whence came the inspiration to wash the feet of the Twelve? Or is that below My dignity, distant  Oriental magistrate that I am? Do you understand that motivated by love alone your God became your slave in the Upper Room? Remember, ‘I do only what I see my Father doing.’

“Have you grappled with the core question of your faith which is not ‘Is Jesus God-like?’ but ‘Is God Jesus-like?’ Do you comprehend that all attitudes, values, qualities and characteristics of My Son are Mine; that he who sees Jesus sees Me, His Father?

“Were you grieved by the divine command to Abraham that he slay his only begotten son Isaac on Mount Moriah? Were you relieved when the angel intervened, Abraham’s hand was stayed, and the sacrifice was not carried out? Have you forgotten that on Good Friday no angel intervened, that sacrifice was carried out, and it was not the heart of Abraham that was broken?

“When you’re friend loses a child temporarily in death, do you go to the funeral home and grieve with him and try to comfort him? When was the last time you grieved with Me and tried to comfort Me on Good Friday? Do you know that My heart was broken on that dark day? That I am your Father, that I feel as much as you?

“Are you aware that I had to raise Jesus from the dead on Easter morning because My love is everlasting? That I could not bear the thought of eternity without the presence of My only begotten? Are you serenely confident that I will raise you too, My adopted son?

“But of course, you are aware of all these things. Was it not you who just told Me that it is all old hat, that you know that I love you?”

 

RR

how to start your morning and change the world

2186DB*Illustration credit: Pascal Campion

It’s ten til six and daylight is flowing fast at your feet. Between the house and the office and the errands there are thousands of unscheduled stops where you either pull us all forward or push us back on our ass. You are one individual that this world finds both lovely and ignorable and worst of all, erasable. It may be because you’re gay, Christian, old, black, a working woman or a stay at home dad, you have your club in your corner and your bullies behind the bush. Digging ourselves out of the mess we’ve made, out of the factions we’ve set, cannot be done by some big speech or a best selling book. It takes the saints of the world, one by one, cleaning up the muck, piece by piece.


So stand still, stay steady.

Look in the mirror.


Study your eyes, your one-of-a-kind eyes. Be aware of how they move and they quiet. These are the windows to your soul and sometimes they roll back recklessly. When they do they can feel as cold as a slap to the face. Remind yourself of the moments you wish you could forget. Remember how blind you can be to the obvious and painful. How you never knew that Sue from sales felt like a ghost in this world. And maybe you did but you didn’t want all of her mess. Now drift back to that night when you felt completely lost in the mix. when someone stole you away from the party just to let you know that you’re seen. You were noticed and in a way, walked off a little less incomplete. See the invisible.

 

 

Look at your lips and unpredictable tongue. The drop-off where our sharp and soft words lock horns on the plank. Sometimes we mistake our most menacing ones for the Holy- so bite down a bit harder. Think about those words that someone once said- how they followed you from the firm to the foot of your bed. Be truthful, of course, but God help you if you don’t understand that sometimes silence is mercy. And if you feel a second-stirring, let your voice extend itself in an act of grace. Shower affection into spoiled ground. Be their warmth and willingness when the cross isn’t yours to bear.

 

 

Then there is the oddness of your ears. While they are often overshadowed by the sparkle of eyes and plumpness of lips, they are what serve you best. Listen to each word said, but all the more, hone in on every unspoken agony. All the pain they keep in the back. All the cries for help. They drop like little pins when the world is loudest. Take note of everything falling between our hellos and goodbyes.

 

 

Lastly, see all that you are. Really look. Be baffled by the artistry of God. Resist those inner analysts sighing and saying you’ve already seen your low potential attained. No, we are all still seeing through this glass darkly. And even when it feels so black and brought down, touch the tenacity and courage coursing through your veins. Exhale the breath God gave you. The world beyond the front door will try to beat all that out- so name yourself now before it tries to do it for you.


Give God your thanks because you wouldn’t want to be anyone else anyway. Bestow upon yourself the eternal identity of blessing. You are God’s child. His friend. He loves you and he likes you and if you only understand that, it is more than enough for Him.


 

 

Love and be loved today,

 

 

RR

 

 

Love is an Ability

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In one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life, Dan is telling the boyfriend of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Marty, that he should stop seeing her; love, after all, can be such a dangerous feeling.

 

“Love is not a feeling, Mr. Burns. It’s an ability.”

 

 

The other night, as many of you know, I spent two hours in a severe tongue lashing from a fellow Christian brother who lamented over the fact that some folks, like myself, were openly questioning Church tradition regarding same-sex relationships. I asked him what his thoughts were on how he should treat his gay or lesbian neighbors and he replied with this. You can probably guess it before it’s even said.

 

“I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.”

 

I found myself laying in bed that night thinking about what people truly meant when they said it, and furthermore, what it really means to love.

 

And my mind wandered back to Dan and Marty.

 

Love is an ability.

 


 

Most of the time, an ability is not given, it is grown. You have to feed it and nourish it and work like hell to make sure it thrives through each and every season. Love is no different.


 

I am convinced that saying you love someone doesn’t count as love. I am also convinced that willing your mind to love someone that you’ve never reached out and touched, doesn’t add up to much.

 

Love cannot exist merely in the mind, it has to have legs and arms and kisses-to-give in order for it to be real. Feelings are fickle and don’t reflect love, because there are so many people in my life that drive me mad, but my love for them never ceases. Feelings are far away from ability.

 

Love cannot choose ignorance. It doesn’t describe a five second Google search of “homosexuality + Bible verse” as a true study of scripture. It strains the soul through prayer as it pleads for divine revelation. Love looks deep into the wisdom of others. It applies the mind in understanding the text by digging into cultural context, church tradition, the aim of the author and consistency of scripture.

 

Love is born through deposits of affection. It is intentional. It takes effort. You cannot love someone until you know someone and there is a clear-cut difference between knowing of someone and really knowing someone. You can put people on pedestals, but you can’t love them until you know them. You can leave the word love as the lasting residue of your rant, but you don’t love the folks you’re talking about, not really.

 

Love needs more time, likely more than the minutes you have to offer it. You need to sacrifice some schedule space for the other if you want it to be real. Love gets up at the crack of dawn because the other has classes and work, leaving them with little time to talk over coffee. It prioritizes the other person. Love makes the other matter more to you than the frivolous things of this life.

 

Love wears a cape. It arrives before it is even called upon. Love surrenders its shoulders to runny noses. It holds no pre-requisite for its remedies and it does not ask for that which is inappropriate. It comes without strings and is abundant in grace. It just wants to sit, just wants to listen, just wants to nod and stay until you’ve said all you need to say.

 

Love doesn’t dip into your past like a paintbrush to create an idea of who you must be today. Love asks questions and honors how far you have come. Love doesn’t whisper about you- it converses with you. The most unloving words can be said in the name of love, when the person of discussion isn’t present at your Bible Study.

 

Love is the two-minute response my mom received from the good people at the Marin Foundation regarding her endless list of questions. Love is the calls that were answered on our way to our first Living in the Tension gathering. Love is Laura who waited outside the Church building for God knows how long until our taxi pulled up. Love is the hug she gave us when we went for the handshake.

 

Love dwells. It doesn’t stop by on its own terms and convenience. Love is born into the dumpster of poverty. It snuggles with the shipwrecked instead of rolling with royalty. It goes off the map into dangerous territory because there’s a woman at a well that needs to know something. Love selflessly dies for those indifferent to its sacrifice. It rises three days later, because it never ever fails.

 

Love is engagement. It is entering into polar opposite worlds. It lives and moves and breathes, and is only real if it exists in both the heart and the hands.

 

Growing in love is messy and exhausting and tedious. But little by little it gets easier. Our jagged edges get sanded down. After all the stumbling and tumbling and screw-ups along the way, it will become an essential part of how we live. We will experience it in one another without thinking or trying. We will live to love. Truly.

 

And it will be as easy as breathing.

 

RR

 

Parents, School Board and Ash Wednesday

remember-that-you-are-dust

The mother of perhaps the biggest pothead in his class approached me to talk about her son. It was a Parent-Teacher event where we conversed about college and broke the bread of Subway.  He wasn’t gonna make it tonight, she apologized… then a heavy sigh, and a shaking of her head, lowering her eyes to her feet.

 

“Truth be told, I don’t even know where he is.”

 

The conversation that continued was a story of resolute ruin. Through misty eyes and a lot of nervous fiddling, she explained that her husband walked out on them eight years ago. Her son was only in elementary school and was placed in a support group with six other students, all of whom were there because of dead parents.

 

At that ripe age when innocence is most vulnerable and perception is most dangerous, he watched as his dad rummaged through the house, packing up his things and walk out the front door without ever looking back. A year later, after being fired from her job, she filed for bankruptcy, sold the house and went on government assistance.

 

They’ve been living hand to mouth ever since.

 

“He’s a good kid.” She met my eyes and smiled.

 

“Its just, he has no one in his life to drive him. I can tell him he is smart and I can tell him he is good, but I am, after all, just his mother.”

I left at about a quarter to 7 because my friend, the one I spoke about in this post, was giving his life story before the School Board. Sneaking in, just a few minutes before his time to go, I took a seat a few rows behind a large round table of folks, a scene resembling a boardroom meeting. Old men and women in fancy suits radiating from the left and right sides of the all-powerful superintendent. My friend was there to advocate for a group that had a major impact on his success. And a teacher that started it all.

He told of the inspiration he felt when this man, also a racial minority, spoke of his rough starts in this world, telling him that it was possible to do more in your life than people expected you to. Later on, in what quickly turned into a sermon, he relayed little stories of how this man was there for him when he was at his worst. How he celebrated with him when he was at his best. The way he was always there for him, through thick and thin. He couldn’t imagine where he would be today had this guy not stepped into his most critical years.

And I’ll tell you what– the house wept buckets of tears. Quite a spectacle to see such humanity emerge from such stoic authority. Kind of took my breath away.

And it got me thinking.

Maybe Ash Wednesday is more about a call and a response.

 

A call from the mom that needs someone to speak hope into her son.

A call from a kid waiting for somebody to tell him it’s not his fault.

A call from an immigrant looking for his place, resisting those that would place him in a box.

A call from a beat up world, desperate for a fighter in their corner.

Spending forty days in the wilderness was a choice Christ made to step into our own sin and blunt it. As a man, fully human, he was subject to all the same thoughts and draws and whims that we feel on a daily basis, yet, he never faltered. He never gave in because he knew that our freedom hinged on his perseverance.

What if we lived our lives in complete awareness of others depending upon US? How would things change if we really understood the meaning of “loving your neighbor as yourself”? Would we be different if we realized that people met in passing may need US now more than ever? Do you think we’d be brave enough to take a 40-day walk with them, or even for them?

Heart check time,

RR