To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.-Henri Nouwen, Bread For the Journey, March 11 entry
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their worth more seriously and discovering their true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Even if it were somehow tangibly demonstrated that gay marriage would have a negative impact on society, it's difficult to imagine that it could be more than a drop in the bucket compared to the Republicans' dramatic acceleration of our rush toward fiscal insolvency. Based on the social programs we currently have in place, the government's own auditors predict that the federal budget will balloon to 60% of the country's gross domestic product by 2080 - with more than half of that going toward interest payments.
Despite seven years of extreme fiscal irresponsibility (not to mention the various side effects of our "war on terror"), the religious right remains strongly supportive of their man in the White House and no less fixated on the 'evil gays' who are supposedly undermining our society. That's not to say that a balanced budget is the sole hallmark of good governance, but the latter seldom exists where there is no genuine commitment to achieving the former.
We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our calling and our creeds... [we will] have no time to think, no means of calling our miss-managers to account but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers...
And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for [another]... till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery... And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Francis Schaeffer is a name that commands automatic respect in most evangelical circles. His book, How Shall We Then Live?, and its companion video series, have been credited as the primary catalysts that led to the formation of the religious right and the politicization of the evangelical church.
Now, however, Schaeffer’s son Frank (an evangelical celebrity in his own right) has come forward to set the record straight with his new book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. In an interview with John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, he discusses what his father (who died in 1984) really thought about the religious right leaders who capitalized on his call to action, and what he thought the church should look like.
On the leadership of the religious right:
The public image of the leaders of the religious right I met with so many times also contrasted with who they really were. In public, they maintained an image that was usually quite smooth. In private, they ranged from unreconstructed bigot reactionaries like Jerry Falwell, to Dr. Dobson, the most power-hungry and ambitious person I have ever met, to Billy Graham, a very weird man indeed who lived an oddly sheltered life in a celebrity/ministry cocoon, to Pat Robertson, who would have had a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement.
On his father’s alignment with the religious right:
He has been used by people like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and others to give some respectability to points of view that really were not his. What made my dad’s heart beat fastest was talking about people’s philosophical presuppositions and how they lived. He wanted to put people’s lives back together again, people who had problems. The politicized view of him is illegitimate.
On the politics of the religious right:
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
It's pretty much a given that we'll see Christians marching in the streets whenever a movie or book (or whatever) comes out that portrays Christianity in a negative light or otherwise challenges "Judeo-Christian values" (as if God needed our protection). Isn't it interesting, though, that those who protest the loudest are so often the ones most inclined to speak about atheists and other non-Christians in condescending, derogatory and even openly contemptuous terms?
Hypocrisy committed in the name of Jesus is still hypocrisy.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
And, for the sake of balance, here's a link to Part 1 of the authors' response to Dr. Chapman's articles. Parts two and three are still pending.
Also, another must-read: Disputed Mutability blogs about her experience at a Love Won Out conference here.
Friday, November 30, 2007
One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren't even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in color, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.Henri Nouwen, Bread For the Journey, March 8 entry
Strangers, people different from us, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being "other." Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at "those other persons" as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in humanity is an expression of the immense richness of God's heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
A parallel situation (with the same underlying attitude) exists in our overuse of pharmaceutical drugs. In some cases drugs really are the best possible solution, particularly when emergency situations arise. In many more cases, though, it's just another attempt to find a 'quick fix'; make the obvious symptoms go away for a while, and one can ignore the underlying problem.
Unfortunately drugs seldom resolve the actual problem, and almost always come with negative side effects of their own. Many health issues can ultimately be resolved by changes in lifestyle - eating healthier foods, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, etc. But why make such sacrifices when there's a drug that promises immediate relief? And when that drug creates another problem, there's another drug to help with that, and so on. It's a downward spiral that gets progressively harder to escape.
Today, even those who once valued freedom have succumbed to the 'quick fix.' Rather than taking care of the problems in their own lives, rather than modeling positive community, rather than offering compassion and healing to a hurting world, the church would rather address what it sees as moral decay by picketing abortion clinics, slandering GLBT individuals in public forums and lobbying for all sorts of laws to force 'moral' behavior on others.
Even when the religious right has succeeded in passing laws, however, it's done little to check the 'moral decay' that prompted their crusade in the first place. They may succeed in deterring a few individuals from certain activities (while driving the rest underground), but they pay dearly for that limited success. While most moral crusaders would sincerely describe their actions as loving and compassionate, the rest of the world has received a much different message.
When millions turn away from the church in disgust, it's not the majority's perceptions that are to blame. By assuming the role of a stern parent disciplining a rebellious child, Christ's message of unconditional love has been drowned out by one of condescension and condemnation, and no amount of protestation about the purity of its intentions will soften the ugly face the church has turned to a watching world.
But even as the religious right's power begins to wane, its legacy secure as one of the greatest producers of atheists in world history, the church runs the risk of swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Many on the religious left similarly view government power as a primary means for advancing the Kingdom of God, merely substituting a slate of social and environmental issues for the religious right's moral agenda. The consequences of going for the 'quick fix' will differ, but in the end our society's root problems will remain unaddressed, just as they have under the current regime.
Monday, November 19, 2007
It's been posted elsewhere, but here it is again for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I don't appear in the video, but one or two of my contributions to the Chalk Talk are visible in a few shots. It was a memorable weekend, and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
That fear took on all sorts of forms, one of the most prominent of which was fear of the outside world. The World (with a capital W) was out to get us, and the Great Persecution was always just around the corner. Anyone who wasn't a believer (including those Christians whose beliefs fell outside of our definition of orthodoxy) was in the Enemy's camp, and any hostility that a Christian faced was a sign of the hostility that the entire world had toward Christ and his message.
Granted, there are some people in the Western world who are hostile toward Christianity in general, but quite a few of them are ex-Christians who have been hurt by the church. Outside of that, most people are as respectful of our beliefs as we are of theirs.
Case in point: J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, is an atheist. Despite this, Christianity still exists in the future he envisions (as do all of the other world religions), and when Christian characters appeared on the show they were portrayed respectfully. One episode (Passing Through Gethsemane, which Straczynski wrote) even centered around a group of monks living on Babylon 5 and contained an exploration of Christian themes as deep as any ever found on overtly "Christian" shows (Christy, Seventh Heaven, etc.).
According to the stereotypes that most Christians have of atheists, such a thing shouldn't even be possible. To rationalize this contradiction away by describing him as "seeking" or as just pretending to be an atheist is to miss the fact that it is, in fact, possible for a person to genuinely respect the beliefs of others without feeling compelled to convert.
Another case in point: the talk show I hear during my drive home on the music station I listen to is hosted by a pair of guys who are most definitely not Christians. It would be inaccurate (and patently unfair) to call them amoral, but they nonetheless have no problem with some things (premarital sex, divorce, gay relationships, etc.) that most conservative Christians strongly oppose.
Yet while there are probably many Christians who find some of their choices of topics distasteful enough to tune out, you'll never hear them mock Christians or Christian beliefs. On the occasions that they do get self-identified Christian callers, they listen respectfully and will even applaud callers who live according to their convictions.
What they would be less likely to respect is the "and so must you" attitude that so many evangelicals carry around like a giant chip on their shoulder. In my experience most people are willing to respect my beliefs, and sometimes even open to considering what I have to say, right up to the point where I try to force those beliefs on them. There's an ocean of difference between politely and humbly sharing what one believes, and declaring "this is the way it is, and you're going to hell if you disagree." Christians are quick to complain when they feel like they're being disrespected, but in most cases that disrespect is earned through the lack of respect they show the rest of the world.
To some it may seem like nothing less than moral relativism to assert that Christians should respect the "wrong" beliefs of others, but in reality it's merely a call to treat others like the equals that they are instead of as children in need of a good spanking. If others consistently describe us as arrogant and condescending, chances are we really are arrogant and condescending.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Edit: This is from an Australian TV show. I haven't watched any other clips, but these guys seem like the sort who will make fun of just about anything.
As John pointed out in the comment section, this clip may be offensive to some. While there's certainly a time and place for exposing - and even laughing at - absurd claims and practices (and every movement has its Richard Cohens), there's a fine line to be walked between shining a light on those fringe elements and conflating them with the larger group they claim an affinity with.
Since, as always, your answers may vary, I'm leaving the clip up (at least for now) to let viewers decide for themselves which category this falls into.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
It wasn't until my college years that I began to develop an understanding of the truth behind the somewhat cliche notion that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Even then, as my horizons finally began broadening sufficiently to narrow the gap with my book learning, it was a realization that I wore like a badge of honor more often than I allowed it to humble me. I still thought of what I didn't know largely in terms of book learning, being too inexperienced to fully appreciate the value of life experience, and still too full of myself to grasp the ramifications of the limits of human knowledge and the infinity that lies beyond them.
Unfortunately those who grow beyond that stage of intellectual and spiritual development are greatly outnumbered by those who never do, especially within the confines of organized religion. Within most strains of Christianity the Bible is viewed as an Answer book (with a capital A) that contains the sum total of everything important. Even the most rigid fundamentalist will acknowledge that there is knowledge outside the Bible (one can't turn to it to fix a line of HTML code, for instance), and even that there are things that are simply beyond human comprehension, but none of that is genuinely important. In their view the Bible contains a complete and unambiguous prescription for any life issue that a person could possibly face, and anyone who disagrees with their church's Answers or who finds an alternative ("unbiblical") solution that works better is deluded by Satan if not actively in collusion with the forces of evil.
Within most conservative evangelical circles, even those with an academic mindset have a strong tendency toward intellectual arrogance. Disciplines like science and philosophy are only valuable to the extent that they can be used to prove to the rest of the world how right we are. Every issue that's of any real consequence has already been resolved, and if only the rest of the world would acknowledge our God-given wisdom and authority its many problems would soon be a thing of the past.
Within such a mindset there is nothing of value to be learned from non-believers (including 'liberal' Christians), aside from thoroughly mundane matters and perhaps feedback on how to better refine our proselytizing techniques. All those who believe differently (give or take certain minor doctrinal points) are merely rebelling against God, and deep down inside they secretly agree with everything that we espouse.
Therein lies one more reason I was never willing to evangelize (at least beyond my high school years): sharing one's faith was all about being right and having all the answers - and I knew I didn't have all the answers. On top of that, I knew that a lot of the answers I did have were riddled with holes and assumptions. In recent years evangelism tactics have come to include acknowledgments that we don't have perfect answers for everything, but it's still very much about being right and about having the best arguments. It's still about telling, with listening serving only to pinpoint what to tell the other person. We patronize others with the best of intentions, but even the purest motivations make it no less belittling.
And how much do we really know, compared to infinity? The Bible has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to offer, and to the Christian it's our greatest and most indispensible resource, but it's still a finite book written thousands of years ago in cultural and linguistic contexts that even the most educated scholars of our modern era struggle to relate to. If that fact alone doesn't humble us sufficiently to remove the condescension from our words, perhaps our world (and our perception of the God who created it) is still too small.
Twenty years from now I'll most likely look back with bemusement on how little I knew when I was in my 30s. At least, I hope that I never stop growing. God's creation is filled with wonder and I've only barely begun to scratch the surface.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
James Dobson: The End of the World Is Near
Allies, Too: A Step Forward or More of the Same?
Writing for XGW leaves me with less time to collect my thoughts here, but some things just need to be done.
Also, since YouTube has apparently decided to thwart my every effort to post more videos on my blog, here's a link to Box Turtle Bulletin, which isn't having such problems...
Shirtless in Abercrombie
It's an excuse for a bunch of guys to take off their shirts in public and a social statement!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
But I might as well have been trying to knock over a concrete building with my head for all the progress I made. I was completely ignored by nearly everyone in that group, with the final straw coming during a hiking/camping trip where I was openly snubbed and left out of most of the weekend's activities. As I learned some time later, we were a lower middle class family attending an upper middle class church that taught a prosperity gospel; my parents would have started looking for another church much sooner if I hadn't been involved with that youth group.
As a result of that and other experiences I've had being on the outside looking in, whenever I am one of those on the inside I expend a lot of energy trying to bring others in with me. Not that I always do as much as I could; being one of the strongest introverts in world history sometimes hampers my outreach efforts, but I do hate to see people being excluded.
It might seem like a non-sequitur, then, to note that I could never share about my faith with non-Christians. I could talk about politics (rather outspokenly, in my younger days), and I loved introducing people to the Myers-Briggs personality system, but when it came to evangelism, which was supposedly about inviting people to join the best group of all, I couldn't have said anything to save my life. Even anonymously journaling my thoughts on a blog to a faceless audience would have been out of the question.
Or maybe it isn't so surprising, considering the capricious, hyper-critical picture of God I was given in churches and Christian schools from an early age. It wasn't until college that I heard God's grace presented as anything more than fire insurance, and even then there were always conditions and endless caveats attached to God's supposedly unconditional love. God loves you, but.
God loves you, but he's going to inflict endless, unimaginable torment on you if you don't believe all the right things. God loves you, but he's just waiting to smite you with a great big lightning bolt if you break the rules one too many times. God loves you, but he's going to destroy your entire nation and everyone in it if you don't actively persecute gays and coerce them into pretending to be heterosexual. Come to think of it, why would I have ever wanted to try to sell people on a God like that?
Perhaps I'm biased by my personal desire to include those stuck on the outside, but I do find myself drawn to Spencer Burke's depiction of grace as an "opt out" system (as opposed to the church's traditional "opt in" view) and his proposal to get the church out of the business of trying to determine who's "in" and who's "out" when it comes to salvation. All but the most extremist Christians would protest being associated with the picture of God that I laid out in the previous paragraph, but for most their own picture of God only differs from the one I used to hold by degree.
By fixating on the question of what a person has to do to get into heaven (even if it's nothing more than saying the "sinner's prayer"), Christians quickly start to resemble that clique that I once tried so hard to be a part of. Where that clique only accepted kids who wore the right clothes, knew how to act cool and had enough money, most churches will only truly accept those people who sign off on all the right beliefs, adopt all of the right outward behaviors and learn to speak fluent Christianese.
That's certainly not how any church would articulate its terms and conditions, but it's effectively how things work out in practice. Even most legalistic churches like to see themselves as welcoming to anyone who wants to be included, but "come as you are" carries an unspoken caveat: "as long as you become like us." God is theoretically free to work with people where they're at, but in practice the church has only limited patience for those who don't properly conform.
Chances are that clique would have welcomed me if my parents had held higher-paying jobs, and if I had learned how to be more hip and glamorous. In their eyes there was nothing unreasonable about placing such conditions on their friendship. But it wasn't actually me they were interested in; what they really wanted was another clone of themselves. So it is with human nature in general, and the church is no exception - what we really want is validation of our beliefs and lifestyles and perspectives. So it all too often is with me, too, and I don't always manage to break out of my comfort zone when I see others on the outside looking in.
But is that the way church should be? If I'm in danger of projecting my desire for inclusiveness onto my perception of God, then those who seek to exclude others based on even the most righteous-sounding set of criteria are no less susceptible to doing the same. And which of those two pictures reconciles better with the Jesus who freely associated with prostitutes and tax collectors and Samaritans, and who spoke of a shepherd willing to place his entire flock at risk for the sake of finding a single lost lamb?
Your answer may differ from mine, but in any case it wouldn't hurt to keep in mind what Jesus said about how we should treat the "least of these."
Friday, October 12, 2007
1. What were you doing ten years ago?
Life was going very well – I was attending a great church, finishing up the Living Waters program and hanging out with the best group of friends a guy could ask for. At work I was promoted into a position that I could regard as the beginning of an actual career. There was even a girl at church that I thought I might be interested in. There was no physical attraction to speak of, but surely that was bound to follow eventually.
By that fall all three of the guys in my inner circle had met the women they would go on to marry, and two of them proceeded to drop off the face of the earth. The third would move away the following spring, which left me feeling hurt, confused and more than a little disillusioned. Here God had brought these incredible friends into my life just when I needed them, and poof, just when we were really bonding they were gone again.
The following year I’d jump into another group that promised to provide the same level of community. Unfortunately that group turned into a rather dysfunctional and unhealthy environment, and on top of that the lengthy commute from my new residence would soon leave me perpetually stressed out and sleep deprived. To top it all off I had yet to become any straighter, but I’ve already talked about that aspect of the story plenty of times.
2. What were you doing one year ago?
Life wasn’t much different than it is now. Last spring I officially stopped attending the ex-gay ministry I’d been a part of, right around the same time that I finally resolved the whole Side A/Side B debate in my own mind. I also started attending a new (affirming) church and building some friendships there.
3. What are five snacks you enjoy?
Fresh fruit (most varieties), trail mix, chips & salsa (or guacamole), popcorn, beef jerky
4. What are five songs you know the lyrics to?
-Why Georgia Why (John Mayer)
-More (Matthew West)
-Liquid (Jars of Clay)
-Wait For the Sun (PFR)
5. Five Things You Would Do If You Were A Millionaire
-Start a charitable foundation
-Buy a house
-Travel to Europe
-Learn more about tax shelters
-Patronize the arts
6. Five Bad Habits
-Not getting to bed on time
-Drinking too much caffeine
-Playing computer games on warm, sunny days
-Blogging during slow work days
7. Five Things You Like To Do
-Play board games
-Collect (books, DVDs, CDs, games)
-Watch SciFi-themed TV shows
8. Five Things You Would Never Wear
-Baggy pants that hang below the waistline
-Speedos (and the world rejoiced)
9. Five Favorite Toys
-My computer (a Mac, of course)
-My DVD player
-The Minas Tirith replica that came with my Return of the King DVD set
-My game collection
10. Five Things You Hate To Do
-Conduct business over the phone
-Move to a new residence
-Say goodbye to friends
-Get up before 8 am
So there you have it. Now, it's time to see who's paying attention: I tag Peterson, Christine and David.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matt. 18:12-14, NIV)
Thus did Jesus summarize what Christian ministry should look like as he set the example by going out of his way to reach out to the outcast, the wounded, the “sinner” and all those looked down upon by society.
From the perspective of Exodus, Focus on the Family and their allies, members of the GLBT community would certainly be considered “lost sheep.” Surely, then, Christians in the above groups would consider it all the more urgent to give freely and sacrificially of their time, energy and resources to identify and meet the needs of those “lost sheep,” following Jesus’ example of unconditional and self-sacrificial love that hopes for the best without demanding anything in return.
And we do see a considerable outpouring of time, energy and resources from these groups. Unfortunately all of that effort has been redirected to support a declaration of war against the aforementioned “lost sheep,” who have been labeled a deadly threat to the rest of the flock by virtue of their current location.
Compassion gets redefined out of existence as love becomes something to withhold pending a sinner’s repentance. Ministries that once sought to help those in need divert more and more of their resources to political crusades as the church sets aside its spiritual mission to wage a holy war against the rest of the world.
On the rare occasion that a lost sheep does return (usually on hands and knees, and only let back in after acceding to a list of ultimatums), it’s immediately paraded around as a trophy and its testimony wielded as a weapon against those that remain “unrepentant.”
But maybe God won’t mind if a few million of “these little ones” fall through the cracks as a result of the church’s crusade to establish a “Christian” nation. It’s all being done in His name, after all.
Sounds like a good time to ask: What would Jesus do?
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I'm still not ready to advocate the complete elimination of the institutional church, though there's certainly a lot to be said for placing more focus on following the example of Christ and less on rules and doctrines and making sure everyone toes the party line. My reticence may be partly due to having little personal experience with the spirituality that many today are finding outside of organized religion, but I still think there's something to be said for having some form of formal organization.
That said, Burke does aptly describe what's wrong with the church, especially its more conservative manifestations:
The business of religion is the sacred in all its forms. Christianity’s part of that business is grace. The church wants to put a copyright on grace and seeks to hold power and control over it by making itself the only mediator. “Grace is available only through us, and you must come to us to gain access to it,” declares the church. Determining who is in and who is out is the primary way that the church as institution tries to control grace.
Jesus told a story about this in the gospel of Matthew. It concerned a wheat farmer who had spent a hard day planting. While he was sleeping, his enemy crept onto his land and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat began to sprout, the laborers noticed the weeds growing, so they went to the landowner and asked him if they should pull up the weeds. “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
This story reflects the tendency humans have to want to do God’s business. Institutional religion usually aspires to do the landowner’s job – God’s job. They want to determine who is wheat and who is weed.
Churches assume their role is about eternity when in fact eternity is God’s business. The landowner in Jesus’ story is very clear that his workers cannot separate the wheat from the weeds, for they might pull up perfectly good wheat in their zeal to remove the wayward weeds. When explaining this story to his followers, Jesus makes it clear that the task of determining who is in or out is not the responsibility of humans, no matter how qualified they believe they are. I would likewise argue that the church should not be so focused on eternity. The church’s task is to help people follow Jesus here on earth. [pgs. 118-119]
Friday, September 28, 2007
Every time you start to criticize
I can see the misery in your eyes
You say I make your pain
You're trying to turn the blame all around you
Baby I can't please you, I can't please you, baby
You take the words I say and make them mean
Everything they don't - baby, you're obscene
You don't listen, you don't hear
You're blinded by the fear that surrounds you
Baby I can't please you, I can't please you, baby
I know you say love when you mean control
You buy the truth and your heart is cold
So you live in shadows
Baby I can't please you, I can't please you, baby
You try to tell the world how it should spin
But you live in terror with the hollow men
Who stun you with their lies
With fever in their eyes as they drown you
-Sam Phillips, Baby I Can't Please You
Monday, September 24, 2007
I'm not quite sure what I think of that yet, but given that I've only finished the first chapter I'm going to hear him out before reaching any definitive conclusions. Certainly church as we know it is changing, and the old paradigms that have governed Christian thought since the Renaissance are gradually losing sway. But to advocate doing away with the church as an institution altogether is a very radical proposal.
Still, Burke does know how to get my attention. In the first chapter alone he refers to Fowler's Stages of Faith and the shattering of the Medieval church's Earth-centric view of the universe, and he makes the following statement:
For years, preachers have appealed to people to join the church and experience Christian salvation using this phrase, "It's about relationship, not religion." The only problem is that it's seldom true. In actuality, the relationship promised by religion is usually predicated on commitment to the institution as much as it is to God. You don't have to be in a church for long to figure out what the expectations are - whether it's tithing, teaching Sunday school, praying, or going to confession - and what they expect you to believe becomes even more apparent.
Rather than facilitating a dialogue between followers and God, the church has a tendency to interpret individuals' relationships with God for them. Rather than responding to the call of God on their life directly, individuals often find themselves responding to the call of the church. What seems like obedience to the teachings of Christ is often adherence to external and dogmatic belief systems. This "false advertising" of sorts has no doubt also contributed to the interest in new spiritual paths.
Having written similar things more than once about rules-based Christianity since I started this blog, how can I not give him the benefit of the doubt until I've heard him out? I'm a bit cynical about the idea that basic human nature has evolved substantially within the last century, or even since the beginning of recorded history, but maybe a new paradigm of how we relate to God wouldn't require that.
We'll see what the rest of the book has to say.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Also, here's an interesting article on promiscuity rates in the gay community. A little myth busting can do a world of good.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The truth of any matter generally lies somewhere in between the extremes of opinion that are inevitably generated, and I doubt that this is an exception to that rule. Jim Burroway has done a preliminary analysis of the Jones-Yarhouse study that's up to his usual high standards (he'll be doing a more thorough look at the study once he's had a chance to read the book). Even if you don't normally delve deeply into ex-gay issues, I recommend reading Burroway's review so that you can knowledgeably address the subject should it ever come up in conversation.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
When I consider all of the unhealthy things I could have gotten into (drug use, anonymous sexual encounters, compulsive gambling, etc.), I don't feel so bad about the amount of time I spend gaming. Not that "at least I'm better than X" is a very Christian way of justifying one's behavior (however many Christians may resort to such an approach), but I am convinced that playing games (board, card, RPG, etc.) is - or at least can be - a healthy pursuit.
As in all things, moderation is called for. But gaming does help cultivate a sense of fair play and good sportsmanship, it sharpens the mind and it provides a healthy outlet for those of us with a competitive streak. It's also a social activity, at least when played around a table as opposed to on a computer.
I've blogged before about how I prefer a roomful of gamers to your average church or gay venue. No group of people is perfect, but in my experience gamers as a whole tend to be less judgmental, and the games they play come in boxes or books with rules that are even-handed and clearly spelled out.
I probably already spend too much time gaming and not enough time working to make the real world a better place. Even so, it would be very easy to immerse myself even deeper in the gaming world, at the expense of actually dealing with the less pleasant realities outside of that little bubble. I'd love to leave all the mud and vinegar of the culture wars behind to live a quiet life, gaming with friends in my spare time and maybe eventually finding someone to settle down with.
But then I'll read about the latest crap that so-called Christians are trying to pass off as truth (and that so many other Christians swallow unquestioningly), and I'll be forced to ask myself how I can remain silent. How can I, in good conscience, stand by and do nothing while so many of those who claim to speak for God see nothing wrong with demonizing an entire group of people, twisting facts and spreading outright fabrications in the furtherance of a supposedly 'godly' agenda?
I may not be able to solve all of the world's problems, but I can still be part of the solution. And there will always be at least a little time to get away for a few games with my friends.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
I came across that comment on a message board recently, and it reminded me that one of the traits that separates fundamentalists (and obnoxious ideologues of all stripes) from mature believers (again of any stripe) is a driving need to convert everybody to one's opinions and beliefs.
Not that one has to abandon the concept of evangelism if that's an important component of one's faith, but evangelism can be conducted without the issuing of ultimatums - and even without the use of words at all. The most persuasive examples are those individuals who place the most demands on themselves and the fewest on others.
If I'm truly confident in my beliefs, it isn't going to shake me if nobody ever converts to my way of seeing things; that's God's job, not mine. I'll no doubt still celebrate such a conversion should it happen, but in the meantime my job is to love others and accept them as the bearers of God's image that they are, regardless of their beliefs.
The insecure believer fears disagreement and feels threatened by those who see the world differently. They may hide their fears behind 'biblical' pronouncements of fire and brimstone, but it's ultimately little more than a mask. To the immature, the outside world is a realm of darkness filled with traps and enemies, and those who cannot be converted must either be avoided at all cost or eradicated.
The secure believer is free to acknowledge and build on the common ground that can be found between any two people and to develop life-affirming relationships that the fundamentalist can only turn away from in fear. Differing worldviews provide opportunities for learning, not for proving one's superiority.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
What caught me off guard was the strength of the old memories that hit me as the CD started playing. PFR was a major part of my personal soundtrack in the mid- to late '90s (my mid- to late 20s), an era that holds a lot of positive memories for me. During that time I met some incredible friends, attended a unique and wonderful church and got promoted to a job I could finally regard as a career. For a while I had an annual pass to Disneyland. It was also within that time period that I went through the Living Waters program which, whatever else I may think of it now, did help me work through a number of personal issues.
If I only focused on my positive memories from that time, it would be easy to look back on those years as the best of my life. But if PFR's music mainly reminds me of those happier moments, then it paints an incomplete and potentially misleading picture.
It doesn't speak to the pain and frustration of building up yet another circle of friends, only to watch them marry off and/or move away one by one, leaving me just as alone as I'd been at the start. It fails to take note of how I traded one form of denial for another, coming to terms with my sexuality just long enough to latch onto the delusion that I was on the verge of growing into my 'natural' heterosexuality. It says nothing about the final two years of that era that I spent in what, in retrospect, was an extremely unhealthy roommate situation and Bible study group; the constant stress I was under during those 21 months (from a variety of sources) probably aged me five or more years.
Of course, dwelling on the negative side of those years can be just as misleading. As with any era, the good and the bad came together - often at the same time. In the long run it's probably better that I spend more time remembering the positive side of that period than the negative, provided I don't become so wrapped up in "the good old days" that I become unhappy with my present situation. And provided I don't start repeating the mistakes I should have already learned from.
Would I ever want to go back and relive those years? Not a chance. But every now and then it's nice to pop in an old CD and remember what was.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Life is far too complex for anyone to claim that they've got it all figured out, and far too precious to waste on arguments over whose part of the elephant is the truest.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
2. It seems like every week there's another reason to avoid buying Chinese products. As if not subsidizing the military buildup of a human rights nightmare wasn't enough of an incentive.
3. Yes, Virginia, there really is a reason to provide legal recognition for gay couples.
4. Finally, on a lighter note, we now have a sound rationale for keeping gays out of the military.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
As I've discussed here before, adherence to the letter of the law can have odd results. By reducing the Bible to a rulebook, we run the risk of binding ourselves to all sorts of regulations that have no context in real life other than "God said so."
Fortunately we have precedents in church history for placing the spirit of the law ahead of the letter of the law, even when doing so appears (on the surface) to place us in violation of what had previously been accepted as a direct command from God. Remarriage following divorce is the most obvious example of this, but there is another that demonstrates this principle even more clearly. The sin of usury was once strongly and universally condemned by the Christian church (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike), yet today some Christians aren't even familiar with the term.
The biblical authors clearly and unambiguously condemn usury (the practice of charging interest on loans) on multiple occasions: Exod. 22:25-27, Lev. 25:35-37, Deut. 23:19-20, Neh. 5:10-11, Psalm 15:5, Prov. 28:8, Isa. 24:1-3, Jer. 15:10, Eze. 18:7-9, Eze. 18:13, Eze. 18:17 and Eze. 22:12 all speak against the practice. Although the New Testament has far less to say on the subject, many theologians have interpreted Luke 6:35 ("lend, expecting nothing in return" - NASB) as a command against usury. With so many references to the practice outside of the Pentateuch, usury cannot be automatically dismissed as a matter of concern only for ancient Israel.
Furthermore, the Bible contains no positive references to usury or those that practice it. Although the idea of collecting interest on a bank deposit is brought up in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-29, Luke 19:11-26), it is at best a neutral statement. Jesus does not condemn the words of his fictional property owner (who is described as a "harsh man"), but neither does he endorse them.
Church leaders and theologians from Augustine and St. John Chrysostom to Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther unanimously and harshly condemned the practice of usury, which remained punishable by excommunication into the early years of the Reformation. The Medieval church did permit Jews to charge interest on loans, since Jews were already regarded by the church as accursed, but no other exceptions were entertained.
So what changed? A few advocates of permitting certain forms of usury rose up from time to time, but they were either ignored or shouted down. Meanwhile, the world was changing. What had worked within the context of a tribal society with an agrarian economy didn't translate well to the medieval world with its growing cities and rising merchant class. Without the ability to charge interest, there was no incentive to lend money since doing so would result in a net loss to the lender. And with such limited access to loans, only the wealthy could afford the startup costs of new business ventures.
John Calvin was the first theologian to formulate a comprehensive case for lifting the ban on some forms of usury. Among other things, he pointed out the context in which the biblical command was given, namely, helping the poor (Lev. 25:35). The spirit of the Law was not concerned with regulating all forms of commerce, but rather with encouraging compassionate treatment of the poor and prohibiting the wealthy from exploiting the less fortunate for personal gain. It was meant to protect the poor, not to hinder any efforts they might make to rise out of poverty.
In a similar fashion we can uncover the intent of the authors of Leviticus in regard to the command that appears to prohibit all male homosexual conduct. Lev. 18:3 and 20:23 instruct the Israelites not to emulate the behaviors of the surrounding nations, whose religious practices were known to include most of the acts listed in those two chapters.
Within this context we can see why lesbianism was overlooked entirely (it was not practiced in any known temple rituals at the time), and why the command against male-male sex is one of the few Levitical prohibitions not repeated in the book of Deuteronomy (or anywhere else in the Old Testament) unless one counts references to the qadesh, the male "holy ones" who had sex with male patrons as part of certain pagan fertility rituals.
In the New Testament Paul echoes that condemnation of pagan fertility rituals (which were still common in Roman times) when he speaks of the "unnatural" passions that arise out of idolatrous practices in Rom. 1:18-32. Although Paul's discourse includes an apparent mention of lesbian activity in verse 26, theologians have not always interpreted this verse as a reference to lesbianism. Verse 26 is not at all out of place within the context of the fertility rituals, given that some of those rites involved female priests who dressed up as men to simulate sex with male priests who were dressed as women.
A few scholars have also proposed that the word arsenokoitai, which appears in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 and which Paul apparently coined, was derived from the words used in the Greek translation of Lev. 18:22. If that is the case, then all of the Bible's references to homosexual behavior (not counting the attempted rape and murder in the Sodom narrative) point specifically to the idolatrous qadesh and those who patronized them.
Equipped with such an understanding, we are freed to examine the issue of committed same-sex relationships from broader biblical principles, as the church has done and continues to do for a variety of issues that were not directly addressed by the authors of the Old and New Testaments - modern commerce, representative government, abortion, biotechnology, and many others. Within such a framework there are numerous principles we can apply to this issue, including marital fidelity, mutual commitment, avoidance of immoral behavior and self-sacrificial love.
Some might object to the comparison of an economic issue (usury) with a matter of sexual morality. Given that the biblical authors spend far more time discussing economic justice than they do addressing sexual ethics, that's not an unfounded reservation; the modern church has simply reversed the order of importance.
Where the letter of the law demands that our highest devotion be reserved for rules and regulations, the spirit of the law frees us to truly love others by placing people ahead of ideas. As Jesus himself said when confronted by the religious leaders for not adhering to the letter of the law, "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)
Saturday, August 11, 2007
It's also fascinating how quickly that attitude (and the negative feelings that flow from it) evaporates when I set "me" aside and consider the perspectives of those "obstacles" - their feelings, their view of the world, their needs and hurts and longings and aspirations. Suddenly they become three-dimensional human beings, and I come a little closer to seeing them the way God sees them as my contempt gives way to compassion. My need to change them evaporates as I get a glimpse of the image of God within them.
"Dying to self" (which seems an apt description of the above process) is exceedingly difficult to do, even for a brief period of time - but within it lies the power to change the world. "What Would Jesus Do?" has become so cliché in evangelical circles that it's a common subject of parody (not altogether undeservedly), yet there is a kernel of validity in the question for those committed to following Jesus' example. When a person dies to self, however, the answer often presents itself before the question can even be asked.
I've got far more room for improvement in this area than I care to admit. Even when I make a genuine effort to place myself within that mindset, it can easily dissolve into an exercise in legalistic thinking, of shoulds and shouldn'ts and formulas. And then I'm right back to trying to be in control of everything.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
It's no wonder that the above passage is so frequently recited at weddings; Ruth's pledge to Naomi is one of the most powerful covenantal statements in the Bible. Even though I don't see any good reason to believe that there was anything sexual about Ruth and Naomi's relationship, it is nonetheless interesting to stop for a moment and ponder the fact that so many heterosexual couples are taking a promise spoken between two women and using it in a romantic (and sexual) context.
Ultimately it's only as big a deal as you choose to make of it, but I do wonder how many of those couples would have found a different biblical passage to use if that thought had ever occurred to them.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Peterson Toscano has just completed his "Change Was NOT Possible" series, in which he conveys many of the nuances of ex-gay life that often get brushed aside in the war of ideas.
Part 5 of Jim Burroway's series on his experiences at a Love Won Out conference is finally up, and well worth the wait:
A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Misty Irons presents an all-too-sadly-accurate primer on How to write a conservative Christian article on homosexuality.
And, on a slightly different note, a defense of the ability of atheists to formulate a coherent moral code. Makes sense to me, even though I'm not likely to become an atheist anytime soon. I can see strains of Stage Four/Stage Five thought in his reasoning, which is perhaps part of the appeal of his case for me.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Growing up I don't recall ever watching the PTL Club. I was certainly aware of the Bakkers, steeped as I was in the Christian subculture at an early age, but I never paid much attention to televangelists. I remember when the Bakkers started building their Christian theme park, which seemed like a rather materialistic project yet possibly an interesting place to visit. I remember when they footed the bill for their daughter's Christian music album; it was poorly produced, and the one single I heard on the radio didn't get airplay for very long. And, of course, there were all the jokes about Tammy Fae's makeup, which everyone my age found endlessly hilarious at the time. In short, the Bakkers were the epitome of '80s evangelicalism.
Then the PTL scandal hit, and overnight the Bakkers became personas non grata in the Christian community. Jim went to jail, Tammy got a divorce, and nobody seemed to want to talk much about what happened to their kids. That scandal was only one of several, as Oral Roberts had recently made a spectacle of himself with his vision of a homicidal 90-foot Jesus, and it wouldn't be long before Jimmy Swaggart (among others) fell from his lofty perch as well.
There was never a lack of prominent Christians to gossip about in those days. That was also the time period when Amy Grant took heavy flack for "crossing over" and allegedly compromising her message. I personally loved Unguarded, but still briefly jumped on the "pummel Amy" bandwagon when she appeared in a music video with Peter Cetera wearing (gasp) a tank top and singing a love song with a musician who wasn't her husband. Oh, the horror.
A few years later Tammy Fae was back in the news when she co-hosted a talk show with the openly gay Jm J. Bullock. The show didn't last long, but it gave us "good" Christians all the proof we needed that she had gone off the deep end. Surely no God-fearing individual would actually associate with an unrepentant homosexual, after all. (And of course I wasn't gay; it was just a phase I was going to grow out of any day.)
After that I didn't pay much attention to Tammy; she seemed to be little more than a tabloid celebrity, and I'd never cared for tabloids. In short, I judged and convicted her in the almighty courtroom of my mind. I may not have made a lot of noise about it, just as I was seldom openly militant about any of my opinions, but I had decided that I knew everything I needed to know about Tammy Fae Messner. Such judgments color and taint everything that we say and do, even if we never directly articulate them.
And so I reduced her to a two-dimensional caricature. It's very easy to do, certainly far easier than actually taking the time to get to know a person. Three-dimensional people are complex and confusing and they don't fit neatly into our boxes, and who really wants to expend the considerable effort that it takes to delve into all of that?
It's only fairly recently that I've begun to learn about the other side of Tammy Fae - the compassion that she extended to the gay community at a time when the rest of the Christian world was sitting back and smirking at the AIDS crisis, the grace that she offered to those who crossed her path, and the peace that she displayed when it became clear that her days on this earth were coming to an end. Even if it turns out that she wasn't correct in every aspect of her theology, it's love of the kind she modeled that will echo throughout eternity, long after all theological disputes have been wiped away and forgotten in the instant of our first encounter with God face to face.
So to Tammy Fae I now say (belatedly): I'm sorry for judging you. Judging may be what we Christians do best, but that doesn't make it a Christlike thing to do. With God's help maybe I'll get it right next time.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Stage Three individuals can be very open-minded about some issues, but no dissent can be tolerated when it comes to "important" beliefs. Those who dare to disagree on matters central to the faith are regarded either as lost sheep to be patiently but firmly steered back into the fold, or as enemies to be crushed at all costs. Not all Stage Three individuals can be categorized as fundamentalists, but fundamentalism is certainly a byproduct of Stage Three thought.
This kind of black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking is hardly limited to Christians or even to adherents of any religion; one can find Stage Three individuals among virtually any group, as this commenter at Ex-Gay Watch recently demonstrated. Just as many conservative Christians have no room within their worldview for the existence of healthy, well-adjusted and genuinely moral gays and lesbians, so some non-Christians cannot fathom the existence of conservative Christians who are kind, peaceful and reasonably intelligent people.
Unfortunately there's no simple solution to this impasse, at least within the context of our current society. One can no more force a person to transition from Stage Three to Stage Four than one can rip open a cocoon and expect a healthy butterfly to emerge. People are jolted out of their comfort zones all the time as a matter of course, but not all of them turn it into an opportunity for growth. Some retreat further into their faith/belief community, rededicating themselves to the cause with even greater fervor. Others make a dramatic leap to some radically different group, trading in one set of beliefs for another without actually undergoing any internal change apart from moving the vantage point that anchors their biases.
Those few that do move forward into the wilderness of doubt often find themselves unable to call any place home, at least while they remain in Stage Four. Just as they've become cynical about the beliefs they once held without question, so they turn a skeptical eye on any other group that might try to recruit them. It's a journey that's ultimately worth the seemingly high cost, but good luck with that sales pitch.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Given the defensive, sarcastic, and even hostile reactions that Exodus and its political allies have offered in response to the Ex-Gay Survivors Conference and the growing profile of the ex-ex-gay movement, several questions come to mind.
1. How do Exodus and its affiliates treat those who “drop out” of their programs? Is any follow-up ever done to find out why those individuals left? If not, does Exodus just hope that those people will go away and quietly vanish? How are current participants encouraged to treat former participants?
2. Does Exodus believe that ex-ex-gays have a right to tell their stories in their own words, or does it regard only the testimonies of “faithful” ex-gays as valid? Is there room for dialogue with former ex-gays, or are they considered enemies of the church?
3. Does Exodus believe that ex-ex-gays are in danger of losing their salvation? Can God still work in the lives of those who disagree with Exodus’ theological and political opinions, or are such individuals heretics to be expelled from the church at any cost?
4. When a former ex-gay claims to have been harmed by their ex-gay experiences, does Exodus take those charges seriously or are they dismissed as political posturing? Does Exodus consider its programs so far above reproach that no complaint made against them could be valid?
5. Former ex-gays are familiar with being told (by presumably well-meaning individuals) that their disenchantment is due either to personal failure or to incorrect perceptions and false expectations on their part. What, then, is Exodus doing to correct misperceptions about the definition of “change,” which are still widespread throughout the evangelical church? What is Exodus doing to ensure that “strugglers” – and their families, peers, pastors and fellow churchgoers – adopt a proper set of expectations, including fully understanding that “change” will, for most participants, mean a lifetime of celibacy?
Ex-Gay Watch is interested in hearing how Alan Chambers would respond to these questions, but the floor is open to leaders of local Exodus affiliates as well, as we recognize that their answers may vary.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Thursday, July 05, 2007
The biggest surprise of the weekend, however, was running into two guys I'd known in college. Back in those days I was deep enough in denial to be oblivious to the notion that other gay students might attend a Christian college in any significant number. The only real inkling I'd had came from an anonymous confessional printed in the school newspaper one year, which suggested that the anonymous writer knew of others on campus like himself. I still assumed it was a fairly small number, and certainly wouldn't have done anything to even hint that I might be one of them.
Since then, I've talked to enough gay alumni of Christian colleges to realize that gay (or same-sex attracted, if you prefer) students are not only present (however secretly) in such settings, but may well be represented at Christian schools in numbers larger than in the general population. Whether because of the draw that ministry has for many of us or because we hoped that immersing ourselves in a Christian environment would "fix" us, or both, the potentially hostile environment of a conservative Christian community did not deter us from attending.
Whether or not administrators at these schools are fully aware of just how many gay/SSA students they have under their auspices at any given time, it's not a fact that one will ever hear them acknowledge publicly. And it's not as though anyone could take a census of Christian college students and come up with anything resembling an accurate count; I certainly wouldn't have admitted it at the time, even anonymously.
Yet we are there, and always have been. Many of us end up walking away from our evangelical roots, if we don't leave the church altogether. Some stay permanently in denial, some commit themselves to the ex-gay path, some choose celibacy, and some find a partner and enter the so-called "lifestyle." Even among those who marry an opposite-sex spouse, extremely few ever actually change their orientation, despite the fondest wishes of those well-meaning administrators who force many to attend reparative therapy sessions as a condition of their enrollment.
Side A, B, X or otherwise, the day is coming when the evangelical church will have to face the fact that there are more of us than it ever imagined; that we are their children, siblings, friends, colleagues and ministry partners; and that any constructive solution to that "problem" will necessarily involve acknowledging that we're always going to be here, that we're not evil and out to destroy the church, and that we can no more go away by morphing into heterosexuals than we can by vanishing into nonexistence.
The church can continue to issue ultimatums and show the door to many of its most talented and enthusiastic members, but by doing so it reveals a heart that's selective in its compassion and conditional in its love. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" might become more than empty, self-deceptive rhetoric if more than a small handful of Christians ever came to understand what it truly means. As long as the church continues to place a higher value on on doctrine and ideology than on people, however, that's not likely to happen.
There is no easy solution to this issue - and maybe there never will be a definitive resolution. Perhaps we're not even meant to find such resolution in this lifetime. But we can still pray that one day the church will move past its desire for easy, black-and-white answers and rediscover the example of Christ, who took every burden upon himself without expecting anything in return. Then, and only then, can the healing begin.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The term 'survivor' makes me feel a little out of place, since my last experience with an ex-gay ministry was largely positive, and since three of my closest friends are individuals that I met there. At the same time, I do understand the anger and frustration of feeling lied to - not by that ministry but by many other Christian organizations and speakers who convinced me that I was unacceptable to God unless I developed heterosexual attractions, who told me that homosexuality was an addiction that inevitably led to a life of utter depravity.
I could go on, but after 150+ posts and nearly two years I'd just be repeating myself. And right now I need to finish packing so I can get to bed early. Morning will be coming sooner than usual, and I've got a busy weekend ahead of me.
If I don't see you there, I'll let you know how it goes.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I'd take spiritual gift inventories whenever the opportunity presented itself, and invariably I'd score low across the board and end up picking among whichever scores weren't quite as low as the others - usually gifts like service and giving that you can score points in without feeling any particular inclination for or against.
As a result of that a lot of my involvement in church has centered around tasks such as helping with set up and tear down before and after services. I don't want to denigrate such jobs by any means; I didn't mind doing them and in some cases even enjoyed the work, and there's certainly no dishonor in working quietly behind the scenes, but it's always felt like there was something else I was meant to do - something I couldn't quite put my finger on.
It makes me wonder if part of the problem isn't our rules-based approach to our faith, in which all of the Bible's narratives and conversations and poems exist solely to be broken apart into lists and formulas with which we can regiment every aspect of our earthly existence. The spiritual gifts that Paul mentions in his letters always seemed more like examples than like a complete list - especially since we have to piece that list together from multiple places, and since it's less than clear what some of those gifts actually are.
Not that our legalistic approach to the question is necessarily intentional; it's only natural that we would gravitate toward what we can positively identify in the process of trying to figure out what tasks each of us is gifted to perform.
But what if Paul's examples only tell part of the story? What if, by assuming that every Christian's calling can be defined by one or two of the roles on our short list, we're limiting and even hampering the work that God wants to do through the church? Just as the physical body seemed a much simpler thing back when science only knew to define it in terms of those organs and functions observable by the naked eye, so, perhaps, a spiritual body composed of millions of unique individuals might be more complex than the early church, with a total membership in the thousands, could have imagined.
That possibility raises questions for which there are no simple answers, but then again, that just makes it consistent with the rest of life. As with so many things we see that the Bible works best when we regard it as our foundation instead of as the entire building.
Instead of focusing on which box a person fits in, what if we were to help them identify what they're passionate about and what they can do about it? Instead of worrying about what job title to give them up front, why not help them custom design the job according to their abilities and the needs they're in a position to meet, and then consider afterward whether or not the result fits into our predefined categories? And while we're at it, let's not assume that any labels we can apply to them now will continue to fit indefinitely.
That's all theoretical, of course, and it's also possible that I'm having delusions of grandeur where my own gifts are concerned. It's probably stretching a bit too far to hope that blogging counts as a spiritual gift. I certainly enjoy blogging and feel like I need the creative outlet, and someday I hope to look back and see how God used all of this in some positive way, but it could never serve as a substitute for being involved in a local community.
And so the journey goes on, as it always does.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Andrew Sullivan sums it up nicely:
The problem with Christianity for those who seek earthly power is that Jesus explicitly renounced such power. Socialism and left-liberalism and "compassionate conservative" are really devices with which the state assumes the moral obligations of the individual - and increasingly robs the individual of the resources to be charitable herself. Christianism - of both left and right - is not just a variation of Christianity. It's an attempt to coopt Christianity to empower the political leader. That's why the politicians like it: it gives them the moral highground, and more money, and eventually more power. All of which leads to less freedom and less genuine faith.
Every moral crusade begins with the purest of motives and with a genuine desire to improve everyone's quality of life. Unfortunately the cost of bending the full force of governmental power to achieve those ends comes with a very high price tag - one nobody would willingly pay if the cost were made apparent up front. Coerced virtue is no virtue at all, and the damage that coercion does to the human spirit affects the one doing the coercing as surely as it does the one being coerced.
Power corrupts. Use sparingly.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Right now it's out of the question since my place is too small to accommodate another person, and I could only afford a larger home if I had a roommate who could help defray the cost. It also seems like the sort of thing a couple would be better suited for. Not that a single person couldn't help kids in that situation, but temperamentally I'm not sure that I'd be well suited to the task by myself.
Still, God's done far bigger things with people who were even more inadequate to the task at hand than I would be, so who knows what may happen a couple years down the road. Dreams that God is behind have a way of becoming reality no matter how formidable the obstacles standing in the way.
So I guess I won't write off that particular notion just yet.
Friday, June 08, 2007
1. Jim Wallis. I may not always agree with his political views, but I respect what he has to say. Key quote:
But I've not found that. My gay friends are also friends with my family. And they're glad that we have a healthy heterosexual relationship and a healthy relationship with our kids. But they want to be respected too — their rights, their relationships — and not be scapegoated for things that have nothing to do with them.
I had this conversation with Focus on the Family, and I said I agree with you that family breakdown is a huge crisis, a serious crisis. And I don't think the Left talks about that enough. My neighborhood is eighty percent single parent families. You can't overcome poverty with that, with eighty percent single parent families. But how do we reweave the bonds of marriage, family, extended family, and community, to put our arms around the kids? And it's not just in poor neighborhoods. Kids are falling through the cracks of fractured family in all classes and neighborhoods. So I said to them, I want to rebuild family life and relationships, but explain to me how gay and lesbian people are the ones responsible for all that? which is what their fund-raising strategy suggests. And after about an hour and a half they conceded the point. They said, Okay Jim, we concede that family breakdown is caused much more by heterosexual dysfunction than by homosexuals. But then they said, We can't vouch for our fundraising department, which says a lot, I think.
Not that it tells us anything we didn't already know about Focus on the Family, but it's nice to have someone with evangelical credentials finally point it out.
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan
2. David Scholer. I'd never heard of him before reading this article, which appears to be my loss. He sounds like somebody who could be a positive influence on those (at Focus on the Family and elsewhere) for whom "compassion" means wrapping their condescension in a layer of velvet. Key quote:
Students will often hear him say that a sign of maturity is to be able to "live with ambiguity."
As he describes it, he tells each class something like this:
"People who think they have all the answers to all of life's questions are fake. You have no right to oppose women in ministry until you have made a friend who is called to ministry and you've listened to her story. You have no right to make a statement about homosexuality until you have made friends with a Christian homosexual person. The conclusion you draw is another issue."
Hat tip: Of Course, I Could Be Wrong
Neither article actually states what either of these men believe about gay relationships from a theological standpoint, but that's secondary to the impression I get that both of them would treat me with respect - an impression I've rarely gotten from anyone at Exodus or Focus on the Family, much less from any of their political allies.
A healthy friendship can thrive without conformity of opinion, but it can't last long without mutual respect - and unfortunately too many evangelicals have been taught that those who disagree with them on those issues deemed important by their churches are not worthy of their respect.
That's beginning to change, but it's an agonizingly slow process at times.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Every time I recount the story of how I transitioned from a place of unquestioning acceptance of ex-gay ideology into the journey that I find myself on today, it comes out a bit differently as I focus on different aspects of what was, at the time, a far more complex process than a few pages of text could ever fully capture. But if there's one pivotal event that I hope I adequately account for in every retelling, it's how I came to truly understand, for the first time, that God loves me exactly the way I am, and that I don't have to change who or what I am to earn his acceptance.
It’s equally important to understand that God brought me to this point before I began questioning everything I’d been taught by the church about my “condition,” and not the other way around. I certainly didn’t interpret God’s unconditional acceptance as a license to do whatever my whims might happen to dicate, and I still don’t.
Words cannot fully convey just how revolutionary it was to come to the realization that not only did I not have to become somebody else in order to appease God, but he didn’t want me to be somebody else. Yet somebody else was precisely what I was trying to become through my efforts to “reclaim my natural heterosexuality.”
For better or for worse, whether because of genetics, hormones, psychological influences or some combination of the three, my homosexuality is a permanent, integral part of who I am, and God made it clear to me that he wasn’t interested in fundamentally altering the personality of somebody he had already fallen in love with, as even a partial shift in orientation would have entailed for me. Maybe it’s different for someone whose attractions were more fluid to begin with, but I wouldn’t know.
Again, the enormity of that revelation can only be appreciated if it’s understood that I was still fully committed at the time to the idea that my only alternative to heterosexual marriage was lifelong celibacy. Sure, the breadth and depth of God’s love was taught in the churches and programs I’d attended over the years, but there were always qualifications and stipulations and all sorts of implied exceptions.
Although it was generally understood that my orientation was not sinful in and of itself, virtually every Christian book, radio program, lecture and sermon I was exposed to over the course of my life made it abundantly clear that homosexuality was a tremendous evil on par with the very worst atrocities recorded in our history books. The very clear implication of all of that was that any good Christian in my position should strive to eradicate even the temptation to commit such a horrendous sin lest God’s wrath immediately descend upon me.
It might seem odd to an outside observer, but it’s internally consistent given that most strains of conservative Christian theology emphasize, to one degree or another, that every last one of us is pond scum, completely incapable of doing anything good on our own and valuable only because God chose to value us despite our inherent worthlessness. In theory, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf empowers us to love him in return and to do good deeds.
In practice, the lessons drummed into me in church every Sunday led me to a life of fear - fear of what God would do to my worthless self if I didn’t say and do all the right things, fear of what God will do to those I love if I can’t persuade them to adopt my beliefs and standards, and fear of the terrible judgment God will pour out on our nation if his followers can’t bring enough of our neighbors to repentance.
I know I’m not the only one who has lived in that fear. It may not be openly acknowledged, but it’s a silent presence in more than a few churches. It lurks just behind the semi-permanent smile of the person who inserts “Hallelujah” or “praise God” into every other sentence just as surely as it drives the crusader who’s constantly badgering nonbelievers and “heretics” about their eternal destiny. And then there are those who just keep their mouths shut and their heads down and follow along without making too many waves, as I did.
But if “perfect love drives out fear,” as we’re told in 1 John 4:18, then something must be amiss in our churches. If fear is ever our motivation for doing anything, then perhaps it’s time for us to stop and reexamine what we really believe, underneath what we claim to believe.
All of that isn’t to say that I was never motivated by love for God, but even that love was tainted by fear - not the reverential ‘fear’ that the righteous have for God, according to the Bible, but the kind of love mixed with fear that a child might have for an abusive parent.
In truth, God was never an abusive parent. But deep down inside, beneath all of the theology I’d been taught, I didn’t really believe that he loved me. He tolerated me, if only because he couldn’t get around his own promises, but only as long as I stayed off the furniture and didn’t cause any trouble. It took a lot for God to finally break through all of the noise from the condemning voices running through my head, and those old tapes still rear up to haunt me from time to time.
Nothing has ever been as liberating and empowering as understanding - truly understanding - that I am loved, without reservation or qualification of any kind. I’ve heard so many times how freedom is supposed to come from obeying God’s laws. Obedience to God’s voice is certainly an important part of the Christian life, but it’s not the true source of our power.
If rules and regulations could liberate us, then totalitarian governments would be the greatest source of freedom known to mankind. God frees us, not by placing us back under the Law, but by giving us the one thing we desire and need more than any other: unconditional acceptance. Such unqualified love enables us to do the right thing in a way no set of rules could ever accomplish. Not because we’re “supposed to,” or because we fear being slapped down for our missteps, but because we know that we are valuable, and that those around us are valuable, and that nothing in the entire universe can strip any of us of our incalculable value.
For those that choose the ex-gay path in response to a genuine understanding of God’s unconditional love, I wish them the best on their journey. For those that choose it as a result of fear, obligation, misinformation or some combination of the three, I pray that one day they too will come to experience the freedom that no legalistic system can ever deliver.