Setting Something Straight

24 Apr, 2014

The first time I met Pastor Ken Wilson he gave me a bit of a rebuke.

I was the Webmaster for The Association of Vineyard Churches. Besides being on staff at my local Vineyard Church I had the opportunity with three other friends to build and maintain the website for our denomination’s national office.

We had created a page for books written by Vineyard pastors. I had listed a book titled, Empowered Evangelicals, but I had only listed Rich Nathan as the author. To me, Rich was a god, and I never noticed that someone elses name was on the cover. Ken suggested that I take another look. Sure enough his name was there too. Either he had co-authored it with Rich. Or maybe Rich co-authored it with Ken. This may appear to be the same thing, but usually the name with more marketing clout get’s the more credit and the bigger font. My own approach to the book proves the point.

I apologized and told him I’d correct the error. Having lost credit for some of my own work over the years in ministry I empathized with what he could be feeling.

KenWilsonMaybe today I get to finally right that slight.

I read an article on Religion Dispatch about an evangelical pastor who wrote a letter to his congregation about embracing the LBGT crowd. The author’s name is Ken Wilson. Both parts of his name are pretty common. This couldn’t be the same Ken Wilson I know, could it?

It is.

Ken wrote a book. A book that no other Vineyard pastor has dared to write: A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus.

Does this mean that the Vineyard has made a pro-friendly-gay stance? Unfortunately no. In the interview Ken says,

“Within Vineyard, our new leadership team has made it clear this is not an acceptable position, so I’m not expecting to be embraced warmly by mainstream evangelicalism on this. Evangelicalism has bought into what I think is the demonic reality that somehow this is the defining moral issue of our time and is the litmus test for orthodoxy. Given that, I believe there will be a lot of out-of-hand dismissal of the book.”

He is probably right, but I can hope, can’t I?

You might not be able to find the book on the Vineyard USA website, but hey Ken, you can find it posted here on mine.

Read Ken’s article here.

You can purchase his book here.

Fifty Nude Women – a discussion I think is worth having

15 Apr, 2014

photocollageI belong to a men’s discussion group. We meet about nine times a year to discuss various issues that range from politics and governing, to religion, humanity, masculinity, and popular culture. The men are highly intelligent and caring individuals. Some of them are the most giving individuals that I’ve personally experienced. I’ve known a few of them for a lifetime and others I’ve come to appreciate over the past couple of years. We don’t always agree, and sometimes the conversations are quite spirited, but there is a measure of respect for each other that I value. I am glad that I belong.

Last month, after an extremely well led and facilitated discussion about the value of/problem with religion’s role in politics, I was asked to present my photography projects at our next gathering. I stuttered and stammered when asked, but said yes, probably out of pressure. Yet as I drove home I realized I didn’t want to have a discussion about the projects I am doing with Breast Cancer Patients/Survivors and (mostly) women about their Body Image stories.

My reluctance confused me. I never hesitate to share about this work, how I got into it, and why I think it is important. After some processing with my wife Jamie, I figured out why I felt some hesitation – I don’t care what these guys think.

Sounds callous, right? Let me explain. The group is a men’s discussion group. This means that we are free to share opinions and challenge the thinking of the guy next to them. And the reality is, I really don’t care what any of these men in our group thinks about what I am doing with my life in regards to these projects.

Sounds pretentious, right? Let me explain. It is the women in these projects that I’ve chosen to be open and accountable to. It is their input that guides this work. So if a Cancer Survivor tells me that her ‘before’ portraits, or her after-surgery reality portraits have been beneficial and healing for her and her family, why would I let anyone else’s negative opinion of this work matter?

Is it starting to make sense? I am not doing these projects for the outsiders, I am doing them for the participants. That is why each person, in either project, gets to call the shots when it comes to who sees/reads their stories. It may be enough for them to have an open discussion with me. It may be enough for them to have an facilitated discussion by me with them and their family. It may be enough for them to reveal themselves for portraits, even if they are the only ones who end up seeing them. It may be enough for them to share their stories in one venue, like an art show, but decline to share them on another, like a website or book. And for some it may be the most freeing and helpful for them to share their story without reservation so that others can benefit by more education and understanding.

This is why I felt so conflicted thinking of tossing these projects around a men’s group for their opinions – it isn’t their lives that are being impacted. Respectfully, as to the projects, I really don’t care what they think…

Even if the night turned into a personal intervention because they all thought I was off my rocker, I would still default to the opinions of my wife and the women that I am working with. This point isn’t open to debate.

In a phone call with the men’s group facilitator I explained my hesitation. Graciously he acknowledged my position and told me there were no rules against me making a presentation instead of facilitating a discussion. That gave me the freedom that I needed. Immediately I relaxed. Now I am excited to share with them about what I am involved with. I’ve always kept both projects in the light and I’m not afraid to share what we are doing and why.

And then I started getting creative. I do want to dialog with these guys. I do want to hear about their thought processes and experiences when it comes to this kind of work (outside of devaluing my interaction with the women in my projects and their families), but how do I facilitate that kind of discussion?

And then I had an idea. I want to show them a video of nude women.

Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain. I own a copy of an amazing project shot a few years ago in New York City of fifty women who came together to illustrate what women’s bodies really look like. They range in ages of 21-95 years old. None of them have been Photoshopped. There are big girls, and small girls, and women in-between. They have wrinkles, creases, scars, stretch marks and captivating smiles. Greatest of all is their acceptance of their bodies. It is so freakingly, amazingly beautiful! I never cease to laugh and cry when I watch these 10 minutes of freedom. I’ve shown it to several friends. I’ve used it as a tool with the women in my projects. I just never thought I’d be showing it to a men’s discussion group.

I contacted the leader again via email. I told him my idea. I shared that I understand that most, if not all of the guys in our group come from a conservative background, whether it be political or religious, and I recognize that it would be a stretch for some of them to even consider seeing a woman sans her clothes, other than their wives.

Yet my experience has been that many of my friend’s wives would love their husbands to see a video like this as opposed to being tempted to pick up a girlie magazine. Videos like Fifty Nude Women serve as anti-porn agents as they personalize the women on the screen instead of using them for someone else’s sexual gratification. Honestly, there is nothing sexual about the video; it is just full of beautiful humanity.

I am going to give the men the option that night, after I’ve shared about my two projects, to stay to watch the video or leave if it isn’t within their boundaries to watch it. I will value their discretion as well as the potential discussion that will come. I think it will humble us. I think it will challenge our fears. I think it will bring freedom if we let it. I look forward to that kind of discussion.

And if I’m the only one left in the room when the video starts, I will laugh at the tender, connecting moments, and cry again as I again realize that my heart has fallen in love with fifty nude women.

Noah Didn’t Float My Boat

02 Apr, 2014

Noah-Poster-slice

After two steady days of rain I decided to go to see the movie Noah. For one thing it was $5.00 night at the new theater in town with the comfortable chairs, and for the other I wanted to see how to build a boat if this damn rain didn’t stop falling.

I’ve avoided most of the debate over this film. I figure that if you are going to make a two hour movie from three chapters of Genesis, that only takes five minutes to read, you are going to have to fill in the provided outline with some broadened storylines. This doesn’t mean that the result will be anti-biblical, it just means that it is extra-biblical (pertaining to information or content outside the Bible).

Some Christians feel it is the director’s responsibility to stay within the normative storylines that fit the illustrations on our nursery room walls. Others feel that Christians are too up in arms over a Jewish text being interpreted by a Jewish director. Even Muslim countries have banned the film as they say it contradicts their own views of holy scripture. For me, I tried to walk into the theater with an open mind to watch Aronofsky’s portrayal of the story, although I will say my spirit was a bit dampened by all of the April showers.

Darren-Aronofsky-on-Set-NoahHere is what I liked about the movie: Aronofsky has attempted to answer some of the questions that the Genesis text brings to bear (which is different from bringing two bears, but that also happens in the movie). For instance, what in the heck are the Nephilim? How are they different from humans? What is their relationship to the Creator? What ended up happening to them? Aronofsky’s storyline felt a bit too Tolkenish at times, but at least he showed us something even if it was borrowed from Middle Earth. He had an answer for how all of the animals stayed on the ark together without it becoming a zoo. He also had a fascinating visual take on the creation story, as Noah quoted the texts to his children.

Aronofsky took a deep blue dive into Noah’s motivation and presented an idea of why he became drunk and naked at the end of the three hour tour. Again, you might not agree with the course the director took, but at least he addressed it, which is more than what many churches do when they teach through these texts and quickly get to the part where the sun came out and dried up the landy-landy.

Maybe, most interestingly, the movie addresses the questions of how do people hear from the Creator? What is his place with his creation? What do people do when they can’t hear anything? Is God silent? How do we interpret what we think are his directions? Note that I didn’t say he answers these questions, but the film does address them as central to the plot.

But while I appreciated Aronofsky’s bold choices, it didn’t mean I liked the movie. The problem, for me, is that Aronofsky never got me to care. I was never pulled into the story with any deep emotion or empathy. Even in the emotionally charged scenes, I pulled back as I hadn’t bought in to any of the characters. It didn’t help that I kept seeing Russell Crowe acting alongside Hermione Granger, who at times accidently broke into her Hogwart’s accent. And Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Methuselah was a bit to Hannibal Lecter for my taste.

And the movie was dark, really dark. I guess I can’t blame Aronofsky for not creating The Rainbow Connection. (He doesn’t shy away from telling some pretty gloomy tales- Requiem for a Dream, The Fighter, Black Swan). Here he is dealing with a story of the total annihilation of the world by an angry God, as a punishment for sin, save a very small, and very flawed, remnant. Which, from everyones’ perspectives – whether you consider Noah to be a literal tale or a Jewish fable – didn’t work. Evil survived even in the do-over. Anger couldn’t drown out sin.

I would love to see Aronofsky take on the Jonah tale next. Not only would it be great to have his creative take on what it looks like to get swallowed by a fish and survive three days before being belched out onto the shore; it would be interesting to see his character development of Jonah, who at the end is clinically depressed because the wrath of God doesn’t fall on the heathens like he expected from the days of Noah. 

I guess God didn’t like the way the earlier story ended either.

Someday we’ll find it,
The rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me

Are There Tears In Heaven?

20 Mar, 2014

Fred-phelps
I think so, sadness too. Before you curse me for being a heretic or quote familiar scripture verses at me consider this – when we arrive at our next destination our eyes are going to be opened like they never have before. What we were blind to we will now see; what we were mistaken about will become clear; what we missed in understanding will become known. And as the darkness fades in this new light I think there will be some sense of grief for where we have erred.

I imagine the Reverend Fred Phelps today as he comes into a fuller understanding of the love and compassion of God. I think it will break him like it never did on this side of eternity. I picture Jesus taking him aside and gently ministering to him, teaching him, mentoring and discipling him. And I think Fred will cry, deeply weep. And he will grieve at the pain and heartache he created for so many others.

And then because it is Heaven, and because it is Jesus, Fred will be baptized in grace that he doesn’t deserve. It will finally penetrate his soul like the law he preached never could. And Jesus won’t leave him there in shame, because truly shame can’t exist in the embrace of Jesus.

For Jesus to wipe away the tears of our past, it means that there has to be an outlet for them, even in Heaven.

Today Fred is crying.

A Gift of Health for my Birthday

04 Feb, 2014

DSC_7170wToday is my birthday. I just gave myself a gift, possibly the most important gift that to be able to enjoy life for many years to come – my health!

Let’s not kid, I have been unhealthy. Several friends told me they could see it in my eyes. They were dull and lifeless – pretty much a window to my body’s condition.

I’m not sure that I know all of the reasons that I let myself go so far downhill, though part of it was my coping mechanism for dealing with depression and grief. I have always been aware that not taking care of myself was an unhealthy way for me to progress, but I had the darndest time moving that knowledge from my head to my heart and finding the motivation to act on it.

I didn’t really care that I’d grown fat. I write frequently about body image issues and my heart has adopted a counter-culture understanding: people are not their bodies. There are too many people that I’ve met that are sick, have scars, missing limbs, extra weight, emaciated frames, and the like, that it has changed me. I can love the person sitting across the table sharing their story with me and it has become reflected in the love that I have for the person staring back at me in the mirror.

I began to care that I had grown sick. Since I am surrounded by people who are actively fighting for their lives each day it seemed hypocritical to want health for them while knowing that I was consistently making decisions that took me farther and farther down the path of physical brokenness.

In the past five years I developed high blood pressure, high enough to require medication. Then my doctor had to increase the dosage and after a while add a second medication. Last year he added a third. My blood work also showed that if I wasn’t careful I’d also have to go on a blood sugar drug. I wasn’t diligent and my new diagnosis of being a borderline diabetic meant that a fourth medication became a part of my daily pill regimen.

I don’t think I realized how stationary my life had become. I stopped playing basketball with my kids. They used to invite me to their pickup games but I excused myself so often that the invites became uncomfortable for us all. Instead I coached from courtside,  or worse, my couch. I stopped hiking with my wife, stopped walking with my dog; stopped taking stairs; I did more shopping online.

This last year I’ve walked through a breast cancer journey with my friends Deb and Mike. They invited me along, not just to photograph but to live the battle with them. It affected me more than I realized. When Deb’s oncologist told her that part of her health plan was to lose some extra weight I decided to accept it as mine as well. I cried over the phone when I heard my heart promising Deb that I would do it with her. We swapped roles. She came over to my studio and I disrobed for my “before” photos, with her this time on the trigger side of the camera. I’m so grateful for her and the way she is surviving. Now I can say, “Me too!”

DSC_7260wWhile my issue wasn’t about being physically seen as “fat” I did know that my weight was a huge factor in my health. Part of my depression was the realization that under a standard diet it would take me at least a year to get to the place where I felt I could be active like I wanted to. I wanted to lose 50 lbs as quickly as possible so that I could lose the remainder with a more natural form of healthier eating and physical activity. I knew that there was no magic pill shortcut, but I felt too emotionally handicapped to find the strength to visualize change. I needed a physical and an emotional head start. I turned to my friend Cody who was regaining his own health and was accomplishing it quickly. He had me watch a documentary called, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” from an Australian named Joe Cross who turned his life around by juicing fruits and vegetables for 60 days. I decided that I would use this “reboot” as a kickoff to my health.

The calendar showed that I had 62 days until my 46th birthday. That gave me two days to prepare for my gift of health. Jamie and I gathered our kids around the table and I broke. I didn’t realize how much I had let myself down in letting them down. Renton, who is my fiercest athlete, just clung to me, crying with me. Next I went to my parents and told them my plan. They were already juicing fans and were excited to help me succeed. They purchased a new Champion juicer for me as an early Christmas gift and let me use theirs until mine arrived.

On the last day of my health avoidance I went to my favorite hangout, Sockeye Brewing, to have my final beer of the year and to tell my friends that I’d be taking a couple of month hiatus from my second office. I tried a couple of times to tell the wait staff my plan but each time I started to break down again. I left the restaurant with half the food remaining on my plate, not saying anything. I had lost my appetite.

It dawned on me that this was going to be a semi-private journey. I chose not to share on social media because this was a time to learn to listen, not a time to speak. This wasn’t about starving my body from food, it was about getting things out of the way that were between me and my health. In my case I had some physical and emotional baggage that had been insulating my heart from hearing my body. There were habits that I not only had to break, but had to be replaced with new, healthier alternatives.

I surrounded myself with a core group of friends who listened to me as I discovered the health and dietary mistakes that I’d let become my abusive normal. It was hard to shut myself off from other relationships, but I hope as my friends read this story that they realize that I was reclusive for a season only because I needed to be more present for myself.

Going cold turkey wasn’t easy, but that is where the scale actually helped me. I began to witness the pounds melt off. My doctor told me that with each ten pounds I would feel a difference. While in his office he asked me to imagine carting around a ten pound bowling ball everywhere I went. I think I responded that it would make me quickly lose my breath. He didn’t respond, but I knew he could have easily told me that my weight was already having those consequences and more.

Around 45 days in family joined me for a walk in a new shopping district a few miles from our home. The kids wanted to show me the bowling palace that I hadn’t visited yet. We walked into the cosmic room where the neon lights made the wildly painted balls glow. I found a ten pound ball and all six of us passed it around. I started crying quietly as it went from hand to hand. I so wanted to end this part of the journey well, both for them and for me.

Again, this has not been easy. In the past nine weeks I have hit barriers. My energy lulled. I have never felt so damn cold. I would often go to bed a couple of hours early just for the weight of the four blankets piled on my bed. I got sick of the vegetables. Some of them just didn’t taste good to me. I gagged several times and lost my lunch more times than I care to remember. I didn’t actually make it to the end. My body told me “no more” after day 53. I listened and I’m grateful. It has taken this last week just to wake up my stomach and regain normal dietary functions.

DSC_0169wAnd I won my health! I monitored my blood pressure through the whole journey. I took myself off two of the blood pressure medications after checking in with my doctor’s office. Then at my last doctor’s visit he took me off the final blood pressure med and also ran some blood tests. They called me with the results and confirmed that I was off my blood sugar medication as well. I am currently on no medications and he doesn’t want to see me again until May!

I am still not at the healthiest place weight-wise for my body, but I’ve given myself the head start that I needed. I am ready to be active. Unfortunately my bike was stolen last summer and my local gym just closed last weekend (ten days after I’d reactivated my membership) so I am going to have to be creative, but I have come too far in the last sixty days to stop now. I lost a bowling ball for each of us in the family – sixty pounds. I’m so happy – and I haven’t said that in a long, long time.

***

While I’ve been a bit quiet during this reboot I am quite happy to share details about what I’ve learned during this process (eating habits, etc.) with anyone that is interested.

If you live near me I’d love to have you join me at Sockeye this Friday evening (5-7pm) to help me enjoy a great beer. I will be nursing it (one) for a couple of hours as I don’t think my body wants, or needs, any more than that. And if you would feel so inclined to purchase a beer for me in celebration of my birthday and this accomplishment I’d prefer that you’d put those couple of bucks in a hat for me to help purchase a new bike. (I’ll be putting a public invite on Facebook for Friday’s event.)

For those who don’t live in the area if you’d like to know more about this journey of health just email me and I’d be happy to share.

***

Today is my birthday. Based on my current health status I am actively planning for many more of them!

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of The Wolf of Wall Street

01 Jan, 2014

I remember watching a comedy almost two decades ago that was full of sexual innuendo. I laughed several times through the flick. My friend had also seen it and we kept using phrases from the film when we saw each other. One night we decided to have dinner together with our wives and watch a movie on our VHS player (I told you it was a while ago). Thing was, it was no longer funny. The movie was actually pretty darn uncomfortable when we were watching it with the ladies in the room. Not only did they not laugh at the sexism, it made me wonder why I had found it all that funny in the first place.

When Wolf came out last week, on Christmas day no less, I read the reactions from several people who went to the movie with their families. They weren’t pleased. Many walked out. This movie certainly isn’t good family entertainment. I seriously doubt you would want your children to see this kind of debauchery and I would also bet you would be too embarrassed to watch it with your parents. Needless to say I’m glad I went to the movie by myself so I could focus on the the story on the screen and not how uncomfortable I was because of the person sitting next to me.

I’ll get the good parts out first:

  • Martin Scorsese is a great film maker. He is an exceptional storyteller and always gets great performances from his actors. This movie is no exception. I’ve never been a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan, but I sure was impressed by Jonah Hill.
  • The film itself is void of judgement. The story is thrown in your face and you as the viewer are forced to come to your own conclusions. Movies like this are great for dialog and learning. Instead of being told what to think you are being encouraged to do some thinking yourself.
  • That’s about all the good I can come up with…

Wolf_Of_Wall_StreetThe rest of the movie is ugly. You will read in other reviews that people are upset with all of the drugs and sex in the movie. Actually those aren’t the core sins of the main character Jordan Belfort – it was greed. And that greed isn’t like the Grinch’s that stole all the presents in Whoville, because that was just a cartoon world. The world that Belfort lives in is ours, and the people that he connived out of their finances were real. The pain he caused them was immense and it is ongoing. You don’t see their faces on the screen, but their presence couldn’t escape my viewing.

So while Belfort came to Wall Street with drive and ambition he had no moral counter-balance. His greed fueled his desire for money he didn’t need, sex with women he didn’t love, fancy clothes and cars just for the sake of pride, and a particularly nasty drug habit.

And that is basically what the three hour movie portrays - the debauchery of greed. And in light of all of the glamour it isn’t all that pretty. And in light of the humorous scenes, it isn’t very funny. And in light of all of the nudity and simulated sex, it isn’t really desirable. But the hardest reality to me in this story is that the people at the end of the film were still cozying up to Belfort because they still wanted to find the easy way to get rich. It also makes me sick that he is still swilling the same sh*t. Greed makes us forget what type of people we are following, who we think of as our leaders. It blinds us to the cost of pursuing riches without valuing people.

Belfort has a quote in the film similar to “There is no dignity in being poor,” but I would have to counter that there is no character, nor redemption, in greed. None. It is a vice without honor, a drug that gives no satisfying high.

It isn’t the movie that deserves the criticism, it is just a mirror of our souls when they are void of character. What should be judged, based on this story, is any pursuit of money and riches that comes at the cruel expense of others.

If there is value in The Wolf of Wall Street, it would be that we tune out the Belforts of this world and stop having stories like his to share.

Save your $10 at the cinema and give it to one of your friends who you know could use an unexpected blessing. If you really want to see the film, go alone, and try to peer behind the facade.

P.S. I would sure love to see Scorsese take on a story of sacrifice and generosity.

Friend Tracker

24 Oct, 2013

I sat with a couple of childhood friends at my favorite, local brewery. It was more than just a time to catch up, it was an opportunity to go deep into the emotional journeys of our lives.

One of them asked the other two of us a question – “What was the worst, most damaging comment that was ever said to you growing up?

When it came my turn I blurted, “You aren’t good enough – you don’t have what it takes.” They both laughed at me. Their perception of my young adult life is very different than my own. They both thought I the popular, cool kid that ran with the the in-crowd. They weren’t wrong – on the outside I pulled off that feat, but on my inside I always felt like I was a fraud and didn’t really belong there. When I told them this they stopped laughing and asked more poignant questions about my self perceptions.

I answered, “For an example, I started every game for my high school varsity basketball team from my sophomore year on, but I was always terrified that they would finally figure out that I wasn’t really good enough to even be on the team.

I know that it sounds silly, maybe even ridiculous, but that is the inner terror I’ve lived in most of my life. If I wanted to fit in I would have to perform in order to gain acceptance. I learned to join groups where I had a chance to earn a position. If I had a title THEN I was significant. This was my security blanket. So In jr high and highschool I always went out for student council, I participated on my church Bible Quiz team, I tried to get into any leadership assignments in the church youth group I could find. I worked on my school grades to earn valedictorian status. But no matter how golden my successes were they were always tarnished by my own feelings of self-worth. I’ve simply always felt that I didn’t measure up, which meant I’d better do one hell of a job proving the opposite to others.

identityThis worked pretty well for me until I hit competition with those close to me. When one of my close friends ran against me for Student Body President it devastated me. I felt betrayed because this friend knew how much it meant to me. It was an ultimate slap in the face based on how I’d opened up my heart to them. I confronted the person and their response is still branded in my memory, “Oh, I’ll still vote for you, like I promised , but that doesn’t mean that I won’t also run.”

I couldn’t deal with the rejection I felt. I dropped out of the race.

She won.

I cried.

*****

I chose to go to college for a profession that carried with it a lot of honor and acceptance – a Pastor. Of course there were a lot of great, heart-filled reasons for me to go into ministry, but in the background I was always comforted that I would have a job that carried its own embedded honor in our culture. I fed off of this the years I spent in full-time ministry.

I expect people who know me to be surprised when they read this. I was the guy with no stage fright that could easily get a congregation to smile, usually laugh, and smoothly transition between music, greeting, offering, and message. Standing in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people didn’t bother me at all – as long as I was safe with them – which meant that I had a place, a title, a position that they all appreciated and accepted me for. But if you put me in the middle of a congregation of 2000, a classroom of 30, a homegroup of 20, or a men’s accountability group of four without a stated role or position, I would be terrified and looking for a way to make a place for myself.

“Hello. My name is Chad and I am insecure.”

“Hello, Chad.”

Here is the crazy thing. I can’t point to any abuse, awful parents, mean siblings, tormented childhood, school yard bullying, sexual predators, or anything (or anyone) else to blame for being so maladjusted. Maybe I was born insecure… all I know is that I’ve always felt I had to prove myself.

So imagine that once I was let go from my ministry job imagine how terrified I was. I’d finally been found out. I wasn’t worth it. In fact they told me – “You aren’t worth your salary here, you should be pastoring more people than you are. Please go somewhere else.”

Oh Fuck.

That is one awful, cold reality.

*****

The past several years has been a journey of going after these seeds of rejection that have grown in my heart over the past four decades.

I’ve had a couple of amazing opportunities to talk with friends about messages and actions that I’ve received as gospel truth. There has been some fantastic healing with these people. I also have to admit there have been some interactions with others that have caused more pain. Maybe they are insecure too.

I’ve liked Facebook because it has allowed me to connect with a lot of people from my past as well as with new people I am building relationships with. Yet Facebook has this interesting feature in that it forces both parties to be involved in establishing a connection, but only one of them when it comes to unfriending. In some ways I understand why people would want anonymity at the end of a connection, yet it also blocks what could be some very interesting and worthwhile conversations. I mean, we don’t let people anonymously divorce, do we?

I found a cheat – a program that allowed me to see who unfriended me. In some ways it triggered more hurt (OMG – why did they just unfriend me?), but it also gave me the opportunity to confront and dialog with the person instead of just assuming the Facebook unfriending was actually rejection.

My wife thought I was just heaping more pain on myself, but I told her with my trust issues I’d rather know who had given up on me and why. If I didn’t’ have a reason I’d automatically take it as rejection. At least my Friend Tracker app allowed me to ask those who wanted no more social media dialog with me, “Why?”

I’ve learned from the conversations I’ve had. There are significant, valid reasons why people don’t associate with me on Facebook any longer. It has helped me learn that not all disconnections are rejection. Unfortunately I’ve also learned that some of my relationships were much thinner than I’d believed. My reliance on them for identity and acceptance had been misplaced. I guess in the long term I’d rather know than not.

But now I have lost my crutch. Facebook disconnected my Friend Tracker app today. I am now blind to the unfriendings as everyone else. I can no longer ask “Whys?” when people unfriend me so, I will have to hope that they will have a conversation with me (and my wounded identity) before they disconnect so I know that it isn’t something that I could work on or fix if it is just a misunderstanding,

*****

Misunderstanding. I look across the table at one the friends sitting across from me. She now has tears in her eyes. “Do you want to know why I ran against you for President?”

“Yes,” I say. “YES!” my heart screams.

She tells me.

Oh Fuck.

I cry.

It wasn’t about me. And it wasn’t betrayal. And I understand. I even find myself on her side.

I heal from that memory, almost in an instant. In its place is compassion and solidarity. She has my vote.

We cry.

And I wonder if this new bit of truth applies to other wounds in my life. I’m sure it does. I’ll look for ways to apply it.

But it will take conversations. And I no longer have Friend Tracker to help.

 

Whoever said ‘Gay’ meant Fun didn’t have my Week

01 Sep, 2013

controversy2I had expected to take a break this week from social networking and commentary, instead it has become my busiest week of blogging this year.

It started with me responding to a news article out of New Mexico that their State Supreme Court ruled against a photographer who refused to take photos of a lesbian couple. Their point was that the photographer advertised for that type of work thus they didn’t have the right (based on state law) to discriminate against the women.

Some suggested that the lesbians just go hire a gay-affirming photographer as they would get better photos than from someone who didn’t want to be there. As a professional photographer I find this take disturbing. I think we should always give our best no matter who it is for. If anyone – a barber, a mechanic, a receptionist, a secretary, a waiter, a school teacher, fireman, veterinarian – anyone who works with the public – treats their clients any different because of sex, sexual orientation, race, gender or religion they should be held accountable!

I don’t care if Christians don’t approve of someone’s lifestyle – you don’t have the legal right in this country not to provide service to them! We have too much of a bigoted past – which is why we have non-discrimination laws on our books. (Going to church and identifying as a Christian has a poor history streak when it comes to many of these civil issues. We’ve continued to use the Bible to keep people in their subjugated place.)

As followers of Jesus we really need to look at HIS example – he was known to hang out with sinners, with IRS agents, with whores, with sick people with grotesque sores, with women, with women with reputations, with smelly fishermen, with gentiles, with those of other religions, with thieves, with his country’s enemies, with political revolutionaries, and those whose presence made him ritually unclean based on his own people’s religion.

And if his example isn’t enough, please consider my wife who is a nurse. In the early ‘90’s we lived in Hawaii and she took care of many patients who came to paradise to die because they had contracted HIV and had AIDS. Never once did she refuse to treat these patients. She approached them and their families/partners with professional care and loving kindness. She even did it at a risk to her own health when not a whole lot was known about the disease. If she can give unprejudiced, loving care to the dying, then for God’s sake you can press the damn shutter button on your camera.

***

That post about the New Mexico ruling created enough of a stir that Jamie thought I should share more about my own journey and my heart. I did so knowing that I risked being shunned and misunderstood even more. You don’t have to be a prophet to know that if you stand on the same side of the road as our LGBT brothers and sisters that some of the rocks normally hurled in their direction will find their way to you. Some hit and hurt. I was also grateful to find a cheering section of others who find their hearts in similar places as my own. I’m also thankful for friends who entered into worthwhile dialog even though they have a different belief system than I do.

I don’t regret sharing my heart. The first comment I received is from a gay friend that has been in a long term, committed relationship – “Thank you.” Those two words mean so much to me. I’m not standing up for religious principles. I’m standing up for people.

Jesus, in my opinion, chose people over principles too.

***

I love the story in Matthew 15 where Jesus visits the cities of Tyre and Sidon. A lot of non-Israelites lived there. One of these, a Canaanite woman, saw Jesus and started yelling at him, “Hey Jesus! Yes you! You are the descendant of the great, Israelite King David! Please have mercy on me and on my dauther! She is suffering so terribly like she has the devil inside of her. Please heal her!”

Jesus at first ignores her, but it only makes the mom more persistent. She is so disruptive that the disciples ask Jesus to deal with her because they couldn’t get her to leave. Jesus answers, “My work today was intended to be for the Israelites.” This doesn’t stop the grief-filled mother. She pushes her way through the disciples, gets down on her knees and begs in front of Jesus – “Master, please help me!”

Jesus answers her directly this time, “It isn’t good for me to sidetracked from my purpose today, woman.” He sighs, “Let me put it to you this way – it isn’t good to take the children’s bread and throw it off the table to the dogs.”

“You are so right,” she readily agrees, “Yet at the same time some of those bread crumbs drop through the children’s fingers and make it down to us dogs.”

I think Jesus laughed here. He had met his match. He had gone out on a purpose driven day but this mother with her intense love for her little girl drew him into a moment that was recorded for the rest of history to understand something significant about God’s Kingdom.

“Woman,” Jesus answered, “You just don’t take no for an answer do you? I haven’t seen someone as determined as you in a long time – you didn’t even let my resistance put you off! You have some amazing faith! And you are right with your interpretation regarding the children and dogs, and so of course, the desire of your heart is fulfilled.”

And at that moment the woman’s little girl was healed and the torment stopped.

Why do I bring up this story now? I think it fits. Some don’t think the Kingdom of God is for people whose sexual identity, orientation, or practices fit their own. But not all of us get born as Israelites by bloodline. Maybe the LGBT people are no better than dogs – but that doesn’t mean the scraps of the Kingdom, the manna from Heaven, aren’t mercifully falling at their feet.

The good news is that the healing made available through Jesus comes without condition, and it is accessible by faith.

Also note this – the healing that came to the little Canaanite girl wasn’t that she was no longer a Gentile. She still had the same identity. Her healing was that the torment was over, but she was still as Gentile as they come.

While some of my homosexual friends have desperately desired to become someone different than who they are, the reparative ministries haven’t done their job – they remain gay. God hasn’t met them there. Maybe healing for them means that the issues around their sexuality doesn’t change, but instead their torment is removed. I know for several of my gay friends the acceptance of who they are has been such an amazing place of healing.

Do we rejoice with them or do we keep praying for a miracle other than the one offered?

***

My third post this week was a study of the various scriptures in both testaments that are commonly used to create a theology around homosexuality. I presented a friend’s study, one that gives an alternate view and centers around the context of the passages and the cultures of the people the passages were written to. My purpose in sharing was not to convert anyone’s beliefs but hopefully to open some eyes that this issue isn’t as cut and dried as we are commonly told by sweaty, television evangelists. And maybe if there is room for questions then there will be room for love that isn’t currently being shown.

I’m not abandoning my faith (but I do think it is expanding). I don’t need convinced to come back to the fold. Writing what I have was an attempt to show others why I’ve moved beyond the  fences that used to keep my faith safe (and uneffective). Maybe I am a black sheep, but there are some beautiful spotted lambs in our pastures that are absolutely worth loving.

 

Gay Rights, Not Wrongs

30 Aug, 2013

bible0406As I’ve been writing about my expanding understanding of, and relationship with, the LGBT community, many have wanted to know how I reconcile Bible passages that seem to be very clear on the matter.

I reviewed a book by Michael Camp, who has a similar evangelical background to me, and in one chapter he addresses the passages that are attributed to the theology around homosexuality. I appreciated his work and it resonated with other writings I had seen and work that I had done. So when asked to provide some Bible study on the matter instead of trying to regurgitate it all myself I turned to Michael (who has become a friend) and asked him permission to print this section of his book. Not only did he agree to share his work but he also said he would enter into discussion and help answer questions that people have.

I encourage you to read the following treatise with unbiased eyes. Good inductive Bible study requires laying aside preconceived ideas and allowing the text to speak as it did to the original readers, and as meant by the original authors. If you don’t understand the origin, you’ll never know how to apply it to today – or even know if it is meant for today.

The Bible says it and that settles it,” isn’t really an honest approach to scripture, and it certainly isn’t one that Christians are consistent about. We are required to ask the hard questions of the text, and this usually means that there won’t be quite as many black and white answers.  For me this particular study brings up some pretty significant questions. So when we get to point of application, if it ends up we’ve condemned those that God loves and has no condemnation for, well then we’ve got some explaining to do.

The following text is part of Michael Camp’s book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper, Chapter 10, Gay Rights, Not Wrongs. It is used by permission from the author. All rights belonging to the author remain.

Gay Wrongs

In the evangelical world, most things are already settled. There aren’t many gray areas. The Bible is the Word of God, you must be born again to go to heaven, and Jesus is definitely coming again. And of course, homosexuality isn’t just sinful, it’s an “abomination.” My indoctrination into evangelical theology taught me that well.

As a heterosexual man who couldn’t comprehend how two men could be sexually attracted to each other, it wasn’t hard for me to accept this teaching. I had a little harder time accepting the condemnation of female homosexuality. Okay, a lot harder time. Admittedly, the thought of two lesbians getting it on is an enticing turn on, at least for most heterosexual guys I know. Yet nature does appear to favor heterosexual couples; they are the only ones who can reproduce through the sexual act. Until my encounter with Mel White and the testimonials I found on the Internet, I had no reason to doubt the standard evangelical fare about homosexuality. I really hadn’t thought it through.

So I delved into another Bible study project. My first lesson was a reminder. Sound exegetical studies insist that the Bible can’t mean today what it never meant to its original audience. The key to interpreting the Bible for modern readers is putting it in its proper context—both cultural and literary. “The Biblical text does not come to us in the form of timeless axioms.”[1] The texts were created in a particular time-space environment. To understand the Bible, the reader must put himself or herself in the original situation in which it was written as much as possible. I especially understood this in recent years after studying the phenomenon of Bible abuse.

Starting to study homosexuality, I immediately noticed the bias of evangelical authors. Most of them made blanket statements against all homosexual acts. But the truth, I discovered, was not so cut and dried when taken in the context of when and why passages on homosexuality were written. Liberal authors helped me see this.[2]

As we have learned in an earlier chapter, biblical authors related their ethics concerning sex to property rights. Certain sexual liaisons were wrong because they violated another’s right to their property, e.g., a family, father, or husband had a right to demand sexual exclusiveness for women who “belonged” to him to ensure a family’s lineage wasn’t mixed with an outsider’s blood. If one’s culture is not concerned with pure family lineage, then sexual exclusiveness for women is not important.

Regarding sexual ethics, another phenomenon I had not considered was Israel’s purity code, which defines animals, people, and actions, as either clean or unclean. Although every culture has a purity code (to Americans, e.g., eating insects is unclean, whereas for Africans, it’s not), Israel’s was particularly important. It was one of the principal forces that kept Israel separate from the pagan nations surrounding them. Purity means avoiding dirt. The Holiness Code of Israel[3] specified the dove as clean and the pig as unclean (dirty); a woman with no discharges as clean and one who is menstruating or recently given birth as unclean; a man with no discharges as clean and one with a recent semen discharge as unclean; a healthy man with rights of descent to the priesthood as clean, but one with an injured body part as unclean; the act of sewing one fiber into cloth as clean, but combining two varieties as unclean; planting one type of seed into a field as clean, mixing varieties of seeds as unclean; meat drained of blood as clean, meat that wasn’t as unclean.

It was complicated but had a particular rationale. People who are partially leprous (actually not just with leprosy but a variety of skin diseases) are unclean, but one who is totally leprous is clean![4] It is the attention to wholeness that counts. A person should be of a single kind and hue, not have blotches or blemishes mixed with healthy parts. Or have discharges mixed with none. Or be dedicated to both the true God and idols. Or intermarry with non-Israelites. There should be no mixing of kinds.[5] “This is the reason for the condemnation of homosexual acts [by men], as the phrasing of the rules makes clear; the offense is described, literally, as a man lying with a male ‘the lyings of a woman’ (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). The male who fulfills the ‘female’ role is a combination of kinds and therefore unclean, like a cloth composed of both linen and wool…”[6] The man in the “male” role is participating in this unclean act.

Understanding the purity code of Israel puts a new light on the issue. If one’s culture or convictions are not concerned with purity the way Israel defined it, then the admonitions associated with that code are not morally binding. For instance for Israel, not only was male homosexuality an “abomination” (toevah in Hebrew) but so was having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating (the penalty for such an act is for the couple to be cut off from their people).[7] For that matter, so was eating pork and a host of other unclean foods![8] Why are we evangelicals so concerned with homosexuality and couldn’t care less about these other “detestable” things? I pondered. And why do we ignore other purity rules? Because we view purity differently, I realized. Evangelicals have no purity concern with female discharges and thus no problem overlooking the command and penalty about having sex during menstruation. Nor with the penalty for eating certain foods. To be consistent, shouldn’t we lighten up regarding the command about male homosexuality? I also wondered why is only male homosexuality addressed in the purity code? Lesbianism is not addressed in the entire Old Testament!

In the context of purity, toevah (translated abomination or detestable) refers to something that makes one ritually unclean.[9] For the Hebrews, these were any defiling behaviors that the surrounding pagan nations practiced. Israel was commanded to set themselves apart from these nations by following a specific code. I knew from my own study of the New Testament that Israel’s code of conduct was not relevant to Gentile believers or Jews under the new covenant. For instance, Jesus had declared all foods clean,[10] and as we learned earlier, Paul had vehemently argued that believers in Jesus were “no longer under the supervision of the law,” had been “released from the law [the written code],”[11] and in fact, Jesus “was the end of the law.”[12]

Jesus taught purity of the heart, not physical purity. The new way of being right before God was by following Christ’s one law of love, denying one’s selfish nature, and being led by the spirit, not obeying a set of laws and stipulations.[13] Was it possible to fulfill Christ’s law of love as a practicing homosexual? Certainly one could do so and ignore other purity laws. Why not stipulations against homosexual behavior originally directed toward ancient Israel?

Finally, there was the question of what types of homosexuality were common in the culture in which the Holiness Code and purity rules were written. My study led me to determine there were only two types: homosexual rape, often inflicted by soldiers to humiliate prisoners of war,[14] and shrine prostitution, referred to many times in the Old Testament.[15] This type of prostitution entailed male or female prostitutes servicing worshipers of foreign gods, particularly the god of Baal.[16] These were the kinds of behaviors the pagan nations surrounding Israel practiced. If the original authors and audience of the Holiness Code had only these types of behaviors (exploitive and idolatrous homosexuality) in mind when homosexuality was mentioned, then modern readers misinterpret Old Testament admonitions against homosexuality. This was a revelation for me.

I then turned my attention toward the New Testament passages that supposedly referred to homosexuality. The first one is in the book of Romans, where Paul speaks in the context of idolatry. Here are the verses immediately before the controversial passage:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1: 21-23).

The people Paul is talking about were not glorifying God or giving Him thanks. They were worshiping false gods and graven images made to look like humans or animals. Historical studies revealed that this type of idol worship was common throughout Israel’s history and into the first century. Paul continues:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1: 24-27).

Again Paul is referring to people who “worshiped created things rather than the Creator.” These people go beyond worshiping idols to doing something that is sexually impure, that entails women and men exchanging natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. It sounds like the passage is referring to homosexuality. But the critical question is what was Paul thinking about when he wrote this, and what did his audience perceive when they read it? Were they thinking about homosexuality the way we view it or something altogether different?

In the city of Corinth, where it is speculated Paul was when he wrote this letter, there was a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. One method of worshiping this “idol made to look like a mortal woman” was through fertility rituals, including having sexual intercourse with her priestesses. At one point, this Corinthian temple had 1000 sacred prostitutes living on its grounds.[17] When Paul talks of “women exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones,” I realized it is far more likely he is referring to women who dedicated their life to sacred prostitution, and not to lesbian women in general. The context supports this argument. Lesbian women can still worship God and give thanks to him, whereas Paul was speaking of women who were committing blatant idolatry.

Of the many varieties of idol worship in the Greek and Roman world, Cybelene worship in Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, and Rome included castrated male priests who would have sex with other men as an act of dedication to an idol.[18] Again, I realized that this religious context meant the likelihood was high that Paul was thinking of these male priests (and probably others referred to in the Old Testament as male prostitutes and part of the fertility rites of Israel’s pagan neighbors) and not homosexual men in general. The evidence was overwhelming that Paul wasn’t addressing homosexuality across the board but the abandonment of natural sexual activity for unnatural activities that included the recruitment of cultic priest and priestess prostitutes, idol worship, and castration of males. “Paul condemns the ‘unnatural’ act of abandoning true worship of God and using sex in worship of idols, and pursuing such treatment of others as degraded them through exploitation and violence.”[19] This was another world-rocking revelation.

The most shocking discovery for me was when I learned that the word translated “homosexual” in our modern Bibles is incorrect! When it is used in the Old Testament (typically in modern or paraphrased versions), the passages can’t be referring to all homosexuality because, as mentioned, only male homosexuality is addressed as part of a purity rule in the Holiness Code.[20] The fact that female homosexuality is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament is remarkable. If God was so against all forms of homosexuality, why doesn’t the Old Testament condemn lesbianism?

Secondly, the one word in the Greek New Testament commonly translated “homosexual,” is the word, arsenokoitai (I Corinthians 6:9), which is rarely found in ancient literature and whose meaning is uncertain.[21] To translate it “homosexual” without at least including a footnote about its ambiguity is irresponsible. When scholars analyze its use, they conclude it’s unlikely it refers to homosexuality across the board but rather to some type of sexual exploitation that could be homosexual but not necessarily so. It is more likely that arsenokoitai—literally meaning male bed—refers to men who engage in economic exploitation by sexual means, i.e., rape, coerced prostitution, or pimping.[22] The English word homosexual wasn’t even coined until the early 20th century and never appeared in the Bible until a 1946 Revised Standard Version.”[23] Prior to that, arsenokoitai was translated “abusers of themselves and mankind” in the King James Version.

As I studied the cultural setting of the New Testament, I discovered another common form of homosexuality of the day was pederasty—the oppressive male-initiation practice in the Greco-Roman world of men having sex with young teen or pre-pubescent boys. Although I remember a few Bible commentators mentioning shrine prostitution when discussing passages like Romans, Chapter one, I have no recollection of any evangelical pastor or teacher mentioning pederasty in all my years in the church. If pederasty was common in the Greco-Roman world, then certainly New Testament writers like Paul would probably have referred to it.

Pederasty was sometimes consensual and sometimes forced. There were brothel houses filled with young boys, whose existences were devoted to being the passive partners in pederast relationships with a man. Beautiful boy youths were sometimes castrated to prolong their feminine-like features. The most famous example was when the Roman Emperor Nero castrated his slave-boy Sporus, dressed him in women’s clothing, and married him.[24] In the instances when it was forced, it is likely the exploitive man would have been called arsenokoitai.

Another term that is often associated with homosexuality in the New Testament is malakos (translated “male prostitutes” in I Corinthian 6:9-10 in the NIV). Scholars are certain this term means something like our term “effeminate.” It is sometimes associated with male homosexuality but not always. Other uses in Greek literature reveal that it primarily means a male who is “soft,” overly feminine, or controlled by women, and could even mean laziness or cowardice.[25] One commentator makes a strong case that the combination of terms, pornoi (from the term we discussed earlier porneia, which one scholar translates harlotry), malakos, arsenokoitai, and another term translated “slave traders” found in lists of behaviors that Paul condemns in I Corinthians and I Timothy refers to the practice of pederasty. The young boys are the male prostitutes (pornoi or malakos), the men who “bed” them are arsenokoitai, and the ones who gain economically are the slave traders.[26] In fact, the New Jerusalem Bible translation supports this view. It translates malakos as “catamites,” a term that refers to the boys kept by a pederast.

The overwhelming conclusion of this study was that the verses normally used by evangelicals to condemn both male and female homosexuality are talking about certain forms of homosexuality common in biblical times into the first century. They are not talking about consensual homosexual relationships not associated with temple prostitution or exploitation. In other words, the Bible doesn’t address the modern concept of gay and lesbian relationships based on one’s sexual orientation. The Holiness Code condemns male homosexuality (not female) on the basis of obsolete purity rules within cultures where soldiers raped men as a way of humiliating their enemy and Baal worshipers dominated males sexually during sacred orgies. The New Testament condemns exploitive sexual relationships and those associated with idolatry. If this is the conclusion of the best biblical scholarship, why are evangelicals still insisting gays and lesbians repent of their sin and transform into practicing heterosexuals or remain celibate? Why do they cast scorn on the LGBT community?


[1] Philo Thelos, God is Not a Homophobe (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 7.

[2] I discovered liberal authors weren’t the diabolical demons I had imagined. Many of them both critiqued conservative theology while defending the Bible as relevant. On this and other subjects, four examples are William   Countryman, Jack Rogers, Bart Ehrman, and Garry Wills. While Countryman critiques literalist, inerrant views of the Bible, he recognizes powerful lessons in scripture and the general historicity of Jesus and the Gospels. Rogers is actually an evangelical Presbyterian with a high view of scripture who changed his view on homosexuality. Although Ehrman exposes the human elements of composing the Bible, including copyist errors (and ultimately became an agnostic for other reasons), he maintains this helps one make more sense of the Bible. Historian Wills reveals the Bible is not altogether historically accurate but fully believes the reality and power of the life and message of Jesus.

[3] Found primarily in the book of Leviticus.

[4] Leviticus 13:12-13

[5] L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 25-26.

[6] Ibid. (Countryman), 27.

[7] Leviticus 18: 19, 26, 29

[8] Leviticus 11:4-45

[9] Jack Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 72.

[10] Mark 7:19

[11] Romans 7:6

[12] Romans 10:4

[13] Romans 7:6 and Romans 8

[14] Philo Thelos, God is Not a Homophobe (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 28.

[15] Particularly in I and II Kings

[16] Justin R. Cannon, The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality, (Justin R. Cannon, 2009), 12.

[17] Rodney Stark, Cities of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 50.

[18] Ibid (Rodney Stark), 92.

[19] Philo Thelos, God is Not a Homophobe (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 58.

[20] Some conservatives claim the story of Sodom addresses homosexuality, hence the popular notion that the term “sodomy” refers to anal intercourse. See L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed and Sex, page 31 to learn why this is not the case.

[21] Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2004), 67 and Jack Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 73-74.

[22] Ibid. (Jack Rogers), 74.

[23] Justin R. Cannon, The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality, (Justin R. Cannon, 2009)

[24] Philo Thelos, God is Not a Homophobe (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 62.

[25] Ibid (Philo Thelos), 85-87.

[26] Justin R. Cannon, The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality, (Justin R. Cannon, 2009). 4-6.

Why I would Marry a Gay Couple

25 Aug, 2013

Gay-Marriage1I was told I was a disappointment by some friends this week after I posted a story about discrimination against a lesbian couple from a professional photographer. In the pursuant conversations and comments I was told that I’m soft on sin and too accepting of sinners. Some think I’ve abandoned my Bible study degree for a gospel that simply tickles ears.

It is hard getting feedback like this from friends. One told me last Christmas that he expected much more of me than what I’ve got sidetracked doing now with my life. He’d like to see me use my voice and influence back in a church, preferably behind a pulpit, and telling people how to live their lives. While I respect the traditional pastoral role and know that it can make a difference for some people, it is no longer a role for me. In fact I never really had that role in a church. What I loved – and what I miss – is the classroom experience. Teaching (which to me means interacting with others so that they can grasp truth for themselves and being alongside when they have to wrestle hard to achieve it) is my passion. And since I am no longer a part of the institutional church I have to create that experience in different ways – mostly with face-to-face conversations, and even creating dialog on my blog or Facebook, as well as with the stories and portraits that I share of the amazing people that I come into contact with.

Some think I’ve changed a lot. But as I look over my shoulder I believe that my heart has always stood for the same values – it is just that I’m growing on how I’m applying them to my life. What some see as a departure from normal has always been for me an expanding journey.

***

I don’t know why I’ve decided to be so vocal about the LGBT concerns at this time. It could be because I grew up in a homophobic culture – no, this doesn’t mean that I knew any rednecks or church leaders that wanted to go lynch a faggot, but it does mean that my upbringing was full of fear-based mindsets and messages when it came to anyone who didn’t fit in the heterosexual, traditional family camp.

I’ve had to face what that did to me and what I did with it. I’ve had to repent for carrying a lead-filled bat in my vehicle in my late teens that I referred to as my “fag bat.” I’ve had to repent to a couple of good friends that I sent to the “Pray the Gay Away” camps, when it actually offered them nothing more than shame. I’ve had to check my own heart and seek out what I was afraid of when I realized I had numerous gay friends.

I thought I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality, yet when I was open to go back to those four passages and put them into cultural context – how they fit into the passages and books around them, observe who they were written to, why they were written, when they were written, what the writer was attempting to address, what original language had been used, how that language had been translated through the years, even when we inserted the word “homosexual” into the text – well, I was no longer comfortable making a declaration that I knew how God definitively felt about homosexuals or homosexuality. It is really complex and any Bible scholar worth their weight as a student of scripture will be honest about the difficulty and will not give the flippant “Well the Bible says it and that settles it for me,” because in reality it doesn’t. You simply can’t jump to application until you know the context – and in the area of homosexuality my experience has been most people just jump straight to application and have never done the hard work of studying those passages thoroughly.

I’m very uneasy that we’ve arbitrarily created a theology of homosexuality based on our preconceived ideas and notions of what we’ve read on the surface, what we’ve heard from others, and what we wanted to believe about these passages. If we consistently used the same standard of interpretation on other sections of scripture we’d be a freaking mess (and Red Lobster would be out of business). I guess what I am saying is that we haven’t been very consistent and that bothers me.

***

The other thing that happened is that I fell in love with a couple of my gay friends. One was an author, another was one of my students. I didn’t view them with labels – I knew their hearts – and I couldn’t help but give them my own heart in exchange. I believe that this affection that is God-breathed. I think Papa God has given me a glimpse at how he sees these brothers of mine. In Him I feel no condemnation towards them. This broke me and my homophobia – hopefully for good.

***

I’m the most heterosexual person that I know. I got in trouble for kissing girls in kindergarten – it was deep at the cellular level in me. I’m wired to appreciate physical, feminine beauty- whether it is with the shape of their smile, the swell of their breasts, the sway of their hips, the roundness of their derrieres (Jamie said I can’t continue in this vein, but I think you get the point). So no, my affection to my gay friends was not based on physical attraction, but when it comes to understanding sexual appeal I get it!

And it makes me question – what if someone else was wired differently than me? Some people want to deny this is possible, but I don’t think these people have really taken the time to get to hear the reality of these people’s lives. I just finished reading a book (that will hopefully be published soon) by a man who fought to push down this reality in his life as an adult for more than a decade – and all it did was majorly hurt him and others. Denying truth hurts! For some, combined with shame and judgement, it has driven them to take their lives. This shouldn’t be.

I haven’t had to grow up with the shame of liking someone of my own gender. Yet I have had to deal with shame – and she is a bitch that bites hard and won’t let go. I can’t imagine having to try and pretend to be different than I actually am.

Okay, I take that last statement back a bit. The very reason I am writing this post is that I want to deal with the shame that I feel from my friends who think less of me than before I got vocal. I am choosing not to let their disappointment mask the reality of my journey and that value that I am discovering in it.

So since I am unsure about the theology against homosexuality, and I am confronted with the reality of same-sex orientation, and I am very committed to living a life that confronts shame and helps lift it off others rather than painting another coat of it on them – then I have to figure out how I am going to live with these brothers and sisters. (By the way I’ve fallen in love with some lesbians too…)

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I have determined that it is not my place (nor do I believe any followers of Jesus) to confront any sin other than that of law based religion and self-righteousness. Jesus simply didn’t take anyone to task other than the religious leaders who were lording it over others. I take his words to them and his actions very seriously. And when I study his message and his response to everyone else who lived on the fringes of his culture I am challenged! It appears that we have taken on a mantle of authority regarding “confronting sin” that was never ours to wear!

I take these words that my friend James Langteaux wrote as close to scripture as anything I’ve ever read:

Recently, while I was driving through the High Desert, God interrupted my thoughts. He said quite clearly, “If you get the chance, let everyone you meet know this: I’m so sick of hearing ‘love the sinner; hate the sin.’ Your job is to love and let Me take care of the sin. You do your job, because I already did Mine.”

When Jesus did find religious leaders confronting sin he knelt down and wrote in the dirt. I wish I knew what he put down because I love the effect that it had. It caused all the haters to drop their stones and walk silently home.

***

Here is what doesn’t work – when we try to put others into our own box of theology and judge their actions based on what we believe. It is not our job to convince others of their unrighteousness! It is not in our power to change or fix people! It is not our role to try and make people live by the standards we have adopted!

I know I shocked some people when I said that if I had the backing of the denomination I am ordained with or the State in which I live that I would officiate same-sex ceremonies. For me the issue is both pragmatic and love based. I would rather see my gay friends in committed, loving relationships than out having sex with every Tom, Dick and Harry. Since we have adopted the notion that homosexuals are free with sex why when we find those that aren’t do we choose to be offended? What are we afraid of? Why wouldn’t we want to see them in committed relationships?

I feel the same way about premarital or extramarital sex. I might have strong convictions for myself, but to think that anyone else is going to adopt those same considerations isn’t my business. Since I figure that people who are created with sexual desires are going to act on them it is in the best interest of our society and culture that we help provide easy access to condoms and other forms of birth control. At the very least can’t we agree to help stop the spread of STD’s and unwanted pregnancies? Preaching abstinence to people who don’t share your same convictions, values, and ideals while thinking you will change society isn’t enough! You might think that I’m condoning sin by suggesting we make birth control more readily available. I think it is one of the most loving things we could do.

So yes, if I had the chance, I would, with joy, officiate a ceremony of love and commitment between two people of the same sex. I have several friends who have been in long-term same sex marriages and I celebrate with them every year that they mark their growing love for each other. Why wouldn’t I want my friends to experience the joys (and share in the hard work) that comes with this commitment? I also have too many friends that have tried to succeed at heterosxual marriages when they were gay/lesbian – it doesn’t work very well – too many of them have failed with such pain on both sides…

***

If you want to judge me for loving, embracing, and supporting my brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian, go right ahead, but I am doing it with a heart of love and with a clear conscience. I don’t need your approval. I haven’t slipped backwards, I am making some healthy changes in my life that are motivated by LOVE. If you can’t support that, then at least respect my journey.

In the end I would much rather be in trouble for loving with too much grace than for judging too harshly.

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It is not lost on me that I’ve written this post on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. when Reverend King gave his prophetic “I have a dream speech” that is now part of the fabric of our nation. While we have made strides we certainly have not arrived and have much work to accomplish in regards to civil liberties for all of the people who call this nation their home. But this kind of change will not happen with day dreaming. It will mean more people speaking up, more marching, more challenging of our bigoted past, more repentance, more forgiveness and many more steps towards a loving future where the only labels that we choose to hold onto is that we are all God’s children.

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