The Supreme Court Ruling, ‘Biblical’ Marriage, and Grace

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Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. –Romans 14:1 (The Message)

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” –John 14:6-7 (The Message)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. –Ephesians 5:32 (NASB)

I promise I will get to some more on anger; but current events keep happening…

A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States gave a landmark ruling on marriage equality.  So much division, among the justices of the court as well as across our nation.  I don’t know how we can get beyond the diatribe and vitriolic soap boxes both sides are lobbing; but we must try.

I’ve addressed my own feelings about marriage equality and LGBT relationships here and here; but for this post I’d like to process through some of the arguments that trouble me the most when I hear my brothers and sisters use them in a holier-than-thou tone, and the implications of the statements:

  1. I believe the Bible and what it clearly says:  The implied statement is that only those who agree with my interpretation know what the Bible actually says.  This statement breaks my heart because I’ve studied and taught the Bible most of my life.  Not just my adult life; but since I could sit up.  I know it’s scary to change long-held beliefs of what we’ve been taught the Bible says.  I’ve had to trudge through those murky waters too.  I’ve had to look at passages and stories from other facets (as the Hebrew writers of the Bible intended), and ask hard questions about cultural and historical perspectives.  And then, come to my own understanding of how to live out the life of Christ with integrity–because ultimately, Christ is truth.  Not the Bible.  The Bible can show us Christ; but the Pharisees knew the scriptures, and didn’t really understand how to live them out.  I’ve found there are many credible Bible scholars with differing interpretations.  All of us need to find the one that we can in good conscience follow.  Even if that means we don’t agree.  And then we must respect each others’ views.  Holding that tension of differing interpretations leads to unity.  True unity in the Spirit.
  2. I believe in the biblical view of marriage:  The implication with this line of thought is that ‘biblical marriage’ is what our culture defines as ‘normal.’  But in reading the Bible, biblical marriage can be anything from polygamy to concubines to women-as-property.  Solomon speaks of lusty love; but remember he also had about 1000 wives and concubines.  The Christian New Testament has a few references to marriage; but in that day, women were property–it wasn’t what we think of as marriage in our country today.  And most of the references to marriage aren’t about human marriage–but analogies of our collective relationship with God.  Working with Bible translators in different cultures and tribes on different continents has made me question what our role is in proclaiming the gospel.  Do we try to ‘convert’ people to our way of life, or to Christ’s life?  What do we do with polygamous tribes?  Do we try to make them change to our views of living, or do we allow the Spirit to decide when and how their cultural beliefs change?  Would we say to a man with 12 wives, “You have to pick one,” and then leave the other 11 to live unprotected and stigmatized outside the community?  What about in our own country?  Would we actually say to children with 2 mommies or daddies that it’s better for their family to be torn apart and for them to experience the trauma of divorce because God hates the love in that family?  Christ, have mercy!, if that’s our stance.  If marriage is representative of how Christ and the Church treat each other, then I’m not sure that gender matters. I’ve known heterosexual, Christian couples who don’t treat each other very Christlike. Are we saying that those marriages are better representations of Christ and the Church than a same-sex relationship that honors and respects each other?  I’m not saying that all Christians have to support marriage equality; but, people, let’s have a little compassion!
  3. The Bible doesn’t condone same-sex relationships:  The implication being that anything the Bible doesn’t condone is sinful?  The Bible ‘clearly’ doesn’t condone birth control of any kind, modern technology, medical research of any kind, most of the lifestyle choices we make in the way of ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’, interracial marriage.  The list goes on and on and on.  We do ourselves a disservice when we try to conform our beliefs to the Bible, instead of allowing the Spirit of God to transform our hearts through informing us what the Bible says about God’s intentions toward all people.
  4. Same-sex relationships aren’t natural:  The implication here is that whatever comes naturally is okay?  Because to a person with same-sex attractions, opposite-sex attractions are ‘unnatural.’  Also, scientists have found at least one entire species that is 100% bisexual, and at least 1500 species with a percentage of same-sex attractions–it will be more; but they’ve only studied 1500 species. Those statistic references are in my aforementioned blog posts.  Often, this argument is followed by, “If we support same-sex marriage, then accepting bestiality and pedophilia will follow.”  It’s discouraging to hear so many arguments that are borne from fear.  I had a conversation with a friend who asked, “So is everything ‘gray’?”  I could hear the fear of instability in her voice as she wrestled with how to view life if we don’t see controversies as black and white.
  5. Acceptance of marriage equality dooms America:  I feel the weight of this statement crush so many each time I hear it.  Can you imagine if you were told over and over and over again that your existence, your very being, can bring down a nation?  Did we hear that same phrase each time a pastor or priest has abused his position?  Has anyone ever heard those words and said, “Tell me more about this Jesus you say you follow”?  Seriously, if that is our ‘good news’, I want nothing of it.  Callously and arrogantly fixing this weighty yoke on anyone reveals our own fear.  The Jesus I know never told us to live out of fear.  He showed us how to treat people–even when they didn’t match the religious norm or who God chooses.

Again, I am not suggesting that anyone who is against marriage equality is uninformed or unenlightened.  On the contrary, I know many who read the same Bible verses I do and interpret them differently.  I’m not even suggesting they are wrong.  I’m saying it’s not about winning a debate or proving a side right.  The Supreme Court ruling shouldn’t change much about our lives.  Jesus wasn’t frustrated by governmental or religious laws.  He lived his life in full submission to God.  How would he respond to this modern-day ruling?  He would continue to heal, teach, show compassion, eat with sinners, chat with societal undesirables and desirables alike, cry out against injustice, weep, laugh, pray.  Regardless of what we believe about subjects and theories, we can agree to follow Christ’s example.  But we have to stop the bumper-sticker arguments that just aren’t helpful to anyone.

So how do we live out the life of Christ with integrity if we don’t agree on biblical interpretations?  Romans 14 is a great place to start.  Practicing with trusted people with differing points of view

Of course, that implies that we actually have people in our lives with differing points of view….

Reading other perspectives with an open mind–not with a goal to change your mind or solidify your beliefs; but with a goal of understanding the complexities of the topic, of learning to hold in tension the various perspectives which leads to true unity of faith.  Faith that God is the same yesterday, today and forever; but we are constantly growing out of our own boxes of understanding.  God gives us the grace to grow into a broader understanding of Christ’s life as our knowledge of the universe, human body, human psyche, scientific discoveries expands.  

How exciting to be privy to revelations about scripture and God’s nature!  How exciting to learn to live with one another in unity without having to force conformity of thought!  How exciting to travel this road with others with different images of God than we have known!  How exciting to travel on the road of grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12

I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding).  Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’  But, change I did.  I hope you like the new look.  For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!

But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again.  And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me.  Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide.  Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her.  How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?!  Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples.  I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword.  I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.

The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’  How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?!  When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!

I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes.  For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches.  I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life.  My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus.  People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds.  I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:

  • Jesus.
  • grace.
  • humility.
  • compassion and mercy.
  • Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!

Jesus listened to people and their stories.  We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society.  He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God.  He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God.  He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world.  He offered grace to the oppressed.  He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness.  He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom.  When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit.  And I begin to view the world from a different perspective.  I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view.  I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings.  I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities.  When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.

How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear.  I can’t go against God.  His ways are higher.”  We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness.  In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God.  Seriously?!  Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?!  Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?!  We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him.  We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours.  Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!

And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy.  Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction.  How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.

Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age.  Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations?  If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus?  As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today?  Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit?  Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?

Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation?  Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.

Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world.  May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Members … And Everyone Else

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Special Messenger:  I want you to call him Ishmael because the Eternal One has heard your anguished cries.  

As a result of this encounter, Hagar decided to give the Eternal One who had spoken to her a special name because He had seen her in her misery.

Hagar: I’m going to call You the God of Seeing because in this place I have seen the One who watches over me.  –Genesis 16:11b, 13 (The Voice translation)

‘Kingdom Partners.’  That’s what my church calls it.  ‘It’ may have various names; but the meaning is the same everywhere.  Membership.

Today, one of the pastors at my church good-naturedly approached me.  He knows my story.  He knows my beliefs.  He treats me graciously.  But, he’s assigned to the membership classes, so he has to ask when new classes start if I’m ready to become a member.  He told me during the awkward ‘meet-and-greet’ time that church services seem to believe obligatory that I am on his ‘to-call’ list for the classes, and should he bother.  I told him with a smile that I welcomed his call, but no, I wouldn’t attend the classes.

The rest of the service I thought about the weight of that question.  While I have several reasons for not becoming a member, I don’t fault anyone who enjoys that status in good conscience.  My reservations with membership stem from my upbringing with parents who lived in segregated communities and some of their experiences.  Even though I’ve attended this church for years and actively support several groups in leadership roles, embracing membership eludes me.  I love this church and the people who attend.  But, I can’t reconcile membership and the implications of excluding certain groups with the teachings of Jesus.  We proclaim confidently in church that ‘everyone gets to play’ when it comes to the life found in Christ.  Unless … that life includes an LGBT-spectrum relationship.  We proclaim loudly, joyfully that we are all saved by grace through faith! Except for the rules that you must live by to prove to us that you deserve Jesus’ sacrifice.

None of the unspoken rules used to bother me.  They didn’t condemn me, and in my immaturity, I couldn’t imagine others who wouldn’t agree to them.  Being white, straight and moral by church standards, I had no reason not to propagate the biblical standard interpreted by my kind.  Then I met others not like me.  Others who came from divorced homes.  Others who grew up churched, but harbored personal truth they couldn’t reconcile with church doctrines.  Others who carried shame because they didn’t conform to church standards.  Others who embodied Christ’s life to me, but didn’t embrace traditional interpretations of Scripture that the church taught me as infallible.  Others who created doubt in my church tradition, but enlivened my faith in God.  Others who showed me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control without the weight of shame and protective masks of the soul.

Until a few years ago, I never thought of the people to whom the church denied membership.  I didn’t understand what it’s like to worship God, but be treated like an illegitimate sibling.  I never identified with Hagar and Ishmael.  Until my own power and privilege in a system I’d always supported crashed down upon me, killing my ego-centered religion; and God resurrected my humbled self.  I remember reading the woman at the well story of Jesus and becoming overwhelmed with empathy for her. I felt Jesus speaking to me as He treated her with respect and honor.  For the first time, I understood that I had been treated as the proverbial ‘church whore’ by an abusive pastor.  While I had never compromised my standards or my church’s beliefs, the pastor had the church community shun me because he couldn’t control me.  Much like the Samaritan woman Jesus met.  Her community shunned her because she didn’t measure up to their standards.  While we can make the argument that she made poor moral choices, I believe I related to her because her choices led to ungodly shaming.  Her encounter with Jesus reconciled her within her community.  He removed the shame that the community placed on her and freed her to live as a true child of God, instead of as a bastard child of religion.

We all need to see ourselves as the excluded ones at some point in our lives.  We need that experience to humble us and help us understand that none of us deserve the life found in Christ.  We must identify with the Hagars and Ishmaels in order for others to believe the good news of God that He hears our anguished cries and is the One who sees us and welcomes us all, as we are and without condition, into His kingdom.  All God requires of us is to humbly believe we cannot earn His love and to treat all others–as equal siblings–with the same grace He gives us.  When we learn those lessons, people will beg us to tell them more about Jesus and our God!

And membership will become obsolete.  Because everyone will get to play.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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All Are Welcome

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‘“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!’ –Revelation 22:17 (The Message)

Last Wednesday, Jud and I attended a gathering that discussed how to have a conversation between opposing viewpoints.  The 1  hour 15 minute drive took 2 hours in Denver rush-hour traffic.  Why did we go?  We feel desperate.  Desperate for spiritual nourishment.  Desperate for unity (not uniformity).  Desperate to meet at a table where others can disagree and still like each other.  At The Refuge, we found a diverse group–a lawyer who’s a pilot, ‘FedEx’ who’s a pastor of a biker church, a man who runs a ministry for homeless youth, a man and woman who are friends and co-pastor equally this group of normally unconnected people.

We felt refreshed.

We felt for the first time in a long time that we belonged.

We felt hope.

The co-pastors don’t agree on how to live out controversies over same-sex marriage; but neither of them walk away from the discussion.  Neither of them have trumped the other with hermeneutics or the-Bible-clearly-says conversation killers.  They have both put their friendship first; and out of that love and care for each other, they disagree on a few things.  I found myself tearing up often during the evening because I realize most of my more conservative friends refuse to open the conversation.  It seems that they believe that to admit there may be another way to view and interpret the Bible opens the doors to Hell.  Just the discussion becomes ‘a slippery slope’ and puts us in league with Satan.

How did the conversation become so ‘evil’?  When did people decide to shut down discussion at all costs, because to entertain another viewpoint means we affirm it?  When did our integrity become so fragile that we will only associate with those of homogenous thinking for fear of someone labeling us ‘guilty by association’?  When did the ‘issues’ become the line in the sand that we will not cross?

In talking with a friend the day after the event, it dawned on me how difficult it is to find people in the conservative camp willing to dialogue in a respectful way (and I am sure there are many in the conservative camp that feel the same way about the progressive camp).  The ones I know believe that just the dialogue compromises their beliefs.  One thing that sticks with me from the gathering on Wednesday is that we define ‘unity’ as black and white meeting in the middle and both becoming gray.  In reality, one of the co-pastors said that it’s more like polka dots on a solid background.

How do we learn to co-habitate with one another without fearing our polka dot will dissolve into the background color?

We can focus on God–Father, Christ, Holy Spirit.  He is the background color (which probably is gray).  All our black and white polka dots (and every other color in the spectrum) are found in Him.  We all, no matter our views on ‘issues’, carry a piece of His perspective.  Every time I want to yell IDIOT! because I think some policy unjust or unfair in the Christian world, I can breathe and remember that the person who created the policy or procedure comes from a sincere belief.  I can remember to respect the person’s heart–as I’ve wanted others to respect mine in my growth.

Regardless of what some Christian leaders proclaim, I do believe that we can find a ‘third way’ of unity.  A way where all are welcome, respected, given dignity.  The co-pastor that represented the more evangelical thought said that policies are conversation killers.  As soon as a church forms an official policy, how can there be open dialogue?  Yet, in our institutional, systematic approach to church, how can we not have policies to help people decide if they can live with the beliefs of the particular church.  Ideally, I’d love to see more churches and pastors able to set policies and personal beliefs aside in order to have messy, potentially-offending, learning-humilty-and-other-focussed-living congregations.  Maybe it’s a Sesame Street dream; but I choose to dream.

I don’t believe that all churches can become ‘third way’ churches.  I’m not sure it would be healthy.  If we really believe that following Jesus is a journey, we need all sorts of gathering places to accommodate all sorts of belief systems.  How can a person with strong conservative beliefs suddenly be expected to worship alongside a gay couple (without malice, distraction and a hardening heart)?  How can a person passionate and committed to advocating marriage equality suddenly be expected to worship in a community that denies church membership to gay people who are in relationships (without malice, distraction and a hardening of heart)?  I may be romantic in my thinking; but I’m also pragmatic.

Many need to know the stability of boundaries with controversial issues; but some of us need the messiness of ‘third way’ gatherings.  We need the opposing views, because we believe what makes us different, makes us interesting.  We find safety in seeing unity in the midst of disagreement; because if God isn’t threatened by our humble questioning, then why are we so threatened by opposing thoughts?  We want to truly believe that all are welcome without shame and without restrictions.  We want to believe that we are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  We want to believe that opposing views don’t eject us from the faith, and that brothers and sisters really do live in unity.

Or, at least, that it’s possible.

I’d love to hear from you!  What do you think of the growing ‘third way’ gathering?  Is it possible to live in unity with opposing viewpoints?  

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Family Resemblances

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‘Now let Us conceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness. And let Us grant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth’ –Genesis 1:26.

I have my maternal grandmother’s nose and my father’s eyes.  I look more like my father’s side of the family.  Some have seen my maternal grandmother’s picture and thought that it’s me as an old lady.  I hope I look like her in my 80s–she was ADORABLE!!  I hope I reflect all the good parts of both sides of my family in my temperament; but I know that stubbornness runs on both sides.  Thankfully, that trait skipped a generation with me…. I do hope my heart reflection continues to change into more of what I think Jesus looked like on earth.  I definitely can’t claim even a smidgen of perfection in that area; but I hope people see me growing and learning.

I took a Bible study years ago that I hated.  I don’t use that word lightly.  In it, the thesis statement was, ‘There is no feminine in the Godhead.’  Not shocking why I hated the study.  Every lesson reminded me that the core of my being is not found in God.  I had many … um … discussions … with the leaders of the study.  Finally, unable to hang with my mental and scriptural gymnastics, they pawned me off to one of the pastors.  He was doing a study by the author’s husband on men.  He told me that while he hadn’t actually read the one on women, the one on men was terrific.  “I’m sure I’d love that one too–you get to relate to God!  According to this study, we are an anomaly to Him!” I replied, forcefully.  He didn’t discuss much with me after that.

I’ve read several articles about racial inequities in churches.  I recently listened to an interview with Muhammad Ali where he talked about why he became Muslim.  He humorously asked some poignant questions about the ‘whiteness’ of Christianity.  I had pondered some of the questions before, but not really understood the significance of the messages that are sent to minorities.  Since I belong to the group in power, I never had the images we present act as a dagger in my spirit.  I never internalized the messages that because of the color of my skin, God would not use me to the same degree as He would white people.

Until I took that study.  I finally understood what it felt like to have my voice diminished.  I finally understood what it felt like to have people say that God doesn’t look like me.  That I don’t look like God.

This week, I started to globalize that thought more.  It’s what underlies all our culture wars and gender wars in the church.  Some churches would say (probably not out loud), “We don’t want God to look like a woman; therefore, the Bible clearly says that women are not to lead men.”  Others might say (probably not out loud), “God can’t look like a person of color; therefore, we will exclude their voices from the music industry, from our upfront ministries, from anything but their own churches.”  I actually heard people in the South say, “Why would black people want to come to our church?  They have their own.”

Why would we want God to look like anyone who makes us uncomfortable?

Is this attitude one of the reasons we don’t want to consider that we have it wrong with Christians who are gay?  Are we afraid that God might look ‘gay’?  (Whatever that means….)  Have we chosen to interpret a very few Bible passages in a way that excludes some because we don’t like what the repercussions are to our view of God if we look to broader interpretations?  One pastor of a mega church said that we had feminized Jesus too much, and he couldn’t serve a Jesus that he thought he could beat up.  What disturbed me most was that this Christian pastor actually thought about whether or not he could beat up Jesus.  I realized that I’ve mostly thought of Jesus in an asexual sort of way.  But, I consider Him cutting-edge when it comes to honoring and respecting the voices of His society that those in power diminished and abused.

So what image do those who do not look white or act heterosexual reflect?  Do we tell them covertly that they do not reflect God’s image?  Yes.  We do.

It may not be consciously or with evil intent.  But the message rings through, nonetheless.  Those who identify with Christ should never feel excluded within churches.  We have to do a better job of using our power for including all people–because all people carry God’s image.  And we need all those reflections of God’s image so we can see the fullness of God’s heart in our world.  Will this make us in power uncomfortable?  Probably.  But isn’t a little discomfort worth the freedom of Christ for all?

It may scare us.  It may make us uncomfortable.  But only for a time.  Soon, all of the fear and shame would dissolve as we see the beauty of God’s full image.

I’d love to hear from you!  What does God’s image look like to you?  Have you subconsciously created God in your own image?  

I recommend The Shack, if you want to see a broader image of God.

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Freedom From Religious Entitlement

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Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel –John 13:3-5.

Can we talk about religious freedom for a minute?  I’ve heard the term bantered about for the past several months, and I believe we’ll be hearing more of it as more and more states examine the role of religious beliefs in the private and secular sector.

What does the Constitution guarantee?  We can worship whatever god in whatever religion we choose freely and without government intervention.  Unless that worship includes animal or human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children or adults, physical abuse of children or adults.  You get the idea.  We do not live in fear that we will be arrested, killed or fired from our jobs because of the church we attend.  The government cannot force a non-profit, religious organization to perform activities which go against their religious beliefs.  For example, no church or pastor is required to perform wedding ceremonies for couples with whom they disagree theologically.

However, as the tide turns toward accepting gay relationships and marriages, I’ve noticed a development in ‘religious folk.’  A determination to cry religious freedom in secular, for-profit businesses.  It takes a huge leap of logic to turn a bakery, a restaurant, or a tailor shop into a place of worship that requires protection from the government.  Most people see the obvious flaws.  Will those businesses hold a consistent standard, or will they single out one group of people?  A baker who has no problem baking a wedding cake for a couple who have lived together for years or who have children outside of marriage, cannot cry religious freedom and then deny baking a cake for a gay couple.  What about serving a Buddhist, a Muslim or another religion/denomination outside the owner’s belief system?  If the standard isn’t consistent, then the argument isn’t valid.  As the arguments of what the Bible ‘clearly says’ crumble around staunch traditionalists, many now hide illogically behind the Constitution–a sign of desperation and a tool used by people who feel threatened and, in desperation, circle the wagons.

If we follow Jesus and watch Him wash the disciples feet, heal the Centurian’s son, welcome Samaritans and eat with people on both sides of the tracks, why do we feel so entitled in our religious rights that we single out only a few of the people we believe unworthy? Because if we’re honest, there are a whole lot of people we find unworthy.  On any given day, any person we meet.  But we’re not great at honesty in Christian churches.  We excel in presuming we know how God views people whom we’ve chosen to focus on one or two aspects of their lives, all the while we diminish our own unworthiness by showcasing our donations to charities or hiding dangerous heart attitudes behind pious ‘bless their hearts’ and singing hymns on Sundays.

Jesus asks us to be His Body and come alongside those who are outcast and let them know they don’t have to face their accusers or healing alone.  Just as He protected from societal shame every outcast mentioned in the Gospels by taking the heat from the religious leaders, so we should stand in front of our societal outcasts and shield them from the religious beating or bullet of shame aimed at them.  It’s hard to teach people the abundant life of Christ while throwing stones of public shame at them.

Jesus never insisted that the disciples wash His feet.  We cannot use our power to force others  to accommodate our perceived rights.  That attitude leads to slavery and shame-based systems of worship.  Jesus set an example of humility, and He lived life free from societal shame.  The religious leaders couldn’t threaten Him with loss of reputation or social standing, because He lived under God’s acceptance of Himself.  He had nothing to lose, so no threats could harm Him.  He was free to serve all equally, because He saw people the way God sees them–not the way our human condition labels them.  Jesus gave up His rights for us and humbled Himself for others.

Then He told those who follow Him to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you experienced religious entitlement either in yourself or in others?  How can we treat all people–even those who seem entitled–with dignity, respect and grace without compromising our beliefs?

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Of Course They Know …

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‘By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends”’ –Luke 15:1-3.

“I, myself, have several gay friends,” he started.  Then hurriedly added, “Of course they know where I stand on that issue.”

My blood went cold and I felt shame wash all over me.  Because I had said those very same words.  In that same context and in other contexts over the years.  But when I heard him say it, I heard it for the first time through the hearts of the minority, the voiceless and the powerless.  Perhaps I felt more connection with people outside the accepted church population because I had read that week about Jesus dining with notorious sinners–tax collectors and other social outcasts’ (Luke 15:1, The Voice) and the scandal he raised with religious leaders.  In my shock, I got the impression that God asked me, ‘Why does it matter if they know where you stand on the issue of their lives?’

With time-elapse speed, I went through the life of Jesus and couldn’t come up with one time that he said to his disciples or anyone he ministered to, “I offer you grace, mercy and unconditional love of the Father.  BUT … Of course you know where I stand on your behavior.”  Not once.  So why do we?

I’m growing to believe that the answer lies in the word grace.  We don’t really know what to do with that concept.  It offends our sense of justice and order.  If we’re honest, we probably don’t believe that God got it right.  We think we need to speak truth (as long as we throw in an I’m-only-saying-this-because-I-love-you line) about what we think of someone’s life so that people know that grace, mercy and unconditional love have rules.  I’ve heard people say things like, “We can’t let this grace thing get out of hand, or people will take advantage.”  Probably true.  But should that be our primary focus?

What if we focussed primarily on the hearts of the people Jesus spent time with–the social outcasts and those labelled ‘sinner’?  Are we willing to allow others to tarnish our reputations?  Are we willing to become fodder for church gossip because we associate with people on the fringe?  Are we willing to admit that maybe we’ve got it wrong, and some things that we label as ‘sinful’ are not viewed that way by God?  Are we willing to invest more of ourselves in the stories of others, joining their life journey and allowing them to join ours–without offering our opinion of their lives unless asked?

Paul addresses unfettered grace in the book of Romans.  He does not say that grace needs tempering by the Law.  However, he does say in chapter 6, ‘Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought!’  Oh, that churches could have the problem of people asking that question about exploiting grace!  If only we preached a gospel that forces that question!  Perhaps if we focussed on the life Christ offers us and let others unite with us in that life, we would find that our nit-picking on ‘sin’ (which no one asked our thoughts on in their lives) would disappear like mist in the sun.  Perhaps then we could cover the shame that separates so many from believing the grace of Christ is real.  Perhaps in covering others’ shame, we would grow in humility and allow them to cover our shame.

In the shame I felt when my friend’s words haunted my memory of words I had spoken, I remembered grace and forgiveness.  I thanked God that I am no longer that girl who uttered those words in years past.  I thanked Him for forgiving me and continuing to challenge me.

Thank you, Father, for loving us unconditionally.  Thank you, Spirit, for continuing to speak wisdom into my life.  Thank you, Jesus, for exemplifying grace.

Thank you so much, God, for letting ‘this grace thing get out of control.’

Have you begun to hear words and phrases differently than when you were younger?  What are some of the lessons you’re learning about grace in your life?

 

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Naked and Unashamed

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“The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame” –Genesis 2:25.

I know many people who look at Genesis 1-2 as proof that God only sanctions heterosexual relationships.  Not going to lie.  I used to be one of them many, many years ago.  Until I began looking through another interpretive lens when I was in college because the literal view of Adam and Eve created too many intuitive problems of logic.  So, I tweaked my beliefs to include grace for gay relationships; but I still hadn’t made the leap (what I considered, across a scandalous chasm) to believe that gay relationships just may be God’s best for some.  Until I began to live life more vulnerably and more openly about my own inability to measure up to church standards.  Once you realize the energy it takes to keep up the facade of presenting your life as ‘holy’ to other church goers as well as the ‘unsaved,’ you live much more humbly, graciously and less reactionary.  Other people’s ‘sin’ no longer concerns you–because you know the only people who ‘fit in’ with the church standards are the ones who create enough emotional/spiritual  ‘clothing’ to hide their shame–and those garments will not last forever….  It takes a lot of time and energy to patch up the holes in those garments, so we tend to divert attention to other people’s worn out garments while we scurry to make ours look less unseemly again.

Except we don’t hide well.  In Genesis 3-4, the man and his wife sew fig leaves together trying to hide their shame.  Not an opaque, very protective or lasting covering.  God creates clothing made from animal hide for them–lasting, protecting and fully covering their shame.  Mankind’s first protective covering comes from another creature’s sacrifice.  See, it takes sacrifice to free someone from shame.

What makes these thoughts  important?  Why haven’t I mentioned eating fruit, talking serpents or banishment from a perfect garden?  Because I believe we have missed the point of the story.  Because we define ‘sin’ as actions or behaviors.  According to the Genesis creation chapters, God describes a life without ‘sin’ as one lived in His presence, without covering up or shame.  Man tells God that the reason he hid and covered himself is that he was ‘afraid because I was naked.’  Not because his actions were wrong–but because he realized how exposed he had become.  In the life of Jesus, He seems to bring people who have lived in shame by society’s standards back into a place of security and confidence.  Their shamefulness no longer has power over how they see themselves or how they believe God sees them.

People living with shame do not believe God can love them unconditionally; therefore, they live separated from God.  Jesus’ sacrifice offers us freedom from that shame and full access to God’s presence and unconditional love.  Not based on our actions.  Not based on how well we behave.  Not based on if we live up to the rules.  Just unadulterated, without ulterior motive, forgiveness and union with God.  That’s GRACE!

I no longer view Genesis 1-4 as God’s verdict about relationships and heterosexual marriage.  I view those chapters as God opening the conversation with mankind that we have all fallen; but He gave us hope that He planned all along a strategy that would remove the chains of shame and allow us to live with Him in freedom.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” –Romans 8:1-2.

May we all learn to live in the freedom from shame that God offers us by the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  HALLELUJAH!!

How have you allowed shame to dictate what others see of your life?  Do you let shame keep you from experiencing God’s presence?  Have you hidden yourself to fit in and feel accepted?  Are you weary of living under the constraints of shame?

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Christians Running Amok and A-Fowl–Again

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I love Jesus, but sometimes I curse a little when others who follow the Bible open their mouths.  I tried to avoid the Duck Dynasty controversy.  It’s Christmas.  I want to celebrate Jesus’ birth with cookies, carols, children and cheesy Christmas movies.  I don’t want to enter into yet another stressful discussion on what the Bible is and isn’t ‘clearly’ against.  But, I’m so appalled by the knee-jerk reactions I see in my own kind that I can’t sleep and can’t keep silent.

First of all, while I have heard of Duck Dynasty, I have never seen it.  Oh, no high-horse, holier-than-thou reason.  We don’t have cable/satellite.  I also have only read the articles about the GQ article that has created so much diatribe on both sides.  Honestly, I don’t care what Phil Robertson said.  He gets to have his beliefs.  I’m more concerned with the vehemence that christians seem to defend him–at the expense of those whom they claim need to turn from wickedness.

So, here are just a few of the things that (once again) we christians have missed:

  1. Homosexuality is unnatural.  *sigh*  Will we ever get over ourselves?  The vast majority of the people who say that being gay isn’t ‘natural’ are heterosexuals.  According to Medical Science News, homosexuality occurs in more than 1500 species.  Apparently, dwarf chimpanzees (which are considered close relatives to humans) are all bisexual.  The entire species.  So, perhaps we can say that homosexuality isn’t ‘common’ in human beings.  Statistically, that’s true and doesn’t carry the same connotation that ‘unnatural’ does.  For those that insist that we continue to call out ‘unnatural’ behaviors, please remember that Jesus lived his life, and taught us to live ours, quite un-naturally.  Living sacrificially, loving our enemies, the whole concept of grace, living selflessly, turning the other cheek, the Sermon on the Mount, forgiving those who oppress all run against human nature.
  2. Only christians are oppressed.  *sigh*  We do have a persecution complex.  We find persecution behind every corner.  We rarely take responsibility for what we say or do that has more to do with us acting unkindly or saying offensive things.  We often claim persecution as a badge of honor, so we proclaim things in the name of ‘truth’ that have little to do with anything of God’s heart.  We want to live as martyrs (of course, we don’t admit that publicly).  We want the glory that God promises to those who suffer for their faith, so we often create our own ‘persecution’, when we’re really just being Pharisees.  Christianity has enjoyed privilege and power in this country.  We abused that privilege and power by trying to force all others into our interpretation of the Bible (which, by the way, ensured our privilege and power).  What we experience now is closer to the American Revolution, Civil War, Women’s Rights or Civil Rights Movement–the powerless and under-privileged saying, ‘ENOUGH.’
  3. The Bible clearly states….  *sigh*  6 verses.  Only 6.  The whole Bible contains over 31,000 verses.  We focus on the 6 that, taken in historical and cultural context, are anything but clear.  I know very few people who claim to be christians that volunteer at soup kitchens, take in orphans, advocate for domestic abuse victims, visit prisoners and AIDS patients.  There are over 300 verses on poverty.  According to well-known financial speaker, Dave Ramsey, there are 800 verses that tell us how to use our money.  But we draw a line in the sand over 6 verses.  While ignoring the thousands of verses about how to treat powerless and underprivileged people.  *sigh*
  4. The Bible clearly does not state….  *sigh*  I’ve begun to hear this argument more and more.  The Bible does not have any examples of homosexual relationships, that’s true.  However, it seems that we have adopted this line of thinking because the-Bible-clearly-states-in-6-out-of-31,000-verses line of thinking has become a joke.  The-Bible-clearly-does-not-state is also flimsy, at best.  The Bible is silent on the use of modern technology, corporate monopolies, political democracy, capitalism, birth control pills and much in the way of modern medical research.  We cannot develop firm doctrine based on what the Bible does not say.
  5. Sin focusses on behavior; therefore, God focusses on behavior.  *sigh*  Jesus never focussed on behavior.  Every instance that I’ve seen in the Gospels, Jesus does a face-palm when his disciples or religious leaders try to define ‘sin’ as someone’s behavior.  God, even in the Old Testament, mentions behavior, but the emphasis is on how that behavior represents our hearts.  People can do all the right things and still miss the mark (one definition of ‘sin’).  The rich young ruler found that out when he interacted with Jesus (Mark 10).

We have missed the mark.  In trying to live perfect ‘christian’ lives, we have isolated ourselves and damaged the credibility of Jesus and his Good News.  It should shame us when we preach a message that drives people away from Jesus–when we preach a gospel that doesn’t make people gasp in astonishment and cry, ‘Heresy’ or ‘Blasphemy.’  A gospel that alienates prostitutes, tax collectors … minorities, the powerless, the shamed.

Ah, but all is not lost.  Jesus promised that if we are silent, ‘the very stones would cry out.’  His message, God’s heart, will continue with or without us.  Our attitudes cannot stop God’s grace.  I cannot stop God’s grace–even when I communicate His heart imperfectly.

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth and end our calendar year, may we proclaim the true Gospel, His Good News, that Jesus came to bring wholeness and unite us back to God!

 

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Sinless Sinner

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“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool….” (2 Timothy 2:24)

I ‘unclenched my fist’ and re-wrote the policy I didn’t like for my church leader.  I wish I felt clean and at peace, knowing I’ve helped.  But what have I helped?  Am I just sleeping with the enemy and offering gracious words to lessen the offensive message?  I want to succumb to sophomoric debate and prove myself right.  Once again, I want to resort to the methods I find unhelpful in others.  Once again, I don’t want to just make a little progress, I want to see God break their hearts and humble them–hurting them deeply–so that they see the error of their ways.  Once again….

‘Clean’ is not the word that describes how I felt writing the policy.  Dirty, sick, defeated, shamed come closer.  I felt no valiant celebration when I emailed it off to the leader.  I wanted to hide in a hole.  Bringing grace and peace into divisive subjects takes a toll on our own souls and we can wonder, “How much compromise is too much?”  

The answer I find surprises me.  I expected a ‘truth’ answer–one that integrates multiple Bible passages and gives a sound argument for the next debate I’m sure to face.  Instead, I find the answer in Jesus’ life and how he treated people.  Last week, I mentioned the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus doesn’t condemn her.  As so often is the case with Jesus, he speaks something that appears totally obvious in its meaning.  But knowing the heart of Jesus and observing his interactions with people in his time reminds me that very little about what he says is ‘obvious.’  He says, “Go and sin no more.”  I touched on a couple of possibilities last week of what he could have meant in that phrase.  Yes, I know that most people interpret his meaning to be that she shouldn’t sleep around anymore.  But, that explanation never sat well with me as I read and re-read the whole interaction and think on the other interactions the Gospels record.  This week, I poured over that story and a couple of other ones–the man born blind in John 9 and the lame man by the pool in John 5–to try to understand what the sinless Jesus meant by telling this adulterous woman to not sin anymore.

With the woman, she had an obvious error to correct (she was, after all, caught in adultery).  However, the lame man in John 5 had no sin that the Bible records.  And Jesus told his disciples in John 9 that neither the blind man nor his parents had sinned.  So, why did Jesus tell the woman, “Go and sin no more”?  I began thinking of the ones who wanted to stone her.  Jesus told them that whoever wasn’t guilty of sin could start the judgment.  One by one (oldest to youngest–isn’t that beautiful?  showing the wisdom of the older who get it before the brashness of youth?), they dropped their stones and went away.  Then, Jesus, the only sinless person who had a right to judge, in the mercy and grace of the Father, tells her he gives up his right to condemn her.  I tear up even now thinking of what her heart experienced in that moment.  Jesus had just reminded the others of their own sin, probably secret sin (because we in church circles are VERY good at not letting people know our own character failures–or at least not admitting them ourselves … and certainly not publicly.), and then told her to not ‘sin.’  Do we really believe that Jesus was that naive?  Did he really expect her to never sin again?  Do we really believed that she didn’t sin again?

Jesus told the lame man in John 5 something similar in Greek …. Right after the religious leaders had chastised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath ….  Probably in the man’s presence.  As I’ve mulled over these passages this week, the heart of God tells me that Jesus wasn’t addressing lifestyle or behavior, but he wanted to make a point about the religious leaders and how they viewed ‘The Law.’  Perhaps we’ve focussed on the wrong people’s sins in these stories.  Perhaps the ‘sin’ we need to not do anymore involves judging people, making them subjects of our pet ‘issues’ that need God’s condemnation, forgetting what Jesus forgave of us to make us right with God.

Perhaps, Jesus, as was so often his way, looked toward the religious leaders and said, “Don’t be like that.  Don’t shame people or put conditions on how or when God works.”

How often am I like the religious leaders?

In my arrogance, I want to fight the battle intellectually.

In my arrogance, I fool myself into believing that I ‘fight for God.’

In my arrogance, I think God needs me to defend Him.

In my arrogance….

2 Timothy reminds me of humility, once again.  Ted Kennedy reminds me of compromise and progress as we journey toward the goal.  I truly appreciate all the voices who remind me to keep looking to the heart of Jesus–because it’s only there that while I continue to ‘sin’ (in errors of attitudes and judgments), I can be sinless in dealing with people.  I don’t have to retaliate in kind with arguments and debates.  In looking to God’s heart, we can all become less argumentative and simply live and treat people the way Jesus did, when our attitudes and actions align with his.

In what ways have you sunk to the level of those with whom you disagree?  How can you begin to progress toward common ground and building credibility?

 

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Coming Out To Play

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“For You shaped me, inside and out.  You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.  I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.  You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.  You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You as I took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.  You see all things.  You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb…” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Friday was National Coming Out Day for closeted LGBTQ persons to announce to family or friends their sexual orientation.  I truly appreciate the empowerment that this day represents.  However, my heart dies a little that we make people announce their sexuality at all.  I think of the suicide and depression statistics, the isolation and rejection that agonizes people’s minds, the fear and panic that can overcome the nerves when someone must finally open up to another the vulnerable part of their being that makes them different.

The pastor of the church I go to often talks about redemption and restoration.  He wrote a book that we use as a midweek class, Jesus’ Big Idea.  The premise of the book and the class is that Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than anything else.  ‘Everyone gets to play’ sums up the theme of the book and Jesus’ take on God’s kingdom.  I can’t express enough how much I want to see that worked out as true in our lives.  My heart races when I think of a world that fully lives out that truth.  I try not to give in to cynicism as the reality that we put conditions on people and God that Jesus never did unveils itself.

Today, in the spirit of equality and fairness, I’ve decided to ‘come out.’

I confess that I am part of the privileged class of WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant).  It scares me to admit that I haven’t used that privilege often enough to protect and empower those my powerful class dismisses.  In my life I have said insensitive and repugnant things in ignorance, but acknowledge that wounds inflicted with good intentions can still be mortal.  I beg forgiveness from my brothers and sisters for the times I let shame come over me and I remained silent.  I am straight; but I come out today publicly that I endorse equality in civil rights for all, equal opportunity and treatment in Christian churches for all who follow the teachings and heart of Jesus, and am heartbroken over the treatment of any who do not fit what we in power have defined as ‘normal.’

Psalm 139 has been used often in the pro-life movement to stand against abortion.  What kind of message do we send if we hold up that scripture for the unborn, but ignore that psalm for those already living among us?  Today, I may be a minority voice in certain church circles, but I publicly proclaim with a humble heart that I do not have the right to make a blanket statement for any group of people how to live or how God’s glory is revealed through their lives.

I make this public confession with feelings of fear.  I know I probably can’t know the full extent of the emotions that others in powerless groups feel when they make their confessions; but shame is universal to all of us.  Knowing that I may lose even more friendships than I already have, I still must come out and stand alongside others who have lived in shame far too long.  Today, I offer my privilege and power to the voices of people who have stood stripped down and treated like an issue instead of a person in front of their accusers.  Today, I hope to begin to offer covering from the shame and humiliation and speak the words of Jesus when he dismissed the religious leaders accusing a woman caught in adultery by saying, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has not sinned.”  After all of them left and the woman felt protected, Jesus asked her who was left to condemn her.  She responded that no one remained.  Then Jesus said what we all want to hear, “I don’t condemn you either.”

And I now hear my fellow Bible aficionados proclaiming that Jesus also said to her, “Go and sin no more,” making that beautiful story about a weapon to use against anyone we deem is ‘sinning’ instead of Jesus’ grace.  So, I will briefly address this statement.  This story isn’t confirmed in any of the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel.  So, we’re not sure the story actually happened.  If it did (and I so hope it did–I LOVE this story in the life of Jesus), what does Jesus mean by ‘Go and sin no more’?  He has just announced to the religious leaders that only if they haven’t sinned can they stone this woman.  Could Jesus have been making a little joke with her about the ones who try to condemn us?  Or, could he have meant something like, ‘Don’t let choices in your life separate you from God’?  Isn’t ‘sin’ that which separates us from God?

I don’t have the patience for the nit-picking theological arguments.  But, I do know that I have publicly announced in my own stripped-down way that I do not have the right to condemn the core creation of people with whom God ‘approached even the smallest details with excellence.’   Today, I celebrate those with the courage to come out and throw off the heavy garments of shame–standing naked and unashamed before their Creator, letting God define their goodness, acceptance and value.  I just get to be a part of the standing ovation and pray that our cheers are louder than the accusing voices.

Because we all should get to play.

Do you need to ‘come out’ on anything?  What are your fears that stop you?  How do you see Jesus protecting you from your accusers?

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Our Beloved Country, Divided

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I considered writing a light fluffy article this week.  I wanted to write something sentimental, funny, carefree … unimportant.  But,this year, Jud and I have declared ‘the year of living brave, but afraid.’  The year that we choose not to let fear determine what we try.  The year we take the risk and face possible rejection or failure.  The year we begin to remember and act on dreams.  The year we ‘fan into flame the gift of God, … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (1 Timothy 1:6-7).  With such a passionate desire to throw off the chains of the past, how can I ignore the historic moment of the Supreme Court overturning DOMA this week?  Why would I want to gloss over such an important event?

Because I’m afraid.  But this year, I vowed to live bravely.  Despite fear.

I wept with others, as I read their stories in news articles.  People who finally had hope.  People who had fought so long and for decades to have our great country consider them equal and not separate.  I heard voices rising up strong, reminding me of the 1960s Civil Rights advocates.  I wept because laws cannot change hatred in hearts.  I wept as I heard fear gripping so many as change sweeps across the country.  I wept for the innocence that once was, the turmoil that is and the hope of peace that is to come.  I wept with joy, triumph and prophetic understanding of the real battle to come–the battle for unity in our country.

In remembering history class, conflict surrounds most, if not all, of our nation’s history.  The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, The Great Depression, Vietnam, Civil Rights and countless other political battles.  Unity does not equal agreement.  My dear friend, Jules, and I have known each other for more than 25 years.  We met at church during our college days.  She was one of my bridesmaids and we’ve kept in touch over the years.  We share a deep love of the Bible, Jesus and living His gospel in this world.  We have different ways of viewing some scriptures.  We have different approaches in living out those interpretations.  Yet, we love and respect each other like sisters.  We share unity regardless of our heated debates, because at the end of the day, we know each other’s hearts and we love each other.  We’re family.

In Sunday school, back when I viewed the world more innocently, the stories swelled in my heart.  Yes, the adventure stories of people who followed God’s call and faced death and destruction for that obedience.  I love action and adventure stories!  But the ones that I continue to mull over and that bring tears to my eyes even though I know them by heart explode with God’s passion for all of us.  Stories of the people Jesus healed and took time to know.  Stories of the people who the religious leaders called ‘unclean’ and ‘unworthy’; but Jesus proclaimed God’s true nature of inclusiveness–not exclusiveness.  Stories of ‘the least of these’ becoming leaders.  Stories that go against all our human wisdom so that we look to God with sacred wonder and treat each other humbly and graciously.  Stories that remind us that because God created us in His image, we stand united–even when we disagree–because we share His DNA.

Most of the time, we feel the need to demonize people standing on a different side than our view.  If we create an ‘us vs. them’ environment, we don’t have to acknowledge that maybe we have accepted an overly simplistic view.  We draw lines in the sand and say, “Anyone on the side where I stand is right, good and intelligent.  Anyone on the other side is delusional, deceived and our enemy.  They deserve whatever it takes as long as we make our point.”  Anyone on the other side of our line is fair game.   Some of us have forgotten how to play fair.

But how can we stand united with such strong emotions on both sides of any given issue?  How can we ‘reach across the aisle’ when our leaders don’t guide us?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the fear in many that we have neglected what our forefathers originally desired for their new country.  Perhaps we can try to defuse the anger by calling out the fear in tenderness?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the gaping wounds from intentional or unintentional attitudes.  Perhaps we can try to ask each other to tell our stories.  Perhaps we can see each other as neighbors and love each other as ourselves.  Perhaps …  perhaps … Please, God, let us live the ‘perhaps.’

So, I weep.  I weep tears of deep gratitude and victory with my brothers and sisters who finally got a bone thrown to them.  I weep tears of great empathy with my brothers and sisters who fear so deeply what they do not want to accept.  I weep because I feel the victory and discouragement simultaneously.  I weep because I feel the relief of souls at peace, who had labored long and hard and will never know the fruit of that labor.  I weep for all my brothers and sisters who have ‘suffered mocking, and flogging and even chains of imprisonment…  [Who] went about…destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy…  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect’ (Hebrews 11:35-40).  I weep for unity.

Will you allow yourself to weep with those in this country who are weeping over this decision, and at the same time rejoice with those who are rejoicing over this same decision?  Divided we have no choice but to fall.  United we have a shot at standing and overcoming our differences–ushering in a greater United States of America, one nation under God.

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A Time to Breathe

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In the news this week, the Boy Scouts voted to allow openly gay kids into the organization.  I’ve read many of the comments on the news articles, and one would think that every disaster proclaims God’s disgust with that decision.  Hearing adults who claim Jesus as their example projectile vomitous hatred and vitriolic arguments frightens me.  Hearing vindicated glee in the tone of people, whom I assume have felt the freedom from shame and the power of God’s amazing grace, directed toward anyone’s suffering turns my stomach.  Hearing the terror in their hearts over ‘the moral decline’ in our nation rage against a group of people–especially children–causes me to gasp in disbelief.  Hearing my own arrogance as I rail against my own kind humbles me.  Why would anyone follow that kind of religion or that kind of God?  Have we fallen so far to have lost the ‘good news’ of Jesus that angels ‘harked’ to shepherds?  Have we forgotten all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about how to treat people?  Have we trumped the teaching about being ‘innocent as doves’ with being ‘wise as serpents’?

In my discouragement with myself and people who claim to follow the same God I do, I searched my soul and prayed for God’s heart.  Here’s what I concluded:

1)  God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He doesn’t even ask us to defend Him.  Jesus got pretty upset with Peter when, in trying to defend Jesus, Peter took out his sword and chopped off a guy’s ear.  It’s hard to ‘make disciples’ when we’re on a soapbox.

2)  Changing someone’s theology?  Forget about it.  In my experience, no one has ever decided to follow Jesus because I out-debated them.  “It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance.”  (Romans 2:4)

3)  Arguing the ‘black and white’ view of the Bible goes both ways.  Just as I may see my interpretation of the Bible as obvious, so others see their view.  Slashing someone’s character because they don’t have the same interpretation doesn’t make them wrong and me right.  It means that God is bigger than all of us and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  (Isaiah 55:9)

4)  Jesus’ sacrifice released us from the power of sin and death.  (Romans 8:2)  When we see something that offends us, we tend to overshadow the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice for ALL.  Jesus got offended–at religious leaders who declared impossible expectations on people so that the leaders looked more holy.  In a world where so many news stories tell us of adolescents bullied because of sexual orientation and the suicides that accompany that bullying, we need to proclaim freedom in Jesus and emphasize His power to release us from shame!

5)  We tend to pick and choose sins.  We want grace for our ‘sins’; but condemnation for our definition of sin in others.  Jesus addressed this attitude often in his parables and teachings.  (Luke 6:42)

6) The Holy Spirit gets to convict–not us.  Only God changes people’s hearts to His will.  I am not responsible to ‘save’ anyone or do much more than offer counsel when asked.  How arrogant am I to think that I know what and how God needs to change in another–especially if I do not have a relationship with that person?  (John 16:8)

7)  Why do differing viewpoints threaten us?  Romans 14 offers great insight to this point.  “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Romans 14:22).  Paul advocates letting God’s Holy Spirit decide in each person.  Some will accuse me of interpreting this passage as ‘situational ethics.’  My ethics have never changed in any situation–regardless of the person, I try to treat each one with equal empathy and understanding (admittedly, I fail more than I wish).  I want respect for my deeply thought out interpretations, and I give respect to anyone with opposing, equally thought out interpretations.

So, what can we do?  Ask questions and don’t sermonize.  Jesus did.  He also taught with story.  He understood its power.   We tend to focus on correct doctrine.  In making that our passion, we forget that there are real people with real lives, real feelings, real beliefs behind every ‘issue.’  Behavior that one person may believe the Bible condemns, another may have a different  interpretation or insight.  Before drawing a line in the sand, perhaps we can listen to each other’s viewpoints and experiences without trying to win a debate.  Shaming a person or a group of people to prove ourselves ‘right’ reminds everyone more of the Pharisees than Jesus’ actions.

As my blood-pressure rises when I hear people in my own faith tradition making blanket statements at the expense of hearts (we are all guilty of this, regardless of our viewpoint), I breathe.  in. and. out.  slowly.  methodically.  silently.   And I focus on Jesus.  And I remember how much He loves us, how competent He is to fulfill His purposes even though we are not perfect in communicating His life.  As I see again myself in His vastness, I stop attacking those that see the world differently (even if they speak unkindly and irrationally) “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”  (Helen Lemmel, hymn).  May the grace of Jesus overflow in our lives as we all work out our own salvations.

 

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