Dear Offended Christian, From a Very Tired Christian

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Dear Offended Christian,

I’m terribly sorry that your feelings are hurt again. I feel badly about that. None of us likes to be criticized, so I totally get it.

I know I’ve said some pretty hard words to you recently, and maybe I’ve been somewhat less than “cheery” in my delivery, but that happens when you’re tired.

And I am really tired:

I’m tired of hearing you telling gay people that they can’t simultaneously be both gay and Christian. 

I’m tired of having to explain what “Transgender” means to adult Christian people, who I’m quite sure have Internet access and should know better by now that it ain’t “a guy in a dress”.

I’m tired of arrogant pulpit bullies who believe they’re entitled to tell people where they can pee and who they can marry and whether they really love Jesus or not.

I’m tired of you being more outraged by red coffee cups and department store restrooms than by poverty and racism and gun violence.

I’m tired of gay people being accused of the kind of predatory behavior that straight men have been exhibiting, since the man cave was—an actual cave. 

I’m tired of reminding you that the number of times Jesus spoke about gender identity and sexual orientation in the Gospels—is zero.

I’m tired of having to explain to people that although I am a Christian, that I’m not that type of Christian; the kind that is generous with damnation and stingy with Grace.

I’m tired of LGBTQ teens cutting their forearms and jumping off buildings because they’re told by their church friends that God hates them, because their Christian parents told them, because their Christian pastors told them.

I’m tired of followers of Jesus who don’t seem interested in cracking open a book to see what we’ve learned about the brain and the body in 2,000 years, or to realize that gender identity and sexual orientation don’t equal the word “homosexuality” in the Bible.

I’m tired of all the time I have to spend undoing the damage the Church has done to queer kids and their families.

I’m tired of religious folk who seem to want small government everywhere except the bedroom and bathroom.

I’m tired of Scientific ignorance being treated as if it’s a Christian virtue.

I’m tired of hearing you preach verbatim the gospel of Fox News.

I’m tired of high-profile pastors blaming gay people for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and ISIS and child obesity.

I’m tired of waiting for you to show up in this world and actually show the freakin’ love of Jesus to people the way he did and told you to, without excuses or caveats or theological tap dancing to avoid it.

I’m tired of this wasteful, fruitless, mean-spirited, unprovoked, unbiblical attack on the LGBTQ community, that is squandering so much time and life and beauty in the name of a God who is supposedly Love.

I’m tired of so many people believing that “Christian” and “bigot” are synonymous—and not disagreeing with them.

I’m tired of a Church which seems to be so ambivalent toward the teachings and example of Jesus.

I’m tired of a Christianity that is making me more and more embarrassed to be associated with it.

So I get that your feelings are hurt. I understand that you’re offended, and that’s not my intention. 

But listen, if you’re going to tell a group of people that they’re going to Hell simply for existing, and you’re going to continually target those people through the Church and the Law and your social media accounts, don’t get angry with me when I tell you you’re being hateful and judgmental and ignorant.

It could be worse.

At least I’m not damning you for all eternity.

Sincerely,

A Very Tired Christian

The Gospel of Chewbacca Mom and Why We Need it

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I know you’ve seen the video.

If you haven’t seen the video, you haven’t heard of the Internet—or more likely Candace Payne broke it earlier this week.

Her ridiculously hilarious dashboard recording in a department store parking lot as she dons an interactive wookie mask, has obliterated the view numbers for viral videos and made her a global phenom in a way that only social media can. She’s ubiquitous on planet earth right now.

It turns out Candace is also a devout Christian and heavily involved in her local church. Normally I’m not keen on jumping on such news about celebrities and I recoil at such stories, but she is important.

The world needs Chewbacca Mom right now.

The Church needs her too.

In a time when religion is marked by such anger and vitriol and raw-throated screaming, people need to see and be reminded that faith does not need to be something we bludgeon people over the head with. It does not need to announce itself or assert itself or prove itself or demand respect or exist at the expense of someone else.

It can just be and be evident.

Faith at its most pure is fully present in the simple joy of a living soul, in a life that radiates light and magnifies it.

It is in a humility and goodness that are self-evident; in decency that is contagious, in love that is viral.

Candace’s video has blown-up globally because it gives us something we are so very starved for regardless of our theological perspective: lightness and laughter. There’s no preaching, no proselytizing, no doctrinal debate, no religious language at all, and yet it is such very good news to so many people. The Church could learn a great deal from this. 

I want to be Chewbacca Mom when I grow-up.

In a world of loud religion, I want a faith that does the quiet work of beautifully altering the planet.

I want a life that speaks eloquently about the hope I have without needing words.

I want to be an expectation-defying Christian to people who’ve been given so much bad news from and about us.

I don’t know Candace Payne and I’m quite sure she’s not perfect, but that isn’t at all the point.

What I do know, is that whatever faith in God is supposed to yield, it comes through the two tiny holes of a plastic wookie mask. It shows up in the eyes of a flawed, tired, ordinary soul who seems to have the joy of the Lord so many people only preach about.

I’d like people to see the same thing in my eyes.

Thanks Chewbacca Mom. The Force is strong in you.

 

If You Believe Donald Trump Deserves to Be President

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These are the words of GOP Presidential candidate and impending nominee Donald Trump…

On Mexicans:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

On African-Americans and Jews:

“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

“I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

“Our great African-American president hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.”

On women:

“You know, it doesn’t really matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

“Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”

“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

On Muslims:

“I think Islam hates us. We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us — anybody. And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.”

“I think that we should definitely disallow any Muslims from coming in. Any of them. The reason is simple: we can’t identify what their attitude is.”

“They’re not coming to this country if I’m President.”

On protestors:

“That guy was so obnoxious and so loud maybe he should have been roughed up.”

“I love the old days—you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”

On Hillary Clinton:

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America.”

“The only card Hillary Clinton has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else to offer and frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card, and the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

On his daughter posing nude:

“I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

On sexual assault in the military:

“26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military — only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”

On John McCain:

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

On God:
“I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture….When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed.”

On his penis:

“He referred to my hands, if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee it.”

“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well been documented, are various other parts of my body.”

On his supporters:

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

On revenge:

“When someone crosses you, my advice is ‘Get Even!’ That is not typical advice, but it is real life advice. If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck! When people wrong you, go after those people because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even.”

On his education:

I’m telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…but there is no better word than stupid. Right?

On GOP candidate Carly Fiorina:

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really folks, come on. Are we serious?”


If you believe these are the words of a man who is at all Presidential, whose character and intellect and demeanor should represent America in the world, if you feel as though they represent you, especially if you claim to follow Jesus…

… I guess I’m genuinely wondering why.

 

 

Why This Christian Doesn’t Need a Perfect Bible

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Either the Bible is true or it isn’t.

Chances are if you’ve spent any time in church or engaged in religious debate with a Christian, you’ve encountered this sentence in one form or another. It’s the premise that the Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition; either inerrant and without blemish—or useless. This idea often surfaces during some moment of theological dissonance and succeeds in immediately pushing people to opposite poles, demanding that they go all-in with a flawless, mistake-free text, or be dismissed as hard-hearted heretics.

I understand why so many Christians desire a perfect Bible. Life is frightening and unpredictable and painful. We so want the simplicity and certainty that kind of Bible would provide. If we believe that there exists somewhere a massive transcript of Divine dictation; “God’s Clear Answer Book”, then life becomes apparently simple: When in doubt, just read the Bible.

Our ability to make a decision or to have peace or to navigate the world as “proper Christians”, all becomes contingent upon us “properly understanding” the supposed clear, irreducible truth of God’s Word. And since no two of us can agree completely on what that truth is or means, this makes such a task largely subjective. Regardless of our best intentions, we all end up making the Scriptures yield to our biases and agendas; clinging tightly to those parts which reinforce our beliefs, discarding those which prove problematic. Some passages we decide are literal directives, while others a product of their cultural context, demanding nuance. This is equally true of the most Progressive and Conservative believers despite the latter’s claims otherwise.

I’ve long ago given up the need for a Bible without error or blemish. I believe the Scriptures to be the work of the hands of a faithful, earnest, striving Humanity seeking to understand, know, and honor God in the place and time in which they lived and documented life. The writers and believers then (just as in these days), bring that flawed humanness to their endeavors no matter how greatly seeking to avoid it. And yet then as now, we can read and hear their words, and find truth and life within them in spite of and because of it. The writings don’t need to be inerrant or devoid of the preferences and personalities of their authors to powerfully illuminate God for us. They were the writer’s truths, and that is enough, because we can find ourselves in that same story.

For example, our Christian tradition recognizes the words of the Apostle Paul, a missionary pastor as sacred canon, comprising much of the New Testament. We are asked to believe that his words are all fully “God’s words”, yet nowhere in Paul’s writings does he claim that God is commandeering his faculties; that he is at all ceasing to be fully Paul as he writes. Further, in his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul offers that the “same Spirit” that raised Jesus from the dead is at work within those who believe. If this is true then, we are given the same Spirit-stuff that Paul was given. We cannot accurately determine a hierarchy in the way that God is revealed in God’s people, so deciding that Paul is somehow more Spirit filled than say Billy Graham or C.S. Lewis or Teresa of Avila or your pastor or even you—seems an impossible and worthless task.

The Rabbis of Biblical times (of which Jesus was one), made it their life’s calling, debating and examining the text and applying it to life. It was not for them, the downloading of the same precise information, but the act of seeking deeper revelation of God in community, using the Scriptures as a place to gather. We should not be afraid to do the same.

Everything is saturated with the presence of the Divine. In this way, everything and everyone contains some truth of the reality of God. The only way that the Bible could be completely true, is the same way anything or anyone could be: because it has a single true source.

We don’t require perfection in any other experience of creation, and yet we still are able to recognize a perfect God reflected in all of it:

The most brilliant diamond is still flawed,
the most vivid sunset still contains impurities,
the most moving piece of music still carrying an imprecise note,
the most compassionate person still marred by selfishness.

None of these things are without blemish but they still testify beautifully. They still do their perfect work of awakening us to something greater.

The Bible is a sprawling library of sixty-six books, created by dozens of writers over thousands of years, made of every type of literature created in a myriad of cultural contexts. The hundreds of thousands of words comprising these books do not need to be inerrant to be edifying or encouraging or inspiring or to speak to us. They do not need to be inerrant to expose some of the infinite facets of the Divine. They do not need to be perfect to help to know and seek after a very perfect God.

If we can acknowledge these things about the Bible, we will resist making an idol of it, we will be less likely to wield it like a weapon against those we disagree with, and we will have greater humility as we read it, holding our own interpretation loosely. We will invariably be more open to the Spirit moving as it pleases.

Something wonderful happened when I stopped needing the Bible to be perfect: I could love it again. Rather than agonizing over some elusive needle-in-a-haystack truth in every world, I could open it up and read it as the adventure of my flawed but faithful ancestors; earlier chapters of a story I am now living in. I stopped needing it to be God, and allowed it simply to help me on my journey toward God.

I believe this God alone to be true. Everything else in this world is somewhat less true—even the Bible.

I’m a Christian and I’m okay with that.

Recovering From Social Media Comparison Sickness

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Most mornings I wake up and feel quite fine.

I’m not at all dissatisfied with my success or my appearance or my marriage, not overly concerned about my career progress or my financial stability, about the many things I may not be doing or the opportunities I don’t have.

For a few moments, I am simply awake and alive and resting in that.

Then it begins.

As most of us do, I soon find myself clicking open my virtual window to the world—and there I am immediately reminded of how far short I am falling. Bombarded relentlessly with the glorious victories of others; stories of their perfect families, details of their latest amazing speaking date, images of their globe-hopping vacations, I suddenly I begin to feel a rising unrest. My breath shortens and my chest tightens, until my peace gives way to panic and I am rightly discouraged.

This is the sickness of social media comparison, and I’m guessing you are among the afflicted. If so, you’re in good company.

Few of us are immune. It is the occupational hazard of our ever-growing connectedness with the world. The wider the reach of our interactions grows, the more plentiful the fodder for our insecurities becomes. We no longer have to compete with only the accomplishments of a few neighbors and coworkers, the successes of classmates and a handful of friends, the romantic relationships of only those we know well.

Now we get the whole wide freakin’ world to measure ourselves against—and we’re always gonna lose.

Most of us know that social media is at best a highly doctored, heavily filtered, greatly edited version of people’s lives. We know this because we work so very hard each day at managing other’s perceptions of our own. We get that it is at best an exercise in selective sharing designed for maximum appeal from a distance. 

Yet we so easily forget this as we absorb the body blows of the endless reminders of all the people who are seemingly smarter, more attractive, better connected, more talented; those making more money, doing greater things, having better sex, making more of a difference.

We see the inflated, airbrushed world passing in front of us and we take it all as gospel. Holding this distorted image of perfection up against the messy, awkward, barely held together of our tattered daily lives and it isn’t a fair fight. We cannot help but see ourselves as deficient.

It’s a fatal mistake to take all that we do not know about all those people in our path, and use it to evaluate everything we do know about ourselves—but it’s one we make over and over again. We use incomplete information about others and make an evaluation of lives that we experience intimately.

I’d tell you that part of the path to healing from social media comparison sickness is to just stop using social media. Since I know the likelihood of that, here are some helpful reminders when you’re here:

People’s lives are never as magical as they appear.
We’re all faking it and hoping others will believe us.

Everyone’s a mess.
Everyone is insecure.
We all feel like frauds.
We all feel ugly.
We all feel like we’re falling short.
Our marriages are all challenging, our kids all exhausting, our careers all frustrating, our bodies all failing.

We all worried about our waistlines and hairlines and bottom lines.

Every one of us feels like everyone else on the planet has their junk so much more together—so let’s stop making ourselves sick.

Friend, we each have a solitary sacred space we fill in this world; the families, friendships, marriages, careers, relationships that we alone occupy. The key to overcoming comparison sickness, is to treasure and revere that space. It is to covet the lives we already have.

Today may you look down at your feet and see the greener grass.
May you refuse to compete with the world today.
May you simply be awake and alive—and rest in that.

Get well soon.

 

 

 

The Christian Myth of America’s Moral Decay

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“This country is in moral decline. I just wish we would return to our Christian values and turn back to God.”

I came across this comment on a social media thread tonight, and as a Christian it made me more than a bit nauseous. I hear this sentiment from fellow believers often, and whenever I do I always wonder just what “Christian values” they’d like America to return to:

To women not being able to vote?
To people owning slaves?
To segregation?
To street pistol duels and packs of vigilantes meting out justice in the town square?
To organized crime running urban police forces?

To women being marital property?

Are these the “ol’ time religion” days these folks openly pine for; the days when America was apparently so much more reverent, so much more righteous, so much more Godly than it is today?

This idea of our country’s present moral decay has become a go-to Evangelical Christian trope for decades; an attempt at a literal self-fulfilling prophecy, where the world is falling hopelessly apart and the Church is the lone, faithful remnant standing in the face of the heathen culture’s rebellion. Much like Noah, these religious people imagine themselves sole builders of the only safe place from God’s coming wrath; the waters of dread surely and swiftly rising.

But the truth is America is not in decline any more than at any time in its history. This is just lazy religious-speak that seeks to paint the picture of everything being terrible so it can name drop the “Last Days” and leverage the ensuing fear such language invariably creates in suggestible God-fearing folk.

Only everything isn’t terrible—at least not more terrible:

People have always been bigoted, petty, and ignorant, they just all didn’t have free, 24-hour self-promotion machines where they could advertise as much on a regular basis.

There have always been corrupt governments, contemptible politicians, and hypocritical religious leaders, only now we have more people armed with the resources to unearth and expose them.

Gross injustices against the poor, the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color have existed since America was a newborn. We just didn’t have phone cameras to broadcast it to the world and to make it commonplace.

Teenagers have always followed the rush of their raging hormones into all sorts of regrettable messes, they just didn’t have Snapchat to preserve it for posterity.

In other words, there really is nothing new under the sun.

It’s reckless for Christians to keep playing the Decay card with such regularity, and irresponsible for the Church to wring its hands and shout doom and damnation from a distance, instead of looking for the beautiful, loving, redemptive work already happening in the world, and joining in.

We may indeed be a fairly substantial mess right now in America—just no more so than we’ve ever been. It’s a sad indictment of our religion that we need to perpetuate the narrative of an ever-deteriorating Humanity to ratchet-up urgency and to galvanize the shrinking faithful into movement. Worse still, is when our Christian witness in the world, is marked by contempt for so much of the world.

I don’t believe we’re all slowing sliding off into the abyss, despite what some religious people say. I’m out here every day and I see heroic, compassionate, reckless acts of beauty all the time. I see and speak to lots of inherently good people doing their best; slipping and then getting back up again. We’re all flying and failing simultaneously; gaining and losing ground and doing it again and again. I reject the myth of our downward spiral because I know how hard I and so many others are working to get this life right and to love well. I don’t believe I am in personal moral decay and I imagine the same is true for you, which is the point.

There have always been people who will do horrible, despicable things. There still are.
There have always been people who live with unthinkable kindness. This is still true.
And almost always, they are the very same people.

American Christians need to stop pretending that the “good ol’ days” were so darn wonderful and that everything’s gone to Hell now. That sunny-in-the-rear-view narrative simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, to History, or to reality, and it cheapens how far we’ve actually come together. It also discounts what God is doing in this place and time that is so very worthy of celebrating.

These are not perfect days, but they are good days.
America is not yet the thing it could be—but that has always been true.
Yes, the world has its darkness but Light is still our default setting.

Friend, there will always be reason for despair and reason for hope.
Lean hard into the hope and you’ll discover that there is more there than you’d realized.
You may find that Love is trending here.

Look up, the sky is not falling.

Be encouraged.