You’re LGBTQ and I Don’t Blame You (Words From a Pastor)

You’re LGBTQ—and I want you to know as a pastor that I don’t blame you.

I don’t blame you for rejecting Christianity.

I bet it all feels a lot like a well advertised “Come As You Are” party, though you’re pretty much told at every turn that you can’t really come as you are. I imagine you get tired of being blamed by Christians for every evil in the world; the failure of America, the collapse of Marriage, the corruption of the family, the erosion of morality in Hollywood, the degradation of the Scouts and the Army, and everything else you dare to take part in or offer your gifts to.

As you survey your news feed or the comments section of your favorite song, and as you are bombarded with the blogs and radio shows and tossed-off jokes; with the political rants, incendiary sermons, and social media tirades, I suppose you feel like you’re Public Enemy Number 1 of this faith tradition.

It must be exhausting.

I don’t blame you for thinking that all Christians are hypocrites.

I’m sure you have a small handful of Scripture passages ripped from their context and violently shoved in your face all the time, by supposed religious people who rarely seem to want to live their own lives by the Bible they so willingly wield like a hammer. You hear church folk mindlessly parroting, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” yet don’t get much from them that feels at all like love—in fact you’re fairly certain it’s quite the opposite.

I know that you are surrounded by professed “Biblical Christians” who are divorced, who love money, who neglect the poor, who dishonor their marriages—and that you want to remind them that the Bible has a good deal to say about those things with great clarity. Yet you soon realize that most of them aren’t as interested in shining too bright a light on themselves, as they are in policing others with selective Scriptures. You learn that to far too many Christians, sin is simply defined as, “the stuff I don’t like that someone else is doing”—and so eventually you just disengage.

I don’t blame you for wanting nothing to do with The Church.

I imagine how hard it must be to walk through the doors of our buildings week after week, feeling out-of-place and unwanted, scanning the lobby for some small, reassuring sign that you are welcome; sitting nervously through the service  just knowing you’ll likely once again be lifted up as the easy poster child for perversion and immorality and Godlessness. I’m sure you always fear another unprovoked attack in a place where you are hoping to find refuge. It must be a Herculean undertaking to hear what you hear and see what you see, and to even attempt to make your way to a local church.

And I’m sure that even as you do begin to cautiously build relationships there, you must feel like you can never really share the deepest parts of you, because you know that it will likely mean that you and your family will need to start looking for another church—again.

And most of all I don’t blame you for choosing to pass on this whole Jesus thing—but I hope that you won’t.

You see friend, the worst, most tragic thing that you could ever do in the face of the bullying and insensitivity and bigotry you may have experienced at the hands of some Christians—would be to let it keep you from Christ. 

If that happens, then you are allowing their hatred to be louder in your ears than the loving voice of God. You are letting them have a power over you that they do not deserve and are not qualified for. You are allowing them to define your faith when it is not theirs to define. 

Because all of the cruelty you are experiencing is simply not of Jesus. He doesn’t consent to any of it. He abhors it and condemns it.

And this is the reason I am still a Christian; because I believe this Jesus is worth the path to him, despite the dangerous land mines along the way, even if those land mines call themselves Christians. Because the truth is; you and me and the radio show host and the crusading politician and the greeter at church and the pastor in the pulpit and the hundreds you might rub shoulders with this Sunday, we all stand fully held by what no person can give to us and no person can withhold from us: the relentless, screw-up covering, destination changing, invasive, annoying love of God. You are already loved as you are, without caveat, condition, or alteration. You have nothing to earn or prove or deserve.

Friend, you could decide to pass on The Church, but both you and it would be the lesser for it. Your gifts and your passions and your experiences have the same power to bless and to lift and to reflect the character of God as anyone’s. Your contribution is as unique, valid, and beautiful as anyone’s are. Never believe differently.

So if you are able, I’m asking you to try again; to stand among hypocrites and sinners like me this Sunday and to keep going. I will gladly stand there beside you.

No, I wouldn’t blame you for walking away from Jesus because you’ve been injured by Christians—but I’m praying that you don’t.

 

Seeing the Superheroes

There are no ordinary people walking the planet.

Every human being, whether from close proximity or from a great distance—can have tremendous power in our lives:

the power to speak words that give us wings or ones that crush us beneath their weight,
to reinforce our belonging or magnify our isolation,
to be the one remaining thread we hang by or the straw that finally breaks us,
to propel us through one more hour—or to leave us certain we cannot and should not.

And it can be easy to focus only on the later; the discouragers, the hope stealers, the dream killers, the ones who seem to confirm for us that this place has surely darkened. Their presence can be so loud and so disheartening and so disruptive, that it can sap us of our resolve and obscure the sun from view.

But there are radiant people of brilliant light still inhabiting this place, and I am trying to make sure I see them and treasure them; these ordinary superheroes who are daily saving me.

Today I looked and I noticed them everywhere:
the dozen buoyant teenagers I sat with in the church playground over a breakfast of sugar and caffeine,
my tireless social media activist friend who perseveres in the fight for complete strangers,
the lady in the checkout line who asked me how I was—and really seemed to want to
know,
the college graduates who walked out of their ceremony to leverage their moment and make their voices heard,
Lorde dancing defiantly on the BBMAs,
my mother, whose strength after the loss of my father seems boundless,
the invisible mad genius who made the carne asada tacos that weakened my knees,
the friend I’ve had for three decades, whose kindness never wavers,

the two beautiful children in my living room who aren’t letting anyone tell them who or what they can be.

Today I found myself dwelling on the good people—and in difficult days like these, we need to do this for our very sanity and survival.

We need to see the superheroes; to recognize the people who carry us, who lift us, who steady us when we are overcome by all that feels so very wrong. Each of us reach moments when we find ourselves at the limits of the weight we can bear, the bad news we can absorb, the cruelty we can endure. And when we are in those places of desperation, and we share space with people of compassion and decency and love and courage; in a way that is sometimes ambiguous and sometimes quite clear—they save us. They swoop into our living rooms, news feeds, and peripheral vision at just the right time, and remind us that we are not in this life alone. Sometimes that can be enough. 

On dispiriting days we need to let ourselves be saved by someone else; to let another’s reassuring presence rescue us, to allow their lives to be the catalyst for our hope in those moments when hope is hard to come by.

And the truth is, we all have this same potentially saving power. Because of this, we need to continue to speak and care and love and forgive, and do our work and raise our families and live well, and look into the eyes of strangers and to ask how they are and really want to know—because other people are watching us and counting on us. For someone else, either at close proximity or from a great distance, and in ways we may never realize—we might be the difference in the day.

So look around you today and take note of the people who are sustaining you; those who through humor, goodness, talent, empathy, or righteous anger, show you heroic things and give you the strength to go on. Look carefully at the good people crossing your path and you may notice a cape trailing behind.

See the superheroes who are saving you, and be encouraged.

 

 

 

“The Bible and Prayer” Won’t Fix My Progressive Theology—They Created it.

Every day I invariably end up in some form of the same conversation.

I encounter a more conservative Christian, who takes issue with my stance on the Bible or sexuality or sin or salvation or politics, and once they realize that I’m neither embarrassed of these stances nor easily moved from them—they offer a similar solution to the diagnosed “problem” of my Progressive theology:

“You should try reading the Bible and asking God to reveal the truth to you.”—as if these are things I’d never considered.

The words are sometimes delivered as unintended insult, other times as judgmental scolding, and still other times as a poorly concealed middle finger. Either way, there’s an inherent arrogance in the suggestion itself, assuming that unless the conclusions I’ve come to match their conclusions, I must not have done the work. I must be rebelling against God. I must be darkened in my understanding; clouded by the Devil—or maybe Rob Bell.

My reply is always the same: “Reading the Bible and praying over it—is precisely how I became Progressive.”

For more than forty years as a Christian and two decades as a pastor in the local church, I’ve lived with the Bible:

I’ve read it for inspiration and for information.

I’ve studied it in seminary and in small groups and in solitude.

I’ve done hundreds of Bible studies and sat through months of sermons.

I’ve taught it and preached it and reflected on it for hours upon hours upon hours.

I’ve sat with it in silence and prayed over the words; listening intently for the voice of God.

And all of this has yielded the faith perspective I have today. This has been my long, purposeful path to Progressive Christianity.

The more I excavated the Scriptures and reflected on what I’d learned, the more I felt a shift in my understanding. Little by little, through this continual process of study and prayer and living, I found myself unable to believe things I once believed. Old sureties became unstable and new things became my bedrock. Over time, I gradually but quite surely began to see the Bible differently, and it has led me to this place and to the convictions I now hold.

No longer some perfect, leather-bound divine transcript, dictated by God and downloaded into a few men’s heads or dropped from the sky—the Bible for me became an expansive library written by flawed, failing human beings at a particular place and time in the history of humanity, recording their experience of God as best they could comprehend it.

In that library I could find wisdom and meaning, and through those words I could seek God and understand humanity, and craft a working religion to live within. But I could also bring other things to bear upon this journey; things like Science and History, things like nature and community and other faith traditions—and yes, my personal experience living as a never-to-be-repeated human being.

This is the path of all people of faith, if they’re honest; however conservative or progressive their theology. And this is the point.

None of us has the market cornered on the Truth, and we all bring the same things to our study and prayer and to our religion—we bring ourselves. We bring the sum total of the families we’ve lived in and the place we were born and the faith tradition we were raised in. We carry the teachers and pastors and writers who inspired us, the experiences we’ve had, and even our specific personalities. In other words: we all find our way—in the way we find our way. 

When another Christian instructs someone else to “read the Bible,” or “take it to prayer,” or to “ask God to reveal the truth to you,” they usually mean, “Do all of these things until you get it right—until you agree with me.” They are assuming their version of study and reflection are more valid than another’s.

And this is the beauty of Progressive Christianity: it doesn’t insist that others agree with it, it doesn’t claim superiority, and it holds its conclusions loosely. That doesn’t mean it has arrived at its present place impulsively, lazily, or ignorantly. Quite the contrary. I’ve met thousands of Christians who hold more liberal positions on all sorts of topics, who didn’t begin that way. They have come to those positions after years or even decades of careful, prayerful, faithful exploration. They are as intelligent, invested, and earnestly seeking as their more orthodox brethren.

And this is perhaps the conservative Christian’s greatest challenge, which was fittingly, the same one the Pharisees faced in the Gospels: to believe that others could have a genuine, real, and beautiful experience of God that didn’t match their own. People can read the Bible and pray and do every thing they do as honestly and lovingly as they do it—and wind up believing differently.

Christian, the next time your tempted to flippantly tell someone who doesn’t share your religious convictions or mirror your theology, that they should “try reading the Bible and going to God,” it might be helpful to seek a humility about your own beliefs and a respect of theirs; to entertain the idea that maybe their reading of the Bible and their prayerful life surrounding it—are the very reason they now hold those beliefs.

Maybe they have studied and prayed and listened.

Maybe God has revealed the Truth to them.

Maybe God doesn’t need your consent to do that.

 

 

 

Mike Pence and the Christians Who Betrayed Jesus With a Kiss

Image: nydailynews.com

It was early in 2016.

The Republican politicians and the celebrity Evangelical preachers met with the devil in secret. The last 8 years had driven them to desperation.

One of the group, the one called Pence, approached the devil and asked, “What are you willing to give us if we deliver Jesus and his American Church over to you and to your associate—the orange faced man with the wild hair?”

So the devil counted out for them thirty pieces of silver.

They all laughed heartily, feigning disbelief.
Jerry Falwell Jr. doubled over.
Paul Ryan spit out his coffee.
The House Republicans gesticulated wildly.

“Just kidding,” said the devil with a wink, “I know who I’m dealing with here.”

Well into the night they bargained, with each preacher and politician chiming in on his own behalf, until they all reached an equitable arrangement—which included the Presidency, a Supreme Court Seat, carte blanche with the House and Senate—along with millions of fear-blinded American Christians to amen it all.

The group was absolutely giddy over the terms, barely able to conceal their delight.

Seeing this, the devil added one final caveat: he would receive their souls in exchange for it all. Since they’d found less and less use for them lately, they all gladly signed them away.

The devil decided on a way to ratify the betrayal—an embrace and a kiss.

“Nice New Testament call back!” Pence said with a knowing grin, quite proud of himself as the devil cackled.

From then on they watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over.

______

The next day they found Jesus in America, chastising his disciples who’d fallen asleep while he was praying. They’d been sleeping a lot lately.

Going at once to Jesus, Pence said buoyantly, “Hello Jesus!”

Jesus quietly replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Pence leaned in and kissed Jesus on the cheek—but nothing happened.

Pence immediately realized something wasn’t quite right. He’d expected a more dramatic moment. He turned to Jeff Sessions, who rifled nervously through a stack of papers.

After checking the details of the contract with his nervous co-conspirator, he realized this was not the embrace and kiss the devil had stipulated to seal the deal.

He soon found himself on a large stage, under the searing lights and the fixed gaze of millions of people—standing next to the orange faced man with the wild hair. Pence suddenly understood the gravity of the moment and how much he’d given up. His heart began to beat wildly and he perspired through his shirt.

He wanted to disappear. He wanted to throw-up. He wanted to call the whole thing off. He prayed for the Rapture. But before he could process another thought, the orange faced man with the wild hair pulled him close and kissed him awkwardly.

“This is what you wanted, Mr. Pence. “he whispered in Pence’s ear, “You’re a winner now. I hope it was worth it.”

And from that moment, all over America, in churches and from pulpits, in the Senate and the House, in University commencements and weekly podcasts, on courthouse steps and in press releases—the politicians and the preachers each lined up one by one to publicly kiss the orange faced man with the wild hair—and to betray Jesus.

And they soon received all that the devil promised them—but they lost what they agreed to give away too:

They had gained “the world” and forfeited their souls.

Mike Pence recognized the New Testament call back there too, but it was too late to change anything. He’d made his bed. He’d sealed his fate.

Then Jesus looked to the sky and said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

And he wept for America.