Show Them the Ocean (A Challenge to Christians and to the Church)

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Going to the beach is like meeting God.

There’s that moment when you make your way down the path that cuts through the dunes. As you walk further, the quiet noise in the distance gradually becomes a welcome roar. You crane your neck as if unsure it’s all still there. Your pace quickens as the sound rises and the wind grows, and suddenly you’re emptied out into the full, vivid majesty of it all. 

And you breathe.

It never fails to level you.
It is never commonplace.
It is always holy ground.

I know that if you’ve been there, you understand exactly what I mean.
I also know that if you haven’t—well you just don’t.

That’s the thing about the ocean: until you experience it no one can explain it to you, and once you have experienced it no one needs to.

The love of God is this way.

For far too long, Christians have been content with telling people about the ocean and believing that is enough.

We’ve spoken endlessly of a God whose lavish, scandalous love is beyond measure, whose forgiveness reaches from the furthest places and into our deepest personal darkness. We’ve spun gorgeous, fanciful tales of a redeeming Grace that is greater than the worst thing we’ve done and available to anyone who desires it. We’ve spoken of a Church that welcomes the entire hurting world openly with the very arms of Jesus.

We’ve talked and talked and talked— and much of the time we’ve been a clanging gong, our lives and shared testimony making a largely loveless noise in their ears.

They receive our condemnation.
They know our protests.
They experience our exclusion.
They endure our judgment.
They encounter our bigotry.

And all of our flowery words begin to ring hollow. It’s little wonder they eventually choose to walk away from the shore, the idea not compelling enough to pursue as delivered through our daily encounters with them.

Church, the world doesn’t need more talking from us. It doesn’t need our sweet platitudes or our eloquent speeches or our passionate preaching or our brilliant exegesis. These are all just words about the ocean and ultimately they fail to adequately describe it.

The world needs the goodness of God incarnated in the flesh of the people who claim to know this good God.

As they meet us, they need to come face to face with radical welcome, with uncaveated love, with counter intuitive forgiveness. They need to experience all of this in our individual lives and in the Church, or they will decide that it is all no more than a beautiful, but ultimately greatly exaggerated story about sand and waves and colors that cannot be described.

Church, stop talking about love while living such bitterness.
Stop speaking of Grace while offering so little of it.
Stop preaching mercy while withholding so much of it.

Be quiet and simply love people the way Christ commands you to love them.
That is how they will know him.
This is the experience that transcends any words.
This is the place that is always holy ground.

Christian, stop talking.

Look people in the eye, take them by the hand, and with your very life—show them the ocean.

Sharks in the Bathroom (When Irrational Fear Takes Over)

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I have a fear of sharks.

Let me amend that for accuracy: I have a completely irrational fear of sharks.

It’s all Steven Spielberg’s fault.

After seeing Jaws as a child, I became fully convinced whenever I was in the water, that a massive, dead-eyed Great White was certainly seconds away from dragging me beneath the surface and tearing my torso in half. This, inexplicably included swimming pools—even our own. At night I couldn’t open my eyes while under water, afraid I would see the approaching silhouette of my demise barreling toward me from the blackness of the deep end. At times I’d find myself leaping out of the pool, just to safe.

Forget the actual odds of a shark attack in my Central New York subdivision back yard. This was never useful information for my now-tweaked psyche. My fear wouldn’t let a little thing like probabilities get in the way of a good, cleansing panic attack.

No one around me would have known this, of course. Realizing that my terror wasn’t based in reality but merely a monster manufactured in my head, I kept it well hidden from my swimming companions. I certainly knew better than to scream bloody murder and chase everyone from the pool. I knew it would be wrong to subject them to my grossly oversized phobia.

There are likely no sharks in our public bathrooms either, and I wish we could all admit it.

Over the past few months there’s been a myth perpetuated by fearful folks who would have us believe that peeing in a public place is one of life’s more dangerous endeavors; that whenever we relieve ourselves we do so in shark-infested waters. It’s a lie these people need to be true in order to buy and sell the narrative that our young girls need saving and that so-called “bathroom bills” will save them.

Never mind that under these laws, predators will have the very same access to public restrooms that they have always had.
Forget the fact that women and children are in exponentially more danger of being assaulted by a relative or family friend than by a stranger in a bathroom.
Pay no attention to the reality that policing public bathrooms and enforcing these laws is practically speaking, an impossibility.
And don’t worry that Transgender women are not in fact, “men in dresses”.
Never mind that at first glance some women simply appear masculine and some men, more feminine.
And forget that the rare times men do prey upon people in public restrooms, they are usually not at all disguised.

These things are all largely irrelevant to those determined to be afraid. Remember, fear doesn’t need data or facts to sustain it, nor will it allow them to diffuse it. Fear simply wants to thrive, and it will fill in the gaps of reality in order to do so.

This really isn’t a fight even though it appears to be one. We’re all on the same side here. No one is disagreeing with the notion of keeping our girls and women safe. Many of us just realize that danger isn’t proportionate to the hysteria being generated, nor does it properly address the issue in a way that would protect anyone anyway.

We all have our irrational fears; those things that terrorize us without really existing. If yours includes armies of nefarious men prowling public restrooms, you’re welcome to it—but don’t expect me to agree with you or to endorse it at the expense of our greater humanity. I can respect that fact that you fear something while still seeing it as largely imaginary.

Yielding to your nonsensical worry is not my responsibility.
It’s not our government’s responsibility either.
When our irrational fears negatively affect other people’s realities, we become the problem. We turn into the danger.

As for me, I’m a bit better at swimming in the deep end of the pool now. Oh, sure, every once in a while I could swear I see a slick dorsal fin breaking the surface and my adrenaline spikes briefly, but then I remember I probably don’t have anything to worry about and I going on swimming.

I’m trying to be an adult. Part of being an adult is recognizing what is real and what is make-believe, and to learn to only fear the former.

There’s a good chance there are no sharks lurking in the pool—or in the bathroom.

They’re probably all in our heads.

 

I’m Boycotting Fear

No fear concept, word on grungy blackboard

You can boycott Target if you want to, friend. 

I’m not going to try and change your mind anymore.

I’m not going to argue with you.

As for me, I’m boycotting something else.

I’m boycotting fear.

I am also emphatically saying “no.”

I am saying no to manufactured bathroom battles that distract me from the work of loving people, of encouraging them, of seeing them; the work of compassion and equality to which I am called.

I am saying no to the politics of fear that imagine a thousand terrors lurking in restrooms and around corners, to perpetuate the necessary narrative of a sky that is always falling.

I am saying no to cheap religion that needs an ever-encroaching enemy in order to give itself life and to stimulate zeal and to make itself feel valid.

I am saying no to the faith of least resistance, that eschews the difficult and the complex conversations, in favor of stark black and white caricatures of the righteous and the wicked, of the inside and outside.

I am saying no to the myths that we are at war with one another, that we are all that different, that there are any real sides to take that fully separate us.

I am saying no to the lie that our women and children are in danger, and that the only way to protect them is to damage someone else.

I am saying no to “religious liberty” that makes someone else less free. 

I am saying no to an impotent spirituality that is so easy threatened by people and circumstance, that it always requires violent defense.

I am saying no to a weaponized, politicized Christianity that has so very little regard or need for the compassionate, merciful ways of Jesus anymore.

I am a person of deep faith, saying “yes” to what my faith is supposed to be a yes to.

It’s a yes to loving people as I desire to be loved.

It’s a yes to healing more wounds than I inflict. 

It’s a yes to yielding to the needs of others before my own.

It’s a yes to making the world more decent because of my presence.

It’s a yes to honoring the inherent worth of every person I share this space with.

It’s a yes to moving to the margins to meet people there who are unheard and unseen and hurting.

It’s a yes to sharing whatever I have been blessed with; whether ease or comfort or opportunity or privilege.

It’s a yes to defaulting to humility instead of arrogance with those who oppose me.

It’s a yes to building bridges and not walls between people.

It’s a yes to laying down being right if it makes me more loving. 

It’s a yes to remembering the humanity of people, even when I disagree with them. 

It’s a yes to being louder about the beauty I see out there than about the ugliness. 

It’s a yes to finding the goodness in the world and giving it a boost wherever I can.

And it’s a yes to recognizing that a faith without love—isn’t worth squat.

I am doing my best in these days to abstain from all that is unloving and bitter and divisive.

So you can choose not to shop somewhere if you deem that a worthy path.

You can choose to withhold or withdraw or condemn as a matter of conscience.

I am choosing a different path.

I am targeting bigotry.

I am boycotting fear and I’m putting all my money down on Love.

That is what my faith requires of me.

That’s the greatest stand worth taking.

It’s the gutsiest choice I can make.

It’s the boldest move there is.

And it’s far stronger than fear.

I’m told that love casts fear out;

of my heart,

of the Church,

and even of the bathroom.

I’m going to believe that.

 

 

 

American Christians Should Stop Hoarding Liberty

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I still think back to an afternoon in downtown Raleigh, when I stood with strangers in protest of North Carolina House Bill Two and of the discrimination it manufactured and nurtured in our state toward the LGBTQ community.

It was a moving, life-affirming, hope-giving experience, but what stood out most was the incredible diversity of those gathered: of race, religion, gender identity, age, sexual orientation—noticeably more diverse than the houses of worship most Americans will visit this weekend. It was a gathering that reflected not just the vast population of our country, but I believe, the kaleidoscopic complexity of Heaven.

Standing in that extraordinary space, it occurred to me that this wasn’t at all an anti-Christian or anti-religion gathering, as many would probably like to frame it in the public discourse, where the politics of fear is priority one for some sharing my faith tradition. This was a deeply spiritual gathering, with ministers and public servants all sharing their strong religious convictions, and why those convictions have led them to this place of passionately defending the rights of all people.

I realized then just how far so much American Christianity has drifted from Jesus in its message and manner, but I caught a fresh breeze of hope too. I looked around yesterday and recognized the faith that I first was drawn to.

This is where Christians are supposed to be. They are supposed to be standing with the oppressed and the marginalized. They are supposed to be defending the rights of those without power or numbers or a voice. Wherever any people made in the image of God are being treated as less-than, Christians should be the most visible, the most vocal, the most present in condemning it. Instead we are so many times, either silent in the face of injustice or perpetuating it.

We American Christians love to invoke the ideas of Freedom and Liberty, but usually only when they suit our preferences and our plans. We will rail and rally with ferocity and boldness when we feel we are being denied such things in the most inconsequential ways. But when it comes to affording the same fundamental personal liberty to others, especially those we don’t understand or approve of, we become alarmingly tight-lipped and closed-fisted. Then we withhold both Justice and Grace with little remorse.

Far too many American Christians desire all the spoils of both Christianity and America, and yet seek to deny them to the LGBTQ community, to people of color, to low-income families, to non-Christians.

In short, we want to be Jesus to ourselves and Pharaoh to everybody else; abundantly blessed but hard-hearted and unwilling to share the wealth.

Ironically, many of the same Christian people who claim to love and respect the Constitution, seem fairly passionate about preventing other people their “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”; marriage, equal employment opportunity, healthcare access, church participation, use of the bathroom—things like that.

It’s a bad look for a Christian.

It’s a bad look for an American.

It betrays both the very heart of Jesus and the foundations of our country: the idea that there is inherent worth and dignity in every person, and that each should be able to live unrestrained into the fullness of this truth.  

The ideals of Equality and Freedom on which America were built are indeed fairly beautiful, but only if all people get to benefit from them identically.

And the barrier-breaking, expectation-defying, peace-making, least-loving message of Jesus is such very good news, but only when it is allowed to come to full fruition in the people and in the Church that bears his name.

We need to set Freedom free, because when we do, America is the best of itself and Christianity better reflects the image of Jesus.

Right now, neither is happening and we have only ourselves to blame.

There is a far better way.

Stop hoarding Liberty, Christians.

It belongs to everyone.