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.

Why Keeping Bad Guys Out of Girl’s Bathrooms, isn’t What’s Going on Here

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“How did I become the bad guy because I don’t want guys in the bathroom with my daughters and their friends. Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to!”

This Facebook post showed up in my news feed this morning from a friend, who I absolutely do consider a good guy. It was liked and commented on favorably by many Christian folks I currently or once considered friends. I think it is indicative of sentiments I see shared frequently in the Church and by those sharing my faith these days. 

Here was my response to the folks on that thread and those reading this who have similar feelings:

1) No sane, decent, loving fathers want guys in the bathroom with their daughters. 

Making these claims is setting up battle lines that don’t exist and creating a false good vs. evil delineation to make ourselves feel better. It’s claiming some manufactured moral high ground that simply isn’t present.

2) We straight folk have all been using the public bathroom with LGBTQ people for our entire lives and most of us have never had an issue, (and definitely not one this bill addresses).

We will all continue to use the bathroom with LGBTQ people going forward. The idea that we now won’t, or that this will somehow keep our daughters safer is simply misinformation and fear-peddling to justify a conclusion. It’s a false victory based on a nonexistent threat, which the Church and politicians specialize in.

3) These pieces of legislation have nothing to do with keeping men out of women’s restroom facilities, and so much to do with businesses being allowed to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

The heart of these bills is about giving license to refuse service to individuals and to keep those individuals from legally disputing this refusal. Heterosexual men who disobey laws to assault women won’t have any more grounds to do so regardless whether or not these laws are passed.

4) If said straight men could be trusted not to do bad things to women, we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations.

As a Christian I’m disappointed that we aren’t talking about that in our churches and on campaign trails, or making bold public statements about that. I’m profoundly saddened that high-profile evangelists and pastors aren’t facing this real monster with the same sustained ferocity they attack an imagined one with.

Women are in exponentially higher danger of being sexually assaulted by a boyfriend, spouse, or a classmate, and children at home by a relative or family friend, than by a stranger in a bathroom—and it isn’t even close.

5) A cisgender white male saying to a Transgender person, “Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to”, is one of the least helpful and least compassionate responses one can utter, and exposes a startling lack of knowledge on that matter.

These individuals feel an internal brain disconnection with their physical anatomy. To be Transgender is to not feel accurately represented in the gender you were assigned at birth. It is about someone’s personal sense of being, so “peeing where they are supposed to” is exactly what they are trying to do here.

Google the phrase “white privilege” and you’ll see why this statement is an issue in itself.

6) Unless we’re all going to show our birth certificates at public restrooms, nothing about these bills has any relevance at all with regard to public safety in the bathroom—not to mention completely unenforceable. 

This is a non-issue. It’s Don Quixote’s windmills. It’s the worst kind of distraction because it pretends to solve nonexistent problems that it wouldn’t address even if they did exist.

7) I don’t want bad guys in the bathroom with my daughter either.

I’ve just researched enough to know that nothing about this legislation has any bearing on that desire. I’ve realized that the greatest danger to her isn’t the LGBTQ community or public restroom use, it’s cisgender-hetero guys who can’t control themselves wherever they are.

I know I can’t legislate the world so that she has no contact with these men at school, out shopping, at fraternities, at church, on band trips, at work, in relationships—those places where she is most in danger of being assaulted. All I can do is teach her, guide her, and try to create a less horrible world for her to walk into.

Like minded people on my friend’s thread shared a frustration that they are wrongly called “intolerant” by expressing the above views. It’s not intolerance that is the problem here, it’s education. It’s a lack of knowledge that we’re OK living with.

I think we’re always looking for a clear enemy and an easy solution. There just isn’t one here, and definitely not within these bills. HB2 is a bad decision made for the wrong reasons to solve a problem that didn’t exist. Too many people are all too willing to take the lazy hate bait because they’d rather not do the difficult work of reading and reflecting and wrestling with complex issues, and addressing matters if they become too complicated or time-consuming than is required to read a divisive meme. This is especially true when we believe our faith is somehow under attack.

If we want women to feel safe in the bathroom or anywhere else, we can’t legislate it so. We’ve got to ask more difficult questions and to face much more troublesome realities about who we are as a (predominantly heteronormative) society. 

This isn’t a battle for the safety of stalls for our young women, it’s a battle for the souls of our young men.

I told my friend that he’s not the bad guy and he’s not. The bad guys are straight guys who want to force their way upon women wherever they do this, those who stay silent in the face of them, and those who shut down efforts to call them out as the real problem—a problem a “bathroom bill” does absolutely nothing to address.

Unless we make this the main thing in these conversations, especially in the Church, I think we’re missing the point—and often times on purpose.

Trying really hard to be a good guy…

(All the Gay Things) A Letter From a Tired, Defiant LGBTQ Ally

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All you post about is gay things… Is there something that we need to know about you? Damn, enough is enough. We get it!!! Not everyone hates gay people!!!   – Tammy (a cisgender-heterosexual Christian, posted on my Facebook timeline)

Some days someone just crystallizes everything that you feel is wrong, in a neat, tidy little package. Tammy gave me such a gift yesterday.

In a very compacted space, she managed to include it all: rudeness, privilege, arrogance, apathy, exaggeration—and a good old-fashioned cheap shot involving my sexuality.

Sadly, the content of Tammy’s message isn’t anything new to me. Four years ago a blog post called If I Have Gay Children went viral, and though I’d been a gay-affirming pastor for many years, by that afternoon I’d unexpectedly become an official, globally visible LGBTQ ally, with all that accompanies such a title:

Since then I’ve been attacked and berated daily by snarling Conservative Evangelicals, continually assuring me with great joy of my waiting, extra crispy little corner of Hell.

After losing my job, I’ve since lost a few hundred friends from my former churches, who have either unfriended or unfollowed me, or more often simply gone silent and disconnected from my life.

I’ve been perceived by some members of the extreme Left as using the gay community and having ulterior motives in my ministry.

I’ve been passed over by privately supportive but frightened mainstream Christian publishers for being too vocal on LGBTQ issues, and excluded from Progressive events by those questioning my heart for marginalized people.

And while I can’t honestly say that I love it all, I do gladly welcome it all because it helps me understand in even the smallest of ways what LGBTQ people face every single day and it daily clarifies my calling. It keeps me learning and keeps me focused.

There is nothing about any of the above that I don’t treasure, embrace, and fully rejoice in—and the reason is a response like Tammy’s. 

Her brazen, unsolicited, uninformed salvo saddened me greatly for a number of reasons:

Tammy was a member of a church where I served as a pastor for nearly a decade and knows my heart and my family. I’d considered her a friend. This was the first communication I’d ever received from her on social media. Tammy and I both live in North Carolina, which right now is ground zero for the battle over LGBTQ rights. She is a Christian and in my experience, a very nice person.

Given all that, what’s so sad about Tammy’s comments is that she should know better but she doesn’t,
that she should have more compassion and empathy for hurting folks but she doesn’t,
that she should be using her voice to defend the incessant attacks on the LGBTQ community right now but she isn’t,
that the way she does speak into the fray is to tell me that she’s sick of all my “gay things”.

And this, is why I am an LGBTQ ally; a consistent, loud, unapologetic, unrelenting ally.

I do what I do, not because it’s easy or because I enjoy conflict or to anger former friends or to win the praise of any group of people. I do what I do because I despise inequality, because inequality is being openly championed in the Church and in the courts, because I am so weary of Christian people who are OK with that or simply silent. I do this because my faith compels me to.

Anyone paying attention to the 400+ posts here knows that I talk about far more than simply LGBTQ issues, but the exaggeration is itself illuminating. White, straight, middle class, Christian privilege creates a very low threshold on compassion for the gay community, a quick saturation point after which interest quickly dries up, a short time before “enough is enough.” When you have privilege, any move toward balance is threatening, every word of affirmation seems louder, each victory feels magnified.

In Tammy’s eyes we should be finished with this issue, and people like me should move on to other pressing matters.

But Tammy doesn’t get to choose the matters that are pressing upon my heart. No one does. Not even me.

In areas of equality you don’t stop speaking when people grow weary of hearing you or when adversity comes or even when some progress comes.

You stop speaking when the work is done.

Until the LGBTQ community have every civil right that is afforded to all citizens of the United States, the work is not yet done.
While business are allowed to terminate or refuse service to people for their gender identity and sexual orientation, the work is not yet done.
While LGBTQ people are not welcomed fully into the life of our churches, the work is not yet done.
Until LGBTQ teens are not bullied by peers and families to the point that their only option feels like suicide, the work is not yet done.

I’ll admit it friends, I’m tired right now.

I’m tired of standing in the center of a swirling sh*t storm ever single day.

I’m tired of hateful followers of Jesus claiming that Christ compels them to be horrible to people in the name of loving them.

I’m tired of the same badly interpreted Bible verses being tossed out again and again to justify discrimination.

I’m tired from the heart-wrenching stories LGBTQ people send to me and share with me, because the pastors around them won’t listen or don’t care, or because their Christian parents have shut or kicked them out.

I’m tired of loving families of faith being forced by their churches to choose God or their children.

I’m tired of social media Christian tirades that trivialize the lives, families, loves, and inherent value of people made fully in the image of God.

I’m tired of celebrity evangelists, high-profile pastors, and opportunistic politicians brokering in lazy theology and willingly damaging the people they are charged with protecting.

I’m tired of religious extremists on either side seeing a small fragment of me and thinking they know my totality.

And I’m tired of seeing people like Tammy trying to police someone else’s burden, who want to make people feel guilty for their convictions, and who act as though silence is an option while there is so much work to be done and while so many people still hurting.

I have disappointing news for Tammy and for anyone else who is tired of my many “gay things”:

I’m going to continue to write and share and speak on the topics and in the manner and with the frequency I feel called to, because for me being an ally isn’t a fad or a trend or some cozy, little niche I’m temporarily filling until something else comes along.

It isn’t even voluntary. It’s the authentic response of my heart in real-time to what God has placed there.

To my fellow straight allies and those who are quietly amen-ing right now: Keep going. Speak loudly and repeatedly in your circles of influence. It matters. Share the work of LGBTQ writers who are speaking their truth.

To my friends who are LGBTQ and to their families: I love and respect you, and because I do I will keep speaking, despite any small difficulties I may encounter. I know they all greatly pale in comparison to those you’ve endured and still endure. My allyship is about you.

It’s an honor to know you, to stand beside you and when I can, to take some of the slings and arrows so you don’t have to.

This is what friends do.

Stay tuned social media family:

Many more gay things on the way…

 

 

 

The Most Neglected Tool for Spiritual Growth isn’t the Bible, it’s a Mirror

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When people accept Jesus, I think we should make sure we give them a mirror.

The same goes for baptisms, altar call prayers responses, seminary degrees, and church appointments.

That’s because a mirror is the most powerful, most underrated, and most criminally underutilized tool along most people’s personal spiritual journey.

And sadly the more we walk the road of faith, the less likely we are to pick one up.

The mirror is the place where transformation happens, because there in our self-reflection we find:

the person most responsible for our poor choices in the past.
the person with the most control over who we will become.

The mirror allows us to focus fully on the human being we have both the greatest impact on and the greatest responsibility for, and yet so often we ignore it, preferring to always be about the work of someone else’s renovation.

When it comes to fundamental change though, spirituality has always been about looking inward first. The real work of the soul has always been an inside job and the Bible itself testifies to this.

Those great Old Testament prophets were about holding a mirror up to the people of God and saying, “Take a good, hard look here at who you are and how you’re living and tell me if these things reflect the heart of God! The message was one that may have been heard corporately but had to take root individually.

Jesus would later preach about a Kingdom coming, but that new reality was always something to be received personally, welcomed internally first. The beautiful revolution would come to people’s hearts long before it would ever reach the streets. The very core of the Sermon on the Mount, is that we are to be altered from the inside and that this renovation would compel us to live in such a way that we become others-centered; that we would deny our preferences, position, and comfort for theirs.

Jesus would tell those wishing to follow after him that their most pressing spiritual act was not to judge others, but to love them. The primary calling, was to focus not on another’s actions but on our Christlike response to them.

Even when the Apostle Paul delivered letters addressed to local faith communities, these instructions were always to help believers understand how their personal transformation affected the whole, their place within the bigger body. Again, words heard in community but to be walked out individually.

Our modern Christian culture has largely lost any such thoughtful reflection or personal accountability. We’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that our faith is measured not by the lives we actually live and the contents of our hearts, but by the stances we take, the condemnation we dispense, the causes we defend, the people we chastise, the sides we choose.

We expend all sorts of time and energy looking for the reason our world is so badly broken, and rarely if ever assume it could be us. So few of us care to do the difficult work of relentless self-examination. We’d rather call others out from the false safety of own self-righteousness—habitually non practicing preachers. Most Christians can rattle off a laundry list of go-to Bible quotes, but so rarely do we dig deep to practice the kind or radical, counterintuitive love at the heart of them.

Jesus tells the would-be judge in all of us to deal first with the log of bitterness and hatred in our own eye before attempting to address the speck of such things in the eye of another. And yet, implied in the totality of the Scriptures, is the truth that we will never be finished, never reach completion, never arrive at the place where the priority to police motives or monitor behaviors is not still ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder how different the landscape of the world would look if professed people of faith spent more time in the quiet places seeking revelation, not about the evils of the world out there or regarding the moral failures of others, but about the darkness of our own hearts.

We each could surely devote every waking moment for the rest of our lives to purifying our own agendas and thoughts and actions—and never lack for heavy work.

Christian, do yourself a favor: put down the iPhone and the laptop, put away your signs and bullhorns, stop writing and preaching and proselytizing, set aside your favorite blogs and books, and yes even put down the Bible for a while.

Pick up a mirror, and with as much attention and honesty as you are able, consider what you see and then ask God what you should do about it.

You might experience more growth than you have in a long time. You may find mercy and forgiveness and compassion come more easily, judgment and condemnation less so.

Instead of changing other people, you might change the person you become as you encounter them. 

You might more clearly see the work you still have yet to do in perpetuating the image of Jesus, and you might become more passionate about doing it.

You might better reflect the God you say you worship—and the world might be beautifully altered.