Monthly Archives: August 2013

Called Out to Get…Real?

I am feeling terribly, terribly disillusioned with “my” church right now (I say “my” because I am seriously considering leaving it). I’m blowing its flaws out of proportion, and shrugging its strengths off my shoulder, which of course isn’t fair at all. It’s just that this church makes it so easy to do. I know this post is going to be quite judgmental, but I gotta say…it’s time for another rant.

I spent all day the other day at a girls’/women’s conference put on by a bunch of people who travel the U.S. speaking to women about the importance of being a good steward of your life. It was an all-day event that focused on self-esteem, the importance of mentorship, and finding your identity in Christ. Don’t get me wrong – this is a very good thing to do.  It’s just the way this group approached it was all wrong.

First of all, it was set up just like a church service. The ladies sat in the pews and were spoon-fed talks all day. Even when we broke up into adults and teens, we still didn’t do much discussing – we were just told what mentoring looks like and how it is our duty as women to mentor young people. After the speaking workshops, there was a concert by one of the organization’s singers…oh, and she also gave her testimony.

But that wasn’t what bothered me the most about this conference. What bothered me the most is that the speakers were all young, pretty superstars. One was sixteen and a singer who had recorded music videos and has her music out there for the public to consume. Another was a twenty-something woman who had formerly been a Victoria’s Secret model. She shared her testimony of how dehumanizing the modeling industry is and how grateful she is to God for freeing her from her life of sin. The third speaker – the one who shared her testimony in between songs for the concert – was also young, pretty, and marvelously talented (I’m not quite sure about her exact age).

I’m not trying to belittle the strength of these speakers, or claim that they didn’t have relevant and important things to say. Because they did. But what kind of message is it sending young girls when they are told to look on stage, listen to three beautiful, super skinny, young, extremely successful ex-models and singers give them advice? Even I, a young adult who is mostly happy with my appearance, career, and identity, felt insecurity rushing over me in waves as I listened to these speakers. So I can only imagine how much that feeling saturated the teenage audience (which the event was geared to)! It’s a big problem.

I also noticed something else as I was perusing their merchandise. I wasn’t interested in their t-shirts, but I listened in as two women sifted through shirts together. One told the other that she had already bought her daughter a shirt. She then proceeded to warn her to try the shirts on before buying them because the shirt sizes run so small! The woman’s daughter, who normally wore a medium, had to return her shirt and buy an extra large! What is that?! Do these people really not see the hypocrisy of warning kids that it’s not all glitz and glamour when you’re famous and talented and super-skinny, then turning around and selling a clothing line that runs two sizes smaller than normal? I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not to mention their jeans were ridiculous. Skin tight, literally. Nothing modest about them.

It just made me so upset to sit through that conference. I felt like I was being sold a secular message with a Christian spin on all of it. Sure, we were told to find our identity in Christ, but when young, physically  attractive girls and women were the ones telling us this, the message kind of lost its potency. I felt like they were trying to force Christianity into this hip, feminine, culturally conformative religion instead of one that defies cultural norms, transcends gender identity, and is anything but the “cool” way.

Long story short, the next time my church puts on a Called Out to Get Real conference, I’m staying far, far away.

I’ve Chosen. Gay Marriage Is Right and Good.

As an introvert, I spend a lot of time thinking. Thinking about work, thinking about loved ones, thinking about my faith. Thinking about my faith. I do that A LOT. And sometimes it’s exhausting, like I’ve described in previous posts. So I shared that I would take a break from all this thinking, and all this absorption of knowledge. I would try a  different way, see if trusting my heart leads me to more peace.

And wow, it sure has. I had this brilliant, rare moment of clarity earlier this week. If you read here a lot, you know that I’m struggling with a lot of hot-topic issues—the biggest one being, of course, homosexuality.

My moment of clarity came when I realized that I’d been believing that God affirms same-sex relationships for a while, and that that thin, glass wall that I talked about in this post consisted of nothing more than fear. Plain, silly, unnecessary fear. Fear of being wrong, fear that I was taking a step away from God. Lots of fear.

And living in fear is no way to live. So I let go of it, and I drove it away, In one fell swoop I banished the fear and embraced a belief that had worked its way into my heart long before I expressed my position verbally.

I affirm gay relationships. Homosexuality? Nothing sinful about it at all.

It took me nearly a year to come this place. A year of crying and praying and debating and thinking and writing and speaking. A year of challenging those around me, and challenging myself. A year of second glances, reexamination of the scriptures I hold dear, a year of frustration when I finally accepted that the Bible doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and not all its teachings are universally applicable.

A year of fury at the Church for indoctrinating homophobia into me, and a year of examining every bit of information about the gay community I’d been exposed to, and realizing with shocking disgust that a lot of it was just stuff the Church wanted me to believe because they can’t handle the idea of a gay person who loves Jesus.

I’ve got a long road ahead of me. Parents and friends who will shake their heads, sad to see that I’ve “compromised scripture” and “fallen into the trap of worldliness.” I know the comments will come, because a lot of my loved ones are still living in that terrible trap of homophobia.

But I feel this need, this desperate longing to educate the people I love, to rescue them from these awful ideas they have about the LGBT community, ideas that I used to have. I’ve got a fire lit inside me, because I’m the sort of person who never does things half way. If I’m going to embrace a gay-affirming interpretation of scripture, I’m also going to put myself out there to defend it, and commit to making sure people know that I won’t stand for homophobic remarks. I won’t stand for hate.

I’ll stand for love. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Being gay is more than attractions, more than feelings….it’s about the way a particular person is hardwired to love. And if I deny love, I’m denying everything Jesus Christ lived and died for.

Disclaimer: Please understand that when I use the word “homophobia” I’m talking about the fear that drives people to believe there’s no way being gay is an orientation. I am NOT talking about the theological position that homosexuality is sinful. I am talking about behaviors, mindsets, words, and opinions about gay people that are inherently harmful. 

Who is God? Judge or Father?

As of a few weeks ago, I made a commitment to read through the entire Bible. I’ve never done it before, and in light of the confusing, unclear (but exciting!) path that my faith journey has turned down recently, I thought I ought to discover what exactly this sacred text has to say. So I started in Genesis, and I’m reading 2-4 chapters a day. I try to think about the Gospel and Jesus’s words and life as I read through these awful stories of trickery, violence, human foolishness, and a God who seems more like an irate, arbitrarily furious deity whose decisions and words seem to have so very little in common with the Jesus of the New Testament.

So all this reading and reflecting got me to thinking…who is God? Is He a wrathful, spiteful, angry Judge who unleashes unbounded amounts of retribution on the wicked? (Wikipedia lists 32 examples in the Old Testament where God kills people, either because of they were wicked, their parent committed a sin, or they disobeyed God)

Or is He the gracious, beautiful Father who embodies everything that is Love? (1 John 4:8, Romans 8:37-39, John 3:16, Psalm 36:5, and many others)

I know He’s both. I know that He is a God of wrath as fully as he is a God love, that He is wrathful because He hates sin, and that he is merciful because he loves people. In my head, this article makes perfect sense.

But in my heart, I can’t make sense of a God who would command genocide (1 Samuel 15:2-3), or who would “walk with” one who commits genocide in His name (Joshua 6:20-27). These aren’t really about the wicked receiving their comeuppance; they’re about conquest, about the spreading of the Israelite nation, or about revenge for wrongs done to the Israelite nation. Nothing about these acts of violence is righteous. Nothing in them lines up at all with the Jesus of the New Testament who loves everyone He ministered to with a perfect and everlasting love.

They just don’t add up.

So here’s what I am wondering. I’m not so sure anymore that those Old Testament stories of violence are an accurate picture of my Savior. I think they are probably partially or mostly true, but as I read them I find it to be more and more likely that these stories are inflected with embellishment, that they are distortions and expansions of what actually happened in history. And perhaps, even more than that, maybe they depict MAN’s flawed perspective of God, and don’t necessarily reflect the true character of God? I mean, God sure seemed to be pretty accommodating to all the big patriarchs of Genesis. He seemed more like man’s idea of God than the perfect, holy, unfathomable God we see in the New Testament.

I mean for goodness’ sakes, in Genesis we’ve got stuff like Abraham striking a bargain with God to save a city (Genesis 18:16-33), and God making all of Abimelech’s household sick, and threatening to kill Abimilech, all because Abraham lied about Sarah (Genesis 20). These are just two examples of many in which God seems to be a character in a story instead of the Master orchestrating it all.

So I guess…I wrote all this just  to say, I think I’m going to tread carefully as I wind my way  through the Old Testament, and take its depictions of God with a grain of salt.

A Biblical Defense of Same-Sex Relationships

It should come as no surprise by now for me to say that I love blogs. I only discovered what a gift they are to my thirst for knowledge and search for different opinions very recently, but I’ve loved learning from so many different people. So I wanted to share a comment on a blog post that I read in search of a biblical interpretation that supports same-sex relationships. It’s one of the smartest, most well-reasoned ideas I’ve ever heard in this debate:

I’ve seen this “all or nothing” house of cards logic used all too often by Christians attempting to defend their particular interpretation of what the Bible says. Examples: “If evolution is true, then the entire Bible is false and God is a liar.” “If the events of Genesis didn’t take place exactly and literally as depicted, then the entire Bible is false and we have no basis for faith.” “Unless every single passage has been perfectly interpreted every single time by every single scholar to ever crack open a Bible, then you cannot trust any of it”.

I find this a rather disrespectful view of the Bible, because it ignores the obvious fact that humans are the ones reading the words, and it removes all possibility of human error from the discussion. The Bible’s perfection does not mean people of faith are never going to misinterpret it, because *people* are imperfect. And when we try to pretend human interpretation and human bias and human error are magically erased by the *Bible’s* inerrant-ness, we end up with a theology that has no means to grow, an understanding of God and people that has no room to deepen and expand, and a religion that has little bearing upon real people and their actual problems and challenges.

Sorry, but the “human part of the puzzle”, as you phrase it, is EXTREMELY important. God did not speak the Bible into existence in a void; it was given to struggling, imperfect people who had to then decide what it means for them and their lives. The Bible, God-breathed or not, is full of human stories and human foibles and human poems and…well, human-ness. If people have absolutely no bearing on the Bible and what it means, when why does every single story and letter and poem begin with who wrote it, who they wrote it to, and when they wrote it? If every single jot and letter of the Bible is God-inspired, then what other purpose would those place-and-time markers serve but to ground the writing in the human experience? *This* time, *this* place, to *this* people.

The problem, as I see it, is this:

You and others who hold to the “traditional” interpretation hear gay marriage supporters saying something like this: “These passages (which clearly condemn all homosexuality but we’re going to pretend they don’t) are not binding upon people now because certain passages only apply to certain time periods.”

While what Michelle, Cannon, and others who have reached similar conclusions are actually saying is this: “These passages, which talk about sex between people of the same gender, are part of a larger narrative condemning idol worship and pagan religious practices of the time. Given this context, it is inconsistent to insist these passages condemn *all* homosexual behavior, just like it would be inconsistent to insist that passages condemning incest or rape are talking about *all* heterosexual behavior.”

It’s not a question of whether these passages are “wrong” or “right”…it’s a question of whether they apply to a specific situation: loving monogamous homosexual couples who wish to get married.

Looking at the context and concluding that certain verses don’t apply to certain situations is not the same as saying they don’t apply at all, ever, or that they don’t matter, or that the entire Bible is wrong. It would be silly to say that every single Bible verse automatically applies to every single possible situation by mere virtue of it being Scripture, so in that sense I suppose we *are* “picking and choosing” which verses to apply where. But just as you wouldn’t use a verse dealing with hair coverings or idols or widows to counsel a couple dealing with divorce, it doesn’t make sense to use a Bible verse dealing with the worship of pagan idols to condemn a same-sex couple that wishes to marry and start a family together. Not because those verses are “wrong”, but because they simply have nothing to do with situation at hand.

Here is the web page I pulled this comment from. It’s really good—you should check it out.

Voices

If there’s anything I know, it’s that everybody has an opinion about everything. Everybody thinks they’ve got absolute truth nailed down, and that if everybody else would think the way they would, this world would basically be a utopia.

Francis Collins teaches me that Christianity and evolution can coexist in harmony. Ken Ham teaches me that science supports young earth Creationism exclusively.

Rachel Held Evans teaches me that doubt is good and even essential to my faith in God. Someone in my church whose name I’ll keep confidential teaches me that doubt is straight from the devil.

Justin Lee teaches me that love fulfills the law, and any expression of love – including same-sex romantic love – is affirmed by God. Ron Belgau teaches me that the male/female design for marriage is more than a metaphor for Christ and his bride, and that if we mess with the male/female design, we mess with the Gospel.

My mom teaches me that there is room in heaven for people who have never heard the name of Jesus. My dad teaches me that there isn’t.

A cacophony of voices, each darn sure that their way is God’s way, that their interpretation of scripture is God’s immutable Word, that their understanding of the world around them is a manifestation of the Ultimate Truth of God. Even as I type these words I can hear the push back: “These beliefs aren’t mine, they come from the divinely inspired Word of God!”, “You can’t read the Bible in a vacuum; its historical, religious, and cultural context is vital to understanding it!”, “You can’t trust your heart; it’s corrupted by sin!”, “Your conscience was given to you by God to help you determine right from wrong!”. And on it goes.  And with every voice that vies for attention in my mind and heart and life, the more desperate I feel to know who is right, and the more I feel like I am drowning in all this knowledge I’m absorbing.

When these voices collide in me, it feels so hopeless. It feels as if for any belief out there, you can find the knowledge to back it up. Like belief drives knowledge, and no matter how wrong the belief is, you can find the resources to give it rational and logical validity.

So where does that leave me? If you can find a way for two fundamentally opposing ideas to both make sense within this world, then how can you find truth within this world at all?

Is it even possible? Or are we really just required to believe truth, even though we can’t reinforce it with general revelation?

All I know is, I’m tired of how inadequate knowledge is. I think I’m going to try trusting my heart for a while instead.

What Is Love?

What is love? Love is Jesus, who at the end of his life endured betrayal, mockery, and scorn. He was spat upon, whipped beyond the point of recognition, had sharp thorns thrust upon his head. He was publicly shamed through the streets of Jerusalem, and he endured the most torturous form of execution known to man. And as he hung on those beams of wood, while his blood pooled around his body and on the ground and the crowds below made a spectacle of his death, he still found it in his heart to plead, “Father, please forgive them.”

This is love. A love that is not bound by any conditions, not even by the conditions of horrific abuse. A love that can endure the worst of the evil this world has to offer, and look at the faces of those committing that evil, and ask God for their forgiveness anyway. A love that can cut a beeline through all the pious, acceptable, righteous people in society and seek out the social outcasts: the lepers and taxcollectors, prostitutes and adulterers, the voiceless, the hurting.

This is love. This is the standard that I am called to. And this is why God never asked us to strive to love with our own hearts, because the truth is that I am no less broken than the outcasts who flocked to the side of the Lord. I am just a different kind of broken, and so the only kind of real love that I have to offer the world is the perfect, holy, beautiful love of God, working through me, his vessel.

I Think Jesus Is Okay with Questions

Jesus of Nazareth is my model for how to live the Christian life, yes? His words, his lifestyle, his actions, etc. are all things that I should admire and desire to live up to.

So, why do I feel like the churches I’ve always been a part of are doing a very poor job of communicating that? They say such things in sermons and Sunday school, yeah, but then they get right on top of blowing doctrine out of proportion and minimalizing the sorts of things that are really hard to do and be, the sorts of things Jesus did.

Because here’s the thing. Jesus had so very little to say about doctrine. You didn’t see him in long, drawn out discussions about things like predestination, or exclusivism, or gender roles. He made statements of truth about such things, yes, but he didn’t get all caught up in them like we do so much today.

That wasn’t what Jesus was about. He was about so very much more. He taught a lot of things, yes, but only some were doctrinal things. He left most of that up to the Pharisees. Instead, he talked about things like the the first shall be last, and demanding that we surrender all for him, and that we see the worth of people instead of seeing their status as social outcasts.

In his three years of ministry, Jesus seemed to me to be very much concerned with sometimes gently, sometimes radically, but always lovingly drawing his disciples out of the comfort zones of their society.  He challenged them to think differently about the Samaritans by talking to a Samaritan woman, and telling a story about a benevolent Samaritan. He urged the rich to leave behind their wealth for him.  I could go on and on about the radical ways Jesus asked more of his followers. And very little of it had to do with believing the right doctrines, and a lot to do with living a life of radical love for God.

In fact, when it came to doctrine, Jesus had precious little desire to give concrete answers, which is something that both confounds me and at the same time lightens this burden I have to “know it all”. When the Pharisees fired questions at him, he answered by turning things right back on them. When the disciples expressed confusion to him, he gently challenged them to look at things in a different light instead of giving them an easy response.

So, I think if Jesus were here with me right now, he’d be okay with my questions. I think he’d be more concerned with my lack of commitment to ministering to the poor and the broken than what I’m currently thinking about all the hot-button issues. I think, if he were here right now, Jesus would do a wonderful job of giving me perspective, and helping me realize how small my questions really are in the larger scheme of things.

———

P.S. Please note that while this may not come across above, understand that I do think doctrine is important. Having a framework for my faith in Christ is important. It’s just wrong of me to let my pursuit of right doctrine overshadow the much more real command Jesus gave to love the least of these.

Homosexuality: Is It Okay by God or Not?! I Want an Answer Already!

A word of warning: this post isn’t going to be pretty. And it’s going to be quite rambly and unfocused.

A while back I posted about fence-sitting, and how I sometimes feel wishy-washy because I haven’t taken a stand on a lot of big issues. In that post, I wrote that this place where I am is okay, and that I’m on a journey of discovery and that I need to be patient about seeking these answers.

But today I don’t feel that way. Today I’m so angry, and frustrated, and upset with myself. Frustrated with this sense of paralysis, this gut-wrenching fear in the face of taking a stand about my beliefs. See, I’m still participating in the comments section of this blog post. And the stuff I’m reading there, as well as the LGBT-affirming arguments I’ve read elsewhere, are pushing me closer and closer to breaking through that glass wall I talked about in my last post. The idea that God blesses same-sex marriage seems so easy, so clear, so right when I read those comments.

Then I called my mom. And I talked to her about all this, about my feelings and opinions and whatnot. And she stated to me with so much conviction, so much certainty, that homosexuality is wrong. I know she didn’t mean to – and she certainly didn’t imply anything of the sort – but talking with her made me feel like questioning her interpretation is the same as questioning my very Creator. And then I thought about all the other people in my life who I love deeply, people who I cherish and admire and respect so much.

And I think, what am I doing?! What am I doing, questioning these people’s ideas about homosexuality? They’re so much older than me, so much wiser and so much more knowledgeable than I am. I mean really, what do I know?

But here’s the thing…the thing I cannot lose sight of in all this…the thing that keeps me looking heavenward. My loved ones, my pastor, my church, and even my religious tradition don’t speak for God. All are flawed, all make mistakes, all have the capacity, just as I do, to treat the scriptures wrongly.

So where does that leave me? My mom might be wrong to say homosexuality is a sin. I might be wrong because the idea that God blesses same-sex relationships makes so much more sense to me than my mom’s ideas.  As I’ve so frustratingly discovered, there are a multitude of ways to interpret the biblical passages about homosexuality, and most are quite well thought out, and fit into some sort of larger biblical framework – and they all make arguments that are in direct opposition to each other! What the blazes am I supposed to believe?!

So that’s where my feelings are…today, at least. Maybe tomorrow will bring some new enlightenment that I hadn’t considered before.

A Wall of Glass and Brick

The homosexuality debate. It’s something I’ve been engaged in with my lips, writing, heart, and mind for the last several months. Ever since I stumbled across the blog I wrote about here, I’ve been wrestling with the “Side A” (God blesses monogamous, loving same-sex relationships) and “Side B” (God designed sexuality for a man and a woman only) viewpoints. I’ve been reading and rereading the various arguments, thinking about them with a depth that is making me crazy, and begging God to help me make sense of it all.

See, in my last post, I talked about how I’m giving my heart permission to have a say in how I reframe my religion, and how I construct something new out of the broken mess it has become since I started asking questions. And every time I look at the two sides of the homosexuality debate, my heart pleads, begs, demands that I embrace a Side A interpretation of Scripture.

I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a room, Side A on one side and Side B on the other, with walls separating me from each side. Of course, being the good little Christian girl that I was, I used to stand squarely in the middle of Side B. But now I’ve strayed into this safe middle ground where I’m not taking a stand one way or the other. And as I’ve explored the two sides, with my heart and my head both intact, I’ve noticed something beginning to happen. With every story I read about a gay person, every theological argument, every heartbreaking or informative interview I listen to, I see the walls separating me from Side A and Side B begin to change. Side B is becoming a brick wall: hard, rough, impenetrable and cold. Unloving. So unlike God. And Side A is becoming like a thin, fragile screen of glass, with the light of Christ’s love on the other side begging to be entered into.

So here I stand, glancing back and forth at these two walls. I look at the brick, and where once I used to see God there, now I see only flawed, human ideas, rough and stubborn and empty of grace. And I look at the glass, and I see freedom and acceptance of love in all its romantic forms. I reach my hand out and touch the glass, curl my fingers into a fist and take a deep breath.

But I just can’t do it. I just can’t break through that glass, break into a place where I joyously affirm gay relationships as an expression of love that is pleasing to God. Why? I’m not sure. I want to say it’s because I don’t know enough yet, I haven’t scrutinized every brick on Side B yet.

Yet if I’m honest, I know that isn’t it. I don’t need to have exhaustive knowledge of a topic to form an opinion about it. I need to be informed, yes, but there comes a point where you use lack of knowledge as an excuse to keep from taking a stand. And I’m quite sure I’ve reached that point.

So I think I know the true reason for my hesitancy, and it’s not a very good one. I think it may be because I’m a coward. I’m terrified of being wrong, terrified of what the Christians around me will think when they know (if there’s one thing I’m stubborn about, it’s my refusal to keep my beliefs in the closet), terrified that this will be a step away from God instead of a step closer to Him, even though my heart and my mind are telling me so many things to the contrary.

So pray for me. Pray that I would find the courage to break the glass, to step into an affirming view of homosexuality with no trepidation, no fear, no guilt.  Pray that I would find a way to break out of this paralyzing fear. Pray that I would come to a full acceptance of love in all its forms. I’m so close, my heart is so desperate to believe. But I still haven’t found a way to cast out the coward in me.

I Yearn

Part of me yearns to return to the days when my Christian faith was easy. When it was so neatly partitioned into little categories that were so neatly placed inside a package and that package was wrapped up tightly and prettily, never to be opened. Part of me yearns for the ease and confidence with which I could answer every hard question about God and life and suffering and existence. Christianity felt so much simpler back then, so much easier to nail down and understand. I yearn for that simplicity, that time when everything made sense and God felt a little more comprehensible.

And I mourn all those things too. I think more than anything, I mourn the ease with which I used to fit into my community of Christians, the ease with which I understood them and they understood me. Because I don’t anymore. Church isn’t a comfort to me anymore. I listen to the sermons, and where before I would have been nodding my head in agreement and scrambling to write down the pastor’s “words of wisdom”, now, instead, I sit through the sermon and analyze it to pieces. I see red flags once every like five sentences. I write challenging questions in my notebook instead of words of support for my pastor’s ideas. And after the sermon, I look back and find that I disagree with more than I agree with.

So I mourn that sense of community, that sense of corporate belief. Instead I feel compelled to keep my mouth shut while I’m in church, because voicing my new differences of opinion would be met with nothing but discordance, or concern, or trite, easy answers that don’t make sense anymore – and I’ve found that out the hard way. Church used to be a place where I felt comfortable and safe and understood. Now it is a place where I feel frustration, and loneliness, and a sense that I don’t belong anymore.

So there’s a lot that I’ve lost as I’ve taken this huge step back from the doctrines I’ve grown up with. Ideas that were once crystal clear, black and white, are now hopeless shades of gray. I feel trepidation instead of comfort now every time I walk into a sanctuary.

But. Oh, thank God for the “but”. But I have gained so, so very much more than I have lost. I have realized and rejected an ingrained sense of homophobia that I didn’t realize I had. My eyes have become opened to the true meaning of Christianity in a way I had never fully grasped before because my vision was so clouded by doctrine. God. Oh, God! God is so much bigger to me now…so much more glorious and incomprehensible and loving and just. And I have a much more open heart, a heart that is willing to listen to people and hear their take on things. A heart that has as big a place in driving my exploration of doctrine as my mind does.

I miss fundamentalism sometimes. I mourn its loss. But I’m also so glad, gladder than I can begin to express, that God has freed me from it. Because I’m pretty sure that He is just as present in this new doubt-filled, questioning faith that I have as He was in that old, stale, doctrine-driven faith that I have left far behind.