Monthly Archives: December 2013

How Do We Approach Controversy?

It’s so hard to find the balance between speaking up for what you believe in, and letting things go in favor of promoting unity within the body of Christ. All last night and into today, the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy riddled its way through my Facebook news feed. I read up on the controversy, listening to voices on both extremes of the liberal/conservative spectrum. I listened to one video that raged against the fakeness and homophobic hatred of the Duck Dynasty clan, and I read another article that called conservatives to rally around Robertson and fight against the wrongfulness of his suspension.

A couple of articles, such as this one, and this one, rose above the noise for me as honest and convicting responses to Robertson’s statements and A&E’s decision to suspend him. What struck me as particularly honest about these articles is that they don’t try to justify what Robertson said. Because seriously, what he said was vitriolic and dehumanizing, even if that wasn’t his intent. And I don’t care what your beliefs about homosexuality are—if you believe that Phil’s statements reflect the heart of Jesus, I think you’d be dead wrong. Jesus was very much in the business of instilling worth into his listeners and affirming their humanity. On the contrary, what Phil said reduced gay and lesbian human beings to sex acts. And that is wrong.

Anyway…everything I said in the preceding paragraph was my initial response to the controversy. I’ll admit that I then proceeded to offer my input all over Facebook about how wrong Robertson was and how there are consequences when you abuse your right to free speech in such a manner.

I’m not sure yet if that was a good idea, because I don’t know where the balance is. As an LGBT ally and as a Christian, I want to stand against remarks such as Robertson’s, but I also feel that at some point, I’m doing more harm than good by adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. But on the other hand, standing back and saying, “Come on now, let’s just love everybody,” isn’t really an effective response either. I don’t want to stay out of it when someone who is a public face for Christianity in this country compares homosexuality to bestiality and worse, but I also don’t want to contribute to widening the rift between the gay and Christian communities—or the liberal and conservative groups either, for that matter.

I suppose the answer is to approach the issue with love as the focus. Problem is, I’m pretty sure everyone—ranging from those lobbying to support Phil to those decrying him as homophobic—thinks they’re approaching this issue with love as the focus. It’s all quite disheartening, if you ask me. But the way I see it, the real demonstration of love is the one that can see both sides of the coin. The one that can look at what Phil said and ask, “How would a gay person feel if he read this?” I’d imagine he’d feel pretty terrible. And the other question we should ask is, “What was the condition of Phil’s heart when he said what he said?” What he said may have been crass and vulgar, but the capstone of his comments was a call to love. And we can’t ignore that and paint him as an evil person representing evil things, as much as we might think he deserves it.

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Is Sin Relative?

This question has been nagging me off and on for months. I’ve been pondering it in my head for just as long, completely at a loss as to how to construct a framework for tackling it. Sin is such a grave thing in this world, because of the harm it inflicts and because it grieves the heart of God so much. So when I discuss how we define sin and what constitutes sin, I know it is an extremely important conversation.

When I wonder if sin is relative, what I am really wondering is if the conscience of man is really as homogeneous as I’ve always thought it is. There are so many examples of lifestyles and practices littered throughout history that were considered perfectly acceptable in a certain day, but would indisputably be considered sins today. And even within the Christian community, we don’t always agree about whether or not certain practices are sinful.

So, a few examples. The first one that comes to mind is drinking. I grew up entirely oblivious of alcohol or its effects. Neither of my parents ever drank a drop during my lifetime (or at least they didn’t around me), and we never had alcohol in our home. It was never really very clear to me as to whether or not my dad considered drinking a sin, or if he just did not want anyone in his home to be exposed to its intoxicating effects. Either way, I’d always had a very negative mental association with drinking because of how I was raised.

Nonetheless, today I’ve completely abandoned that exclusively negative association. Alcohol can be used abusively, or it can be used responsibly. The extent to which consuming it is a sin depends on the person who is drinking, and I don’t think there is anything inherently sinful about consuming alcohol. After all, Jesus drank wine and offered it to his disciples at the Last Supper, and there’s no way on earth I’m going to presume to impose laws on myself that Jesus himself did not follow.

Now, let’s consider a behavior that is obviously sinful—a behavior that even non-Christians wouldn’t condone: an alcoholic having a drink. Clearly, for this person it is very sinful to drink, and the reason is that such a person would have a past of alcohol abuse, whereas I wouldn’t, and therefore there’s nothing wrong with me drinking. So the alcoholic’s definition of sin depends on his circumstances, and on the bad choices he has made in the past—not on any particular, immutable, biblical law (which is where Christians usually turn when defining sin). The alcoholic’s life is different from mine, so having a drink means something entirely different for him than it does for me.

Another example that I think about sometimes is polygamy. All of the Old Testament patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.,—had multiple wives. Yet it is an unspoken acknowledgement among most modern evangelical Christians that polygamy is a distortion of God’s design for marriage because the commitment of one man and and one woman only is not present. Yet God never seems too concerned with reprimanding these patriarchs’ marriages. You would think sin—especially a sin against the sacrament of marriage—would be a big stumbling block for these men. But on the contrary, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are all praised and commended for their extraordinary faith. They are all men of God, and although I’m sure they weren’t perfect, I find it to be interesting that their faith and their commitment to Yahweh would be such an abundant, driving force in their lives when such a “grievous sin” was also present.

These are only a few examples, and I’m sure I could come up with many, many more. The more I  think about sin, the more it feels like something that is a personal affront to God, a personal violation of the conscience God has given us. I think it’s a very legitimate question to ask whether our consciences are all the same, because some things that are a major stumbling block to one person’s relationship with God doesn’t even faze another’s. And sometimes outside factors, such as culture and upbringing, also shape our consciences. Such things make it very difficult for me to fathom the idea of a Moral Law written on the hearts of all men. Sometimes, ideas such as the one shared in this blog post make more sense now than they used to. Really, I don’t know what to make of such arguments, because they strike me as valid, but I’m not sure how they fit within the Christian worldview.

It is all quite complicated, and a lot to ponder. I’ll probably write more about this topic in the future, because I am clearly nowhere near a resolution at this point.

To Those Who Are Gay, Become as One Who Is Gay

I bring up the topic of homosexuality quite a bit on this blog, and I ask myself why sometimes. Why do I feel such a burden for sexual minorities? Such a need to listen to their experiences and read about their stories and express what I’ve learned in writing? I can’t really say why except to wonder if it is a burden God himself has placed on my heart. Or maybe it’s because I feel like I have to seriously overcompensate, because most church people I know don’t listen at all. Or maybe…maybe it’s just that I’ve always felt compassion for those who have been treated unfairly. And in this day and this society and this time, precious few people groups have been treated more unfairly by the Church than the LGBT community.

A little while ago, I discovered Stephen’s Sacred Tension blog. I started reading it…and I couldn’t stop. His words struck me so deeply and filled me with a boiling rage because of what my fellow Christians are responsible for, and what we will have to answer for one day. And I thought about all the things that conservative Christians I know have to say about homosexuality, such as flippantly comparing it to adultery, or defining it exclusively in terms of sexual urge. And even more subtle jabs, such as talking about how gay feelings are something that can be healed by God, and that if a person hasn’t experienced that healing, it means they haven’t surrendered their will to the Lord and submitted to the process of sanctification.

One post in particular that Stephen wrote got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to love. Here’s an excerpt:

“I am not asking you to change your beliefs. I am asking you to see that your beliefs have consequences. If you are conservative when it comes to this subject, my intent is not to convince you that homosexuality is right in God’s eyes.

Instead, my goal is to convince you of the price of your words, because there is a price – a terrible price. Most Christians believe they speak eloquently and wisely on this topic, but as long as they fail to realize the cost of their words, they will be babbling uselessly to those who are practically dying to hear the gospel of love. My goal is to show you what it really means when you say, “homosexuality is a sin.”

No matter what you mean to say, what is often heard (and what I often heard) when Christians condemned homosexuality was not a condemnation of sex, but a condemnation of love.

A condemnation of having someone to be with in your old age.

Of having someone warm to be with you at night.

Of having someone to raise a family with.”

I hate to say it, but most conservative Christians are entirely insensitive to how members of the LGBT community perceive the message that homosexuality is a sin. And I wonder if this is because they are afraid—afraid to have their own perspective challenged, afraid to wonder what it will mean to admit that gay people do not associate being gay with sex and promiscuity so much as they associate it with their capacity love another person romantically. Because if Christians admit that, then suddenly the whole game changes. Suddenly what they’re asking LGBT people for when they ask them not to sin isn’t just to quit sleeping around. They’re asking them to give up on marriage, and romance, and family.

Or at least, that is how gay people see it.

And if we fail to put ourselves in the shoes of the LGBT community, then we fail to love them. It’s really that simple.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says this:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”

Of course Paul isn’t just talking about becoming as a Jew, or as those under the law or without it, or as the weak. He became all things to all men. And as believers in Christ, you and I are called to be the same. To those who are gay, become as one who is gay. See the world through their eyes. Join in their suffering. For goodness’ sakes, listen to them when they say, as Stephen does, that calling homosexuality a sin makes them feel like a very integral part of them is broken. Listen to them when they say they can’t change their attractions, they can’t become straight. Until you do…until you listen to them, and open your heart to what they are trying to tell you, I really believe you are failing your LGBT brothers and sisters. And I believe you are failing God’s call to love.

Growing and Learning

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting here lately. I think it’s because the year is drawing to a close, so it feels like an appropriate time for reflection. And looking back, it boggles my mind to think how about the huge, terrifying twists and turns my faith has traveled through over the last year. The person I am now, the perspective I have now about God and faith and what it means to be a committed follower of Christ—it’s all virtually unrecognizable compared to the faith I had a little more than a year ago.

I’ve been told by some whom I love that this is a bad thing. That I’ve fallen off the wagon, I’ve strayed from the path, I’ve let the world taint the rightness of my walk with God.

At first I was tormented by the thought that they might be right. Now I’m not anymore. Instead, I feel like my spiritual growth has been positively exponential during this past year. A desire has awakened in me. It’s something inexplicable and exhilarating all at once. Every day now I’m thinking about God and what he means to me, or I’m writing about my faith here, or I’m cracking open my Bible and letting its words bore into my heart and mind in a way they never have before. I’m learning to invest myself deeply into this Christian walk, and I’m learning, little by little, to let go of my preconceived notions about who God is.

It’s so interesting to me how the hills and valleys of Christian spirituality work. If you look through my archives, you’ll see posts like this one where I was weary to death of all the searching. I was ready to toss the books and podcasts and blogs aside and quit learning from them. Today, though, I’m more grateful than ever for these resources. I’m grateful for these men and women of God who have so fearlessly shared their thoughts and experiences with the world. I’m grateful because their journeys have played a role in shaping mine. And that is exactly what the Body of Christ is supposed to do.

Today I’m not weary. I’m eager, and I’m hopeful. And my heart is bursting with the gladness of knowing that my God is good. All the time. And I think I’ve tapped into that joy because I’ve been facing my doubts head-on. I’ve been honest with myself and I’ve asked the hard questions and right now, where I am…there’s no way I could ever not believe in God. And I know that belief is mine, because I’ve given myself the freedom to wonder if the alternative might be true. And in my head, a world without God, a world without my savior…is downright inconceivable.

So I’m going to keep plugging on. I’m going to keep developing, learning, growing. I’m going to keep anticipating what new lessons in boldness, love, humility, faith, gentleness, etc., etc., God has planned to teach me. Because I love Him, and He is, and always will be, my Lord and Savior.

Love Is the Cornerstone

It is quite a tricky thing to find a balance in your beliefs. I want to be open-minded enough that I am receptive and submissive when God works in me to abolish beliefs that are not of him. But I also want to be firmly convicted about the beliefs that I trust in my gut are of God.

I think I’m learning, slowly, that the standard by which my beliefs ought to be measured is love. After all, 1 John 4:8 tells me that God is love. So if love is the essence of the Father, the quality that above all others that characterizes him, I think it is also the quality by which all my beliefs ought to be measured.

For example, one issue I am struggling to come to terms with right now is the role of women in institutionalized religion. I’m pretty sure that I have slowly but surely become an egalitarian, and I’m also pretty sure that this is because love says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Love does not elevate one gender over another, members of one social class over another, members of one ethnicity over another. Love says we are all on level playing ground, and that our roles in our families, our churches, and our society should be based on the unique qualities God has gifted us with, and not our gender.

Given this idea of love as the cornerstone upon which we ought to build our doctrines, I find it fascinating that love is the one thing that I feel Christians can agree on. We all know what it looks like to treat another with selfless love, and we all know what it looks like when we’re just pointing fingers or lifting ourselves up at the expense of another. Love, I think, is the glue that unifies the Body of Christ.

And I find that to be just beautiful, because God is Love.

The Church and Homophobia: A Few Anectodes

I’ve been told that the Church (meaning, in this context, those who call themselves conservative Christians) in this nation is not homophobic, that we are just firm in standing against sin. I’ve been told that we don’t really treat homosexuality as any more or less of a sin than anything else the Bible condemns. And for most of my life, I believed that was true.

Not anymore.

Someone I know once said to me that the Church is like a bunch of fish in a pond. The pond is homophobia. We swim in it, and it is so familiar, so easy, so comfortable to us. We just slide and dive through it, and we don’t even realize what we’re surrounding ourselves with. It doesn’t look like hate and fear, but if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s often what we feel for “them”, the LGBT community. It doesn’t look like fear. It just looks like a faceless acronym that is firmly entrenched in our heads but nowhere near our hearts. And it doesn’t feel like we’re accusing anyone of anything, or painting anyone in a caricature, or drawing circles in the sand, but that’s what we’re doing.

I say these things from time to time, but I always get push-back when I say them to other Christians. So, to make it clear why I think this way, here are a few short stories from my own life that illustrate the homophobia that I have seen displayed by Christians in my life. And I’m not just pointing fingers here, because a couple of these stories are my own, before this book opened my eyes wide. Just as a short disclaimer, my stories mostly involve the way I internally processed the issue of homosexuality, and not much else. Growing up I was never very close to anyone who was gay, and the friends I did have who were gay never confided in me. Looking back, that might be a blessing, because I don’t know how I would have reacted.

Anyway, here’s what I want you to think about as you read: none of these stories seem to perpetuate hate. They don’t seem extreme or Bible-bashing or starkly anti-gay. But they are. It’s in the undercurrent. It’s in the attitude behind the words and the choices. But that doesn’t make it any less hurtful to our witness as followers of Christ.

*****

I was a senior in college, and I was sitting on my bed doing homework when my roommate walked into our room. She entered with a flurry of energy, and I could tell straight away that she was agitated about something. She said to me, with this voice that was so firm and decisive, “Tiffani, I joined the Gay-Straight Alliance group on campus.” I blinked in surprise, and the wheels in my brain started to turn. I wasn’t really sure how to respond, so I just laughed nervously and gave her half-hearted, totally insincere affirmation. But in my mind I was thinking…what is she doing? She knows homosexuality is a sin, and she knows she really shouldn’t be supporting sin. I don’t understand why she’s joined this group at all.

But the thing was, the only thing I knew about that group was what it was called. People who say they are gay teaming up with “normal” people and setting out to convince the campus that being gay is normal too. Or at least, that’s the mental description that flooded my mind when my roommate told me the name of the group. Because really, what else could a group like that be about? No way it had anything to do with spiritually and emotionally supporting struggling, lonely gay students who had—God help them—chosen to attend a Christian college best known for its conservative values. In my mind, all I saw was my friend’s beliefs being compromised by weirdos who had turned their backs on God. Never mind that she hadn’t said a thing about what she believes concerning homosexuality. Never mind that all she wanted to do by joining that group was to love and support students who in all likelihood felt ostracized.

That never entered my mind, and that’s because in my mind, gay people didn’t need support so much as they needed to be told their live were sinful. And I believed that because I was homophobic at the time.

*****

This past August, I attended a girls’/women’s conference at my church. I blogged about it in this post. Throughout the day, they had breaks every so often. During one of these breaks I struck up a conversation with an older woman in the pew behind me. We made small talk for a bit, and I ended up asking her if this was her home church. She said it was, and that she and her husband had recently switched churches. They had been going to a United Methodist church in town. My interest was instantly piqued, because I’d been browsing around on Sundays looking for a new church to attend, and I’d heard a lot about this one and had attended it the previous week. So I asked the woman what she thought of it, and why she left it. I saw her demeanor change instantly. And she said to me, in a tone so cold and disdainful that I regretted asking, “We left because the Methodists don’t take the Bible seriously, and they refuse to take a stand on homosexuality.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I was so angry and frustrated. Until I’d asked her about the church, she’d been very kind and friendly. But it was like the topic of homosexuality flipped a switch in the woman’s brain and deprived her of every ounce of agreeable dialogue. I ended the conversation right away, because if I’d continued it, I probably would have said something I regretted. It just infuriated me so much that this woman would pick one “sin” out the Bible and leverage it as a legitimate reason to leave a denomination she’d been attending for her entire life.

*****

Growing up, my sister had a friend. They were quite close,  and he was over at our house all the time. I knew he had a really sad home life, and that he lived with his grandmother because his parents were screwed up in some way, but I didn’t know the details because they weren’t really my business. I’d always thought something about him seemed a little…”off”. But I couldn’t really put a finger on it and didn’t really concern myself with it too often. It was just this idea I had that there was something strange about him.

Then my sister told me he’d confessed to her that he was gay. And it was like something clicked in my head, and I thought, “Aaah. Now I get it. That’s why I’ve always thought he’s a little strange.” Just to clarify, at the time there was positively no room in my religion for “gay”. The way I saw it, gay and bisexual orientations didn’t exist, and anyone who claimed them was confused, promiscuous, disdainful of Christianity and/or probably had a rotten home life. So I’m very ashamed to admit it now, but my very first thought was that the boy’s admission made sense. This kid had a hard life. His parents weren’t really there for him, and I’d heard from my sister that he experienced bullying. “No wonder he says he’s gay,” I thought. I felt sad for him, and I was glad that my sister was such a good friend to him, because the way I saw it, he was a very confused, hurt, lonely boy who needed such a friend. In my mind his “gayness”, his bad home life, his odd personality, and the bullying were all connected. Fix the last three, and you’d fix the first one. I did feel compassion for him, but it was compassion laced with pity, and that sort isn’t really genuine at all. I thought there was something wrong with him, and I thought there was something to fix.

*****

This story is another that occurred at my church. This time it was Sunday morning, and I was listening to a sermon. It was the Sunday after DOMA had been overturned, so of course I’d been expecting the pastor to address it somehow. I mean really, it doesn’t get much hotter than this issue, and we all know churches love hot-button issues like gay marriage.

Of course, predictably, the pastor addressed it. And he addressed it the same way I’d always heard Christians talk about gay marriage: in a tone that begs mercy from God for the terrible depravity of our nation. I don’t remember his exact words, but they were something very close to this. And of course he didn’t just speak them. He wailed them in just the perfect “woe-is-me” tone. You know—hands raised in the air, anguished face lifted up to the church ceiling. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d dropped down to his knees. It was all very melodramatic. He apologized to God on behalf of gay couples who want to marry. Really, he sort of apologized to God on behalf of the whole nation for legalizing gay marriage. It was quite presumptuous, if you ask me. And then he talked about God’s judgment, and how awful it will be for sinners on the day when they must answer for their sins. Of course, he concluded with a hasty reminder that we must love the “homosexuals” and that they deserve God’s love just as much as we do. But considering it was a quick sentence tacked on after minutes of railing about how terrible it is that they are now allowed to marry, the words kind of lost any impact they might have carried. The call to love was an afterthought. Reminding God that we as a church were totally not okay with the legalization of gay marriage was what that tirade was really about.

*****

I shared this story quite recently, but it really impacted me deeply so I feel the need to add it to this little collection anyway. This past summer I went home for my sister’s bridal shower, and that Sunday I went to the church my family attends—the same church I grew up in and attended since childhood. I don’t remember what we discussed in Sunday school that morning, but I remember that afterwards our conversation veered off topic. We started discussing some pretty controversial issues,  which included discussing homosexuality, scripture, and the Church. One lady, who I’d known for many years, and who had always been extremely sweet, started talking about Romans 1 and the authority of Scripture. She said that God knows best, and his instructions are laid out very clearly and authoritatively in the Bible. Then, to my utter shock and dismay, she said that Romans 1 is a clear commandment from God that gays and lesbians are not welcome in church. And that was that, no questions about it.

Nobody skipped a beat. No one challenged her, myself included (in my defense, this was more because I was shocked that such homophobic words would come from the mouth of such a kind lady than because I was too scared to say something). To everyone else’s credit, they didn’t exactly agree with her either. They just kind of shoved what she said under the rug and very abruptly changed the subject. I can’t say for sure, of course, but  my guess is that they’d forgotten she’d said anything at all shortly after the class was over.

But I will never forget it. It was the moment my very positive perception of this woman was irrevocably crushed, and it was the moment when I realized that homophobia is just as pervasive in my home church as it is in the larger evangelical world.

I’ve shared these stories not to cast judgment on the Church, or to rail about how awful all the Christians are. I can’t do that, not really. Because I was a part of that group—the homophobic group, I mean—for most of my life. I share these stories because I think they demonstrate how subtle the homophobic mindset can be in the Church. With the exception of perhaps the last story, none of these really seem all that bad. I mean really, come on. Of course Christians shouldn’t support sin by joining gay/straight alliances on their college campuses. Of course a church’s failure to stand up against sin is a legitimate reason to leave it. Of course homosexuality is caused by living in a broken home. Of course the pulpit is the right place to take a political stand against gay marriage.

Of course gays and lesbians have no right to sit in our pews and fellowship with us.

It hurts my heart so much to know that I was part of this problem for so many years. I bought into all the stereotypes hook, line, and sinker and saw nothing but sexual immorality when I saw gay people. I was swimming blissfully about in my pond of homophobia, and I had no idea where I was, or what I’d bought into all those years.

But I’m not there anymore. I’m not ignorant. I’d like to say I’m not homophobic, but twenty-four years is a long time to live with those stereotypes intact, and I don’t think recovering from that will be an overnight process. But I am now guarding my thoughts and words carefully, trying to reject anything that sees my LGBT brothers and sisters as something less than God’s beloved children.

Homophobia is real. And it is pervasive. And if you look clearly, if you look with a heart that is seeking to practice agape love, you might just see that homophobia is not limited to places like Westboro Baptist Church. You might see that it is subtly present in your own church.

Thoughts on “As the Ruin Falls”

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
 
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek –
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin,
 
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man.  and now the bridge is breaking.
 
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.
 

~ C.S. Lewis,  “As The Ruin Falls”

I read an excerpt from this poem a few days ago in Donald Miller’s excellent book Blue Like Jazz. It really struck me, so I went online to read the rest of the poem. It’s such a real, honest reflection of the human condition and the depravity of the human heart. Before I read Blue Like Jazz, I had been feeling confused about the idea of human depravity—the idea that our hearts are predisposed to be sinful and self-seeking. I thought about all the wonderful people in my life who have been good friends to me and treated me kindly. And I thought about my genuine desire to be a good friend/sister/daughter to those I love. And I thought…am I really that bad? Am I really intrinsically inclined to sin all the time?

I was having doubts about this depravity thing. But this insightful little sonnet by C.S. Lewis is a stark reminder that depravity isn’t about being a good or bad friend, or a good or bad sister or daughter. The condition of the heart goes deeper than that. And deep down, I find that Lewis’ line “I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin” rings so true.  I may be a good person to those around me, but I also find that I think about myself, consider my own feelings first, think mean thoughts about others because they don’t function according to my idea of how they should…all the time. It’s a constant flood of self-absorption.

I think that is what Lewis is getting at with this sonnet. Human depravity goes far deeper than how you treat others. It goes into your thought life, which I  truly believe is the only dimension of our lives where we are wholly honest about ourselves. And in my thought life, I think about myself and my desires about 90% of the time, and I think about God and others about 10%. On a good day. And that, I think, is what it means to have a heart that is inherently depraved.

I Don’t See the Way I Used To

In this life, in this world around me, I don’t see things the way I used to anymore. I process church sermons differently. I react to pithy Facebook memes about God differently. I find commonality and comfort in different kinds of literature than I used to. I wrinkle my nose when someone tries to tell me specifics about how to obey my Bible, and I’m discovering new ways of understanding grace that were totally cut off to me before.

I’ve blown Pandora’s box wide open, and I’ve asked questions I never thought I’d ask.

And my goodness gracious, I’m so much better off for it. I read a quote somewhere that says once you’ve opened the gate and ventured out into the big wide world, once you’ve reached your mind out into places it’s never gone before, there is no going back. Your life will never be the same. Boy has that been true of my life! I don’t think I could ever again be comfortable with the idea that the Bible is one, perfectly consistent, perfectly coherent, perfectly perfect work of literature anymore. I’ll never again be comfortable with the idea that one Moral Code can be applied universally, across the board, to every single human being who has ever lived. I’ll never be comfortable with drawing battle lines between science and religion, or letting devotion to doctrine trump compassion. I’ll never be comfortable with a lot of things, and  I think that’s really good.

Another viewpoint that has transformed slowly for me is how to be the right sort of witness for Jesus. I used to think the best way to witness is to have all the right answers, and to be opinionated about those answers. And then, when I realized all my answers weren’t as simple as I thought, and I started asking questions, I developed into a different but equally ineffective way of being a witness. I began to rag on others to think more critically, to push the boundaries and change their way of living out Christianity in all the same ways that I have been doing. But I’m learning (again, oh so slowly) that this isn’t the best way to be a witness either. Do I think a lot of Christians need to change the way they look at faith and truth and love and Christianity and all of it? Sure I do. But talking incessantly about all the things they need to change isn’t really going to help change happen—all it will do is turn people off.

So I’m trying to be the sort of witness who practices cognitive empathy. I’m trying to see the world through the eyes of the people around me and meet them where they are instead of trying to press my mold of what Christianity looks like onto them. And I’m trying to practice love—the kind of love that is diligent and selfless and relentless. The kind of love that can only be demonstrated by someone who is lost in the love of the Father themselves.

I can’t be the sort of person who tells people how to be a Christian, because I’ve been told that my whole life, and it never really did much good for me. And I’m so, so very glad that I see things differently now, and I’m going to focus on living that difference.