Book review time! The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart.
I’ve been meaning to pick this up and read it for a while; I finally ordered a copy on Amazon and have taken a couple of weeks to read it. The cover and title make no equivocations on the author’s view point and end goal: looking to scripture for a faithful understating of same-sex marriage.
I like the way the author begins by telling some of his own story. Maybe it’s because I’m a GenX’er, but I like to know something about an author before constructing my matrix through which to filter her or his words. Just because it’s in a book and even managed to get published, that’s not so big a deal to me. This author seems to be a keeper. He’s a well-spoken (written) gentleman who carries that special evangelical pedigree that makes his book intriguing. I related with him immediately in his spiritual journey within a church tradition that was non-affirming of our LGBTQ neighbors and in his journey of changed understanding on how we read and apply our scriptures to sexuality and life.
I also related to his central angst: the traditional teaching on how to read our scriptures and apply them to the lives of sexual minorities is not working. In fact, that teaching and its application is damaging countless lives and souls, and it’s hard to synchronize that with God’s grace and love. The author doesn’t have a gay child or family member, and he isn’t coming to terms with his own sexuality… he is coming to terms with his faith.
Often those who have not sought and found a way to read scripture that affirms our LGBTQ neighbors will assume that Christians who do accept and affirm sexual minorities have in some way compromised scripture or adopted a value system that places cultural and social understandings above scripture. Nothing could further from the truth. This author is very relatable in his love of scripture and desire to reconcile our reading and application of it with a God of grace and love who is more than the scriptures. I won’t spoil the whole author’s whole story because he tells it better than I can, but I found him very relatable as fellow Christian-in-process.
How To Read The Scriptures
Reading the scriptures is a central focus for the author, and reading them in a way that gives a consistent and coherent framework for understanding God and making a faithful daily life. The first four chapters are about reading scripture in a responsible and faithful way that allows us to better understand God and ourselves, in both the time of the scriptural witness and our own time. I found his critique and response to proof-texting certain passages to be clear and correct. The use of any verse or passage, divorced from it’s context and intent, and haphazardly applied in universal terms, is fraught with danger.
I especially appreciate the way the author expresses his search for a “good-sense” framework for reading scripture and understanding God. It’s more than encouraging, it’s down right life-giving, to relate to a God of good-sense and love instead of an arbitrary set of codified words on a page. And that does not in any way attack or lessen the authority of God. More than anything it invites us into a relationship with God which resonates more with the scriptural witness that the way most of us were taught in our churches. If you were raised like me, our early faith was summed up in a bumper sticker I saw often growing up, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Honoring God and Marriage
Chapters Five through Nine carry us into the way our author makes sense of scripture and life in understanding homosexual orientations and the gift of marriage. He wants to do more than just dig at one passage or two passages; he wants to develop a deeper view of marriage and what it means to share a love with another person in the way that God so totally and selflessly loves us.
Though well thought through, the book is not a large theological treatise or a heavy scholarly work. There’s not a lot of Greek parsing or mounds of historical footnoting to get through. Many will find that a little frustrating, but others will find it refreshing. His writing style is welcoming and engaging, and he enjoys being consistent and logical. His approach comes across as common sensical.
The author loves God, loves scripture and loves and accepts his gay neighbor, and he has shown that our scriptures do not necessarily keep us from doing all those at the same time. His journey is about better understanding God and following the scriptures in a faithful authentic way that makes the most sense and proclaims the best news for all people. I recommend this easy to read book to everyone engaging in the conversation around sexuality and sexual minorities in the church. I especially recommend it to those have struggled to reconcile a disconnect between what they have been taught the scriptures to be saying on sexual orientation and the amazing faith and beauty they see (or hear about) in their gay friends and family.
When did you last have a day when you just didn’t wanna?
This is one of those days for me. Everything tastes wrong, even at Starbucks. Everyone looks a bit threatening, if not needy. I don’t feel good, or feel good about myself. Coffee is not getting me fired up and I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds (probably from the comfort of several recently enjoyed dipped cones at Dairy Queen).
So, I’m gonna take a deep breath, own my humanity with all it’s fragility, fatigue and needs… and I’ll get the day started, even if I’m getting started a little late. It’s what we do. It’s what we need to do. Thank God I don’t do it all on my own.
Days like this are the days I feel least compelled to pray. Weird. It’s sort of like the times I don’t take any pain reliever as I wait to see if my headache will go away on it’s own. Most days I’m not sure if I’m just lazy, stubborn or stupid. What I do know is that I have a God who listens when I’m not praying, and a Spirit that fills in the gaps, even when I’m not paying attention.
And now, before I must go punch the clock, sitting here with my less flavorful coffee, I’m going to pray. I pulled my trusty Book of Common Prayer from my bag for a little inspiration, and God provided…
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory
and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the
earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service
of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in
truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of
him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the Collects, Contemporary BCP pg. 261
This will be my prayer, today. “Beauty for the common good” will be my mantra. I’m going to turn my energies from an inward self-absorbed pity fest and big bottle of whine, outward to those around me who will be blessed by my struggling to live such a prayer of beauty, gratitude, service and deliverance.
If I meet you along the path somewhere today, I hope I’m still praying.
Within my own faith tradition (and maybe yours) God is love, the driving and primary orientation of God toward us is love, the reason for the incarnation of Christ is love and the love of God for us is unending, complete and steadfast, not able to be removed by any other power or circumstance of life. These are some of the assurances from our scriptures about love. Love is the greatest command, the identifier Jesus wanted associated with his followers and the fulfillment (summation, pinnacle, totality, completion) of religious aspiration. Are those just poetic words from our scriptures or actionable realities that people of faith need to weave into life’s fragmentation and pain?
To hear so many of us chattering away on a daily basis, you’d think that “God is love, but…” You might think, from the current divisive posturing and fighting about flags and marriage equality on the internet and around dinner tables, that God’s love for us is on hold, waiting for us to be a little more deserving, a little more compliant, a little more something other than we seem to be.
We are quick to assign hate and happy to alienate. We are quick to be threatened and shameless in our rejection of people in their noncompliance to our assumptions about life. We live the love, but lifestyle so often that we forget rightness isn’t really the point of either faith or of following Christ. The moment we choose a posture of rightness with/from God and others that assumes our deservedness to be sharing that love, it is no longer the love of God that scripture witnesses to us.
I know, we’re talking about love, but and not love butts. Sorry. That was a gratuitous attempt to garner clicks. =) And a way to label a problem we have in our current disagreements around the reading of scripture and history. Rarely has love got a thing to do with the questions we’re posing (or screaming) to one another and the drive to dominate conversations and win arguments. We’re arguing from a love, but position that assumes too much about the “other side.”
Maybe to keep love at the center, we need to move these conversations off the Facebook timelines and away from the dinner table, and chill ourselves out. Maybe we need some quiet time (some really need a paddling & time out, to be honest) to regain our center with the God of love, the love of God, God, Love.
I’d like to offer two suggestions, simple things that can have an impact. We can do these things right now, and start now even if we’ve been running the opposite direction. I have nothing here new and certainly not unique to me or my own life, but these are real, timeless and helpful. They can help us leave behind the love, but lifestyle and reengage with one another in our diversity, imagining new ways forward together.
1. Take a deep breath and celebrate God’s love for you.
Really. This is for everyone, white or black, and every shade of the beautiful human experience. This is for my gay friends, my straight friends and my friends trying to make an authentic life all along that spectrum of orientation. This is for my gender conforming friends and my gender fluid friends. This is for my rednecks, my Democrats, my Republicans and my independents. This is for my Christians, my Buddhists, my Hindus, my Muslims, my Wiccans, my Jews and my atheists. This is for my humans, and any trees or cats that happen to read my blog. This is for all: God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. Anthony de Mello spoke it simply and truly, “You don’t have to change for God to love you.” God’s love does not just pursue you; that love has already overtaken you and is yours right now. Breathe it in. Ignore all the voices that deny this truth. Let your heart be still and calm. Let your soul rest in God’s love.
We each need to begin our day with a reminder that this love is the house in which we awaken, the clothes in which we wrap and present ourselves. It’s the food of our soul throughout the day. We may and often do hear the untruth of not having God’s love during the day, but we can recognize it for the untruth it is, and roll on. Words may still have the power to hurt us and rejection from our fellow humans can still pain us, but we have a reservoir of truth to salve the wounding.
Really, please grab hold of this and make it your own. When someone hates you or mistreats you, that is the lie. Their lack of love or outright hatred is an untruth. It’s not true. Your value and worth are the truth. You are a recipient of God’s love. Their injury to you is not who you are or a true reflection of your value and dignity. When we know the love of God in which we stand we can then recognize the untruth in another person’s words and actions and avoid the danger of our soul feeding on that lie and faltering in health and growth.
Having been able to recognize the untruth in another’s words and actions, we can honestly love them, as they are. Maybe we can move past their hurtful words and see or hear something deeper in them, the pain and hurt that has caused them to be makers of pain and hurt. This is how God loves, without reservation and without any needed reciprocity. Jesus taught this kind of love, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Only by seeing the untruth in others and loving them anyway can we begin to forgive them and avoid letting the untruth take root in our heart and soul.
2. Stop the fighting, all the fighting.
There’s no culture war if we don’t show up on the front lines loaded and ready to get it on! Really, stop viewing everything as a fight and a conflict. Stop buying the rhetoric of political and religious leaders who claim you have to wage a war for your belief and opinion. We’re being herded by powers that deal in human misery when we answer a call to battle our neighbor. Neighbors are for loving. (Jesus said that, too.)
We are not going to wake up tomorrow to a world that agrees with you. You may be in the majority one day and minority the next. Your candidate might win, and yours might lose. Jesus gave us no marching orders to dominate this world… even Paul knew the difference between every knee bowing to Jesus and bowing to us. We are not promised world domination and we are not asked to attempt it.
Every time we speak in competition, every time we speak in conflict, every time we try to win a point, win an argument, out shout or out think or out debate someone, love loses. You know that passage about love from Paul, the one we always read at weddings? Yes, the one from 1 Corinthians 13 that is the “but have not love” and “love is” stuff… it has nothing to do with marriage and weddings. At least, no more to do with weddings and marriage than any and every day of life. That passage is about us sharing the world together, all of us and every day. It does not leave room for power games or cultural wars over tradition and personal opinions. All of the religious posturing about the fragility and offense of our faith is ridiculous and just comes across as a clanging symbol, selfishness and comical self-matyrdom. Claiming your rights over someone else’s on a religious basis is not kind, patient, humble or honoring of others. We fight or we love. What will it be?
Please. Whatever side of whatever issue is most compelling and meme-worthy of the moment, love will outlast it. Love will win. Love will be here. But will we be here? Will there be anything or anyone left on either side of any issue to enjoy the pride and power of dominance? You want to be amazing? You want to make God smile? Love somebody near you like they’ve never been loved before. And if you just can’t love them right now, at least take some quiet time to yourself until you can reboot the heart and catch a breeze of that free-flowing grace that God has woven into our DNA and the very elements of our world.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one anotherhumbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.Paul, Galatians 5:13-15
I’m most definitely not alone in my sadness and disgust at the shooting in Charleston this week. I am most definitely not alone in my dismay that we continue to have shootings and violence like this in our country, churches, schools and homes. This kind of despicably hateful racist act must be openly confronted and condemned, and so I’m glad that I’m not alone. It is a shared responsibility of all to confront such hate and denounce it, and especially so for a white male pastor like me.
The problem of white racists who use guns to kill black people is my problem, as it’s the problem of every singe white person in this country. Maybe there are many white people who don’t want the burden of that problem, but that’s just too bad and too sad, because it is part of our inheritance. To continue being silent and to ignore it will only contribute to more deaths among the black community.
Whenever and wherever we hear it or see it, racism must be condemned. No more excuses, no more indulgence and no more apathy. Please, no more shock and no more ignorance. The deaths of those nine people in Charleston are just the most recent nine souls from the black community to reach out to us in a silent plea, “Help us.” There is a constant and real thread of hate in the white community that must be acknowledge, be confronted, rooted out and removed.
Did I say silent plea? Oh my. Their deaths were not silent, but punctuated by the deafening shots of a handgun and the clink of brass shells on church tile. Their deaths were surely accompanied by their screams of pain and fear. The idea that our response to this tragedy, this terrorism, this hate, would be silence? Excuses? Denial? Apathy? No. We in the white community cannot remain wrapped in the apathetic thoughts of denial and disassociation that have plagued this nation for so long.
This week’s shooting was birthed and matured and finally realized in the context of a special racial hatred that was the law of our land until so very recently. Changing laws does not change hearts. We must still do that painful work, and we have barely begun. This was white hate. This was white violence. This was white racism.
When we see racism or hear racism, we must speak against it. Only when we take responsibility for our inheritance of systemic and legalized hatred will we be able to affect real change for future generations and move away from that hate. No father can sit idly by and let his children grow in hatred for anyone of another race, much less teach that hatred. No mother can sit by and let a child grow into a hate filled monster without response. This goes for every aunt, uncle and grandparent, brother, sister and cousin. Enough.
No more excuses about mental illness, please. Yes, there is a reality to mental illness in all communities which we need to address, but we have overused the idea that mental illness produces violent hatred, especially racially motivated violent hatred. We’ve done more to stigmatize mental illness with this excuse than to actually confront the fact which is more pertinent to our situation: living a life steeped in racial hatred produces mental illness.
No more white denial. No more white apathy. No more white excuses. This is our problem, let’s own it and do something to fix it. Speak out against racist hatred. Speak out against hate speak and hateful violence. Speak out the against racist stereotypes and generalizations we hear every single day. Speak out with grace and mercy when needed and repentance when appropriate. This is a human issue and an American issue. This is also an issue for anyone claiming Christ, the very Christ in whom scripture assures us that we are all one humanity (Galatians 3 & Ephesians 2). In the words of Paul the Apostle from Colossians 3:11, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
In Christ we find our moral imperative to stand against hatred. No matter how painful and alien it may be for you to own the hatred and violence within the white community, in Christ you can find the moral courage and strength to do so. We will not find the appropriate response in politics or political rhetoric. Put it aside and lay it down. Be broken and mourn the dead. Those who mourn will be comforted, and when we speak for justice our wounds and hurts will be healed. This is exactly what God would be doing among us, once we put aside our stubborn ways and allow it to be.
In our context and in our time the tag #BlackLivesMatter could not be more meaningful and needed. We have too much unfinished business in the eradication of racial hatred in our country to sit by and debate anything but the hate that drives so much violence against our neighbors. Our Christ demands no less of us.
P.S. There are some great clips floating around that I wanted to share here as well… John Stewart & Laci Green.
And a great clip of Larry Willmore below!!!
I haven’t talked about it much, but I actually became a bi-vocational pastor this year, taking a part-time job at a local Apple Store. Apple doesn’t like us talking too much about the company in social media, so I’ve been a bit mum on it. It’s been an interesting struggle to strike a balance with two jobs and family and personal needs… but one thing I have learned: take a day off every now and then! For real.
My new work schedule has taught me the value of getting enough sleep and getting good sleep, but also the the need to do something, well… wholesome every now and again. So, I’ve been using my days off here and there to do some garden work.
Our yard has never been a priority for me. No yard ever has. But I started on a day off a week or so ago to clean out an area that has been an especially irksome tangle since we moved here eight years ago. In the midst of that tangle I have occasionally let a tomato or pepper plant go wild, but whatever I planted was always swallowed up in the mess in a few months. I began by slipping on some boots and heavy gloves, grabbing a shovel and various cutting tools, and getting crazy. The gloves and boots were needed because one thing tangled in the mess was a thorny rose bush that almost never made blooms, but always snaked mean-spirited vines onto the porch loaded with pointy pain inflictors.
I ended that first session with a big pile of cuttings, thorny vines and a few innocent bystander plants that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next week, this past Monday, I got down and serious about how I would replace the plants I had so cavalierly deposed. I’d started collecting some planters and bags of soil over the last couple of weeks, and loaded up on herbs and veggie plants at the Sunday farmer’s market across the street. I was ready. Still, I fooled around playing video games for about an hour Monday morning before taking a deep breath and plunging back into the soil.
Here’s the result: My Wife’s New Garden. I like it and she does too! YAY! I have the herbs in various planters (with peppers). The Zinnia’s are in planters for a needful splash of color, and the tomatoes are in the ground making the most of the rain barrel and soaker hose. I moved our bird bath over to the new garden and reused an old chunk of fence that has been laying around to add a bit of background. Our little Tangelo tree got a new planter and a bird feeder.
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, but I have to admit that I would have wasted those two days, those two unbelievably gorgeous days, on video games if I had not started this project. I’m no master gardener and this little plot isn’t going feed many hungry peoples, but I’m so happy to have spent that time in the sun, getting dirty and doing something that was… well, wholesome. Not that I play video games that aren’t wholesome, but yeah, well, ok. Slaughtering virtual zombies online, as fun as that may be, just doesn’t feed the soul quite like gardening. Not to mention that I got to do this work as an expression of love for my wonderful partner, Teresa.
Not sure I have a word to wise from this experience, but I do have a reminder that I had to get dirty to catch onto: get out and do something worthwhile on a day off! Don’t have a day off? Make one! You need it! Loving video games is fine and dandy, I still do! But I’m also going to be a bit more serious about keeping some time in the schedule to be outside photosynthesizing. We were made for some time in the soil, folks. Dig in!
It’s June, and June is Gay Pride Month. Whenever June rolls around we start seeing and hearing a lot about parades and things, and there’s always a bit of a push back from some folks about the issue of gay pride. It’s very similar to the push back against the annual Black History Month each February in the U.S.
Antagonistic responses to gay pride will sometimes take the form of exclamations of “heterosexual pride!” The similarity with Black History Month heard in questions like, “Ok, so when is White History Month and maybe Asian History Month, etc?” For many, especially us straight white people, these seem like compelling questions and responses. I’m writing this post in the hope of broadening someone’s understanding of why we have gay pride, and what these responses to gay pride sound like outside of StraightWhiteMaleLandia.
I know all about StraightWhiteMaleLandia because I grew up there… in fact, I’m still a citizen. But being straight and white doesn’t mean that I don’t have a responsibility to love and to know all my neighbors who aren’t straight or white or either. It also means that I am going to have to want to know and love them… I can’t just mistakenly believe that their lives and experiences mirror my own.
As a straight white male I have had a certain general experience of life, that though it has had some elements and events unique to me, is in many ways a shared experience with other straight white males. In general, in StraightWhiteMaleLandia, other straight white males have always held majority control of politics, business, education, economics, military and policing. I have had to work hard for what I have, but in general, hard work will pay off for me. I’ve had some unpleasant people in my life, but again in general I’m not harassed by the police, unduly denied access to financial or employment opportunities… and flesh tone bandaids look awesome on me! Oh, and since my family hails from StraightWhiteMaleLandia, enjoying citizenship therein and avoiding any major mishaps for a few generations now, even my childhood was free of most deprivations.
If you happen to live with us citizens in StraightWhiteMaleLandia, but aren’t… as in you’re gay or non-white (or nonconforming to StraightWhiteMaleLandia’s assumptions on gender roles and definitions), you won’t have had the same general experience of life I’ve had. Without a doubt, your life will be a bit different. You know this already (as you’ve lived the reality of it), but it might surprise you how many in StraightWhiteMaleLandia don’t realize how different your life can be. We haven’t lived with the disenfranchisement or been the object of difference and ridicule. We don’t know the visceral feelings of rejection or the judgment of our value and worth based on prejudice and bias. From those flesh colored bandaids to the very language and vocabulary we use every single day, we are affirmed as normal, right, correct, standard and well. We don’t know what it’s like to be labeled as abnormal, wrong, broken, outside or gross. We take pride for granted.
Here in StraightWhiteMaleLandia it’s weird to think someone else might be celebrating pride in themselves, and it seems to even be a bit threatening to those of us who have cornered the market on pride up until now. So, my fellow citizens, my tribe of straight white males, we need to stop and stretch our minds and hearts a bit. We have seen our country make some great strides in equality in the past 50 years… but we still have neighbors who are dealing with generations of systemic and hurtful injustice. We still have neighbors who haven’t had the centuries of political, educational, legal and economic control as a demographic. We still have neighbors who authentically experience a deep and distressing disenfranchisement in our land.
Please don’t take a gay person’s pride as an affront to your own. It shouldn’t be too threatening to you. In fact, you should be glad that in our country we are more and more experiencing the actualized freedom of being ourselves. You see, one day you might find out that you’re not as straight, or as white or as male as you thought. You might even end up doing some traveling outside your zone and find yourself getting to know some amazing new friends in places like GayBrownMaleLandia! The respect and dignity affirming behavior you would hope to receive from them, that’s the same kind thing they’re hoping to get from you and me today in our land.
All lightheartedness aside, there’s a real need for us to be speaking and responding with much more grace and love. When we facetiously mimic or just ridicule our neighbors for their efforts at expression and celebration we aren’t doing anyone a favor, especially not ourselves. In fact, we simply affirm anyone’s assumption of our mean-spiritedness and lack of civility. You see StraightWhiteMaleLandia is actually for real! We live there! But being the majority is not a license to devalue or to relegate any minority to unjust treatment or an assumed lack of worth and dignity. Gay pride is needed in a land where too many young people take their own lives, or attempt to do so, and suffer from having their pride and self worth stolen away on a daily basis by violence and bullying. (Stats on violence against gay youth at the CDC, and The Trevor Project.)
You might not be out walking in a Pride Parade any time soon… but you can chill out and love your neighbor a bit more. Drop some of the rhetoric against others. Be grateful for the pride you have in yourself and for living in a land where you can be you. And as Thumper taught us…
Love ya. Love all of ya, Todd
If you’ve ever been involved with Ignatian Spirituality then the concept of First Principle and Foundation will be familiar, but if not… Ignatius presents this early in The Exercises as a sort of purpose statement for being. I won’t bore you with the long form of the principle, but it is often abbreviated to something like, “We were created to receive God’s love and give love back to God.” I find two main elements of the principle to be: 1) the foundation of God’s love as what animates us, and 2) our relationship to everything around us is based on experiencing God’s love.
When you are engaged in the Exercises in almost any form, whether a true retreat or one of the annotations, you will be asked to think about and design a first principle and foundation statement of your own. I’ve been asked to do this many times, but have to admit that I can’t remember how I ordered my thoughts in the past. I could go and dig up my journals from those times, but it remains the case that what I thought and wrote did not become a part of my spiritual journey to any meaningful extent. I simply don’t remember what I have written.
So, as I came to the part of the Exercises as I am following them now, and I was again asked to pray about my own first principle and foundation, I decided to really think and pray and bend my energies toward something that will be lasting for me. I want to make some words and meaning which will stick. I’ve worked in the words during this past week, and I’d like to share them here…
I am a student of LOVE
in all its complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
If I can’t recall anything else in the days and years to come, I want to remember that I am a student of love. As I get older and continue to sift and weight the many scriptural themes and ideas I have come to understand, I rely more and more on the ascendancy of love. Love is not just an idea, or a feeling, but a basic understanding of life and a way to relate to all things in life. I also believe that God is best understood as and thru love, and so I could also relate my first principle this way…
I am a student of God
in all her complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
I hope that this kind of foundation helps me to be both fully human and fully connected to the divine. From this position, with a Christ-centred and valuing and understanding of both our shared humanity and divinity, then love is better able to manifest in me to the betterment of the kingdom of God and all the world God has caused to be.