“Diversity is not a weakness for faith, but a strength.
Our diversity is not discouraged by scripture, but validated.
Diversity is not disunity, but should help us be a unified whole.”
It’s October and I’ll be starting a couple of things this month: 1) I’ll start working on my winter beard… and I know it’s never much of a beard, maybe more of a beardlette, but I’ll see what difference another year on the march to manliness means for me, and 2) I’ll be investing the month in writing out my thoughts on diversity as a core element of Christian faith that is too often given short shrift or completely ignored.
Diversity of Faith Expression/Identify
I’m not choosing diversity because it’s a buzz word. I’d like to focus on what our scriptures, especially in the New Testament and the words of Jesus, have to teach us about being different. Too often I’ve heard much more about being the same. In my own lifetime I’ve heard sermon after sermon about conforming to a single ideal, a single belief and a singular expression of faith and church. The church of my youth was devoted to a single refined expression of doctrine and ecclesiology to the exclusion and utter rejection of all deviance from that expression. We fantasized about our ability to come to conclusions and decisions about theological and doctrinal matters outside of personal experience and enculturation, and therein find the single answer to all questions for all people in all times in all places. Today, I’d call that misguided and un-hopeful.
Our scriptures present a different picture of life and faith. The ministry of Jesus showed a diversity of disciples and gifts surrounding Jesus, and times of Jesus himself affirming the existence and authenticity of others. In fact, Jesus often did this over the protests of his disciples who desired exclusivity and personal greatness, uniqueness.
Diversity of Gifts
We have often spoken of diversity in the realm of giftedness and abilities. It’s appropriate when we speak of individual calling and giftedness to recognize our diversity, and we’ll chat about that in October. We just won’t leave our diversity solely to the realm of gifts and abilities.
Diversity of Calling & Being
More than ever we are being challenged to be open and welcoming to differences. We are being asked to be comfortable with our differences. So where and how do we plant our feet solidly in our understanding of faith and scripture and tradition to do that? We’ll be exploring that question through the coming month. My central hope in this month is to show that we are able to be both faithful to God and respectful of one another’s dignity by becoming more open and tuned into the value and strength of our differences.
I’m excited to push back against many misconceptions about people, scripture and faith. I’m hopeful that we can live and worship with a greater love and sincere appreciation for one another, even in our differences. I have come to hold diversity as one of our greatest strengths, one thetas validated by scripture and necessary for us to realize lasting wholeness as a community.
This morning I am tired, and in my fatigue I turn to prayer with one of my favorite saints: Christopher. His name means Christ-Bearer. As the stories of saints go, his is an ancient and beautiful story of finding the will, the strength and the opportunity to serve.
Christopher sought the greatest King to whom he might pledge his strength and battle valor… he found instead a gentle King who called him to serve the weak and the needful. I begin my prayers today with the hope that I could be deeply reminded that my strength, when spent, belongs to the needful around me. I pray that my will is brought together with opportunity to be a servant like Christopher.
Christopher was a convert to Christianity in the 3rd century; he was a violent warrior who wanted to serve the mightiest leader he could find. When he discovered that others pointed to Christ as such a leader he went in search of more knowledge about Jesus. A gentle hermit taught him of Christ and set him on a path of dangerous service to local villagers, not a service of killing or violence, but a service of strength and protection. He would carry them across a river that was to strong for them to cross on their own. He did this service faithfully, and one day is said to have carried Christ himself across the river.
It would be a terrible loss to get too caught up in only trying to find the historical Christopher. You will have to sort thru various names, traditions and stories. He has interesting iconography, almost always holding a staff, most often carrying a child, and even sometimes having the head of a dog. (Say what? That would be just my luck if I have have an icon, lol.) Who martyred him? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? These are probably not going to be discovered to an historian’s satisfaction. You’ll also discover that he’s been dropped from many calendars of saints, mostly because of the lack of concrete evidence for his story. But an ancient story of faith leading to service instead of fighting? An ancient story of faith leading to the strength to serve instead of seeking to dominate and to make demands? It’s a needed story for our times.
St. Christopher is often considered the patron of travelers, and the prayers around him reflect that affinity to travel. I’ll end with a prayer that invokes Christopher’s strength and dedicated service, a prayer for the day…
Grant me, O my God, a watchful eye and willing heart.
I would be a willing servant to all and an enemy to none.
You give all people the gift of life, and I pray my actions and words honor that gift.
May all who share this day with me receive only blessings for our time together.
Teach me to use my strength, my will, and every opportunity, to serve others;
help me to slow down and to turn from myself to see their beauty and value.
Give me the strength, the will and a calling to serve, such as you gave to St. Christopher,
and therein help me to follow this epic example of a living and a serving faith
which uses each day to protect and enrich this world for others by sharing your peace.
I beg these things through the graces of Christ, our Gentle King. Amen.
Links about St. Christopher:
Many of as Christians have been horrified at the idea that the Kentucky Clerk scandal has anything to do with our faith. It doesn’t. It has to do with the rule of law. And if, like me, you are glad for our LGBTQ neighbors having full legal liberty, freedoms and acceptance, then when Kim Davis was sent to jail we won. We won! She is not a victim and not a martyr; she is an officer of the court who took illegal action to defy the court. And she’s rightfully in jail now.
But, none of this gives any person of faith the license or moral right to try to humiliate, denigrate or hatefully attack her with name calling and insults. Just as her actions and bigotry against her gay neighbors is not what Jesus taught, neither is the hateful responses we see online, sometimes from people of faith. Be a good winner… dig deep and find some grace and mercy for someone so befuddled and confused in their faith journey. And celebrate with our gay neighbors, friends and family in Kentucky who no longer face such an illegal obstacle to their pursuit of happiness and wedded bliss!
Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy
Let’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.
I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.
Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.
Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.
Jesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.
Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)
Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.
Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.
I need to wake up. It’s Monday. It’s a Monday of Mondays… I mean, it feels like a Monday’ing, Monday’er, Monday’ifferic Monday kinda Monday… but it’s our Monday. Let’s drop a boom on it. Let’s make it OUR Monday, YOUR Monday, MY Monday. Let’s make it GOD’S Monday. Let’s make it a Monday to love, to learn and to serve.
Let’s make it a Monday to shape the rest of the week. Let’s make it a template for prayer, life and struggle. Let’s awaken to what is happening all around us and our value as participants, not victims. Let’s begin now to create something of this Monday and this week that we can be glad of, happy in and remember fondly.
Harness some God juice (not talking about coffee) and roll into the day with a song between your ears and a burning in your heart. We are called to make this week not to be rolled by it. We are called to sanctify this day, not to hide and cringe from the light. Need a hand up? Grab a friend or a beloved. Need a touch of wisdom in your cup? Ask God to awaken it and enliven it in you.
Begin this day and this week with a prayer that becomes a chant that becomes an education that becomes a fire that becomes a lifestyle that becomes a strength that becomes a peace that overcomes. Begin this day with a mantra of intention and a dream of action. Begin this day and this week with a hope of awakening.
We’re trying. God is helping. Bring it.
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.