Knowing When Not to Quote

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reading scriptureSunday afternoon Teresa and I asked Isaac what they had studied in youth group class that morning. He said they had talked about “rules” and done some reading in Leviticus. If I recall correctly he said something along the lines of “Man, there’s some crazy stuff in Leviticus.”

First, let me simply concur. There are many things in the scriptural book of Leviticus that seem quite crazy to us, today. As a few examples, we have to stop enjoying our bacon, but even more than just bacon, no fat! (Leviticus 11 & 3). We also find ourselves in a Hipster paradise with no rounded beards… all squares and angles, baby. (Leviticus 19) And sorry, Maryland, no more of the planet’s best crabcakes! (Leviticus 11)

On a far less humorous note, verses from Leviticus that proscribed certain sexual activities are used today to condemn and promote hatred toward our valuable LGBTQ neighbors, friends and family. (Leviticus 18 & 20) Not awesome.

It was a great conversation starter with our son to share an important principle: I love and revere our scriptures, and showing them the utmost respect often means knowing when not to quote them. Those verses from Leviticus seem crazy to us mostly because they are from a far away place, far away time and for a far away audience. As a white, GenX, Texas raised Evangelical turned Episcopalian, I could hardly be further from the context and time of the Levitical audience. We’re separated by time, geography, culture and we’re even different religions.

There’s nothing respectful about quoting and handling scripture as though we aren’t in a different time and place. In fact, for scriptures to be most understood and beneficial to us today, we have to be aware and accepting of our own time and place. This way we let the message for that time be what it was, and we trust in God to help us understand the message for this day and time. Some of those messages may be the same. Some will not.

When it comes time to quote something, let’s hold tight to the timeless values and ideas that transcend and permeate our scriptures from beginning to end, as summarized by our Sovereign:  37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 If we’re serious about finding an application for the verses from Leviticus in life today, we’ll do so within the love Jesus points us toward. Any application or understanding of the Law will be upheld by or be removed by that love.

AMDG, Todd


Listening to Gay Christians

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I won’t try to do deep exegesis in every blog post on LGBTQ inclusion. It’s equally worth our time to step back and be reminded that people are people and their stories do mater. I’d also remind us to be mindful of our own stories. Be mindful our own stories? Oh yes, we all have our stories.

It’s time that gay Christians are heard telling their own stories.

It’s time they are allowed to tell their own stories. I’ve noticed, and in the past have been guilty of, a need that many straight Christians feel to frame (and kinda highjack) the stories of their gay brothers and sisters. And when we do that we almost always frame their stories in a way that excludes wholeness, health (spiritual or physical), faithfulness and sincerity. So we use categories that make huge assumptions and use generalizations that do harm. We talk of the gay agenda, the gay lifestyle and we speak from assumptions that a persona’s sexual orientation is always a conscious choice. We speak of assumed abuses in childhood and will seek someone to blame for the gay person’s orientation, yet that framework just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Here are three stories that I want to ask you to engage…  I just today saw the video from a new, Perrin, who courageously shares his story of faith and sexuality. That’s his picture at the top of the post. Please hear him out and take him at his word about his journey of faith and sexuality.

tornJustin Lee is someone I have named before, a brother in Christ who grew up conservative Baptist, and had to struggle with his faith sexuality. His book Torn is amazing and I highly recommend it. Justin tells his story in a sincere, gracious and compelling way. He wasn’t abused as a child and tried for years to find a way out of being gay. His story of faith and sexuality is valuable to straight Christians and needs to be heard. Justin is the founder of the Gay Christian Network and has many videos on the GCN YouTube channel.

god and the gay xianMatthew Vines is the amazing young man who founded The Reformation Project and has written the book God and The Gay Christian. He also grew up in a conservative Christian home and was not abused. I think he’s done a great job in telling his story and helping advance the conversation we need to have about how we read and interpret our scriptures. Matthew has videos available on his YouTube channel as well.

Even as I share these links and names, I have a lump in my throat. Please, don’t go troll them or say un-Christlike things on their media feeds. As the biblical writer James encourages us, let’s “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Let’s all seek to learn and listen, and seek God’s righteousness without anger.

AMDG, Todd

equals human first run

I Will Listen

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stop to listen.jpgHey. I’ll listen. Need to say something? Need to get something off your chest? Need to just be heard? I will listen. Really.

I had a great conversation this week with a friend and fellow life coach about the struggle we often face to listen well. Sometimes we’re just wired to be talking. Sometimes our own pride wants to speak and to share and to be getting the attention. Sometimes we just don’t care what the other person is talking about.

But the other person has an intrinsic right to be heard. My friend said that he felt that “he owed it to the person speaking to listen as well as he could.” I think he’s right. He owes a debt of listening to the people around him. I owe that debt to others. I owe that debt to you.

We pulled out our Bibles and sat with Paul for a bit in the letter in the Philippians…

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4

That’s kinda cool, huh? I have a debt to care about the things that interest you. Honestly, I was raised to think more that scripture told me what to be interested in, and by default I was to do the same for others. Looking into the Greek just a little it seems to me that the emphasis is as much on the “looking to” as the “interests.” It’s a posture of focus, attention and concern for the other person  that flows from an experience of Christ.

In our life coach training we go over the essentials to listening well and ways to be sure that we respect and hear someone who is speaking to us. It’s not too hard, and here are a few of the core elements to adopting a posture of attention…

1. Give the speaker your visual attention. Stop looking at other things and letting yourself get distracted.
2. Don’t interrupt. Let the person say what they need or want to say. Silence really is awesome at times! Give the person time to refine their words and hear themselves.
3. Stop creating a response before they even finish speaking. This is a hard one for many of us as we want to argue and begin arguing in our minds before they finish their thought.

I need to be giving respectful attention, making eye contact and communicating my concern with body language. I need to give enough uninterrupted space for the other person to finish sentences and complete their thoughts. I need to release the assumption of needing to change the person, argue with the person or correct the person.

Having listened, I can be creative with ways to better understand what is being said. St. Ignatius taught a principle for listening that basically said I should receive what is said with the “benefit of the doubt” assigning the speaker the best possible intentions and meanings. He said that if I have trouble with what was said, I should ask for clarifications. If what is being said is simply hurtful or negative and there’s no good to be found in it, my response is still charity and love, even if I must give correction or a dissenting view. Listening well and trying to hear the best possible intention in the other person doesn’t presuppose acquiescence, but instead sets the stage for understanding and responding with charity and love.

If you’ve taken a counseling class then you’ve probably learned to ask clarifying questions. We were taught ask questions that clarify meaning and clarify feeling. We don’t want leading questions that presuppose a particular answer, but we want to encourage the greatest level of understanding and sharing. We want to create an open safe space for answering.

To open another piece of scripture from Paul, this seems to be an imminently practical way to live a fulfillment of our shared “debt of love.”

“Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:7-10

I’ll do my best to pay my debts. I’ll look you in the eye and give you the respectful hearing you want and need. If I’m not, poke me on the shoulder and remind me that I owe you more.

AMDG, Todd

I have a verse for Mr. Pat Robertson…

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Wise words from Romans 14:22
“So whatever you believe about these things
keep between yourself and God.”

Why don’t we ever hear more sermons on such a great idea? Why don’t I preach on it more? There’s a truth loose in the world and it goes something like this… “You don’t need to hear my views on everything, or vice versa.” Please, Mr. Robertson, enough.

Paul has struggled through a very sticky situation in his Roman letter. It’s a moral, ethical and spiritual question with huge impact on the civil, secular, communal and daily lives of believers. Should a believer eat food that is consecrated to another god? And if so, or if not, to what lengths do they go to discover if it has been consecrated or not? The whole thing has very little meaning to many Christians today, but we do have our own big questions, moral questions, ethical questions, questions that impact our daily lives. And we spend a lot of time expressing opinions, many of which are hurtful and uncharitable.

Paul’s solution? In part, silence. Respectful. Silence. Quiet time with God.

I don’t question Mr. Robertson’s right to hold views on the causality of earthquakes or the relationship between what we call natural disasters and the impact of spiritual powers in the world. I just wish he’d keep most them to himself. Instead, he heaps blame and shame on an already suffering, impoverished and destitute population. Not what I define as a “Charitable Act.”

I could go on, but that’s pretty much it.

Lord God, in your mercy,
hear our prayers and pour out your peace,
hope and blessing on the people of Haiti.