Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"All right, then, I'll go to hell."

today i thought i'd share a post by one of my favorite thinkers, Rachel Held Evans. i hope it challenges you and i hope it moves you as much as it did me. hats off rachel.

If I had to pick a favorite American writer, it would be Mark Twain, and if I had to pick a favorite scene from an American novel, it would be the one where his unlikely hero, Huckleberry Finn, accepts his fate in hell.

It’s the moral climax of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The duke and dauphin have betrayed Jim and sold him to the Phelpses “for forty dirty dollars,” and the Phelpses have locked Jim in their shed, where he awaits his return to his rightful owner for a $200 reward. Huck goes back to the raft to figure out what to do next, and there he gets to thinking about the lessons he learned in Sunday school about what happens to people like him who assist runaway slaves.

People that acts as I’d been acting about [Jim],” he’d been told, “goes to everlasting fire.”
(After all, the Bible is clear: “Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear”
- Ephesians: 6:5.)

Huck feels genuine conviction regarding his sin and, fearful of his certain fate in hell unless he changes course, he decides to write a letter to Jim’s owner, Miss Watson, to tell her where Jim can be found: 

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.”

It is a moment of true moral courage, complicated though it is by troubling ingrained cultural assumptions. (Later, Huck can only make sense of Jim’s kindness to him and Tom Sawyer by concluding he must be “white on the inside,” a comment that reveals Twain’s gift for creating characters that both critique yet fully inhabit their cultural contexts.)

I often think about Huck’s resolution when I am told by religious leaders that “the Bible is clear” on this or that, and that I’ve got to stop listening to those gut feelings that tell me maybe we’ve gotten a few things wrong, that maybe there’s more to the story than we’re ready to see.

“Your feelings don’t matter,” they say.

“Your feelings cannot be trusted,” they say.

“Once you start listening to your feelings, over and beyond the plain meaning of Scripture, it’s a slippery slope to hell,” they say.

A part of me agrees. I want to be faithful to the inspired words of the Bible, not bend them to fit my own desires and whims. Being a person of faith means trusting God’s revelation, even when the path it reveals is not clear or comfortable.

But another part of me worries that a religious culture that asks its followers to silence their conscience is just the kind of religious culture that produces $200 rewards for runaway slaves. The Bible has been “clear” before, after all—in support of a flat and stationary earth, in support of wiping out infidels, in support of manifest destiny, in support of Indian removal, in support of anti-Semitism, in support of slavery, in support of “separate but equal,” in support of constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage.

In hindsight, it all seems so foolish, such an obvious abuse of Scripture.

...But at the time?

A few months ago, I was invited to serve communion at a church in San Diego that included quite a few LGBT Christians in its membership. A lot of things happened in that service that would make some of the leaders in my evangelical religious community very angry: a woman serving the bread and the wine, a lesbian couple partaking of the elements with their baby daughter in tow, a gay man embracing me in a big bear hug and telling me that it was the first time in twenty years he felt worthy to come to the Table.

In that moment—the one with the big bear hug—I knew what my Sunday school teachers would say. They would say that this man was most certainly not worthy to come to the Table, that I was most certainly not worthy to serve, and that daring to participate in this endeavor would surely take me one step closer to “everlasting fire.” 

“The body of Christ, broken for you,” I said anyway.

“The blood of Christ, shed for you,” I said anyway.

“The body of Christ, broken for you,” he said anyway.

“The blood of Christ, shed for you, he said anyway.

As we embraced, I knew in a way that I cannot put into words that sharing communion with this man was the right thing to do, that it was an act of bravery and grace for both of us—together unworthy, together worthy, brother and sister, in the mystery of the Eucharist.

So when the thought of my Sunday school teachers’ disapproval crossed my mind, the only words to surface to my lips were, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

God and Gays #2: Sharing the Gospel

So I got a lot of flack for my post entitled "God and Gays". I got a lot of encouragement and support, but I also got a lot of flack...which should be expected if you write about things and put things on the internet.

Most of the tomatoes that were flung my way were by conservative readers who were upset over my take on what it means to "properly" spread the Gospel. And I want to first and foremost say that I appreciate your positions and respect your viewpoints on what it looks like to present the love and compassion of the Lord. There is indeed no formula for this and to be honest, there are many of us who are going to have differing opinions.

Just with any book one reads, the mental pictures developed and the lessons learned will vary from one person to the next. The slight differences in raconter of the four Gospels alone show us how our viewpoints on the same story can look slightly different sometimes. Are the underlying lessons and standards Jesus set for us open to being altered and colored by our own opinions? No. No they most certainly are not. I am not here to adjust the Good News to my liking. In fact, I promise you that I will always address difficult issues from a compassionate, Bible-based, Christ-centered perspective.

So back to the subject on what it looks like to spread the Gospel.

In order to answer that question, it is important to answer a few others first. My answers will not be lengthy, they will be to the point and hopefully clear.

What is the Gospel and why is it important?

The Gospel is the account of Jesus' life, and the central Christian message is a proclamation of redemption through the offering of Jesus Christ for one's sins.

I am keeping this answer short not because I want to spare you from reading an 8-page blog post, but because I hope that it is at this point you will stop reading here, pick up a Bible, and read one of the Gospels yourself. Christian or not, it's important to have a grasp on all religions in order to love others well. Beliefs are important to people, and that matters. This goes for you too Christian friend of mine. Don't be ignorant of other faiths. There is beauty in all and even though you don't embrace something in another faith, doesn't mean it's irrelevant and isn't important to someone. It's extremely difficult to love others well if you don't understand what they value.

No matter what religion you follow, we can all agree that there is a lot of corruption in the world. We have to teach babies to be good, not bad, and we go through our days rarely feeling hook line and sinker satisfied. Yes, we have moments when we're on cloud 9 and yes we have days when life just makes sense and feels good. But please don't be arrogant enough to think that life is consistently happy, your bank account is always so full it's embarrasing to talk about, and your significant other meets every beating desire of your heart. If you disagree with me here and your life is perfect, then may I borrow some money and have the keys to your Bugatti.

Christianity shouldn't be something you're convinced or scared into. Christianity is born with God's perfect will revealing Himself to us and us responding to that Grace. The wisdom and tenderness of the Lord's work becomes more apparent to me with every scripture I read and every moment I give. It is liberating and humbling, and unfortunately, I feel that a lot of us miss the mark due to an austere formula of what it looks like to share it.

A dear friend of mine from college, Gabriel Mudd, wrote what I feel is a theologically sound and compassionate view on what it looks like to share the Gospel.

"At this day in age in the US, you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not heard the gospel message, doesn't have a minute familiarity with the bible, or at least hasn't heard the arguments for, about, or against sin, and specifically homosexuality. There tends to be a lot of bitterness (legitimately) because of how someone has been treated, spurned, thrown out of a church, rejected, unloved, hated and abused for being honest, trying to seek help, or feeling different.
If someone confesses to be a charismatic Christian, generally speaking, people in the US know what that means, and often the association is having a hard-line stance on certain issues, complete with biblical support. And there is nothing wrong with standing for what you believe and knowing why you believe it. But often what gets lost in the balance is love for others. Some people are so zealous that they forget the human aspect of our basic intrinsic needs, to be loved fully and completely. They overlook the person’s heart in the balance and some are unfortunately trying to exault their own holiness over someone else for whatever reason. Instead of handling a situation with compassion, they blatantly say the hard line answer, not knowing the person’s history and not handling it with tact or understanding the story behind the situation. I’m not saying the situation is right, but from my own experiences, struggle and treatment, I know that things can be handled better so that others aren’t burned by Christians.
Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. That is how you share the gospel. By consistency. By compassion. By having a stance but not judging others, (which is exactly what “sinners” have come to expect from “Christians,” almost so that they are pulling for the judgment to justify their uneasiness). We are to share the love of Christ, let God be the judge of all morality, and gain a better understanding of someone else’s heart and struggles."

I am a Christian. And my responsibility is to humbly and boldly follow the Lord and lay down my arms. It is to live like Jesus did. It is to stop waging war. It is to wash your feet.
So here is another apology on behalf of the Christians before me and around me who have not only epically failed at this, but who have put a chip on your shoulder or a dager in your heart.

Friday, May 11, 2012

God and Gays.

okay. i have been patient. i have waited a very, ...very long time. perhaps i've waited because i've been afraid of backlash, or judgement (ironic), or malintent by others. who knows. but i need to address something. and i need to speak boldly about it.

i want to address the controversial and intense subject of God and homosexuality. this post is not about promoting one personal stance over another. it's about something that i feel is more important.

i've read the Bible. i've studied the Bible. i've studied books about the Bible. it has been a personal interest of mine to learn from its wisdom and write it on the tablet of my heart. so...what i could do... is sit here and quote the scriptures about homosexuality in the Bible til the cows come home. or i could quote other scriptures that are, to be blunt, more important and primary in the Bible (beat me down as you may oh conservative sheltered Christians).
but i won't, because to be honest, i don't care. this long awaited post is not about bible legalism... this says that, and that says this.

it's about Love. and it's about knowing Jesus Christ.

"Love your neighbor as yourself and love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your soul." (Luke 10:27). that's primary to Jesus, and it is primary to me. it is the most precious and powerful wisdom He gratefully left us. and that's what we're supposed to live out. it is highly layered and no one will ever be able to master it. it is a brilliant law.

SO...let's say you're one of the boatloads of gay friends of mine and you're asking me the question i've been asked by almost every single one of them:
"So're a Christian, right? OK, think i'm going to Hell then... that i'm living in sin..." (and here's where my gay friend usually laughs and smiles with a wink to show me he/she is just kidding, oblivious to the fact that i notice that ever so fleeting moment of seriousness in his/her eyes. the moment where i feel that giant unGodly chasm that absolutely breaks my heart).

well dear and beloved friend, let me answer this question for you. 

first off, to give you an almost caddy and short answer, i have no idea why you're asking me this question. i am not God. so this question has nothing to do with me. or perhaps you're asking me for either of two reasons: 1) you truly do wonder about some things in your life and don't know what you want to grab hold of, or 2) you're just trying to catch me in a corner and beat me down like all the other Christians in your life who have wrongfully treated you like a leprous piece of shit. 

secondly, my entire existence in this world is to Love you and to Love you unconditionally. unconditionally means no strings attached, tenacious and consistent as hell, and full of unmerited grace.... the same love that i expect from you.

thirdly, we have the subject of judgment. as i said before, i know the scriptures. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." - Matt. 7:1 or the often-quoted Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."  and on and on and on and on... but even more considerable than this beautiful council is the way in which Jesus lived his life. He broke bread with whomever. He dressed in rags and lived impoverished even though He was a King. He was a complete radical in how He had no observance of much of any of the governing laws or officials who cared more about legalism than they did about good moral standing. He would sit down with you on the dirt floor, probably stewing in your own shit and wrap his arms around you not because He didn't care, but because He DID. 

THIS is Christianity. to be a "Christian" means to be one who "follows Christ". it brings such desperate sorrow and illness to my heart to see people who call themselves "followers of Christ" go round ignorantly and abusively making ANYONE, no matter if you're Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, of a different Christian denomination, or don't follow the "Don't cuss, drink, smoke or chew, and don't date girls that do" mentality, feel like they aren't fully and without hesitation LOVED COMPLETELY. 

so this is my of my apologies and many more to come, for all the mess. for all the ignorance. for all the dark days when you have felt ostracized because of misplaced passions. because of missing the mark.

know you are loved. you are cherished. and you are living a bigger story.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fairytale or real?

thought i'd share this story.
yeah, the constant violin music in the background is a little cheesey. yeah, i wouldn't ever put a "thankful wall" in my house (that's just not how my personality works). but man...oh man...the underlying, tremendously strong foundation of true love in this little 8 minute slice of life, is absolutely fetching. and it reminds me of what's worth waiting for.

it can be indeed frustrating living with doubts and an absurd timeline in my head. there are days when i think i'll be alone forever and there are days when i don't care one tick if i'm alone forever. it's quite comical really. and then there are nights like this when i sit down alone and am completely satisfied.

there is something to be said about the love of Christ that draws us near and dear. there is something to be said about a Lord who won't leave us or quit on us. and there is something to be said about the fact that this is all a wonderful gift given to us freely and willingly.

if i may be direct, after watching the video, you will be left with two avenues of thought. you are left to believe that this young couple is completely ignorant and unfortunately naive, or you are left to consider the fact that the God they claim to know is real, and that this God might be, as he aptly put, Awesome.

my opinion? Awesome. for the win.