Saturday, June 22, 2013

If the Church would just be the Church, then....

If the Church would just be the Church...

....then what?

...then we will have said that phrase 1 million + times and nothing has changed?
...then we will get more air time if we utter this platitude?
...then the pastor's sermon will, all of a sudden, be revolutionary and bold?
...then the Kingdom will finally come?

This statement - "just be the Church" is often employed by pastors, armchair theologians, and Christians fed up with this world drowning in sin. This "bold" solution to our world's woes presupposes the notion that the hearers of this proclamation actually know how to be the church.

But what if we don't know how to be the church?

What if "being the church" inherently means, not knowing how to be the church.

Perhaps it's a process to be the church. Maybe we should start saying, let's become the church.

Sure - i suppose there are problems with that. Becoming the church would mean that we're currently not the church....and that's just not right. I really do think that we - those who understand and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord - are through our baptism, incorporated into Christ's universal church.

Since we don't know how to be who we are, I propose that we learn to be[come] who we are. 

Sounds confusing...

This reminds me of the LORD's name in the Old Testament, which is equally confusing. It is traditionally translated "I Am what I Am." But the Hebrew is pretty flexible. It can actually be translated in multiple ways. You could render it, "I Will Be who I Will Be." Or...even this: "I Will Be what I Am."

If God's own name can be understood in many ways, then I think that the Bride of Christ, the Church, can also be understood in a variety of ways.

So when I hear that iconic preacher phrase, "Be the Church," it sounds like a nice corollary to "I Am what I Am." Sure, that's one way to look at just doesn't help us figure out how to Be. 

But there's also (and more favorable in my opinion), "I Will Be what I Am." The Church is already here...and the Church isn't going away. So let's learn how and what it means to be the church, and in doing so, perhaps we will become what we already are (in a realized eschatological sense for all you theology nerds).

That, I can jive with.

***If this makes no sense to you, try re-reading, paying close attention to the italics. If it still makes no sense, comment on the blog and tell me. I mean, it is 1am while I'm writing this and we all know that my bed time was 2 hours ago. I'm a 60 year old man trapped in a 24 year old body.***

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Beginnings: A Theological Reflection Inspired by Triscuits

You know that moment when you've hated something for years and then, all of a sudden, you learn that this hated object is actually not too bad after all? This has been my walk with Triscuits recently - a strangely textured cracker thing that I used to hate, but have come to tolerate.

We all know the feeling, and it's kind of a good one, actually. We take delight in the fact that we have evolved ever so slightly, our taste buds exploring a new flavor that was formerly despised.

All my life, in various Christian gatherings of worship, I have hated the feeling that God is not speaking to me. You know those moments when everyone is "amen'ing" and you're just sitting there thinking, "how are they getting so excited about those underwhelming pastoral platitudes being shouted out from the pulpit???" Or maybe you have attended the yearly Passion Conference in Atlanta Georgia (or another big Christian conference), where you're surrounded by thousands of people passionately raising their hands and singing to God, while you cannot even feel the slightest tingle from the Holy Spirit. What's the deal with that? I hated that feeling.

It's easy to feel like an inadequate Christian, or a less "spiritual" person when you're underperforming in the Holy Spirit Olympics. So what do we normally do in those situations? From my experience, I've found myself imitating others, trying to appear passionate with the slightest hope that God will actually "show up". And let's be real, I'm not the only person who has done this. Many of us are caught in this game of occasionally faking it. Yep...we're those clueless singers in the choir that mouth "watermelon" when we don't know the lyrics of the song.

So what in the hell do we do about this?

I'm not one to typically call out idolatry, but I think I'm gonna do it. Faking the worship of God is idolatry. 

What's the idol? Worship experience.

Yes, when we are so consumed by trying to "experience" God that we have to essentially trick ourselves into doing it with the hopes that the Spirit will fall upon us - then that's idolatry. Also, what does that say about God? Do we really think that we can "fake it," and by our attempt, God will show up? Call me crazy, but I think God's omniscience is a little more "omni" than that.

It is more Christian to curse God for being absent than it is to conjure up the Spirit through some feigned attempt at worship.

We see cursing, lament, frustration, etc., all throughout our Psalms and the Prophets. Oh wait - and everywhere else. Even Jesus cries out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

We need to learn how to show negative emotion toward God. It's okay to be frustrated and/or angry with God. It just makes sense sometimes! Don't let it dominate your overall attitude toward God, but it's healthy to have it there. If we're gonna call God a father or mother, then maybe we should act like it. Sometimes, we get mad at our parents. Sometimes, they have abandoned us. And if we don't have parents, sometimes we get mad at the people who care for us. It's natural.

So here's my new beginning: I'm gonna allow myself to be mad, frustrated, sad etc., at God whenever that moment or time period arises. No more faking these attempts at worship. No more idolatry of worship experience.

5 years ago, I could have never imagined myself saying this. 5 years ago, I also hated Triscuits. 15 years ago, I initiated a vendetta against Applebees for their over-peppered Chicken Fingers (yes...true story...i was a diva only-child).

Now, although it sounds a little strange, I'm going to try being a more faithful Christian by getting mad, frustrated, sad, etc. at God. I invite you to join this journey alongside me. Who knows, you might actually like it and feel like a better follower of Jesus. Hop in the car - oh - and bring the Triscuits!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

India Reflections

        Below is a theological reflection paper I submitted for a school requirement - but it sums up some of my more abstract thoughts rather than a day-by-day account of what I did. Enjoy!

        Given my relatively extensive international travel experience, I was not expecting to substantially reflect theologically after the India immersion. I have seen third world poverty; I have received hospitality from people of all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder; I have worked among religious communities – all of which we actively did during the immersion experience. Something, though, was different about this experience. The one word that sums up the totality of my emotions from reflecting upon India is burden. If one were to paint a picture representing the concept of burden, it would likely convey some kind of struggle. Bright colors would not be the palette of choice and would seem rather bleak. However, burden should be a neutral term, free of positive and negative connotations because it in fact embodies both. This burden, positive and negative, will be unpacked in this theological reflection.
            The first way I want to reflect on this trip is to convey and analyze what I heard in India. What comes to mind was the sheer volume of the streets in Calcutta at all hours of the night. While this was not the best situation for sleeping purposes, it awakened me to a few realities. One of which was the realization that the sweeping tide of life is constantly moving, even when I am inactive. Every day, I will need to rest – and while I am resting, many things are happening that I have no control over. This is a positive and a negative burden. It is positive in the sense that it teaches me that I cannot do it all. I cannot always be in control of situations and that is okay. Further, it shows that God’s spirit is alive and at work in peoples and communities all across the world, even without human agency.
            Another “hearing” experience for me were the voices of people who are actively working in this world for a positive change. These are people who have a vision, examine it, and then implement it with all of their energy. The stories that were shared were incredible. Some have opened nonprofit organizations to speak out against violence against women. Others have launched anti-human trafficking initiatives and even have engaged the secular, younger generation through MTV. We even heard of a clubfoot curing nonprofit that has now spread to over 17 Indian states, strengthening the bond of public and private sector for the good of humanity. The activities themselves were not burdensome to me. What is burdensome is the idea that the same Spirit that inhabits the lives and actions of these people also abides in me. This spirit, which I recognize and acknowledge as the Holy Spirit, pushes and prods me to be the most fully realized human being that I possibly can. The weight of this call is burdensome, particularly when I fall (as many of us do) into the trap of comparing ourselves to numerous examples of the quixotic Christian life.
            The last thing I heard (as recounted in this paper at least) was God’s whisper through my reflections while riding on a bus coming back from the Taj Mahal. Despite the miserable bus experience, I heard God challenging my assumptions about worship practice and worship experience. These two ideas of practice and experience are central to my future academic pursuits. After the M.Div, I will pursue a PhD in Practical Theology with a concentration in Liturgical Studies, focusing on the concepts of worship practice and experience in the Emergence Christianity context. Some of my bedrock assumptions regarding the efficacy of worship were challenged on that bus. I held the notion that the charismatic worship experience was in fact one of the most effective means to experience the divine. As an aside, my assumptions were more complex than this, but there is not space to discuss this. God revealed to me the beauty in community; more simply, the idea that the experiential factor in worship is the inherent realization of a united worshipping community – not the particular ritual of the community. I am still processing through this and am grateful to be disoriented by the Holy Spirit in that regard, knowing that the fullness of this experience and semi-epiphany will stay with me in my academic career.
            The second way I want to reflect on my experience in India is through what I saw. Although I have heard of the oppression against women in India, I witnessed the oppression of young girls in a rural village. While I did not see them get beaten or yelled at, or anything of the sort, I did see something in their eyes that I have rarely experienced in the United States. Their eyes communicated their silence. The terseness of glances coupled with an unrivaled timidity evoked an image in me of a girl trapped in a body that is not her own. Even the sound of exciting music filling the air stirred up positive emotions within the girls; but emotions could not be relearsed, for music of that sort was not acceptable. Looking back on this situation, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of burden. The burden this time though is that I will likely never see these girls again. Moreover, it is also likely that the majority of these girls will never leave that village. In situations like these, it is very difficult to see God. While these girls are taught to believe in God from a young age, I am saddened when I think about the god that they are being told about - a god understood through the lens of a fundamentalist Imam. Despite my universalistic leanings (in a loose sense), I am willing to contend that this understanding of God is probably not the God being communicated in Islam. This god from the village is tribal; it is contained; it makes room for overt oppression. This god stands at odds with what I know and what I’ve experienced of Islam. At the same time, these village inhabitants are my brothers and sisters, my co-laborers for the common good, and the stranger I am called to lovingly welcome.
            Another thing that I saw that seemed rather banal at the time was our experience at the Taj Mahal. After the group completed our touristy photos riddled with platitudes, we were given a highly informative tour by one of our tour guides. As we gazed upon the building, he pointed out the beautiful inscriptions of the Holy Quran that covered large portions of the Taj Mahal. The juxtaposition of Islamic influence and Hindu architecture concretized the interreligious characterization of India that beforehand I had only heard of in theory. It was a breathtaking sight. The beauty of this also has profound implications for my future ministry. As I prepare for a career with one foot in the academy and the other in the church, the United States will diversify its already religiously plural landscape. Depending on where and what I teach, it is likely there will be Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and the nonreligious all occupying the same room. In order to communicate effectively with each other, we must know how to respect, as well as how to lovingly tolerate one another. Regardless of how cynical the connotation of the word “tolerance” sounds, it draws a notable parallel to the Taj Mahal. While the tension is there between the inscriptions and the architecture, it still comes together to make something beautiful. Concomitantly, just like the extant tension in a religiously plural landscape, it might take a while for beauty to come out of it - but that is a hope worth living for. For me, that’s a hope that I feel like Christ calls me to actively participate in.
            The last category that I want to reflect on is what I touched in India. I saw God, and I want to argue that I even felt God in the hands of Indian seminarians – seminarians just like me. What makes them so different? Well, I do not think we are too different at all. Most of them are young in age, well-rounded people, and inspired by God to do the work that God has called them to. Certainly their perspective is different from mine, especially because many of them come from rural communities in a developing nation. When we linked hands with them in prayer, there was a sense of unity that I had not yet felt on the trip. This unity was not like-mindedness; it was not age or physicality, but transcended all notions of the physical present. We were and are united in our calling from God as revealed in Jesus Christ, a calling that appropriately coexists with God’s kingdom reality - this “already, but not yet” tension.
            There is, however, burden with this sense of unity. It is a burden with both positive and negative conceptions. On the positive side, it is nice to see Christianity as a minority religion. I know that sounds a little backwards, but it seems like a more authentic form of Christianity – one that is in tension with the surrounding society. It has hope to grow because it is not a societal norm. What is even better is that these young, charismatic, dedicated seminarians I met are the future leaders who will lead this movement in remarkable ways. The negative burden of this seminarian “touch” experience is that I will likely never see these students again. I wish I could keep up with my Northeast Indian friend, Johnson, but I know this relationship, given both of our extensive callings, will not be sustainable. Another facet of this negative burden is my personal feeling of a lackluster calling in comparison to my Indian friends. I know that I’m not supposed to think that way, but it’s hard to shake. These students will be doing things, in my opinion, far greater than I will ever do in my ministry. This burden, albeit highly critical sounding, strangely renews in me a sense of my own purpose and calling.
            Overall, this India immersion has taught me a lot about myself, the people of India, and challenged my assumptions of the nature of God. Though I have unpacked the first two categories, it’s the nature of God that I want to briefly reflect on next. When I travel, it is so easy for me to see and experience the realness of God. For some reason, God feels closer to my being. This was again affirmed and experienced in the India immersion. At the same time, this realness of God was seen on the faces of people, Christian and non-Christian. I have always marveled about how people recount seeing the “face of God” in others. For me, this finally became a reality on this trip. I saw, heard, and touched the mystery of God’s creation and created beings. For that, I am ever grateful. For this trip, I am ever grateful.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Intellectual Barrier to Worship

When I attend a worship service, or even sometimes when I lead worship, it’s easy to feel like God is not present. Our Western, educated context often tells us that we are too intelligent to participate in such mystic and ancient practices. But when you turn to your friends or other people that seem to be passionately worshipping God, you want their experience to become your own. There’s something innately beautiful about a human being captivated by the wonder of an all-loving, creator God.

When our minds are racing at such a quick pace trying to understand why we cannot replicate that experience, it is easy to jump to conclusions. Perhaps one conclusion is that God does not care for you, or maybe, you feel as if you are too unworthy for God’s acknowledgment. I have met many people who have arrived at these conclusions, myself being one of them.

For others, it might not be the emotional idea of an uninterested or even spiteful God. It could, however, be an intellectual barrier brought about by the seemingly irrational practice of worship. Such questions could be: why worship a God that demands such worship? Do I seem foolish participating in this worship? Am I even singing to something, someone - anything? What is the point of all of this?

All of these questions are valid, and I imagine there are more questions of similar magnitude, as well as some with very deep implications for our faith praxis. Answering these questions though is not the intent of this blog post.

I do, however, want to offer a series of suggestions; of thoughts that may or may not help you (and me) deal with our various intellectual barriers to worship. This is not to say that intellectual barriers are inherently bad. I would be more concerned of the opposite: people who do not have/perceive any of those barriers, but that’s a different blog post altogether. J

One way to overcome this intellectual barrier is to enter the worship service with a sense of gratitude – perhaps being grateful for the life that God has given you. To some, this is perfect. To others, it will simply not work, or it might take a long time to feel this sense of thankfulness. I invite you to consider God’s work in the natural world: the beauty of the skies, the ocean, or the mountains. If the natural approach does not help, consider God’s work in the life of your family, friends, and relationships. Finally, and in all things, consider God’s faithfulness in your life. How has God worked miracles, comforted you in times of distress, empowered you to do something incredible, etc.?

These suggestions may come easy for some people, allowing them to enter into some kind of personal, mystic encounter with the divine. For others, this process could take a longer, maybe even spanning 2 or 3 worship services or more.

At the risk of generalization, I think the bible, particularly the NT, demonstrates the experience of God in worship as an immediate thing. We read these stories and can clearly see God moving in such a distinct and intentional way. It is important to know that these stories are beautiful, but they are not the summary of how people encounter the living God. If the bible shared with us every worship experience of God’s people, then we would get overwhelmed very quickly. Not to mention, if we accept the idea of a personal God, then we must also acknowledge that we all encounter God in a unique way. It would be highly unlikely to record each individual’s experience.

That being said, some people may not encounter the Holy Spirit in such an immediate and noticeable way. Let’s take a look at Acts 2:1-4:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” –NRSV

Quick disclaimer: in seminary, we get to “play” with the texts in class because we all bring our own context, social location, etc., when it comes to interpreting the text. Allow me to play.

The point is that these folks in the passage were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages “as the Spirit gave them ability.” Pay attention to that language. This key line could be interpreted in a couple of ways. 1 – as a general statement about God’s Spirit giving people ability, or 2 – a statement about the independence of the Spirit in the act of “filling” people. I’m going to choose the second option and say that because the Spirit is independent, not everyone in the passage received the Holy Spirit at the same time. Perhaps it was immediate for some, but the text doesn’t claim with certainty that it was universally immediate.

As the story of Acts continues, we learn about the witnesses of this miraculous event. Clearly, they did not receive the Holy Spirit in that moment. They even criticized those who experienced the Pentecost event, saying that they were “filled with new wine.” Later in the story, even these folks get to have their encounter with the Holy One.

So, whether we identify with the immediate group in Acts, the delayed group, or the group that first criticized, the point is that everyone at some point encountered the living God. They might have had intellectual or emotional barriers in their way, but they were ultimately open to receiving the unique work of the Holy Spirit.

If you are having these intellectual roadblocks in your pursuit of an encounter with the divine, know this: you’re not alone. Many people right now are experiencing the same thing, and I bet many of the biblical authors did as well. As our society progresses and postmodernism and pluralism become the hallmark of our religious landscape, I believe that the intellectual barriers between humanity (particularly Western, First World humanity) and God will increase in intensity. To counter this notion, I think and sincerely believe that if we remember God’s faithfulness in our lives, and constantly remind ourselves of that gratitude, then these intellectual barriers can be conquered. God is greater than our intellectual barriers – and our worship is a response to God’s goodness, to God’s in-breaking in our lives, and God’s activity in this world. May we constantly remind ourselves of this. Let’s worship, y’all!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Proselytizing the "Liberal" Gospel to Conservative Christianity: Why Disorientation is Not the Best Approach.

As a self-avowed “liberal” coming from a conservative Christian background, my propensity to share my understanding of the good news to current conservative Christians is strong. Many theological liberals and progressives can identify with this. We often look at conservative Christianity as if it is walking in a cloud of theological ignorance – and we must do something about it. When interacting with these folks, our tendency is to puncture their theology with the hopes that it might throw them off of their theological high horse (while we remain seated on our own).

As a current seminary student that is entrenched in the depths of “the liberal gospel,” I now observe myself getting angry with liberal tactics to disorient the conservative Christian from her/his beliefs.

What do I mean by the “liberal gospel”? Frankly, I don’t think there is an actual gospel that is “liberal.” To me, it’s simply the gospel: loving God, loving neighbor, and bringing God’s reign (kingdom) to earth. This happens by all of us becoming more Christ-like in faith and practice, nurturing that faith and practice both individually and communally. It gets deemed a “liberal” gospel not by its meaning, but how the faith is intellectually and practically approached. While a conservative might intellectually frame their theology based on a foundation of biblical inerrancy, the liberal likely rejects this notion. Contrariwise, the liberal might practically approach the faith by putting an emphasis on God’s kingdom now, where the conservative might see this as an eternal eschatological hope.

Ultimately, there is no liberal or conservative gospel, but simply liberal and conservative approaches, intellectually and practically, to the ONE faith. The gospel remains the same – it is still good news, but for the sake of consistency, I will still refer to the gospel as “liberal” or “conservative.”

What is the point of proselytizing the “liberal” gospel to our conservative colleagues? It all comes down to education: everyone needs to have their embedded theology challenged and needs to be instructed in various approaches to understanding scripture, church tradition, worship practices, and embodied witness. Without having quantitative and dearth anecdotal evidence, my inclination is to believe that most liberals have an understanding of conservative theology, while I aver that most conservatives lack exposure to liberal theology. It is important that everyone is exposed to the various theological orientations within Christianity in order to have a better grasp of the faith. I would make similar remarks in the political realm: liberals need to be educated about the conservative positions and vice versa.  

Going back to the gospel, the problem seeps in when people believe that their version of the good news is superior to another’s. This happens in many circumstances: seminary is one of those places. Many seminaries are designed to disorient: a person’s embedded theology is blown up, forcing them to pick up the ruins, build new parts, and try to construct a new infrastructure from all of the remains. While on one hand, this is effective because it forces people to theologically reorient themselves, which in turn [can] strengthen their various views. Conversely, many people lose their faith altogether, making seminary more like a theological cemetery. Enter (stage Left) the archaic nugget of wisdom that liberal professors often convey: “if you lose Jesus after my class, then I argue that you never had Jesus in the first place.” I say: well maybe that person really did know Jesus, but was never educated in ways to understand him and interpret the biblical witness of him.

Similar to the approach of academia, liberal Christians try the disorientation methodology when they are intellectually fencing with conservative counterparts. I am guilty of it myself.

However, I want to suggest that disorientation is not a Christian response to proselytizing the “liberal gospel.” There is no neighborly love-ethic when we have the motive to destroy their faith. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, that’s often the internal motivator that in turn affirms our conception of intellectual “superiority.” Why do we do this? Perhaps we are returning our anger against former experiences with bigoted conservatives (to clarify: yes, there are bigoted liberals too). These folks might have told us that we are not Christians because some of us do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They might call our rejection of a literal hell as an intellectual cop-out of God’s justice. Regardless of what “they” may say, does that mean we must consequently return the favor by bashing their fundamental tenants of faith as if we’re playing academic whack-a-mole? Clearly not, no matter how entertaining whack-a-mole is. Love these people for who they are, recognizing that they play a role in the body of Christ too.

What can be gleaned from this discussion? I suggest that disorientation perpetuates an “us vs. them” ideology in an unhealthy way. Whereas spiritual elitism in conservative Christianity might accentuate this ideology, the intellectual elitism in liberal Christianity often does the same thing. Generally speaking, moments of disorientation occur because the learner is unfamiliar with the “controversial” material. There will always be differences of opinion, but that is natural. It becomes unhealthy when those who identify as Christians are placed “outside the camp” of their own claimed faith tradition by opposing people in that same faith tradition.

When we are dialoging with our conservative sisters and brothers in Christ, we must approach the conversation from a position of mutuality, knowing that we are in the same boat and yes – on the same team. When we share the liberal understanding of the gospel, it should be done didactically with the intention to edify, not to break down. Is it okay to challenge them? Of course! At the same time, we must allow ourselves to be challenged. For many of us, this is the version of the gospel that we were acculturated with; this was the gospel that moved us in such a way to dedicate our lives to following Jesus Christ. The beautiful thing is that the gospel has power – power on both sides of the theological spectrum; while its power may often be abused by conservatives and liberals, it is still what binds us together in this worldwide community of believers. Perhaps when us liberals share our understanding of the gospel with love and not with the intention to disorient, better bridges can be built not only to lessen the theological divide, but also to work together for mercy and justice in the world.  

“Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Convoluted and under-developed blog about Homosexuality

Greetings friends!

I don’t know what it is with Christianity, but we Christians (emphasis on “we”) always like to have some kind of big buzz going on about what is morally repulsive and/or inadequate based on our “truth” claims from God. Perhaps it is human nature, but I won’t delve into that because I would have no idea what I was talking about…haha.

Anyways, for thousands of years women and foreigners (among others) have been considered morally repulsive and/or inadequate based on others’ truth claims from God. Unfortunately, a good bit of this still exists in our “modern” world. If I were to survey all of my facebook friends…I would guess (and hope to God) that ALL of them would say women and foreigners are equal as humans. The bible in many instances does not see this equality. There are plenty of texts that support the utter destruction of people-groups because they are foreigners (try reading Joshua). Similarly, women were (and still are) often the scapegoats for the existence of sin in the world. Even Jesus compared a foreign woman to a dog (Matt 15:22-28)…so even Jesus doesn’t receive a “get-out-of-jail-free” card on this with statement; he’s got some misogynistic leanings too.

Most modern Christians have moved beyond those hurtful passages and have realized that the bible is a product of its context and not all passages about women and foreigners should be taken literally. Currently, we see women and foreigners lead prominent businesses, serve in armed forces, and hold political office. In church-land, most denominations have women as lead pastors and almost all denominations have and/or would love to have a foreigner/ethnic minority as a lead pastor. These former sins of inadequacy and moral repulsiveness have been washed away (mostly) in the sweeping tide of the 21st century. 

Continuing on, I think homosexuality is the current buzz-“sin” because we don’t know what to do with it. So what’s the deal?

Some say…it’s not natural. I say…well maybe it’s not natural…for some. The many homosexuals that I know believe they were born gay and realized it at a very young age. I even have friends who sincerely believe that they are the opposite sex trapped in their own body. Who am I to question their nature?

Does Jesus focus on the nature of the sinner (?)…or the coming of the kingdom of God? Short answer: both. If you read your bible, Jesus does care about the sinner and calls her/him to repentance, but the central message is the kingdom of God. When Jesus reads from the scriptures in Luke 4 (the only time in the bible where Jesus literally reads from the scriptures), he talks about the Spirit of the Lord God that is upon me (us) that has anointed me (us) to bring good news to the poor, release for the captives, etc. I don’t see any qualifications for the Spirit to work within someone. Hmmm. This passage, along with many others, is about the Spirit working through humanity to build God's kingdom.

Perhaps this same Spirit that is at work can also be at work in someone who is in fact homosexual. This must be true – I go to seminary with homosexuals who feel a call from God (yep…the same Father/Son/Holy Spirit) to preach the good news to everyone, living their lives in service to God. Who am I to question if God is speaking to them? When I feel that God has spoken to me or has nudged me, nobody can take that away from me.

Homosexual Christians do not believe that their orientation/lifestyle contradicts the text of the bible – and neither do I. The Old Testament and New Testament have no concept of a mutual loving and caring homosexual relationship. While running the risk of overgeneralizing, the “homosexuality” that is mentioned in the bible speaks of a relationship of power – where one male overpowers another male and brings shame upon the male (graphic details omitted). Another practice that “homosexuality” in the bible is linked to is called pederasty…where an older man and a younger man get unhealthily emotionally-connected to the point of sexual involvement. I think the homosexuals in my family would be appalled if this was the modern definition of homosexuality. 

The Bible has a lot of great things to say, but homosexuality as we understand it today is not addressed in our canon. Therefore, I do not believe it is a sin. Moving on...

“Biblical Marriage”

For staunch proponents of “biblical marriage,” I encourage you to read this article…you might be surprised (or not) to understand what biblical marriage really means.

Point is: biblical marriage would not be allowed today - it does not make sense in our culture. Our notions of "traditional marriage" were created within the last 200 years, but many Christians practice isogesis, or "proof-texting" from the bible to legitimize their claims for "traditional marriage."
For a great blog about marriage and how it relates to the state (rather, how it shouldn't relate to the state) this.
With that, I think it is important to say that I fully support my homosexual sisters and brothers to have the same marriage rights as I do.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” – Not okay

While this phrase has been an important buzz-phrase in evangelical Christianity, I would suggest not applying this idea to persons in the LGBTQ community. When the word “sin” is used in this phrase, it implies something that is an action. Sure…there are acts associated with homosexuality, but I don’t think anyone from the LGBTQ community would suggest that being a homosexual is an act. Being a homosexual is just that: being, which connotes an identity. If you’re going to call homosexuality a sin…and you’re going to hate it….I’m hard-pressed to believe that the recipients of your hatred really think that you just hate their lifestyle. Why? Because it is their lifestyle, it is their identity. When you say you’re going to love the sinner, are you going to love the part of this “sinner” that is not gay? That doesn’t make any sense…

I’m not writing this as an invitation to discuss whether being homosexual is a nature/nurture issue…that does not matter. What matters is that there are millions of people who identify themselves as homosexual…and I will love them because of who they are because I believe that God loves them the way that they are.

My challenge to conservative Christians:

First of all, let me say that I think you are perfectly entitled to believe whatever you want to about the bible. If you believe that it is perfectly inspired and inerrant, go for it - I respect that and do not think less of anyone who believes this.

Speaking very broadly, gay people are leaving the church because they do not feel welcome there. Like many other people, they believe the church is hypocritical and feel like they are constantly being judged. Even if you do view homosexuality as a sin, what’s more important? To focus on this issue…or to spread the gospel to people who haven’t heard the good news? I would suggest that option B is a more faithful example of Christianity.

Earlier, I mentioned my belief that the Spirit is free to work through people, even homosexuals. I don't think anyone would necessarily disagree with this - mainly because we are not in control of the Holy Spirit. A solution to the dissipating population of homosexuals in the church would be to affirm their God-given calling to ministry and allow them to pastor churches. Yes…even if you disagree with it…I am suggesting to affirm homosexual pastors. If we are to be authentic about the gospel reaching every group of people…people need a pastor they can relate to. History has shown us what it looks like when outsiders come in and preach the gospel without knowing the community – it looks like colonialism.

When people choose a church, they generally pick a church that does not cross too many racial, linguistic, or class barriers. I also think it’s appropriate to add in sexual orientation. Having more gay clergy would be more appealing to the broader LGBTQ community.

Like I said, even if you don’t agree with homosexuals being clergy, at least the gospel is being preached to a seemingly absent group from our congregations. Think of how many more people in the world could benefit from more pastors (gay or straight) empowering their congregations to make a difference in the world for the glory of God. I think the good outweighs the “bad.” Helping people is never bad – even if the helping comes from “other sinners.”

**Thanks for getting through this blog – I know it’s a tad bit long and still underdeveloped. I’ve been feeling the need for a while to let my sentiments about homosexuality be made known**

I make no claim to have the right belief…I just believe and communicate what I think it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Even the Bible has varying opinions on that; there’s not only one right way (cf. Paul pissed off at Peter in the book of Galatians) to follow Jesus.

I hope this blog finds you well. Feel free to ask questions...just be nice...or I probably won't respond.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Exclusivism: There's nothing like it...

So here I am this morning...chillin...sitting at my desk after a great time of prayer and bible study when I come across one of my favorite blog sites - Religion Dispatches. One of the regular contributors, Candace Chellew-Hodge posted a commentary about a popular news story regarding a United Methodist pastor that became an Atheist.

Candace was commenting on those unfortunate circumstances and how a lot of situations like these are rooted in churches not being open to open-mindedness. In her remarks, she talked about how she felt ostracized by her seminary community for wanting to be a church leader that encourages the questions and existential discourse. At one point in the article, she declared that she did not believe in hell or in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (both things are common in Liberal Christian "orthodoxy"). There was a brief side-note in her article that illustrated what critical thinking and questioning did for her. She's not making a claim that this is the theology that critical engagement of the scriptures leads to - hardly at all.

But oh no...enter the exclusivist camp...stage right (of course). Anonymous homeboy/homegirl says this (misspellings included)...

 "Candace, This article has confirmed what I previously though, which is that you are more of an 'intellectual christian' than a true beliver. Which is to say that you have a strong intellectual attraction to christianity but do not really understand or accept the fundamental doctrines that go with it such as the virgin birth, jesus messiahship, the atonement, miracles wrought by Jesus, the ressurrection etc etc. To put it bluntly you like the label but don't really belive in the product which means in effect that you are not really a christian more a sort of half-hearted cheerleader for christianity. You are by no means unique there are a lot of 'christians' today who fit this description but to be a christian you have to belive in christ and what he taught, the whole package. To simply cherry-pick out the bits that you like and discard the rest is a rejection of christianity, this one foot in and the other foot out approach is down to a fear to fully commit yourself you want to believe but fear the consequences that come with fully committing. I guess it's about what matters most to you, your faith or preserving a degree of popularity and intellectualism."

 This response deeply saddened me. Apparently, by this person's definition, I am not a Christian either...i guess i'll drop out of my MDiv program.

 There is so much danger in exclusivist "Us vs. Them" thinking. It is hurtful to people and hinders the growth of the body of Christ. I hate to say it (oh I don't), but John Piper, N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg, or Karl Barth are not the arbiters of Christian truth! Perhaps they point to this truth, but that's the best they can do. I will spare you (and myself) from diving deeper into discourse on the implications of's summer and i'm lazy! I merely wanted to share with you that i was bothered this morning...a healthy bother...but bothered nonetheless. Here's the original article if you want to check it out.