Sunday, December 1, 2013

Closet Christians

Many people in my life are rejecting the labels of Christianity, some of the most loving and Christ-like people I know. I think there is a certain embarrassment in associating with a religion that sometimes seems incapable of lovingkindness or nondiscriminatory compassion. Despite the mandate to judge not, judgment is something Christians are known for.

It is a tricky spot. While I feel a strong sense of shared values with Jesus, I do not feel the same way about the church at large. And I am left wondering: can my feelings about the church be separated from my feelings about Jesus? If the church is his body, then is the way I feel about the church a reflection of how I feel about him? Am I myself a part of this body that I find so discouraging?

I have reached a point in my faith where I don't want to be a Christian. I don't want people to think I am a Christian and I even sometimes wish I had no faith in Jesus, but I do. I have this knowledge in my soul that people genuinely loving each other is the only thing that redeems us, and a belief that this is what Jesus stands for.

Is it possible to reclaim what it means to be a Christian? Would a reclamation be worth anything?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Leave your own life of sin on the doorstep and get the hell out of here.

We are masters of missing the point. I am a master of noticing when someone is doing something that Jesus would not like ME to be doing, and judging them by the standard I am held to.

It is hard to recognize that people must draw their lines differently. To recognize that not only must I draw a line that best allows me to love God and my neighbor, but that the line of another might be quite far from mine. Even to recognize that the line I have drawn now might be somewhere else in five or ten years.

I find it remarkable that, 2000 years later, we are still trying to condemn the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In fact, I have come to suspect that this is where folks have managed to justify the annoying and unfounded phrase, "love the sinner, hate the sin."

It seems that we falter when we linger on the concluding words of Jesus, "Go now and leave your life of sin" (v. 11). This phrase is sometimes mistaken as a mandate for us to point out where the sin lies in the lives of those around us.

"I love you, but what you are doing is wrong."

"I cannot condone what you are doing."

"I don't know whether or not I approve of your life."

These sentiments fail to recognize that we are not Jesus in this story. We do not have the ability to read the minds or hearts of others and we therefore lack the ability to pinpoint what is sin in the life of another (See Jeremiah 31:33-34). As such, we should not be subjecting our brothers and sisters to the constrictions of the law as is is written on our own minds and hearts. If I have a real concern about someone for whom I care deeply, I would do much better to ask how that person feels about what he or she is doing.

Christians are called to love one another, plain and simple. This kind of love has nothing to do with keeping track of or even taking notice of the sins of others. We do not love people in a God honoring way when we must add footnotes on what we perceive to be their shortcomings.

The Scripture readings at the church I attended this morning included the line "love doesn't keep score of the sins of others" (1 Corinthians 13:5). So, let's simply love our neighbors and keep track of our own plankeyed sin.

(P.S. Bonus points if you can cite the movie reference in the title!)

Monday, February 6, 2012

I am going back to my roots.

I should let you know that my abandonment of Scripture did not last forever. With a new awareness of the perils of allowing the pursuit of truth to be guided by pride, I have humbly returned to the Book that has challenged and inspired me since I received my first copy nearly sixteen years ago.

I remember my first significant encounter with the Bible. An extended family member had paid for my sister and me to spend a week at camp, and my mom bought us Bibles because it was on a packing list that came in the mail. It was a Precious Moments Bible. New King James Version. I took the baby blue one because I didn't like pink. My sister got the pink one. I was nearly ten years old.

After a week at camp, I was rather curious about my new Book. I had observed some striking qualities in the Christian leaders at camp, like they had extra love or joy or peace or... something. Since my new Book seemed quite important to them, I decided to read it. It was July. I started in the New Testament. Someone at camp must have had the good sense to suggest this.

I have to admit, I was rather disenchanted as I began reading the gospel according to Matthew. A genealogy of Jesus spanning 42 generations was a rather hardy read for my nine-year-old self. So much begetting. I found the subsequent story of Jesus to be very compelling, though, and continued reading. I finished reading the New Testament before school started again and have been enamored with the Book ever since.

This Book played an integral role in the development of my faith identity-- in my becoming a Christian and in my constantly growing understanding of what that means. I am very glad to have my nose back in it. It feels good; it feels like home. I am discovering so many new things. I hope to share some of these things with you soon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I once abandoned Scripture.

Nearly a year ago, in early spring, I wanted to learn absolutely everything about New Testament Corinth. I wanted some ammo. Some rebuttal for an aggressive few Scripture references that would surely be coming my way.

I checked out several books and prepared to live with my nose in them for as long as it took. But, instead of doing this, I gave up studying the Bible for several months.

I had noticed a fiery rage that surfaced whenever I thought about the expertise I would acquire, about how right I would be and how wrong others would be. My heart was beginning to callous. I was in danger of becoming very closed-minded, very incapable of entering the overarching conversation in a way that honors a Savior who simply asks that I love God and love others.

Disgusted with myself, I returned the books. I was so ashamed of my behaviour. I couldn't believe what I had nearly become, and in the name of Jesus!

I didn't stop reading, though. I checked out a book called Love Is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. His organization, The Marin Foundation, based in Boystown, Chicago, works to build bridges between the religious and LGBT communities. Marin advocates for "elevating the conversation" above theological debates and towards finding good ways to love people.

Loving people. Time and time again, no matter the topic, this is what my understanding of God's will for me boils down to.

I am so weak in my attempts, though. When Christians do not practice love, I loathe them, and their poor reflection of Christ. What hypocrisy I show -- in this attitude, I become the very thing I hate. Oh, that my actions would match my words! Lord, have mercy on me in all of my failed attempts at love without condition.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sorry, I was busy demolishing my closet.

Over a year has passed. So much has happened. 

I have experienced some of the greatest joys and greatest sorrows I have ever faced. The discovery of a love I never thought possible for myself. The corresponding dissolution of my dearest friendship.

For as long as I can remember, I have believed that a Christian's response to the LGBT community should be love. Just love. Not loving condemnation. Not "love the sinner, hate the sin." By the way, why do people think "love the sinner, hate the sin" is a Biblical principle? Coming to terms with my own homosexuality has only reinforced my intuitions on this matter. (That was my subtle way of coming out to you, blogosphere.)

And still, I have questions. I want to do what is good. I want to live my life in a way that honors God. I want to continue to discover who I am as a beloved child of God, as someone who lives in the freedom offered by Jesus. I want these discoveries to be guided by the Holy Spirit who counsels and accompanies me. I want the wisdom of Scripture to inform the things that my intellectual side claims to be true.

I want to discuss all of these things with others who sincerely seek truth. I am not scared of difficult questions. I want to be diligent in putting prayer and study and feeling into finding answers. Or maybe just pieces of answers. Slowly connecting dots.

None of us know everything. None of us have all the answers. Sometimes this excites me, sometimes this leaves me feeling defeated.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"...without turning as they went."

There are many distractions. Many things threatening to pull my attention away from God. Society is kind of evil. It keeps trying to convince me that I need to embrace things that are meaningless, and it even succeeds sometimes. It tells me that I need to keep busy. Fill my schedule. Make money so I can buy more stuff. Shop at the right stores, possess the latest technology, work my way up in the world.

So many distractions. These things are not the stuff of life. They are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. And I fall prey to them all the time, often forgetting that I already have all that I need.
I am not very good at making New Year's resolutions. I am, however, very good at setting goals that are vague and unmeasurable, allowing myself to think that I am bettering myself without having to face any real possibility of failure.

Last January, for example, I decided to use less disposable products. Did I succeed? Impossible to say. I know neither how many disposable products I used in 2009 nor how many more or fewer I used in 2010. But I was aware of my consumption. I felt guilty when I forgot my travel mug or a fork for my lunch or my grocery bags. I think a lifestyle change may have ensued, regardless of whether or not I achieved anything tangible.

So, true to form, this year my goal is to be more aware of God's presence. To be less distracted. Vague, right? Well, that is just how I roll.

This year, on New Year's Day, I happened to begin reading Ezekiel, an Old Testament book that I do not think I have ever read in its entirety. Wow, did this prophet ever see some fantastic visions! In the first chapter, he described four cherubim. Brilliant creatures. Freaking brilliant. Zeke went on to describe how these creatures moved about:
"Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went." (1:12)
What an image. What a fantastic depiction of spiritual focus. That is what is going to be on my mind as I seek to let the spirit of God direct my actions and my words and my thoughts. Sure, I will fail plenty of times and feel guilty about it, but maybe something will change in me. Maybe I can do better than I have before.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rejoice! Rejoice!

My roommate Sam has a sister who lives on an acreage just outside of the city, so we drove out there with a couple of friends the other night to watch the eclipse. We arrived early, so we walked through the sheep pen - I wanted to see how much their lamb had grown since I last saw him.

Hanging out with sheep under the starry night sky brought to life a familiar piece of the Christmas story. As I stood outside looking up at the stars, I tried to imagine what it might have been like for the shepherds when the angel of the Lord appeared. I imagined terror giving way to feelings of joy as the angel shared its message.

God's promise to send the Messiah had been fulfilled. He who would save his people from their sins had come to earth. Imagine being among the first to hear this good news. Imagine a quiet night amidst fields of sheep interrupted by a joyful greeting from an angel of the Lord. Imagine a great company of the heavenly host descending to praise God. The joy of that moment must have been pervasive. Inescapable. Magnificent.

If you can, find a quiet evening moment to spend outside. Let the joy of Immanuel, God with us, invade your experience of Christmas this year.