Tag Archives: Jesus

Being Present to Black Friday

We don’t call it “Good Friday” here, because, in those moments, there was nothing good about it.  After enjoying dinner, twelve disciples watched their leader get arrested.  Then what happened to them?  All we know is that Peter followed along, likely staying close to hear what was going on but even so, denying knowing Jesus at all.  Judas committed suicide out of remorse for his betrayal of Jesus.  As for the rest?  They probably scattered in fear.  Likely we all would.

As Peter followed Jesus and the crowd as the guards dragged Jesus first to the Sanhedrin, then to Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate (in Luke’s account), he was scared to death.  Unsure.  Hesitant.  Too scared even to admit to knowing Jesus.

Then Friday dawns.  Jesus is bruised, beaten, bloody.  He hasn’t slept, opting instead to pray for hours during the long night after dinner.  He’s been betrayed, he’s feeling friendless – he’s alone, for all intents and purposes.  Soon he will be forced to walk the two miles from the Praetorium to Golgotha.  Some gospel accounts have him carrying his cross the whole way, others have the Roman soldiers conscripting Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.  Regardless, he picked up his cross.  He accepted the death sentence.

And now it’s 9 a.m.  The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  They laugh and jeer, as do people in the crowd.  They divide Jesus’ things amongst themselves and cast lots for his robe.  For the next six hours, Jesus will hear the taunts and jeers of the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the rest of the crowd.  Even one of the thieves beside him would taunt him.  John tells us that Jesus looked down and saw his mother and his “beloved disciple,” giving them to each other, commissioning John to take care of Mary.  The rest of Jesus’ followers?  Who knows where they are.  Probably hiding out in fear, not wanting to be discovered, not wanting to be found guilty by association.

Noon.  Darkness falls over the land.  Jesus continues to suffer, breath coming harder.  The crowds and soldiers continue to watch and mock.  Crucified people slowly suffocate and die, eventually becoming too weak to push up against the nails or ropes, the weight of the body as it hangs preventing the lungs from taking in enough air.

Three p.m.  Jesus gives a loud cry and dies.  The Roman soldiers don’t need to break his legs to hasten death as they had to to the thieves.  The eleven remaining disciples are nowhere to be found.  Two members of the Council, secret followers of Jesus, now come out and one approaches Pilate, requesting the body of Jesus.  The other helps him take the body down.  They wrap the body in herbs and linens before laying it in a new tomb.  The women who followed Jesus follow the two men, noting where Jesus was before going home for Sabbath rest.

Sunset comes and with it, the Sabbath begins.  We don’t know what the disciples did, but we can imagine how they felt.  They would have felt fear and uncertainly.  They were heartbroken about losing their friend and teacher.  The disciples were crushed with disappointment, because they truly believed that Jesus was heralding a new messianic era, a time when the Israelites would rise up and destroy their Roman oppressors.

In the evangelical church, we grab hold of “Sunday’s coming!”  We want to skip right past the ugly, emotional events of Thursday night and Friday and get to the joy of Sunday.  As I was growing up, we went from Palm Sunday with its Hosannas to Resurrection Sunday with its Hallelujahs.  In fact, there was the unspoken belief that the suffering of cancer, miscarriages, and chronic illnesses was because of one’s sin, so such issues were kept secret and private to avoid judgment.  We didn’t talk about suffering at all, not even the life-changing suffering of Jesus Christ.

However, are we not first followers of Christ?  We need to embrace the pain that Jesus and his followers faced.  We need to understand the pain, sense of betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, the mind-melting fatigue, and the fear of those first disciples.  But why?  Why do we want even to visit this place of darkness?  We do so, because we will visit this valley in our lives.  We will feel all of these emotions, and we will experience the paralysis that comes from overwhelming inundation of feeling many of them at the same time.

Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection and new life in Christ, but that doesn’t take away the reality of the pain.  Sure, “Sunday is coming,” but the disciples didn’t know that, or, rather, they didn’t believe it.  And Sunday coming two days later does not, in any way, change the reality that today is Friday and today is dark with grief and fear.

So let’s stay here for today – and tomorrow, too.  Let’s understand and feel the richness of the emotions of this day, even when they’re not all pastel, fluffy, cotton-tailed happiness.  Let’s be present to these emotions, realizing that we must have sadness in order to appreciate best the joy of the empty tomb and what that means for our lives.  To do less than this is to cheapen the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Doing it Daily – All Over Again

There’s this beautiful song by Train called “Marry Me.”  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  Although it was released in 2009, it was 2013 before I heard it for the first time.

I love the line, “Marry me, today and every day.”  We get married (hopefully just once), and we have that one wedding where we make promises to each other in front of an officiant, God, family, and friends.  There’s music, there are flowers, there’s cake, maybe dancing, and it’s a glorious affair with people looking tres belle and tres beau.  Afterwards comes the honeymoon, a delightful period of romance and spending time together as husband and wife in a great location.

But what happens after the couple comes home, unpacks, and gets back to the day-to-day business of being a married couple every single day in the real world – a world without the flowers, the music, the cake, the honeymoon?  Unlike the pink-edged cream rose I have growing in front of my house, marriages don’t thrive on neglect.  They need daily attention and devotion, as do spouses.

This has to be intentional, though.  We can’t give our marriages our attention today and come back to it in a week-and-a-half.  My husband and I have a routine.  I don’t mind drinking day-old coffee.  Sure, I prefer it fresh, but I’d rather not waste it.  On Saturdays, I pour myself the day-old cup and make fresh for him; on Sundays, he gives himself the old cup and makes fresh for me.  This weekend, though, he did something different for me.  I woke up yesterday and poured the old coffee into my cup before making the fresh pot.  When I went back to the kitchen a little while later, my coffee was missing.  The cup was still there, but it was empty.  My husband had poured the day-old coffee into his cup.  He did that this morning, too.  It’s a tiny little act of service (my love language), but it made a huge impact.  Likewise, each day, I tell him something great I’ve observed about him or something perhaps that the girls have remarked on.  The key isn’t about being flashy or loud in the affirmations, it’s simply about being consistent.  As a result of these little acts – just small little things – we have grown closer and we have become more solid as a couple.

Discipleship requires just as much intentional daily attention.  Jesus says in Luke that if we’re going to follow him, we must take up our crosses daily and follow him.  As this call to the spiritual discipline of evangelism fell on my ears, as we read the corporate prayer of confession in church this morning, it hit me that I really don’t do as much as I’m supposed to.  I don’t  enter into a time of confession of my sins on a daily basis.  I also take the Gospel for granted.  I know it.  I’ve read it (multiple times), studied it, taught it, and preached it.  In fact, because I know it so well, the story isn’t fresh and new, this Good News more something I might meet with the excitement of my tax refund showing up than with joy that rivals fireworks, because, people, this is GOOD NEWS!  The BEST news!  It’s not exclusive, judgemental, or condemning.  This gift is for EVERYone, and I’ll open my arms wide and share it with absolutely everyone.

God loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time.  In fact, God loves us so much that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and came down to earth to suffer the just punishment for our sins.  And when we accept this free gift of grace, we have eternal life.  No, it’s not physical immortality; our flesh will still age and die.  It’s spiritual immortality – our souls uniting with God in Heaven.  This is the good news.

And each and every day, I need to remember this good news, remember how it’s impacted my life, remember what it has called me to do with it, remember to share it.  Every day, I need to be intentional about devoting myself anew to the Lord, just as I do my husband, and publicly sharing my love for God, just as I publicly share my love for my husband.

Share your story.  Share the good news this week – how God has worked in your life.

 

My Two Cents’ Worth

Sunday and Monday, I was pounding the pavement, rocking my almost-three miles each day, getting the heart pumping happily.  Both days as I walked, I found two pennies on the street.  Finding these on Sunday was remarkable, but I shrugged it off:  I’ve been walking those streets 3-4 days a week since October and had never found money before.  Finding these coins two days in a row, though, seemed to be a sign that needed attention.

As I walked Monday, those two pennies clinking softly in the pocket of my running pants, I thought about two cents.  What good, of what value, is a mere two cents?  It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

To a millionaire, a couple of cents would be dispensable.  What’s two cents out of hundreds of millions?  To most of us, we can take them or leave them.  Maybe we wouldn’t want to touch dirty pennies.  Or, if you’re like me, you toss them in a jar until you have enough to roll – or save them to use as math manipulatives.

English: Large amount of pennies

English: Large amount of pennies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one woman in the Bible, though, two cents was absolutely everything she had.  Mark relates the story of Jesus and his disciples standing in the narthex of the Temple, watching people placing their tithes and offerings in the offering box.  Most placed their ten percent, the Pharisees making a production of such.  One poor woman put in a whopping two mites – two small coins, probably worth a cent each.  What are those worth compared to the tithe of a rich person?  Jesus commended her offering to his disciples, for she had put in far more than anyone else; she had put in everything she had.

Those two cents made me remember, we need to give everything we have.  Some have the sheer faith literally to turn over everything they have to the Lord and trust God for all their provisions.  Others (I fall into this camp) recognize their blessedness in all they have, however much it is, and strive to honor God in how they use and treat it.  In doing this, I have come to see the blessings even in the clutter (God did give me those children who make it), but I have also taken it as a discipline to put the stuff in its proper perspective.

Our church has been doing a study the past few weeks on living generously, and we spent an easy two weeks talking about how we can live more generously if we don’t think we always need more.  I pretty much mentally checked out of the study at that point, because I don’t want more, I don’t need more, and I don’t think I need more.  In fact, we are steadily getting rid of stuff, putting perfectly good furniture we were storing at the curb for others to take and selling and donating clothes (with monies going towards the girls’ soccer this season).

We also need to dedicate our work and play to the Lord.  We need to play in a way that points people to the Lord, and how we go about our work needs to be a witness to God.  This means working with integrity and not trying to get by with less-than-responsible behavior.  It means not trying to get by with stuff.  My older daughter and I discussed how I could do something and no one would ever know.  I could get by with it, technically it wouldn’t harm anyone, but it still wouldn’t be right.  Integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

In our play, we also need to give all we have to God.  This manifests itself in good sportsmanlike conduct in team sports, discipline in practice, and, for those of us crazy fortunate enough to coach, modeling the right behaviors.  Coaching soccer is like ministry to me, and I am constantly aware of how I can show the love of God to my players, both on and off the field.  Giving our play to God also shows up in how we treat others, even in our casual pick-up games.

As you go through your days, give you all to God.  Our offering is more than just 10% of our paychecks; it’s time, talents, and gifts – all which come from God and all which we can use to glorify him and lift others up.  As for those four pennies…?  They’re going in the offering plate.  I’m trying not to denigrate them as “just four cents.”  I’m going to trust God will multiply them as the Lord has done before, and those four pennies will end up being far, far more valuable than four cents.

My Thoughts About Bathrooms, Hate, and Transgender People

I tried to stay silent about this as long as possible, but my “as long as possible” didn’t last very long.  At the end of March, the North Carolina General Assembly convened a special legislative session to push through a law, HB2.  That law was passed in both chambers and signed off by the governor before the 11:00 news.  It went into effect on 1 April 2016, and things have gone downhill since.

HB2, aka, “the Bathroom Bill,” says, among other things, that people must go into the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate.  This means that, a transgender male – imagine someone 5’8″ tall, buff, bearded, and visibly male – who has not had gender reassignment surgery or had their birth certificate changed, must go into the ladies’ restroom.  Am I the only woman and mother of young daughters who’s not comfortable with this?  I have nothing against people who are transgender; as I’ve said before, I have friends who are transgender.  My problem is, now I don’t know if that man described above is a transgender male obeying a civil law, or if he’s a sex offender taking advantage of the ease of going into the ladies’ room this law provides in order to attack my daughters or me.  Should I wait and see if he’ll go into a stall, or if he’ll pull out a knife or gun, by which point, it’ll be too late?  So, thank you, NCGA, for creating the very opposite situation of what you claimed to be after and putting ALL us women and our children at risk for sexual violence – not at the hands of people who are transgender who are just in the bathroom to do their business, but at the hands of violent sex offenders who don’t care about laws and never have who can now walk into public bathrooms claiming to be transgender.

As a result of HB2, my state stands to lose federal funding for education.  So much for our General Assembly and governor being “about the children.”  My state has lost businesses.  My state has lost wonderful, tax-paying citizens who no longer felt safe living here who have moved to other states.  North Carolina has already lost a significant amount of revenue and stands to lose billions – yes BILLIONS, with a B! – more.  My state no longer allows people who get discriminated against at work based on religion, gender, age, race, or orientation sue for discrimination at the state level; those suits now have to go to the federal courts to decide, a process which takes an easy three years, far longer than the 180 days the state gives for resolution in such matters.  HB2 prohibits teachers from going into students’ bathrooms in schools.  Hopefully that mean, nasty bully isn’t beating your child to a pulp in the bathroom between classes, since the law is so about “keeping children safe.”

And in the most ironic element of this law of all…  In HB2, the state prohibits individual cities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws and their own minimum wage laws.  In case you haven’t figured it out, yet, the North Carolina General Assembly and the governor are all far right conservatives.  You know, smaller government?  I’m sure they thought it was an abomination when the US Supreme Court decided that gays and lesbians have equal rights and made this federal law the law of the land, totally overstepping states’ rights to govern themselves in this matter.  Yet, the North Carolina government is doing the exact same thing in our state to our counties and cities!

Obviously, when this law came out, there was talk everywhere.  To be honest, I finally had to step away from Facebook for a while, because the plethora of “Pat McCrory saved our children!” posts were going to cost some friendships, and I try to respect my friends’ views, even if I disagree with them.  Over against that was the continued hate speech against transgender people, mostly the result of manufactured fear by the media and ignorance.  Here’s the thing – transgender people are so much like you and me.  They get up in the mornings, go to work, fulfill their responsibilities to their bosses, come home, spend time with family, go to bed.  They pretty much live under the radar, just like the rest of us do.  And they’re fine with that.  In fact, they feel safer under the radar.

The transgender people I know (that I know are transgender) – both women – are smart, attractive, bad-ass, loving people.  One is married; I went to her wedding 3 1/2 years ago.  There, incidentally, is where I met the other, who is engaged.  In fact, I just found out the married woman is transgender about five weeks ago, and the latter, last year.  These women live their lives, do their things, take care of their loved ones.  The fact that I’d known them both so long before knowing their backstories should tell you something:  Neither of them flamboyantly advertised the fact they’re transgender.

And I think that J and S are typical of almost all transgender people in America – and the world.  Caitlyn Jenner is not the face of and spokesperson for people who are transgender, and, personally, I don’t consider her brave or admirable.  Bruce probably went to some extremely private hospital in another country with the top gender reassignment specialists in the world, took a six-month “vacation,” and came back as Caitlyn.  Now, Caitlyn claims she wants to “be just like everyone else.”  Maybe she should give up her cadre of body guards and come hang out in a state where transgender people face police harassment, threats, government-sanctioned discrimination, and threats of and actualized bodily harm – all because her physical, outer self didn’t mesh up with her mental/emotional inner self.

Pediatricians and geneticists are now recognizing that people who are transgender could have genitalia, brains, and chromosomes that don’t match up.  For example, a person could have male genitalia (“look” male), but have female chromosomes and female brains.  Brain science research is now providing us with a reason why transgender people, even from an early age, may “feel” like they’re the wrong gender.  At birth, doctors determine gender only by outer genitalia, not chromosomal testing.

For those of us in the church, this presents something of a theological conundrum:  Did God make a mistake?  Short answer – No.  Do we look at a child with Down’s Syndrome and think that God made a mistake?  Of course not!  Do we think God messed up when a child is born with a deformed arm?  Never!  God doesn’t make mistakes in how God makes us.  Each and every one of us is created in the image of God.  The Psalmist says, “I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  This goes for all of us.  Sometimes, we face challenges in how we’re made – life challenges – and those challenges will either break us if we try to rely purely on ourselves; they’ll give us a source of strength and determination; or through our uniqueness, we will allow God’s love to appear to others.

If I may borrow from my younger daughter’s favorite Disney movie to wrap this up…  “Love is stronger than fear.”  As we are made in the image of God, and God is love, then we also are called on to love our neighbors who are transgender.  You may see them differently than I do, and that’s OK.  But for heaven’s sake, get to know someone who’s transgender.  If you’re going to profess Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, then (literally) by all that is holy, act like it and love even those who you feel are unlovable.  And you know what’ll happen?  (This is great!)  You won’t be afraid of them anymore, and you won’t hate them anymore, and you’ll begin to recognize all the bull crap the mainstream media and social media outlets are spewing for what it is.  And you will please God.  I’m thinking that’s a win all the way around.

Let me take a moment to direct you to this great article I drew some from, written by a fellow Baptist: https://baptistnews.com/2016/05/13/seven-things-im-learning-about-transgender-persons/#.VzgsSsiznvB.facebook.

Why Do People Hate People who are Transgender?

I realize that, by posing this question, I’m likely opening myself up to being exposed to a large amount of hate and vitriol, but I am genuinely curious.  I have at least one transsexual friend who I share with other friends.  There’s so much hate and violent sentiment directed towards this segment of the population, and I really, truly don’t know why that is.  I’ve heard them referred to as “freaks.”  Really?  That doubly appalls me; while transgender is listed as a psychological disorder in the DSM-5 (which I can see necessary in some cases), still, calling people who are transgender “freaks” is about as sensitive as calling the following “freaks”:

  • An Army vet with PTSD
  • A little girl on the Autism spectrum
  • A woman with schizophrenia
  • A man with depression

Get my point there?

So, please, tell me why people (maybe you, even) hate people who are transgender and wish serious harm or death to come to them.  If you’re going to site scripture, please do so in a way that honors God and respects the Bible (or other holy book, dependent on your faith) with faithful use of scripture.  This includes using the scripture in its context within scripture, but also with respect to historical context.  And for those of you who would dare to say that God hates people who are transgender, please read your Bible all the way through before commenting; there’s only ONE “I hate” statement attributed to God in the WHOLE Bible, and it has nothing to do with the LGBT community.

From the End to the Beginning and Back

It’s the Advent season, and I’m sure many Christian home educating families are sharing stories and lessons about the first Christmas.  We have our own traditions surrounding those lessons, but for school, we stick to our schedule, and our Bible study schedule has us finishing the Gospel of John tomorrow, our last day before break.  It seems strange to be reading and studying about the death and resurrection of Jesus when it’s that time of year to celebrate his birth.  Yet, it feels right somehow.

As my daughters and I have read these familiar words, the circular nature of the story of Christ emerges.  The story starts with a girl named Mary who is willing to be the vessel that carries, nourishes, and bears the Christ-child.  She sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  At the story’s dramatic break, that same teenage girl is grown up and watching her son being crucified.  Another Mary, Mary of Magdala, goes to the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus, only to discover it’s gone.  As the narrative unfolds, the risen Jesus gives her instructions to share this amazing revelation to his disciples:  “I have seen the Lord!”  Yes, the very first witness to the pivotal event in Christian history was a woman.

Mary & Baby Jesus

Mary & Baby Jesus

At the end of the story, the bleeding body of Christ is laid in a tomb, a place of uncleanliness.  At the beginning of the story, the weak and vulnerable newborn Christ is laid in an animal’s feeding trough.

Early in John, Jesus tells Nicodemus during Jesus’s first trip to Jerusalem for Passover after beginning his earthly ministry (of which we have record), “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  After Jesus appears to the disciples the second time, John states that he’s written this whole account so that the reader will believe that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore have real and eternal life.

Jesus’s life ends as a king subjected to the peccadilloes of political maneuverings.  Jesus’s life begins as an infant king threatened by the political maneuverings of a megalomaniacal king.

As we read the resurrection story, we remember that it begins here at Advent.  This Christmas story is the account of God breaking into history in order to send the most perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The story is a new kind of history, one where a deity becomes the very thing deserving of condemnation to take that condemnation upon Itself.  God did that for us.  God did not desire to destroy His own creation, so God became a part of that creation in order to die for it.  In doing so, God saved us from our sins.  Jesus was born to die, and died that we might be born again.

Yes! On the Right Track!

Events of the weekend brought to mind this passage from Acts 5*:

33 When they [the members of the Sanhedrin] heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

When someone who is “religious” tells you that speaking the truth is wrong and that preaching the Word of God is wrong, then that tells me I am totally on the right track.  Satan used someone this weekend to try to undermine the message of love that fills the entire Bible; that came to completeness in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and that, paired with “don’t judge others, ’cause your life is just as messy,” exemplifies how we Christians should live.  It’s small in the realm of persecutions, but it lets me know I’m on the right track, that Satan doesn’t like that message.  So I’m gonna just rock on with preaching this word of God’s love and acceptance for all people; it’s beautifully inclusive.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people…” (Luke 2:10)

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

 

 

*Scripture references are from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.

 

What’s the Point of the Walls?

We have walls – all of us.  We have the physical walls of our homes, plus the emotional walls we may place around our hearts.  Walls serve three main purposes:  They define a space (e.g., this is the living room, and this is the office, and both are delineated with their walls); they keep unwanted things out; and walls keep desired things in.  In short, with our walls, we create boundaries and borders.

Churches have walls, too, and these walls serve the same purposes as the walls in our homes, but in a way I find sadder and more disturbing.  The walls in my home keep out many things – uncomfortable weather, bugs, precipitation,

English: The Church of the Holy Spirit - Leeds...

English: The Church of the Holy Spirit – Leeds & Bradford Road, Stanningley Originally built as a Methodist Chapel this is now used as a Catholic Church, a Chapel of Ease of Christ the King at Bramley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

unwelcome guests (you know, like the kind who want to help themselves to your things while you’re not home).  How often, though, are the church’s walls used to keep out the undesirables, too?  Who are they?  Who does the Bible define as undesirables, those who are to be made unwelcome for God-worship?  I’ll give you time to look that up.

Take your time.  I’ll just be trimming my nails and knitting my shawl.

You came up empty, didn’t you?  While Jesus had no church and didn’t concern himself with details of worship during his time on earth, his life and ministry should be a great example to us of who we should exclude and include in our own worship.  That would be no one and everyone, respectively.

Yet, we want to exclude.  We want to exclude those whose sins are different from ours and may make us feel uncomfortable.  We don’t have a problem welcoming those who may be divorced and remarried (labeled as adultery in both Old and New Testaments), and we don’t have a problem welcoming people who have made money or sports figures their gods to worship (breaking the first commandment there).  However, we as a people of God fail repeatedly at welcoming and loving those who might have a different lifestyle from ours or who might have made a dire mistake twenty years ago.

The absolutely most heartbreaking incident of exclusion I’ve heard tell of happened to a person who’d made such a mistake.  One Sunday morning, the pastor made the rounds of the Sunday school classes of parents with children.  He told us about a woman who’d been bringing her infirm mother to church and staying with her to worship.  This woman is a convicted sex offender, a secondary offender, which means she knew about the abuse but did nothing.  (I can conceive of a whole bunch of perfectly good reasons why that might be the case, but I wasn’t her judge.)  Under the law, she has to avoid places where children are cared for.  The pastor told us how he’d invited this woman to his office and told her she couldn’t come to our church anymore.  The majority of the people in the class looked at him like he was some avenging hero and were so grateful that he’d purged this “evil” from among us.  Me, I was aghast, appalled, disgusted, and saddened.

You see, however it happened, this woman had made a mistake.  Or not.  I mean, it could be that she feared for her life every day.  Regardless, this woman needed grace, not condemnation.  Hadn’t she already had enough of that?  If you can’t get God’s grace at church with your own mother, then where in the world are you supposed to get it?  What the pastor did was legalistic, not Christ-like, and wrong.  If it were me, I would have invited the woman into my office and, with her permission, gone to the county sheriff’s office and tried everything in my power to find a work-around on this law.  I would have put my own reputation and standing on the line, because that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

The walls of the church keep stuff in, as well.  They don’t just prevent the praise band’s practices from disturbing the neighbors or maintain our coveted physical comfort level for our worship experiences.  Those walls do a pretty good job of keeping God in, too.  Our churches become our boxes, and if we can keep God in our box, then we believe we can control Him better.

One of my favorite “heretics” is Giordano Bruno, a 16th century monk.  Bruno read the books on astronomy that the Catholic Church had banned, especially those daring to suggest a heliocentric solar system.  In his clandestine studies, he surmised that God is infinite, and an infinite God must have made infinite universes.  (The Holy Spirit can speak through books other than the Bible, you know.  No sense limiting what she can do.)  Wow!!!  What a concept!  Can’t you even begin to imagine this?  An infinite God.  A God that’s bigger than the night sky, a God that can’t be contained within the four walls of a basilica or cathedral.  While an infinite God might be challenging for our finite human minds to grasp, much easier to understand is how well this went over with the Church.  Hint:  Not well at all.  Bruno’s books were burned, he was arrested and tortured to try to make him recant his views, and ultimately, he was burned at the stake as a heretic.  The Catholic Church needed a God who’d fit in its box, a God they could control and use to control the masses.  For Bruno to suggest a different concept of God was too frightening for them to accept.

Our churches’ walls keep us in, too.  We show up, we want to be comfortable.  The ambient temperature must be just perfect for every single one of us, and the message cannot offend of confront us; it mustn’t lead us to change at all.  We sing, we pray, we go home.  Those walls can prevent some incredible Kingdom-building.

If you put five Baptist ministers in a group, I’d betcha that the topic of numbers will arise within the first half hour – new converts, new members, how close to budget their churches are.  The Methodist church is also numbers-oriented, but that pressure is more external than internal.  The discussion came up last week at church about how many families started coming to our church due to the Easter egg hunt and VBS.  Since there were none, the pastor wondered about doing the Easter egg hunt again, to which she got a resounding, “Yes!”  As a guy who was there put it, it’s about planting seeds, and that did happen.

I recognize that in the “corporate world” of church, the CEO’s (pastor’s) job is dependent on how many new customers (members) he/she can bring in.  If there’s no new growth, the pastor might suddenly find her/himself “being called to another church” (Baptist pastors never just resign from their positions).  In the meantime, the current loyal customers (members) might be expected to live on the equivalent of spiritual fast food.  Discipleship is down, there’s almost no personal spiritual growth, and no one is really doing anything to hasten the Kingdom of God on earth.  Just as I get customers by speaking to people and putting myself out there, so, too, can churches attract new members by getting outside the walls, putting themselves out there, ministering to all sorts, not just those who bear a homogeneous similarity to the current members.  No farmer ever planted seeds by sitting inside in the air conditioning; it takes work and dedication.

Let’s break down some walls.  Let’s dare to get outside of our personal comfort zones to get out there and plant some seeds.  It’s not about numbers.  Really, it’s not.  Jesus never told his disciples how many to witness to, how many to make disciples of, how many to baptize.  He simply told them to get out there and do it.  That’s the message for us, too.  Let’s just do it.  Let’s do it until the work is done, and then we can stop, rest, and be comfortable.

To my LGTB Friends… Please Stop

You know who you are.  You’re lesbian or gay or transgendered.  I don’t know of any of my personal friends who are bisexual, but this is for you, too.  Some of you I know personally; we’ll smile when we see each other and exchange hugs.  Others of you I only know through forums or Facebook, and we’ve shared so much of our lives through those media that meeting would be a seamless transition from “online friends” to “real life friends.”

I see your posts.  I see the news articles about pastors gay bashing.  I see the video clips of pastors calling for your deaths.  I hear about the far-right extremists bashing you and calling you all sorts of vile names.  Why do you do this?  Are you trying to find further justification for denying God or for thinking all Christians are haters?  C’mon!  You’ve known me for how long now?  You know not all of us are haters.  In fact, the vast majority of us prefer love to hate.  Some of our numbers are confused and struggling to understand you, or struggling to reconcile what the Bible says in Leviticus about homosexual behavior with what Jesus and Paul said about love and acceptance.  Be patient with them; it’s a tough, rather scary road to travel.  I should know, because that road is in my own rear-view.

I’m asking you to stop.  Please.  Stop listening to that crap.  Stop reading the hateful words.  Stop renting head and heart space to those disgusting hypocrites who are so far removed from Jesus that they wish you would die.  (That’s a whole lot of hate there.)  Your person is precious.  I believe God made it so, whether you do or not.  Hearing and reading that kind of vitriol will corrode your soul over time, and your soul is too precious to do that to.

So just stop it.  OK?  You are a wonderful, amazing, precious person, and God loves you.  God made you into that wonderful, amazing, precious person (again, whether you believe in God or not).  You’re a fellow co-created traveling life’s journey with me in some form or fashion, and I love you as that.  If you’re a friend, I love you as a friend, unconditionally, because that’s simply what friends do.  Fill your head and heart with love.  There are so many people out there who love you – far more of them than the haters.

Wanna talk love?  Do you want to know more about God’s love for you?  Feel free to message me or comment, and I’ll be happy to share more with you.  If you’re feeling persecuted in your personal life – maybe parents, friends, or loved ones have rejected you for being gay or transgendered – please know that there is love for you, too.  Don’t let their hate and narrow-mindedness define you or rob you of your self-confidence in who you are.  Remember…  Wonderful.  Amazing.  Precious.  You.

I’m Out

What does that mean?  In gambling, it means, “I’m out of this hand or the game.”  In family life, it could mean, “I’m out of the house running errands.”  In the LGBT community, it refers to being “out of the closet,” being open about one’s sexuality and lifestyle.  I’m not saying any of those things.  I’m saying, I’m out of the box.  I’m outside the box.  I’ve known this for a while; it certainly wasn’t a secret to Dean Cogdill, my Divinity School dean.  To this day, I’m still not sure what he saw in me that had him labeling me his “outside the box thinker.”  I really had never thought my cognitive processes were all that different from other people’s.

It was fall semester, 2004, and I was in my last semester of Divinity school.  The last semester is rather anxiety-provoking, because every student in their last semester has to complete a Senior Synthesis paper, a lengthy (save often!) discourse on his or her entire Divinity school experience – every discovery, every growing edge, every field experience, every mission trip…  Everything!  To accompany this epic tome comes the Senior Panel.  This is a closed-door meeting with two professors and that semester’s Senior Synthesis professor, and each student gets to have a say in his or her choice of professors.  I put my choices in – Drs. Jones and Harmon, my professors of Hebrew and Old Testament, and Theology and Ethics, respectfully.  Soon before the panels were scheduled to begin, the list of panels came out and was passed around the room.

It didn’t take long for the mutterings to start.  “Whoa, Sara!  What did you do?”  “Oh, Sara, you’re gonna get it!”  Oh lordy, I thought, waiting for the list to get around to me, how bad is it?  Finally, the list came to me, and scanning down to my name I discovered that I didn’t get either of my choices on my panel.  Instead, I got both deans.  BOTH.  DEANS!  My professor said, “No one else got both Dr. Cogdill and Dr. Powers.”  “Yea.  Lucky me,” I replied.  Truthfully, I was terrified and humbled and honored, all at the same time.

There was history there.  As a Religion minor in the days before the Div school was chartered, Dr. Cogdill was chairman of that department, and, of course, I’d had some classes with him.  I’d had Dr. Powers for one undergraduate class.  In a lively discussion on the role of women in the home one day in Church and Family, Dr. Cogdill had had to get on me about my comportment during class discussions (I guess heavily insinuating that the guy I was addressing was misogynistic wasn’t very mature of me), an incident that, thankfully, he’d forgotten by the time I had applied for Divinity school.

As I sat in the conference room on the day of my panel, I remember the warmth and encouragement flowing from Dr. Hoyle, Dr. Powers, and Dr. Cogdill.  The last question Dr. Cogdill asked me was, “Sara, how will you stay outside the box?”  Um…  Uh…  Duh…  Crickets.  I was outside the box?  Really?  OK, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d ever done intentionally.  I was still young enough that some parental/family/social approval was a big deal to me.

That was ten-and-a-half years ago, and I am so completely out of the box now with age and maturity that I often forget there is a box filled with so many people.  See, here on the outside, it’s really spacious – not very crowded at all.  It’s great, but getting here can be quite scary.  Sometimes staying here is quite scary.  So how am I staying outside the box?

My heart still yearns to fulfill my ministry calling from so long ago.  As I have encountered more and more people, it has become glaringly apparent to me that we need more love and less judgment in this world.  People don’t need to hear a laundry list of their wrongdoings while we’re thumping our Bibles at them.  They need to hear just a few simple truths:  God loves you.  Jesus has something amazing in store for your life.  I love you.  Focus on that, so sweet, so simple, and the rest will fall into place perfectly.

English: Love Heart rainbow

English: Love Heart rainbow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before the Supreme Court determined that equality for gays and lesbians who wish to marry would be protected under the 14th Amendment, I began to think, Why shouldn’t they marry if they wish?  I mean, so many of them, without marriage, are living together in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and isn’t that pretty much what marriage is?  I lose nothing by them having the same civil rights that I do.  It’s not going to negatively impact my faith, my marriage, or my family life.  It simply means that gay and lesbian couples can now be legally happy together instead of illegally (for lack of a better word) happy together.  So…  Since they also have been created in the image of God, just as I have, and since God loves them, just as He does me, shouldn’t they also be welcomed into worship with us and welcomed to join us at the communion table?

Then my thoughts spread to another group, one that a friend of mine is in:  The BDSM group.  In speaking to my friend, he conveyed that “people like [them]” aren’t welcomed into churches, that churches tend to take a hard stand against them coming in.  Yet, this guy misses communal worship.  Years of being married to a Presbyterian minister accustomed him to the liturgy of worship and the inclusion into the family of faith.  If he misses church, would not others in the BDSM community miss it, too?  So why not establish a church where those other churches shun are welcomed?  Maybe being gay or enjoying some consensual kink is a sin; I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not God, and I’m not ever going to presume to put words in the mouth of the Almighty.  What I do know is, the Kingdom of God is for all of these people, just as much as it’s for the straight-laced, buttoned-down, very conservative people who sat on the pews this morning for worship.  I know that God loves them, and I am also called to love them.  And if the people following these lifestyles are sinning, it is not my job to judge them; the Holy Spirit can condemn them and lead them to repentance if that’s the case.  See, at the very least, these folks would hear the gospel message of sacrificial love and sacrificial living; and at the most, they would be convicted of their sins and make a lifestyle change (whatever the sin might be).  That looks like a win-win, whether you’re in the far-right evangelical camp, the left-leaning evangelical camp, or somewhere in the middle.  Who loses out here?  Nobody, by my reckoning.

Staying outside the box means raising children who also think outside the box, but that’s a post for another day.  Stay tuned.