I’m trying to unpack my thoughts and feelings about a recent post from The Gospel Coalition. It’s a truly horrible post about the gay community and gagging, of all things. I don’t even want to link to it, it’s so offensive.
I wish I could forget the way the author, Thabiti Anyabwile, dismissed love between gay & lesbian partners as not real love. He ubiquitously puts “love” in quotation marks to indicate it’s some kind of secondary imitation or perversion of love.
I wish I could forget how he reduced an entire group of people, my people, to sexual behavior. He even encouraged, no urged Christians to gag at the thought of us. [Many have argued it’s the behavior he’s talking about, not the people. But the idea that you can separate the person from the behavior is bullshit. When you label people as sinners and want everyone to focus only on their sexual acts, you sure as hell are reducing those people to their behavior.]
I wish I could forget how he referred to sacred unions and the most important relationships in many of our lives as “so-called marriage.”
I wish I could forget how he used quotation marks again and again and “again” to drive home his dismissal and distain, to delegitimize and degrade, to dehumanize.
Maybe in time I will forget. Maybe I can intellectually brush off the words, those lazy and desperate words, as the tactics of a man who knows his side is losing political power and social relevance.
But the thing is, my mind can only go so far in eradicating the pain, because pain is not intellectual. This pain lives in my being. It takes up residence in my body and soul, and hinders my heart. This pain settles in below the thoughts, deeper than any logic or rationale can reach.
But I am lucky. I know that Jesus loves and accepts me. I get that he delights in me for who I am, as I am. I’ve experienced his unconditional love and approval. I’ve taken that scariest step of faith and laid bare the naked truth of my gayness before God. And I’ve experienced his pleasure in my vulnerability and his affirmation that my orientation is his design and he doesn’t want to change me.
So those words written on a blog by a man I’ve never met, they might bring pain but they do not bring despair, not for me. I know his truth is rooted in judgment not love. It is based on his perceived knowledge of good and evil. I know I’m walking with Jesus, and what this man says does not match up with my experience of Jesus. I am lucky to be in a place where I know even a well-respected preacher can fuck up the Gospel, even when he’s got a whole coalition behind him.
But there are others who are not so lucky. There are others still hiding, still questioning, still begging to be changed, still caught in the cycle of shame. And for them I am more than pained.
I am pissed as hell.
Because to them this man is showing a Jesus I do not know. To them he is showing a gospel I do not recognize, a gospel of gags and aversion. He is teaching them to believe Jesus was a Pharisee. A Jesus who would see a hurting Samaritan and cross to the other side of the road, a Jesus who would view people through the lens of the sins they’ve committed, a Jesus who would fight to keep power by inciting the masses to hate to the point of justifying the death of an innocent.
This man is preaching the way of the Pharisee as if it were the way of Jesus. Some Christians are cheering him on. Some Christians are pushing back hard. And gay Christians? We’re just caught in the middle, again. Some of us are raging, some of us are despairing, and all of us are weary. Weary of the gagging and clobber verses. Weary of the Bible clearly saying shit about us.
Weary of wondering if the next Christian friend will embrace us or speak the truth at us.
And that truth they keep speaking of? That truth that man felt compelled to write about the other day? They seem to think this truth is a chaperone for love. They need this truth to keep a close eye on love, because love might get out of hand. Love always seems to get reined in by their truth, fenced in, subdued, silenced.
I don’t really get that because when I read the Bible, I see Love as the primary message. I see Love as the driving force behind all of God’s actions and interactions with us. Maybe I see Love this way because Jesus, the Son of God, the exact representation of God, the Word of God, the One with all authority, that Jesus said this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
That’s the Truth I believe, Truth that is centered on Love and fed by Love. Truth that is defined by Love and speaks the language of Love. Truth that lives and moves and has its being in Love.
I believe truth is the handmaiden of love.
And I believe when we try to use truth to restrain love, it grieves the Holy Spirit. [There’s a verse about that. You should look it up.]
So when preachers start throwing around their truth-weight in ways that betray love, my hackles go up, and I immediately think of the dudes in religious power when Jesus walked the dirt paths of Israel. Because they acted the same way. They were the gatekeepers of the Law. They were the ones overly educated in the sacred scrolls and traditions, to the point of missing the forest for the trees. They bowed down in reverent worship to a sterile, soul-killing truth and traded the love of God for a pile of stones to be thrown at anyone who disobeyed.
And they hounded our Jesus with theological traps and “answer the question” taunts. But Jesus never really engaged the Pharisees in debate. He had a different goal. The Pharisees wanted to be right. They wanted to prove Jesus wrong and back him into a doctrinal corner. But Jesus wouldn’t have it. He didn’t come to debate. He didn’t come to argue about the jots and tittles. He didn’t come to clarify the old wine. He came with new wine.
To the Pharisees truth was the highest goal. Knowing the truth. Obeying the truth. Enforcing the truth. This is the way of the Pharisees.
But for Jesus love is the highest goal. Speaking love. Demonstrating love. Extending love. This is the way of Jesus.
And by the way, Jesus said he is the Truth. Think about that. The truth-mongering Pharisees were in the very Presence of Truth and didn’t even know it.
So when someone starts going off about truth, I think of Jesus first, not doctrine. Truth is not found in theological study. Truth is found in following Jesus. Even the Sanhedrin got a glimpse of that when they questioned Peter and John in Acts. [Another verse you should look up.]
And Jesus said love is his new command. When the One who is Truth says to Love, to me that means Love is the Truth, and that’s the wine I’m gonna get drunk on. There is no greater Truth than Love. Truth is not king of the mountain.
Truth is, in fact, a servant. Truth is a servant to a higher ideal, to the ultimate raison d’etre: Love.
There is no objective spiritual Truth that exists on its own, in a vacuum, to be obeyed just because it’s Truth. No, Truth inhales and exhales Love. Spiritual Truth is subjective not objective, because it will always be subject to Love.
The next time another man decides to speak the truth, check to see where love lands. If love is taking a back seat to his perceived knowledge of good and evil, he is likely preaching the way of the Pharisee not the way of Jesus. The way of the Pharisee says truth always trumps love. But the way of Jesus says:
Truth is the handmaiden of Love.
[Luke 10:25-37. Luke 7:39. Mark 15:11. Matthew 22: 37-40. Ephesians 4:30-32. Matthew 22:15. Mark 2:22. John 14:6. Acts 4:13. John 13:35.]
Every year in June I remember. Some years I remember on the day, and I get somber and reflective about what ifs, how I’d be different if… Most years it just pops into my head on a beautiful summer day, triggered by who knows what, and I think, “oh yeah, that happened.” It was more than half my life ago. I was 19 years old, still more teenager than adult. I was young, naïve, idealistic. I was not at fault. I did nothing wrong. I trusted. I believed. I wasn’t thinking about having to protect myself. He was my boyfriend. I was thinking about love, confused about love, learning about love, in real time.
These things can’t be taught, only experienced. This kind of knowledge never comes from a lecture or sermon or Bible study. It comes by experience.
I learned something that day, half my life ago on a summer afternoon. I learned something terrible and disorienting, and the experience changed me. I would be different if I had not experienced it, and on most years I mourned that. I wondered, how would I be different? I thought, I’d be more confident, more exuberant, less passive, less timid. Maybe. I’ll never know. I do know that experience changed me, somehow. I don’t know how, but I know I’m different because of it. I also know I’m different because of every experience, not just that one.
Experience is the most sacred part of life. Our experience. My experience. Your experience.
We walk with Christ. We follow Jesus. We experience Jesus. He is with us at every step, in every experience. What we experience, it’s the heartbeat of everything in our lives. It makes us who we are. It gives us context and perspective. It shapes how we see things and influences what we believe.
Experience is what Jesus uses to integrate us, to make us whole. Sometimes it feels like fragmentation, or worse, disintegration. But that’s the beauty of redemption. God takes all the pieces, every single experience, every fragmented shard, and he uses each and every one to shape us into our whole and integrated self. That makes every experience sacred, every piece of us holy. Even what we label as depraved, it is sacred to God. Even those experiences we see as horrific and evil, God makes them sacred. He redeems them.
I’m not saying an evil act is good or sacred. I’m saying the experience is sacred. It’s sacred because I experienced it. It’s sacred because a human bore witness to it. It’s sacred because it was experienced by one created in the image of God. That’s what I think Paul is talking about in Romans 8. Nothing can separate us from our Source. We are not alone. We are never alone. No matter what we experience, God is there, and because of his Presence in our experience, what we experience becomes sacred.
An evil act can fragment us. Abuse can disintegrate. But God integrates and heals and makes us whole. And part of that wholeness has to include the dark shadow-filled experiences because the whole is the sum of all parts. If some parts are removed or thrown out or destroyed, there can be no whole. I think that’s where we get it wrong. We try to become whole without all the parts. We believe we must war against ourselves, destroy what we’re told is depraved or sinful or weak or not God’s design. But we cannot get rid of some parts and still reach wholeness. Wholeness requires all parts to be present.
Look at every person in the Bible. Not one is without shadow. Thomas had doubt. Jacob had a limp, and Moses had a lisp. David had adultery and murder. Sarah had to laugh. Rachel and Leah had rivalry. Tamar had rape. Joseph had slavery and prison. Every single person had a flaw or a dark side or a happened-to-me moment. And not one story ends with God taking it away. Jesus even kept his scars.
God doesn’t want perfection. He wants our heart. He makes a person whole, not by eradicating parts but by integrating every part into one. Wholeness is the absence of nothing. Wholeness means nothing is absent. All parts are present, and they must be to make the whole.
So what happened to me half my life ago, what I experienced, is part of me. It makes me who I am. I cannot eradicate it and be whole without it, and I don’t want to anymore. What I have experienced is sacred. And whatever it is, it is made sacred because I experienced it. The nature of the experience cannot be labeled anything but sacred because every experience is sacred. It is sacred because it was experienced by a person, a human, a child of God. We make every experience sacred because of who we are. The experience shapes us, but it doesn’t define us. We define the experience.
I’m not young or naïve anymore, but I’ll never stop being idealistic. I still trust. I still believe. I don’t want to be preoccupied with protecting myself. I want to keep thinking about love, keep learning about love, keep experiencing love. And I will remember. Remember that every experience is sacred because every experience contributes to my wholeness.
I’ll also remember that God told Moses his Presence would go with him. And I’ll remember his Presence goes with me, too. There’s a surrender in understanding that, and with that surrender comes rest, and peace. I believe it, no matter what I experience.
Romans 8:38-39. John 20:24-29. Genesis 32:25. Exodus 4:10. 2 Samuel 11. Genesis 18:9-13. Genesis 29. 2 Samuel 13. Genesis 37 & 39. John 20:27. Exodus 33:14.
This week Exodus International announced it’s shutting down. For almost 40 years that organization has told people that the gay can be prayed away, that change is possible, that a homo can be made hetero. It was and is a big giant elephant of a lie. It’s destroyed countless lives and drove many gay Christians out of the fold, some permanently.
I want to say I’m glad for the apology, for the [sort of] admission of wrong, for the closing down of an obviously harmful ministry. But I’m also wary of the next step, of what the apology omitted, of how evangelicals will react. I hesitated to write my commentary or opinion because I just don’t know what to think. Not yet. It’s too early.
While I commend Alan Chambers for his courage and candor, I can’t help but wonder if all his cards are truly on the table. I wonder if he’s still holding a few or if he’s bluffing. Only time will tell. And I can’t stop thinking about all the ex-gay survivors, their courage, their candor, and their long long road to wholeness.
All the uproar online over this *big* news got me thinking, and my train of thought went down an unexpected track.
I never had contact with the ex-gay movement, nor did I undergo anything like reparative therapy. But the theory is so pervasive in evangelical circles. The message that change is possible, that gay is a choice, is so engrained in evangelical thinking that it’s become doctrine, and everyone assumes it’s biblically sound and true and non-negotiable.
So for years I believed the message. Gay was wrong. Gay was the result of trauma. Gay was psychological and broken. Not biological. And certainly not designed by God. This *had* to be the message because gay doesn’t fit the Christian worldview. Adam & Eve. Male & female. The gospel of gender according to evangelicals. There’s no possible way to accommodate gay in that worldview. This was my belief for years.
But, slowly, things changed. I saw and experienced that many, many parts of life didn’t fit the evangelical worldview. And I finally reached a place where I couldn’t keep walking in that idealized, sanitized, fairytale Christianity. Life is messy and confusing. It hangs out of the box all over the place.
Here’s the problem: evangelicals like their little box and believe letting it all hang out is what’s wrong with the world. But all that letting it all hang out is what’s human with the world. So what’s the implication here? In their fight keep their worldview intact, evangelicals are essentially fighting against their own humanness.
Evangelicals don’t like being human. Being human is uncomfortable and weak and sinful and a big wet blanket on their refiner’s fire. The whole paradigm of denying self, of taking up our cross, of being obsessed with not sinning? It’s a wholesale rejection of our humanity. [Stay with me, I know it sounds heretical.]
The evangelical worldview is a condemnation, a beat down of everything that makes us human. And it leaves us in a really awkward position. Because following Jesus requires us to be fully out and honest messed up humans who make mistakes, hurt people, sin a lot, and desperately need Jesus. Let me say something else heretical: Jesus doesn’t call us to fight against our own humanness. He calls us to follow him. If God was out to destroy humanness, he wouldn’t have jumped into a skin suit.
Denying our self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus is not an edict to be divided against ourselves, to war against our very flesh and blood, or to somehow surgically remove our skin and become angels. Jesus was fully human, so that has to mean he wants us to be fully human. He ate. He drank. He slept. He felt alone. God became one of us for a reason, and I don’t think it was for us to stop being us. God didn’t enter humanity to eradicate our humanness. But more often than not, that’s what it seems like evangelicals want to do.
I get this weird mixed vibe from evangelicals. I’ve gotten it my whole Christian life. They preach and believe dependence on Christ, but they also preach and believe personal holiness. That term, personal holiness, has always gotten under my skin, because… Gospel message. Every evangelical knows you can’t achieve enough personal holiness to get into heaven. So why do they believe we need to amass it after our ticket has already been punched? If we can be personally holy, we have no use for Jesus. [Galatians 2:21 is how Paul puts it.]
So when evangelicals start talking about personal holiness, I get pissed because it sounds like they’re working Jesus out of his job. I know they say that’s not how they see it, but it’s there. It’s even coded in the language: gaining victory over sin or overcoming sin or being vigilant against sin. They battle. They struggle. They wrestle. They run the race. They work at being disciplined and self-controlled.
To be honest, all of these activities make it hard to rely on Jesus. I know. I’ve tried it, and I’ve seen others burn themselves into dry spiritual seasons doing all of these things. We involve ourselves in all these activities and convince ourselves they are the way to Jesus, but in reality Jesus is pushed aside. He’s only peripherally included, if at all. He’s not central, and we’re not in anything that remotely resembles a relationship. We’re in a checklist. We’re in a worldview. We’re in a belief system.
There’s a disconnect between talking about following Jesus and how evangelicals actively do all these things and call it following Jesus. We pay lip service to him, but we don’t really notice if he’s there or not.
Self-control, discipline, holiness, faithfulness. These are the fruit of the evangelical spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness have somehow dropped off the list.
Evangelicals are Marthas and older sons.
They’re so busy with all the doing and obeying that they miss the whole point; the whole vulnerable, sitting at his feet, desperately needy, relationship with Jesus point.
I know this post has veered far away from its ex-gay start. Like I said, the train went down an unexpected track. But I do believe there’s something important to notice here.
The personal holiness paradigm is just around the corner from moral purity, and moral purity lives next door to pray away the gay. This is all in the same neighborhood. And I think it’s pretty clear that we gay Christians haven’t gotten much love from our neighbors in this ‘hood.
What I’m saying is we can do nothing apart from God. We don’t need more faith. We need more Jesus. We don’t need more discipline. We need more Jesus. Personal holiness is a fairytale. Jesus already made us holy. We don’t need to be vigilant against falling into sin. We need to be vigilant at following Jesus.
There’s a lot I’d change about the evangelical worldview. But this, this is where I’d start. We’re human, and that’s beautiful. The more we understand and embrace and enter into our humanness, the more we can understand and embrace and enter into our relationship with Jesus.
I am a terrible evangelical, but I’m excellent at needing Jesus. I’ve hardly ever felt like the older brother, but I’m a natural at the prodigal. Martha kinda irritates me. I’d much rather be *lazy* with Mary at Jesus’ feet. And there are lots of times I feel like Nicodemus stalking after Jesus in the dark, afraid of what the good evangelicals might think but mostly just wanting to avoid their scolding.
And lately I’m realizing it doesn’t matter what the good evangelicals say or think. I don’t want to be like them. I just want to be with Jesus. I’m Mary and Nicodemus and the prodigal, and I’m in good company in their ‘hood. Mary got a shout out from Jesus. Nicodemus got to pick his brain. And the prodigal got a welcome home bash.
Mark 8:34. Galatians 3:3. Isaiah 29:13. Galatians 5:22. Luke 10:38-42. Luke 15:25-30. John 15:5. John 3:1-15.
When we’re honest, we all recognize that we don’t have all the answers. But it looks like many Christians have stopped asking the hard questions. It’s like their curiosity has died. They’ve found Jesus and that’s all they need. They’re like the Sunday school kid who answers every question with “Je-sus.” And they pride themselves in their certainty and feel smug about being unwavering.
Is life really that easy for them? Are they really that simple in their thinking? For some, maybe yes. But I wonder if, for the vast majority, this simplicity is more accurately a decoy for fear. They don’t want to ask the hard questions because they have a sinking feeling that their Christian worldview won’t hold up to the scrutiny.
The Bible says it, I believe it, that’s enough for me.
So you’re saying that the Church has gotten it wrong for 2000 years?
The Bible clearly says…
You’re moving the goal posts.
That’s a slippery slope you’re on there.
You’re rebelling against God.
All of these phrases are designed to shut down conversation. They are tried and true tactics that put you on the defensive and draw the battle lines in such a way to make it look like you’re picking a fight with… God. It’s you disagreeing with God, not you disagreeing with another person.
It kinda reminds me of a junior high fight. The kid with the bigger guy or the most people on their side will be so intimidating that the fight is over before it’s begun. I mean who wants to start throwing punches when they’re outnumbered?
People who use these phrases are trying to bully their way out of a fight, trying to make it look like it’s not a fair fight. They’re armoring themselves with a God-posse, and I think it’s because they don’t want to rely on their own arguments. They don’t want to stand on their own, and I reckon they’re afraid to stand alone, without the God-posse back up, because they haven’t asked the hard questions. And they haven’t asked the hard questions because they’re afraid of the answers. They don’t want to erode their certainty.
They’re essentially afraid of their whole theology crumbling.
It’s a scary thing to bear. If your theology crumbles, what do you have left to hold on to? Ah, but there’s the bottom of it. I think people are clinging to their theology when they should be clinging to Jesus. Grasping a theology is a much easier endeavor than holding a Hand.
Following Jesus is scary. You don’t know where he could walk. A theology is much more predictable, much more static, but Jesus keeps on walking. A theology is something you can master. It gives you a sense of control, a sense of superiority, a sense of accomplishment. Knowing your theology makes you smart and competent and intimidating.
You can memorize Bible verses and train your brain to travel the same paths of purity and righteousness. You cannot memorize or train Jesus. He keeps on walking. You can hide the Bible in your heart and carry it with you in a backpack. You can take it out and put it away when you decide. God in a book is manageable. But Jesus keeps on walking. A God living outside the covers of the Bible who can show up unannounced, anywhere, anytime is unnerving. A God we cannot explain, a God we cannot bound with leather and ink, a God we cannot prove or defend or … control, that’s a little too much to handle. But that’s the point. We cannot handle Jesus. We can only follow him, and Jesus keeps walking.
We want to make theology static and make our beliefs stand firm.
Jesus keeps on walking.
We want to do Christianity by the Book and decide who’s in and who’s out of our camp.
Jesus keeps on walking.
We want to take stances and build fences and become watchmen and gatekeepers for God.
Jesus keeps on walking.
We want to stand on the foundation of 2000 years of Church teaching. We want to insist that the Bible is inerrant and our faith immovable.
Jesus keeps on walking.
Following Jesus means we must be light and nimble. We cannot carry a bunch of luggage or provisions. U-hauls full of theological furniture don’t cut it when you’re living in a tent. Storage units of positions and stances seem silly when you’re constantly on the move. Following Jesus means the life of a nomad. His yoke is easy and his burden is light for a reason. We don’t have time for the heavy load, because Jesus keeps on walking. It might be nice to get comfortable in our theological houses. It might feel safe and more secure to settle into our well-built statements of faith. It might seem prudent to pour a sturdy foundation and built our lives around it. But Jesus keeps on walking.
This nomadic life is not necessarily about where you live. It’s about how you live. It’s not what you believe; it’s how you believe. We must be spiritual nomads, willing to move and adapt our understanding of God. The key is staying close to Jesus. The journey will be erratic and sometimes irrational, to the point that all you can do is keep your eye on the Jesus.
The movement and adaptation is not an indicator of apostasy. Leaving some teaching behind is not leaving God. Changing beliefs does not mean severing a relationship. This idea that we must remain cemented in our belief system because God doesn’t change, it’s bad logic and bad theology. God is unchangeable, but he’s also infinite. That means he remains unchanged even when our understanding of him changes. God is infinite, which means he is far too big to be seen sufficiently from one vantage point.
We’re not moving the goal posts; we’re changing our seat in the stands.
So, yes, following Jesus is scary. But clinging to a theology is scarier. One has a foundation that will eventually crumble. The other has legs.
I want to ask, “How did we get here?” But then I realize we’ve always been here. So I guess the question is, “Why do we stay here?” The “here” is our proclivity to separate and exclude, to see others who are different as an enemy, a threat to our way of life. The Other, by their very existence, rock the boat, and we don’t like our boat rocking. We like our seas calm. A rocking boat reminds us of our unstable and vulnerable position in life, reminds us we are so clearly not in control. We hate it.
When the storm tossed their boat around on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples screamed at Jesus to wake up because they were all together terrified. The disciples hated that their boat was rocking and demanded Jesus do something about it. They knew enough to know Jesus could do something about it, and when he did, when he calmed the storm, I daresay that terrified them even more.
They asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
And I have to wonder if Jesus did it for them or if he just wanted to get some sleep.
Why did Jesus calming the storm make them more afraid? I think it’s because in Jesus they saw a man who had God-like power. Jesus was in control even when they were not, especially when they were not. I mean, what do you do with that? You don’t. You know you’re just along for the ride. When you know you’re out of control and a dude steps in to quickly and easily do what you know you could not, that’s awe-inspiring, and it’s also extremely threatening.
When you are in awe, you worship. When you feel threatened, you try to tame, or harness, or explain . . . or destroy. Here is one difference between the disciples and the Pharisees. The disciples felt awe. The Pharisees felt threatened, and the Pharisees saw threat precisely because everyone else was in awe.
I’m guessing the disciples felt threatened too because although they kinda worshiped the guy, they also wanted Jesus to explain it all. And I think when we think we’re worshiping God, we’re really mostly trying to explain him so we can tame him. We secretly want to harness him so we can use him to feel more in control of our lives. It’s human nature, really. If we can explain it, we think we are in control. So we try to explain God, and we try to explain each other, and we devise these formulas called worldviews that are very helpful in making us feel like we’re in control.
But inevitably, someone who doesn’t fit the equation comes into view. They blow our minds, blow holes in our worldview, and we feel adrift in a rocking boat. They make us aware of the limits of our ability to explain (which is really exposing the limits of our control), and we are terrified, and angry.
So, like the disciples, we scream at Jesus, “do something!”
But that looks different today. Today we quote Bible verses. We take moral stances. Basically, we are telling the person rocking the boat to sit down and shut up.
It’s our attempt to seize control again by proving our way of life is right, proving what we believe is right, proving who we are is right. And anyone who lives differently than us is wrong, anyone who believes differently than us is wrong, anyone who is different from us is wrong, morally wrong, because our worldview equals God’s plan, because we say God says so.
Except that’s not what God says, at all.
We use our moral stances to trump love, but Jesus says love trumps everything. Jesus says love is the greatest moral stance. And the only explicit command Jesus ever gave was to love each other. But we still cling to our moral stance, saying we’re “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a hollow, shitty kind of love. And it’s a love that makes God out to be the bad guy.
Hey, we didn’t make the rules. We’re just following them and pointing them out to you so the Dude in charge doesn’t beat your ass when he gets home. We’re doing you a favor. You don’t know what he’s like when he gets pissed. No one wants to see that. It’s ugly and terrifying. So we’re just giving you a heads up. Love you, man!
Let me tell you something. This AIN’T good news. The One who’s in absolute control could go all abusive drunk on us someday? Not cool, Christians, not cool. That ain’t the God I know, and that ain’t a god I want to know. I don’t care how many rooms he’s preparing in his ginormous mansion, I don’t want to live there.
What this kind of talk does is set up Christians to save all the non-Christians (and rebellious Christians) from God and his pissed off rage. It makes God look small and mean and petty, kinda like Zeus, definitely not like Jesus. And Christians wonder why most Millenials and many GenXers are walking away, why churches are getting older and greyer, why they’re losing their political sway. Their morality play is almost played out.
Let’s go back to the being in control obsession and not rocking the boat. Today there are too many boats rocking, too much American evangelical Christianity can’t explain convincingly anymore, too many people walking around living abundant lives who don’t fit that worldview.
But it’s hard to stop believing this stuff. We’ve grown up hearing it. It’s what we’ve been taught all our lives, and we’ve conflated this teaching of man with God himself.
Leave the teaching, and you’re leaving God.
But you know what? That’s a horrible thing to say.
That’s an ultimatum and it’s using religion to manipulate and control. It’s a “warning” couched in terms of love that’s more about maintaining a certain worldview (to maintain a sense of control) than it is about any particular concern for someone’s soul. It’s about keeping people in the fold, keeping people in the bubble, in the echo chamber . . . keeping people from rocking the boat.
I get it. We all want smooth sailing. Because when you dig down to your gut, when you see the gutter, life is a pretty terrifying endeavor. It’s unpredictable and painful, and it’d be so nice if everyone agreed to live in this little idealized worldview we’re clinging to.
But that’s not faith. That’s not trust.
We don’t like rocking boats. I get it.
And maybe I’m leaving this teaching and this worldview because to keep believing, to keep living here is rocking my own little boat.
Believing that God is angry, that I’m a horrible sinner for embracing how I was made, the design he made for me, there’s no balm that can soothe this existence. How do you live in a boat that tells you god knits you together in the womb, that god makes you unique and beautiful, and then tells you that even though god fearfully and wonderfully made you and you say he made you that way, made you to relate that way, made you to love that way, to do so would be an abomination?
They tell you if you live that way you will be rebelling against god, the god who made you, and you know you were made this way. They tell you to go against that deepest part of you that makes you, you. They tell you it’s not you. They tell you it’s sin, which makes you start to believe you are sin, and what kind of god makes a person to be the sin he hates?
They tell you to conform to their worldview, to conform to the way god made their world not the way God made you. They tell you, you must fight every day of your life and be divided against yourself if you want to be truly happy. They tell you to suffer and struggle because that is the abundant life.
No, it’s not.
And I finally realized that these were not the words of God but the words of men. These are the words of people who don’t want their boat rocked, the words of those who are so desperate to feel in control of their own lives, so determined to make their explanation of their world the explanation of the world, so convinced that they know exactly what the Bible says, what God says, that they make everyone else in the same boat sit down and shut up.
We kind of do it to ourselves, you know. Because we want to be in the same boat. We want to hear someone say, “me too!”
We’re all castaways in our own skin, starving for connection.
So when a nice boat full of nice people came along and tossed me a life preserver, I grabbed it and jumped in. And at first most of the things they say are cool, things I can get on board with, like love God and love your neighbor and do good to others. And I like these people. They love me and seem to really care, and they’re feeding me and giving me something to believe in and somewhere to belong. So it’s all cool for a while.
But at some point the “me toos” stop.
The wind picks up and the waves are crashing in again. And then I realize those waves are waves of shame and they’re coming from inside the boat. Buckets of shame. And the buckets are in the hands of the people next to me in the boat, the ones who threw me that life preserver so long ago.
And my boat is rocking and I’m drowning because everyone is bailing on me.
They keep telling me to stop rocking the boat, they with the buckets in their hands drenching me with shame. They tell me it’s my fault, all this water, all this rocking. I’m bringing it on myself. Bucket in one hand, life preserver in the other. All these people bailing buckets on me and telling me to grab the Life Preserver again.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m grabbing the life preserver, clinging to the Preserver of life, and jumping out of the boat. I’m taking my chances on the open sea for a while because I was drowning in that boat.
But the funny thing is, being in the same boat with everyone, that’s what I needed then. I needed the people in that boat. They fed me. They gave me strength. Being in the boat taught me what I needed to know out here on the open sea. The people in that boat taught me to navigate and showed me how the Life Preserver is also the Anchor. They gave me the tools and skills I needed to survive. They introduced me to Jesus, and that I’ll never forget.
And I know I can trust Jesus on the open seas, because I know even the wind and the waves obey him.
And I realize that boat was really more of a nest, a safe place to be born, a secure place to grow.
And although the people back in that same boat will see me falling overboard,
what I’m really doing is learning to fly.
Mark 4:41. Matthew 22:37-40. John 13:34. John 15:17. Ephesians 4:15.
We like to solve mysteries, but God is not a mystery to be solved. In the Bible the Presence of God is often described as the cloud. God led the Israelites through the desert as a “pillar of cloud” by day. When he talked to Moses, God descended in a cloud on Mount Sinai or at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When the temple was dedicated, the glory of the Lord filled it as a cloud. And God descended as a cloud on that high mountain where Jesus was transfigured.
The cloud symbolizes the mystery, the unknown, and in some ways the very essence of God. We want our skies to clear so we can see God better. But God is in the cloud. We want to clarify and bring order and understanding. We come up with theology and stances and are urged to stand firm in our beliefs. But God is not in our beliefs. God is in the cloud. We build structure and follow rules. We memorize verses and go to Bible study and make sure we’re all on the same page. But God doesn’t live in our Bibles. God lives in the cloud. We wrap our Christianity in messages and disciplines, in obedience to rules and creeds. We set parameters and strive for no doubt, for absolute certainty. We demand adherence and unflinching faithfulness to tenets and stances as proof of our connection to God. But God is not in our disciplines or rules or stances. God is in the cloud.
God was in the cloud in the desert, in the cloud on Mount Sinai, in the cloud at the Transfiguration. And yet we have such a hard time abiding in that cloud. We want clarity from God and demand certainty in each other. We develop theology and use it as a litmus test against one another. Faith and doubt are set up as rivals. Our faith is defined as an unflinching devotion to a Book when it’s meant to be a trust that walks with God in the cloud. We’re telling each other to hold on to the wrong thing. We grasp for a Book when we should be holding a Hand.
We try to nail each other down to a set of beliefs, when the only nails we’ve ever needed held Jesus on the cross.
We want our beliefs frozen in inerrancy. We drive our stake into the solid ground of one interpretation. We dig in. We take our stand. But Jesus keeps walking. He said,
Come, follow me.
Jesus continues to walk.
We want so badly for the mist to clear, for the fog to lift so we can see, but God is in the cloud. When the mist clears, when the fog lifts, and I can see clearly, that’s when I know I’m screwed because God is in the cloud. That’s when I’m most lost, more lost than ever.
So I’m learning to appreciate the clouds of life, for that’s when God is most near. I’m learning to keep following Jesus, because he’s gonna keep walking. I’m becoming less determined to solve the mystery and more determined to live it. I’m less determined to find that little plot of land where I can grow old, because Jesus is a nomad. And I’ll carry my rain gear as I follow Jesus, because God is in the cloud.
Exodus 13:21. Exodus 24:16. Exodus 33:9. 2 Chronicles 5:13,14. Mark 9:2. Matthew 4:19.
Today I’m over on Registered Runaway’s blog! He asked me to write a letter for his Love Letters Series (posts every Monday). It’s a fantastic series that’s been going for a couple of months now, and I’m so proud to be a contributor!
I so appreciate RR for his wonderful heart. He desires to bring understanding and especially LOVE into the conversation between LGBTs and Christians. I’ve been touched by every letter. It’s so good to know I’m not alone in my experience as a gay Christian, and it’s heartening to know we have straight Christian allies!
Here’s a bit of my letter:
When I finally embraced my sexuality in my late 30s, I didn’t have it out with God. I braced myself for it, but the onslaught never happened. I was like a little girl afraid to look up at my big, tall, strong father, expecting to see his face red with anger or white with disappointment. But what I saw instead was a delighted and toothy grin. It was disorienting at first.
You can read more on Registered Runaway’s blog, here.
And I really encourage you to read all the Love Letters. I know you’ll be challenged by the heart of every contributor to the Love Letter Series.