Monthly Archives: August 2016

I get it, and I’m sorry.

cory-im_sorry_500One of the things I’ve been trying to understand since the Orlando shootings back in June is the level of hate on both sides of LGBT issues whenever Christians get involved. In following different conversations on various LGBT related Facebook pages, I’ve seen this kind of thing go both ways, and the intensity and depth of the hate and rage expressed there can be soul-numbing. At the end of the day, as I see it, we’re all people, with the same right to choose how we want to live our lives, and if one group doesn’t agree with another group, there’s no reason right off the bat why this much hate should be the result. Call it naive and idealistic if you want, but it’s the way I see it.

Having said that, the events of the last week have helped me understand to a far greater depth why those on the LGBT side of the fence see us Christians the way they do. (Again, please understand I’m not trying to set up an us/them sort of thing here. I’m just not sure how else to describe it.) As I said in the last post, it had to do with my hair, but there was a lot more to it than that.

I live in the South, and I’ve had long hair and an earing for a while now. The South being what it is, accusations that I’m gay haven’t been what you would call uncommon. I’m not, but it’s actually something I don’t mind. The divide between the two groups is so vast right now, and if looking like I do means people think I’m gay and that helps to open doors that would otherwise be closed, then I don’t mind one bit.

This being the South, however, my wife’s family does mind, and as we’re staying with them as we develop a piece of property, that’s turned this into kind of a big deal. All of this came to a head last Friday night when I was told to either get my hair cut into a “man’s haircut” (whatever that’s supposed to be) or I wasn’t welcome back. There was no negotiating, no arguing (although I definitely did try). It was just final. Change a part of who I was or don’t come back. Did I want to? No. For reasons I’ve talked about elsewhere on here, my hair is a very personal part of myself that I did NOT want to change. But we’ve got nowhere else to go, and I love my wife too much just to up and move back to Canada, so I got it cut after spending Friday night in a hotel room.

I’m still angry about it. Making me conform to someone’s cultural stereotype just for the sake of appearances is one of the easiest ways to push my buttons (and this goes for making others conform as well). That being said, the point of this place was never to attack people, or even single people out in discussions. The point to all this is simply to say that I get it now, and I’m sorry. I understand, albeit just a little, why those in the LGBT community hate us so much. That pain and frustration I went through Friday night and through Saturday last weekend is something I never want to experience again. Rejection hurts. It really does. I can only imagine how you feel when we as Christians tell you that God has rejected you for being gay, lesbian, trans, and what not.

I want to make you this promise. Whether we meet here on this site, or on Facebook, or maybe even in person, I will never reject you like that. I never want to put anyone through the nightmare I went through last weekend. I won’t treat you like that here (and I don’t believe Jesus does, either). We may disagree, but I will always be respectful, and I will never reject you just because of who you are. I would also like to apologize to you on behalf of all those of us who call ourselves Christians who have treated you that way. No one deserves to be treated like that, or to feel that God treats them that way, either.

What’s your life like?

morning-coffee-breakfast_445-19324084When I was in seminary, one of the courses we had to take was an introduction to Apologetics, which is a big fancy word for defending the Christian faith. The idea was that not only were we exposed to a variety of different arguments for a rational foundation for Christianity as a worldview, but also that we begin to think about how to respond to questions that those around us might have with regard to that. Many of these arguments are certainly very effective, although of course whether or not you accept their conclusions is certainly up to you, but the reason I bring this up is that there was this one guy in our discussion forums (I did my seminary degree online so this was basically a glorified chat room) who could not get away from the technique of basically telling people, “My worldview is right, yours is wrong, and you need to accept that if you’re going to get saved.” Throughout the course we were exposed to a number of approaches, including this one, and I have to say it is one that I could not disagree with more.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know who you are as a person. I don’t know what your background is, what your beliefs are, or what your worldview is. One thing I do know is that you hold those beliefs for a reason. Whatever that reason is, that is something I will always respect. We may disagree on much, and hell, we probably do, but that’s fine. I will never try to inflict my beliefs on you. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that one of the other techniques we were exposed to was to build relationships first, not in the sense of “targeting” someone but rather in the interest of getting to know people, to help lighten their load a little, and just generally make life better for being there. That was my favourite approach.)

It should come as no surprise that I hope that through what you read here you come to see that Jesus is very much a real person who cares very much for you, and that getting to know Him doesn’t require fitting yourself into a box or changing who you are in order to be more acceptable to Him. Thing is, we don’t have to talk about that all the time. Life is life, you know? With all of its ups and downs and mundane in-betweens. All of that “other stuff” is just as important. It makes up who we are, and it reflects our personalities.

I mean, I saw Star Trek Beyond this past weekend, and I have to honestly it is one of the best Star Trek movies I’ve ever seen. (Yes, I am a Trekkie.) It was funny, thought-provoking, and a bit of a tear-jerker. Plus the action scenes were pretty great, too.

Oh, and I love long hair. I had to get it cut this past weekend (more on that at a later date), but I loved having it long. It gave me a sort of “Lord of the Rings meets Three Musketeers” look, which I absolutely loved. Right now, though, I’m trying to figure out what the hell to do with it. Can you braid short hair? I don’t know. I tried it with my bangs this morning and when the kids at work got on the bus, they gave me this sort of “You miss your long hair, don’t you?” look, so I think there’s a little room for improvement.

As I write this, it’s getting to be about the time to turn in for the night, which makes me think I can’t be the only one who tries to squeeze their morning routine into progressively less time as the week progresses. What takes a solid hour on Monday morning fits, with a whole lot of pushing and shoving, into maybe 45 minutes by Friday, just so I can have the pleasure of hitting the snooze button one more time.

That’s the kind of stuff that makes up our days, and it is just as important as thoughts of God or discussing whether or not He even exists. All of that stuff, in one way or another, makes up your life, and that makes it important. I guess all of that is to say that this is my way of trying to find common ground with all the misfits that end up here. That’s my life right now (in a very brief nutshell). What’s yours look like?

Jesus and Awkward Moments

In honour of Church for Misfits going life, this is one I’ve been working on for months now but for one reason or another never got around to publishing. I pray there’s something here for you!

woman-wiping-feetI’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke lately, going slowly, maybe a chapter or two at a time (which is an amazing free form approach to studying Scripture), and what I’ve observed is that, within the space of six chapters or so, Jesus has three separate dinner invites from the Pharisees. When one considers that the Gospel writer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, had a say not in just what was recorded but also in how it was put together, that’s not a coincidence, and it’s worth taking a deeper look at. Knowing that the Pharisees hate Jesus, and are eventually directly responsible for His death, why does Jesus sit down to a meal with them on three different occasions?

The first part of this little mystery is in the story of the first dinner invite in Luke 7, and as we look into this, keep in mind two “why?” moments. Starting off, in verse 36, we’re told, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” Now for what prompts this invite, we have to look in the verses that come right before this passage. Starting in verse 24, Jesus talks about John the Baptist, and in a roundabout sort of way, compares the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God. When He says in verse 28, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” He’s indicating that in the Kingdom of God, anyone who accepts His sacrifice by faith gets in. The Pharisees, in contrast, were the ones in control of first-century Judaism. They were the ones, so to speak, who decided who was in and who was not, and as Luke tells us in verse 29, they were not happy with what Jesus was saying. Seven verses later, after a few more pointed remarks from Jesus, one of them invites Him to dinner.

Now think about this for a second. Put yourself in the Pharisee’s shoes here. You’re one of the religious elite of your day. One of the powerful. A man of authority. And along comes this man who starts to gain support with the people and who directly challenges that authority. In this situation, the very first thing you do is invite Him to dinner. Why? (This is the first “why?” moment.)

Scripture doesn’t give us any direct insight into the motivations of the Pharisee in question here (we’re told in verse 40 that his name is Simon), but human nature being what it is, it’s not too hard to speculate a little. Simon, and the Pharisees in general, likely wanted to explain the facts of life to Jesus. “We’re in charge here. You’re not. The sooner you recognize that, the happier we’ll all be.” With that background in mind, let’s have a look at what we’re told about this dinner meeting.

We’re not actually told much about what happens during the meal. In fact, the only thing we’re told, starting in verse 37, is that “a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Some translations have “woman of the city” translated as “prostitute,” which gives you an idea of this woman’s reputation. As the story unfolds, we’re told that Simon is aware of her reputation and although he doesn’t say anything directly, he mentally criticizes Jesus for the respect He shows this woman. Jesus calls him out on this and defends the woman’s actions. The end result has Simon looking like the world’s worst dinner host and probably feeling pretty foolish, while the woman’s actions are praised. 

The second “why?” moment has to do with the woman herself. Namely, why on earth is she present at this meeting? Her and Simon are about as far apart on the social scale of the day as the Earth is from Pluto. Luke 7:36 indicates that this whole dinner invite for Jesus was Simon’s idea, meaning his house is the likely venue for it, and given that extreme social disparity, the only way this woman is staying there, let alone getting in the door, is if Simon is OK with the idea. All we’re told in this passage is that she “learned [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house,” but not how exactly she learned that information. This is the second “why?” moment, and answering this one helps us to answer the first.

Regardless of whether or not she learned of the dinner directly from the Pharisees, she’s there because Simon wants her to be. And that means that she’s bait. If they can’t explain the facts of life to Jesus, maybe they can embarrass him through her and discredit him enough that He’s no longer a threat. Pick it up again in verse 39. Watching Jesus, Simon says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” The gist here is that if Jesus is a legitimate prophet, He’ll respond to this woman in a certain way. Failure to do so means He’s not actually a prophet.

This, then, is the situation as we get to the end of this dinner story. The unnamed woman is weeping at Jesus’ feet, Simon is waiting to see what Jesus will do, and Jesus is once again the centre of attention. What will He do? While we’re pondering that one, what would you do? I don’t know about you, but I hate awkward moments. Whether it be a prank, or a joke, or just a set up, my first thought is always to get out of there as fast as I can. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I’m gone. Is that what Jesus does?

We see in verses 40-43 that Jesus does nothing of the sort. Through a pointed illustration, He calls Simon’s behaviour out. Simon is from the upper end of the social scale, as we’ve noticed, yet as Jesus goes on to point out in verses 44-47, Simon hasn’t even observed the social niceties of the day. Forget loving. Simon’s the host who won’t make small talk, who won’t offer appetisers before dinner, hell, who won’t even shake your hand as you come into his house. The woman, in contrast, has done all of that in her own small way. The story ends with Him praising her actions (she’s the prostitute, remember? This can’t have exactly endeared Him to those looking on), and ultimately concludes with Him telling her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

So what, then, is the point of all this? (My apologies for the length; sometimes it’s worth going into detail for nuggets like this.) The point to all of this is that Jesus is the same way with you and with me. No matter what rung on the social ladder we occupy (this includes the church social ladder as well), Jesus never condemns. He takes us as we are when we come to Him. He never condemns. Never criticises. Never marginalises. He has more concern for this woman than He does for His own reputation, remember? As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Not when we had it all together. Not when we were perfect. But while we were still broken. While we were still lost.

I can promise you one thing. If you come to Him, He will never condemn you. Never.

 

BIG Changes Coming!

website-under-construction_8329I would like to take a moment to announce that there will be some changes coming to Far North Encouragement in the next few days.

In the last 2 days I have seen firsthand the damage and the pain that result when we as Christians try to marginalise those we don’t agree with. Put simply, it hurts. Far North Encouragement will therefore become Misfit Church, a place for the marginalised and a voice for their concerns. If you’re gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, or anything else that falls under the LGBTQ+ category, or you’ve got long hair and live in a very conservative community, or you just feel unaccepted by the Christians around you, then there will be a place for you here.

In 1 John 2:10-11 the apostle John says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” The word translated here as “hate” actually means more along the lines of “fails to love” when you look at the context. That’s what we’re doing as Christians when we marginalise people, and that’s why I think this place needs to grow a little. (I don’t want to fail to love anybody, you know?) If nothing else, you’ll find here a place where you’re loved as you are.

If not us, then who?

question-markAs you may have noticed, it’s been a while again since I’ve posted anything on here. Part of that is technical (a storm fried our modem a week ago, and apparently express warranty replacement isn’t quite as fast as I’d assumed it was), but part of it is also due to another storm that’s passed through these parts in the last couple of weeks.

When I first reached out to the LGBT community (and yes, I know that the posts in which I did so were off the site for a few days; more on that in a minute), I assumed that most of the conflict I would encounter would come from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. I am, for example, very familiar with stories like that of the bakers in Oregon who were forced to pay a $135 000 fine for refusing service to a gay couple, which is not to say that we haven’t inflicted the same sort of pain, or worse, on the LGBT community; rather, it is simply to say that I had no idea what sort of response I would get. And by and large, the few responses I’ve actually had, both on here and through LGBT pages on Facebook, have been far more respectful and informative than I’d ever expected them to be.

What has saddened, shocked, and infuriated me has been the response from my own community. We are the ones who show Jesus to the world, who have been commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and yet apparently yet apparently we’re allowed to just write off certain groups as too far gone and leave them to the results of their life choices. In the last few weeks, I have been accused of being gay on multiple occasions, even to the extent of folks wondering if I really love my wife or if I’m gay and just using her as some sort of cover. Now, before you misunderstand my purpose here as some sort of vengeful rant lashing out at those who’ve attacked me recently, let me clarify. Am I angry and hurt by these accusations and the conflict they’ve caused? Yes. That being said, to an extent at least, I was expecting some misunderstanding. I mean, I’ve worn long hair and an earring in the South long enough to know that some people here will always jump to one conclusion or another.

My purpose here is to respond to those accusations from a different perspective. Nothing whatsoever in Scripture justifies writing off a group of people as too far gone or too sinful or too caught up in a certain lifestyle. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that without Jesus, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all screwed up. Accepting the gift He gives us through salvation doesn’t magically transform us into people who no longer need it and who can justifiably look down in judgement on those around us. That attitude, more than any other aspect of this whole mess, is what royally pisses me off. Who the hell do we think we are?

I mean, I get that we may have no idea how to relate to, or even have a conversation with, members of the LGBT community. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen questions which, even given my theological training and background, I have no idea how to answer. Is it a sin? Scripture leads me to say yes, although it is no different from any other. Is it a choice? Again, based on Scripture I’d have to say yes. Now how do those answers fit with the findings of contemporary science and the views of LGBT people who say it’s not a choice but something which is at the core of who they are? In all honesty, I have no idea. There’s a tension there I can’t resolve (at least not yet), but like I said above, just because we can’t resolve that tension is no excuse for writing off the people on the other end of it. The bottom line is that we’re arrogant and cold, not to mention completely unlike Jesus, if we think such an action is acceptable.

In Romans 10:13-14, the Apostle Paul writes, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” As believers, we’re not all preachers, but that’s not the point. The gist of this passage is that, unless someone actually goes and shares the Good News of Jesus with the lost, faith is not possible. How are they to believe in Jesus if they’ve never been introduced to Jesus? In short, unless someone builds a bridge and reaches out, the Gospel doesn’t really go anywhere. To be sure, He tells us that His word will never return void (Isaiah 55:11), meaning that God can cross boundaries to reach people without our help. And at the same time, the Holy Spirit has a key role to play as well (John 16:8). All that being said, however, passages like this one in Romans show that He’d still much rather use us.  

That observation leads me to the heart of this matter. If you and I won’t reach out to members of the LGBT community, not in a hateful and condemning way, but in looking past the tension and the controversy to treat those we interact with in a loving and dignified way, then who will? That alone makes this endeavour worthwhile.

As I said at the beginning of this (and I do apologise for the length), the original posts at the heart of this were down off this site temporarily. This is not to say that I do not believe and stand by what I wrote there (I hope you’ve got the point by now that I most certainly do), but rather that I had to whether this storm as well. They are back up, although now that I am (hopefully) a little more wiser after all this I have tweaked them a little to better reflect the tension between these two communities.

Someone has to be the bridge here. We don’t need to agree with the lifestyle choices, or even approve of them, but we do have to show them love.