Tag Archives: heart

Life Lessons from Dogs

IMG_20170625_120147754_HDR

We own 3 dogs, each one of which is unique in their own way and teaching me different things. Cookie, my dog, we got before Christmas last year. (That’s her in the pic.) Some friends of ours had more dogs than they could now take care of and she needed a home. We were told that she had probably been abused sometime before they got her. She whined about everything. She was always needy, always right up in your space. I figured there was nothing wrong with her that a little time and love couldn’t fix.

In reality, my reasons ran a little deeper. After all that we went through last year by the time we got to Christmas I felt broken inside. I guess I figured that if I could fix Cookie then I could fix myself as well. If there’s hope for one of us then there’ hope for both, right?

It never happened. Sure we fixed a few minor things. She had to learn to come when we called for her. But the deeper things never went away like I thought they would.

Working nights meant I was home during the day a lot over the past couple of months. About two weeks ago we had this really bad storm come through, and let me start by saying that Cookie hates storms. She came up to me shaking, with this look on her face that said I wish I didn’t do this but can’t stop it. It made me realize that she is who she is and I am who I am. I told her as much, and since that day she’s opened up to me. She’s been more loving, more playful, and a lot less worried about everything.

If you’ve been around the church much at all odds are good you’ve heard this one, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We Christians love to talk about ourselves as “works in progress,” the idea being that we have certain behaviours that have to go and Christ is helping us do that. He’s the one fixing us, so to speak.

If you’ve read enough of my posts here you’ll know that I’m going to disagree with that, but first let me say that I am not for a moment overlooking that we all have our rough edges. If you’re like me and have a temper from time to time it’s a noble thing to reign that in. All I’m saying is that maybe what Paul is getting at here goes deeper. Maybe it’s less about fixing ourselves, or having Christ fix us, and learning to love ourselves as we are. After all, he already does.

Advertisements

You Don’t Know

1So I started working all overnight shifts in the grocery store last week, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot in a very short period of time. For example, I’ve learned that if you want your life to include anything other than the cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat while working nights then you’re pretty much always tired all of the time. (Like right now, for example, I should really be sleeping.) I’ve also learned that when the store is open 24 hours you get a lot of interesting people who only show up after midnight. I’ve seen Jpeople of all ages shopping in the wee hours of the morning, from young people to the elderly and even parents with young kids.

I’ve also learned how easy it is to assume that I know someone’s story. Take the parents with young kids. These people coming in that late on a school night gets me wondering, you know? “What the hell are you thinking?” is usually what comes to mind, which is then followed with, “Don’t you know better?” At that point I usually assume the moral high ground thinking that they should know better and are therefore probably bad parents.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t know why they brought their kids that late at night. There are any number of reasons for parents and kids to be in the store that late. When I worked childcare I learned that there are a lot of parents out there working what can charitably be called shitty hours. Maybe that late at night is the only time they can get to the grocery store. Maybe they can’t afford a sitter. Ultimately, I don’t know the story of anyone who shows up in my store.

Here’s the thing. How often do you make assumptions like this? And not just with complete strangers but maybe with people you know and love? It’s so easy to assume that we know someone, or that we know why they did what they did or said what they said. We just make an assumption, and then we write them off.

In Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There’s a lot we could discuss from this passage, but the point I want to make is this. How close to someone do you have to be to even notice a speck in their eye? How much else do you see that you look past just to notice whatever the speck may be? In assuming, in judging, we overlook so much else to focus in one insignificant thing. 

If you don’t know, it means you don’t know. If it bugs you enough, ask them about it. If it really is insignificant, just let it go. The people in your life, and in mine, too, will be better off for it.

On Turning 30

download-birthday-clip-art-free-clipart-of-birthday-cake-parties-9H4hL8-clipartSo today is my 30th birthday (yay me!) and this being the milestone that it is I marked it with Castle Season 8 and Chinese food this past weekend, along with getting my hair done and cake tonight. Being the introspective type that I am, it’s also had me thinking. It hit me last week, as today got closer and closer, just how much I’ve changed in the last 10 years.

Back in 2007, I was two years out of high school and on my second post-secondary institution (chosen mainly because I wanted to get back out to Western Canada and I had to choose something). People who knew me back then will tell you that I wanted more than anything else to matter. I wanted to make a difference, to have a fulfilling career. I was also, by my own admission, damned impatient. Every decision, whether it was regarding career paths or fields to study, felt like the be all and end all that would determine the rest of my life. And I had to get it right. I also had to get it right now. As I watched those I grew up with get married, start a family and progress in their careers, in my own mind at least I had to be right there with them. Every perceived misstep felt like the end of the world.

Fast forward 10 years and the job that I currently have is actually very similar to one I held just out of high school (it just pays better). Is it fulfilling? Does what I do matter to those around me? Not really. I mean, yes, it’s important and it keeps the store running, but is it what I thought I’d be doing when I thought of making a difference a decade ago? No. And you know what? The funny thing is I’m OK with that.

I’ve learned over the last few years that there is more to life than just the job you do. To be sure I still want to enjoy what I do, but that’s really the only requirement for me right now. There is something to be said for a job that pays the bills, that isn’t that stressful, and that allows me to do what needs done as best I can and then come home. A job that provides the freedom to enjoy life and to make a difference in other ways. A job that pays for a roof over our heads and food on the table and Internet to publish my writings. That’s the kind of job I have right now, and I couldn’t ask for more.

The other part of today is that in many ways I have even less of life figured out than I did just a year or two ago. The ironic side of it is that this doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it probably should. Life will sort itself out, and while I’m not saying I’ve given up dreaming and hoping and wondering, I am saying that I do myself and those around me a disservice by trying to rush things.

So if you’re in your 20’s and you’re reading this, let the pressure off. You don’t have to get it right. You’ll probably get it wrong many times and that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. Life doesn’t end when you turn 30.

It’s Not Over Yet

lasthsipfeat-720x380

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

No Place Like Home

In Luke 9:58, when a man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus responds by stating that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now I’ve read that passage dozens of times, and heard it preached on once or twice, usually in the context of trying to explain the cost of following Christ. The entire end of this chapter actually explores the concept and it’s really quite fascinating, especially from a literary point of view. We get these 3 little snippets of conversation, without being told anything about who it is that’s talking to Jesus or how they respond to what he tells them or even why they say what they do in the first place. All we get, really, is the interaction. But I digress.

I’ve usually taken this particular verse in the sense of if I was ever a missionary in some foreign place then I might not necessarily have a pillow or a bed or whatnot. I’d have to make do with whatever I could find. What got my attention here, and what I want to point out, is in the first part of the verse. To a fox and a bird, a hole in the ground and a nest aren’t just a place to sleep at night. They’re home. They’re a place of relative safety, a place to raise your young. The human equivalent might be a place to be yourself. A place where you can relax, let your guard down, and check your worries at the door. As you might imagine, this isn’t just a physical place but an emotional one, as well. Home is where the heart is, right?

Here’s the thing. We’re not promised any of that. That’s what Jesus’s statement is meant to convey to this eager young man. If Jesus himself never had that, how can we expect to? And I don’t say that to burst your bubble or point you to some “super spiritual” wisdom. It’s meant to be a comfort in addition to a challenge. If you find yourself in a place where you’re not understood or not welcome, or where you’re alone, you’re in good company. And it’s probably not your fault, either. We are, after all, always going to be outcasts in this world. Only when we finally reach heaven’s shores will we truly be home. Until that day, don’t lose heart. You are not misunderstood or unwanted, and you are never truly alone. You are known fully and loved deeply by the one who died just to be with you and who, if you are willing to trust him, will be waiting for you there with open arms.

Mobile Strike, Childhood Dreams, and the Grind of My Life

maxresdefaultI guess it shouldn’t surprise me, what with my being a member of several gaming related groups on Facebook (mainly related to Star Trek Online, my all-time favourite MMORPG), but most of the ads on my Facebook feed right now are for different games.  The one that keeps popping up more than most is Mobile Strike, which if the hype is to be believed is the #1 downloadable game right now (or something to that effect; it must be a big deal if Arnold Schwarzenegger is associated with it). What gets me most about the different ads for this game is how blatantly they try to sell the experience. The ads take you from playing a game on your phone to actually being a hero in combat, leading your forces and fighting for domination. What gets me about that approach, in particular, is that it’s just not true.

I will readily admit I love computer games. Whether I’m trying to outsmart the computer players in Civilization V, or boldly going where no man has gone before on the bridge of my ship in Star Trek Online, playing through computer games is a very diverting hobby for me. Part of the appeal, to be sure, is simple stress relief (blowing shit up is a hell of a lot of fun), but part of it is also the chance to vicariously live out a story that is dramatically different from my own. Take Star Trek Online, for example. The way the game works, you can create multiple characters (if you so choose), but each one progresses through what is more or less the same storyline. In my case, having created 5 different characters, this means that I’ve played through most episodes of the story at least 5 times. There’s actually one particular episode I’ve played through a grand total of 15 different times (playing multiple times with each character means that you get better gear for each character). By that point, however, there really isn’t much of a story left anymore, meaning that I’ve spent countless hours creating a story to go along with the story that’s already present in the game. I can tell you who each of my characters are, what their personalities are like, what their life stories are, and even why they chose the name for their ships that they did.

As diverting and entertaining as all this may be, I have to remind myself that these characters are not actually real. I’m not actually exploring the galaxy on the bridge of my ship. What I am doing is playing a game, which at its most basic level means I am sitting in front of a computer and manipulating pixels on the screen. Mobile Strike is the same thing; the only difference is the screen tends to be smaller. So why, then, do we want to believe so badly, even just for a second, that we’re actually doing what our alter-egos in these games are doing? We must want to, otherwise they wouldn’t use that desire to get us to download these games. Do we hate our lives that much that we’re looking for an escape from them? Or is it something else, something deeper? I mean, what is it about these games that draws us to an opportunity to be someone stronger, someone greater, than who we are at present?

Most of us, I think, would admit that our lives aren’t what they could be. I don’t mean that in the “go out and get a real job” sense, or in the “win the lottery and have everything perfect” sense. When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I work with kids for a living. We did this exercise this past week where I asked them to draw a picture of who they want to be when they grow up, and every single one of them, without fail, drew themselves as a super-hero. I don’t know about you, but I remember having similar dreams. I’d grow up to be someone great, having noble adventures doing something that mattered, and I’d save the day when no one else could. That is the kind of disconnect I’m pointing to when I say our lives aren’t what they could be. I work long hours with kids who more often than not fight me every step of the way, come home at night to eat dinner and watch a little TV, and then go to sleep to get up and do it all over again. In between I work a little on our house, make sure the dishes get done, and try to find a little time to relax with my wife. Doesn’t exactly compare with my boyhood dreams, does it? Think for a minute about your own dreams growing up, and then compare them with your current situation. Most of us are longing for more and we don’t know why, which is exactly why games like Mobile Strike are so popular. Here is a way to be that person you’ve always longed to be, and even better, it doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no chance of getting hurt while you’re out saving the day. It’s all of the glory with none of the risk.

Gaming isn’t the only way we try to fill the void created by this disconnect. We think that if we work longer hours, find something we’re really satisfied in doing, then it will go away. Or maybe, if we have the perfect house with the manicured lawn, then we’ll be past it. Some of us are a little more direct in our approach, and try to drown the disconnect in alcohol or other substances. The more spiritual of us will try to make it go away through church involvement, or something else respectable. Thing is, we can never kill it without killing ourselves, and I don’t know about you but that’s too high a price to pay.

Go back to your childhood dreams for a moment. I don’t know you, so I don’t know what they were, but you do. Is it possible that we have those dreams, and those aspirations, for a reason? What if they’re giving us a glimpse into the reality we actually live in? I know it may sound crazy, but what if, just what if, the reason that we can’t kill the disconnect they help to create is because they serve a very real purpose? Think about that.

Most of us think of Christianity as moral obligations and rules, outdated beliefs about how we’re supposed to live our lives. If you repent of all the right things before you die, you get to go heaven, and in the meantime you get to look down on all those poor souls who don’t believe as you do. It may surprise you to know that, while the Bible does contain rules for living, most of it is story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end, a plot, and a hero and a villain (along with a whole host of other characters). The short version is that God created angels first, only Lucifer rebelled and with a third of all the angels tried to take the throne of heaven by force. They lost and were thrown out of heaven, but they cast doubt on the goodness of God and so he created us, gave us a paradise in Eden and romanced us. Only we rejected him, trusting Lucifer (now called Satan) instead, and so God has done everything he can to win our hearts once more. Jesus is the fullest expression of that love and determination, and the cross is where he actually made it possible. We now live in the middle of the great struggle as God works to win back us and our world from the control of Satan. That is the story of the Bible in a nutshell, and I don’t know about you, but it bears a hell of a lot of resemblance to my boyhood dreams. Could it be that this is the reality which those dreams pointed to?

Maybe we feel like we’re meant to be more because we are meant to be more. We long to matter because we actually do matter. We long for purpose and adventure and romance because that’s what this story is all about, and we’re meant to take our place in that story. I have to also say that I’m not telling you this to enlist support for some cause or another. The idea of “spiritual warfare” has been used by Christians to justify some really dumb things over the years, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. If you’ve identified with any of what I’ve said here, if you feel that disconnect, too, then don’t ignore it or try to kill it. It’s pointing you to something more, to the story that God is telling and to your place in it. Don’t ignore that.

Why are we Christians doing what we do?

19214233-the-word-why-in-red-3d-letters-and-a-question-mark-to-ask-the-reason-or-origin-behind-something-and-stock-photoI’ve written before on here about how I think we as Christians are fighting the wrong battle in the current political climate. We seem to be so excited about having the opportunity to secure our place in society and protect our right to what we believe, and yet we seem equally clueless that the mere suggestion that we intend to fight these battles is turning people off to Jesus. Indeed, in the last week most of the articles on non-conservative news sites that I follow which deal with Christians have focused on our efforts in several states to get lawmakers to pass laws protecting religious freedom which would ensure our rights at the expense of the rights of those we disagree with. I commented to one individual this week that the reasoning behind our actions is simple. We’re afraid. We’ve had a dominant role in society in this country for decades, and we’re terrified of losing that. This being said, I came across something in one of my old seminary textbooks last week that makes me think it might actually be a little bit more complicated than that. What I want to do in this post is explore that rationale somewhat, and hopefully, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ll start to see that we are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle.

One of the things I learned from my church history course was that individual perspectives within the church, whether good or bad, have often been around a very long time. A thousand years ago during the Middle Ages, for example, the church had a dominant role in European society much the same as what American Christianity has aspired to over the last few decades. The church at the time was structured around the sacramental system which in turn was based on the belief that certain actions communicated God’s grace to sinners. According to Mark Noll in his book Turning Points, as the church was the agency in charge of these sacraments, its role in society was therefore indispensable.[1] Noll sums this up when he points out that, “with the widespread agreement that salvation was the most important reality, and the further agreement that salvation was communicated through and by the sacraments, it had to follow that the church, as the administrator of the sacraments, should offer a foundation for everything else in life.”[2] In short, there was no area of life, from basic education to political power and everything else in between, where the church did not have a say. (Forgive me if you’re reading this and you ascribe to that system yourself. I am not attacking that system. As the name of this place implies, it’s for people of all backgrounds and beliefs, none of which I would ever attack. I am simply commenting on how society changed because of certain beliefs about that system.)

I know of many Christians who would agree, in theory at least, that such a dominant voice for the church would be a good thing. (I live in the South, where this role for is at least somewhat more of a reality than it is in other parts of the country.) I have also met many non-Christians who are horrified at the thought of this becoming a reality. My focus here is not to get in the middle of that particular fight. Rather, like I said, I am more interested in why we as Christians feel the way we do. To that end, what really caught my eye was Noll’s exploration of the rationale for the church dominance that existed during the Middle Ages. As we’ve already said, the sacramental system was at the heart of that dominance and yet, as Noll observes, “By the time learned theologians got around to providing rationales for the various sacraments and their uses, the system was already pretty much in place.”[3] This is not say that Scripture played no role in that system, but that greater emphasis was instead placed on “the application of general theological principles and worship practices to the varied conditions of earthly existence.”[4] In short, human logic played perhaps the key role in one of the most dominant positions the church has ever enjoyed in a society throughout its history. (That dominance also led to some of the worst abuses of church history, but again that’s actually beside my point here.)

My question for contemporary Christians, then, is what is behind our efforts to protect our position in society at the cost of actually turning people off to Jesus? Is it fear? Our own logic and reasoning? I mean, what could possibly be wrong with God’s own people having the dominant voice in society, right? Church history is full of some very tragic answers to that particular question. I would respectfully assert to you that our current efforts are not God’s doing but the fruit of our own rationales. We are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle, and our mistake will cost those watching us dearly in eternity.

Here’s my thing. In Galatians 5:1, we’re told that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Now in case we miss that point, the Apostle Paul has used the same Greek word for freedom three times in one sentence. A more literal translation would “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free into freedom.” As followers of Christ we’re already free, in the only way that really matters. Yet we spend our days trying to impose our standards not only on each other but on the world around us. And they look at us and laugh. Something like half of all so-called traditional marriages end in divorce, yet instead of addressing that problem we put our energy into fighting to make sure that our definition of marriage is the only legal definition. And depending on which source you go to for the statistics, anywhere from one quarter to one half of all LGBTQ youth in this country have attempted or seriously considered suicide at least once. Yet instead of responding to that brokenness with love and respect, we judge and condemn.

We are surrounded by people crying out for help, to know that someone sees them and cares about them. That freedom we have in Jesus puts in the perfect place to respond to that cry with love and compassion, yet more often than not we don’t. That’s the battle we need to be fighting.

[1] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd. ed. (2012, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MA), 116.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 116.

[4] Ibid.

You Didn’t Break Me

774ec30a76104ab441466a794653c586There are times in my life, as I’ve written about before, where even as a minister I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in my life or what to do about it or even how to process it. There are also, as I’ve found out these last weeks, times in my life where I know exactly how things are going to turn out and exactly what I need to do, only to find out that things have gone the exact opposite of how I thought they would go, I can’t respond the way I’d planned, and I am, yet again, back to the whole “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do” thing.

Back in December, when we had moved out of where we were living with my wife’s family and I was finally free to be myself again especially with regard to my hair, I got it coloured dark brown with blonde bangs. Being as I’m a natural redhead, and when I’d got it done in the past it was usually some combination of red with blonde highlights, this change was a bit of shock for everybody (myself included). Why did I go out and make such a drastic change? Part of it, I think, was simply wanting to put the past behind me, but a larger part of it was wanting to say, “I’m still here, and I’m still me, and I’m still going to do what I’ve been doing to express who I am.” In short, “You didn’t break me.”

Even as I’ve grown to love my new look (and it does look great!) I’ve found that the anger and the hurt didn’t go away from when I was accused of being gay last August and run out of the house until I got a “man’s haircut” (whatever the hell that was supposed to be). Maybe it was naïve of me to think that it would go away in an instant, but I guess I’d hoped that by moving on outwardly I’d be able to move on inwardly, too.

I’ve always had perfectly straight hair, and I’d had it permed back before that whole blow up and I loved having it curly. One of the things I’d been looking forward to over the last couple of months was finally having my hair long enough again to make it worth getting it permed. Funny as it may seem, I missed my curly hair (and I’ve also found out the hard way that I lack a certain skillset required to curl it myself). Anyways, yesterday I got it permed again, and you know what? I am finally starting to feel like myself again.

Thing is, the shadow of August still seems to linger. I guess I’d thought that by returning to my normal that things would start to normalize inside, too, and I don’t know, maybe it’s too soon, but… Yeah. It lingers. And you know what? I don’t want it to. I don’t want to be the eternally resentful guy, that bitter person that nobody wants to be around. And I’m tired of being wary around others, like I’m expecting another attack. And I don’t want to be so wary of being different and standing out that I just give up and give in to the demands of society that I conform to what everybody else expects. That’s the last thing I want to happen. So what am I supposed to do?

One of the things that kept me going through the months after the blow up where we still lived with my wife’s family was the knowledge that once the trump card was gone, once they could no longer hold over my head the “you’re living with us so you’ll do what we want or we’ll kick you out” card, I’d be able to finally, actually defend myself. I would stand up to them, on an even playing field, and confront them in such a way that they would understand this would never happen again. Those who know me well know that I can be a force to be reckoned with in an argument when I want to be, and I was going to bring all of that to bear on those who were behind what happened in August. Except, we moved out, and… none of that happened. I didn’t do what I’d dreamed of doing for so long. Truth be told, I couldn’t. Part of it is that we’ve needed their help to get established here. The main part, though, was that 2016 was, for both me and my wife, a year full of family drama and strife and accusations. If I’d kept that going through what I wanted to do, there’s no telling when that cycle would have ended.

So now I’m back to where I was before, and not having any idea what to do with all of this. Have I forgiven those involved? I think so. I mean, I don’t hold it against them, now that I’m free again and looking like I want to, so that has to count for something. That may not seem like much coming from a Christian like myself (we’re supposed to forgive everybody, right?) but I’m human, too, and as I’m finding out the healing process can take a very long time and take you somewhere that looks nothing like where you started out from. I don’t want to miss any step in that process, no matter how painful it might be.

Life is still just… different. Will it ever be the same again? I’m not sure. There’s some value in all this, too. I wasn’t kidding when I said this didn’t break me. I’m still doing what I do, reaching out to people from groups that most Christians have just written off. I don’t want anybody to feel the way I did, and to go through that kind of abuse, simply because of who they are and how they choose to express that. In that process, I’ve met some wonderfully open people, people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’m grateful for that. Other than that, it’s just one day at a time. In my most open moments I have to admit that life will probably never be the same again, but as I’m learning that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re dealing with loss, or hurt, or anything at all that really sucks, I hope you can find a way to hold on to it, too.  We’ll get there, one day at a time.

Respecting the LGBTQ Community

reach-md             It pains me to think that we as Christians need a biblical case for being respectful to people, but as I interact through social media with members of the LGBTQ community, and watch Christians interact with them in general, this seems more and more to be the case. One of the questions that consistently comes up for me is why on earth we as Christians treat them the way that we do. There are any number of groups out there that we disagree with, and while our responses to different groups have ran the gamut from polite to insane, this particular community is one that we tend to have trouble even being civil with. What I’ve been pondering the last few months is why, and I think I’ve finally come to the place where I can articulate a reasonable explanation.

In my interactions, I’ve noticed one thing in particular that may explain this stance among Christians. In short, we’re afraid. Let me explain a little. The Bible, as we can be very quick to point out, states that homosexuality is a sin. Those who identify as LGBTQ, as I’ve found out, are quick to point out that their sexual orientation (or whatever term they want to use for it), is part of who they are. It is, more often than not, at the core of who they are. The end result is a disconnect. Conversations between the two groups in general are not going to happen when the views involved are so directly opposed to each other. (That being said, the opposition of these views has made for some unfortunate and spectacular arguments on social media.)  For Christians, and here I speak from my own experience, the dilemma is in how to respond to these opposing views. We can either accept LGBTQ individuals for who they are, or we can stick to our guns that it’s a sin and they need to change. The problem is that accepting LGBTQ individuals for who they are would require us to compromise our belief in the authority of Scripture, and we would never do that. We therefore respond in the only way that our fear says remains open to us. In short, we’re not willing to give a little.

I am not talking about giving up on the authority of Scripture. As a Christian myself, that is a belief that I hold to as well. What I am saying is that this situation is not as black and white people on both sides may say, and there is a hell of a lot we as Christians can do just to be respectful to the LGBTQ community while maintaining our respect for the authority of Scripture.

For example, Romans 1 is one of several passages in the New Testament that touch on the issue of homosexuality. The gist in this case seems to be that homosexuality came about because people rejected God. (If you’re reading this and you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, please hear me out before you jump all over me. I am not trying to comment here on whether or not you were born the way you are or whether it’s a choice or to comment on any other aspect of that particular discussion. That is a conversation for another time, and also one that I don’t have all the answers to. What I am trying to do here is simply show other Christians that we need to change the way that we respond to you.) Romans 2, in contrast, opens by pointing out that anyone who judges another for these things condemns themselves because they are also guilty of rejecting God. As the King James Version poetically puts it, “for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself” (Romans 2:1). The bottom line here, and the first observation that needs to be made, is that as sinners ourselves saved only by the grace of God, we have no place whatsoever to justify responding to the LGBTQ community in condemnation. Our response as a whole sucks, and it needs to change.

How, then, should it change? The second observation that needs to be made is that all people everywhere matter to Jesus. As we read in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” The word “all” pretty much tells you everything you need to know here. The Apostle Paul touches on this as well in 1 Timothy 2, when he says in verse 3 that Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It’s not wrong to say that you’ve never met a person who doesn’t matter to God, LGBTQ or otherwise. These people matter to him as much as any other. (Again, it pisses me off no end that we seem to need a reminder on this one, but that appears to be the case.)

Finally, I want to observe that if these people matter, and they do, then we need to accept them and treat them with love and respect. Furthermore, doing so doesn’t require us to change our own beliefs. I think we’re afraid of this more than anything else, that by accepting them we have to admit that the Bible is wrong on the subject and therefore could quite possibly be wrong on every other subject contained therein. In all honesty, that fear could not be farther from the truth. In Romans 5:8, the Apostle Paul tells us, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, Jesus took us as we were. There was nothing that we could do to make ourselves acceptable to him, and we didn’t need to make ourselves acceptable anyways. (That’s not how this whole Christianity thing works.) He took us as we are. Why, then, can we not offer the same grace to others?

We have, I think, become so focused on “defending the faith” and maintaining the integrity of our theology that we have, in essence, written off the entire LGBTQ community. That, my friends, is about as un-Christian as it gets. All we have to do is give a little, set aside our differences and focus on the things that matter. It is in many ways the simplest thing in the world, and yet we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. And why? Like I said, we’re afraid. If, as 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” then maybe we don’t know the love of Jesus as well as we think we do.

The Start of a New Year

happy-new-year2017-55           We don’t yet have internet service at our new place (props to Comcast for continuing to assert that our address doesn’t exist), which means that by the time I get to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi it’ll be after the New Year, but for now it’s still 2016. This week between Christmas and New Year’s always gets me in more of an introspective mood than other times of the year. It’s the great pause, you know? The excitement and buildup to Christmas have come and gone and the excitement of the New Year hasn’t come quite yet. For me it’s the time to reflect back on the year that was and to look ahead to the new one.

This past year sure was a fun one (and I mean that in the most sarcastic sense possible). My wife and I both took attacks and accusations in ways that I never dreamed we would ever have had to deal with and from people I never would have imagined capable of dishing out such hurt. I’ve found myself in these last weeks, now that we have some distance from all of that, tempted to shut down a little inside, to back off and hide a little from all that heartache. I mean, it’s one thing to be open and vulnerable when you know that getting hurt is a possibility, but it’s quite another to try to be open and vulnerable knowing full well what the reality of hurt feels like.

I’m also self-aware enough (I hope) to know that while isolation and solitude in the short-term may be healthy, in the long-term it can be dangerous. The question is what the hell to do with what I feel. This may sound rather pro-forma coming from a Christian, but I’ve been wondering recently how Jesus dealt with all the heartache he faced. Theologians tell us that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (although no one has yet figured out how that works; I for one believe a pretty good case can be made for the truth of that statement, but that isn’t the point here). According to the Bible, Jesus dealt with the same range of emotions and heartache and temptation that you or I or anyone else who’s ever lived has dealt with. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), for example, and he continually sought solitude as a means to recharge from ministering to those around him (Mark 1:35). The Book of Hebrews also tells us that he can empathize with what we go through because he was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, as John 18:15-18 shows, in his hour of greatest need Jesus was abandoned by those closest to him (and who among us hasn’t felt that particular pain at one point or another?) If you want more examples, you can look at the whole story of God reaching out to us. How many times have we rejected him? Grieved him through our actions? If, as Scripture indicates, he feels what we feel, then that rejection has to hurt. And yet he offers himself again and again and again, opening himself up, being vulnerable, reaching out to us in spite of the pain.

Here’s my thing, though. Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus hiding from this heartache. Never does he shrink back from it. The same can be said of God elsewhere in Scripture. And that leads me to the question I’ve been pondering the last little while. How exactly does he pull that one off? I mean, I deal with the rejection of people not understanding what I’m about with this site, for example. This is the South, after all, where unless you fit into a very particular box as a pastor, something must be seriously wrong with you. Jesus deals with a level of rejection that’s infinitely beyond that, and yet it never seems to faze him.

One possible answer to this is that being God somehow gives him a pass on the whole thing, yet that is problematic in view of the biblical evidence that he felt as we feel and was tempted as we are tempted. There must, therefore, be a different explanation.

There is one example from Scripture, in John 8 specifically, that may shed some light on this. Eight times in this chapter (verses 16, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29, 38, and 55) we get a glimpse into just how intimate Jesus’ relationship with God the Father really was. The gist of this chapter seems to be that Jesus and God the Father are one, and this comes out through a back and forth discussion of sorts between Jesus and different groups. Looking at it from a literary perspective, why not just use one example, or maybe two or three, to prove the point? Why have this lengthy discussion that brings out what is essentially the same response from Jesus seven different times? (Granted, this isn’t the sole focal point of this passage; I’m just trying to isolate one element of it.)  One thing that my seminary experience drilled into me is that the biblical writers, working under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, had the choice not just of what information to include in the biblical record but also of how to organize that information. When you come across repetition in Scripture, like the kind we have here, it’s in there for a reason.

So why, then, was it important to highlight the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father to this extent? Personally, I think it shows how he was able to live as he did. As we looked at above, he didn’t shrink back from anything, nor did he try to hide his emotions. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was such that he knew who he was and he knew that he was loved. As a result of that foundation, nothing could shake him.

Like I said, this time of year is one that I tend to not just reflect on the previous year but also look ahead to the coming year. I know I’ve said it before in other posts, but what this revelation keeps bringing me back to is that we’re not meant to live life alone. We need that same level of intimacy with God that we see in John 8. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open for us to have it. And I’m not talking about being more faithful in reading your Bible or making sure you’re in church every Sunday morning. If you read through the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ intimacy with the Father ran so much deeper than surface level stuff like that. (I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves; I’m just saying we can’t stop there.) As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, God has set eternity in our hearts. There’s a longing there, a longing for our real home and intimacy with the one we were made for, and if we’ll follow that we’ll find him. It may be in the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of the stars on a clear night, or the touch of the one you love. He speaks to us all in ways befitting our own stories. All we have to do is listen. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to be at the start of a new year.