Category Archives: serious

Losing the high ground

Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States. It’s weird to type those words and have them be real, but such is life and people. The people voted, and by hook or by crook, he came out on top. There have been enough post-mortems and people trying to figure out how it happened. I have a lot of different thoughts, but one in particular that’s sticking in my craw, so I wanted to get it out there. I used to keep this space free of politics, but I don’t think that’s a luxury I should continue to indulge.

I’m disappointed at Christians in the U.S. (and a few up here) who supported Trump, somehow ignoring Trump’s entire history of stomping on the principles of our faith, and a campaign that continued to do likewise. His offenses are numerous and clear, and any single one of them should have been disqualifying, but somehow they weren’t important enough for voters to consider.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy– two people who, to my knowledge, have no connection with organized religion- put it very plainly in their rants (Steve Kerr is a little more thoughtful, if you prefer that). As Christians, we’re supposed to be the moral compass. That evangelicals came out overwhemingly for Trump, and white evangelicals especially, was bizarre. I’m baffled. I don’t get it. No amount of pastoral thinkpieces lacking moral courage and muttering “Supreme Court” could justify that choice, given who and what we claim to be. Trump was an awful candidate, an awful person without moral quality or any relevant experience who conned almost half the voters into supporting him. Good for him, I guess.

One of the most popular topics of recent vintage in churches- I would know, I go to one- is why ‘young people’ (I no longer qualify, sadly) leave the church. If I had the platform, I would point to how Christians voted in this election. We’re seen as hypocrites, and I get why. People see us preach on the transformative power of faith in Jesus, on morality and doing the right thing, on supporting the downtrodden, and see actions that don’t match up with what’s said. Help the poor, feed the hungry, reach out to the lost, but 78% of us supported a millionaire who was born on third base and thought he hit a home run, who degrades women, hates minorities, and has spent his life stepping on anyone who prevents him from making money. Sure, that fits. Jesus would have been all over that, right?

There’s a lot of good that’s done in Jesus’ name, and that sometimes gets lost in the sound and fury of things, when louder, more shocking voices get airplay. People love hearing about how Westboro Baptist screwed up today, mission trips to Guatemala several years running don’t get the clicks. But it’s hard to hold the charity and grace up as indicative of who we are when we screw up on the most visible choices. This was an open layup, and we dribbled it off our foot and the ball went out of bounds and the coach is mad and he’s getting someone off the bench to come in for us (alright, two convoluted sports metaphors is enough for one post).

I’m not having a crisis in my own faith, more a sense of disappointment with some who are in the family. I’ve been through enough, seen enough, that I know what I believe. I hoped that our neighbours to the south would come to their senses, and that Christians would be at the vanguard of those clear-eyed people who saw Trump for the charlatan he is. But neither of those things happened.

As Christians, we’re called to reach the lost, and this choice has built another metaphorical wall (appropriate, given Trump’s fondness for them), another hurdle for us to clear in that mission. There are people in the United States who are genuinely afraid of the next four years, women, minorities, people of different genders and orientations who saw the hate and fear that Trump played on, and see his election as an endorsement of those things. My heart breaks for them. As Christians, we failed them, and I don’t know how we can reconcile that. There are real consequences for the choice that was made, and there should be a lot of Christians doing some soul searching, and seeing if the choice they made actually squares with what they claim to believe.

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Escaping the echo chamber

This week, I watched John Oliver deliver a thorough and thoughtful presentation on Donald Trump. I like Oliver. He’s entertaining, he’s sharp, and he’s not above laughing at himself when the situation calls for it. As a graduate of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert school of political satire, you can see where he took his cues from, and can usually say where he’ll fall on most issues. While Oliver is, again, usually very smart and thoughtful, it’s rare that I’m surprised by anything I see from him.

So when he talked at length about Trump, it went as I expected it would. It wasn’t anything that shocked or surprised me, really.  It was entertaining, it was concise, and it delivered hammer after hammer of depressing truth, interspersed with enough laughs that he could still call himself a comedian. While he’s been mentioned a lot in the opening paragraphs, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here opining on Trump, because that’s not the point of this post. I wanted to talk about something else that bothered me.

Someone I follow on Twitter made what I thought was an excellent point when he mused that people like Stewart, Colbert, and Oliver and their culture of political satire probably contributed to the rise of someone like Trump. Trump has done an excellent job tapping into an underlying resentment against certain political elements, and exploiting the immediate, reactive nature of this age of social media. He’s also done a great job being the centre of attention, but again, that’s a different post (that I probably won’t write, because others have done it much, much better). But it got me thinking about how we consume media, how we present it, and how we often let it divide us.

While I’ve probably seen a shift in my values as I’ve had my political identity crisis over the last several years, I think some soul searching generally does one a lot of good. So my train of thought started here: it’s easy to watch someone like Oliver do his comedic commentary, and point and laugh at Trump, and shake our heads at people who would support him.

From that, I had a few questions about the Oliver diatribe. What was the point, really? Who was watching it that doesn’t already agree with him? What does it accomplish other than making us who do agree with him feel better about ourselves? We’re entertained, sure. But Oliver himself would admit that Trump has evolved well beyond a joke, into someone who will more than likely win his party’s nomination to run for president.

Again, I like Oliver. I think he’s usually good, and more truthful than those of opposite minds would admit. It’s clear from the presentation that Oliver was trying to reach people and change minds, but he can’t possibly do that because of who he is, and the reputation he’s established. Because of his reputation, he was only preaching to his own choir. I don’t think anyone who supports Trump watched it and changed their mind because of it. So I wondered about the value of what Oliver did.

This isn’t really Oliver’s fault, he’s a just a product of a media that’s more concerned about entertaining than engaging, or elevating the conversation, or addressing actual issues that exist. His show is designed for people who would probably already agree with it. In an age where we have more choice than ever about what we consume, we can ignore everything we don’t agree with, and that’s not necessarily healthy. So we stay in our lanes, never thinking, and never being challenged on what we think.

I see this happening more and more, as opinions and information are reduced to soundbites and quips that make for easy points scored in a debate (something Trump himself is also a master of), and a quick sense of smug superiority that we can compress into 140 characters. We put up a picture with a snappy quote, get the likes, and score points with people who already agree with us. But nothing of substance has really happened. All we’ve done is dig the trenches deeper.

It’s far too easy to lump people who have certain viewpoints into a comfortable box, and dismiss them to the fringes. I know I’ve done it, often without really realizing I have. That’s the easy thing to do, to let ourselves be entertained, have a laugh, and bask in our own sense of superiority over other people. Not that we shouldn’t laugh or have fun, or think critically about things, but I struggle with how reductive and smug political discussions have become, and how we so often stay in the comfortable bubbles we’ve established.

I’m not sure how to change that, but I want it to be better. I want us to have better conversations. When I see someone who thinks differently, I want to find a way to understand them, rather than dismiss them because they think differently than me. Some of the best learning I’ve had was from people who had much different opinions that I do, and I think that by opening ourselves up to hearing those opinions we can (sometimes) learn a lot.

The lesser of three weasels

I love my country. I love that I can vote without fear of anything worse than a hand cramp. I don’t particularly care for the options right now. Rants, mostly, with the standard “in my humble opinion” disclaimer attached.

Door Number One: Running a simplistic, reductive, fear-mongering campaign, appealing to the worst instincts of people, and trying to tell us how bad the other options are while ignoring their own considerable warts. Despite being racist, sexist, lying dictators who have demonstrated little in the way of compassion or integrity in how they run the country (to say nothing of their frightening aversion to science and new information), this party is somehow the default party of choice for those of a religious inkling, which confuses me to no end. They’re trumpeting an economic record that can charitably be described as mediocre, and found a budget surplus by taking from social programs right before an election- HOW CONVEEEEEEEEEENIENT and also terrible.

Door Number Two: Selling themselves on a platform of “real change for Ottawa”, something that sounds super great, but requires actual things that can be done to change the government, and more than a pretty face and pretty words. And while promoting hope and change, let’s ignore this party’s own laundry list of corruption and scandals that got them voted out in the early 00s, or the fact that the current leader is a legacy child of one of the most overrated prime ministers in history with very little in the way of his own accomplishments. When your economic plan is “tax the rich more and spend more money than we have”, that won’t earn you much more than an eye roll.

Door Number Three: Riding an unsustainable wave from a fickle voting province to a seat at the table with the big kids has done little to improve their knowledge of how things work. Business is good, folks, and the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll be able to improve on a governing track record at the provincial level that can universally be described as awful. The side effect of depending on a fickle province is a leader and policies that drift in the wind, trying desperately to cling to momentum that won’t last because the principles change depending on who’s voting for you. “Taxing business” is a wonderful idea that forgets that you need businesses that will stay in countries with said taxes. People love the idea of more programs until we discover we have to pay for it. No wonder the track record with their governments has been awful.

I still don’t know who I’m voting for. But I feel a little better now.

Throwing stones

If you’ve made it this far, welcome, friend. Please read on, as this post follows this, this, and this in a series. Standard disclaimer: I’m not all-knowing or all-seeing, this is what I feel/think.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my adult life, it’s that my faith can’t be static. Or rather, what I understand can’t be static. I need to change, to understand God in new ways every day. If I don’t do that, I won’t grow.

How the church has approached LGBT people/rights has been laid on my heart the last little while. Though the relationships I wrote about were important points where my thinking was challenged, there were many others who impacted and influenced me on both sides of the debate. I could write for days and days about those people, but I won’t, because I want to bring this to a conclusion.

There’s so much to read and see out there, but I wanted a balance. I wanted to write, but I wanted people to understand where I come from. Not a place of judgement, but a place of faith. It was important to me to go through my history, and the deep conflict that I- that a lot of Christian people feel- in regards to this. And how fervently I believe that opposition to LGBT rights isn’t always rooted in hate. A lot of times, it’s based in fear, and misunderstanding. We’re guilty of getting stuck in doctrine and scripture, and while that’s mostly good in regards to what we believe, it’s important that we understand context, and really know WHY God does things the way He does.

But because of those verses- six verses in the Bible (out of over THIRTY THOUSAND in total) that seem to denounce homosexual relationships- we at the church have made this line in the sand, and don’t often think or talk about it. That’s a mistake. We need to understand the how and why of the Bible, and WHY things are the way they are.

I meant what I said in a prior post when I said that LGBT rights are one of the biggest flashpoints of this age, if not the biggest. One of the reasons that churches are bleeding members in the 20-30ish age group is because the church is perceived as being more obsessed with doctrine than love, that church is outdated, and that Christians are more judgmental than loving. That’s a problem, and it’s not something that will be corrected overnight.

So here’s the million dollar question: Does the Bible support LGBT rights? Do I? Can they be Christian?

The answer is yes. Unequivocally. Absolutely. I support my LGBT brothers and sisters, and would welcome them to my church if they chose faith. They have been hurt by the church for far too long, for no reason other than us not understanding what the Bible says.

It took me a long time to get there, but that’s where I stand. My conscience is clear, and backed by the words of God. This comes from the principles of loving God and loving your neighbour being the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT part of what we do as Christians, and all the laws springing from that.

A friend of mine, Chris, posted something on Facebook supporting the NALT project, which was part of the inspiration for these series of posts. The summary is that NALT is an organization of Christians who support LGBT rights, and believe that LGBT people can be Christians, and that hating them is un-Biblical. Their case (which I wholly agree with) is well laid out, and Biblically based. It was amazing to read a viewpoint that supported what seemed to be morally right, and wasn’t in conflict with what I believed. We didn’t need to compromise. It was right there, all along, and we’d just missed it.

The first thing NALT has done was have Christians post videos supporting LGBT rights- that Christians are, in their words, “not all like that”. This showed that there were Christians who supported LGBT rights, encouraged LGBT people in the church, and affirmed other Christians who were afraid to admit what they thought (such as myself). Chris himself posted a powerful video about his own journey, honest and unflinching. It inspired me, got me thinking harder about this conflict I’ve felt for a while. One paragraph in this long diatrabe isn’t nearly enough credit for him, or NALT, for kicking my brain into gear.

We as Christians, myself included, have spent far too much time forgetting the basic principle of our faith, and using out-of-context Biblical passages to cover a fear and misunderstanding that we have about LGBT people in our lives, and excluding a whole section of society that needs to know God’s love, and can demonstrate that love to others in ways that we can’t. If LGBT people are on the margins, too demonstrative and flamboyant for our tastes, or too quiet and withdrawn, then WE have pushed them there.

If we believe that people are born the way they are, and can’t control who they’re attracted to- and there’s overwhelming medical evidence to support this- then it follows, logically, that God made gay people, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender to be a part of His kingdom. It’s seen otherwise because “that’s the way it’s been”, because they’re a minority, and we’re not comfortable with it. Those are all terrible reasons for this to be so, and need to change.

We have seen a great many societal changes over history. One could have easily argued once that the Bible supported slavery (nope), racist policies (nope), and the subjugation of women (nope). Once society started accepting those things, eventually, Christians studied the Bible, saw it didn’t actually support any of those things, and changed too, and we’re way better for it. Not that society is perfect in any respect for those particular issues, but that’s a whole other debate.

It’s not a shock for certain segments of society to support LGBT rights, but I wanted to be authentic in the conflict that I felt with my beliefs, which was most of the purpose behind this series of posts. I’m not perfect. People have challenged me on what I’ve written. And that’s part of the purpose. As my thinking evolved, so too did the writing and viewpoints, and I wanted it to come from a genuine place of belief and feeling, and I hope that resonated.

If we don’t want to argue semantics over Biblical interpretation, we don’t have to. It’s simple, when we break it down. Time and time again in Jesus’ day, we see Him choosing love over legalese. Jesus was at the forefront of conflict, standing in the gap for those that were less fortunate, and was someone that anyone could approach at any time. He didn’t judge. He didn’t posture. He didn’t slippery slope His fears into the worst possible outcome to inspire fervent believers. He showed love and shared the Word with everyone, and let them make their choice and repent to God. How can we do that when we’re finding reasons to exclude people rather than include them?

Are there legitimate reasons someone can’t be a Christian? Yes. Absolutely. But why is attraction- a biological thing- considered to be a sin? Who’s it hurting? No one, when it’s done correctly, and not under the pretense of forcing someone to be what they’re not. Gay marriage is happening in a lot of places, and the world appears to be puttering along, same as usual. Society is not caving in on itself, and we’ve not descended into hedonistic anarchy, as some have suggested would happen.  Christians have been encouraging this conflict by taking this stand against it, and condemning the lifestyle of LGBT people, denying them the love of God that is available freely to all who choose that path, and using scripture to support that condemnation in society in general.

We’re not Jesus, and can’t expect to be. But we need to be the closest thing to Him that the world will see, and we’ve got some work to do on that end. How Christians have treated LGBTs has been a problem, and needs to stop. That’s not something that’ll be fixed by one guy waxing endlessly on his blog, or a few people posting videos online through NALT. Changing attitudes and thoughts is one way we can start. The real work, full acceptance and understanding, will take time, and courage, and careful thought. It will be divisive, and challenging. People won’t like it. But it’s starting to happen. And it’s wonderful.

As much as anything, we as Christians need to stop fear mongering, and letting that colour our viewpoints of other people. LGBT people aren’t going to destroy heterosexual marriages, they aren’t going to be the downfall of society, and they’re just as capable of being faithful, loving, and kind as anyone else. Adam, and Evan, and so many others demonstrated that to me, challenged me to see beyond my programming, and come to an understanding of God’s word that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t met them. My conscience is clear on this, for this first time in ages, and I feel strongly that God wants to challenge Christians on this issue.

That’s the challenge. Do we see God’s love there, in others, in people that fear or don’t understand? Do we see the chance to show it? Or do we look for reasons to reject them?

I think that’s all. Thanks for reading. You’re pretty cool.

Frame the walls

Continued from here and here.

It’s strange to me when I think about all the sound and fury in the media- the American media specifically, but even media in general- that Christians seem to make about LGBT people, whether it’s marriage, rights in general, or how they’re “abominations” or “condemned by God”. It’s strange because I can count the number of conversations I’ve had on the subject with fellow believers on one hand. I don’t believe there’s ever been a sermon in the church about homosexuality, or why it’s wrong. It’s mostly whispered and maintained in hushed tones, like a lot of things we’re uncomfortable talking about, or don’t understand.

Maybe it’s just that the extremists get play. That’s not surprising, given that being a thoughtful, moderate voice doesn’t make for compelling television/reading. Satirists like Jon Stewart, Rick Mercer, and Stephen Colbert thrive on taking things to the extremes, pointing out the absurdity of events and viewpoints, and political columnists likely draw their commentary to the extreme to general interest.  Those on the margins are more defiant, more passionate, and more likely to inspire fervent agreement or ire. Opposition and conflict can be easier than compromise and collaboration.

But, back on topic. This is another relationship piece about how someone impacted my viewpoint, similar to the last one, but I’m going to drop a hook on you: This is the story of how I was invited to one of the first gay marriages in Alberta.

*****

I worked at Safeway for a time in my 20s, as a stock boy. Produce and grocery, with the odd shift in the freezer. This was a slightly higher class than Tim Hortons (and better pay), but not that much higher, in the final estimation. You got the same mix: college students, lifers, underachievers, and generally people who didn’t want to be there. The atmosphere was lifeless and uninspired, with most doing just enough to get through the day. I counted myself in that group, some days.

The jobs tended to be split along gender lines: Women were cashiers, and the guys did the stocking. There was a practicality to this, but it also bred some a very inbred atmosphere. A group of (mostly) underachieving males, left to themselves, tended not to be the most progressive of thinkers.

This was a point in my life where I was searching for direction, and that atmosphere probably wasn’t the best for me. I survived with my quick, sarcastic wit,  and mostly stayed out of the way. I eventually moved to the male-dominated produce section, with people coming and going, searching for a certainty in direction. I could relate to that. I’m still looking, in a lot of ways.

At some point near the end of my tenure, we had a gentleman named Evan (again, name changed to protect the person) join us. He was different from the usual underachieving sort we got there: he seemed intelligent, and thoughtful, and generally positive. Another person I could converse with on all sorts of subjects. Evan was genial, and good with customers, and could handle pretty much anything that was thrown at him. He was bald, a trait I’m starting to share with him now.

But his presence bothered me: Evan was smart. He had his “stuff” together. Why was he HERE? He wasn’t me, searching for his direction. He wasn’t the lifers, unable to quit because they couldn’t do anything else. He was in his late 40s/early 50s, near as I could tell. He should have been well established in whatever career he was going through, not slumming it with us.

One day I came into work, and sat down in the break room to read the newspaper. Certain pages were gone, from both the Sun and the Herald. This was strange. The Sun, particularly, seemed like a deliberate effort; someone had gone to the trouble of cutting out a particular article, out of both editions, with the rest of the page still there.

But in a grocery store, rumours travel fast, and I heard what had happened: the head cashier had done it earlier. I didn’t get to hear why. At that point, Dennis and I were getting the Herald at home, so I could rectify my curiousity once I was done for the day.

So I went home, and opened the newspaper. I found the article, about Evan, and his partner. He was gay, and campaigning to get married in Alberta. The article went through history, where he’d been involved, and what he was doing now. This was fairly prominent news in conservative Calgary (I’ve often referred to Alberta as the “Texas of Canada”, and it’s a well-earned stereotype). I didn’t blame the head cashier for her forethought. For Evan to have been outed this way, working with a bunch of regressive thinking guys…

Similar to with Adam, I felt a kinship with Evan here, as an outsider, someone more ostracized than accepted in the general workings of the grocery store at that point. I read the article, and gained a new respect for him, for his trouble (and for Adam’s, really): He’d been fighting the fight to be together with his partner for YEARS. No wonder he didn’t have a career. He was busy chasing his dream. I thought of Adam again, working the margins, rejected by society, facing walls and obstacles for something as simple as the man he lived with.

Suddenly, being a churchy sort didn’t seem so tough, in comparison. The worst I’d get for admitting being a Christian was teasing and rejection at work. The worst for his was, well, working at Safeway in his late 40s, fighting for what he wanted.

To my surprise, there was little reaction among those that worked with Evan- to his face, anyway. I heard what the guys said when he wasn’t around, the slurs and insults that were heaved, and that confirmed my suspicion that it would be tough going for him. That there was a lot to be done to get from faking acceptance to actually being cool with it.

Evan never seemed burdened or let down by it openly, and I admired him for that. He even invited everyone in the produce department to his wedding, which he and his partner were going to do with the justice of the peace in downtown Calgary. How amazing, that he could be open and loving in an environment that mocked him behind his back.

As before with Adam, nothing changed between myself and Evan. I felt a great conflict here, as my beliefs warred with my morals. What was the right thing? I didn’t know. My paralysis kept me silent, and to this day, I am ashamed I never talked openly about my faith with Evan, or did more to defend him at the time. My experience with Adam had given me the certainty that we as Christians need to build bridges with the LGBT community, not burn them, and I feel as if there was a missed opportunity there.

I don’t doubt my faith in God. I did, on the other hand, know for certain that flawed humans could misinterpret the word for their own purposes (see, again: Westboro Baptist Church) and let their hate blind them to an opportunity to share the gospel, to show love and be shown love by other humans.

In my grasping for answers, the one thing I kept seeing and coming back to with regards to LGBT people was the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” adage. But even this felt very lukewarm to me, uncertain, like I was either denying my faith or promoting a viewpoint that excluded people from receiving or showing God’s love. But it was all I had. I saw so many Christians, so many churches who turned away LGBT people, and I would not further that hate.

I was a sinner. We all were, according to the Bible. So why was the LGBT issue the one that got us religious folks the most ornery (especially when we NEVER TALK ABOUT IT)? Why not stealing? Drinking? Rape? Murder? God can forgive, right? Why was sexual orientation the biggest problem? Why was it a problem at all? Did that orientation make them incapable of faith? I’d been challenged by Adam, and Evan, encouraged even, in ways that I wouldn’t have been had I thrown the Bible at them or shunned them. Was God using them to open my eyes, to challenge me? Or to reaffirm my faith and understanding?

More to come. Thanks for reading.

Building up

Continued from here. My memory isn’t perfect, but the main details are on point.

So, growing up is strange. We can all agree on that.

There was me, the quiet, geeky kid, just trying to make it through high school unscathed with a 85ish average. I discovered emotional highs and lows, had crushes come and go, and developed a sense of humour that people seemed to like. I learned how to appear comfortable in any situation without actually being that way; sarcasm, the humour, and appearing disaffected helps with that. A perfect teenage attitude, in a lot of ways.

In high school, I was going to be a programmer. It was perfect: I liked computers, had an analytical mind, and wanted to make games.

I was a Christian, though it wasn’t public knowledge. If anyone ASKED, yes, but I didn’t bring out my Bible or get into debates. Teenage insecurity combined with an aversion to conflict helped the policy, established in my youth, go along. Be quiet, and survive. That was the way.

*****

My first job was at a Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee and donut franchise. A fairly typical opening responsibility: Grunt work that anyone with half a brain could do, but an introduction to The Way The World Works. Listen to the customer/boss, learn how to make coffee, don’t stick your hand in the donut fryer. Seriously, don’t, it probably hurts real bad.

You work with a lot of different people in those jobs. You had guys who’d been there for ages and hated it, greenhorns like me, and the one gal I knew real well (who’d helped me get that job). The usual hazing happened, and I quickly figured some things out. It wasn’t a particularly hard job.

A few months in, I was told that I was going to do four evenings a week, and they were hiring a guy to work evenings with me (who’ll be called Adam, because there’s about a 5% chance he’s reading this and won’t want to be identified). At that point, 2 of us could run it from 5 pm to 11, and the owner was confident I could handle this guy, mentioning that he might be an “interesting person”, which I took to mean that he was too jerky to be working days with actual people.

I remember walking to the back for my first 3 to 11 shift, and seeing Adam there, talking with others. The first thing I hear him say, in whatever conversation they were involved in, was “Yeah, I wanna burn down all the churches.”

It made me stop, and at least partially confirm our owner’s assessment of him. ‘This is going to go well,’ I thought.

*****

Despite the potentially rocky introduction to Adam, my aversion to conflict kicked in (and probably the gentle prodding from the store owner to get along with him), and we hit it off, much to my surprise.

Adam was like me: an aspiring programmer, a gamer, though further along the line of life than me at that point. His goatee was something I could only hope for, and we shared the same quick, sarcastic sense of humour. Neither of us was really sure what we were going to do with our lives, even with the programming direction.

I discovered something very quickly about Adam, something the owner must have sensed: he liked stirring up conflict. Very little fazed him. If he discovered something bothered you, he would poke you, and prod you, and needle you until you were angry. This was a situation where my even keel came in handy. He couldn’t rattle me, and I think he respected that.

I worked with him for three or four shifts a week for two months, and we couldn’t help but get used to each other. We started to talk about everything. In a lot of ways, we were both outcasts; him because of his combative nature, and me because of my quiet, seemingly aloof demeanor. I had more in common with him than not.

One lazy evening, unmotivated to clean the backroom, I asked him about his “church burning” comment. He grinned, as if expecting it.

“Why? You one of those religious nuts?”

I smiled. I’d been found out. I nodded.

“Funny,” he said. “You seem smarter than that.” I got the sense he’d suspected for a while.

I ignored the jibe, and continued on. I talked about my faith, being raised in the church. He talked about being an outcast, about being rejected, and how many times he’d been told he was going to hell by well-meaning “Christians”, who’d tried to heal him.

I was mildly perplexed. “You are a jerk,” I said, prodding him back in the same way he’d do to me, “But that seems a little much.”

Adam was surprised. “You don’t know?” he asked.

“Know what?” I asked, not knowing what he was getting at.

“I’m attracted to men.” he said. “And women,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

For all the things he could have told me, this, somehow, was the most surprising. Adam grinned, knowing he’d gotten me. I don’t remember exactly how I reacted, but I can’t imagine much more that stunned silence from me for a few moments as I processed his admission.

*****

Gay rights- no, LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender, I’m going to shorten it for future references) rights- might be the defining social issue of our age. I don’t think that’s overstating it. It’s right up there with abortion and political views for inspiring love or wrath, depending on what you think.

Christianity is in a tricky spot in that regards. Christians have this ingrained directive to reject being LGBT, that the Bible says it’s unnatural, that they’re not welcome in the church. Why? Because we’re taught that being LGBT is condemned in the Bible.

So it’s back to the faith conversation again, and I can see the eyes rolling. But stay with me, I want to think this out with you. We’re taught, as Christians, to have faith in God, and to be strong against a world that will reject what we say about Jesus. Going back to my own fear of conflict, this makes sense. It requires a strength of will, and a certainty in that which we believe. Something I didn’t have growing up.

So when we see Christians in the news, Christians who reject LGBT people, who seem to hate them, this will/faith and that ingrained directive is a PART of why. We need to have this faith, this certainty, in what we believe, in knowing that the world will reject the idea of a magical space daddy (I’m going to keep using that term because I think it’s great), and that there are parts of what we believe that people won’t like. So, we think that the Christian stance on LGBT is just a part of it that we’re supposed to hold firm on, that society will reject.

According to what we have been taught, what has been ingrained into us Christianfolk all our lives, being LGBT was WRONG, and it wasn’t until Adam’s confession that I really thought about it at all. It was just there, written in verses, and we weren’t supposed to question it or think about it.

But I wouldn’t hate Adam. I couldn’t. Even if he was a jerk, there was so much more about him could relate to. Wasn’t he like me, the struggling, geeky programmer who didn’t know what he wanted out of life? Weren’t we taught to love everyone? Isn’t he exactly the kind of person Jesus would have sought? Rejected by society, rejected by “the church”- or, for the historical reference “the Pharisees“. Jesus himself said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, and I already knew I was a sinner. And that I hadn’t brought any stones with me to work that day.

Though I was conflicted, remembering my teachings didn’t change the relationship Adam and I had. Knowing what the church had already put him through, he didn’t need me to beat him over the head with doctrine, with the certainty that he was going to hell. We kept talking, and I kept listening, and learning, about a world I couldn’t possibly have understood.

I’ve shared this story before, but I will again, in the interest of completeness: I was driving him home one night, and we were talking, and I heard something heartening: “I still want to burn down the churches,” he told me. “Except yours.”

That was SOMETHING, wasn’t it? That however I’d dealt with Adam, whatever mistakes or uncertainty I’d made before or with him, he still felt compelled to tell me that he hadn’t rejected THIS Christian? That I’d had the opportunity to share from the heart, to be honest, and he listened? That I didn’t need to have John 3:16 on a placard to make an impact on his life? That having an ear worked better than telling him he was going to hell?

Even if nothing happens with Adam, if I never see him again, I feel like God did more with me in a relationship where I listened to his honesty, than He would have if I’d condemned Adam after I’d learned of his desire to burn churches, and not given him the chance to share his story. I wouldn’t have learned of how the church had wronged him, of how Christians had turned him away time and time again, ignoring what the Bible teaches us about reaching others. I wouldn’t have challenged what I thought, maybe wouldn’t have pondered the idea of LGBT people as much as I have without our evenings working together.

Relationships change how we view people, and Adam’s perspective was something that this sheltered geek had never had before. It was probably one of the first times where I stopped and really thought about what I believe, and why I believe it. What does my faith mean, and how do I demonstrate it in day to day life?

More to come. Thanks for reading.

Laying the foundation

Before we begin, I wanted to follow-up on my prior post. I appreciate all the thoughtful comments I received on it. Even “Likes” on Facebook mean something to me, because it means you’re affirming me in my writing, and appreciate what I do.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately on Very Big Issues, and even started some posts in that regard. But I need to lay the background. It’s important that you understand where I’m coming from before I can really get into where I’m going to. The last post was the genesis of that, and we might be on that kick for a while. So here… we… go.

*****

I’m Dave. I’m 30. I work for a bank. I’m a Christian. I like games, writing, sports, and sarcasm in mostly equal measure. I have a girlfriend (Brief aside: Is it still “boyfriend/girlfriend” if you’re both adults? What’s the statute of limitations for that? I feel like this needs to be clearer). I own a house with my brother. In most phases, I’ve graduated into responsible adulthood, with enough confidence in what I think to get through the day.

It wasn’t always this way.

I grew up a shy kid, with a twin brother, Dennis. Those are the things that identified me, more than anything, for the majority of my life. I was quiet, and I had a doppelganger. As we got older, we found differences subtle and larger, but we are inexorably intertwined, and even our differences have occasionally led back to the similarities that won’t leave us alone. Both of us quiet, thoughtful, honourable, insecure, skinny, geeky, among many other things.

This isn’t really about him. But it IS, when you look at it, because we’re so similar. I don’t speak for him, but so much of my story involves my brother, I can’t not bring it back to him. We always had similar interests, a lot of the same friends, and ended up in a lot of the same classes.

Mom brought us to church growing up, wherever we ended up going. She kept getting us up every Sunday, and behaving in church when childish instincts veered otherwise. Being shy and Christian was a bad combination with a last name like “Church”, as the inevitable introduction conversation at school would lead into it:

“What’s your name?”

“Dave.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Church.”

“Do you go to church?”

“…yeah.”

“Why?”

Explaining God and faith beyond Sunday school answers is incredibly difficult when you’re a kid who’s reserved, insecure, and really only just mastered getting the juice box straw out of the plastic without breaking it.

Even with youthful uncertainty, we were always smart, high academic achievers. Athletically, we were capable, even if never the biggest or strongest. Socially, we were quiet sorts, tending to keep to ourselves. A lot of quiet evenings in on the Super Nintendo/N64 after our homework was done, which was fine with us.

We moved around some growing up on account of our dad’s job. Three cities and seven schools over twelve years led to a lot of introductions and goodbyes. That challenged us to adjust to a changing situation, and exposed us to places and friends and family we wouldn’t have met otherwise. Anywhere we went, Dennis and I always had each other, and that made moving easier. Even remembering the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my experience growing up for anything now.

Keeping to myself as I did, and moving around and meeting people, I developed the habit of hiding my faith.  When the inevitable “church” conversation led to teasing/mockery in some combination, I rationalized hiding it as logical, as a means of surviving the public school experience without the slings and arrows of well placed words. I wouldn’t engage them, because I couldn’t explain it: I knew the stories, what the Bible said, but I couldn’t CONVINCE anyone. This shouldn’t surprise anyone: Primary and secondary school doesn’t tend to be a breeding ground for thoughtful, nuanced debate.

I felt it then, but I didn’t really understand it until recently. Even now, I learn new things every day, and it’s wonderful. Faith isn’t necessarily logical, because it involves belief. I believe in an all-powerful God of creation because of what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned, and more than anything, what I FEEL. I can say that God has affected and steered my life, and helped me to impact others in a positive way. I can explain morality, I can explain my actions, and I can explain the principles that my faith is based on, but none of that will convince you if you’re looking for evidence, because where I see God acting in my life, you might see me choosing a particular path.

But part of growing up was coming to terms with my faith, and how much a part of me it is. Even as a flawed, insecure man, it’s a part of me that I can’t deny. I can’t NOT believe in God. I know too much. I’ve seen too much.

In coming to that peace, I’ve learned how to live with it, and have actual, adult conversations on the subject. I’m continually finding the right balance between being confident with my beliefs, and still being someone who the populace in general will associate with without being marginalized or ostracized. I feel like I do okay with that.

Christians have occasionally earned that marginalization, which is why I’m careful about it. Our generation has a pretty well honed sense for when we’re being sold something, and when an interest/suggestion is actually genuine. Quoting the Bible without understanding it, or without an interest in who you’re talking to beyond converting them, won’t work. There’s a lot of us Christians who do this, preaching without meaning, falling back on rhetoric and rules while missing the overarching point of the Bible, and the principles that we’re supposed to live by. I’m very proud to say I don’t know many, but I know they’re out there.

That was mostly the point of my last post, to put out the idea of showing love to God- and to your fellow man/woman- as being the basis for everything that Christians are supposed to be. Rightly or wrongly, that’s not the perception. Christians are perceived as rules lawyers, serious, unfun, judgmental, and more concerned with being right than being righteous. There’s also a presumption that we’re idiots for believing in a magical space daddy, and that we dismiss science in favor of blind faith.

While we Christianfolk have earned some of those labels, they’re not necessarily true. I don’t think I’m many of those things. I consider myself an intelligent, analytical sort, and love what science can teach me about the world. I try not to judge, because I’ve got my warts. My Twitter feed is more sports rage (which isn’t very Christian, but we’re none of us perfect) than Biblical pandering. And despite an occasionally quiet exterior, I’m a licensed practitioner of terrible puns, “That’s What She Said” jokes, and finding inappropriate opportunities to make a whole room full of church elders laugh. And we do laugh. I have my challenges, but I like to think I’m a good egg, when I’m not being self-deprecating and throwing my flaws out for others to rag on.

So that’s where I’m coming from. More to come.