Tag Archives: jesus loves you too

The end of the rainbow

You’re now thirsty, walking in the desert all alone

You’re now searching, lost in isolation from your soul

*****

I’m not a fighter. Never have been, for all the good and bad that meant. A couple of spots in elementary school I was close to throwing down, but it was typically in defense of others, rather than any wrong done to me. It never happened (much to my parents’ relief, no doubt).

I have this romantic notion of myself as a defender, as someone just and true, stepping in when needed and taking the hits, and that’s not completely right. I’m a softie at heart, and there’s not much sense complaining about that at this point. I avoid conflict. That’s not an admission, that’s just a fact.

But there’s a strength in softness I’ve come to appreciate. It’s a vulnerability, an open sore that anyone can see and poke at and prod if I let them.

It was, in some ways, the aversion to conflict, the want to be vulnerable, that led to me writing these screeds some time ago, about where my heart was in regards to the Christianty/LGBT conflict. The genesis of me starting the journey to this truth was wanting to avoid a workplace conflict. It’s strange and laughable to think of that as the reason now, but I’m so incredibly grateful it happened.

Recent events have brought that back into my consciousness, the conflict starting fresh, and anew. I think I know what the Bible says. I think I know what the Bible means. And they’re in conflict.

And as before, I don’t want to fight. I never want to fight. But playing defense? That I can do.

*****

And the bullets you bite, from the pain you request

you’re finding them harder to digest

when the answers you seek are the ones you destroy

your aim is well deployed

*****

I don’t question my faith. I’ve seen too much, done too much, to not think there is a God.

I was asked about it recently: How could I reconcile a certainty that being LGBT is okay with a faith that seemed to be against it?

I had two answers: I need the church. Without it, I walk alone in my faith. And as much as I believe we’re wrong about how we approach LGBT people, I also believe there is still good in the church, and its people. And when it changes- and it will, as history has shown with any societal change with the rights of a marginalized people- they will need people who’ve always known, always been certain in their hearts.

So I read, and pray, and seek certainty in what I believe. In the interim, I will love my LGBT friends, walk behind them and beside them, listen in my own limited adult-white-male way as they struggle for things that I have had my entire life.

Much as Christians are called to support our LGBT brothers and sisters wherever they are, we must support the church as well. A church is only as good as it’s people, and we are flawed, collectively and individually. That occasionally gets lost in the sound and fury. Our own fault, at times, but something that bears repeating.

*****

Why can’t you listen, why can’t you hear

Why can’t you listen, as love screams everywhere

*****

It just… it all seems very odd, at times, this conflict. We (Christians) can get so caught up in ideology, in playing gatekeeper to the faith, that we forget the message we should be passing on.

“Jesus loves you.” There. That’s it. No conditions, no strings, no checklist of approved clothing, behaviors, things we need to do to get it. It’s there. That’s the message of grace. There’s more, but like any good salesmen, I’ll lead with the best, most important part. The rest, that’s up to someone after they accept it. That’s between them and God.

LGBT people don’t see that when they see the church. They see the assumption of guilt, rejection, hatred, and people trying to change who they are. I don’t blame them for avoiding church, given the conversations I’ve had, the experiences I’ve learned about, the amount of heartbroken people whose family turned their backs on them in the name of Jesus. Christians, supposed to be showing love, instead demonstrating the kind of rejection Pharisees would have approved of.

We can go on and on about the message of God, about how not every church is like that, about we love them even if they’re wrong (they’re not), but why would they try again? Why would they go to a place where they were implicitly being judged? I only need to go McDonalds once a year to remember how much my body hates it.

*****

You now hunger, feeding your mind with selfishness

you now wander aimlessly around your consciousness

When your prophecies fail, when your thoughts become weak

when silence creates necessity

when you’re clothing yourself with the shields of despair

your courage now impaired

*****

I still believe in the good of the church. That it will change, and that when it does, it will be lasting. Maybe that’s naive. It probably is. But that’s my choice to be hopeful.

There’s a great many relationships that have helped me get here. And that’s key. Relationship is key. It lets us learn about the perspectives of others, turn the idea of being gay/lesbian/bisexual from something abstract and strange, into something very, very real. There’s so much ignorance about the reality of those relationships in the church, because there’s no exposure to them. It was luck that put me in a situation where I got to know a bisexual man, and then many others, to a point where I understood their hearts, and didn’t judge them based on a doctrine that the church doesn’t really talk about within it’s walls.

Equally as important is my relationship with God, and that’s tricky for me to talk about. It’s less tangible, less defined, not a series of events I can point to and utilize as reasoning. It’s always been there. It’s been a huge part of this discovery for me, because of the conflict I see between the church and LGBT people. I pray to God for wisdom, for certainty, and He does not always provide that. I’m sure that He is there, and He grieves over the schism between the church and those outside it.  I’m also sure he doesn’t want me to quote Scripture and get on a soapbox and preach down to people. I have to play to my strengths.

I’m not a pastor, and still look at the Bible more for my own benefit than as an academic. But here’s my line of thought, which I’ve written before (and is taken at least partially from NALT’s manifesto): There’s so much of the Bible that we already take and dismiss because of the cultural context it’s placed in: Divorce, eating meat, wearing mixed fabrics, and so on and so forth. Heck, even marriage in the Old Testament was not exactly the same as it is today. And we’ve seen the Bible used to justify racism and sexism in the past, by using verses out of context, in the service of those who held power.

As the shampoo bottle says: Rinse, and repeat. Always repeat. We’re not learning from the lessons of history. And the church will find itself again behind the culture at large on this, when we should have been following Biblical principles in fighting for LGBT people- regardless of whether it was any advantage to us. We used to be good at that. Less so, now.

That’s a royal we, by the way. I’ve been less than courageous. I’d like to be courageous, though. I’d like to try.

*****

You crucify all honesty

no signs you see, do you believe

And all your words just twist and turn with a fighting chance to crash and burn

you’re fighting to the bitter end if only your heart could open

up and listen

*****

I’ve lived a sheltered life. There’s a lot I don’t understand. I’m a straight white male who hasn’t had to struggle for much. I have parents, family, a girlfriend, a church who loves me. I struggle for how I earned that, but don’t generally poke the bear in attempting to explain it. The love exists, and I don’t always know why, and that’s fine. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lot I don’t understand.

Screeds on the internet rarely change anyone’s mind, and mostly just score points with people who already agree with it. My hope is that people read this, and consider it, and maybe that will happen. I just see this incredible opportunity for Christians to build a bridge to the LGBT community to say “we’re wrong, and we’re sorry, and want to help”, and there’s not nearly enough voices saying it. So here’s mine. I’m laying it out, as I see it. This is my vulnerability, my hope.

I’m not fighting. It’s not my way. I have one ask: just pray it over, friends. Be strong in your faith, and your walk, but don’t miss the opportunities for change and growth that are placed in front of you.

To my LGBT friends and supporters: I’m not a fighter, but I want to help. I’m learning, and I’m trying to understand a world I can’t possibly begin to conceive, and a life experience that’s much, much different than my own. Thank you for your patience as I’ve learned, and to the wonderful friends I’ve met who have opened my eyes (whether they know it or not), and have convinced my religious butt that you’re people, actual and whole, and well worth fighting for and with.

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.

Love in any language

*****

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22 36-40, Bible, New International Version

*****

I’m a Christian. Not a really great one, if you ask me, but I am. I believe in a God that created the world, and that he sent his son Jesus to die for us and forgive our sins. It’s not something I broadcast as well as I should. Part of that is fear and anxiety about how people will receive it, and part of it is the belief that I do better demonstrating it than preaching on it.

But I’m human. I foul up sometimes. Less than I think, but probably more than most people know. I feel like this is more common ground with people than my religious beliefs, so I usually start from there. Some people know about my beliefs, but it’s not something I really work into my online presence especially. People have preconceptions about Christians that prevent them from being honest, or engaging with them in a way that’s broad and deep and meaningful. We as Christians have earned that, though. We let morons like Pat Robertson be our mouthpieces, and be quiet while politicans and preachers futher marginalize thoughtful, well-meaning Christ followers who remember the verse above.

I wanted to use this as a launching point for a discussion on broader issues that are on my heart, but I might put that off for the moment. I’d appreciate your further indulgence, though.

Too much today, I see Christians using the Bible as a weapon to bludgeon and castigate others, and that saddens me deeply. I’ve spoken with friends and colleagues who see the church, who see the word of Jesus, as hateful, and that’s very, very sad. But again, we’ve earned that, haven’t we? Westboro Baptist Church exists, and isn’t shouted down loudly enough by those that know the word, and know that the message of the Bible is grace and love, and not the kind of stupidity that they promote. But the flawed interpretation of humans have led to a lot of wrongs in the name of Christ, and that’s a hard stain to erase.

If I’m a quiet sort on my faith, it’s because I prefer to engage people with a genuine interest in them, and not with the assumption that I’m setting up someone for “The Talk” about converting them. I believe in God, and I also believe that you’ll see it through how I act and speak and do, rather than by finding the first opportunity to shove a Bible in your hands. You’re more than welcome to ask, but I’m not shoving that on anyone. I don’t judge anyone’s experiences, because I know my own weaknesses.

For those that have been hurt by “the church”  (I kind of hate that term, to be honest, but there’s no better way to refer to it), I have several thoughts as well. Firstly, I want to reassure you that you are loved, and nothing any human can say will override the love that God has for His creation. Secondly, that “the church” is composed of Christians, but also of humans. An organization is no better than it’s people, and we are all flawed. One of the core tenets of our belief is that we’re all sinners. People occasionally abuse God’s word and take a position of superiority, and that really isn’t the case. We’re all the same. We’ve all screwed up. There’s enough division in the world, we could use a little more love.

That verse up there, that’s what I want to live by. That’s where all of us Christians should start, really- to love our neighbours as ourselves- and we haven’t always done a good job of that.  I’m no better than anyone, and if you’re reading this, you’re welcome in my house. Thanks, guys.

The better man

This is for my friend, Willie.

I wish I’d known Willie better. This is spectacularly easy for me to say in hindsight, but no less true for being obvious. Willie was a friend, and someone I’d lost touch with. He passed away, suddenly, a couple of weeks ago.

He used to go to our church, and he represented the best of Christ, and the Christian faith. He was positive, loved to smile, loved to pray, and loved to worship. He played a mean set of drums, even if he struggled with sixteenth notes. He had a childlike way to his faith, but that made him more of a man, for putting it out there so obviously, and so boldly, in a way that humbled anyone who knew him. He showed love in the most biblical sense, caring much more for others than himself. His prayers were honest and bracing and reverential, and you could FEEL his belief, and how it fueled his love for God and others.

He and his family had stopped coming to church a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t really matter when we heard the news.

I was at church a couple of weeks ago, and was going to be doing the announcements, and a prayer. The pastor told me that Willie had passed away, suddenly, the day before, and asked if I could mention that in the announcements.

I wasn’t sure how to react. My instincts warred; sorrow and shock (Willie? no, not him, please God no), resolve and certainty (You do this, hombre, you can handle it), and the barest hint of pragmatism (do the daycamp stuff first, don’t dwell on this but don’t skip over it, maybe a brief break before the kids come up).

I talked with others, let the pragmatist and the planner in me take the lead as we broke from the pre-service meeting. There wasn’t time to think about it, about the loss, about a good man, a better man, removed from this plane. The task was the coping mechanism for me.

Even doing the announcements, it didn’t quite hit me. Scattered gasps from the congregation after I said it brought me back to the moment, even as the service pressed on, and we carried on with the routine, disrupted by this shock. We weren’t sure how to deal with it; his family wasn’t going to our church any more. Should we say why? How it happened? Was there ever a right way to do it, really?

The breaks and lulls during the service brought it home a little clearer, and I needed some time afterwards to gather myself. I wasn’t ready to face people, who would ask me why, who I would have to converse with, seeing my own grief reflected in them.

I found the grief strange, in a way. It wasn’t as if I knew Willie VERY well. I almost felt I didn’t deserve the grief, that those that knew him better deserved it more, felt the loss more keenly than I ever would. I felt it was selfish. But it didn’t matter. I had to clench my eyes shut to hold back tears, until we were given time after the service to pray.

A church elder watched me mourn, and prayed with me, and I could barely tell him why. He didn’t know Willie, even as he knew me, and wanted to ease my burden. I had no words. I didn’t talk about how faithful, how certain Willie was, about the kind of man I knew him to be. I couldn’t manage it.

“He was the best of us,” I remember stammering out, in between tears. I said it because I believed it, because I knew what Willie was, and what he represented to me. “He was the best of us, and now he’s gone.”

***

I’ve been to funerals before. As family, in the majority of cases: both grandmothers and one grandfather in recent years, our only trips out east being for that reason.

Dennis and I were asked to be pallbearers, and accepted. He felt it like I did: Did we deserve this? Were we close enough to him? Should we have known him better? But it didn’t matter. We were asked, so we did it, without question. If it eased the burden, we would do it.

We gathered before the service, and went over our responsibilities with someone from the funeral home. Not very difficult, as funerals aren’t meant to be performance. Our role was symbolic as much as functional, to bear the coffin over a short distance.

We talked with Willie’s brother Emmanuel briefly; he was a pallbearer as well. No small talk would be sufficient, but silence, sympathy, wouldn’t do either. It was an understanding we all shared, and I flashed back to giving the announcement at church, for a moment: the task was how we were coping. He put on a brave face, we attempted icebreakers and the like, our own conversation merely filling space otherwise occupied by thought. At least, that’s how it was for me.

I watched Emmanuel go into the room where they were displaying the coffin. His reaction, the strength of his grief, nearly broke me, and I had to step out. This was his moment. I’d had mine, before, weeping with a fellow church elder who’d seen my grief.

As amazing as I knew Willie to be, the funeral drove that home even more. Friends and family who’d known him, who we hadn’t seen for some time, had come to grieve, to be sad, to remember this amazing man. Emmanuel, the one I’d seen grieving before, gave a stirring eulogy, honouring the man he’d known, granting us a window into Willie’s soul, shining brighter than we could have.

The pastor did something I hadn’t seen at a funeral, opening up the microphone for people to share stories about Willie. The flood of people didn’t stop, sharing stories I hadn’t heard, reinforcing what I was already certain of.  As a young student, he took new clothes bought for school, and wanted to give them away to the poor. Time spent at the Mustard Seed, sharing his faith. Spending money on buying CDs, giving them to others, and using them to spread his faith.There was so much we will miss about Willie: His generosity, his spirit, his positivity, his faith, his prayers, the way he gave without question, and above all else had devoted his life to God. He was a man worth celebrating, remembering, and mourning.

The service finished, and we watched the family file out. I couldn’t bear to imagine their devastation as I watched their faces, how they leaned on others for support. I went with the other pallbearers, and we did our part, moving the coffin into the car.

Even with several of us carrying it, Willie’s coffin was heavier than I thought it would be.

***

We went up to the graveside in a fairly convoluted funeral procession. In retrospect, taking a line of cars up Deerfoot Trail is rarely a good idea, even in mid-day.

Watching the pastor and funeral workers, all through the day, I marvelled at their professionalism, at how easily they pulled this off. I suppose they would need their mechanisms: if you deal with death on a regular basis, you couldn’t afford to get attached, to know the stories, to grieve with family who were suffering, to get too emotional. You learn the right line between sensitive and stalwart.

I’d never seen a coffin lowered into the ground, and my fascination with the mechanisms was tempered by the heaviness of the day. We could only stand and watch, and remember, a life well lived reduced to watching dirt pile onto a coffin lowered into the ground.

Burying him was different from the other funerals I’d been to. Sad as grandmothers and grandfathers were, closer as I was to them than Willie, it struck me there: Willie was younger than me. Time shouldn’t have come calling for him yet. I remembered doing the announcements, I professed a logical belief in a God with a higher plan, hoping it was a comfort to others, even as I privately raged and wailed against the confusion of God wanting to take this incredible man from the mortal coil before his time. I didn’t understand WHY, and wanted to, so badly.

I write this because Willie’s story is worth remembering, and worth passing on. I grieve for the man, for his family, for his friends, for the incredible loss they feel. But I also grieve for a world that is lessened, for one less generous spirit, for one less true man of God that embodied the best of what Christianity had to offer. I grieve for the better man, for a man we can aspire to be, even if he’s gone to a better place.