A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

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When Evil Attacks a Boy

Sooooo . . . been a bit quiet around here, eh? Well, don’t let appearances fool you. I’ve been busy doing very important things. Like resting. Recharging. Recuperating. I’m filling the bucket up so eventually I’ll have new stuff to dump here. Promise. I’m just working on God’s time and apparently the God who has all of eternity at his fingertips doesn’t rush anything. Go figure.

But in the meantime, he has given me little things to work on behind the scenes. One of which is working with and ministering to a rather remarkable man in Pakistan. Some of you may remember me telling you about meeting him a while back. Continue reading

Of Strange Gardens and People Living Underground

About 5 years ago, I had the same vivid dream, three nights in a row. In the dream, the world was watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you hunted down and punished. Moving about out in the open was risky, so when I found a couple of orphaned, abandoned children out on the streets, I gathered them up and took them with me in order to protect them.

I was moving around with a realtor who was showing me various homes that had “for sale” signs out front. I was looking for a place to hold meetings without drawing undue attention from the totalitarian authorities. At the back of each home there was a large gardens. I am a gardener myself, so I was pleased that there were gardens. But I was puzzled to discover that the plants growing there were angular and unnatural looking, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of garden plants, so encountering so many odd plants that I couldn’t identify was mystifying.

Inside many of the homes I discovered a hidden door. The door lead to a cavernous underground area filled with more people than I could count. The underground area was so large that I could only see a small portion of it. The people there were clearly enjoying themselves. People were watching sports, movies and other entertainment on giant video screens. Others were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. Children were playing freely. There were families everywhere.

When I entered the underground area, the people close to the entrance turned and cheered to welcome me. I was able to find several families who were happy to take in the children I had brought with me. I remember being pleased to find so many people living in these underground areas, which was quite a contrast to the surface where I met very few people, most of them scared.

So that was my dream. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I set about praying and thinking on it. The understanding I came to was that the authoritarian power in my dream represented religious powers and hierarchies that claim the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. The houses are churches. They had sale signs out front because the church has put itself up for sale by pursuing money directly or generally adopting the methods, mores and priorities of a money-obsessed world. The gardens are the people, including the pastors and teachers, that the church grows. The plants were unknown and unattractive to me because they were not the sort of plants/people that God creates and grows – they were unnatural.  The caverns and people underground represented the majority of people who are being kept in the dark by the church above them.  These are God’s people as they are in a natural state.  This is why these people were the ones to take the orphaned children in.

I’ve been thinking about this dream a lot lately. I am convinced that pretty much everyone is interested in spirituality and religion. I have talked about God with drunk men bars, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy running the weird massage/hypnotherapy place who believes that we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns, felons on parole, housewives and homeless people and really, just about every sort of person you can imagine. What I’ve learned is that most people have their own spiritual experiences and a deep belief that something more than we can see is going on here. And most of them rarely, if ever, set foot in a church.

The church is so fixated on maintaining control and keeping itself sanitized and clean that it’s lost its influence over probably most people. The church calls these people “lost” (or as a Charisma magazine  headline described Super Bowl 50: 144 Million Americans Blatantly Ignore God’s Word). But in my experience, the people outside the church, even the atheists, often have more spiritual and moral maturity than at least 80% of the people you can find in church on Sunday.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been threatened with hell, shunned, chastised or otherwise judged and found wanting for believing wrong, talking wrong, looking wrong, thinking wrong, acting wrong. Now, I personally feel no need to give up even a smidge of my right to consider and present myself as a devoted, orthodox Christian in good standing. Defiance is a Christian virtue, after all. But a lot of people understandably decide that the church isn’t for them and go underground with their spirituality. It becomes something that they keep to themselves as they go about living like normal human beings who cuss and get rowdy and dress and speak and otherwise simply enjoy life without worrying about the judgment of some blow hard who wants to micromanage their most intimate thoughts and beliefs in the name of God.

Back on the surface, in the realm ruled by the religious powers, people have lost careers, income, housing, had their reputations trashed, lost family members, and been turned out of their communities for doing nothing more than speaking the truth as they see it or questioning the obvious errors and abuse they see happening around them. The religious authorities decide who gets published, who speaks at conferences, who gets access to their networks, whose music is heard, whose talents are recognized and nurtured. The result is that people who have a better vision for the church are marginalized and struggle to be heard. It’s getting better with the internet but it’s arduous for those trying to work against the tide of religious totalitarianism. The result is that voices which have the potential to offer an alternative, positive vision of the faith don’t get heard enough to be familiar and have credibility with most people.

On the other hand, the promise is that, just like in my dream, there are a lot more people who are simply enjoying life than there are stuck in the church’s gardens. While it’s always possible for a society to embrace secularism, we humans have a natural tendency towards religion and a lot of people are inside and outside the church would love nothing more than to come out from underground, so long as it doesn’t require submitting to the illegitimate totalitarian authority of religious power. Perhaps what we need is to find a way to amplify the voices of Christians who the church is eager to marginalize and silence. Maybe if the people underground joined in, we could raise the roof and break through. After all, you put seeds underground and eventually, when the conditions are right, seeds sprout.

Operation Saris for Grannies

So one day I will write what passes for a normal blog post around here again. But I am happy and I am content and I’m not entirely sure how to write when I am happy and content. But I’ll work it out eventually.

In the mean time, I wanted to ask your help with something. For a while now, I have had the good fortune to message via facebook with a Christian minister working in a section of southern India somewhere in the vicinity of Bangalore. He’s told me a bit about his ministry which involves outreach to the poorest of the poor. Which in India, is really poor. (That’s him above sharing a meal with some he caught lurking around one of his outdoor services.) But mostly we discussed spiritual and theological matters. He and I differ on some trifles here and there, but the good news he preaches as gospel is actually good news. Which is no small thing. Anyhow, yesterday, for the first time since I’ve known him, my friend asked me for some help.

You see, the picture below is from one of his services in a very remote village where most people basically live off the land and in make-shift shelters, if even that. He says that they don’t even have the standing required to qualify for help from the government or to engage in normal trade and work activities with other communities. These are the poorest of the poor in this world.

11080320_639158589548435_2610841887315575710_oIf you look closely at the picture (or others from this day), you will notice that there are no old women present. This is because many of the old women living in this area have no clothing. While my friend went out into the brush to talk with them, they will not attend his services and cannot participate in normal community life because they live naked. My friend asked if I might be able to send clothing for him to give them. I suggested that it might be better to just send him money to buy clothing locally. He said that $65 US dollars would allow him to buy clothing for 30 women. And I said that while I happen to have exactly $19 to my name just now, I was pretty sure that I could arrange to get him $65.

So, I am now asking you, my intrepid reader, if you would help me gather $65 to clothe some naked grannies. There are a fair number of us, so I’m thinking there’s someone who is able to help with this. (If you can’t – that’s fine. Perhaps God decided to trust someone else with the resources to help this time. Nothing wrong with that. 😉 )

The link below will take you to a donation page for Operation Saris for Grannies. I will send on whatever donations I have collected by Thursday July 30th at 5 pm. If you’d like your donation returned if the $65 has already been raised, just put that in the note section and I will make sure that happens. Otherwise, if more is raised than my friend has asked for, I will send it on to my friend. He’s a good man doing good work. He’s never asked me for anything before. So . . . did God entrust you with the resources (or a portion of the resources) needed to provide these women with clothing?

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How to Recognize a Brother or Sister in Christ

I have met some of the coolest people while writing this blog. One of these days, I’m going to have to share the story of how God sent some of them to help catch me at the end of my fall last summer. Based on my experience with my readers, I have to assume that if you are reading my blog, you’re probably a pretty amazing person. Or at least, I would think so. And really, isn’t that all that counts? (That was a joke, btw. Hopefully you laughed. The test audience in my head found it amusing.)

But for today my point, such as it is, is that I’ve met some amazing brothers and sisters in Christ out here in the far reaches of the internet.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ is one of those overused phrases that Christians have destroyed. Which is a damn shame because this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ dates back to the very earliest days of the church. It is a beautiful and profound concept that precious few in the church understand today.

Not only is the concept of “brothers and sisters in Christ” a beautiful and profound concept, it’s a damn useful tool for a Christian to have in their toolbox. (I feel like saying damn today. I know it’s unseemly, but it keeps out the riffraff. 😉 ) Anyways. Believe it or not, this whole “church/body of Christ” thing would work a lot better if more Christians understood how “brothers and sisters in Christ” worked. So, I’m gonna teach y’all the basics.

At its simplest, you can think of brothers and sisters in Christ as being those people who know God the way that you know God. The amount of overlap between how you know God and how I know God, will determine the level of spiritual intimacy we are able to share. If someone knows God only by name or theology, we may not have much in common. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and we can’t learn from each other! We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, after all – that does mean something. But there’s not going to be a great deal of intimacy there. I don’t need you trying to correct God’s work in me or stepping all over my boundaries, thank you very much.

On the other hand, sometimes I run into people who know God in a deeper way. Like they’ve encountered God’s spirit. Sometimes they are people who don’t even know the name of the King. But they know his heart. I know that they know his heart because I know God’s heart and I can see that we’re talking about the same God. Even if they don’t know that there is a God to talk about. It just comes through. It’s in what is important to them, how they think, the way they understand themselves and their place in the world. I recognize my Father’s handiwork. But sometimes these people’s judgment is suspect. Like maybe they willfully embrace greed, violence or unforgiveness as positive, useful things.

But then, every once in a while, I run into someone who both knows my Father’s heart and they know his name and his story. Or at least a version of the story that similar enough for me to recognize it as the same one that I know. They even know the rules of the game the way my father taught them to me. These are the people who give beauty and meaning to the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ”.

These people can be a lot of fun. Sometimes they become friends. Sometimes they are just people whose judgment I know I can trust if I need information or an opinion. In a pinch, I know that I can reach out to this person for prayer and a shoulder to cry on in a time of need. And they can do the same with me. I mean, there are people who I don’t know the names of their kids who know some of my most intimate thoughts. Before I write them here even! And I am the repository of any number of their secrets as well.

These relationships are like gifts from God. Inevitably these people have something that I need for my journey. Even when I don’t have anything to offer in return.

I said at the beginning of this post that some time I’ll have to share the story of how some of these people, including a few I know only because of this here mess I call a blog, were there to catch me and help set me on my feet last summer. It was as if God found just the right people, with just the right background and just the right knowledge, personality and temperament and sent them to me so I’d have exactly what I need. Really and truly, I swear it was like God sent some of his children who were basically Jesus out there looking for me like a shepherd looks for his sheep that got separated from the herd. Although, to be perfectly honest, he could have sent a lot more rich people. I mean, not to criticize or complain. I’m just saying.

But that’s the power of being brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Even if you feel very alone. Even if you’re like me and are practically a recluse. (Because I need a car. Rich people. I need God to send me more rich people. Or make my books NYT bestsellers so I can buy myself a car and not be a recluse anymore.)

That’s really what this church thing is supposed to be all about. No matter what your circumstances, you’re never alone when you know the King. There is always help there. There is always someone who will love you in your dirty, broken state. Whatever you are going through, there will be someone walking by your side. The way of the cross is something we must walk for ourselves. But like Jesus, we will never have to walk it all alone. Just keep your eyes open for the signs that the person in front of you might be a brother or sister in Christ.

Peace, peeps!

PS – Damn. (Insert groan here.)