Changed for Good: Move Toward the Other

Wicked

Last week Kate and I went up to Portland’s Keller Auditorium to experience the Broadway show, Wicked. And believe you me, it’s as good as people tell you it is!

If you don’t know much about Wicked (which I did not), it tells the backstory of some of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. The story focuses on the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch. We learn that these two, before becoming witches, met one another as young girls at school. And they could not be more different from each other, and yet they develop a relationship that blooms into a friendship.

Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) is a social pariah. People strive to stay away from her.
Glinda is the most popular girl in school. People strive to be in her company.

Elphaba’s skin is a strange shade of green. The only one in her school.
Glinda’s skin is perfect and white. Just like every one else in school, but better.

Elphaba is super smart.
Glinda is… well… super pretty.

Elphaba comes from a life where she grew up being despised by her father.
Glinda was the prize jewel of her family.

Elphaba grew up with the primary responsibility to serve her sister’s every need.
Glinda grew up where people served her every need.

I could go on and on. But it is clear that these two are dissimilar in just about every way. If you were to imagine the opposite of one, you’d picture the other.

And that’s precisely what they were: the OTHER.

I Have Been Changed For Good

The show was ripe with brilliant  music, but my favorite came towards the end. During the climactic moment, when it looked like Elphaba’s doom was just around the corner, Glenda and Elphaba share a moment together and sing the song “For Good.”

Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

(Elphaba):
And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done you blame me for

(Glinda):
But then, I guess we know
There’s blame to share

(Both):
And none of it seems to matter anymore

Who can say if I’ve been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

Because I knew you…
i belive I have been changed for good…
i have been changed, for good

Both witches came to this place of realization that their lives had been greatly affected by each other. That they both believe they are now better people because of their friendship. That they have been changed for the better because they know one another.

And isn’t that one of the most beautiful things that happens when we engage with the OTHER?

When we step outside of what’s “normal” to us.
When we intentionally seek out those who are different from us.
When we move towards the other.

Jesus Knew This

As much as some of you would prefer there to be a Bible verse that says, “and God declares it good that you shall move toward the other” (preferably by Paul, but we’d take it if it were Jesus), nothing really comes to mind.

But what DOES come to mind is, I believe, even better.

Rather than Jesus just TELLING us that there is value in moving toward the other, he SHOWS us.

He moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
He moved toward the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
He moved toward fisherman and a tax collector in Luke 5.
He moved toward a leper and a Roman centurion in Matt 8.
And the list goes on…

We see in Jesus what the Way of Love looks like, and it involves (in part) our willingness to seek out those who are different from us. But not so that we can change THEM, not with some ulterior motive or agenda, but because something beautiful emerges when two people who are so very different from each other learn to see each other as something more than just a label or a stereotype. When they are no longer the “them,” or “those people.” When we move toward the other, we make an effort to tear down the superficial walls that separate us and we open ourselves up to learn so much about who they are, what makes them tick, why they are so different… and in turn, we learn that much more about ourselves.

Wicked tells the story of two people who couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet the closer they moved toward one another the more changed they both become FOR THE GOOD.

Democrats, move toward Republicans and see them for who they are.
Whites, move towards Latinos and Asians.
Straights, move towards a gay person.
Young people, move towards an older person.
Rich, move towards the poor.
Healthy, move towards the sick.

You will be changed for the better. I promise you.

“You’re changing that boy’s life.”
“No… he’s changing mine.”
-Leigh Anne Tuoy, to her friend, talking about Michael Oher, in The Blind Side

 

Barney Stinson, Geraldo Rivera, and Trayvon Martin

Meet Barney

Do you watch How I Met Your Mother?

If not, you should. It’s hilarious. And awesome. And legen…. wait for it… DARY!

Barney Stinson is one of the main characters and he is played by Neil Patrick Harris (yes, aka: Doogie Howser). In the show he is a womanizing tool of a character, using women just for sex. It’s abhorrent, really. But also amazingly funny. (Don’t judge me… you probably watch The Bachelor, don’t you? Don’t YOU!?! Way worse…)

Anyways, one of the things Barney says from time to time is a simple, “or… OR….”

He uses it to transition from one thought (which is probably lame) to another much more interesting thought (which is undoubtedly much more awesome). For instance, in one episode he and his girlfriend at the time Robin had just had an argument. Barney says something to the effect of,

We should probably go somewhere and sit down and talk about this… or… OR… we could go have sex in the elevator?

It’s much funnier when he says it. Not so funny to just read it. But picture a slight pause after the first “or,” followed by a much louder and more dramatic “OR.” As though this second thought that is coming to mind is much more awesome than the first.

Meet Geraldo

Do you watch Fox News?

If not, that’s okay. Probably a good thing, even.

Geraldo Rivera is one of the “friends” of Fox & Friends, and the other day he was on the show and shared his thoughts on the current tragedy that is Trayvon Martin. Perhaps you’ve already heard this, but if not you can go here and see the full interview segment.

In it, he shared his belief that the hoodie that Trayvon was wearing was “just as responsible for Trayvon’s death as the shooter, George Zimmerman.”

WTF?!

Here is what he said:

“When you see a Black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation… Trayvon Martin, god bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on that, nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”

And

“There is some things that are almost inevitable. I’m not suggesting that Trayvon Martin had any kind of weapon, but he wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way and if he had been dressed more appropriately… I think unless it’s raining out, or if you’re at a track meet, leave the hoodie home, don’t let your children go out there.”

He told parents of Latino and African American kids to not let their kids go out dressed in a hoodie.

Wow. Really!?

Geraldo Meet Barney

What if, instead of “advising” parents to not let their kids wear hoodies, because that will somehow contribute to the idea the they are a criminal or a gang banger and possibly allow people to respond to them in violent ways, he took a page out of Barney’s book and quickly followed up with “or… OR…”

For instance:

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… teach your children to not make judgements about people based on how they dress or the color of their skin.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… show your kids what it looks like to pursue peace and avoid violence at all costs.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… teach your kids the dangers of owning and carrying a gun and the damage they can do.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… don’t buy in to the prejudices of our society and learn to love and respect all people.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… listen to the advice of people like 9-1-1 dispatchers when they tell you to not pursue people, and don’t try and take matters in to your own hands.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… teach your kids how to handle conflict in a healthy way that shows respect and kindness for people.

Don’t let your kids wear hoodies… or… OR… live your own life in pursuit of the Peaceable Kingdom of God and invite your kids to participate with you in working towards the healing and redemption of this world.

I feel like I could go on and on.

There are so many “or… ORs….” that I can think of. And yet Geraldo Rivera thought it would be a good idea to suggest that the hoodie was just as responsible in Trayvon’s death, and that parents should not let their kids (especially Latino and African American ones) wear them.

That’s lazy, Geraldo.

Shame on you.

(Evidently Mr Rivera apologized… sort of… when the backlash against his words became great).

 

Pastor Mark Driscoll Scares Me

There are many, many reasons I could list why Mark Driscoll scares me.

I could talk about the outlandish things he’s said from the pulpit or the gross things he’s said online. I could link to all the different blogs and articles that point out his awful views toward women, toward gays (or even effeminate men), toward God and the people God hates, toward movies like Avatar (the most demonic movie ever, by the way), toward books like The Shack, etc. I could outline why I think he is so entrenched in the power and influence he has garnered over the past 15 years of leading Mars Hill in Seattle, and how it is slowly destroying him and will eventually significantly damage the 10,000 person community he has created.

And maybe someday I will. If for no other reason than to demonstrate that I have real, valid reasons for my concerns. They are not just baseless claims, jumping on the anti-Driscoll band wagon.

But at the moment, let me share this with you.

There is a site that was recently created called JoyfulExiles.com, and it exists to help the public see just a glimpse of how off track Driscoll and his church have gotten. It’s created by a pastor who was fired from there a couple years back, and it documents his strange journey of what led to his firing. And if you have time, I implore you to read the narrative account written by his wife. It is incredible. And because of my own experience, I believe every word of it. (Don’t misread me and think that The Grove is like Mars Hill. It’s not.)

Perhaps you’ve heard about or read other such stories coming out lately.

And it scares me.

It should scare you, too.

Why anybody continues to follow this guy, or look up to him, or for heaven’s sake MODEL THEIR church after his, is beyond me.

That being said, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippian church, wherein he acknowledged that some people where preaching Christ out of envy, or rivalry, or selfish ambition. And what was Paul’s take? “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18)

Hmmm… It makes me wonder, then, what Paul’s take would be on a guy like Driscoll. A guy who, in my opinion, has done significant damage to the message of the Gospel, the message of Christ, and the good news about the Love of God. Are people still coming to know Christ through his ministry? It would appear so (even if the “Christ” they are coming to know might ultimately be a distorted version… but couldn’t that be said for many of us, myself included?)

I don’t know. Maybe I’m way too judgmental on Driscoll. Maybe sites like joyfulexiles.com are unhelpful (although I do love one of the quotes on their page, “If you don’t say it’s wrong, then that says it’s right”). Maybe we should all just stop criticizing pastors like Driscoll for what they say and what they do.

I don’t know.

What do you think?

Do you think it’s okay, or good, or needed, to call out influential people like this, and to raise awareness when you think they are totally in error? Or do you think it’s mean and should not be done? (I know some people feel this way about me. They feel the need to tell me and tell others that I am wrong. Meh… doesn’t bother me if they want to do that).

Part III: UnClobber (Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah)

Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)

The first Clobber Passage I’d like to unpack is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction in Genesis 19.

Take a poll of your average church-going folk, and likely you’ll discover that the most popular answer to the following question, Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, would be: because of homosexuality.

The traditional perspective on this story is that because of the rampant sinfulness of the people of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah, and specifically the sin of homosexuality, God “rained down sulfur and fire from heaven,” and “destroyed the cities of the valley” (Gen 19:23-29). Why would God take such drastic actions against two entire cities? Destroying men, women, children… killing hundreds of people? “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave,” said God to Abraham (Gen 18:20).

Evidently, whatever they were doing had gotten bad enough that the people around them (presumably?) cried out to God against them. Their sin was so grave that both God and people outside their communities had had enough. So God planned to visit to “see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.” (Question: why did God need to visit the city to find out on God’s own if it was as bad as was rumored? Especially when just eight verses earlier God was able to “magically” hear Sarah laughing from inside her tent? Interesting. But we’ll save that for another day.)

Calling Out God for Being Unjust

What happened next, as the story goes, was a fascinating dialogue between Abraham and God. Abraham bargains with God, interceding on behalf of Sodom. He essentially shows more compassion than God does, as the story goes. Saying, “would you really destroy a city full of wicked people when there might very well be some righteous/innocent people there as well?”

Abraham said, “what if I can find 50 righteous people in the city, will you call off your plans of destruction?”

Abraham called out God for not doing what is just. And God acquiesced.

But Abraham kept going…

“what if I can only find 45?”

“Sure,” said God, “I’ll spare the whole place for 45.”

“Okay, how about 30?”

“Fine. I’ll spare them if you can find 30 righteous people.”

“20??”

“Deal.”

And then, ridiculously so, like the husband who isn’t satisfied with just getting to go play golf with his buddies, have lunch at the clubhouse, then hit the pub afterwards to watch the big game, but STILL calls his wife to ask if he could go over to his buddy’s house to play videogames all night, Abraham asked, “Well, I’ve come this far… how about 10, God… what if I can find just 10 decent people in the whole city. You can’t honestly justify killing an entire city then, can you?!”

God, who didn’t seem to mind Abraham wagering with God and questioning the Divine sense of justice, relented. “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it,” God replied. (Gen 18:22-33)

We never get to know if Abraham was successful or not in finding just 10 righteous people. I suppose you could argue that since the story eventually ended with Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed, that that shows Abraham was unsuccessful. But that isn’t how the story plays out. We never are told if Abraham even had a chance to find 10 righteous people. The story goes straight from Abraham and God wheeling and dealing to two angels immediately travelling to Sodom at night. And, after the infamous disaster that was An Evening in Sodom, the next day brought forth the burning sulfur and fire. So who knows if God was just joking around with Abraham, never really intending on changing plans. Or, maybe it’s possible that this story was never told to reflect the exact historical accuracy of what actually happened. But, for the sake of this series (and its probable audience), I will assume that the Genesis account is a reasonably accurate description of the events that took place.

(Sidenote: Archaeologists have uncovered several sites around the Dead Sea that could possibly be the ancient ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah. And each of these sites confirm that incredible devastation was caused by some sort of burning sulfur, and entire cities were leveled. There are really some fascinating discoveries being made. Read here and here if you’re curious. I offer this sidenote because I think that there indeed was an historical event that involved the decimating of the Cities of the Plain, i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah. Whether or not it happened precisely the way Genesis retells, or precisely when Genesis suggests, is another matter. But, as I said, for the sake of this series I will move forward under the assumption that Genesis 19 is an accurate retelling of those events.)

So what DID happen that fateful night in Sodom? And based on what the author of Genesis tells us, can we deduce that homosexuality was a primary (or even secondary?) sin of Sodom’s that led to their demise? Do any other Biblical writers reflect on this story, and if so, what do they have to say?

Here’s what I’d like to do in Part III:

  • Walk through the story in Genesis 19, asking questions and making observations along the way.
  • Once we’ve made it through the story, I’ll draw out some bigger observations about what the story tells us and what it doesn’t tell us.
  • Then we’ll take the traditional understanding of this story, lay it over the top of what we’ve discovered thus far, and see what emerges.
  • What do other Biblical Authors have to say about what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and why?
  • Does Genesis 19 function, in any way, as Biblical support for the sinfulness of same-sex attraction, same-sex relationships, gay people, or any other issue relating to sexuality (homo or hetero)?

The Story

Genesis 19:1-14

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

The story begins with the two angels, who just recently departed from partying with God and Abraham in chapter 18, entering the city of Sodom at night. Lot, who possibly was functioning as the gate-keeper, greets them and invites them to his house to spend the night. When they decline and suggest they’ll just stay in the town square, Lot seems to panic, and “presses them strongly,” the writer tells us, to come to his place instead. Lot had been with these people in this city for possibly more than 20 years. He knew their ways and he knew that it would not be safe or wise for two visitors to stay the night in the town square. So he strongly encouraged them to come to his place, where he made them a nice meal and they prepared to turn in for the night.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

They finished eating and were getting ready for bed, when suddenly a great commotion arose outside. Evidently, word had gotten out that two outsiders had come to Sodom for the evening, and this caused the men of the city to come and surround the house.

Now, estimates for the population of Sodom (based on some of the archaeological studies mentioned above) are between 600-1200 people. Just to get an idea of what is happening, let’s say 900 people lived in Sodom, which would equal approximately 450 men. What does the story say? “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man.” Wow. Every single man, the story says, came to surround the house of Lot and demand access to the town visitors. Young men (read here: boys). Old men. All the men.

And what do they ask? “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.”

(At this point, I could spend some time on the word “know” in this verse. It is the Hebrew word yada (which immediately brings all new light to that Seinfeld episode, doesn’t it…). I could point out how yada appears over 900 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and only 14 (1%) of those times is it used as a euphemism for “have sex with.” But I won’t. Some people take this line of reasoning and say that the men didn’t want to have sex with the visitors, only that they wanted to interrogate them. It’s a convenient argument, but I don’t think it holds water. If for no other reason than because just a few verses later in the story Lot offers his daughters to the men, daughters who “have not known any man.” I doubt he was saying, “my daughters have never gotten to sit down and get to know other men before, so why don’t you interrogate them for a while?” Moving on…)

No, I think it’s safe to say that the 450 or so men and boys of the city wanted to have sexual relations with the visitors. They wanted to know them in the Biblical sense.

Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

This is what Lot was afraid of. This is why he pressed so strongly that the two visitors not stay in the town square. He had lived with these people for 20 years or more, and was terrified at what they might do to his guests. “I beg you,” he says, “do not act so wickedly.” And then, in a sadly-ironic moment, Lot offers his two virgin daughters as a substitute. Speaking of acting wickedly… #fail

But Lot’s primary concern was that no harm would come to the men taking shelter under his roof. 450 men and boys forcing themselves on two men was not a good thing, in any shape or form. It is no wonder that the wickedness of Sodom (and Gomorrah) was well known throughout the area. Gang rape like this does not go unnoticed. Neither to God nor to people in the surrounding communities.

But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

The men and boys of Sodom, who had surrounded Lot’s house, were now thoroughly pissed off that Lot was denying them their fun. “Who is this outsider, this Lot fellow, who thinks he can come to our city and judge us? He will have a worse fate than the two visitors when all is said and done!” Not only were these men and boys planning on gang-raping the two visitors, but also they were now intending on doing even worse to Lot. Does it get worse?

Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately) the men and boys didn’t know whom they were messing with. Our modern day saying of “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” is a direct descendant of the ancient saying, “don’t bring a rape party to the house of angelic beings.” (It’s true. Don’t bother Googling it.)

The two men rescued Lot from the attackers and proceeded to blind all 450 of them… “the small ones AND the great ones” (weird statement, isn’t it?). Evidently the men’s newfound blindness caused them to grope about for the door, eventually leading to them wearing themselves out. Can you picture 450 blind men and blind boys, blind GREAT and SMALL men and boys, excuse me, groping about in the dark for a door? I’m telling ya, the Bible is full of weird stories.

Anyways, the net result is that Lot was spared and the 450 men and boys gave up their hopes of gang-raping two visitors.

Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

The two men urged Lot to go and get whomever he wanted to save and then get the heck out of dodge. Evidently, Lot was informed, the two men were about to set fire to the rain (thanks Adele, for the theme song) and burn the houses down! (Which again begs the question: was God fooling around with Abraham? The two men make it sound like they were sent there for the purpose of destroying the city all along. Hmmm…)

And we are reminded, from the two men, that “because the outcry against the people of Sodom had become great before the LORD” that the city would be destroyed. God had heard people’s cries against the inhabitants of these cities and now God has firsthand evidence of their wickedness.

Lot tried to get his future sons-in-law to come with them and escape, but they thought the old kook was just jesting about. I’ll bet they regretted that decision. Show some respect for your elders, boys.

A Few Observations

Lot Was Well Informed  –  If the city of Sodom was only about 900 people big, then someone who lived there for 20 years would certainly have been well acquainted with the people, the customs, the culture and the vibe of the city. 900 people is smaller than most people’s High Schools, and think about how much you “knew” about different cliques, groups, tribes, classes, etc. And that was only after being with those people for a couple years! So it is safe to imagine that Lot knew the men (and the women and the children) of Sodom well. Probably each one by name. It was not a large city (sidenote: if you checked out the above archaeology sites you may have discovered that fairly recently a site has been discovered that some are claiming were the Cities of the Plain, which included Sodom and Gomorrah. At these locations were burial sites with over 1 million buried bodies! This suggests that Sodom could have possibly been several hundred thousand people large! TOTALLY different from the more established and generally more accepted location and size of the other Sodom site. It’s an interesting exercise to read through this story with both sizes of cities in mind. Can you imagine 100,000 men and boys surrounding a house, all wanting some gang-rape action? Sometimes it is impractical, if not impossible, to read the Bible as literally as some would have you.) Lot knew what happened to visitors because he knew the people of Sodom and probably even more likely because he had witnessed it before. Which is probably why the author of the story tells us that he strongly pressed them to stay at his place and not in the town square.

Entire Cities Can’t be Gay  –  The story goes to great lengths to tell us that every single man in the city of Sodom had stormed the house of Lot that night. Old men. Young men. Boys. And if the traditional understanding of this passage is that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their rampant homosexuality, then are we really supposed to accept that in a city of 900 people, that 100% of the 450 men and boys were all gay? Even the highest estimates on how often gay people are born are 1 in 10. And even in the most concentrated gay cities in the world (think San Francisco) there isn’t even close to the ratio of gay-to-straight men that this story suggests, should we accept that the men of Sodom were homosexuals. It is ridiculous to think that the men in this story were gay men. An entire male population of any city cannot be gay. And if they are, you probably wouldn’t see any children there.

Rape is Not the Same Thing as Consensual Sex  –  I feel like this point shouldn’t have to be stressed, but these boys and men in Sodom wanted to rape the two visitors! Do I really have to explain that this is inherently and fundamentally and categorically a different thing altogether than a situation where one person who is attracted to another person of the same gender wants to have consensual sex? That alone should give a person pause enough to consider why people think that homosexuality was the grave sin of these cities. If you are a person (and they do exist, trust me) who cannot separate in your mind gay-sex from rape, then you have different issues that I can’t help you with. Add to all of this the “gang” part of the story and you start to drift even farther away from anything having to do with homosexuality. This atrocious offense the men and boys of Sodom wanted to commit against these visitors was not to inflict their homosexualness upon them. No, it was to gang rape them. And consider for a moment what’s going on: there are boys in this mob that want to actively partake in this rape. What kind of people create a society where young boys would join a mob in the hopes of participating in rape? This is not a city full of men and women who were born gay and discovered that they have attraction to their own gender… No, this is a city of foul and debase creatures so sick and demented that they’ve trained their children to rape visitors. For pity’s sake, stop thinking of Sodom as a “city full of gay people” and start recognizing what the story is trying to tell you. It’s a city full of evil people. And again, if you shrug your shoulders and brush this off and just think, “what’s the difference?” then I don’t know what to say to you. That’s just sad. (Not to mention wrong and factually inaccurate).

It’s Not About Sex, It’s About Power and Control  –  If you’ve ever watched Criminal Minds, or CSI, or any of those procedural dramas, you’ve probably come across episodes dealing with rape. And what do they always tell you (especially in Criminal Minds)? The attacker does not rape their victims because they are attracted to them (even if in some cases there is an attraction). Rape is not about sex, it’s about power and control. It’s about anger, hatred and sometimes vengeance. Even more so, gang rape is not about attraction or sex. It is about exerting your power and control over someone else. We know that in ancient cultures it was a common practice for the victorious armies to rape the defeated armies (often the generals or other high ranking officials). This was not because the one army was full of gay men (well maybe it was, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t exist yet). No, it was a tactic that announced in no uncertain terms that “we won and we now control you… you are weak and we are strong.” In this story we have two visitors entering an evil-infested city at night. The men and boys of Sodom wanted not to have sex with them because they were attracted to them, but they wanted to show their power and control. Exert their might and show dominance. When you consider it was gang-rape these men and boys wanted to do, and when you consider the cultural practice of raping outsiders and foreigners to show your power and control over them, it becomes harder and harder to argue a case that these men were homosexuals and God destroyed the cities because of homosexuality. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about homosexuality. Rape has nothing to do with a loving relationship. It was about power and control. Big difference.

Gay Men Don’t Want to Have Sex with Women  –  One thing traditionalists point to as evidence for their interpretation is that when Lot offered his daughters to the men they refused. Well, since they didn’t want to have sex with two girls, but instead wanted to have sex with two men, then clearly they must be gay. Case closed. Burn the place down. Since I’ve already shown that this story has nothing to do with attraction and sex, I will point out here that what is often overlooked is the very nature of Lot’s offer. If Lot lived with these people for 20 years, and knew them all by name, and knew that they were gay (assuming the traditional perspective for the moment), then why on earth would he offer them two girls? If they are gay men wanting to have gay gang-rape sex with two other men, why would Lot think they would have any interest in his daughters? Very illogical. And before you can argue back, it should also be acknowledged that assuming (as I am) that Lot knew the men and knew they only wanted to rape the men out of a sickness and evilness for the sake of power and control (and twisted fun?), then it also wouldn’t make sense for him to offer his daughters. Because that would not have satisfied their desire to exercise dominance over the visitors.  So why did Lot offer his daughters? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a last ditch effort to protect the two men. Hospitality was such an incredibly huge thing for people in the ancient world (especially the Hebrew people) that he might have been trying any idea possible to prevent what clearly would have been the most egregious breach of hospitality. But if they were homosexuals, then Lot would have known they were homosexuals and therefore would not have offered his daughters as a consolation prize.

There’s Nothing Gay About This Story 

Nothing in Genesis 19 states or even suggests that the men and/or women of Sodom were people who were born with same-sex attractions.

Nothing in Genesis 19 states or even suggests that the men and/or women of Sodom were practicing a gay lifestyle.

If you were to have crashed on a desert island as a baby and grow up all by yourself with nothing but coconuts and a Bible that washed ashore, you would not read this story and come to the following conclusion: the people of Sodom were gay… and since they practiced homosexuality God clearly destroyed them.

No, the only way you can logically make a connection like that is if you already come to this story with the presupposition that homosexuality in any form is wrong, evil, sinful, etc. Then, and only then, would you read this story and in it find confirmation that God destroyed them because of homosexuality. But at that point, you are merely proof texting and practicing good ol’ eisegesis.

Genesis 19 is a story about (among other things) a society that was completely out of sync with the heart of God. A debase and deviant people, where they would regularly gang rape visitors. Where they would abuse their children in such fashions that they would also take part in acts of evil such as gang rape. A people deserving, in the eyes of the author, of the judgment of God. A conclusion supported by other Biblical authors.

But not because of homosexuality. The text just simply does not support such a conclusion. Not only that, but other Scripture passages give us even further insight in to why God acted out such harsh judgment on the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Speaking of “other Biblical writers” who weigh in on the destruction of Sodom, it will precisely be to that that we will turn in the second half of Part III.

To be continued…

Lent, Art and Tattoos

I like the season of Lent.

I like art.

I’m not a huge fan of tattoos, really. But I am a fan of my good buddy, Scott Erickson.

Scott is the Artist in Residence for Ecclesia Church in Houston, TX, pastored by Chris Seay. And for Lent this year, Chris did something pretty insane, ballsy, and unimaginably original: he invited people from his church to get tattoos for Lent.

Ecclesia wanted to put together a Stations of the Cross Art Exhibit to help their community engage with the season of Lent. But instead of Scott just painting images and hanging them on a wall, he created a series of 10 art pieces to be used as tattoos. Tattoos that the people of Ecclesia would actually get inked, and then use the images of their newly tatt’d skin as the art installation for the Stations of the Cross.

Yes, it’s crazy.

Crazily creative!

Even crazier, 50 people responded and went through with it!

And now they have an amazing art installation for their Stations of the Cross. It is called Cruciformity: Stations on Skin.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Thanks Scott, and Chris, for pushing the boundaries. Even if I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole “asking people to get inked for Jesus” thing, I applaud HOW you did, WHY you did, and THAT you went for it.

Well done! And, like always Scott, your work is AMAZING!

Scott Erickson with his Stations Tattoo

Fish & Loaves: God is not a Withholder.

A few weeks back, I listened to Mars Hill’s podcast (the gooder Mars Hill, not the sorely misguided/misogynistic/chauvinistic/homophobic led Mars Hill), and to my great delight they had a guest speaker that morning: the wonderful Ian Morgan Cron. Ian is an Epicsopal Priest and author of books such as Chasing Francis. A friend of mine connected me with Ian back when I got fired from The Grove, and Ian was a blessing and his words were a gift to me at the time.

Ian speaks often on the subject of the Eucharist. Communion. Holy Supper. The bread and the wine. And his time at Mars Hill was spent accordingly. His text for the morning was probably not your typical selection when teaching on communion. He chose the story of Jesus feeding the many thousands of people (the only miracle, besides the resurrection, that shows up in all four gospels). We’ve all probably heard the sermon that focuses on the boy in the story who gives up some barley loaves and a couple sardines. And in that sermon, we are encouraged to give all that we have to Jesus (just like the boy), and no matter how small or insignificant we may think it is, Jesus can do great and mighty things with it.

And I think that is true. There is certainly truth (or Truth, if you must) swirling within that aspect of the narrative.

But Ian did something different with the text. Something I’d never heard suggested before.

He talked about how people in that culture, when traveling great distances (as many in the crowd would have been), would, if they could afford to, travel with plenty of supplies. Lots of food. The people of means would travel with provisions, enough for the journey and perhaps even the stay.

And so, spread among the thousands of women, men and children that day (or days), would have been a smattering of families that had LOTS of food. Many more might have a little food. And perhaps most of them were poor and didn’t have anything on them.

With that in mind, Ian suggested that perhaps the true miracle of the story is not that Jesus magically created fish and loaves out of thin air (although he’s careful to not dismiss this possibility, if that’s what you believe happened), but the true miracle is that Jesus used the dramatic action of the boy to challenge and change the hearts of ALL that were there. So that those who had plenty (and might previously NOT have shared it), were now embracing the way of love and providing for those who were in need. God changing the hearts of people. A much more impressive (and beautiful) miracle, if you ask me, then God simply making food and feeding people for a day.

He closed by suggesting that one of the major causes of sin in our lives is because we believe in scarcity rather than abundance. We believe that God is holding back from us, and so we strive to acquire, to keep, to hold on to. We live as though we think that God is withholding from us.

But God is not a withholder.

God is a giver. God is a blesser. Out of the abundance of the endless Giver, God blesses.

In turn, we recognize that we are blessed to bless others.

I am (have been) struggling to live this way. The myth of scarcity is convincing. Powerful. And its siren-song has lulled me in to a season of distrust and despair. Not truly believing that God is NOT a withholder. Rather, I’ve found myself accusing the Lord lately of holding back on me.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday.
Katie is the love of my life. And in HER, yesterday, I re-discovered that God is not a withholder.

No, God has given me more than I could possibly imagine. Much more than I deserve.

God has given me my wife.

And in light of THAT, how can I ever buy in to scarcity, ever again?
For she has been my rock, my strength and my source of hope these past few months.
Her faith has sustained us, sustained ME. And I will be forever grateful for her and to her.

No, God is certainly not a withholder.

And my bride is my proof.
I love you, Katie.

 

Celebrating her Bday by seeing The Lorax with our boys.