Fifty Shades of Gay

The Power of Photography to Break Ignorance

iO Tillett Wright is an artist. As a child-actor growing up, she spent many years living as a boy. Convincing everyone (friends, teachers, fellow actors and directors) that she was a boy. She even turned her shoes around in the bathroom stall to make it look like she was peeing standing up.

She gave this TEDx talk a couple months back.
In it, she describes a project she undertook called the Self Evident Project.

Her goal was to travel across the country and photograph people who identified as “not 100% straight.”

Why?

She describes how Proposition 8, and the ensuing country-wide discussion about equality for LGBT folk, caused her to realize that she had become, in her own country, a minority based on one facet of her character.

She was legally a second-class citizen.

“How can anyone vote to strip the rights of the vast variety of people that I knew based on one element of their character,” she asks, “and had these people ever even consciously MET the people of their discrimination? Did they know WHO they were voting against and what the impact was?”

Her idea, then, was to present the world with the reality that non-straight people are, well, people.

Just like me.
Just like you.

And a photograph embodies the power to communicate precisely that.

“If they could look in to the eyes of the people they were casting in the category of second-class citizenship, it might make it harder for them to do… it might just give them pause.”

I love her insight in to photography. She says, “photography is about exposing the viewer to something new… to people they might otherwise be afraid of.”

So she is traveling around, taking people’s pictures, to show the world there is nothing to fear.

And if you watch the video, the most poignant moment comes when she shares what she has learned thus far: while many people might identify as 100% straight, and others identify as 100% gay, there are many, many people who just fall somewhere in between.

The impact, then, on the discussion of civil rights and equality for all becomes very muddled. For where do you draw the line on who is considered “gay,” and by extension, who can (for instance) be fired for being a “homosexual?”

Where, on the spectrum of sexuality, does one BECOME a second-class citizen?

Keep snapping those pics, iO, and keep helping break down people’s fears and ignorance.

Eshet chayil!

Lessons in Preaching from a 15 Year Old Poet

There’s a principle in narrative preaching called “the reversal.”

Fairly self-explanatory, I imagine. But in short, it’s the moment in your message/sermon/story/narrative where, after having taken the audience with you up to a certain point, and after having painted an image that surely everyone is seeing, and after creating an air of expectation of how the story will resolve, you suddenly turn everything on its head.

You switch it up.

You reverse, and take it in a completely different direction.

It’s a wonderful tool, and this week I saw a video of a 15 year old kid who masterfully pulled of the reversal.

Thanks for the lesson, Noah St John.

A Liturgy of Doubt

Stage setup for REVAL: Doubt

Last night at REVEAL: A Night for Worship (hosted here at Missiongathering) we spent some time engaging with the idea of a Liturgy of Doubt. Inspired by this segment of a talk from Peter Rollins, wherein he posits that the church could potentially be the place for people not to come and express their belief, but come to express their doubts, we sought out to create such a space.

Here’s a bit of what took place last night in what is being called, “the best church service I’ve ever been to.” -Kate Martin (Yes, she’s my wife… so what!? ;) )

Open in Song

We kicked the night off with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Great midtempo song. Good way to start off a more meditative/reflective night of worship. Not a ton of energy (which would be counter-productive), but not overly sleepy (which sets a difficult tone). Plus, it’s a great Call to Worship song…

All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice, and with us sing.

C’mon everybody, time to get yer praise on!

Call to Worship: Setting the Theme for the Night

After the opening song I took a few moments to explain what our time together was (hopefully) going to look like. I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can’t have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.

I also lamented about how difficult it was to find music for this particular theme. There are not many (g0od) congregational worship songs that give voice to our doubts. Part of this is possibly because we’ve been trained in the church, by the church, that to Doubt is a negative thing. It is to be avoided, and shame on you for not having faith. So why would we want or need songs that would lead us to say/sing things that aren’t empirically true, or don’t lift us up to a more secure place of trust and hope?

So I said that several songs we were singing tonight I actually changed the lyrics to, so that they would better give voice to our struggles and our doubts. And other songs, songs that may have been written to give voice to our doubts, unfortunately all tend to resolve by Verse 3 or the Bridge. So that, by time the song is over, you’ve come out of your place of Doubt and are expressing an attitude of faith and trust. But life doesn’t resolve so quickly… why then should our liturgy?

Worship through Song

We then sang “40” by U2. A great song inspired by the Psalm of lament found in chapter 40.

I’ve waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry // How long, to sing this song?

Prayer

Invited everyone to pause and to center themselves, and invite God to open our hearts a bit further to the reality that God is a secure Being. So secure, in fact, that God is not offended by our doubts. God does not get frustrated at us when we get frustrated at God. We need to let go of the destructive theology that views God as having low self esteem and gets all bent out of shape when we go through seasons of Doubt. And we would do well to live in to the reality that God actually might be inviting us to express our Doubts.

Worship through Song

When the Tears Fall,” by Tim Hughes, is a really cool song. Some strong lyrics that really fit the night well, but still opting for a blend of doubt and faith. So that we cannot fully sing about our questions and our struggles and our pain without covering it on a higher plane with a bigger umbrella of trust and hope that trumps everything else. For instance, Verse 1:

I’ve had questions, without answers

I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain

Love it. But then:

But there’s one thing, that I’ll cling to

You are faithful, Jesus you’re true

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse. And I believe it. But the problem is that there have been times in my life where I haven’t believed it. Where I haven’t clung to Jesus as being faithful or true. My life demonstrated just the opposite. And I’ll bet YOU have been there, too. So singing this just feels disingenuous sometimes. But, other times it’s not. Other times it’s GREAT to declare our sense of trust and hope in the midst of life’s storms. I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean, though, that we aren’t also in need of songs that just give us a chance to voice our despair and doubt.

Anyways, I chose to alter the lyrics of Verse 3 so that we could at least END the song in existential despair… ha!

When confusion, is all around me

And the darkness is my closest friend

When the laughter fails to comfort

When my heart aches, Lord are you there? (the original lyrics: Lord, you are there)

Video Clips: Peter Rollins on Doubt

Then we watched two short video clips of Peter Rollins talking about Doubt. The first video he throws out the idea of God doubting God. That Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as a demonstration of despair and doubt. So he suggests that when we lean in to our doubts, and embrace our dark nights of the soul, that we are then standing in the very sight of Christ.

As a way to complement this, I set up three canvases on the right part of the stage. And throughout the evening I invited and artist to write the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on these three canvases. First lightly in pencil, then gradually heavier and darker with a black pen, a black sharpie, and finally with black paint. So it was cool having her off on the side expressing this sentiment over and over again, getting bigger, darker and bolder.

The second video, as I mentioned above, was when Peter challenged faith communities to consider a Liturgy of Doubt.

Interactive Element

I think it’s important to provide interactive elements in our corporate worship so that it’s not all just passive/observational experiences. So I had signs printed up that were from a poem called, “An Approach to God – Losing My Religion” and posted these all around the sanctuary in groups of two. One sign would be a positive expression of faith in God. The other sign would be a negative expression, a statement of doubt.

Statement of Faith

Statement of Doubt

I also had small cards printed up and put on everyone’s chair before they got there that read “Sometimes I doubt __________________.”

So during this part of the gathering I invited people to take some time and interact with their own doubts. I invited them to get up from their chair, walk around the room, and read all seven stations. And if, while reading one of the signs, you find yourself resonating with the idea on the sign, then just sign your own name on the paper. As a way of saying, “yup, I can relate.” Then, take your card and write out three things that sometimes you doubt. It could be doubts you have now, it could be things you’ve doubted in the past, it could be things you always struggle with.

Sometimes I doubt ________

A few of the Stations of Faith/Doubt Statements

Can I just say, this part of the gathering blew me away.

I got off the stage and took part in the seven stations around the room, and it was incredibly powerful to stand there and watch people willingly and publicly sign their own names on some pretty heavy expressions of doubt.

And everybody was doing it!

Everyone was be honest and saying, “yup… I’ve had that thought before about God.” Or, “yep, I’ve doubted God in that area.” It was so powerful to be a part of this expression of both faith AND doubt on a corporate level.

Worship Through Song

The old Hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” but without the slightly cheesy chorus that was added to the original hymn by someone else at a later time. It goes like this:

I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in his arms

And in the arms of my dear Jesus / Oh there are, 10,000 charms

What the?! Why would an armful of charms be appealing to me? Anyways… the verses to this song are golden. Especially when you go back to the original version of it and add in the few lines at the end of each verse that the “chorus” writer took off.

Scripture Reading – Psalm 44

Original Song: How Long

About 6 weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of songs that express Doubt, so I chose to just write one. I had read Psalm 44 and was struck by how the Psalm started on a positive note (God, you’ve done all these great things for us and for our fathers…) but then takes a sharp turn at the end (But where the heck are you now? Are you sleeping? Wake up! If you really love us, then help us!”).

It’s called “How Long,” and you can hear the live performance of it here, if you’d like.
How Long (Live)

Interactive Element Cont’d

Then I invited everyone to turn their chairs and get in to groups of 3-5 people. Once in their groups, they were to go around and each share what they wrote on their “Sometimes I doubt _____________” cards. But I told them they could only read them. They could not set it up, or put it in context, or tell a bigger story. Or say, “sometimes I doubt_________, but not right now! Right now I’m good!”

Nope. Just read your doubts. Outloud. To others.

And then we put a phone number on the screens and invited people to text in some of their doubts.

Special Music

After several minutes passed, and people shared their doubts with one another, I sang the song “Silence of God,” a real gem by Andrew Peterson. Seriously, pause now and go listen to it!

During this song we put on our screens some of the doubts that had been text in.

It was a really, really cool moment.

As I’m singing this amazing song about the silence of God people are looking up and reading all these different types of Doubts. And they are discovering this: You are not alone.

You are not the only one who doubts.

You are not the only one with THIS SPECIFIC doubt.

Very cool moment.

Reading from “How (Not) to Speak of God”, by Peter Rollins

A buddy then got up and read a parable from this book. The parable imagined a small community of people who, right after Jesus was crucified, left the city and started a small faith community in a remote village. This faith community continued on and lived out the teachings and the values and principles of the Way of Christ, never knowing about any resurrection or ascension. But they viewed the Love of Jesus and the Way of Jesus as having inherent and intrinsic value that, even though it ended in death for Jesus and would end in death for them, they were committed to that way of love and peace. And then, after about 300 years, a small group of missionaries found this remote village and preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The community was elated and ecstatic and celebrated throughout the night, but no one could find the village elder. Finally, one of the missionaries found the elder alone at the outskirt of the village, clearly saddened. The missionary wondered why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, for Jesus is not dead but alive! The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face:

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judge him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him not because of the implicit value he has, but because of the value that he posses for them.’

I’m not sure why I chose to end the night with this parable, but it just seemed fitting.

What if, in a life full of sorrow and pain and suffering, we were not assured of any resolution from our doubts? What if all we had to look forward to was death?

Would we still follow Jesus? Would we still live in his love, and live out his love?

Is he worthy of our allegiance because of what he can do for us? Or because of who. He. Is.

Close in Song

And, though I partially didn’t want to, we closed the evening with “It is Well With My Soul.” It’s just such a great song, even though it semi-sort-of worked against the point of the evening. Ha!

It really was a phenomenal exercise in practicing a Liturgy of Doubt. Something I think the Church would do well to embrace, embody, and invite people to engage in.

Thanks to those of you who came out and went there with me. I hope you found it as meaningful as I did.

We’ll see you at the next REVEAL on Sunday night, November 4th at 7pm.

______________

p.s. I did a talk a few months back wherein I explored more about what it might look like to Lean in to Your Doubts. You can check that out here.

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

 

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

45 Most Powerful Images, Violence, and Rene Girard

A couple days ago I shared a link that was going around on Facebook. It is 45 of the most powerful images from events in 2011 as gathered by buzzfeed.com (check them out, here)

This was my comment when I linked it:

20 of these 45 images depict violence or are a result of violence. This disturbs me. Violence, war, oppression, hatred, vengeance, and power disturb me. May the Prince of Peace use his divine influence in 2012.

My wife then mentioned how the majority of the other 25 picture were also violent images, but ones resulting from violent acts of nature. Only a select few (like the amazing elderly gay couple who just got married, pictured below) depicted something “beautiful” as one of the most powerful images. I suppose this all says something, doesn’t it, about our view of “power?”

Anyways, this morning I was reading about the works of Rene Girard, the brilliant French historian, literary critic and philosopher of social sciences. If you have an hour or two to kill, his work is incredible. Truly a giant in his own. His two main contributions are the mimetic theory (basically that our desire for objects is not based out of our own autonomous desire because of the object itself, but because someone else wants it), and the scapegoat mechanism (in an effort to control the violence that inevitably comes as a result of the mimetic theory, cultures/religions began sacrificing a “scapegoat” in pursuit of peace).

In one such article, I was struck by the following quote:

War no longer works to resolve conflict—indeed, wars no longer have clear beginnings, endings or aims. Moreover, as weapons have escalated, war could destroy us all.

The weapons of war are less and less distinguishable from forces of nature, echoing apocalyptic texts of the New Testament. Before the invention of apocalyptic weapons, we couldn’t see how realistic these texts were. But today we are in a situation where we can see that, and we should be extremely impressed by that.

Man is creating “more and more violence in a world that is practically without God, if you look at the way nations behave with each other and the way people behave with each other,” he said. “History, you might say, is a test for mankind. But we know very well that mankind is failing that test. In some ways, the Gospels and scriptures are predicting that failure since it ends with eschatological themes, which are literally the end of the world.”

His conclusion: “We must face our neighbors and declare unconditional peace. Even if we are provoked, challenged, we must give up violence once and for all.” (emphasis mine)

It appears my hopes are similar to Girard’s, which are similar to those of the Lord we both profess: Jesus.

Phyllis Siegel, 76, left, and Connie Kopelov, 84, both of New York, embrace after becoming the first same-sex couple to get married at the Manhattan City Clerk's office