Justin Lee’s, “You Love Gay People? That’s Great! Prove it!”

So I read this today.

And it could be one of the best things a non Open and Affirming Christian could read.

So good in its spiritual tone.
So good in its practicality.
So good in addressing a very common (but often understood or understated) issue.

The issue being: Non-Affirming Christians thinking that just saying “I Love gay people!” is somehow enough.

It’s not long to read.
But hopefully after reading it, it will stay with you a long time.

 

I’ve Counted Up the Cost

Rend Collective Experiment

Several weeks back I was sitting down with a relatively new friend. Over a BLT and an IPA we exchanged some war stories about previous experiences in the church. She is a pastor, and I am a pastor, and we both have gone through the ringer (as virtually every pastor has… or will…).

If you know me, or have followed my journey, then you know a bit about what I went through a couple years ago. So I was telling her that story, coupled with a few other tidbits here and there, and eventually she looked at me, tilted her head slightly to the side, furrowed her brow just ever so slightly, and said,

Colby, you have been through a lot. You have been beaten and bruised by the church. Both the people and the institution. And yet here you are, sitting across from me, still saying that there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing. Why is that?

Great question.

Another friend of mine, back when I was first exploring the possibility of moving to San Diego to join Missiongathering, expressed a similar query. Because he knew what had happened in my previous church, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why I would willingly go back in to the Lion’s Den.

Fair enough.

I recall one of my professors in college, during a class on ministry-something-or-other, emphasizing to us would-be-ministers the following truth:

If you can do anything else… then do it.

In other words, if anything else gets you excited, or floats your boat, or resonates deep within your soul, or energizes you, or suits your passions and your dreams…. if there is any other vocational possibility out there for you, then you should do THAT, and not be a pastor. I don’t think he was trying to talk us out of becoming pastors. I think he was trying to give proper weight to the road that lay ahead of us, should we decide to follow the call to shepherd the people of God.

And now, 12 years after my prof uttered those words, I am firmly resolved that there is nothing else I want to do.

No matter how messy the church can get, I love her.
No matter how damaged I may get, or my family may get, I am committed to her.
No matter how difficult it can be or how impossible it may feel at times, I am in it.

I still believe that the church can be:

  • the mechanism by which hope is sprinkled in this world,
  • the avenue by which lost people can be found,
  • the place where misfits and dreamers can discover purpose,
  • the organism by which life, true life, abundant-life-found-only-in-Jesus, can be experienced,
  • my home. your home. our home.

So yes, I know it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. And that’s okay. I get that.

But to quote one of my new favorite bands, Rend Collective Experiment, from their song “The Cost”:

I’ll walk the narrow road
’cause it leads me to You
I’ll fall but grace
Will pick me up again

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh I’ve counted up the cost
Yes I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

I do not need safety
As much as I need You
You’re dangerous
But Lord You’re beautiful

I’ll chase You through the pain
I’ll carry my cross
’cause real love
Is not afraid to bleed

Yes, I have counted the cost.
I’ve fallen.
I’ve bled.
I’ll fall again.
I’ll bleed again.

But Lord, you are worth it.
And so is your Bride.

(Check out the song. It’s marvelous.)

Also, I just read this from Rachel Held Evans, after writing up this post.
Her post is called “The Cost,” and it’s more awesome than this one. So go read that, too.

Christmas as a Pastor

Christmas was a couple weeks ago.
I’m sure you knew that.

In our house it meant things like decorating cookies (or, more precisely, decorating the table… since that’s where MOST of the sprinkles end up), getting a tree that is small enough to sit on top of a table (out of reach of the two year old) but large enough to sustain our decorations, and bouncing back and forth between Kate’s Pandora station (Indie Holidays) and mine (Christmas Standards). It meant things like finding out which neighborhoods around here are the best for looking at lights, wondering if this would finally be the year when Dad (that’s me) would hang some lights on our house (it wasn’t), and scrolling Netflix to see if they’ve added any new Christmas movies (not so much). It meant things like almond roca from Kate’s grandma, taking uber advantage of Amazon Prime’s free 2-day shipping, and brand new Christmas jammies for the whole family.

We love Christmastime in our house. It’s a special time of the year.

Of course, right alongside that, since I’m a Pastor, it also meant…

Two weeks straight of being gone almost every night, getting ready for a big Christmas production. Nights of Christmas fun being missed out on because of late night church-meetings. And having to be here, on Christmas Eve, almost all day and night, to put on our Christmas Eve Services.

Now, lest you read that previous paragraph and mistake it for complaining (which it wasn’t), I’m not complaining. Seriously. I love what I do, and I love doing what I do during the Holiday Season.

But, as every Pastor Family knows, holidays just look different most of the time. In large part it comes with the job, and my wife and I have navigated those waters well over these past 10 years.

And yet, each time this past season that I started to feel a bit curmudgeon-y about Church and Christmas, I was reminded how much my family and I are loved by our faith community.

For instance, this year people in our church blessed our family with:

-Tickets to LegoLand
-Gift cards for new clothes
-Movie Passes
-Extra holiday cash
-Wine and other festive drinks (Thank you Adahber!)
-More holiday cash
-Encouraging notes at just the right time
-More holiday cash
-And more

For a family of 6, in Southern California, living off of one salary, it can be daunting going in to the Christmas Season. Thinking about gifts, and Santa, and stockings. But every year (and THIS year, especially) Kate and I are gobbled up in to the loving embrace of a church family that understands just how far a little bit of material-love can go at Christmas time.

And so this Christmas we got to spoil our kids with far more gifts than we normally would. Kate and I got to have fun shopping for each other when normally it’s an afterthought (or not at all). All because people in our church, multiple people from multiple cross sections of the church, at different times and in different ways, reached out and loved on us.

I’m not sure, exactly, what the point of this post is.

Other than to say this:

Dear Missiongathering Family, from the bottom of Kate and mine’s hearts, we say THANK YOU for your gifts this year. They blessed us more than you could know. And we needed it, more than you could know.

Being a Pastor at Christmas can be hard sometimes.
But I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because it is in the CHURCH where often times we can most witness the God-who-is-with-us: Emmanuel.

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The Boys with New Toys

On Officiating My First Same-Sex Wedding

So several weeks ago I officiated my first Same Sex Wedding.

You know, the type of wedding where the gender of one-half the couple is identical to the other half?

The one that, up until fairly recently, was strictly prohibited?

Yeah… THAT one.
The one that ends in what many call, “Gay Marriage.”

Or, as what the rest of us call it, “Marriage.”

Going in to it I wondered how I’d feel.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I knew how I’d “think” about it. That issue has long been settled for me. With regards to the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality, well, the Christian Scriptures simply don’t land there.

Furthermore, the right for people to get married to who they love should be afforded all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. So politically speaking, it was a no brainer.

And since I believe God is just as honored in the loving, committed, mutually respecting relationship between two people of the opposite sex as God is in two people of the same sex, I had no spiritual misgivings either.

And yet, I still wondered how it would all feel.
How I would feel.

I’ve done countless Opposite-Sex Weddings. And I’ve loved every single one of them. I am that pastor, who really does love marrying people. I feel incredibly honored to play that role in couples’ lives, to bless them, to speak over them and in to their marriage.

But I wondered anyways, how my gut would feel (which is what the ancient Hebrew people meant when they said “heart”). Even though my mind and soul were locked and loaded and ready to roll, I had some anxiety nonetheless.

This was a big deal.

It was a big deal for the couple, who had just weeks before finally been granted “permission” by the government to exchange vows.

It was a big deal for me because, well, like I’ve said, it was my first.

So anyways, enough introductory pontificating. Let me get to it.

Here is what it felt like to officiate my first Same Sex Marriage:

EXACTLY LIKE EVERY OTHER ONE.

Of course it was special and unique, and different in that sense, as all weddings are.

But with regards to how it felt to perform the ceremony, to walk through the giving of rings and exchanging of vows, to speak words of love and wisdom in to the couples lives, and to pronounce them “wedded partners for life,” yeah… it felt totally sane.

Completely normal.

It felt good.
As they all do.
As they all should.

Their love for each other was obvious. Their enthusiasm for getting married was contagious. Their excitement to enter this sacred covenant together was oozing out of every giggle as we wandered around Balboa Park looking for the perfect spot.

As they both called their families and put them on multiple iphone speaker phones, held carefully by the best man so that they could hopefully catch the ceremony, you could sense the anticipation for finally getting to say what Andrew Peterson calls “the two most famous last words / the beginning of the end,” the magical answer that confirms a commitment to life-long love, “I Do!”

It was beautiful. Wonderful. Full of love and faith.

And, worth saying once again, it felt totally normal.

So once again let me offer my super duper congratulations to Guenette and Erika on their new life together.

May your days be filled with laughter and love, and may you never stop seeking to be the best YOU and help your wife be the best HER. May God bless you and keep you, may God’s face shine upon you. May Christ be the orienting way in your lives as you live and move have your being in him.

You are blessed.
And I was blessed to be a part of your special day.

Thank you.

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New Teaching: Wild Goose Festival and the Women Who Made Them Soar

A couple weeks ago I travelled out to Hot Springs, NC to attend The Wild Goose Festival for the second straight year. Wild Goose is a fantastically wonderful convergence of progressive-ish Christians who are interested in dialoguing about things like justice, music, and spirituality. (I shared some of my thoughts from last year here).

This year, instead of posting on my blog about my highlights from Wild Goose, I came back to Missiongathering and preached a sermon about it. Our church is going through the book of Acts this summer, and I was already planning on speaking from Acts 16:11-15, the story of the conversion of Lydia. Weeks ago I knew I wanted to talk about the issue of women within Christianity, and how the movement began by repositioning the social ladder; namely, by demolishing it altogether. Acts tells the story of the racial outsider being invited to the table, of the sexual-other being invited to the table, and in this passage we see how women were elevated to a status of mutuality and equality in the Kingdom of God.

Anyways, I didn’t know exactly HOW I was going to talk about this issue, I just knew I really, really wanted to.

And then, Wild Goose happened.

When I got back, I knew that I couldn’t just speak about “women” in an abstract sense… no, I knew I needed to get personal.

Get raw.

Honest.

So this sermon is me opening up about how I was raised and educated into a worldview that elevated men over women.

I am a product of patriarchy, and, as a result, can be sexist at times.

Okay… I won’t give it all away… you really should just listen.

But I WILL say that my three favorite presenters from Wild Goose (which I talk about at length in the message) were Nadia Bolz-Weber, Julie Clawson, and Glennon Doyle Melton.

Nadia

Julie

Glennon

So check out the message, and then go spend time at each of these amazing people’s websites.

I love them. And so should you.

(Right Click to “Save” the Sermon .mp3 file)


(New Sermon) The CHANGE: From Saul to Paul

Here’s the message I gave on Sunday July 7th, 2013.

Coming from Acts 9, I unpack the story of Saul’s Damascus Road Conversion. I paint a picture of the type of person Saul the Pharisee likely was, and then contrast that with who later became known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.

So far, pretty normal and standard.

But then I explore the people groups who were NOT thrilled about Saul’s conversion. And that led us in to some pretty awesome moments, talking about change-in-our-lives.

It was an inspired morning, for sure.

Stream the audio below, or right click the link to download it.


The Change: From Saul to Paul

How to be a Good, Gay-Catholic and STILL Miss the Mark

This week the Supreme Court will rule on some pretty significant decisions affecting the future of Same Sex Marriages.

Reflecting on those decisions, and also having just recently listened to this podcast from the show Unbelievable with Justin Brierley (a recent favorite of mine) which featured a debate on Same Sex Marriage between the well known gay activist Peter Tatchell and Catholic apologist Peter D Williams, my mind has mused on the following.

(Disclosure: I am about to tread in to some waters dealing with the “Catholic” position. While I have engaged several Catholics on this issue, and while the debater from the above podcast who supported the traditional view of marriage was a Catholic (Peter D Williams), I by no means claim to have an exhaustive understanding of this viewpoint. So I welcome any correction, or clarification. Furthermore, it is not my desire to “pick on” the Catholic church. If you’ve read my blog, you know I pick similar bones with my evangelical/protestant friends. This post does not, as it were, create a full picture of how I feel about the Catholic Church or about Catholics. I love my friends who are Catholic, I support them being Catholic, and I think Catholicism has just as many good/bad things about it as my own particular brand of religion, etc etc etc. Basically, I’m not Catholic-bashing.)

Why the Church is Against Same Sex Marriage

One of the primary arguments against redefining marriage to include people of the same sex is because of the (negative) effect it will have on the family, and then, by extension, society as a whole. Marriage must be protected because, as Peter D Williams says, “Marriage is a fundamental element of what the Church calls, the “common good”, by which we mean those institutions and conditions that lead to the flourishing of all human beings.” (Peter’s full article can be found here. I’ll be referencing it several times.)

This is reasoned out by establishing an “ideal context” into which children should be born and raised.

Putting it plainly (as I understand it), children benefit most and have the best chance at becoming healthy and whole people if they have a mother and a father in their lives to raise them. And this is not just “quality of life” speaking, this is morally speaking as well. This is because the father provides things that the mother cannot, and vice versa. Men are, for example, more daring risk takers. Whereas women are more cautious and reserved. Men are more wired for provision and protection, while women are more nurturing and caring. I could go on, but I think you get the gist. Having both sexes represented, then, provides the perfect balance, the ideal environment, for a child to be exposed to the whole spectrum of human expression. Growing up in this ideal situation, it is argued, best prepares children to know how to relate to men and women, and to know how to, essentially, be good citizens in a good society. Peter D Williams puts it thus,

“our society has already begun to affirm the view that one or other of a child’s parents are dispensable to their upbringing. This is thoroughly wrong, and contrary to the best interests of children, who should have the chance to be brought up with, and have access to, the masculinity of their father and the femininity of their mother. As the columnist Matthew Parris once wrote: “I am glad I had both a mother and a father, and that after childhood I was to spend my life among both men and women, and as men and women are not the same, I would have missed something if I had not learned first about the world from, and with, both a woman and a man, and in the love of both.”

Therefore, if one side of that equation is missing (no mother, or no father) then the ideal is no longer realized. The child will grow up not knowing how to relate to one gender. Or the child will grow up and be too heavily slanted toward taking risks, or too heavily slanted towards being nurturing and caring. So on and so forth.

Again, this all hinges on the assumption (probably the wrong word… I’m sure they would not say it like this) that there exists an ideal environment to grow up a child, and this provides then an ideal environment to grow and maintain society. The government is there to help protect this ideal primarily because it is in their best interest. Again from Williams, “Marriage forms the bedrock of the family – the basic unit of society – and it is therefore in the interests of the state to support and promote it.”

Destroy the family, and the society is surely to follow.

Sucks To Be You

I could take the rest of this post in several different directions.

For instance:

  • Addressing the assumptions behind gender-based characteristics would be interesting. Why are we STILL saying things like, “males are ___________, while females are ___________.” I mean, I get it. Sort of. There is plenty of research I’m sure that supports the idea that men are generally more like this, and women are typically more like that. But I think that notion is being (rightfully so) challenged. There are, quite frankly, too many “exceptions” to these rules to really allow them to be “rules” any more. Men can be nurturing and women can be risk takers. Why is this disputed? Anyways, interesting stuff, but I won’t go there.
  • Pushing back on what the Catholic Church means by “best interest of the children” would be interesting. What if they are wrong, or out of date, on what it looks like to raise happy, healthy, wise, and good humans? Does society actually suffer if there are people being raised too heavily slanted toward taking risks, while others are being raised to be super extremely cautious? In other words, what are the assumptions behind “best interest” and who gets to decide that? Anyways, interesting, but I won’t go there.
  • Arguing against the idea that the government should be responsible for protecting some sort of religious “ideal environment” could be a lot of fun. But not this time around.
  • Attempting to demonstrate how often “the ideal” is not met, and thereby questioning the validity of even having an ideal could be fascinating. The Catholic Church (according to Williams) says that “Marriage exists to provide the stability of formalized monogamous fidelity, which not only benefits the man and woman who enter into it, but forms the best atmosphere in which the children who result from their union can best be brought up…The nature of marriage, then, is a result of human nature, as our species has evolved to pair sexually as male and female, and in such a way that will result in the next generation being born and raised.” … Marriage, in other words, is for making babies, and raising them in the ideal environment. People often attempt to argue things like, “well then should impotent people not get married?” or “elderly people, who are past child-bearing age?” Perhaps interesting (if not, ultimately, a non-sequitur, in my mind), but not where I want to go.

So where WILL I go?

Well, basically I want to say, it feels like the Catholic Church essentially says to gay people, “Oh, so you’re gay? Hmmm… yeaaaaah, sorry about that. Sucks to be you.”

First, if you are gay, then the Church won’t bless you marrying someone of the same sex. Of course, this isn’t unique to the Catholic Church, but I found Peter D Williams’ response to Peter Tatchell, in the above referenced debate, pretty cold. He said, in response to charges of discrimination, that essentially no one is discriminating against him because he is gay. He is absolutely allowed to get married. “It just so happens,” Williams said, “that you aren’t interested in marrying the type of person that you are allowed to.

In other words: Sucks to be you.

Secondly, if you are gay, then you are not allowed to have a relationship with a person of the same sex. If you cannot succeed in changing your orientation (quick sidenote: I don’t know where the Catholic church stands on this. Do they still maintain that people’s orientation can change? I don’t actually know..), and if you refuse to live like a straight person, then you must choose celibacy. (Cue the voice of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld: “No sex for you!”) But my problem with this is that this position seems to contradict how the Church has traditionally understood celibacy. The Catholic Church views celibacy in high regard. They view it so highly because those who choose such a life sacrifice the possibility of sex. And this is important because sex is understood to be one of the most precious treasures God has given humanity. So making a gift of it back to God is one of the most genuine expressions of thanksgiving for such a great gift. But they see this “lifestyle” (i.e. Celibacy) as a calling. All people are called to holiness, but only some are called to celibacy while others are called to marriage. Each person has been given a gift from God and they should respond to the gift they are given. Celibacy, then, is understood as a supremely unique and beautiful calling that some are gifted with. And yet, if you are gay, well then guess what: we (the Church) have decided for you that you must be celibate. What’s that, you say? The whole concept of calling and being gifted for it? Oh, right… well that doesn’t apply to you.

In other words: Sucks to be you.

And lastly, (this is perhaps the whole reason for this post) if you are gay, there is a very high probability that you could forsake your sexual orientation, choose to live as though you were straight, get married, procreate, raise a family, (basically aim to be a good Catholic) and yet still fail to live up to the ideal. Here’s what I’m getting at, but to get to my point I have to engage in further stereotypes. And yet I think that generally speaking, and painting with broad enough strokes, I’m on fairly safe ground to proceed. Often times (though certainly not always) those who identify as gay or lesbian will, generally speaking, NOT fit the traditional gender norms as people like Peter D Williams and others would put forth. In other words, effeminate men who are gay likely don’t fit the typical “male/masculinity” stereotypes. And conversely, women who are gay likely wouldn’t fit the typical “female/femininity” stereotypes. So even if, let’s say, a lesbian (in this case, one who defies typical femininity) who is devoted to Catholicism decides to not live out her sexual orientation, but instead chooses to make the sacrifice and find a husband to marry and have a family with, then in the eyes of the Church she is still considered a failure. She is still raising her children in a less-than “ideal” environment. Because her kids will, essentially, have two parents of similar makeup. Two risk-takers. Two protectors. Two “insert-other-stereotypes-here.” This lesbian woman, who is trying to live out a faithful Catholicism, is still ultimately failing her church, failing her family, and failing society. You can imagine the same scenario for a gay man who shows to be far more on the “feminine” side of the spectrum. In these cases there is still the failure to achieve the “ideal environment.”

In other words: Sucks to be you.

Do They Really Care?

Ultimately I find myself wondering if the Catholic church really, truly cares for their LGBT family members. And I realize how harsh that sounds, but I am sure you can see how it is far less harsh than how the Church’s position sounds to those who identify as gay or lesbian!

It seems the Catholic Church’s general posture towards the LGBT community is one that almost guarantees a life of misery.

Here is what I hear the Catholic Church say:

You have to be celibate. Even if you’re not called to it nor gifted for it.

Or, you can choose to just live like a straight person. Which will, of course, be unfulfilling in so many ways, and you’ll likely be miserable. But hey, at least you won’t have gay sex.

(sidenote: this reminds me of this infamous quote from the Blessed John Henry Newman, a Cardinal in the mid 1830’s:  “The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” … In other words: it’s better for your life to be miserable and utterly devastating than for you to commit a sin like sex outside of traditional marriage.)

And finally, just so we are clear, even if you DO marry and raise a family, you will still be a letdown. A failure. You will swing and miss when it comes to providing the ideal environment for raising a family and creating a good society.

How does this proposition not feel like anything but a lose-lose-lose?

I find myself feeling very sad for gays in the Catholic Church.

- – - – - – - -

I invite comments, questions, push-back and other dialogue from anyone. Especially any Catholic readers. Would you agree with my three “sucks to be you” summaries? If not, why? If so, do you agree that, well, it sucks?

5 New Teachings Added

Fresh off the press… er, off the Garageband, I guess…

Five new .mp3′s have been added to the Teachings page.

1) Theology of Doubt

This is a modified and expanded-upon version of a talk I gave at Corban University last year on doubt. This time, speaking at Courtstreet Christian Church in Salem, OR, I unpack a little more about how doubt can be a GOOD thing in the life of a Christ-Follower.

2) The Carpenter: There and Back Again

Stretching the Christmas season one more week past Epiphany, I explore the story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod. And then, of course, I use that story to talk about corporate worship. Makes sense.

3) Jonah’s Prayer from the Fish

Looking at chapter two of Jonah, where he offers a prayer to God from inside the belly of the sea beast, we can learn a few things about life getting hard. Also, I take the common perception of Jonah the Prophet and casually suggest we’ve gotten it wrong. Are you convinced?

4) Illuminate the Love of Jesus

What does the “love” of Jesus look like? I explore the love the that Jesus has for US, as well as what it looks like for us to love LIKE Jesus loved. And then, how can we, as a faith community, illuminate that love to the rest of the world?

5) God in Film: The Hunger Games

This is my first attempt at a God in Film sermon (it’s a sermon series our church does every year). I love the story of The Hunger Games, and I was pumped to dig in to themes like Empire and non-violence. Check it out.

Super Lucky, or Spirit Led?

Shattering Misconceptions

I’m about to share a secret with you.

A secret about us Worship Leaders that, once shared, might ban me from the ICOPWLWAS*

But here it goes: sometimes, when I plan worship, I have zero idea what the preacher will be talking about.

(cue the *glass shattering sound effect* as people’s conceptions about the Worship Leader are broken)

Yes, I know. It’s shocking.
Most of you probably assume that us Worship Leaders spend hours together in collaboration with the preacher to flesh out the intricacies of the sermon and decide how best to build a flow of music/scripture/prayer that builds on, or complements, or sets up, or contributes in some way to the message of the sermon.

And this collaboration session, of course, comes only after hours spent in prayer and fasting (by the worship leader) as he/she seeks direction for the upcoming worship set. Then, when the teaching pastor and the worship leader come together with their ideas for the weekend, it’s just a spiritual explosion of blossoming brilliance that pushes back against the powers of darkness and emerges victorious with a light-bending, soul-lifting, mind-blowing plan for a worship service guaranteed to convert the great Deceiver himself!

More or less, that’s generally how it goes.

However, getting back to the secret I let you in on, Continue reading