Pros and Cons of the Bible: Part II

Yesterday I kicked off this little series on the Bible which aims to lean in to some of the angst that is often felt by people (Christians, mainly?) who really want to engage the Scriptures on a level that goes beyond just a surface acceptance of the Text.

Stylized like this Jimmy Fallon bit, in this post I offer the third PRO/CON of Reading the Bible.

PRO: The Bible reflects ways in which humanity has sought after, heard from, wandered from, and engaged with their Creator
CON: Those interactions all occurred a long, long time ago, and can be quite violent and disturbing.

Angry Zeus-like-God

Even though our 21st century is worlds apart from the ones we find in the Bible, the essence of what it means to be human hasn’t changed all that much. The Bible is full of stories of how humanity has sought to connect with their Creator, and who doesn’t find their own stories reflected in these stories?

For instance, have you ever felt like the people you trusted most in life (say, your family) all ganged up on you, and treated you like dirt? Made you feel like an outcast?

If so, you can relate to Jacob in the book of Genesis, who’s brothers sold him in to slavery because they didn’t like him and were jealous of him.

Have you ever made a horrible mistake and betrayed a close friend, and wondered if they’d ever forgive you again?

If so, you can relate to Peter, who denied he even knew Jesus. Only to then have Jesus come to him later and affirm his love for him, forgive him, and restore their relationship.

I could go on and on… stories of heart break, stories of betrayal, stories of questioning and doubting God, stories of triumph and overcoming…
Stories of God never giving up on us. A God who is compassionate, and merciful, and slow to anger.

These stories are the stories of humanity whether it happened 3000 years ago or happened last week.

But still, that being said, it can be kind of weird, when you stop and think about it, that we orient ourselves around and follow things that were documnted in a book written so long ago.

It raises a really good question: Honestly, what does this dusty ancient book have to do with me here today?

I was sitting at Modern Times, a bar here in North Park, writing this. And I was surrounded by a wall made entirely out of floppy disks. You remember those? Little square disks of color that held 1.44 megabytes of data? I think I fit my entire Freshman year of college on ONE of those disks.

Then you look over and their bar is made out ofold  VHS tapes.

Floppy disks and VHS tapes. Ancient, ancient techonology… of like 20 years ago!! But now completely irrelevant and useless to us.

Ours is a culture that thrives on the Next-Best-Thing.
We all know this to be true.
What is the newest and latest model?

So to consider, then, giving ourselves to a book written two to three thousand years ago can seem at best naive, and at worse irresponsible.

I think It’s easy to read some of these Bible stories and think “what in the world does that have to do with me today?” Not only that, but they seem so barbaric, and primitive, and violent… because, well, they are!

It’s tempting at times to want to dismiss the Bible because of the atrocities that we read in stories like those found in the OT.

But one of the things I’ve had to reconcile with is this: if God truly desired to interact with, engage with, and be in relationship with Creation, with humanity, then what choice was there but to do so with.. well.. humans?

in other words, God didn’t really have a choice in the matter when it came to WHO to work with, and HOW to work with them.

The world of the OT was barbaric and violent and filled with warfare.

It’s kind of like parenting: if you, as a parent, have any hope whatsoever to raise a mature 20 year old who is full of compassion and love and respect, well then you HAVE to start with a winy, needy, violent, selfish, disobedient child!

And consider this: God’s blessing on people, like the Israelites (who engaged in some rather bloody warfare and went through their own seasons of oppressing people) is not a blanket acceptance of all their actions.

I was reminded of this concept recently when someone on FB said something to the effect of, “well, if you voted for Politician X a couple years ago, and you still support them today, then that means you have to be in full support of all the things they have done while in office!”

And I pushed back by saying that I, as a parent to my children, will always hold them in my blessing. I will always support them. But of course that doesn’t mean that I therefore must always (or WILL always) support or be in favor of everything they DO!

So to believe that God chose Israel as a nation that God would then bless uniquely so that they could be a blessing to the rest of the world does NOT mean that God therefore blessed or approved of everything they did as a nation, or of everything some of the characters in those stories themselves did.

A couple more thoughts.

Keep in mind… God was working with the raw materials of humanity thousands of years ago. And so we should expect then, when reading the Bible and reading these stories, we should expect to see that type of world reflected.

But we should also expect to see a God who is about the business of trying to help humanity towards greater love, and peace and unity and wholeness.

When we read, for example, a story in the OT where we are told that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, we must ensure that we also pay attention to details like God also telling them that once they subdued their enemies that Israel was then to treat their neighbors and others with respect and hospitality.

I also wonder if a lot of what we see in the OT, the stories of God seeming to be a violent or war-like God, are examples of a sort of Divine Accommodation.

In other words, picture this:

If I’m God, I personally might object violently to violence, for I am a merciful, compassionate, forgiving God.

But I ALSO am 100% committed to this project called Creation.
Committed to the restoration and reconciliation of all things.

But in order to do that, I have to make some accommodations of my inherent values and principles in order to effectively engage with humanity.

Just overriding your free will isn’t an option. Love has to be completely free otherwise it isn’t love.

So I make some accommodations… but I don’t just stay there, in that place, nor do I leave you there.

I accommodate and then I invite and compel humanity towards transformation. Towards growth. Towards maturation and evolution and greater wholeness and equality and love and peace.

Eventually it becomes evident that I can only do so much going about it like this. So I choose to visit my creation, showing up as someone just like them, so that I can actually physically show them who I am and what I’m like.

And you guys, this is so important, and I feel like I say it all the time… but the God we are introduced to in the OT is NOT the final , not the last, not the best, not the most accurate picture of who God is and what God is like.

That is found in Jesus.

The Bible is not a flat document.
Everything is not weighted equally.

If the scriptures are not read through the lens of the person of Jesus then we are doing it wrong.

Okay… my point for this Con is this: yes, there is a lot in the Bible that is disturbing and confusing, and at times it can portray a really cruel and violent God. But those are incomplete and inadequate pictures of God. We HAVE to look at Jesus or we will constantly be led astray.

And to dismiss the Bible because of those sorts of stories is, in my mind, to not fully understand or appreciate what the world was like back then and what God was (and indeed still is) attempting to do with Creation.

Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

When life is hard it is only natural and normal to ask the question, “where is God, in all of this!?”

I’ve been exploring a couple thoughts on that exact question. In Part 1 I suggested that God is ahead of us, inviting us towards a better future, a better way of life. And, like the father in Luke 15, God stands poised to run towards us at the first inclination that we might be ready for repentance.

In Part 2 I suggested that when we are in the Valley of Hard Times that God ALSO is right there, IN the Valley with us. Present, holding us, carrying and sustaining us. Not just waiting on the outside for us to emerge, but in the trenches with us being our strength.

Finally, I’ll offer one more thought.

Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Behind us. Having just shoved us off the cliff and in to the Valley of Hard Times.

What if God isn’t just at the top of the valley, cheering us on, waiting to welcome us home?!
And what if God isn’t just also down in the valley with us, carrying us and sustaining us and holding us…

What if God also stands on the OTHER edge of the valley, the once from whence we came, because it was God who directed us to the valley in the first place?

What if God is the one who actually PUSHED us over the edge?

What?!

Okay, I know that sounds a little crazy. And it probably is. I’m probably wrong about that. And that’s okay.

But I can’t help thinking about it anyways.

Two reasons why.

  1. My own life experiences have given me reason to think that this might be the case.
  2. In Matthew the Gospeler’s opinion that’s exactly what God did to Jesus.

In chapter 4 of Mathew, as he’s about to tell the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days, Matthew writes this:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” -Matt 4:1

Did you catch that?

Jesus was led BY the Spirit of God in to the wilderness.
Yes, sure, eventually he encounters the Satan while he’s out there. But it was the Spirit who sent him there.

Now, to be fair, perhaps God didn’t PUSH Jesus over the edge and in to the Valley. I imagine this leading was more of a gentle prompting. But the point still remains. It was God who initiated Jesus’ entrance in to the wilderness and ultimately in to a time of great temptation.

Have you ever done something that you just felt, in your bones, in your very spirit, was something that God was leading you to do? You just had this sense that this was where God was leading you.

Take this job.
Begin a relationship with this person.
Initiate this conversation.
Go here.
No, no, no… I mean there.

Are you with me?
You been there before?

And then, think back, and examine if any of those situations, those scenarios, those relationships, those life choices eventually went to crap. Just a total backfire. And you found yourself thinking, “wow, did I just TOTALLY misunderstand God on that one? How hard did I swing and miss on that?!”

I’ve been there.
I’m betting you have, too.

But I think that sometimes, even though we end up questioning ourselves and doubting that we really were walking in the direction God was leading us, that sometimes (in our more clear-headed moments) we end up concluding that indeed we had done as we felt led by God.

We entered the wilderness at God’s prompting. Not fully realizing (of course) that it would, in fact, turn out to BE a wilderness. Filled with pain and sadness and rejection and hunger and thirst and temptation.

But we still say it was God’s leading.

And don’t we generally come out of those times stronger than before?
I mean, isn’t every wilderness, every Valley of Hard Times, something that ultimately shapes us and grows us to become a better US?
I don’t know… maybe not every time. That’s likely not true.

But most times. I wager.

Julian of Norwich is one of the most important Christian mystics in church history. She was an anchoress in Norwich, England in the 14th century. An anchorite was essentially a spiritual hermit who would live in a cell, carved in the side of a church, choosing to live a life of prayer and meditation.

Julian said this:

“First, there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

Yes.

Just, yes.

I love placing the very FALL itself within the mercy and the grace of God.

After all, we grow most after we fall, right?
We discover more about ourselves after we fall.

If we are to grow, mature, then losing, falling and failing is a requirement. It is a necessary, and even GOOD part of the human journey.

I have always tried really hard NOT to fail.
I won’t start a new effort unless I know I’ll be really good at it.
This is why I put off learning to play guitar for like 3 years. Because I knew I would be awful at it in the beginning. (Brilliant, right?)

But there is grace IN the fall itself. Not just in the getting back up again.

So I guess that’s why I feel that sometimes, when we ask the question: where is God during this incredibly hard season of my life, I just wonder if one possible answer is: at the beginning of it all, prompting you to journey out in to the desert, in to the wilderness, so that you can find a type of transformation that can ONLY happen in the wilderness.

But (to go back to Part 2) God doesn’t just send you packing with a couple loafs of bread and a canteen… No, God is beautifully present IN the wilderness with you. Every step of the way.
IN the darkness.
IN the thick of the trial and pain.
Holding you… sustaining and carrying you…

And (to back to Part 1) God is also ahead of you.
Waiting with open arms… ready to RUN to you, scoop you up, and carry you home. Throwing a party to celebrate the courage it takes to finally repent, to turn around, to decide to live a new way.

Praise be to God, the One who leads, sustains, and invites.

Amen.

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Alongside us. Sustaining and strengthening us. Unmoved by the chaos.

Yesterday we explored one potential response to the question of where is God when life is hard. And we borrowed from the story of the Prodigal Son in suggesting that God is out in front of us with two postures.

1: God calls us forward. Inviting us out of our patterns of unhealth and misery. Beckoning us to a more abundant life.
2: God anxiously anticipates the moment our hearts begin to turn away from the path of destruction and towards the path of life. And in that moment God runs out to grab us, envelope us in love, and lead us back home.

Today I want to explore another idea related to the location of God during the hard times of life.

I don’t think God ONLY stands at the edge of the valley you’ve fallen in to, cheering at you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start climbing up.

Though certainly I think that’s true.

And I don’t think God ONLY waits there patiently, with great excitement at the prospect of you finally getting out. God is not just a cheerleader inspiring us to get back up again, and then there to celebrate with us when we’ve succeeded.

Though I think that’s true.

No, my hunch is that God is actually down IN the valley with us.
Present in a way so that once you’ve reached the lowest of lows and cannot even FATHOM starting to get out of the mess you’ve made, it is in THAT moment that God scoops you up. When you’ve run out of all your energies, exhausted from trying so hard, is when the Grace of God can truly and finally take over.

You know, that whole “God is strongest when I am weakest” sort of thing.

Paul, when dealing with hardships in his life, takes this posture:

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Cor 12:10

Paul takes a certain delight in the hard times because he knows that is, perhaps, when he is most aware of the presence of God.

And we all know this to be true, don’t we?

When life is going well and we’re in a rhythm of sorts, and there’s really nothing to complain about, then it’s pretty easy to… I dunno… sort of forget about God? To just sort of be like, I got this. Life is good. I’m good. All good.

(I’m not alone in this, am I?)

But when the sh*t hits the fan and everything starts falling apart, well it is then that we start to search for God. To grope around in the darkness, hoping for something secure to grab on to.

And IN that searching, IN that desperation, is precisely God.

If you grew up in conservative Christianity like I did then perhaps you struggle with some of the same religious baggage that I do. And one particularly heavy suitcase is the one that suggests that God can’t stand evil. Can’t stand sin. That God is Light, therefore there is not God-ness in the Dark-ness.

Are you with me?

And so what happens, or what can happen, is that we begin to believe that when we are in the depths of disaster (perhaps brought on by our own propensity to screw things up) we tell ourselves that we have to escsape the darkness in order to find the Light.

That surely God can’t be here, because there is too much “bad” here.

Here’s what I have to say to that: name for me, if you will, the primary tangible spot, the very location, of what amounts to the most horrible and tragic moment of evil and darkness?

The cross on the hill of Golgatha.

Isn’t it?

I mean, that’s how the biblical writers saw it.
That on that cross was the weight of the whole human race’s sin.
The cross: where the full power of sin and shame and evil and death all piled up and were hurled at the Son of Man.

Perhaps the singular most dark moment in history.
And there, right alongside it, right IN it, was the Light.

Jesus stood in the very place of human tragedy and sorrow and pain and suffering and evil.

The cross itself points to the reality that God is present precisely in the moments where you would least expect God to be.

21 the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21

On the cross was exposed the weight of humanity’s shame and guilt.
The point at which the powers of sin and death were exposed.
Sin was on full display.

And there was Jesus.

(Who, rather ironically, felt abandoned by God. Do you blame him? Don’t you feel abandoned by God at times?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Clearly God had not forsaken Jesus, for God does not. But even Jesus himself felt the agonizing loneliness that accompanies great sorrow and suffering. But that’s another thought for another day.)

I ask you to pause and go read this post, written by Richard Beck. Specifically because of the section taken out of Elie Weisel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

I’ll wait…

You back?

Wasn’t that a harrowing tale?
And yet also a powerful, powerful image.

So that’s why I think that God does not merely sit atop the valley, waiting for us to emerge. I see (and have experienced in my own life) a presence and reality of God RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT.

Right there in the valley. In the darkest places.

Where is God when life is hardest?

Exactly there.

Part 1: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

“Where is God?!”

It’s a common question.
One most often asked when we are confronted with the more ugly side of human existence. We ask about God’s presence or existence or involvement when we witness tragedy and disaster.
We also wonder about it when we go through really hard seasons of life.

Sometimes life is hard because the world is hard. Be it natural disaster, or uncontrollable economic forces, or disease or sickness.

Sometimes life is hard because people are hard. We are the victims of other people’s hatred or fear. We are beaten up, hurt, damaged by other humans.

Sometimes life is hard because we make it that way. Be it bad decisions or patterns of poor choices. Maybe we chose a path of destruction for ourselves, or we are consumed with selfishness, pride, or fear. And so we are in a hard time of our own making.

In all those cases it is natural to ask: where is God?

This is admittedly a HUGE topic. It deserves much more time and thought than what I’m about to give to it. So just know that this Three Part series is obviously not exhaustive. But it might serve to help you (if you are in a hard season of life) to find just a moment of Peace. To discover, if only briefly, where God might be in it all.

Part I: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Ahead of us. Both inviting us to a better Way, and ready to welcome us home.

20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. -Luke 15:20

You know the story.
We call it the Prodigal Son story.

Son demands money, runs away, spends it wildly. When everything is lost and the son has hit bottom the son decides to return home. And where do we find the father?

Standing on the porch waiting.
With eyes wide open, toward the horizon, never giving up hope that his son would come home.
Anxiously and excitedly anticipating the slightest hint that his son is done with his prodigal living.
Running. Running out to meet the son.
Embracing. Holding.
Taking by the hand and welcoming the son back home.

Where is God when life gets hard?

Ready and waiting for you to say, “okay, enough is enough. I can’t keep running. I can’t keep wasting my life. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I’m lonely. Scared. Exhausted. I’m ready to change. I HAVE to change.”

That’s called repentance.
And when we just start to show the smallest glimmer of turning-around, there is God.

BAM! Right there, with open arms and an open heart, ready to take us home.

‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

For those hard seasons of life that come about at our own doing, because of our lack of wisdom, or lack of courage, or lack of listening to those in our life who are worried about us, I see God at the edge of the cliff of the valley we’ve made for ourselves just biting Divine nails, anxious for us to wake up.

We are invited to a better way of living.
This was (and remains) the call of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus offers a way of living that John described as a “life of the ages” (or, eternal life). He also calls it an abundant life. This is Life the way it is supposed to be lived. The most human life. The Divine life.

The life of, well, Jesus. The God-man.

When we make a mess of our lives (which is often) God’s posture towards us is one of invitation. Of beckoning and calling. God is ahead of us, pulling us forward towards greater peace and love and beauty and hope.

And the millisecond that we make a move, no matter how small, towards coming back home, the God-of-all runs to meet us. To cover us in Love. To bear our shame for us.

In the Prodigal Story the father runs out to meet his son. The picture here is that the father runs out to meet his son before the son can enter the city and take the long walk-of-shame home. Instead, the father meets the son outside the city walls and adorns him with gifts of the father’s blessing, and then leads his son home. Taking on the shame that ought to have been the son’s.

What a beautiful picture of where God is when life is hard.

Ahead of us. Inviting us to a more beautiful, abundant life.
And also ready to swoop us up, clothe us in grace, and welcome us back home… no matter how far we’ve wandered.

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)

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.

The Bible is Tricky; Love Shouldn’t Be

(This is the 4th and final post on my series: Why I Write/Post So Much About the “Gay” Issue. Thank you for taking the time to better understand where I’m coming from and why. Make sure to check out Part I: Gay Balloons and Star Wars Legos, Part II: Speaking of Jesus…, and Part III: And Yet it Moves)

THE BIBLE IS A TRICKY BUSINESS

If you think the Bible is easy to understand, you probably haven’t read it.

If you think that historically Christians have basically gotten pretty close to agreeing on how to interpret the Bible, you probably haven’t studied much church history.

If you think that historically Christians have, more or less, not been majorly wrong on some pretty significant issues, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.

At the risk of offending your intelligence right at the beginning, I want to make sure we are not naïve about something. Or, as it likely could be, ignorant.

The Bible is a complex compilation of literature that ranges in different styles; from historical narrative, to poetry, to metaphor, and everything in between. It was composed by humans over the span of possibly a couple thousand years and written in many different cultures and contexts. It was not written in English, so our English copies are a translation of Greek manuscripts (a dead language) which was either trying to translate Hebrew manuscripts (also a dead language) or it was the written recording of the spoken word in Aramaic (also, you guessed it, a dead language). Translators, for the most part, have done their best over the centuries to help the people in their historical context to understand the words written hundreds/thousands of years ago. It’s a tricky business, and we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think that sometimes people’s biases (theology?) influenced their choice on which English words to use to translate the Greek that recorded the Aramaic that translated the Hebrew.

Furthermore, as if the translation process itself weren’t difficult enough, virtually no two people in history have ever agreed completely on how to interpret every single word/phrase/sentence/verse/passage/chapter/book of the Bible. Followers of Christ have splintered in to thousands of different variations of what it means to be a “Christian.” New ideas and altered interpretations pop up in the scholarly world all the time. The church of 100 years ago would barely recognize the church of today. The church of 200 years ago would barely recognize the church of 100 years ago. And so on. As a result, if you study Church History, you will discover that the Church has been wrong so many times on such major issues that even the drunk old uncle at the family reunion would blush. Just to name a few (in no particular order): polygamy, patriarchy, slavery, witch hunting, astronomy, Inquisition, Nazi Germany, American Colonialism (i.e. Native American genocide), more slavery, various predictions of the End Times, denying women rights, denying colored people rights, beating our children, more slavery, etc, etc, etc. Yes, I realize some of these “misfires” are from what you might call “fringe groups.” But most of them are not. Most of them come from the majority position. And most of them are a result of misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible.

It is a tricky business, Bible reading/interpreting, and millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history as a result of God-fearing Christians missing the point. Don’t ever think, for one second, that you or I are immune to missing the point. That you or I are immune to misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible. None of us are. This is serious, serious (and tricky) business, and SO MUCH IS ON THE LINE.

If you read yesterdays post (And Yet it Moves) then you know that I would add to the above list: “homosexuality.” Millions of us are convinced that the church has misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied the Bible when it comes to sexuality and same-sex attraction. And as a result, millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history.

So why do I write/talk about this issue so much?

Because I think we’ve been wrong long enough.

HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE

Many of you have followed my series called UnClobber: The Bible and Homosexuality. Frustratingly I paused that series as we picked up and moved to San Diego and I have not yet gone back and finished it. But I promise within the next month that will happen. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, UnClobber is my effort to go passage by passage through the texts in the Bible that have been used to formulate the position that any expression of same-sex attraction is a sin. Or, to put it simply, that “homosexuality is a sin.”

The bottom line is that this simply is not true.

The Bible does not communicate this message.

We have erred on this just as we have on slavery. Just as we have on astronomy. Just as we have on segregation. Etc, etc, etc.

I won’t try and summarize my thoughts on the Bible and homosexuality here. You’ll have to come back for UnClobber. But I do want to share one insight from the Bible as I close up this series. (For this insight, I am indebted to Matthew Vines and his incredible 1 hour and 7 minute talk on the Bible and Homosexuality. Definitely worth your time.)

TO BE, OR NOT TO BE (Alone, that is)

If you are Christian and still think being gay is a ‘choice’ then I’m here to tell you that you are in the minority position within your own clan. Most conservative Christians have moved or are moving away from that position because it has repeatedly been demonstrated to be false. The prominent position nowadays within the conservative Christian world is this: if you are gay then you are called to be celibate. Just being gay is not a sin, but any expression of gay love is.

In other words, if you are gay then we invite you to be alone.

It is now your cross to bear.

All people are born with certain pre-dispositions to certain sinful behaviors. Our calling is to learn to live in a way that does not give in to those temptations. (I saw this clip from John Piper about homosexuality. After cleaning the vomit off my keyboard I realized this summarizes pretty well the ‘conservative’ position).

Of course, no decent Christian would put it so bluntly (“if you are gay then you are called to be alone”). They would probably point out how a relationship with Jesus can fill that lonely-shaped-hole, or how friendship and Christian fellowship can help us not be lonely, and so on. And all of that is true… sort of.

But check this out.

Although it’s not technically a clobber passage, many people will point to Genesis chapter 2 (and a hyper-literal interpretation to boot) as foundational evidence that heterosexuality is the only God-blessed union. Here’s the perennial nail in the coffin:

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

And there you have it. God’s design is for one man and one woman. Clear and simple.

However, when was the last time you backed up a few verses and reminded yourself of why God created the woman for the man?

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.” 18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

Did you catch that?

Man had relationship with God. But still, God said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So God set about to make a suitable helper for him.

After making a community of creatures for the man, the man still felt alone. None of them were suitable helpers for him. And at that point is when God makes a woman, who is a suitable helper for the man.

Man was alone. In spite of a relationship with God and other creatures. Man was alone.

And God said, “this is NOT good. Many other things have I created lately, and I’ve called them all very good. But this? This loneliness? This emptiness? This lack of relational connectedness I’ve discovered now exists within the pinnacle of my creation? It ain’t good. I got more work to do!”

God himself was not okay with man being alone.

But this is precisely the message that so many in the church say to those in the LGBT community: “Since you are attracted to someone of the same sex, and since that is not a “Biblical suitable helper” for you, then you need to remain celibate. You need to remain alone.”

See the irony?

The church stays hyper-focused on “a man will leave father and mother and be united with his wife” to the detriment of the fact that this relational environment was instituted precisely because it is not good for a person to BE ALONE.

Some would even suggest that a gay person learn to live with (and marry?) a person of the opposite sex. Be a homosexual that lives out a heterosexual life. But I ask you, is that a “suitable helper” for them?

Why do I write about and talk about these issues so much?

Because the Bible has been used for too long to suppress and oppress our LGBT brothers and sisters. It has been used to fabricate an anti-gay theology. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted and misapplied to the homosexual community. Not only have we ripped the clobber passages out of their historical, cultural and textual contexts (and endured terrible English translations of some words), we have also missed the beautiful thread of relational love that was sewn in to the fabric of what it means to be human: it is not good to be alone, thus saith the Lord. (sidenote: some people throughout history have sensed a special call to celibacy. Nuns, priests, missionaries, etc. This is a unique calling that we dare not impose upon someone else and force them to manifest or try and convince themselves that it is true. Heck, Paul even wrote that “it is better to marry than burn with passion,” but once again we say to our LGBT brothers and sisters, “you CANNOT marry, sorry, you must burn with passion.”)

As a result of my convictions and conclusions about what the Bible says and doesn’t say regarding human sexuality, I am compelled to be a part of sharing the good news of God’s grace and love for all.

THEY’RE REAL, PEOPLE

When I first met Rich, my very dear friend/pastor/boss, and told him my story of how I was fired over my views on sexuality, he asked me this question: “so who is it?”

“Who is what?” I replied.

“Who in your family came out as gay? A brother? Cousin?”

“No one,” I said in return. “I have no gay family members or friends, that I know of.”

He went on to tell me how unusual that is. Most straight folk like myself who experience a transformation in their theological and ideological positions on this issue do so as a result of having to reconcile with the fact that someone close to them has come out of the closet. But that wasn’t the case for me. My path of transformation was not launched by the discovery that someone close to me was gay. Embarrassingly, I had no experience with the gay community and had no gay friends. Instead, it was through prayer, study, contemplation, and being open to God’s guiding Spirit that led me through the years it took for my head and heart to change.

But now? Now I know gay people. Now I have gay friends.

And guess what…

They are REAL PEOPLE, people.

With real stories. Real families. Real passions and loves. Real interests. Real gifts and talents. Real likes and dislikes. Real jobs and real lives.

They are not simply abstract concepts that we can discuss in our ivory towers. That we can pretend to know more about who they are and what they want and what they need than they do.

When you sit and listen to someone share with you how their own family rejected them and kicked them out of the house because they came out of the closet, your heart simultaneously breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you sit and listen to someone tell you about the years they spent running from anything and everything that is good, and wasting their lives on destructive behavior, because they bottled up so much for so long and then fought the most extreme identity crisis you could imagine, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you have coffee with someone who has to choose between either staying in a relationship with the person they love OR staying a part of their own family, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you break bread with two women who have been in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship for 20 years and watch them love each other in the same exact way you love your own spouse, but they CAN’T call each other “spouse,” your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

You want to know why I write so much about this? Why I talk about it, post about it, focus on these issues?

Because my heart has broken too many times, and because it’s also grown three times its size.

After my theological/sociological/philosophical/political transformation was complete, but before I met all my friends in the LGBT community, I was convinced the issues and the theology was worth fighting for.

Now that I’ve met, loved, and befriended the real people behind these issues, I am convinced THEY are worth fighting for.

Yes, the work of the Bible is certainly tricky business.
But the work of Love? That should be far less tricky.

Paul wrote these words to the Philippian church, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 2:3,4

Why do I write/talk so much about these issues?

Because I’m tired of looking out for my own interests. I’m a selfish person and Lord knows I’ve done plenty of that in my life thus far.

These are my friends. And they, along with countless others, have experienced enough pain, marginalization, shame, guilt and fear. It’s time that I, and you as well, start looking out for THEIR interests.

IN SUMMARY

Well, I’d like to thank you for spending this week with me. Reading as I share from my head and heart some of the reasons why so much of my online presence has been consumed with the “gay” issue over these past 9 months.

A quick recap:

Why do I write/talk so much about the “gay” issue?

  • Because, practically speaking, this is the first time in my life I’ve been “allowed” to do so. That’s a lot of bottled up energy!
  • Because I’ve discovered I’m passionate about it. And just like you, when I’m passionate about something it tends to be more prominent in life.
  • Because my commitment to follow Jesus has taken me to this place.
  • Because I believe Jesus’ life demonstrated a posture of love, grace, and mercy for the lowest, the outcast, the marginalized.
  • Because I want future-me to be proud of present-me.
  • Because I want to be on the right side of God’s history.
  • Because I believe we’ve gotten this issue wrong as it relates to what the Bible says and doesn’t say.
  • Because I’ve met enough LGBT folk to be convinced they are REAL people, and they are worth fighting for.
  • Because my heart has broken for them, as well as grown for them.

If I may, I offer the following prayer of St Francis of Assisi as a Benediction to close this series.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.