Crafting areas of belonging- What would Jesus truly do?

When looking at how we, as followers of Jesus, ought to behave we have no greater example than the man we follow.  The issue of crafting areas where people can belong is one I’ve addressed here before.  But something I haven’t really talked about is how far from the ideal of Jesus’ behaviors we’ve truly fallen. To demonstrate this point, I’ll talk about a few different groups of people that are close to my heart.

  1. The punks, the goths, the scattered remnants of culture on the edge of society:  I can’t just point to one youth movement and say “that one”, there are too many.  So whether it’s the guy getting high in the alleyway or the tattooed beauty throwing down dance moves in the club- where do they belong in relation to us?  How do we get close enough to share God’s heart with them?  We can’t say, “come to us, all who are thirsty,” and just wait for them to show up on a Sunday morning…   especially since if they showed up looking like they do on Friday night, we’d just throw them out.
  2. The single parents and couples choosing to live together without marrying:  They don’t have relationships like the Good Christian Standard, and they are painfully aware of it.  Talking about their kids or their partners means talking about how very much they’ve fallen short of what is expected, should they become Christian.  They may miss the faith of their youth or just know there is something missing from their life…  but trying to build a relationship with the church is full of discomfort and feeling judged and found wanting.  One might argue that this is part of how God “convicts” them and shows them their need for him…  but do you think God really wants to convict them right out of ever even trying to worship him?  How can we show them his love?
  3. Gay people.  Do I even need to say more?

Jesus ministered to people in three major ways:  He went to where they were (by eating in their homes), he went to places where they had easy access to him (by preaching on hillsides, at the docks, or in the marketplace), and he performed miracles for the desperately needy.  All of these ways of ministering were revolutionary.  A good priest would not eat at a tax collectors home, most certainly not in the company of drunkards and other sinners, as Jesus did  (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5) as this would make them unclean.  A good priest spoke from a place of authority- such as the temple or the city gates.  Going out into public arenas that were the province of farmers and tradesman would have been an act of lowering onesself- but these were the arenas in which Jesus gained all of his power.  Why?  Because the people flocked to him.  Because they were welcomed by him.  The dichotomy of Jesus versus the religious leaders sees no greater example than this, as women and children were not even allowed into the temple proper, and thus could never be taught in the way men were.  But the Bible shows so often that women and children were also welcomed into Jesus’ world, never more clearly than in Luke 18 when Jesus so famously says, “let the children come to me… The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

Then, of course, there are the miracles.  People like the Man born blind (John 9) whom people saw as recieving his judgment through his blindness, and thus avoided.  Or the woman who was subject to an issue of blood (Matthew 9) who touched Jesus’ cloak- an act which could have been seen as horribly offensive.  A woman who was bleeding was not to leave her home or to touch a man, as this was unclean.  But yet this woman had faith that Jesus would pity her, she thought, “I will only touch his cloak”, and he turns to her and says, “take heart.”

That must have blown her world apart.

So Jesus created three arenas in which the people belonged with him (or he belonged to them, as one might see it)- in their homes, in their public world, and through meeting their immediate needs and taking pity on them.  How can we, as Christians, do the same?  Are we brave enough to dine at the home of a gay couple?  To pass out water at the door of the blue-haired girl’s favorite bar or club?  To give diapers to the teenage mother, or groceries to the couple living “in sin”?

Are we brave enough to take off the WWJD? bumper sticker and really ask ourselves what our Father is doing?

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My Crisis of Christianity

I spent a long time angry at God because I was angry with other Christians.  I couldn’t understand how, if they spoke to God as they seemed to, and heard from God as they claimed to, they couldn’t understand God’s heart for other people.  How could God let Christians get away with the kind of cruelty they espoused towards others?  Towards me, my friends, strangers whose stories I’d heard?  Christianity seemed, to me, to be a big farce.  A way of slapping an “I’m okay” sticker on people’s most virulent behaviors.  It was okay to gossip in the name of God, judge in the name of God, castigate in the name of God.  It was okay to torment people as long as you were doing it to save them!

There had been a time that I had embraced the Evangelical lifestyle.  Handing out “Jesus Pamphlets” at the park, demanding that my friends recognize and leave their sins, burning all my non-Christian music and trying to read the right things.  The thing was, it made me miserable.  I had gone from a suicidal depression into a grudging last-resort relationship from God.  And that depression had deeply colored the way I viewed God.  I had seen God as wanting my life, but wanting it because he was the possessive Jealous God of the Old Testament.  I didn’t truly understand God’s love for me.  And the Christian lifestyle I’d adopted seemed to reinforce the idea that God didn’t particularly care for me.  Living without all of the things I loved- my fantasy novels, my music, my pride, my inert sense of what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior at the park…  These things all were impossible for me to deal with.

I took to forcing myself to live with Christianity with the same kind of zeal I attacked everything in my life.  I viewed my distaste for the lifestyle I was living as a challenge, a test of faith.  Sarcastically saying “Jesus is my boyfriend” as a way to justify my inability to have a relationship with the opposite sex was supposed to fulfil me.  I didn’t confront the fact that I ran away from relationships because I was terrified- I justified it with my faith.  Burning all of my old music and devoting myself to only pursuing what was “good and holy” was supposed to reinforce my devotion to God.  So burn the fact that it was leaving me bored, that all I had to listen to was what I saw as falsely cheerful tripe.  It was supposed to fulfill me, so it would.  I would “fake it till I made it” if it killed me.

And by the time I hit my late teens, it was certainly killing me.  I was back to listening to the music I liked.  So DMX and Staind and Nirvana weren’t on the approved list?  Oh well.  I was back to wearing the clothes I liked.  So tight tops and black lace skirts and leather knee high boots and pink hair weren’t a good Christian look?  (Not to mention the huge tattoo on my lower back…)  Oh well.  So being depressed and angry at God and thinking “Jesus will never fill this emotional hole in my gut” wasn’t the right attitude towards God?  Screw it.  So refusing to Evangelize and telling the people I was hanging out with that I didn’t care how they felt about Jesus, that was their business, is shirking my Christian duty?  By the time I started wrestling with that one, my attitude was to reply, “F***  IT.  I want to be able to be friends with my friends, get out of my faith.  I don’t want to talk about it!”

And for several years, I confused the above with having a crisis of Faith.  But, in the end, it wasn’t really a crisis of faith I was having.  It was a crisis of Christianity.  There is a famous Buddha quote that reads:  “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it.  Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”  That quote affected me profoundly.  So many of the tenats of faith I’d been raised with simply went contrary to my internal compass.  And who gave me that compass?  Who gave me my conscience?  Would God have created me to react so adversely to Christianity if he wanted me to be a Christian?  What in the world was going on here?

Then I realized something else.  The Bible has this to say:  (Romans 2:14-15)- Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This verse has been used, for some time, to demonstrate that God guides man’s law by guiding his heart.  That written inside of each one of us is a code that can guide us to God’s heart for our lives.  And I, by trying to be what other people percieved as a Good Christian, was denying that code.  I was denying who God made me to be by trying to be who other people wanted me to be.

What I needed to do was seek after God’s heart for me, to leave behind the trappings of the Lindsey of Old and just try to be the best disciple I could.  But not a disciple of the church- a disciple of God himself, of Jesus.

(to be continued…)

They say, I say.

Everyone knows what Christianity, taken as a whole, has to say about homosexuality:

  1. It’s condemned by the Bible
  2. It goes against the natural order
  3. It’s harmful to decent society
  4. It’s just… yuck.

Not everyone knows all of the subtext to that argument, but the overall thrust is clear:  gay people are bad/gross and we don’t want them around.  Sometimes I’m asked why I speak in such a guarded tone, allowing gay people to think that I believe being gay is “okay” and never pushing the issue of holiness.

The people who ask that question seem to be missing a very important fact:  I do require holiness.  I require the holiness of my fellow believers.  And I am mystified by the belief that it is holy to behave in a way that condemns an entire subset of the population without giving them a chance to get close enough to God to hear his voice.

The only time a gay person would attend a church, knowing the above four beliefs that most Christians have about most homosexuals, is if said gay person was already of the opinion that they wanted to leave their lifestyle.  Almost all ministry geared towards homosexuals is centered around the fact that it is a given that they SHOULD leave their lifestyle.  In fact, with meager few exceptions the only time I have ever witnessed a ministry to gay people that was centered around God’s love and desire to know them and NOT their need to change was when it was done by other gays.

There HAS to be another way.  There has to be a way that does not sound like condemnation, fear, and disgust.  There has to be a way that focuses on the immense love their creator has for them, and it has to be possible to get that message coming out of a not-gay mouth.  That is why I’m here.  It’s not about sin.  It’s not about who does and who doesn’t sin.  We all sin, and we all fall short.  We all have our own slippery slopes to debauchery and we all play with sticking our toes over the edges.  The point of discipleship is not to come up with a reproduceable model and to stuff everyone into it’s mold- it is to evaluate each person as they come and wish to become and to help them on their way.

If we start out with a list of sins we simply cannot tolerate existing, we condemn some people to never hear our voice or experience our ministry or feel God’s love through us.  I don’t care if the sin is homosexuality, heterosexual promiscuity, or drinking to excess:  Our goal HAS to be allowing people their own revelations of their sinfulness and coming to an INDEPENDENT will to change, through God’s grace.

Basically what I am saying here is that if God doesn’t want someone to be gay, and that person learns how to listen to God, they will hear it for themselves.  My job, as a Christian and a Christian teacher, isn’t to tell other people what God is saying to them- it is to teach them how to hear God for themselves.

But more than that- it’s my job to love them.  And love doesn’t sound like saying:  “you’re a sinner, you’re an abomination, the Bible condemns you, you’re hurting society, and besides which you’re just plain gross.”

If I ever gave a speech like that, how on Earth could I expect anyone to stick around to hear the good parts?