Easter: the shame and the glory

I wish there was a rock to hide under, to get away from the various forwards of bloodied up Jesus, bloody palms, Jesus in a ray of sunshine with the crown of thorns, and all of the other iconography replete with all caps captions like “THIS WAS FOR YOU”, as if a person can be shamed into accepting Christ’s sacrifice by being forced to realize the extent of it.  Perhaps it’s a sign of my own weakness of faith, but I have a hard time celebrating Easter with all of the gore and mania of the preceding week being shoved in my face, so it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church on an Easter Sunday.

Besides which, the constant “this was for YOU this was for YOU this was for YOU” is very upsetting to me.  I find it indicative of a very me-centric kind of theology, in which every passage in the Bible is interpreted in terms of self.  Jesus died for MY sins, he offered grace for MY shortcomings, he preached forgiveness so you need to forgive ME, he preached love so you need to love ME, he preached generosity so be generous with ME, he preached the floodgates opening for blessings to be poured out so he’d better bless ME, and on and on and on.

As if the Gospel revolves not around the person of God, but the person of myself.

I find myself, perhaps pettily, wanting to change the caption of every single Easter meme I see to “he did this for the homeless junkie on the corner who gave up her kids rather than get clean”, and then forward it along.

I mean, it’s not about us.  It’s not JUST about us, it’s about the whole of creation and the whole of the law.  It’s about fulfillment of a blood contract that God wrote not just so that you can be free from your obligation to fulfill it yourself, but so that the whole of creation is free from fulfilling it.  So that the rocks and the trees can be renewed, so that you can be renewed, but so that the homeless junkie on  the street corner can be renewed to.  So that all of us, yes you and yes me and yes the gays and the meth heads and the prostitutes and the Wall Street bankers and shortsellers and the scum of the earth and the scourge of society and even the insurance adjusters can feel a twinge of repentance, respond to God’s spirit, and approach the throne room freely.

Yeah, I guess I should be glad that it’s about me, but I don’t want to live as if I’m the only one it’s about.

It’s about the whole planet, being freed from burden of the law so that it, us, everyone, everything can be molded into God’s design.  It’s about a time of renewal and blessing so intense and yet so simple it should blow your mind.

And it’s not about shame.  It’s not about changing, or being faithful, because the sight of Christ’s blood makes you embarrassed of your sin.  It’s about choosing holiness because you rejoice in the fact you now have the ability to.  It’s about realizing that you have a million chances to pursue God throughout the day, not a limited amount based off of how many sacrifices you can purchase or how often you can make it to the temple.  It’s about the freedom to honor God, not the burden to.

I realize I’m just blathering, but the early light of Easter morning brings it out in me.  I was walking the dogs with the frost still on the ground and my crazy stubborn baby in my arms, and as my feet crunched the ground and I watched the dogs romping as if there was no tomorrow, and my daughter clinging to my neck as if leaving me was death, all I could think was that I’d already found the message of Easter.

The consciousness that this moment matters, that I am free to share this moment with God.

And the realization that Christ’s sacrifice was so that God could be in every moment.  Yes, even the ones where the junkie on the corner looks up at the same early morning sun, and loves God for a moment or curses him.

And we should share these moments, not because we’re hoping that hitting the “send” button on the meme enough will somehow make up for our share in Christ’s pain, but because the best way to honor his blood is by doing exactly what his sacrifice gives us the freedom to do:  feeling God’s love for each other without impediment.

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heard hearts, oppression, violence, love…

I linked to an old post of mine on Facebook a few days ago (this one) and ended up getting into a fight so bad I deleted my own link.  I had, until then, never done such a thing.  I’ve also never found myself so incapable of expressing and communicating my own point of view.

What is it about the past few week’s issues that have made honest conversation so impossible?  I’ve been contemplating this, and praying about it, and meditating on it, and generally beating my head against it, and I think I’ve finally realized what is going on here.

Everyone is backed into their own corner licking their wounds, and they don’t care two figs about what the other side is thinking or feeling.  We’re on 24/7 attack and defend mode.  The Christians don’t care why the gay community is upset.  It feels safe, right, and supported to assume that any reason the gay community would be upset is an invalid one since it’s gays doing the complaining.  And does the gay community care about the church’s defensiveness?  Why should they?  Why would the oppressed care why the oppressor oppresses?  It has to be wrong, so why bother listening?  Why have a conversation?

We’re nearing a full on war, where buglers on both sides are signalling out an attack and the language and rhetoric has grown so expansive even the innocent are caught in the crossfire, with the end goal being battering the other side into submission with no regard for righteousness.  I find this far easier to forgive in my gay friends than I do in my fellow Christians.

But, for the sake of both sides, let me explain some things:

Christians, I don’t care what Tony Perkins said last week.  The Family Research Council has a track record going back almost thirty years in which they have routinely blocked moves to overturn legislation that bans sodomy and homosexual acts.  Tony Perkins can grandstand and say, “we don’t try to make new laws”, but actions speak louder than words.  If two hundred years ago a man spent millions lobbying to keep wife beating legal, could he really turn around and say “I’m not trying to make new laws to beat my wife” and have anyone defend him as someone who doesn’t want to impugn women’s rights?  The Family Research Council does think that homosexual “behaviors” should be illegal.  Period.  This is not something that can be argued, it is true, and their own website makes that very clear.  They believe being gay is dangerous, and threatening to society, and they say so.  Routinely.  They fought against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  They lobbied to change a resolution that would challenge a Ugandan law that made the death penalty for homosexuality legal.  They state that it was a matter of semantics and they don’t support killing gays, but guess what?  They held up a resolution that condemned killing gays.  What matters is how that looks to gay people, and it certainly doesn’t look good.

Now, my dear gay friends, I love you.  But you need to understand some things.  All of the hateful, painful, offensive things that Tony Perkins and the FRC say?  They believe them.  I know that this is not comfortable for you to hear, but you need to hear it.  They do believe that being gay is dangerous.  They believe that it weakens society.  They sincerely believe that gay people are more likely to be diseased, mentally ill, and harm children.  They believe that homosexuals have a dangerous agenda.  It may seem completely incredible to you to accept that people may think those things.  It may seem even more incredible to believe, for even a second, that someone could think those things and be a genuinely good person.  Here is the thing:  They don’t hate you.  They are worried about you, and they are worried for your sake.  They don’t want you to be gay because they think it’s bad for you, and they think that if they curb your rights you might give up and go straight, and they think that the loving thing to do is protect you from your fleshly desires.  They are, to put it simply, trying to save your soul.  They just aren’t going about it the way that Christ would.

I know, because I’ve been there.  This is the mindset I grew up with.  I know that when I believed those horrid things, I was becoming the person that I am now.  I believe that other people could make the same journey.

So for the love of God and all that is holy, try to understand the other side.  Try to listen to what they are saying and argue rationally.  Stop pointing fingers and throwing stones and trying to gag each other, it helps no one.  Hatred begets violence.  Oppression begets violence.  Hard hearts unwilling to listen to the other side breed violence faster than bunnies on speed.  It needs to stop, and the only solution is to love the other side to little itty bitty bits and try to rebuild this whole mess in a better image.

I think we can do it.  I think we have to.

A Call to Arms.

The church has been usurped to be used for political means.  This CAN NOT stand.

If you think that Chick-Fil-A day was just about Free Speech, you have been misled.  We cannot trust those who pose as authorities in our faith, the faith has been compromised.  Mike Huckabee stated that Chick-Fil-A day was about “basic fairness” and that people needed to “stop being afraid someone might have a different view than them.”  Huckabee, and others speaking similarly to him, posed the whole debate as if it was just about free speech.  The dialogue portrayed liberals as intolerant people who want to quash the conservative voice because they didn’t want anyone disagreeing with them.  The issue was made primarily about Cathy’s affirmative statement towards “traditional” marriage.

Many liberals, sadly, played into that hand just enough to make Cathy’s supporter’s argument for them, which is tragic.

The issue was never about Cathy’s personal views.  The issue, for the gay community, was always about where he spent the WinShape foundation’s cash, the WinShape foundation being funded by Chick-Fil-A’s money.

That issue is inarguable, and central to the topic of Christianity being co-opted for political means.

Now, picture this:  hundreds of thousands of people in the liberal vote are steaming mad because they find out that a little portion of every dollar spend at Chick-Fil-A goes to fund groups that say things like “gay people are more likely to molest your children” and have actively worked to keep sodomy laws on the books.  It may only be a minuscule portion of each dollar, an nth of a penny, but that isn’t what matters.  What matters is that in a free society there are still people who want to keep consenting sex between two adults of the same gender illegal, and that Cathy has either knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the continuation of such work.  What matters is that there are people who believe that gay people are more likely to molest your children, have mental illness, and commit other kinds of crimes.  That people use faulty studies from over forty years ago done in prisons to back up wildly misleading statistics, and they actively work to educate people in a way that is at it’s best deeply flawed but at it’s worst purposefully misleading.  That the church turns a blind eye to such actions being taken out in it’s name is appalling.  There is no other word.  It is flawed silence such as that which contributes to the openly defended bigotry so many gay people are injured by, and it is that bigotry that builds the foundation of fear, contempt, and self-hatred that leads such a disproportionate amount of gay teens to commit suicide.

Gay people have every right to be angry that people are blindly funneling money into making sex with their partners and spouses illegal and to prevent more states from allowing gay marriage.  But if that was the only issue, I think that there would be a lot less vitriol in this argument.  There should be no one, Christian or non-Christian, gay affirming or same-sex-marriage-not-wanting, who would agree that it is good to continue to spread literature which claims that science proves that being gay is a grave disorder which threatens society, posing gay people as frightening bugaboos who will tear your community to the ground, literature which the Family Research Council relies on to scare people into funding it.

This sort of literature is antithetical to the call to love your neighbors.

It is judgmental at it’s core, breeds only condemnation, and leaves no room for redemption to be birthed.

It does fall within the province of free speech.  The Family Research council has a right to produce it, and Cathy has a right to fund it if he chooses to.

But do Christians have an obligation to defend it?

Is it, as Huckabee claimed, an issue of basic fairness?  Is the gay community’s opposition to such literature being funded an issue of not tolerating anyone having a different point of view than them?

When thousands of people lined up around street corners and bought so many waffle fries some stores had to close early, what the gay community saw was not a redeeming love.  They didn’t even see Christians lining up to show support for their brethren’s right to free speech.  What they saw was an attack.  They said, “we don’t want money going to make more hate speech preached under the guise of science and Christian education”, and they saw thousands of people line up to say, “we’re going to throw as much money at that as we can.”

What I saw, from my lonely corner of the world, was thousands of people being manipulated into creating a political schema for the upcoming election.  What I saw was a framework for the Republican candidate being able to call liberals whiny and intolerant and unwilling to let capitalism work for the other side.

What I saw was the church falling on it’s own sword.

How many people do you think took the time to actually talk to someone on the other side of the problem?  How many parroted what the powers that be told them and believed it whole cloth with the naivete of a child.  As if there was no one who could possibly want to take advantage of their belief that Christians ought to trust one another.  We were told that we needed to defend Cathy’s right to tell the truth.

The truth is it’s own defense.

If Cathy told “the truth” and was boycotted as a result, he’d be storing up treasures in jars of clay regardless.  It was not our job to defend him.  God is his defender, the lifter of his head, his strong tower.  Cathy didn’t need thousands of people ordering chicken sandwiches.

Gay people did need to know that God loves them, and doesn’t want them to be caused pain.

Truth was not defended.

Truth was ignored.

The call to arms should not have been to spend money at a capitalist establishment to defend a right that had never been infringed on.

The call to arms must be to reach out to the other side in love.

Act out the Gospel, not a Battle.

“I have come into the world as a light,  so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”  (John 12: 46-47)

I once heard someone say that anyone who lives in the United States and does not follow Christ’s teaching has chosen a life of sin over God’s love with no excuse, because no one who lives in this fair country could possibly have missed hearing the Gospel.  I wonder at that kind of attitude.  For one, the Bible is clear that it is nobody’s business judging those outside of the church, they are subject only to the laws of man and should not be judged by God’s law.  Second, the simple fact that they live in this country does not mean they ever experienced God’s extravagant love at the hands of one of His children.  The “gospel” that they’ve been exposed to is likely the sort of contemptful attitude that birthed the judgment now being heaped over them.  No thank you, ma’am!  If that were my primary knowledge of God I’d be an atheist, too.  Third, do you think that God has ever stopped loving them and desiring to express His love to them?  Do you think that God Himself has judged them as unworthy?  Do you think God takes their rejection of the consumerist, judgmental, and self-involved face of American Christianity personally?  Honestly, most of the time when I speak with people who have rejected the American church I hear their words not as an offense against God but as a pretty righteous condemnation of all of the behaviors which the Bible itself warns against.  Should we have church leaders with private jets while there aren’t enough shelters to take in the homeless?  Should we be picketing gay rights?  Should we be judgmental of single mothers, of the poor?  Should we be glossing over the pain that humanity experiences with hyperbolic praise songs?  Should the music we put out in God’s name be so homogenized, bland, and stripped of multi-cultural influences?  Should we be so uninterested in protecting our planet, which we claim God gave to us as a good gift?  And on, and on.

As Christians, we should hear the argument against the church not as an attack by enemy combatants who need to be neutralized immediately by any means necessary, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Too often we label anyone who reacts with skepticism as an “enemy of the faith”, sometimes going as far as to name them as an agent of Satan.  Who benefits from this?  The Bible does not command us to destroy our enemies with words, but instead:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

Even if you do believe that anyone who speaks against your beliefs is an agent of the devil, the Bible still doesn’t justify the kind of hateful rhetoric that colors Christian debates.  (Especially debates with non-Christians.)  We are commanded to gentleness and love, and prayerful consideration.  Always.  We are to lead people to a place where God grants them repentance, not to hammer it into their faces with the Bible.

I am frankly appalled at the tone of some of the discussions going on in the church.  Gay people, poor people, and people of different ethnicities are metaphorically strung up as if they were terrorists who need to be tortured into submission before a metaphorical bomb explodes and destroys our society.  What is the defense for this?  Are they not also Gods children?  Are they not also people who are capable of recieving God’s conviction?  Are they not also desired and loved?  This is the Gospel, not warfare.

It is to be spread through love, not with fists.

 

Gleanings for the poor.

The ancient Israelites had a welfare system which God himself implemented:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.   Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.   I am the Lord your God.”  (Leviticus 23:21)

In Leviticus 25 God also commands a year of Jubilee, where people are to return to their clans of origin, debts are forgiven and the imprisoned are to be set free.  One has to wonder why God made those commands.  What was His plan, His intention?

Let that simmer for a minute while we talk about something else.  In contemporary American churches there is a line of reasoning that goes like this:  some poor people are hard pressed and definitely deserving of charity, but other poor people choose to be poor and depend on the government, they “game” the system so that they are able to live quite comfortably without having to make much effort, and they ought to be cut off.  The idea is that there are some poor out there who would change their circumstances with the right support, and we need to cut off the undeserving poor so that we can help the poor who are able to be helped.  Oh, isn’t that thought tempting?  It has an allure, a taste which is so sweet when it leaves one’s lips.  But don’t fall for it- God himself made no division between the poor whom did or didn’t deserve to be helped.  In fact, God said something which seems to contradict that idea:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.   (Deuteronomy 15:11)

God doesn’t say, “be openhanded with the poor because in that way they will become middle class and productive to our society, but don’t bother with those who don’t show potential.”  God says, “there are always going to be poor”, and then commands the Israelites to be generous.  That makes me wonder if the generosity is not ever supposed to be about eliminating poverty, but about something else.  Perhaps the reason the generosity is commanded is not just for the benefit of the reciever, but for the benefit of the giver as well.  There are practical reasons to reduce the burdens of poverty:  reduction in crime, better standard of living for everyone, raising the bottom for the betterment of all society.  But, there’s something else there too:

 Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.  (Proverbs 28:27)

Maybe the reason generosity to the poor is commanded is not just about God’s love for the poor, but also about His love for the rich.  The Bible does say some very negative things about laziness, and curses for sluggards.  The poor who are poor by nature of their own choices have brought their own curses down on their heads.  They live out their punishment every day, there is no reason to bring further condemnation into the arena by judging them ourselves or withholing our aid because we feel they are undeserving. We should give freely and leave their punishment to their own hand, and their judgment to God.  You see, by giving we change ourselves.  We become more like Jesus, who died for the sins of an undeserving world.  The Bible is full of talk of the decietfulness of wealth and cautions against the love of money.  We should not love our money more than we love our fellow man.  We should be generous for the sake of generosity, but also understanding that through generosity with our money we purchase something that we could never buy through spending on ourselves.  Jesus understood this when he told the Parable of the dishonest manager, and cautioned that what is seen as shrewd in the eyes of man is detestable in God’s sight, and said:

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  (Luke 16:9)

Often, I hear people decry the government instituting a welfare program because “it’s the job of the Church.”  That brings us into another argument about the Church and State and the contradiction of claiming that the government was instuted by God but somehow cannot do the Lord’s work, but that is a distraction.  All I really want to say is that we need to decide what matters as a society.  Why can’t we pay our taxes and bless them as they go, to honor God, and not begrudge the poor of our society the gleanings of capitalism?

hurts like Heaven.

I love my job.

But there are days that I really, really hate my job.  For the most part I work with people who have had a lot of bad things happen to them.  Sometimes it’s really awful- the kind of stuff that seems more at place in a horror novel then a quiet midwestern town.  Sometimes, it’s the kind of stuff that leads to me locking myself in the bathroom for a time out.  The worst part of it isn’t the fact that I’m a visual person by nature and thus struggle with visualizing the badness and taking it home in the form of nightmares.  The worst part is that often I’m dealing with people whose lives have trained them to believe that they deserve no better, they will get no better, and the best that they can hope for themselves is to grow thick enough skins that they become numb to the pain.

There are men who learn that “real” manliness is fighting back and fighting dirtier.  Women who think that they need to trade sex for safety.  Kids who think that learning is for nerds and losers and the way to get ahead in life is to punch the other guy first.  Mothers who reject their children because responding with sympathy to a babies neediness makes them vulnerable.  Men who reject their pregnant wives for the same reason.  The world is full of people who know nothing other than cycles of poverty and pain, people who see daily happiness as just as much of a fantasy as the whole family getting along over the holidays.  The world has a seedy underbelly of pain and discontent that so many are blissfully unaware of- but for the people who live there, that is the entire world.

Pain, heartbreak, rejection and more pain.  The smart ones learn to reject before they can be rejected, to cut more quickly and more deeply, to make sure that everyone else owes them more than they owe anyone.

It’s hard to remember that there’s hope beyond all hopes, that there is a love that conquers fear, that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.  It’s hard to remember, but most of the time I manage to.  And I do my best to continue to be God’s hands and feet in this world.  I offer love, and then I experience the greatest heartbreak of all: love rejected with a wary eye.  Love mistrusted.  Love responded to with anger and fear.

And I lock myself in the bathroom again.  And sitting there, in the dark and heat (because for some odd reason our bathroom is the hottest room in the building, like a sauna, suffocatingly hot) listening to the sound of the radiator rattling like Marley’s ghost, I realize that what I am experiencing is only a fraction of the heartbreak that the Spirit feels every day when we mistrust God’s love for us, when we respond to salvation with cynism, when we judge others before they can judge us.

The answer is simple:  love more strongly.  Believe with more conviction.  Offer more grace.  Create an overflow of mercy and affection so strong that it washes away even the most stubborn of barriers.  Live every second of your life in the hope of salvation.  Pick up the shield of faith, wear the belt of truth, set your feet in the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.

We already have earned our reward if we only love those who want to be loved.

We have to love the way God loves.

And God just… loves.  Everyone.  Constantly.

I would say it hurts like Hell, but that’s a misnomer.  It hurts like Heaven, but that’s the kind of hurt that’s worth carrying with you.

It could change the world.

In Which Lindsey Rants about the “Free Gift” of Salvation.

So, we’ve all heard it said that “Salvation is a free gift.”

I hate that phrase.  It’s dishonest at best and a flat out lie at the worst.  I know what people are saying, what they are basically saying is that all you need to do to get to heaven is say a simple prayer, it’s the easiest thing in the world, everyone should do it just in case. Ugh.  I’m a gentle person, but that makes me want to smack someone.  First; if one says “Jesus I’m so sorry forgive me of all my sins” but they don’t mean it, it’s only fire insurance, do you think Jesus is going to see that as honoring his sacrifice?  If we bully and nag and break people into saying a simple prayer just in case do you really think that is honoring God or that God will honor us in turn?

Oh, but someone might say, it’s still a free gift, even if it’s not meant that way.  If we wish to follow Jesus, he asks for nothing more.  Oh, really?  Really?  Please, explain to me in the Bible where someone told Jesus “I want to follow you”, and Jesus responded, “I ask nothing of you but your desire to follow me.”

I call bullshit.

The statement that Jesus asks nothing more than that we follow him is semantically sound.  Yes, all Jesus wants is our obedience in following him, but that obedience to actually follow him leads to all sorts of things like us having to treat our family like they are dead (Matthew 8), selling all of our possessions to give to the poor (Matthew 10), denying our own selves (Mark 8).  Not only does this call to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake come in those three places, but it is reiterated throughout every single gospel.  There is a cost.  The disciples did not walk beside Jesus down roads lined with flowers and people cheering (okay, they did that once, but Jesus was crucified shortly thereafter so I’d still argue that it’s not entirely a pleasant affair), it was a long hard slog through many trying, sometimes treacherous, and sometimes terrifying affairs.  In Jesus’ scant two years of ministry he still somehow managed to change the world.  Not because of hearts and roses and come on everybody let’s love one another- there was that, one cannot deny that- but there was also work.

There was sacrifice.

There were tears shed, long and hard prayers, countless miles logged and nights that dwindled into morning.

There was blood shed.

Ask the disciples, that last night in the garden, if they felt that their salvation was something free.  As Peter, as the rooster crowed, if he counted any cost.  Ask Paul, as he lay suffering blind, if he felt that Jesus’ call was a joyous thing.

It’s not free.

It’s worth the price, but it is not free.

I hear the words “Salvation’s Free Gift” with the same jaded ear that hears a salesperson in the mall asking if I want a free bottle of perfume.  Sure, it’s free, after I finish paying out all the contingencies.  Now, at this point I’m sure someone is thinking about the fact that we pray the Sinner’s Prayer and are guaranteed entrance into Heaven and all those nasty bits are about the reality of pursuing a holy life here on earth.  I could argue the theology that backs that realm of thought, but instead I’ll ask a practical question:

What use is it to be saved, if one does not actually desire to live out that salvation?  What use is my own salvation, if I have no desire to live in God’s light and offer up love for my fellow man?

If the only reason I gave my life to Christ was for my own selfishness, I don’t want him to let me into heaven.

And any Christian that would trap someone in selfishness in order to get them to follow God is as foul as the salesperson who claims that the bottle of perfume is free.  That’s no way to run a Kingdom, especially in the name of God.

/end rant