Safety Is Not Guaranteed

Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Refugees.”

Ben Carson proudly backs a “majority of US Governors” who want to block Syrian refugees from coming into this country.  Paul Ryan calls for “a pause” in the refugee process, which typically takes two years, to reassure political leaders that refugees are adequately vetted.  (They are screened seven times, by several agencies, more than any other kind of immigrant.)  People across the United States are calling for the refugees to be kept out.  Government officials propose alternative solutions like, say, forcing all the refugees back into Syria and simply putting them in camps there and guarding them.

I understand that this is a complex issue and answers don’t come easily, but when I see my Christian brothers and sisters calling for the refugees to be sent back to Syria, or to be housed in “nearby countries where people are like them,” what I see isn’t a rational discussion about the issue, but a reaction based off of fear and xenophobia.  I have seen Christians using the Bible to defend both sides of the argument, arguing alternately that the Old Testament is stringent in it’s command to care for foreigners in our land and that we are called to provide for our own.

People say things like “why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?”

People say, “why should we WELCOME TERRORISTS?”

People say, “we have a responsibility to protect our families!”

Bible verses fly like chaff on the wind, the casing of an argument that is built around a very different kind of seed.

So come now, my friends, let’s try this again.

Why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?  Once upon a time, I was a supervisor in a homeless shelter.  And while my salary was paid by the kindness of our donors, and we received adequate support, I was always a little shocked by how many people didn’t help.  The amount of people who actively supported and donated, especially the amount of people who gave with any regularity, was a small percentage of the booming Christian population surrounding us.  The truth is that while homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, the people actively working to help homeless people are almost constantly having to beg for support, redirecting funds and personnel that could be helping the homeless to raise more funds.  If we really cared about the homeless, shelters wouldn’t have to be constantly begging for cash and calling their donors to ask for more food and socks and diapers.  It is both disheartening and outrageous to see homelessness used as an excuse to NOT help refugees, when the government funding for the programs that help the homeless is constantly under threat of being removed.  The Republican Presidential Nominees using “we need to help our people here” as a talking point for refusing the refugees have also said that they would cut funding to HUD, which sponsors shelters, and have said they would get rid of “tax loopholes” like the Community Development Block grant, which is part of what kept my own shelter in the black.

Point one:  You don’t get to use the homeless as a shield for your opinion if you actively support defunding the programs that currently keep them off the street.  Entire Republican field- I am talking to you.

Why should we welcome refugees if some might be terrorists?  Well, for one, while people are quick to talk about rising crime rates in European countries accepting refugees, the evidence is that the crime rate has risen in proportion to populations, showing that refugees commit the same amount of, or fewer, crimes comparative to their native counterparts.  While one bomber in Paris was found with a fake Syrian passport, his presence in France was due entirely to the amount of refugees arriving on boats in Greece and the European Union’s open border policies and lax refugee laws.  The refugees awaiting placement in the US are not the same ones washing onto the shores in Greece.  They are living in UN refugee camps and applied for placement years ago.  They are going through an intense screening process and would only be placed in the States if they are deemed to be a good fit: they have family here already, are connected with community groups here already, or have skills that would make them beneficial to the US economy.  The refugees that the UN would refer for placement in the US would already have protective barriers that are known to decrease the likelihood of terrorism, since terrorists are generally people who are disconnected from communities due to extreme hardship.  The presence of a fake passport on a terrorist in Paris tells us that the terrorists want us to fear refugees and send them back to Syria.  Do we want to be so easily manipulated?

Point Two:  If you fear refugees, you do what the terrorists want.  The first step to overcoming terrorism is to not fear what terrorists ask you to.

But we still have a responsibility to protect our families!  Except we have to ask ourselves what we need to protect them FROM.  One thing we want to protect them from is living in a future where the actions we take today could haunt them.  One way we could haunt our children is by making our country responsible for millions of deaths because refugee camps were overrun, people hand nowhere to go, so they were trying to cross the seas en masse on rubber rafts.  The fact that the US was unwilling to take in Jewish immigrants prior to WW2 remains as a stain on our collective conscience.  How many people could we have saved if we’d been compassionate?  But people had, then, the same fears they have today:  what if the refugees steal our jobs, rape our women, cause crimes, are actually spies?  While the problems today are slightly different and there is legitimate reason to suspect that terrorist organizations would take advantage of refugee programs, that is why the government of the United States already has refugees pass seven screenings through various organizations before approving them for placement, in a process that takes several years.  Ten thousand unscreened refugees aren’t going to show up and wage war tomorrow.  It isn’t going to happen.  While one or two psychopaths could possibly leak through, it would be in a percentage proportionate to the population at large.  And while one or two psychopaths can cause a lot of damage, we face mass shootings from our own citizens with some regularity.  By taking in refugees, we help the UN to provide stability throughout the Middle East by taking some of the pressure off of their refugee camps.  This helps to keep everyone safe and sap the power from the terrorists, who benefit from Syrian families suffering.  Besides which, if you feel justified in “keeping your family safe” at the expense of the suffering of innocent people, that is truly shudder-worthy.

Refugee camps catch on fire.

Refugee camps are susceptible to fatal disease outbreaks.

Female refugees, especially young women, are often the victims of unreported crime.

Refugees have inconsistent access to medical care, to education, and to basic niceties of life.  The war in Syria could rage for decades; in the meantime, are we meant to believe that we make the world safer by leaving these people to burn to death, to die of viral meningitis, to be raped and beaten?

Will their children learn to love us and our freedoms if we leave them to suffer?

Point three:  You cannot make the world safer by perpetuating the conditions that breed terrorism.  If you want the Muslim world to love us and our freedoms, bring them here.  Show them our freedoms.  Love them.  Let them learn to love us.

Besides which, the Bible doesn’t guarantee us safety.  If anything, it does the opposite.  The Bible is full of references to persecution, stating that as Christ suffered so we will also suffer as his disciples.  Let’s not forget the fact that we follow someone who lovingly offered his body to the scourge so that his blood would be shed to save us.  And we can’t even offer up our local community center to a refugee family so their children can play?

1 Corinthians 14:10-  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This is an opportunity for us, in our weakness and fear, to be made strong.  This is an opportunity to put our faith in God, to put our fate in God’s hands, and to trust that His will be done.  This is a time to pray for the wisdom of our leaders that they make the right call when placing refugees.  This is a time for us to sacrifice our pride as the servants of mankind and to pour out blessings on the refugees, trusting that as we do so in obedience to Christ that our faith and humility will open their hearts to God’s love.

This is a time to act like Christ.

Let us not forget that Jesus washed Judas’ feet the night before he died.  That he ate with Judas, that he called him friend.

Let’s not forget that anything God calls for us to sacrifice, even our lives, is never too much.  That we have faith in him that he uses every harm for good, every wound to show his grace and mercy.  When we open our mouths to say that we must ignore the needs of the innocent because it is “too risky” to help, that we must leave orphans and widows in squalor because we must protect ourselves, what we say out of the other side of our mouth is that we no longer believe that serving other people in obedience to God offers us any sort of reward.  We want to reward ourselves with our own safety.

Is that what faith does?

Let us not forget that as the Bible teaches us, everything we have is God’s in the first place.

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

All we have we possess as His stewards.  If we truly believe that, that this is His country and not ours, we need to ask ourselves not what we want but what He requires.

Does God want his children in the Muslim world to suffer in camps, living exposed to the elements in tents, subject to fire and disease, famine and cruelty, indefinitely while a war wages in their hometowns?  Does he want us to turn a blind eye to their plight out of fear that one or two radicals may slip through the cracks?  Does God value OUR safety more than THEIRS?

photo via the associated press

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the gifts of the anti-magi

This post has been a long time coming.  This time of the year is always difficult for me, as I feel torn between holiday cheer and resentful drear, obligation and celebration, hope and despair.

I am so very sick of the war on Christmas.

“Oh, good,” some of my Christian friends may be saying at this point, “me too!  Why can’t people just put Christ back into Christmas?”

No, dear friends and readers, that’s not what I mean.  I’m sick of the phrase “put the Christ back in Christmas” and all of the entitlement it entails.  I wish it would all just stop.  Now, I understand that may not sound terribly Christian of me, but hold on.  You may say that your anger and demands are for the sake of Christ, and I wouldn’t want to disparage your motives.  I’m not in your head and I don’t know what you’re thinking.  Yet there’s a painful sticking point in that concession, and it’s one that bears hearing out.  Saying “put the Christ back in Christmas” pretends, even for the space of that second, that Christ is something that can be moved and removed by man.  It implies that Christ’s presence in the holidays for us, as individuals, is somehow dictated by the actions of society.  I don’t like to believe that my experience of Christ this time of year is somehow beholden to the displays in Macy’s windows.  After all, the force of love I am enthralled by is greater than any one man, any one store, any one society.  How weak would I have to be if my sacred observances were somehow shattered by a greeting card?

“Now, it’s bigger than that”, someone inevitably says.  “The fact that people are no longer observing Christmas as a Christian holiday shows how secular society has become, and this is supposed to be a Christian society.”

Hold. On.  Please.

For one thing, the Christmas smashed all over billboards is hardly Christian.  The Christmas touted in the commercials telling our adorable little tots that this monster truck or that Barbie doll will somehow complete them are anything BUT Christian.  The promise of the holiday that society has started to hold on to is almost in direct contradiction to the Gospel.  The “spirit of Christmas”, as it is sold, is that the holiday itself has some ability to heal.  We’re told, in less than guarded symbolism, that if we buy the right things, eat the right food, invite the right guests, and have the right attitude that we will somehow achieve a transcendent state.  The holiday has become a spiritual act of reaching for sacred healing, but that sacred healing is not tied to God, Christ, or the ideals of Christianity.  It is a secular sacredness, and as such treating the holiday as holy is tantamount to idol worship.

After all, it is jolly ol’ Santa Claus receiving the sacramental cookies and milk, not God.

Christmas, the holy mass of Christ, was once not even Christmas at all.  You’ve got the Germanic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia blended in with Christianity, as the Roman empire expanded and brought in new territories and started to expand the practice of tolerance towards other religions.  In order to lower the amount of infighting between sects and oppression as people traveled from district to district, the Roman calendar morphed to overlap the holidays so that people’s observances were not as conspicuous.  It is ironic, then, that a holiday once tweaked to help avoid oppression and foster inclusiveness has become such a battleground.

Honestly, I don’t think Christmas is the real problem.  I think that Christianity has become the real problem.  In the United States, Christians have a huge entitlement complex that has become an idol above God.  We say that this is a Christian society and anyone that acts against that is out of line, ignoring the fact that we are all equal citizens under the law and Christians are not owed privilege or protection to any greater degree than their neighbors.  We act affronted when anything we deem as untoward is allowed to continue, no matter how innocuous it is.  We bicker and argue and fight constantly, sending our representatives to the evening news and gleefully hacking to bits anyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here, in this season of the Magi, when we celebrate the sacred gifts laid at the feet of Christ, I feel that Christians in America have started praising three other gifts, the gifts of the anti-Magi, laid at the feet of our own ego.  We have swallowed these gifts whole and they threaten to destroy us.  They are entitlement, disdain, and division.  Gifts like that are born of evil and exercised at great personal cost.  But open your eyes, brothers and sisters, and see how we worship them!  Hear the entitlement in the voice of the person telling the Jewish shop owner to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” when they hand up a Happy Holidays banner.  Hear the disdain in the voice of the mother who, when hearing that a classmate of her child’s wouldn’t come to the Winter Program because they don’t celebrate holidays, says, “Well, isn’t that just what’s wrong with this country?” Look at the division when someone goes on Facebook to beg for tolerance and they are told that they are why Christianity is failing in this country.

I have so many friends who say they can’t stand to go to church, that every time they hear someone is a Christian they instantly feel uncomfortable around them, that they believe in Christ but not the church.

I feel like my soul is just shredded, absolutely shredded, by the holiday season.

la pieta

Christianity is not owed anything by society.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Because you are Christian, everyone ought to respect you, respect everything you say, and never cause negative consequences for any of your actions.”  In fact, it says quite the opposite.  It tells us not to be surprised when we’re hated and persecuted.  So why are we so surprised?  Because we have idolized our own society.  We idolize the constitution, idolize free speech, idolize the symbolism of our holidays.  We worship those things as sacred and then react like vipers when they are threatened.  Because we blindly believe they should be perfect, we accept nothing less: even when, or perhaps especially when, the evidence all around us says otherwise.

We bear a tragic consequence for that behavior, but society bears one even worse as people turn from love to disdain and hatred.

So in this time of year, as we dream of the Magi traveling by the light of a sacred star, carrying gifts of adoration and penance to a pure and holy infant king, let’s think about the gifts that we ourselves need to offer.  Not the perfect consumerist presents wrapped in expensive wrapping paper and laid down at the altar of a tree whose symbolism we’ve forgotten, but the gifts we offer each other.

Let’s stop being the anti-Magi.

Photo from Daniela Munoz-Santos

Book Review: Zealot, by Reza Aslan

(I received a promotional copy from Netgalley)
link to the book on Amazon

Have you ever really wondered what Jesus was like?

Growing up, I can remember seeing one too many pictures of Jesus as a blondish haired Caucasian man snuggling with a lamb, and thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  I read through the gospels very slowly, really trying to understand Jesus’s tone.  Not his words, so much, as his tone.  What did he sound like?  What did he look like?  What did he act like?  Who was he, not in the sense of was he the son of God or not, but who was he as a person?  I can remember the first time I told my dad, rather proudly, that a lot of the time I thought Jesus was being ironic.

“What?” Dad replies.

“I think he was teasing the disciples.  Being ironic.”  I felt proud of myself.

Dad laughed and said, “so you think the Messiah had time to joke around?”

Seriously.  How could you walk around for three years being the freaking Messiah and NOT take time to joke around?

All of that to say, I appreciate Reza Aslan’s deliberative attempt to paint a picture of Jesus not just as the Messiah, not just as a person in a historical context (but brace yourself for five exhaustive chapters of that) but as a man, who had a family and friends and kids that he ran around snot-nosed on the street with, and had a tone of voice and a sense of self that went beyond “I’M GOD, YO.”

This book is as intimate a portrayal of a somewhat secretive man that died thousands of years ago as could be done, I would imagine.  The author pored over texts and other historical documents.  He puts Jesus in a setting that is well-fleshed out, and answers a lot of really nagging questions about the use of language and theater that Jesus must have had reasons for.  Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man?  What in the world was up with riding the donkey, waving the palm fronds, or turning over the tables of the money lenders?  What would life have been like for a carpenter living in Galilee?  Where would Jesus have worked?  Whose circles would he have run in?

While some aspects of Aslan’s work will probably raise eyebrows (for instance, how in the picture was Joseph as Jesus’ father?  Was the virgin birth a literal story or a fictitious cover for the fact that Jesus was really just Mary’s son?) there is a lot of real gold to be found in the midst of the rubble of broken assumptions.  My favorite theme was how much the tensions between the Priesthood, the Romans, and the Messiah really all boiled down to money.  Did Jesus threaten the temple’s ability to fleece the illiterate farm workers?  Was that why they hated him so much?

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  It’s in depth enough to be really illuminating but short enough to not eat months of your life (you are on notice, NT Wright).  While Aslan does challenge a lot of assumptions his tone never becomes patronizing or flip.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves curious about the nature of Christ as a person.

I give this book 5 Jesus-Cuddling-Lamb bookmarks.

Highly recommended.

Fear our Love.

Christians are not the parents of this world.  I say that because at times we act as if we are.  We want to dole out punishment and appropriate discipline to all those whom we see as disobeying.  “Hey. single mom, your current struggles are the natural consequence of your actions!  If you’d followed God’s plan your life wouldn’t be so hard!”  Or, “hey, gay person, you’ve got to get straight to get to God or you’ll burn in hell, m’kay?”  Or, “Hey, society, just going to change a few laws over here to keep your Judeo-Christian values right or God is gonna judge us all, don’t want that happening!”

Missing the point, missing the point, missing the point.

We aren’t society’s parents.  There’s a difference between being God’s ministering hands and feet to express the Gospel to this world and being God’s spank paddle.  One, we are called to be.  The other?  We aren’t.  See, the thing is, all of humanity is called to be God’s sons and daughters.  We’re all siblings.  When I tell my son if he throws his toys his toys are going in my closet and he’s getting a time out, his sister is right there to let me know that her brother is stressed and angry and he can’t help it and he needs a hug and if I give him a time out I’m Mean Mommy.  When I tell her that if she doesn’t respond to me because she’s watching a video I’m going to turn off the TV, her brother is right there to defend her.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  And when I dole out the discipline and go into the other room, guess who is sneaking in to hug and kiss and talk their sibling through it?  That’s the way of things.  I, as my gay Christian friends sister in Christ, see my first and foremost job as being their advocate, not being their jury.  I also don’t need to be their voice of conviction because that is why Christ sent us the Holy Spirit.  What they do need is me as their sister, the one who will stay up late to whisper to them.  The one who will argue for them in the face of judgment.  The one who will conspire with them to wreak havoc when necessary.  Their partner in humanity.

Sometimes, when I read Christian magazines and articles online, I start to picture the Bride of Christ as a nagging wife, saying “didn’t I tell you last week if you didn’t stop that you’d burn in Hell?  How many times must I remind you?”  It saddens me deeply.  Our example is supposed to be Christ, the one who came to Earth to advocate for our healing.  The one who gave us freedom from beneath the law.  The one who acted as the supreme advocate, standing between us and our judgment at the expense of his body, his dignity, and his life.  Yet in his name we enforce the law at the expense of faith, bullying, belittling, and threatening our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters, until they turn from the Church with a resigned sigh, throw up their hands, and disavow God.

And why shouldn’t they?  When I punish my children unfairly, without any sympathy, grace or mercy, because I myself am scared and frustrated, they turn from me.  Our words must be selfless.  They must be motivated by love.  They must be tempered with knowledge of God’s grace and mercy and kindness.  They must be modeled after Christ.  They must never be motivated by our own fears.  Let’s be honest with ourselves- a lot of the condemnation the church heaps out is fear-centered.  No gay marriage?  We’re afraid of the consequences to society.  Discipline the single mother?  We’re afraid of the reputation that embracing her would give our church, and afraid she’s going to keep sleeping around, and afraid that she’s going to expect us to help her out and take her responsibilities on ourselves.  Rebuke the tattooed punk?  Let’s be honest, we don’t understand him.  We find his attitude offensive.  We’re afraid of what he’ll act like if he sticks around.  And that gay sixteen year old boy?  If we don’t rebuke him, he might be gay forever.  And we’re terrified of what that might mean.

It’s not God, it’s fear.  And when we reprimand our fellow man in God’s name, claiming that it is love, all we ultimately do is teach them to fear and reject God.  Are we supposed to hold each other accountable in love?  Absolutely.  Just like how my son will whisper to his sister that Mommy said something and she’d better say “yes mom”.  Just like my daughter will tell my son, “If mom sees you doing that she will be SO MAD.”  But that is something done out of charity, something done out of love, something done out of sympathy and a common goal.  It’s done to improve a life, not to condemn actions.  When we intercede with each other we have to do it out of God’s spirit and heart, and with knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

When I see the multitude of people who love God but are ashamed of Christianity, all I can think is that if we truly were doing things God’s way the result of our actions wouldn’t be fruits of bitterness, doubt, and loss of faith.

Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong.

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.

Let me tell you what Hell is.

The text read:  “Im going to burn in hell ne way.”

*beep beep*

“Life is pain.  Why live?  Pain forever, then hell.  I want it over with.”

I got his address off of Facebook, we’d become friends only days before when he’d been given a copy of my novel.  I wasn’t sure what had inspired him to reach out to me.  All I knew was that I’d stayed home from church that day because I was sick, and here he was.  Reaching out.  Not wanting to die alone.

“Don’t be an idiot”, I texted him back.  “There is love.  There is hope.   If you go to hell I’m going with you.”

Painful seconds passed.

“I’m almost to your house,” I wrote.  “Calling you.”

I will never, ever, forget the pain in his voice when he answered his phone.  When we’d met a few days before, he had been the kindest, gentlest, most soft spoken person I’d ever known.  He had been so quick to laugh, and although he obviously was living with a great deal of pain his spirit shone through.  The voice I heard through the phone was almost robotic in it’s monotone and so desperately lacking in spirit.  “Just stay alive another minute,” I told him.  “I’m turning, where are you?”

He came out on the front porch and agreed to go with me.  I took him to a mental health clinic that was fortunately only a few blocks away.  Even so, it was one of the longest car rides of my life.

“God doesn’t hate you,” I said.  “God loves you.”

“You know what they say?”  He replied, “I would’ve never been gay unless God totally rejected me.”

“For F—‘s sake, you said you’ve known you were gay since you were six!  What did a six year old do to get wholly rejected by God?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”  He wiped away tears but it was like wiping at the Columbia, it just kept rushing out.  “I mean, I can’t not be gay and no one cares, I mean, they don’t care no matter what.  It’s like, ‘well sure you’re depressed, it’s what comes from sin.’ And like, ‘the wages of sin is death’ so like if I kill myself, that’s justice.  That’s justice.”

“And here I took you for someone pretty smart,” I responded.  “You know homosexual acts are listed right with gossip and idle talk and drunkenness.  If your suicide is justice half that freaking church needs to put a blade to their wrist.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I’m kind of pissed that you almost died on my watch.  I could say more.”

He just stared at me.

“God is love, right?  You remember my favorite passage.  It’s all over the book.  The people that won’t help you because you are gay can’t be speaking for God because it’s not loving to turn away from someone’s pain.  Whatever they said it doesn’t matter.”

“You didn’t hear them, Ell.  All of the verses, and it’s like, ‘hey, it’s in the Bible.  We’re just being obedient.'”

“Shut the eff up, man, or I’ll pull over and slap you.”

“Ell!”

“I don’t want to hear that crap in my car even if you are quoting someone else.  Forget it.”

“I don’t understand, I mean, I thought you were a Christian.”

“Of course I’m a Christian, that’s why I can recognize bull when I hear it.  The fruit of the spirit is goodness and patience and love and whatever the other ones are.”

“Ha!”

“I’m a little distracted by how pissed I am and can’t do the brain thing, forgive me.”

“What were you saying?”

“Love.  That’s the fruit of the spirit.  If the fruit of their obedience is your death, it’s not my God they are obeying.”

“Oh,” he said.

“And honestly I’m feeling more Christlike right now than I have in years.”

* * *

A few weeks later we would be emailing back and forth, and I would say this.  “What you said about Hell.  I can show you hell.  It’s a kid going to a church because he’s on the brink and he needs someone to love him, and they show him the door.  I don’t know where Jesus is right now, but he is weeping.  And he still loves you.  Don’t give up.”

Here’s the thing:  I don’t care what your personal conviction is about homosexuality.  What I care about is my friend, and other people like him.  Sadly, he’s not the only kid I’ve ever heard tell that story and I doubt he’ll be the last, even though I fervently pray it’s not the case.  I’ve talked enough blades off of wrists for my lifetime.

Here’s the thing:  gay people aren’t the enemy.  Homosexuality is never singled out in the Bible.  It always appears hand in hand with other sins:  hubris, for example.  Drunkenness and gluttony.  Idolatry.  Idle talk and gossip.  What infuriates me more than anything else in the whole debate about sexuality is that you see people saying “we can’t let gays get married because it goes against the Bible” but the same people aren’t trying to pass laws to outlaw idle chatter, gluttony, or even premarital sex.  How is it okay for Christian organizations to be pursuing keeping sodomy laws on the books while their employees chat about who Julie is dating on their breaks?

I’m sorry, guys, that may strike you as an extreme example but I am being completely serious.

The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the sins it lists.  Being gay is no worse than being a gossip, and both things are equally condemned in the church.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

At the end of the day, what makes a sexually immoral person such a target as opposed to all of the other sins on the list?

And then we get into discussions about the law and about how opposing gay marriage is just obedience to God.  Let me tell you something:  God never once commanded us to make laws regarding the morality of people outside the church.  In fact, He said something more like:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Their sin is none of our business.

The more Christians speak out against gay rights, the more they talk about the sin issue, the more they put out literature talking about how Gay people are sold to sin and more likely to abuse children and get drunk and have “depraved sexual relations” that “go against God”… the more I think about people like my friend, with the razor to their wrist, thinking that there is nothing to do but die.

Let me tell you what Hell is:

It’s a church so focused on sin that it’s forgotten how to love.

We have absolutely no business talking about the sexuality of those not in the church.

It goes against the Bible.

And for those inside the church, we should talk about it quietly, in confidence, not blast about it on the internet for every suicidal 19 year old gay boy to see.

Just.

Stop.

For the love of God, think about what you are doing.

SciFi Christianity

Or:  Why do humans imagine impossible things?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my love affair with the fantasy genre and how it’s going south, and I got some interesting responses from friends.  (Not in the comments on the post- other places, like in real life.)  I promised at the time that I’d try to write more about the role I think that fantasy and SciFi can play in the faith, and why I don’t think it benefits people to be too skittish about imaginary worlds.

It’s a difficult thing to write about, because like most of the topics I seem to dip my toes into people have very gut reactions, based off of tradition and personal experience, and I really hate to risk offending someone by poking them where they are already sensitive.  Yet, I find that my ongoing relationship with those genres compels me to write, especially since I’m considering reintroducing Science Fiction Saturday.   You see, what some readers of this blog might not realize is that long before I wrote here, I tried to break into the fiction genre writing SciFi and Fantasy.  It isn’t just my first love as a reader, it’s my first love as a writer.

But I’m a Christian, right?  What am I doing playing around with such darkness?

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christians being involved in anything that relates to witchcraft or “unnatural worlds”.  It might open doors, says one argument.  We’re only supposed to dwell on what is holy and beneficial, says another.  It’s wasting time, says a third.  I respect each of those arguments and where they come from, but I find that I don’t completely buy into them.  Is it true for some things in the fantasy genre?  Yes, absolutely.  It’s also true for some things that aren’t in the fantasy genre.  The book that gave me the worst nightmares of any book I’ve ever read was Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  It wasn’t a fantasy novel but boy did it “open doors”, that man touched on an evil that definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.  (Chalky!  ten internets to anyone that gets that reference.)  What makes a book a  conveyer of darkness isn’t what genre it is in, it’s the spirit and intent of the author.  Books written with the intent of enlightening and teaching valuable morals will do just that, books meant to disturb and haunt and corrupt will do just that.  The only way to know which is which is to practice good discernment and do your research about the authors.  The genre and cover art don’t tell the whole tale.

The book that made me love fantasy was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, a Christian author.

“At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”  -CS Lewis

CS Lewis used fantasy, myth and magic, not to “open doors” to darkness but to open them to light.  He created a world which made a metaphor for faith, and through that world he taught all of the values of Christianity in a way that a reader either unfamiliar with the faith or biased against it could understand and believe in the value of it.  Aslan was God and Christ, the values he taught echoed Christianity in the most beautiful of ways.  There are still points today where in frustration I will stop using the Bible to try to explain my beliefs and instead turn to a very powerful passage in The Last Battle.  Those books enriched my young learning experience immeasurably.

After the Chronicles of Narnia I turned to the geek’s ever present hero, Frodo of the Lord of the Rings, and from there on out I read as much as was on the shelves of the SciFi/Fantasy section of my library as I could manage to carry home.  I learned a lot of lessons there.  I learned that there is honor in loyalty regardless of the price.  I learned that true friendship sometimes means telling someone something that they don’t want to hear, or walking away from a friend that is destroying themselves.  I learned that people are more than the stereotypes that you hear about them, and regardless of what a situation may look like to the naked eye there is inevitably more under the surface.  I learned that the hero can be flawed and broken and make horrible mistakes and sometimes the true hero is the person you least expect to hear the call.  I learned that we are all, each of us, what we make of ourselves and there’s no prophecy or fate stronger than the choice any one person makes in the moment.

I learned something else, too.  Not from the fantasy section, but from the Bible.  I learned that there are some lessons you never hear when someone tells you outright: some things have to be covered up in a story and mulled over for their true meaning to really sink in.  The Bible is full of lessons that come in the form of stories.  Jesus himself often turned to stories so His message could be easily repeated, puzzled over, and eventually understood.  I believe our propensity for imagination is one that God gave us on purpose, one that is intensely Godly.  Think, for a moment, of how Creative our Creator really is.  Shouldn’t that creativity be reflected in our own lives?

Fantasy and SciFi can tell tales that aren’t so easily told using the auspices of our present world.  I could probably write a really compelling story about relationships between Islam and Judaism.  But I can guarantee that such a story would press a lot of hot red buttons and offend a lot of people.  I don’t think I could ever write that story well enough to have the impact I hope that it would.  And I also can guarantee that a lot of people I would want to reach wouldn’t want to read such a heavy, depressing tale.  But I bet they’d watch an episode of Star Trek TNG where the Klingons and Ferengi have to learn to work together.  They’d laugh, and have an enjoyable time, and somewhere beneath all the hoopla the message would still be the same: we are more than our differences.

And that’s why as a Christian I continue to enjoy these genres that so many people find useless.  I understand the power of fantasy to take people to a place where they are receptive to ideas the real world builds walls around.  Does that make enjoying the genre perhaps a little risky, because of those doors we don’t want opened?  Sure, but that risk is all around us every day, on the TV and in the newspaper.  It’s not the genre that creates the risk, it’s the world full of evil people doing evil.  A strong, discerning mind doesn’t have anything to fear.  If I’d listened to my gut and never read Thomas Harris, I could’ve spared myself all those nightmares.

And I’m going to keep writing fiction, and start posting it on this blog again, because I believe in the power of fiction to give us relief from the burdens we carry in this world, and to teach us lessons we would otherwise tune out.

For my friends that find fantasy distasteful, please feel welcome to not click on my Saturday Sci-Fi posts.

For those that enjoy it, please do so.