GUEST POST: Lee Goff reviews Honest Conversation

(A review of my novella Honest Conversation by Lee Goff, author of the Thunder Trilogy books)

Honest Conversation’ is a novella that wastes no time getting directly to one of the most controversial issues of our day, homosexuality in the church. The story opens with Zoe, an associate pastor in a local church, agonizing over the congregation’s reaction towards a recent addition to their church, two gay men, Kyle and Evan. Kyle is a long time believer, Evan is not. Enter John, the lead pastor for the church, bearing the burden of leading a church in the way he feels Christ would, which at the moment seems to be in opposition to the feelings of the membership.

Zoe, for her own personal reasons that are revealed in the book, champions both kyle and Evan, to the point of threatening resignation if they are not treated as she feels they should be. John, the one called to shepherd the church, tries to find the path that pleases everyone, especially the influential members that strongly oppose the gay couple.

Kay has chosen her characters nicely and writes in a style comfortable and easy flowing. She gratefully skips the ’feel what I feel’ format and leaves the reaction up to the reader. There is not a deep development of the characters, but that is typical in a novella. I confess some disappointment here, but it is a compliment rather than a criticism, as she has given us enough of John and Zoe to want more. In John, we are shown a pastor, the shepherd, as opposed to a preacher. He is more interested in the spiritual health of his flock than he is the potential loss of members, and make no mistake about it, this threat is a real one in our churches today. This is refreshing, and likely contradictory to the reality of many churches. Just my opinion, but his character could serve as an example of how a challenged pastor might handle this situation in their own church.

Zoe, on the other hand, irritated me beyond description. I give kudos to the author in being able to achieve this, since I rarely get this personally involved with characters. Zoe is non-compromising, bull-headed, and seems to ignore the pain her pastor and friend is going through during this time. It is in this view I have of the characters that might just be the most accurate mirror of our church society today. Sides are chosen; an ‘all or nothing’ attitude developed, and because of that, the ability to compromise is gone. Here is where the author makes a difference, and by doing so, sets this book apart from those with a singular agenda owned by the author, and the intent of pushing that agenda on the reader.

I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it shocked me. I expected a neatly wrapped up story with a bow designed by the author and her self-imposed agenda of accepting gays into the church without any thought to the sin that the others feel accompanies the lifestyle. The author, through the wisdom of john, the pastor, gives us what just might be the best way for a church to address this issue. It is not a compromise, it is not a victory for one side only. It is possibly just the way a man that walked 2000 years ago would have handled it.

I do not recommend this book to someone with a closed mind; unwilling to learn. I do, however, recommend it to anyone open to learning something about this issue, and willing to look at it as Christ Himself might have.

One more thing…that criticism. It’s too short. The characters and their personalities leave us wanting more of them. They are who they are due to their past, and I wanted more of that. And in the world of authors, this criticism is perhaps the best thing one could hear.

–Lee Goff

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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.

Chick-Fil-A and Christian Identity, revisited.

In light of the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and it’s role in society.  As easy as it is to get caught up in discussions of free speech and religious persecution, there’s a far more important issues that seem to be getting ignored.  It’s not about what other people are doing or saying about Christianity: it’s about who was as Christians are.

Ephesians 5 is a popular passage because it tells wives to submit to their husbands.  Yet here we find the foundation for instructions not just to spouses but to families, masters, and slaves.  It’s about Christian identity and what a Christian’s role in society is based on.  Do you know what these passages say?  They say “Live as children of light (for the fruit of light consists of goodness and righteousness and truth).” They say, “Be careful then how you live.”  They say “Always give thanks to God for everything.”  That’s all in the first few paragraphs, where it also commands Christians to “walk in the way of love”.

It’s interesting, because as much as most people know that the Bible commands wives to submit, the overall tone of the passage is passed over.  It doesn’t just say “Women, BOW DOWN!”.  It tells husbands to love their wives as God loved the church (oh, and ladies- submit some, m’kay?) and it tells slaves to honor their masters, but it reminds masters that God is the master of all.  I mean, pretty much it says, “hey, that’s actually God’s slave.  So you aren’t the boss.”  Just like it tells women, “submit to your husband as you would to God, because after all he is expected to live every day as a mission for your benefit.

You may be wondering right about now why I would be writing about any of this in a post that starts out with Chick-Fil-A.

It’s because we’ve forgotten who our identity as Christians comes from.

Our Salvation doesn’t make us the boss.  We aren’t in charge.  Our role in this world is one of sacrifice, abandon, and honor towards the real master.  Our calling isn’t to beat the world into shape, it is to honor all others above ourselves with the true understanding that God is the Lord, King, and Judge of all.  He’s the redeemer of husband and wife, of child and parent, of slave and of master.  He has commanded us to live as light in this world and He reminds us that the fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  If we live as the light, we won’t have to beat anyone else down to make righteousness prosper in our wake.  Obedience, conviction, and submission to God are the natural impulse when touched by a true and redeeming love.  If we spread that love with every day of our lives people will be drawn to God like fish to a stream.  Since God’s spirit is the only spirit that can birth conviction, redemption, and change, if we live every day in love we do not need to become distracted by the sinfulness in this world.  By loving our neighbors, we will have already done everything in our power to win their redemption.

It’s just that simple.  The fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  We produce righteousness if we walk in love.

So why does Chick-Fil-A taste like dust and ashes in the mouths of my gay friends?  Can someone please explain to me how the special sauce of condemnation is supposed to redeem them?

For the life of me, I can’t seem to understand the Christian point of view on this one.

Ephesians 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our fight is not with flesh and blood.  It isn’t with society or the evils of society.  It certainly isn’t with the gays.  It isn’t with people who boycott our establishments.  It’s with the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil- and do you know where the first battleground is?

Look in the mirror.

Yes, I call that judging.

I was recently asked “when did disagreeing with a lifestyle become being judgmental?” I think this is an important question, and one that I want to give the best possible response to. I respect the fact that Christians need to honor their convictions, and that many Christians believe that the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are sinful. I have no desire to tell people with that conviction that they are wrong. So I will ask that as this post is read that anyone with that conviction keep in mind that I will honor it, and don’t simply respond, “but it’s sin.”

Let’s look at a not-so-hypothetical situation. “Jim” has an anger problem, and everyone knows about it. Jim often goes off in rages, to the point that it embarasses his wife and children. He’ll scold his kids loudly in church and he’ll admonish his wife to the point of tears in front of others. It seems fair to make a judgment that Jim needs to deal with his anger, right? In that situation a lot of people would say it would be appropriate for the pastor of Jim’s church to call on Jim and offer him up a big heaping helping of conviction.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say that the pastor takes Jim out for lunch and tells Jim exactly how his rage issue goes against God’s plan for his life and that it needs to change. What happens then? Let’s imagine for a minute that his rage stems from something far beneath the surface. Jim is addicted to pornography and has for years been neglecting his wife and even his responsibilities to his children to feed his habit. He has a hunger that is not sated by anything and his rage stems from that need that he seeks to meet through porn- but porn isn’t enough. So he rages at the world, and as he digs himself deeper into the cycle the explosions of his hurt and need and anger become more intense.

So the pastor meets with Jim. Jim doesn’t respond in brokeness and repentance, he responds in even deeper rage. Because his rage is just an expression of something else, a far deeper chasm between he and his Savior. By judging Jim, the people in his life neglected to discover the true place of need in his life. They cut themselves off from God’s heart for Jim and made Jim’s alienation even worse. Imagine a different situation, one in which the pastor simply acknowledged that Jim needed to feel God’s love in order to be convicted. One in which the pastor pulled Jim aside and lovingly stated “things seem awful rough for you, want to talk about it?” One in which Jim’s deeper need, the need for intimacy and regard, was met. One in which Jim was made safe enough that he could open up about the true wounds that drove his rage. What could happen, in that situation? Who could Jim become?

This is the problem with saying, “gay people live in sin” or “poor people are lazy and deserve it”. You make yourself their judge, you simply do. While in essence your statement may be truthful, at least in your own eyes, you still aren’t justified in making it. There is simply no way to make such a statement without the inference of motive. If you want to say, “gay people live in sin”, you infer that they know and understand that their actions offend God and don’t care. I don’t know of any gay people for whom such is the case, many of them express an intimate relationship with God that I am frankly jealous of, and feel a deepness of love and acceptance I am in awe of. Many of them state, and I believe them wholeheartedly, that if they had even the slightest inkling that expressing their sexuality offended God they would set it aside in the second. The problem with saying, “they are sinning” is that it implies your own personal knowledge that they need to stop. That comment is often followed by a second comment that we are meant to judge the behaviors of our brethren. That likely comes from verses like these:

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. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Context: those verses follow a statement that it is known that one of the members of the church is having an affair with his father’s wife. Paul calls it something “even a pagan would not tolerate”. While I will admit that in some extreme cases where the actions of one person are so extreme, they ought to be expelled so that they, as Paul said, “hand him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved.” But that was a case of incest, not a case of gay. While there are some verses that caution Christians to judge the actions of each other, the Bible is far more full of verses that caution against it. Such judgments are only to be made, as 1 Corinthians 5 stated, in mourning. Jesus himself said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” (John 8:15) If God’s own son was reluctant to judge, how much more reluctant should we, as sinful humans, be?

We can’t just idly judge entire subsets of our population and feel that we are justified in doing so. We must seek after God’s heart first and foremost. We must take on a mantle of mourning when we are called to judge, knowing that seperation from the Church brings destruction. If your heart, reader, is for the destruction of the gays or the poor then you bring condemnation on your own head. I, for one, withhold any judgment. I will speak God’s love until my dying breath, knowing that in my own life more conviction has been birthed from love than from judgment.

Who I am and what I’m not.

Yes, I am a Christian.  For a long time I didn’t self-identify as a Christian because I hated the fact that people would always make certain assumptions about me.  One instance stands out particularly in my mind.  I saw a table that said “Friends of the GLBT” at the associations, groups, and clubs event my first week in college.  Something prompted me to go over and strike up a conversation with the handful of students sitting there.  At first the conversation was great, but then someone made a disparaging comment about the Evangelical group.  Even though I wasn’t sure about what I believed, I felt a chill.  I wanted to say “not every Christian is like that,” but I was worried that the moment I did I would paint myself as sleeping with the enemy.

That moment is iconic of the choice I’ve had to make every day since I came back to my faith.  Do I say I’m a Christian, and allow people to make false assumptions about what I believe?  Do I say I’m a Christian and try to create a new paradigm?  One in which someone who acts evangelical (as opposed to Is An Evangelical) isn’t a gay-bashing anti-choice gun-totin’ Bible-bangin’ war-lovin’ conservative-votin’ unimaginative non-intellectually-inquisitive probably secretly scared-of-everything uh…  you get the point.  The assumptions people make about someone who is vocally Christian aren’t always the kindest.  And in many ways, I’m the opposite of many of the stereotypes.  So, for the record, let me be clear about what I am and am not:

  • I don’t think gay people are the enemy of society.  I like my gay and lesbian friends, and only want them to change if they want to.  Honestly, the complexity of this one is way too much to fit into a single bullet point, so suffice it to say this:  I don’t think gay people are the problem, I think judgmental and legalistic attitudes are.
  • I’m politically pro-choice.  Personally, I’m pro-life.  I could never imagine a circumstance in which I would have an abortion.  But that doesn’t mean that I want to tell other women what to do with their bodies and their lives- there is no ethical argument to keep an unborn child that doesn’t rely on faith in God, so a secular society should allow women to have choice.
  • I’m a registered Democrat, mostly because I wanted to vote in the last Presidential Primaries.  In my time as a registered voter, I’ve actually voted for both Republicans and Democrats.  I believe in voting based off of who you’re voting for and what their record shows, not based off of party.  Just do not tell me I’m a Republican who’s afraid of change.  I will end you.
  • Guns scare me.
  • I don’t believe the Bible should be used as a weapon. It is for worship, for exhortation, for meditation, for the strengthening of the body…  not for destruction.
  • I don’t believe in quoting the Bible to people who don’t read it. Which is why I so rarely quote it on my blog, and why fellow Christians sometimes assume I don’t read it.  I do, I just think that Christians should be able to make logical arguments without spraying Bible verses into the fray like bird shot.
  • I’m a pacifist. I was raised in the Anabaptist tradition, which means I was raised with a keen awareness of the multitude of people who were martyred for the Faith.  Martyred, that is, at the hands of the Catholic church, which leads to:
  • I believe that people should be able to worship God as they wish- no matter how much you disagree with them.  Not everyone agrees on all the tenants of faith.  I don’t think I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m more likely to believbe that we are all wrong. 
  • I actually do have an imagination, really I do. In my other lives I am a novelist and a jewelry designer.  I have no fear of thinking creatively.
  • I have no fear of other religions.  In fact, I study Buddhism and live out some of it’s practices.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Dalhi Lama.  I respect anyone who practices their faith with compassion for others, regardless of what their faith is.  I think Christianity could learn an awful lot from other religions.
  • I have no fear of being questioned. Don’t believe me?  Question me.  Debate me.  If I can’t argue my faith rationally, I don’t want to have it.
  • I have no fear of being wrong. I’ve done it before and it didn’t hurt too badly.  If I am forced to examine a belief and find it lacking, so be it.  Better that I know now than go through my entire life mistaken.

My name is Lindsey.  I am a Christian.

And I may be a pacifist, but if I ever met Fred Phelps, I’d probably have to drop kick him in the balls.

Just so we’re clear on things.

Learn Tolerance, or Die Alone.

(For Kelly.)

Ever had a conversation like this?

Man:  Tolerance is a destructive force.  It erodes true belief.

Girl:  If you never tolerate the other side’s point of view, how can you expect to have an honest debate about the issues?

Man:  I’m not going to tolerate false beliefs. How can you ask me to debate the truth?  The truth harbors no debate.

So…  Maybe I’m watering down the true content and exaggerating the real words said for dramatic effect- but the principle remains true to form.  One person takes deep offense at tolerance because in their mind it means allowing an offense to the truth to continue.  Yet, simultaneously he is asking that his own views be tolerated and accepted.  (Or even affirmed.)

Here is the question to ask that man:  Would you rather be right and alone, or tolerant in the company of others?  Because to be so unnassailably intolerant means a life of isolation.  Why?  Because when we go to the grocery store, we are practicing tolerance.  We are offering up money to corporations who do not necessarily support our point of view.  (If you are conservative, check the amount of stores who offer money to left-wing political lobbies- if you are left-wing, check the amount of stores who offer money to right wing political lobbies.  Most corporations do both.)  It is nigh near impossible to live in the United States of America without corporately endorsing tolerance.  Paying our taxes is also an act of tolerance- as I can guarantee that no matter your affiliation, politically or religiously, our government acts on behalf of those you disagree with.

You may say, okay, this kind of tolerance-by-six-degrees-of-separation is impossible to avoid and thus must be accepted.  But let’s take this a step further.  Let’s look at humanity as a whole.  Have you ever (even once) met someone with whom you fully agreed?  We can all find people who agree with our most closely held beliefs, but at some point every relationship experiences differences.  My spouse is someone who I agree with eighty percent of the time- but don’t for a second  believe that the other twenty percent is insignificant.  When it’s things like how to best make eggs, you can roll your eyes and let go.  But sometimes in even the best relationship there is serious disagreement.  What do you do then?  Demand the other person agree with your point of view?  Tear them down until they are forced to capitulate?  Scrape away at them day after day, trying to win them to your side by hook or crook no matter what the cost?

At some point, isn’t the cost of relationship tolerance?  Don’t we all have to love and accept each other despite disagreement, or never know love and acceptance at all?

Honest Questions

In my “real” life I’m a bit of a, well, a huge geek.  The kind of geek who, as a young child, was caught with a novel tucked inside of her study book in class.  The kind of geek who totally understands things like LARP and Cosplay.  The kind of geek who not only attends Renaissance Fairs, but does so dressed as a fairy queen, complete with hand-beaded wings.  (There is photographic evidence of this, but don’t even think of asking.)  I say all of this so that when I use an example from a cult favorite novel of ultimate geek cred in the next paragraph, you all know that this isn’t the least bit out of character.  And I really would have to stretch myself to think of a better example.

Enter the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a truly genious work not only of science fiction theatre, but as a commentary on the human condition.  There is a passage that describes the creation of the Ultimate Computer- The Computer that is made to answer the great question of life, the universe, and everything.  Crowds gather anxiously to hear the summing up of everything they want to know.  And the computer answers, “42.”  The crowd is aghast.  42?  What kind of answer is that?  The computer, Deep Thought, responds, “now that you know the answer, you need to discover the true question.”  What is the great question of life, the universe, and everything?

This passage came back to me a few days ago, when I was contemplating a question that I contemplate often.  This is the question:  When is it ever reasonable to kick someone out of church because of a sin they aren’t leaving behind?  See, every time something like homosexuality is brought up and I lay out my fundamental argument in support of embracing gay people, this other question is inevitably thrown back at me.

I say, “if being gay is really a sinful thing (a postulation I have deep issues with in the first place) and a gay person is embraced, discipled, and seeks after God’s hearts- it is unnecessary for us to offer conviction of their sin- God will do it himself.”

People respond, “but at what point is it reasonable to expect someone to cease to be gay?  What if it never happens?”

I think that, like in the case of the answer of “42”, is not answerable as such.  It’s not the right question, and thus any answer I give won’t be the right answer.  What people are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to not like their being gay?  To bring it up?  To make them stop?  To kick them out if they won’t?”  And if that isn’t what they are asking, then what they are probably asking is, “what if they never cease being gay and I have to confront my own preconceptions and face the fact that maybe I don’t have faith that God would convict them or that it is even necessarily sin?”

These are huge questions to grapple with.  Ultimately earth-shattering questions.  And it’s no wonder that instead of asking the questions that their subconscious narrative is screaming, people instead content themselves with asking a question that demands a more succinct answer.  The only problem is that I, like Deep Thought, can’t answer the question they are asking.  I have to answer the question they aren’t, the question they have yet to realize.  Instead of saying, “five years seems like enough, or maybe ten,” I have to respond more honestly, “what happens if they change in all ways aside from being gay?  Would you ever be able to accept their faith as genuine if they are still a homosexual?”

The answers to those questions can be heartbreaking.

But yet, they are important questions to ask.