Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christians and GLBTs - bridging the gap

I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m participating in a synchroblog. If you’ve never heard of a synchroblog (I hadn’t!), it’s when a bunch of people all write blog posts on the same day on the same topic. This synchroblog is organized by New Direction Ministries, whose mission is to “bridge the gaps” between, and within, the Christian community and the gay community. I wrote earlier about New Direction in this post, and my respect for them has only increased since. Over fifty people (including Brian McLaren and Donald Miller - famous people!) are blogging their ideas about how to “bridge the gap” – please check out the full list of participating blogs here.

For eight months now, the number one question I’ve been thinking about and reading about and discussing with friends is this: How does homosexuality mix with the Christian faith? I began seriously asking this question in October when someone whom I deeply love came out as gay, but the question had already been raised in other friendships I’ve had with lovely GLBT people, and also in my efforts to figure out my own sexuality, which turned out to be less straightforward and more “fluid” than I thought. I now think this may be one of the biggest questions I will encounter as I begin my ministry as a pastor, not only because I am pastoring in a neighborhood with a lot of same-sex couples and families, but because the only thing many young people know about the North American church is that we are “anti-gay.” The church is becoming known above all for being against a group of marginalized people, people whom Jesus would be busy befriending and loving, considering how much time he spent with the “outcasts” of his day. We no longer look like Jesus. This, in my opinion, is a huge problem.

So how can we start looking more like Jesus? There are a lot of answers to that question. When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus building relationships with people very different from Him by initiating honest conversations on their turf. Lately I keep coming back to the apostle Paul’s three favorite nouns: faith, hope and love. They pop up everywhere in his letters, and they also defined Christ’s way of relating. I think these words are important as we think about how to build relationships between people of different sexualities and beliefs. (I will be primarily addressing the Christian community here, but I think these three words should define the conversation no matter your faith background.)

Faith. Faith is throwing your weight on something you can’t know for sure. Many would say the opposite of faith is doubt, but I prefer to think the opposite of faith is certainty, or perhaps indifference. Like many Christians, until recently, I had a vague certainty about how Christians should think of homosexuality. This was an inbred and unquestioned conservative view, which I came by too easily, due to both laziness and fear. When I started seeking out and listening to gay-affirming theologies, views I initially disagreed with, I was surprised to be thoroughly challenged by some of their arguments, so much so that right now, I am sitting on a theological fence on the topic of homosexuality. But even when I settle on one side of the fence, I know I will stand there lightly. I am continually sobered by this fact: Sincere, intelligent Christians disagree on the morality of homosexual behavior – and not just the kind of people who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but real Christ-followers, the fruit-producing kind (Luke 6:43-49). I am privileged to know real, fruit-producing Christ-followers who are "practicing" gays (talk about bridging the gap - these people embody the bridge!) I am reminded that none of us has a corner on the truth, and this means that we must be humble in conversation, listening before we speak, expecting to hear truth in the most unlikely places, to be challenged by the most unlikely people (see 1 Cor. 1:27-29). Uncertainty is scary, but it is honest. We must start by admitting that we could be wrong. In the end, I’ll throw some of my weight (faith) on what I think about homosexuality, but I’ll throw much more of my weight (faith) on the good news that Christ lived and died to reconcile a broken world to God, because this is the center of my life. My salvation does not depend on what I think about homosexuality. Christians who think differently from me on homosexuality are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are on a Christ-led journey of healing and redemption, as I am. I throw my weight on Jesus, not on being “correct” on one ethical issue.

Hope. Hope is grabbing hold of a scandalous promise in the middle of suffering and seeming failure. Many would say the opposite of hope is despair, but I prefer to think the opposite of hope is idealism, or perhaps cynicism. Idealism says that friendship with those who disagree with me will be easy; I will soon convince them to see things the way I see them, they will be forever grateful, and we will live happily ever after. Cynicism says that we will never fully accept or love those who are different, we will only suffer, so we should limit our community to people who look like us and think like us. Hope, on the other hand, says that relationships with people who are very different from us involve getting hurt, hurting others, sharing in people’s suffering, loving in a costly and self-sacrificing way, and living with tension and mess – but in the end, both my friend and I will be transformed to look more like Christ. Both of us will see the kingdom break into our lives in fresh ways. To put it another way, idealism skips over the crucified Christ, and cynicism keeps the crucified Christ in the ground, but hope wades right through the mess and pain of the crucifixion clutching the incredible truth that Christ conquered death and now lives (!) to bring His kingdom in full. Jesus willingly waded into a mess by calling both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Publican, sworn enemies, to be in his band of disciples. What crazy hope he had for these men! I think that we need to have more hope in the power of Christ to break down walls that divide us, and give us love for people who are very different. We are called to join Christ in His hope-filled kingdom work, pursuing justice and shalom, adopting a confessional stance in recognition of the ways the church has failed to love (or even spurred on the hate of) gay people, and advocating for the rights of our GLBT friends.

Love. Love is laying down your life (your priorities, your time, your opinions, your rights, your reputation) for the sake of your friends, or what’s more, for your enemies. Many would say the opposite of love is hate, but I prefer to think the opposite of love is fear. John said that there is no fear in love, in fact love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Paul said that love is the “greatest of these,” and in the same vein, I think it may be the greatest way to look like Jesus in our relationships: moving from relating out of fear to relating out of love. We are afraid of so many things: fear of stirring up controversy in the church that could lead to division; fear of “slippery slopes” or societal breakdown; fear of offending people; fear of uncertainty; fear of our views being misunderstood by others; fear of our own fluctuating sexual identity or purity. These fears lie at the heart of prejudice; they drive judgmentalism, preventing us from seeing all humans in the image of God. We must learn to look at every person as Jesus does, with unconditional love, from the most flamboyant participant in a pride parade to the most vindictive participant in a “God hates gays” rally. This is no touchy-feely warm-fuzzy love; as Dorothy Day says, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” She also says, “Love is the measure by which we shall be judged.” It is our mission. The greatest commandment is not “love God and convert your neighbor,” or “love God and ensure your neighbor’s theology is correct;” the greatest commandment is “love God and love your neighbor” (Luke 10:27). It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convert and transform our friends, and to convert and transform in our own lives. Our job is to watch what the Spirit is doing and join in where He asks us to, always relating out of love instead of fear.

I pray every day for a makeover, a personal makeover and a church-wide makeover: I pray for the grace to look more and more like Jesus, who is alive in us, so we can bridge the gap the way He did – through friendships and conversations built on faith, hope, and love. I want us to risk “ruining” our reputations because of the people we love. It’s a dangerous and messy road, but it’s the road Jesus chose, and I want to follow Him.

For anyone who’s interested, I recently wrote a paper for school (Regent College) about the pastoral care of people who are same-sex attracted, in which I explore some of these ideas in more detail. I’m happy to e-mail it to anyone who wants to read it - just let me know.

Now go check out some of the other people’s blogs!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have too much money.

"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:12-13)

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)

On Wednesday, I found out that I would be making $3000 less at my two jobs this summer than I had originally thought, due to misunderstandings and cutbacks. God was gracious, because He also gave me overwhelmingly fulfilling experiences that day, confirming that I'm working where He wants me to work. I went home and looked at my bank account and budget. I saw that I'd still have enough to get through my last semester of school, but I wouldn't have much money going into 2010. I had wanted to save up some money for next year, because I plan on continuing my non-profit and pastoral work in the Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighborhood in Canada, likely without a very stable income.

I let this stew in my brain for a while, alternately worrying and pushing worries out of my mind. But on Friday morning, while I was reading a Psalm that had nothing to do with money, everything changed. Out of the blue, this thought ran through my head: "You have too much money." And then this: "You don't need to make more money - in fact, you need to get rid of more."

These ideas definitely didn't come from me, because I had been thinking the exact opposite. I think God was trying to show me that in my worrying, I'd been buying into the same old myth: that my security was in my savings.

I think we all know that money is not bad in and of itself, but it sure can tempt us: greed, over-spending, stinginess, failing to tithe, frivolousness, avarice. I consider myself a pretty generous person, I hate shopping, and I probably err on the side of under-spending rather than over-spending. But like most North Americans, I succumb constantly to a far more subtle and sinister temptation: to treat money as my safety blanket, maybe even my savior, and to depend on money for future well-being rather than on the God who sustains my life.

Maybe it takes is a recession for me and many others to recognize the folly of so-called "financial security." Maybe as investments depreciate, as the money we buried in the bank accounts loses its value, we will realize that we need something (Someone) far more secure and unchanging to depend on, and we'll start throwing the weight of our future plans and hopes on Him. Maybe we'll realize that everything we have is on loan to us, and we'll start being more thankful for it and open-handed with it. Maybe we'll learn Paul's secret for living in plenty or in want, and we'll actually thank God for the recession! As Wendell Berry puts it, "When I hear the stock market has fallen, I say 'Long live gravity! Long live stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces of fantasy capitalism!'"

Before you think I've become a communist, or St. Francis (though I'm not sure they're such bad things to be), I will clarify one thing: I don't think it's wrong or sinful to save money. I'm just realizing that the majority of people on this planet don't even have the privilege to save money. I think God calls us to wisely use the resources He's given us in North America, and sometimes this means saving, but probably it means giving more often than we think. When I was a kid, my parents saved money that enabled my siblings and I to study at university, and I'm grateful for that. Now, my parents may be moving to Kenya, and I'd like to start saving money so I can fly to visit them. But if I start clinging and worrying and depending on money to get me to Kenya instead of the God who wants both to reunite families and to teach me to trust Him, I've slipped again.

My friend Joyce says that if we buy something, we should be willing to redistribute it to someone who needs it more than us, if God asks us to do so - after all, it doesn't really belong to us; it belongs to God, and God may want to challenge how much we really believe this. I think the same applies to our savings - if God wants us to use our money in a different way than we had planned, or if He wants to challenge our dependence on our savings, to challenge us to live more simply, then we need to listen and welcome His guidance. I can't assume He's saying the same thing to you as He's saying to me, I can only tell you my story.

I've talked to some friends and co-workers in non-profit and pastoral work who have had to live far closer to broke than I ever have, and they have such amazing stories of how God was faithful to provide for them when they needed it, and He often used strange and unexpected means. Their faith increased because it was tested, because they clung to the God who provides. At first, I saw this as irresponsibility - maybe they should have saved more so they wouldn't have to ask so much of God. Now, I crave these same chances to learn and grow in faith.

So I'm thinking about getting rid of some of this money, before it whispers to me yet again and convinces me that it can secure my future. Anyone need any money?