Wish Me Away

Wish Me Away is Chely Wright’s powerful story about coming out while being a major country music star. It’s sometimes hard to watch someone coming to terms with who they are, knowing that they could be hated for it. The strength that Chely Wright has in sharing who she is – merely to help others – is amazing.

Of course, the film touches on themes of Christianity and the conservative culture that makes up country music fandom. Chely is a Christian, and someone close to her reminds her:

There’s nobody quite as mean as people being mean for Jesus.

So disappointing, and so true.

I’m glad that the film focused on the positive aspects of her journey, while showing her internal struggle with wanting to share who she is with the world.

A quote from her brother-in-law, I think, really shows where many Christians minds are on the subject. Many people only know what they have been told by someone else. Many people are relying on other people’s opinions to express their faith. He says,

Being gay is a sinful act.

This, of course, doesn’t make sense – and I believe that’s the issue with how many Christians see homosexuality. They haven’t thought about it enough for any logic to come into the picture. To suggest that “who somebody is” is a “sinful act” just shows the ignorance of the culture. I think it’s just a demonization of a people that many Christians don’t want to understand. As soon as we start to looking at the LGBT community as real people – and not just as a faceless crowd – we might have to see the humanity. And love might have to enter into the picture. And I think that’s what Christians are scared of.

The Church and “Status Quo”

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

This is something that could have been written yesterday.

But as you can tell by the “twentieth century” reference, it was written before 2000.

In fact it was written in 1963 by Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws were still in effect, preventing people of color from being treated equally under the law.

So often, the church is surprisingly silent on social issues – which is odd when Jesus spent so much time talking about love, and stressing the importance on how we treat each other.

Of course, some say, “look how far we’ve come 50 years later.” But progress is still slow. Heck, even in the 2012 election, people tried to suppress minority voting in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Anyone who suggests that racism and equal rights for all isn’t a problem has their head in the sand. When a white man murders children in a school, church people rally around gun rights and want to arm kindergarten teachers. But when a white man kills a black teenager in cold blood, no one went on a crusade to help get guns in the hands of young black men so that they could defend themselves against racists.

And we must avoid the racism that ignores generational poverty and states that if I was raised middle class, that someone raised in a poor environment has the exact same opportunities as I do. (We hear this all the time – even at church – that the poor in America are poor because they are lazy. We do not like to think that there different people in our country are afforded different opportunities.)

The church needs to forget about trying so hard to defend the status quo – we need to get off our asses and truly make a difference in this world. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think we can do it. I think Jesus would want us to.

Must-Read: Torn by Justin Lee

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In a Gays-vs.-Christians world, admitting you’re gay makes you the enemy of Christians.

Sadly, with this single sentence, Justin Lee sums up one of the biggest issues in Western Christianity today. Or maybe the biggest. It’s extremely unfortunate (or maybe criminal is a better word), that we’ve allowed two or three misread passages to completely overshadow God’s message of love in the Bible.

Torn is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand better what’s holding back the love and compassion of Christians for the LGBT world. It’s a good read for anyone: Christian, non-Christian, gay, straight. (Caveat: I say this as a straight Christian, but I’m trusting Lee’s experience to overcome that, since this book is about him and his experiences.) I would recommend this to anyone not wanting to keep their head in the sand from such an important discussion.

This is something the whole Christian community needs to be thinking about. If you don’t personally know anyone who’s gay, you’re probably wrong in that assumption. You just don’t realize it. This is something that will impact each and every one of us, probably sooner than we expect. There is a lot of history to overcome – a lot of hate, a lot of misunderstanding. The sooner that we begin to understand, the sooner we can begin reconciliation.

In a Venn diagram, Gays and Christians aren’t mutually exclusive – in fact, there’s much more overlap than most people would imagine. Justin Lee enlightens us to that fact, and helps us understand how we need more compassion, more dialogue. This book is a simple read – it’s accessible to anyone, and I think important for Christians, simply because his statement is so true:

I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology, and that we must have the humility to admit that we still don’t have all the answers.

We would be better Christians in all aspects of our lives if we could admit this.

Justin Lee does a great job in discussing ex-gay movements and explaining how they might be able to help you change behavior (if that’s what you want) but they cannot change the fact that you’re gay. In fact, he cites many of the founders of the movement (and ex-gay poster children) and describes how they’ve returned to previous gay lifestyles. Reparative therapy doesn’t work. Focus on the Family lied to you. His words are better than mine:

Focus [on the Family] then sent me a pack of resources promoting the same ex-gay groups I already knew didn’t work, featuring testimonies from many of the same people I already knew weren’t really straight.

Of course, this book is going to be controversial to conservative Christians because it’s not anti-gay. Lifeway won’t even carry it (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised). On the other side, it may also be controversial to some on the LGBT side, because Justin Lee is tolerant of those gay Christians who believe the Bible teaches that they need to remain celibate (even though he does not subscribe to that). He wants more than anything for everyone to come together with a discussion of love, so that we can all understand each other – and replace the long-standing hate with compassion.

Read this book. If you’re a Christian, read it to overcome your LGBT prejudices. If you’re LGBT, read it to understand that the truth is that Christians shouldn’t be fighting this war they have been fighting, and to understand the love and compassion we should be having.

Side note: I “won” a prize in our local library’s 2012 reading contest. I got to pick one book to be added to to the library. I felt like this was important enough to add. So if you live in the Huntsville area, you can literally “check this out” at the Huntsville library.

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Bad Words

Three of the women that I most respect, though I have never met, have tweeted or blogged (somewhat) recently about something that is near and dear to my heart.

The use of words that “offend” some part of the population. Swearing, cursing, cussing, vulgarity – whatever you want to call it.

For some Christians, this is basically a salvation issue – they feel so strongly about it, that it comes across that if you partake in this ‘sin’, you can have no hope of heaven. It’s practically up there with denying the fact that Jesus died and was raised again on the third day.

Of course, I have some Christian friends that don’t feel this way (I LOVE Episcopalians!) But I’ve been caught up in the midst of some controversy because my language can be…well…colorful.

And honestly, I think I do a pretty good job of reigning it in. I normally don’t say offensive 4-letter words around people I think that will be offended by them (or around people I don’t know). I try not to swear around my kids, because I think that can be a bad habit if the words are overused. (We teach them not to use these words, but that they’re not as bad as words that we use to hurt people.)

But when it comes down to it – that’s all they are. Words. They have no innate power outside what we give them. Why is ‘poop’ worse than ‘doo doo’? Why is ‘crap’ worse than ‘poop’? Why is ‘shit’ worse than ‘crap’? I have no idea. And honestly, I’m probably not going to spend the time to study to figure out why some words are more offensive than others.

I’ve been called out in Bible classes and Bible studies for using language that might not be considered ‘polite’. I remember one Sunday morning, I was teaching a class of about 20 or 30. I was talking about being open and transparent with each other. About being real. And I used the word ‘pissed’. Oops. I got talked to by one of the church leaders for that.

And over a period of three years, I met with a small group of (adult) men (about 6 or 8) every Friday morning. Over these 3 years, thinking that this was a group of mature adults who could handle who I really was, I said the word ‘shit’. Twice. Over 3 years. The second time I said it, the self-appointed leader of our group just had to make huge deal out of the vulgar language I was using. It almost brought him to tears. That was the last time I attended that study.

I know some people reading this might say, “Those words were inappropriate, and those responses to them were appropriate.” But I know a lot of people would say, “WTF?!?”

But back to where I started. To the women I respect that have been talking about it.

A couple years ago, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary talked about the Strong Words she sometimes uses.

Earlier this year, Nadia Bolz-Weber explained, “I love Jesus, but I swear a little”.

And yesterday, Rachel Held Evans tweeted about this very same subject: In Defense of the Four-Letter Word, by Addie Zierman.

It seems like there’s a trend here. People are realizing that following Jesus is not about moral superiority. It’s about loving people. About opening your hearts and homes, and caring about people. We cannot do that when we’re focused on what we look like (or sound like) on the surface. Unfortunately, for most of the folks in our culture, it really is a major paradigm shift.

“The Test of Fellowship”

I was talking with a study group as we were discussing Wright and Borg’s The Meaning of Jesus and I expressed my frustration with the back-and-forth, I started to say “who cares”? (As I mentioned in my last post.) Now I could get to the piont where I saw Borg’s argument that if there were still really bones in the tomb, who cares, that doesn’t remove my faith.

I was asked if before I read this book if I would have seen that as a test of Christianity – or what is sometimes called a “Test of Fellowship”. What some people call the test to determine if one is truly a Christian. For some Christians this is whether or not someone has been baptized. For some it’s whether or not they’ve been fully immersed in baptism. Still others the test is whether or not you have a specific belief about baptism. For some, it’s just whether you believe Jesus died, was buried and was raised again.

So what he was asking me, was whether or not I would believe a person was a Christian if they believed it was possible that there was still in a body in the tomb of Jesus.

This made me think – what is that test for me?

I couldn’t really think of anything – so I said I was through with tests. I grew up in a tradition that the tests were very specific, and there were many (meaning there were many ways you could prove someone wasn’t a true Christian). So I think I’m over all that. Before I read this part of the book, I probably would have asked someone why they wanted to be a Christian if they could believe the possibility that the bones of Jesus were still in His tomb – but I wouldn’t have said they weren’t a Christian.

To me the only real test of whether or not someone is a Christian is whether or not they love.

That’s what Jesus said, isn’t it? “By your love they will know you.”

Sometimes it seems like I’m in the minority.