Tag Archives: Christian

Same Sex Marriage “Stuff” – Part Two

Click here to read Same Sex Marriage “Stuff” – Part One

Religious-freedom-is-not-freedom-to-discriminate

50 years ago religious freedom arguments that are being made today to discriminate against LGBT people were being used to justify the discrimination of black people and interracial relationships.

At that time scripture was misused to support the exclusion and oppression of black people and interracial couples. Today we have people doing the same thing to justify the exclusion and oppression of LGBT people and same sex couples.

Most people have never taken the time to study what scripture says about same sex relationships for themselves. Most people read scripture with preconceived ideas that have been formed by believing what they have been told by someone else.

If anyone is willing to set their preconceived ideas aside and take the time to study original language while also taking historical context into consideration they will be able to comprehend that there is nothing in scripture that clearly condemns a loving, healthy same sex relationship. NOTHING!

I know!, because as a parent of a gay son I was diligent in my effort to find out FOR SURE what scripture did and didn’t say about same sex relationships. I loved my son enough to go to the trouble. Do you love anyone enough to go to the trouble? If you do, I would be glad to help you.

In fact, there is more evidence in scripture to support slavery than there is to support the condemnation of all same sex relationships.

Scripture also doesn’t put forth the idea that marriage is to be only between one man and one woman or that it has anything to do with people falling in love.

Scripture proves one thing about marriage … that marriage has been changing since the beginning of time. As society progresses, learns and improves, our institutions change.

Traditionally marriage was not between one man and one woman. The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent development. In the ancient world, marriage served primarily as a means of preserving power, with kings and other members of the ruling class marrying off their daughters to forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. The purpose of marriage was primarily the production of heirs. Often times peasants wouldn’t even bother with marriage since they had no property or position to worry about.

The church didn’t even get involved in marriage until the 5th century. It wasn’t declared a sacred sacrament until the 12th century. And it wasn’t until the 16th century that weddings were performed publicly by a priest and with witnesses. A license to be married wasn’t commonplace until the 17th century which was around the time when romance began to have some involvement. As the middle class formed in the 19th century only then did young men begin to select their own spouses and start marrying without the consent of their parents. The idea of women having rights and not being a subordinate to their husband didn’t become common until the 20th century. It was 1965 before the Supreme Court ruled that a wife could be raped by her husband. Until then husbands who forced themselves on their wives were not guilty of rape, since they were legally entitled to sexual access.

The institution of marriage has always been in a constant state of evolution.

“Marriage, like transportation, has always been a part of human existence. But riding a donkey is very different from flying in a jet, and modern marriage has only superficial similarity to what went before. Just as we embrace each new mode of travel that enhances human welfare, no one should mind adapting marriage to the needs of modern people.” – Steve Chapman

Extending matrimony to same-sex couples advances the same interests cited in support of heterosexual marriage. Legalizing same sex marriages encourages stable commitments that offer a framework for procreation and upholds the interest of children in a legally protected family.

The evidence before us is that same sex marriage offers the same benefits to individuals and society that opposite sex marriage does.

And finally, there is nothing in scripture that would support the idea that Christians should not sell their services or products to someone who is, in their eyes, sinning. In fact, that would go against the very tenets of Christianity. Any use of Christianity to justify discrimination is evidence of a misunderstanding about who Jesus was and what his good news was meant to convey to and about humanity. Discrimination and exclusion were not values of Jesus and are in conflict with the precepts of the Christian faith.

Oh – and one last point – the First Amendment does not guarantee us the right to discriminate based on our religion, it instead guarantees us the right not to be discriminated against based on our religious beliefs.

Same Sex Marriage “Stuff” – Part One

This post is part of the July Synchroblog which invites bloggers to post about “Same Sex Marriage.”

As someone who has a gay son and who owns and facilitates a Private Facebook group for more than 500 moms of LGBT kids I have a LOT to say about same sex marriage “stuff.”

In fact, I have so much to say, I don’t know where to start.

But, I guess a good place to start is with my own story about how I went from believing same sex relationships were sinful to believing that condemning same sex relationships is sinful.

same-sex-marriage

When my son came out he told me he had come to the conclusion that the bible did not condemn loving, committed same sex relationships.

I fully expected to be able to prove him wrong.

I was accustomed to “studying” scripture as I taught women’s bible studies for years. I knew what it meant to dig into original language and consider the historical context of the verses I was studying.

I was shocked to find that my son was right …  none of the “clobber” verses were speaking about a loving, monogamous, healthy same sex relationship.

In fact, after a lot of studying and searching I had to admit there was no sufficient evidence in scripture that “clearly” condemned or supported same sex relationships.

One would have to put their integrity at stake and make scripture say more than it does in order to claim that scripture clearly condemns or supports same sex relationships.

(I could go into greater detail here about what I found and didn’t find in scripture, but instead I would like to share a link to a message by Pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePoint Church in Franklin, TN. The message is “Dialogue On Full Sacramental LGBT Inclusion.” This message includes almost everything I discovered in my own journey. I personally think this should be required listening for all Christians living in 2015 but I will just say “if you are a Christian who loves anyone – ANYONE – who is LGBT, you should take the time to listen to this message right away.”)

In light of discovering there was insufficient evidence in scripture to condemn same sex relationships I then had to ask myself, “What should I do?” and “How should I respond to something if scripture doesn’t clearly condemn or support it?”

The only thing I could think is I needed to find out if there was any evidence to indicate same sex relationships hurt people.

I searched and I couldn’t find that kind of evidence either – in fact, the evidence I discovered showed healthy same sex relationships had the same healthy effect on individuals and society as opposite sex relationships have on individuals and society.

Two more things happened which ended up playing a significant role in my journey.

First, I ran across this quote:

“A traditional religious belief is that “grace builds on nature,” in other words religious life depends on a good foundation in human health. Therefore we can legitimately evaluate the validity of a religious belief system by its psychological consequences. Good theology will result in good psychology and vice versa. Accordingly, bad theology will have negative psychological consequences. This is nothing more than an application of the biblical norm: “You will be able to tell them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16) If Saint Irenaeus proclaimed, the glory of God is humans FULLY ALIVE [emphasis mine], then clearly a belief system that results in the destruction of human health cannot serve the glory of God.” ~Dr. John J. McNeill

And second, I kept bumping into Micah 6:8:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

The quote by Dr. McNeill made so much sense to me and supported what I had always believed in my heart … which was the tenets and beliefs of Christianity should mostly lead to a person’s health and wholeness. In other words, our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health should all be “better” if we are embracing good theology. Like Dr. McNeill explained, good and right theology should mostly lead to good psychology (good fruit).

As I considered this idea I began to understand that when our theology about something is resulting in a lot of bad fruit or bad psychology – such as hopelessness, depression, self hate and self harm – we have an obligation to re-examine what we believe and ask ourselves why we believe it.

And Micah 6:8 became like a guiding light for my journey. The words reminded me that justice (doing what is right) is a very high priority to God and led me to ask, “What would it look like, in light of what I have discovered, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”

Everything combined together led me to the conclusion that it would be unjust, and lack mercy and humility, to condemn a loving, monogamous same sex relationship.

There was nothing in scripture to clearly mandate the condemnation of same sex relationships, there was no evidence that same sex relationships caused harm to anyone (in fact, the opposite was true) and the theological position of condemning same sex relationships was not producing good psychology (good fruit).

Those things together have given me peace in my heart about being a Christian who affirms same sex relationships. Those things have led me to believe that condemning same sex relationships is a sin.

The transition didn’t happen overnight. Although I was able to see right away that what I had believed wasn’t right, it actually took somewhere between one and two years of study, prayer, learning, listening and thinking for me to officially change my position/belief.

I’ve been accused of letting my love for my son blind me to the truth, but nothing could be further from the truth. My love for my son made me study more than ever, it caused me to ask tougher questions and to carefully consider all the evidence before me. I love my son too much to mislead him in the wrong direction if I can help it.

I’ve been accused of disregarding scripture and the Christian faith, but nothing could be further from the truth. My high view of scripture, my determination to not make scripture say more than it says, my commitment to study in a thorough manner, my deep devotion to being a follower of Christ and to do my best to live into the kind of radical love that he demonstrated and calls me to imitate … those things have led and guided me to where I am today regarding same sex marriage. I do not affirm same sex relationships in spite of my faith. I affirm same sex relationships because of my faith.

And as I have talked to other Christian mothers of LGBT kids I have witnessed them going through the same sort of process … digging deep, not accepting easy answers, wanting to make sure as much as possible.

As mothers our love doesn’t let us off the hook … instead, it is the reason we must be even more resolute and thorough. Our love is that great.

Like I said … I have a LOT to say about same sex marriage “stuff” and this is just the beginning … but I’m a firm believer that blog posts shouldn’t be too long … so stay tuned for part two of “Same Sex Marriage Stuff” coming soon. (Go here for part two)

In the meantime, check out the other July Synchroblog posts about “Same Sex Marriage

Prayer For The Week – Don’t Put God In A Box

god-in-a-box

A beautiful prayer to guide us through the week:

A Prayer on “Knowing” God and Humbling Ourselves by Mark Sandlin

Good and gracious God,

There are so many understandings of you
and yet there is only one you.
So many faiths.
So many denominations.
So many differences
even in the Gospels we read about you…
even between theological experts…
even between well read followers…
even between me
and the others who read this prayer.

You are so ineffably difficult
to pin down,
to understand,
to describe,
to know fully.

Yet we sometime become
full of ourselves,
acting as if we
know,
hold,
have,
the “Truth” about you —

Believing that we have done
what thousands of years of history
have not been able to do,
we sometimes think
we have the final truth and understanding
about you.

God of all times and all peoples,
humble our hearts.
Silence our sometimes haughty souls
and lend us perspective.
Guide us closer to you.
Teach us how limited our knowledge is.
Give us spirits which seek more of your truth.
Instill in us
a willingness to admit what we don’t know.
Inspire us
to not only share what we have learned
with others,
but to open ourselves
to what we can learn from them.

Plant within us spirits which revel
in the reality
that there is more to learn
about you,
spirits which celebrate
what we don’t know
because it means we can still
grow closer to you,
spirits which are willing
to toss away
what we once knew
for new understandings
which grow us closer to you
and all of your Creation.

We joyfully give thanks
for all of the possibilities
which lie in front of us
to know you more fully
and to share
your love more abundantly.

Amen.

You can follow Rev. Mark Sandlin on Facebook here.

A Reflection for Good Friday

jesus-carpenter123

Jesus was a carpenter, if a same sex couple asked him to make them a table he would have built it and it would have been as good as any table he had ever built, and then, when it was finished and sitting in their home, he would have sat with them and had dinner on it…..

but before they ate he would have probably washed their feet.

I believe this because of the way Jesus treated those the religious people excluded, because of the way he defended and befriended the ones the religious people called sinners, because of the way he chastised religious people for the way they misconstrued God’s way of thinking and because of the way he was always pointing out that the very people the religious people were railing against were a better example of God’s love than they were – more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven – more likely to have their prayers heard.

On this Good Friday I am remembering a Jesus that would have hung up a sign in front of his business that said “All are welcome here” – because he wouldn’t want anyone to have to walk in wondering how they would be treated.

That is what I’m reflecting on this Good Friday.

Sorry

This month’s synchroblog calls on bloggers to address the subject of handling spiritual abuse so the Christian tenets of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption are honored.

Man_Crying
Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people’s pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another. Sorry is a lot of things. It’s a hole refilled. A debt repaid. Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It’s the crippling ripple of consequence. Sorry is sadness, just as knowing is sadness. Sorry is sometimes self-pity. But Sorry, really, is not about you. It’s theirs to take or leave.

Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won’t settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It’s an offering. A gift. 
― 
Craig SilveyJasper Jones

At first I had a very difficult time imagining what the path to restoration would look like for a religious leader who had committed spiritual abuse.

My difficulty comes from the fact that far too often spiritual abusers aren’t held accountable for their actions because they hold too much power or celebrity and the abuse is ignored and goes on without being confronted until it becomes normalized. Too often the abused are told that they are the problem and their perspective is wrong.

If the abuser is not held accountable and doesn’t take personal responsibility I can’t imagine a way that the Christian tenets of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption can be honored.

But, if the abuser is held accountable for their actions, is willing to take responsibility and is sincerely sorry for their actions and the harm they have done I believe there is a way for us to honor the Christian ideals of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption; and I believe it can be done by practicing a form of restorative justice.

In my opinion the process would need to emphasize repairing the harm caused by the abuser and would include:

  1. Creating opportunities for victims, offenders and community members to meet and discuss the abuse and its aftermath.
  2. Allowing those who were abused to participate in determining the resolution.
  3. Having offenders take steps to personally work towards repairing the harm they caused.

If this sort of process is practiced I believe that there is a way the offender could be restored to a whole, contributing member of the Christian community. However, I think we must be cautious about setting that up as the goal. I believe the goal of the process should be to seek the justice, protection and restoration of those who have been abused.

I believe that when offenders are truly sorry about their actions and the harm they have caused and are more concerned with the well-being of those who have been harmed than their own self the possibility of their redemption and restoration become real.

Sorry is the necessary sacrament, the imperative offering, the essential gift.

Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Happy Reading: Disquiet Time

(This post is the beginning of what I hope to be an ongoing series on Grace Rules called “Happy Reading” where I write about books I recommend and why.)

cropped-disquiet-time

I love to read and for years I read a LOT of “Christian” books – some “Christian” fiction but mostly “Christian” non-fiction. I was always teaching at least one, usually two, women’s bible studies and leading women’s ministry so I was always in need of “new material” as I was in front of people talking a lot about the bible (which I was digging into pretty much everyday – mostly because of needing to prepare lessons and presentations – once I even memorized the whole book of Philippians for a bible study) and what it meant to live a Christian life.

When Nick came out the thing that “stuck” from ALL the bazillion minutes of time and study and prayer and teaching and reading – the thing that seemed to really matter – the thing that seemed to be the answer … was love. God loved me, God loved Nick, I was supposed to love Nick the same way that God loved me and Nick. ALL the other stuff didn’t seem that important anymore.

I did spend about a year or a little longer digging into the clobber verses and ideas and questions that came from studying those verses. I wanted to figure out what scripture really did or did not say about same sex relationships.

As I’ve mentioned before I was surprised that scripture turned out to be so vague on the subject. There just wasn’t anything ironclad in scripture to condemn a loving, committed same sex relationship … the kind of relationship that my son wanted to find with another guy.

At first it was a real shock to me to realize that I couldn’t find “the” answer in scripture that I was looking for. I cried out to God “what in the world do I do without a clear answer about this?” “who do I believe” “how do I go forward?”

Over and over again Micah 6:8 kept coming up … He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

All the questions I was asking had the word “do” in them and here was Micah 6:8 telling me what to “do” …. I started looking at the different versions … do justly, do justice, do what is right, to act justly, to act with justice, promote justice, do right judgment.

That led to me studying “justice” and how God views justice and what he perceives as justice. And there was plenty in scripture about justice and how passionate God is about justice.

In the end I realized it would be unjust for me to condemn something without sufficient evidence that it should be condemned….if there was no scripture that clearly condemned it and there was no clear evidence that it was harmful then it would be “unjust” for me to condemn it. It would be wrong and God calls me to do right, to do justice.

People often think that I became affirming because my son was gay and I loved him so much that I was willing to disregard what scripture says and go against God. To be honest with you I don’t know what would have happened if I had found evidence that same sex relationships were wrong. I know I would not have quit loving my son or quit being in a relationship with him – that was decided long before I had finished wrestling with the clobber verses. And I don’t think I would have abandoned my faith either. I love God and I love my son. No matter how it turned out I don’t think I would have had to choose between the two. BUT it didn’t even turn out to be a problem. My love for my son did not blind me, it did not make me have to twist anything to fit, my love for my son combined with my love for God sent me on the sincerest search I have ever been on and I am completely at peace with the answers I found.

These days I hardly read the bible and I don’t read very many Christian books. I still read a lot but I read mostly very good fiction which I think holds a lot of truth that God uses in my life …. but when it comes to “Christian” books I usually feel like I’ve read it before if you know what I mean and I’m still working on trying to live out the stuff in scripture that I do understand … like loving my neighbor as myself, doing justice, loving mercy and being humble before God.

Of course there are a few exceptions – sometimes something sends me running to scripture the way I sometimes need to listen to a certain song or reread a beautiful poem and sometimes a good Christian book comes along that is different enough that I want to read it in hopes that it will show me something new that I am ready to know and I try to keep my eye out for those … which leads me to the reason I started out this post in the first place…

I wanted to tell you about a “Christian” book that I just ordered, one that is being praised by some people that I respect and one I am pretty excited about reading.

It’s a book of essays from a collection of diverse writers who wrestle with the challenges that thoughtful faith provokes.

“Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels” is not your average Christian book and I hear that some of the essays might even make some people mad.

I’m excited about reading it because it sounds like it might be written by people who are sincerely searching for answers, people who have allowed themselves to really delve into how their life and scripture intersect, people who are not afraid to ask questions, or to say something doesn’t make sense or to point out the problems they have with something that scripture says.

I like that kind of honest approach to scripture and I like to listen to others who take that kind of approach.

I like what Steve Beard had to say in a review he wrote about the book:

“With nearly 50 different contributors, this isn’t an authoritative text on biblical interpretation. Instead, it is more like a funky theological jam session – no sheet music, brother riffing off of sister, guitar solos, tooting of the horns, banging of the drums, thumping of the bass – testifying about both estrangement and enduring love for the Bible.”

If you are interested in checking DisQuiet Time out there is a whole site of information here

Happy Reading!

Why are American churches still so racially segregated?

This month synchrobloggers were invited to write about “Race and Violence and Why We Need to Talk About It.

Diversity1-560x560

As I thought about the questions from this month’s synchroblog theme and recent events, such as the one in Ferguson, I began to reflect on the lack of racial diversity in American churches and wondered if things might be different if our churches were more integrated.


Would we be having more and better conversations if our churches weren’t so segregated?

Would there be less racial prejudice if there was more diversity in our faith communities?

Would it help eliminate some of the violence, fear, marginalization, demonization that exists in our society if our faith communities were racially integrated?

 

On March 31, 1968, a few short days before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and spoke a phrase he had used on a number of occasions and which by now, almost 50 years later, has gained a hard proverbial ring:

“Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America.”

According to a recent study not much has changed. The study found that churches are as racially segregated today as they have ever been in the history of our country.

Why are American churches still so racially segregated?

Why aren’t churches working harder to achieve racial diversity?

Do you think the racial segregation that exists in American churches is harmful?

Do you think we can have true racial integration in our country if we persist in remaining segregated in the worship experience on Sundays, even when we share the same religious beliefs that teach otherwise?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out the other September synchroblog posts:

 

Hell? No!

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “What The Hell” – thoughts about the controversial subject of hell. You will find the links to all the other participants at the end of this post.
310171271_640

I don’t believe in hell.

There, I said it.

I cringe a little every time I say it out loud because I come from a place where I was thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that there was a place called hell. It was where those who did not believe in God/Jesus would go when they died … but, if you believed in God/Jesus you would go to heaven instead of hell.

No one ever said what would happen to you if you didn’t believe in hell but it was kind of an unspoken assumption that if you didn’t believe in hell you probably weren’t “really” a “real” Christian and that meant you probably didn’t believe in God/Jesus and well … no need to repeat myself … you get the picture.

Once I got the picture I realized right away that I didn’t want to go to hell. It was an easy decision for me … believe in God and get a ticket to heaven … which by the way was the complete opposite of hell – it was a place where everyone was happy – so happy that no one ever shed a tear, and it was pretty too! Duh! – that’s where I wanted to go. So, I believed and I “confessed” that I believed and I got dunked and that was that … I was safe. I had my insurance and hoped everyone would be as smart and nice as me about it so no one would ever have to go to that horrible place called hell.

And the way I thought of hell was truly horrible. It was a place where those who “went” there would endure horrendous pain and suffering forever. The picture I had in my mind was a place where people were actually on fire – burning for eternity! The sounds I imagined coming from that place were even more horrible than the scenes that were conjured up by the hell fire and brimstone sermons I had heard. In my imagination the people were in so much pain that hell was filled with constant screams of agony that were louder than the music at a rock concert. Hell was a very scary place and any time I thought about it I was glad that I wasn’t going to go there when I died.

Then several years ago I began to seriously think about what I believed and what I based those beliefs on. That was when I realized that the idea of hell sounded out of place and wrong. It didn’t fit with what I believed about God. So, I began to re-examine what I believed about hell. Right away I discovered that the word hell (Sheol) in the Old Testament has nothing to do with a place of punishment and in the New Testament it (Hades and Gehenna) is used symbolically and masks a ton of metaphor.

It can be difficult for someone like me to see what scripture does and doesn’t say about hell as I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with what I’ve come to think of as “one hell of a lie”. But, a thorough study of scripture combined with a little knowledge and understanding of historical context and original language clearly revealed that scripture was being misrepresented and being made to appear as if it said stuff that it didn’t say.

From there it wasn’t a big leap for me to come to the conclusion that I had bought into a lie and although I might not have all of the answers about the afterlife I certainly couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support the idea of hell.

After more in depth research I have come to believe that hell is the invention of man and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of Dante’s Inferno and the English poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. But, none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! 

Since I have stopped believing in hell I have found that I am free to serve God because I love him and his ways – not because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I feel more compelled to love others just for the sake of loving them – not to convince them to believe something. Without hell I don’t find that there is as much need for thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” which can lead to more cooperation and unity … in other words we can do more good together.

At the same time not believing in hell has led to other questions which anyone reading this might be asking at this very moment. In an effort to give you some answers and much more food for thought here are three resources that you might find helpful:

One resource that I found especially helpful was the work of Crystal Lewis. She has written an excellent E-book (available for free) called Quenched – What Everyone (Especially Christians) Should Know About Hell. In the book she covers all the Old and New Testament verses that mention hell, the origins of the idea of underworlds and why people continue to believe in hell. You can download her E-book here and access her individual blog (which includes a series called “One Hell of a Lie”) here.

Another good resource I ran across was the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson. He was a super star preacher with a huge, devoted following. He rubbed elbows with the most powerful political and religious leaders in the U.S. He had it all. He was on top of the world. Until one day while watching the evening news he realized that he had bought into one hell of a lie and had been spreading it. He was so convinced that the hell he had preached about was a lie that he risked (and lost) everything to share what he believes to be true.

Here’s a little bit of Bishop Pearson’s story in his own words:

My kids were real small. My daughter, who’s now 16, was an infant in my lap. And I was watching the evening news, about the Hutus and Tutsis returning to Uganda. I was angry with God and very disgruntled – these poor African people were suffering so violently and I was overwhelmed with compassion and grief and guilt and anger.

I thought: “I’m here with this little fat-cheeked baby, and I’m eating my dinner watching the news in my lovely home, Mercedes in the garage, beautiful wife, everything going great.” I looked at children like my daughter, with flies around their eyes. And I assumed they were non-Christians under the judgment of God and going to hell.

You could see the little babies’ bellies distended and swollen, and they were scratching and crying and their mother was sitting there with this blank expression on her face, with her breast deflated, the child pulling at it, no milk. I thought, they’re probably Muslims or into Juju, they’re headed to hell.

I said to God: “How could you allow that? Call yourself a God of love? You let those poor people suffer, then suck ’em right into hell.”

And that’s when I felt I heard God say: “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

I said: “Well that’s what the Bible says. They’re not Christians. They’re going to hell.”

“Can’t you see they’re already there? That is hell and I’m pulling them out of there, out of that place that you as humans have created for them and yourselves.”

You can find more of Bishop Pearson’s story here and watch a 4 part MSNBC video series “To Hell and Back – Is Hell Real?” that tells his story here.

And finally here is an excellent response from Shane Hipps that concentrates on the reality that whatever any of us believe about the afterlife it’s all purely speculative. I particularly like this piece because Hipps concludes by pointing out that perhaps we should be spending less time pondering the afterlife and more time on the here and now – which is something I wholeheartedly agree with!

__________________________________________________________________________________

Check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe – Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman – Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda – The Y In The Road
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell
Elaine – What The Hell?

Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

3565997184_74591ceef2

Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

Stages of Faith and Beauty in the Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have done a rewrite so I could post it today as a contribution to the November Synchroblog: “Faith Stories”

walkingdesert2_thumb

Over the years my faith has changed significantly – as I believe it should. For many years my faith was mostly about ascribing to a list of beliefs that were non-negotiable. Today my faith is more about living into the way of Jesus which mostly ends up being about loving others.

When I first started having questions and doubts about “the list” of non-negotiables I was really thrown off balance but over time I have become pretty comfortable with having more questions than answers and embracing the mystery of God.  I no longer believe that changing my mind about some faith related issue is evidence of a weak faith or being an immature Christian.  In fact, I ascribe to the idea that an active, vibrant life of faith will often lead to stages of faith that are filled with questions and doubts (see stage 4 in the chart below) which can lead to wonderful revelation and transformation (stages 5 & 6 in the chart) that always seemed out of reach in the midst of being so certain about everything. [1]

nextreformation.com wp admin resources stages of faith.pdf

These days I assume that I am surely wrong about a multitude of things that I believe at any given moment. However, that doesn’t stop me from living out my faith with conviction and passion. Instead, it imbibes me with a dose of humility that keeps me from feeling like the world has ended if I happen to discover that what I thought was true doesn’t hold up under serious study, thought, prayer and scrutiny.

One of the things that I have a significantly different perspective about these days is suffering … or “the wilderness” as it is often referred to by Christians.

“The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” – Nancy Wynne Newhall

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

[1] If you want to explore more about the stages of faith:

Read these three excellent blog posts about Stages in the Life of Faith  herehere and here which may lead you to read the book: The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich

************************************************************************************

Check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog: