Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beyond Exhibitionism to Healing

So, I want to make something clear about yesterday's blog post (and as a side note, this post will go beyond sex into just open discussion).
This is was not the intention of yesterday's post.

This is more like it.
What I mean when I say we need to talk about sex is that we need to remove the shame and guilt and condemnation of sex. It really is that simple. In some ways we need to remove the mystery of sex. That said, there will always be mystery with sex. It is alluring. But it doesn't have to be forbidden fruit cast before us that we seek out in dark corners and shady alleys. It needs to be something that we can talk about with others. But here's the transition for this post to the broader sense: in good, safe, pure environments with people we trust.
Healing doesn't mean that we must bare our wounds to everyone....This doesn't mean that we should constantly tell the world how much we are hurting. This can become what (Henri J.M.) Nouwen calls "spiritual exhibitionism." - Rabbi Ruth Gais
I came across this while I was looking for a Nouwen quote on spiritual exhibitionism. It pretty well sums up where I am headed. We need to become a people comfortable with our brokenness, comfortable with things we normally try to cover up, and bring to light topics that we reserve for the darkness. But we also need to be weary of being exhibitionists. In our quest to becoming open people, we need to find the balance of sharing, but not too much.

This was something that my friends and I back home in Texas really strove for. The word we used at the time was vulnerability. I like that word. It implies a certain amount of trust with the person you are sharing. It implies that you are willing to expose your weakness, because there is safety. And that is what we were striving for. We were trying to expose those rough places in our lives. At times, we probably went too far, but we really did strike a great balance.

I often think back to a classic picture that we all have some feelings toward. The picture of a confessional booth. I think a lot of Protestants get pretty skeptical when it comes to confessionals. We really take to the "Me and God" concept. We ride that horse into the ground. But there is good biblical precedent for confession of sins to one another, and not just to God. It is a practice that I think many need to take part in.


Not just because it is good to follow Scripture, but also, and many of us know this, it is good for the soul to relieve ourselves of burdens that we have kept hidden. When you are known by others, for better AND worse you are able to stop hiding. There is a lot of power in that. Starting that process is a most difficult thing. But once you begin confessions seem to flow out of you. It is pretty interesting.

But that is also the place where we have to guard ourselves...and protect others. So, just for the sake of illustration, I'll present a conversation that is good to have, and show how it could turn the corner into exhibitionism.

Two guys (or girls if you want...I don't exclude) are pretty good friends. They do the church thing. They try to be faithful, but one in particular is struggling with an addiction to pornography. He asks to meet with the other for some conversation and prayer. The two meet at one of their homes (because let's be frank here, Starbucks may not be the best place for that convo. Speaking of Starbucks, have I got a story for you sometime!!! Just ask me). The two decide that they are going to do some sort of accountability and begin to share.

It comes time for the dude with pornography issues to share. He confesses that he is struggling x many times a day/week. These are usually the reasons why. This time of day is particularly difficult. These are the feelings has toward himself...toward others after...toward God...toward those he has seen in the videos. He then talks about a history that led him to this place. He talks about why he wants to quit. He talks about what he has tried to quit. He may talk about a few other things as well. And I would say all of that is good healthy conversation.

But the moment the conversation dips into the types of porn and descriptions of the porn, or even, and this would be real disturbing, his physical experience when watching porn it has gone too far. That is what Nouwen refers to. That is spiritual exhibitionism. And it is where we pass the lines of healing, and is actually a form of emotional sadism. It becomes a place where we derive satisfaction from inflicting pain and shame upon ourselves. And that my friends, we must avoid. And, even as I write this it is almost like history just unveiled herself a little. These are probably the things that helped create our shame-based purity culture. Because in the process, both friends get a little slimed here. And in the long run, healing is left in the dust in the name of exposure.

So, let's move past the illustration and to the heart of what you may be feeling now (because I am feeling this way a bit myself). That is kind of scary. I may cross the line. I will never feel that kind of trust. I don't even know who I could talk to about these things. I don't think my problems are that bad. All of these thoughts are valid. But I would say, you know your heart. You know your soul. You know those feelings that nag at you. You probably also know some men or women that you could talk to. The problem is choosing to engage in confession.

And in the words of my friend Jon, you will mess up. You will go too far. But we learn through process. Doctors don't just study theory. They don't just read books and then all of a sudden they are a doctor before they ever see an actual human body. It wouldn't work. In the same regard, we don't study all about being vulnerable and get it perfect. We are human. We make mistakes. But, we trust that it is best. And we learn to confess. And that is what brings healing. Shame can't attack what is in the light. Sure, you may be ashamed for a week or two, and may even try to dodge your friend. But what that friend is still there, and may even have similar struggles, that shame starts to remove itself.

So, what is the conclusion? How does this end? With us learning to share ourselves with community. Learning that we are not so alone. But also learning the boundaries that protect us and keep us from compounding the problem. Will it be messy? Most definitely. Will it be worth? Again. Most definitely. So, here's to healing friend.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Let's Talk about Sex

So, before I get started here, I have a quick message for my friends Betsy, Georgia, Laurie and Jennie: Hey ladies.

Okay, now that a private joke amongst old friends is done, I present to you Christian Sex Talk!
When I finally got around to taking Christian Ethics at Fuller, Dr. Glen Stassen was on a break and Dr. Justin Phillips (I haven’t been able to officially call him doctor yet…yay!) taught in his stead. I don’t remember if he and Bethany McKinney (hey...I still ask the iPod friend!) assigned reading for us, or if we self-selected, but somehow, I ended up with Marva Dawn’s book Sexual Character. That book title in itself is not terrible, but the subtitle Beyond Technique to Intimacy…yeesh, made this single dude cringe. But the deal was it started a pattern of thought that changed me quite a bit.

Through the course of that quarter and the next year I just became really comfortable with sex. Friends presented different problems in terms of sexuality and the sex act and it really just didn’t bug me. I can’t tell you why. It was even to the point that I was looking at going to school to be a sex therapist for people in the church. What I realize now is that the shame of sex just evaporated for me. In the words of George Michael, it dawned on me that “Sex is natural, sex is fun” (I just can’t bring myself to type the rest of the lyric though!).
Rachel Held Evans has written a lot about his. I like her phrase, “shame-based purity culture.” It’s a great term, especially for us Evangelicals. We are raised with this stigma of “sex” that ruins something that is good and natural. And to exacerbate that the word “sex” itself became so stigmatized that there are a lot of conversations that are now so painfully awkward, parents and ministers are left scratching their heads. How do we talk to pubescent kids about things like masturbation, kissing, relationships and more importantly abuse? If we teach kids that sex is dirty and gross, I would assert we are grooming victims. I think my generation has seen its fair share of men and women taking 20 years or more to finally confess they were victimized, because they were so ashamed at the time of what happened to them.

So, yesterday at church I encountered this culture again. Now, before I go too much further, let me say that I really enjoyed the marriage panel we had. It was actually one of the best church-marriage things I have seen done. So kudos for that. And really, sex wasn’t even the focus, but there was a singular moment when sex took center stage. Someone tweeted the question (yeah…we did questions by tweet, both cool, and now I realize limiting since we probably barred a majority of people over 50 from entering the conversation), “How do you as a couple decompress together? What kinds of activities do you do to take the edge off?”
Great question. And my buddy Will chimed in with a great answer, “Uh. My mother-in-law is here.” This garnered some very appropriate laughter. It was funny. Will continued by saying that he and his wife really did just love sex. It was something special for them. And the laughter continued. We all know that it was good-natured laughter, probably nervous laughter. I mean, this is church. Why would you talk about sex? And the truth is it reflected this same shame-based purity culture that Held Evans writes about. As a congregation we were just uncomfortable with a couple that has been married for 14 years with a couple of kids saying that they enjoy sex. What gives?

This is the culture that I was raised in. This is the culture that I live in. This is the culture that I try to invest my life in. I hang with, and try to indirectly mentor quite a few dudes and gals. I do my best to show that we just do life together, and the day-to-day, mundane things are still spiritual and significant. And, for the most part, I think I do a decent job. There are certain disconnects because I am a Gen X’er hanging with Millennials. Certain things are just radically different. I know 10 years doesn’t seem a lot different in terms of age, but there are certain things I have more in common with 54 year olds than I do with 24 year olds.
But one of the things that translates, and I think this is more church culture than society, is the shame associated with sex. Recently I had an encouragement for a bro about purity. But, because of the nature of it, I thought for a second we would have to go into another room for me to be able to share it. There are just certain words you can’t say. And truth be told, I get where it comes from. I don’t agree with some of our overt denial of the way things are, but it is birthed out of a quest for purity. And I love that in a world of anything goes, there are still people trying to retain their purity. It is beautiful, but even those of us who pursue sexual purity can see the failings of it. It reminds me of the old joke:

Do you know why Baptists don’t have sex? - It could lead to dancing.
Basically, we know that we have gone too far. We know that our quest for purity has led us to a place where we cannot have good, pure, life-altering talks about matters that are of utmost importance. Because the truth is sexuality is just as important as physicality, emotionality, spirituality and intellect in development. It shapes who we are. And when we say: “No. We will not talk about that. When you get married then you can learn about sex,” what we do is cut off the forging of identity…and worse yet, we tell young people to figure out on their own. And so sex becomes a peer taught subject...and I don't know about you, but I remember the education I got in that area during middle school. Not exactly the greatest.

And so my challenge is this: If we know that what we are doing is unhealthy, why do we keep doing it? That would be like finding out your radiator has a leak and driving our car without refilling it or replacing it. Eventually it is going to break…and because it’s the radiator it could destroy the rest of the car. So…let’s try and work this out. How does this sex thing work? How do we talk about it without becoming exhibitionists? I think it’s a conversation worth having.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Bon Iver, Ecclesiastes and Rob Johnston, Part 2

So, this is Part 2 of the series. You can read the first here. The last post ended this way:
My life is very much meaningless.
But here's the deal...it is also very much beautiful. I have immensely enjoyed my life. Sure, there have been seasons that have not been so great, but I have really enjoyed my life. There are so many things that are great and beautiful about it.

And the story of redemption...mmm...c'mon boy. That is the stuff of legends. That is the story of the hope of hope descending down into a temporal space and time redeeming all of this meaningless toil. That is the story of turning ashes into beauty. And I enjoy it.

For some reason this reminds me of my favorite painting, Lyonel Feininger's Near the Palace. Here it is for you to check out:

I discovered this painting in a Barry Taylor course. I don't remember exactly what the course was called. But I remembered we approached theology through painters who also had biopics done on them. As part of the course we went to the Norton Simon, which was amazing. I went a few additional times once I found out it was free for students. Each time there was something new I discovered that I liked, but every time I would come back and just stare at this painting for probably 10-15 minutes, maybe even up to half an hour. It just...it's beautiful to me. And I haven't found a lot of people who see it the way I see it.

These beautiful, almost geometric lines create this rich contrast. It seems mathematical, yet conveys a deep, resonating emotion inside me. The rich tones, the steeple. The father and the son (at least that is who they are to me). The breaking of the sun onto an otherwise dark time of day. It's beautiful...and yet melancholy. It's perfect. It's Ecclesiastes.

It says to me that yes, in the arch of my life, much is meaningless, but I have love, I have beauty, I have hope. I have life. This meaningless life is beautiful. And that is what Rob was trying to get at. That is why he was saying that Ecclesiastes is so relevant for this generation, for this time of life.

Let's revisit the last Scripture I shared on the other post, Ecclesiastes 8:15 - "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." The writer, who has already said, "Meaningless, meaningless. Everything is meaningless," commends us to enjoy life. And that is this word reconciling thing that we are called to do.

In our lefthand we hold this notion that everything is meaningless. In the right hold we hold this commendation to enjoy it. To eat. To drink. To be merry. To find joy in our toil. And that is why it is okay that in the scheme of things our lives are meaningless. But meaninglessness does not mean valueless. And that is where the turn comes.

As Christians, and we share this with some other religions, we have this understanding that God is in the business of redemption. Somehow in the midst of everything that is meaningless God sees value. God saw our lives, saw the trajectory of demise, rejection, hate and war that we had engaged in, stopped and thought, "You know what...even still, I want them. They are worth the sacrifice of everything dear to me."

Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums.
In a way, it's like we are all in a Wes Anderson flick. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Who is Wes Anderson?" and others are thinking, "His films are a bunch of arthouse, bourgeois decadence that lacks any real merit or substance." To which I would reply, "But it's so pretty." (Nothing like a solid, scholarly critique derailed by kinderspeak!) But hear me out. Anderson creates these worlds where beautiful people are screwed up. Where talented people plateau and digress further than they have any right to. In other words, we find in Anderson's films a picture of our world as it really is. We don't achieve what we want. We get caught up in patterns that infuriate us. Things get to the point of meaninglessness and then something worth holding onto comes along, shakes us out of our stupor, and something so unlovable catches our affections.

And I would say this world is where God steps in, takes hold of us and makes something beautiful. The finished product doesn't look radically different from the initial clay, but the interior gets shaken. The redemption doesn't come with the tools of a cosmetician, it doesn't happen as an outpatient procedure, but it occurs. And that is part of this story of redemption. But then with that comes this invitation to help make others beautiful. And that is real some real beauty happens. We get to step into the meaningless of others lives and speak value.

And so, as I started, saying life is meaningless, I end by saying...life is meaningless, and wonderful, and beautiful. And somehow those things merge (or as my friend Jonathan said the other day "swirl" into the truth. Somehow this beautiful meaningless life is how it is, and how it should be. And that helps keep us from our little god-complexes and taking ourselves too seriously. And helps us enjoy the menial things that captivate us, creating moments that no one else can understand because somehow these beautifully crafted moments capture all that we are and will be...even if that is meaningless. 

On Bon Iver, Ecclesiastes and Rob Johnston, Part 1

So...let's start with my initial inspiration for this post. Watch this:

If you happen to follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook (which I kind of assume is how you found my blog) then you know about my love/hate of Bon Iver. I guess it is actually more of a love/jealousy thing when you get down to it. Their music just blows me away. I don't understand how they are creating this sound. So beautiful. So melancholy. Somehow still makes me happy.

Bon Iver is the latest in a line of bands/musicians that captures this thing that I have called melancholy joy. I think we all have those songs, bands, movies or books that we know are expressly sad, but still somehow bring us joy and even hope. For some it is that cathartic movie that you watched alone at home every Friday night after that break-up. For some it is that album that expressed your grief after you lost someone special. Though they are sad, they still somehow bring immense comfort and joy.

Some examples for me are the movies On a Clear Day and Lars and the Real Girl, and musicians Chris Thile and Joe Purdy. In a sense these are my textbook examples. It's easy to understand when listening to a song like The Beekeeper or I Love the Rain Most what I am trying to communicate. Both of these songs demonstrate a pang of loss in the midst of hope...or reverse that. Either way.

So...now let's scroll back to Fall quarter 2006. I got wait-listed for Theology and Film with Dr. Rob Johnston. I was excited, because somehow I got in. I got the syllabus and was taken aback a little bit. It had to be a typo. There was no way that we were going to read Ecclesiastes every week...twice. Yeah, we had to read that depressing book twice a week. I just didn't get it.

But Rob communicated something in that first class that has stuck with me ever since. And it is one of the starting places for this post: Ecclesiastes is one of the most relevant books for today's society. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we live Ecclesiastes...and that is not as depressing as it sounds. So, here's the deal. This, in my mind is the first part of a two post series about two juxtaposed thoughts on our identity as humans that seem irreconcilable, but are both nonetheless true. More simply? Here are two thoughts that can't seem true at the same time, but somehow are.

Before this gets too depressing...here's a bear playing a trumpet!
Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? - Ecclesiastes 3:19-22
All go to the same place. All come from the dust. All return to the dust. This is human existence. We all live. We all die. Everything we work toward is then entrusted to others. In other words, as we all know from Ecclesiastes, and is quoted above: everything is meaningless. And we can and should somehow be okay with that.

So, above I posted a Bon Iver video. The reason being was this line: "And at once I knew, I was not magnificent." That lyric has been sticking with me for quite a while. There is something expressly profound about proclaiming the normalcy of our human life. We are not that special. We are not all that talented, all that unique. We are human, just like those around us, just like those that came before us, just like those that will come after us. We just aren't all that different.

Before I came into contact with Bon Iver this same idea was communicated through a Fleet Foxes' song called Helplessness Blues. Here is a little video of that song. I can't really vouch for the video quality, but you can at least hear the song:

The first line is, in my opinion, quintessential melancholy joy:
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
The realization that everything special about you is somehow just not true is tough to stomach...but at least the Fleet Foxes communicated it beautifully. It somehow makes it more palatable. There is in this humble lyric of resignation a recognition that it is still okay. It is fine to be normal. It is fine not to be a "snowflake distinct among snowflakes." It is fine to be part of the greater part of Earth and her cycles and not somehow not be one of the movers and shakers who changes everything.

At the end of the day, my life is not that special. At the end of my life I will return to the dust. All I have is to enjoy this meaningless life. Or as it says in chapter 8 of this biblical text, "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun" (verse 15). 

So, in summary, there is nothing better for me to do than enjoy this meaningless life that is not all that unique. There is nothing better that will come about than to somehow enjoy my labor, eat, drink and be merry. My soul will be all the better for acknowledging that there is nothing that great about me. Somehow a thought so depressing, so melancholy so anti everything that I was raised to believe is truth. My life is very much meaningless.

Friday, July 26, 2013

4am (Take 2)

So, today's post is a little simple. It's basically an introductory story, a poem and then some pictures. So, a quick introduction, last September I spent a week at The Abbey of Gethsemani. It was a great time. Living with a bunch of silent monks was good for the soul. If you've read this blog even a couple of times, or have spent much time around me, you know I have this love for Thomas Merton.

Tom...you're way too cool.
So, my love for Tom let me on an excursion to Trappist, Kentucky to spend a week where he lived most of his life. The brothers were great. The abbey was amazing. I was overwhelmed because a week of silence was, let's just say challenging. Also, if you have spent time with me, you know that I can get very, "Go, go go! Why aren't we moving yet?" And I was quite wound up when I got to the monastery.

Overall the trip was great. It slowed me down. Introduced me to meditation that works for me. Reminded me of the eternal. Everything a good retreat should. But one day I had an encounter at 4am with Brother Alan. We had just finished 3:30am prayer. I was nursing a cuppa joe and reading through the Psalms in the library. I saw in the shadows this figure emerging. I didn't really know what to do, so I just nodded and smiled. He smiled back, and we had this special little moment.

Fast forward we finished the 5:45 prayers and were doing the Eucharist, and behold, Alan was the speaker that morning. He gave the sermon. I went down to breakfast, came back up for 7:45 prayer, went out for my hike, went to 12:15 prayer and when I sat down this poem came out. Granted...this is the second take. And then the story takes both a silly and sentimental turn.

Brother Alan is the second from the left in front of the table.

I copied the poem for Brother Alan and wanted to give him a copy. I had a hard time working up the nerve to approach him and there was the problem of silence. How do I tell him what this is? That he inspired this? After Compline at 7:30pm I noticed he was straightening the choir books. So, I kinda threw the poem on his hands, whispered, "I wrote this for you," and ran out of there. Real brave, eh?

So, I didn't know how he took it. The next day he didn't say anything. The day after however he caught me in the library. I saw him look around. He noticed we were alone. He whispered, "You wrote this?" I told him I did. He replied, "About me?" I again affirmed. Then with tears in his eyes he asked, "This is how you see me?" And I nodded and said yes. Then he whispered some words that will stick with me for a long time. "I try so hard." Those words caught me off guard. Why would a monk need to try hard? Why would a monk want to be seen a certain way? And then it was like my little light bulb moment. "This is your future...you're looking in a future mirror." I mean that not in the sense of being a monk, but as in, my issues, my concerns, my day-to-day things will continue just as Brother Alan's do. In some sense we are one in the same just as Michael Phelps (random much?) or Shane Claiborne or Maya Angelou also are. We are human no matter how far along the journey we get. And I think I knew that, but in that moment realization finally took hold.

Brother Alan and I talked for a couple of minutes. He told me how Merton had drawn him in as well. How he had served as a pall bearer at his funeral. It was really a sweet, sweet time. But as I got up today, I thought about that encounter and want to share this poem with you.
Happy little monk, feet shuffling down the hall
Our night watchman, awake from your sleeping stall
First prayers we have finished, more prayers yet to come
Alone we two in this library, silent but electricity's hum

Alone I sat, not quite caffeinated, not yet showered
There you appeared on your way in that holy hour
Not knowing rules, I hesitate...nod...smile
In your grace you return them, confirming it worthwhile

Little did I know, oh humble man of cloth
That this grace was only the first you'd give.
For today you'd present us the sacrament
Today you'd teach us to live...

In purity, full-hearted in our vocation
Though I may not know what that is
Your words helped create an awakening
That I can rest knowing I will

You in your cassock, me in pearl snaps
Us once divided by Luther, united again in Christ

Happy little monk, head bobbing down the hall
My night watchman leaving your sleeping stall
Thank you for smiles, nods, bright eyes
That bestow on me grace, that reminds me that
It is more than the hustle, more than distraction
It is more than anything, residing in a king
On His holy hill, together with strangers we love.

The Abbey
The Choir

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thoughts on Once Hanging Out with Leonard Knight

One summer while I was still in Southern California my buddy Scott came to live with Nate, TJ and I. I am guessing this had to be between Steve and Erik, but definitely before Adam as roommates. I honestly lose track of the order of those three, but I think it was definitely Steve-Erik-Adam. But now I am curious if I am missing a roommate in there. Okay, rewind. One summer Scott came to visit me. It was the summer we had that earthquake and the Greens lived directly above us in the big house. I namely remember the earthquake story because poor Scott was caught showering during the earthquake and had to run out into the yard in his towel and hung out with Jeremy and the boys until it was safe to go back inside.

Which also means it was the summer that this happened:

I decided to surprise Scott with a brief roadtrip. I told him to pack an overnight bag. In Southern California there is a lot of diversity so I had to tell him to prepare a desert overnight bag, not a beach overnight or mountains overnight. We took off late Friday (you know, after 7:30 to avoid L.A. traffic) and hit The 10 going east. As we passed through Palm Springs Scott started asking a few questions, so I told him, "We're headed to the Salton Sea." We spent the night in a little $19.95 a night hotel/flea market. I kid you not. Instead of a lobby...they had a flea market.

The next day I told Scott the reason we came out here was to see Salvation Mountain and hopefully meet Leonard Knight. Most of you probably have no idea who Knight is. If you do know him, it is quite likely your introduction came through Into the Wild. That is how I heard about him anyway. So Scott and I bought breakfast at a convenience store and headed out to Salvation Mountain. We didn't really know what to do, so we walked around a little bit, and if memory serves me correctly, as we were about to leave Leonard drove up.

This dude is one of the nicest, most congenial guys you will ever meet. I felt loved from the very first smile. I think we spent maybe two hours with him. He took us on a tour and we prayed together. He told us his story, much of which you can find on the Salvation Mountain website.

Leonard Knight and Salvation Mountain
But there were a couple of things I noticed about Leonard. First, he was a bit strange. Second, he loved Jesus, but was a bit disenfranchised with the Church. Both are things I have encountered quite a bit in life, but it got me thinking about the correlation between the two.

Now, before you think this is going to turn into bagging on Leonard, it’s not. I think he has done an amazing job living out his faith and loving people, probably better than a lot of people sitting in pews every Sunday. And I sincerely mean that. The people surrounding Leonard love him. People living around the Salton Sea and The Slabs love Leonard. They get him paint and other things for Salvation Mountain all the time. They hired a lawyer that defended him when they were going to destroy Salvation Mountain for ecological reasons. Turns out the “dirt samples” used against him were illegitimate. And it was people surrounding him who defended him. And that is probably because he loves them so well.

But what it got me to thinking about was a Scripture we quote a lot and I think that can be misunderstood. Hebrews 10:24-15: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The reason I say that we don’t understand this Scripture is because today’s experience of church is so far removed from what the author of Hebrews refers to. Remember in Acts, where it says, “And daily they met…”? The author of Hebrews is referring to this same kind of meeting. He (or possibly she with the book of Hebrews) writes about daily life. For believers, to give up meeting together references withdrawing from community. It is not about who shows up in sits in the pews on a given Sunday.

Yet, attendance and a gold star on the chart is how I interpreted this passage for much of life. But what the writer confronts the recipients of this letter with is being a part of community, not attending a service. So, in one sense the writer would probably care less who made it to synagogue on a given Saturday. What matters is that daily life. But, at the same time, and this is where this post is headed, are we cut off from teaching that keeps us balanced? That is important.

Scott and I playing Desi and Cody's wedding.
The thing that worries me about the Leonards of the world is getting weird, getting off, because they have cut themselves off from Christian community, and therefore both correction and encouragement. And that can be a huge problem. We see this expressed in today’s society. There are people that you just don’t know if they are mentally ill or fervent in faith. There are little “Christian” groups that espouse hate or promote violence. And these things occur because A) we’re human and B) because we cut off the voices of those that could correct misguided belief.

In Leonard’s case, I just think he doesn’t value the Church as much as he should…but the rest of his fundamental beliefs are fine. But I will point to a group that I have a huge problem with: Westboro Baptist Church. Now, first, as I have written before, I do not believe these people are in any way shape or form “church.” They just aren’t. There are extremists that use the name Christian to espouse a form of hatred that is repulsive. They do not follow the ways of Jesus. And they are the types that I think the writer of Hebrews would chasten. (If you think I am being judgmental myself, let’s talk about this sometime. I typically don’t challenge any groups as church…just Westboro.)

They have forsaken the assembly. They have left us and will not listen to us. But lest we think we are above them, if we corral ourselves away from the rest of the Church we do the same, but probably in a more tempered, acceptable way. I have said this before, I will say it again…as a member of the Church I need Rob Bell and John Piper. I need Thomas Merton and Benny Hinn. They all bring things to the table. I need them to sharpen me, challenge me and keep me from getting weird. I need to be in “fellowship” with them.

So, in that regard, though I hope and pray that Leonard rekindles his love for the Church, I also thank him, because he reminds me that love for the Church isn’t enough…I need to love the people in the Church as well…just like he does. But at the same time I reach out the hand of fellowship that he needs. And that mutuality is where we choose not to forsake one another, not just in the pews of our congregation.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Seminary Class that Defeated My Soul

So, in yesterday's post, I alluded to a class that just about broke my spirit while I was at Fuller Theological Seminary. But before I do, you need to understand one thing that pretty much summarizes the experience of what we went through. This image defines the class for me:

Aaron Neville. There are about 60 people who already know what class I am talking about and why Aaron Neville is symbolic of that time. For those of you in the class let me remind you of a few things: when we signed up for Systematic Theology 3 the professor was still unassigned. Do you remember that? We, for the most part, were night students who needed ST3 to graduate, so we really didn't care who it was. What we didn't expect was a homiletics professor who had taught systematics earlier in her career. Enter one Dr. Marguerite Shuster.

Dr. Shuster was a good Presbyterian...and before I go any further, a great person. However, you couldn't escape her Presbyterian views as we approached ST3. Before her I had Dr. Ray Anderson for Systematics 1 and Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (you know the purple top hat dude) for Systematics 2. I believe they were Lutheran and Pentecostal, respectively. So, as you can imagine, my Systematics studies were quite broad.

Dr. Shuster was quite stately. She enunciated everything quite well. She was well organized. We finished everything on the syllabus for the day. In other words, things should be have been fine.

Three of these people were probably clinically depressed.
Add to that, some of my favorite people were in this class; unbeknownst to any of us, two of my roommates, Erik and Nate were in this class. John and Sheridan (from yesterday's post) were also in there with us. And I believe I knew about 65-70% of the rest of the room. Even better. Things should have been great.

But somehow everything came unraveling quite quickly. I don't know if it was the first test, or my Facebook status that nearly 80% of the class commented on that finally did me in. Either way, things were not good.

I think part of it had to do with things at home. Above are me with Betsy, TJ and Nate. We were all roommates...c'mon Betsy. We all basically lived together right? And for some reason that particular quarter was about the worst thing since a Nutella-Vegemite Sandwich. I think literally all four of us (uh, this includes Erik, not Betsy) were either in therapy, on anti-depressants or should have been taking part in some combination thereof. In other words. Just a rough time...compounded by the four of us sharing a bedroom with two sets of bunk beds.

So, back to the test. This wasn't just a normal test. If it was, it obviously wouldn't be a story. So, this test should have been straight forward. I did my studying, expected a "B" because I didn't study as hard as I should have. And then...the test landed in front of me. Two things happened at once. I began to panic and everything I knew left my mind.

The test continued, I gave up hope. I answered all the questions and then every fiber of my being thought, "Get out of here...now!" So, I was the first person to turn in the test. Before I had even reached the door, I gasped and the tears started flowing. That's right, the tears started before I even got a grade. I start walking down the stairwell, full on chaos of tears across my face and I hear, "James! Wait up! That was terrible. Are you crying? I feel like crying too." It was my roommate Erik. It was the worst.

We came back probably two classes later and Dr. Shuster informs the class that these were the worst grades she's ever given on a Systematics exam ever. I get the grade and there it is starting at me: 24. Almost on the points of hysterics the whole classroom has this sick look. And then she reminds us, "Oh...this is out of 50." It still doesn't help. The class is just broken at this point, which leads up to my facebook post and a moment, if you want to go scriptural, "The Lord will turn your mourning into dancing," for a lot of people, including myself. But first a brief interlude.

Below me is a class example that explains two things about seminary. First, probably why I am so self-concious. Good night, even with those nasty staches, I just hung around attractive people. And second, the staches. Every year around February it started: Facial hair Februrary leading up to Moustache March. Our campus became a little manlier, or a little more unsightly depending on your viewpoint. These dudes gave me the confidence to support that terrible fu man chu I have going on.

This picture has nothing to do with ST3. But this was Moustache March at Fuller probably a year before the incident.
So, shortly after this test, being frustrated with how everything was going, I got a little more proactive. I started asking questions. But I noticed something. Every time I asked a question Dr. Shuster's speech changed. She slowed everything...and seemed to dumb it down. After this happened a couple of times, I just lost it. I changed my Facebook status to something really close to this:

"Is it just me, or does it seem like Dr. Shuster thinks I am literally mentally handicapped?"

We've all done it. We've all vented on Facebook. This time however, it was like an avalanche. I got something like 70-80 comments...during class. That's right. My classmate's were all commenting. Turns out they had noticed. Comments started with a critique of how she slowed down and gave me a grammar school marm type smile. It was really fantastic. Then, and I believe it had to be John Richards posted the picture of Aaron Neville. And somehow, amidst all of this talk of ecclesiology and pneumatology the things I remember most were, "Aaron Neville will beat The Jesus into you," and what happened next. (Aside, why would Aaron Neville beat The Jesus into you? Did you not notice Jesus on that ridiculously awesome bicep above? Go look...it is awe inspiring!)

Because of our conversation, and because I was feeling angsty, I did what needed to be done...I asked a question. And around the room I watched as friends bowed their heads. They tried to hide laughs. And it was an amazing mix of people on the verge of losing it laughing, and others picking up on something going down, but didn't understand it. It was glorious, and for me the beginning of the rebuilding process.

I ended up getting the worst grade of my seminary career that quarter. Somehow Mumford and Sons was introduced to me and Shauntelle and I worked through my issues in about a month-and-a-half of therapy, all of my roommates seemed to emerge from their stupor and life really did get better.

There was a saying at Fuller that the first couple of years of seminary were about deconstruction, and the next years about reconstructing or giving you the tools to continue reconstructing once you leave. And that really seemed to be the case with this ten week class. Life just broke down. It was a rough, dark time. But what emerged out of my soul being defeated was a re-emergence. And if you want to use the phoenix metaphor, I like what came out of the ashes a little better this go around.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thoughts on the Being Friends...with Married Women

So, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I have this odd time at work. I am pushed out of my office to make way for a doctor that works those specific mornings. She needs to have a private office, and we also happen to need someone to check in patients those days. So...boom! It works with minimum hassle except I don't have the software I need to do most of my job.

Often times between patients, I have this lull of about 45 minutes or so, which of course gives me time to ruminate on things. Because of a conversation last night I was pondering the old question, “Can men and women just be friends?” The obvious answer is nes. I mean yo. I think you know exactly what I mean. Sure, we can be friends with the opposite sex. And sure, sometimes we can even be really good friends with the opposite sex. But, after last night’s conversation, I realized what we are really asking is, “Can two people be friends if there is attraction between them?” This means can two gay dudes just be friends, a straight dude and a lesbian, a lesbian and a straight woman. You get the picture. The question is when you open the doors of deeper affection, can pure friendship still exist?
And I would say, yes, with certain parameters. And that is where this particular post is headed. You see, I have three couples in my life where I am better friends with the wife than I am with the husband. However, I have grown up in church long enough, and have just observed couples long enough to realize that just isn’t the best thing. So, I have had to adapt my relationships with each couple. So, what follows is how I changed my approach to these three couples in order to bless and affirm their union, while all three of us know that I happen to know the wife better.

John and Sheridan
I’ll start with the newest of the three couples: John and Sheridan. First, these two are just amazing. They are probably the most potent punch of leadership, education, beauty and compassion walking the earth. I met them somewhere between 2006 and 2010. I think we saw and acknowledged each other from afar for about a year. Met in some random class, I believe “Job and Human Suffering” with Dr. Butler. (P.S. have any of you gotten a graded copy of a single paper from that class yet? I still haven’t and we’re honing in on 2014!) Then, we experienced Job’s suffering in Systematic Theology 3 together…coincidentally, the only class in my entire education career that defeated me and made me cry. Like literal tears. Ask me about it sometime. Fun story.
So, here’s the story with John and Sheridan. I came to know them pretty much together. Sheridan and I just simply had more time together through classes. John, I believe took a break for a little while, and also, had different classes. Sheridan and I just ended up in class after class together, usually randomly sitting next to each other something like 3 quarters in a row. So, this was simply a matter of time. However, I found out the two of them were moving to Atlanta and thought, “Cool. Let me help you move.” And my gut said, “Talk to John.” So, that is where I started. And what was plain and simple to me was this: my wanting to love on this couple needed to be done in a way that said, “John…I know Sheridan is your wife. I am serving you as well as her and that bun in the oven. So, man…you and I don’t know each other all that well, but I extend my hand to you. Cool?”

Scott and Ashley
Desi and Cody

And that was basically it. In this particular relationship, anytime I want to share something with Sheridan the email or the text is sent to both. I think it would be fine to just text either of them, but I would rather be so above board that there is no reason to question anything. It is simply honoring John, and by proxy honoring Sheridan and now their little boy.
The other two couples I went to college with the wife. In one case I have come to know the husband reasonably well, but not so much in the other. Cody and Desi Caraway started dating the summer I moved to SoCal and got married shortly after. I came back and did music for the wedding even. Scott and Ashley Phillips started dating in SoCal before I got there, and got married shortly after. I did music in their wedding. (Seems to be a running theme!)
Quick side notes on these couples: Desi and Cody are stalwarts. They stand strong in the midst of adversity. They love each other and their baby girl so well. They really are just a good strong people. Scott and Ashley are just…amazing. I really can’t think of an adjective better. They are talented. They have vision. They make things happen that seem impossible.
So, here is the deal. Scott and Cody both know that I am better friends in their wives. Living in Southern California afforded me the chance to get to know Scott. Scott and Ashley’s awesome crew of friends made that even easier since they invited me into many different gatherings. Scott is also one of the most secure individuals I know. He and Ashley really helped me navigate these waters early on. Scott was quite grace-filled. Just like with John and Sheridan, I always initiated with both Scott and Ashley…well, maybe not at the very first. When I moved to SoCal, I hit a big slump and Ashley was my only friend. So we had a couple of outings with just us. And I thank both Scott and Ashley for letting that happen. Scott knew and understood things. I think once we even had a conversation about how it worked with me being such good friends with Ashley. But the point of the whole thing was just honesty with Scott and developing a relationship with him. That was the key in this case. I needed Scott to know, “Hey man…I am for you. I want to support you in this relationship too. K? Cool.”
Which leads to Cody and Desi. I don’t know Cody that well, but from what little I do know, I trust he is a lot like Scott. He is confident, and trusts Desi. However, he and I just never had time to build what Scott and I did. And in this case, I had to learn to radically adapt. Desi and I still send a random text maybe every month or so, maybe two months…but it nearly always includes other friends. The way I have learned to respect Cody and support him is to act in a way that is completely above reproach. Leah or Scott or Mark or Josh have the same text I sent Desi. And so far, I think that works. And if it doesn’t Cody…just tell me!
I know this may seem like dribble and kind of useless processing, but what I realized is that it is a way for me to live out love. I love all six of these kids. They are amazing. But, just because I am better friends with the ladies, does not mean that I have a right to continue on as things were. It means that though my life is the same, the way I go about relationship changes. It is how I support them together. And though it seems like I overkill, I look at divorce rates and say, “Not really.” So many things happen in the course of any relationship, romantic or not. In cases where things can be misunderstood, we have to be supporters of the relationship that at the end of the day matters most. Of course, as Christians we would say God first, but a close second is the spouse. And that is what I want to be about…helping strengthen those I love in order to thrive. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thoughts on Communing at Other Tables

One of my favorite songs ever was recorded by Kari Jobe, Rick Pino and some other musicians on this little album called Throneroom Worship. It's really a pretty amazing little album. Jobe has become known as the singer of "Revelation Song" (but as a quick aside, thank you Jennie Lee Riddle for, you know, actually writing it!). As history will show/has shown "Revelation Song" became the new "Shout to the Lord," because like it or not every big worship song is going to be held in comparison to one of the first church-wide(ish) anthems in a couple hundred years or so.

But back to Throneroom Worship. The album is pretty stellar. And the song I refer to is "Come to the Table." The song is quite simple. And the song is something we don't see a lot, but we have two of on this album...a communion song. For some reason something so essential in Church doctrine as communion has not warranted a lot of worship songs. That may be one of the reasons I love the song so much. But that song has got me thinking about the centrality of the table.

For a lot of people the picture here is a fair representation of what communion looks like. It is pretty simple. The bread, the wine...or grape juice for a lot of good people. For a lot of people however the picture of communion is more the table, or those funny little trays with slots built for those shot glasses we call communion glasses. (Completely terrible side note...whoever the marketer behind that tray was had to be brilliant, and probably quite rich by now. They convinced a lot of people that a tray like this was even necessary!) I love this picture of communion. It is so simple and I think the essence of what communion is. A reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus on a cross. Classic.

However, recent conversations and readings got me thinking about communion. You know the root word here is commune, which involves conversation and abiding in relationship, not simply sipping a cup and eating some carbs. So, that leads me to a picture that will surely upset some, will make some of you smirk, and make others say something like, "Preach it Jay Bakker!"

What the heck is going on here you may ask? That would be rainbow communion break being served (presumably at Bakker's congregation of Revolution Church). Why a rainbow? As a statement of affirmation of the LGTBQ community into Church and communion. So, regardless of your emotional response, let me lay down a little truthspeak for a second. Bakker is saying, "Come to the table. The table is the thing. And I am speaking specifically to those of you who have felt like they have had no place at this table before."

And, again, regardless of your thoughts on the LGBTQ crowd being invited into the building, Bakker's invitation is necessary, because the way we have treated this community has revoked our invitation to their table. I know...that is a weird thought. Other communities have tables besides the Church. And we need to understand that unless we invite them to our table, we will never be invited to theirs. And unless we can be invited to their tables, we may be terminating what is probably the "new" way of evangelism. Table fellowship. Surrounding the table. Living life. Talking on things that really matter.

This post isn't specifically about the LGBTQ community and the Church as much as it is about, the Church engaging every other community. We need to take advantage of invitations to other tables. Otherwise we will become radically dependent on inviting others to ours and hoping they show up. And that can be effective to a certain extent, but is not the best way to meet people where they are.

Think of it this way. How many times have you said, or your pastor has said, "This is an event that you can invite people to that will never come to a church." We know that our invitations to church are ineffective. But, as Christians we also know that table fellowship changes lives. At the table there is healing, grace, mercy, peace and reconciliation. But table fellowship does not always mean it has to be on our terms.

There really seems to be a shift in what lays ahead for us as the Church. We need to learn how to dine at other tables. Does this mean we need to change every view? Does this mean that we need to lead a life more akin to universalism? Do we need to throw away dearly held morals that have set us apart for generation after generation? By no means. Jesus dined with the sinners of His day. Those meals were not a detriment to who He was. What He did was proclaim identity and status to the ones He ate with. In other words, Jesus coming into the house of a tax collector did more for the tax collector than it did for Jesus. I think it can be the same for us when the newly divorced mom, or that young guy who appears up to no good invites us into their homes. Or on a more corporate scale, when that synagogue invites the community to dine, or that social group that you are skeptical of asks for some help, it provides a chance to meet at the table on their terms.

And Church we need that. We need to say, "Yes, as a Christian, I can meet you on your terms. I don't have to dictate the flow. I don't have to change every fellowship into a Gospel presentation where you feel brow-beaten. I am secure enough to know that dining with you does not make me a bad person, or whatever it is that I am scared of." Now, in terms of this and my post about being a terrible Evangelical, let me say, I am not against evangelism. I just think we are losing ground...and invitations. And when we become so disgusting in the world's eyes that we no longer merit invitations, we need to reevaluate what's going on. Because though the teachings of Jesus are hard, He is still nonetheless calling men and women unto Himself still. And we are still called to be a part of that. And we cannot be effective in that if we are seen as self-righteous jackholes that no one wants around.

In our choices and lifestyle, we must remember that Jesus went into the homes of prostitutes and other sinners. He had no problem with it. He had no problem dining at their tables. So, why do we?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why I Write about Race and Disability

So, I know it can be hard to understand why an able-bodied, thirty something White dude cares about race and disability so much. So instead of writing why I thought I would just show you why:
This is my sister-in-law and neice

These are my cousins Emily and Kim
Golf married my brother Keith. She is from Thailand and moved to America after their marriage. Sammie, one of my three beautiful nieces will always be seen as Asian, even though she is half-White.

Emily and Kim (though we all say Kim and Emily, because that is the proper age order) are adopted into the family. But, honestly, I have no memories of life before them. They are close to my age, and they have always just been Taylors to me, like anyone else.

This is my cousin Blake, and his aunt and uncle

These are my cousins Danielle and Jamie
These are my cousins Bradyn and Parker.
This is my cousin Blake. He, along with my cousin Stephen have severe developmental disabilities. Blake will never be able to walk or talk. But he certainly loves us so well. His Aunt Magali (next to my cousin Joe) is from Mexico and married into our family.

Danielle and Jamie are also adopted memories of our family. Now, unlike Kim and Emily, I remember life before them...a wee bit. And because they grew up quite a ways from the rest of us, I don't know what their experience has been like. But, as with many of you, push comes to shove, I'll shiv you if I have to for the sake of either of them!

These two lovely fellows are Parker and Bradyn. Bradyn is the big brother. These two guys, like my cousin Blake, have some developmental disabilities, though not quite as severe. Their dad, and an aunt and uncle are also 1/4 Japanese.

So, there it is. This is one of the myriad of reasons I care about race and disability. It also gives me a chance to show off my beautiful family. For me race and disability aren't just culture issues, or America issues, or even issues pertaining to faith. For me these issues even go beyond friendship and passions. For me...some of these things just boil down to this: these are my people. This is my family.

Thoughts on Trayvon & Zimmerman

Before I get into what I want to say, I want you to look at this picture. Maybe like a whole minute before you read anything else. Really. Don't just glance, look at this picture:

Now, I know it is a terrible angle, and that a cell phone replication isn't the greatest way to recapture an image. I get all of that. But there is something about this picture that for a few months captivates me every time I see it. I sometimes even avoid the hallway it is in, because I know I will stop.

And here is what I feel I am learning from it: this is a prophetic picture of the future of America if we want it. It is a picture of man helping man...period.

I think there is a key phrase in what I just said above that must be examined, and it really is the framework for everything written here - if we want it. And this type of desire is not rainbows, kittens and giggles. It is the type of want that we have to work for, strive for and go through fire to get. It requires payment, some of which has been paid, but we still owe immensely to obtain.

The other day I posted something on Facebook that was quite heartfelt. It was about my feelings of the perpetuation of "the other" in response to the verdict of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I thought it was really good, and so did quite a few others. It got a lot of likes. But one thing I noticed is that only one of my African American friends "liked" it. This could be a chance, in my own life to join the ranks of the "What's wrong with them club?"

But here's the deal. My friends on Facebook are actual friends. Like, I have lived life in some regard with them. Admittedly most of my African American friends are from my time in Los Angeles. That is the one period of time where I had deep and meaningful relationships with non-white, non-hispanic people. Sure, that could speak poorly of me. But the reality is, crossing those lines in seminary and in church in L.A. is much easier than in Central Texas or Alabama. And I didn't know better in Texas, and I have to fight hard in Alabama to even make progress in cordiality often times.

The African American friends I made in L.A. are just like the rest of you. I worked with them, I worshiped with them, I hung out with them, I went to school with them, I shared meals with them. In other words, and I hate this word, but we all know what it means, these are not token friends. These are not friends I pull out of a back pocket to say, "See, even though I'm a Texan, I'm not so racist."

A couple of these friends, that I am forever thankful for, allowed me the space to say, "Hey, this is where I started, this is where I am, and this is where I want to be. Help me. Help me breakthrough the lies that have surrounded me all of my life." And I think, and only they can say for sure, at first my honesty was an affront. But because it was sincere, they saw that there was no malice intent. I was just a kid who had no ideas what a lot of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans went through. Because of their encouragement, and because my church had just folded I sojourned in a Black Church. I wanted to experience life as the minority. And Black Church (or Asian Church, or Native Church, etc.) was as close as I was ever going to get.

Friends from Pasadena Church.
Admittedly, I went to a black church that was striving toward racial diversity so it was easier. The pastor was also quite contemporary and the congregation was behind the vision. Even still there were rough days. There were men and women who remembered this being a good, strong black church. Their hearts had a hard time with change. At the end of the day could I say that I understood what it was like to be the minority? No. But at least it was a small enough taste to know that there was in fact something different going on. And that friends, is the message I can bring in the midst of this.

What I can say is this: there are different America's being experienced today. For the most part if you live in a homogenous neighborhood or city things aren't that bad. As we know however statistically most homogenous neighborhoods are white. There may be a few places that are strictly Latino or Black, or even Korean, Chinese or Native American, but for the most part, even if these places have relative peace, lands like the reservations or border towns are relatively poor and have substandard education, law enforcement and the like.

I also know this: I have friends who get pulled over for the color of their skin. They wouldn't lie to be about this. These are good people that I have entrusted my life to, that fight with every fiber of their being for reconciliation. So, to combat a stereotype we see played out these days, these are not "Angry Black Men and Women." These are men and women that have nothing to gain by telling me a lie. And those friends tell me that they are experiencing a different America.

Another thing I know: a lot of Whites don't understand why this case is Black-White. And as racist as this sounds it's because most people look at this man and do not see a White guy. They see a Hispanic, a Latino, or in the worst cases a "Mexican." (Worst cases meaning people who call all Latinos/Hispanics Mexicans, not that Mexicans are bad people.) What they don't realize is the dude is half-white. His dad is White; his mom Hispanic. But in today's America that one half determines the whole.

So, why be so negative? Why do I help perpetuate the problems of segregated America?

As you could imagine, I just don't see it that way. I don't see that I am saying anything that isn't already true. In this sense I am recording what already exists. The truth is that until we are able to acknowledge that there are co-existing American narratives that are true we will not see true racial harmony or acceptance. In most cases we have what I like to call tolerance. There is almost a pervading idea that "If I have to, I will," across our country. And we take that as enough.

But the problem is it limits what any of us can do. If Whites feel that their programs that reach out to ghettos and minorities are so great they are failing to embrace the humanity of those they serve. Sure, the program is good, but more than likely you are serving a charity not a person. It still leaves you as superior until you decide to actually do some life with others.

On the other side of the coin the limits are obvious. Poor education, sky rocket arrest levels, suspicion just for looking different. These are all limits. But there are other limits too such as behavior modification for the sake of acceptance, limited scope for your future, loss of hope and a continuous performance just to be accepted. Heck, having to get an education just to have your voice heard is a problem. And these things exist.

This post could go on-and-on. This is like an ice cube chipped off an ice berg. It isn't even a one-billionth part of the issue. But, I want to by saying this. I asked a few of the friends I mentioned above to write a response to what I wrote here. Because truth be told, I could still be flying blind here. And I hope that they have the time to respond. It will also just provide some perspective from voices I trust. These won't just be "flaming voices of dissension," they will be well-thought and worded...but most importantly written in love.

Until then, let's have a conversation. Let me know what you are thinking about these ideas.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thoughts on Why I am the Worst Evangelical Ever

Preface: As I have mentioned in a previous post, I find myself in a part of the Church that is often referred to as Charismatic, Neo-Pentecostal or Third Wave. Basically these are all terms for the same thing. Typically we are marked as Evangelicals who harp on an experience known as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which is often accompanied by some sort of manifested spiritual gift, such as tongues or the prophetic, that a lot of the Church purposes to believe, but do not frequently experience. This is kind of important in understanding the context and language of this post.

This is basically my new car. Kind of fun.
So, I found myself this week in an interesting situation. I met a dude while buying a car (oh yeah…I own a Mazda now, not a Nissan truck). A couple of days later, out of nowhere I got a prophetic word for the dude. (See…context and language!) Since I once lived with the guy I bought the car from, I told him, but felt specifically I should ask if this other dude was a Christian. Turns out he was an agnostic. This put the whole scenario on hold for some reason…probably so God could do some business with me.
So, I stopped, and was thinking, “Maybe this is just a prayer scenario.” But then my friend said I should just share with him and he would explain to him what was going on. For some reason this seemed like a good idea. However, in the midst of things, I felt like God was saying, “Don’t share the Gospel with him. Just give him the encouragement.”

Now. I would think at this point we have about three divergent points of view:
View #1 – You lost me at prophetic. What the hell are you on about?

View #2 – Why would you not share the Gospel? You’re a heretic, and did you notice you just used the word “hell” in view #1? You should only use that word when sharing the Gospel.
View #3 – Totally makes sense. He is after all in Mississippi and heard the Gospel 147-million times…this week.

Now, being past the situation, I am pointedly in camp #3, but in the midst of the situation I was closer to camp #2. You see, I grew up a good Southern Baptist. Sharing the Gospel, preaching on street corners, doing missions…these are the things you do. It is part and parcel to being a good Evangelical. So, I wrestled with it.
Now, my inner-Evangelical is still freaking out, and here is (I think) why: what I did seems mighty close to universalism. It seems close to saying, this dude is okay without reminding him that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and none come to the Father except through him (John 14:6). That was troublesome to me. But, what I felt was this—I was actually learning to trust in the sovereignty of God. I was learning to say that God is God and I am not. I was reminded of this Scripture: What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

But ultimately, since I feel, for me personally this is a season related to learning obedience, I made it a point to not share the Gospel, and even told the dude, “First off…I am not trying to convert you.” I went on to share the word. He was surprised, but encouraged. And I left it at that…and am leaving it at that unless something else changes.

What I felt in this situation, is I was called to a specific purpose. I needed to trust that God knows the way of this dude’s heart…and I don’t. I don’t know why God wanted me to speak this particular word. I don’t know why God didn’t want me to share the Gospel. I do know that in this situation it was what felt like obedience. But it also created a tension that I have to deal with. And I would say we all have to deal with.
It reminds of this: evangelism is good…with certain caveats. I don’t think I will ever be a street corner preacher. I would suck at that. And if I try to function in that, without the blessing of God, I will probably do more harm than good. I believe God has called me to use my gifts and that applies to evangelism. The problem is, until this encounter I had never seen the intersection of something like the prophetic with evangelism. They were two distinct entities. I think this is the result of one too many spiritual gifts assessments. I “know” what my gifts are. However I have let that knowledge keep me from learning how they are a part of all things faith.

I'd be the worst street corner preacher ever. And that billboard is perhaps
the greatest photobomb in the existence of the interwebs.

Just because I am a guitar-picking, hospitable prophet (tongue in cheek…please know I would never call myself a prophet!!!) doesn’t mean I’m not called to evangelize. I think we all know this. But I lived in such a way that I removed myself from that part of faith.
But more than gifts, this is about our common faith (since, if you are reading this, you probably have some sort of Christian faith background, if not, you are welcome for fresh ammunition in your arguments that we neo-pentecostals are crazy). As an evangelical one thing I am supposedly about is evangelism. However, I have not been the most active evangelizer. I make known my faith, but I’m not a preacher. And I think because of problems with techniques, I have shied away from this entire side of our faith. Meaning, I’m obviously not an evangelist, because I hate cold-call, street corner Bible-thumping.

But this encounter reminded me of something. God has uniquely crafted each of us, and called each of us to the manifold Kingdom of God. My responsibility is to learn obedience to my part. This time I was called to something akin to evangelism, but I was only called to a specific part. I view it is planting a seed. I will probably never reap the harvest with this guy, but I trust that the harvest will be reaped. I trust God’s sovereign plan, however that looks, will be accomplished in his life. And that is all I need to do. I don’t need to weigh myself down with excess baggage and guilt for not laying out Romans road, or whatever your congregation uses.
And I think that is how I understand that I have not resigned myself to universalism. What I have done is determined, “God is sovereign. I can trust that my response to Him is enough. And I will be responsive to Him throughout the process with this guy or any other person.” Even if that makes me look like I’m a terrible Evangelical.