“Abba, I Belong to You”

The title of this post is a prayer that Brennan Manning encourages folks to pray as a meditation.

Brennan Manning is the author of the books Ragamuffin Gospel and The Furious Longing of God among others.  His books tend to focus on God’s relentless love and pursuit of his creation.

From reading his books, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation of God’s love and grace.  Even though I’ve been in church my entire life, I have found it to be very easy to focus on what we need to do to please God and lose sight of how much God’s grace covers.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue sanctification in our lives.  We should be constantly growing and letting ourselves be molded into what Christ has for us.  What I am saying is that when we focus on all the ways we DON’T measure up to God’s standards of holiness, it’s easy to get weighed down to the point of inaction.  Soon, we’re subtly believing that God loves us more when we are acting in moral ways and less when we screw up.  We would never say that so bluntly, but that is the belief behind the guilt that so many Christians have to fight against, including me.

Manning’s books have played a huge role in helping me let go of those beliefs.  I still have to fight them off daily, but it’s when I’m free of those debilitating beliefs about God’s love being conditional that I can truly live for Him and be present in the moment for Kingdom living.

There are many other things in our life that may get in the way of truly believing that God loves us unconditionally.  Traumatic events, abuse of any kind, addictions, depression, etc can all make it difficult to accept God’s love in our lives.

Manning recommends to his readers to pray this prayer that he has used for years.  It is a prayer that can be repeated over and over again as you breathe in and out slowly.

Breathe in while saying “Abba,” Breathe out while saying “I belong to You.”

It helps us to meditate on God as our loving Father.  The word “Abba” is a close, intimate way of speaking of God as Father.  The closest English equivalent to “Abba” is often said to be “Daddy”.  It is a loving, endearing term for the one who protects us and provides for our needs.

No matter what we are facing, to have that close and intimate of a relationship with God is a special gift that can ground us and help us to remember that God is loving and is in control.  For me, praying this prayer and meditating on the truth of it has really helped me trust God in times when I am scrambling to keep all my plates spinning.

Paul speaks of this Father-child relationship that we have with God in Romans 8.

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

It can be difficult to give up our Spirit of slavery and fear, but what we gain is a Spirit of sonship.  That is a beautiful exchange, and one that I never want to lose sight of.

Lately, I have had a song stuck in my head by Jars of Clay. It’s called “Boys (Lesson One)” and the band has mentioned that it’s about the Father-son relationship.  While they meant it to be written from themselves to their sons, it obviously has a deeper connection to the relationship that we have with our Abba.

Here are the lyrics:

Lesson one – do not hide
Lesson two – there are right ways to fight
And if you have questions
We can talk through the night

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
it’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
you’ll get there in time

Lesson three – you’re not alone
Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
You can leave, you can run,
this will still be your home

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
it’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
you’ll get there in time
Get there in time

In time, to wonder where the days have gone
In time, to be old enough to
wish that you were young
When good things are unraveling,
bad things come undone
You weather love and lose your innocence

There will be liars and
thieves who take from you
Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you

If you weather love and lose your innocence
Just remember – lesson one

We have received a Spirit of Sonship, and because of that we can trust that God is a good, loving Father who knows where we’re going, and will be there no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve run.

Abba, I belong to You.

Advertisements

Part 2: My Visit with Andrew Marin

This post is the conclusion to what I wrote in “Part 1”.

That Friday morning, I was riding the train from West Michigan down to St. Louis.  I arrived in Chicago only a few minutes late, and had a little over an hour to make it across town to meet with Kevin Harris and Andrew Marin.

After I exited the train, I rushed to get a bus pass and entrusted my destiny to the reliability of my phone’s Google Map application to find me a bus route to the north side of Chicago.  A couple of attempts later, I boarded the 22 bus northbound and waited.  I had written down a few topics and questions that I wanted to discuss with Andrew, but was still not sure what to expect.  I expected that to them, I was just some kid fresh out of college who doesn’t have a position of influence or anything to offer them.  I doubted whether or not this was even a good idea.  As I passed Wrigley Field and knew that I was getting closer to Boystown, many of my concerns were set aside when I realized the man that just boarded the bus and sat down in front of me was Andrew Marin.  I got his attention and introduced myself.  He was friendly and told me he’d walk me over to their office when we got there.

On the walk over, we discussed baseball (he’s a Cubs fan, and I’m a Tigers fan).  He told me a little bit about playing Division 1 baseball in college (on the same team as Curtis Granderson, my favorite former Tiger) and asked me a few questions about what brought me through Chicago.

When we arrived in the tiny office that Andrew shares with the rest of The Marin Foundation staff (Kevin and Nathan), he sat down to get some work done and I went out to lunch with Kevin Harris.  Kevin is Andrew’s assistant and is in charge of community relations for The Marin Foundation.  Kevin shared about some of the things they’ve been working on and about the crazy amount of attention their “I’m Sorry” Campaign has been receiving.  We shared stories with each other and then walked back to the office.

Once there, Andrew and I got a chance to get to know one another. He shared some about a recent trip to Vienna where he was attempting to assist the UN as they reach out to folks all across the spectrum on AIDS prevention and treatment.

I also talked with him about the wide range of criticism and encouragement he has been facing since Pride weekend at the end of June.  I got to share how his book had impacted me and caused me to re-assess how I love others.  Andrew often talks about “living in the tension” when it comes to the complexities of faith and sexuality, and his book has certainly made the tension a better place to be.

*****

I also asked to know more about what it looks like for the church to love the gay community in a real and tangible way.

Andrew shared with me his thoughts on faithfulness and how that plays out in our relationships with one another: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.  He told me he believes “Faithfulness is the new evangelism.”  In fact, faithfulness is the only thing that truly builds the Kingdom and sustains relationships modeled after the way Christ loved.  Marin said that this sort of faithfulness was characterized by sticking by somebody through it all, whether they’re in line with where you think they should be or not.  Being faithful to someone means they know you’ll “have their back until their dying day.”

When talking about this, he quotes Billy Graham.  During the Clinton scandal of the late 90’s, Billy Graham was asked why he was still offering his support to the president.  Graham responded “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”

Marin takes this responsibility to love very seriously, and says that it’s really the core of what we’re called to do.  That’s our job in how we relate to everyone: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.

As I wrestled with Andrew’s approach to the gay community of letting God convict and change hearts, I often came back to the passage in Matthew 18 where Jesus taught us how to interact with a brother who is in sin.  Jesus lays out a process of going to a brother in sin first one-on-one to show them where they are in sin.  If he or she will not listen, then approach them with one or two others.  If they still do not listen, then take it to the entire community of believers.  From this “last resort”, the person in sin is to be treated as a non-believer.

One of the things I had been planning to ask Andrew was how he reconciled Matthew 18 with his stance of simply being faithful and loving towards the gay community.

Most of Evangelical Christianity holds that all homosexual relationships are sin.  From that position, they often create a barrier that prevents them from being able to love a gay person.  They have a fear and anxiety that if they love their gay friend unconditionally and their friend eventually meets Jesus and begins to follow Him, that they’ll have to renege on their unconditional love to “call out” their gay friend’s sin.  This creates a tension of wondering when they should “call out” their friend.  Should it be when they’re getting close to accepting Jesus, or maybe up front before you even talk about Jesus.  Maybe it should wait until after they’ve been following Christ a few months.

Marin would say that it’s not our job to convict people of their sin or to judge them.  It’s simply our job to love.

So, what do we do with Matthew 18?

As I re-read Matthew 18 on the train to Chicago, I came across something that I had never noticed before.

15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Did you catch it?

Jesus lays out clearly that this teaching is NOT about giving us the ground rules for how we can most self-righteously call one another out.  This teaching is NOT about one Christian exercising control over the life of another.  This teaching is given for when “your brother sins against you“.  This teaching is about restoring relationships when we inevitably hurt one another.  He’s laying out how to love one another when we have been wronged.

Seeing the words “against you” for the first time stopped me in my tracks.  When I was talking to Andrew Marin, I asked him about what he did with Matthew 18, but also added what I had noticed while reading on the train.  In that moment after I brought up my observation, we were both silent.  The fullness of Christ’s words and the intentions He had for us to be reconciled and to love one another unconditionally hung heavily in the room.  I considered all the ways I missed the boat in that area.  And for Marin, the simplicity of the words “against you” seemed to help one more piece of the puzzle slide into place for how we as the church relate to those around us.  These two words had been there all along, but for years I had ignored them and I had heard them ignored in countless sermons and discussions.

Actually living this out requires giving up responsibility for another person’s life.  It means that your primary concern is no longer being right but loving right.  It means that we have to trust God to be in control.  A simple, yet daunting task.

*****

Moving forward from there, we resumed our conversation talking about ways that local churches can begin building bridges with the gay community.  We talked about how many gay folks move away from rural and small town areas to come to the bigger cities where they can join a larger GLBT community.  We discussed how it seems that Christians and gay folks are starting to listen to each other more, and it’s really only the furthest liberal and furthest conservative camps who are digging in their heels.

At one point, I asked him about how he balances some of the national and international work The Marin Foundation is doing with the face-to-face relational ministry they have had going for years.  He said that it helps living right there in the neighborhood and knowing that Kevin and Nathan can be there even if he’s out of town.  His first commitment is always to the community he’s lived in for 10 years, and he plans to stay faithful to the folks there no matter how much work he does elsewhere.

Then, after all questions had been asked and stories had been shared, we prayed together.

Andrew walked me back to my bus, and I made my way back to the train station where my journey would continue down to St. Louis.  I jotted down a few of my thoughts from our conversation, and marveled at the fact that I had been welcomed in by two strangers with whom I had only Jesus in common.

We had never met before, but by the time I left, I considered them to be friends.  They encouraged me, and I tried to find ways to lift them up and encourage them.  My time filled me with a sense of hope, knowing that I had just met brothers in Christ who were living out this Kingdom life, too.  They were wrestling through the ins and outs of faith the same as I was.  Just as I am learning to do, they chose to love first without having all the answers spelled out in black-and-white.

Part 1: My Experience With The Marin Foundation

This post is the first in a series of two describing my experiences with The Marin Foundation, Andrew Marin, and his book, Love is an Orientation. This post is more of an overview of my thoughts on the book and the work of The Marin Foundation. Part 2 will chronicle my visit with Andrew Marin which took place at the end of July.

Last week, Friday, on my way to visit friends and family down in Missouri, I had an Amtrak layover in Chicago.

Knowing that this was an inevitable part of my travel day, I sought out something to kill my 6 hours in the Windy City.  But before I tell that story, I should give a little background.

A few months ago, I read Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, and it had given me a lot of “food for thought”. Working in a Christian bookstore, I am aware of the typical fare for books talking about homosexuality and the church.  The grand majority consist of warning the church of the “gay agenda” and touting “love the sinner, hate the sin” while stirring up so much fear as to render that mantra an impossibility.  This book was different:

From Amazon.com:

Andrew Marin’s life changed forever when his three best friends came out to him in three consecutive months. Suddenly he was confronted with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT) firsthand. And he was compelled to understand how he could reconcile his friends to his faith.

In an attempt to answer that question, he and his wife relocated to Boystown, a predominantly GLBT community in Chicago. And from his experience and wrestling has come his book, Love Is an Orientation, a work which elevates the conversation between Christianity and the GLBT community, moving the focus from genetics to gospel, where it really belongs.

Why are so many people who are gay wary of people who are Christians? Do GLBT people need to change who they are? Do Christians need to change what they believe? Love Is an Orientation is changing the conversation about sexuality and spirituality, and building bridges from the GLBT community to the Christian community and, more importantly, to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Andrew Marin has been living in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago for the last 10 years.  First on his own, and now through The Marin Foundation, he has been helping those who have rejected the church find Christ and work out what it means to follow Him.

When I first started to read Marin’s book, I was looking for the chapter when he would answer those hot-button questions.  However, the book didn’t lay out simple yes/no answers to any of the yes/no questions that both the church and the gay community tend to ask of someone who stands in between.

  • “Is homosexuality a sin?”
  • “Do you think gays and lesbians were born that way?”
  • “Can a GLBT person change their sexual orientation?”
  • “Do you think someone can be gay and Christian?”
  • “Are GLBT people going to hell?”

When Marin does address these questions, he answers them not with a yes or no answer but with deeper discussion that attempts to elevate the conversation.  He has experienced that when someone asks these questions from either side of the fence it’s because that person wants to know which “side” you’re on. They want to know if you are an ally or an enemy.  As long as we are thinking in terms of allies and enemies, then we aren’t building bridges and we aren’t loving those around us.

By the end of the book, I realized that I didn’t need to know Marin’s exact stances on all of these questions.  Rather, I was left to keep thinking and wrestling with these ideas for months after I closed the book and passed it off to a friend. So often we desire books that will tell us what to think, what to believe, and how to believe it.  Love is an Orientation is the rare book that encourages discussion and dialog to continue after you’ve set it down.

Since I finished this book at the end of May, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.  Through reading posts and interacting with folks from all across the spectrum on Andrew’s blog, I have had the chance to keep working out what this means for how I live and for how I love others. The blog has also been a good way to keep up with what The Marin Foundation has been doing in Chicago.

At the end of June, The Marin Foundation showed up at the Chicago Pride Weekend with a message that they were sorry for how the church had treated them.  Their signs had messages like “I’m sorry for how the church has hurt you” and “I used to be a Bible-banging homophobe. Sorry.”  You can read more about the “I’m Sorry Campaign” here.

While it was not their intention, this simple message from The Marin Foundation to the GLBT community gained national attention.  In the time since then, Andrew and The Marin Foundation have received a lot of support and encouragement from folks world-wide who believe in what they are doing.  They have also faced some criticism from both Christians and the gay community. Some in the gay community have accused Marin of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing seeking to lure them in and then force them to change their orientation.  Some Christians have said that he is too liberal by not expecting orientation change from those he interacts with.

You can’t blame either side for being skeptical of what Andrew and The Marin Foundation are doing in Chicago.  The gay community has been scarred by Christians who have treated them poorly and dehumanized them.  The church is afraid that the things they believe in are under attack.  However, Andrew’s goal is to build bridges between the church and the gay community where both sides can learn to relate to one another outside of the rhetoric of the culture war where both sides demonize the other.

As someone who has been a part of the church my entire life, the stories found in his book were eye-opening.  Andrew loves gay people.  He also loves Jesus, and he longs for those he meets to come to know Jesus in a life-giving way. This kind of love for the gay community is rarely expressed well, and I wanted to know more of what it looks like for The Marin Foundation to put this into practice.

This is why, when I realized I had plenty of time to kill in Chicago, I contacted The Marin Foundation to sit down with them face-to-face. I got in touch with Kevin Harris, a staff member of The Marin Foundation, and we set up a time to meet during my afternoon in Chicago.

To Be Continued…

Since this blog is always meant to host discussion, and I realize that a “To Be Continued…” is more likely to cause people to hold their comments until later, I’d like to add a few questions to this post.

  • For those of you unfamiliar with Marin’s work, what are some of your first thoughts or first impressions?
  • For those of you who have heard of The Marin Foundation or read Love is an Orientation, what are some of your thoughts on what they’re trying to accomplish?