Love Is An Action: Chicago Pride

Fun Fact and Disclaimer:
The first draft of this post was written on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Grand Rapids. In some ways, the following post is a continuation of two posts that I wrote five years ago, which were also drafted on an Amtrak train departing out of Chicago. Read Part One and Part Two here.

I recognize that there are some things I wrote within those two posts that I would probably say differently if I were writing them today, but that’s because I, like I imagine most of you, have had several experiences since then which have challenged and informed my thinking.

This past weekend, I attended Chicago’s Pride Parade with my partner, Joe. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands gathered in Boystown, Chicago to celebrate. The atmosphere was full of excitement given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

I have thought about and come this close to attending Chicago’s Pride Parade for each of the last 5 years. In 2010, The Marin Foundation launched their “I’m Sorry Campaign,” apologizing to the LGBT community for the ways Christians have dehumanized, disrespected, and hurt sexual and gender minorities.

My journey to reconcile what it means to follow Jesus as a man with a  gay sexual orientation has taken years of conversations, prayer, and study. The work of The Marin Foundation and the book Love Is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin, made a large impact on me. No other book besides Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill has made a greater impact in how I am able to process what it means for me to identify as a gay Christian within a traditional Christian context.

Just weeks after I finished reading Andrew Marin’s book, this blog post went viral and the “I’m Sorry Campaign” was born.

Over the years, I have had off-and-on contact with The Marin Foundation and even road-tripped to Chicago once to attend one of their “Living In The Tension” gatherings. I greatly appreciate the ways that they try to bridge the gap between conservative churches and the LGBT community so that relationships can be formed and healthy dialogue can occur. Christians and LGBT folks frequently speak past one another, making sweeping generalizations about each other which sends dialogue down the drain. The Marin Foundation has made it their mission to “elevate the conversation” so that these two groups of people can move from talking past one another to talking with one another.

The “I’m Sorry Campaign” is a way that The Marin Foundation has sought to publicly elevate the conversation by doing something that is sorely needed, apologizing to the LGBT community on behalf of the church.

As someone who personally sits at the intersection of the LGBT and conservative Christian communities, I have felt for a long time that I can help build bridges between the two. So this year, I finally made plans and followed through with participating in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” at Chicago’s Pride Parade.

In stark contrast to the electric mood at Pride, there was a very different atmosphere I started to sense from my celibate gay Christian friends: a sense of exhaustion.

Many of them shared with me how this past weekend was a muddled mess of emotions. They recognize that marriage equality is a significant step towards securing civil rights for a minority group with whom they identify, and they see their gay friends celebrating. But they also see their conservative Christian friends, family members, and clergy lamenting the state of our nation; saying particularly hurtful things about “the gays” in their false assumptions, ignorance, and fear of persecution. As a result, they are caught in a state of emotional whiplash, not sure who could truly understand what they are feeling. This culture war exhaustion comes along every couple of months, when the conversation about how the church engages with LGBT folks bubbles over and takes over social media. I simply have to say the words, “World Vision” or “Chick-Fil-A,” and I can watch how my friends cringe while they have flashbacks to past battles of the culture war. My friends still have scars from where they took shots from both sides.

When I saw news of the SCOTUS ruling on Facebook Friday morning, I knew that we were entering another solid week of social media being an emotional and exhausting place to be due to the reactions we would have to read from our Christian friends.

Plenty of virtual ink has already been spilled in talking about how Christians who hold a traditional sexual ethic should respond to the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. I’m not interested in “adding to the noise,” other than to say please read this post. Grant is a new friend of mine who captures the spirit of what I would say to conservative Christians.

So, what was it like to participate in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” along the parade route?

I did the following:

  • Shouted “I love you!” quite a lot to passersby who read our sign as they marched/danced/drove past us.
  • Gave out an infinite number of high-fives to people with looks of pure joy on their faces.
  • Offered hugs to anyone who wanted one.
  • Received hugs from people wanting to thank us for what we were doing.
  • Smiled, clapped, and cheered with my brothers and sisters who were celebrating marriage equality and the freedom they felt by being able to take off their masks and be themselves.

I'm Sorry Campaign 2015

How did it feel to attend Pride and participate in this unique way?

Emotionally, being at Pride was a joyous experience. Celebration and hugs and happiness are contagious, so it was definitely a boost just being down there. Physically, it was a long day of standing in one place, so I needed a nap afterwards. As an introvert, it took a lot of energy to cheer, hug, clap, and interact with people I did not know. I prefer having deep and meaningful interactions with those with whom I have already established relationships. Almost every interaction during the parade was the exact opposite of that, so for more than 24 hours after the parade finished, I needed quality time with people who mean a lot to me in order to replenish my relational energy.

Taking all of these things together, I can attest to having had a beautiful experience demonstrating love towards those attending Pride. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It meant a lot to me to share this experience with Joe. We’ve been building our committed partnership with one another for almost a year now. It’s been quite a journey of learning to accept ourselves rather than live in constant shame because of our orientation. The two of us are both living openly and honestly within our faith communities and have experienced  how freeing it is to not have to live a double life or try to live up to the expectations placed on us by others. From this place of self-acceptance, I felt free to stand in the space between the two worlds of my Christian faith and my sexual orientation, professing God’s love for everyone who passed by and sharing more hugs than I could ever have imagined.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” – Billy Graham

Pleasant Surprises

For about a year, I’ve wanted to add a little more texture to the story I started telling here. This post is my attempt at expressing the ways I have been surprised by God’s grace in my life as a celibate gay Christian.

I’ve been committed to celibacy now for coming up on 5 years. It was a decision I made for myself shortly after coming to terms with my sexuality and reconciling it with my faith tradition.

For me, celibacy has never meant denying myself of relationships. Reading the writings of Wesley Hill, Julie Rodgers, and other contributors of Spiritual Friendship, I started making intentional efforts to have a life full of meaningful and deep friendships.

I’ve been blessed to build honest, vulnerable, sometimes-messy, and often-beautiful friendships here in West Michigan. These have been the sorts of relationships that have kept me sane while I transitioned to being “out” in the public sense a year and a half ago. My friendships have taught me what hospitality actually looks like. You know, the kind of hospitality where it doesn’t matter if you’ve got laundry sitting out on the sofa or kids needing a time-out. It’s the sort of hospitality that says, “Don’t bother knocking. You’re family.”

Besides these great friends locally, another blessing from God came in the form of an online community. After I went to the Gay Christian Network Conference in 2014, I became a part of a truly unique Internet group for Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted and are seeking to live out their life through the lens of a tradition sexual ethic. Building friendships within this group has been truly life-giving. There’s something comforting about being among people who understand what it means to be the same kind of different as you. Within our online family, we have build actual friendships. We support each other, pray for one another, disagree with each other at times, celebrate with one another, and weep with one another. Over the last year, I’ve had a handful of friends from this community come stay at my home here in Michigan, and I’ve visited some of them, too. This community has truly been a wonderful thing.

We had a retreat last summer in the mountains of Virginia. It was a beautiful weekend where people from all over the US and Canada came together to get to know one another deeper and take off their “masks” for a few days. My friend Gabriel at Mudblood Catholic wrote about his experience at the retreat. He describes what it was like better than I ever could.

After I got home from the retreat last summer, I found myself on the receiving end of another unexpected gift. I was going about building deeper friendships within this community when I realized that I was being drawn into a different sort of relationship altogether with one of my friends. After a lot of prayer and talking with some close friends, I entered into a committed celibate partnership with Joe.

While I have friends who are in similar relationships with their partners, it was not something I was expecting, pursuing, or even asking God for when He surprised me with this gift. I have been surprised over and over again by how God is teaching me about intimacy and vulnerability within the context of this new relationship. Joe and I have been together now for 7 months, though we’re still separated by many miles. He lives down in Austin, Texas, and I’m finishing up grad school in the freshly thawed state of Michigan. We have every intention of closing the distance between us at some point so we can combine our lives together in a single home, as a family, serving together and showing hospitality in whatever ways we can. We’ve been praying to discern how God is leading us into our future together, and we ask that any of you who love and care for us would also pray that we would listen to God as he directs our next steps.

The Importance of Language and Listening

Watch this video.  What do you think?  

The Gay Christian Network conducted this survey and it reveals some trends that are disturbing to me.  For instance, straight Christians who believe that gay sex is a sin answered the survey in the following ways:

Only 16% said that being gay was not a choice.

78% said that gays can become straight if they want to.

54% said that it’s a sin to be gay even if you never have sex.

 

When I first came across this video two weeks ago, I was both shocked and not shocked at once. Shocked because I was afraid this is what I’d encounter at Calvary Church (it wasn’t), and not shocked because I know there are a lot of people who haven’t had to examine their views on these questions critically, and their answers may reflect that.

Do you agree with the video’s conclusion that we need to define our terms better and listen to each other’s stories to bridge this gap?

Have any of you had to change the ways you would have answered these questions? What caused you to change your mind?

I know these conversations aren’t always done well, but please don’t feel afraid to put yourself out there in the Comment section. I promise to do what I can to keep this blog a safe place to dialogue, even if we disagree.

“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.

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?

Standard of Living

Disclaimer: This post is fairly long, and it rambles a bit, but please stick with it. I would love to hear your feedback, no matter where you have landed on these questions or how confident you are in your answers. Thanks.

The title of this post really says it all. One of the biggest questions I’ve been entertaining for years is “What standard of living should I aspire to?” Worded another way: “What standard of living is appropriate given my commitment to follow Christ, love God, and love my neighbor?”

For as long as I have been considering this question, I’ve never once heard someone make a definitive statement. I understand the nature of this question needing to be answered on an individual basis, but I feel that too often we are simply dodging the real answers.

I’ve mentioned before that I read The Irresistible Revolution a few years back and that this book has radically changed my outlook on what it means to follow Jesus.  In the book, Shane Claiborne tells his story of living among the poor and giving up his middle class lifestyle to serve “the least of these”.  He does it selflessly and calls others to find their own way to follow his example.  It was probably reading this book (combined with my very limited experience of serving the poor) that made me first re-consider my ideal of making enough money to “live comfortably”.

At this point, I was still planning to be a research biologist or possibly even a medical doctor. I knew that I could make a very comfortable living this way. A small part of me that was ever growing wasn’t content with this ultimate destination for my life.

I worked at a summer camp for 3 summers making very small amounts of money. I believed that the amount of money wasn’t important as long as I was serving Jesus. Because of this, I wasn’t saving very much throughout college. I wasn’t building my credit or establishing myself financially as I know some of my peers were.

Then, I decided 3 years ago, to change my major. I had been very unsettled in the field of Biology for quite some time, and eventually everything came together and I felt that I was supposed to get my degree in Social Work. I wasn’t thinking about money when I made this decision. Of course it would be somewhat less, but I was far more motivated to change my major because of where I felt God was leading me.

As the reality of how little money I’d be making settled in, I began reasoning out that I would simply further my education by getting my Masters Degree. Once I had my Masters, I could make enough money to live comfortably.

Well, now I have my Bachelors degree, and I still want to get my Masters, but I have chosen to delay going back to school in order to get some work experience first. When I consider my financial future, there is still a part of me that wants to go back to school just for the chance at more money.

I desire to ultimately make this decision based on factors other than money, but before I can, I feel I need to have a better grip on God’s desire for his followers when it comes to their finances.

More recently, my small group has been reading and discussing the book Crazy Love. Throughout the entire book, Francis Chan has been challenging the reader to fully follow Christ and love others in such a way that we have to trust God to take care of our needs. He is encouraging us to love unconditionally and to give sacrificially as an outpouring of our love for the Creator who has pursued us relentlessly. He poses some of the more difficult questions about what this means for Christians and their financial affairs.

I am going to list off some of the questions he has asked and some that he has inspired me to ask:

How much money should a Christian keep back for their living expenses?

How should a follower of Christ go about planning for their retirement?

When it comes to saving money, what is the difference between being a good steward of our resources and hoarding?

Should a Christian’s giving to the church and to the poor be based on an income cap, or a percentage of income?  For example, Chan suggested that a possible way of setting our standard of living would be to give away all of our income above the median US income.

If Jesus told the rich, young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, what does this mean for the rest of His followers?

If Jesus sent out his disciples without any extra supplies to go and bear witness to Him, where should we draw the line in our abundance?

Why do we put up with so much inequality within the church if the early church sold their possessions so that no one was in need?

If we are to be servants of Christ within an American context, there are certain luxuries that are almost commodities in order to serve effectively. How do we live counter-culturally when we are still connected to so many things that set us apart as wealthy? (ie Internet, television, movies, music)

Why is the church so reluctant to believe that Jesus really meant what he said about sacrificing our material comfort to follow Him?

Why do some segments of Christianity balk at the idea of giving to the poor when they have an abundance?

When those who are more socially-minded try to focus our attention on helping the poor, why are they deemed radical?

Shouldn’t those who are trying to follow Jesus more fully be an example we try to follow rather than an exception that we talk about as if they are impossibly out-of-touch with reality?

Why do we most often consider God’s blessing a financial thing?

What was the last thing you (or I) did that actually required that we have faith in God’s provision?

On top of reading Francis Chan’s book, I was also upset by another source:   Glenn Beck.  In a segment of his show where he was attempting to debunk “Black Liberation Theology” to protect his viewers from the socialists, he said a few things that I disagreed with strongly.  He was very clear that he “earned” his wealth and “earned” the job that he had and it was his

right as an American to hang onto it as tightly as he wants.  This angered me because as someone speaking to Christians, he seemed to be more concerned with them being good Americans than with them being good followers of Christ.  Christ was never about hanging on to what we have earned.  Every time the early church is spoken about or instructed in the New Testament regarding money, it seems to always be about giving freely and supporting one another.  Besides the familiar passages in Acts 2 and 4, we have this one in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

In all of this, I am still trying to discern what this means for my own life.  I feel guilty at times for how I spend my money on entertainment and fast food when I could be finding much cheaper alternatives to enjoy my free time and feed myself.  Yet, it’s so hard to make changes in these areas of my life when I look around at the church and see Christians living in extravagant houses with new cars, sailboats, jet skis, etc.  (The notion of comparing the way I follow Christ to others is a separate post).  I am not making a ton of money right now, and there are many people who would advise me right now to save as much as I can and look towards providing for my future and the future of my family (which I don’t have yet).  And this message seems to be fine if I want to live comfortable and achieve the American Dream.  However, when I listen to Scripture and other voices that I respect, I hear a different message of sacrificial giving and sacrificial living that seems to be the opposite of comfortable.

I would greatly appreciate your discussion and input on this topic.  I asked a lot of questions in this post, and after having read back through all of it, I believe I have captured many of my thoughts and have represented them as scattered as they are in my own mind.   Whether you tackle one question, two questions, or all of them is up to you.  Maybe you will offer an entirely different perspective than I have entertained.  Either way, I hope you won’t let that stop you from sharing.

The question that sums up all of this post, and the question that I aspire to ask any time I approach the Bible is this:

How then should I live?

Final Disclaimer:  This post is meant to be about how a Christ-follower lives out Kingdom values.  If any of my questions or ramblings seemed to make it into a political / economic discussion, I apologize.  This is meant to be about how we choose to live our lives as an expression of our love for God, not about how we vote or pay taxes.

I am Here.

In the past week, I’ve come to the realization that I am simply content right now.

For all my life, I’ve been a planner.  I have enjoyed knowing plenty of details of the next month, next week, next hour.  Without enough details, I faltered.

I can’t explain what’s changed, but over the past few months, I’ve gradually become more at peace with the moment.  Instead of having to know all the details, I have found that I am content to let things happen as they will.  To live in the present.  To trust that God’s best for me is better than any amount of planning I can do.

When I realized last week that somewhere along the way I began to accept where I am, a part of me wanted to rebel against it.  To draw a line in the sand and come up with a definitive 5 year plan for my life, career, relationships, ministry.

While I’ve always described contentment as an ideal, finding that I was actually moving in that direction, created some discontent in my life.  In some ways, I was fighting off the thought that being content with my current “transition” phase meant resigning myself to be stagnant and lazy.

In some segments of Christianity, the concept of “God’s will for my life” is idolized.  This is the idea that God has a very specific task for you to do that is huge and important and only you can do.  So, until you’ve finished college, got married, bought the right house, and had kids, you find yourself waiting for the time you can finally get settled into exactly what God has for you.

While I worked at Grace Adventures summer camp, Steve Prudhomme, the president of the camp, used to talk about God’s will.  Except Steve didn’t talk about it in the ways that I described above.  He said we were asking the wrong question if we were seeking out “God’s will for my life”.  The right question to ask is “What is God’s will?”  God’s will is far more broad than where I should go to school, what job I should take, who I should marry, etc.  God’s will is what God desires for all of creation.  It’s big picture.  It is the story of the redemption of the world.  God’s will is to restore the world to its pre-fall condition.  To make everything new.

God is achieving this through His Church.  He invites us all to join in with Him in setting things right in the world by ushering in the love of the Kingdom now.  This is something that God started with Christ and is continuing up until that glorious day when everything has been set right.  From a right view of “What is God’s will?” the only next step is to find ways to join Him in what He’s already doing.

This means that no matter where we are, we can be in God’s will.  Simply by loving others and finding ways to live out that Kingdom love, we are freed up to no longer need a 5-year plan from God.  We don’t have to be anxious about getting to this place where we will finally be doing God’s will for our lives.  We can do that HERE.  Now.

RELEVANT Magazine had a great article about this a few months ago.  The article was simply called “You are Here” and encouraged those of us living in the mundane to be content where we are.  We don’t have to go somewhere far away or start some giant new project in order to be serving God.  We can do that HERE. Now.

As all of these thoughts have rushed in to combat the lie that being content means I am somehow less productive, I have found peace.

Sure, I have plenty of reasons to worry, fret, and be anxious, but I am not.

I’m on the “job hunt”, unsure of what exactly I’ll be doing once the job I’ve been waiting for comes along.  Will I still be in my hometown?  Will I find something a little further away?  A lot further away?  Will it be part time, full time?  Will I go back to school to further my career options?  Will that be in a few months, a year, a few years?

I don’t have the answers to those questions yet.  But it’s OK.  There are plenty of things I can’t answer.  For the first time in my life, I’m fine with that.  I’m fine without having a detailed plan.  That doesn’t disqualify me from serving God.  I can do that HERE. Now.

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright

This afternoon, I started reading a book that I’ve been wanting to read since before I even knew of it.

For my entire life, I’ve been in a predominantly Baptist context. For the first 18 years of my life, much of my theology fell in line with mainstream Evangelicalism. As a young teen, I eagerly soaked up what I could only consider the “gospel truth on the End Times”. You guys know it as the Left Behind series. Sure, I knew that Tim Lahaye hadn’t personally seen a vision of all the details of the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming, but I knew he had to be pretty darn close.

As I entered college and started work at our local Christian bookstore, I began to learn about all those other “wrong perspectives” in the Christian world.

One of the books I read during college was “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. This book really gave me a vision for how the Church could go about being the body of Christ within the world and living as the Kingdom NOW.

As I took in all of these new ideas, read still more books from unfamiliar perspectives, and discussed these with friends and mentors it seemed as if the way God designed the church simply wasn’t compatible with the End Times theology that I had always accepted as truth.

Followers of Christ aren’t looking to escape, they are supposed to be living the Kingdom here and now in a way that is counter-cultural. As the Church fulfills the mission of Christ, the world will still be broken, but we should not be withdrawing from it. We should be changing it from the inside out. If Christ has set about to restore all things, why are we so convinced that He won’t start doing it until the end?

It seemed as if my understanding of how the Church was to fulfill Christ’s mission and how it was all going to end were simply incompatible. And over the last few years, I’m looked for a book that addresses this inconsistency.

No one seemed to be speaking about what Christ restoring the world would look like apart from sensationalist fiction and fatalistic prophecy books. All of the authors and voices within the Church that had shaped my theology of LIVING seemed to be silent on the theology of end times.

I started reading NT Wright last year when I wanted to understand the debate between him and John Piper over the doctrine of justification. Then, my small group spent the better part of 8 months studying the book of Romans as led by NT Wright’s study guide.

My first impression of NT Wright was that he was a brilliant thinker and writer who really put the entire Bible (especially those pesky Old Testament parts) in perspective under the umbrella of Jesus. He really gave me a fresh understanding of Scripture and sparked in me a desire to learn more. A coworker loaned me a copy of Simply Christian and I consumed it happily. In a way, it was a modern-day Mere Christianity, but so much more big picture.

After finishing the study of Romans and reading Simply Christian, I was talking with a customer recently who also greatly enjoyed NT Wright. We were talking about theology and he, a pastor, mentioned how much NT Wright had opened his eyes to reading the Bible in a fresh light. He also mentioned how his End Times Theology had deeply been impacted. With this, I was floored. I asked him what it was that helped him come to some clarity, and he said it was NT Wright’s follow-up to Simply Christian, titled Surprised by Hope.

Now, I finally had a tangible starting point to finally coming to my own clarity on how a theology of Christ’s Second Coming and New Creation relates to how I live NOW and how I work within the Church to live out the Kingdom.

The past few weeks since that conversation have been busy, and I’d been trying to find a way to get my hands on a copy of Surprised By Hope.

Today, during my lunch break I finally began reading this book. I’m only a chapter into it, but already I can tell that this is the book I’ve been waiting years to read. I plan to post more of my thoughts in a much more detailed post. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be doing this every few chapters or after I’ve finished the book, but I am excited to learn and grow from it.

Have you read this book, (or anything by NT Wright)? What were your thoughts on it or his writing?

“Can America Survive?” Better Questions, Please.

To understand some of the underlying frustration in a post like this, you have to know something about the past 5 years of my life.  I work in a Christian bookstore.

To those that know me, I am aware that this is no big revelation, but I believe it plays a huge role in why I feel the way I do about certain aspects of the Church.

As a seller of Christian books good and bad, poignant and cheesy, inspired and inspirational, I have seen my fair share of “trends” within the “Christian market”.

A trend that has been building steadily over the last year and a half concerns lamenting the decline of God’s chosen nation, America, and calling for Christians to DO SOMETHING to yank the United States out of the evil hands of the socialists.  Is this a bit of a caricature?  Of course. But while I’m sure not all of these authors would call America “God’s Chosen Nation”, I do believe most of them would agree with the rest of my description of their stance.

John Hagee’s new book, Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation encapsulates this trend perfectly.

When I first saw this book featured in our store’s catalog, a coworker and I sort of laughed it off.  I remember asking her, “Does the answer to that question impact the way I follow Christ?”

And that’s really the core of my discontent with the current onslaught of discussion about the dangerous road that America is headed down:  What does this have to do with following Christ?

This morning when I was getting ready for work, I noticed that John Hagee’s show was listed in the Guide.  I flipped to it as it was starting, and, as my luck would have it, he was talking about his brand new book.  Over the next half hour, I stomached as much as I could of his “preaching”.  He was really concerned about the death of the dollar, America no longer backing Israel, and Iran blowing us up with nuclear weapons.

As an American, I can agree with him that getting nuked by Iran would be quite unpleasant, and I hope that this doesn’t happen.  Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that he was missing the point.

He is a pastor.  Pastors are supposed to take care of the church and encourage folks to follow Christ more closely.  I couldn’t help but think the entire time I was watching the program, that every minute spent agonizing over his perception of the state of the union was a minute he was not encouraging his flock to love God more fully, love their neighbors as themselves, and to love one another as unconditionally and sacrificially as Christ loved them.

Instead it appeared that he was more interested in creating fear and panic.  (Fear tactics when it relates to politics cause me to ask if we really trust in God’s sovereignty, but that could be a whole ‘nother post.)

I know that Hagee’s sentiment does not represent all of Christendom in America, and I am grateful for that.  But I couldn’t help but wonder:  When the thousand or so people in attendance (not to mention the thousands more watching on television) carry on with their daily lives, will hearing a message of doom and gloom about our country make an impact in how they represent Christ and His Kingdom?  Maybe the answer is ‘yes’, and I’m extremely short-sighted, but I’m inclined to say the answer is ‘no’.  And that discourages me greatly.

Christ would look so much more beautiful to the world if we were asking questions like, “How Do I Love Selflessly?”  “What Can We Do to Eradicate Abject Poverty?”  “How does a Follower of Christ Relate to the World While Pursuing Social Justice?”  “How Can We Better Build Bridges to Those Whom We Have Wrongly Hurt?”  “What Does it Look Like to Love As Christ Loved in the Mundane?”  “How Do We Best Honor the Image of God that is Imprinted on Everyone We Meet?”  “What Role Should the Church Play in Racial Reconciliation?”

Obviously, these aren’t the only important questions, but I think they’re a start.  They are better questions that refocus us on following Christ regardless of circumstance.  Wrestling through these sorts of questions inspires me to keep growing much more than speculation on politics.  I’m inspired when I hear Christians asking these questions and not settling for easy answers.  Only as we focus more on the Kingdom and less on Country can we begin to go down this road.

What say you?