Answering a Few Questions

Over the last few weeks I’ve been wrapping up my first semester of Grad School and am finally on my Winter Break. The weather has taken note of this fact and decided to send a snowstorm.  This newly found free time and the horrible conditions of the roads means that tonight is the perfect opportunity to sit down and hammer out answers to some of the questions I’ve been fielding since November.

1) How do you feel about the exaggeration of sexuality in our culture? Do you think it’s overemphasis plays a role in homosexual issues?

Great question.  I think it’s unfortunate how much the physical expression of our sexuality has been emphasized above and beyond all other forms of relational intimacy. Many people it seems, don’t know how to build emotionally intimate friendships outside of the context of physical sexual relationships.  This tragically affects men even more than women as I think women are given a script in society for how to have deep friendships with other people outside of sexual partners.  We are all sold lies that sex is the pinnacle of human experience and, more specifically, of all intimacy.

There are dozens of ways this negatively impacts our relationships.  Sex is brought into the equation when it’s not appropriate.  One or both partners may not be ready for it, but could be diving in under a belief that it will create better intimacy or fulfill their needs. Sex does not equate to happiness.  It is certainly pleasurable, but it does not automatically lead to relational bliss.  Our desires for physical sexual intimacy have led to the explosion of the porn industry.  With sex portrayed as the end-all, be-all the use of pornography, especially by pre-teens and teenagers, seriously damages the ways we build intimacy with others.

I think the overemphasis of physical sexual activity does negatively impact the conversation about other sexual orientations. When sexuality and relationships are discussed, we have a difficult time of separating feelings, emotions, and attractions from physical sexual behavior. This is especially true when the Church is asked to consider the plight of ‘sexual minorities’, those whose desires are not heterosexual. Our sexuality and orientation is so much more than genital behavior or arousal. It affects the ways we build connections and relationships, especially in the arena of emotional intimacy. Limiting the conversation regarding LGBT issues to the realm of physical sexuality is unfortunate.

Of course, gay pride parades don’t make it any easier to have this nuanced conversation. In the LGBT community, we are just as susceptible as anyone in our society to make sexuality all about the physical. But think of orientation in terms of the way you are wired in all aspects of your relationships. And don’t boil anyone’s sexuality down to “what happens in the bedroom.”

 

 

2) How do you feel about those who have the same attractions as you do, but find that they are able to re-interpret the Biblical text so that they can reconcile with their faith? How do you see their point of view, and how they interpret the text?

If someone loves Jesus, follows Jesus, and puts their faith in Him for their salvation, then they are my brother or sister in Christ. It’s hard to find anyone who is a carbon-copy of ourselves in how they interpret the Biblical text. I have met many fellow gay Christians who have interpreted Scripture differently than myself and also follow after Christ with great faith. It is not my place to say that they are “unsaved” or “unrepentant.” If anyone is curious as to how someone could follow after Christ yet interpret Scripture differently when it comes to gay sexual relationships, read this link from Justin Lee.  Basically, it is not my job to judge anyone’s heart.

How do I see their view? When someone like Justin, who loves Christ and respects the Bible as much as he does, espouses this interpretation that differs from mine, I respect him for it. I love him as my brother.

Personally, I have looked at the centuries of church tradition and historical interpretation of the Scriptures to affirm a more traditional view that same-sex sexual activity is outside of God’s will. I see God’s design in human sexuality to be for a man and a woman to reflect the unity/diversity of God within the marriage relationship.  I believe that there are other ways for us to reflect the glory of God outside of a marriage (serving one another, living sacrificially, creating and celebrating beauty, being agents of redemption, etc). Therefore, I don’t believe marriage is a more holy calling than a life of celibacy.

I will be honest. There are nuances to this conversation that I am always in the middle of processing. Normally that happens in the context of close friendships and is spurred on by the things I read all over the Internet with regards to being gay and following Christ.

 

 

3) How do you feel about a married pastor, or any Christian really, exemplifying celibacy/sacrifice on the part of folks who have the same attractions as you, but yet are married themselves? Do you see it as insensitive? Or hypocritical?

This question really burrows into the emotions that come with the territory of navigating this whole “celibate gay Christian” thing.  I am not particularly comfortable being held up as a “poster child” for talking about this issue just because I’ve chosen a life of celibacy.  I don’t think any individual gay Christian should be held up as the example for how everyone should live their life.

When a married pastor (or really any married straight Christian) preaches a message of celibacy for all gay Christians without acknowledging the needs that such a gay Christian would still need to have met, that’s a problem. I am appreciative when a straight friend can recognize and address the fact that being asked to commit to celibacy is ridiculously difficult.  I think any pastor worthy of the title should also go to great lengths to ensure that the body of Christ is fulfilling its role to those in my position.  I am blessed with a great community of friends around me.  But I know that not everyone is so fortunate.  Too many celibate folks (straight or gay) are suffering from crippling loneliness while a church community sits by, ignores them, and focuses on having “family time” or forming more “couples groups” or “young marrieds studies.”  This leads to singles of all stripes being horribly excluded and left feeling like second-class citizens within the church. That is unacceptable.

A healthy dose of compassion and empathy make all the difference when talking about celibacy for gay Christians. When I hear someone talking about “gay issues” without compassion and empathy, it is really hard not to cling to bitterness.  I need to show grace as much as I need to receive it, and this is an area where my limits are always being stretched.

 

 

4) Are you happy?

Yes. I do feel like my needs are being met. I also feel that I have a positive calling within the church to service and to friendship. Am I ever lonely? Of course. I don’t know anyone who’s exempt from loneliness. Are there times when even my solid community of friends is not enough? Yes. And when that happens, it hurts. A lot. I seek God, and seek out honest conversations with my closest friends about what I need. I have to communicate my experiences and cannot expect everyone to be mind readers. I have found that when I truly NEED a friend, they’re there when I reach out. It’s when I withdraw or tell myself lies about how much I don’t matter that I wind up feeling the worst.

 

 

As with everything I write, I want to reiterate that I would rather be understood than have assumptions made. If you would like something clarified or if something I wrote in this post sparks a follow-up question, e-mail me or put it in the comments.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

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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.

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.

“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?