Wednesday Musings

This morning during my quiet time with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises I was reflecting on Jesus before Pilate. Jesus had just been brought back after having been whipped and mocked by Roman soldiers.

Pilate seemed to have a desire to release Jesus. He exclaimed, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” (Jn 19:4).

The Leaders would have nothing of that.

“Crucify him, crucify him!” they yelled.

“Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate asked.

As I considered this, an image formed in my mind.

I saw Pilate with Jesus, beaten almost beyond recognition, standing next to him. There was a bust of trump behind him. It had a laurel wreathe on its head.

I saw the crowd, Al Mohler, Franklin Graham, Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, and others standing there yelling, “We have no king but Caesar.”


It’s sad that American Evangelicalism can elicit such an image. Sad, but true.

Off the Path – A Review

Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1, Ed. Adrian L. Jawort, 2014, Off the Pass Press LLC, Billings, Montana.

I feel a bit strange reviewing a book full of stories written about Native Americans by Native Americans. Mostly because I’m not Native American. I’m a white male descended from the colonists who caused so much of the pain contained in these pages. However, in an interview published in Indian Country Media Network written by Heather Steinberger, the book’s editor, Adrian Jawort said that this book is important because, “it introduces Indian Country to non-Native readers who may not understand what lies right next door. ”[1] So, I purchased the book and read it so that I could get to know my ‘next door neighbors’ a little better.

This volume contains nine stories written by five different authors. Each of them brought their own particular perspective to what it means to tell stories as Native Americans. They shared the raw pain that can only be experienced by people who have been marginalized…who have had their lives ripped open…who have had their culture and history nearly destroyed.

It was a difficult read for me. I have tried to educate myself about our Original Nations and what I found is not pleasant. Our country spent almost 500 years raping, stealing land, and cheating our Native sisters and brothers at every turn so that we could make a profit from the minerals in their lands. We have brutalized these people and tried to assimilate them into OUR culture. In 1879 Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for the expressed purpose to, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

I don’t want this to be a history lesson. But, it’s important that we non-Natives have an idea of what has happened as a direct result of our colonial treatment of the Native people in this country.

None of the stories have to do with non-Native violence directly involved. I say ‘directly’ because I think that indirectly we are responsible for everything written. The narratives reveal deep wounds that present in Native violence on other natives. Rape, alcohol and substance abuse, and dysfunction in relationships are all prevalent. The domestic and familial violence shocked me. While I realize that these stories are fiction, I can’t help but feel that they are birthed out of true experience.

I’m not going to review every story in this anthology. I only want to touch on one to give you an idea of what they say. Shoot! If I tell you everything you won’t need to buy the book!

The first story was written by Cinnamon Spear. She is a Northern Cheyenne writer and documentary film maker. In the above mentioned interview she stated, “The greater society knows little to nothing about Natives. Having a voice is everything, otherwise people aren’t going to know the realities of our communities.” Her story is entitled “ God’s Plan.” It reveals a life that very few outside of the Native community will ever hear. A life about which we NEED to hear.

This story tells about a young woman living with a Food Channel expert mom. While the Mom works hard to keep the family supplied with food, clothing, and other essentials, the Dad doesn’t appreciate it. Apparently, Dad had aspirations of becoming an attorney and Mom did something that had shot down that pursuit. At least in his mind. For that he was angry. That anger spilled over to physical abuse. The daughter stated that, while “millions of other American children are in their pajamas carelessly enjoying the aroma of blueberry pancakes while watching Saturday morning cartoons on CBS, [she was] in East Bumfuck, Wyoming unknowingly prepared to practice real life First Responder EMS training in her living room.”

The rest of the story followed this track. The Dad was kind one minute saying, “Good morning, my girl,” to her. The next he was beating her Mom to within an inch of death.

In the end, the Dad announced that he and their Mom were getting a divorce. He proceeded to pit the children against each other by asking who would go with him and who would stay. The daughter chose to stay with Mom while her siblings chose Dad.

In the last scene the Dad says, “I said good morning, my girl. Did you sleep well? Hey! Go wake up your mom and sister, huh?”

The pain and dysfunction in this family resulted in physical and psychological abuse that went beyond extreme. We outside of the Native community do experience dysfunction and abuse. But, within Native communities these appear to be systemic. And, a result of 500 years of mistreatment by colonizers.

If there is anything about the book that disappoints, it is the editing. Or, lack of editing. I’m a grammar geek. When I read a book and come upon misspellings or parts that are not cohesive within the plot I become distracted. And, there was a lot in this book to distract. Perhaps, this was by design. Maybe the editorial staff desired that the work be ‘raw’ and ‘natural.’ I don’t know. But, for me, it was problematic.

Would I allow this to keep me from reading it? No! As I wrote earlier, these stories must be read. They must be read widely. We, as non-Natives owe it to our Native sisters and brothers to listen to their stories. We owe it to ourselves to hear their stories.

[1] https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/arts-entertainment/off-the-path-native-writers-in-montana-share-work-in-bold-new-anthology-2/, Accessed: June 20, 2017.

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.

New Tools and New Questions

questionsI found a new tool this morning. Well, it’s not new. It’s just something that I had never paid much attention to. It’s the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. With this I can quickly note thoughts that maybe I can write about on this blog. I’m always thinking of things. But, usually when the time comes to sit and commit, the thoughts blow away like vapor in the wind.

Also, I’d like to enlist your help. What things are you concerned about that we may be able to discuss here? Maybe a pet peeve? Perhaps a thought about life and spirituality? Like my home page states, this is a “safe place for releasing hurts, disappointments and frustrations.” Or, anything else that’s important to us.

This is a small community right now. And, I moderate it pretty closely in order to keep it safe. So, please share!

Remember, tho…I’m an equal opportunity offender. I may take your ideas and twist them just a bit and toss them back to you. I do like to stir things up and make people think.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Frustrated with Where This Road has Taken Me

frustratedLast week I wrote in my journal for the first time in nearly 4 months. I think that’s the longest I’ve gone in 3 years. I don’t know why I stayed away so long. I enjoy putting words to paper. It gives me a safe place to share my thoughts. Somewhere that I can vent my anger and frustration and communicate with God and my soul.

I also noticed that I have found my frustration with my job, again. For at least the last half-year I’ve experienced a lot of ambivalence toward it. I mean, I haven’t been happy doing it. But, well, I really haven’t given a shit about it, either. I get up; I go to work; I come home. In the words of the famous sage, Garfield, “Big, fat, hairy deal.”

I found myself spending way too much time imbibing in my favorite adult beverage. Yeah, the pain and frustration diminished. But, so did my health.

So, what’s different now? I’m not sure, actually. I suppose part of it has to do with the season of my life. I’m pushing 60 and, looking back, I can’t see all that much that’s been positive. Yeah, there have been moments. The birth of my kids and watching them grow into incredible people. I’ve experienced some joy, (re. a little here; a little there), making music. But, by and large my life has been one bad decision after another. Shame, anger, frustration…these have all been my closest companions. Now, sitting at the cusp of another decade on this big, blue marble dancing in space, I’m not sure that I know who I am or what I’m doing here.

Some may simply blow this off as some kind of ‘mid-life crisis.’ Maybe it is; maybe not. I’ve been in the same industry, doing roughly the same thing, for 45 years. And, it was not my first choice for a career. I entered it as a convenience since my dad was in the same industry and opened some doors for me. My true love was making music. And, while my parents bought me my first guitar, they also made it very clear that playing would only ever a be a hobby. There was simply no future in music. So, it basically became a hobby. Because, you know, you’ve got to make everyone else happy.

As I entered into high school my interest in Christian ministry was piqued. I decided to go to Malone College in Canton, Ohio to begin walking the path to the pastorate. However, a month before I was to leave, I decided to go into the workforce. I had been working all that summer, had a new car and some money in my pocket. So, why bother with college? (Another bad decision.)

So, why am I sharing this? Well, I think that I’m not alone. I think that there are a lot of folks out there that experience depression, frustration, anger and regret because their lives have been something less than they expected. As teens and young adults we had great aspirations. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the most idealistic times in history, the 1960’s. We witnessed, and were a part of, tectonic shifts in western culture. We were going to lead the world into a new reality that encompassed equality and justice. We fought against the horrific debacle that was Viet Nam. We pulled at the scaffolding that held up the political machines that oppressed African-Americans, women and other marginalized people. The so-called ‘establishment’ was vulnerable and we went after that vulnerability.

Since then, however, I’ve watched nearly all of those who stood with me for justice and equality join in the very establishment that we worked to get past. They have embraced the same white, privileged, patriarchal way of life that has placed it’s heel on the necks of the marginalized.

So, here I am. Looking back at lost purpose, missed opportunities and many, many bad decisions. I guess that I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. Or else, I wouldn’t be writing things like this. Things to stir up shit. Things to make complacent people think about their own place in the cultural cosmos.

What do you think? Has your life been what you once dreamed it would be? What suggestions do you have for moving forward? Or, am I a total loon that has missed the point? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Is it really OK for Christians to Celebrate Halloween?

Snoopy on punkinWell, here it is All Saints’ Day. The day after All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. This Christianized Pagan holiday has been around for a long time. Back in the day, the Celtic folks celebrated this holiday. Only then, it was called Samhain,( pron. Sah-win). It pretty much was a time to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. It is said that these people considered this a ‘liminal’ time. That is, a time when the veil between the world of spirits and fairies and our physical world was very thin. This allowed those from the other side to more easily enter our world and interact with us. This is similar to the Mexican celebration of “dia de los muertos,” or the Day of the Dead. Far from being a theme for a bad zombie movie, people celebrate by offering flowers and sugary goodies to those who have passed on. Many actually go to cemeteries so that they can be closer to their deceased relatives. It is a time to remember and celebrate their lives.

So, why do so many Christians find harm in these celebrations?

I remember when my children were young, we wouldn’t allow them to dress up and go trick-or-treating because we were taught by the fundamentalist cult we were a part of the Halloween was demonic. It was a night that Satan and his minions were honored. So, or course, as true Bible believing folk, we had to shun that lest we catch some sort of dreaded Halloween cuties. We even took them out of school on the day when their classes had their Halloween parties. You know that you can’t allow candy, cupcakes and cider to threaten your eternal soul.

We did, however, allow them to be involved in church-sanctioned alternatives. You know, Harvest Celebrations and such. They could dress up as Bible characters or some other ‘safe’ character. My son dressed up as Curious George one year. This made the sting of being some kind of weirdo a bit easier for them to take. At least, that’s what we thought. I found out years later that our separatist practice had a very negative effect on both of my children.

Since leaving that Fundagelical world behind, I’ve found a new freedom to engage with our culture rather than hide from it. The holidays and celebrations that are part of our culture allow us to be part of a larger community of people. They provide an opportunity to rub elbows with neighbors and other people we may not usually spend time with. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?

Halloween also gives us a chance to remember and honor our ancestors. We in the West are so hung up on death and disease as horrible things that must be stamped out, that we miss the opportunities to grab hold of our mortality…our humanity. I have had some of my most spiritual experiences while walking through a cemetery. There’s nothing to fear there. But, there is much that can be gained as our imagination reaches back through time and space to meet those who went before.

So, can real Christians find truth and meaning in the celebration of a Pagan holiday? Follow this link to Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. I have to agree with her. And, with all of those other souls who find life while celebrating the dead.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you!

Matthew Walsh and American Privilege

flag_art_rainbow_flag_1978_nov-1331pxA friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article written by Matthew Walsh entitled,  “This is my homophobic rant against Michael Sam.” He asked me to comment on it. So, being the easy-going, un-opinionated person that I am, I decided to accommodate that request.

On first reading, I found so many holes in Walsh’s position that I almost decided not to bother. It would be like going to a carnival and playing a game of ‘Throw the Bean Bag through the Hole and Win a Prize’ with holes 24” in diameter. I’m going to win that giant stuffed platypus every time.

But, then I began to think that perhaps I should. There are many misconceptions about the way in which Michael Sam presented himself to the world. This has tended to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many people. Questions arise about the propriety of Sam ‘coming out’ to excessive media attention and hoopla. Then, of course, there was ‘the Kiss.’ I could just see Tony Perkins throwing up in his mouth a little. So, I decided that it might be helpful to share a little critique of Walsh’s article.

In a word, Walsh’s entire article rests on one word, privilege. Privilege is what those whose worldview is considered the ‘Norm’ exercise. That means that there is a tendency to view everyone and everything through the lens of that privilege. For those of us who are white and protestant that means that everyone is viewed as the equal. At least to a point. We think that since we and our forebears were able to carve out a life that seems normative…we can usually find a job, buy a house, purchase food and clothing for our families, and pretty much speak our minds freely and openly… then EVERYONE can. That leads us to view those who seem to be whiny about having few opportunities, hunger and lack of clothing or shelter should just get their act together and get a job. We also tend to think that these ‘others’ are simply lazy and looking for handouts and some kind of ‘leg-up’ in order to take what is ours and spend it on expensive cars and gadgets. Of course, it couldn’t be because there is a real need. If only they’d get off of the collective, lazy asses and help themselves. After all, this is the land of opportunity.

The problem is, that’s a fallacy. All people don’t have equal opportunity. There are cultural and class biases that blinds the privileged and keeps a foot on the neck of those who are not. Our opinions become the norm against which all other worldviews are measured. Because we compare everyone to ourselves, we don’t listen to what these ‘others’ are saying, let alone try to empathize with them.

So, let’s take a look at some of Walsh’s statements.

He wrote that he is not a “bigot, and…not ‘homophobic,’…I generally carry about my day very much unconcerned with [their] sexual proclivities,” he somehow felt the “need to be a voice of reason amidst this whole spectacularly ridiculous charade.” Why? What made him think that he alone could possibly be the only voice of reason?

Privilege.

In the article Walsh goes to great lengths to equate being gay with “sexual habits.” Stating that, “what you do in your bedroom is between you and whoever you do it with.” He appears to be taking the high road and conceding that gay sex is OK, but please, I don’t need to hear about it. And, he’s correct. It is no one else’s business. But, he totally misses the point. Being gay is NOT about having sex. It’s about whom one is as a person. There are many LGBT people who state that when they were adolescents and the hormones started kicking in, they felt attraction to people of their own gender. This became their identity just as it does for heterosexual youths. It was not something they chose, but the very fabric of whom they were as people. Note, this has nothing to do with the bedroom. But, people like Walsh make that unfounded leap when speaking about gays. For them, being gay is all about what happens in the bedroom. It can’t possibly be about caring people who simply want to be open about who they are. Therein lies the greatest challenge and fallacy that we privileged people need to deal with.

The other main point of Walsh’s article had to do with the ‘big deal’ everyone was making about Sam. After all, how many people who are drafted that late have ESPN show up at their house? Let’s see…I can count them on no fingers. The media painted the event as ‘historic.’ And, the privileged just shook their heads and wondered why? What makes this slightly above average athlete special?

On the surface there’s really nothing special about Michael Sam. In fact, it’s probably unlikely that he’ll even make the Rams’ final cut. I agree with Walsh that “Sam is a small, slow, middling prospect.” There are certainly better players who could have been the center of media attention. But, that’s not the point of this event. People of privilege don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be marginalized in society. Whether it’s race, poverty, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, white America doesn’t see any disparity. But, I haven’t read any news stories about a young man committing suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge because a secret video was made of him kneeling beside his bed praying. Nor, have I heard tell of a teenager who was assassinated in a school classroom because he was part of a before-school Bible study.

By coming out and standing in front of the cameras, Sam has shouted that it’s OK to be different. Young people who wrestle with their very identity have a positive example of someone who is like them. Someone they can look to for encouragement. If events like this can help one person, young or old, to accept and embrace who they are, then the attention given Sam was worth it.

Finally, Walsh and others think that the attention given Sam is indicative of some kind of anti-Christian movement in the culture. They site Tim Tebow as their poster child of the growing persecution of the religious. To that I just say Poppycock! No one has taken anyone’s right to practice, nor speak about, their religion. As Hemant Mehta wrote recently, “…a lot of conservative Christians…also felt the media’s positive reaction to Michael Sam was unfair given that everyone trashed Tim Tebow because he was a Christian! (Don’t even bother trying to point out that Tebow was pilloried for not being a very good player and that his religion had nothing to do with it.)” Had Tebow been able to lead a team…any team…to success, no one would have cared about his religion. If Brett Favre or Dan Marino had chosen to kneel and give thanks it would have been fine. But, Tebow was a hack. That’s why so much attention was given to his religious practice. There was nothing else to talk about!

We have choices that must be made. We can take a stand for human dignity, or we can dig our heels in and try to hold on to our privilege. I truly believe that this so-called battle over LGBT rights is over. Now, it’s just a matter of letting the cleansing breeze of God’s Spirit carry away the smoke. It is simply unethical to demean and diminish people for being born a certain way. Until that happens I’m sure that we will continue to see people like Michael Sam portrayed as pioneers who forge trails into new and uncharted cultural territory.

Matthew Walsh…not a homophobe? Yeah, and Donald Sterling’s not a racist.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. How have any of you experienced privilege, or lack of it?

A Response to my Friend

BibleA couple of weeks ago I shared a blogpost written by Benjamin Corey . It was basically a critique of the way in which many people in our Western, particularly American, culture read and interpret the Christian Bible. A very good friend of mine commented about that posting:

“It seems that you have shared a number of articles about what Christians are not doing right. They take scripture here or there to justify something or to maybe judge. The article you shared once again is telling people to understand what is being said in scriptures based upon the times and how they were written. So, I am asking the question, how do you use scripture to reveal the truth of Jesus and his saving grace?”

As I reflected on this, I realized that this is not just one question, but two. First, he is leveling an accusation that I am antagonistic toward Christians. The question seems to be, ‘Why are you attacking those with whom you have identified for so many years?’ The second question is, ‘How do you present the gospel to others?’

I responded to him that I thought that these were valid questions that would require further reflection. What I’ve written here is that response.

Question One: ‘Why are you attacking those with whom you have identified for so many years?’

Actually, my friend, I’m not. As I’ve grown older I have found that I’m not nearly as sure of the things that I thought, felt and believed earlier in life. Back then it was easy to be absolutely sure of myself. I knew that God had created the universe. I was convinced that anyone who did not accept and believe the Christian Bible as we in the West accepted and believed it were wrong and in danger of eternal punishment. The foundation of my world view was set firmly in a patriarchy. And, I had no doubt as to my eternal destiny as a child of God.

Then, the doubts started to seep in. I learned that others who were not a part of my ‘tribe’ were not the evil, depraved creatures that I had been led to believe. Many of them were hard working, family-loving people simply trying to get by in life. Many others were devout believers in God, but not in the same way that I was. Still others diligently searched for God in other cultures and settings. I saw women who were gifted to lead and teach. These people were able to stand before God and others in confidence. Were the things that I had held up as ‘gospel truth’ able to stand in light of these observations? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. One thing I did know, however, was that things I continued to hear week after week from the pulpit were quickly becoming incongruent with my life’s experiences.

So, I became a seeker. I needed to find out if my thoughts were, in fact, opposed to the ‘orthodox’ position that those around me embraced. Or, was there hope in this cloud of doubt.

I entered Ashland Theological Seminary in the fall of 2006. (That’s a whole story in itself. I’ll save that for another time.) I didn’t know what I would experience there. I only knew that it was the place I needed to go. The next five years took me on a journey that changed my life and my way of thinking and believing. I learned that it’s ok for followers of Jesus to think! Imagine my surprise. I had been trained, or better, indoctrinated to believe that everything that came out of the mouths of church leaders was to be accepted. After all, these men were God’s anointed shepherds. To question them was to question God. I also learned that there is really no one…let me say again, No One, who can know totally and with certainty what God thinks, cf. Isaiah 55:8-9,

8    For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

One cannot read the text ‘simply’ and understand the mind of the writer, let alone the mind of God. Especially, when one is reading a translation of a translation. These texts were written millennia ago in cultures and languages that no longer exist. I learned that we cannot take these texts out of their social and cultural context and place them directly into our culture in the 21st century. What this led to was an understanding that the playing field of orthodoxy is a very large one. As long as one is able to keep the ball from going completely across the boundary line, that person must be considered orthodox.

With this being said, my intention in sharing the kind of material I do is to present other views of orthodoxy. Rather than attacking the church, I offer a different opinion. I’ve shared many times on Facebook that I like to stir things up. I want to stretch people’s understanding. Is what the predominantly white, male-dominated evangelical church’s view of God and scripture the only viable one? Obviously, I don’t think it is. Simply put, I want to give people an opportunity to think.

Question two: ‘How do you present the gospel to others?’

The simple answer to this question is, I don’t. At least, not in the way it has been pursued by most evangelicals. I don’t knock on doors. Nor, do I ‘cold sell’ to people. I’m not going to assault strangers and begin to ‘witness’ to them.

What I am going to do is be prepared to give a reason for the hope that I have,         (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). That reason, or explanation, is based on personal experience. Lofty, theological vagaries don’t help. What good is it to speculate and theorize with people who have no interest in the text to begin with? However, no one can take away nor refute what I have experienced. Like the beggar who Jesus healed, when questioned by the authorities, responded that all he knew was that before he was blind, now he could see. It is our life with God that speaks. A statement attributed to St. Francis sums this up. “Always remember to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

What does this say, then, about my approach to using scripture to “reveal the truth of Jesus and his saving grace?” I’m not sure that’s the right question. This question diminishes the scripture and makes it a users’ manual of sorts.

How to get someone ‘saved.
Step one: The Roman Road.
Step two: The Four Spiritual Laws

A more accurate question would be, what is the purpose of the Scriptures? Is it history? Science? Myth and fairy stories? Or, is it what it claims to be…the inspired Word that is living and active in the world? I think that the text provides us with a glimpse into the heart of God. It allows us to see how people have related to God and one another over the centuries. And, it gives us hope that we can share in these experiences as we grow to know this Person. That is what I share.

Ok…So What?

The fact is, I don’t know everything. (Surprised, right?) In most things I’m most likely mistaken. As I’ve written before, I follow the theology of Snoopy. This allows me to be myself as God has made me. I am extremely confident in my ability to be wrong.

I can be friends with people for who they are as God has made them. It doesn’t matter what their politics are or their station in life. I am not concerned about their sexual orientation or their view of science and the cosmos. I love and accept them as they are. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say that to love God and our neighbor summed up the entire Law?

Yeah, I disagree with people. Sometimes with vigor. But, that doesn’t diminish them. That elevates them to dialog partners. Like I wrote above, I am a seeker. By definition that makes me someone who is not afraid to go places that are unfamiliar, and perhaps, uncomfortable. It opens me up to opinions that are different than those that I hold. For me, this has been freeing. I don’t have to fear other opinions and concerns. I’m pretty sure that God’s not afraid, either. My friend, this life is a journey, not a destination. To hold lightly to what we think and believe, yet to hold tenaciously to God makes the journey a good one.

Who’s Your Best Friend? Pt. 2

orkut_friends_for_ever_scraps3This is the second part of a series about the possibility of women and men building ‘best friend’ relationships. As I reflect and write about this topic I find that it continues to morph and grow into something more than a simple yes or no can address. Yes, there will be a part three. And, at this point probably a part four. We’ll see where God takes us.

Last week I began writing about relationships between women and men here. Particularly, on the possibility of them being ‘best’ friends. I stated some of the common objections to these relationships. And, I began to deconstruct some of those objections as having their origins in a particular, privileged male view of sexuality. I pointed out how this view demeans and silences women, as well as reinforces the image of how poor, weak men are bound to be ensnared by the sexual wiles of women. I feel that view of sexuality is pretty much crap talk. I’m not about to go along with any position that unfairly labels women as sluts or gives men a pass on their own, personal faults. What I am going to do today is try to unpack some of the issues regarding cross-sex relationships.

When I was a young boy most of my best friends were other boys. We played in the woods and climbed trees. We raced bicycles and played baseball. We prided ourselves as being true ‘He Man Woman Haters.’ However, I knew who the fastest kid in our class was. And, she could beat any one of us boys in a foot race. When teams for kickball were chosen, I tried to make sure she was on my team. In the classroom I spent more time with the girls because they were smarter than most of my guy friends. It always helped to be on their team during spelling and math contests. Many times outside of class boys and girls played together. (That is, as long as the girls didn’t want to play house. Yuk!) The point is kids know how to be friends with anyone, regardless of gender. But, something happened as we got older. Our bodies began to change. Hormones started messing with us. Parents and other adults started telling us that boys and girls needed to start preparing for marriage. Physical pressure, peer pressure and social pressure built to the point of bursting. I’m surprised anyone survives this! All of the sudden…the innocence is gone. Now, we have to learn a whole new way of relating to one another. The girl who once was one of my best friends has become a sexual object. Not because we chose that path. But, because others defined it for us.

I want to be clear about something before I continue. In this series I’m not addressing casual or professional acquaintances. These relationships are viewed as completely necessary and acceptable by most people. I am writing about the possibility for women and men to have relationships in which their hearts are knit together. In which they become kindred spirits who support and encourage one another. In essence, they are best friends in every sense that implies. However, they remain just friends.

Impossible? I don’t think so. Let’s take time to look at some of the issues.Please note that these are serious issues. Many good people and relationships have been shipwrecked because of them. So, I do not take them lightly. I do, however, want to place them within a context that may, perhaps, shed some light on them and offer hope to people who may feel lost and hopeless.

In my last post I shared a video clip from the movie, “When Harry met Sally.” Billy Crystal’s character said that it was impossible for women and men to be friends because ‘the sex part’ always gets in the way. I think there’s some truth in that statement. Whether it’s always an issue, I’m not sure. I do know that in many cases physical attraction and desire are potential deal breakers. I don’t want to belittle this issue, but I think that we need to understand that ‘the sex part’ is totally natural. As I wrote before, we are sexual beings. However, we tend to obsess over this. Especially, in the purity culture, sexuality is whispered about or it is ignored. This sentiment seems to have its roots in how the early church incorporated the Christian scriptures and Greek philosophy, particularly Plato. That view divides the unseen ultimate concept of things from their physical representation on earth. The physical is always something ‘less than’ the ultimate, non-physical reality. The church began to understand that the spiritual reality, therefore, is something to be sought after. The physical, or the ‘flesh,’ was something to be despised. Spirit=Good; Flesh=Bad. However, the folks who wrote the First Covenant did not seem to view humanity like this. Theirs was a wholistic view of people. It looked more like this: Flesh+Spirit=Soul. This view honors the whole person. We can accept and embrace ourselves as God’s image bearers in God’s Good Creation. I truly believe that grasping this is the first step in freeing ourselves from the prison of shame and false modesty. That freedom is necessary for openness and friendship to be established between women and men. Freedom can be won when a person admits and owns their sexuality. When I confess that, yes, I am attracted to this person, I don’t have to hide it or deny it. I can embrace it. After all, this ‘sexual’ me is part of who I am…who God has formed me to be. By not giving into shame and obsessing over my human nature I don’t empower it. I can simply admit that it’s there and move on. I do not have to gratify it. It took me a long time and some monumental failures to learn this. And, it wasn’t until I realized that one of my best friends is a woman that I began to understand that embracing who I am is one of the greatest safeguards against pursuing ‘the sex part.’

There is another potential hazard that I think is vital to understand. It is, perhaps, even more important than this one. But, you’ll have to wait for part three for that.

How do you feel about your identity as a sexual being? Is it possible to accept and embrace ourselves as whole persons and share that with others?

Who’s Your Best Friend? Pt. 1

Best-Friends-Closed-Friends-keep-smiling-9934190-1024-768This is part one of a discussion I’ve been considering for quite some time. And, it has been one of the most difficult pieces that I’ve attempted to address. At this point I can only say that there will be at least a part two. Maybe, more. I will publish part two next week.

A couple of months ago I read a post over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog. It was a guest post written by Alise Wright entitled “Not ‘Just’ Friends -Thoughts on cross-sex friendship.” Alise has her own blog here. The piece was a critique of the common assumption that when women and men get together, they cannot possibly be friends because the ‘sex thing’ will always rear its hoary head. I read the post and comments. I chased several links through many other similar posts by other authors. And, I noticed that this topic was addressed mostly from a women’s perspective. Other than a few comments, I did not find any posts written by men about this. While I thought this was a tad odd, I was not surprised. I find that, in a broad generalization, men are somewhat reluctant to discuss matters that touch on ‘cross-sex’ friendships. So, I thought that I would offer some reflections from my very male perspective.

I can only speak to those of us who live in Western culture. For much of the world, gender roles are specifically delineated. For instance, in parts of the Muslim world, women are totally segregated from men. Different clothing and different rules for appearing in public are written into civil law. In these instances the kinds of relationships I want to discuss are simply not possible.

However, in the West we are not subject to such strictures. Overtly, there is an understanding that women and men are equal and, therefore, are able to seek whatever companionship and camaraderie they desire. (Although, covertly there is still a long way to go before ours is a truly egalitarian culture.) But, are we able to simply ‘be friends’?

The embedded clip from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” is actually a pretty accurate assessment of what many people think. In the circle that I’ve been a part of for the last 30 or so years people will swear by this. It’s the gospel. Men and women cannot be trusted to be together outside of state and church sanctioned wedlock. And, to be quite honest, I have experienced the difficulties and consequences of relationships like this. They can be extremely precarious. As I was training for various ministry positions and even at seminary, we were often told that the best rule to protect oneself and one’s reputation was to simply avoid being alone with someone of the opposite sex. (Or, with someone who is the gender that one is attracted to.) This ‘necessary’ precaution would provide a barrier against ‘impurity’ or even the appearance of impropriety. In practice this would mean that pastors and counselors could not meet with these people behind closed doors. Or, at the very least, windows should be installed so that nothing could be hidden from view. Meetings with cross-sex colleagues and coworkers should be avoided. And, never, ever was it appropriate to go to lunch or spend non-official time with them. These rules were put in place to protect individuals from following their inherent ‘lust’ from spilling out and contaminating everyone.

This way of thinking has naturally grown out of what has become known as the ‘purity culture.’ In this culture two characteristics predominate. The first characteristic is that women are Jezebel seductresses who dress and act in ways that are designed to capture men’s imaginations and cause them to stumble and fall. Members of this culture decry the way women dress, particularly in the summer or in warm climates. I heard one church leader say from the pulpit that he hated summer for that very reason. This position not only objectifies women in a negative way, it opens the door for shaming that always demeans and silences women. The second characteristic is not unlike the first. This suggests that men are weak, carnal beasts who cannot control the sexual lusts and desires that the seductress women cause them to have. (Please note, it’s the women who bear the onus of this charge, not the men.) Both of these characteristics diminish people and marginalize them. The scriptures tell the story of humans created in the ‘image of God,’ as eikons who represent God on Earth. Granted, humanity is fallible. We are not far removed from other animals. We are, in a word, sexual beings. But, to reduce us to the two characteristics mentioned above is to caricaturize people. It also tends to cause folks to obsess over the issue of sexuality. Much like telling your child not to eat the cookies, continually telling people that they must avoid any kind of behavior that may smack of impropriety may, in fact, draw them into it. I think that there must be a better way to address cross-sex relationships. A way that not only honors marriage and family, but that allows people to express their love and friendship freely and without all of the baggage of the ‘purity culture.’

In my next post I will share some of my thoughts and reflections about how we may have and enjoy these relationships. I would also like input from readers.

How do you view cross-sex relationships? Do you think that it is even possible to have them and not engage the ‘sex thing’? Please share your thoughts in the comments.