Sledding Down the Slippery Slope.

When you were a kid did you ever sit at the top of a sledding hill that looked like it was a gazillion feet high? And did you and your friends have a harrowing name for it like dead man’s hill?

We did. The first time I saw it I think it almost blocked out the sun. As we began the walk to the summit I thought this is the biggest hill I have ever seen. As far as I was concerned, if I was sledding down dead man’s hill I might as well be heliskiing (being dropped out of a helicopter while on skis). I was surely going to DIE!

But you know what? My Dad offered to go down with me and I thought, if my Dad goes with me it will be scary but I am going to be okay. I am not going to die.

So we are flying down dead man’s hill, me and my dad and it is the scariest thing I have done in my young life. Yet somehow, strangely, when we got to the bottom I asked him to go with me again and again.

Have you ever been back to your own “dead man’s hill” as an adult? I have. I was shocked! IT ISN’T THAT BIG! I will tell you it isn’t nearly as big and as scary as I thought it was. Sliding down it doesn’t even approach heliskiing any more than my son’s old race track resembles Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That’s why when I saw Rachel Held Evens post this morning (READ IT HERE) I knew I needed to pull out my sled and invite you to fly down the slippery slope with me and Jesus. Yes the slope is big, sometimes it is icy but together with Jesus we won’t be in any danger. In fact, we might have some fun on the way. Sure our knuckles may be white from holding on and our voices may be hoarse from screaming on the way down. But when we reach the bottom and fall in a heap breathless we will look back up at it and realize that “dead man’s hill” isn’t really going to kill us. Heck it just might bring us closer to where we always wanted to be.

Pray Away the Gay?

Today’s post is dedicated to every boy, girl, man or woman who has ever attempted to “pray away the gay.” I am sorry. I am sorry that anyone ever made you think that God didn’t love you JUST. LIKE. YOU. ARE.
This post has been coming all week. I apologize in advance for its length.
First I saw a picture on Facebook that was posted by a friend…

The caption said: A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including “I’m sorry for how the church treated you”.

This is a beautiful thing.

As the week progressed, I came across an amazing blog post in Rachel Held Evans‘ Sunday Superlatives called, A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On by Glennon Melton.” (You can read the whole post here.)

Part of the post was about how kids model what adults say and do and that we as adults and parents have to do better if we ever expect bullying to stop. But the second half was a letter to her son who is still just a little guy. It reads:

Dear Chase,

Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.

Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay.

Our eyes would open wide.

And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.

And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.

We just wanted you to know this, honey. We’ve worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.

Chase, we don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who carefully choose what we believe and follow in the Bible. Some will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that’s scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible.

Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said “When we judge people we have no time to love them.” And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. But I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to go ahead and hold fast to the parts that limited other people’s freedoms. I didn’t point this out at the time baby, because she wasn’t a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It’s best not to embarrass people.

What I’m trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn’t bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends . . . then we just assume we don’t understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here’s what I believe it means to be reborn:

The first time you’re born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you’re born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it’s about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve been married for eight years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I’m fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.

Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He’d like you to use all three. It’s a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God’s laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, “What are the most important laws?” And Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself.” ** When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.

Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.

And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God’s Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ***

 Love, Mama

PS. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you’re straight, that’s okay too. I mean, it’d be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.

PPS. All of the above holds true if you are overweight or Muslim too. No problem on either count.

PPPS. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, “DAMN STRAIGHT.”

Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.

Love you Forever.

It made me cry. It made me cry for people I know from my past like Chase Hutchison from A list Dallas who grew up in a church I used to attend, friends from high school like Seth, Scott & Eddie, people from my church like Cathy & Crystal, people in my extended family like Tracey & Liz and today it helped me learn about my husband’s friend. She saw his post of the previous article on facebook which started a conversation. He knew a little bit of her story so he sent her a private message and asked her if she would be willing to share her experiences. With her permission I share her story here in her own words. I pray you will find it as powerful as I did.

I have been a Christian my whole life. Some of my first memories are of going to church with my family, and the church has remained a frequent source of joy and compassion throughout my life. I have accepted Christ three separate and distinct times, which may sound funny. The first was as a child,probably before I knew much about what it meant. The second was as a 12-year old, when I knew more about what it meant. And the third was as a 28-year old lesbian, when I knew exactly what it meant.

Growing up in a small Texas town that had more churches than gas stations, I frequently sat through sermons about right and wrong. That same town had only one gay person: the junior high P.E. coach (enter cliché here), so homosexuality was a frequent – and easy – topic on which to preach. From the pulpit I heard about “them” being Other…Unacceptable…Fallen. History teaches us little more than that having a common enemy unites. Cheaply, but unites nonetheless. We all want to feel like someone is worse than us. I have done that myself many times…judged others in order to feel less judged myself. It is bullying, and I am ashamed of that.

I was 13 years old when I realized that I was attracted to girls (not all of them, of course). It was not a choice that I made. The biology of the body doesn’t lie (to dispense with the abusive/absentee mother theory: I come from a nonabusive, stable, loving home of two parents (married for 43 years this July) and four children, of whom I am the third). Having been deeply engrained with the idea that homosexuals were unacceptable, I felt absolute and total panic. As I think of it, I can still feel my heart race. But the “I think I’m gay” conversation doesn’t have a place in the Christian world of a young girl, or boy for that matter. Not with my church. Not with my family. Not with my friends.

So I turned immediately to God – a practice that I’m still quite fond of. I started a prayer journal, which I would continue for the next ten years. I would ask God to “take it away from me,” and to “fix me.” I even asked God to let me live until I was straight, so that I wouldn’t go to hell. I was too afraid of someone reading the journal to actually write down the issue, but it permeates my prayers. As I read back through those hundreds of pages now, I cry for that girl who felt so alone, so ashamed, so unworthy, and so separated from the Love of God. My sexual orientation consumed my prayer life for years after.

I also immersed myself in the practice of my faith: Bible studies, worship groups, Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Sunday School, everything. If I get close enough to God, I can’t still like girls, right? I also lived the life I sought after so desperately. I dated boys, kissed boys, and ultimately married one. My mantra was some version of “fake it ‘til you make it.” And I believed that would work. I was taught that it would.

In 2006, three years into my marriage, I got sick. Quite sick. I was having panic attacks several times a week, was depressed, and was working 17-hour days to keep myself from being at home. All still while praying and attending church constantly. It was as though the secret I had been keeping for all those years became too much to keep down. It was like a poison. I finally decided to tell my husband that I was attracted to women. Around the same time, I told my family. I should have told them earlier, but I was afraid. And that is my fault, not theirs.

My husband and I prayed and cried and turned to our church for help. We believed that prayer and support would provide a way out of it. But our church’s solution was some version of “pray away the gay,” and I was confident that was not going to work (see prayer journal for the prior 13 years, though we nonetheless continued to pray that I would be “healed”). Committed to staying together, we experimented with unconventional marital arrangements, none of which worked. After three years of hope, my husband and I divorced in 2009. He has forgiven me for it all, and he remains the most Godly man I have ever known. His love, support, and compassion are a constant reflection of God’s love for me, and – while he has had his own struggles with the situation – he remains one of the two great earthly loves of my life. And God has forgiven me as well.

While my marriage came undone, something else happened. With every honest word I spoke about myself, I got better. And not only did I get better, my faith transformed from a judgmental expression of failed expectations into one of compassion, love, hope, and grace. And through that I have realized that the separation from God I felt for all those years was my fault, because I let something come between me and Christ’s Love. Now I know that nothing…nothing…nothing can come between me and the Love of Christ. I only wish that fewer churches taught that something could…that some things do.

From the scriptural perspective, my best answer is that a condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible is a reflection of the time in which it was written, and that it needs to be interpreted with some acknowledgement of human rights progress. It’s also worth noting that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, was far more concerned with sins of the heart than sins of the flesh. But the reality is that if homosexuality is a sin, then I am a sinner. And even if homosexuality is not a sin, I am still a sinner. I cannot change who I am attracted to. Believe me, I tried. I wept and prayed and tried and wept and prayed and tried. So far, God has seen it fit to leave me and love me just as I am. And so I am not afraid of it anymore…not ashamed of it…and it is no longer a secret. I am gay, and God loves me. I have Christ to thank for that.

Now I am in a committed relationship with my partner of several years. We pray together, worship together at a wonderful church in which we can hold hands during communion and not be judged, and ask God together to bless and guide our family. God hears our prayers, and we feel His peace in our hearts.

I listen frequently to the Church v. Gays battle that goes on in cities and churches all over the country. I feel like screaming “I am gay AND a Christian AND conservative!” But what I find is that’s too much for people to understand, which I completely appreciate because it was too much for me to understand for
28 years of my life.

The response from many of my life-long friends was difficult. Soon after word got out that I was gay, I started to receive emails from people urging me to “repent,” to “seek the Church,” and to “turn back to Christ.” Most of them were replete with scripture and ended with “I’m praying for you.” The obvious assumption was that I had given up my faith in favor of my sexual orientation, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have done my best to respond with love even when I’ve felt judged and rejected. During a moment of wanting to be understood, I asked a friend: “What would you do if you had a physical reaction to another man?” His response: “I would kill myself.” That was the church talking. Not God. And I realized things were even worse than I had thought. Only one person has ever asked me how my faith relates to my sexuality. Everyone else assumed it didn’t.

I share my story because I think of that boy or girl who, sitting in church this Sunday loving God, is attracted to the same gender and feels ashamed…scared…separated from God. Though surrounded by Christians who are the best in the world at loving, he or she will probably not find acceptance or compassion. It is more likely that he or she will find at atmosphere of rejection, unacceptability, and a “let’s pray that you change” attitude. And that makes my heart ache, having spent 28 years wondering how God could love me if I am gay. We can do better. We all need the grace of Christ to be acceptable in God’s sight. If you’re ever looking for that grace, you can find it under my feet, in my arms, and stamped across my heart. I pray that every person has a moment in his or her life at which it is realized that all of us sin and fall short of the Glory of God. That’s not just a line; we really do.

In the words of Ms. Melton, I want every gay person to know that “They are loved as they are. Without a single unless.” By me and by God.

Swing Wide the Prison Doors.

It’s freedom for the disillusioned because now we get to enjoy the richness of relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit without any intermediary or filter. I get to follow Jesus, not you. I get to be part of community that is rich and full. This flattened hierarchy thing that freaks so many people out? It’s actually pretty awesome.

This disillusionment pushed me away from revering you or heroes of the faith or mystics or doctrine purveyors or models or churches. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still wanting to learn from all of you. But it drove me to the true example, the true Shepherd, the true Father. In this new world, I can embrace you as a true man – or woman – after God’s own heart, flawed, moving forward as we all are towards our true renewed selves with open hearts to God.

Now, when I hear of you falling or a few skeletons in your closet, my heart is free to break for you and your own need for our Abba. I’m no hypocrite and my turn may be coming. I can make my response this time all about you, to love you, to be there for you, no judgements, only grace and second chances – imagine that.

As disillusionment spreads – and clearly, it is spreading – I wonder if it spells freedom for you.

Today one of the bloggers I read regularly, Sarah Bessey who blogs at Emerging Mummy, penned these words on another blog called Deeper Story. You can read the whole blog post at either of these links.

Her post today makes the assertion that disillusionment with the traditional church leadership model is a good thing. The definition of disillusion is “to destroy the false but pleasant beliefs.” This is a very good and important thing. For so many in the position of lead pastor (or whatever your particular flavor of christianity calls the “lead dude (usually) in charge), the job that most originally seek out because they feel the call of God or because they want to help people, soon becomes a prison.

A prison not made of bars of steel, but judgement, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations and a plethora of other ungodly expectations. In a survey of pastors by Barna, they found:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

The system is broken. I agree with Sarah. Disillusionment with this system is a good thing. No, a Godly thing. No one man (or woman) should be given that much power, or have that much pressure placed on them. It is impossible to live up to. In her recent post, Dear Pastor, Tell Us the Truth, Rachel Held Evans wrote a letter that holds the key to swing wide the prison doors for pastors and their families…TRUTH.

Tell us the truth.

Tell us the truth when you don’t know the answers to our questions, and your humility will set the example as we seek them out together.

Tell us the truth about your doubts, and we will feel safe sharing our own.

Tell us the truth when you get tired, when the yoke grows too heavy and the hill too steep to climb, and we will learn to carry one another’s burdens because we started with yours. 

Tell us the truth when you are sad, and we too will stop pretending.

Tell us the truth when your studies lead you to new ideas that might stretch our faith and make us uncomfortable, and those of us who stick around will never forget that you trusted us with a challenge.

Tell us the truth when your position is controversial, and we will grow braver along with you.

Tell us the truth when you need to spend time on your marriage, and we will remember to prioritize ours.

Tell us the truth when you fail, and we will stop expecting perfection.

Tell us the truth when you think that our old ways of doing things need to change, and though we may push back, the conversation will force us to examine why we do what we do and perhaps inspire something even greater.

Tell us the truth when you fall short, and we will drop our measuring sticks.

Tell us the truth when all that’s left is hope, and we start digging for it.

Tell us the truth when the world requires radical grace, and we will generate it. 

Tell us the truth even if it’s surprising, disappointing, painful, joyous, unexpected, unplanned, and unresolved, and we will learn that this is what it means to be people of faith.

Tell us the truth and you won’t be the only one set free.

Love,

The Congregation