Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Am a Christian, and I Do Not Tolerate Gay People.

The following post was written with love and grace.  I would love it if your responses came from a similar place.  It is long, and there are no pictures, but I believe it's worth the read.  Much, much love to anyone who makes it to the end.
If you’ve read anything of spiritual nature on my blog, you’ll know that I struggle with my relationship with the church.  I have built lasting friendships, felt nurtured and healthy, and participated in or witnessed miraculous, life-affirming things through the church, but I have also been hurt, angered, and disappointed in the church.
I have had moments when I have tried to throw in the towel, write the church off as a frustration I don’t need in my life, yet over and over again, I’m drawn back.  I try my best to fixate on the positive rather than the negative, and the main reason I keep going back is because I have this innate need to right wrongs.  It’s the thorn in my flesh (as the apostle, Paul, said).  No matter how hard I try to ignore it or justify walking away from the church by labeling it “not worth my time” or “someone else’s problem,” there’s something in my gut that whispers and sometimes screams, “DO SOMETHING.”
I shared in a recent post that I strive to live honestly and vulnerably.  Our parents taught us from an early age that honesty is the best policy, yet life teaches us that if we are honest about how we feel or think, there are people who will line up to hurt us, telling us we are wrong or that something is wrong with us.  In turn, we lose our ability or desire to be vulnerable.  We stop speaking up for fear of being hurt.  
Much of this process occurred for me within the confines of church buildings.  Throughout my upbringing, I had questions.  Lots of questions.  Sometimes, I was blessed with teachers and leaders who let me explore those questions, but most of the time, I was under the leadership of people who gave me stock answers, empty of personal conviction, because they were in a sense towing the party line.  It was a culture where thinking was not encouraged; in fact, thinking was often discouraged or feared.  It was a culture within which I felt like an alien.  With adult perspective, I realize that there were many who felt this way, but as children and teenagers, we learned quickly to conform.  Our adolescent minds yearned for answers to life’s toughest questions, and it was much easier to accept and move on than to wrestle.
When I was twelve, I was reading my Bible one day and came to a verse in Leviticus that read, “A man should not lie with a man as he does a woman.”  On the edge of the page in giant blue highlighter, I wrote HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN. Period.  I closed my Bible to pray and then opened it again to the same page.  I carefully tore the edge off the page, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash can.
That is my first memory of connecting homosexuality with sin.
Before that, homosexuality was not an abstract concept about which I knew nothing.  Homosexuality was a person.  My dad’s brother, Mike, or Mikey, as his nieces and nephews called him, was gay.  This had no meaning to me, of course, when I was really young.  He was my uncle who sent me strange postcards addressed to “Madame Binky” or “The Queen of Hip Hop.”  He was my uncle who showed up sporadically in his black t-shirts and Doc Martens, the one who let me listen to loud music on his Walkman.  He scared the bejeesus out of me when I found him moshing in the back bedroom, sweat dripping from his face (and even then I knew whatever he was doing was nothing short of awesome).  As I got older and more observant, he was the uncle who was difficult and distant at times, the one who caused considerable frustration for some of his family members, the one who refused to have his picture taken.
Mikey was the epitome of what uncles are supposed to be.  He was kind and indulgent, exhaustively fascinated by my little person life.  As I reached adolescence, he pushed the boundaries my parents had created for me.  He is the reason I fell in love with Kurt Cobain in fifth grade, and on some level, he’s one of the reasons I ever felt that it was okay to ask questions.
When he died, we travelled to his house in Albuquerque, where his good friend, Bob, had cared for him in the last days of his life.  Even in death, he was a character, like something out of a book or movie.  Their house was decorated with vintage lunch boxes and thrift store furniture.  As we sifted through his stuff, which didn’t amount to much, I wore his tinkle bells around my neck and his Doc Martens on my feet.  He had a box of mix tapes under his bed, filled with songs from Nirvana and R. E. M. and L7.  I claimed those as mine, too.  I also took home Kekaw, Mikey’s cockatiel, who beeped like a microwave and danced to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
When the guests arrived for his funeral, the room was filled with our family, a few sharp-dressed men, and one woman on whom I became fixated as she was wearing a slightly provocative skirt and top, her outfit finished off with a coonskin cap.  In Albuquerque.  In April.  I kept thinking she must be hot.
By then, I was in eighth grade, navigating the world of adolescent sexuality and well-aware of what the word homosexuality meant.  My uncle preferred relationships with men.  I didn’t completely understand it, but I accepted it.  I recognized this quality in some of my friends, boys and girls who fit stereotypes of fags and homos and lesbos.
Some of these friends were Christians like me, my friends from church or friends who went to other churches, friends I met at church camps or city-wide gatherings of teenagers, looking to connect with God.  And no one talked about it.  Ever.  Unless you count the service I attended at a summer camp, where the minister held us in the auditorium for four hours asking anyone struggling with same-sex attraction to come forward for prayer and deliverance.  No one went forward, and finally at 11:00, the youth leaders ushered us back to our rooms.  Where no one talked about it.
Here is the church’s argument that homosexuality is a sin.  I can rattle this off from memory because I have, in fact, hidden the word in my heart as the writer of Proverbs admonishes me, and this is what is taught in churches on a regular basis.  The argument begins with these two Bible verses:
  1. Leviticus 18:22 (NIV): “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does a woman; that is detestable.”
  2. Romans 1:26-27 (NIV): “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
These two verses are the verses that specifically speak to homosexuality, and not general sexual sin.  There are two more verses that speak directly about homosexuality, but I will get to those later.  Many of the websites and books about this subject say things like,
The Christian point of view is based solely upon the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God. A truly Christian standard of ethics is the conduct of divine revelation, not of statistical research nor of public opinion. For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for both belief and behaviour. (Lehmann Strauss,
This is representative of how a lot of Christians view this subject, as well as how they interpret the role of the Bible in the Christian faith.  The language in it reflects something that has not sat well in my spirit from the moment I identified myself as a Christian.  It’s this one word: truly.  That one word suggests that if you do not adopt this line of thinking, then you are not really a Christian.  If you believe something outside this prescribed notion, you are something else, something that is not Christian.  Christians MUST be guided by “divine revelation,” specifically the revelation that fits with a specific opinion.  And here is the other thing that puts my spirit on edge--that Christian ethics are guided solely by the Bible and not based on “statistical research or public opinion.”
Now, let’s be real.  Even the most evangelical of my friends can not possibly live this out.  We put it in our creeds, we teach it to our children, and we nod our heads the whole time.  Yes, yes, yes.  That’s true.
But let’s take an example that is completely unrelated to the issue of homosexuality.  Look what the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:5-9 (NIV): “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ...And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”
To apply these verses to your life in a literal way either means you are a slave or you own slaves.  How many of you, readers, are slaves or own slaves?  Zero.  In fact, I would venture to guess that exactly zero of you condone the practice of slavery.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that if asked about the subject, you would not even hesitate to say, “I believe slavery is wrong.”
But if you rewind history to the mid-1800s, you will find church leaders defending slavery with these exact verses.  If you rewind history to the 1950s, you will find church leaders who defended segregation just as fervently.  Their claims were based in literal interpretations of the Bible, but also in what has proven to be faulty science (i.e. black people were inferior, comparable to animals).  So, why do we not use these scriptures to justify slavery or segregation now?  For one thing, there were people in the church who stood up to the status quo and fought for the rights of black people based on their spiritual conviction, but we also have to take into account drastic shifts in “statistical research [and] public opinion.”
Even the strictest interpreter of scripture allows life experience to shape how they view the world (and whether he wants to admit it or not, how he interprets Scripture), which brings me to those verses that the church uses to “prove” that homosexuality is a sin.  The first verse from Leviticus 18:22 seems pretty straight forward--homosexuality is detestable.  Other versions say it is an “abomination.”  This is probably the single most quoted verse about homosexuality that helps Christians see it as a black and white issue.  However, in these arguments, Christians are less likely to bring up a verse that shows up just two chapters later (one that I told you I would bring up later) in Leviticus 20:13 (NIV): “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
Record scratch.
Did you get that?  Gay people are to be put to death.  PUT.  TO.  DEATH.  Black and white.  Straight from the same writer who said they were detestable.  And to add insult to injury, those of us who do the killing don’t even need to worry about their blood being on our hands.
So, you know where I’m going here, right?  Why don’t we put gay people to death and wipe our hands clean?  Because of changes in “statistical research [and] public opinion.”  And because when God gave us hearts and minds with which to navigate the world, part of the package was common sense.  I could write pages and pages about the Levite laws and how many of them good Christian people do not live out in their daily lives (especially the parts about how we dress or what we eat), but this post is clearly already too long, and I need to stay on point.
So, let’s move on to the New Testament, the portion of the scriptures that most Christians find more inspirational for its applicability to real life.  (Sidenote: I love and appreciate the Old Testament just as much as the New Testament, but I recognize why people identify with the NT more easily.)
In the verse from Romans, the apostle Paul is speaking about new Christians who were drawn into Pagan rituals.  The early church viewed the Pagans as a danger to new converts.  Many converts fell to the temptation of the old way of life that Paul preached so stridently to avoid.  The new way of life in Christ is a path of grace.  If there was a theme to the collective letters of Paul, it’s this: out with the old, in with the new!  Grace is defined by loads of theologians as “God’s unmerited favor.”  In adopting the theology of Christ--this grace-centered theology--we are new creations, Paul says.  So, it makes perfect sense to me that Paul would be frustrated with Roman converts for taking part in Pagan rituals.  That was the OLD!  In Christ, people did not need to rely on ritual to communicate with God.  Why would these people feel the need to fall back in to their old habits?
I don’t need to look any further than a day in my life to answer that question.  There are days when my behavior is not at all graceful or Christ-like.  I yell at my kids.  I shut out my husband.  I ignore my friends.  I gossip about my friends.  I lie.  I feel hatred and bitterness and regret about the church and humanity in general.  It is not graceful.  It is not loving.
And then I thank God for Lamentations 3:23.  God’s mercies are new every morning.  And I start over.
The last passage (the other one I said I’d come back to) that is used to call homosexuality a sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV): “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
This is the one used by Christians who are, I believe, genuinely well-intentioned.  It’s what births such catchphrases as “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  There is a growing number of Christians who live their daily lives by this maxim.  Many of them have gay friends.  Many of them are motivated to reach out to the gay community to show gay people that the church is not solely made up of people like the hatemongers at Westboro Baptist Church.
Bravo, Christians, for moving in what I believe is the right direction.  It is a far cry from the way the church has addressed gay people in the recent past.
But there is another segment of people within the church who have taken this issue to heart and are headed in a slightly different direction.  I am part of this segment, and I want to address briefly a different but related debate.  I believe people are born gay.  Most of the Christian argument hinges upon the idea that being gay is a choice.  If it is a choice, it can change.  It can be prayed away.  If one can choose to be gay, one can choose to not be gay.  Based on this assumption, the traditional Christian argument that homosexuality is a sin makes sense.  It could be compared to the idea that human beings are not naturally monogamous, but when in a committed relationship we choose to be monogamous (a choice that many struggle with, Christian and non-Christian alike).
But what if it isn’t a choice?  What if God creates gay people already gay?  What if it is who they are?  If we are created in God’s image, what does this mean?  Can a gay person be holy--set apart for God’s purpose?  I think yes.
Based on this second assumption, gay people are free to live as new creations in Christ in the exact same way that straight people are.  It seems as if maybe this is what Paul meant when he said in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  What is the point of this verse?  Is it to point out distinctions, or is it to point out the inclusivity of God’s grace and love?  What is the point of all scripture?  Is it to point out distinctions or to point out the inclusivity of God’s grace and love?
My husband I briefly discussed whether I should post this.  When I was almost finished, I started feeling nervous and fearful.  I told him, “If I post this, we might lose friends.”
He responded, “What friends?  Who cares?”
I understand the root of his response, and it’s part of the reason I love him, but the reality is that I don’t want to lose friends over this.  I don’t.  Because I don’t think sharing my opinion on something warrants the end of a relationship.
In the past, I have shared my opinion on the subject and been told to my face that it was heresy.  I have been told that I am a false prophet, that I was spitting in the face of God.  I have been told that I shouldn’t say these things because if people agree with me or change their opinions based on my opinion, it is like the blind leading the blind.  I have even been told that I will be held accountable on Judgment Day.  (I know some of you probably are saying some of these things in your head, while others of you are trying to pick your jaws up off the ground because you can’t believe people would say these things to me.)
But let me let you in on a secret, I’m not worried about talking to God on Judgment Day about this because I talk to God about this every day (well, not every day, but often).  I think the reason this issue is so divisive is that many people feel conflicted when they are told one thing, but their spirit tells them something different.
I decided to finally post something very public because someone needs to.  There are more of me out there than we all think.  In more progressive churches, gay people are already leading our congregations.  In congregations that don’t want to rock the boat but also support the gay community, their gay members are deacons and elders.  And I hate to break it to all my evangelical friends, but there are gay people all over your pews (and especially your choir benches!).  And you know who else is sitting in those pews?  People like me.  People who have been silenced by statistical research and more often public opinion, but that is changing.
That is changing, friends.
Some of you may be thinking why does this matter?  It matters because one of the parts of the Bible that SCREAMS at me is when in a parable, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (NLT)  Who are the least of these?  In that particular scripture, he mentions people needing food or drink or shelter or clothing or a friend.  
The least of these includes anyone in need.  And right now, our gay brothers and sisters are in deep need of our love, grace, understanding and acceptance.
I titled this post the way I did because I knew it would make people read, but I also used  that title because I don’t “tolerate” gay people and “their lifestyle.”  I tolerate the smell of my husband’s breath after he eats onions.  I tolerate people who talk loudly in movie theaters.  I tolerate long lines at the DMV because all of those uncomfortable things are necessary for me to get something I want--a kiss, the latest Ryan Gosling flick, or a new license.
I accept gay people.  I accept them for who they are--friends, children of God, and human beings capable of loving and extending grace to me despite my faults and shortcomings.
My prayer is for forgiveness for any part I have ever played in making someone else feel less than.  My prayer is that this does not fall on deaf ears in the Christian community.  My prayer is that this will encourage others to read, think, and pray for answers about how they are to address this issue in their lives.  My prayer is that this instills hope in the hearts and minds of my gay friends.
Thanks for reading.  I welcome your thoughts.

(After an overwhelming response, I posted a follow-up HERE.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A couple of weeks ago, the weather forecasters were predicting a snowstorm for western WA.  Having grown up in OK, we are a bit dismissive of “storm warnings,” as we grew up with the likes of Gary England and Mike Morgan shouting from the rooftops that there were storms on the way, not unlike the story of the little boy who cried wolf.
So, when the snow started coming down on Saturday afternoon, we welcomed it with sappy, happy feelings of joy (and ignored the doomsday forecast).  The boys were thrilled, ready to put on their coats and head outside before the flakes had even accumulated enough to be a dusting.  By mid-afternoon on Sunday, there was enough on the ground that when I tried to leave for a sewing class I had scheduled in town, I couldn’t get either of our cars down the driveway (we live a mile up in the Black Hills).
From our porch
When the boys woke up Monday morning, they ran to the living room windows, still in their pajamas with wild hair and sleepy eyes, and started a chorus of “This is going to be awesome!  This is going to be awesome!  This is going to be awesome!”
We bundled in our warmest clothes and headed out to play.  I only lasted about half an hour before heading back inside, ready to get warm by the fire with a book.  The boys came in long enough to eat, but spent most of the day in the snow, lucky enough to have Daddy home for the MLK, Jr. holiday.  
Tuesday morning, we woke up to another few inches, and Scott called the squadron to let them know he couldn’t get our cars down the hill.  I found myself laughing at this thought: I’d spent nearly all of 2011 away from my husband with sporadic phone calls and frustrating amounts of non-communication, but here we were stuck on top of a hill with basically only each other to hang out with every second of the day.  I guess it's proof that Mother Nature is a stronger force than the Force that normally controls our life. 
Mid-afternoon, our new neighbors called and said they were predicting major snow (this 8-10 inches wasn’t major?) overnight and all through Wednesday.  They asked if we wanted to borrow one of their cars and join them for dinner somewhere in town.  We jumped at the chance to spend some time getting to know them and to get a few groceries while we were at it.  We had pizza, stopped for some fruit and junk food, and settled back in for the night.
Did I say night?  I meant night and day and night and day and night and day and night and day.  Yep.  We were snowbound.
In fifth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Upchurch, read a book called Snowbound aloud to our class.  I don’t remember all the details, but I know there were some people stuck in a car, and they melted snow in the ashtray with a gum wrapper, so they could drink minty water to stay alive.  Or something like that.  I loved the book, but mainly because Mr. Upchurch was reading it and there were a few cuss words that he replaced with things like “Darn!” and “Shucks!” but I knew what it really said because I was reading over his shoulder.  I remember thinking about how cool it would be to have to use survival skills like that and then feeling overwhelmed because I’d never been a Girl Scout.
In reality, life was good.  I had food, books, and three happy boys to keep me company if I felt the need to come out of my nook.  We played games, did puzzles, baked, and ate.  And ate.  And ate.  And ate.  It was a regular Norman Rockwell painting, complete with warm socks and Coca-Cola.  We couldn’t get off the hill, but why would we need to?  The boys were occupied with playing hard all day, which made them so tired at night, they practically begged to go to bed, leaving Scott and me with night after night of at-home date nights.  
Thursday morning brought more of the same.  Scott was working as best he could from home, making phone calls and typing away on the computer.  The boys and I had finished all the work I had planned for homeschool for the week before lunch, and I was chipping away at my book organization project, when the power went out.
Scott and I immediately went into problem-solving mode.  After waiting to see if the problem was temporary, we realized there wasn’t really anything to do except let our family and close friends know we were unplugging, so the only way to find us was by house phone.  We shut down our phones and computers to conserve battery life and spent the rest of the day carrying on in our Norman Rockwell-esque way.  
Ben, holding a flashlight over the chili while I stirred
I gathered flashlights and candles as it got dark around 5 o’clock.  We were heating the house with our propane fireplace, and we made chili for dinner on our gas stovetop.  Before heading to bed, we took everything out of the fridge and freezer and put it on our snow covered porch to stay cold.
Nature's refrigerator
When we’d put the boys to bed, Scott came to the realization that our well water ran on an electric pump.  He came to this realization when he tried to flush the toilet and couldn’t.  Our reserve was out of water.
I’ve had a chance to test out my survival skills in traveling relatively extensively in developing nations, and I have survived despite never having been a Girl Scout.  I’m no stranger to inventing through necessity, and I have enough common sense to know how to get through power outages and delicate toilet situations.  For goodness’ sake, I come from people who were raised on farms and eat the meat they shoot.  We could survive another day without power.  And water.
So, we started boiling snow to bucket-flush the toilets and drank the water we had sparingly.  When we had power, I would throw all the snow-soaked clothes in the dryer each time the boys came in, but now there were mounds of wet socks and mittens stacking up in the entryway.  I couldn’t wash any of our clothes, so the pair of underwear Ben peed in when he didn’t make it to the toilet in time just added to the bucket-flushed toilet aroma in our bathroom.  Dishes started piling in the sink because it’s difficult to reuse a cup that has had milk or apple juice in it when you can’t rinse it out.
I had taken my last shower on Wednesday afternoon, so by Friday, I looked like the female version of Brad Pitt.  And when I say Brad Pitt, this is what I mean:
I’m sure my breath was kickin’ as I’d been on a steady diet of apples and Beecher’s flagship cheese, and I was down to using Colgate Wisps to brush because I didn’t want to waste water.
Still, even without power or (much) water, I felt okay.  Really.  Scott and I were halfway through a 1,000-piece puzzle.  I had finished one book and made it a good way through two more.  Will and I finished Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and moved on to the second book.  Will and Ben had each other to play with and had stayed exceptionally happy through it all.  When I asked WIll what he thought about living without water or electricity, he said, “It’s good.”  When I asked him if he missed anything, he answered simply, “No.”  Scott pointed out how many teaching moments had occurred during the week--probably one of the best weeks we’ve had in homeschool.
And why wouldn’t Will and Ben be happy campers (literally)?  They had spent days snacking on their favorite foods, playing in the snow, and hanging out with two parents who were completely focused on enjoying our time together (as opposed to two parents on their phones or computers or doing laundry or cooking).
Scott was scheduled to leave on a trip on Sunday, so we knew we were going to need to figure out a way to get down the hill in our cars.  We also decided it was time for everyone to take showers, as we smelled like the cast from Survivor.  We packed a bag to head down the hill to a friend’s house, and for the first time in days, I felt stressed and a little sad.
There is something incredibly liberating about simplicity.  It seems the obvious thing to quote Thoreau, but there’s a reason he’s quoted so often.  He said, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
There is the push and pull that occurs in modern society--the one side telling us we want more, more, more.  Bigger, better, faster.  Keep up, keep up, keep up.  The other side, the part that gets buried by the first, says, “Just enough.”  This is my comfort zone.  This is where I love to live.
Having had this most recent experience on our little mountaintop, I feel drawn to simplicity even more.  What is the point of all this stuff when all I really need is water, some fresh fruit, a few books, and someone to share it all with?  When I showered and put on make-up, I sort of looked like a clown after days without.  I hated myself a tiny bit when I jumped back on FB to “catch up” with the rest of the world.  It took as long as it took to get the slightest charge on my phone to feel bogged down by the thirteen text messages and 145 emails I had to trudge through.
In the last few days, the electricity has flickered a few times and then went out for a full hour tonight, and my gut reaction each time came from that part of me that ignores my children to check Facebook or chat on the phone.  I was frustrated, but my frustration soon shifted from thinking about all the stuff I can’t do without electricity to frustration with myself for being so quick to get frustrated.  Hadn’t I just had one of the best weeks of my life without electricity?  Why am I so dense?
And you know what my kids did tonight when the electricity went out?  The very first thing they did was go get some sticker books, puzzles, and games.  Ben said, “Welp!  Guess we’ll play a game or sumfin.”  Unphased.
I’ve never been one to make resolutions with the New Year, but tonight I came up with one: this year (maybe I should cut myself some slack and say this decade), I am going to help the Just Enough me silence the More More More me.  The Just Enough me is a better me--a better wife, a better mother, a better friend.

So there it is, my new mantra: just enough.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year, Same Me

Do you ever have those moments when you read something or hear something, and your heart starts to race, and your pits start sweating, and you almost pee in your pants a little because what is happening before your eyes is so freaking fantastic?  Well, if you don’t, then you are probably dead inside.
Life inspires me.  All the time.  A few years ago when I was seriously considering going to seminary, I was reading a lot of inspirational books from pastors and church leaders (even though I had no desire to ever be a pastor).  In one of the books (I really wish I could remember which one so I could give credit), I read something along the lines of “Life is just a series of moments waiting on a sermon.”  
I am not a pastor.  I don’t want to be a pastor.  I actually cringe at the idea of being a pastor because of the red tape and stress of leading people.  Just being honest.  The true meaning of the word is supposed to be “shepherd.”  I think of a shepherd as someone who cares for her flock, placing the lives of others before her own.  I can totally get on board with that.  What I can’t stomach is the intense scrutiny pastors face or the details that cloud purpose.  I have seen it again and again with pastors, genuine people who go into ministry with passion and grace and vision to help people, to lead people, to mold people.  Years in, so many pastors are so entangled in the business of running a church--picking a color for the hallway, raising money for repairs, committee meeting after committee meeting--or worse, they fall to the temptation of following a personal agenda that is not full of passion or grace or vision, but rather one that is self-serving and deplete of joy.
I don’t want to be a pastor.
But I do believe that life gives me sermons all the time.  I can’t help but turn everything I do into an object lesson with my children.  It’s just the way I’m wired, and I thank God--like swell with gratitude--every time I’m given these moments.  I don’t believe these moments come to me just for my sake either.  I mean, some of the lessons are clearly designed just for me--the kinds of lessons that come over and over and over, but I believe most of what happens is because I am going to come across someone who needs to hear the same thing.  Sometimes I share these moments on FB or I blog about them, and other times, I hold them in my heart and wait for the right time.  And it never fails.  I will have some lesson rattling around in my head for a few days, and then someone will come across my path--at a playgroup or over coffee, maybe even in line at the grocery store--and I think, “Oh, this is why I had this thought the other day.”
What I’ve learned, though, is that if I share my thoughts with other people without first putting them through the “love and grace” test, all is lost.  If I try to twist something according to my agenda, it’s lost.  If I try to appear to know what I’m talking about even, it’s lost.  People accept what I have to say based on my credibility (otherwise, I'm just an oversharing crazy lady), and you know how I’ve created any bit of credibility that I have?  By being completely vulnerable.  It’s the only way.
I believe we are all born with an innate vulnerability that is pure and honest and good.  I see this every day in my children, when they never think twice about telling me how they feel.  It hurts my feelings when you yell or I wanted her to play with me, but she said I was stupid or I love you because you are a good mommy.  They are consistently upfront  about the way life affects them and have no qualms about expressing whatever emotion is flitting through their little hearts at the moment.
And somehow we lose this along the way.  For me, it happened in a repressive church environment that taught me there was a certain mold I was supposed to fit, a way of thinking, and when I didn’t fit, I felt isolated and didn’t know who to tell.  It happened in an intense private school setting where expectations were piled on, some of which were healthy but many of which had no connection to how I wanted to live my life.  As an Air Force spouse, even in adulthood, I feel the pressure to perform in a way that doesn’t really make sense to me.  
Through it all, that childlike vulnerability has struggled to remain constant in my heart and mind, and I’ve found that the only way I can live with peace, a contentment, is to live as vulnerably as possible.  And this isn’t easy.  I like to control things.  I like to be in control of things, most notably my emotional reactions to circumstances and people.  And you know what happens when you live vulnerably?  You lose control.  You fall apart in front of people.  You expose parts of yourself that you wanted to stay hidden.  There is no such thing as pride or composure or control.
And it is so damn freeing.
I have these thoughts all the time--these thoughts about sharing it all, putting it all on the table for people to see, being authentically me.  In fact, my adolescence and twenties could be characterized as a constant struggle to be wholly me, holy me.  When you live in a way that pleases others but leaves you feeling like a fraud, you can never be whole.  And when you live in a way that chases someone else’s agenda, you can never be holy, set apart for divine purpose.  But when your life is lived vulnerably, you may open yourself up to hurt and pain and disappointment, but you also open yourself up to the riches of friendship, love, grace, and freedom.
A friend on FB posted a link to this blog that started me down his road (this is the first thing that made my pits sweat).  I don’t know this woman, but I feel an intimate connection to her on so many levels.  Please read it!

After reading it, I posted it on a friend’s wall, and he posted back this Ted Talk (this one made me need to pee a little).  When you’ve got twenty minutes, listen.  Every minute of it is worth a listen, and maybe a second listen.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Christmas Post I Haven’t Taken Time to Write/Post

When I married my husband, I inherited a unique Christmas tradition.  Somewhere around 25 Christmases ago, his family attended the Christmas Eve service at their church and decided to eat dinner out with another family from the congregation.  Because it was Christmas Eve, nothing was open--except El Chico, a moderately priced, underwhelming Tex-Mex restaurant found primarily in the south.  (When I decided to write this post, I was surprised to find out that they now have locations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates...WTH?)
Over the years, this church service/meal together became a tradition, one that my children have now been a part of each time we’ve been in OK for Christmas.  Even though many restaurants are open on Christmas Eve now, we feel no need to change the venue.

One thing that made this year different was two key members of our party were missing.  My husband was deployed to Kyrgyzstan, and John, the oldest son of the other family, was away for an assignment (he’s a big-time super important journalist).  After he posted on FB from across the world that he was sad to be missing our church-Chico tradition, I promised him a rundown of the night’s events by midnight.
So...add 14 days to that midnight deadline, and here’s your promised post, John.  If you are reading this, and you are not John, I think you will still find something of substance on which to ruminate.
First, I should state that I grew up in a church with Christmas productions that would put Disney to shame.  Angels and live animals and caroling and costumes and lights and a real Baby Jesus and dancing and flagging and signing and singing.  All followed by a sincere call for God’s people to not forget that Baby Jesus would die on a cross one day for our sins.  That is not what the service is like at the traditional Presbyterian church in which my husband grew up.
In my memory, there have never been live animals, but the ministers have always attempted to do something a little fun during the family service (which makes some of the Presbyterians nervous).  Although not every attempt at fun has been successful from an entertainment standpoint, we always have something to talk about over our chips and salsa.
This year, the night started off with a worry wart moment from my sixty-year-old (trapped in a six-year-old) son, Will, who was very concerned that we were using real candles during the candle-lighting portion of the service.  He asked the usher if he could have a “safety” candle like the ones from last year, and when he was denied, he spent the rest of the service anxious about whether or not we would all survive singing “Silent Night” or die in a fiery Christmas inferno.
After walking in and finding our usual rows occupied by new people, we grumbled and bumped into each other until we found seats for our large party (which includes several families who don’t all come to dinner).  
The first thing we noticed were the multi-colored spotlights shining on the ceiling, after which someone (I can’t remember who) suggested we might be witnessing the first ever Presbyterian version of Jesus Christ Superstar.  Turns out, the spotlights were used to display an array of stars and then THE star on the ceiling during the scripture reading of Luke (during which three-year-old Ben asked, “Is this a long story?”).
Next, we opened the bulletin to find a recipe for ten-minute fudge, which seemed an odd addition, but we assumed it had something to do with the sermon.  (Note: it didn’t.  Just weird.)
When the service started, the music minister started singing a song none of us knew, a new Christmasy jingle to which Ben announced loudly, “This is not a real Christmas song.”  Shortly after, the congregation was asked to join in singing a “real” Christmas song to which one of the moms from our group (who shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with Roberta) announced even more loudly, “I don’t like this song.”
The service proceeded with very little to comment on.  I’m sure the sermon was nice, as the minister delivering it always has something profound to say, but I was busy supplying Ben with Fruit Loops and Cheez-its and trying to figure out why Will was hiding under the pew. 

Finally, we found ourselves at the moment we’d all been waiting for (Will more than others): the singing of “Silent Night.”  As the sanctuary lights dimmed and the fire light was passed from row to row, I focused my attention on the boys, who were standing in the pew between me and my sister-in-law.
Our candles were lit by the middle of the first verse, and all was calm, and all was bright.  Will’s anxiety seemed to ebb a little as we all held our candles in front of us.  (The members of our group sitting behind us commented that Will looked like the Statue of Liberty because he was holding his candle so high, aka as far away from his face as possible).  
By the third verse, I became transfixed on Ben’s tiny face.  He’s too little to know the words or understand what any of the traditions and rituals mean.  He knows about Baby Jesus, and he’s confused about Santa, and I’m sure he has no idea why we ate tortillas on Christmas Eve, but in that moment, when I was looking at the flame reflected in his big, blue eyes, it was the definition of Christmas.
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
A few years ago, I had the honor of helping perform a baptism for one of my best friend’s baby.  During the baptism, I spoke about how if we are the hands and feet of God, then children are the face of God.  Ben’s face, full of excitement and curiosity, held everything that Christmas means to me.
Christmas is the start of something new, the fulfillment of promises, and redemption through simplicity.  When lived out in its true meaning, it is love’s pure light radiating through us.
As the song came to an end, the minister added a benediction, saying that as we go out into the world, we are to touch others with the light of God’s love.  Will, his eyes fixed on his still burning candle, shouted, “We can’t touch them!” and then added in a loud whisper, “That would be dangerous!”
My sister-in-law helped him blow out his candle as he started freaking out about the wax dripping through the hole in his plastic cup, and we gathered our things to go as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” played.
We finished the night with Mexican food and gifts for all, another Christmas Eve in the bag.  We missed you, John!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, and please don’t set any people on fire as you travel the globe.