The rumble and roar of evangelicals could be heard around the internet. People boldly went to their nearest social media outlet to proclaim to the world, or more realistically their social circles, that they disapproved of the SCOTUS decision that marriage in the United States is now federally approved to include people of the same sex. One post even declared “we are followers of Jesus Christ first and foremost. Unto Death a Christian”. In response people from the opposite side of the argument posted pictures of the White House filtered through a rainbow and rainbow flags and images. The battle lines are being drawn and the newest Civil Conflict is being declared. One truth stood out above all other. Both sides feel it is us against them and the first casualty is communication.
The Church is preparing for the conflict, but in a unique way. The modern Church in general would consider themselves a New Testament Church but for some reason we are greatly modeling our actions out of Old Testament thought. I am not referring to the assessment of whether Homosexuality is acceptable in God’s eyes. I am referring to how we are responding to the perceived threat from the “gentiles” or more specifically, those outside the body of believers who support this ruling. We are calling out to God for protection from our enemies and seeking his strength for vindication as David did. We are gathering supporters and preparing for action as Gideon did. We are making stands for ourselves and our houses like Joshua. We are preparing our battle cry to call out like the army surrounding Jericho, “Marriage is between one man and one woman!”.
I think that is where we have missed the mark. We have been preparing for a fight for so long we forgot to check our facts. The Bible does not teach that marriage is between one man and one woman. Out of the 100 or so times marriage is mentioned, only a handful of verses mention anything in the way of instruction. Most of those instructions are about how to act between spouses and not who to marry. The statement “Marriage is between one man and one woman” comes greatly out of inference. In the garden when Eve was created she was given to Adam and the two became one flesh. Ok, I see the inference in the story but I don’t see the mandate. If you look at the rest of the bible the practices of marriage were steeped in polygamy and a brokerage system that involved purchasing a wife.
The standard response to this is that God tolerated these things but did not support them. I think this is where the real problem lies. We are inferring what the correct standard should be from the bible. We are allowing it to change to meet the social structure of a modern world based upon our understanding of what God intended. We have adopted that structure within our bodies and are encouraging our congregations to honor God through their involvement in that practice. All of that makes perfect sense within the church and we have every right and reason to create mandates for membership in our churches surrounding those inferences. But how exactly do we think that gives us any right to place those mandates on the rest of the world? How can we expect people who are not following God to sacrifice there personal desires to approximate a relationship with God without actually having one?
We are throwing around the word love and telling people that it is our responsibility to warn them that they are headed down the wrong path. I am not sure I can even fully agree with that sentence but even if I do, how exactly do we feel that legislation to prevent people from doing something we don’t agree with is warning them? We are not warning, we are preventing. How does lovingly warning turn into policing? That is clearly not our job yet for some reason, around this subject specifically, we not only want to take it on, but we are claiming God is requiring us to.
We have been so caught up in our preparations and supplication I have to wonder if we have forgotten invocation. Have we truly sought guidance from God on this and truly asked for his presence in our actions or are we running as fast as we can like a child with scissors in their hand. We are doing horrific damage to our own witness and causing people to turn away from the church, not because they are rejecting God, but because they are rejecting us. We need to stop this train before it permanently derails and get back to a focus of letting God be God and being happy with being his people. We have every responsibility to regulate actions within the church. We seem to have forgotten that responsibility stops at the church doors.
Somewhere between loss and recovery is a four letter word that both screams into the darkness and relishes in the light. It lays down beside our broken bodies at the worst points of our lives and comforts us. It reaches deep into our souls and pushes us toward rehabilitation and restoration and yet seems to cling to us when we think we no longer need it. It is a universal need and true universal constant that connects all living beings in a way that breaks the bonds of even death itself. It heals like no medicine can and without it no medicine can truly work. It provides the ability to stand against the worst of the world with resolve. It gives us the ability to lay our heads down and find true rest when needed. It’s echo lingers long after the word is spoken and it’s effect has changed the course of history. That word is hope.
Everyone needs it and yet you can so easily see when someone no longer has it. I saw a man in local parking lot recently. His beard was rough, untrimmed, and dirty. His clothes were similar in condition and somehow expressed his outlook but not his character. He struggled in the corner of a parking lot to cover his cart with a tarp to protect it from the rain. Moments earlier the tarp was his blanket but as the day began and people came around he needed to move so he would not draw too much attention to himself. He needed to protect his things. In his mind, that was all that mattered. In his mind, that was all he had. He was broken, whether by the world around him or by his own choice is a philosophical discussion he really didn’t care about. How he got there was academic in relation to where he was was. Each moment hung in the balance between fear and loss. They were his constant companions but offered no solace in their company. He was a man clinging to a rope over a deep pit whose life expectancy was measured in how long he could hold on. He had lost hope and he was merely waiting for his fingers to give way.
Christianity is supposed to be the embodiment of hope. In the first century the biblical writers cultivated the idea and focus around a term that in and of itself was rather mundane and simple. The word was gospel. It simply meant good news. It was the kind of thing that was said about a birth announcement or a wedding. You would send a message of good news to people to let them know there was a reason to celebrate. The early writers captured this term and used it to describe the message of Christ because it was the ultimate reason to celebrate. It was the pivotal point in time where all that was evil collided with all that was good and was obliterated. This meant the chains that held us to death, destruction, and separation from God were now gone. The idea was that we who were lost were now found in such a powerful and overwhelming way that the very core of existence has changed and our souls are now free to be with God forever. This is the truest possible good news. So I have to ask if we have made it something that is less than good?
Today’s message from the global church seems one saturated with political and social opinion. It is one of recognizing so called true strength by becoming enlightened through knowing the way. This “way” includes a structured method of achieving ones goals and desires through naming and claiming. It includes the power to devastate the opponents arguments through use of scripture (whether or not that use is contextual, synchronous with the rest of the church’s teachings, or even aptly applied to the circumstance). It involves social gatherings around music and light shows. Lastly (though I am sure not completely) it involves totems and spiritual symbols that are carried around and venerated at yearly festivals. In other words, it looks a great deal like paganism, idol worship, and gnosticism rolled together and tied in a bow made of new ageism.
Churches even within denominational structures are becoming brands and franchises seeking to be the center rather than reflect the center. They argue within themselves who is better, more accurate, more scripturally relevant, or more seeker sensitive. Or they go the other direction and work so hard to stay out of the arguments they miss the need to unite as one movement. This is truly a harsh message but one that if not heeded will cause us to not only close our doors but to close our hearts as well.
Please understand I know how cynical this sounds. I am not saying it lightly. I am however saying it because it needs to be heard. If our goal is to communicate the good news and have others join us in our relationship with the Creator, we are focusing on all the wrong things. We need to stop focusing on trying to get something out of the gospel message for us and start explaining why it is good news to others. We have built structured self-ology for far too long and need to get back to our theology that God is the reason we are here. We need to stop trying to build castles and monuments to him and start building his kingdom.
The message being heard today is one of control. We need to make it one of sacrifice. It is one of self. We need to make it one of others. It is one of piety, we need to make it one of righteousness. It is one of security, we need to make it one of justice. Simply put, we need to make it one of hope.
He felt alone, misunderstood, and rejected by his parents because they would not accept his choice to be a girl. They felt confused, upset, and morally justified in denying his will. He could not see a way out and could not accept their view so he felt a better answer was to not exist. He wrote a note, planned it out, and stepped from this world to the next. Leelah Alcorn was a troubled and confused person whose choices I cannot agree with, but if we are unwilling to look at the problem honestly we are condoning it. I cant do that either. Camps are starting and the internet is full of people’s opinions. They start with or center on a pronoun. Should he have been or be called a she. The specifics and legal ramifications will be debated for a long time to come but the ethical response has no reason to wait.
Is Gender a characteristic that can be defined by human will or is it set in stone? Is it malleable or do we have the right and need to discover it? Science has an answer, conservatives have an answer, liberals have an answer, but are we asking the right questions? Human DNA coding on a base level promotes the pairing of chromosomes that either match in type or do not. If they match in type science determines the person female and if they differ in type it determines male. This seems simple enough as the DNA code writes the person and their growth patterns throughout their life. This however also creates a problem. If the will of the person does not agree with the genetic coding, is the coding wrong?
Gender dysphoria is understood as a person who strongly feels they are not the gender they physically appear to be. The DNA coding somehow misfired and their consciousness went one direction while their body went another. The medical response is to surgically and chemically alter the body to realign these two diverse views or recreate what has been created. God is removed from the picture and man takes over to right the wrong that has been done. Does that just address the symptom though? If the DNA code does not change, is the person truly changing? This may seem like a minor point but I think the entire argument rests on it. If the surgical and medical solution does nothing to change the causal factors of the dilemma, have we truly addressed the problem that the person has or have we merely changed outfits? I am not trying to make light of it, I think this is the core. If we are not able to fix the root issue then are we helping the situation by focusing on the pronoun and attacking those who do not agree?
Richard Dawkins stated that “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” If nature (DNA) is truly purposeless, then it cannot be wrong as wrong would indicate it went against its own or a superior designer’s directive or desire. In other words DNA can’t be wrong, only God can. The very nature of this problem philosophically begs the question, “Can God make a mistake”?
In short, many on both sides of the fence, feel he can and does. I think the challenge is two fold. One, if we claim he made the mistake, we are claiming to have superior knowledge to him and thereby become better than him. If that is the case, why is the world still in trouble? The second part is that our answer doesn’t help the person in trouble. In the case of Leelah Alcorn, we all failed. The church, society, his school, his friends, his loved ones, we failed at helping him address the problem of accepting who he was. That lead him down a path to make a very dark choice. All we are left with is asking how we will help the next person?
The church should be a haven for people like Leelah but in his own words, it was not for him. Maybe that had to do with some misguided and frankly aberrant social science behavioral modification garbage his counselors were using, or maybe it had to do with just not communicating well enough that God loved him for who he was. Either way, we missed our goal of loving the world.
Gender is not truly malleable but a person has the freedom to be who they want to be. His parents felt that he was headed down a wrong path and wanted better for him. Society taught him rebellion against them was fine as long as it lead him to who he wanted to be. That frankly is as irresponsible as the behavioral modification. Like many social issues today, there is a lot of red paint. We will never solve the problems if all we do is blame the person who is covered the most. The issue of gender is symptomatic to the acceptance of who we are. Christianity teaches that who we are is less important than whose we are. Maybe we need to do a better job explaining that before our voice stops being heard completely.
Labels sometimes betray us. They can say more about the labeler than the one being labeled. I grew up in a time when the concept of feminism was a liberal agenda that had more voice than value, or at least that was how the conservative side painted it. That was met equally by the conservative side being labeled by the liberal side as misogynistic and oppressive with more greed than brains. Somehow the true problems being voiced got buried and I fear they have just increased as they have rippled through time.
Webster’s defines Feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. The simplicity of this makes me feel I am missing something. How can anyone not be a feminist? If a person is ever willing to say or think seriously that gender should ever dictate rights, they are simply somewhere between addle minded and deranged. The scariest part about that is historically the church fit somewhere on that scale. This misanthropic myopia linking the church’s theology to the dark ages clearly did more to support the battle of the sexes than it ever did to call armistice and seek a resolution. In fairness to the church, they felt justified because the Apostle Paul mentions roles of women and cultural customs in two of his epistles. Why some more enlightened scholar did not point out that the social roles and customs Paul spoke of directly related to a society that can not even be remotely linked to modern America, I do not know. What I do know is that using the bible to support injustice offends God even more than me.
With the labels firmly in place after decades of battle, will we ever truly get down to the issue that needs to be addressed? What really defines equality of the sexes? Is it pay or status? Is it whether we have the appropriate ratio of male/female politicians and business leaders? Is it gender neutrality in language, or is it securing reproductive autonomy for women and removing the male voice entirely. Whereas these are specific ideals in some feminist groups, I don’t see how these characterize gender equality or how they secure rights and opportunities as the definition states.
Like many problems, the real issue is in the words we use to argue a point. To argue for or against the widening or narrowing of roles for women in society and the church starts with a fallacy. Why are there expected roles placed by either the church or society? By simply agreeing that there are expected roles that should be followed we are advocating that some people were intended to be in those roles. In short, they were made for them. The church has believed God created men for some roles and women for others. Secular society would call it nature or the evolutionary process. The problem is that both groups are saying the rules were not created by them but we need to follow them. That is where the error lies. Roles should not be defined by expected rules and norms. They need to be defined by the people who choose to accept them for themselves. Basically outside of physical limitations, people should not be limited by anything other than their own desire and willingness to achieve. By even addressing the issue, we are in part encouraging it.
Still deeper in the problem is the history itself. As both society and church we have committed heinous and utterly stupid acts in relation to this. We have told women outright even to our own detriment that they were not capable of performing tasks because of their gender. Some of those tasks may even have been done better by women but the social structure of the times not only permitted the prejudice but also fostered it. We own that and we carry it with us. We can not change the history but we can change how it affects the present and future. Frankly, I feel the church should be leading this effort. We are far too reactionary when it comes to social concerns and issues.
The real question however is how to lead? Women who choose to live in the established gender roles have just as much right to do so as those who choose not to. Forcing societal change through regulation or teaching has never been successful and reversing the discriminative practices will not correct the past or benefit the now. The inaction of the church in the past has caused more problems then we care to admit. We are seen as the problem when in reality we should be the solution. God called for us to love all and Christ himself placed women in leadership positions in his own ministry. Why don’t we? Some of the greatest biblical scholars are women. I (or anyone for that matter) would be a fool not to listen to them inside or outside the church. If we are truly thinking that gender is the dominant indicator of worth, we are doomed. Maybe I am being simplistic, but shouldn’t we be interested in whether a person has something of value to offer and not limiting the type of things they offer? I wish I had a way to solve the problem but I am not sure there is a solve as much as a path. We need to as individuals stop discriminating based on gender and be willing to look at our actions openly for motivating factors and change them. If we start the change, maybe it will spread. If we do nothing, we are only supporting the problem and wishing it changes. I for one can not accept that.
I read a story recently about a neighborhood tomcat who had become known to people as “Ugly” because he was always filthy, scarred, and getting into fights. He would go up to people and they would throw cans at him or turn the hose on him. Their motto became don’t touch Ugly and they made sure others knew this when going through that neighborhood. One day Ugly bit off more than he could chew and got into a fight with a couple of large dogs. A man heard the scuffle and went outside to find Ugly mortally wounded and lying still on the ground. His heart went out to him and he picked the cat up fearing he would be scratched and started to the local vet. Instead, Ugly nestled into his chest and purred with affection. He didn’t make it to the vet and the man wondered if affection was what the cat truly needed and if he had shown him affection earlier, would things be different? The allegory to Christians reaching out to the unlovable in this world screamed out and the guilt strings played a familiar tune. And yet, when I was done reading, I felt more anger at myself than anything else. If we as Christians need a story of a dying cat to remind us to love the unlovable, there is something very wrong. If we need to be forced by emotion to take the action that God wants from us, we are in trouble. But I have to wonder if it is simply because we just don’t really understand the concept of Love.
Love is thrown around like a fix all and be all. It is all we need and means never having to say you are sorry, as well as a thousand other trite greeting card slogans. But is that really love? Some posit that love is an innate quality that we are born with. Mothers bond with their children immediately and create a connection that cannot be replaced. But is that love? Love is not a biological imperative. It is not caused by a physiological manifestation or chemical process. Those are feelings and are a cheap substitute for love. They are certainly motivating factors especially in relationships where love can or does exist, but they are not love.
Some feel that love is a learned behavior. It is the “input” required in order to gain something we want. We love in order to receive affection and caring from others. The problem is that it takes morality out of the question. If there is no higher purpose or reason other than quid pro quo, than love is neither universal or sustaining. We would be able to find a balance on expectations of what is required for love and then regulate it to the point of not caring for those who don’t match up. Regulating love to a moral commodity removes its value all together. Love is an action, it is a reality made true by choice. If the evolutionary model that modern science proclaims is accurate, then relationships with others are created based upon a biological need. those needs are to secure internal wants. Love however is an external choice that is willing to give of itself in order to achieve the best for another. Christ said (and many have quoted both in religion and out) that there is no greater love than a man who lays down his life for a friend. How does biology account for that? If the existence of a person ends at death, how does a biological need give a willingness to sacrifice for others. Quid pro quo makes sense to some extent, but if there is no pro quo, how can their be quid?
Because love is an action it is worthless unless it is chosen and made to happen. It cannot be sugarcoated and it cannot be faked. If it is real, then sacrifice follows it. Not necessarily the ultimate sacrifice Christ mentioned but a true giving of self that cannot be expected in return. If we truly love, whether or not we see results such as change in another person doesn’t matter. What matters is the sacrifice and the love shown. A christian should not be loving for any other reason than virtue. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting there is any value in piety or self promotion of virtuous behavior. The truth is far more realistic. We love because Christ loved us first. That is the backstory for virtue. It is not a normal process in mankind, and it does not exist in nature. We take action based upon our desire to serve God and that action causes us to give of ourselves in love even at our own detriment if needed.
Love is not for the faint of heart and not for people who want quick reward. It is a long journey to be lived with an expectation of nothing more than to meet our Savior face to face upon completion. That is when we will truly see the benefits of love.
I was on a conference call with a group of people completing a project and one of the key players was thanking everyone for their participation in adding to the success of the project. He had clearly not planned what he was going to say and began spewing praise that somehow looped in on itself and began to sound a bit weird. He tried to get out of if by making an analogy to Hannibal crossing the Alps into northern Italy during the Punic wars. You could hear everyone squirm on the phone hoping he would just stop talking. His message and intent were powerful, his delivery and method were not so much.
Words have power, far too much at times. We can have the best intentions or the worst intentions but if our words are not chosen correctly, our intentions do not always communicate. The funny thing is the words themselves are actually neutral, the power they possess we give them. The challenge that many followers of Christ face is centered on this. The intent seems simple, proclaim the message of a loving God who created this planet with the desire that man should explore the wonder of it and thrive. Then it gets challenging. It is a multi faceted conversation that starts with the human interaction with choice and ends with the self sacrifice of Christ allowing reconciliation. Almost every word in those two sentences needs to be unpacked, discussed, and chewed on to make them real in the life of the person doing the chewing. But for some reason, historically, the church seems to throw out the message like it is instructions on how to turn on a light. We then get frustrated when people don’t hear the message.
Maybe some people just want to present it in a clear and concise way to feel like they have achieved a clean understanding. We want to keep it simple and keep the main thing the main thing (along with other cliche’s from the 60’s and 70’s). In order to do this we limit the message by focusing it on the parts that impact us and we find most important. The problem is that we declare what is simple and risk judging what another person can handle and risk actually insulting them in the process. It is almost like we want to chew the food up for them so they can swallow it. (Sorry, that was a bit graphic but did go with my theme.)
Maybe others feel that God values some parts more than others. We want to focus on the parts that he approves of most so we can please him ourselves and help bring others up to speed quicker. Whether by good intentions or just fear, the message is altered by this. The problem here is that when we do this, we are actually usurping the throne of God to declare what parts have more importance and negating the other parts as less valuable. This comes across more like inviting a person for a steak dinner and only letting them eat rice and white bread. They may even like that but are not getting the flavor or nutrition of the meal.
Maybe still others want to feel the security of their own knowledge as a warm blanket. We focus the message only on what we can fully explain and dismiss the rest as “deep study” material. Maybe some things are, but if we direct people away from parts because we don’t like to talk about them, we are providing a gospel different than what God gave us. We give the people the menu at our steak dinner but tell them what to order and what will taste good. Some may appreciate this but is that truly providing a full dining experience?
The message was intended to reach into a person’s soul and confront the demons that hide there. It is a story about how a person connects to the Divine and revels in the power of the Creator. It gives life, true life, not just an approximation established by momentary success. It is the story of a God who’s anger was so great he could only extinguish it himself and whose love was so great he couldn’t stop himself. It is the story of how the infinite became finite to teach us to transcend the distance between them. It is a story that must be heard in full to be evaluated and must be chewed on to be understood. We need to stop being afraid and let people chew.
The sidewalks were cracked and littered with filth and the stench of desperation. People were laying on the ground next to buildings hoping to stay warm in whatever makeshift covering they could find and praying that the refuse they were depending on for life would not be stolen from them by someone while they slept. When you have walked this part of Los Angeles at night a few times you begin to realize that a person sleeping in his own urine is a defense mechanism more than just a person who doesn’t care. We would take groups down here regularly to pass out food and blankets and offer servings of compassion to anyone who had a way to hold on to it. But this night was different.
Each night we go and set up a location where within moments of arrival flocks of people would start standing in line. After a few minutes, another of the leaders and I would step away and scout out some of the even less desirable areas where people who were in worse shape would be. Our goal was to see if it made sense to take small groups into these parts to hand out food and water or if safety was an issue that night. Fearlessness and foolishness are two sides of the same coin at times. We walked out of sight of the main group and down a side street. We saw and alley off to the side that was dark but about 100 feet in you could see cardboard boxes and signs of life. We brazenly walked in and got about 50 feet in when several men came out to meet us, or more specifically stop us. At the same time several others moved in behind us to make sure we understood they were in charge. From where we were we could see the women and children farther down the alley and the far end was blocked off. This was their home where they protected their families and we just walked in the front door unannounced. The myriad of ways this could have played out were as dark as the street itself but I learned a long time ago that compassion speaks louder than fear. I held out some water an offered some food explaining we were from a church with only a desire to show God’s love. The guy who was obviously in charge silently motioned and the area opened back up. We left food and water with them and took away lessons in humility.
What we saw as a filthy alley, they saw as a home they could defend. What we saw as people who needed help, they saw as people who needed protection. What we saw as lost, they saw as hope. Perspective changes circumstances, events, and even our understanding of the truth. We see things from our perspective with a mission to communicate the power of God to “the lost” but need to incorporate the perspective that “the lost” don’t always see themselves that way. As a matter of fact, our perspective created by that word sees them in a way that prevents us from seeing the humanity of the person first. The overriding fact is they are a creation of God. Are we seeing that and communicating that in our discussions of “lostness”? Our perspective is one of a clinical understanding of the text. There are two groups. Group A knows God and has “the truth”. Group B does not and needs “the truth”. We keep presenting it in a way that explains the facts as if people will adopt truth just by hearing it. The problem is that Group B understands “the truth” from their perspective which we see as at odds with our perspective so we end up arguing about “the truth” rather than communicating about the Creator who gave life abundantly through his son Christ. What we don’t see is that many times we lose the ability to speak effectively because we don’t understand and respect the perspective of the people we are ministering to.
Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is pride. Maybe it is an exaggerated sense of justice. What ever it is, we need to change it. I am not advocating we change our practices of communicating within the church. If we are experiencing the love of God and healthy worship in the church, there is no need to change. How we present it to the outside world however needs to change. If the message is more than the words, they message needs to be the focus and not the words. If the perspective is the thing that is blocking us from communicating Christ to the world, we need to stop looking for excuses and change our perspective. The people in the alley were doing the best the could under the circumstances they had to live. How they got there and the mistakes they made doing so are irrelevant. They still needed help. Maybe by seeing life through another perspective, we might learn that better and become better able to spread the real truth, that God is love.
The diversity of humanity seems to grow exponentially and the desire for inclusion of each person’s uniqueness gains more support each day. We learn more and more each day that God created us as individuals to be part of a community rather than cookie cutter stamps of a preset ideal that we are all required to be. We are individuals and are as different as snowflakes falling from the sky. We do however all have one thing that binds us together on the most basic level. We are broken.
Brokenness is not a flaw that was built into us or an accident that happened to us. It occurred somewhere in the distant past and we are left with it’s effect. It is a flaw that is centered in our philosophical DNA. It is not necessarily something we have ever even seen or understood about ourselves but is definitely part of who we are. A chef may have the best recipe for gumbo with the freshest shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage ever made, but if he starts with a butter that is tainted, the recipe will never be perfect. The broken spot happened at the beginning and reflects every action taken after that, no matter how pure the actions are.
There is dogma and anti dogma, theology and rebuttal, philosophy and doctrine that all try to explain the reasons and the causal factors. In reality though focusing on the why somehow misses the point and drives us even farther apart. We are broken at the core and deal with ramifications daily.
This one thing that really should unite us all seems to tear us apart the most. We have an innate desire to recognize other people’s brokenness and categorize it in a hierarchal fashion in relation to our own. If we like the person, we think there is hope for us to achieve what they have which is less broken in areas than ourselves and if we don’t, we see it as evidence that our own brokenness is not that bad. We chase the dream of evolution in that one day we might become more than we are and erase the broken parts. We pursue it philosophically and psychologically with self help books and structured treatments. We pursue it spiritually with levels of penance and forgiveness. But are we really just avoiding the issue? The allusive goal of a perfect non broken state is fleeting an can not be achieved. The broken part is in our past an all actions after that reflect it in some way. How can we expect to find perfection in a world that is broken? We approximate perfection and aim at it but can not even fully achieve our goals. So if we are aiming at 60% and get 75% of that, in reality we have achieved less than half perfect. We need to rethink the process.
We need to embrace our brokenness, not celebrate it, but embrace it. If we realize we are broken and unable to attain perfection or even a realistic approximation of that, we are only left with one thing, humility. The essence of humility is not born in the thoughts, it is born in the actions of the heart. If we approach relationships in humility, we stop the cycle of hierarchal evaluation and allow ourselves to experience the value that God created in each of us. The human perspective is real and we discount it far to much. Being real does not make it right, but being real makes it worth understanding and respecting as real before we start trying to fix each other’s brokenness. God created people who experience real circumstances and real fears and real concerns and real faults. Embracing that allows us to connect on a human level that gives us a perspective that can help in the healing process.
Romans 8:29 tells us that we are intended to be conformed to the image of Christ. This verb is active. We will be conformed, not “this occurs when a person starts there journey with Christ”.The journey itself is what conforms them. It takes their brokenness and begins to heal it through this transformation. It is a daily process of recognizing and working with our broken parts and making them change. If we recognize that in ourselves, why is it so hard to recognize in others. Each person on this planet suffers from the same problems as us. If we address those problems by pointing fingers and calling names, we are just making them worse. If we realize that we suffer the same problems, we open the door to communicate and help each other see God better.
Brokenness has no complete cure but it does offer fidelity with others in the same boat. It is the cosmic equalizer that gives us hope that there is more to life than just our own perspectives.
Any good chef will tell you that the best produce and spices are the freshest and closest to the actual farm they came from. Local seasonal produce organically raised and carefully farmed is always the best way. The problem is that limits the chef and requires the skill level to be higher. If I have it mass produced, chemically enhanced, and flown in from all over the world, it is easier to make but the sacrifice in quality is not always worth it. I might even say it is rarely if ever worth it. Fast food sacrifices health and flavor for convenience. More time does really give more time.
I saw a man coming out of the grocery store the other day that was at least 150lbs overweight. He was wearing a t shirt advertising the show The Walking Dead. I couldn’t help but see the irony. I don’t know this man’s background or circumstance and no judgment is meant but the combination of things typifies our world. Give me more and faster so I can have it now even if it is not better.
It didn’t use to be this way. Farmers were farmers because they needed the food long before it became a profession. Open trade within a community offered variety and the hunter gatherer mentality remained to add spice and unique flavors to food. The primal nature of the process produced the goodness and developed the communal aspect. Our desire to make the process produce more and faster has limited this greatly and reduced the value of what we achieved.
Last year I toyed with the notion of starting my own garden and this season I planted it and am working through the growth curve of becoming a farmer on a small scale. This process has been amazing on multiple levels and taught me many things. The first is peace. There is an almost zen aspect to the art of cultivating and tending your own garden. It requires finesse and planing as well as hard work and strength. Plants grow with a desire to reach the sun and produce beauty before they produce fruit. The process of flowering produces the ability to grow fruit and the cycle itself takes time. It can not be rushed.
Our world moves faster and faster each day with the false assumption that greater speed gives more value. In a practical economical model it does, but that does not apply to spirituality, theology, and philosophy. Regardless of your background and or inclination on whether God exists and created us, your answer can not be something that is rushed to or presented to you by a preset conclusion from somewhere else. It needs to be explored through time. As a pastor, I have met many people that want to adopt what I teach whole heartedly but later change their mind. Rushing to a conclusion does not give value.
There is something primal about farming. There is something connecting. There is appreciation. When you order from a restaurant your appreciation is related to the bill. When you buy at a supermarket, your appreciation is based upon the sales and quality. When you grow it, it is based upon your efforts. I believe that we are created beings by a magnanimous God who shows his love daily in many ways. That is so easy to forget in daily life but so easy to see when you are looking through your garden for dinner. Food is not a right, it is far more a luxury than we admit. Having to work to get it, and then work to ensure it tastes good by finding the seasonings and spices and each individual part gives you a new perspective on appreciation.
Meals at one time were a family pursuit. It was a place for the family to connect. They all took part in making sure the meal was available plentifully and that it taste good. When your efforts truly connect to the product delivered with the intention of sustaining life for your family, your perspective changes.
One of the most stunning things you see is the clearest evidence of an intelligent design. I am not offering a polemic for the current theory as much as the concept. The earth used is a mixture of light rocks, decaying leaves and bark, and aged animal dung. Place a dormant seed from a previous version of the plant into it, add water and sunlight, and watch it become alive and grow food to keep you alive. Somehow relegating that to mere chance seems more of a fantasy than a being we can not see.
The overall process seems so interconnected. The planting and maintaining requires energy that is replaced by the product of the work and the outcome of the work provides a peaceful state that rejuvenates rather than drains. For me as a Christian, I can’t help see hope and love that directs me to a God that cares for me. Somehow the experience transcends the muck and connects with the Divine. That alone is enough reason to farm.
When I was in Seminary I was approached by a fellow student who had heard me offering an opposing view in class. He quickly asked me a straightforward question. Would I consider myself a three or a five point Calvinist? I was on my way to the restroom in between classes and was really not looking to discuss Calvinist Theology at the time. I responded by rattling out an answer that was neither of his preset choices and not something that fit his paradigm. He began to follow me into the restroom and debate his view against my statement through the stall door. Taking the socially awkward moment even a step further, he began to get agitated that I was clearly not giving his argument my full attention. All I could remember thinking was “This guy is in my next class so at least we will be late together.”
As inelegant as this persons methods were, his motive were pure. He thought there was something wrong with my belief structure that would hinder my relationship with God. He wanted to correct that. Unfortunately no matter how pure his motives, his actions were indefensible and rude. With that being the case I have to wonder what value he ever thought he would gain. I am taken back regularly when I see the actions of the modern church resemble this persons’ tactics greatly.
One of the largest questions in our country today is marriage equality. The LGBT society is looking to secure an equal footing in the area of marriage. Their focus is based upon human and national rights that they feel are not being given them based upon that issue. The church is responding by telling them they are wrong and marriage is about one man plus one woman. The LGBT community is responding by saying the Church is full of hypocrites and haters. Can you think of a more awkward and inelegant conversation? How do human and national rights have anything to do with marriage and how does the Church feel it can respond to this concern with a calculation? Why can’t there be conversation that leeds to a supportive agreement? Oh, I remember now, the Bible defines marriage specifically. But does it?
When the Biblical passages on marriage were written, marriage was a social construct with the intent on preserving the family through progeny. The multiplication of workforce was the added benefit that made fertility the focus in marriage. This included marrying within your family if possible to ensure the family line. I am not saying there was not love, but that was clearly not the focus. There were many instances of multiple wives and incest based upon today’s standards. Is this really what we are using to proclaim God’s message about modern marriage? I understand how we would use it to proclaim that message within the body of Christ, but why are we doing it outside that body? If people don’t want the relationship with God that we are presenting, why are we holding them accountable to the standards of that relationship?
The modern family is a social microcosm that is far different than anything this world has ever seen. Our structured understanding that we would want to see in the Bible comes from 20th century Americana and not the Biblical text. Families don’t look like the Cleavers anymore and we should not expect that to be the goal. I am a single parent of a 14 year old that is not my son. I am a bald tattooed biker freak who has security following him because of profiling far too often. The Cleavers would consider calling social services on me rather than calling me and my nephew a family. Does that mean we are any less? Where does the church get the right to make a decision what is a family? I am not removing any of their authority to make statements within the body of Christ but doing so for the world is backwards.
It would seem to me that the church should be understanding this and supporting unique family structures if that is where people are finding peace. Are we really saying the love of Christ can’t permeate those bonds? If we truly believe that our God is the Almighty, graceful, loving, and forgiving, how can we not stand for justice even at our own detriment? If people we disagree with want to live their beliefs, why not let them? Why not help them? Why not encourage them to experience God? Do we not believe that God will break down the barriers and communicate himself to them? I can not save anyone. You can not save anyone. Only God can. So why do we spend so much time trying to do it for him?
We sing songs that cry out “If God be for us who can be against us”. If we truly believe this, why do we need the world to do things our way? And why are we so willing to tell people that they are wrong for doing the best they know how to. I am not advocating we baptize the behavior into Christianity but to stop it from happening before the people want to be Christians is just wrong. I am really tired of hearing people fight and argue about rights when we are referring to how people have sex, watch movies, cohabit, and exist. We are not preserving God’s justice but we very well maybe inhibiting his love. Are we afraid if we let people be who they are we will somehow look bad ourselves? If we truly believe in the forgiveness of God, why are we so afraid if our intention is to serve God by loving his people? Cant we maintain our beliefs without trashing someone else’s?
If Christ were here in the flesh now, would he be acting like our churches are or would he be talking to people instead of at them? I think he would be the first to say that using politics to pursue an agenda in the name of God is wrong. How will people ever change if we don’t give them enough room to want to? How will we ever be able to tell people about the love of God if we are too busy telling people how wrong they are? If we truly believe that God loves all, shouldn’t we be willing to prove that by doing it ourselves? If the only thing stopping us is our own moral code we are afraid to cross, we need to rethink it with Christ code and love others even to the point of loss of ourselves. I don’t have have any respect for a person who just knows the answer, but a person who knows the answer and is willing to back it up by action has my undying respect. I think God would agree. No, that is wrong, I know he would.