Homosexuality, the Hatmakers, and Hell-raising

There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.

Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?

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There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.

A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.

Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.

I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?

Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ. 

But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however,  are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.

I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.

Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.

 

I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”

But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible. 

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God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?

 

Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.

 

Falling Through Staircases and Other Things I’d Like to Avoid

Sometimes the fragility is so suffocating. So ending. For so long, it feels like I am living on the verge. Of change, of heartbreak, of rage, of tears, of breakthrough. Of it all. And I hate heights and edges. As I kid, I thought I was one misstep away from falling through those staircases with no backs. It may have been physically impossible but it made me focus on the next step so hard. Clutch the railing so hard. That kid is not too far away.

The cracks in my cool also make me more tender to the beautiful notes, to the moments — and there really may just only be moments — in a day with children that delight my mom heart. The cracks make me painfully aware of my need for a Savior and that can’t be all bad. The cracks make me so grateful and relieved by small things. Coffee. An open parking space. A friend’s dropping by.

My life is so small and I think so big. I am professionally poised while constantly compelled to reveal, unearth, and challenge. It is a strange, exhausting stretch. Do you know it?

My short walk with foster care has so far shown me that our grasp on reality is very, very weak. The hours of certification classes do not make sense of the process we are in now. The barrage of comments on our “daughter,” on how she looks like me, on our family of five, are bittersweet and strange nods to the mystery of family. The confident assessments of her visiting family, of how she is and what she likes and what I am thinking. The reports turned in to court by strangers describing a child’s situation they have never asked about. It all nods to the mysteries behind any appearance, any situation, what we see and think we know.

She hugs me so tight and that is real, but knowing that she could also never know about me is also real. Praying for her is one of the most real things we can do for her, because our feet are planted in Now and our vision is nearsighted, and yet, I cannot tell, I cannot perceive, what is real about it. What it is doing, what He is doing, what They will do, for her life, for mine. What is praying like this, for this, doing in me, the pray-er and what on earth is it doing in the heavenlies. I am the pray-er afraid of the gaps, afraid of falling through and falling small. The pray-er of brokenness and poise, of long-winded comments and wordless wants.

I am so here. I am so temporal and human and here. Heartbroken over the unknowns facing my children, clutching the railings for fear of falling through. Heartbroken over the recent losses in the Church–my extended family–and the lost ground of the Kingdom. Heartbroken over my own inadequacy and mistakes. And so I am heart-surrendered. Heart-surrendered to more–to more than I can see, to more than seems so real, to more than the graves of today. Heart-surrendered to more than here.

Whenever I think of here, I remember that sweet, divine line of poetry: “And here in the dust and dirt, O here // The lilies of His love appear!”

Maybe there is room on the verge to dangle my restless legs. To sit and rest from the climb. Somehow, with all the loose pieces of my heart and all the sensitivities in my soul, I still hope there are lilies to be gained. I am banking on that poet’s forecast. That even though I could be on the verge of insanity and even more grief, I could also be nearer to love, to grace, that I have not learned, not lived, before.

Not because I have transcendent powers of reflection or meaning-making, no. I have these suspicions because Jesus is known for coming to the edges and ledges; He is the relentless Shepherd of my story that goes to the verge and enters the graves and finds the ones. The alones. The heartbroken. The sinners elevated and isolated as special. The children with gaps in their past. The big-thinking unavoidably-regular moms climbing scary staircases. Only because there is the I AM, the YHWH, the God with us here, the Counselor, could this space–this fragile verge–be redeemed. Not the end, but the middle.

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An Invitation from an Account Under Construction

When you are afraid of what other Christians will think if you love someone, you have probably identified a place where the church has led you astray from the Christ.

If you hold a doctrine up to the light to see through it better, and are rejected, you have challenged the auto-pilot, in your self and in your former group. And maybe, just maybe, allowed someone the grace of going after you.

Should you feel weighted by an identity you both cherish but continually causes you to grimace, I am at your side. And I have often felt afraid and I am a regular at the misfit table. Because I am not an expert on this New Life thing.

Let’s add a leaf, because it seems to be a good place to be.

 

When we read the story of the man at Bethesda, the one Jesus sees and knows has lain there for a very long time, the question echoes: do you want to be healed? When you say “yes, but…” and He pronounces YOU up, He pronounces YOU free, well, there is nothing to do but to walk. To walk on the Sabbath and face the red tape. To walk alone and to walk away from the conventional pools of healing you could never get to. You, like that walking man, may not even know for a while that it was Jesus who healed you. He may have to visit again before you get it. But that is what He does. That is who He is. A visitor. A pursuer.

 

He changes our account of things. 

 

If our account of things hasn’t changed very much, it is a scary book we wield as holy and an aging lord we announce. Isn’t the Story living and active? Isn’t He characterized by always working, the One who never had to learn, the Creator of tenderness and justice and possibility? So why are we so still. So still on our mats. So stuck in our thinking. So notorious in our reactions.

Brothers and sisters, he said after Bethesda, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

 

Here at the misfit table, I know one thing right now: THIS IS NOT LIFE. Policies and pulling money and tantrums and cyberwars and accusations and flip flopping and ultimatums and fear are not life. They are manipulation. They are power. They are controlling and they are not Him.

His work will never be based on temporal categories. His generosity has never been contingent upon agreement. The life He offers and lived is and was never about majorities.

 

We are all becoming. We are all scandalously healed on the Sabbath. We all miss Jesus when He is right in front of us and we all may think what’s in front of us IS Jesus when He has left.

 

These are the true things that I have to remind myself of when I am so embarrassed. So sad. So wanting to give in to anger-pride and flee the scene, writing my own one-dimensional stories of others. These are the broken pieces that make up the Church. Church is a community that is all about being wrong and helpless. Sometimes I forget and think we are together because we have the same mission, or we have the same priorities, or we have the same united love.

But no, we are together mostly because we are broken and it took unconventional means to heal us. We are together because at some point in our lives, we didn’t have all the answers–we just had One. Why does that change so much after donning this so-called faith? Over and over, we lie down in old ways, adopt our old accounts of things, and He comes and says, “Do you want to be healed?”

 

If you are broken too, will you join me? If you want a new Life, can I be your company? It would be less scary to answer “yes but…” and walk away together. To see what it is like outside the stagnant pools that are surrounded by mats that have been there a very.long.time. To find the misfit table of questions, invitations and new accounts.

 

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

(John 5:2-15 ESV)

The Feet on the Ground

Almost daily I lift my children to a small sink and wash their feet. Our outdoor trampoline is a hospitable magnet for the sticky, freeway dust and scrubbing floors and carpets is the pits. So I try to intervene. When I catch one of them after a rendezvous with city nature, I swoop them up to a perch on my lap and swing their feet under running water.

The brief, basic moment of rubbing their boy toes with my hand, watching the dirty slip off with the bubbles, having the weight of them on me, is a sweet one. I cannot help but be thankful for those seconds. So human, so sacred. I need those pauses in these heavy days.

At the sink, I am reminded of a kind Example who loved His followers “to the end” and showed it in a memorable way. Only He could know what that even means. John 13 retells how Jesus was overcome with both a love for the disciples and a profound understanding of Who He Was and where He was going. And so He rose from the table. Rose to kneel, to wash their feet. To upset the flesh, to reveal the real, to demonstrate His tenderness, to break a barrier.

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

He does not tell them to do things that they cannot. He does not tell them to do things that are not for their good.

Years ago, when I was much more confident, and much less wordy, I was a resident advisor for a small group of women who lived, hiked, learned, and played (along with some mountain men) in the high sierras. There had been a particularly dramatic couple of weeks with one young woman, myself, and a couple of the people in charge of the satellite college campus. Risky situations, manipulation, emergencies and confusion overtook the pine horizon. The air indeed seemed thin. It really wore on me. Somehow, during a moment of peace and worship, He gently, miraculously reminded me of His example in John. A tiny piece of His heart colored my own staunchly right-or-wrong heart so that I could feel a sliver of compassion. It was strange but compelling and I knew that sometime I would have the opportunity to literally wash her feet and it was in our best interest for me to do so.

On a moonlit porch one night I was that crazy, extreme person, awkwardly trying to emulate my Lord, praying that somehow, in the space between my hands and her feet, He would move and it would be good. It was a short, unceremonious ceremony. We embraced. The moon did not become bigger and stars did not stream out of the sky. But something budged, and we were better for the interaction. It was more real than debate. It was more true than self-preservation. And I gave thanks.

Today as I think upon that strange scene, I realize that there was little else to do except to kneel. That in asking me to do that, He helped affirm who I really am. He helped me be less attached to standing up for myself. My warped perception of myself. There was little to do except kneel and remember Him, remember that she was a sister, and that I was here to serve her. That the problems were peripheral. That time was short.

The more I am faced with difficult situations, the more I realize that most of leading a life of love involves kneeling, bending, groundwork. The more I appreciate that my parents have rarely raised their fists when challenged to a fight. There is little to do with marriage, with childrearing, with sharing Good News, learning new cultures, with dealing with people, with dealing with loss, than kneeling. More and more I come to the end of my self, my answers, my abilities, and all I am left with is the truer self He gives and the posture He demonstrates.

Sure there are times at the table. Times to look each other in the eye. Times of celebration and health, confrontation or unity, and no surprises. But the real issue, the heart of the matter, and the crux of life, is the floor. The lowering. There we pray. There we learn not to fear the grime. There I meet myself, I know what I am truly thankful for, and I see the other better. He knows I am such a slow learner. That for me, there is a lot of standing up for myself, that I have been pleased with the results in the past, but that in the realest of circumstances, it is almost always settling. 

Now, at the sink, He has given me a regular, grace-filled reminder of Jesus’ example and ending-love. That is, the love and presence that sees us through, to the end. Through to the end of the heavy days. Through to the end of the weeping, the fighting, the loneliness. He is here, and He is there. Raising the lowered. Beside the bending.

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