showing up, together and not together, for Holy Week

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In an effort to redeem my infrequent presence of heart and mind this Lenten season, I read through the Palm Sunday story yesterday morning. We’re less than a week from Good Friday, from Resurrection Sunday, and for several obvious reasons, I feel it much more this year.

 

We are tumbling into Holy Week 2014 much more busted up than usual (i.e. World Vision and the last straw). There has been a full-blown split. A definite division. Several new and tragically persuasive reasons to abandon the body altogether.

 

For some of us, we have simply decided to wait for the church to wake up. For her to finally reach the end of this brutal bender she’s on and decide it’s time to change, to pick herself up and go get a clear head and heart- sobriety- found at the foot of the cross. But I am not holding my breath.

 

When it comes to the Church, I feel like I am flying between wild hope and complete hopelessness. Yes, I can see how we are a “resurrection people”, with the grace and rebounding of so many from the last few weeks (really, the last few years), but then I heard about a conservative college kid, my generation, hounding down a female pastor after a service, asking on whose authority she thought she was speaking. And so I’m holding optimism cautiously.

 

Yesterday morning, I read Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday. In it, Jesus passes through the palm-heavy streets atop the baby donkey, and then went inside the temple where he started a riot.

 

12-14 Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

15-16 When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

17 Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.

-Matthew 21:12-17

 

I know some cringe at Angry Jesus, but I absolutely love this scene. He flips over tables, smokes everyone out, and then builds a makeshift hospital in their place. Restores the Temple to its’ purpose. It is like he is performing a condensed version of the whole reason for his coming. A lesson the church has struggled for 2,000 years to comprehend.

 

I want to say that church unity is an ideal I am deeply sympathetic to. I wish to be a reconciler. A bridge-builder. A peacemaker. We are stuck together, like it or not, because we belong to each other. This, I know.

 

But I also wish to be honest.

 

And if I am honest, I feel like flipping over some tables myself. I feel like staging a Sit-In. Like dropping down in the veritable Church, arms crossed, cloaked beneath a flag that is a rainbow. I feel like reclaiming this place because it is my birthright.

 

I’m all for harmony, but I hesitate to fall into a beat that is so badly broken. That sidelines a good number of us. That guts the Good News right out of “gospel”.

 

We’ve reached, what the lawyers call, a place of Irreconcilable Differences. Nothing that hasn’t happened before. The Great Schism, The Great Reformation, the Civil War, these came and served to only propel the faith to where it was meant to go. And it doesn’t make it any less hard or tragic. Real people are involved on each side.

 

But here we stand, on the brink of another, profound divorce, and at the same time, on the edge of the holiest day of the year. And I honestly don’t know what to do with that tension.

 

What I do know is that we will still come, as we have every year before and will continue to do for years to come, to meet in our shared love of Jesus… but with our elbows sharper. Our anger still hot. Wounds still fresh. All of us victim. All of us abuser. All of us tired. And all of us standing before the only real hope we have left: Grace.

 

Grace has been such a big part of my life that I feel it now like a phantom limb. I see it as The Way, as the stream I step into with all of my shit, all of my rage, all of my disillusionment, all my cynicism, my slim-as-a-toothpick hope and I don’t know how it happens, but it always changes me. It smokes out the pride and heals me.

 

And maybe it’s all any of us can do this week. Just look tenderly at the empty tomb and accept that Jesus Paid It All. That we may break apart, but grace is filling in our fractures. Unifying us forever even after we split away. Stringing a thread that will tug us back together, when the time to do so comes.

A Round-Up and My New Facebook Page

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(Some of the fam in Florida, along with some significant others. In the middle you will find Wyatt on my sister Molly’s lap (her boyfriend Seth at the far left, Wyatt’s power couple parents, Matt and Lauren, next to him, and my brother Jordan and his girlfriend Ruthanne at the far right [parents and oldest brother Aaron not pictured].) And then there’s me in the middle, with the dumb smile and overly nice dress shirt. Literally the only single person present besides the eleven-month old. Lord, beer me strength.)

 

I once tried to do regular Round-Ups like this, but then I kept forgetting to do it. I haven’t posted one in over a year.

 

Typically, I defer to Rachel Held Evans “Sunday Superlatives”, or Ben Howard’s “[insert hilarious meme] and the Best Things You’ll Read All Week” or Sarah Bessey’s “In Which I Link You Up.” But it’s hitting me lately that as much as this is about “link love”, it is also about me, about what is affecting me right now. One blogger friend, after I first posted my very first list of links, noted that these would be great to reflect on one day. I could look back and remember the messages that made an impact in me; the hope-giving, life-saving ones that changed me. I couldn’t agree with her more.

 

Also… I wanted an excuse to plug my fresh new Facebook page. I have avoided facebook at all costs. Even after I came out here, on my blog, I untagged myself from every status that shared my posts. I was terrrrrified of it, because of all the people in my Real Life. Of all the distant relatives and their pearl clutching, email typing, frantic panicking over the state of my soul (which has not happened.)

 

But my spine is a little tougher now. I’m braver. And I am making peace with the fact that being a public person requires extra transparency. Authenticity. Courage. And, yes, it requires you to go “LIKE” my page (As an aside: I’ll interpret any non-likes as sheer acts of aggression. Choose wisely.)

 

Onto the links.

 

Why I’m Done With Letting Critics Tell Me Who I Am by Esther Emery (one of my favorites)

PLEASE. DON’T LET THEM TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE.

Don’t be defined by the critics. Not by listening to them. And not by fighting against them. Not by positioning yourself to be more appealing to them. And not by begging them to change their minds.

You. You. YOU have a voice. And it is uniquely yours. But it comes through a glass darkly. It isn’t always going to land the way you wanted it to land. Sometimes the problem is craft, sure. You can always get better at making yourself visible. You can always peel off one more layer, making it all that much easier to see the pure and naked soul within.

But that isn’t going to lose the critics.

 

Two-Part Post about Youth Pastors and LGBTQ Youth from my incredible, in-real-life friend, Laura Statesir

What I Wish My Youth Pastor Had Said (Part One)

The most important thing you can do as a Christian youth worker is to reaffirm your love and God’s love for that youth. Assure the youth that this does not change your relationship with them. Remind the youth that God’s love is unconditional and that this does not change how God feels about them. Reassure the youth that this does not change their personal relationship with God. Make sure they know that this doesn’t mean that they are no longer a Christian or that they are no longer welcome in your church/organization. Remind them that everyone is welcome at the table of Christ.

 

Part Two

Encourage the youth in their faith.** To a lot of youth, a Christian youth worker is a reflection of Christ in their lives. They are watching your reactions to see how God feels about them. If you express unconditional love then they will know that God loves them unconditionally. If you express judgment or condemnation they will feel that God condemns them as well.

 

The Man in the Center by (the incomparable) John Blasé (At Deeper Story)

 

We’re not painting a picture that takes the breath away and leaves your eyes pooled with tears. I’m no whackadaddy fundamentalist nor the son of one, but if whatever your burning theological issue is doesn’t have Jesus in the center of its page, then as my friend Brennan used to say, your burning theological issue may not be burning or theological. It may just be an issue, and have absolutely nothing to do with the love even a 6-year-old boy can understand.

 

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism by Sarah Bessey (technically, more than one week ago. But also, the thing that saved me.)

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

She followed up with a beautiful letter to those who stay. Another must read.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. But he lives and moves and has his being among the evangelicals, too.

 

Giving Up… My Worry by another life-giving-in-real-life-friend-mentor-rescuer Steph Spencer

I’ve heard faith defined as placing our confidence in something. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can be confident about is that at some point, all of our lives will hit bottom.

And so I place my faith in that worry. I am confident that something dreadful will come to pass in the near future. And the more I am confident in that, the less it feels like anxiety and the more it feels like truth. The worry fools me into a false sense of security.

But security is not the same thing as peace. Peace is what Christ came to offer me.

 

~ ~ ~

 

My own most-read post this week:

 

May We Never Stop Speaking

 

Most popular comment (ALSO, the comment that left me speechless, and teary, because it was from Jen Hatmaker and because she was so damn kind and insightful.)

 

Ben, officially, I am your friend and I am for you. You are welcome in my comment feed, my inbox, and my home any time. And also? NEVER STOP WRITING. Wow. You are sincerely gifted. I am proud of you. You are managing a gentleness and grace in the midst of crazy. You will be so glad of that five years from now. (I always think through that grid: Will I still be proud to stand by this in a few years? Was I gracious? Was I kind?) Lastly, I died laughing: “We were cracking open beers, listening to country music, talking March Madness (which I feigned stress over).” MARCH MADNESS IS GODLY. Please work on your theology. ;0)

 

Like I said in the beginning, totally plugging my new FB page. Come and “like” it, we’ve got a good group growing there, full of loving and kind and funny people. You’ll fit right in, I am sure of it.

 

If you prefer, email, enter yours in the subscription ribbon that should be floating near the bottom right. If it isn’t, no problem, redirect your eyes to the top of the right column.

 

Enjoy your Saturday!

A Walk to the Lake

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He loves fresh air, fallen leaves, the wind, the cement basketball court in the back and just about everything else outside. I imagine all babies are overwhelmed by this, the experience of earth. I don’t know, but every time a bird brushes past the window or the front door is opening up, light pouring down out across the planked wood floors, his blue eyes swell. He starts clapping. Kicking. Laughing like a chimp. And well, of course, the entire house drops to its’ knees in a heavy sigh. Spellbound by this tiny angel.

 

He is my first nephew, the first of the next generation of Mobergs, and he is objectively the most adorable child to ever crawl this earth. I, like every other member of our family, cannot get enough of him. I look at him and think like Rachel Green, looking down at her new baby in her basinet, whispering to Monica and Phoebe, “Right now. I miss her. I actually miss her.” And it’s the same feeling, I swear on it. I miss him even when I’m with him.

 

And maybe it has something to do with his rapid growth (he’s almost ONE) or maybe it’s the sudden shift of seasons. Spring is speeding up and as is routine, redeeming me from the winter version of myself. There is change in the air, fast and fleeting. And I can see it coming over him too.

 

The other evening, I took him for a walk in the stroller. The first time when it was just the two of us out there like that. We’ve only spent time between the four walls, beneath a strong roof, safely cocooned by every thing required in an emergency. And so, naturally, the cars seemed to come a bit faster than usual- aggressively fast. In my head, I kept thinking about my bad habit of turning my eyes to change the dial or check a text or a tweet, jolting back into focus by the screech of tire on curb. So quick! All this is to say, that walk was the most stress-inducing one of my life.

 

After we got to the park, we strolled beneath the large leafy trees and watched the geese scoot along the thinning ice, a round frame of shimmering water above the shore. I found a bench and took him out, propped his feet up on my thighs, face to smiling face.

 ~ ~ ~

After stumbling upon three rocks arranged into sculpture in Hawaii, Barbara Brown Taylor reflected:

 

I looked at the three stones pointing straight up through the sky and wondered how I had forgotten that the whole world is the House of God.

Taylor, Barbara Brown (2009-03-06). An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (Kindle Locations 179-180). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 ~ ~ ~

I struggle, sometimes, to assemble the right line of words in prayer, or any words at all. And sometimes I can find the best ones but it feels dishonest. As if I’m still hiding some unknown something. And if I am truthful, with you, there are moments I wonder if my prayers are heard at all. As if they don’t even matter. Waste of my breath and time.

 ~ ~ ~

There is no printed prayer on my heart in this moment, just the view of his face up close, his head eclipsing the sun and the light caught in his hair, glowing as if it were a halo. I carry him over to a tree where he picks off the flaky bark, crushes it, drops it, peels away another and another. We sit back down on the bench and he crawls all over it, waves at the people passing by.

 

In the five-minute walk back, he is lost to asleep.

 

I am rolling toward the middle of my twenties, and I’m learning that maybe prayer is little less about talking and more about wakefulness. About seeing. About the light cascading through the trees and the scented gust of wind and the geese pecking away at the ice and the baby laughing in my lap and the sense that it is all so good. That it couldn’t possibly get better than this.

 

The Doubter and The Resurrection

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Nearing the end of last fall, I sort of left faith, which is different than leaving the Church.

 

This was not the first season of doubt for me. Just the latest in a long sordid history of rich and dark and holy times when I walk off into wasteland, dragging my difficult, but important questions behind me: The Bible, Real Life, History (both the world’s and my own), Hell, Heaven, Miracles, the Problem of Pain. The only conviction anchoring me was my steadfast search for something authentic. Not something I should do or something I feared for but something real. Something worth wrapping my whole soul around.

 

My doubts arrived after a series of painful events in the lives of those around me, and by the middle of January, the tragedy toll only seemed to skyrocket. That was when I became very afraid, and angry, and skeptical, because I can see what Marx was getting at when he said, “religion is the opium of the people.” I’ve seen how it can space out the most sensible people. I’ve felt like the last sane person amongst all this calm, against all this chaos.

 

As I set about in my searching, I heard folks repeatedly explain away my questions because of the mysteries of the divine, or  my limitedness as a human, or that my doubt was a manifestation of sin in my life. Of course, all this did was highlight my fears that we were engaging in a kind Orwellian Double Think. Or, (chills), that I was simply blind. That I was the only one who couldn’t see it.

 

The most holy day of the year is coming soon, and I know from experience that it can be the most frustrating and frightening day of the year. Many Christians will wake up and want to fall to their knees, cry in their happiness, rejoice in the victory that he is risen, but they won’t be able to. They will feel paralyzed by the presence of those so sure.

 

I am nearing the edge of my own wasteland, but unlike so many times before, I’m not going to leave it. This is God’s dwelling. In the tension, in the honest practice of asking, searching, seeking. The place I wrestle with questions is the same place I find consecrated ground. I speak in unexpected hymns. Soul, mind, heart, authentic. I am not the first.

 

A passage from Greg Boyd’s, Benefit of the Doubt:

 

As is apparent in so many Old Testament heroes, the faith of Habakkuk was obviously nothing like the certainty-seeking, doubt-shunning faith of so many today. Instead of avoiding cognitive dissonance by piously slapping the “mystery” label on an apparent contradiction, Habakkuk boldly goes to the mat with God. This is the kind of faith these descendants of Jacob were “blessed” with. And far from being offended by this raw honesty, God is the One who blessed them with it! This apparently is precisely the kind of honest relationship, and the kind of honest faith, God is looking for!

Boyd, Gregory A. (2013-09-15). Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (p. 83). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

The true mark of faithfulness was never, ever about the certainty of the mind and heart, but the authenticity within them. And I’ve come to believe that is better to not play pretend here. God did not make us to be blind followers or bidders on behalf of the church. Love isn’t like that, so neither is God.

 

For some of the faithful this month, this will be a time of impulsive squelching, of cloaking and straining yourself to believe and finding yourself utterly burnt out on Monday. I pray for the opposite.

 

Speak the truth that is haunting you. Lay out all the questions and fears without edit or softening or excuse. If it is heavy, let it drop. This faith is for the scholar and the street smart, the burnt out and on fire, the jaded and the impassioned, the weak and the strong, and for you, too, sojourner, who feels like it will never ever ever make sense. Take heart: this faith is not about being certain. That is the opposite. What this comes down to is the authenticity of your shaking voice, asking the questions that scare you. Sitting, waiting, wanting.

And it is exhausting, so take a few minutes if you need to, on Easter Sunday. Sit alone with a novel or a sketchbook or Netflix and drone out the shoulds of the day. There is no shame in that. There is rest there. And God made rest. Find him in the resting.

 

Or go to the words of another. Call your spiritual middle man. I offer up in Paul Tillich:

 

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.

 

Or listen to the prophetic voice of Rachel Held Evans, who last year, around this time, penned a post for people like me. Gave me the courage to say aloud what I felt:

 

But you won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home:

“What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?”

And you won’t know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn’t buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom.

 

Or simply be still.

 

And I’ll be there with you, trapped in a place of mercy. A place of grace. A place where I have found the patience of God to be abounding and his yoke, light.

 

Be still if that’s all you can do. Be present. Listen.

Know you are not alone.

His Love is Deep

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Sometimes, the internet feels like a house of horrors. Like the place I know better to avoid, but I move my feet forward anyway. I don’t know why. The thrill perhaps. And because I want to be braver and give the bullies a bit of their own medicine. I want to throw down as many hits as I can.

 

Then vwalla! An hour passes, just like that, and I am exhausted and I am enraged and in my head, there is this scrolling feed of tweets, of heavy-handed and bold and italicized comments, and it is all I can see, all I can hear, and I beat myself up for it, because I know better than this. I know who I am- why do I suddenly feel less than? Other? Kept Out?

 

I walked into church last night a bit banged up by twitter, and these past weeks, and really, I might’ve stayed put at Caribou, duking it out in the latest round of Am I Christian Enough?, had it not been for my brother preaching that night. It was his fourth sermon of the weekend and he had poured his whole heart into his message. Issues of social justice, they vibrate in his bones, and even though he played it cool and was self-deprecating, I know him better. This is a message nailed into his heart: Jesus. God. The Poor. Justice. Love. Mercy. This is what gets him up there.

 

I sat in the parent-child room with my sister-in-law, Lauren, as baby Wyatt slept in his car-seat beneath a blanket. Matt came in during the preliminary praise and worship and sat on the couch, calm. Lauren looked at him, “Should we pray?” and he nodded and then we did. It was a small, private moment, and I felt the weight of the spirit on us. In their marriage, in our family, in snoring baby Wyatt. I braced for the coming message he’s been carrying.

 

I would have heard more of what he had to say had I not been so crazy entertained over Wyatt’s antics. He woke up ten minutes in. He was crying one moment, laughing the next, doing the sign language he’s just learned. More! More! He said with his hands and Lauren tried to feed him, but he’s just turned eleven months, and thus, very picky. Lauren and I pointed at the glass, there’s daddy! And he began pounding so hard against it we worried the whole church would turn around. My sister Molly ran over and flirted with him through the glass, like he was an inmate. It was great.

 

At the close of the service came communion, and for this time, the band plays. I swear on my life, Wyatt sung along. He is just a baby, but his babble rose into a high note, the most earnest tone in the world. Just for a fleeting few seconds and then done. I felt a flutter in my chest.

 

At the back of the church, I stood and checked my twitter compulsively, my mentions, my feed, feeling the weight of my salvation hanging on the edge of some conservative writer, but then my phone died. The tether broke. I drifted away. And all I could really do was look up at the screen. Sing along to these words:

 

 

Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.

 

And then this:

 

His love is deep, His love is wide

And it covers us

His love is fierce, His love is strong

It is furious

His love is sweet, His love is wild

And its waking hearts to life

 

It is classic evangelicalism. Songs I grew up singing. I should be cringing and running, but my mind, my heart, threw up hands in protest: Hear this. 

 

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:1-2

 

Here is the Truth: They are powerless in separating us from his deep and furious and wild, head-over-heels, never-leave-nor-forsake-you, take-heart, I-am-with-you sort of love.

 

 The spirit came before them, before us, before evangelicalism, before the church, before the earth even dropped into orbit. So no, they cannot duct tape a line. Jesus is not a trophy they can keep on their side of the world, behind the gates lined with their tweets and comments and mob intimidation. Sin is not some stamp they can print on every one else. Sure- they can jeer us away, but only if we let them. They can tweet out barks of Hell, proof-text ’til the sun goes down, but by the end of the service, I am feeling it. My worth and my hope and my belovedness circling around me like a halo. Pointing to the ground, this ground beneath my feet. I whisper: This. Is. Church.

 

I can see it in my nephew sleeping with hymnals in his ears and two parents raising him to be a peacemaker. I can feel it in the two pastors who come alongside me after the service and talk through everything with me- World Vision, Mean Christians, and the Jesus leaning in against the Church, smiling over at me. One of them tells me I need to plant myself, daily, in the love of God. And it’s a call I’ve felt linger over me for days.

 

Pope Francis said the internet is a gift from God and though there is so so so much shit rising up in a haze over that realm- a church is being built there too. When I was hit hard, a blogger friend stood up for me. I messaged him, “thank you and I look up to you” and he messaged back, “you’re my family” and then, tears. Voxer has become a window for me and a couple other friends, ones with big hearts who leave me prayers like notes on the sill.

 

When I drive home, I am still singing those hymns. I am feeling myself planted firm in Christ and him Crucified. The radio is off and I am praying aloud thanksgiving. I am laying hands over all the things said and all the passion burning in their words and saying: He Paid It All. I am singing, out on the freeway, heart no longer afraid: His love is Deep. His love is Wild. And it Covers Us. 

May We Never Stop Speaking

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photo credit

Last weekend, I sat around a small stove fire on the driveway of my brother’s house with his friends. We were cracking open beers, listening to country music, talking March Madness (which I feigned stress over). And one of the guys brought up the World Vision fiasco and my responses and how I was going about mending from the tragic turn of events that steamrolled over last week.

 

One of the guys, who I didn’t recognize, looked back and forth at us.

“What?”

 

I then explained everything, starting with a stuttered, awkward, “Well, you know, first off- I’m gay and christian, and a blogger, and, also, I’m Ben- nice to meet you!”

 

Then I dove into all the details of everything that went down. All the excruciating messages I heard in the conservative response, the swift and unanticipated betrayal from World Vision, and then, I talked a bit about gatekeepers and their ever shrinking circles. The kid sat their blinking,

 

“So, you’re uh, gay and Christian?”

 

It’s a fair question. Especially after learning about his conservative background, which we share, and his current beliefs, which we don’t. He told me he had a total of one gay friend, but after he came out, that friend quickly walked away from the faith, and from him. And I found it so devastating, the end of a relationship that could’ve borne so much fruit in that tension. The faith his friend was told was not for him. All it did was prove the point right, gay and Christian are mutually exclusive.

 

We talked then, through theology and books and the very essence of Jesus. He posed some brave, awkward questions, ones that showed how little he actually knew about what it is to be gay. Do you believe it is a choice? As in, just tell me the truth, did you decide this? An ignorant question, indeed! But you know what? His eyes were wide open and curious. This was an honest wondering. To him, he explained, all he knew was the old retired debate of choice vs genetics.

 

I explained to him that, no, of course I didn’t. He asked, if it were possible, would choose to be straight. I said, years ago, yes. Today, without a shadow of doubt in my mind, no. And I also told him I wasn’t entirely convinced in the born this way assumptions. I believed it was a mix of things, but perhaps with a divine plan in place? Who knows? Not me. But that’s missing the point. For all we know, heterosexuality isn’t in the genes either. Here we are today.

 

Conversations about sin led him into what I thought was the classic, “but we all sin…” olive branch, but then, instead of passing it back to me, going into what he believed my sin was, we found ourselves standing together on the beautiful core conviction that shame is not of Jesus. We lamented over the obsession conservative Christians have regarding any and all sex. Grieved over our Bible, the way it had been sharpened into a shank against every one of us. All around the fire, friends nodded their heads. Gave sighs of agreement. And we began sharing stories- real, meaningful ones. And we talked about grace. That offensiveness of it. We gave a long hug at the end. He said this conversation was such a relief for him to have. And the truth is, it wouldn’t have happened had I not said I was a gay Christian.

 

Jen Hatmaker published today one of the best pieces I have read from the conservative corner. I was surprised by the warmth it left on me. Like love does, I suppose. And I was impressed with her grace, honesty and her pledge to continue to find ways to love one another (and her acknowledgement that not all Christians agree here, some are-heaven forbid- affirming. An important point which is not ever mentioned in the GATEKEEPER, “Gays are not Christians! Allies are traitors!” posts.) There are gay Christians like me out here, searching and finding and living, and that, my brothers and sisters, is a victory for the kingdom.

 

I am a gay Christian. I have come to feel the destabilizing truth of this declaration. It packs a punch. It pisses off the gatekeepers more than anything, and evokes a call to love and learn from those with searching hearts. It provokes conversations that are fruitful and drop seeds, into both our souls, as we learn the difference between hate and disagreement, gay pride floats and committed relationships, as we, as I, ply apart the person from the, now inflammatory, Evangelical.

 

And so I’ll keep saying it because I am reaping such a harvest, such a renewal of life is growing in the ground of my soul: I am gay and I am Christian. I’m a gay Christian. You are straight and you are Christian. You are man, woman, genderqueer, black, white, brown, and Christian and the kingdom is where we meet and grow together. Sling arms over shoulders. Open our hands and choose to see the best behind our eyes. Choose to stay even when it scares us.

 

God love us all and may we never stop speaking. 

Some Peace for Today

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I think we’re all a bit exhausted from the events of last week. I am tired of thinking about it, writing through it, arguing over it, defending myself, losing myself and dwelling in it– it is turning into a full-time job, really. And although the Bible is a wonderful place to look to in times like these, as you’re packing your bags and heading off into the wilderness to explore the rest of Christianity, I instead rest my head in the story of Maya Angelou. I came across this passage yesterday, and in that moment, I found calmness of heart. In that moment, I felt God drawing near.

 

From the memoir of Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,

 

“One evening after going to bed normally, I awoke to another kind of shaking. In the blunted light through the window shade I saw my mother kneeling by my bed. She brought her face close to my ear.

“Ritie,” she whispered, “Ritie. Come, but be very quiet.” Then she quietly rose and left the room. Dutifully and in a haze of ponderment I followed. Through the half-open kitchen door the light showed Bailey’s pajamaed legs dangling from the covered bathtub. The clock on the dining-room table said 2:30. I had never been up at that hour.

I looked Bailey a question and he returned a sheepish gaze. I knew immediately that there was nothing to fear. Then I ran my mind through the catalogue of important dates. It wasn’t anybody’s birthday or April Fool’s Day or Halloween, but it was something.

Mother closed the kitchen door and told me to sit beside Bailey. She put her hands on her hips and said we had been invited to a party.

Was that enough to wake us up in the middle of the night! Neither of us said anything.

She continued, “I am giving a party and you are my honored and only guests.”

She opened the oven and took out a pan of her crispy brown biscuits and showed us a pot of milk chocolate on the back of the stove. There was nothing for it but to laugh at our beautiful and wild mother. When Bailey and I started laughing, she joined in, except that she kept her finger in front of her mouth to try to quiet us.

We were served formally, and she apologized for having no orchestra to play for us but said she’d sing as a substitute. She sang and did the Time Step and the Snake Hips and the Suzy Q. What child can resist a mother who laughs freely and often, especially if the child’s wit is mature enough to catch the sense of the joke?”

 

Find rest today in the God that shakes you awake in the middle of the night because you’re the honored guest of Her party. Crow along with her, in the songs of freedom and redemption, in the new way she is stomping and the old ways she is still teaching. In the starless night, She is still hard at work. She is listening. She is mourning for the things your mourning for, but also, She is celebrating, and laughing, just because She’s so happy your beloved, treasured self is here, at Her table, at last.

 

Rest in Her and be Blessed today.

When World Vision Drops Me

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I got the news that World Vision had reversed its’ policy on employing gay and lesbians right after I got done with work. I was outside the school where I aid elementary age kids, special needs kids, and though I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy in my job, I am actually a pretty awesome paraprofessional. Turns out, I’m pretty great at caring for kids in need.

 

And I was in my car when I got the news and I sped away, lest any of my little guys climbing the bus would see me, should I start to cry.

 

Before I headed home where I would find my mom, on the phone with another mom of a gay kid, telling her, “We will not respond the way they did. I refuse to be like them. We will be like Jesus, instead.” Before I got the text message from my brother, a very simple and needed, “I Love You.” I pulled over and parked in a vacant lot.

 

I turned off my ignition and I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Breathing. Stunned and struck by betrayal and pain and anger, wave after wave of it, and I couldn’t form a coherent thought or calm my heart. But in the midst of it, a memory came to me of a conversation I once had with Jay Bakker.

 

Jay, if you don’t know of him, was born into Christian Royalty. His parents were televangelists and their faces were amongst the most well-known and adored in Christian culture. Then the scandal. His dad had an affair, resigned, and then went to prison for fraud, leading Christians to banish the Bakker family outright. And for years, Jay would never step foot in a church.

 

Jay and I bonded over coffee in our shared experiences of feeling orphaned by the faith that raised us. And we also bonded over a shared hero, a man who, in a very real way, saved us.

 

That man is Brennan Manning. I will say it today and tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life that no one has left a larger impression on my faith than this man. Besides Jesus, he is the one I am most looking forward to meet in Heaven.

 

Jay was also swept off his feet by the Ragamuffin himself, and when Jay was set to publish his first big book, Son of a Preacher Man, Brennan agreed to write the forward. It was Jay’s dream come true.

 

Not long after, Jay heard from a representative of Brennan that he decided to pull out. He was afraid of the backlash he might receive by associating with the Bakker family. To this day, Jay says that that was the greatest let down, it left him completely disillusioned.

 

Don’t idolize your heroes, he told me. They will inevitably let you down. They’re human, too.

 

Years later, Jay was asked to pen an endorsement of Brennan’s book, and in the years between, they built a relationship based on forgiveness and trust and love. There was restoration. And Jay was brimming over with grace.

 

What Brennan had done was deny the Jesus in Jay. What he did was wrong and unfair and deeply hurtful. He ditched Jay when Jay most needed him, ran straight off the road off the gospel.

 

And yet, at the same time, in the Midwest, a teenager was reading Brennan’s books and his life would never be the same. A teenager would read these words, “God loves you just as you are and not as you should be.” And it would be enough, just that line, to give me the strength to move forward.

 

Though I understand that World Vision essentially had a gun to its head after evangelical leaders incited a mass backlash of dropped funds, it doesn’t make what they did right. Their reversal hurts more than anything I read from the evangelicals ranting. It was the kiss of Judas. And in the end, this was simply wrong and ungodly and deeply defeating.

 

I read Richard Stearns apology to conservatives through gritted teeth, because it is that bad. Richard Stearns, the man I praised the other day, disqualified me in a way against serving alongside him, and begged the forgiveness from those like Graham, Burk, Moore and Piper. And it does really hurt, this abrupt abandonment, this puncture of what was so much hope and pride and encouragement. Suddenly, reversed.

 

But, and not many years ago, it was Richard Stearns who shook up my faith in the best possible way. I read his book The Hole in Our Gospel, twice, and I recommended it to every person I knew. It was and still is one of the best Christian books I have ever read.

 

And who can understand the vehemence of yesterday upon him and his? Who can completely throw out he, Stearns, who left a life of luxury, to serve the world’s poor? Who can deny that World Vision is a rarity in Christianity, a group of folks whose sole purpose is to give the gospel hands and feet, bringing bread and water and mercy? Who can look at those pictures of kids being fed, of kids writing letters, those going to school and becoming kingdom builders themselves and write off an organization that is doing such beautiful work?

 

The truth is, friends, I am sitting in a coffee shop and writing this, and my teeth are still gritted, because I am writing things I am not feeling. But I believe, wholeheartedly, that there will come a day when I will. I know I will.

 

And when it comes to forgiveness, I take something like that very seriously. If it’s not flowing through my veins, then it’s not really there and I refuse to pretend it is. So I’ll say it true, as it is, right now:

 

I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.

 

But I can do grace. I can reach into the deep pockets of all that I have left and let it be a balm on my heart, let it tend to me until that moment comes when, as Anne Lamott says, “it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” I can give and give and give even as I’m pissed off and hurt because although they don’t deserve this, neither do I.

 

And my rage isn’t wrong, because this isn’t right. And so I will channel it all into doing my job here as a blogger, as a believer, loving gay kids and talking about the Jesus that wouldn’t change them for the world.

 

And though a Christian nonprofit embracing me, if just for a moment, is quite an event of subversion, I know in my own little world, the most radical act I can take is to say this: Yes, I love Jesus, too, and you’re my brother, and the Love of God makes us both enough.  It might be offensive to you, infuriating perhaps, it might even tempt you into dropping a kid off the face of the earth and blame it on me, but here’s the truth:

 

My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God my savior, has ransomed me.

 

And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace. 

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me

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On the Moberg couch this evening, my mom was scrolling through her news app and saw the announcement that World Vision was now hiring gay married people.

 

“That’s so great!” She said.

 

“Pretty brave,” my dad added.

 

And for a moment, I thought, I should write a piece defending the decision, because they might get backlash… but wait, no, evangelicals wouldn’t go there. How could they?

 

And perhaps it was this assumption that left me blindsided by the likes of the Gospel Coalition, Franklin Graham, John Piper, and Russell Moore.

 

This isn’t a carefully edited a post, nor a pretty one. It is a stream of consciousness. My feelings that are erupting out of my heart right now.

 

I’ve been sitting in a swell of sad for a couple hours, because this is what I’m hearing: No, you aren’t even worthy to serve hungry children. You are so deeply unwanted that I will let a child die if it keeps you away from me. From us. From the body of Christ. I will spare no life if it keeps you far away.

 

I don’t know how to explain how crushing and infuriating this is. Could words describe this night of speaking the truth over myself: God is love, Jesus is love, This I know is true. Can I even express what it feels like to know that my existence is the reason children are losing their livelihoods? Possibly dying? Falling from protection and into the hands of trafficking?

 

No and I shouldn’t have to.

 

I am tired, friends, so tired of being hit. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians. It is awaking a lot of old demons in me and the stab feels so much deeper when it’s your own faith attacking you. But who am I kidding? It is usually my own faith attacking me. And I am now at a breaking point, as I am sure is true for many others.

 

I’m done with evangelicalism.

 

I am done being patient with Piper.

I am done pretending I can engage with the SBC.

I am done hoping Franklin ends up more like his dad.

I am done listening to Denny Burk and his blowhards at the Gospel Coalition.

I am done with each and every one of the tweeters out there bragging about dropping their sponsorship of a child in need, just because they hate me.

 

I am done fleeing from and returning to this perpetually abusive house of faith. I am stopping the cycle. I am empty of strength.

 

And I am clinging closer to Jesus than ever before.

 

Thank God our God is our God.

 

Often when I am blindsided by blog posts and vicious tweets, a part of me starts to mistake it all for the voice of God. I start panicking, start clutching my heart, and the old lies of you’re a mistake and ya, God hates you come crawling up from their graves. But then the guard of grace wakes up and bats the monsters away. That guard, of course, is Jesus.

 

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” John 15:9

 

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 (MSG)

 

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Matthew 5:3-12 (MSG)

 

And now Paul comes in like a brother:

 

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:38-39 (MSG)

 

And why not, my favorite passage of scripture:

 

My beloved spoke and said to me,
    “Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.

11 

See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.

12 

Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

13 

The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:10-13

 

And of course, let’s let Brennan Manning take the floor too:

 

My life is a witness to vulgar grace- a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten til five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck towards the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request- “Please, remember me”- and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.

 

And thank God for Richard Stearns, a man whose book, the Hole in Our Gospel, dramatically, beautifully, reassembled my faith. Thank God for this man who, when the gatekeepers deny, thrusts open the door and pulls up a chair. Who walks in the love of Jesus in all spheres of life.

 

Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.

 

Thank God for the constancy of the sun and the fleetingness of the storm.

 

Amen.

Understanding My “Call”

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At the YMCA, I am on the third mile. It’s a Thursday night and way too cold outside, not that I ever run outdoors. I much prefer it in here- I can read and the hum of thumping feet provides it’s own kind of quiet. Typically, I pick a treadmill that is isolated, away from any neighboring runners, because it makes me feel more comfortable and relaxed, less cramped by others’ breathing and odor, their occasional spray of sweat.

 

I’m on the final mile when out of the corner of my left eye, I see him, stepping onto the treadmill, carrying the same hefty weight and cheap glasses. And it’s not like I can pretend I don’t see him.

 

He’s the dad of a close friend from high school. He was the parent other parents resented. He was, plain and simple, the worst.

 

In high school, he bought us all beer, fed us cigarettes, and made sure to look away whenever someone pulled out a joint. Most nights, he just sat around the bonfire spitting slurs at each of us, boozing himself into oblivion. Dad of the YEAR. 

 

When we first trade glances, we both let out overly loud laughs and begin the how are ya?, and then small talk, chatting and chatting, until he gets to the Standard Operating Question:

 

So what have YOU been DOING these past few years?

 

Wandering, I say. Randomly, I think.

 

I vaguely explain my months in Kosovo where I chased a dream and became a cynic. How I came home, took a job as a paraprofessional at a local high school and then grew restless. In defiance of mediocrity, I packed my bags and sped across the country to DC, boomeranging back three months later.

 

He nods absentmindedly and starts telling me about my friend, his son, who was just promoted at work and is now taking in six digits- a corner office as a perk! He adds without eye contact, you’ll figure it out soon enough. I smile not even surprised.

 

It’s a quintessential question of life, Calling. Where are you going? Where have you gone? What are you building with your degree, with your intellect, with your hunger for life. How are you becoming the man you were always meant to be?

 

It’s a loaded question pointed with high expectations. And I feel incapable of answering it these days. Unsure of where to start.

 ~ ~ ~

When I was kindergarten, I have a colorful memory of telling Mrs. Robertson that when I grew up, I wanted to be an Owl. A year later, it was a Vet. And then a Journalist. A Scientist. A Pediatrician. A Sports Agent. And just about every other card in the Game of Life, until I turned twelve and my world shifted beneath me. Aware of my brokenness, my unloveliness, my sole purpose in life centered on my own healing. On becoming Straight. Being Changed.

 

I saw the Happy Ever After being told as a great redemption story. A boy is broken, but then fixed, made whole, and then, at long last, Loved, by God and by everyone.

 

My identity wrapped tightly around being changed, so much so that when that didn’t happen, I went ahead with the call anyway. I let myself fall and shatter that I might put myself back together again. A bizarre sort of psychology that I’m sure has no name.

 

I took up smoking in high school so that I could quit. I drank and drank and drank, shoplifted, rolled joints, as a way of writing my own story. Sketching a before I could speak about, an after I could feel. A way I could fit in with all the other believers turning away from themselves and up to the Lord.

 

In college, I declared Political Science my major and making Public Policy my dream. I wanted to take down and fix the broken things of our world: Starvation, Poverty, Prison Reform and, my greatest love, “The Energy Crisis.” I wanted to be a fixer, a doer, a world changer. I wanted to be significant.

 

Or at least, that’s what I thought that was.

 

I actually needed to change the world because I could not change myself. I could not pray away the gay. I was so wired for change that I took up smoking so I could stop and I took up politics so I could win. And then I grew defensive and distant. I became a lightening rod. I stared out at everyone in judgment while I quietly built my case, throwing out a hundred prickly opinions that burst like claymores should anyone try to get close. That they might look only at my anger or not look at me at all.

 

It was a platinum-made, perfectly constructed closet.

 

But then, in October 2011, I came out to my family and it was like the world unwrapped new. I felt a lifted weight and the world seemed foreign, and in the following months, nothing made much sense anymore.

 

I tried throwing myself back into the change passions, but they felt wrong somehow. I traveled to Kosovo to fix the nation’s electric grid, only to find out I hated research, and Energy Policy. I then fled to DC, my haven, only to find out I actually wanted no part in the political games. Both times, when I came home, I sunk deep into a fog of uncertainty.

 

The old dreams of significance, of making up for, of being enough, no longer fit this Out man who now knows he was loved all along. He was wholly enough. His value was set by nails on a cross. Inside a promise of never leaving nor forsaking.

 

Today, I work in a job that drains me, and I live with my parents. I am unsure of my calling and I am constantly feeling inadequate to my bankrolling peers. But grace is abounding and a balm to my journey. My start was complicated, perhaps unfair, sure, but I am learning about the God of do-overs. The God that doesn’t always point out the direction, but says go anyway. Jump. Fall. Crash. Climb. Walk, and I’ll make a way.

 

At church, Pastor Pagitt asks us all, in the spirit of Lent, to grab our own wrists in each hand, like their shackles. He says, “Quietly, to yourself, give up what you need to be free from. And then let go.”

 

Down to my dog-tired heart, I whisper, you are free of this. I unbind you from expectation, from financial success, from the life you’ve always thought you were supposed to live. You are free, go.

 

And so I go.