McLaren Q1: The Narrative Question

Looking for a good, open conversation about faith?

Well, our friends at the conversation-starting website: www.theooze.tv are currently doing a video series with Brian McLaren about his new book: “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith”.

Each video features McLaren discussing one of the specific questions raised in his book.  And, due to the subject matter, I’m sure there will be much conversation generated! And really that is the goal.  There may be more than one thing that you find yourself at odds with him about, but according to McLaren himself, these questions:

“are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.”
(Brian McLaren)

So, here is the first of these videos.  It discusses briefly, McLaren’s first few chapters on the “storyline” of the Bible and how to properly frame our picture of Jesus.  Give it a quick view (less than 5 minutes) and feel free to comment here on your thoughts or go to www.theooze.tv and watch them all as they become available.

The End of Christian America

[great article link at the bottom of this post!]

Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.

Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years).  But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.

Newsweek coverWhich is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is.   [see “The End of Christian America” and  “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”]

Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever.  Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.

So what does this mean?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.  Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal.  I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon.  Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you?  =)

But, it isn’t among just preachers.  There is panic among many everyday Christians.  There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless.  I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly.  Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena.  It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.

Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear.  I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way.  It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken.  I can sympathize with this uncertainty.

christian_america2However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely.  If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church.   In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus.  I do.  I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people.  I want more people to experience this life, not less.  And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church.  Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions.  I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message.  Too often, the methods have become the message.  Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people.  Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”

Fear of the end of Christian America.

Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love.  Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.

Because of fear we have reacted poorly.

But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought.  Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all.  Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.

You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is.  I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week.   I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry.  I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.

But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading.  The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe.  In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.

Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them.   And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously.  It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.

church_stateOf course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus.  This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.”  It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus.  This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus.  And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.

I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country).  I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes.   It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation.  It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!

I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd.  His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline.  Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.

“Don’t Weep for the Demise of American Christianity”

But he also has two excellent books on this subject.  The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic.  Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America.  If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.

themythofachristiannation

myth of a christian religion

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #3)

[Response #3 from SEATTLE – Part 7 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Dear M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Melissa:  (Hey, correct spelling and alliteration!)

Hahahaha!!   Now shouldn’t you have been listening or praying or singing at the church service the other day, not writing emails in your head!  LOL.  You crack me up.  You are a theology junkie!  Maybe we both need a 12-step recovery program…LOL

Now on to your response . . . I think we might be going around in circles here a bit.  I don’t totally disagree with what you are saying.  In fact, I find myself nodding my head as I read.   These are my only clarifications:

Clarification #1:

I definitely think that part of what Jesus is saying here includes non-believers.  My point was simply that Jesus said that the world would hate us as it hated him, and the majority of those that hated Jesus were the religious crowd.  I think that idea is definitely implied in Jesus’ statement here (that would have been who the disciples thought of instantly), although his use of the word “world” certainly encompasses more than that.

And, though admittedly there are some differences in Jewish religion of the 1st century and Christianity today (though I don’t agree with all the differences that you propose), I definitely think it still applies to us in both ways today.   While I agree that the religious leaders didn’t approve of or follow Jesus as the Messiah, they DID claim to follow God.  And there are many, I believe, that claim to follow God today that when it comes right down to it are a bit uncomfortable with the radical life and teachings of Jesus.  At least they live that way.  The difference may be that the Pharisees never claimed to follow Jesus and many today do, but obviously saying you follow Jesus and actually following Him are very different things.   In that way, there may be many more similarities than you might think.

In fact, I don’t think it takes much imagination to say there are many today that could be described by your words:  “Pious and self-righteous, pure blood [Christians] who had always been in charge” offended by “sinners with equal access to eternal life” . . . “because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.”   (arrangement mine)

Now, I’m not trying to label anyone into that category, because really it is a matter of the heart.  I simply think there are certain parallels.  Certainly there are people, like me, that often get caught up in religion rather than following Christ.   It is as much a struggle for me as any Pharisee of old.  Religion is dangerous at all times.  In Jesus’ time.  And in our time.

What concerns me is that some people read that statement of Jesus and take it not as a caution of the logical outcome of His radical message (of course many will reject it), but as a mandate for their methodology.  So you hear things like, “Well, Jesus said we would be hated, so we’ll do whatever it takes for them to hate us the most.”  And while those sentiments carry the noble feeling of doing our “religious duty,” I’m afraid they are a very poor way of understanding Jesus’ final prayer for his people, which ends with his desire that the “world” may know Him because of their “LOVE” for each other.   (John 17)

I believe Jesus is saying that the natural conclusion is that so-called believers and unbelievers will hate us if we truly follow him, not that we should do everything in our power TO BE hated by people.   It isn’t a badge of honor or a litmus test of some kind, it is simply a reality of living a radical Jesus life.

And so in this clarification, I totally agree with your last line of that point, “Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves ‘religious.’”

Clarification #2:

Look, I’m not saying we should agree with pop culture that says sin isn’t sin.  Taking a stance on what we believe to be sin is important.  And while I’m for critically thinking and making sure we are labeling sin correctly, I don’t think we should just tell people that whatever they do is ok by God.

For instance, there are many people who don’t choose to believe in Christ that also don’t appreciate my stance on the nature of homosexuality.  And I’m sure I’m not popular in those circles either.

You see, I know the “world” is going to at times hate me.  And that is ok.  I just want to make sure that they hate me not because of my attitude but because of the radical message of Jesus.   The truth does divide people.  I get that.  I just want to make sure it is the truth that is doing the dividing and not me.

Again, my problem with [megapastor] is not his truth, but his methods.   Do people need truth?  Absolutely.  But I think most people need relationship to really experience truth.  Remember, Jesus said he was Truth.  But he wasn’t some cold, philosophical concept of truth.  He wasn’t truth on a sign.  He wasn’t truth in a government’s law.

He was Incarnational Truth.  Relational Truth.

Truth, as defined by the life of Jesus, is more than “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”.   It is Truth that becomes flesh and lives in our mess and dies for people who will never deserve it and many that will never accept it.   It is Truth in relationship.   It doesn’t compromise, but it doesn’t demean or coerce either.   It is a Truth that woos like a lover, not compels like a tyrant.

And so in the end, I may love people, fight for people and invest in people, but they may still choose to hate the message of Jesus that I believe in.  And maybe me because of it.   I’m totally ok with that.  Wide path, narrow path.   I just don’t want any of my actions to unnecessarily cause rejection.  If they reject Jesus, fine.   I just don’t want my methods to be why.  If any part of the message of life being accepted by them relies on me as the messenger, I want to err on the side of love not protest.

Now, should churches be doing more than a carwash and food drives?  Of course!  I’m a preacher!  I think people need God’s word.  But, I think we have divorced the social components of the gospel from the propositional truth components.   We tend to break down into camps of either one or the other, when Jesus seemed to hold on to both.   And it is the extremism (of either side) that I think becomes dangerous and leads to lazy spirituality or capricious elitism.

And so, in my mind, I feel as though we agree a great deal here.  Hopefully you agree! ☺  I’m all for calling sin what it is.  Humanity needs to know where it is broken, so it can be healed.  And, I’m for staying the course on those convictions through cultural pressure.

My only clarifications here are that we think very carefully about the methods we use in offering these truths to people who are free to choose to ignore them.   And then be OK to live in a world where many will not agree with us though we give our own lives to show them.   That we would be so committed to bringing Truth to people that we would sacrifice even our own rights or lives to bring them to Him, not simply take the easy way out (from my perspective) and protest them.

Power-under.  Not power-over.

As far as your last line about being united, I agree with that as well.  I don’t hate [megapastor].  I don’t even know him personally.  And I hope I don’t come off that way.    In reality, I’ve thought a lot about that and I do choose to love him.   To be a consistent lover of people, like Jesus, I’m called to love the brothers and sisters I disagree with as much as I love the people I think they often turn off.   Like it or not, right or wrong, they are my family.  And you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.  ☺

However, while I love them, I will still question their methods, their theology and their understanding of God’s grace.  For it was within these ranks that Jesus reserves his challenges and questions.   And beyond the pattern of His life, it is those letters to the churches in Revelation and the words in 1 Corinthians (among others) that compel me to do so.  For these are words directed towards believers and the correction we are to make within the community of Christ.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . [but] with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)

Apparently, Paul saved his moral criticism for the believers as well, rather than outsiders.

Okey, doke….

Now, I gotta go cause my wife is making dinner and I told her that I would be home 30 minutes ago.   And yes, I probably could stand to miss a meal here and there, but if I get home in time I’ll be able to watch my daughter put banana chunks in her hair while she eats and who would wanna miss that?

Grace and Peace,

SEATTLE

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#3)

[Letter #3 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 6  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hello again SEATTLE,

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Sitting in church listening and thinking, I have come up with more thoughts for you on this conversation.

First, I have also experienced the desire to let people know that not all Christians are like “that.”  I’ve spent time and energy trying to convince some people of that, and finally realized that as long as I believed the Bible was exclusively true, and not just a nice story, they thought of me like “that” anyway.  So I guess I have gotten burned by that type of motivation….I also came to realize that pride was at least part of it.  “If you knew ME you might have a better view of Christians, I’m not THAT kind of (ignorant, stupid, prejudiced, kooky, crazy, homophobic, racist, redneck, protesting, abortion-clinic-blowing-up, hateful or judgmental) Christian.”  I really thought that those adjectives were the problem. And for some people, maybe they are.  Let’s make sure we aren’t doing the damage ourselves, however, by misrepresenting our brothers and sisters as actually being this way, if they are not…(dishonest protest picture).

Second, I mentioned that Jesus promised the world would hate us.  Not that we should seek that out from the world, but that we shouldn’t have a problem with the world hating us or hating Jesus because of us.  It’s just not true that “we must be doing something wrong if people hate us.” In fact, considering what Jesus promises, a more appropriate question would be, are we following him with integrity if no one hates us?

You interpret “the world” to mean other Christians. This gets into a really common attitude today.  People love to say that Christ’s biggest enemies were the religious people of his day…implying therefore, if He came back today, WE would be his enemies.  Todd Agnew’s popular song, “My Jesus” says: my Jesus would never be accepted in my church / The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet / But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud / I think He’d prefer Beale Street [bars/nightclubs] to the stained glass crowd….

Back then “religious” people were completely different than they are today.  They were an orthodox group with special status…not just any common person could believe and become “religious” the way they do today.  For the most part, those who are “religious” by today’s definition are not modern-day Pharisees, but rather his disciples!  His disciples were sinners who changed their entire lives after encountering him.  The “sinners” he loved too much, gathered around to hear him speak the good news.  They loved and believed in him.

The Pharisees’ problem was not that Jesus loved too much, it was his message that sinners-become-disciples had equal or greater spiritual status than the Pharisees.  The prodigal son who comes home and the man who begins work at the 11th hour receive equal rewards as lifelong rule-keepers.  Rather than the pious and self-righteous, pure-blood Jews who had always been in charge, every day “sinners” had equal access to eternal life.  This offended those in charge, because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.  My point is that Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves “religious.”

I also think you made a false statement about the world we live in.  You said, “If people who DID believe thought Jesus loved too much, how much more those who don’t believe?”  First, like I said, I don’t think it was those who believed, and I don’t think it was loving too much, it was not wanting everyone who believed in Christ to be saved.  But, my real problem with this statement is that it misrepresents our culture.  Tolerance, acceptance and affirmation are the gods of our age.  I would be shocked if “the world” would ever hate anyone for loving too much today.  So I really just don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Finally, I thought about Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot’s attitude there, and that he was praised as a righteous man…He did not engage or accept the culture there.  In fact he was accused of “judging” them simply for not wanting to aid them in their sin.  You mentioned Jonah…whatever other points might be made, the message he was sent by God to preach to total strangers was, repent or be destroyed.  That was the message, and it worked!  Even though he didn’t love them first or at all, even though they had no relationship with him and no reason to listen to him.  Verbal violence?  God was pleased that he was able to spare Ninevah (I am sure they were thrilled too) and that would not have been possible if not for Jonah’s message.  In Revelation and the letters to the churches, tolerating the sinful, immoral and idolatrous among them is an incredible offense against Jesus; not tolerating or even hating the wicked is seen as a virtue!  In Romans 1, Paul talks about people knowing that sins deserve death but that they not only continued sinning but also approved of those who did, implying that something other than approval was needed.

Intolerance for sin seems to be biblical….but it’s pretty much the worst thing you could display in our culture. So I think that’s a pretty good reason why the world might hate us. I never said we should be hateful or that we should not love sinners, but I don’t think that we should turn against other Christians who feel called to speak the truth.  We don’t know that someone might not be saved that way.  Who’s to say that but God?  One of my old churches decided to not try to bring anyone to church but just offer free water or carwashes on Saturday so they could be loving like Jesus.  That’s good for the church members, but I’m sure it won’t help anyone else’s soul.  And frankly, as long as there is just 1 wacky church out there to make the news, our PR with the world is never going to be improved anyway.  That seems to be the wrong tree to be barking up.

Like I said, I’m not condoning hate and I do realize there are hateful Christians out there.  I’m also not saying that having these meaningful, loving relationships with the lost is wrong.  I don’t think that, I think it’s awesome.  I’m glad there are Christians out there doing that but I am also glad there are Christians out there willing to speak the truth in a culture where that is one of the only things considered to be “wrong.”  It’s a shame that believers are hating you for what you’re doing, but I also think it’s a shame that believers have joined the world in hating the others for their message.  Because I think that’s what we are all supposed to be about, in a united way, now more than ever.

Many more thoughts to follow…. I have started rereading the NT through this lens.  It is strange that I would consider something so important and basic, a new way of thinking.  But for me, a lot of these questions and considerations really are new.  I suppose what is new, is the postmodern statement that protest without relationship is verbal violence, along with the presumption that publicly speaking truth is “protest.” But whatever the prompting, I think the question is important and deserves to have time spent on it!  So, thanks again.

MISSISSIPPI

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

I see the bumper sticker all time. In fact, i’ve thought about getting one myself. It’s just that i can’t afford the gasoline to actually drive my car anymore and display it. And i think it would look a little ridiculous on my bike.

A few weeks ago, it became more than a bumper stick for me though. You see, i’ve been hanging out with this guy named Rick. And in my adventures with him, i’ve found myself experiencing a lot and re-thinking a lot more. [see my last three blogs for the whole enchilada].

But, i was recounting my experiences at the bath house with a few friends of mine the other night. And as we sat around, i told them of life at the bath house, of the men who came in compelled by their addiction, and of the two of us who sat there patiently handing out an imperfect solution because it was the only thing we knew to do.

And as i shared these experiences, one of my older friends was obviously getting agitated. She squirmed in her chair. I could see by the look on her face that she wasn’t completely approving of my choice of Thursday night activity.

I should have known she would be skeptical. Of course, i already know her and if i had thought back, i would have realized that this type of conversation would really stretch her theologically and spiritually. But, she is my friend. And she is a bit of a hero for me. She has been involved in missions work across the world for many years. She knows what it means to love and meet people where they are in their life and to nurture them to faith in Christ.

So, i was surprised when after hearing the whole story she asked this question: “Are there any mosques in town?”

“Like Muslim Mosques?” I replied. “I know there is at least one in Seattle that i’m familiar with.”

“Great,” she said. “Here’s what we are gonna do. We are all gonna write letters to the mosque and tell them about this gay bath house. And i guarantee you, in two weeks they’ll have bombed the place.”

WHAT??? I’m not sure if i actually was able to get out any intelligible words at this point. I was completely dumbfounded. I wasn’t even sure i had heard her right. Maybe i had just misunderstood.

“But…that isn’t the only bath house,” I offered, hoping that somehow she would clarify.

“Well, then we’ll tell them about all of them. Trust me. They’ll deal with the problem.”

Now, i’d like to stop here for a second and explain a few things. First of all, i don’t really think that if we wrote any letters of the sort to the local mosque in Seattle that this kind of “solution” would actually happen. Not every Muslim, and certainly not the ones i have been around in this area, actually consider “bombing” a legitimate solution to anything. And i’m fairly certain that a large portion, if not all of them, may be very offended by even the suggestion being offered here. And in that sense, i’m offended with them.

Secondly, i find it very ironic that people who justify the use of war against Muslim extremists who employ this sort of tactic, would then find it in some way divinely acceptable to use these same terrorist tactics to promote their own agenda or sense of moral decency. In a very scary way, the lines between militant Islam and militant Christianity become about the same thing.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Be careful in pursuing the monster that you do not become the monster yourself.”

Sadly, I think a lot the “Christian” world could be accused of this latter atrocity today. We have become too blood-thirsty. Too eager for the fight. The intense (and almost naive) backing of the United States war in Iraq and Afghanistan by many “Christians,” alone, suggests that this danger is alive and well.

And as all this is going on in my head, i realize that i have to say something. Although no physical bombs have actually gone off, a large verbal bomb has just been detonated in the room.

“But, i don’t want anybody to blow up the bath house . . . and besides, i don’t think Jesus is going to allow me to do that.”

After a lot more discussion, my friend seemed to settle down. In fact, at one point she even retreated to a position of “oh, i was just joking.” The reason i’m writing this, though, is because i don’t think she was.

And so, what do you do? What do you do when your friend, that has made of life of loving people not like her, displays that type of bigotry and hate? What do you do when mega-church pastors around you seem to demonstrate the exact opposite of the love of Christ they say they represent?

You see, i learned in the bath house that i am called to love everyone. I’m called even to love the most diabolically oppressed men who throw away their lives to an addiction. I’m called to love even the people that everyone else (religious or otherwise) write off as garbage or as a social disease. I’m called to love the people that go to the gay bath house. I’m even called to love the people that own it and make me most angry by feeding these hopeless people’s addiction and even making money off of it.

But, would Jesus bomb the bath house? Absolutely not. He calls me to love the people there, not to destroy them.

But, here’s what i learned from my friend that night. Not only does Jesus call me to love the guys at the bathhouse. He calls me to love my friend too.

You see, i believe she is dead wrong. I believe the Mega-pastor is dead wrong. But, if I’m to be a consistent lover of God, I’m called to love them too. And in some ways, it is easier for me to extend my love to those in the bath house than to those in God’s house.

So, I may call them to conviction. I may be critical of their response to others. I may even have to challenge their assumptions of how big God’s grace really is. But, i am not allowed to treat them with any less love than God does.

My friend may not be right. She may not be living a lifestyle (without ultimate love) that i condone. But, in those ways, is she really so different than my new friends at the bath house? And if i’m called to love them, certainly i am called to love her.

I think i’ve written about all i can on this topic for now. It is interesting to me that many more people have read this blog and left comments about this particular topic than any i have written. Obviously, this is a sensitive and important issue for many of us.

But, i have been encouraged this past week as i have read your comments and responses. If nothing else, it reminds me that there are many people that follow Christ today that are desiring to show love to ALL people. And if that is the case, then maybe there is a great deal of hope for the world.

So here is my prayer…

God, bless my friends at the bath house. May they be free from sexual oppression and may they find ultimate peace and fulfillment in You.

God, bless my Christians friends that don’t show love like they should. May they experience Your love to an even greater degree and may that love shape them into greater lovers of You and Your people.

Amen.

Mega-pastors can be Mega-wrong

Every week, I look forward to one major event:  The Office on NBC.   Seriously.   I could watch Dwight Schroot talk about his beet farm all night long.   And for a few moments on Thursday night what happens in Scranton, NJ is the most important part of my world.

But on this Thursday night, during a commercial break, the local NBC news affiliate ran a teaser headline for the 11’oclock news that had me more intrigued than a Michael Scott office policy meeting.

“Mega Church Pastor Protests High School Students.”

Now, headlines like that tend to catch my eye. So, I tuned into the local Seattle newschannel website to read up on what it was all about (after “The Office” was over, obviously).

The basic story was that each year, high schools in the Seattle area (and probably elsewhere) celebrate a day called “day of silence.” It is an event sponsored by an all student led group—the “gay/straight alliance”—that encourages students to not talk all day in order to bring awareness to and solidarity with potentially gay students among them that are treated poorly, made fun of and often don’t have a credible voice.

A local mega-church pastor, who lived in the community of one such high school, decided to organize a protest of the event. So, in front of many news cameras, he called for 1,000 members of his church and other Christians to come down and picket and protest outside of the school for the whole day, chanting their anti-gay views and “correcting” the sin of a few through the personalized and compassionate forum of a billboard sign.

Now, in one sense, i realize that “day of silence” probably has a pro-gay agenda to it. But, as i read the article, i couldn’t help but wonder, “what is so wrong about not wanting gay students to be made fun of, physically abused or emotionally taunted?” In that regard, as a follower of Christ, i whole heartedly agree with the sentiment of the day. And on any level, what does picketing a bunch of high schoolers really accomplish?

My problem was i had just come home from sitting inside a very promiscous gay bath house in Seattle, where i had been sitting with my friend Rick handing out condoms and information to everyone who walked in. We didn’t personally know any of the guys that came in that night. We didn’t have any signs. We weren’t chanting anything. We simply handed out latex.

[see my previous two blog posts for the whole story]

And as i sat at home reading the news story, the dichotomy of events perplexed me. On the one hand there was a mega church pastor that many people know, calling for Christians to protest teenagers attempting to humanize homosexual people that are often treated otherwise. And on the other hand, there was an everyday Christian that nobody knows, living with AIDS, sitting in a place most don’t know about and would never want to go to, handing out medical prevention (though not perfect) to oppressed adult addicts.

Both men agree homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The issue isn’t the morality of the lifestyle, but of the morality of our response. And because morality is a fuzzy term, let me define it this way. At issue is not whether Jesus approves of homosexuality as God’s ideal, but how Jesus would respond to people that are homosexual.

And in this case, the Mega-Pastor is Mega-WRONG. What the MP (mega-pastor) fails to realize is that protest without relationship is simply verbal violence. What the MP doesn’t understand is that compassion for people who don’t agree with you is “loving your neighbor as yourself.” What the MP has mistakenly accepted is that if you yell loud enough Jesus’ voice will be heard, when Jesus himself yells only at the religious pharisees and whispers grace to the sinner.

And what this reminds me is that, apparently, you can have everything RIGHT in your theology, but not be RIGHT. You can worship God in all the RIGHT ways, but not be RIGHT.

And as far as i can tell, Jesus never organized a protest of anything (unless you count his little tirade against the religious leaders in the temple), he simply went and ate and spent time with people who’s lives missed the mark of God’s ideal, calling them to something more fulfilling. He loved them to “abundant life.” There was no place for protest.

And so, Rick sits in Seattle at a gay bath house. No signs. No chants. He hopes that he is making a difference. Is a condom the answer to the problem? No. The problem is much more complex that what simple latex can fix. There are emotional, spiritual and mental issues that must be addressed. A holistic answer is needed.

But in the vaccuum of that answer, it is the only thing Rick knows to do. And so he does it.

It makes me wish that when people thought of Christians they thought of people like Rick rather than the blow hards that get all the news headlines like our local mega-pastor last week.

It makes me think that if Jesus were here today, he’d probably look more like the average guy, Rick, than the news bite mega-pastor any way.

I often ridicule Christians, mostly because we are such an easy target. But, i really don’t think all Christians are bad. I am one. Or that church is bad. I’m a part of one.

But, what scares me is that there is a vocal minority giving my faith a bad name. No, not my faith, my God. People hear words like they did last week and think that they are God’s sentiment or God’s words. And they never have been. The mega-pastor is simply wrong.

So, here is to you, out-spoken mega-church pastor. I’m pleading with you. Please examine your response to people with the life of Jesus before you speak and act in ways that shame Him and us.

I’ll even keep using the name “Christian,” if you’ll start acting like one.

Gay Bath-House

I spent last Thursday night in gay bath-house.

Well, not the whole night. Just for three hours or so. Actually, i was back in time to watch “The Office” and the new episode of “Lost,” but it would take a whole lot to wrestle me away from both of those. Anyone with me on that?

Anyway, I was invited by my new friend, Rick. Rick is a man i recently met who has been teaching me a lot about what it means to love, follow Jesus, and live my life with purpose and intention (see my last blog). But, maybe the most intriguing part of the man is where you’ll find him most Thursday nights–in any one of three gay bath houses in downtown Seattle.

Now, i didn’t even know that there were bath houses in Seattle. I suppose it shouldn’t really surprise me; i guess i just hadn’t really thought about it. But since he had explained his presence there i felt compelled to go and discover what would draw a man back there week after week to serve people that many have written off.

Getting there, i thought, would be easy. I had an address. I had a GPS device. I had a car. Pretty much i can get anywhere. But, as i turned down the block and approached the spot where the GPS said i had arrived, i didn’t see anything. So, i drove around the block, still looking. Then again. In fact, i drove around five times looking for a business i was assured existed. Finally, in exasperation, I called Rick and asked him where to go. He told me it wasn’t marked, that there was no signage at all, but that i should simply look for a red door and go inside.

I was definitely nervous to go inside. Mostly because i just wasn’t sure what to expect. But, as i walked through the door, i met an employee at the counter and he ushered me through to the lobby, where Rick was already seated waiting.

Rick explained to me that we would sit here for our whole shift offering “safer sex” kits to anyone that would come by us. Inside each kit was a condom, lubrication, and a pamphlet on HIV/AIDS with educational information and a hotline to call.

As things weren’t too busy initially, however, he offered to give me a tour of the club. Not really knowing what a bath house was–i was still picturing a giant pool with people lounging around in pool chairs sipping ice-tea and others sitting on the edge of the pool dangling there legs in the warm water–i said, “why not?”

Now, i’m not sure i have the courage to explain to you everything i saw that night inside the bath house. But, there were some things i saw that were pretty normal: a internet cafe with people checking their email, a tv lounge with “My Name is Earl” on, and a normal looking shower area with lockers. What i didn’t see was any sort of “bath” or large pool.

But, without exposing you to everything i saw, let me explain the general purpose of the club. The basic idea is it is a place for gay men to gather and either purposely–or more often it appeared randomly–meet other gay men and engage in sexual behavior together.

And let me tell you, i was relieved to get back to the lobby! While too much for this blog to convey, there was much to see that made me quite uncomfortable. In fact, I felt like i was holding my breath during the entire tour.

However, as we got back to the lobby, i understood much more fully why we were there. We weren’t there to hand out kits that could possibly be used. We were there because the kits we handed out that night were SURE to be used. The job was no longer optional, it was necessary.

That night we sat there handing out kits to everyone who came in. And roughly half of the people coming in accepted our gift. We even got three guys to agree to be tested for HIV by the King County Health Department doctor that was there with us (In just 20 minutes, each of them knew their status).

But, it was the drive home that i had to process everything that i had experienced. And for those of you who have asked, here is what i learned…

1) Stereotypes are dead. If there were any stereotypes of what it means to be gay, or beyond that gay and in a club like that, they are gone now. Guys from every walk of life came in the club that night. Old. Young. White. Black. Asian. Wealthy. Poor. None of it mattered. There were no guys in drag. It was people you walk among and live around all day long. Any attempt to label people or stereotype them never seemed more wrong.

2) Homosexuality wasn’t the biggest problem. If you really pressed me, i would have to admit that i believe that homosexuality is not God’s ideal. In one way, i hate to make that claim. Not because i don’t authentically believe it, but because so many are saying it without love. I say it this way because i believe it is a difficult issue and a deeply sensitive one. Not involving theories or abstracts, but involving real people with real loves, desires, dreams and ambitions.

However, that wasn’t the biggest issue in a club like this. It was, to be sure, a very dark place, but not because gay men gathered there. The darkness came from the intent of the club. The club exists in order for people to meet (randomly?) and have their pornography and sexual addictions fed. The bathhouse operates to encourage people to engage in highly promiscuous and dangerous sexual activity. Activities that destroy relationships, encourage isolationism, damage families and promote disease.

Had this been a heterosexual club, it would have been no less dark. And in this way, homosexuality wasn’t even the major issue.

And i suppose that leads to the most important thing i learned:

3) God calls me to love people that others (especially many Christians) consider worthless.

I suppose at one point, just before i walked in the door that night, i may have considered them worthless as well. I was afraid of them. I was judgmental of them. I had already labeled and categorized them.

But, something happened as i watched guy after guy enter the club that night. In a glance, I started to look into their eyes. Although really, very few were willing to actually look anyone directly in the eye for long. And what i saw was not sub-human. They were not worthless garbage to be discarded. The were not “lost causes” to given up on and condemned.

They were Imago Dei. They were the image of God. They were and are created in the very same image of God that i am created in. And beyond their oppression to a sexual addiction, they are still valuable and beautiful.

So, I asked Rick, “How many churches help out with this?” He said he couldn’t think of any. So i asked, “How many Christians do you know that help out here? And again he couldn’t think of any.

Hundreds of people, like slaves oppressed by evil, flock to the bathhouses each day. And not a single Christian, other than Rick is anywhere in sight? That just doesn’t sound like the Jesus i know. And let me be clear, i’m not primarily picking on other Christians here, i’m shocked most at my own un-Christlike absence.

Would Jesus go to the bath house? I don’t know. But, i know he went to the places that no one else thought a respected religious leader should go. He showed up to parties at tax collector’s houses. Hung out with notorious sinners and prostitutes. He even invited a hated tax collector to be among his elite few, 12 disciples (Matthew 9:9-13).

And so, i arrived that night thinking that the people in the club weren’t worth the piece of latex we were handing out. But, I discovered instead that Jesus lives there. He lives there in the form of my friend, Rick, who sees beyond their addiction to the divine imprint and beauty in each of them.

If you ask Rick why he’s there, he might simply tell you, “I’m a doctor. And there are sick people here.”

Ironically, Jesus said the same thing when questioned about why he hung around the condemned of his day, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do. For i have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13)

In that way, Jesus might more often be with Rick at the gay bath house, than with me in my house.