“Day of Silence” – Will You Be Heard?

I don’t think I’ve ever gone a whole day without talking.

In fact, I’m not actually sure I’ve made it through very many complete hours without talking.  It seems that I’m vary rarely at a loss of words or something to say.  (If you read this blog, you’ve already figured this out).  =)

But, tomorrow, I’m gonna stay quiet.

day of silenceTomorrow is the annual “Day of Silence.”  Many high school students will choose to “not talk” during the day tomorrow in order to show their solidarity with their many peers that are wrestling with LGBT issues in loneliness and fear.

Now, I know many Christians who vehemently oppose this movement each year.  In fact, last year I think I witnessed an all new low in Christian depravity as a local church actually held a protest outside a high school in my area (read last year’s blog here).

A church protesting high school students?  Huh?

Effectively, though the church leaders claim nobler intentions, the message was “God hates gay people and so do Christians.”

And while many people will not go so far as to hold a protest outside a school tomorrow, a noticeable amount of “Christian” students will be absent tomorrow in an effort to make their own statement of condemnation about it.  Others will attend but simply ridicule those participating and be as boisterous as possible in their disruption.

However, I would like to humbly suggest another alternative: PARTICIPATE.

In fact, I’d like to propose that maybe participation is the most CHRIST-LIKE thing we could possibly do.  For while I may not agree with a particular lifestyle that may be reflected in some people of this movement, Jesus calls me to show love to people that are different than me, not condemnation.

Wayne Jacobsen is the publisher of the best-selling book, The Shack. Recently on his Lifestream blog, he wrote:

…many public school students will observe a Day of Silence as a means to protest harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been going on for almost a decade and many parents who are against ‘the gay agenda’ feel the need to keep their kids home that day, or participate in a Day of Truth that makes sure everyone in their district knows they consider homosexuality to be immoral. Is this the way Jesus would respond?

Perhaps a better way to encourage faith-based students to respond would be to adopt the Golden Rule Pledge. “I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.” It allows a pro-active response to sharing the burden to increase mutual respect for all, regardless of our differing points of view.

I agree whole-heartedly.  Maybe we should spend less time trying to “win a battle of accepted morality” and more time living a life of CHRIST-LIKE love.  Maybe Jesus’ model of love, compassion and grace really is more powerful than our protest.  Maybe to be silent in solidarity with the weak, in some Kingdom of God way, really is more transforming than our disruptive and polarizing vocalization.

So, I’m gonna stay quiet because even if I disagree with people about their lifestyle, I don’t think Jesus will allow me to treat them with any less love than everyone else.

I’m gonna stay quiet because too many young people wrestling with complex sexual orientation issues are afraid to talk about it for fear of ridicule, ostracization, or even physical harm.

I’m gonna stay quiet because Jesus commands me to treat other people like I would like to be treated, and I so desperately want to let His way of life direct and control my own.

If you’d like to consider participating or supporting those who do as well, please visit this great site for more information on an excellent alternative/compliment to the DOS:

www.goldenrulepledge.com

golden rule pledge

So, join me in trying a new way of life: LOVE.

Consider staying “SILENT.”  It may be that our LBGT community has heard enough of our voices already anyway.

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #2)

[Response #2 from SEATTLE – Part 5 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Hahahahaha!  You respond so quickly!  It takes me weeks to have time to sit down and write an email like that, and before I wake up you have written back. =)  So, I thought I would continue the dialogue—a little quicker myself.

And I think you must have been watching me write the last email because I really was smiling and laughing half the time!  Of course, it was late at night and I get a little delirious when I’m tired.   Well, and Jay Leno and Conan were on, so that makes me laugh too.

But, I also do appreciate a good friendly conversation that isn’t communicated through anger, meanness or general insensitivity.  If you only saw some of the emails and comments that come my way!  I don’t even show them to my wife, most of the time, because they are so full of anger and intensity.  And sadly, they often come from “Christian” brothers and sisters.

I really believe that these are the types of civil and open conversations that more Christians should be having with each other.   And I sincerely appreciate your views and the attitude with which you communicate them.

In regards to your last email, I think we probably agree in more areas than we realize.  For instance, I agree that at times we will be persecuted by people for standing up for what is right.  As you correctly stated, Jesus promises us that the world will hate us as it hated him.   And in that regard, I am OK with not being popular or liked.  Trust me, I have to have some thick skin to write blogs like that!  As much as you might think there are many who would cheer that blog, there are three times more that would like to dis-fellowship me for it.   I simply choose not to post their emails or comments because they are too rude and at times vulgar.

Here is the rub for me, though.  I believe Jesus was willing to be hated and I should too.  However, I just want to make sure that I am hated for the things that Jesus was hated for.  I want to “stand-up” for what Jesus stood for.   And as I read through the gospels, I can’t think of a single time that Jesus was hated because of his proclamation of repentance to people that were notorious sinners, unbelievers, non-religious or of other religious persuasion.  His methods seemed different when it came to outsiders.  He didn’t shy away from the problem, but he didn’t seem to start with behavior modification or correction either.   I do think Jesus wants repentance, but I can’t find any story there that is similar in method to the [mega-pastor] event.  Jesus lived love, and out of that love, spoke healing truth into people’s lives.  His message was about the “Kingdom” available to all, not simply adjusting your behavior.

Honestly, I really want to have those conversations with people around me that are hurting.  And I do engage in those conversations.  In all my relationships with people that don’t follow Christ, I am longing toward one-day (in some cases sooner, others later) sharing the truth as I see it in God’s word that can set them free from oppression, self-indulgence, greed, hostility, loneliness, and despair.  But, with so many of them I can’t start there or they’ll never hear it.  I have to earn that right to speak into their life.

I approach it that way (and hopefully some of my other nut job Christian friends do too) not because I’m ashamed of the message, but because I’m not ashamed to love them regardless of whether or not they ever believe it.

Also, I agree that there are those apparently following Christ who appear “ashamed” of the relationship and of any standard that God calls us to.  Whether this is more so now than at other times, I don’t know.  It seems that truly following Christ has always been counter-cultural and the temptation exists to make His radical claims more palatable.

This, of course, is unnecessary.  And those that distance themselves from the difficult parts of Jesus’ teaching in order to make Jesus sound more acceptable to hearers are not only fooling themselves, but really deceiving those they intend to attract.  And at any rate, I think there are many well-meaning people that are lumped into this category that actually believe more of what I have described above than just “shame” in following Christ.

And, I’m not saying that there aren’t ever going to be times that non-believers disagree with us and even antagonize us for it.  I think that happens too and we should be OK with it.  But I think that happens for similar reasons when the world sees us caring for people it casts-off (i.e. drug dealers, sex offenders, terrorists, etc.).  If people who DID BELIEVE think that Jesus loved too much, how much more those that don’t believe?

Interestingly, though, when Jesus talks about being hated, the reference—I believe—is more the religious people around them than the non-religious.  In Jesus’ own context it was the religious leaders that always hated him.  It was they who killed him.  Not because he preached so much propositional truth, but because he loved too much. Or, if preaching, because he preached the truth about love.

In that way, I think [the mega-pastor] (if the illustrated scenario you described was accurate) misunderstood sacrifice.   He could have still been unpopular in his belief on homosexuality (I think that is fine, in fact, theologically we agree), but found an equally unpopular way (in Jesus’ sense) of loving outsiders.  Instead, it felt to me like he was willing to be unpopular with the world to in some small way be more popular with his church friends.

Now I’M being dangerous because I’m guessing at his motives!  And maybe I’m mistaking his motives (which isn’t really my point anyway—I’m not criticizing his motives, he might be a fine man, just his methods that I don’t think are consistent with Jesus), but if he did feel like a prophet, he’d do well to remember that is was God’s people that were angry with the prophets, not outsiders.  They existed, primarily, to reform God’s people, not convert others.  (the only exception I can think of here is Jonah, and without going into another long email, I think the circumstances illustrate a similar point).

In terms of media, I think you are right here as well.  They do often cast all Christians in one-boat as a bunch of wackos.   Of course media has an agenda too.  And very often they do choose the worst to represent us all.  And in that way, they share part of the blame of the perception of Christians today.  Although, I think we’d be wise to own up to our own fair share responsibility.   The Church does do some weird things sometimes!  LOL.

But, this comes down to several things for me too.  1)  There is a difference, I think, between the “cultural Christianity” in America today and real Authentic Jesus-following stuff.   The “cultural Christianity” (CC) is what makes the news.  It’s the people that say they are Christian, go to church occasionally, but live lives that look nothing like Christ.  Christianity isn’t so much a lifestyle to them, but a cultural definition of who they are.  However, whenever there is something to protest (and I’m not lumping [mega-pastor] in with this group) that is different than their American-Christian worldview, they are the first to speak up.  Not so much based on conviction about Christ’s transformation in their life or the world, but out of a sense of pride in their worldview they’ve always known being right.  These are the people that news agency’s love because they are full of hypocrisy, contradictions and have volatile sound-bites.

Then, there are the many good and devoted followers of Jesus in this country that really live what they preach and love God deeply.   And it is this group that I think you rightly pointed out are doing a great many things in their churches and communities that doesn’t make the TV.  And to these people I am deeply indebted and extremely proud.

Now, I know for me personally, when I am found agreeing with the media about the Christian stereotype, it is not because I’m ashamed of what that latter group believes and lives, or that I find it easier to perpetuate the media’s skewed perceptions.   But, rather, it is my agreement that the former group IS fraudulent and in many ways destructive.   I want people to see through that type of commitment anyway.

Which brings me to the second point . . . 2) I often spend a great deal of time criticizing the former group because I have to convince people today that not all Christians are like that.   To convince them that there are many followers-of-Jesus found in group 2 that are consistent, truthful and worthy of admiration.   It’s why I often don’t even use the name “Christian” for myself anymore (because it is culturally associated with CC), but use something else, such as “follower-of-Christ.”

My thought is that many people our age have noticed this difference as well.  Now, no doubt there are some that simply want to hide from difficulty, as you suggest, and it is easier for them to agree with mainstream thoughts about Christians.  And shame on them.

But a great deal more may simply be trying to make the point that Christianity is not a cultural garment to be worn when convenient, but is a life-altering commitment that invades every moment of your life.   It may be that this language we hear is an attempt at making that distinction in post-Christian culture that thinks they’ve heard everything there is to know about Jesus already—even though they probably haven’t.

Can it go overboard?  Probably.  I think it is a tough line to walk.   You are trying to build credibility, while still showing the good that exists in the bride of Christ.   Maybe I don’t always walk it correctly myself.  But, I really do try hard.   And I’m sure people of both good and bad motives go overboard in this area and that is regrettable.

At any rate, while not all helpful or purely motivated, some of what I hear today actually gives me hope that things can be better, not worse.

Ok.  Long enough for email #2.   See you got me all thinking today, when I should be working!  LOL.

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #1)

[Response #1 from SEATTLE – Part 3 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Thanks for your note!  It is just great to hear from you guys.  Tania showed me some pictures of your kids and I can’t believe how big they have gotten.  Crazy!

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.  My life is a little hectic right now.  Ministry is going completely awesome, but between all the work there and learning to be a dad it feels like I don’t have time to just sit down and “be” sometimes.

Anyway, your response was a little involved and in order to take it seriously, I needed a little bit of time to answer.  This is really the first time I have sat down since I first read it, and had time to respond.   So, all that to say, sorry it took so long. ☺

In regards to your concerns, I suppose I have a few thoughts.   First, I think I understand where you are coming from in being confused with apparently opposing points-of-view.   In fact, that is why I think these discussions are so important and that our views should be held with a degree of humility.  These are very complicated issues, involving real people and not abstract theology.

I have read a great deal on the issue of homosexuality (from a biblical perspective and otherwise) from many different authors from many different backgrounds.  And in that reading and research of my own, I have probably found myself more confused, not less.   There are genuinely good reasons that people argue over this stuff.  I used to think that the matter was rather cut and dry (homosexuality in all forms is sin), and like you, I assumed that those who argued against it were more motivated by political agenda than honest struggle with God’s truth.   However, I now think it is more difficult than that.

This argument exists in large part because there are legitimate reasons (at least in my mind) for disagreement.  For instance, there are word choices that the Apostle Paul could have chosen that would have made it much more clear (i.e. in Romans 1 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10, etc.), but unfortunately he didn’t.  And the Greek words he did use carry more ambiguity than I am comfortable with.   I encourage you to look into it yourself, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that I end up more “confused” for the research, to use your terminology.

All that said and despite what I consider legitimate dissension, here is where I come out personally on this issue…  I still believe that as best as I can tell, homosexuality in all its forms is normatively sinful.  Hahahahaha!   And you thought I was going all crazy on you!

Anyways, there are lots of reasons for me ending up here, but this response will be long enough as is.  LOL.

However, even though this is my conviction (and what I will stand up for and teach), I have learned to hold that conviction with as much humility as I can.  Philosophers speak of a term, “epistemological humility.”  It means being humble about what you think you know and believe, because history it seems is full of well-meaning people who were passionately convinced on many issues (slavery or women’s rights to name just two), but on the wrong side of justice as we look back at them now.

And so, I live in this weird world where I hold to my convictions and teach them unapologetically, but try not to hold them so tightly that they define me more by what I’m against than what I am for.

Interestingly enough, most of my non-Christian friends already knew the troubling spots about homosexuality in the Bible before I did.  And, in my experience, they have become much more open to my understanding of homosexuality since I became humble in my dialogue with them about it.   It‘s as if they trust what I have to say more now that they perceive that I’m not just proverbially “drinking the Kool-Aid” of Christianity, but willing to think critically and openly.

And in that sense, I have learned to be a little less scared of the “slippery slope” theology that I think you expressed in your response.   It’s that feeling that Christians today buy into little things that might seem harmless; things the culture tells them is ok, but in the end is a slow start to a fast decline in the righteous path of God.

Now, I do feel scared about that at times.  But more often than not it is about things that are much more subtle, and in my mind, much more dangerous.  Things like consumerism, misplaced patriotism that becomes synonymous with faith in God, or spiritual pride.  That could be a whole response in itself!  LOL.

And to some degree I think issues like homosexuality are like that as well.  It concerns me greatly that a person would simply accept homosexuality as a normative behavior without wrestling with God’s word.  But it also concerns me that someone would condemn it without doing the same diligent work.   We tend to be lazy.   Lazy in our study of God’s Word and lazy in our dialogue with God and each other about what that Word might mean.  And in that sense, I think there are a lot of people out there that are sliding into either total relativism or total elitism, and I believe both slopes are equally slippery.

In terms of [The Mega-Pastor], I suppose I was a bit hard on him.   I looked into the graphic that you mentioned.   I actually didn’t put that in the blog myself;  I had an assistant who did that for me (I’m not all that tech savvy).  FYI — That photo isn’t from the [mega-pastor] protest, but is apparently a famous parody of those types of protests.  And in that way, I agree it may be misleading.  [Note to reader:  I have left it posted as it was for the purpose of this conversation].

In any event, I talked with people close to [the mega-pastor] and I think I understand his point-of-view in holding the protest.  I understand that he is protesting not the event but it’s placement in the educational system.

My problem with the protest was not with his concerns but with his methods.  There is definitely some pro-gay agenda to that event.  No doubt.  But several things are important here, 1) it is an event put on by students, not adults coming in to “indoctrinate” them.   Had it been a planned school event, hosted by the district or its employees, I think [mega-pastor] would have a better argument.   And 2) the effective end to his method was all my non-Christian friends (and everyone in Seattle) seeing Christians standing up for what they are AGAINST again.  All they saw was Christians protesting gay people.   And in that way, [mega-pastor] could have been right—and even won the battle—but because of his methods, lost the war for those people’s hearts.

Now, maybe that isn’t what [mega-pastor] wanted to communicate, but I don’t think that really matters.  That IS WHAT WAS COMMUNICATED.

So, how would I respond better?  I’m not sure.  I’m thinking it through for this year.  But, what I think would be more powerful is for Christians to EARN the right to speak into these students lives by showing up and RALLYING around the parts of it that they can support—such as the protection of the weak and vulnerable.   And even if they know there is an underlying gay agenda, to show up and demonstrate that they are FOR things like love, compassion, and grace too.

It’s an issue of language.  [Mega-pastor] didn’t speak a language that reached those students or that community.  He held a protest that made him and his followers FEEL GOOD about themselves and their convictions, but in the end, it didn’t reach a single person (that I know of) with a life-changing opportunity of faith in God.   He stood up for his rights, when he should have laid them down.  He asserted his beliefs by force, when he could have sacrificed his time and pride with unconditional love.

And in that way, I do believe that an act can be “violent” without actually being “violent.”  Well, maybe that’s not the real problem.  Maybe it was simply that it didn’t demonstrate “ultimate Jesus-like love.”

Listen, I know this is counter-intuitive.  It seems like exactly the opposite of what we should do when culture presses in on us.  It seems like we should fight back.  It seems like we should protest and pass legislation and speak loudly.   It seems ridiculous to be right but not ask for your rights.

But, I’m absolutely convinced that even though it makes no sense, it is the way of Jesus.   I think what Jesus came to teach us is that the “power-over” model of persuasion belongs to the world and not us.  In some strange way, it is the “power-under” model of love and sacrifice that wins the day.  That love wins.  Not protest.  I mean, that was Jesus’ own life model, wasn’t it?   He didn’t protest prostitutes, he loved them and forgave them.  He didn’t pass laws on greedy tax collectors, he went and ate dinner with them.   He didn’t even fight back when he was accused on trumped up charges, He choose instead to die for those who brought the charges.

Somehow, I think we have bought into the model of the world and tried to fit Jesus into it, rather than just follow the example of Christ.   And when we do that, we may very well win the battle for being “right”, but lose the hearts and souls of many people as collateral damage.

Anyway, that is a long answer to your questions, I know.  But you did ask, and I would feel bad blowing you off with some trite answers rather than the thoughts of my heart.  I only hope that I have clearly answered what you were really asking.

At any rate, it is discussions like this that I think Christians would be best served having right now.  Especially in light of new California laws and retaliations.   It may be that we have much to still learn in how to live with this righteousness “not our own.”

Give my best to your family.  I pray that you all are still enjoying Mississippi and of course that you will decide it isn’t for you and move back to Seattle!  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE.

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#1)

[Letter #1 from Mississippi – Part 2 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hi SEATTLE,

[A recent] post on your wall inspired me to go to your blog since I hadn’t been there in quite a while. I’m always up for some deep thoughts to pass the time.

Well, going down and reading the earlier posts about all the embarrassed feelings towards outspoken anti-gay-rights Christians, has gotten me thinking. I just wondered about your current take on things considering the gay marriage news and protests in response to that. I am having a hard time finding the truth in the middle of everyone’s viewpoints.

I see a pendulum swing going on within the church.  We’re trending away from the unpopular, judgmental version of Christianity, and to the extreme at times of appeasing the culture at all costs.  This is a culture saying that standing up for or even speaking the truth is equivalent to “hate.” I know Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated Him. But we don’t have to accept the world’s premise that the truth IS hate.

As long as Christians are not literally hating or holding signs that are hateful towards individuals (and I realize that goes on and it’s not cool), but if they are speaking out on the truth (marriage is sacred, gay relationships are not of equal moral value with marriages) in a non hateful way, what do you think about this?  Some people consider it hate although there is not hate involved.

There is a battle in today’s culture over having good defined as good, vs. sin being defined as “good” and to be celebrated. Yes, everyone sins and we do love the sinners, regardless of their sin.  But I don’t think we remain silent on what is good and right, and what is not.  We may not be able to live up to God’s standard but it is important for us as God’s people, the light of the world, to acknowledge that standard.

I researched this Day of Silence protest and tried to find signs or statements made by Hutch or his supporters that were hateful, and I couldn’t. Is the photo in your blog from his actual protest? Do they represent his views? It seemed that he was interested in protecting the educational rather than indoctrinational nature of schools.  He said he would be fine with them doing something like this before or after school; but not during school when students who didn’t support the movement would be penalized for not participating. Considering there is (rightly) nothing like this required by the schools in the support of Christian or other groups’ rights, doesn’t he have a point? You know he doesn’t think it’s right for gays to be harassed and bullied…this day of silence protest has to represent more than that.

I think there would be an implicit accusation that those who think homosexuality a sin ARE the oppressors and bullies, whether they harass anyone or not.  And everyone is standing in solidarity against them.  Against Christians and their hateful, judgmental, oppressive beliefs.  As a 9th or 10th grade Christian I can see where that might be intimidating and I might not want to be at school that day.

I totally get where you are coming from and your concerns as to what Christian is starting to mean in our culture. But I am just really having a hard time discerning the proper take on things like this.

I wouldn’t bother asking your thoughts if I didn’t respect where your heart is on this as it comes across in your words. I disregard what a lot of people think about this because I don’t think their hearts are as pure as they are politically motivated. So don’t take any of this as criticism (like that would bother you anyway!) but rather just a question, tell me more about what you think especially in light of recent events. Maybe you could blog about it.

Thanks for reading. I would have posted as a comment if the post weren’t 6 months old, and my point of view offensive to Christians our age, nowadays.

By the way Paytyn is adorable, and it looks like you guys are just totally sucked in! Congratulations. I think back to the days where you would get a freaked out look on your face at the idea of having kids and just have to smile. I hope you are well!

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.