Same sex marriage equality

In light of the Supreme Court hearings and future decisions about same sex marriages in the states, I wanted to reflect on this personally. I wrote a little about my personal journey toward LGBTQ inclusion here, and someday I may write about how to understand same sex marriage in light of Scripture, but today I felt like writing something more from the heart than the head.

Same-sex marriage supporters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The rights of married same-sex couples will come under scrutiny at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday in the second of two landmark cases being considered by the top judicial panel. After the nine justices mulled arguments on a California law that outlawed gay marriage on Tuesday, they will take up a challenge to the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law prevents couples who have tied the knot in nine states -- where same-sex marriage is legal -- from enjoying the same federal rights as heterosexual couples. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

While there are many nuances, there are clearly two major sides to the LGBTQ argument.

First, you have the conservative side who believe same sex marriage is a compromise, a redefinition of traditional marriage that God instituted to be between one man and one women. This group also see’s itself as defending truth (actually, somewhat ironically this is true of both sides), but more importantly they see themselves defending the Bible and 2,000 years of church tradition.

Second, you have the more progressives that see same sex marriage as a civil rights issue. Just like slavery and racial issues, it is about equality. This group wants to see equal rights given to all those in same sex marriages that are given to those in heterosexual marriages. While many are not religious, this group also contains a growing number of religious people that believe God has created each person, gay or straight, in God’s image. They do not interpret the Bible to condemn same sex marriage, but believe it is God’s desire for everyone who wants to be in a committed relationship to enjoy this.

Let me be up front, I’m a progressive – no if’s and’s or but’s about it!

But, I haven’t always been.

I vividly remember about 7 years ago a good friend suggesting that same sex marriages is the slavery issues of our day. This was the first, of many times I would hear this. Sadly, I didn’t know how to respond. I’m going to be honest here, I was raised to see homosexuality as a sin and I had never questioned this and I was in my mid 20s! When my friend said this, I was speechless. I wonder what he thought as I starred at him not knowing what to think or to say. He handled it well, but it left me with many questions.

You see my friend and I were on very similar pages in almost all theological, political,  and ecological issues so this surprised me. I am very thankful for this conversation, and many others since, that have forced me to think more deeply upon this.

As I mentioned, I grew up in a conservative Christian environment and viewed homosexuality as a sin. It was wrong and God hated it. I remember frequently using phrases growing up such as, “what are you gay?”, “dude, that’s so gay”, etc. Though it was done in  ignorance, I regret these things. There very well may have been someone wrestling with their sexuality, and I was only adding to the pain and confusion.

This also lead to a feeling of self righteousness within me. I felt I had the truth and gay people needed to hear it. It was the loving thing to do, or so I thought. I spoke out against homosexuality in ways I believed were in line with the ways God would speak out against it. I argued with those who were from the LGBTQ community, and I am ashamed to say, I added to their pain and marginalization. I alienated them. Deep down inside I felt righteous because they were wrong and I was right.

Our culture is shifting and American’s are more likely to be inclusive. This is also reflected in the religious shift where many denominations that once opposed same sex marriage have now become inclusive. There is also a growing number of evangelicals who have shifted their understandings.

Here’s what I predict.

Same sex marriage will be legal in all 50 US cities (this seems pretty clear).

Conservatives, while becoming less influential, will entrench themselves and try to stake out as much area as possible. They will continue to believe that they are standing for God’s truth and will see themselves as many have in the past who have stood against the greater secular culture.

This is where we, as progressives, have a choice.

I shared a little of my background in hope to show how conservatives think. They truly believe they are right, and progressives are wrong. They truly believe they are defending God’s truth, God’s word, in the face of relativism and increasing secularism. While I do believe this group will decrease, they will continue to push for influence and power for they believe they have a righteous cause. I think they are wrong, but I also relate to them because I understand what it is like to be in their shoes.

Here is my hope.

My hope is that as progressives, we do not debate or argue in hurtful ways. My hope is that as the consciousness shifts and we sense momentum on our side, that we exercise restraint and keep from lashing out at those who make us angry or hurt us because of their words. My hope is that we don’t take all of the pain, hurt, frustration that we have felt (Esp. those from the LGBTQ community who have been most affected) and unleash it upon conservatives. While we are tempted to do this, I suspect this temptation will only increase. I think there is a better way – the way of Jesus.

In a recent interview, one of the leading and most influential theologians,  Walter Brueggemann, was asked about the LGBTQ community and acceptance. He responded:

The only thing that will change people’s minds about this is getting to know people who happen to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, and what you discover is that they’re people just like us. To overcome our fears, I think it is basically fear, means getting to know people and to see that they are not a threat.

I think there is a time for clear, thoughtful, Biblical instruction, but that is most helpful when someone is open and seeking. In my experience, the majority of the time we are firing missiles back and forth and arguing biblical texts in a way that misses the point. If someone asks, we should be able to have an answer, but the majority of conservatives are not asking but are seeking to persuade. Does this mean we sit back idly? Absolutely not! But it does mean that in our dialogue what stands out above all else is not how persuasive we are or how firm we are or how convinced we are, but how loving and compassionate we are – yes our actions do indeed speak louder than our words.

I changed from one who was extremely opposed to same sex marriage to one who is fighting for it. This change was a slow process, and much of this change was influenced by those who I knew that were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  l began to see these people as…well…people just like myself.  I believe all people, gay or straight,  are loved and accepted by the God revealed in Jesus.

If you are a part of the LGBTQ community my heart is with you. You are not in an easy place. While there is a shift, it will take time and you will no doubt continue to experience pain and frustration. For whatever it is worth, I stand with you. We can have sound, thoughtful reasons for fighting for same sex marriage equality. While we continue to press forward, as progressives, let’s rise above the angry and hostile debates and seek to offer gentle and loving answers. Let’s allow our lives and actions to speak (along with our words), for our actions do speak louder. Let my story be an example that conservatives can change, but this change will not be brought about by anger or bitterness but by people seeing love within us.  Conservatives believe they are on the right side, fighting for truth and for God, let’s allow our lives to show that the divine love is shining in and through us.

May we have grace in the midst of this difficult and exciting time as we look forward to a future where our children and grandchildren will not know a time where this was ever an issue!

The connections of health and spirituality – part 1

A little over 2 weeks ago I made a drastic change to my diet.

Here’s some reflections from this journey I’m on.

Health, like spirituality, can be done a number of different ways.

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1) One can choose to fly at 30,000 feet by taking a path toward the most common ways of better health.. Basically this means that someone can cut out the major junk foods in their life and exercise on a semi regular basis and they will likely see an improvement.

2) One can fly at 10,000 feet and try a slightly more specialty diet. About a year in a half ago my family and I greatly reduced gluten, sugar, and many processed foods. We also bought much of our food organic – esp the dirty dozen. I also tried to exercise on a regular basis, but I admit it was usually fairly light. Better a little exercise than none. In our experience many people are actually doing this as health, esp. nutritious eating, is a growing awareness.

3) One can choose to fly at 1,000 ft by creating a diet that is specifically geared toward you. This is what I am currently attempting to do. I wanted to get healthier, and even though I felt I was already more healthy than the average, I just felt I needed to take another step. I needed to lose weight and as I increased my exercise regiment I became more aware of my body and it’s reaction to food. Since my wife is a naturopathic medical student (bonus!)  we receive a discount when we see an ND (Naturopathic Doctor). I decided to take advantage of this and establish a patient history and take a food sensitivity test – I was also inspired by some great friends who have testified to the effectiveness of this. I figured I was likely sensitive to a few things that I was eating and was hoping to find out what they were so I could cut them out, but to my surprise my test came back with a little more than just a few foods (and I was fairly healthy…or at least thought I was).

What does this have to do with spirituality?

Similar to health, one can pursue a deeper form of spirituality by using the most common approaches or by slightly modifying them, but I have become increasingly persuaded that we are each individuals and must find our own unique path. Of course, just like health, there will be many commonalities that will overlap between everyone, but finding one’s own path I think is important and most beneficial.

Just as we may need to detox our body by getting ride of foods we may be sensitive to, we may need to detox our lives from things that have just gotten a hold of us a little to much.

Someone may benefit from eating tomatoes, but for someone else (myself for example) it may cause a reaction or inflammation because of their sensitivity. For some of us 10 or 20 minutes of Scripture reading (or other reading) may be most beneficial, but for someone else 10 or 20 minutes of contemplative prayer or meditation may be most beneficial. For someone it may be most beneficial to attend a church service, but for someone else it may be most beneficial to spend time in the outdoors or serving at a food pantry. As I write this, I also want to include that I whole-heartily believe that community is important, but I do not think that just by attending a church service makes one “spiritual” – sometimes, as Richard Rohr recently said on Oprah, “Religion can be the best place to hide from God”. Maybe journaling is helpful? Maybe seeing a spiritual director would be helpful? Maybe just setting up a meeting with a friend to be brutally honest about a struggle would be helpful?Maybe serving at a local food pantry or something similar would be helpful? Maybe a two or three day retreat would be helpful?

The list could be endless.

What I hope to convey is that just because someone spends longer in prayer, doesn’t automatically make them more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t. Maybe someone spends time gardening and finds that it centers them deeply. Just because someone attends church every week, doesn’t automatically mean they are more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t. Just because someone reads Scripture for an hour doesn’t automatically mean they are more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t.

So the question then becomes what is your path? What do you do that helps you feel centered, grounded, connected, awakened?

Relating this to my own tradition, Jesus invited others to follow him. This was a journey, a process, and not a cookie cutter template for all – though of course there will be some commonalities. I think it may be helpful early on in our journey’s to have guidance in a more generalized approached, e.g., read Scripture for 10 minutes and journal for 10 minutes. Eventually though, I think the journey will take each of us to a better understanding of our own individual spirituality and what things help us grow the most. For example, in the last year I have found contemplative prayer to be one of the most meaningful things in my life. Before it was journaling, though I still engage in this from time to time. Also I have begun to see a spiritual director which has helped me on my path.

Here’s my conviction.

Spirituality, like health, is not a one size fits all, but is something that is unique to each individual.

Does the Bible contradict itself?

A few weeks ago I wrote about genocide that was commanded by God in the Bible. This week I wanted to finish the two part serious on Peter Enns book, The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made US Unable To Read It.

Some would deny that the Bible contracts itself or offers differing perspectives, but anyone who has studied the Bible in depth cannot deny these – though many do enter into intense gymnastics to jump around or try to explain away the contradictions.

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Enns talks about the fact that there are four different gospel stories that do not all line up perfectly. It should also be noted that while these gospels are traditionally attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, these disciples were unlikely the authors of these gospel accounts (John is one exception – though it was redacted heavily). Each gospel writer tells their story in unique ways because they were addressing a specific audience and wanted to get specific points across.

The birth of Jesus is not even mentioned in Mark (the first gospel written) or John. Many scholars agree that Matthew most likely created some of his birth stories (e.g. the Magi and killing of babies by King Herod).

And then there’s the resurrection story.

Who is first to find an empty tomb?

In Matthew it was two women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and are greeted by an earthquake and an angel.

In Luke there are many women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the other women. No earthquake and not angel but two men (the two men could be interpreted as angels).

Marks gospel has a shorter and a longer ending. The longer ending was most likely added on sometime in the second century. The shorter ending has four who visit the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Solome. They see one man (not two) and do not experience an earthquake.

John’s story has Mary Magdalene who goes alone to the empty tomb and runs back to tell the disciples. Peter and another disciple race back to the tomb. There is no angel, no man, and no earthquake.

So we have four differing accounts. Was it two women? Four women? One women? Did they see an angel or angels or men? Was there an earthquake? These answers depend upon which gospel story one is reading from.

Enns then writes about the two differing stories within the Christian Old Testament. The first story is told in 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings while the Israelites were in exile. The second story that was written about two centuries later, after the exile, is 1 & 2 Chronicles. These two stories note different details and do not always agree.

This reminds me a lot of the prophets which we talked about at length my Hebrew Bible class. The different prophets challenged each other, saw things differently, and disagreed because each was wrestling through their current context in light of the past and trying their best to see into the future.

2 Samuel 24 states, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them…”

1 Chronicles 21 states, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.”

So which is it? Was it God or was it Satan? (I wrote about the evolution of the view of Satan here).

Below is a short (not exhaustive list) of other places the Bible contradicts itself take from a great book by Kenton Sparks titled Sacred Word Broken Word: Biblical Authority & the Dark Side of Scripture

In some places God changing God’s mind and others claim that God never changes God’s mind – Gen 6:6-7; James 1:17

Some places describe God as having a physical body and others no body – Is 6:1; Amos 9:1; Jn 4:24.

Some texts say that Israel knew God’s name as Yahweh, while other texts say that they did not know God’s name – Gen 28:16; Ex 6:2-3.

Some texts tell Israel to boil the Passover meal and another forbids boiling it – Deut 16:7, Ex 12:9.

Some texts declare that God will judge the children of sinners and others say that God will not harm them – Ex 20:5; Deut 24:16.

One text says that Jesus’ family was originally from Nazareth, and another that says Bethlehem – Luke 2:1-4; Matt 1-2.

One text says that Jesus’ family moved to Nazareth soon after his birth, and another that says this took place several years after – Luke 2:39-40; Matt 1-2.

One text declares that there is no excuse for idol worshipers and another gives them an excuse – Rom 1:18-23; Acts 17:29-31.

One text says David paid 50 shekels of silver for Israel’s temple site, and another that says he paid 600 shekels of gold – 2 Sam 24:24; I Chron 21:25.

The Bible claims there was a world wide flood that killed almost everything, but geological  evidence proves this never happened.

If one reads the Bible seriously, one cannot just ignore these things and claim the Bible is without error.

How then should we read these stories?

I think a better way to read these stories is to ask why the original authors wrote these stories down the way they did. There was a point, a reason, why these stories exist (and others don’t) and continued to be passed along.

If one believes that God inspired the Bible, and believes that God’s Spirit was at work among the people who canonized the Bible, then we have these stories for a reason. I do not think that the reason we have these stories is to give us a rule book for how we are to live in the 21st century, but rather they are to give us a way people have engaged with the divine through their perspectives, their times, and in their places.

The Bible, as Enns suggests, is not a simple how-to manuel where we look how God acted in one stories and we extract that to mean that is how God acts in all times and places. The Bible is much more complex than that.

I cannot write without adding what I see as the crux of the story – Jesus. I read the Bible as a human journey to better understanding God, i.e. progressive revelation. This revelation climaxes in Jesus who I believe is the image of God. Jesus shows us that God is not distant, angry, or punitive, but is loving, forgiving, and merciful.

Unfortunately, a lot of violence has been and continues to be done in the name of a non violent and loving God. I would say that this god is not the god revealed in Jesus, but just as the Israel often viewed God as violent because of their consciousness at the time, we continue to struggle with ways to better understand God today. In this way the Bible seems most relevant to us in the 21st century!

 

Easter

Where will you go when you die?

This is the question isn’t it? I mean, this is the singular question I was raised with and if I’m honest I preached on many occasions and in many situations.

Isn’t this what Easter is all about?

Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we can go to heaven instead of hell when we die. So the question then becomes, “if you were to die today, where would you go?”

Sound familiar?

Now, I have come to see the death and resurrection in a very different light, but I still think that what happens after you die really matters. What we think about when we think about the life after death will shape us in powerful ways. So, those who are religious and think that the majority of people will spend the rest of their lives in eternal conscious torment, have a very compelling message – it’s just that it is actually not really good news…at least not to the majority of people.

As I mentioned, what happens when you die is important, but if we are honest, we really know little about it. This is a topic for another time (maybe next week). I just wanted to be clear that this is important, but also that much of it is very unclear.

That being said, to boil the biblical narrative down to this one simple question is to oversimplify everything and loose so much in the process. In fact, when we focus on this question alone we miss the most important parts of the story!

In Genesis we get a poem where God creates and calls it good. Animals, plants, the solar system, sex, water, dirt, – it’s all good – including humanity.

In Revelation we get a vision of a city coming down and God creating things new. This is about reconciliation and not about destruction.

What about the resurrection of Jesus?

Dallas Willard writes, “Salvation then becomes not something about the afterlife, but about the life that comes into us now – enters us by the Spirit of God from above. Above is right here. It is resurrection life. That is salvation.”

Rob Bell writes, “Resurrection affirms the goodness of creation, reminding us of our sacred responsibility to care for it well.”

Even Jesus prayed for God’s hope and dream (kingdom) to come to earth – I think we should see the life of Jesus as a movement of heaven to earth not the other way around.

So, when we celebrate and remember the resurrection of Jesus we are reminded that life is breaking in right here, right now. This world matters. Your life, your health, your job, your friendships, your family…all of it is good…all of it is sacred…all of it matters!

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I’m thankful to be part of a church that holds as one of its core values that following Jesus is just as much about this world as the next.

This world matters!

But also within that statement is not the denial that the age to come doesn’t matter. Following Jesus is about this life AND the life to come, but when we understand that God is for the flourishing of this life, then why would we not  believe God would want that to continue into the next life?

 

Good Friday

I was taught that when Jesus died on the cross, that somehow he took the sin of the world upon himself and because God is righteous, and cannot stand to be near to sin, God turned God’s back of Jesus when Jesus cried out while hanging on the cross, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Crucifixion

This teaching became something I struggled with when a friend of mine told me that while reading a children’s book to his daughter it painting the same picture as above, only his daughter asked why God would turn God’s back on God’s Son. Was it because God didn’t love God’s Son? Was God angry at Jesus? Why would God turn away?

Sometimes it takes the curiosity and insight of a child who is not intimidated to ask the hard questions to reveal how destructive our own thinking can be.

How one understands Good Friday deeply shapes how one pictures God – for better or for worse.

Good Friday has become an important day for me, and the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” have been deeply comforting in my own Fridays. It is comforting because I no longer interpret this to mean that God’s back was turned and Jesus suffered alone. Think about it, what kind of picture does this paint of God?

Does God leave us when we endure our own Fridays? Does God turn God’s back every time I mess up? What about times I mess up a little? How big does my mess up need to be? If God turned God’s back on Jesus, God’s Son, how can I trust that God will be with me when I endure a crisis of my own?

If I understand Good Friday to be the day God turned God’s back on Jesus, and God did this because God can’t be close to sin, that means God’s back is turned toward me a lot of the time. This will deeply form one’s psyche and will affect the way one lives in very destructive ways!

So, what is meant when Jesus cries out on the cross? First, it has helped me to understand that Jesus was echoing a lament found in the Psalms. Psalms 22v1-2 say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

Have you ever felt this way?

This is a powerful lament filled with emotion that echo my words every time I go through a Friday of my own. Each of us has gone through our own Friday, and many of us have gone through several. In our Fridays, we endure loss, grief, pain, confusion, etc. If we are honest we all have asked two questions: “Why is this happening?” and “Where are you in the midst of this God?” This, I think, is the very heart of the Psalmists lament.

So, when Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me”, he is not giving a statement, but expressing a very human emotion, “God, where are you?”

Have you felt alone? Have you felt like God has rejected you, or turned away from you? Have you ever felt lost because you just didn’t understand why something was happening?

Good Friday is powerful because it reflects that Jesus felt the same way you and I do when we go through a difficult season in our lives. Jesus understands our pain, suffering, confusion, and loneliness that each of us has felt and some of us are feeling right now.

As we know though, the story doesn’t end there. Somehow, in a very mysterious way, God was working in the midst of Good Friday to bring about reconciliation. In the midst of death, God worked to bring about new life.

This is the Christian Hope. The Christian Hope then, is not that we have all the answers, or that we never falter in our faith or never doubt that God is present. The Christian Hope is that even when we feel alone, confused, lost or frustrated that somehow, in someway, God is working in the middle of all this to bring about new life.

May you experience this Hope in new and fresh ways this Good Friday.