Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding Jesus Christ: The meaning of sin

Click here for an explanation about this series: "Finding Jesus Christ."

We've heard Jesus make shocking claims about himself in our study of the Gospel of John, how he is the Son of God, how he came down from heaven, how he is the revelation of the Father, how we will raise the dead and judge the world someday.

But what about the side of Jesus that we love to hear about, the famous stories of how he reached out to the outcasts of his day? He healed a blind man. He defended an adulterous woman. He allowed a prostitute to wash his feet. All that good stuff. It's wonderful to think that there was once a man who crossed all boundaries, disregarding social norms and puritanical rules.

But of course Jesus claimed to be more than just a man. He claimed to be the Son of God from heaven, which means his love for people was not just across the boundaries of human differences. His love crossed the boundary that divided heaven from earth, the holy from the unholy, the glorious from the profane. So when you read about Jesus' love for the blind man and the adulteress and the prostitute, these relationships are pictures that are meant tell us something about ourselves. The lesson is not that God views some people as less lovely than others, but rather that all of us are unlovely, and yet wonderfully loved, from the divine perspective. The blind man is helpless, the adulteress is guilty, the prostitute is sinful. If you wish to receive Jesus' love, you must identify with these people. You must also view yourself as helpless, guilty and sinful.

Maybe that offends you. Maybe you're gay and I offended you by suggesting that you, as a gay man or woman, might be helpless and guilty and sinful. So let's forget about being gay. In fact, let's say for the sake of this discussion that being gay is perfectly acceptable in God's eyes. That still wouldn't change the problem of our sinfulness. Yours. Mine. Everyone's.

Maybe it will help to think of it this way. We were meant to be good. We aspire to be good and generous, even heroic. We were meant to be able to stand before God openly, not cringing, but rather testifying that we have lived our lives honorably and righteously from beginning to end. If all of us lived that way, just imagine, there would be no end to the energy, the creativity, the generosity and joy we would know from living together and sharing with one another. The human race would not be a curse to the planet, but earth's greatest blessing.

And yet there is reality. What was meant to be, is not what we are. What we desire for ourselves has never been realized by any of us. The cause of this condition is what many people call sin. We are corrupted by our sin. We are like birds with damaged wings, who retain the instinct of flight, but the best we can do is crawl along the ground. In our case we are morally and spiritually crippled. We aspire to take flight in the heights of righteousness but are permanently grounded in our own corruption.

Every Sunday at church there is a moment of silence during the service when I am asked to reflect on my conduct over the past week and confess my sins. When I first became a Christian, I used to be very pious about confessing sins. I would silently berate myself in the strongest possible adjectives over how rebellious and disgusting and perverse I have been. Now I realize that I was trying to talk myself into thinking all those things because I didn't believe I was really that sinful. Nowadays I lecture myself less because I believe those things about myself more, and even when I'm not sure I do believe it, another part of me knows better. I've seen it for myself.

Now when I sit in silent prayer, I often reflect upon how, in the past week, I have felt a great moral sluggishness. Sometimes I recall things I have done and regret, but more often the oppressive feeling comes from things I've left undone. Kind words I should have spoken, time and money I should have spent in other ways, people I should have taken time with had I been less self-absorbed. Those sins may sound less spectacular than, say, getting drunk every night, but in truth the sins of selfishness and hard-heartedness and neglect lie at the root of the sickness that plagues our entire human existence. They dog both the best and the worst among us. They ensure that everything we do, even the best and most noble achievements, will be tainted with a vague feeling of emptiness.

The true sickness of sin isn't something I can always put a finger on. I know a certain cloud of depression because of my own uselessness, and a kind of dullness in my conscience because of the excuses I've layered over it to assuage my guilt. And so I come to church to lay the entire burden upon Jesus and let him set me free with his forgiveness. The righteous don't need to be forgiven and set free. The helpless, guilty and sinful do. We love to see Jesus do this for other people, and it only costs us our pride to get in on it ourselves.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Enjoying the synchroblog

I have enjoyed reading some really interesting contributions to yesterday's Bridging the Gap Synchroblog. I'm trying to get around to reading all of them.

Here's a short list some of the posts I enjoyed, maybe because of content, or writing style, or insight:

Rising Up Whole:
I'm an ex-ex-ex-Christian (that's just a non-Christian with a very sordid past). I have been everything from a fundamentalist Christian to an angry ex-Christian. I have been an evangelical ex-gay and an apathetic agnostic. I've been on all sides. So in some ways, it's ideal that I've been asked to participate in this synchro-blog-o-rama.

Box Turtle Bulletin:
Recently I traded stinging denunciations with a writer at an organization included in the SPLA’s list of hate groups. I accused the writer of callousness and deceit and she returned the favor. But, oddly enough, this opened a dialogue between us, one which led to a later retraction of a particularly odious claim at the website of that organization.I should not have been surprised. It was hardly the first time that I found that if I tried a personal approach, many anti-gay activists are receptive to at least listening to what you have to say.

Grace Rules:
My friends who are homosexual have also taught me a lot about what it means to keep the faith. I often wonder what I would have done if I was gay. Would I be faithful to Christ or would I have just given up on the whole thing because of the way I was treated by Christians? Would I have continued to attend church, to read the bible, to sing worship songs? knowing that so many hurtful things had been said about homosexuals and done to homosexuals in the name of Christ.

It's time to retire catchphrases like "change is possible" and "freedom from homosexuality" that strongly imply a promise of orientation change. The semantic hoops that ex-gay spokespersons have to jump through to explain why these terms don't mean what they appear to mean make those same spokespersons appear as disingenuous as the oiliest politician.

SisterFriends Together:
If I can look across the gap and see him or her as God’s very own, then I stand of chance of being part of what God so longs to do among us; that we would let go of all our judgments of the other and of our need to be right and for them to be wrong, and just allow God to be God, extending Divine compassion and mercy as equally in their lives as God has shown time and again in mine.

Have fun exploring the rest of the contributions here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Synchroblog Day: Bridging the gap and breaking down walls

Today I am participating in the "Bridging the Gap Synchroblog," which means that I and about sixty other bloggers will be addressing the same issue of how to bridge the gap in our conversations with people about faith and sexuality. Be sure to check out the links to the other participating bloggers at the Bridging the Gap website. (For the occasion I have also taken the unprecedented step of enabling my comments section. Please comment appropriately and be considerate and respectful of others.)

How can we as conservative Christians "bridge the gap" in our conversations and relationships with gay friends, family members and acquaintances on the topic of homosexuality? Most evangelicals are easily able to summarize what the Bible teaches about how to relate to our neighbors: Christians should be loving and kind, patient when wronged, respectful in the face of hostility, forgiving, humble, compassionate and truthful.

So the question isn't knowing how we ought conduct ourselves as Christians. What needs to be explored is why we so often fail to relate to gay people in the loving and winsome way that the Bible so clearly outlines.

I believe the answer is that Christians cannot bring down the walls between ourselves and the gay community until we have confronted the walls that exist in our own hearts--fear, pride, insecurity about our own faith. The biggest challenges are not "out there," rather they lie within. I remember the three biggest challenges I faced when, as a conservative Christian, I first began the process of "building bridges" with people in the gay community.

When I first became interested in trying to understand where gay and lesbian people were coming from, I had already been taught by many highly respected church leaders that homosexuals were particularly depraved individuals who had strayed so far from the will of God they actually chose to pervert themselves by living the gay lifestyle. A good Christian girl like me would have absolutely nothing in common with these sordid types, so I initially thought my big challenge would be knowing how to talk to them at all. Yet what I encountered in real life was completely different from what I had been told to expect. I met ordinary people, many of whom were professing Christians, who never wanted to be gay in the first place. Some had contemplated suicide in their teens, others had spent their young adult years in therapy trying to change. Many finally came to terms with their situation only later on in life and at last found the courage to make the best of it. I felt it would have been wrong to despise these people, and I even found myself relating on so many levels to the heart-breaking stories I heard.

I had been told to hate the sin of homosexuality. What I encountered were people who had fought a battle with self-hatred for so long, the last thing I wanted to do was dogpile on their pain. I had been told to enlighten these people with the gospel. What I encountered was only my own tremendous ignorance, my own need to be enlightened about what it was like to be in their shoes.

And so the first challenge I faced was whether to follow the righteous exhortations of godly Christian leaders I admired and trusted, or go with my own instincts in an entirely different direction, based on my own conclusions about gay people that--apparently--no other Christian in the world had ever come to except me. (Or so it seemed.)

Any serious Christian would much rather submit to the majority consensus of the church than run the risk of being wise in one's own eyes. I wasn't any different. What ultimately made me press forward was that I saw clear opportunities before me to love people instead of despise them, to understand instead of judge, to listen instead of command--and that path just seemed more in line with what the Bible taught. It was as simple as that. And yet even though I knew I had good reason to follow that path, I was sick with fear. Fear of being a maverick, fear of being unsubmissive, fear that I might appear rebellious, fear that my reputation in the church might be damaged. All that fear was a barrier that needed to be crossed.

This soon led to the second major challenge I had to confront, which was the difficulty of having to face people at church every Sunday, knowing that I was going against the standard wisdom that most of them embraced about homosexual people. The church had always been like family to me, from the time I first came to Christ as a teenager. My fellow Christians were people who worshipped with me, invited me over for dinner, prayed for me when I was in need, brought meals to my house when I was laid up, loaded boxes into my U-Haul when I had to move--and I did the same for them in return. To go against what these good people, my dearest friends, believed about homosexuality, and to side instead with what everyone called "the homosexual agenda," felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Like some bout with insanity that I just needed to snap out of.

The only way I could to deal with the nearly unbearable tension was to remember that as much as my church family meant to me, my first responsibility was to follow Jesus Christ. And I simply found it difficult to believe that Jesus would reach out to harlots, tax collectors, demoniacs, lepers and heretics but would disapprove of me reaching out to homosexuals, because it might upset some of my Christian friends. So in my heart I had to let go of my need for my friends' good opinion. Later on, when some of them found out my views and let go of me for good, I remembered Jesus once again, that by the time he'd made it to the cross at the end of his life he was alone. It meant that however painful loneliness might be, I could at least take comfort that there was no shame in it.

The third major challenge was probably the most serious. As I got deeper into the issue--talking with gay and lesbian people, reading books, having email exchanges--I began to realize that the conclusions I was coming to about the nature of homosexuality were presenting a challenge to my own Bible-believing faith. Because if people weren't choosing to be homosexual, why would God allow this to happen to them? Why would he allow something to befall them that would so alienate them from their families, their communities, their churches? Why would he allow a person's sexuality, that sacred part of a human being, to be messed with, so that their chance of enjoying a love that could be both personally fulfilling and socially acceptable is permanently sabotaged? Is God cruel? Is the Bible mistaken?

Over time my faith survived these challenges, and has even grown stronger as a result. But I can also appreciate how much easier it is for us to burrow deep down into our churches and cling to simple, cut-and-dried explanations about homosexuality rather than expose the vulnerabilities of our faith to something much more complex. And yet if we are willing to admit this much, we should at least try to be honest with ourselves when it comes to befriending gay and lesbian people. How much of our inability to love them is rooted in our personal insecurity about our Christian faith? When we argue with them, aren't we sometimes just trying to protect our own beliefs? When we insist that they are unrighteous, might that be just another way of asserting our own righteousness, so that we can temporarily silence the doubts we have about ourselves as Christians?

I have been on this journey for nearly ten years, and although it may appear to others, and even to myself at times, that this has been about trying to break down walls and build bridges between myself and gay and lesbian people, I know that for me it is really about something far greater. Like many of the challenges that Jesus Christ calls me to, I realize that his ultimate purpose for me has not been the challenge itself, but to teach me more about himself, so that I might understand more deeply his life, his heart and his word. Simply put, I have had to trust him. For that reason, I could never regret any of it, whatever the journey has cost me along the way. I have become richer in Christ, and that has fully compensated me for whatever else I may have lost.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Synchroblogging on June 24

I've been invited by Wendy Gritter of New Direction Ministries to participate in a "synchroblog" on June 24. A bunch of us will be blogging on the same topic, namely, how to break down the dividing walls between the Christian and the gay communities, particularly in conversations about faith and sexuality. I'm not sure how the logistics is going to work out, but I'm assuming my only job is to post my piece on this blog and see what happens.

I understand that June 24th was chosen because it falls in the middle Pride Week for many cities, when animosity between Christians and gays comes to a head. And so the purpose of our synchroblogging is to provide an antidote to the usual hostility, a peaceful and constructive conversation about a normally divisive subject.

Some of the bloggers will be reviewing the new DVD put out by New Direction Ministries called "Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbours." (The ministry is located in Canada--hence, "neighbours" with a "u.") I've only seen the trailer:

I don't know when I'll get to watch the entire DVD, but I'm more than glad to see other Christians trying to address the topic of homosexuality in a winsome and intelligent way.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Do you like this blog?

You might be interested to know that the author's Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ. The INTJ type is sometimes referred to as The Scientist. The Keirsey Temperament Sorter also calls it The Mastermind.

I'm still trying to figure out what this means for me. But if you like reading this blog, maybe it also says something about you.