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TORN November 23, 2012

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TORN
Rescuing The Gospel From The Gays-Vs-Christians Debate.
– Justin Lee

I’ve read a number of books and articles concerning “gays-vs-Christians.”  (I found Mel White’s “Holy Terror” to be very informative.)

Anyway, when I heard that Justin Lee was writing a book about the subject, I thought “Well. That’s nice.”

I figured it would be an OK book.  I mean, I’m a fan and promoter of his ministry. Still, with all I’ve read, I didn’t really expect anything, well, “special.”

Let me say now, this book is special.

I read one reviewer who said that, much of the time, it was like he was reading his own story.  There are strong marked differences between Justin’s story and mine.  Still, there is much here to which I can relate.

This is an incredibly intimate, raw, real testimony of an amazing young man (nicknamed “Godboy” as a youth) who’s heart for God is primary to his being. [The Force is strong in this one.]

“Torn” is a memoir, but it’s more than that.  It’s also an expose on misinformation.  And, it’s a call, not to arms, but to peace.  It’s written, not with animosity, but with truth spoken in love.  Love towards those whom, greatly due to a lack of understanding, continue to cause damage, oppression, and heartache to God’s LGBT children.

We’re told many personal stories.  If this were a work of fiction, the first chapters of “Torn” would be considered “character development ”  It’s like we really get to know Justin.  He tells us of his realization of being gay, coming out to family and friends, the rejection and hostility from those who should be providing help and support, and later, his experience with the ex-gay movement ( a movement with which I also have first-hand knowledge.)

Speaking of which…

If I have one “fault” to find in “Torn,” it’s that, while discussing the “ex-gay” myth, Justin more than once mentions gay men stuck in “straight” marriages they are not happy with.
That’s fine.  It’s a common occurrence.
But he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there are those who,  while reconciled with and accepting of their same-sex attractions, are happily married and genuinely sexually attracted to their opposite-sex spouse, with that spouse being the only opposite-sex attraction.  [Many may fall into the EXex-gay category.]  Yes, these are a minority within a minority, but I’m finding there are more than one might expect.

Moving on.

In the 5th chapter, “Why Are People Gay,” the theories, research and science of why people are gay is addressed.  If you’ve never really looked at the facts that we have (and what we don’t have) this is good introductory material.

In the mid 70’s, someone in our youth group would jokingly say to another, “You know the way you are?  Quit being that way!”
In the chapter “South Park Christians” we examine the reality of that flawed philosophy.  We see that all too often, Christians end up imitating Job’s “comforters” rather that Christ.  Sometimes, sadly, a Christian friend is the last person you can trust.  Well-meaning people, generally loving people, can sow seeds of discord and hate when they think they know things that they really don’t know.

At one point, Justin discovers “The Other Side,” and gets to see what the “party” life is like for many gays.  The thing is, gay or straight, that kind of life is a dangerous road.  It’s a life that Justin knows simply doesn’t mesh with his belief system.

In “Back to the Bible,” we examine the historical, cultural, and “translational” context of the so-called “clobber passages” which some Christians are so anxious to quote (misquote).  Mr. Lee is by no means the first to offer this study, but I must say his presentation is one of the best I’ve read.  Again, his love of God and commitment to truth shine through.

We glean truth from “The Princess Bride, and later from “Fiddler On The Roof.”   Justin quotes from Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” which is a book I also highly recommend.  (Actually, I used that to teach a Sunday School class years ago.  It was that book that provided one of the first steps that led to my “coming out” of right-wing fundamentalism.)
Justin is also honest enough to show that he, too, is not immune to stereotyping the “other.”

There are many insights that Justin gives on how to relate gay friends and family members; material very much needed in the evangelical community.
We’re given suggestions on how to create a better world and “see the church become what God has called her to be.”

One very important factor to remember here is that Justin was not sexually active.  He was not looking for any justification of his actions.  He did and does believe in committed, monogamous relationships.  He was seeking God for whatever God wanted of him, no matter where that would lead.   You’ll be hard pressed to find a more “Bible-based,” Christ-centered approach to the subject matter than you’ll find in “Torn.”

As you read “Torn,” and as Mr. Lee shares from his heart and life, one of two things, I think, will happen:
Either your heart will soften, or it will harden.  I can’t imagine it would remain unchanged.

I check my blog stats often, so I know I have had hundreds of readers from all over the globe.  Most of them, of course, I’ve never met.  Many are now facebook “friends.”  I’ve no idea how many “non-virtual” friends or family members read my writings.  But to all reading now, near and far, known and unknown, if you ever considered reading a book I recommend, make “Torn” that book.
Wherever you stand on gay equality, or the Christian/gay “debate,” if you’ve the slightest interest in having an informedrational discussion of the subject, if you honestly seek understanding, if you want to be a part of reconciliation instead of alienation, you owe it to yourself, and really, to the gay and lesbian friends and family you may not even know you have, to read “Torn.”
I ask you, I encourage you, I implore you, please, read this book.

– df

Buy the book.  Click HERE.


“The most important book I’ve read in years.” – Rachel Held Evans

“This is the book that every Evangelical, Charismatic, and Roman Catholic Christian should read on the question of homosexuality.” – Brian D. McLaren

“This book is full of three things that are not always much in evidence in our debates on sexuality; fresh air, common sense and manifest love of Christ.” – Dr. Rowan Wilson, Archbishop of Canterbury

Buy the book.  Click HERE.


A few quotes:


– Though none of them knew it, they were talking about me.  Laughing at me.  condemning me.  And it was getting to me.

– Dialogue means we must set aside our own prejudices and language preferences for the sake of communication…
gracious dialogue is hard for a lot of people.  It feels wishy-washy to them.

– The church’s “antihomosexual” reputation isn’t just a reputation for opposing gay sex or gay marriage; it’s a reputation for hostility to gay people.

– Because of the way Jesus read and applied Scripture, I could no longer justify condemning a loving, committed, Christ-centered relationship based solely on gender.

– More than anything in the world, I wanted to represent my God well, and I prayed every day for the opportunities to do so.
Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– Some parents have kicked their kids out, disowned them, and written them out of their wills.  Some have even told their kids they wished they were dead.

– Gay…straight…bi-sexual…These words don’t tell us anything about the person’s behaviors, beliefs, or plans for the future; they only tell us to whom the person is generally attracted.

– I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology.

– Outsiders say our hostility toward gays–not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals–has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith. (Kinnaman/Lyons in “unChristian”)

– I knew things were going to be okay.  And God was going to be with me.  The church, however, was another matter.

– A little information can alter our entire understanding of a situation.

– No one wanted to wait tables on Sundays…[Christians were] usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers…
if you see your table praying before a meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.  [To see how this relates to the subject matter, Buy the book.  Click HERE.]

– So when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, it was a big deal.  Here he was, claiming to represent God, and yet he wasn’t even following one of the most important of all God’s commandments.

– The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ.  Christ did not come to lead us to the law…
everything in the Bible points to Jesus.

– What if we were turning people away from God by misapplying the Bible?

– It is possible to live in loving, Christian community in the midst of significant theological disagreements.

– Stephen Covey reminds us…”seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  We can’t skip the first step in order to get to the second.
Buy the book.  Click HERE.


Related Links:

Through My Eyes

GCN Online Teaching Videos

For The Bible Tells Me So

A Time To Embrace

Fall To Grace

Give A Damn: Faith

For some of my related experience, read

Tribbles

and

Here I Am

 

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? November 16, 2012

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
– Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World –

Brian D. McLaren


This is a very important and timely book.  Many are so tired of how Christianity has been co-opted, they’ve opted out of Christianity all together.
Others have  “watered down” their identity to the point of making it meaningless.   Brian believes we do not have to choose between a “Strong, hostile” Christianity and a “Weak, benign” Christianity.
There is a third way, he proposes, of a “Strong, benevolent” Christian identity;  one that can love, respect, and walk along side those of other faiths without needing to convert them, or be converted by them.  
He proposes that we can find common ground, since no one religion has a monopoly on God.  And we better understand the “kingdom of God,” as the commonwealth of God.”

The suggestions written here are not all theory or conjecture.  Brian has put this walking-with-the-other into practice.


Early on we look at “Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome (CRIS).”  This is where we know “there is something good and real in [our] faith,” and yet we can no longer abide the “hostility toward the cherished religions of [our] non-Christian neighbors.”  This, in part, is what caused Anne Rice to proclaim “In the name of Christ…I quit Christianity.”
We look in detail at the “Us – Them” mentality that has caused such horrors throughout history.  We see that the histories that are told, who tells them, and where they start the story, shapes our worldview.  We look at the historical realities of Christopher Columbus to illustrate the point.  Of course, in this type of discussion, there’s also no way around talking about the almost unimaginable influence of Emperor Constantine on Christianity, from which we’ve still not escaped.

In another section, an amazing section,  we imagine new ways to interpret and practice the beloved doctrines of Christianity; ways that are, in fact, more in line with the life and teachings of Jesus.
The chapter in the section on baptism was awe-inspiring.  It makes me want to get baptized again, with this new, fuller, and better understanding.

The chapters of the next section cover our liturgical practices.  We see how our liturgies can camouflage injustice, usually without our even being conscience of it.  But we also discover how we can participate in holy celebrations in ways that are loving and inclusive without giving up our own identity and convictions.
McLaren gives many good suggestions for transforming Lent, Easter, Christmas, and other Christian traditions.
And, of immense importance, we are challenged to “read and teach the Bible responsibly and ethically, following the strong and benevolent examples of Paul and Jesus.
We will pick all passages that advocate hostility, vengeance, exclusion, elitism, and superiority to remind us of where we would be if not for Christ.
And we will choose all passages that advocate reconciliation, empathy, inclusion, solidarity, and equality to remind us of where we are going and who we are called to be in Christ.”

“The Missional Challenge” portion looks at what “missions” has meant, versus the actual missions to which we are called. There is a huge, grave difference between trying to convert others to your religion, and doing the hard work of love, healing, and justice that Jesus actually taught.

Let me say, although this book is primarily directed to Christians, the principles apply to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and, well pretty much everybody.  (One of the “recommendations” listed is from a Rabbi.)

I know many seem to think that a benevolent approach is all about compromising beliefs, being wishy-washy, etc. etc.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,”
“All roads lead to God,” and so on.
I must admit, at one time I also thought that way.  Hey, that’s what I was taught.   This new book from Brian McLaren goes a long way toward showing that nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s like Papa said in The Shack:  “Most roads don’t lead anywhere, [but] I will travel any road to find you.”

Not everyone is comfortable with lack-of-conflict.  As Brian states, “There are few actions better guaranteed to engender conflict than proposing love and understanding for those identified as outsiders and enemies.”
But for those willing to take the chance, they will find a better Christian identity.  A truer Christian identity.  One rooted in Christ-likeness, expressing “Christ-like character, Christ-like vision, and Christ-like virtues and values,” treating others with “understanding, respect, human-kindness, [and] benevolence.”


Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Quotes:

– The stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view.

– I have no doubt that Jesus would actually practice the neighborliness he preached rather than follow our example of religious supremacy, hostility, fear, isolation, misinformation, exclusion, or demonization.

– Jesus himself spoke pithily and often about religious absurdity.  He surely elicited some laughs when he portrayed religious leaders as straining at gnats and swallowing camels, whitewashing tombs, scrubbing only the outside of a filthy bowl, and so on.  His whole ministry was a kind of guerrilla theatre.

– God is not a doctrine to be mastered but a mystery to be mastered by.

– We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– [A] gracious space of solidarity…is what Jesus called “The kingdom of God.”

– There is nothing that hurts any religion today more than it’s own establishment.

– The tensions between our conflicted religions arise not from out differences, but from one thing we all hold in common: an oppositional religious identity that derives strength from hostility.

– [We must] go through a profound rethinking of our history.

– A distorted doctrine of chosen-ness tells many sincere but misguided Christian Zionists that the Jews have been chosen by God to own certain land without concern for the well-being of their non-Jewish neighbors.  Sadly, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, for all their differences, have imitated each other again and again in misunderstanding and misapplying this doctrine of chosen-ness.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– Jesus has often been presented as a weapon and a threat, more wolf of God than lamb of God, filled more with the spirit of a hawk than a dove, more avenger of heretics than friend of sinners.

– [We must be] willing to challenge violent and exclusive conceptions of God in light of the nonviolent and inclusive way of Christ.

– When this benevolent logos comes, full of grace and truth, we do not welcome him.  We reject him.  We kill him, in the name of our preferred and familiar logos of hostility and violence.

– We can understand human religions — all human religions, including our own — as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation.

– [In the story we call “The Prodigal Son,”] The lost son is the older son.  He’s the one who doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or what he’s doing.  He’s the only outsider – – placed there by his own refusal to love.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– A baptism of repentance means a radical, far-reaching rethinking of everything.

– To be truly “in Christ” does not mean embracing “yet another identity,” but rather “lay(ing) down the various identities that would otherwise define us.” [McLaren with Peter Rollins]

– For Jesus, the rich man’s appathy about the poor man’s poverty was a damnable offense.

– Interpretation will always to some degree manifest the character of the interpreter.

Liberation is the best one-word synonym for salvation.

– Charity will also lead to advocacy — speaking and working on behalf of the voiceless and powerless, using the tools of local, national, and global citizenship to work for the common good.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

 

Eyes, Teeth and Dolphins November 8, 2012



Recently, I was again reminded of the revolutionary nature of many of Jesus’ statements.
In particular, one in Matthew 5:38-39a.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’1 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person…” [NIV]

OK.  This passage is revolutionary for more than one reason, but here I’m focusing on what it has to say concerning our relationship with scripture.
More than one author has pointed out the anti-religious nature of what’s happening here.
Jesus is essentially saying “The scriptures say one thing, but I’m telling you otherwise.”
Or, more to our understanding, “The Bible says one thing, but I’m telling you things have changed!”

You know, I was taught (and taught others) that if you believed something was “of the Spirit,” but it contradicted the Bible, the Bible took precedence.   It took me most of my life to realize we were basically treating the Bible as a god.  Worse, actually, we placed (if not in word, certainly in practice) the Bible above God.

Jesus repeatedly turned the religious use and understanding of scripture on it’s head.  Scripture, after all, was to point us to Jesus, not the other way around.  (John 5:39-40)

This adherence to a literal, legalistic view of the Bible is what keeps getting so many people in a certain segment of our society (and in politics) in trouble.  They are still mistaking book-worship for God worship.

If everything God had to say was already in a book, then God would no longer need to speak.
But, the thing is, God is still speaking.
God is still speaking, and the Bible, a precious book indeed, still points us to Jesus who came, in part, to correct our misunderstandings of who God is. Many of these misunderstandings were rooted in the scriptures.

People “hear” God, if at all, in different ways (rarely anything resembling an audible voice, although I’d never rule that out completely).  More often a thought, an “inkling,” a meditation, nature, a baby’s cry, a gypsy dolphin2 or through a homeless man’s eyes.

I know.  I know.  “But if you say that, someone will say something crazy and say ‘God said so.'”
Well, they’re already doing that.  Always have. Always will.
AND they often quote the Bible when they do so.3  So that fear, while technically accurate, doesn’t stand as a valid argument.

So, when we hear God say “You’ve heard it said (even if in the Bible), BUT I’m telling you something different,” we have a choice to make. Will we let our holy book be “useful” (2 Timothy 3:16) or will we kill for what we perceive to be the literal interpretation (2 Corinthians 3:6)?
Will we let scripture point us to Christ, and hear God’s voice, or will we continue to let the Bible be the thing that keeps us from better knowing God?

– df

Notes:

1 As Rob Bell (I think) pointed out, the whole “eye for an eye” thing was not a sanction for revenge.  This was a “baby step” towards a more peaceful approach.  It was a limitation to ensure the punishment was more in keeping with the crime.

2 from “Calling Me Home” by Barry McGuire

3 Think of the very UN Christ-like statements of people like Pat Robertson, Todd Akin, etc.




Also read:

Velvet Elvis

A New Kind of Christianity

 

 
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