On Giving Thanks

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

You might think that I’m engaging life in a confused order. My last post was about an amalgamated Christmas and now I’m reflecting on Thanksgiving, which we celebrated less than two weeks ago. I’m not out of alignment with the calendar, today’s culture is. Hints that Christmas is coming have crept earlier and earlier so that Christmas promotion begins before Thanksgiving is even a thought.

But Thanksgiving is for thinking. There’s more to the celebration than roast turkey, pumpkin pie and everything in between. The obvious thinking for serious Thanksgiving celebration circles around the words “giving” and “thanks.” Expressing thanks cannot be dismissed with a few words, albeit well-chosen ones, prior to reaching for the nearest serving bowl filled with delicious Thanksgiving fare and dishing out an unhealthy amount to begin the process of covering a plate with portions of the bounty that covers the table.

While spending five days with my daughter Shayle in her home in Eugene, Oregon, far from my home in the beautiful fly-over hidden gem that is St. Louis, Missouri, there were many moments of being thankful. Did we ceremoniously talk about “what I’m thankful for this year” and attempt to construct lists of such things? No. We did bow in humble gratefulness and thank God for life and blessings before eating more than we needed of turkey, dressing (stuffing, if that’s what you call it) and gravy, green-bean casserole, steamed vegetables crescent rolls, and assortment of condiments/trimmings. Oh, of course there was pie, pumpkin pie.

While I drove a rental car from Portland to Eugene when I arrived on the western shelf of the country, I was in quiet mode contemplating the beauty—God-made and man-made—around me as I explored the Willamette Valley channeled by two mountain ranges. God’s grand experiment for the west coast and man’s care for and nurturing of that experiment have produced beauty that inspires the soul and productivity that enhances life for the region. I felt thankful.

The verbal thankfulness, which we expressed in prayer prior to eating our Thanksgiving feast, was not our only experience of thanks-giving. Some of our thankfulness was directed toward God and some was expressed to each other. Shayle had projects with which she could use some help. I was thankful she felt free to ask for help and she acknowledged her thankfulness for my help. I had thoughts and silent words to God, the author of life, for the gifts of my children who do not sequester their thoughts of thankfulness; saying thank you comes easily for them.

On Sunday, Shayle and I worshiped with Christian believers known as First Christian Church of Eugene, a congregation that takes truth, peace, and justice seriously. Together we marked this first Sunday of Advent by following their beautiful traditions: lighting a candle, stretching stars across the sanctuary expanse above the parishioners heads, children with chrismons attacking the Christmas tree and then draping garlands on pew-ends. Scripture that inspired, music that lifted, and a sermon that challenged provided fodder for thankful hearts, mine included.

As I think about these reflections on Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that giving thanks is not so much an action as it is an attitude. The Christian life is a thankful one. We not only do actions—give gifts, say words, serve others—that express being thankful, we live our thankfulness out of a natural attitude toward life that arises from being grateful people.

My life is lived as a gift of thanks to God in response to his grace-filled gift of the Christ, which is a gift of hope for life today and life to come. With a thankful heart, I share my life and its story with joy and pride for it is my unique story that gives hope to people with whom I share it.

While with Shayle in Eugene we had lunch with two of her colleagues. Somewhere in the robust conversation one of her friends extended her appreciation to me for posting a personal story in two of my previous posts on this blog. In the ensuing conversation I filled in more  details than were included in the blog. Again, words of thankfulness were expressed.

Then the other lunch companion at the table with Shayle and me told how thankful she was and how much she appreciated my story, particularly how my spiritual path was interwoven with coming  to terms with my sexuality. These words of blessing made  me feel good even though they came from  someone whose current spiritual pilgrimage  does not include participation in a Christian congregation. I in turn was thankful that I  had given witness to the pervasive Spirit of God in my life. I am thankful that God’s Spirit communing with my spirit does not pick and choose which part of my life will be touched in a spiritual  way. Even my sexuality is synced with  the communion between God’s Spirit and my  spirit.

Giving thanks, to be genuine and meaning-filled, is who we are in all of our living, not just what we say, or even what we do, but in who we are. Authentic persons will be thankful in both expression and practice in all ways and at all times. No, I’m not out of alignment with the calendar. I will be observing thanksgiving as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, and his victory when he walked from the empty tomb, and throughout the year.

An Amalgamated Christmas

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’m sitting in Starbucks across from the northeast corner of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, listening to “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Christmas, with Thanksgiving still a couple of weeks off, is already assaulting my ears. Commercialism—the grand American experiment—is on schedule this year while there are people all around the world, including the United States, who struggle to accumulate enough resources for food to stave off starvation and shelter to keep away the cold.

Once a year, Christmas comes as a jolt. Attempting to bring together the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago, our childhood holiday memories, and the reality of today’s rootless, we find ways to celebrate the mystical experience. Celebrations and rituals—family, religious (particularly those directed toward Christ as in Christ’s Mass), and cultural—come together this time of year in a common experience expressed in a multitude of ways. Although there seems to be a clash between ancient and contemporary, everything coalesces in a dynamic experience that brings families and friends together to share a shard of life that otherwise would be discarded as another sliver of painful experience .

A shard is a piece of broken pottery or glass typically having sharp edges. We each have brokenness in our lives and often bits and pieces of life become lost, discarded or taken from us in the midst of our brokenness. We hid them, try to ignore them and push them away. During the Christmas season, those discarded, distracted, and with a toss of our heart, unimportant, or so we want to believe, bits of life are lifted out of the basement where we’ve attempted to lock them away to become the centerpiece of enterprises and endeavors—family dinners, gift exchanges, obligatory church observances—sometimes undesired and engaged in only out of obligation. The shards of life—we all have them—fill Christmas with something, which, under the surface, often isn’t merry.

We take these bits and pieces of brokenness, often a mixture of past home life, encounters with friends, and former religious experience, all of which may contain pain and hurt, those fragile pieces of life that have been discarded voluntarily or involuntarily, and, grudgingly and balkily bring them with us into Christmas present.

The key to redeeming the Christmas season, so it isn’t something grudgingly entered with anticipation of yet more brokenness, depends on us, not other people, not circumstances, past or present, but us. The truth of past experiences does not determine what happens this Christmas.

Since we can’t forget the past, run from it, or hide it, the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves at family gatherings, parties with friends, or invitations to religious observances include: How can I give myself to other people without expecting anything in return? In what ways can I demonstrate happiness without demanding the same in other people? These kinds of gifts to other people will in turn become gifts to myself. I don’t expect customers or clerks in the stores, family around the dinner table, or friends in regular meeting places to act any differently than they have in the past; I don’t control them. I control myself and therein is my gift, not only to other people but also to myself.

So, I enter the Christmas season, and what I receive from the amalgamation of what makes Christmas is dependent on what I take into it: my expectations, how present am I, How much I give of myself. Am I depending on someone else for my experience? It is up to me to bring all of my past into the present and allow the fusion to create something new for today.

Commercialism is only part of today’s expression of Christmas. I will not allow it to dominate nor dictate my experience. I will acknowledge the reality of it and recognize the pieces of it that can be good for my total Christmas experience. But along with the commerce of Christmas, we can bring childhood memories along with last year’s memories, we can bring the good and the bad, the joy and pain. Even if we have been hurt by religion, we can bring that too. Let’s bring broken shards of life to Christmas this year.

Christmas can be a unique time of bringing together the brokenness of our lives. As the vessel is repaired, a line where the broken pieces are joined is formed. Although life has been restored to usefulness, the scar of pain and hurt remains as a faint line where the pieces are joined, and light can shine through that scar. If Christ resides in your life, it is, as my pastor recently pointed out, the scar of pain and hurt that allows other people to see the light of Christ within us shining through, the Christ of Christmas, the religious part of our celebrations this time of year. The religious message of Christmas is that the light of Christ shines best through the brokenness of our lives.

And so, in our amalgamated Christmas, with the words of the song now playing here at Starbucks, I say “a very, very, very Merry Christmas to you.”

Flourishing

Posted: August 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

PROLOGUE: As a result of my last post, I have received a few questions but mostly affirmation and support. If you didn’t read it, you may wish to check out Deep Places before reading this one. A few of the responses can be summed up in the word “why.” In this post I am attempting to describe how a life must flourish to be fulfilling. In a simplistic way, I’ve used the life-cycle of trees and my experience with an ivy as a metaphor for my life.

The corner of Grand and Arsenal in Saint Louis, Missouri, was busy, not unlike a normal spring day this past April. The gray overcast sky foretold expected rain in the afternoon. The grass was green again in Tower Grove Park, which was filled with a filigreed bright-green canopy as the fledging leaves erupted in profusion, and the dark evergreen cedars stood stalwart and eternal in contrast to the freshness of grass and trees.

The seasonal cycle expectedly returned to spring with nature’s fresh budding rampantly trying to become full-fledged summer. I forced my English Ivy on the window sill at home to assume a semblance of spring-like characteristics.

This English Ivy is over 23 years old. It was given to my mother by William Jewell College when she and Dad attended his fiftieth anniversary of graduating from that venerable institution of higher learning, “the ivy league school of the West,” so it bills itself. She lovingly and graciously gave it to my wife Barbara not long after that event. It has sustained three long-distance moves, pruning several times, and often extended mistreatment.

It almost died in January when I was away in Portland, Oregon, for over a week. It had reached the top of the windows and was hanging out a foot making some of the branches approximately eight to nine feet long needing drastic attention.

I examined it over a weekend and discovered only two long branches and a few shorter ones that came out of the maiden trunk. I decided now was the time. I began cutting, severely, until the longest of three or four signs of life were less than ten inches. I thought, I’ve either killed it, or given it renewed life. In either case, it will be better than watching it struggle to live.

I suppose I doubted the ivy would survive. I could call it a lack of faith. Sometimes life provides surprises that are not dependent on faith. God is not dependent on his creation to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he limits himself to provide the possibility for humankind to discover on their own how life works, and thus grow and flourish so he can have a genuine, mature relationship with them.

The ivy has not only survived but flourished. Today, four months since the severe pruning, I counted at least nine new branches. Doubt has been erased by evident reality. The 23-year-old English Ivy will again be a flourishing bush with multiple branches spilling over the pot and rising up to greet life-giving rays of light through the window.

As the calendar morphed into the 21st century, I had come to a point where creativity was dry and withering away. There was only one branch that had life: my commitment to Christian faith resulting in spiritual nourishment, which was reinforced in and through my church.

I had stepped away from my work with the North American Mission Board (formerly Home Mission Board); I had come out to Barbara but was immediately returned to silent confinement by her desire that no one know about my gay sexual orientation; my stab at a church consulting initiative never rose above dry ground; the only friendships I had were connected to NAMB and were no longer in reaching distance; and I was searching for a way forward. Like the ivy, I was not flourishing.

A little hope came when I served for a couple of years as regional director for academic affairs for a small Indiana university, and for four years as pastor of a Baptist church in the southeast Missouri Bootheel. I was active. I had “stuff” to do. But I wasn’t flourishing. Life was flat.

I would not say that what has happened since leaving Atlanta has resulted in a radical pruning, the kind I did to the English Ivy. However, by the process of physical relocation from Atlanta to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and from Poplar Bluff to St. Louis, connections with people and former activities have weakened. This has not been so much the result of conscience action as much as neglecting initiative to remain connected. The effect has been pruning away some life connections and failing to maintain those that had been a source of fruitful growth.

But, like the ivy, there remained in my life continuing growth, and the extension of a couple of living “branches.” Then growth would stall, but always something would indicate there was still life and thus hope. I was never without hope. And faith was always present. I didn’t feel that God had forsaken me. I was just on a treadmill of living without creativity, novelty, genuine joy, and empowering peace.

Then Barbara’s sojourn under the cloud cover of cancer provided purpose and direction for a spell: to “play the hand that had been dealt us” with cholangiocarcinoma. Following Barbara’s death, life paused for a few months. Then came the desire and energy for the kind of change that would result in freedom and growth—the kind of “free indeed” and “abundant life” the Christ of Scripture promises. So I contacted a counselor—someone with whom unhindered questing could help me sort out my thoughts and feelings—and began weekly conversations with him.

These very helpful sessions with a counselor, a committed Christian, allowed me to discover what I needed to do and how to go about it. Like the ivy, I discovered life with new and fresh meaning. In the summer of 2013, with the counselor as a resource, a mirror to reflect my thoughts and feelings, I began intentional work on life issues. I focused primarily on my sexuality, a part of human reality with which I had been wrestling since 1997.* I wanted, needed resolution to living an abundant, free life as a sexual being.

In the process of seeking integrity, vulnerability, and transparency, I began discovering evidence of new growth; and encouragement returned affirming the direction I was traveling. Invigorating expressions of the new growth and a heightened sense of hope have appeared like the newly emerging branches on the cared-for ivy. A recent evidence of new growth is a sense of normalcy as I come out to people revealing my gay sexual orientation—normal in that I experience little or no anxiety preceding such conversations and I do not dwell on them or worry about them past the experience. I say “normal” because it is a simple statement of fact about who I am. Being gay is a very normal for me.

I have stepped away from the counseling, a decision that doesn’t mean I “have arrived.” I don’t think any of us arrive at a full and perfect way of living this life. The process continues. I have made a public statement about my sexuality on the pages of this blog. Public knowledge allows me to fully live my life without constantly walking in and out of people’s perceptions.

I sum up this brief reflection with the word “flourish.” I’m comfortable with life right now, while at the same time I desire more. Life is good. The God, the author of life, has graced mine abundantly. It’s my responsibility to take care of it, my “ivy.”

Fall is approaching and the trees have a sameness about them. The leaves look heavy with the heat of summer and tired from the life-giving process that has coursed through their veins and into the fullness of the tree. Soon they will lose an ability to perform the function for which they were created just a few months ago. The trees however, have other life-nurturing tasks for the winter to maintain growth in their relentless quest for maturity. And so do I. The ivy at my window is flourishing—healthier than it was last year. And so am I.

*Actually, I had subliminally felt that I was different in 1952 when I was twelve years old, and sexuality didn’t crystalize for me until sometime after I reached 50 years of age. Out of fear and confusion, I didn’t consciously begin dealing with it until 1997.

Deep Places

Posted: August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized
PREFACE
In my last post, I dropped hints and postured innuendos, but didn’t make a personal statement. In other posts, I’ve talked about honesty; and I do value honesty. It’s time for me to be honest and invite you into one of the deep places within me. I can imagine many of you who read this will have difficulty assimilating what I am about to tell you. Some of you have known me for a long time, others for only ten to fifteen years, and yet others have met me only on this blog. Nevertheless, it’s time for me to engage you in conversation in a personal way.
 
The Deep Places
 

There are deep places in my life, wells of thought, experiences, feelings that lie deep within. These are sacred places. It is here where I walk with God, where he and I struggle with the meaning of life in the moment. Sometimes these places are shrouded in darkness and other times they are as bright as the sun at noon on a cloudless day.

It is here in these deep places that I live unhindered by anxieties engendered by what I fear people may think about my choices in any given moment, choices that may or may not affect anyone else but God and me. It is here that I joy in his acceptance of my differentness, whereas the joy would be tarnished at the least and possibly even be transformed into pain should I live out my differentness freely before other people.

The deep places are not, by their location, relegated to darkness. I live in the joy and brightness of beauty in these deep places of my soul. The light-filled, lyrical, sublime patterns and designs of the life around me often strike chords deep within and demand to be let loose in my soul to sing.

I fit in or relate to the world out of these deep places. They provide the foundation, strength, knowledge, vision, desire, commitment, and courage to be the person I am and the one who is seen by and relates to other people.

These deep places are not walled off into separate compartments; they interact with, influence, and enhance each other. It is the wonderful place from which my life, as it’s lived out in the world, finds its foundation for meaning, purpose, interest, and vitality. It is only when I place a lid on one compartment, close it up and not allow it to interact with the rest, that I lose integrity and the deep places of my soul become diminished and that particular compartment gnaws away at the well-being of my soul. It becomes a secret that I won’t let out and begins to fester contaminating the whole of my being as a rotten apple does to a peck of that delicious fruit.

My sexuality is one of those deep places that is the foundation for a significant part of how and where I fit in the world. My sexuality—to whom I am attracted, what romanticism means and how it works, how I view the world, how I make and nurture relationships—is a gay sexuality. Before coming out as a gay person, I felt as though I was living a lie, that I wasn’t being honest about who I am to people around me and that I couldn’t live into truth. As with any person, straight or gay, my sexuality is a significant part of what is undeniably and uniquely me. Leaving that part out in my relationships with people, leaving it out when I knew it was there, left me feeling inauthentic  and my integrity was degraded.

Some LGBT people, out of their desire to be authentic, to gain a sense of integrity, to be who they were intended to be, but not wanting to out themselves with words, begin finding ways to telegraph their sexuality through speech patterns and mannerisms. I didn’t take this route of expressing my sexuality in ways people would unmistakably identify me as gay. I kept it hidden in a compartment in the deep places within. Out of anxiety and fear, I not only kept the sexuality compartment closed, I closed the door on most of the deep places of my soul; I lived my life on the surface and forbade anyone access to my life within.

I didn’t invite people into the deeper places of my life because I didn’t feel safe enough to do so. To extend the invitation would have opened a door I had closed in early teen years and I was afraid of what would happen if I opened that door. To my astonishment, in coming out as a gay man, I have discovered safety in truth and that I can invite people into those deep places where I live, and can do so with integrity.

Since I have opened the door—two years ago now—to that long-closed (locked?) compartment where my sexuality lived, I have found freedom to invite more people into the deep places of my life. My walk with God becomes more transparent and my witness to him more authentic; I am able to share anxieties I may have; and choices are made without fear of what other people may think.

The deep places have not become less deep but rather they have in turn deepened my life, particularly my relationships, as I invite people to join me there. And with this post, I invite you into these deep places.

EPILOGUE

Some of you may not have read this far; others will dismiss me without desiring to engage in conversation having already confirmed their truth for me. However, you may be conflicted because you have known me and this news seems in opposition to what you know. Perhaps you are confused but desire more information and maybe conversation. Or, you believe, accept and embrace me because you know people who are gay, or have a family member who is gay, or you have engaged in a rigorous study and examination of literature and Scripture, and engaged in prayer and discernment and thus have arrived at an affirming place, or maybe because you are gay yourself. Perhaps you will accept this information because you trust me and because of the love with which God has graced your life, the love that you extend to other people, and now you extend it to me. 
 
Out of respect, love and deep appreciation for each of you, and with a desire to honor you with honesty from my heart, I have opened a deep place within me and have invited you in. May God grace our lives with love for each other and thereby honor him.

Changes in Life’s Designs

Posted: July 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

Conversations, some polite and knowledgeable, some ignorant and caustic, are seeking to make sense of homosexuality, gay marriage, and gender identity. Perhaps the word conversation is too polite. People on all sides of the issue are talking more than listening because they are closed to any consideration of any other position on the issue. True conversation involves a desire to seek understanding, which necessitates knowing the issue from the perspective of the “other side.”

When we engage in conversation, which may involve listening more and talking less, the designs of our lives will inevitably change. Change was what the AWAB (Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists) dinner recently held in Overland Park, Kansas, was all about. I was privileged to attend and hear Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, a Baptist university in Macon, Georgia, who was the featured speaker. Having read his book Changing Our Mind I was interested in hearing him. Prior to the dinner, I picked up another copy of Gushee’s book, which he signed for me. I have two more copies, both loaned out.

Over a two decade academic career, Dr. Gushee claimed a traditional view of sexuality. In an article in early 2011, he wrote, “As a matter of personal conviction, I am not ready to embrace gay marriage. I cannot imagine performing such nuptials as a minister. I cannot imagine my congregation doing so.”

Then, in a presentation at The Reformation Project Conference, a gathering of pro-LGBT Christians held on November 8 last year in Washington, D.C. Dr. Gushee said, “I do join your crusade tonight. I will henceforth oppose any form of discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.”

Between early 2011 and the end of 2014, David embarked on a robust study through a rigorous examination of biblical texts and conversations with people both gay and straight. After two decades as a married, straight, evangelical Christian David arrived at his Christian ethical position of affirming LGBT people. He says that that he was entirely uninformed by a lack of personal contact with LGBT Christians themselves, that he was closed to consideration of evidence around him. David expressed sorrow that it took so long to come into solidarity with “Christianity’s most oppressed group.” His book, Changing Our Mind: My Journey as a Christian Ethicist toward Full LGBT Acceptance, is a look into his process of changing his mind about homosexuality. I attended the dinner because I wanted to hear him speak to the change process set forth in his book.

When I arrived at the breakout room where the dinner was scheduled, the round tables for about one hundred total attendees were already set and waiting. There was not a podium in the room making it impossible to tell where the speaker would stand. I chose a table where two young men had just sat down, the only other attendees in the room besides myself. These table mates were interesting to converse with: Daniel and Paul. Paul is a volunteer with Matthew Vines’ Reformation Project and has the responsibility for logistics related to a Reformation Project event in Kansas City in November.

Just before the meal was served a lectern was positioned directly in front of the table where we were sitting. The dinner itself was a tad above the average hotel event dinner: a tossed salad followed by a decent sized medallion of chicken, perfectly cooked crisp green beans, mashed potatoes with pieces of bacon in the mash, and a roll. A choice of lemon or chocolate cake and a cup of coffee concluded the meal.

I was impressed with David’s presentation and the Q&A conversation that followed. The attendees were appreciative of his remarks evidenced by occasional applause as he spoke. He talked about his journey beginning with the traditionalist position, which he held from 1993 to 2007. Then from 2007 to 2013 David met devout Christian LGB people in a new home church. They were singles, couples, and families. He developed deep personal friendships, encountered high-quality LGB seminarians, who were blocked from service and ordination. His sister Katey came out as lesbian at thirty-eight. He was called out by author Mitchell Gold (Crisis) who called him a bystander. These experiences of encountering and coming to love LGBT persons in their suffering and dignity became the tipping point for David. Out of a sense of responsibility, David felt obligated to tackle the issue of homosexuality in a serious way.

Dr. Gushee first wrote an unpublished version and then, in serialized fashion, his essays on the transition of his ethical position on gay issues were published in News Global during the summer and fall of 2014. These essays were then published in book format as a basic primer for traditionalists and conflicted Christians under the title Changing Our Mind in Late October 2014. It is an easy read resting solidly on scholarly underpinnings.

The book puts flesh on the following:

  • The current environment is one in which Christian understandings of sexuality are being reevaluated due to evidence offered in the lives of people who do not fit the historic heterosexual norm. In addition to the witness of these personal lives is the increasing body of research and practice of mental health that have both anecdotal and empirical data to bear on the issue. The Church needs to address the “LGBT issue” and the people affected who are hurting, which includes LGBTQ people, families, divided churches including the hurt, fear, and anger among Christians on all sides of the issue. Many people are conflicted: “heart” says one thing, “head” says another.
  • The human population reveals a gender and sexual orientation minority of at least 3.4-5%. Regardless of centuries of cultural and legal discrimination, stigma, and violence, LGBT people are scattered in the human population all over the world, often treated as a problem.
  • The ex-gay movement has failed by its own admission. Sexual-orientation change efforts are utterly rejected by mainstream mental health experts even though some Christians still cling to them or accounts of their “successes.”
  • Resistance to LGBTs causes substantial mental health, familial, and spiritual consequences.
  • An acknowledgement of interpretive pluralism throughout Christian history on a huge range of issues opens the door for consideration of an examination of hermeneutics. And David devotes much of the book to six passages of Scripture commonly referenced when considering LGBT issues.

David concluded his remarks by saying, “I have made a core moral decision simply to ‘stand with’ the LGBT Christian community and against their continued exclusion.” He expressed repentance for where he and the Church “got it wrong.”

His presentation didn’t add to my understanding of the debate raging in churches over sexual orientation, scripture, and gay marriage. However, it did feel good being in the context of the conversation. My visit with David at the author’s table prior to dinner confirmed my expectations of a very humble man who was quietly assured of where he stands on the equality of gay marriage and his sexual ethic as keeping sex in the confines of marriage—gay or straight.

Bottom line, I did not feel as though I was in a strange environment or, as I suspect some self-identified Christians would feel, in enemy territory. I was among friends and fellow human beings many of whom happen to be gay. I long for many of my friends to experience the depth of faith and love that I experienced not only at this gathering of Baptists who welcome and affirm LGBTQ people, but also at the January 2015 Gay Christian Network Conference when I joined 1,400 gay Christians and their allies in Portland, Organ.

Too often lives are designed on flawed fundamental truths. Take for example current cultural debates, marriage equality being the hotest at the moment, not only here in the United States but also around the world.

Fundamental truths essential to the Christian faith are at stake in these cultural debates, notonly in society at large but also within ecclesial bodies. These basic truths range from issues of theism to biblical authority, the nature of human beings, God’s purpose in creation, sin, salvation, and by extension, to the entire body of Christian doctrine. One’s posture on contemporary issues is determined by the presuppositions one holds in formulating their position on these foundational truths. Therefore, it is difficult to discuss cultural “values” because both parties walk roads that begin at different points, and do not run parallel; thus they arrive at different destinations.

The claims advanced by either side of a debate are proffered with a great deal of integrity, but founded on separate sets of presuppositions. Debates at the level of cultural application will lead to conclusions less than satisfactory to one side or the other. Debate must begin with understanding and acknowledging the separate foundational presuppositions whether or not both parties ascribe to them. If it begins anywhere past that beginning point, the debate will most certainly fail to arrive at any consensus, if it ever even gets past each side seeking to prove the other wrong.

The fundamentalist position would say, for example, that if the claims of revisionist interpreters of Scripture are valid, then the very basis of biblical inspiration is invalidated. Scripture would be wrong, misdirected and ambiguous and the entire evangelical paradigm, biblical authority and all, will not stand.

It’s the evangelical paradigm that has fallen, moderates would say, and not Scripture or biblical authority. Therefore, they would argue that the evangelical paradigm fell precisely because it was founded on a misguided presupposition on biblical authority and the nature of the Bible.

The challenge faced by Christianity today is not a cultural debate or political posturing or doctrinal belief. The challenge is a basic hermeneutical one—how to interpret and understand the Bible and its claims on all God’s children. Until the debate is waged on this level, the sparing about culture and its values will produce little more than heat. (Some people view values narrowly and interpret them basedon their presuppositions. However, to be fair, both sides of any debate have values, but they are not the same because of different presupposition sets.) 

At stake are human lives designed by attending to these flawed fundamental truths, flawed on all sides, while, at the same time, all sides desire to give witness to the grace-giving story of God reclaiming his creation. Let’s listen to each other, really listen, and try to get inside each other’s paradigms—for the human lives that long for civil discourse.

Living Inside a Shell

Posted: June 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

Out of personal experience comes a design for life that is destructive in its inauthenticity. Our lives can be designed in such a way that we create a shell for others to see and for us to be protected. This kind of design is filled with tension created by juggling the various responsibilities needed to ward off anything that would cause a crack in the shell. These fabricated designs often appear to be wholesome and even admired. They give an impression of a well-crafted life.

When we live inside a shell, life is not as blissful as it appears to the observer, who may see us from a distance or may be a very good friend, even a family member. The life they see is a composite of the accouterments of the kind of life we wish to portray. 
This desire to depict something other than our authentic self comes from a sense of deficiency or “otherness” within us about which we feel shame. The way we deal with it is to cover it up. When we are with other people, we pretend this perceived terrible weakness doesn’t exist. This cover-up is hard work. Eventually, as lies pile up we discover that our entire life has been a deception, a lie, and we begin to feel like a fraud. As hard as we examine our lives, we can’t see any way to extricate ourselves from the sham we have made of it all.

Thus we’re living inside this shell, which we keep polished and closely guard against cracks appearing. If even a hairline crack does appear, we repair it immediately to keep it from expanding and breaking the shell. Were the shell to break open our life would be exposed. That thought is unbearable. It would be better to not live than to have the deficiency, the otherness, exposed. Such shame would destroy our relationships. We would not be able to face anyone.

So we polish the shell while the authenticity of who we are remains a beating pulse inside clamoring for light and fresh air.

This is one inauthentic way we design our lives to deal with who we are in light of who we think, as false as that thinking is, that society expects, no, requires us to be.


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