A Mother’s Lament

Tripp has made it clear on several podcasts that he became unwilling to raise his kids in a church where this was even a question or issue. When my friend Rachel wrote this, I asked her if I could cross-post it here. 

Why some are choosing to stay in The United Methodist Church…
by Rachel Gipson

A Mother’s Lament

I have just finished putting my three sons to bed.  This nightly ritual involves a somewhat chaotic flurry of baths, books, snuggles, prayers, sippy-cups of water, night lights, songs, kisses, and I-love-yous.  At all times, but especially bedtime, I try to create an environment where my children feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved.  The world is waiting, and it is so big, and often cruel, but for now I can protect them and surround them with love.

The church has been an environment that contributes to the goals of safety, security, and unconditional love.  Having been raised in the United Methodist church as the daughter of two ministers, I have personally felt this love through the years.  The support, friendship, and community I have experienced at church have been constant in my life, and have a dependability unlike any other group of which I have been a part.  I feel a deep loyalty to my church on a local and global level.  For this reason, I have looked forward to raising my family in a community of faith, that they might experience God’s love through others as I have.

But now I wonder.  As I listen to the testimony of Tim Schaefer, I wonder if I am making the right choice as a parent.  Sure, right now the church is just one big love-fest for my kids.  But what if any of my sons are gay?  What if any of them have a gender identity different than their biological sex?  Tim Schaefer contemplated suicide because of the messages he received from the church.  Am I doing harm by teaching them to love a church that does not love them unconditionally?

By being a member of a United Methodist church, am I conveying, even implicitly, that the views held by the church at large are acceptable to me?

By giving my money to the global United Methodist Church am I teaching them to look the other way where there is injustice?  Am I setting them up to feel shame in their sexuality, whatever form that takes, by loving this church as much as I do?

On a local level, my boys will be loved and accepted.  I know that.  My church will love them, their pastors will minister to them, and they will not feel shame from the pulpit of their home church.  For that I am deeply thankful.  However, this isn’t just a local issue.  I can’t hide the published views and official stance of the church from them.  I can’t look in my son’s eyes and promise him that he can marry whoever is lucky enough to earn his love in the same sanctuary where his parents were married. Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Obviously, this is not the first time I have felt at odds with my church over this issue.  But this is the first time I have ever considered leaving.  As a mom, I am intentional about the messages my children receive.  I am not naïve enough to think I can filter all the bad out of the world (nor would I want to), but right now I am facing a choice.

Can I knowingly expose my sons to a church that does not offer all people the opportunity to feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved?

How can I teach them to support an organization that makes clear that not all of God’s children are welcome?

And finally, how can I possibly say goodbye to a church that has given me so much over my lifetime?

No matter what choice I make, I feel loss, uncertainty, and deep disappointment.

I don’t know how to conclude these thoughts.  This isn’t a call to action or rallying cry.  Nor is it an angry goodbye to my church.  It is a mother’s lament.  It is the recognition of a hurt that I feel deeply.  A hurt that bears the faces of my sons and a desperation for change that is as urgent as Tim Schaefer’s thoughts of suicide.  I do not want to leave my church.  However, my church is making it painful to stay.

Rachel Gipson, Los Angeles, CA.  Nov. 21, 2013

. . .

Reasons I Stay is a project of Reconciling Ministries Network dedicated to share the stories of individuals who have decided to stay in The United Methodist Church despite its descriminatory, unjust rules against LGBTQ persons. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across The United Methodist Church. We recognize that staying is not the right and healthy choice for all people, and we celebrate those too who have chosen to leave to more inclusive faith communities. You can read all the Reasons I Stay stories here.  They invite you to submit your own story to Reasons I Stay.

Who Am I To Judge? an honest question

It is no secret that  I am a fan of many of the things (not all)  that the new Pope has been up to. So I was very intrigued when it came out that on his cross-Atlantic flight he took the airplane microphone and addressed reporters. RNS-Pope-Francis-flight-home-Catholic-News-Service

I was also surprised by the reports of the following sentence:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” — Pope Francis, July 2013

The running joke is of course that if you are the Pope … it’s kinda your job description! You might be the only person who is allowed to judge in some of your followers estimations.

These things have landed Francis on the cover of this month’s Sojourners magazine. They are advertising it this way:

Francis—refreshingly candid and seemingly repelled by the perks of the papacy—offers new hope for the Catholic Church and beyond. From the symbolism of him stooping to wash a Muslim woman’s feet to his harsh lambasts against a culture of greed and consumerism, this Jesuit from Argentina has captured the collective imagination of the world.

This has me thinking over the past week about the topic of judging. When I was an evangelical preacher we were very clear to distinguish between judging – which is defined by its connection to wrath – and evaluating ‘a tree by its fruit’  which christians are also commanded by Jesus to do.

Yes Jesus said ‘Do not judge’ but Jesus also said you can tell a tree by its fruit. The question “who am I to judge” seems to be a rhetorical one.

Even Miley Cyrus knows that Only God Can Judge, as she proclaims in her new video (for which I am sure that she should be judged harshly).

Now I am a pastor at a Mainline church in LA and I can honestly say that it is the least judgmental place I have ever been… but is that a good thing?  Don’t we need to make some moral evaluations?

I was getting ready to ask the HBC crowd how they have learned to navigate this cultural conundrum when my new favorite persons to quote – Brene Brown – came out with this tweet:

“When you judge yourself for asking for help, you are always judging when you give help.” @BreneBrown

Judging is clearly on people’s minds these day. It is everywhere in our cultural conversation. As we transition out of post-Christendom and cultural revolutions of 1970’s into an information age where everything is available to everyone all of the time … and your mom is your friend of Facebook ….  here is an honest question:

How are your navigating the challenge of “Judge not lest you be judged” ?

 

one favor I ask: let me know if you are even trying to live up to Jesus’ commands or if you have left that behind. I have a feeling it might make a difference in this discussion.  

 

Photo: Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome, July 29. (Paul Haring/Catholic News Service)

God Is Not Like Me

I grew up in a tradition that said I should be, as much as possible, like Jesus.  I get that – and I try to do so.

Yesterday at the Loft LA I had the privilege to say 3 things (among many others) about God:

  1. God is Black (from James Cone)
  2. She Who Is (from Elizabeth Johnson)
  3. God is a Fag ( from Bernard Brandon Scott)

It is interesting because I am none of these three things! I am not black, a women, or homosexual. It is interesting then to present these images of a God who is very much different than I am – even as we, as a community, are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  money_and_god

It is important that we acknowledge that God is not on the side of ‘the powers’ but of those in need of liberation – that it is equally as accurate and as inaccurate to call God ‘She’ and it is to call God ‘He’ – and that according to 2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This is a topsy-turvey business.

Over the last 20 years of ministry I have noticed a somewhat unsettling trend that in order to be like God, I have had to move away from many of the natural strengths that ‘God gave me’.

  •  While I love to be at center stage in the spot light with a microphone – I am fascinated with the cell group, house church, and small group model of church. As a pentecostal, I am obsessed with how the Spirit of God is at work in the People of God.
  • While I am a big, hairy, muscular man – I am convinced that feminist theologian are right and that Christian history does not accurately reflect the will and mind of God for the world that God loves so much (John 3:16).
  • While I am white guy – I am writing my dissertation on ‘White Privilege’ and hoping to confront some of the systemic racism that will not do as we move into the 21st Century.

So while I attempt to be more like God, I am very aware that God is not all that much like me. 

This is an important distinction. As C.S. Lewis said in his poem “A footnote to all prayers”  (it references Pheidias who was  a legendary statue maker in the ancient world):

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

When we pray, we by nature blaspheme – all of us. The reality is that language , by its nature, means that words are provisional. When the Hebrew Testament speaks of God as a ‘King’ or Martin Luther writes a hymn declaring “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” … these are analogies. They are metaphors. They are temporary place holders.

Anything that we say about God is (in the apophatic sense) both illustrative and, at the same time, not exactly all that accurate. We would do well to get used to saying :

“God is like X … and that, of course, is not exactly true.”

Philippians 2 is helpful at this point. The ‘Kenotic’ Move of Christ self-emptying and descending for the purpose of service, exhorts us to not hold onto anything too tightly (clinging/grasping) but to empty our certainty and expose all of our assumptions to that which is not natural to us. Not an easy task!

If we acknowledge, then, that all language is provisional… that it is just a accurate and as inaccurate to call God she or he… that any prayer is at some level blaspheming … and that I am called to be like God – though I know that God is not exactly like me … then I can begin a kenotic journey of recognizing God while releasing God from my pre-conceived notions.

This is the dynamic journey of faith: to recognize  the full moon and the new moon, the high tide and low tide, the Fall and the Spring, the ebb and the flow, the fall and the rise of all that I am familiar with and and all that I am ignorant about. That is what we talk about when we talk about God.

Rob Bell puts it this way:

When we talk about God, then, we’re talking about something very real and yet beyond our conventional means of analysis and description.

The Germans, interestingly enough, have a word for this: they call it grenzbegrifflich. Grenzbegrifflich describes that which is very real but is beyond analysis and description.

When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about your intuitive sense that reality at its deepest flows from the God who is grenzbegriff.

Bell, Rob (2013-03-12). What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Kindle Locations 767-772). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I would love your feedback and reflections.  

Homosexuality: the difference between TV and Greek Tragedy

bible wedding

Blogging is a fascinating way to interact with people over an issue or topic.

Once in while a blog will unexpectedly come back to life after months of lying dormant. It usually happens when A) somebody references it month later B) when the topic hits the news again. The dying embers leap back to life in flame! 

This week my old post on and Evangelical approach to same-sex marriage has fired back up – for obvious reasons. I’m not going to link there because I just can’t wade into the 195 comments without getting lost.  I did, however, want to report about a most interesting exchange that came out of it.

Someone who disagreed with my saying that ‘homosexual’ as we currently understand and conceive of the term, never existed until the 19th century. Some people keep wanting to argue about sexual acts and missing that there are broader issues of orientation and identity that were not addressed in Greco-Roman culture or the greek language of the New Testament.

One such person – let’s call him TM – engaged the issue this way: 

For example, the statement “The Bible (the inspired written word of God) is not talking about homosexuality. It didn’t exist.” seems somewhat confusing, even if we only focused on the Roman era of indulgences of the First Century. Are you suggesting that homosexuality didn’t exist in this era… simply because they may have called it something else?

This is along the lines of your attempt to make a point about television – in one sense, it didn’t exist; and yet in another, it did – as plays/theater. Are you suggesting that simply because the presentation was different that there weren’t actors and actresses who presented drama, comedy, tragedy and more to a mass audience? Are you really going to argue that because a word didn’t exist that means the concept didn’t exist?

Do you see the how the analogy works? This is really important to see because those who sincerely believe that they are being faithful to the scriptures are often mashing contemporary experiences into ancient writings in a way that is … how should I say this?
Let’s try it a different way: when your faith is constructed in such a way that you need your sacred text to speak to every area of your life – then you will, by necessity, fit your modern data into the provided molds.

My response to TM included 3 points of departure:

“TV is indeed different from ancient theatre.

1) One can sit alone in a house and watch TV, absent of the social connection and crowd interaction.

2) One can also change the channel when it gets boring. You can not do that at the theatre.

3) Plays also so do not have commercials which deeply influence us.

In those three ways I would say that one can not simply say “TV and theatre are the same” as you have.

You are comfortable mashing modern categories onto the ancient & calling them the same. This willingness to mash is why you are frustrated that the Bible isn’t talking about what we are talking about.  TV is a different medium than ancient theatre – I hope that you can see that.”

It seems like a great example of the where the ‘two’ sides are missing each other in this debate.

It reminds me a great deal of the ongoing issues of conservatives ‘starting in the middle’ that I am perpetually having to point out.

That is where Ray Comfort takes the highly refined and cultivated modern banana and reads meaning, design, and intention back into it by the ‘creator’ – even going as far as it’s fit to the human hand, its easy pull tab opening, and its built-in disposal wrapping.

Maybe it would be easier for us to talk about TV & theatre in a categorical way before we wade into the elevated hostilities of the same-sex debate.

TNT: Same Sex Marriage, Rob Bell and His Detractors

Happy Birthday!  HomeBrewed is celebrating its 5th and BoDaddy is celebrating his 40th!

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On this episode of the Theology Nerd Throw-down,  Tripp and Bo talk about same-sex marriage, Rob Bell and his detractors.

This all started when Tripp posted about big platforms coming out in support.

Then Bo posted about Rob and his detractors.

It came to a head when Bo responded to an odd post about how this paints Jesus in a weird light.

You will have to listen to the hour long conversation to put all the pieces together.

 

At the end – we talk about this Summer’s book series called “High Gravity” with Peter Rollins.

Jesus was a Cowboy without a Community

I love community.  I was the pastor of a ‘cell church’ for 11 years and simply delighted in so many aspects of the model.

I love being in community. In every phase of my spiritual journey, I have been encouraged to engage, being accountable to and submit to the authority of the groups I was a part of. I have done this with denominational pastor groups, Wild at Heart men’s groups, my PhD cohort, and many others.

I love the idea of community. As a young evangelical I romanticized the model of the early church that I read about in scripture and set my internal compass to always point north to community.

I talk about community. Even though I am now at a Mainline liturgical church that is almost entirely different from my days of ‘cell church’, we still encourage and facilitate and encourage community at every opportunity.

I study community. As a practical theologian my entire project – the whole discipline – is an interdisciplinary approach to engage how faith is lived out in real life communities.

I have a philosophy of community. Even the philosophical elements that I focus on the most are centered in community. The whole reason that I am intrigued by the thoughts of Ricoeur, Gadamer and Lindbeck revolves around their hermeneutic and how it impacts community.

My community credentials are not in question. Whether it is denominational, regional pastor peers, fellow theology students, or the people who minister within the congregation … I believe in communal discernment, accountability, and authority.

That is all going to be important to know with what I am about to say. 

 

I read the oddest thing this morning. Geoff Holsclaw, co-author of the new book Prodigal Christianity with David Fitch, was attempting to stick up for Fitch in the backlash of Fitch’s comments regarding Rob Bell’s lack of accountability – and thus authority when he speaks – now that Bell is not a pastor.  (Sr. Deacon Tony Jones had taken Fitch to the mat for it).

Holsclaw’s post was entitled Discernment: a lamb among wolves and it was really good stuff … until the end.

In the final sections Holsclaw says:

“Really, you want me to die to myself to discern God’s Kingdom in this situation?”

Yes, that is exactly it. And we do this because Jesus showed us how, and makes it possible through the giving of his Spirit.

Then, like a needle scratching across an old-school record player … it came to a screeching halt.

I started wracking my brain trying to think of single time Jesus model community discernment.

  • When he was 12 at the temple? No. He chided his mom and dad for being worried.
  • When his mom and brothers wanted to take him home? No. He distanced himself from them and said that whoever was with him was his new family.
  • When the disciples wanted him to change plans on his way to Jerusalem? No. He called them satan and told them to get behind him.
  • With the Pharisees? No. He was in constant conflict with the teachers of law.

Actually – I can’t think of a single example of Jesus discerning communally.  and then it hit me:192px-CowboyJesusPortrait

Jesus is an unaccountable Cowboy without a community. 

He never listened to anyone else – he always knew the right answer and was unwavering in his confident conviction.
He never went and humbly sought advice.
He never had someone change his mind in the midst of a conversation.
He is the consummate winner – the rogue hero – the wild-man philosopher bucking the system – forging his own way on the frontier of faith..

This is a terrible development! 

Not only does Holsclaw’s thesis not hold water … Jesus is actually the example of the exact thing that Holsclaw is trying to move away from!

If somebody came into our town and starting acting like Jesus, we would say that was hurting the church community, causing conflict and division. He would hide behind ‘being a prophet’ and not respond to Matthew 18 church discipline and submit to any authority.

Jesus, seen in this way, is a maverick and a macho man who doesn’t need to listen to anyone except his internal dialogue. God talks directly to him and he knows the way.

Jesus doesn’t listen to his elders, his family, his religious community or his friends! 

Look, I love what Holsclaw is calling us to … but to say that Jesus modeled this for us is just the wrong way to go!

Say he called us to it. Say that he envisioned it. Say that he opens the way. Say that this is the whole point of Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit.  … but don’t say that this is what see in Jesus.