The Happy Surprise

Putting the good book to good use

Womanology

As I study the subset of anthropology in Systematic Theology, I am disturbed at the lack of placing woman in the scheme of things. If she is addressed it usually is in addendum to man. How did Eve contribute to Adam’s sin? How did woman solve man’s loneliness? There is a general insistence among theologians that man holds the focal point at the center of God’s interaction with humans. Woman is a bit player used to thicken plot and add beauty to the tale.

I am very aware of the fear of feminism in the church. I recently heard the story of a Catholic college that offered a course on the Women in the Bible. The nun teaching the course began her first day by apologizing for not being born with a penis. She spent the entire course upholding women as paragons of power and defied all forms of orthodox anthropology. This flaming rhetoric is at the core of the church’s fear of feminism, and is not what I propose. I admit to being very sensitive to how women fit in the scheme of God’s plan, but isn’t that logical seeing that I am a woman? So, I’m naturally curious about what God had in mind for me? I am also sensitive from years of being taught bad womanology in Sunday School and churches. My “nonsense meter” is often in overdrive. And although I hear my own frustration with patriarchy mirrored in the nun’s apology, I pray the Holy Spirit will temper my rhetoric with grace and truth.

My ideas may seem horribly unorthodox. But as I study, I am realizing that many of our core doctrines are held together by a few clear statements of Scripture and lots of philosophical glue. And often that glue differs from theologian to theologian. Its time to add some more feminine glue to that pile. She is there holding things together even if the scholarly world neglects to recognize her.

Have you found any female theologians that have explored womanology? Please share.

Public Prayers

A lot of emphasis has been given to praying in public the last decade. Not that more people are praying in public, but that Christians are complaining because some don’t like to hear it and want it to stop. Is it really so hard to imagine that some people don’t appreciate hearing someone else’s loud one-way conversation? To some, public prayer is a bit like those obnoxious bluetooth talkers – the ones who talk loudly into quiet public spaces forgetting that others share the hear-space. We call those people rude, and I can understand the arguments that call public prayer by the same adjective.

It seems to me that public prayer has become more an issue of grasping and demanding rights. Public prayers are getting louder and more strident in an effort to drown out the demands for silence.  I believe this to be mostly a American phenomena. We have enjoyed religious majority throughout our history. That means most of the time people do not have a problem when we talk to God in their hearing. But with the rise of globalism and the internet, we are having to share our public spaces with other belief systems, and it seems to me that Christians are not very good at sharing that space.

Thankfully, Jesus taught about prayer, so its easy to take our direction from him.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Mat 6:6

Public prayers for show (or political activism) are condemned. Long prayers are ignored. Communication with God that is hidden and private is encouraged (Mat 6:5-8, 16-18).

Can’t we stop the re-activism against those who don’t want our prayers to be public? Can we try listening to them and consider ways to do to them what we want them to do to us? Jesus says to not refuse someone who asks something of you (Mat 5:40-42).

NO ONE can stop you from praying, ever. But they can ask you be quiet.

The prayer closet beckons.

 

Saying your prayers

It can be simple, really.

I find myself perfectly content in a slow train that crawls through green fields stopping at every station. Just because the service is so slow and therefore in most people’s eyes bad, these trains are almost empty—I get through a lot of reading and sometimes say my prayers. A solitary train journey I find quite excellent for this purpose. (C.S. Lewis, Letters, edited by W.H. Lewis, (New York: Harvest Books, 1966), p.265. Link)

Slow down. Take the long way home. Say your prayers.

My choice to believe and embrace gay Christians in life and ministry.

This past year, I had to make a heart-rending decision based on how I believe Jesus would handle the touchy topic of homosexuality. I have studied the relevant Bible passages on homosexuality for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I chose to make that study practical and refuse to draw a line I don’t believe Jesus would draw. I can not refuse gay Christians a place in ministry beside me.

Personal disclaimer

My understanding of homosexuality is based on academic curiosity, not personal identification. I am heterosexual. I do not have any gay friends. (Although, I welcome them!) Does that disqualify me from making a statement about what I believe? I thought so for a long while, so I stayed quiet. I thought, What would it matter what I say about the topic if I don’t have to practice it? I still kinda believe that. But, I also believe there are folks who aren’t the Bible geek that I am who won’t devote hours to understanding their own minds. And these folks just might have gay friends and family, or might even themselves be gay. Lending my little voice just might make all the difference in their lives to finding peace with God and man. So, I come out.

Clarification of ideas

Since there are so many personal definitions and misunderstandings surrounding this politicized topic, let me clarify.

First, “gay” and “Christian” are not mutually exclusive as I understand the term “gay.” I believe “gay” in today’s understanding means that a person is attracted to their same gender. It is often referred to as Same Sex Attraction (SSA). Calling someone “gay” does not mean they are having homosexual sex, only that they have homosexual attractions (SSA).

Second, gay people do not choose to be gay. A lot of Christians who are not personally acquainted with a gay person (That would be me) do not understand them.  Simply said, we are very ignorant about the topic and experiences of a person identifying as SSA. So, a few words about being gay. If I were to ask you, “When did you know you were straight?” you’d probably look confused. This is because you never had to think about it. It is completely ingrained in who you are, who your identity is. The same goes for those who identify as SSA. In the same way you were attracted to the other gender and enjoyed the thoughts of building a relationship with them, a gay person does likewise with their own gender. From my reading, I understand that many gay people would, at some point in their journey, give their right arm to be straight. Being gay has caused them emotional angst and in some cases, intense persecution. They would tell you, “You are crazy!” if you think they CHOOSE to be SSA. In fact, thousands have tried to change by attending conferences, having accountability, getting married and having children. The majority of these Christians who are gay (but don’t want to be) will tell you they are not living a homosexual lifestyle, but they are still homosexual. They are gay. It is their identity deep inside.

Have you ever wrestled with the truth of my second point? That being gay is not a choice? I sure have. Let me tell you how I resolved my opinion. Simply put, I believe them.  I can’t know from personal experience, so I choose to take their word for it. Jesus asks me to love my neighbor, and a huge way I show love is by believing the collective voice of the gay Christian community (1 Cor. 13:7). So, in summation, I choose to believe gay people when they say they were born as SSA. Like any other human being, they can answer God’s universal call to follow Christ and can identify as Christian.

Guiding Principle

Now, what I do not want to do is speculate on the sinful reason why some folks are gay. In point of fact, they just are. Because I believe this, I can apply a relevant passage from Jesus’ life. Jesus was asked to speculate on the sinfulness of a blind man’s condition. The pharisees’s opening question reveals the prevalent attitude regarding the physical condition of blindness.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

You see, the question presupposes a sinful cause. If they had simply asked, “Why was he born blind?” the question would not be relevant to our discussion on homosexuality. They took their query a step farther than seeking a cause for blindness. They wanted Jesus to agree with them that a blind person carries the stain of some sin resulting in his broken eyes. Now do you see the relevance? Jesus knew the cause of blindness, but he didn’t reveal it. Instead, he refused to attribute it to sin. In the same way Jesus did not call out a sin to the Pharisees when they questioned why a man was born blind, I will not point at a sin as the cause of SSA. I believe the same as Jesus.

“It isn’t because this man sinned,” said Jesus. “It isn’t because his parents sinned. (John 9:3)”

Now, we know the causes of blindness, so its hard for us to put ourselves into the Pharisees ignorant shoes. Why did they connect blindness with sin? It could be they wanted a spiritual reason behind all of life’s experiences, which I can identify with. It could be they served the community by presenting judgment in cases like this. We can sympathize with them  because we too are ignorant of the cause of SSA. (Research is underway, with some sound theories; but nothing has been concluded scientifically.) Well meaning Christians link what they view as an aberration (SSA) to either personal or parental sin because, like the Pharisees, their worldview supports spiritual reasons for physical experience. Christian leaders also feel a responsibility to present judgment for the good of their community. Either way, Jesus refused to participate. He assures us that even those with congenital issues can be used for God’s glory.

“This happened so that God’s work could be shown in his life. (John 9:3)”

Praise God! Gay people can accomplish God’s work. And I welcome them to serve alongside me in this pursuit. I choose to follow Jesus’ example and refuse to point to sin as the cause of SSA.

(You may ask: Didn’t Jesus heal the blind man? Wasn’t that what he was referring to as God’s work being displayed in him? In this particular instance, for sure! But if we limit the truth of Jesus’ words to this situation only, then we’d have to conclude the rest of the blind people he didn’t heal are sinful and un-glorifying. And that is absurd. There is a universal truth here we can apply to similar situations.

You may wonder how I can compare blindness to SSA? In your current mindset toward homosexuality, you think this is comparing apples to oranges, yes? You must remember my choice to believe the gay community’s assertion that they were born as SSA, just like this man was born blind.)

Conclusion: I won’t judge.

Up to this point, I have been discussing the attraction of a person born gay, not the physical act between gay persons. Is homosexual sex an acceptable behavior for a Christian when enjoyed inside the bounds of marriage? I think all Christians agree extra-marital sex is sinful, so the question becomes can a gay Christian get married and enjoy physical relations with his/her committed partner. Here’s the deal. I am not gay. Imagining a life of celibacy and loneliness stretched out before me, or anyone who did not wish to be single, breaks my heart. That is brutal, but not impossible. As a heterosexual white woman, there are many things I disagree with that I will not condemn. Gay marriage is one of them.  I honor the hours of Bible study, historical research and prayer Christians on both sides of the gay marriage debate have devoted to understanding God’s will on this issue. I will not exclude one of my Christian siblings because they embrace gay marriage. God is judge. I AM NOT. I will embrace them and all their various serious and not-so-serious sin, and condemn my own sin.

And everything I left out

What about all the verses in the Bible condemning homosexuality, you may be wondering? You notice, I did not start there? The reason is, I don’t believe they are relevant to the modern topic of same sex attraction and committed relationships. The context the Bible addresses in such harsh language surrounds idolatrous worship, sexual abuse and promiscuous immorality. I agree those practices are immoral and sinful.

Further Reading

Torn by Justin Lee

Lifelong celibacy for gay Christians : This link has study on the homosexual passages in the Bible.

The Gay Christian Network

Matthew Vines: God and the Gay Christian : The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Marriages

The Reformation Project

May God have mercy on all our souls.

When spurs leave you bleeding and jumpy…

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

I have a history with spurs. I’ve been kicked and prodded by well-intentioned Christians hoping to change my direction. Those spurs hurt. I fear them. They leave me confused. I lose my sense of direction and purpose. I thought I was walking the straight and narrow until a sharp jab startles me into flight, and I take a nose dive off the path.

“Spur one another on!” They use Hebrews 10:24 as justification for their punch in my gut. They don’t notice the direction their kick launched me.

Yet Hebrews tells us to apply the spurs to stimulate each other to love and good works. This has never made sense to me, I’ll be honest. The word translated spur or stimulate here means to incite or irritate. When I get irritated, love is not my go-to response, let me tell ya.

Something similar happened to Barnabas. Paul seriously did not trust Mark who had quit the work with Paul once before.  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

So much for provoking the love. That word for sharp disagreement is the same one the author of Hebrews (interestingly, there is a good case it was Barnabas!) used as spur or provoke. They spurred each other in opposite directions. And frankly, that is my response to spurs.

Yet, in Hebrews, the follow up thought to this provoke is to come together with encouragement (Heb. 10:25). I guess the early church had given up on each other.

I wonder if those spurs had anything to do with it?

Today’s church-dropping habit

We are seeing the same thing happen today. People are giving up meeting together. Some people think this is a big problem. Some people have lots of answers:

It’s not really happening.

Its the fault of a watered down message.

We need more authenticity.

They just don’t believe its true.

I’m not going to add my opinion here.

What I am going to do is ENCOURAGE those still faithfully attending church …

…to lay off the spurs.

When you hear someone has stopped going to church, please don’t provoke them. Please try not to be irritating. Please don’t add to their pain or frustrations. Don’t poke them with promises to pray.

Instead, be a soothing balm. Build up your relationship with them regardless of your own disappointment. YOU hang out with them, and not to preach the Bible at them, but simply to BE with them. Love them – that doesn’t mean tell them everything they are doing wrong in the guise of truth. It means enjoy who they are! Encourage them – not to follow your understanding of Biblical instruction – but to be brave enough to explore their soul. Together. And do this together.

Do not give up on being together, but encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:25)

Its time to stop hurting others in the name of doing good.

And for those of you in church leadership, consider adding a few Millennials to your decision-making boards. Kevin Lloyd details 5 Reasons you need a 25 year old on your church board. Its a great way to encourage the younger set that you are listening and want to hear their voices!

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