Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

And By This They Will Know You Follow Me: A Pride 2019 Love Letter

This is Love

I had a friend in high school who was– among other things–overly friendly with all the girls and an endless tease. He was funny, exuberant and had a large, fabulous personality. My boyfriend, now husband, was often irritated by his presence only because boundaries were foreign to this guy. But I loved him.

For example, he had driven me up to Summer Christian Youth camp one year where we were both on staff. On the first night while we were hanging out by the rock where everyone was going for a midnight swim he grabbed my hand and placed it on his genitals. He laughed and thought my irritated reaction and immediate retraction of my hand from said genitals was hilarious. I think I punched his shoulder and called him a jerk, but I laughed too. It was the 90’s, and discussions of body autonomy and consent were foreign. And besides, he was harmless (at least in my opinion). I chalked it up to teenaged antics. I was proud to be his friend.

A year later he stopped me in the hallway at school and said he had something to tell me. We sat down in the cafeteria and he confessed to me he was gay. No pretense. No build up. Just like that he came out to me. It didn’t make sense to me because when I saw him, I saw my friend the flirt and the one who loved all the girls. 

My first response was to say “No you’re not!” I then belittled and mocked what was to become the most defining characteristic of his life in a way that was ignorant and cruel.  I’m sure he was hoping for a more measured and understanding response. My Christian teaching had told me that being gay was wrong–a sin. He was a Christian, I was a Christian…surely he was joking. He wasn’t joking.

I can’t go back in time and do-over my response. I can’t go back in time and tell him that I am happy for him, proud of him, or even supportive in the face of what I can only imagine was certain rejection and shunning of peers and church leaders–including me.

It has taken me almost 20 years to work out my belief systems where same-sex relationships and identity are concerned. I had nearly 25 years of indoctrination to wade through, and that was no small thing. But questioning the foundations of belief regarding things such a same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships was necessary to suss out the contrary characteristics that attracted me to Christianity to begin with.

The mantra of “Hate the sin, love the sinner” rang hollow the first time I can recall questioning the legitimacy of the doctrine that told me homosexuality or gender identity was a sin. I looked back on all of the people I knew growing up who today were out and living happy and productive lives as their authentic selves with their same-sex partners. The conclusion that seemed obvious, though perhaps not at the time, was they were always gay. They were born that way. So then how could I say I loved someone when I was rejecting or judging a fundamental part of who they were? And then I watched news reports on the ongoing court battle regarding a gay couple who couldn’t get a wedding cake because the bakers had a “moral opposition” to participating in their marriage celebrations based on religious grounds. It felt eerily familiar to signs in windows that would proclaim “whites only” or “no coloreds allowed” from the days of the Southern US. And it certainly didn’t have the ring of Christian love that the mantra espoused. But Christians I knew and respected gleefully celebrated the business owners’ who discriminated on the basis of a religious precept. It felt mean-spirited and contrary to the Jesus I had often read about in the scriptures.

And then I thought about my children. Not only did they have friends who already knew their sexual orientation in elementary school, but what if one day one of my sons came to me and told me they were anything but heterosexual? What would my response be? Would I try to tell them their feelings and their identity was anything but normal and natural, or would I try to convince them they were somehow “less than” or sinful. Would I try to convert them to a way of living and loving that fit an ideology rather than love them unconditionally? Loving them unconditionally means letting them know they are loved for exactly who they are. It means accepting their partners, whoever they bring home, as one of the family. It means supporting them and providing guidance and compassion the same way I would if my children were strictly heterosexual. Anything less would feel hollow and insincere. And that was the point. The mantra that tells someone who isn’t heterosexual they are sinners, tells them they are hated for something they cannot control and is something that impacts nearly every facet of their existence. That mantra tells anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum that their personhood is wrong. Doesn’t feel very loving.

But yet today there are still countless people who are shunned by their parents, their families and their religious communities because they came out as LGBTQ. They face endless shame and discrimination. They are loved and accepted so long as they live the philosophy that homosexuality and all its constructs are forbidden. But once they come out the silence can be deafening, or the attempted conversion is damaging. Suicide rates are high still among these demographics solely due to a lack of ample support during a very confusing and difficult transition. A society that for generations has lauded heterosexual unions as the only “normal” way has institutionalized an ideology that has excluded an entire sub-group of people who have never and will never fit into that category. And though there have been remarkable strides to erase such prejudice, we still have so far to go as a society.

I am proof positive that hearts and minds and ideologies can be changed. I was once a staunch opposer to anything LGBTQ and I once parroted the same philosophies that are so damaging and hateful. I recall the boy who was best friends with one of my high school boyfriends. He had always been “stereotypical” of what one would assume a gay man to be. And my friend group in high school would openly mock him for it. I openly mocked him for it. It was the 90’s and we were insensitive Christian kids, what did we know? But after knowing him for years, when he did finally come out to my then-boyfriend, my reaction was again less than supportive. He knew it. I reacted like it was somehow contagious. This friend was in love with my boyfriend. They had several sleepovers during the course of their friendship. They shared a bed. He viewed me as competition. I started  panicking like this was somehow an affliction for ME. My reaction was selfish and wrong. From that moment on, his then girlfriend (Who he had because he was taught he needed to have and was “normal” in an effort to fit in) and my boyfriend were the only ones he would speak to. He didn’t want me knowing anything. In hindsight, I completely understand his reaction. I wish I could go back and change my reaction. I wish I had taken the time to understand and show compassion, rather than judging and condemning.

So many examples have given me hope that the hearts and minds are changing. Pastors who are affirming of LGBTQ people in all areas, even though this still has a long way to go. Entire denominations that are not only willing but endorsing same-sex marriage. Pastors who openly and publicly embrace, support and affirm their LGBTQ children. Christian writers, teachers and worship leaders who are leading the way in understanding and compassion for LGBTQ rights. (RIP Rachel Head Evans) Christian churches who show up at Pride parades to offer “Free Mom and Dad Hugs” to people who have been rejected by their parents. (Looking at you Jen Hatmaker) But where there are glimmers of hope there are far too many accounts of rejection and shunning. Parents who reject their children if their partners are with them, citing they have to maintain a standard of righteousness and can’t stand for sinfulness in their homes. Entire congregations who don’t acknowledge or show signs of support when a long time congregant not only announces his same-sex relationship or his engagement. Couples who are asked in church not to show affection for one another in church because “children are watching”.  Church leadership who post public messages that speak to their prejudice against people of LGBTQ and engage in heated public debate denying the legitimacy of LGBTQ struggles and persecution. Business owners who refuse to serve patrons based on sexual orientation because it offends their religious beliefs.

And even I have received the silent treatment because I have been outspoken about my conclusions. It’s hurt, but I’m sure it can’t compare to the pain and rejection others have felt as a result of my own hateful stance over the years or the complete and utter rejection LGBTQ kids have faced from family and friends.

I refuse to participate in a culture of belief that would erase and delegitimize an entire group of people simply based on who they love or have sex with. (And it should be noted that LGBTQ definitions are far more wide-ranging than that simple generalization, but for the sake of this blog post I am over-simplifying.)  And I refuse to participate in denying them the same rights and privileges I have as a heterosexual woman. And I will welcome my sons’ friends and partners into my home with love and acceptance regardless of gender or sexual orientation. To do anything but is unloving and is antithesis to everything I know about Jesus.

And to anyone in my life who I have judged in the past, I humbly offer my sincerest apology. I wish I could go back in time and show greater love and support for my friends. I wish I could erase my own prejudice and ignorance.  

So on this first day of Pride Month, I offer this as my first step to restitution. Apology. Affirmation. Acceptance. Equality. Love. Support.

HAPPY PRIDE!

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Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

Status Anxiety: Keeping up with the Joneses to the Nth Degree

One of my best friends suggested I watch Alain de Botton’s video Status Anxiety (2004), and it placed a spot light on some of the philosophical questions I have been pondering over the past few weeks and months.

In the opening few minutes of the video, Alain describes what he perceives to be the foundational reason why our culture suffers so much from anxiety, and it relates directly to the expectations we place upon ourself, or the expectation we think society places on us.

Two-hundred years ago when European settlers came across the ocean and began colonizing the Western Continent of North America, they left behind a class society or hierarchy and aristocracy. In the new land they were building, anyone could become anything. It was a clean slate. In today’s culture, where we live in a class-less society and everyone is deemed “equal” there is a pervading myth that every opportunity and every advantage is available to all of us in equal measure. Men and women are equal and are afforded the same opportunities. Blacks and Whites are equal (and every other race) and have equal value. Rich and poor are just as equally important as one another. But even reading over this list, anyone can admit that this is just simply untrue. But that is the nature of our free, democratic society. The belief that if we work hard enough, persist long enough and continually make choices to be a “better” version of ourselves, then all of the above is true for anyone. We can be the best we can be.

But the flaw in this belief is that it creates an unending cycle of striving to be something we so desperately want to be, and we are NEVER satisfied.

These are the questions I have been asking myself:

  1. What if I don’t have as many friends as my friends do, does that make me unworthy or unlovable?
  2. What if I am never recognized for my accomplishments? What if my dreams are never realized?
  3. What if my house is not the nicest or the biggest? Does that make me a failure?
  4. What if people don’t like me, does that mean that I am a failure?
  5. What if I can’t lose the weight? Does that make me unattractive?
  6. What if the things I write are never published, never read by anyone but me and never appreciated?
  7. What if I never have the latest and greatest toys and gadgets like the people I know?
  8. What if I never get to travel to the places I so desperately want to see?
  9. What if I am not as successful as the person next to me? AM I STILL VALUABLE TO SOMEONE?

The above list is only a portion of the questions I have been asking myself, and I can’t be alone. But the underlying question is Do I have value as a human being? The politically correct version of that answer is yes. But the realistic version that culture subliminally pushes on us is, no I do not have value if I am not “successful”. If I am not striving to be the next best {insert thing here} then I am failing. If I don’t adhere to the latest parenting fad then I am a failure. If I don’t make x amount of money then I am a failure. If I don’t drive the newest car, or I don’t wear the latest clothes then I am a failure. If I don’t learn the latest hobby then I am a failure, if my house doesn’t look like a Pinterest ad then I am a failure, if I don’t subscribe to the latest political ideology then I am a failure. The list goes on and on. But who gets to define success?

The problem exists when we begin to compare ourselves to our peers. The people within our closest sphere of influence are the ones we equate our identity with, and so when one or more of our “peers” advance in a stage of life we believe that we too should be advancing in the same way. A co-worker gets a promotion over us, or a friend inherits a large sum of money or has a job where they make more money than we do, a friends child receives an accolade for something they accomplished, or a friend buys a larger house–it creates a jealousy that makes us look at our own life and think, “I don’t measure up.” When we do that it creates a problem in our relationships that didn’t exist before. I nearly created a problem between a friend and myself when I admitted to my own jealousy that they were selling their house when I had been wanting to sell mine for almost as long. (When I developed cancer last year it put my life on hold and I was forced to put all of my life’s plans on the back-burner). My jealousy prevented me from being able to effectively communicate how happy I was for her (which I was) because all she heard from me was my unhappiness in my own situation. That wasn’t fair to her.

But it made me realize that her accomplishments do not diminish my own successes. It also made me realize that the things I don’t achieve are not a direct reflection of my character or my value.

If I never accomplish another thing in this life or acquire any more wealth, and simply live every day like I am now, would I be satisfied? And if the answer to that is no, then it begs the question as to why? Is it for my own satisfaction or because I am too preoccupied with a deeply ingrained cultural myth that I have to achieve certain things or do certain things in this life in order to be satisfied?

In the past few decades our culture has seen and experienced such a vast accumulation of technological advancements and wealth, has been given access to great knowledge at our finger tips, and has seen the development of a globalized economy. But in those same years we have seen a steady increase in mental illness, anxiety, depression and overall dissatisfaction. Is it because as a society we have become more adept and more open about discussing mental illness or is it because there has been such immense pressure placed on us all that we are constantly trying to attain a lifestyle ideal that is unattainable?

If you have a couple hours to kill, I highly suggest watching Alain de Botton’s video. It is long, and his voice is soothing so don’t watch it if you are tired. But his views are worth pondering, and while he doesn’t provide any answers, he allows us to consider that our happiness is derived from the things we already have and not from what we desire.

Click the link here to watch his documentary.

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Love People, Whether They are Sinners or Not.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Jesus never said this.

It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography). 1

I read online just today about a high profile evangelical worship leader from the UK who recently admitted publicly that had been struggling her entire life with a conflicting idea about who she was. In short: she is attracted to women. She’s gay.

The response from Christians has been to boycott her music, preach to her, rebuke her, judge her, tell her how she is an abomination, how she is wrong, how she has twisted theology, or “comparing my gay orientation to someone “committing adultery, murder, rape, pedophilia or zoophilia“.”

This broke my heart. Let’s for one minute take the discussion of whether homosexuality is a sin or not off the table. She openly and courageously spoke about something that she has struggled with since grade school, and the public response from the body of Christ has been to silence her or shame her?

I hate the phrase mentioned above, because it is used as a means to cast dispersions against a people group that don’t think or act in a manner befitting an evangelical theology. The phrase has been so over-used that it is inherently unloving in it’s application. To begin with, by labelling a person a sinner, as if they were somehow in a class unto themselves because they are gay for example, is unloving.

So it begs the question, what does it really mean to love? The church is missing a huge opportunity to grow in love and they are missing it. Where the church has wrongly believed that the struggle of the LGBTQ person is because of their sin, it is more likely they have struggled against cultural norms that have kept them locked away in a prison of their own mind and body. Furthermore, focusing on the right and wrong aspect of what constitutes morality takes away from the crux of what Jesus was doing on earth.

I listened to this woman’s music. I had never heard of her prior to her public announcement so I sought out some of her previous recordings. Her worship is absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of the simplicity and the purity behind her voice and her heart. And I was reminded of the woman who came to anoint Jesus and wash his feet with her tears. The Pharisees all stood around and said, “This Man, if He were a prophet would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39  The passage doesn’t describe what her sin was, it has always just been assumed. I remember growing up and hearing pastors inform the masses that she was an adulterer, or a harlot, because those were likely the most egregious sins of the day.

But this was Jesus’ response, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head…Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. ” Luke 7:44-47  Jesus sends her on her way by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” v. 50.

The magnitude of that passage speaks volumes to me, but perhaps that is because I have lived a life where I have been forgiven of much. The verse in Romans that reminds us that we are all sinners is used often but in equal measure forgotten.  So why, as evangelicals, does the church single-out the LGBTQ community? Why is it so important that they be wrong and the church be right? Does their sexual orientation diminish the truth of the cross? Does their sexuality diminish the truth of God and his great love for us? And if the church truly loved them, why does the church spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to silence them or shame them? (or condemn them?)

So the question I leave the church with is this: What does it truly mean to love? If our theology is more concerned with upholding a law or a rule, rather than the concern and compassion for people then our theology is wrong. When the emphasis is so much on proving that a people group is wrong, then how is that showing the love of Christ to the world?