My Worst Post, Ever.

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The worst post I have ever written is something nobody has ever called me out on. It’s the sort of thing that still gets something of a free pass in the circles I used to haunt. I could easily leave it alone, forget about it, and know that nobody really cares. It’s as easy as saying: “You can’t hold that against me, it’s not like I’ve done anything —ist recently.” But I think that an outstanding track record that says I’ve been on my best behavior never excuses the worst behavior I’ve ever had even if it was from years ago.

The thinking that underlies the post is that of someone who was raised in Christianity to believe certain things were unquestionably true – among them, the interpretation of Scripture as elaborated upon by the pastor of my church. That’s not to say that my pastor was the sort to say racist or sexist or whatever comments from the pulpit; but he wasn’t the sort of person to stress that one shouldn’t say such things either. I was taught that I was a righteous believer who would go to heaven when I die and anyone who wasn’t a believer would be eternally tormented in heaven. In order to save unbelievers from their fate, they would have confront the fact that they were sinners in need of salvation – anyone who doesn’t see themselves as a sinner will never understand the depth of their need for salvation.

This story was always punctuated by the story of the guy on the boat. You’ve probably heard it, but here it goes anyway: There’s this guy and his house is flooding. So his neighbor floats on by in his canoe and says, “Hey buddy, I’ve got a way out, come with me.” and the guy with the flooding house says: “No man, I’ve got this guy coming for me. You go on alone.” So the flood gets bad and the guy moves on up to the second story of his house. He’s sitting on his window ledge and this guy on a raft happens to float on by and says: “Dude, I’ve got plenty of room on this raft, hop on board and we’ll head for dry land.” The guy on the window shakes his head and says: “Thanks, but no thanks. My friend is coming for me and he promised that he won’t fail. Go help other people who really need it. I’ll be fine.” Things go downhill fast – and soon the guy is sitting on his roof, watching the water slowly rise. Finally, a boat comes by: “I’m your last chance, get on board if you want to live.” But the guy on his roof was adamant that he had help on the way. The guy on the boat didn’t stick around to see if he would change his mind. That night, the water rose and swept him away. As he approached the gates of heaven, he asked God: “Why didn’t you send me help?” To which God said: “I sent you the canoe, the raft, and the boat – it was you who refused to be saved and perished.

The point was that as Christians, we were the canoes, rafts, and boats that God was sending to the foolish sinners to tell them what they needed to know in order for them to be saved. Anyone who was so caught up in their own sin that they refused to see the obvious truth before them was deserving of the destruction that God had prepared for them. Now when I had written the worst post ever, it was during the height of the animosity against a group of sinning sinners who stood opposed to the plain truth of the scriptures. We were taught that love wasn’t to accept the sin that a person was up to, but to stage something like an intervention – make it clear that the behavior was unacceptable and harmful; after all, their eternal soul was at stake and a little discomfort here on the earthly plain was far better than eternal torture. In this way, equating the wrong behavior to an actual wrong behavior was much the same thing – we were taught that sin is lawlessness, and breaking the law – by a white lie or by premeditated murder were equal offenses in God’s law-book; and since both the smallest and greatest act of lawbreaking had the same punishment, then so would every sin in-between. So breaking God’s moral law was the same as breaking a regular law – particularly when the regular law was likely based from God’s moral law – so far as I was taught. It seems worth noting that these ideas weren’t elaborated as such, but more or less blanks that each believer was expected to fill on his or her own once they had been trained to think just the right way.
This is the worst post I have ever written.

it shows me how far I’ve come and how much further I have yet to go; but it worries me most knowing that there’s this strain of thinking that goes unchecked in Christianity because it acceptable. It’s not in just one church in just one town in just one state – but it’s like a little yeast that has been worked throughout the whole dough – bloating it. Because we think of sin and wrongness in these certain terms, then being holy and righteous becomes a free pass to take whatever measures are necessary to wipe the slate clean.

Since nobody has called me out on it, I choose to call myself out on it. I was wrong; I’m so very deeply sorry about the lies I used to believe and spread about people I had never met and had no way of knowing how many of them were kind, decent, honest people just like me and in some cases far better and more gracious than me. I was just parroting what I was taught. I wasn’t thinking for myself. A lot has changed in seven years – most notably the passage of the Marriage Equality Act – but long before then my perspective had begun to change. Even as I was being taught about how evil those unrepentant sinners were, I had begun to get to know one. From the first day I walked into school as the new kid, everybody told me that Brock was one of them. His friends were my friends, which sort of made him my friend. He was also very open about it, talking about guys the same way that the girls did. I remember listening as one boy told him: “When you first came out, all I wanted to do was to pound your face in … but now, I don’t feel that way anymore.” Brock would be about my age today – had he not committed suicide. He never saw the Marriage Equality Act passed.

Then, of course, there was that house. The one where the murder had taken place that had something to do with that sin or so the rumor went. Every day to and from school we’d glance over and see the ever-present “For Sale – Reduced Price!” sign. Even nearly two decades after the crime it haunted the community. I had to ask – how was it loving for a Christian’s first reaction to be to beat someone up? How was it loving to ostracize people who didn’t fit in or measure up to our expectations? How was it loving to spread rumors that others were one of them without ever really getting to know them in the first place?

Even as all this played it’s part, there was also the mounting tension in Christianity – watching Westboro Church march around the country using language even I would not use – derogatory words meant to insult and shame people … I couldn’t see that as being loving or working as an effort to scare people to stop sinning and sign up for heaven. The Boy Scouts had changed their policies, which resulted in a great many churches pulling out their support, kicking them out of their building, and creating an alternative that taught only the things that met with Christian approval. As well as the reverse on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. From what I could tell, the secular world was realizing that to some degree it had been participating in oppressing a group of people and were trying to make amends, the Church, on the other hand, were trying to keep their power intact at the expense of oppressing others.

Then there were Bible study books that my church elder lead – “Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong” by John MacArthur’s ministry team and “Tipping the Scales” by Dr. James Kennedy’s ministry team. The former says: “It should be noted that I am using the descriptive term ‘Christian’ with qualification. I fully understand that a person who is homosexual or effeminate is not a true believer no matter how passionate their claim (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” – the bulk of the chapter argues that the two are mutually exclusive identities. It advises: “Then bridges need to be burned in that person’s life to make the repetition of the sin difficult (cf. Mark 9:42-50). If the person has friends (even so-called Christians) who encourage this sin, those friendships must end immediately. If the bridge is a co-worker or the work environment, the person needs to change jobs. Any pipeline that fuels the sin of homosexuality must be severed. Of course, the counselee must then focus on friends, activities, and thinking that will facilitate righteousness (cf. Colossians 3:5-11).” Sure, Christianity could be interpreted to say that it applies to all sorts of sinners, liars, tax evaders, people who abuse their authority over others – all it would require is to isolate everyone on an island and cut off all human contact. It rounds out the chapter with the charge that sexual relationships are a matter of worship and not being complementarian is akin to idolatry. The latter features two chapters were former homosexual sinners and now fully heterosexual Christians spoke about their experiences and the efforts of the gay agenda as it relates to their actions in Washington D.C. affecting the laws and policies that were being made at the time the conference was given – when Bill Clinton was president.It’s almost a picture of us vs. them locked in a David vs. Goliath battle of saints trying to lovingly rescue sinners.

It took getting to know a few members of the LGBT community as friends and relatives for me to begin to see that my churches weren’t being entirely honest. They had interpreted scripture by twisting verses out of context and erasing any cultural or historical background from the Bible that allowed for other valid interpretations that they would rather ignore than admit the possibility that they have got it wrong. They made it a point not to say anything overtly racist or sexist or whatever, but they also made it a point not to call out anyone who did – as evidenced by nobody calling me out on my post that I had written years ago. They had so effectively poisoned the well that I almost didn’t give those sinners a chance to be my friend lest they contaminate me and cause me to lose my salvation – it’s a good thing that God foiled the church’s questionable teaching. The church has come a long way, but not long enough to stop itself from doing damage. It’s responsible for every child a parent kicks out of their home in the name of tough love, every time a kid beats up another kid because the saint wants to show his love for the sinner, for every broken relationship in the name of fixing a “counselee” – this and so much more hateful things have been done in the name of a sort of love that isn’t really love at all – because love does no harm and this love is nothing but harm.

There is one thing I did get right in my worst post ever, that there is a greater law that all of us are going to answer to. What I failed to understand back then that there’s no law involved – but grace as a result of true love – this kind of love: ” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

11/11: Singles’ Day

Growing up, there was ever one valid verse on singleness that was regularly preached from the Bible: ” Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) It was always interpreted as an impossible task; so the emphasis on this verse wasn’t on how good singleness was, but on how necessary marriage is. As if being tempted and losing control was a foregone conclusion and only marriage could serve as the proper outlet for one’s passions – this was something without exception. For some odd reason, the rest of 1 Corinthians 7 was never included on the discussion of singleness, but to be fair, they never really talked about singleness except to use it as a segue onto marriage, the only thing the church really cares about. Had they read the rest of it, they might have seen this passage (among others):

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Christianity finds itself in a world of increasing singleness; to which it’s sole response is to continually preach about marriage and only marriage as the right way to live. It’s failure to speak to singleness means that an increasing number of people are being sent the wrong message – one that says that they’re selfish or immature for not having graduated to the next level and they have nothing to say to them until they do.

But the thing is – the stories of the Bible aren’t just stories of husbands for husbands to replicate or examples of wives for wives to follow – they’re human stories featuring a cast of characters from all walks of life; old, young, married, single, wealthy, poor, in a simple relationship, in a complicated relationship, from a good family, from a bad family – for many of these people and their stories, their marriage isn’t exactly the most important thing about them. After all, we know that David and Saul were both very married, but you’d be hard pressed to find mention of all their wives by names. Deborah was married, but there’s barely a mention of her husband – probably because being married is a part of their story, but it is not who they are as people.

Which is something singles need to hear – being single is a part of your story, but it’s not necessarily who you are as a person. The pressure to marry young and have children early is a way of keeping a young couple busy – by taking away any time they might have used to figure out who they were, what they like, but it’s also a dangerous time as a young person might realize that they’re quite capable and not necessarily helpless on their own. They run the risk of getting set in their ways – which explains why there’s the rush to get young people married. But for the long-term single, he or she has all the time in the world to write their own story and find that which brings him or her satisfaction and happiness. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Instead of bringing self-doubt to into any future relationship, self-knowledge creates a firm foundation of confidence and a frame of reference for someone you’re getting to know and someone who is getting to know you.

And some, like a co-worker of mine, is quite happy in his singleness and not looking to change that in the foreseeable future. Why should he continually be subjected to messages like: “You’re not really happy unless you’re dating/married!”? Maybe it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the churches’ relentless messages about marriage, singles feeling frustrated about their situation, wondering if the grass truly is greener on the other side … it’s just that the church never really puts that shoe on the other foot.

“You married people will be single again one day, perhaps you’ll be widows and widowers, so pay attention to these directions so that you’ll know how to live …”
But the core of Christianity is a message for anyone from any walk of life, that you are loved, that you have a spiritual family, that you are needed, that sort of thing. And so here’s to the ones who are so very often left out and on their own. May you find your long-due measure of happiness. As for me, I’m having a slice of Singles’ Day cake … and then maybe a game of solitaire. Let’s do what the world doesn’t celebrate every one of us – because there will only be one of each of us.

A Sense of Belonging

It’s written deeply into us, the need to belong. We’re social creatures. We seek the acceptance and approval of those around us – the elders we trust to show us the ropes, the friends we depend on to navigate the storms of life, the family that we reach out to and hold onto tightest when disaster strikes. It’s part of why we surround ourselves by those who think and feel much as we do. It’s why we often seek out a spiritual family and crave their acceptance even though we know that it shouldn’t matter what others think – it still matters to us on some level.

The problem with Christianity’s family is that it too often fails to accept everyone who seeks to become a part of it. Some are allowed to be on the fringes, but they aren’t really acknowledged until they meet specific criteria. For some churches, membership isn’t just a process – but a contract, a vow, a permit, and it’s semi-legally binding. Being a non-member is failing to commit, it’s mooching, it’s just not how one properly identifies as Christian. Having grown up in Christianity, I see that there’s a whole other set of expectations in order to be accepted – outsiders get this sort of pass, because they weren’t born into the teachings, obviously lived lives of sin, they shouldn’t be expected to be as righteous as those who were always in on it, always on the know.

Growing up into adulthood is fraught with difficulties. Some of our most beloved child stars pull ridiculous stunts in Hollywood and seemingly get away with questionably legal antics as they fill up pages of newspaper with scandal. Growing up in church is a whole lot like that – except everything you do comes with this threat of damnation and shaming the family name. To avoid that fate, the best thing to do is to stick to the plan. Nobody really tells you about it, but it’s rules are something like this: graduate High School, get married ASAP while going to college or securing work, it’s okay if you get married after college or secure work first in order to support your family, but all that really matters is that you get married as young as possible so that you can move onto the next step, have children. Once you are married and have children, you’re a responsible, mature, adult Christian who has put behind them their childish ways and the selfishness that goes with it. You get the approval of pretty much everyone else for having arrived.

The price of failure, of not getting married and having children, is to be marginalized. It’s to be less important and less respected than others. It’s like realizing that you could do any feat normally considered impressive be tarnished by the lack of a spouse. “If only he had a spouse, he could have climbed that mountain better/faster” “if only she were married, she would have negotiated the business agreement quicker and not settled less” “if only he/she were married, he/she would be better, more faithful Christians”. The last one is a sentiment that echoes unspoken throughout every church hallway, a specter of another time that just won’t fade away.

I think Paul himself would want to set the record straight, marriage is good, but it isn’t the only way. Singleness is good but it isn’t the only way. Being a Christian isn’t about whether or not you have a ring on your finger, but about the love you carry in your heart. If you can’t love a single Christian as fully as you can a married Christian, then your heart is lacking in the capacity to love others whose situation might not be the same as your own. It should never be on your (blood) brother or sister to earn your love, neither should a (spiritual) brother or sister have to jump through hoops in order to be accepted and acknowledged by you.
You see, when we teach about this family, we often say that all they have to do is to accept Jesus and he will accept them. We say “come as you are”. But spend enough time with the whole family and you’ll see that’s just not the case. So many of us are tired by the mixed messages and disappointed by the false hope. We were looking somewhere we could belong, but we found that we just didn’t fit in and nobody seemed to want us around. So we got the hint and decided not to darken the doorways of those churches or any churches remotely like them. Christianity has declined because it lacks love and isn’t place where people feel like they can belong.