400. Lent, 2015 (part 2) – getting punched in the faith

In my previous post, I wrote about how I’ve decided to take up the belief that God loves me for Lent and why that’s not as lovely or as easy as it sounds (quite the opposite).

Funny thing. Wanna know what makes believing in God’s love for me especially difficult?

Other Christians, punching me in the faith.
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See, I have what can only be labeled as a calling:1 I believe in unity within the body of Christ. And let me be clear here. When I say “unity,” I don’t mean uniformity. My idea of unity does not include getting all Christians to believe the same things. My idea of unity is simultaneously much broader and more modest than that.

In a broad sense, I believe in a kind of unity that celebrates (or, at the very least, tolerates) a wide variety of theological/doctrinal positions.2 Because of that, my goals are modest. At the very least, my desire is for Christians who disagree on an issue to recognize those on the other side as fellow Christians.3 And even that modest goal is sometimes incredibly difficult.

Now how does going after that goal play out in my life?

Christians who disagree with one another usually only hang out with Christians who agree with them. So the only way to get them to move towards this broad/modest idea of unity is for someone to stand in the space between. And that’s where my calling places me.
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To name just one example, the issue of marriage equality is tearing the church apart and I often find place myself in the gap between those who believe that God affirms and celebrates LGBT persons,4 and those who don’t. And let me tell you, in that gap be dragons, fearsome ones.

And I often get my ass kicked because the thing about gap-standing is that one can’t be too defensive. Defensiveness tends to shut down conversation, and I want people to stay engaged, so I keep my guard down. But holding that sort of openness leaves me vulnerable to attack. And some Christians seem to take a perverse sort of delight in beating the shit out of anyone who doesn’t run or retaliate.

But again, I have modest goals.

I don’t expect to win or to change anyone’s mind.

On the issue of marriage equality and the church, I just want Christians who believe that relationships between couples of the same sex is sinful to acknowledge that Christians on the affirming side (like me) are still Christians.5

That’s it.
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Image by: Saji

 
Yes, I believe that God fully affirms LGBT persons and that one can hold a high view of the Bible and support same-sex marriage. People can disagree with me on this (or any other) issue. I’m fine with that. I readily acknowledge that I may be wrong. But I can’t tell you how often, in the midst of conversations around the issue of marriage equality, I’ve been accused of not being a Christian.6

And that hurts. Every time.

And yet, I keep entering that gap because I believe the church, at its best, is a place where differences are allowed to thrive. The scandal of the early church was that it transgressed all sorts of boundaries.7 It created a community where people groups, who would normally have nothing to do with one another, gathered around a table to eat and drink, to commune. Priests and prostitutes; mystics and magicians; slaves and slave owners; men, women, and eunuchs; rich and poor; Romans and widows and Jews and Gentiles and on and on… This radically diverse group of people passed the bread and the cup to one another and considered each other family.

It wasn’t easy then, and it certainly isn’t easy today.

I believe that my calling/curse is to model and to live into the unity-amidst-diversity of the early church. But it’s hard, especially when, in living out this calling, my Christianity gets mocked (if not outright rejected) over and over and over again.

The people of God, punching me in the faith, for doing what I believe God has called me to do.
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Is it any wonder I question God’s love for me?

It’s a despicable sort of irony. The source of my skepticism regarding God’s love for me turns out to be other people who love God.

Honestly, I’m ready to throw in the towel, but I’ve made a lenten commitment to hold on to belief (despite evidence to the contrary) that God loves me.

Prayers appreciated (I’m gonna need them).


[FOOTNOTES]

1. A vocational commitment that seems inextricably linked with my core sense of identity and passion. Unfortunately, this calling often feels like a curse.
2. In this way, the church is an expansive place, able to take in the new without jettisoning tradition.
3. Said another way, I want to stop hearing things like, “you can’t be a Christian and agree with Rob Bell.” See also: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/freedhearts/2015/02/16/has-anyone-said-to-you-i-dont-think-youre-really-a-christian/
4. And the full range of relationships they choose to (or choose not to) pursue.
5. And vice versa. But I find that affirming Christians tend to be more charitable towards those on the non-affirming side.
And yes, I know that there are those on the non-affirming side who believe they are being persecuted. Maybe I’ll address this in a future post.
6. Hint: almost every time.
7. The first non-Jewish convert to Christianity was an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-38). Peter was commanded to eat non-kosher foods Acts 10:9-16). The early church promoted women to positions of leadership. And Jesus himself problematizes the binary nature of gender (Matthew 19:12 And Paul does something similar in Galatians 3:28).

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399. Lent, 2015 (part 1)

I’ve never been a liturgical sort of person and as such, Lent really hasn’t held much meaning for me. Maybe because of that, I tend to think WAY outside the box when it comes to what I do with this church season.1 This year, I’m going to take up another rather odd lenten practice.

But first, some context.

There’s a kind of bait-and-switch that happens in some forms of evangelical Christianity.2 Prior to salvation, the church promises unconditional love and forgiveness. This is the bait. The switch happens after someone accepts Christ and has been at the church for a while. In the switch, the “forgiveness” bit mysteriously disappears and the “unconditional” bit gets replaced by a severe sort of legalism. Worst of all, “love” takes on a disturbingly dark hue.3

I used to attend such a church.4
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Image by: David Hayward

 
I’ve written before that this church

…taught a really strict, particularly moralistic version of Christianity. They taught a view of God where God was an all-seeing deity who was always looking for the tiniest ways that we fell short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)…

It’s as if God was on a hair-trigger pivot… We could only have a relationship with God when we lived righteously because that was the only time when God was pleased with us. But this hair-trigger God would immediately snap 180 degrees away from us any time we sinned in any way. And the back side of God radiated shame – shame that reminded us that we were weak and disgusting and not worthy of relationship with a holy God.

Our worth only came from God, but only when we lived in a way that didn’t repulse God.

(As an aside, given this view of God, it’s no wonder that I wrote a pair of posts last year talking about how I believed that God was kind of an asshole.)
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Image by: David Hayward

 
But you know what?

I’m done believing in that God. Really done.

But now what?

I figure there are a few ways I could go. I could try Peter Rollins’ atheism for Lent project. Or I could disbelieve in God for an entire year, the way this Seventh Day Adventist pastor did.5 Or I could give up belief in God altogether.

And I’ll admit, I was really tempted to take one of these non-belief stances, to join the growing ranks of the nones and dones.

But I’ve chosen an entirely different route:

This year, for Lent, I’m going to believe that God really does love me unconditionally, that God never stopped loving me, and that God never will.

And that may seem like a lovely, simple thing, but given my history with the church, it’s anything but. This is a lenten choice laden with baggage and seeded with landmines.

For me, a part of this lenten discipline will be blogging about the thoughts surrounding this decision, thus the “part one” bit in the title. I don’t know how regularly I’ll be posting for this series, but I’m hoping to get at least one post up per week.

Stay tuned!

(Prayers deeply appreciated.)
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Image by: David Hayward

[FOOTNOTES]

1. For example, two years ago, I tweeted “This year for Lent, I’m going to give up singleness.”

2. Usually on the really conservative end.

3. In a previous post, this is how I described this dark form of “love”

[Sexual] desire outside the context of marriage is dangerous, it’s unpredictable, uncontrollable, and wrong. It’s so dangerous that if you choose to entertain it in any way, shape, or form, it will seriously and permanently screw you up for life. It’s so unpredictable and uncontrollable that you should have nothing to do with it whatsoever because you can’t predict what you can’t control and you can’t control what you can’t predict. And it’s so wrong that we’re going to immediately brandish you with white hot shame if we even suspect you’re dabbling in it in any way whatsoever… because that’s how much we love you.

4. Well, technically, I attended a really conservative para-church organization that taught me these things, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to call it a church.

Also, I’ve since found much healthier Christian community, but (as I’ll outline in future posts in this series) the scars from those early experiences are still with me.

5. At the end of his year, this pastor came to this conclusion: “I have discovered no evidence that a God exists.”