An Open Letter to Lifeway Christian Stores

Dear Lifeway,

As your company is clearly aware, Eugene Peterson, Christian theologian and author, has found himself mired in controversy this week for seemingly coming out in support of gay marriage, before retracting and clarifying. Unfortunately, this debacle has not fared well for your company, at least in the eyes of this shopper. Christianity Today has revealed that your stores were standing by to pull Peterson’s books from shelves, one such book being the Message translation of the Bible. What this decision has revealed to me is the foundation upon which your theology is built. If the Message’s (or any of Peterson’s books’, or any merchandise you sell at all’s) credibility hinges upon the author’s spiritual fortitude, then you may as well shut your doors now.

Let me clue you in to a little secret found in the opening moments of the Bible: people are dirty, sinful creatures. If you truly want to exclude all authors who have sinned, Peterson should have been pulled from your shelves years ago, if he was allowed on them at all in the first place. Why? The man has told a lie. He has hated. He has sinned and repented only to sin again. He is a human – a dirty, horrible human whose only redemption is through the sanctified blood of Jesus Christ. If his product’s credibility hinges upon his personal credentials, then why carry anything of his at all?

And while this logic applies to all products you carry, there is a glaring alarm connected to The Message. Is your stance that The Message is only as true as Peterson is pure? If so, I demand you pull it from your shelves now, with or without controversy. Also pull your NIV Bibles, pull the KJV Bibles, pull the NLT Bibles. Pull every translation you have off the shelves. And if you have original texts, original scrolls and original tablets – break and burn those copies too. Why? Every text that a human hand has touched is tainted with sin. This is undeniable. Peter, Matthew, Paul, Abraham, Moses, Adam, Eve, Eugene – all sinners, all with tainted credibility, all mired with controversy and all but one unable to release a statement of retraction. So what is the point of any of it anyway?

Perhaps because even though the human hand has made the text dirty, the Spirit has made it clean. If you believe that the Spirit has affirmed The Message as a medium of which to convey the gospel message of Jesus Christ, then even if homosexuality is a sin and even if Eugene had contested that and even if there was public outcry, the Holy Spirit, a member of the trifold deity, will not, and cannot be overcome by the sins of one or a thousand men. Yes, the Spirit is more powerful than even that of the author of the text himself.

And, Lifeway, if you do not believe that the Holy Spirit has affirmed The Message regardless of Mr. Peterson’s mistakes or successes, then how does your store justify the heresy and idolatry you are committing by placing such a text on a shelf at all, let alone in the section of Bibles?

Upon what foundation is your store’s faith built on? If it is on Christ’s, then any one person cannot undermine it. But if it is on humankind, you cannot ever be a Christian store.

 

Sunday

I’m thinking today about a morning spent after a weekend of imaginable grief. I’m thinking about the friends huddled together in a house, staring blankly at walls wondering how it all went so wrong, how temporary and unfair and hard life can be after one ends. I’m thinking about the trauma and the horror it is to watch someone you love die, and, worse, how you just stood by watching, letting it happen for fear of losing your own life. I’m thinking about the mother who lost her child, who watched him slip away, the same child she nursed and laughed with and was frustrated by.

And I’m thinking about getting up three days into your grief, the sadness replaced by a whole-body numbness, and getting dressed, and preparing spices, and grabbing your friend and walking down to the graveyard, her, leaning on you, and you, leaning her, still trying to comprehend and accept and move on. And I’m thinking about getting there, finding nothing and being told that my friend, my son, my brother, is not there but lives again. That fear and that hope and that surreal heart-stopping unbelievable statement. And I picture you running back to tell your friends, to wonder and laugh and cry again with them. To have sense talked back into you, to know it was all some cruel joke. And then how it felt to see him, to touch his scars and to feel him. To believe in that unshakable, unfaltering, tangible way you do when you see it with your own two eyes, and yet to still not fully understand it, to question even that which your hands have felt and your eyes have seen. And that moment: to know him again and to get a second chance to say whatever it was that you didn’t get a chance to before he was killed, to laugh, to cry, to spit in the face of death and claim your ultimate victory, your last laugh, your final word.

And then I think about the leaving again, the change in plan, in understanding. How you thought this meant you would get more time together, more chances to laugh and to cry, eternity stretching out in front of you like an endless summer day. And watching him ascend back into the heavens, back away from you, and feeling that pit settle back inside of you of facing every single day with the loss of him, this real, human friend. And those questions you have, and the doubt.

But most importantly, the hope. The hope of going home, of belonging, of wrapping him up in your arms and hugging so tight you can feel his heartbeat next to yours. And doing it again and again and again for forever, for eternity, for a lifetime of lifetimes.

This is what the Easter season means to me. The hope beyond all hope. The ugly tears and the bubbling laughter. The victorious question – “where is it? Where, O Death, is your sting?” The promises and the second chances and, above all else, the unshakeable, undeniable, unfettering knowledge that I don’t deserve any of it. That I was the denier, the blood-coin exchanger, the stoner, the whipper, the nails and the thorny crown. Yet still, this hope is mine. And on this Easter Sunday, on a bus ride from Portland to Seattle, I take refuge in that hope. I take joy. And I feel the closest to truly thankful that I ever do.
Happy Easter, my dear friends. May you take this hope in both hands, dirty as they are, and rejoice.

Reading Rahab and Refugees

Hello friends,

I know it’s been a while and I owe you all reading wrap ups for December and January (hoping to post those soon!). This quarter has been eating up my time left and right, which hasn’t left much room for reading or for blogging! But I wanted to share some thoughts with you all regrading President Trump’s recent legislation, and the wider attitudes a vast majority of Americans are struggling with right now.

In my Christian Scripture class, we’ve been working our way through the Bible. This past week, we’ve found ourselves in Joshua, among other books, and we stumbled upon this peculiar story of a prostitute God chooses to save in His destruction of Jericho. (Feel free to read along with me in Joshua 2! I’m using the NRSV.) Rahab is peculiar, not because of what her profession is (though we should certainly take this into account), but because of her attitude.

In our discussion of why Rahab is promised protection, a few important characteristics pop up. First, Rahab acknowledges the Hebrew’s God as legitimate and powerful. She kneels before a God she does not intimately know, something even the Israelites, who have every reason to fear and honor God, struggle to do (Joshua 2:8-11). This is no small feat, but it isn’t the characteristic I want to explore right now.

She does something crucial, feeding into a theme the Old Testament is defined by: she welcomes strangers into her home. She doesn’t ask questions. And when her king orders a search party, and soldiers stop by her house to interrogate her, she lies for them, and keeps them safe (Joshua 2:2-5).

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When President Trump announced the new restrictions for immigration from “dangerous” countries, my social media feeds erupted with cheers from my Christian and conservative friends:

“Our boarders are safe!!”

“I’d rather be safe than sorry – or worse, beheaded on live TV

“Thank you, Trump, for protecting us from the reaches of ISIS!!”

And I struggle, friends. I struggle because I want to be Rahab in the middle of a sinful Jericho. I want to be a city of light on a hill of suffocating darkness. I want to open my home, my wallet, my boarders. If that means the king’s men are coming to knock on my door: I want to have the courage and the bravery to say I do not know where the spies, the refugees, the strangers, have left to, as I hide them on my roof.

Rahab and her family escaped the destruction of Jericho because the God that she bowed to honored her commitment to the stranger. She opened her door, fearless of the consequences, and God did not turn His blind eye.

Friends, if you’re someone who is cheering for Trump’s policies because you are afraid, have faith. The God who freed slaves, rained manna from the heavens, and crumbled the walls of Jericho with some trumpets and feet, is bigger than any ideology on this Earth. He is bigger than any person with a bomb (who, statistically, isn’t even banned via this new restriction, but I digress). He is bigger than a country. He is bigger than a king.

I believe in a God who topples walls, opens doors to strangers, and protects those who are strong and courageous. I believe in the Rahabs of the world. And, dear friends, when the city of Jericho falls, I have faith that no man made door will protect me. But a rope from some strangers just might.

 

Not Choosing Fear (and other 3AM Lessons)

Let me tell you where I’m not right now. I’m not on a plane. I’m not heading to Dallas. I’m not going to make the connecting flight to Belize. At least, I’m not going today.

My family and I had the perfect get away planned. Six days (five full ones) in Belize. We were going to sit on a beach, seek respite from busy lives and big problems. My sister and brother-in-law spent the night last night and we all got up at 3:00AM, overflowing with excitement. Then, we found out our flight was delayed and we’d never make it to Belize on time.  We’re sad and angry, and my mom broke down this morning. She’s been working pretty much everyday since December, and needed this, all of it. We’re staying in Dallas for an extra day and shortening our beach time, but there’s worse things.

In fact, if you thought this post was just going to be complaining about a vacation, you were wrong.See, if I could sum up the last few months in a word, it’d be “heavy.”

While I am missing my flight tonight,  78 people in Istanbul missed theirs. 41 of them will miss graduations, weddings, birthdays, Sunday mornings, and good books. 41 of them will never see a sunrise again; they’ll never kiss their child’s boo-boos; they’ll never wake up angry and have a whole day to fix it. 41 people are dead. 37 people barely escaped it. Hundreds will never be the same.

The global economy is in a tailspin after a UK vote was cast. The same vote that got an MP murdered.

A family friend of ours just learned the cancer came back. It’s in her brain, and her spine, and her breasts, and her liver.

An orange Hitler has a 1 in 4 shot of becoming an American president (and the others aren’t much better); a child was killed by an alligator; 49 people were slaughtered for being who they were; a mom viciously killed her two daughters.

Nowhere and nothing seems safe anymore. I am afraid and I am angry and I am sad and I just want to get away and go back to a time when the worst thing that could happen to a person was a broken crayon. I want ignorance. I want peace.

I have no idea what God’s planning and I have even less of clue what the hell it is any of us are doing. We spend hours screaming at each on Facebook for voting differently than we do, and then ask what kind of hatred it must take it to kill someone at a dance club. We  think that a missed or delayed vacation is the worst thing that can happen to us. We build categories for people so that we can feel better about ourselves, and then wonder why terror groups like ISIS can exist.

But here’s what I do know: when Abraham held Isaac for the first time, he didn’t plan on God asking him to make the ultimate sacrifice. When Mary gave birth to a king, she didn’t plan on having to escape the wrath of another one, and she definitely didn’t expect to have to see him tortured and killed, while people cheered. I’m also sure Job never planned on losing every single thing he ever loved.

The other day, my sister, my mom, and I were talking about our fear. Maybe, we said, it’s the end of the world. Maybe the second coming is getting closer. No sooner had the thought left my mother’s lips, than my sister said “but… I want to be a mommy. I want to raise my family.” It reminded me of a song from Noah Gundersen.

And Jesus, Jesus, it’s such a pretty place we live in
And I know we fucked it up, but please be kind
Don’t let us go out like the dinosaurs
Or blown to bits in a third world war
There are a hundred different things I’d still like to do

Here’s the thing though: after we’re blown up or after a meteor hits us, or after a gunman shoots me dead in my school, I know where I’m going.

If I have to stay a night in Dallas, to spend 4 days in paradise, so be it. If I have to live through Herod, to make it to Calvary, so be it. If I have to die tomorrow, I may as well live today.

I don’t have much time left. I am choosing, right now, for as long as I can, to not spend it in fear. I choose light. I choose faith, come what may.

One Gay Samaritan

There’s a lot to consider when you’re moving across the country. The only thing left for me to figure out before I drove 1000 miles away to the great city of Seattle, was where I was going to go to church. Now, church shopping is always stressful (I know, I’ve done it at least four separate times), but church shopping as a gay dude is a lot more stressful. Church shopping as a gay dude who isn’t big into the LGBT scene and is very particular about denominations…? Forget it.

Here’s what I mean: there’s a million sites on how to find an LGBT friendly church, but I’ve found these churches tend to be too LGBT friendly (at least for me). When you log onto their site the first thing you see is a giant rainbow flag and capitol letters that say GAYS WELCOME. The ones that are a bit more quiet about it tend to be denominations I am not. Basically, I was looking for a church I would normally go to, but who won’t be all weird about it if I happen to bring a boyfriend. Tricky.

So I changed my approach, and found a regular old normal (possibly hetero-normative) church I actually really liked. Then came the part of trying to decipher whether I should wait and see what happened when I got there, ask now, or pursue some other mean. I decided to ask now because, for whatever reason (I’d realize later it was the Holy Spirit – duh), I was really drawn to this church. I sent an email and eagerly awaited a response.

They got back to me and said they’d love to have me! I was revealed to say the least (like I said, I really felt led there). But that’s not the cool part of the story; the best was yet to come.

I helped a friend who lives way out east move the other day. Elated that I had finally chose a church after months of searching, I decided to go back and listen to a sermon on my drive out. I chose randomly (or so I thought) a message from few weeks back. We’re in Acts, talking about the apostles, and the message I chose dealt with the gospel spreading to Samaria. The pastor’s point was that, for the Jews, it was one thing to be joyful the Samaritans were receiving the gospel, and another to actually understand that the Samaritans, these dirty and incredibly culturally different people, were now their brothers and sisters.

He ended the message by calling on the people of the church to be careful in who they themselves were restricting access to the gospel. Then, he prayed that they as a church building, would prayerfully consider who they themselves were restricting access to.

Here’s the truth: God cares so deeply about each and every one of us. He is for us when we are scared. He’s here for us when we’re celebrating. If you’re in need of some encouragement today, know that the God who spoke light into darkness is speaking love into your life right now. He’s got you; Trust in Him.

God’s Not Dead: An Open Letter to the Church

Dear Church,

Full confession: I have never seen God’s Not Dead, and I don’t plan on seeing the sequel anytime soon. Now, the reason for this may be that I haven’t been to a youth group in several years, but I’m more willing to bet it’s because I fundamentally don’t agree with the franchise. Here are my three main problems with the God’s Not Dead series.

(PS. While I’m here… I’m not a big fan of the song either. “He’s ‘surely’ alive?” Surely??? He’s alive. It’s not a surely thing.)

1) Christian Persecution Does Not Exist in the United States

How do I know? When I went to church this past weekend, I went to a building that sat on the intersection of two giant streets, with the words “COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN CHURCH” clearly displayed on it. No cops came to shut us down. My family wasn’t taken out into the street to be murdered. I am writing this from the comforts of my kitchen table, and not from a prison cell.

Further, if anything can be said about American history, it’s that a bunch of christian dudes got together and persecuted entire races of people for not being christian. It isn’t the other way around.

Church – we are not persecuted here, and we not only look foolish when we say such things, we deny our brothers and sisters that are persecuted, that are forced into underground churches, and that are in prison.

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” – Hebrews 13:3 NIV

2) Atheists are not Evil People

It bears repeating: atheists are not evil people. Are they thirsty for the spirit? Are they hungry for the bread of life? Are they in desperate need of a savior that knows and loves them? Yes – absolutely, unequivocally, in every way yes. But they are not inherently these evil Disney-esque villains waiting at every turn to suck the Holy Spirit out of your children.

This is exactly how these films portray the unbelievers. Now, call me a radical, but I believe our job as the church is to populate heaven, not alienate the only group of people who don’t know Jesus. 99% of atheists just don’t believe in God – they don’t care what you believe. Portraying them as these wicked creatures might make us feel better, but it won’t bring people to know Him.

Church – get off your high horse. We are not blameless victims and “they” are not the epitome of evil. God isn’t dead, he isn’t. We are not perfect. “They” are not perfect. These issues aren’t black and white – good vs evil. Church, stop believing that it is.

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:22b-24

3) It Is Not Our School’s Job to Minister  

 

This issue is bigger than God’s Not Dead, I get that, but it still applies here. It is not the school system’s job to teach creation, to teach Jesus, to spread the Good News. It isn’t. I wish it was. I wish we got a pass. It’d be so much easier to just send our kids to school (they already have to go), have Mr. or Mrs. Smith feed ’em up with the Truth, and send ’em on home to tell their parents. Simple, easy, no effort for me. And Church, I’m so lazy! I would absolutely love nothing more than for our schools to teach Jesus’ word. But we can’t let this happen, because it isn’t what we’ve been charged with.

See, Jesus has just risen up from the dead and all eleven disciples are in Galilee, worshiping Jesus for this miracle. Shortly before he ascends to heaven, he tells the men:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matt. 28:19NIV

Therefore go. Get up and go tell the gospel. Go, Ben. Go out and tell the gospel. Go, church. Go out and tell the gospel.

Church – He has asked us to be proactive participants in ministry, not passive complainers.

Church – We get to spread the gospel. We get to bring people with us to heaven.

Church – Don’t allow the schools, or the government, or the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, to steal that from you. And I’m going to try to not let them steal that from me.