Saturday, August 23, 2008

How We Do

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

                        Matthew 5.45 

Life’s Not Fair

One of our more enduring fallacies revolves around entitlement. From the start, we’re taught to expect what we deserve. The reason for this is obvious: parents, teachers, et al., promise rewards to reinforce positive behaviors. It works, too—better than it should, perhaps. We go through life, repeatedly bumping into situations where we’re overlooked, underappreciated, poorly compensated, and discriminated against. This deeply offends the child in us. “It’s unfair!” we cry. And we’re usually right. But let a bona fide cynic sit within earshot and we’re sure to hear, “Life’s not fair.” Unable to admit it, we strike back with homilies on equality and level fields and whatnot. What we really want, though, is a fair break--and that has nothing to do with equality.

Equality Isn’t Fair

We should brace ourselves for this: equality isn’t fair, either. The same broom that sweeps away prejudice takes merit with it. Equality insists no one deserves more or less than the rest. It’s a right, not a reward. Everyone is entitled to equal respect and opportunity. This is why Jesus stressed that God sees all of us the very same way. Most assuredly, He blesses goodness and punishes evil—He’s infallibly fair. But His incentive and non-discrimination policies work independently of one another and if we confuse them, we prime ourselves for disillusionment. It’s vital to keep them separated. We constantly seek God’s favor, yet no matter how good we are, we’ll never be His favorite, because He has none.

A Family Trait

For we who’ve known or witnessed oppression first-hand, Christ’s proclaiming we’re all equal gives us every cause to rejoice. Before breaking out the Champagne and taking to the streets, however, we might want to examine the context of His statement. Once we get its full gist, the bubbly may fizzle, and we may want to postpone the party long enough to internalize the message more fully. 

Jesus does not advocate our equality or condemn our persecutors here. He does exactly the opposite, insisting we offer the same tolerance and parity to them that we want from from them. We do this because of our Father. Treating everyone equally, whether or not we’re seen as equals, is a family trait. It’s how we do.

Never can we relinquish our fight for equality—for everyone. At the same time, we must resist reviling our adversaries as hypocrites, bigots, and evildoers. Since God doesn’t do it, we can’t. It’s not about unfairness to us, or what they deserve. Whether we agree with it or not, it's about what’s right. Should God’s sun inexplicably begin shining exclusively on the righteous and His rain fall solely on their gardens, perhaps we can revisit this. Until then, it’s not up for debate.

We give what we want, focusing on what's right rather than what's fair.

Personal Postscript: New Favorites

God doesn't have favorites, but when it comes to websites promoting GLBT discipleship and Christian enlightenment, I certainly do. In the last couple weeks, I've heard from amazing people who've already carved out lively, fascinating niches on the Internet. To a one, they've sent enthusiastic emails of support for "Straight-Friendly" and immediately linked it to their sites. I'm grateful to repay their kindness here and encourage everyone to check them out.

Christian Gays

An all-around resource for gay believers covering everything from what the Bible says about homosexuality to GLBT Christian humor.

Donna Schaper

A personal website by the superb writer and pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Greenwich Village--one of America's finest bastions of social activism and affirmative faith. 

Freedom 2B[e]

An Australia-based forum targeting, though hardly exclusive to, GLBT believers rejected by Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. 

A Life of Unlearning

A wide-ranging blog by Anthony Venn-Brown, a former Assemblies of God pastor and present GLBT Christian activist (as well as co-moderator of Free2B).

Progressive Christian Alliance

The site of a strong affiliation of ministers and laity dedicated to uniting GLBT believers from all denominations under the banners of inclusion and evangelism.

Shuck and Jive

A highly informative and entertaining blog hosted by John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, a boldly progressive Bible-Belt church in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

(Coming Sunday: New Welcoming Churches)


Friday, August 22, 2008


Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

                        Luke 1.45 (KJV)


Of all the coming-out scenarios I know—meaning any significant life turn based on self-disclosure—one has yet to rival Mary’s story. Here is a lovely, small-town girl engaged to a modest tradesman, probably expecting no more from her future than an ordinary life as a wife and mother. Then—WHAM!— an angel appears. In about 10 minutes’ time, Mary learns things about herself she never imagined. For starters, she’ll soon become pregnant. That knocks her into a tailspin and each new bombshell compounds her problems.

We think accepting our sexuality and asking family and friends to do likewise is scary? After thinking of Mary, let’s think again. At least we gradually discover who we are. Mary’s news hit her like a ton of bricks. It was her job to deal with it—its physical and emotional challenges, explaining it to Joseph and her family, inevitable shame in her neighborhood, and worst of all, comprehending the whole thing. If ever someone was entitled to ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” it was Mary. But listen to her response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1.38)

Scene Changes

Each of us understandably likes to view his/her life as its own unique drama. We see ourselves in lead roles we were born to play. And this is so. But our story also intersects with the spectacle of creation, in which we’re one in a cast of billions. Now, we’re supporting characters created and called to avail our talent to ensure God’s glory is revealed through us. This is precisely how Mary saw it. With stunning perception, she saw the scene had changed. Although His story suddenly overshadowed hers, she recognized God chose her for a reason. She set aside her expectations in life to serve His purpose.

A God Who Performs

Any time God asks us to step into His sphere, we’re apt to have second doubts. It’s hard to envision the full scope of His plan and feel comfortable about what we’re supposed to do. This apparently happened to Mary. Luke says she hurried off to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who also was pregnant. Mary barely got through the door before God’s Spirit spoke through Elizabeth, saying because she believed there would be a performance of all she’d been told.

My former pastor repeatedly cited this passage, reminding us we serve a God Who performs. When He says it, He means it—whatever “it” is. Paul said, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amenis spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1.20) Yes, it is so, we say, knowing our story nestles inside a far greater one. Each of us plays a part. We all serve a purpose. And God performs.

Each of us is unique and our stories are unique; but we're also part of a much bigger saga.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hold On Loosely

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

                        Philippians 4.6

When Anxiety Attacks

Learning, at last, to accept who we are puts an end to years of internal turmoil and confusion. Yet many, many times our relief is short-lived. After the ecstatic “Aha!” comes the resounding “Uh-oh…” Rarely does a newly cognizant GLBT individual gain self and social acceptance in one fell swoop. More often, coming to grips with our identity means coming to grips with it’s not being something everyone wants or cares to handle. That’s when anxiety attacks.

With prayer and fortitude, we learn the next lesson—as soon as we can, one hopes. Our confidence and self-respect aren’t predicated by anyone's fear or disdain. (As Wayne Dyer once said, “What you think of me is none of my business.”) Definitely, we care about the feelings of others, but only insofar as empathy informs our understanding of how best to respond. Easing their discomfort by reverting to discomfort with ourselves defeats both sides. Instead of vainly attempting to erase what’s happened, we carefully look to what’s ahead.

Establishing Patterns

When we read Paul’s instruction not to worry about anything, our natural instinct leads us to divide pointless worries from legitimate concerns. We’ll grant him annoying, spilled-milk incidents like running late and cash crunches. But who isn’t shaken by such major disasters as grave illness and failed relationships?

Paul’s comprehensive strategy for anxiety springs from unnatural awareness that it can only be eliminated from the top down. Signature life events—such as coming out, long-term commitments, and family crises—establish patterns that resurface in less critical situations. Trusting God with big issues teaches us the value in keeping faith and discipline on hand for the smaller ones.

The Stress-Free Process

Look closely at Paul’s stress-free process. In no way does it suggest we ignore our problems or resign responsibility for their proper treatment. Indeed, it provides a failsafe method for handling them. “Present them to God,” Paul says, “in prayer, attaching thanks in advance for His answer.” Having done that, dare we think we’ll come up with a better solution? Why become anxious about complications and outcomes once God is aware of our needs and working them out? He’ll tell us when it’s best for Him to step in. Meanwhile, we dismiss anxiety as we continue to cope. We hold on loosely, standing by to release our control the moment God chooses to take over.

The perfect posture for holding our problems, anticipating the moment when God takes them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lake You

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

                        Romans 15.1


We have a saying around here when we or our friends fall into a “me” hole: “Sweetheart, you’re drowning in Lake You!”  We can’t recall where we heard it, but we like it. It’s such a terrifically queer thing to say. It gets the laugh and knocks the wind out of the whine. And as writers, my partner and I relish its powerful imagery. It altogether captures what’s really going on.

We don’t fall into Lake You—we dive in head first. Why? It scratches our itch for attention. It dramatizes our dilemma. Sometimes it actually indicates feelings of helplessness. Whatever drives us, we’re fully aware of it when we take the leap. As Romans says, it pleases us. But Lake You also distances us from people we look to for help. We increase the difficulty of our rescue when we plunge into the very fears and anxieties we want out of.

Weak Swimmers

It’s essential to clarify the difference between drowning in self-indulgence and sinking in despair. We all know weak swimmers—earnest people without the stamina and wisdom to swim against the tide or avoid getting in over their heads. They don’t go under voluntarily. They’re tossed overboard by winds of rejection, physical and psychological violence, and religious hostility. Deadly currents suck them into whirlpools of peer pressure, self-gratification, and substance abuse. They’re miles from the self-contained Lake You—lost on the vast seas of life with its forces and predators, feeling tiny and isolated.

Unnatural Law

This should be expected according to the laws of nature. Only the strong survive. Even Jesus conceded such things happen. In Mark 14.7 He says, “The poor you will always have with you.” But He didn’t say, “Live with it.” In fact, He immediately added, “Help them.” This is what Paul tells the Romans. We strive for strength for ourselves, but also for weaker people in our lives—including those who endanger us by stirring up tempests of hatred and damnation.

Our success is gauged by how well we protect the safety and survival of others. Not all want to be saved, of course; the deep is full of self-righteous, disoriented people preferring spiritual suicide over admitting they’re lost at sea. We still open our arms to them, hoping they’ll reconsider the consequences. And what of those in true distress, calling for anyone to come to their aid? We have to reach them right away. 

In either case, we can’t swim out to a single soul in real jeopardy if we’re the self-centered star of Drowning in Lake You.

Some would rather drown than look to us for safety. But many, many more are calling on us to come to their rescue.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Smart Thinking

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

                        Philippians 4.8

Closing Our Minds

An old Gordon Lightfoot hit starts off with a real bang: “If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts would tell.” Although it’s a love song—a pretty good one, too—it’s hard not to shudder a little at that opening line. There are plenty of times when it’s safer all around if I keep my thoughts to myself. Often I wonder, What am I thinking? Far less often I ask, Why am I thinking? That's the first thing I should consider.

Evaluating our thoughts while we entertain them requires highly developed mental dexterity. In a way, it’s done with mirrors, watching from two sides: the idea itself and what’s behind it. And that’s nothing compared to managing a thought once it takes off! When that happens, buckle up, because there’s no telling how wild and dangerous the ride will get. That’s why Philippians wisely counsels us to carefully select the kinds of thoughts we have in advance. We’re at their mercy once they’re in our heads. But if we’re savvy to the motives that drive them, we can close our minds to their way of thinking.

We Are How We Think

Proverbs 23.7 says as a man “thinks within himself, so he is.” The notions and opinions we welcome into our psyche ultimately affect how we define ourselves from the inside-out. We foolishly believe since only we know what’s actually going on upstairs, our secrets are safe with us. And they may very well be—for a while. But in Luke 6.45, Jesus warns that what we harbor in our hearts will surface: “For out of the overflow of [a man's] heart his mouth speaks.” It doesn’t take a mind reader to expose us. We eventually tell the real story on our own.

What do we want to be? Who do we want to be? It completely depends on how we think. To be respected and admired, we cling to excellent, praiseworthy ideas and release those beneath our standards. Philippians gives us superb criteria to tell good thinking from bad. Good thoughts are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, which means bad ones are dishonest, selfish, incorrect, corrupt, ugly, and shameful. It’s easy to see why good people and bad thoughts don’t mix.

Forget About It

Remember the Tempter has played mind games with us from the beginning. By planting just one lousy idea in Adam and Eve’s minds, he unleashed every harmful thought known to man. His strategy hasn’t changed since then because we keep falling for it. When an inferior, unhealthy motive tries to steal our mind, the only thing to do is forget about it. We send it packing. We get real smart. Who would ever think of such a thing? Not us!.

What were they thinking?  And why on earth were they thinking that way?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Grateful, Joyous: A Personal Tribute

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

                        1 Thessalonians 5.18

Remembering Patti

A dear friend, invaluable colleague and mentor, and extraordinary lady passed recently. Although reed-thin in appearance, Patti’s capacity for life was gigantic. Her passion fueled everything: her relationships, curiosity, art, faith, and ideals. It consumed her time and dictated her priorities. She was the most giving person I’ve ever known—not in the material sense, but absolutely in terms of spirit and selflessness. In fact, Patti maintained a simple lifestyle to escape burdens and demands that might pull her away from those she loved. When someone in her “tribe” (as she called us) told another she’d gone beyond the call, the standard response was always, “Of course she did.”

A Magnificent Legacy

Of course, she left a magnificent legacy of kindness, wisdom, and compassion that took a lifetime to accumulate and share. Loving people on their personal merits was simply out of the question. Nobody ever earned Patti’s care. She freely offered it. Fascination with religion drew her to every imaginable expression of faith, from Christian traditions to Zen philosophy to Native American mysticism. Mastering their fine points, she found common threads tying them together: honor God, love your neighbors, and believe in more than you know and see. I can’t recall Patti claiming to be “a Christian;” she resisted anything remotely boastful or disrespectful of other beliefs. Yet she epitomized Jesus’s message in every way.

Her last journal entry finished with two words: “Grateful. Joyous.” They couldn’t have been more perfect. Living simply didn’t always make her life simple. If anything, it added complications and hardships that most of us hire out for others to handle or throw money at to smooth over. But, to the end, she gladly took them on in exchange for the freedom she deeply enjoyed.

God’s Will

When Paul tells us to be thankful in everything, he describes an ongoing attitude. Undeniably, it’s tough to nurture and maintain, especially when we’re in trouble, in doubt, and every other negative condition. “It’s God’s will,” Paul says—what He wants for us, from us. That entirely redefines the focus from the situation we’re in to what’s in us. Even if I find nothing to give thanks for, I can remain grateful for the opportunity to obey God’s will—pleasing Him, loving others, and hoping for impossibilities instead of fearing the inevitable.

I suppose I’ve always understood this in theory. But reflecting lately on how Patti lived, I realize she proved it in practice.  Of course she did.

Patti's role model was Georges Sand, the 19th-century baroness who defied social conventions and class expectations to live by her own convictions. It was Sand who said, "There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."