Saturday, October 4, 2008


[He] is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

            Jude 24

The Tightrope

Following Jesus often feels like walking a tightrope. It asks us to balance our natural inclinations to defend ourselves and blame others with His unnatural command to love those who are critical, spiteful, and hateful toward us. Acquiring skill to do this takes a lot of time and practice. We falter more often than we succeed at first. And even when we do achieve it, our early attempts can leave us shaken, surprised, and not quite sure how it happened. Experience teaches us right steps and maneuvers to counteract threats to our equilibrium. Still, risk of plummeting into selfishness or retaliation remains constant, demanding utmost attention to guard against self-inflicted injury and disappointment.

A Practically Impossible Feat

Few scriptural passages match Jude’s high-strung contrast between the attitudes and actions of our opponents and how we’re to treat them. It asks us to “contend for the faith,” which is liable to corruption by those who “long ago slipped in among you” and “speak abusively against whatever they do not understand… grumblers and faultfinders,” driven by false motives and self-interest, “who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

While Jude minces no words reviling contrarians who infiltrate the halls of faith, he says to reach out to them in love: “Be merciful to those who doubt, snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” There may be nothing legitimate, affirming, or appealing about those opposing our belief. But that doesn’t exempt us from loving them or relieve our obligation to obey the law of Christ. In all honesty, Jude calls for a practically impossible feat—walking a tightrope between loathing adversarial personalities and loving their beings.

Attempt = Accomplishment

Instead of being intimidated by this challenge, we shore up confidence in our reason for accepting it. We don’t love our enemies to demonstrate moral superiority or altruism. We do it for God’s glory. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16) Our responsibility is the attempt. Once we’re out there, God ensures the accomplishment. He keeps us from falling, Jude says, so that we finish flawlessly and overjoyed. When you’re faced with walking the love tightrope, know two things. As impossible as it seems, you’re kept safe and secure by God’s hand. And, wobbly and unsure as it feels, He’ll guide you to the end for His glory and honor.

Our responsibility is to step out on the love tightrope; God ensures our safety and success for His glory and honor.

(Tomorrow: For All People)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Garden Party

If I have concealed my sin as Adam did, by hiding guilt in my heart because I so feared the crowd... then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley.

                        Job 31.33-34, 40


The story of Adam and Eve is so readily familiar it’s become emblematic. We scan its headlines without pausing to dig into its meanings. But it contains a number of hugely important lessons that not only explain why things went so horribly wrong in Eden; they explain a lot about us and our mistakes.

God gave Adam and Eve full rein of Eden with one interdiction: fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was off the menu. Then the Tempter cajoled into them into disobedience: “After you eat it, you’ll know how to tell good from evil, just like God!” Genesis says after they ate, their eyes were opened, and they saw they were naked. Lacking clothes was the least of it. God-like knowledge left them accountable for discerning right from wrong. Yet it failed to provide them godly wisdom in doing it. Their hapless taste test caused bellyaches for generations to follow—to this day we’re plagued by our ability to think like God with no capability to fully comprehend Him.

Hiding Out

So what did Adam and Eve do? What could they have done? They could have owned up to their mistake. Up to this point, nothing in Scripture suggests God exhibited any vengeful characteristics at all. In fact, He had made a daily habit of visiting with Adam and Eve. They could have come to Him repentantly, trusting His mercy and concern for them. Instead, they hid out. We’re traditionally taught they hid for shame of their nakedness—that’s Adam’s excuse. But it makes no sense. He and Eve already clothed themselves in fig leaves and their nudity never offended God before. The first thing their knowledge spawned was fear, quickly followed by its partner, taboo. It was they, not God, who found their nudity offensive. And here we see the birth of a pattern that continuously compromises our integrity with our Creator. When we rely on what we know, rather than God’s understanding, we become afraid. We try to conceal our guilt by looking correct instead of seeking His help in being correct. Then, after we decide what “correct” looks like, we preach and teach fashion before faith.

Back to the Garden

This tactic was precisely what Job, the Old Testament’s ultimate outsider, is describing. “If I hide out like Adam,” he says, “trying to conceal my sin because other people would condemn me, I'll reap nothing but problems.” Like Job, we should always associate guilt with sin, remembering it has nothing to do with God and gets us nowhere. It urges us to hide from Him, which is impossible to do. Furthermore, it encourages us to camouflage our misbehavior. This may fool everyone around us, but God’s no fool and we’re foolish to think He can’t see—and doesn’t already know—what’s beneath our fig leaves. Finally, guilt relies on our knowledge and distrusts His wisdom and understanding. It leads to trouble.

Solomon wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6) The garden party crashed to a halt when Adam and Eve decided they could know God’s mind. Their audacity so incensed Him He barred them from Eden for life to let them find their own way through the world. Setting aside what we think we know to trust God completely leads to forgiveness and acceptance. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden, and this is the path to take us there.

Detail from Masaccio's The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), truly one of the most heartbreaking Biblical depictions ever painted.

(Tomorrow: Kept)

Postscript: Run for the Border

All followers of Christ should be passionate about justice, none more so than gay believers, who've personally experienced injustice in nearly every social arena, including religion. Unfortunately, however, many Christians, gay and straight, have resigned themselves to thinking injustice, discrimination, and oppression are a part of life. They're too deeply entrenched in human behavior to adequately address.

Thank God for Border Explorer, an extraordinary blog committed to "outing" injustices around the world. BE is much more than your usual agitated, left-of-center wailing wall. It's clear, factually sound, and extremely provocative in the best sense of the word. It's powered by an extraordinary feeling of inertia--a sense of confronting oppression on all fronts. And, as gay Christians, it prompts us to look beyond our own challenges to view them as part of a bigger problem troubling our world. Christ called us to love our neighbors as ourselves; BE illuminates how badly our love (and intervention) is needed. If you're looking for a place where you can keep up with what's happening and why standing against intolerance and violence are essential, make a run for the Border.

Update: The Trial of Janet Edwards

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Janet Edwards, the Presbyterian minister facing trial for officiating at the marriage of two women. The hearing convened on October 1 and the presbytery ruled unanimously in Rev. Edwards' favor. For more information:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Personal Postscript: Felix

Late last evening, my partner, Walt, and I returned from San Francisco. We left early Sunday morning to join several friends and family for the wedding of our nephew—and surrogate son—to his partner. Our cat, Felix, as always, groused as he watched us pack and followed us to the door for one final “Hrumph” conveying his displeasure at being left behind. “Be good, kitten,” we said, our standard benediction for any trip.

The wedding was wonderful. The ceremony was touching, dignified, and we stood by proudly in the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall, misty-eyed as we watched two young people commit their lives and future to love, respect, and trust. But, typical for us, we were eager to get back home, and a big reason for that was Fee. Before boarding the plane, I got a text message from our close friend and neighbor, Sean, who was looking after Felix while we were gone. “Felix seems sad and misses you guys, but is OK,” he wrote.

For the past year, Felix suffered from a hyperactive thyroid that kept his metabolism spinning constantly. He’d have mostly good days, and then he’d hit a trough of sorts that would leave him exhausted. Even then, however, Fee was constantly engaged. He’d sleep for a while and then wander out of his carrier, which sits right here beside my desk, blinking and mewling as he sallied forth to see what we were up to. Our vet recommended surgery and chemo as possible alternatives, but after careful discussion, Walt and I decided either alternative was too invasive and frightening for a cat nearing 15 years old. So we kept him on his meds and prayed that he’d live as fully as possible until it was time…

That moment came between Sean’s visit and our return. Felix wasn’t at the door tonight, to greet us when we came home. Normally, it would be impossible to drop our bags before he went into a long soliloquy about what we missed while he was here alone. There was no indignant speech this time. When he didn’t stumble out into the hall after we called him—he always came when called, always—Walt went into the den. He screamed. I rushed in.

There was no sign of any seizure, struggle, pain, or panic… just Fee, relaxed, laying on his side, half out of his “house” (as we called his carrier) his front paws politely crossed, and staring straight ahead, his mind rifling through his last inscrutable thoughts—looking as he so often did, as if he were thinking quietly to himself, waiting until I tore myself away from the keyboard long enough to head into the kitchen for a fresh cup of coffee. Because I work at home, Felix filled his days trailing behind me. When I moved, he moved. If I took a call and sauntered into the living room, he shadowed me. If I found a late-afternoon pause in my work that permitted a quick nap, he curled up beside me. As Walt and I sunk to the floor, holding one another and sobbing uncontrollably, I couldn’t help expecting him to rouse himself and come console us.

That was Felix in a nutshell. He loved us and cared about our happiness. In my profile, I wrote, “He runs the house,” which he did. He intuitively knew what was best for all of us and he’d fuss up a storm if we didn’t take his word for it. So, for instance, when I worked well past my bedtime—which has been fairly routine since starting Straight-Friendly—he’d plant himself beside my chair and launch a barrage of protests until he wore me down. I’d climb into bed, Walt would stir in his sleep, spooning up next to me, and Fee would jump in on the other side, purring and gently stroking my cheek until I dozed off.

He never missed a beat. When the house filled with people, he hosted our guests as much as we. When we settled down for our regular Saturday night Scrabble games, here Fee would come, dropping a small pile of tinsel-covered balls at our feet; while we played word games, he played fetch. When we turned on music, he pulled out a cat-dancer we bought for him ages ago and sang along as he dragged it around the house. He was forever fearless, alert, incorrigible, often demanding, but never so self-absorbed that he couldn’t stop what he wanted to do and join whatever we were doing.

He loved us supremely. Our pleasure gave him lasting joy. And that was why we loved him supremely and found constant joy in his happiness.

Fee was a birthday present Walt gave me 14 years ago—the greatest gift he’ll ever give me. Walt was a “dog person,” and his decision to bring a cat into the house testified to the size of his heart. But how he found Fee was in itself a testament of this amazing cat’s character. Walt went to the local shelter, not knowing the least thing about choosing a cat. Because he only wanted one, the shelter wouldn’t allow him to adopt a kitten younger than six months old. (Younger kittens were placed in pairs.) Fee had recently been dropped on their doorstep and was just ending the required quarantine period before joining dozens of other cats that freely roamed the premises. When Walt asked about him (the shelter staff had dubbed him “Seinfeld”), they opened his cage. Fee extended his paw and lightly patted Walt on the nose. The search was over.

Tonight, in the middle of our grief, Walt reminded me, “Fee chose me.” From the first, the decision to love and care for us was his. He never failed to live up to his decision, either. He came every time we called him. He anchored himself beside us when we were sick, exhausted, or depressed. He was reliable to a fault, yet always full of surprises and fresh ideas. Oh, how we will miss him and, right now, our sorrow feels impossible to imagine ever overcoming. But we’ll manage it, I’m sure. What will never leave us, though, is our gratitude for having experienced such unconditional, consistent care from a creature who lavished it on us because he chose us and chose to love us without hesitation or expectation.

For the time being, I think I’ll leave Felix in my profile. Even though he’s physically departed, our house will always run on the tender spirit and lessons he provided it. And, although I pledged not to allow Straight-Friendly to get sidetracked with excessive personal information and disclosures, I do it now because there’s not been one post that Fee didn’t somehow involve himself in. Sometimes, he sat patiently in my lap as I wrestled with the words and ideas I wanted to express. Sometimes, he pestered me to pull myself free long enough to rejoin him and Walt—to be part of the family instead of the workaholic in the den. And sometimes, he nuzzled my leg for a moment to make sure I knew he was settling into his house beside the desk.

I apologize for testing your indulgence (if you’re still reading). But in the past three months, God has given me a wonderful new family through Straight-Friendly. And it seemed somehow appropriate that I include you in this oddly beautiful, irrevocably heartbreaking moment in our lives. On Friday, I’ll pick up where I left off, with the previously scheduled “Garden Party” post. But for the next little bit, I hope you’ll forgive my asking for some time to reflect and absorb this loss. And finally, if this seems slightly over-the-top and crazy to you, I pray you’ll understand.

Some see God’s character and power in nature, when they look at sweeping vistas or spectacular storms. For nearly 15 years, we saw His love, patience, and generosity, morning, noon, and night, in a four-pound marmalade tabby named Felix. 

Escape Strategy

When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

                        1 Corinthians 10.13

Tempting Propositions

It’s a fact: all sin starts with temptation. We don’t harm others and ourselves without reason. We may insist otherwise, but we know very well why we do what we do. Each specific act of disobedience springs from a specific desire. We want to get even. We want to feel loved. We want to be rich. We want to belong. The list goes on and on, and there’s a plethora of tempting propositions to feed our every desire. So it seems most sensible to stop focusing on how to avoid sin and start learning to escape temptation.

It’s not wrong to be tempted. Guilty thoughts and urges are intrinsic to human nature. Indeed, many responses come pre-wired. Sexual attraction, hunger, and other reflexes are given for our survival and comfort. When temptation targets them, there’s no cause for shame. Even when it zeroes in on learned behaviors—success drives, social habits, etc.—we needn’t feel condemned. Temptation is universal. Paul opened today’s verse saying, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” Everybody deals with it. The tipping point rests on how each of us manages impulses we all feel.

Three Strains

1 John 2.16 identifies three strains of temptation: craving, lust, and pride. Craving comes from dissatisfaction, wanting more than we’ve got or need. Lust is the opposite; it runs on desire for what we don’t have, possibly can’t have, and probably don’t need. Pride is the lovechild of craving and lust. It either boasts in what we possess or vaunts our ability to acquire anything we please. Knowing these types explains how we control temptation. Why, for instance, are we tempted to seduce a stranger? To get more love and sex? Because we can't have him/her? To prove how appealing and adept we are? If we pinpoint where temptation comes from, we more effectively can address its symptoms and prevent the sinful damage it causes.


Habitual temptation builds up resistance to our defenses. It strikes at our weaknesses and insecurities. Things aren’t so clear now. What we think we need eclipses what we need to think. Yet despite this, we’re still aware of being tempted and that’s enough to activate an escape strategy. Paul told the Corinthians, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” The minute we introduce God’s presence to our situation, temptation loses its grip. What seemed impossible to overcome becomes manageable. Exits we couldn’t discern through desire’s fog open. God provides our way out because it’s in His best interests. Why? Temptation leads to sin. Sin divides us from God. He wants us close to Him. His escape strategy makes that happen.


God always provides a way out of temptation to keep us close to Him.

(Tomorrow: The Garden Party)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Correction is Coming

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong.

                        Psalm 37.1

Feeding Frenzy

It’s been a long time since things felt so utterly topsy-turvy. We watch financial markets founder, global politics are riddled with x factors, and here in the US, we’re in the throes of an election that defies prediction or reason. This is the stuff of history, yet its effect on ordinary life is unmistakable. Caring and common sense don’t factor in this feeding frenzy. For example, my partner works at the local affiliate of a TV network that relentlessly contributes to our pervasive thug mentality on a national level. A few days ago, he called with a new instance of how miserably cutthroat, unstable, and disrespectful his workplace culture has got. “It won’t go unchecked,” I told him. “Correction is coming, sooner or later, one way or another.” I suggested he hang “CIC” in block letters nearby as a reminder when he feels beleaguered or undervalued by out-of-control situations and people. Correction is coming. God has pledged this and history bears Him out. CIC.

David’s To-Do List

The grief caused by power abusers is unavoidably real. Yet in Psalm 37, David tells us, “Don’t let malignant people tie you in knots or envy their power,” later adding, “Refrain from anger… do not fret—it leads only to evil.” When we fight back, we upgrade evildoers’ power from influence to authority. We submit to their rules, instead of obey Christ’s law. While they’re up to no good, David lists five things to do: trust God; dwell in Him; enjoy His blessings; delight in Him; and commit to His ways. Then, David says, “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” CIC.

How Soon is Soon?

Regarding the bad guys, David likens them to grass, soon to wither away: “A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.” But how soon is soon? It seems the sun will never set on their heyday. Their unjust grip on the world looks to leave a permanent scar. Sadly for them—gladly for us—their influence is temporary, their authority illusory. It’s our Father’s world. He has the final move. Correction is coming. If not soon enough for some of us, it no doubt will arrive sooner than many others anticipate.

As they toiled, backs aching and whip-scarred, American slaves nourished their faith, singing, “I’m so glad trouble don’t last always. Jesus told me it’ll be over after while.” If the song sounded too good to be true at the time, the faith embedded in it sustained them until freedom finally came. When smarting from backlashes of abusive power and bowing beneath burdens of injustice, take the spiritual to heart. Troubles don’t last always. God has told us they’ll end. CIC.

David says abusers of power soon wither away like grass. Instead of submitting to them, our faith takes flight in knowing they won't last. 

(Tomorrow: Escape Strategy)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Strong Shoulders

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

                        Galatians 6.2

The Core Ideal

Most Christians, when asked what they believe, fall back on Biblical record, not theological ideals. Jesus was born to a virgin, lived as a teacher and miracle-worker, was crucified and resurrected, ascended to heaven, and will come back to reward those who obey His word. Or, as any good Sunday school alum will say, quoting John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

It’s Jesus’s own succinct rendering of His purpose. But, alas, it’s not His core ideal. In Matthew 22.37-39, Jesus laid out His ideal, plain and simple: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” This is Christianity's core ideal; this is the law of Christ. 


We define Christians as people who believe in Jesus. But is that enough? It wasn’t for the Early Church. For them, it was only the first step. Fulfilling His law—embracing His core ideal, activating its principles—was the most crucial differentiator. Letters written to the first congregations are consumed with teaching and advice on this. 

Belief in Christ sets us apart, entitling us to be called “Christians.” It’s an identifier. First-century believers wanted to know what that calling entailed. In other words, the label meant nothing to them without distinctive behavior to back it up. Like endlessly curious children, they kept tugging on their leaders’ sleeves. “Why does this work?” they asked. “How do we live? What are the rules?” In one of his many responses to these questions, Paul told the Galatians, “Fulfillment of Christ’s law demands that we carry each other’s burdens.”

The Human Pyramid

One way to picture true Christianity is as a massive human pyramid, with its strongest believers at the base and weakest at the top. This image is particularly effective, I think, since it directly contradicts natural law, which teaches us to strive to “rise to the top.” In fulfilling Christ’s law, though, we work our way down by strengthening our capacity to bear more of our brother and sisters’ burdens. This completely synchs up with Jesus’s repeated first-last, rich-poor, high-low constructs, e.g., “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23.12)

Christ’s ideal encourages us to find honor in being at “the bottom of the pile.” Our position there confirms we’ve got strong shoulders. We develop them spiritually just as we do physically—by working out. Numerous times, Paul spoke of “building up,” steadily increasing our ability to bear more weight. When we find weaker believers stumbling beneath burdens they can't carry alone, we reach out to them. When we come on non-believers whose backs are breaking, we do the same. We love them as we love ourselves. We don’t do it to show off, saying, “I'm stronger, more experienced. Let me handle it.” We say, “I’ve got it. Take a minute, pull yourself together. Lean on me.”

Kirk Franklin & Nu Nation (with R. Kelly, Crystal, Mary J. Blige, and Bono): Lean On Me

(Tomorrow: Correction is Coming)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Give What You've Got

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

                        Acts 3.6

Seeing the Greater Need

Strictly speaking, The Acts of the Apostles doesn’t start until Chapter 3. The first chapter describes Christ’s Ascension and final words to His followers: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Chapter 2 tells how the Spirit came on Pentecost and chronicles Peter’s first great sermon, as well as the Early Church’s inception as a faith community. Not until the third chapter do we witness a specific apostolic act.

Peter and John come to the temple for afternoon prayers. A disabled beggar at its gate asks them for money. They don’t open their purses and the beggar turns his attention elsewhere. “Look at us!” Peter says; the beggar complies, expecting to receive some change. “It’s not what you want,” Peter explains, “but I’ve got what you need.” Empowered by the Holy Spirit and authorized by Christ, he tells the beggar (crippled from birth) to walk. As Peter helps him to his feet, strength enters the man’s body. To the amazement of all, he enters the temple with the apostles, walking, leaping, and praising God. What should amaze us, however, is Peter’s quickness to look beyond the man’s expectations and speak God’s power to his greater need. This epitomizes Christianity in action.

Our Power

Although Peter’s calling to lead the church was unique, the power He received was not. In his Pentecost message, he stressed the Holy Spirit “is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2.39) So, does having the same power as him mean we can or should perform the same feats—heal homeless people, for instance? Those who think so are entitled to their beliefs. But even others who recoil from such a literal idea should heed Peter’s example. When we yield to the Holy Spirit, His power transforms how we approach and respond to the world. We go past what’s expected of us to meet the greater need. We turn faith into service.

Fanning the Flame

In 2 Timothy 1, Paul reminds us “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you,” adding, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” God provides us special gifts and asks us to stir them to life. In our daily activities certainly, but also when entering the halls of faith, we should watch and listen for opportunities to apply our talents to unmet needs. God hasn’t given you a timid spirit. He’s given you the power to love others and the ability to discipline yourself by His Spirit. His gift is in you. You have something people need. Be like Peter. Give what you’ve got.

The Holy Spirit empowers us go beyond what's expected and meet the greater need.

(Tomorrow: Strong Shoulders)