Saturday, June 26, 2010

Doxology: A Pride Reflection

Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100.3)


The past two weeks have brought a deluge of new work—always a good thing for freelancers like me, but in this economy, a virtual outpouring of God’s goodness. While Straight-Friendly and its family never left my thoughts and prayers, time to write and post new reflections hasn’t been there. This concerned me, particularly with the annual Pride celebrations looming closer. I somehow assumed the Holy Spirit would guide me to texts or thoughts lighted with urgency to explore. Yet every prayer for direction led me back to Psalm 100.3. Each time, I heard it as a song of praise—a doxology:

Know that the Lord is God.

It is He Who made us

And we are His.

We are His people—

The sheep of His pasture.

I rushed to explore what this praise says to all of us, gay and straight, female and male, younger and older, etc., etc., etc. We should embrace inner pride as sacred praise for our unique making. God’s acceptance releases us from shame and stigmatization. Knowing Him as our Maker and Shepherd protects us from predatory prejudice and condemnation. The words flowed like water springing from a well—up to a point. Then, like the “Amen” that ends liturgical doxologies and returns us to our seats, I repeatedly heard:


The tone and comfort were indubitably those of our Creator and Keeper, the One Who crafts us by hand, Who places us where He wills, Who tirelessly watches over us, Who authors our circumstances, and, most important, Who knows us better than we know ourselves. “Rest.” Silly me, I took it mean, “This can wait. Go to bed. People will understand.” I knew that, of course, but it was a much-needed reminder. Then, this morning I awoke to a keener awareness of what it actually meant, what we should hear in the Psalm 100.3 doxology, and how that affects our understanding of Pride’s personal, cultural, and spiritual relevance.


In this weekend’s cacophony of parades and parties, speeches and songs, God is speaking rest to His children everywhere—people of every race, gender, and orientation. He reminds us GLBT Pride, like any effort promoting equality and justice, will end in frustration if we listen only to what we say and think. Our vision will remain myopic and clarity won’t fully emerge until we hear our Creator and Shepherd speak rest to our spirits.

Does this suggest we cease our fight for freedom, equality, and justice for oppressed peoples everywhere? Emphatically not. God’s Word explicitly commands us to care for and defend the downtrodden, dispossessed, and abused among us. Abandoning them constitutes sin. Yet we can rest. As we go forth with passionate conviction, demanding the end of all social, legal, and religious strife, we carry in our hearts undying confidence they will end. Every step of progress brings us closer to our Creator and Shepherd’s intentions for His people, the sheep of His pasture.


The enormous strides made by the GLBT global community and its allies generate untold reasons to rejoice. We have every right to take pride in our progress to date. In many ways, the GLBT movement’s success stands as a case study in deliverance. It’s taken less than a half-century of unyielding effort to free multitudes, within and beyond our community, from shackles of fear, hatred, ignorance, and complacence. Thus, when gay people and their allies speak of “pride,” they—we—must acknowledge it long ago surpassed its original meaning: defiance of shame. Gay Pride now encompasses all oppressed peoples and shines a light on the promise of deliverance. More than that, it proves deliverance is a process, a steady evolution that overtakes hearts and minds, not overturns courts and institutions. Laws and restrictions change when the people who make them change.

There can be no doubt changes we’ve witnessed and those we hope to see exceed our capability to bring about. Daniel 2.21 says, “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” It’s foolish to allow pride to swell into hubris. Our deliverance thus far has not come about through persuasive powers or political savvy. It is the work of a Creator Who thrives on change—Who sacrificed His Son’s life to enable change—and a Shepherd Who delivers His people by changing hearts and minds that shape our seasons.

Though the task seems too great, we rest in knowing God’s purpose will be done. Though justice we seek appears too elusive to be grasped, we rest in belief He has it well in hand. Though hateful forces display their might to turn tides of opinion away from God, we rest in certainty they are no stronger than the weakest among those they oppress. Our Maker favors none of us above another. He is our God. We are His people. No matter where we side on any issue or cause, it is He Who has made us and we are His. He will do as He sees fit. We revel in deliverance we’ve experienced thus far as our guarantee full and final deliverance will come.

God Pride

Whether actively engaging in this weekend’s festivities or rejoicing with the GLBT community from afar, it’s incumbent on every believer to discern God Pride hidden at its core. This holds true for every event that exults in human diversity or promotes freedom from social oppression and inequality. Innate pride in who we are is founded on inherent awareness each of us has divinely sanctioned equal worth. From the greatest to least, the best to worst, we all reflect our Creator. Differences that challenge us are merely singular aspects of God’s self-image. By themselves, they’re inconsequential. Only when they're seen as pieces of a whole do they acquire importance. Pride in who we are ultimately reveals inescapable—in some cases, involuntary—God Pride. It confesses our God-given desire to identify with Something greater, richer, and far more beautiful than anything we can possibly be on our own. Know the Lord is God. Know He has made you. You belong to Him. You number among His people, the sheep of His pasture. Nothing can change this, or ever will. Rest.

At its core, Gay Pride, like any diversity celebration or effort aimed at social inclusion and equality, expresses God Pride—recognition He is our Maker and we are His people.

Personal Postscript: Two Years Down This Road

It was during Pride Weekend 2008, that Straight-Friendly launched. I can’t really recall what I expected, but I know it was nothing like what I found. The past two years have been the most precious and productive of my life.

I can’t allow this milestone to pass without expressing my profound gratitude to all of you who’ve traveled this road with me. You have been constant, lifting me, enlightening me, feeding my soul with your comments and emails, and welcoming me into your hearts. You have changed my life in extraordinary ways, always helping me grow stronger and wiser in this marvelous faith we share. My debts to you are more than I can possibly repay. Yet I know with complete assurance you will be rightfully rewarded and blessed beyond measure for all you’ve done. Thank you.

With all my love,


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Prophets in the Camp

Two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. (Numbers 11.26)

Church Stuff

The World Cup is in full swing, and Walt and I are watching it from the States instead of Paris, where we’ve seen the past three tournaments unfold. Actually, not watching it is closer to the truth. In the US, the Cup is appointment TV. In virtually every other nation, it’s a 24/7 obsession that knows no bounds. It’s everywhere—blaring on every radio and television, projected on huge LED monitors in public squares, plastered across the headlines, and parading through the streets on the backs of people sporting their nations’ colors. It outranks any other human event in its capacity to arrest nearly universal attention. Being in Paris during the Cup means always knowing what match is underway and how its outcome affects your team’s chances. Ordinary boundaries and behaviors are set aside. Social propriety—normally a big deal to Parisians—is moot. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are, if you’re walking down the street and the city suddenly erupts, you dash into the nearest café or shop to find out who scored. (During our first World Cup in Paris, we were literally terrified when an enormous roar sent people running as fast as they could toward City Hall. We thought a riot broke out or the Métro had been bombed. No. Everyone was rushing to catch the replay of the latest goal on the plaza’s massive screen.)

Watching the World Cup in Chicago not only reminds me how differently America views the event. It also reinforces how similar we all are. Other than the Cup, when we’re in Paris—or anywhere else, for that matter—the same boundaries and behavioral expectations apply. We assign certain activities to certain locations and keep them there. It disrupts our sense of order when people do something where it shouldn’t be done. We’re not supposed to cheer out our windows or dance in the street. It’s inappropriate to sing in the supermarket or discuss sex in mixed company. Nowhere are these boundaries and behaviors more firmly enforced than in matters of faith. The mention of God or prayer or the Bible is enough to clear a room. Bringing them up at coffee break can alienate colleagues. Sharing our beliefs with non-believing friends can turn us into social pariahs. That’s “church stuff,” and church is where it belongs. But how can that be? At its core, it declares a message no human tires of hearing: You are loved. So, if it's not the message that offends, what makes people uncomfortable? It's where the message is delivered. And this creates a dilemma for every believer, because places where the message of God's love and acceptance is least welcome are the very places where it's most needed.

No Place for Prophecy

Judging from Scripture, concerns about confining certain topics and behaviors to certain places have always been with us. In Numbers 11, we find Israel in another desert crisis. There’s not enough food, and people are complaining. God tells Moses to instruct them to get prepared to eat meat. He’s going to send such an outpouring of food He promises they’ll come to loathe it. (Evidently their crankiness has made Him a little cranky.) Then He tells Moses to gather 70 elders around the Tent, Israel’s consecrated place of worship. God’s Spirit descends on Moses and the elders, all of whom begin to prophesy. Two elders, Eldad and Medad, remain in the camp. When the Spirit falls on the elders at the Tent, It also falls on them and they likewise prophesy.

This upsets everyone. The camp is no place for prophecy! That sort of thing shouldn’t be practiced in an unconsecrated environment! What’s ironic here is the people who are so hungry they won’t stop grumbling aren’t too hungry to be outraged when two elders speak God’s word in an “inappropriate” place. They send a young man to alert Moses to this breach of protocol. The news is so shocking Joshua, Moses’s aide and Israel’s future leader, says, “My lord, stop them!” (Numbers 11.29) But Moses doesn’t stop Eldad and Medad. Instead, he puts a stop to the notion of prophetic impropriety. He says, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (v30) He and the 70 elders return to the camp to find it no worse than when they left. Soon Eldad and Medad are forgot in a downpour of more quail than Israel can stomach.

Where, When, and Through Whom

Why is this episode worth mentioning? The provision isn’t unique; God has sent quail to feed Israel before. The descent of God’s Spirit isn’t unique; it regularly falls when Israel’s priests and prophets worship. The only irregular aspect of the story is God’s manifested presence on Eldad and Medad in the camp, away from the Tent. Numbers never explains why they don’t join the other elders at the Tent. Maybe they’re occupied with other things—caring for the hungry and destitute, perhaps—and miss the summons. Maybe they prefer to hang back with people who aren’t deemed righteous enough to worship at the Tent. Maybe they’re radicals who aren’t viewed favorably by their conservative peers. All we know is they’re nowhere near the Tent. Yet God’s Spirit finds them, falls on them, and speaks through them. That’s what makes the incident extraordinary. And it teaches us something very important.

God places prophets in the camp. He speaks where, when, and through whom He wills, often disregarding what we regard appropriate and acceptable. Because of this, each of us is as likely to be chosen to speak His Word as anyone else. We need not be at church or the altar. The company of fellow believers isn’t required, nor is approval of those around us. We may never be selected to join the elite at the Tent. Though we are all qualified, circumstances or instincts may cause us to stay behind in the camp. Yet being away from the Tent has no bearing on our ability to receive God’s Spirit and minister to His people.

When the Spirit breathes words of compassion and justice, wisdom and grace into our hearts, we speak where we are to those who will hear. His word is for them. It is they who are hungry and out of sorts and need the comfort of God’s promises. It’s foolish and selfish to withhold God’s blessings from those around us, waiting until we’re at the Tent to share them to others of like faith. They know whereof we speak. Besides, there are plenty of prophets there, some of whom, like Joshua, don’t understand God’s ways. We’re where we are and speak where we are because God longs to commune with His people in the camp. They may never reach, or have any desire to reach, the Tent. But they’re His children and His heart aches to reach them. That’s why He needs—and we need to be—His prophets in the camp.

God places many of us in the camp to speak His word to people who may never reach or believe it’s necessary to reach the Tent.