Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hate Thy Neighbor

I've been thinking all day about what to write. Earlier on my newsfeed, a friend of mine posted a status that read:

"Wow, is this for real? Concentration camps for the #LGBTQ"


With a link to follow.


Naturally I had to investigate.


What I found saddened me, it made me feel angry, disgusted, and vengeful.


These aren't normally the stories I share on this space, but I feel it should be talked about.


After North Carolina's large vote in favor of defining the institution of marriage as solely between a man and woman, there have, apparently, been a slew of pastors who've used their pulpits, and influence, to be outright hateful toward homosexuals.


The Pastor (and I say that lightly) Charles Worley probably never thought he'd go viral on that new-fangled internet thingy (what's it called? Oh, that's right, YouTube), but viral he went.


There's a two minute clip, part of a larger sermon I'd assume, but here it is...



Now, I know it's dangerous to simply rely on soundbytes, and short clips in our emotions-driven society. This is certainly a part of a larger sermon, but it doesn't matter.

What "Pastor" Worley is saying is wrong.

To even suggest stuff like this is an insult to the true Christian faith, and is a slap in the face of the very Christ that Mr. Worley claims to represent.

There's much in the Old Testament about the law of God, the standard of God, and God's judgement. But the whole point of Jesus was to do that which humans couldn't do ourselves. That is to say, that only God can keep God's standards.

As humans, we all fall pathetically short of this standard.

This clip also illustrates a common flaw in Protestant Evangelicalism, which is simply this; we pick and choose what parts of the OT law we wish to uphold. We demonize other groups, in the interest of presenting ourselves in a holier light.

This is wrong.

The third, and probably most disturbing, thing that this clip shows is the absolute absence of love and grace from someone who has been entrusted with bearing the example of Jesus to his congregation (and the world for that matter).

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. No exceptions. Doesn't matter if they're homosexual, atheists, or a different denomination.


There's only one judge. God. We would be wise to leave judgement where it belongs, and to focus on the command of the Christ to love the broken world we live in.

I'm deeply saddened today because I know that I will be broad brushed with Pastor Worley's strokes.

Perhaps not by my close friends, but by acquaintances. By people who I happen to meet through mutual friends. People who, when they find out about my faith, will recoil in fear because I've been lumped into a category with a "Pastor" who emulates nothing of the Christ I've come to know.

The Christ who has changed my life.
The Christ who can change the lives of those who do not know him.

Thank you Pastor Worley. I hope that you take some time, and think about your words, and your status. I sincerely hope, and pray, that you will re-examine what it means to be an ambassador of the risen Christ because, I'm quite sure, that he weeps every time he sees his children say things of this nature.

Brothers and sisters, may you always live in love, not hatred or contempt.
May you stand up against bigotry and outright contempt for those whom God has created (like you) in his image.

What this world needs desperately, is for followers of Jesus to continue to love others boldly, and recklessly. Nothing more, nothing less.

Monday, May 21, 2012

[Music] Jet Lag- Simple Plan

Steps

The next step is always the hardest. 

We don't always know where we're headed in life. We don't always even have road signs to let us know where we are, or how we ended up here.

But the next step, even a step in the dark, is the most important one you'll ever take.

But that step isn't simply a matter of direction, or destination. That step determines what remains around you, and what falls into the realm of memory.

Each step we take in life brings new hellos, and difficult goodbyes. It's hard to let go of what you've grown comfortable with. It's hard to start new.

It's hard not to know what to expect.

It occurred to me, this past week, that the beauty of travelling isn't found in things remaining the same. That's not why we travel. We travel because we crave new things. We desire to discover new frontiers, and to find what's next.

Leaving comfort, and plunging into the unknown brings all kinds of beautiful, exciting, and scary things with it. Some days you can find yourself upon a mountain top, looking down in awe, with clarity. The next day you find yourself in the badlands. Surrounded by sand and heat.

You'll meet the kind and cruel among the endless stone monoliths known as the city. You'll love, and lose. You'll ache, and heal. You'll find friends who don't disappear, but remain as real as the day you met them. But none of this is possible if you can't take that first step.

A great theologian once said that life and faith are like being in a dark room with a flashlight. We can only see so much of what God has planned, the rest is shrouded in shadow, lingering around the outermost limits of the flashlight's beam. When we step forward, we begin to see something that we couldn't see initially. Yet another step reveals another piece, and so on. I thought that was profound.

I've lived in fear of the next step my whole life, but now I see that I don't have to fear anymore. I just need to walk in what I can see, and leave the details to Him.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Clean

Today, Jason (my church's pastor) talked about the importance of authenticity.

We read one of the famous "showdown" passages, where Jesus lays the smack down on some religious thugs, and calls them on their hypocritical lives. Everyone loves these stories because it's an all too familiar story, isn't it?

Toss a stone in any direction in America, and you could probably hit an Evangelical...'cept in Berkley perhaps, or Madison. The striking thing is, that the issues don't differ at all from Jesus' day. There's one group who believe that they alone hold the keys to the kingdom, and lord it over others, and then there's everyone else.

But, the passage wasn't simply a caution to religious leaders, but to anyone with faith. Myself included. Faith can become simple religion to anyone who allows it to do so. What I mean by that is that faith, an encounter with the Living God, that can't necessarily be tested, measured, or proven in a lab, can shift from radical life change to a system of actions that don't have any deeper significance. Empty religion.

Today, during the communion segment of church, there were small cups that had dirt stains inside. Jason invited members of the church, if they chose, to come up, and wash out the inside of the cup. The symbolism being an acknowledgement that, as Christians, we don't need to play the "polished exterior" game. We all have junk inside. We all need Christ to clean the inside, so that it matches the outside.

I thought this was a fabulous idea, only...when I got up to the table with the cups, I couldn't wash it out. Not fully, anyway.

Maybe it's the anti-conformity vein running through my body, or maybe it's the realist's fingerprint smudged upon my soul, but whatever it was, I couldn't do it.

Now, I believe that Jesus died for the sins of humanity.
I believe that I'm forgiven for all the junk I've done, and have been extended grace I don't deserve, for sure.

But, if this cup symbolizes anything to me, it's a reminder that the choice of Jesus remains in our hands. I don't always choose Jesus. There's a lot of dark stuff inside this cup that is my life.

That's what makes Jesus all the more real to me.

He isn't just a fix. He isn't a one time, "seal the deal" fail safe.
Our relationship is a daily thing. One step at a time, and I often disappoint him, but he still loves me, and cleans up my heart when I invite him back in. I really can't do life alone. I've tried, it doesn't work.

Could this be the problem people have when it comes to relating to God, and seeing him every day? Is it that we've bought the lie that everything will be just fine after we cross off the religious checklist?

Baptized? Check.
Church member? Check.
Small group member? Check.
Said you'd pray for someone? Check.
Brought your Bible to Starbucks? Double Check.

Is that not unlike the group of people that Jesus was calling hypocritical? The very people we write off as losers who completely missed the point?

Are we so enlightened?

I know I'm not. Just when I think I have a handle on things, there's something new challenging what I thought I knew. I guess that's just how life is though...

I do think that forgiveness is available for all, who ask and choose it. I do think it's possible to be new, and free, and clean. But the cup gets used after the initial cleaning, too. Jesus isn't done with you once you pray "the prayer."

Life gets messy, our spirits need to be cleansed again, and renewed.

The Savior isn't a one time deal, he's a lifelong companion, who doesn't let go. He's the best friend you'll ever have. He's the most patient teacher you'll ever know. He's the most graceful authority you'll ever submit to.

No matter how dirty, or how frequently our souls blacken, there is always living water available to cleanse us. If only we'd just ask.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This Road

In six short days, my friend Tim and I are packing our bags and hitting the road. We're doing a nine day tour of America's deep south, and the west coast. I can't begin to put into words how excited I am for this. It's a desire I've always had, but never had the money to actually act upon.

Sometimes I just need to get away from home. The familiar. The routine. Please don't misunderstand...I have a great life. Great job, and great friends. I'm comfortable where I am, and am happy with things overall.

But sometimes, for me, that's the problem. The times I've learned the most about myself, are the times I've been away from the known. They're the times that I've ventured forth, and left behind the well worn ruts of routine.

And too much of this good thing, can make it quite hard to breathe. That's how I feel right now. Like it's hard to breathe. The air is too familiar. To thick with the predictable. I need to breathe something fresh. I need to go learn something new. Experience new things. Otherwise the restlessness builds up.

I feel like this experience will help me gain my bearings again.
I'm blessed to be going with a great friend, Tim. I'm sure we'll have a fantastic time.

Sometimes roads lead us away from home, and those we love most. Sometimes that's the only way we can see them in a new light. Sometimes it takes leaving to truly come home.


We all have roads that we can choose to take. We can walk boldly, or timidly. We can resist movement, and we can even choose to remain where we are. Not moving another inch. But if you do, you may never experience the beauty of new fields, forests and friends. You can't ever look back fondly, if you refuse to move.


So move I shall.


Wherever your road could lead you, I pray you have the courage to take the first step. Sometimes life will look completely different when you do, sometimes you'll ache for what was. But it's ok, it's really ok.


Cherish what was. Look eagerly to what's ahead. Soak in every moment of now.


All it takes is one step forward.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Taste of Heaven

I can't get Pandora out of my mind.

 Yes, I recently bought James Cameron's cash cow, known as Avatar, on DVD. If you haven't seen it, think a Romeo and Juliet and Earth Day hybrid. Better yet, think Pochahontas meets the Lorax and you have a pretty good idea of what the movie is.

 It's not a new story being told here, in fact, the similarities to Pochahontas alone are nothing short of eerie. But, if you can get past that fact, then you can allow this stunning visual masterpiece (created by Cameron and crew) sweep you away, to a distant world and the adventures that await. This movie is so incredibly powerful, and something wakes up in me every time I see it. I really can't explain it.

It's this feeling of loss, and a desire for adventure, something new, and a longing for the way things should be. It's really strange, the feelings that a race of blue humanoids can illicit, but I guess that's what creating great art can do.

Looking around, I wonder often at how proud we are of our insignificance. We made cars. Great. We made buildings. Fantastic. We can fly. Who'd have thunk!?

But, it just doesn't seem like enough. We look around in America, all the time, and we aren't satisfied. Sooner or later you've drunk all you can drink. You've smoked all you can smoke. You've screwed everybody there is to screw. And who really needs another thingy-ma-bob?? Honestly.

Thus, we go on a grand search for something new, desperately wanting to find that faint glimmer of something more. Having stuff doesn't matter after awhile, but to find adventure. That rush. Someone to share a greater story with...well now, that's something worth finding.

I think that, in Avatar, Pandora offers glimpses of heaven; at least it does to me. I think that's why it moves me so strongly. The natives are so in tune with everything that the earth offers. With each other. They recognize the fabric that knits them all together, and acknowledge the creator of that fabric.

Pandora also shows a unique, unfiltered view of heaven in it's nature. The sheer beauty that abounds all around, causes me to ache for that which is being lost daily here on our own planet. The plants, the wildlife bursting with a palette of luminescent color, what would it be like to live in a world where things like phones, clocks, and gas prices didn't matter? Where we could live, constantly surrounded by original beauty?

I wish we lived in that world.

The thing that reminds me most of heaven in the movie, is the bond the two main characters share. The depth of relationship they have, after all they endure together is remarkable. You can feel the electricity, the sorrow, the joy, the awe at new discoveries.

What would that depth be like?
How I long for that.

So what now?

We obviously can't re-engineer this world. We can't turn back the clock, and erase our mistakes.

How can we find a slice of heaven? Is it possible?

I don't really know. But, I do know this; life is too short to wait around for the remarkable. Heaven and beauty do exist here, and they're ours to enjoy. We have to be bold enough to strike out, and seek it, and when we do that, we may find a Pandora of our very own. And when we do, may we cling to it, with all we have...