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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets

Gay Athletes and Civility

I was called “fag” or “homo” many times on the football field, and always when I was underperforming (which was often).  Men’s athletics is a culture known for holding up homosexuality as a symbol of weakness. This is part of what makes Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay an act of courage.**

It is beyond question that there are many other professional athletes who also identify as queer.  In coming out, Collins hopes to provide an inspiration for other athletes to walk through. He also knows that the next few steps won’t be without some conflict. For instance, ESPN columnist Chris Broussard recently voiced a more traditional, conservative view of homosexuality, specifically suggesting that “living in an openly homosexual lifestyle” is “walking in open rebellion to God.” That is, of course, the line being kicked around FB and Twitter.

But I think both of these public statements, Collins’ and Broussard’s, are redemptive and essential steps forward. Furthermore I will suggest that, for many folks I know, Broussard’s public statement might be the more essential step. Referencing  another openly homosexual member of the sports world,  L.Z. Granderson, Broussard said..

He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years.” Broussard said “We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

Yes, Broussard said something many would consider predictable insofar as he is a Christian; that he doesn’t see homosexuality as a good or godly way of life. But he also voiced his sentiment while acknowledging the basic humanity of those with whom he disagrees.  You might think that’s short of what is needed, but I’m fairly convinced that such civility is far from a compromise… It’s an essential part of the story.

It’s easier to dismiss someone’s opinions, needs, desires, etc… if I consider them less human than I am. The angle of many political campaigns bends itself toward demonizing and dehumanizing one’s opponent. She’s a “liberal” or he’s a “threat” which makes them a set of ideas at best rather than a living, breathing person. That generations of Africans (and eventually African Americans) were considered less than human was the existential foothold of slavery and horrendously unjust Jim Crow laws. In the very checkered conversational history between The Church and the LGBTQ community, our worst efforts have made people into ideas (and dangerous ideas at that). But on either side of an ideological dispute are people made up of more than their ideas (and, vitally in this case, more than their sexuality). 

Learning to disagree without dehumanizing those with whom we disagree (and especially about issues tied to identity) is as important an expression of grace as simply siding with someone. I think that’s where the hinges are that open doors to healthy, just and fruitful communities; communities marked by equality and fairness, even in light of serious differences in worldview.

Men in the culture of pro sports could use more examples like Broussard’s statement to more civilly deal with and express disagreement with or dislike of a teammate’s lifestyle. I think that’s a huge part of the road forward.

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** For my non-sports-fan readers, Jason Collins is a professional basketball player who came out this week to publicly identify as queer. His public statement made quite a splash online yesterday, as was Collins’ expressed intent.

Lenten Prayers

Last year, during Lent, I started posting short prayers that were part of my personal Lenten practice. This year, I picked that practice back up. Here’s why I do it:

I believe the Christian tradition, and particularly the Christian discipline of prayer, has  a great deal to offer the world outside our tradition. I don’t believe prayer is an activity isolated to religious folks. Instead, I believe prayer is a primally human activity. We rejoice, we cry out, we thank, we want… we do any number of things that draw us and point us beyond ourselves. Prayer, as I understand it, is an acknowledgement and intentional practice of that activity.  I think the Christian tradition can offer language and form to this primal human function. And I think we can do so without raising a flag of colonization or ownership.  

It is in light of this that I have shared these short prayers via Facebook and Twitter.
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May my strength be rooted in peace rather than driven towards victory.

May I, amidst either applause or jeers, hear Your voice saying “Well done.”

May I look forward in hope rather than absolutize the present: knowing that things will not always be as they are.

May I know my capacity and be free of the burden of limitlessness.

May my interest in deciphering the Human Condition be eclipsed by my desire to respond to the Divine Will.

May have the freedom to fail, even at the things I care most about, knowing that my mistakes are not the end of me.

May I have the eyes to see this as a good world in need of restoration rather than a bad world and an obstacle to my peace and rest.

May I have the courage to believe that everything I do matters.

May I have the courage to believe that everything I do matters.

May I learn to make good out of what I’m given rather than only make sense of it.

Before I see someone as a problem may I see them as Yours.

May I be free of the burden of hate. Give me the courage to forgive.

May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Give me eyes to see people as valuable because they are Yours rather than valuable because I can gain something from them.

While I am impacted by my past, may it never rule me or define who I am today.

Forgive me for thinking you useful and believing I can charm you into alignment with my way.

Deliver me from coldness of heart and a wandering mind. Place within me steadfast love and devotion.

May I take joy in bearing witness to great deeds and works without having to be the source of them.

May I learn what it means to have ‘enough’ and abandon the relentless pursuit of ‘more.’ (inspired by Wes Stafford)

May it be enough for me to see God in the world

May I have hope for myself the way I do for others.

May I believe that newness is possible.

May love and forgiveness for others be less and less optional.

May love be stronger in me than the fear of the pain that comes with caring.

May I speak into the lives of those I love because I love them and not because I’m right.

May I love not only those who are not fortunate, but those who are; who have had success where I have not.

May I have the courage to expect good for my life and world along with resilience if/when those expectations disappointed.

May my hope for others never be darkened by my personal disappointments.

May my awareness of faults in myself or others never open the door to spite but grant me a deep appreciation for grace.

May my pursuit of happiness never come at the cost of someone else’s freedom to do the same.

May my value for this world and the people in it extent far beyond the uses I have for them.

May I have enough faith in the Truth that I happily abandon the temptation to sell it.

May I learn what it means to have ‘enough’ and abandon the relentless pursuit of ‘more.’ (inspired by Wes Stafford of Compassion International)

May the reality that I cannot know the whole truth give me freedom to talk about the part I can see rather than paralyze me.

May the urgency with which I approach my work never become anxiety. The world is not mine to save. (Inspired by the book “The World Is Not Ours To Save” by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson)

May love be stronger in me than the fear of the pain that comes with caring.

May I love those less fortunate than I am, as well as those who have had great success. Free me from the burden of envy.

May I have the eyes to see this as a good world in need of restoration rather than a bad world and an obstacle to my personal peace and rest.

May I take joy in the great deeds of others without having to be a part of them much less their source.

Though I know I am impacted by my past, may it never rule me or define who I am entirely.

May the depth and energy of my criticism be at least equaled by the depth of my commitment to help.

May have the freedom to fail, even at things I care about, knowing that mistakes aren’t the end of my process but part of it.

Before I see someone as a problem, may I see them as a human being.

May I have the courage to believe that everything I do matters.

May I have vision and courage to join God in the places He’s already working rather than feel responsible for bringing Him.

May I be the same in character and posture regardless of my circumstances. May I be an uncompromisingly whole person.

May I learn to make good out of what I’m given rather than only make sense of it.

May I find freedom in limitation – to fully love the life I have and not focus on what I lack

May I never grow tired of starting over or helping others do the same. My hope is always in renewal and resurrection.

“…a God he likely does not know.”

I have come to believe that I can’t speak with any kind of wisdom or authority about the lives of people I don’t know. On a very practical level, I likely have only anecdotal information by which to evaluate their faith and process. But more importantly, if that person isn’t part of my life or congregation, they’re probably not someone I have been given to as a leader or pastor. And there are enough of those folks (people to whom I actually belong) to keep me happily busy.

I’ve been a pastor of Shelter Covenant Church since helping to plant the church in 1998. Our community is a small-to-medium sized group and I generally have some knowledge of what is happening in the lives of those I get to pastor. I really like knowing my community this intimately because, as I’ve written elsewhere, I believe that discipleship begins with trusting God is already up to something in someone’s life. 

What necessarily precedes my discipleship process then, is a more-than-cursory knowledge of someone’s life. I need to be close and listen carefully in order to faithfully “do my job” as a pastor. Only if I do the listening part do I get to help someone see and respond to what God is doing in and through them, rather than project my own hopes or agenda into their circumstance.

And when I have spoken to or about someone without having that proximity and without listening to know what God is likely up to, my words have generally been more revelatory of things inside me than they have been of Jesus.

Haiti

On The Anniversary of Haiti’s 2010 Earthquake

On January 12, 2010, the morning after an earthquake leveled Port Au Prince, Haiti, eventually causing the deaths of 250,000 people, cable news networks reported large crowds of Haitians parading through the streets between the ruins of buildings, singing.  I remember CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer interpreting the scene as a display of “resilience and a determined will to go on.” But the songs they sang that day (and into the night) were not all songs of resolve; they were songs of lament, prayer and hopeful expectation.  “God have mercy” they sang as they marched. “Lord have mercy.”

As they walked past mounds of concrete and rebar where buildings had stood, that congregation of Haitians sang songs to God, the Creator. If you are like me, you find that scene both confounding and inspiring.  A people beaten down by Creation appealing to the Creator.   And yet where should I expect the unfulfilled desire for a better life to lead such a people? Where else should Haitians take their complaint?  To the Nations?  Which Nation?  Haitians have a long history of being enslaved, trampled, used and abused by the Spanish, the French, the United States and others.  After being treated unjustly by both Humanity and the Natural world, where does a people take their complaint?  Does their desire for justice lead anywhere at all?  And if not, then what are we to make of that desire in the first place? Is it only an absurdity?

I don’t believe so.

I believe the desire for Justice and Peace is as natural and common as the desire for food and shelter, even when that desire sets me at odds with the natural order of things.  Among the poor, the wishful desire for Justice is perhaps more poignant because the poor have more intimately experienced the insufficiency of Nature and Humanity to satisfy it.  For some of my friends who already consider faith something of an absurdity, the prevalence of religious faith among poor and oppressed people is the worst kind of absurdity.  Why would people decimated by economic “progress,” caught up in political chess-playing, manipulated by get-rich religious schemes and even beaten down by natural elements continue to hope in a God whose world and people had been so cruel? And while I agree with friends who find such devotion somewhat absurd, I also think that wishing for things to be other than they are eventually leads to absurdity.  And it is there where I find religious thinking to be incredibly appropriate.

They way I understand it, religious thinking doesn’t mean lazily settling for magical explanations when there are better, more reasonable and factual explanations.  Sometimes it’s dissatisfaction with the facts themselves that leads me to a thought like “I know the facts but I wish it were not so.”  Now, I know that I share those thoughts with friends who do not consider themselves religious, so maybe calling them “religious thoughts” isn’t helpful. Maybe it’s simply human to wish for, long for and even be driven by visions of a world without disease or hunger or natural disaster, in which people are not bought and sold by other people.  And if it is simply human to desire justice, then maybe it is not so absurd to believe that desire can be satisfied.  Maybe what is truly absurd is possessing a very natural desire for Peace and Justice when that desire cannot reasonably be satisfied.

I have  believe that these unfulfilled (and perhaps unreasonable) dreams are clues that there is more to life than can be weighed and measured.  I believe that when those Haitian women and men took to their broken streets singing songs of prayer and hopeful expectation, they were a living picture of what is best in humanity; the part of us that does not settle for what is simply because it is. The part of us that struggles, works, prays and hopes for better than there is.  I believe their persistent, relentless faith is a clue that we are made of more than matter and therefore rightly long for more than the material world can offer.

*This is an excerpt from the the CMYK Book, due out this Spring.
**The featured image was shot by Jeremy Cowart as part of his brilliant “Voices of Haiti” project. The piece of debris this man is holding reads: “The Earth Can Shake But Haiti Remains In My Heart.”
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Sunday Reflection: Worship Names What Matters Most

This is a short reflection I passed along to a few friends with whom I serve at my church’s Sunday gathering.

In his book “Dangerous Act Of Worship” Mark Labberton writes “Worship names what matters most… “ Mark has become a good friend and great mentor to me. His life and his work, including this book, are constant reminders to me of why I do what I do a a worshiper (including on Sunday nights). Even though Jesus, my community and my mission are deeply vital to me, I can and do grow emotionally and mentally distant from those things. Distracted, worried, busy, etc…

And so, once every week, we gather together to focus, to lay our worries down and to stop so that we can remember and practice what matters most. I think the songs we sing and our act of offering those songs help us to name for ourselves and one another “what matters most.” Namely, our relationship with God, with one another and our mission in the world.

Thank you for doing this with me. I think we do it well.

New YL logo

Praying For Young Life

“You are worth my time.”

That’s a good story.

It’s the story that frames the beginning of my adulthood, really. And it was told to me, not in words but in countless hours of presence, by a Young Life leader.

“I had a Young Life leader walk into my life when I was twelve years old.” If you’ve been around me at at all for the past 14 years, you’ve likely heard me say those very words.  Its’ one of my favorite stories and I tell it a lot.  I also tell it a lot because I think it’s an important story; the counter-arguement to the loud and convincing cultural voice that says to kids “You are what you own, what you wear, what you drive, etc…”

Today is the National Day of Prayer for Young Life.  I know several of my readers don’t click with the Christ-centered focus of Young Life but we can all get on board with the need for the loving presence of adults in the lives of kids. Mentoring relationships help reframe the sometimes brutal identity crises teens face by telling a better story to kids than the dominant, destructive consumer fairytale many of us are smothered by.  Young Life leaders, by their very presence in kids lives, announce “you are worth my time.”

That’s a good story: “You are worth my time.”
It’s the story I think God wants told and I’m glad Young Life leaders do it so well.

Worship Image

Worship: Changed Life / Changed World

This is the third in a short series on “worship.” The first was a brief introduction, coupled with a few questions. The second was a short story which frames my own journey down this thought path. 

I still find it tragic that I can walk into a christian retail store, find my way into the music section and pick a CD off a wall of CD’s labeled “worship.”  More than tragic, I think it’s damaging to our culture. I think labeling a certain kind of music “worship” places unwarranted and unhealthy expectations on musicians. It also narrows the definition of the expansive and powerful truth that worship is the orientation of one’s whole life toward or around an Idea, Power, Person etc..

Of course, I’m hardly the first person to point out that the semantic confusion between “worship” and “music” has been damaging to both “worship” and “music.” This is not to say that the relationship between the two must be severed. On the contrary, I believe worship and the arts are linked in essential ways. But I also believe a third idea must be introduced in order for us to come to a fuller understanding of that relationship. That idea is “justice.”

Though I believe I’ll spend the rest of my life unpacking these thoughts and trying to live them out, here’s what I have a grip on so far . . .

The measure of true worship is the transformation of people’s lives. Worship ultimately means aligning my life to something; in my case it is the life and Person of Jesus, which also means aligning my way of going about life to the Way of Jesus.

The measure of a transformed life is the transformation and blessing of the world in which those lives are led. The way I know my life is changing is that the lives of those I care for are changing, too. The same goes for the neighborhood in which I live: if my neighbor’s life is not better because of my being in it, if my city is not a sweeter place, if the larger world is not being blessed through my life, then I must seriously question whether my worship is true.

Transformation, in the Christian worldview, means the alignment of things to the Way of Jesus and His Kingdom. This is not the nebulous, immeasurable, and directionless change we’re used to hearing about from the mouths of pop psychologists or politicians. It is transformation in the particular and recognizable direction of justice — that is, all of creation being restored to rightness and health, including a right relationship with its Creator.

The  Biblical vision for this “right relationship” with the Creator includes the cessation of violence and chaos. So long as there is violence and chaos in our cities, in our lives or in the nation next door, it is simply not enough to sing about the Goodness of God (much less listen to someone else do so) and call it “worship.”

I worry that fighting over Facebook and Twitter does to queer/straight dialogue what online fights do to most everything else: make it less real.

A few weeks ago, a few cable news networks featured a video sermon by a preacher who suggested violence against queer* family members.  They followed that “story” a week or so later by posting a similar sermon video  from a different pastor with a similar message. Both of these vids showed up multiple times in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, posted by outraged friends.  Yesterday, the video of a child singing “ain’t no homo gonna make it to heaven” made it’s noisy rounds on the web, aided my many of those same outraged friends.

I didn’t watch the video. I’m pretty confident I don’t need to in order to know that it is shamefully out of line and unlike Jesus as I know Him.

While I certainly believe there are times when those using their social and public influence for destructive ends ought to be socially and publicly addressed,  I wonder if we just as often create monsters by driving up hits and plays of obscure cultural figures or moments and then feel that we’re fighting the good fight by denouncing them.  I’m not at all suggesting that vitriolic garbage such as “ain’t no homo gonna make it to heaven” should go uncorrected… I am suggesting that, in my experience, such correction has had power when it’s been done by someone I’ve known.

A friend  who posted one of these videos captioned it with something about the stupidity of religious people and the damage of religious teaching.  I asked him if he personally knew any religious folks who thought and spoke the way the pastor in the video did.  He said he did not, which I thought made his sweeping devaluation of “religious people” and the teachings they subscribe to rather empty.  Do the Christians you know think and say hateful things about LGBT friends?  If so, I would suggest that, before addressing the wrongs done by a small group of folks in a modest church 1500 miles away, the hatefulness of your friends is your business. 

I also worry that “fighting these battles” over Facebook and Twitter does to queer/straight dialogue what online fights can do just about anything else: make it less real. “Hate” becomes something backwards, white, religious southerners do (which likely means you are in the clear) and it’s enough to post a snappy comment about it.

Which leads me, at last, to this…

As I’ve written about elsewhere, being a hateful or violent person is a problem unto itself. Queer folks, racial minorities, women or the upper class only serve as convenient targets at which to aim that hate.  An emotionally mature person can think someone is wrong (even dangerously so) and still not hate them. So, I don’t believe it’s helpful to lump those who believe that homosexual behavior or even orientation is outside God’s original design together with those who are hateful towards the LGBT community.  While conversations about hate are related to conversations about religious and social differences, I believe that, as a far as it is possible, they are better had as separate conversations.

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Power, Authority, Discipleship and Pants

As I understand it, power has to do with one’s ability and authority has to do with having permission to exercise that power. In other words, you might have knowledge, insight or wisdom to offer me that would I would benefit from but if I don’t heed your words, I have denied you the authority to exercise your power.

Andy Crouch’s presentation at the Q conference was born out of early efforts toward a book on the topic of Power and it landed squarely in an arena of thought I’m currently in myself: The exercise of authority involved in discipleship.

He suggested that there is a general reticence among Christians to assume or claim power; as if claiming power/influence is by nature arrogant and dangerous whereas the denial of power/influence is a sign of character. His suggestion called to mind the oft-quoted warning that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -Lord Acton (real name)

Now, count me among those who have a backlog of negative power-abuse examples in my mind, particularly related to religious history… but if women and men of character automatically compromise that character by assuming positions of power, isn’t the void left to be filled by those who lack character?  That seams to be what many among us at least believe to be true about those in authority. In my experience, the very idea of authority is often met with red flags and suspicion.

And yet I wore pants today, as I do so most days.. Of course, I didn’t internally decide that it was good to wear pants. I was told, over years of course, that I ought to and believed that to be true.  I find that to be the case in just about all my behavioral patterns: I do what I do because I’ve been taught that I ought to and believed that to be true. In other words, I’m submitted to some power or other. I’ve given authority to someone or something outside myself to determine at least part of how I live. Admittedly, this influence is often benign,.. but not always. The permissibility of slave-labor in order to ensure low prices for American consumers is also a product of the slow but pervasive influence of authoritative voices in the Marketplace.

The initial challenge of discipleship is entering the arena where power is already being wielded; where authority, leadership and life-shaping are already taking place… and risk association with a history of power-abuse. I don’t like the impact the Marketplace has had on people I love. I think I have a better idea of how to live and spend money. I don’t like the impact certain elements of the Political and Religious worlds have had on people I love. I think I have a better idea how to see and treat people.  So, will I risk the appearance of arrogance and control in order to “put my two cents in?” 

Or is the bigger risk to let whatever cultural forces are most powerful and pervasive do the instructing and shaping of those I love?

Across The Country To Do Some Listening

I’ll be in Washington DC for the next 3 days attending the Q conference. You can watch the first few sessions live. The Q Conference is a gathering of leaders and thinkers from key areas of culture to “consider how to advance the common good in a pluralistic society.”  I’ll be using Facebook and Twitter while I’m there to highlight moments I am moved or challenged by.  I’ll also be writing and hope to post something here at the blog…

..BUT..

Mostly, I know that this is a time to listen. I often talk too much and too soon. Among the women and men who are leading the discussion at Q are several whose wisdom is rooted in years of focused discipline, failure, trial and success. I will want to add to their conversation… but I will need to listen.

I don’t always have to add something. In fact, If I really do want to add something of substance, I need to be a man of substance and most of that comes by way of listening, watching and imitating women and men whose wisdom exceeds mine.  A lot of that type of person is at QDC this week.  So, I’m going to go listen.

Here are some of the folks I’m looking forward to listening to:

Andy Crouch
Gideon Strauss
Catherine Rohr
Janelle Paris
Miroslav Volf 

If you use Twitter, follow the hashtag #QDC for updates.