Friends at First Sight

friendsThis blog is part of a synchro blog that is supporting the gathering Bold Boundaries: Expanding Friendships Between Men and Women April 26 and 27.   http://sacredfriendshipgathering.com/

My friend Kathy Escobar and I will be telling our story and we would just love it if you could come. Who knows, it may increase your intimate friendship circle by 50%!

Take the following with a grain of salt and consider the source. Hang on until the end, the point is coming…

Do you know why Christian camps make a long list of strict rules about who can be where after dark? So they won’t have sex.

Do you know why some churches have full-time singles pastors, usually married, to oversee the singles? So they won’t have sex.

Do you know why churches have open door policies if a man meets with a woman? So they won’t have sex

Do you know why cross-gender relationships have been discouraged in the Church? So they won’t have sex.

I have yet to meet someone who chose to not have sex because it was against company policy.

When I met my wife, I instantly wanted to have sex. I was 19, in a conservative Bible college, and a virgin. Like never even close to not being a virgin, virgin. She was and is a beautiful woman. We began to court, and early on decided that a life together was our plan. If you had asked me then why I love April and want to marry her I would have lied to you. I would have said it was her character, kindness, “best friend-ness”, spiritual depth, and many other truths about her. But none of these were the real reason. I could have never said it out loud, but I mostly just wanted to have sex. I admit it, I had a very narrow view of attraction.

That was a long time ago. We have been married 32 years. If you were to ask me why I want to be with April for the rest of my life, my most honest answer is I don’t really know. I do know that I am attracted to her, however sex would not even make the top 10 reasons. That is not to say sex is not an important part of our lives, but we would make it if some tragedy took that gift away. I am, without hesitation just attracted to her. And I cannot say exactly what I am attracted to. Attraction is so much more than sex.

I am attracted to all of my friends, male and female. But I cannot tell you why. My friends are an eclectic bunch, dissimilar in most every way, what is common is my attraction. Attraction is the unexplainable, no need to defend it, deep human experience that both draws and bonds me to another human being. I believe all deep, intimate relationships transcend any ability to fully know why one person is in my deepest circle of trust and not another. It is a mystery. It was what I call attraction.

I understand that good relationships require more than attraction. Good friendships need hard work, change, confrontation, and forgiveness to name a few. But those skills are not enough for me to give my heart to someone.

Only once, and that was long ago, did sex dominate my attraction. Yet, the fear of a possible adolescent impulse has prohibited men and women from enjoying the depth of intimate friendship. To isolate a beautiful part of being fully human, the gift to be able to have a mysterious connection and desire to trust a person to just sex is a grave tragedy.

My early experiences in full-time ministry of strict rules regarding men and women, and advice from mentors, scared me from forming sacred friendships with women. The principle I was to follow was to not “give the appearance of evil”; therefore I could not go to coffee with a woman who was not my wife. Think about that: having a female friend is not only discouraged (this was strongly taught) but it was in fact possibly evil.

Reality? If I were to be having an affair I have a hunch I would not be hanging around public places flaunting it.

It is a tragedy that cross-gender friendships have not been encouraged. It would be great if you could join us in Chicago to begin to repair the destructive messages we have learned. http://sacredfriendshipgathering.com/

here are some others who will be part of the sacred friendship gathering:

Brambonius: Nothing More Natural than Cross-Gender Friendship?

Kathy Escobar: The Road to Equality is Paved with Friendship

Jim Henderson: Jesus Had A Thing For Women and SO DO I

Doreen Mannion: Heterosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendship–Learning from Gay and Lesbian Christans

Chris Jeffries: Best of Both

Jeremy Myers: Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible?

Lynne Tait: Little Boxes

Glenn Hager: Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ould: A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright: What I Get from my cross-gender friend

Paul Sims: Navigating the Murky Water of Cross-Gender Friendship

Amy Martin: Friendship:  The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstandings about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women.

Maria K. Anderson: Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Hugo Schwyzer: Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Liz Dyer: Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

Marta Layton: True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Jonalyn Fincher: Why I Don’t Give out Sex Like Gold Star Stickers

Elizabeth Chapin: Fifty Shades of Friendship

Doug Webster: Expressing Love Outside of Romance

 

 

Posted in Christian Culture, healing, men, womens issues | 31 Comments

Should We Fight to “Keep Christ in Christmas?”

imagesI say let’s throw in the towel and let Christmas go as a Christian holiday. We lost. It is a totally secular buying frenzy. It puts so many people at financial risk as they attempt to fulfill the ever-escalating expectations of gift giving that I would prefer to not associate the name of Christ with such an event.

I don’t mean we should stop celebrating what is special and beautiful about Christmas with our faith communities or our families. At The Refuge, for example, we will once again have a simple and lovely candlelight service.

I love Christmas. But I cringe at the “Keep Christ in Christmas” movement. Why? I would prefer that we separate the miracle of God coming as a baby from the frenzy of Black Friday. The two have absolutely nothing in common. I would love for the broader culture to call it “winter gift giving” or “Happy Holidays,” even, than to drag Jesus into the mess of consumerism.

I think what this taps into for me is the constant fighting for more power. Maybe I am missing something, but why should I care if someone wishes to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”? Will forcing them to say “merry Christmas” in any way help them connect to the Christian faith? Why should my faith have more say or power than someone else’s? In fact, I think we have less chance of inviting someone to Christ when we rise up in power imposing what we believe to be right.

This controversy seems to be a subplot in a bigger story about the American heritage. I am sure that many of the principles of our government were birthed from the convictions of Christian men. I understand this is a touchy subject, but the notion that we need to return to our Christian heritage seems hard for me to grasp. What is a “Christian nation”? Christianity is best spread through a spirit of humility and generosity, not through one that demands its own way.

Here is my proposal: trade Christmas for Easter. We spend no effort on attempting to redeem Christmas from the market-driven enterprise it has become. Instead, we focus all our attention on the critical moment of our faith, the resurrection of Christ. Baby Jesus is sweet, but the resurrected Christ will rock your world. If we saved our voice, what credibility might we still have to make Easter the most influential and meaningful holiday of the year?

I will decorate my tree, give my family presents and meditate on the birth of Jesus, but in my heart I am dreaming about Easter.

Posted in Christian Culture, church | 8 Comments

I Can See Your But…


The kingdom moves on, but it is slowed with “big buts.” Like on my first mountain hike, when I was an Alabama boy fresh off the plane. I had recently eaten 20 pounds of too much cornbread and fried okra. I was, by one hour, the last one to arrive at the summit, on a 45-minute hike.

The bride of Christ has one huge “but,” and to prove it I will ask a question, “Which of the following is most important?

  • A clean water project in a village that has lost 20% of its population to dysentery
  •  Caring for HIV orphans
  •  Ending sex trafficking
  •  Building a new faith community, committed to a model of simple, intimate worship, shared leadership and service to others.
  •  Providing a refuge for a victim of domestic violence who is fearing for her life
  •  An addict, at the bottom, looking for sobriety
  •  An unprecedented opportunity to bring the gospel to a people group for the first time
  •  Spending an hour in silence and prayer, listening for God to provide direction

I can hear your “but…”

But why care about food if someone is going to hell?
But you should first care for those around you before you look overseas.
But you should care about the least, the farthest from help first before looking overseas.
But without an intimate relationship with God nothing else will matter.
But if I am in recovery, my first responsibility is to those seeking sobriety.
But the Great Commission says my job is to take the gospel to the world.

You may notice a glaring omission or two in the above check-boxed list of important kingdom-related activities. Or you may say that they are all important, that it all has to be done. But suppose you are in a scenario that because of a limited budget (I suppose all budgets are limited), you can only pick one.
The one you pick is your “big but.”

Your big but is not a bad thing. Your spiritual gift is discovered by your spiritual passion. As Christ-followers we care about many important aspects of our faith, but we usually have a deep passion for one thing above others. In fact, your passion is a clue to the person you were made to be.

I don’t believe a spiritual gift is necessarily something given at a point of conversion, like a prize, but I do think our life passion has been with us since childhood. I have always liked to teach and preach, and long before I was a Christ-follower I always picked the oral book report over the written ones. In a similar way, I have seen children with an innate sense of justice grow to be lawyers and advocates.

Unity within the Body of Christ does not require me to relinquish my spiritual passions. Instead, I think healthy unity requires:

  • I stop diminishing those who value what I don’t
  • I view unity as rope being pulled, not a straight line as “us versus them,” tug of war, but as a rope tied in circle, where each passion pulls forcefully and what is in the middle is what is best
  • I embrace compromise, not acquiescence, as best

I often hear, and even mutter myself, “They just don’t get it.” That’s when our big but gets in the way of what is best for our fellow Christ-followers and for the Church as a whole.

Posted in Christian Culture, church, leadership, New Models and Paradigms | 2 Comments

What Do Egypt, Abusers and Toxic Churches Have in Common

It is in our DNA as humans to want to go back to what has oppressed us. Evidence and experience are often not enough for us to resist the urge to return to oppression.

For example, on average, abused women return 4 to 5 times to their abusive partner. My tendency to want to “try again to make it work” in unhealthy institutional systems has often proved as toxic to my soul.

I am sure the reasons for living with oppression are as complex and varied as each individual situation, but I think some of the following general human realities also feed this destructive tendency. At least they do in my life.

 Belonging is more powerful than we realize.

One of the deepest needs I can remember identifying at an early age is the urge to belong. The longing to be on the team, in the group, and on the inside, has tugged at my soul from my earliest memories.

I was raised with abusive parents. I was tormented physically and emotionally, but that did not deter my resolve to one day be accepted by them. I would buy gifts, alter my language, and pretend to like things I hated, all to be a part of their family.

It sounds crazy when I say it, but abuse creates a sense of connection. It is an intimate moment to experience abuse, and when that is all you know of intimacy, it fills a void. Even those dying of hunger sometimes eat dirt and clay to fill their stomachs.

To be part of a church that reinforces on a weekly basis that God is perpetually disappointed in us is abusive. In fact, if our instinct were to not share our reality (doubt, sins, regrets, fears, questions) because we believe to do so would put our belonging in jeopardy- we may be part of an abusive church. If your need to be accepted by your church trumps your need to be honest, you are in danger of being a victim of an abusive church. If the message for belonging to your church includes a mandate that you must submit (blindly, without question, constantly) then you are in danger. Like an abused women, you need to find a safe house.

The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:19-20, “After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face”.

 New Living Translation

 The illusion of safety can be stronger than the fear of trust.

The Bible tells a few big stories over and over again. Like a panoramic lens, it tells these stories from every angle, reinforcing their universal reality. One of these meta-messages is trust in God. There is always an alternative to trusting God, a more immediate, fast acting remedy to a dilemma or pain that will produce an immediate sense of safety. But it is only an illusion. It takes an enormous amount of courage to trust. And trusting is so often equivalent to leaving. I am often filled with admiration for the men and women who leave the mean spouses, families and churches to courageously find a better way. I know how much easier it is to just exist in familiar.

Numbers 11:5  “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.” In other words, “If we go back, at least we won’t starve,” we think, and that applies both physically and spiritually.

God has a habit of not giving much at one time. He often does it at the last minute, too, not to be cruel, but to tenderly call us to learn to trust and be amazed at His provision.

When we return to our abusers, hoping against hope that it will be different this time we surrender our dignity. We trade dignity to feel secure. He longs for us to experience the dignity that can only come from Him. We may receive many things from oppression, but it is always at the expense of dignity.

 A nagging sense I am wrong, stupid, and weak

I cannot help but always think my pain is my fault, my weakness, and my stupidity. If only I…

  • Would be more spiritual,
  • Not such a troublemaker,
  • Be quiet,
  • Would conform,
  • Follow the rules

I know I contribute to my pain — I apparently aim best when the gun is pointed at my own foot. It is universally true that an abuser will attempt to convince you that it is your fault you are suffering. In marital abuse it sounds like, “If you did not make me so mad,” and in church it sounds like “Why won’t you submit to God’s ordained authority?”

There is a lie that all abusive systems teach: if you leave, you will be all alone. You are too weak to make it without us/me.

Nostalgia is selective.

My idealized dream of Christmas is as a warm holiday with laughter, presents and good food. My Christmas reality was a drunken mom, cold step-dad, and absent father. Nostalgia is the like the sirens calling Odysseus of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey towards the rocks of destruction. Time minimizes the pain and exaggerates the good.

Here is a constant dilemma: some of us have our spiritual roots in fundamentalism. With good cause we have warmth in our souls for those early, formative moments. My first foray into Christianity in high school was also my first experience of being accepted by a group. I loved keeping the rules, being on the winning team, and fully submitting myself to anything that would give me acceptance in return. I often forget how mean you had to be to those with a different moral code, or especially those who “compromised the truth” (this was the code for someone who did not believe what you believed).

I am a dreamer, an active daydreamer. I can conjure intricate scenarios and conversations, and often I am starring in a scene where some toxic church reminiscent of my adolescence has begged me to come and rescue them. It’s always a church that sees the error of its ways and tells me they love me and they want me.

Only God’s mercy and my friends keep me rooted in reality. Plus, remembering that Egypt totally sucks.

Posted in Christian Culture, healing, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge | 2 Comments

What I Wish I Had Learned In Seminary

What I Wished I Had Learned in Seminary

I am grateful for seminaries and for the example of the dedicated scholars who invested in my education. At the same time, while I do believe in leadership, I don’t believe in the “sole” leadership model I was taught in seminary. One person is not God’s sole instrument in a community.

I didn’t take the following classes in seminary, but I have paid far more (in a non-monetary sense) for not having taken them than I paid (in a monetary sense) for the classes that earned me my degree. (Note: I paid A LOT of money for my degree.)

 Followership 101

Most people can be taught to be leaders. There is no end to the books written on the subject. But Godly following is what really takes a lifetime to master.  Jesus’ first words to his first disciples, and, I believe, to us, are a simple invitation to follow.  And then, as we walk behind Him, he teaches us leaders what to look like in His manifesto on the mountain.

(It will be helpful to first quickly read the beatitudes, which I am copying as a footnote for your convenience. This my translation, I have simply reversed the reward and then the requirement.)

As a leader, you must learn to follow those who already grasp the kingdom (the poor in spirit or the broken), those who have found joy in deep pain (those who mourn, suffer, the depressed and psychotic), those who are rulers of earth (the unnoticed, the unimportant, the meek), those have been pardoned (who have taken no revenge, who feel the pain of the hurting), those who are truly content, not with things but with purpose (because they burn with passion to give justice and mercy to all), those who are the God see-ers (the naive, the simple-minded, the pure), those whose last name is IAMGOD’S (the middle-children of alcoholics, the ones in the gap, the ones who know when someone is left out or sad before anyone else, the ones who long for peace on earth), and those who are the heaven-tenants (the ones who are misunderstood, the ones no one likes, the victims of abuse, the persecuted).

I learned to be “other” than of these requirements.

 Shareology

If you have to lead, hold hands with someone.

My friend was a mountain explorer in his early days. He told me the secret to surviving the razor edge of a mountain at 23,000 feet is to be roped to a partner. If your partner falls and plummets to the east, you heave yourself to the west. It is the tension that will save you. If you lead alone, or as the chief executive officer, the one who can fire everyone else, you will battle arrogance and power. You may survive it, but it will be your constant thorn. But if you find friends that are your equals, if you submit some of your power to others, then as a team you have far less risk of giving in to power plays.

Remember, as much as Jesus made you good at something, He made you bad at far more things. On purpose He created you to need others so you would not climb alone.

He invented the co-lead everything. It is His DNA to be inseparable from community. There is no power struggle in the Trinity. There is a perfect tension of strength and unique identity.

My co-pastors and I have lived this truth out for seven years as part of The Refuge, and it has sustained us. But in all of these years I have yet to convince one church or organization to make the same, simple shift.

Questioneutics

I spent most of my ministry career wanting to be a good communicator. I learned the “tricks of the trade” like inductive, deductive, narrative, persuasive and even comedic preaching. These were the tools I developed to live out my calling.

What I did not know is that people don’t always need a good answer as much as they need a good question.  It is actually reassuring for them that I don’t always know how it works and that knowing and trusting are often worlds apart.

Try to be honest about what you don’t get, or don’t like, or don’t believe.  Admit, that you come across more certain than you really are, and in fact, you cannot possibly believe everything you preach with the gusto and enthusiasm you appear to have.

Leave some white space.  Allowing questions from your audience will automatically make you more human and a much better communicator. Again, a great question is always more instructive than a great answer especially if it occurs in real time from someone who is actually hearing you speak.

Friendocracy

This is the foundation of all ministry and leadership. Do you know how to be a good friend?

I did not. I knew how to inspire people, not walk alongside them.  This has by far been the most painful learning curve. I have left piles of hurt people in my wake simply because I did not how to do more than give them good ideas. I abandoned people. I ran when I began to be loved and not admired. No one taught me how to be a friend and I continued to relate to people exactly as I did in junior high school. Needless to say I did not have many friends then.

I think we need good leaders and pastors. I think we need each other. I am curious to what you might add to the curriculum. Maybe together we can begin to see a new way.

 

 

The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-10

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christian Culture, healing, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 5 Comments

Believe Both

Believe Both

I like the bible. I like that almost each time I read it I am amazed at how precisely the author has captured the truth and complexity of being human. I like the counsel, wisdom, scenes of glory and insight into knowing God. I love the winsomeness of Jesus. But mostly, I am comforted that my humanity is fully known and therefore can be fully redeemed.

I have recently come to love the Bible in a new way because I no longer worry about how to synthesize the stories. In fact, I don’t the think the Bible makes sense in the normal way a book might make sense. A novel will raise a paradox, but will in the end give the satisfaction of resolving that paradox. The dilemma’s found in scripture seldom transcend the opening line- “in the beginning God…” and do not bring a resolution to seemingly contrary portrayals of God.

So as inconsistent as I may be, when confronted with what appears to be opposing and irreconcilable truths-

I believe both.

God answers prayer in miraculous and spectacular ways

Some people linger in darkness, pain and death while crying out for God

 Job survived the test of God, and was blessed with 10 times what he had before

Job’s family was wiped out as part of this test, kind of sucked to be Job’s kid

 God knows everything

God is surprised when I ignore him

 Grace has released me from having to try harder

Healing has come as I worked the 12 steps

 I am a glorious, beautiful child of God

I am petty, small and jealous

 God is powerful and present

God is absent

 God chooses

People choose

 Church is at it’s best when it is organic, spontaneous, and slightly chaotic

Church functions well when it has order

 Perhaps you have heard stories of grieving parents being told, “don’t cry, your baby is in heaven”. Or a newly divorced dad being reminded “all things work together for good”. I have yet to hear a single woman wanting to marry and have a family that felt better being told Jesus would be her husband. In fact, almost any scripture in a moment of crisis might cause more harm than good.

But aren’t these scriptures true? Yes, I believe them to be completely true.

But I also believe that horrible moments and grave injustices are unexplainable and even inconsolable. I believe that God is powerful and God either withholds His power or is unable to do some things. I believe God is pure love, and I believe at times I experience a God who seems cold, even callous.

My conclusion to centuries of theological debate:

heresy occurs when we are certain we can make it all make sense.

My remedy- believe both.

 

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 18 Comments

Christian Parkour

God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  Exodus 3:14-15

Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  Matthew 6:9

Why would the way we address God change?

Have you seen anyone play parkour? What a crazy sport! Imagine a monkey, a lizard and Chuck Norris are one creature. That creature runs up walls, flips and jumps from concrete cliffs without dying.

If you die while playing parkour, then you do not win. To stay alive, you must learn to be flexible and roll when you land.

I am trying to land softly and roll. The world I knew, especially the ecclesiastical one, is moving fast and I am having a hard time keeping up. I want to avoid a face plant and learn to start rolling.

I was with some friends who have difficulty with some traditional Christian language used to address God. I find this language comforting and familiar. I want to be in relationship with these folks, but when I insist my understanding of how to address God is “biblical” and dig in my heels and become defensive, I tend to face plant. (You will know you have face planted when everyone goes home angry, and you have once again lost a friend.)

The crux of one such conversation concerns the pronouns we use for God. My friends find the masculine way in which we commonly address our God to be alienating. They would say the masculine names and pronouns are rooted in a patriarchal system and seem to emphasize a “maleness” that is oppressive. I want to roll with this one. I am new to Christian parkour so I expect a few face plants along the way.

I have an offering. A way to address God that is simple and faithful to my understanding of the Bible. This is my awkward attempt to roll and be flexible:

Dearest God, my Loving Parent (Father)

Dearest God, my Perfect Sibling (Son)

Dearest God, my Un-Embodied Comforter (Holy Spirit)

Face plant or roll?

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, Thoughts on Scriptures | 16 Comments