{Above all Love One Another: A confession on being an LGBTQ Ally & a Christian}

unless we’re all free, none of us are free.

Kathy Escobar  a pastor and writer, challenged me with these words on her blog this week:

“i’m a nut case for equality.  you hear me talking a lot about gender equality but that’s just because it’s a critical starting place.  when half of the population of the world is thought of as “less than”, we’re in serious trouble.  in a church that is supposed to be the free-est, most liberating place in town, we’re in even deeper trouble.  christians should be leading the way on equality in absolutely every area, yet we all know that on the whole, we are lagging behind, stuck in white privilege & imbalanced power & segregation and all kinds of things that are not reflective of the kingdom of God Jesus called us to create.

equality isn’t just about gender. it crosses into race, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, and any other ways we are divided that strip people’s dignity.

… what will change things is when we begin to vote with our feet (and in ballot boxes) and refuse to be part of churches & systems & groups that oppress.  Period.  they aren’t going to get our money or our time or absolutely-anything-anymore and i don’t care how good their music, teaching, or kids program is.”

I read these words and wanted to cry…

I felt very confused. Kathy says to simply rant and rage on Facebook is not accomplishing anything.  That hit me like a bulls-eye. What she is challenging Christians to do is hard. 

I’m with her in my heart and in theory, in my friendships, my daily practices, my Facebook statuses and as an ally.  But not with my feet, with my church membership.  Do I really need to leave my church? I love my church.

I was driving along listening to our brave President …

That beautiful speech about the fact that people ought to be able to get married, any two people in America, my heart  was gushing and pulsing with pleasure and pride and hope.

Then I remembered and wondered …

  • Do I speak freely about supporting the LGBTQ community because I don’t work for anyone except myself?
  • Two of my children have chosen against Christianity, because the church seems in their estimation to “hate LGBTQ people.”
  • My church, which is a beautiful, amazing, loving Jesus community, came out a few years ago that they believe the LGBTQ lifestyle was a sin.

I don’t know what to do about any of those things. I volunteer and advocate.  I love on my kids and try to dialogue with them.  I still attend my church.  I sat and wriggled in discomfort listening to that sermon (I have the link to it below) in person two years ago, and this morning as I listened to it again.

My heart is so heavy.  And at the same time light with the knowledge of what Jesus’ death on the cross means to me.  I have life, abundant life, because Jesus took my sins upon himself.  

I know this, I’m as sinful as anyone.

My kids say “Christians hate gays.”  My lesbian and gay friends say that most Christians act like they hate them.  My lesbian friend asks me if she would be welcome at my church?

Christians hate gays.

Christians hate gays.

Do Christians hate gays?

I don’t, but are my choices, my actions, my feet, making that clear? I don’t write that three times to be callous or uncaring, but to let it sink in what’s really going on in my daughter’s mind and heart. And my friends.  And your friends and family who may or may not have come out to you.

We attend a fairly middle of the road evangelical church.  

Though they’re not open to women being elders, they are open to women doing everything else, I think.  (Don’t ask me to defend that point, because I don’t want to.  They read Titus, I suppose overlooking “An elder must be blameless” because of course no one is in fact blameless.  And they see “husband of one wife” as a prescription for the job of Elder.)  I say this only to point out the fact that although “middle of the road evangelical” they are not totally conservative theologically.

Tangent! Rabbit trail.

Back to Christians hating “homosexuals.”

The fact is that sexual temptation happens to everyone, but the evangelical Church rejects anyone who admits to same sex temptations.  With the Gay Marriage Amendment and the President talking about the right of anyone to be married the traditional evangelicals are a bit up in arms.

My church did a sermon a few years ago on Romans 1:21-2:4. titled: What about the Gay and Lesbian Community? Chris Dolson, Senior Pastor, Part 4 of the Rotten Tomatoes series. (Watch or listen here.)

We all have opinions on the subject.

In fact, I have more questions than opinions.

Earlier this year, in youth group my daughter listened to a discussion on the topic of relationships and sex, and they never acknowledged that young people may be dealing with the questions of sexual orientation.   This upset her and made her feel angry and she hurt over the friends she knew in the group who are out, who are gay.

From the sermon, here’s what my pastor said, me paraphrasing:

The only sexual expression affirmed in the bible is between and man and a woman in marriage.  All the others are wrong. The choice is marriage or chastity because that is the “way God intended things to happen.  All others are prohibited. This is a traditional view of sexuality.”

And this is the position of my church.

In fact there are only a handful of verses in the Bible – on sexual sin.   Leviticus 18:22; Romans 6:26 and 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which mentions homosexuality along with all kinds of other sins (including drunkenness, which I have been regularly guilty of. More about my alcoholism.)

To my pastor it’s clear but to my kids and many others, this position is a club we beat up on LGBTQ people and condemn them as if Christians think gay and lesbians are sinful and we, “Christians” have no sin.

I am reading the Jesus Creed for Students by Scot McKnight . I know I’m not the intended demographic. I’m reading it because my child is rejecting my church and rejecting my faith traditions, and perhaps will even reject the Christian faith completely.  I want to offer her more.  I heard this book is excellent so I am reading it with that in mind.

And it challenges us all to the main thing of the Story of the Bible.

It’s true, won’t you agree, that sexual expression is not the focus of the Story of Jesus Christ and in fact Jesus never talked about sexual orientation or choices.   When asked what the most important commands (there were more than 600 commands in the Old Testament) Jesus said this:

Here O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, 

With all your soul,

With all your mind,

And with all your strength.

The Second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

There is no commandment greater than these.  (From Mark 12:29-31)

And in the Gospel of Luke there is a slightly different version, Jesus lists four types of people who were blessed:  “The poor. The hungry. The weeping. The persecuted.”

I cannot think of a more persecuted community in America than the LGBTQ community.

“If sin was blue we’d all be colored with blue.  Our minds, our actions, we’re all messed up.“ — Chris Dolson, my pastor.

We’re all “covered in blue.”

And I come back to this from 1 Corinthians 13: The Way of Love (from The Message)

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

There is much I do not know.  There is much that I do not understand.

But it could not be clearer that we are to love, love, and love. Above all love.

We should be known for our love.

Today, as I sit here, I am acknowledging that if sin were blue I’d be covered in blue.  And Jesus forgives me, and says to me, to us all — How do you love one another?  In real life.

“unless we’re all free, none of us are free.”

Galatians 5:13-15 says:  “for you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “love your neighbor as yourself.” but if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

I don’t have all the answers — I am torn between certain things and the uncertain and unknowable.   But I do know this, we were told the greatest commandment of all was:

Love one another.

Love one another.

Love one another.

And if we don’t, shame on us.  Beware of destroying one another indeed.

Truthfully I am not much of an ally to the LGBTQ community.  For all my intentions, mostly I’m just a woman with a big lens and a heart.  Taking photographs with love is about all I do.  But it is what I do.   And I love it.

MELODY

These are just a sampling of some of the kind and generous, big-hearted beautiful folk I’ve been able to meet and phototograph over the years for Our Lives Magazine.

It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness. — Paul Strand, American Photographer

“Photography is truth.”- Jean-Luc Godard

{on writing, prayer and photography}

I have reflected on the idea of prayer and I am reading (with a friend) the wonderful book  Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar.  This book is so rich that I’m left both breathless for more, even while being totally flabbergasted by his meaty thoughts.  I find myself studiously copying down paragraph after paragraph.  I will be writing on prayer soon, after I have more time to learn from friends on the topic and think.

I don’t get prayer – it isn’t easy for me to understand or practice. And the longer I am a person of faith the more crazy I feel in group prayer meetings.  I’d value any insights.

Also, I’m thinking about the tensions and paradox of the life of faithfulness to God pursuing this illusive life of a writer.

I scribbled this down earlier in the week in my moleskin.

If someone would tell ME

or tell THE WORLD that something

I wrote

move them, and I

would choose for them to tell THE WORLD, then

I know that I write for the wrong reasons.

Forgive me.

Other than that.  I will leave you to the rest of your Sunday – whether you practice Sabbath or not, I hope you will enjoy a moment, walking through the Botanical Gardens of Madison.

If you’d like to see my whole set of the walk through Madison’s Botanical Gardens, it is here.

Melody

The Stations of the Cross

In a couple of week I will be a part of The Stations of the Cross exhibit in Madison Wisconsin.  It is a collaborative effort among 15 artists and musicians to create a week-long art exhibition as an experience of the 14 stations of the Passion of Christ in the final days of his human life.

This is something I wrote considering the Stations.

For the project seven visual artists have each taken two Stations of the Cross and have created something within their medium (paint, photography, glass mosaic, cloth, sculpture, etching).  Each was considering the suffering and resurrection of Jesus as they interpreted it visually.  Then musicians responded.  Each artist had the freedom to choose the “lens” or perspective through which they interpreted the journey of Christ.  Over a period of several months, they internalized and stewed on their stations to discern and recognize its gravity, complexity and significance.  Then they reacted in a concrete form.

It isn’t often as a visual artist, that I choose to  actively express a part of my faith through my photography.  This project was an exception to that. 

The Christian life is often described as a road walked with Jesus, ever cognizant of the suffering that surrounds us every day.  If we were able to walk with him through those days and hours, two thousand years ago, even the moments before his death, how might that change us?

Someone once said that much of the spiritual journey is being stripped of all that we tend to put our trust in. Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake; life itself and that which God has prepared for each of us, if received fully, deeply, viscerally, into our dna, will teach us what it means to walk with Jesus today.

The object of the Stations historically is to help the faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, through meditating on the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death.

We invite you to walk with us back to those days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday if you are local to Madison:

The Stations of the Cross exhibit will take place at the Common Wealth Gallery in the Madison Enterprise Center, 3rd floor, at 100 S. Baldwin St, Madison, WI (map).

The exhibit will be open during the following times.

  • Fri Mar 30, 2012
    7:00pm – 8:30pm exhibit opens
    8:30pm – 10:30pm reception, live music, meet artists & musicians
  • Sun Apr 1
    2:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Wed Apr 4
    3:00pm – 7:00pm
  • Good Friday Apr 6
    4:00pm – 10:00pm

The Bible says that there is no human pain or joy that Jesus has not taken on to himself when he lived and died two thousand years ago in Palestine.  From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross he died on.  Because of his sacrifice, we are able to see the world differently and experience the highs of love and joy, as well as the lows of suffering and sorrow.  This is in and through Jesus.

As Henri Nouwen said: “Jesus died and rose for all people with all their differences, so that all could be lifted up with him into the splendor of God.  There is immense pain in the wide world around us and there is immense pain in the small world within us.  But all pain belongs to Jesus.”

Walking these stations is an opportunity to pause, set aside the distractions of your life, in order to listen and remember Jesus of Nazareth.  What you suffer he suffered.  Experience the redemption and good news.

God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks to us in our conscience,
but shouts in our pains;
it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

–C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Walk with us.  Walk with him.

 

Creativity is an Act of Faith, Like Forgiveness

It’s a simple idea really that life gives us many opportunities to change and we have the choice to continuously grow or remain stuck.  It stuns me when I realize how often and how easily we do choose just that — to be stuck.  We get stuck in bitterness toward another person.  We get stuck in the pain of a transgression or mistake we have made.  I came to the realization recently that I have been stuck creatively for a long time.  And this is connected to lack of forgiveness on my part. It is also connected to putting my achievements artistically and what others think of me ahead of my relationship with Christ.  I took my eyes off Christ and put them on my status and what other people think of me.

Looking Back.

I have long imagined working for an NGO — long before I found my passion for photography.  It started with being a missionary kid and doing that work as my first and only career path. Years ago, I began to see there might be a way to fuse a lifelong passion for service to others with my burgeoning photography skills.  Granted, photographers are a dime a dozen and many are do-gooders that want to serve globally.

I knew my chances were slim to make a living at it, but I was full of passion and enthusiasm in 2008 when I applied and was accepted in a Master’s Photography Class to be held in Cambodia.  When I wrote an email to friends to raise money for the trip I felt honored to be going to Siem Reap to learn.  A close friend that I respected as a photographer wrote back opposed the idea and discouraged me from “wasting my money.”  The details of why he was so sure don’t matter now, but the important thing is that I allowed his comments to become overly significant.  I perceived them to be an assessment of my talent or potential as a photographer and an artist. Too easily I let it crush me and I didn’t end up going to Cambodia.  I talked myself out of it for a variety of reasons and over time that choice and his advice became large and loud in my life.

When I look back I see that this is when I began close down creatively by allowing the idea that I wasn’t “good enough” to wind its way into my marrow and psyche.  I lost confidence in myself and eventually I quit my professional photography pursuits.  More importantly my friend’s untended message eventually became louder in my head than what Jesus thought of me. I was isolated and alone creatively and did not have other voices speaking into my world.

(Although my husband disagrees interjecting here that in his opinion I did have a type of community online.  And lots of other people affirming my work which is true.  I even had someone track me down on Flickr, because of my work.  And that began a creative relationship with Our Lives Magazine which continues today.) But I didn’t know other artists in the community and I felt alone creatively and spiritually.

Let’s be clear. I know that my friend is not responsible for any of the events that transpired after our disagreement.  In retrospect what he said should not have had the power that it did but I lacked creative confidence.  I am only now realizing these things because I am in a healthier place.  I became bitter toward the person and situation. I was unable to enjoy the God-given gift of creativity.  I could not longer enjoy participation with any sort of creative process. And I doubted my artistic talent.  Eventually I quit.  And I was so wrong to do that.

The Healing.

I am working my way through a creative “recovery” of sorts in a book The Artist’s Way.  In it, Julia Cameron says:

“Art is a spiritual transaction.  Artists are visionaries.  We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance — often visible to us, but invisible to others.

… Art is an act of faith, and we practice practicing it. Sometimes we are called on pilgrimages on its behalf and, like many pilgrims, we doubt the call even as we answer it.”

How true for me.  And I wonder if I had been a part of any kind of artistic community, Christian or otherwise, at the time that I went through this “creative identity crisis” would I have given it up so easily? Why are artists are so isolated and have trouble supporting one another? How do we find community?  

I am not the first to wonder these things.  David Taylor is has thought and written extensively on the subject of supporting artists of faith.  As a pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, he oversaw the arts ministry and adult education program. He also edited the book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. He has degrees in theology (MCS) and biblical studies (ThM) and is doing doctoral studies at Duke University. He wrote the best thing I have read on the topic A Meditation on the Art of Encouragement.

As I have gone through this experience God has put on my heart the question of how Christian artists help one another in the work of integration growing our faith and our creative pursuits?  If I had a mentor as I was starting out with my photography how would things have gone differently?  To continue with Julia Cameron,

“We must remain ready to ask, open-minded enough to be led, and willing to believe despite our bouts of disbelief.  Creativity is an act of faith and we must be faithful to that faith, willing to share it to help others, and to be helped in return.”

Artists need one another in order to be encouraged and mature in their craft.  We need to gather and share what we are working on, talk about how we create and discuss any challenges we may be facing as practitioners regardless of our discipline, skill level, or experience.   An artist’s ongoing creativity and belief in themselves are acts of faith that must be set at the foot of the Cross regularly.  Reaching out to other artists for encouragement and to encourage others are acts act of faith and although scary sometimes it is important enough to take the risk, just as forgiving and letting go of bitterness are also important acts of faith. These beautiful actions as believers require faith in the living God, the power of the Holy Spirit and in the death of Jesus on the Cross for us all.

Becoming UnStuck!

If I can only take my eyes off myself and off the views and opinions of others, and put them where they should be at Jesus feet.  And so recently I began to reach out based on the conviction that we artists need one another!  We need to be encouraged in the “faith” of creativity.  And I could do it because I know now that this isn’t about me and whether I’m good or bad at my art.  It is simply, I believe, right!

I thank God that we can grow and change and experience redemption in the form of healing and that through the resurrection we can become unstuck. That in the very act of forgiving we can lose our bitterness.  I thank God for the promises of Romans 6.

I am grateful that time offers us a panoramic view of our life so that we learn and grow by looking backward.

David Taylor seems to understand what it is like.

“If you asked me to tell you the Top Three Most Important Things I Have Observed throughout all my years as a pastor, one would be this: artists need continuous encouragement. This isn’t because they are a particularly weak. All humans need encouragement. But artists need it principally because of the nature of their work. Their work requires them to travel frequently into the realm of their own emotions, and then deeper still into their soul, and this can be demanding, wearying work.

“The two assumptions that inform my work of encouraging artists are that the natural condition of human beings, from Adam and Eve to the present day, is the condition of being afraid. For artists to become all that God intends for them to be, they must pass through many experiences of pain, each experience ushering them to a new level of growth and maturity.”

Amen and amen.  We must be willing to look back and address the things in our past that have made us stuck spiritually, creatively, or emotionally and forgive ourselves.  I’m grateful that this is what I have been able to do.  And I am praying and looking for ways that  I can play a role in encouraging and supporting other artists in the Madison community.

———

This is a part of a series titled BE REAL.  Still, many days, as I search, as I long for, need, wander, hope and fear — the process becomes an idol.  The process becomes this thing that distracts me from who God is, what it means to be his beloved child, and the few things that he calls me to each day.

  1. I wrote a poem in response to a sermon about the greatest of idols self-identity. This sermon  kicked off a series titled American Idols.  The premise is that anything in your life, even a good thing, that becomes more important than God is an idol.  In an age of psychology and self-healing, through medicines and talk therapy, self-worth can all too quickly become an idol.  For me, the journey of finding my way back to faith and belief was so huge in my development of a healthy identity.
  2. Here is what I wrote the week before in response to the sermon Stop.

These are a series I am writing called: Be Real.  One of the ways I’m going to do that– be real — is by writing a response to the sermons I hear at my church, Blackhawk. These responses are not from the church they are my personal reflections.  I am always challenged by teachers at Blackhawk, sometimes profoundly, but I don’t — to be honest — always take the time needed to apply them to my life. But, if life is too busy to apply what you’re learning about your faith and if you don’t change and grow, what’s the point? So here goes.  Many people are busier than I, including my husband, and I just hope that this helps reinforce in some small way what God was already saying to you.

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