Drawing in the sand; let go of the rocks you carry

Sand drawing

It seems to me that there are folks in various religious communities who are fascinated, and perhaps borderline obsessive, by the sexual orientation of others. While I cannot speak as a representative of faiths that aren’t my own, I’ll stick to Christianity because it’s what I know best (religion-wise) and to a certain extent I prescribe to the main tenants of the faith.

The church as a whole is not an over-the-top, black-and-white heteronormative environment (dare I say duh?). Sure it might try to maintain this image in some parts and denominations within Christianity, but that facade is being pulled back and off (thank God) albeit in some areas a little at a time.
Even in my lifetime I have been moved and prompted by God to change my mind and heart when it came what I thought about the LGBTQ+ community. I consider myself blessed for having my worldview altered with every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender follower of Christ I know and have met.

My changed posture, both heart and mind, stem from being open to God and whomever I’m in contact with. Because I realize in my life it has come from engagement with those who make up the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years I’ve also come to realize that love requires proximity, and while God could have changed my heart and mind about what I previously thought about the LGBTQ+ community, I don’t think I’d be able to speak and live my truth had I chose not to engage intentionally in proxy. I could be wrong, bu that’s what I think in the matter.

The basis for why this post is called “drawing in the sand; let go of the rocks you carry” is because Jesus was called on by the religious leaders (as found in John 8) of his time to handle an issue they had. That “issue” they presented was a woman caught in adultery (the man isn’t mentioned, but that’s another matter altogether).
The religious leaders explain what needed to be done, on their terms, to such a woman. Stoning to death was the methodology,their perception as to how to bring about restitution. Jesus proceeds to sit down and draws in the ground, the religious leaders prompt him and egg him on, but Jesus instructs them as follows;

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (verse 8)

He draws a bit more and then…”Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

“No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (verses 10 & 11)

And with that the woman is set on her way, her dignity and humanity restored by Jesus.

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I think this story speaks to the innate desire to focus on what’s going on in the lives of others while failing to address one’s own issues. When we do this, we are like religious leaders, we clasp onto our own “stones” with the intention to throw. Stones of bias, judgment, confusion, hatred, fear, ignorance, etc. We also sometimes hold onto these stones because we’re coming from a place of projection and not being at peace with our own selves.

So when it comes down to the passage where Jesus tells the woman to “go now and leave your life of sin” it is important to realize it’s Jesus making this statement to the woman, not the religious leaders. Yet at times the rebuttal to this is something akin to “yeah, well, the Bible clearly says…” and thus the paradigm of “what the Bible says” compared to “what Jesus said” takes place. Then there are times it becomes a moral “slippery slope” pertaining to rights, that if there’s acceptance or tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community it won’t be long till it’s extended to those who are into beastiality, incest, pedophilia, etc.
That is just fear-mongering and ignorance at work in one’s mind, there’s no comparison and that form of thinking is toxic and absolutely absurd.

It is for these reasons among others I deeply encourage those in the Christian community to let go of their rocks and move in the direction of proximity with the LGBTQ+ community. They’re our friends, our family members, our coworkers, and they’re also our fellow church goers.
God is in the midst of the LGBTQ+ community, isn’t it time that we do that as well?

~Nathanael~

Midday Meditation 5.24.16

Midday Meditation 5.24.16
“The Lord walks among the pots and pans” – Brother Lawrence
 
Since Friday I’ve been working behind the scenes at my work, that is, light duty in the form of washing dishes, getting sack lunches ready, getting snacks ready, and related. In the time I have spent doing this I realize I have been present, even hyper-present almost, to the tasks before me and to those I am helping out by helping feed them.
 
It was while cleaning I was reminded of a 17th century Carmelite brother by the taken name of Lawrence Of The Resurrection, and how his experience in the order was as dishwasher and later on sandal repairer. From his teachings the book The Practice of the Presence of God came forth, and from within it a sense of peace and presence with God and others in what might be perceived mundane everyday life.
 
Working in the kitchen is not always an easy task, but the kitchen staff has been helpful through and through, plus one of my students has helped me in the morning hours leading up to school. He made known to me that he felt privileged to be working alongside of me, how humbling! There in the kitchen, in the midst of dirty pots and pans, I too felt the same thing.
Isn’t that a beautiful example of what life can look like? That it’s not always those mountaintop experiences, but in the small and quiet and humbling ways, ways that point to simply BEing in communion with others.
 
I have been given the green light to go back to working with my students come tomorrow, which I am really thankful to be able to do that. But I am also thankful for my time spent working in the kitchen, my level of presence and BEing has been raised.

Church Incognito; An intergenerational, literal and KJV only church; my experience at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church

A few Sundays ago my friend Rameel and I attended the church of a woman we met at the Open Mosque. We both arrived a little late, but we were greeted warmly nonetheless, and we found our way to our mutual friend’s pew.

During the time we stood and sang hymns, I took time to get a feed on who made up Valley Baptist Church; a somewhat diverse group ethnically speaking, but there were multi-generational families gathered as well. Most of the hymns I recognized, so I followed along while those gathered sang.

During the meet-and-greet portion of the service, I ran into a guy I have known for a very long time. I talked to him about how long he had been going to that church (as I know him from a church we once attended together). He told me he had been attending there for close to 3 years, and he liked it better than the church we used to attend together because he much preferred reading the KJV only and he liked hymn books over Powerpoint slides.

The message Pastor Hemphill gave that Sunday was on contrition, that is repentance. It was a good message in and of itself, but at times the language found in the KJV threw me off; not that it was off-putting, it’s just not my lingua franca and consequently I got lost in a sea of thee’s and thou’s.

After the service, my friend Rameel met with the pastor because he had some questions. While I don’t know the full nature of their discussion, I was greatly encouraged by pastor Hemphill taking time out to talk to my friend. During this time I talked to Rameel and my mutual friend, and she filled me in on some addition in’s-and-outs of the church, I was encouraged to find out more from her.

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While my views differ from what’s presented at Valley Baptist Church, I was greatly pleased by the hospitality of those my friend and I met, especially by pastor Hemphill. It’s one thing to have doctrines, theological perspectives, and beliefs, but it’s entirely a different thing to put them into practice. What I observed and experienced firsthand was practice over doctrine, and that has made all the difference to me.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

There’s no place for bad theology

Occasionally my students will ask me religious / God questions, as I’m known by way of my BEing that I am a follower of Christ. I take all their questions in stride, more often than not I will answer their questions with even more questions.

However the questions gravitate sometimes to something dark, something more personal than not. It is evident in some of the questions that my students ask me about God and matters concerning God that they’ve been sold that God loves them with conditions. I have also addressed questions concerning the love of God, which sadly someone of my students believe God doesn’t love certain people.

When I address the question concerning God’s love for them I let them know why they think that, quite often they believe it’s what they do that earns God’s love, and if what they’ve done or what they are doing now isn’t good then God doesn’t love them. I do what I can to encourage them to do good, for themselves and for others, but I bring to light that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more or make God love us less. God’s love remains the same whether we make good choices or bad choices, but that shouldn’t deter us to do the right thing when we need to.

When I address matters about God not loving certain people, I usually get several things about this question:
1. So often it’s someone in their own lives, past or present.
2. It’s something they may have heard often, at home or at church.
3. The moral highroad is taken. That they of course are loved by God, but x person isn’t.

Depending on how heated the conversation is, because sometimes it is and sometimes it’s a matter-of-fact statement made, I usually say the following;

There’s no place for bad theology

I let it be known that some views of God are really destructive, especially when marginalization and exclusion takes place. I bring it back home to them if they’re having issues with my thoughts, I bring up would they like to be the ones perceived as being unloved by God? It’s amazing how quickly NO is the given answer, and sometimes “but…” is followed with a rebuttal in tow, but that is rarely the case.

I have been affected others by bad theology in my life, I have also been the victim of bad theology, and I realize the ripples it has caused on my soul and for those who have been a victim to my bad theology I am truly sorry.
If you’ve been a perpetrator or victim of bad theology, it’s never too late to make a difference in the lives of others by sowing seeds of good theology. How does one go about sowing these seeds, I like the following acronym called THINK;

Sometimes…
A lot of the time…
ALL the time, we need to THINK about what we’re putting out to others and unto ourselves. It can be a laborious process, but I think (see what I did there?) with practice it’ll become habitual.

So be an agent of change,
be a THINKer,
and as Rob Bell so eloquently put it; “everyone should be everything they’re here to be.”

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

I am fearful of fundamentalism, but not fundamentalists (and so can you!)

 

Recently I and a friend were invited to a fundamentalist church to attend for my church incognito project, but as I was finding out about the church I was cautioned about some of its practices and corporate beliefs. Now it’s not that often I am warned about a church and honestly I find it interesting when this happens.

I had the opportunity to attend this past weekend, and as it closer and closer to the time for the service to begin I thought less and less of attending. I gave thought to contacting my friend to join me, but I chickened out in extending the invitation. As I backed out in going I started thinking of the reasons why.

First off, I was worried about what my friend would think; he heard the caveats but he didn’t understand it to the extent that I did, and so I was worried he might not get it until we were in the midst of the service and then the “a ha” moment might kick in. Secondly, I was worried about my interaction with the members of this church; I attend a spiritually and emotionally healthy church, and I “forget” (suppress perhaps?) that fundamentalist churches are still out there.

I do realize that Christian fundamentalism hasn’t always been the anti-science, anti-thinking, anti-Bible questioning, anti-smoking, anti-drinking, infallible / inerrant bible believing, substitutionary atonement, homophobic, misogynistic, patriarchal authority figure it appears to be nowadays (and granted, more or less of what I’ve just posted). It was once about the fundamentals of what following Jesus looks like, but as technology advanced and science explained more about the world and its origins, beliefs that were once held with an open hand became closed.

Instead of engaging in science and technology, walls were fortified and fundamentalism became a system of security responding out of fear rather than love. And over the years, more things have caused the typical fundamentalist Christian to build more walls. At times I wonder if the walls are built to keep them in or to keep others out, and I’m left thinking it’s a both/and answer.

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It’s out of this framework that I am fearful of Christian fundamentalism on a personal level, but at the same time I intentionally try to see the humanity and divinity of those who align themselves accordingly. I’m told I need to engage structures more, but personally speaking if I’m to do this I bound to make assumptions and lose sight of what actually matters.
I am also fearful of Christian fundamentalism and it’s marginalization of “the other” and I am someone who has LGBTQ+ friends, Muslim friends, Atheist and Agnostic friends. There isn’t a place for them at the table of Christian fundamentalism, and that’s why I bring it back to me; to widen my doors, to set more tables, because I am fundamentally inclusive to ALL.

This system exists, but I am glad it will not always exist. It sustainability depends on naivete, gullibility, fear, and power. When people pull back the curtain and see the wizard for all he is, there’s no need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and thus the fire of Christian fundamentalism will be snuffed out. Thanks be to God!

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Holidays with the Harrisons / The beauty of messy hospitality

My roommate Brian is a swell guy, and in getting to know him better I have also gotten to know his family as well. They have invited me to several family functions, mainly holiday (and soon, a wedding) and today on Easter it was no different.

It started off with going to Easter at 11am at Springbrook Community Church where Brian’s father is the lead pastor.

I was a little early for the 11am service, so I waited around till Brian arrived and then we went into the sanctuary as it was starting…

It was a good Easter service with a few sleigh-of-hand’s by Brian’s father, a lot of laughter and a lot of celebration of the resurrection. From there I met some people Brian knows, and it was nice and social. From there I drove over to their house for Easter lunch, which was great because they do a good job at being themselves and being hospitable.

“Messy Hospitality” is a phrase I’ve heard before to describe hospitality as-is, no hook lines and sinkers, no catches, what you see is what you get, and so on. The Harrison’s home is such a place, and there’s a welcoming in that family that is “as-is” and I love it completely.
Messy hospitality can get complicated as its fractured and untidy. But I suppose that’s the beauty of it, it comes unvarnished and doesn’t have a shine to it for appearance’s sake. As Leonard Cohen croons in Anthem;

                                                              Ring the bells that still can ring
                                                              Forget your perfect offering
                                                              There is a crack in everything
                                                              That’s how the light gets in.

Growing up my family’s life was very private, and consequently my life was very privatized and compartmentalized. Some of it A lot of it was operating out of fear, and fear compounds itself on fear and before you know it you have this massive fear stack that you have no idea how you’re going to dismantle it…except, say if you move in the direction of honesty (to self inasmuch to others), even if that means transparency and, ultimately, messy hospitality.

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Messy hospitality is what I aim to do where I am at in every walk of life unto everyone I associate with. I might not bare my heart on my sleeve, but I will be unflinchingly transparent where needed be. We all need boundaries in our lives, and so there are some things I will withhold from others and my blog for my own emotional and mental health.

For what I cannot wrestle on my own or with the help of others (which is statistically 92.5%) I take it to God in prayer. Occasionally Most of the time my prayers are detailed and very much “warts and all.” God gets me more than the other way around, but with that being said I lay it on thick.

I no longer fear what others think about me (most of the time),
I don’t have a nagging in the back of my mind to keep up appearances that are contrary to how I am feeling and responding to what’s going on inside and around me.
I don’t have a need to wait till I get “there” when it comes to hospitality, my door is wider and my table is inclusive to all.
It took time to get here, but may God be honored by the journey I’m on.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael