love requires proximity – of evangelicals, reformed sex offenders and pedophiles

Love requires proximity has been the mantra of my heart for a while now, it unsettles me, it gets me out of comfort and drives me into the direction of where rubber hits the road time and time again. Yet there are still people I have yet to engage, and lately as I’ve been meditating and praying over who do I need to invest in that I’ve put off in investing I’ve come up with 3 groups of people:
1.) Evangelicals (across the board, not simply fundamentals)
2.) Reformed sex offenders
3.) Reformed pedophiles

Now I cannot fully explain the latter 2, but I can certainly address the first one.

I once identified as being an Evangelical in my life. I knew the Bible verses, I knew the songs, I had good answers to difficult questions, I had good torts and rebuttals to those who dared rattle my belief system, I had belief and I thought I knew it all and in knowing it all that’s all that mattered.
Funny, God must be a fan of baseball, because God certainly threw a few curve balls my way.

– God put members of the LGBTQ community in my life, and so I needed to rethink what I thought / what had been instilled into me.
– I wrestled with doubt and questioning (and I still do) and realized the shakiness of my foundation…and being okay with not being okay.
– I worked in youth ministry contexts where students went through issues I never imagined because I was wrapped up in bubble wrap whilst in my Evangelical bubble.
– I furthered my education in science and learned how there is evidence that the world isn’t young (gasp!) and that there is strong evidence to support evolution (double gasp!) and yet I see God’s handiwork in it all.

among other things…

And now on the outside of Evangelicalism I hold know position of being “better” or “more evolved” for where I am now. I realize that my season of being an Evangelical took something from me, but it also gave me a pretty good foundation as to where I am now. Yes it wasn’t all good, but that’s why with much of life’s experiences I have or am in the process of thanking God for that season of life. I am also finding ways to “eat the meat and spit out the bones” of these experiences.
But back to love requiring proximity… The Evangelical camp is one I have until recently distanced myself from, but 2 things have shifted that, one local and one a bit more broad.

***

Locally I am involved with a Bible study that meets on Tuesday nights at various restaurants in the area. We’ve been going over Ephesians and soon we will will be starting a book about idolatry. The individuals who make up this group are diverse in their thinking, as with many groups of people, one thought pattern doesn’t fit all. And while I knew some of these guys prior to being a part of this Bible study, I know them a bit better than merely what’s on the surface.
I appreciate sharing with them my insight and I appreciate what they have to offer up as well, even if we tend to go down quite a few rabbit trails. 🙂 It has been a real blessing investing time with these individuals, not because I have a time-with-Evangelicals quota I need to fill but because it comes back to (you guessed it) love requires proximity.

***

On a larger swath which I am looking for ways to connect, is Brandan Robertson’s Evangelicals for Marriage Equality campaign.

Marriage equality isn’t something I think about when it comes to Evangelicals, I admit that I was privately homophobic and used the word Gay as an adjective for stupid or dumb for a brief season of my life, but when Brandan put out some info about this campaign, my heart leaped for joy!
He might be placed under the microscope by many for this bold and courageous move on his part, but I know that it is needed. The world needs more Evangelicals like Brandan, and I will do what I can to help their voices be heard!

Thanks be to God for instilling in me the desire to love in proximity to others for the goodness of others.

~Nathanael~

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My personal rules of engagement

Earlier today one of my former youth ministry students informed me that he will be visiting a Hindu temple in my area, he asked my insight since I visit different places of worship every now and then. He asked me my insight and I gave it to him, I asked his permission to repost what I sent him and here it is.

1) Take time to listen – it might be obvious, but I truly believe it needs to be done.

2) Look for common ground – I think too often followers of Christ (I speak as one of them) are under the impression that people of different belief systems are 180 degrees from Christianity. Yet as you listen to their stories, you’ll hear how they want to do unto others, they want to feed the poor, they want to honor God, etc. As followers of Christ as we listen, we can find out that we have so much many more commonalities than differences!

3) Dialogue over debate – If you think about how debate works it’s about 2 sides coming up with the most compelling argument so as to defeat the other, the one who has the better argument “wins” and the other person “loses”. In life going by that model will only take you so far, and it will actually be the grounds of alienation between yourself and others. When you dialogue with others, regardless of where you’re at and wherever they’re at, it allows room to talk despite the differences that are present. Dialogue isn’t about about “winning” it’s about communicating, it’s about expressing yourself and allowing others to express themselves as well. It is better to make peace than be “right”.

4) The norms of other belief systems are their own norms – When you think about the Hindu belief system, one thing that you’ll get pretty quickly is their polytheistic belief system. As followers of Christ we might perceive that as wrong, but is it “wrong” or is it fact their norm? It’s what they perceive as normal, so who’s to tell them otherwise? Instead of going with the models of missionaries and colonists in the past of having a particular group of people go with their self-imposed norms, why not engage people where they’re at. Surely, God is big enough to work within the framework of a polytheistic society. Be with people; true incarnational ministry isn’t about bringing in your model of thoughts and ideas and discarding what their norms are will not go over well, let God lead you and guide you, don’t leave your faith at the door, but sometimes you need to step back from Christianity in order to move forward with God and those you’re interacting with.

5) Engagement over judgment – Avoidance is sometimes a problem for followers of Christ; instead of engaging the people around them, they choose to come up with assumptions and sometimes hurtful statements without actually getting to know that group of people. Walking a mile in someone shoes, getting to know them on their terms and in their territory needs to be done. Too often I see followers of Christ who sit on their haunches and wait around with the air of “well when you get your act together, we’ll help you out then”, but as I read the parable Jesus told of a Prodigal Son, it is the father who sees his son off in the distance and runs to him and embraces him. The son’s the one who screwed up royally, in fact he was going back to the father to simply see if there was an opportunity for him to become one of the servants, he didn’t come back with the expectation of being taken back in as the son, of being in good standings with the father, he was expecting to be treated as the lowest. Yet the father takes him back, takes him in as he is and not as how he should be, and if we as followers of Christ can emulate that behavior, our witness will go a lot further in a positive way.

6) Love wins – 1 Corinthians 13, while so often deemed The Wedding Chapter because it’s used as such, should really be a checklist for followers of Christ. By going by what Jesus said as recorded in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are called to be his witnesses, not the jury or the judge, because God alone knows our thoughts and our hearts. We at the very core of our beings should live out that love to everyone, not just among those who get along with us, but to EVERYONE! It takes time, it is very difficult, but we are instructed by Jesus to do so.

7) It begins with God and it ends with God – I believe in a God who is so big that he will meet us where we are. I am not saying that all roads lead to God, because I believe we have to go through Jesus to get to God, but within that framework I don’t believe it’s tied down to Christianity exclusively. We as followers of Christ do not bring anyone to God, God alone brings people to God, and it is our freewill to accept or not. But when does the average person run out of chances of making that choice? I honestly don’t know, some people might speculate and say the obvious answer is that someone dies, then and there is the “last time”, but again, we don’t know from this side of eternity if death is indeed the final call, that is God’s business not ours. Should we share what we have faith in with others? Absolutely, we’re called to be disciples and disciple others, but again it begins with God and ends with God. When it comes down to it, God doesn’t need us to help him out, but he invites us to! Ministry shouldn’t be so much wrapped up in the person who’s leading it, it should be about what God is doing through the ministry, and sometimes that means stepping out of the way and letting God do what he’s going to do. That might be a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been learning in youth ministry, that sometimes that is the place I need to be.

Lastly I say this; when you choose to interact with people who might not be coming from your viewpoint, don’t go at it with “Christian eyes” but with the eyes of God, with the ears of God, and with the heart of God. If you don’t have love, what good are you? I don’t say that accusing you of something you’re doing, but keep your reasons in check, if it’s not out of love, then you will only go as far as a mere human being can go…but if you go with the love of God, you will go a lot further than you imagined, it might frighten you because at times that can lead to unexplored territory at times, but it needs to be done, following the tracks of what “everyone” else is doing will leave you with the same results. Choose to be a leader so that others too can learn from your example and blaze an unmarked path of their own, to God be the glory in all things!

~Nathanael~

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A word of warning to the church about love

Dear church/brothers and sisters in Christ,

There has been speculation about why younger people such as myself have been leaving the church. While I don’t know all the reasons, I am willing to venture that some of it stems from love or actually the lack of love.

The thing is, when people come to the church and they don’t experience the love of Christ that we should extend to them, whether they’re the first time attender, the Chreaster, the been-in-this-church-before-I-was-born, they will look for it elsewhere.

They might find that works or “fits” for a spell, but it won’t ever be the same caliber of love has extended to not only those who attend church on a regular basis but to all of humanity.

There’s a hymn that is called “they will know we are Christians by our love” and I believe wholeheartedly this is what we should be known for, yet I think we’re known for a lot of other things at this point and not necessarily our love and therein lies the problem, we might be known for loving only certain types of people or our love isn’t evident and the lack of love is what we’re known for collectively.

I didn’t write this post to rally anything but to simply point out that some of the time the church is lacking love for those within as well as those outside the building, and if we’re to take to heart the words of Jesus of going into all the world… all means ALL!

~Nathanael~

A matter of perspective; looking for the Imago Dei-ness in others

There are times when I share a meal with prostitutes, johns, drug users, drug sellers, alcoholics, misfits, down-and-outers, socially ostracized, war vets and others.

Yet as I eat with them, as I listen to their stories, as I do my part to be the ears of Christ I recognize their innate Imago Dei-ness, that despite what they do and what they’ve done bear the image of God.

It also gives me perspective, that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that homelessness takes on all shapes and forms, there are similar stories but each one is unique in its own way. I never was one to say “well if they (referring to people who are homeless) get a job everything would work out for them” and yet some people spout similar rhetoric, apart from referring to a group of people as “them” (thus perpetuating my the paradigm I dislike the most – Us vs Them).

I won’t divulge any stories I’ve picked up in my time with being with these Imago Dei’s but I will say that when you have chosen engagement over judgment, when you have taken the time to simply BE…God opens doors and people open up their hearts.

***

One of my favorite Imago Dei’s is a woman who despite being a heavy drinker always greets me with a smile, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Now if I chose to distance myself from Donna* this would never happen, but because I embraced her Imago Dei-ness and remembering 1 John 4:19 when it says “We love him because he first loved us” and extending that love outwards I receive with relish the holiness that is Donna’s kiss and hug for me and I in turn return the favor which I guess is a holy embrace between Imago Dei’s. 🙂

There are other moments in my life where Heaven meets Earth in the form of people who love on me and I on them, it was easy for me and it can be for you as well if you shift your perspective off of who you are and your means and others and shifting your gaze to what matters to God, people matter to God.

~Nathanael~

*not her real name