The List and The Name

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Tucked away in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, I sit in my chair and I mull over a Name. Pressed atop my thigh is the sketchbook that I sometimes use to make lists. Daily responsibilities, wandering thoughts captured, and some very big dreams.

In no certain order is a set of names. I squint at it and think about adding more. Pen taps the page as my mind moves elsewhere. What makes one trustworthy? Would I make it on that list?

I glance back at the page and there’s a tear at the top. And I too am torn. I’m torn because I don’t know if this is a list of-to-dos or a power grab. I wonder if He somehow had mapped out my meddling and weaved it into his own idea.

I’ve made marks by those that know– Some have a check and others are crossed off, but none of them share the same color ink- a reminder of how long this hike has been.

I’m in the in-between. The place where I’m free to walk out with certain company, but go back inside around others. It’s wearing and tearing, but necessary, I think.

My list isn’t arbitrary. The names are faces and they all take up ink on my social skin. With each one comes new sets of loaded lists. One of scenarios, one of bubble wrapped words, and most importantly, one about trust. Trust that they’ll keep this. Trust that they will wait until I can check or cross every other name off.

And it’s not easy for them. My those that know mingle with my those that don’t and they find themselves gagged. Held back from friends they have never had to before. All of them are loved by me, but some are not trusted. Can you say you love someone if you don’t trust them? I should start a list of questions.

Left to right I read each name and I know what I am suppose to do. Pray and pray harder.

And for whatever reason, there is one name I cannot stop seeing. It’s like the ink is moving and trying to steal my attention. Every time I open to this page, that name wakes up and I cannot stop seeing it.

So like a heat-seeking missile, my eyes zero in on the target until everything around it blurs and dims darker. Prayers whispered whirl down like a tornado to its touchdown. All I’m hoping for is a nudge. A chance meeting. Trying so hard to be courageous.

I leave the coffee shop and go home.

The next morning I look at the list and then at my phone. The name on the list called my phone. He’s just saying hey wondering what I’ve been up to. I look back at the list and give a nod- but I need more to go on than that.

But something was so different about today. Didn’t matter whether I wanted to or not, it was just going to happen. And I’m suddenly surprised by my lack of control. It was just a different kind of morning.

So I called one of the first names crossed off on the list and told her what was to happen today. I explained that it was unexplainable, just a feeling, a nudge, an inevitability. She told me she’d pray for the both of us.

I texted the Name and said we should hang out tonight

But as the day wore on and courage filtered through doubt, I decided against tonight. I felt the reins returning to my hands and I loved that I could choose again. I was aware that this red light-green light game started to resemble the pattern of a slow dieter. I’ll enjoy my distance today, but tomorrow, that’s when I’ll start being honest.

I called the Name and cancelled. Too much was going on, I said. I’m staying in.

But I didn’t stay in. The only place I wanted to be, that place I felt peace, was tucked in that chair in that corner of my favorite coffee shop. The baristas all know me here and when I walk through the door they say hello. Usually I walk on by waving, set my things down in my chair and then go back for my cup.

Turning the corner to the other side of the fireplace, a realization dawns on me and I am stopped dead in my tracks. I crossed a line. I ignored that voice in my head for far too long telling me to tell this person and that person, and to finish the damn list already. Fate would find me, it always does. Sitting in my chair is the name on my list and my mind.

He was sitting in my Naming chair. The place I would pick and choose who to bring in and who to leave out. All he thinks is going on is that I am caught in that earlier lie. He thought I was staying in. The Name looked more surprised than I did, but definitely didn’t feel it as much.

In a move of pure passive aggressiveness, I settle in somewhere else, telling him I have some “business” to attend to. I found a different chair. It was unfamiliar and had a big lump in the cushion and the whole time I saw and seethed over the boundaries fate had betrayed. Into my corner and into my chair. It had taken me out of my safe space and I kept my lips locked. You don’t get to choose, I boiled.

Closing time came fast and the Name meandered over to my makeshift study. Unsure of how to keep my cards close, so he wouldn’t know something was up, I agreed that I had nothing else to do and that we should go hang with some friends.

I drove behind him and I felt the wind at my back moving me faster. Any further, any more distance, any more silence and I would self-destruct. I had to let go. I had to exhale. I had to give in to where the wind was taking me. I had to have faith in fate. I had to, even if I didn’t want to. Gritting my teeth, I took out my phone and told the Name to pull over.

We sat in my the car and I told him my story. Beginning to end. All those times something seemed wrong and he knew there was, but I never told him. Why me and some others would sneak off to talk. What we were talking about and why he wasn’t invited. I told him that his name was written on my list and on my mind and my heart. It had been written so long ago. I always trusted him, but I always battled doubt.

And he listened and let me talk. His face didn’t fall out of place, it was calm and his eyes kept contact. Throughout my ramble he nodded and smiled and showed sympathy through the lines on his brow. Then he spoke and he called me courageous. He thanked me, THANKED me, for trusting in his confidence. Nothing would ever change because our relationship is built on a rock that can’t be shaken. Not by something like this.

And I saw how honest words can restore what regret took.

~~~

Trust is more ruthless and risky than all other exchanges. It asks us to be human and be liberal with this life. Let those that you care about in and never measure their love by the yardstick you use for yourself.

I think a lot about how fate and trust share the same sheets. I am Jonah, and I believe I have a safehouse. But fate always finds me. He finds me and throws me in front of my peas and says, “eat,”why?“Because it’s good for you.” And I cross my arms and scrunch up my mouth, and He sighs and replies , “got all day bud.”

Maybe my list and maybe my steps are all predestined anyway. Perhaps Papa God really held the pen to the page. Maybe its a partnership; another facet of faith. Another foot down the dim stairway. It could be true that my relationship with the list and the faces behind them are reflective of my trust in the Father.

Something else to think about as I sit back in my chair and stare again at the list. There are only checks and crosses. Not a single is scribbled or burnt off the page. Not a single face has fled me.

And this hike doesn’t feel so wearisome anymore.

It is a picture of how far I have come.

And all the country I have left to cross.

RR

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Pride?

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A grandpa of a friend mine wrote a letter to his family about why, as Christians, they voted Republican.

Listening to it read aloud, one passage pricked my ears.

“gays are so sex obsessed. They’re like animals!”

Nods of agreement all around.

In the same minute that I muster up the courage to call them out on their bigotry, they turn on the TV and call their first witness. Drifting across the screen is a float carrying a couple of nearly-naked dudes grinding on each other to some techno jams blasting away in the background.

They are followed by ten more doing the same.

There is hooting and hollering and kissing and… more than kissing

And… just barely murmuring through all noise is… some sort of spontaneous frenzy… like reminiscent of the people of Tokyo in the shadow Godzilla… We strain our ears and crawl over to the speakers just to make it out

a chorus?

No, a mob- A mob made of moms and dads frantically calling for their kids, placing their hands over their eyes, preserving what innocence they have left and then… running like hell for the hills.

In this moment, with both convictions and pride on the line, I cannot bring myself to hum and sway along. I cannot shoo them away with my hand while whispering, “it’s fine by me- you intolerant pig.” I just can’t. It would defy my conscience. It would be dehumanizing. It would be calling pornography art. It would diminish the debate of equal rights.

Because what we’re watching is not a response to injustice,

Nor is it a celebration of diversity.

it’s just a sex romp.

My mind travels to the clientele regulars leaving the strip club only to cross paths with the old lady crying, “that is someone’s daughter in there!”

When was the last time we called out a Pride Parade like that? I’m speaking to the Christian LGBT folks and allies alike. How is the parade reflective who we are? Better question- How does it reflect our faith?

I know what you’re thinking and you’re probably right, if I looked like a J Crew model I too would be tempted to show off my tip-top bod via form fitting jeans and topless jogs. Really, I just might…

But if I believed that this was all I had to offer, wouldn’t you call me shallow? Moreover, wouldn’t you tell me that I am selling myself short?

I hope you would. I’d do the same for you.

Even if the conversation was completely limited to my sexual orientation, do you think I would define myself in such a slutty way? What If the tables were turned? Would you say the same for yourself?

The blogger at Gay Christian, Very Anxious gives a more generous description of what it means to be gay than I have seen any other Christian, gay or ally, do:

“My sexuality has allowed me to have uncomplicated friendships with women, deepened my empathy for the marginalized, and strengthened my faith through intense, personal questioning. It amounts to so much more than attraction to other men, which anyway is as emotional and spiritual as it is sexual. Christians ignore that, because they focus so intently on gay sex, moralizing a very minor component of homosexuality.”

I wish so much that this was the perception of every gay person.

But then I hear the battle cry rolling down the streets of Pride telling me that it is my body that is my best. That I can only know how to exist when someone else wants me in bed. That I am a body with a soul and not a soul with a body.

More than just clothes get stripped away when we reduce ourselves to sex toys. With the shirt goes our dignity and with the pants what’s left of our pride.

And with the parade, goes the perception of us all.

But I sympathize with these kids. They have been told for far too long that all they are is their sexuality; a lie said enough for them to start believing it. And it may surprise you, but it’s a lie that leads us back to the conservative church community. It is a weird circle, but a circle nonetheless. For those already inside, the Church encourages suppression creating a time bomb of affections. Attention is drawn to one detail and it becomes the whole painting. It becomes the prison. An iron mask. For those on the outside, the church accuses them of being sex-obsessed and animal-like.

The parade is an upper cut swing to the Church’s low blows. It is a mirror reflection of how the Church has whored itself out to the lowest common denominator through hateful rhetoric and prejudicial politics.

One calls the other perverted imps.

The other freaks out the faithful through naked float grinding.

It’s a boxing match.

~~~

I am all for living openly and authentically, but the Pride Parade just doesn’t fit that definition for me.

I want this community to be more than that.

Save your six-pack, I want to see your soul.

And hear your poetry. Your songs. I want a testimony told through blood, sweat and tears. The true one. The battle scars. The worst days and the best. Everything besides what your body looks like.

Despite what the media, LGBT friends and allies, and the church may tell you, who you are is not where your attractions lie.

As the sea change gets stronger in both the country and the church, I am praying that my LGBT brothers and sisters enter with a sense of grace and self-respect. We owe at least that to ourselves.

RR

The Education of a Church: Little Eyes and Ears

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The earliest indication I received of what my church felt about gay people came when I was probably in 4th grade. It’s funny, because I remember nothing else about the service that Sunday. I don’t remember what I was wearing, whether our whole family was there, or what the main point of the message was. It’s a memory that in my mind looks like a macro photograph. Everything in the background is blurred, but one point was razor sharp. Still stings today.

 

The pastor pointed up to the high overhead screens, they were flashing one of the toughest “clobber passages” about gay people. I remember he had bolded the words evil and sinful out of the selected scripture. I remember looking up at him, a man I had grown to respect (and still do) just waiting to hear what his next words would be. With a gentle gesture he pointed again at the screen then looked at the rest of us. He almost looked disgusted as he thundered:

 

“This is SIN people! It’s right there in word. People say its not, but it is! Just look.”

 

Although I am not sure whether I knew I was gay at the time, those words troubled me deeply. My heart sped. My world started shrinking in on me. An alarming realization rose.  I was the sin. I was the evil. Father Jesus hated me because I was evil and I was sin.

 

The disgust became overwhelming. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t escape it. With a few words I went from beloved Church boy to the boy behind enemy lines.

 

Before we left, I took a mental note of what passage he referred to. Upon reaching my bedroom I pulled out my Bible, hopelessly wishing it wasn’t really there. Was I actually an evil person?

 

Then there it was. It was right there. As my pastor had said, “just look”.

 

So I was evil and I was sin and that was that.

 

For the rest of my life a wall slowly started to build between this God that hated gays, and me, the sinful evil gay. I didn’t create this wall, in fact, I spent over a decade of my life scratching at its surface. Knocking. Pounding. Yelling from the depths of my soul. Picking up pick axes of good deeds, long nights of prayer and high hands in praise and worship. I sent my piggy bank money to charity and wrote psalms in my journal.

 

Yet I still knew I was evil, because I was still gay.

 

This is what happens when words are thrown recklessly.

 

~~~

 

It is true that there remain a few on the extreme side of things that hold that orientation is inherently sinful. That gay people cannot be Christians because they refuse to give up their attractions… Mmkay, I won’t give them much more space here than this because the notion is at best, delusional, and at worst, spiritual abuse.

 

I have said it before and I will say it again, folks that believe that same-sex relationships are wrong are not hateful, they are not bigots nor are they necessarily wrong. You might be wrong, they might be wrong, I might be wrong. We just don’t know on this side of heaven.

 

Collectively though, I think we have arrived at a place where we can all agree that someone’s unchosen sexual orientation is not sinful. Most pastors and Christians I have spoken to fully agree on this tenet. And while they agree… they never really make that point clear. It kind of gets lost in translation. This is a big problem.

 

For example, they may address homosexuality as saying:

 

I don’t think it is God’s best.

 

And leave it at that.

 

Even as this is a more gentle way of putting one’s convictions, explanations should never be so vague. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing, and when those words fall upon them, it can feel like a ton of bricks. It can instill an identity of being an outcast. It can make them feel like Judas.

 

Clearly that pastor meant same-sex relationships aren’t God’s best, but… it sounds like having same-sex attractions are sinful. Which I think we can all agree aren’t.

 

Pastors too often fear the backlash from backdoor meetings with clergy more than the effect upon the psych of a child. I’m guessing this is more about being unaware of the implications of their words on youngins than a conscious choice. Angry elders are much more visible than quiet children.

 

If this is to change, I think we can save a lot of souls from spending their lives sitting inside the closet. While it sounds so simple on a blog post, it is much more difficult to put into speech. Everything from tone to language to posture has to be taken under consideration, because to a child, perception is everything.

 

No arguments are needed here, just explain that sexual attractions are not chosen. That gay people whether actually born this way or through the result of other factors, are discoverers of their sexuality not choosers. If you hold that same-sex relationships are sinful, that is fine, but,make sure you explain the difference of the two. Explain the difference between orientation and behavior. The difference between status and sin.

 

Also, avoid saying things like, “I think thieves are sinners too” or “I don’t believe in polygamy either”. All this does is establish a bridge where one is not appropriate. It’s misrepresenting the facts.

 

Engaging in the conversation with LGBT folks requires this admission. Many of these people like me paid dearly because of reckless words. This is common ground that everyone can feel comfortable on. It is critical to our commitment of upholding truth about a community that already feels slandered by the Church. It is paramount. It is the right thing to do. Any bridge to be built between us has to have this change to ensure that it stands on steady ground.

 

Until this happens, don’t expect much progress.

 

RR

The Education of a Church: Rein in the Youth Pastors

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I was in Junior High. I remember being fully aware of my attractions, but uncertain of where to turn. While I didn’t know where to go, I definitely knew where not to go- my church youth group. Those around me didn’t realize it, but I understood I didn’t belong. They were the Christians and I was the sin. I was the poison to their pool.

Reinforcing this reality were the words of none other than my own leaders. Maybe it was when we watched a short Christian documentary about how people contract AIDS, with a lengthy portion on the promiscuity of gay men.

Or perhaps it was when,

“that’s so gay!”

was said more often than

“God bless you”

It could’ve been when my youth leaders smirked as students spoke in slurs, only then to offer a few cracks of their own. I remember practicing my fake laugh, while my stomach went sick, as the head of my small group did his best impression of a “homo”.

~

Later on, as I grew older, I was part of another youth group. It was more mature, but just as disturbing. There was one time in particular. While in the midst of a Bible Study, one of the leaders lamented the fact that the local Christian college granted admission to gay students. He saw it as a slippery slope to Hell, or worse, liberalism.

Strangely, his exhortation took a turn as he noted a statistic he had read recently. He told us that one out of every nineteen people is gay. There were twenty in our group.

What could have been the start of a redemptive conversation regarding the words we use ended with a break and a return to our talk about the evils of Kabballah.

When he threw out those stats, it felt like a warning upon us all. It had the echoes of Jesus saying that one of his own would betray him. I felt the burning crimson begin to cover my face and I excused myself to the restroom… I was barely breathing.

~

Years later, on the first night in my dorm, in that college on that slippery slope, there was a night I would never forget. We were all gathered in the common area as our RD spent over an hour handing down the house rules. Everything from curfew to cigarettes to shoes in the door was covered. As she brought the night to a close, she said something that totally caught me off guard.

“Hey, just so ya’ll know, gay is not synonymous with stupid, ugly, unchristian or what have you. I won’t be tolerating any of that here. “

I felt safe. For the first time in a setting of faith, I felt safe.

I should have always felt this way in Church.

~ ~ ~

Youth pastors and leaders have such big hearts. Typically, they are the ones that never shed their childhood innocence. The ones still amazed by simple wonders and never lose their silliness. Sometimes they are volunteer college students, other times, they are people with children of their own. These people need not be lectured on the meaning of love because they are living examples of it.

Having said this, there’s something they may need to hear.

I have heard too many stories like my own to know that my experience isn’t the exception, it’s more the rule. Homophobia gets a hall pass in a lot of Churches today. Should it be a surprise that so many gay kids end up leaving the church? The very leaders that they look up to express such utter disgust and contempt for people like them. They make jokes about their pain. They ridicule their insecurities. They teach their friends that gay kids are uncool, creepy and should be kept at a distance. A church youth group is supposed to be a place of spiritual support, not a breeding ground for bullies.

Think, just for a moment, how Christ has been conveyed here. I can only speak for myself but when I was that age… Christ was a guy that couldn’t have cared less about me. He was a knuckle dragger jock who called me creepy and gross. Clearly, he liked my leaders- they spoke about their friendship with him all the time. They talked about how God had told them to come into ministry. How God set them in the position they were in at that moment. He was the one that put them in my life.

My bullies were sent from God.

~

This is something that is so solvable. So simple that I really don’t need to articulate a long list of recommendations or ground rules, because, really, it’s that simple. If you are in a position of authority in the church, call the youth ministry into your office to discuss homophobia. It may not be a problem for your church, but why not make sure? Especially in light of all the young LGBT suicides taking place over the past few years, why not sit them down anyway?

You don’t have to change your convictions in order to make your youth groups safer.

Tell the leaders that it is unacceptable, in any way, shape or form, to disparage those that are gay. Make them realize how hostile of an environment they create with their crude comments. Remind them of the Christ that chose to chill with the closeted. Read off the names and stories of kids that took their lives in the past year as a result of bullying. Encourage them to get on board with the It Gets Better Campaign. Give them copies of the books by Justin Lee and Andrew Marin. Assign them homework, tell them to go out and learn more from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them know that racism, sexism and homophobia are all forms of prejudice and the wounds they inflict can have long lasting implications.

Furthermore, show them what an incredible opportunity they have to be Kingdom Builders! Tell them that being a leader is not about becoming part of the mob, but about guiding them. Reconciling them. Loving them, bullies and losers alike. Make it a priority.

It is so sad, tragic even, that this is a problem in a community based on unconditional love and universal unworthiness,

But yet, here we are…

Folks, it’s time to chase this sin out of the Church.

Because bullying has no place in youth ministry.

RR

Runaway George

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Among many things that have captivated my attention in this book is it’s handling of Christian theology in relation to slavery.

Here we find George, a runaway slave. In this scene, his former employer, Mr. Wilson, recognized George inside a hotel lobby and promptly approached him, asking if he would accompany him to his room to have a little chat. Mr. Wilson is a good man, but he fears that George is going against God and country, and thus requires his guidance.

First he tries logic.

Then he tries scripture.

“But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.”

“Don’t quote Bible at me that way Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is A Christian and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty- I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”

“These feelings are quite natural George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ‘em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case-very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,- don’t you see?”

 

George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.

 

“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence- shouldn’t you?”

 

I resonate with George’s story.

That’s not to say that I think slavery and homosexuality are parallel tales of misunderstood scripture.

But I’ve got my fair share of Bible burns.

They tell me, “but both the New Testament and the Old Testament speak against homosexuality”

I say, “I understand, but there are others who view-“

“1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, have you not read this?”

I’ve been reading and rereading these since I was in the sixth grade.

“It sucks, but you know what? It’s God’s word, and Christ calls us all to sacrifice in one form another.”

Usually my thoughts echo George’s response to Mr. Wilson.

The detachment from empathy is so palpable in today’s Christian culture when it comes to homosexuality.

In these rock and hard place moments, I just want to pull out every Bible verse that should convict them of the same charge.

Perhaps what Jesus said about the wealthy, or the proud or the judgmental.

But by now, I’m burnt out.

So I bite my tongue.

Beyond George, there are countless runaways out there, carrying the card of some form of Christian contradiction. Divorce is one. Just the other day, I heard one coworker open up about his sisters painful divorce. The listening, coworker, my sister in Christ, said something akin to, “A vow is a vow. It seems they didn’t try hard enough.” Unwed mothers are another. I’ve heard people say about a friend of mine, “I wonder how many baby daddy’s she has? So sad.” Or the poor, “Why should my dollars go to their drug habits?”

Our Christian culture has become a bag of wonder bread, and if you’re made of a different morsel, you’ve been misplaced. I know better than to generalize about a whole group of people, and I fully believe that there are those quietly keeping their cupboards locked tight.

But the trouble with tribes like ours is that we thwart any attempt at transparency. Tears belong behind closed doors. Support calls for a certified shrink. The Bible is a bludgeon, not a buoy. Dialogue destroys doctrine, leading us down that oh so slippery slope towards hell. Raise your hands high and give us that sweet smile.

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to attend one of the Marin Foundation’s “Living in the Tension” gatherings. There I was, surrounded by fellow travelers on a similar journey of my own. All of us came for the same thing, reconciliation between the scriptures and our sexuality. All of us, looking around, greeted each other’s eyes with an “I get it.” When the meeting came to a close, I was embraced, told I was loved and encouraged to keep searching and questioning. It was a transformative night for all of us. My mom, who went with me, said later on, “that’s what the Kingdom looks like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Runaway George had a similar experience. Having reached refuge outside the grasp of slave catchers, and finding his son and wife there as well, he reclaimed his faith in the father. Looking around the dinner table at the Christians that saved his life, he reflected:

“This, indeed, was a home,-home, –a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone.

May our community become that “golden cloud of protection”.

RR

Under Umbrellas

“During the war we… we never knew what would happen next. So they are my way of showing both paranoia and protection. That’s why I paint them.”

As she sat there spilling her story to me, I couldn’t help but fall apart. You’d have to be cold not to. My Aunt and I talked as we walked through this woman’s studio, looking at all of her work, the ghosts of her horrifying past. And inside most of her masterpieces were beautiful umbrellas. She saw them as symbols of safety, an expression of her fear and, a surprising discovery about her childhood. One day, sorting through her five-year old doodles, she found that as a kid, she always drew umbrellas. Psychology suggests that this may have been a way to fill a void of security. It’s not easy growing up in a war zone.

Following her into the next room she pulled out an enormous framed piece. The subject was a nude woman collapsed upon the ground. Her body was colored in a deep crimson red before a gray backdrop. Umbrellas and a fading sun filled in the negative space. The sun was on the left, umbrellas on the right.

The woman was her grandmother. Her two sons had been taken captive by enemy soldiers when they were just teenagers, only kids. And in the aftermath of the conflict when the mass graves were being dug up on a weekly basis, her grandmother was tortured by two hopes. One, in which her boys would be in the mass graves so she could carry them home to a proper burial and the family, might finally have peace. The other- that her sons may still be alive.

“She was strong for all of us. Tortured within, but strong. She covered us, like an umbrella.”

Stepping away a bit weepy, I started seeing all the umbrellas in my life. The places I go to find peace and protection in times of duress. In times of war.

Upon returning home, I hopped on the laptop and saw a flash roll across my news feed. A major Christian leader tweeted his support for the proposed Kill-the-Gays bill in Uganda. He actually called Uganda, a nation “returning to God”. As grotesque as his support may be, it’s important to note he’s an outlier within the Christian community. But in the same token, his militaristic tone is rather mainstream evangelical.

The Flock has always had a tendency to talk about it’s beliefs in battle metaphors. The “armor of God” in Ephesians gets a lot of airtime and most Christians understand what it means. It’s spiritual war. The invisible world of darkness that we cannot see, but only feel. That’s the darkness God is waging war on every day. Tragically, some believe God’s war is on the physical not the invisible. Some believe gays and lesbians should be wiped off the face of the earth.

When folks fancy themselves to be “soldiers for Christ”, I get really uncomfortable. While everyone knows that the “Armor of God” scripture clearly points to warring with the spiritual realm, Christian Extremists struggle with a temptation to mix the spiritual with the physical, ultimately driving divisions between whites and blacks, gays and straights, Muslims and Christians. Different is dangerous.

And there are times, when I hear the story of both the war ravaged grandma and the new African genocide, I feel their swords encircling me. Quite literally, they’re encircling the LGBT community in Uganda. Some call it a nation “returning to God”, others say its purifying the human race, and others say that it’s the divine will of God.

I call it Hate wearing a crucifix.

And when things like this happen, I step backwards and walk until I am under the cover of the umbrella.

Like Runaway George’s “golden cloud of protection” I run until I’m in the safety of His shadow. Where He holds my head to His heart, just so I know it’s really Him. He shields me from the stones, the hate, the misunderstanding. He says he’s “not like them” and that it’s okay to be afraid, just as long as I stay at his side.

I find my stillness and strength when I wake up to him whispering: See! The winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11) Like the artist’s grandmother, I see the sun hanging off in the distance.

God is an umbrella. He’s a shelter from the storm and a refuge for the runaway. He is not a sling to shoot with. We don’t wire him like a bomb to throw.

Your bullets are not blessed and your shackles hold no salvation. Your guns are Godless.

Pray a prayer for Uganda tonight.

RR

The Tug of the Tether

This past fall has been an adventure. Like a fish out of water, I was dropped in a foreign country to work and study a major domestic policy issue (often late into the night) and publish a piece about how to fix the said issue. Having no idea where to begin in search of any solutions or how to make my writing more worthy of consideration, I at times stumbled into an apathetic coma. The problems were too big, I was too small and I might as well let the experts do what they do.

Then, after hitting the snooze button one last time, I chose to grow up instead of give up. And in the process I learned to adapt.

That word- adapt, seems to define my experience here. In so many seasons of my life I wasn’t able to find my footing in fresh surroundings with strange new people. I wasn’t good at being a foreigner.

Perhaps those times prepared me for this one.

The Japanese poet Saigyo once wrote

“Every single thing changes and is changing always in this world.  Yet with the same light the moon goes on shining.”

A perfect metaphor of our relationship to the Redeemer. Our guiding light.

I see now that I am not tethered to my street address, but to something greater, something… immaterial, something you cannot find on a map or paint a picture of in your mind.

The tether knots at my soul and pulls me forward in this life. It both softens and sharpens me through wildfires and wilderness, peaks and valleys, meadows and coal walks. I change and I remain the same. With every breath I become better. With every step forward I can see how far I’ve come. And through it all I follow the tug of the tether.

I learned that moving forward means packing light. Shedding old skins. When intimidation nearly crippled me, I had to drop my anxiety and grow confidence from scratch. When fear of the future drifted into my mind, I had to let go of my crystal ball mentality and instead embrace the reality that I was living a life many people have only dreamt of. No longer could I see challenges as things to get through, but rather as opportunities to make something happen. None of this I have perfected by the way, but I am learning to.

I made sure I did not forfeit the cultural experience for the academic one or vice versa. There were days to engage with art, music, survivors of war, and days to study, research and grow intellectually.

But in the end, in every experience, I was led by the guiding light, something I can only see now in hindsight. As I confronted culture shock and language barriers, my faith was a channel I could turn to for understanding. Despite living in an pretty homophobic and somewhat racist community, I took comfort in the awareness that my God has carved my name in his palms and has counted the number of hairs on my head. I abide in him and he abides in me. I draw near to him and he draws near to me. My heart breaks, he mends it. I get angry, he forgives. I forget, he never does.

In a few short weeks, I check out of this place. Holding tight to His tether and carrying all I’ve collected in this wonderful region, I am sure the path I am treading is leading somewhere. I glance back, not at my mistakes, but the messages I took away from them. Not at every test I flunked, but at every teachable moment I received. How I have changed, how I need to change and how I have remained the same. And while I may not know where this road will take me or what the next stop will look like, I have trust in the guide. My feet are ready for the next coal walk.

“If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are.  For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained.  Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.”  ~Saint Augustine

RR