Back Roads to Bethlehem

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It’s the pilgrimage for the proud.

For those with halos screwed on too tight.

 

In every precipice that we slip down

And in all our detours into darkness

We are taken aback by our own depravity

Our worthiness in our unworthiness

 

You may start from the north

And I may from the south

But we both see the same star

We seek the same savior

Before I even saw it shining off in the distance, I was told it wasn’t really for me. I was told if I wanted to find it, I had to start where they were. I had to be one of them. I had to match them step for step. From on top of a peak, they peered down upon me. Asking to come, they said I could not; unless… I severed my scarlet letter. It would repulse the King, they said.

I refused and they called me a contradiction. I told them I tried and they said my faith was too small. Either way, that star was not speaking to me.

So I ran on alone.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, driven by nothing more than a hunger for hope in something I did not, do not, will not and cannot understand. I ran and I ran and I ran. Through thickets and thorns, over daisy dressed mountains, into towns of the gutter, I ran. Until the gravel turned to grass and stones became fertile, with my eye on the star and hand over my heart, I ran and I ran and I ran.

Down back roads to Bethlehem I found a burrow of new faces. Everything was so different there. Saints spoke of scripture in words I had never heard; yet their language felt so familiar.

Clothing me in a love I thought to be legendary, I was drawn in to the hearth of their fires. It was there that stories were swapped and songs were sung and laughs were loud and tears were sent trickling, as we uncovered each layer of the other. For a moment I thought I was already there.

Leaving I turned as I heard one say, “I’ll see you… I’ll see you at the star.”

Faster I flew down back roads to Bethlehem. With each place I met more living in love than not.

And shedding my shame came all the easier.

Soon enough the star hung not twenty yards away. Below it sat the saints of the burrow and the soldiers of the peak. All of them waving me to a spot they had saved.

And stories were swapped. Songs were sung. Laughs were loud. Tears were sent trickling and love, oh love, burned again.

Beneath the umbrella of the star, we experienced our own rescue. None of us deserved it. None of us could earn it. None of us could pay it back.

It just was.

He was.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, saints and soldiers and even runaways like me reached our redemption. Along fault lines of faith, regardless of the rules, we all found the prodigal’s father. We were made new and perfect. We were celebrated as sons and daughters. We were loved as we were.

And we rolled up our sleeves and traded tales of our bruises… denying the lie that we were ever really alone.

 

RR

We Still Don’t Know How to Grieve

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I remember remaining silent as I sat huddled with friends around the TV. The news had just interrupted our show to tell us that Seal Team Six had taken out Osama Bin Laden. For the next half hour my buddies tried to one up each other on what they would do if it was them in front of Bin Laden. How they would bloody his nose a bit first, maybe waterboard him, and then kill him as slowly and painfully as possible.

 

It was a lot of weird feelings. I knew exactly what Bin Laden did. He was responsible for deaths of thousands of innocent lives. He was unrepentant and smug about it. He believed that God was on his side.

 

And yet, I still found myself torn. Two distinctly different forces were pulling me in opposite directions. While I should have been happy that “justice” was served, all I could think about were crowds outside the White House dancing and singing. The jeers and Huckabee tweeting  “rot in hell Osama”, all of it, made me feel so sick. There was no peace to be found that night. Collectively, we had found a reason to let our inner beasts roar. We desecrated prayer. At least the ones people mentioned on facebook. I saw prayers for locks on the Pearly Gates, and that the pit of hell would come alive with suffering.

 

It was the clearest and most understandable moment of cognitive dissonance in my life. The world was telling me throw a party, ding dong the wicked witch is dead! Fly the flag, relish in revenge, take the kids to the TV and say “guys! This is what justice looks like”.

 

But my faith, my conscience, the moral compass within me held back on throwing my hands in the air. I knew this couldn’t be justice. This couldn’t be Christ.

 

Over the past couple days I have seen Adam Lanza called an evil, vile, human piece of garbage. I have seen heartwarming posts of prayers for the families of victims, only to be followed by “burn in hell Adam”.

 

There is a devastation in our disconnect.

 

I understand the anger, I am angry and I think we should all be very pissed right now. But is our anger misdirected?

 

Maybe that’s something to think about.

 

Mental illness comes with all the shame as any stigmatized status in today’s society. Hollywood has made billions off of horror movies of psychos, scary schizos, and those with split personalities. People are terrified of it.

 

But maybe a facet of that fear is of ourselves. Maybe on some subconscious level we all fear our own insanity.

 

I have problems with anxiety. There was one bad spell where I told my parents I thought I was losing my mind. I didn’t believe I truly existed. There is nothing more frightening than fear of yourself. Fear of our fallen nature. Fear of becoming the monster.

 

It is time to think differently about evil.

It exists, but it is not always chosen.

 

As Christians we know that this man was not evil.

Satan is.

And all of us, even Jesus, have fought against his advances every day of our lives.

 

But sick people don’t have the same strength to fight back. That’s what we are here for.

 

Adam Lanza was the least of these. He was the one Christ called us to care for. He was sick and we failed him. We failed those families, we failed humanity, and worst of all, we failed the Father.

 

Calling this man a monster only makes Satan that much stronger. Every time we do, we are stealing every ounce of credit he deserves. He couldn’t ask for a better deal. He bets on our inability to see the monster behind the man whispering in his ear. We know spiritual evil when we see it. I know Satan loves nothing more than taking kids away from parents. In the days of Christ he would send demons to posses children, make them hurt themselves and their loved ones around them. This is NOT to say that Adam Lanza suffered from possession, but his weakness were exploited by the enemy. Satan is the culprit. We can hate him.

 

This man needed compassion and protection. He needed a society that didn’t shame him for his vulnerability towards violence. If we continue to wage war on the symptoms and not the causes, we should not expect any recovery. If we continue to ridicule those that feel isolated and misunderstood, it should not surprise us when they hit back. If we continue to neglect their need for attention, our children will bear the cost with their blood.

 

We need to rethink evil. We need to remember Satan. And we need to start seeing the least of these in every corner of life.

 

RR

Redeeming the Last Post

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Whenever one posts something, be it blog, twitter, facebook, whatever, if mixed feelings come before the click, it’s probably best to sleep on it.

The other day my feelings were mixed, but I shot it out anyway.

Two things happened since then.

1) I emailed a buddy across the blogosphere (Julie of Incite Faith) and asked if she thought I came on too abrasively. Her response was a great wake up call.

““But the line must be drawn between good and poisoned fruit.”

The line is love.

Love is what bridges the gap.”

2) The post was also reprinted on another site. A commenter said he felt compelled to give a response of truth because Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”

Ouch.

I wrote about the bad fruits emerging from the ex gay industry and I meant it. The loud chorus of survivors coming out of reparative therapy doesn’t suggest a ministry of redemption. My own flirtation with it gives me insight into how the fruit tastes. I have seen too much and heard too much. I cannot cast this therapy aside as an “option” or “alternative”, because lives are literally at stake here.

And yes, I have some serious concerns about the fact that this is a business more than a ministry.

Having said that, I made the awful mistake of blurring therapy with therapists. Throwing babies out with the bathwater you could say. Maybe that’s why I had mixed feelings. And maybe I felt that the “poison apple” parallel packed a bigger punch, but in the process, I allowed a personal vendetta against Ms. Hamilton to reach a new low. And when you’re throwing low blows, you’re failing the Father.

There is something that I innately implied into yesterday’s post that is a gross mischaracterization: when I said “ex gay” I was referring to the therapy, not the clients or the therapists. It was a lazy mistake. But a big one.

I know people that have gone through the reparative process, and while they spoke of it’s damage, they never considered counselors to be cruel. Some even have fond memories of them. And we… I, need to entertain the idea that this may be true.

The words of Ms. Julie Hamilton had devastating consequences on my family, but that does not mean her intent was devastation. I don’t know her. And to be perfectly honest, she’s likely a wonderful person.

Ex gay counselors across the board may care more about gay folks than most people. It takes a special someone to trot into the trenches with strangers struggling with their sexual identity. And if that someone sincerely believes that reparative therapy is what’s best for their patient, then their reasons are rooted in love. More love than the words I wrote yesterday.

Justin Lee, author of the book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christian Debate, writes in his book… well, what I should have written in my post:

“Christians really are a compassionate bunch, even though the cultural reputation we have right now doesn’t reflect that. Because so many Christians- especially evangelical Christians like me- believed that gay relationships were sinful, they also wanted to believe that there was some way that gay people could become straight so that they could legitimately enjoy all the benefits of romance and marriage. The ex-gays wanted to believe this and to provide hope to others. Unfortunately, sometimes that desire for hope got in the way of being completely honest.”

If I start caricaturing even those with whom I most passionately disagree with, this blog is a fraud.

I missed the mark in my message. And I am sorry.

Burning bridges is always abrasive. It is always unhelpful. It is always hurtful. And it is always unchristian.

Cause bridges have no pre-reqs.

Disciples don’t divide. They put humility before vindictiveness and God before themselves.

Mother Teresa once said:

“if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I traded a bridge for a partition in the last post, and its because I forgot their spot at the feast.

I forgot that no one is beyond redemption.

Not even me.

It’s a new day and God’s grace is fresh.

And I’ll try to be better tomorrow.

Blessings,

RR

Context is not a Paper Trail

This story has been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t wait to see the students when I get back.

Registered Runaway

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The work day begins and I’m already exhausted. A good night’s sleep just doesn’t cut it anymore. They file in, take their seats, trade complaints over the homework they never did, and I just sit and stare in amazement. Maybe it has something to do with being removed from the identity of a student or perhaps this is a view of life post-coming of age. But from my vantage point, it is hard to watch young men and women throw their lives away on a daily basis.

With one hand I cup my mug of coffee, with the other I squeeze the stress ball.

Most mornings, these two are all that keep me going.

I work with teenagers cut from the coarsest cloth. They are stubborn, hard-hearted and all around pain in the ass two-year olds. Everyday, it seems, I watch them approach the schoolhouse door, laughing…

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The Head and the Heart

 

There are times when the relationship with my redeemer feels like a long-distance one. While on occasion, this can be nothing more than a feeling of being stale in the faith, for most phases it comes during a season of busyness. Or at least, perceived busyness. I try to work hard, fill in time to write a short blog, catch up on emails, meet my social quota with friends and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. But rarely do I allow the schedule to dissolve and reveal the eternal reality before me. And when I get here- where I am today, I notice a couple things that have changed within me.

 

First- the Bible bores me terribly. It appears unattractive and complicated, and at the end of a chapter I will feel unmoved, even though I know I should be.

 

Second- I make the Bible into textbook. Feeling like a victim runs the risk of allowing yourself to dwarf the holiness of the words and convince you that it is only in academic study you satisfy your soul.

 

Over the course of the past several days I have tried to reconnect the dots of my faith. Burying my nose in the gospel didn’t give me a turn, so I listened to Christian music, for five minutes, then played T-Swifts new song. In the middle of the madness, I returned to the writer who has done more for my faith then any pastor ever has or could. That author is Brennan Manning.

 

Brennan has touched the lives of millions through his gorgeous works on God’s love and grace. I like to think of him, and many others like him, as a liaison between the spiritual wanderers and the father that loves them. I trust this man because of his honesty and his story of a life lived under grace. He has awoken my conscience on several occasions and consistently reminds me why I love this God so dearly.

 

One of his favorite passages of scripture-, which has become MY favorite passage of scripture- gives a glimpse into why oh why we love Him.

 

“My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,


11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.


12 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[a] has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.


13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.


Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.”

                        -Song of Songs 2:10-13, ESVUK (emphasis mine)

 

See, what I so often forget, when I reduce the Bible to a book report, is the intensity of our father’s affection towards us. This passage is so beautiful because of its imagery and its assurance of our belonging to him. The creator of the heavens and earth fell so deeply in love with us that he seeks to woo us, to court us, to make sure we know that he is mad with love for us.

 

There is a risk that I have found in dropping our brains at the door of the Church. But I have also found that there is a risk of our intellect overshadowing our hearts. We need both to work in conjunction.

 

Whenever I separate myself from that understanding of God as love, letting it slip into the recesses of my mind, I lose the sacredness of my search. Like the jackass student who I found out was homeless, I cannot understand God’s words without seeing the context of our relationship. I can’t look at the Bible in an attempt to reconnect with God without first understanding that this Guy is head over heels, weak at the knees, nails in the hands, in love with me. It’s a give and take. And obviously it’s a different type of relationship than ones of conversations over coffee.

 

But at the same time it is so much more reliable.

 

I look at this passage and I am reminded of why He means the world to me. It washes me in warmth over that inexpressible feeling of affection. Of being loved. Of perfect, uncensored, nails in the hand, kind of love that has the ability to bring a man back to life.

 

As Brennan wonderfully says:

“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair;” –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (emphasis mine)

 

 

I hope this Sunday you’ll sit with this scripture, and allow that affection to overwhelm.

RR

Begging For Grace

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Takunda Mavima had just wrapped up high school. He had been a model student and was looking forward to start four more years at a college in the fall. Following his graduation ceremony he drove off to an afterparty, riding fast on that expected “school’s out” high. The party was a kick off for these kids on what would be their last summer together.

When the evening came to a close, Takunda got behind the wheel with two friends in the car. He had been drinking. Tragically, Takunda lost control, crashed into an onramp and his two friends were both killed. Timothy See, 17, and Krysta Howell, 15.

Drunk driving is perhaps the most inexcusable reckless decision any of us could ever make. Our vehicles are considered lethal weapons by law and yet people still choose to roll the dice on joyrides.

Tim didn’t have to die. Krysta didn’t have to die. Takunda didn’t have to drive.

And in the midst of our judgment and righteous anger,

something like this happens

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Tim’s sister, Lauren See, spoke on Takunda’s behalf in his trial the other day. This is what she said:

I am begging you to let Takunda make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again”

Following her statement, Tim See (dad), walked up to Takunda and wrapped him in a huge hug. He forgave him for taking away his son.

This is a staggeringly similar story to God’s forgiveness upon us for taking his one and only child. Tim chose to invest in Takunda and spare him a punishment that probably wouldn’t even begin to match his crime. He chose forgiveness that wasn’t warranted or expected. Forgiveness that was unfair.

But he did it any way.

That’s what justice looks like.

That’s what love looks like.

That’s grace.

Brennan Manning, a frequent flyer through grace, has a wonderful quote on the nature of God:

“This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.” –Brennan Manning

God shows up in the midst of our unworthiness not after our reparations. He speaks to us immediately after the crime has been committed. He wants us to know he’s not mad. He wants us to know that he’s forgotten our past but hasn’t forgotten us.

What can we do besides drop to our knees before such radical love?

Better yet, who will you forgive today?

RR

 

*Photo 1 Credit

*Photo 2 Credit

A Runaway Named Freedom

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The following is a moving testimony from an incredible woman of faith. We’ll call her Freedom. Read it. Be changed.

I watched the scene, trying to hold back tears. It was a simple scene, and I’m sure the depth was lost on most of the audience. Yet for me it was so real, so personal. Thomas was putting into words what I never could. As he spoke to the wounded soldier, he shared his pain in growing up different. Through tears he grabbed the blind soldier’s hand and united with him in the margins.

Lost somewhere in the midst of the familiarity, my heart was suddenly ejected into reality by the girl sitting next to me on the couch. She covered her eyes and scoffed a homophobic comment, certain that Thomas was trying to seduce the soldier. She must have uttered “gross” five times within a second.

I closed my eyes, and I was on another couch – a young girl watching television with her mother. Two men grabbed hands and my mother covered my eyes, grasping for the remote with urgency. She too expressed her disgust with homosexuals – their behavior was so repulsive to her she couldn’t bear to watch, much less expose her child to that indecency.

I learned two things that day: (1) I was detestable and (2) God did not love me. I vowed to spend my entire life burying my secret. Even if it killed me.

The ignorance of my mother brought only death into the world; it extinguished any candle of hope with utter darkness. With each homophobic expression, I lost hope that God would ever love me – though I desperately cried out to be free. I didn’t want to be gay, I didn’t choose this. How could they say this was a choice? Every day I would wake up soaked in self-hatred, trying to motivate myself to get out of bed. I didn’t feel worthy to live, though I didn’t know my crime. I dreamed of death, of freedom. Why would anyone choose this? They could never understand. Science could never understand.

October 17th, 2005. I woke up that morning knowing freedom was imminent. My neighbor’s shotgun was loaded in his garage, ready to secure my departure from Earth. I didn’t know my destination, but I did not care. I could not imagine any reality worse than the one I lived in. I was only hours from the end, and my heart was full of hope. The curtains were about to be closed on the most horrifying script of all time.

I found freedom that night, but not from the barrel. God wrapped me in His embrace as I wept for the first time in a decade. What kind of child doesn’t cry? The child that doesn’t believe they deserve to cry. The child that feels so wretched that tears do not belong to them, only to the righteous.

I came out of the closet that night, and was met with love and grace. The lies that I was a divine mistake or an irredeemable outcast were shattered. The mother that had unknowingly kicked me to the margins held me in her arms, a broken mess. Her lifelong battle with homophobia was cured when she looked in the eyes of her beloved child. A child she would willingly give her life for.

That night I began to walk towards freedom – for me it was a freedom from self-hatred, guilt, and shame. For her it was freedom from ignorance and bigotry. Jesus welcomed us both. He transformed us both. He is transforming us still.

I wanted so badly to lash out at my friend – to point a finger at her ignorance, her hatred. I immediately assumed she could not know the Jesus that I know. How could anyone saved by the grace of Jesus condemn anyone else? How could she not show compassion, knowing how much grace it took to save her?

I lay in my bed that night, stewing with a righteous anger. I was plotting my exit from our friendship – wondering if it would be best to inform her why or to simply stop returning her phone calls.

The Lord spoke to me in a vision.

I saw the group of men prepared to cast stones at the prostitute. I was certain my friend was standing in the fold, rock arched.

Yet I saw my face in the crowd, with a handful of jagged rocks – my face ugly with anger. She was the prostitute, and Jesus stepped in my way to defend her. Her lovers were pride, ignorance, and intolerance. And Jesus was offering to pay them off – to pay the price for her freedom.

As I prayed that night, Jesus asked me to be the one full of grace and love. To kneel and wash her feet, to share the truth that saved my life. The gospel wasn’t only for my breed of sin, but hers as well.

Before I would have mocked her in front of my like-minded friends – puffing my chest as I displayed my humble affection for tolerance and love. But now I find myself on my knees in prayer. Praying that she too will find freedom.

 

Lord, give me the courage to defend the voiceless and the marginalized in the GLBT community, and the boldness to do it with love, understanding that I too am a sinner who struggles to offer grace.