Monday, March 31, 2014

How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation

Reposting this from Rachel Held Evans, who I had the opportunity to hear in Houston a few nights ago. 

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN
(CNN) - On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.
It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.
But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”
Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”
So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?
The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision pointed to “disaster,” and the Assemblies of God denomination encouraged its members to pull their financial support from the organization.
Evangelicals took to Twitter and Facebook to threaten to stop sending money to their sponsored children unless World Vision reversed course.
Within a day of the initial announcement, more than 2,000 children sponsored by World Vision lost their financial support. And with more and more individuals, churches and organizations threatening to do the same, the charity stood to lose millions of dollars in aid that would otherwise reach the poor, sick, hungry and displaced people World Vision serves.
So World Vision reversed course.
Stearns told The New York Times that some people, satisfied with the reversal, have called World Vision headquarters to ask, “Can I have my child back?” as though needy children are expendable bargaining chips in the culture war against gay and lesbian people.
Many of us who grew up evangelical watched with horror as these events unfolded.
As a longtime supporter of World Vision, I encouraged readers of my blog to pick up some of the dropped sponsorships after the initial decision. I then felt betrayed when World Vision backtracked, though I urged my readers not to play the same game but to keep supporting their sponsored children, who are of course at no fault in any of this.
But most of all, the situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.
When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong.
There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.
Evangelicals insist that they are simply fighting to preserve “biblical marriage,” but if this were actually about “biblical marriage,” then we would also be discussing the charity’s policy around divorce.
But we’re not.
Furthermore, Scripture itself teaches that when we clothe and feed those in need, we clothe and feed Christ himself, and when we withhold care from those in need, we withhold it from Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46).
Why are the few passages about homosexuality accepted uncritically, without regard to context or culture, but the many about poverty so easily discarded?
As I grieved with my (mostly 20- and 30-something) readers over this ugly and embarrassing situation, I heard a similar refrain over and over again: “I don’t think I’m an evangelical anymore. I want to follow Jesus, but I can’t be a part of this.”
I feel the same way.
Whether it’s over the denial of evolutionary science, continued opposition to gender equality in the church, an unhealthy alliance between religion and politics or the obsession with opposing gay marriage, evangelicalism is losing a generation to the culture wars.
A recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute revealed that nearly one-third of millennials who left their childhood faith did so because of “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay and lesbian people.
Christians can disagree about what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about same-sex marriage. This is not an issue of orthodoxy. But when we begin using child sponsorships as bargaining tools in our debates, we’ve lost the way of Jesus.
So my question for those evangelicals is this: Is it worth it?
Is a “victory” against gay marriage really worth leaving thousands of needy children without financial support?
Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth losing more young people to cynicism regarding the church?
Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with LGBT people?
And is a “victory” against gay marriage worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks, "what if we get this wrong?"
I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.
I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism's culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus among its many refugees: LGBT people, women called to ministry, artists, science-lovers, misfits, sinners, doubters, thinkers and “the least of these.”
I’m ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sick of This Fruit

I’m sick from this American Christian fruit I’ve eaten for too long.

At first it looked enticing, offering some vague form of freedom and happiness if only I admit my own failure as a human being and submit to a deity who finds me offensive enough to kill, even though I’m supposedly made in its image. But because this god chooses not to kill me, I should be grateful and full of praise, overflowing with love. Like other-worldly Stockholm Syndrome, I’m expected to fall in love with a terrorist.

It made sense to point out the inconsistency in others, to support policies that upheld a squeaky clean presentation of Western privilege, to side with the majority of American Christians and say who is right and who is wrong based on everything except relationships and dialogue. It made sense to tell people “the truth in love” because loving meant telling the “other” how terrible they were so they could fix themselves, because I was the bearer of the only perspective that mattered. MY interpretation of an ancient text was the correct one. What I understood from my middle class, white American perspective was reality, no matter how different anyone else’s life or upbringing had been. We’re all equal, right? We’ve all had the same experiences, right? Therefore, everyone should agree with me because I am in the class of people who make the rules.

This is the American Christianity that would rather pull food out of hungry children’s mouths than allow an organization to stop discriminating against same sex couples. This is the Christianity that separates, divides, and builds walls. This is the Christianity that says, “You are wrong,” to anyone who doesn’t express their beliefs in exactly the same way as they do, without opening a dialogue, without listening to the other’s point of view without making assumptions or revving up an argument in their head. This is the Christianity that shames Jesus and makes the Pharisees look good.

As I choke on the bitter fruit of this American Evangelicalism culture, I eagerly seek for anything that can help me, anything that can remind me of something good within this ugliness. A reason to hang on.

I look through my inbox, reading through the blogs fromChristina Cleveland who seeks racial reconciliation, helping people to listen to others instead of box them up.

I read the updates from Marty Troyer whose Houston Mennonite Church seeks dialogue and understanding with oppressed and marginalized groups.

I read Jim Palmer’s blogs that remind me of the Divine within me and all around me that is Love.

I read Rachel Held Evans' plea for American Christians to look beyond theology and “correct” thinking, and engage with real people with real experiences.

I read insight and love from Justin Lee, a gay Christian man who, for one reasons or another, has not rejected Christianity despite the hate slung at him on a daily basis.

I listen to the realities of everyday folks who feel the sting of American Christianity's rejection, and the love of a Divine presence that is so much bigger.

I have to look for the people who are doing real reconciliation work instead of those who are only trying to defend their way of thinking and believing and trying to get others to conform.

I have to look at the people in my intentional community, people who disagree on every point from theology to house cleaning, people who are willing to live together, respect one another, listen to one another, and love one another despite all their differences.

I have to look at my own friends who have not abandoned me because my theology differs from theirs.

I have to look to the explanations of Christianity from the perspective of the oppressed, marginalized, and economically disadvantaged to remember that Christianity is not about the rich and powerful, it is not about who can yell the loudest and use their financial privilege as leverage, it is not about right theology, it is not about a belief system. It is about a life of radical inclusive love that leaves no one rejected.

Western Christianity rejects. Love embraces.

I end with a quote from Life of Pi by Yan Martel that my roommate read for our devotionals this morning:

“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual." But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God's, that the self-righteous should rush.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Sit Content

"I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content."

-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Break

After baking all day Saturday, my team and I set up our bake sale in front of our church and hoped for the best.

The result was $350 going toward our team fundraising goal!

This trimester has seemed so short. I came back from Christmas break in early January and I'm already preparing to go back to Phoenix for Spring Break this Friday. After this there's the last four month haul, no breaks.

While I'm in Phoenix for a week I will be meeting with folks to discuss future intentional community plans in the Glendale/Phoenix area, as well as getting together for game nights and potlucks.

Phoenix is home for me in a way Houston can't be. I felt the desire to root myself in a place and build relationships with people, and I knew Phoenix was that place. I know I will continually be led back.

However, it's strange to think about life after this community we've formed here in Fifth Ward.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Unexpected Life

You know that feeling you get when you've been awake way too long, when your defenses go down and things just seem a little...sillier?

That's how I've felt all week.

Yesterday was ridiculous. I thought I was going to fall asleep on my keyboard. My eyes felt like grapes being squeezed by some sadistic giant. I couldn't focus. I couldn't work. I couldn't concentrate on anything of any significance.

What's the point of even being here? I wondered.

My plan today was to come in and watch episodes of New Girl in a back cubicle of the office.
That's how done I felt.

Then I checked my email.

In December of last year, I wrote a grant application for the creation of a farmer's market in my food-desert neighborhood. It was the first grant I ever wrote, and I did not think anything would come of it because it was my first one. I think I even botched some of the numbers on the budget.

Today when I opened my email I was greeted with a letter saying I had received the grant!

If there was any day I needed that encouragement, today was it. Being able to see that hours of my work are bearing fruit for the community projects I am invested in is such a beautiful feeling. Things are happening. Projects are moving forward.

In addition to that awesome news, my coworker, Krystal, has decided to adopt one of the stray dogs in the neighborhood!

There are dozens of stray dogs that roam the Fifth Ward, just waiting for someone to love on them. My roommate Taylor has a special heart for these dogs and is always trying to convince people she meets to adopt them. Well, today she convinced Krystal. Max will be heading to his new home today.

And, as a little added bonus to this blog, check out a video Taylor made to give our church a little bit of a glimpse into our intentional community's every day lives.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stepping Over the Line

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” 
-- Henri J.M. Nouwen

During my community's weekly meetings, we have a time for individuals to voice concerns about the community, about the way things are being done, about how an individual feels about certain aspects of the community, etc. Last night, one of my housemates brought up the idea of holding ourselves to the same expectations we hold others to. The conversation was specifically about "profane" words, but the concept went so much farther than that. She mentioned that people in our community had come to her expressing their discomfort and even offense at a certain word she had casually been using. Once it was brought to her attention, she began to filter herself, acknowledging that the word offended others, and avoiding it. But she also brought up another idea. She wanted it to be known that now that she had been asked to filter this word, she also had the right to ask others to filter their words. And they should oblige if they have asked that of her. She expects people to hold themselves to the same standard they hold for her.

We have had similar discussions about words in this community. There are seven of us from seven different backgrounds and upbringings, trying to figure out how to love one another without conforming them to ourselves, trying to make space for each other to grow into our true selves and peel away the layers of lies and biases we have grown up with. While typical "curse words" may be offensive to some, they are a freedom for others who have no attachment to those words, who perhaps grew up hearing those words and use them as a form of self expression.

Words cannot be our dividing line, a boundary that creates the "other," ignoring our common desire to love God and love people even with all our baggage, all our scars, all our history. The seven of us are living in this house in order to learn how to better love God and love people, whatever that means. And while I would love to hold others to standards and expectations that would make my life a little easier, I cannot do that if I am not willing to hold those same expectations of myself.

When I wonder why my roommate can't love me better in the place I am at, I wonder, "Am I loving her as well as I could in the place she is at?"

When I want others to listen to me, to hear me, and to not argue or debate, I have to ask myself, "Am I listening as well as I can, without judgment, without argument, without debate? Am I listening in order to listen?"

When I want to be loved, unconditionally, without fear of judgment, I have to ask myself, "Am I loving unconditionally, without judging or making assumptions?"

So I guess it really comes back to that plank in my eye, the one that will always be there, because I will never be able to see a person or a situation clearly from every angle. I will always have my own biases, assumptions, judgments, and expected outcomes. I will never see clearly enough to judge correctly.

My solution to this is to cultivate silence within myself, to silence the voices of judgement and the desire to tell others they are wrong, the desire to tell others how they should be living. And to ask questions. My assumptions will never be correct. EVER. I need to ask questions in order to understand what others are thinking, feeling, and going through. That is where compassion arises. When I enter into the pain and history of the "other" --whether it is my housemate or someone I hardly know-- I am allowing space for compassion, for my own pain to arise and mingle with theirs, to join in mutual understanding that we are not better than one another, that I have nothing to bring against them, that I have nothing to offer but my broken self, that it is I who need their forgiveness for the assumptions and judgments I had already created in my heart and mind. I need to step over the lines I have already created, that have been created by my culture and my upbringing, in order to enter into dialogue with the "other," not to change them, but to realize I am them, and we are in this together.

 “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”