Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Scandalous Exchange (Told in Three Parts): why i am trading in debate for a mat - part 2

This is part 2 of 3 in a series of posts that tells a real story about my journey as I gained a settled peace concerning my role in this crazy, messy, beautiful world. These posts are intended to share my unique wanderings, not to create division or incite debate. *Thea’s name has been changed. The first in this series of posts (The Encounter) can be found here. to read the whole story Part 2 (The Wrestling) is meant to illuminate the struggle that ensued in my own heart after my encounter with Thea. 

May the peace and love of Christ be with us all.


Part 2: The Wrestling

Some things you are forced to learn.

I would love to be a professional student - audit classes and learn of new ideas, insights, facts, mysteries. Classrooms and conferences are great laboratories for discovery and exploration. Life, while a fantastic teacher, is a little different from the traditional learning atmosphere. For better or worse, life doesn’t offer a static, controlled environment where we can alter one variable at a time, record, reflect, and analyze our findings so as to determine the next variable to be changed. Nope, life has a way of throwing you into the deep end of the pool, whether you’ve passed your AquaTots class or not.

Some things you are forced to learn. 

Sometimes we’re coerced by circumstances to wrestle with more than just ivory tower musings and contained theory. Life is about God; life is about people; and I believe, life is at it’s best when people connect with the God who delights in them. That makes the stakes so much higher than simply failing to follow the scientific method. Life doesn’t promise do overs or second chances with people and that changes things.

I tried over and again to schedule a meeting with *Thea. Call after call, she’d answer and I would gently explore the idea of getting together to talk. I could sense distance creeping in from her end. For me, however, that growing distance didn’t sideline my struggle. The battle of questions still raged strong inside my heart.

Thea has to be one of the bravest people I know. She took a risk in coming to me.  She mustered enough courage to voice a question that would leave her exposed and vulnerable…to a complete stranger. It was an inquiry that left her soul naked. Whether she was cognizant of this fact or not, she poured out her pain in just a few sentences, and she chose to do so at my feet. Her gutsy act is one of the most humbling moments of my life.

Even with our meeting up in the air, I couldn’t get Thea out of my thoughts. I’ve carried enough of my own pain that I could, on some level, identify with hers. My heart ached for her. At the same time, I was scared to death. Over and again, as I considered what our conversation might look like, my prayer was the same…

God, what would you have me say to her? 

You can’t exist in America and escape the heat that inevitably comes when issues of human sexuality are raised. You can’t be in the church, around the church, or even afraid of the church, without a clear picture of the division, anger, and hate that some christians can foster surrounding these issues. You can’t be a pastor, regardless of your tradition or opinion, and not feel the tension. 

Some things you are forced to learn.

I’ve never really been a huge wave maker, but I certainly don’t mind challenging the status quo. My husband affectionately calls me a pot stirrer. But this pot, (the one that would include LGBTQ issues, same-sex marriage, and gender assignment), that pot was chocked full of heated and heartfelt beliefs with people on all sides. It felt too big and too volatile to approach. By nurture, I was a conservative evangelical who held the belief that if I didn’t end up on the right side of an issue (human sexuality just one among many), than my relationship with God was in jeopardy. So, I had spent years burying my head in the sand attempting to wait out the storm. 

Thea’s presence necessitated a reckoning in me.

Thea’s unexpected entrance in my life forced me to deal with ideas, beliefs, theories, and their accompanying practicalities that I would have been fine to go on ignoring because denial and avoidance are incubators of great bliss. I am aware that my desire to avoid the difficult intricacies on human sexuality and related topics is not a spiritually mature stance, because there’s too much at stake to plug my ears and close my eyes.

Some things you are forced to learn.

Day after day, moment by moment, I would imagine Thea showing up in my office or sitting across the table at Tim Horton’s, and all I could think to pray was,

God, what would you have me say to her? 

Thea had verbalized her desire to understand what God had to say about lesbian relationships. For a time, I figured that was what I should offer her. What could possibly be more helpful to a hurting person than to present an in-depth explanation of the vast biblical interpretations on this particular issue, right? So, I sat and formulated thoughts about how to present the varying positions that christians hold on this issue. 

Quickly I realized this was not going to be helpful. If not an exegetical history of this issue, then what? If not an explanation of the numerous ways to interpret and apply scriptures here, then what? If not the towing of the Church of God party line, which may have been expected of me as an ordained clergy in that movement, then what? Deep down I knew my loyalty wasn't to a particular interpretation or church denomination. My devotion was to the God who invited me into the holy wrestling in the first place, and had stayed with me.

God, what would you have me say to her? 

I considered the possibility of sharing my personal thoughts with Thea based on my own experience, study, and tradition. That prospect seemed even less compelling. Thea, after all, wasn’t asking about my opinion. She wanted to know what God was thinking.

Did you know that you can combine reading, study, and education,  and not feel any closer to an answer to a question? That was me. Feeling washed up and holding zero beneficial answers. Sometimes an accumulation of degree and title only serves to remind us that a lot of money has been spent. 

Sometimes we spend a lot of money just to accept something we’ve known from the beginning…God’s thoughts and God’s ways are definitely not mine. (Let us pause for a moment and give thanks for that.) 

God’s magnificent mind is far above my own limited brain. God’s beautiful heart dwells in an expanse of grace that extends beyond my imaginings and circles back to envelop me. So, how does one, even with the supposed scholarship, speak for God? The absurdity grew with every moment I wrestled with how to respond to Thea’s question.

God, what would you have me say to her? 
One day, between calls and cancelled meetings with Thea, I finally detected a kind of divine answer to my wrestlings. A response was emerging to the question with which I had been invoking. All the wrestling brought me to these words…

“Say whatever you need to say to get her to me.”

It came as a whisper, that answer. It came, at last, because I couldn’t escape the vulnerability in Thea’s eyes. It came, at last. because the pain in her words refused to let me forget. It came, at last, because her suffering and searching couldn’t be dismissed. I finally saw Thea…someone who was desperate to know she was loved and accepted by God. 

“Say whatever you need to say to get her to me.” 

“And don’t forget…in order for Thea to get to Me, she will have to go through you first.”

All the clamor and chaos that results from all the shouting and demanding that people hold a particular view on a particular issue is mere distraction. 

All the posturing that says real believers must interpret scripture on a particular topic one particular way is diversion. 

Christians pick a fight with each other, and then wage war against groups in culture that promote something other than their declared agenda. All the while, the Theas in world are just trying to figure out if God loves them or if God is really as angry, and hateful, and judgmental as the people who worship him. It’s no wonder some decide against God.

“Say whatever you need to say to get her to me. And don’t forget…in order for Thea to get to Me, she will have to go through you first.”

One of the notions of my fundamental upbringing was that having the correct opinion on certain issues was of utmost importance. That subjected me to a fear that kept me bound in a lie that said if I didn’t get it all right, I was paving my own road to hell. I lived as if my salvation hinged on my ability to read scripture and arrive at particular ‘proper’ view of some complicated and nuanced issue. What I’ve learned, however, is to require certainty as the price of admission for relationship with God will backfire…and I found myself having missed the mark entirely.
Some things you are forced to learn.

My ecclesiastical roots led me to believe that the “right” position on human sexuality or abortion or women in ministry determined my access to God. I had come to assume that acquiring correct biblical understanding of hot-button issues was more important then the someone who are brave enough to ask the questions in the first place. 

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul says that nothing matters without the presence of love. 
Hear that? 
Hear it. 
No thing.

If I correctly exegete the scriptures about the sanctity of life in the womb, but don’t do it with love…

If I decisively articulate the scriptural basis for egalitarian marriages, but do not have love…

If I can fathom all facets of the arguments on human sexuality, but am found without love…

it’s all nothing. For nothing. Means nothing. Changes nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“Say whatever you need to say to get her to me. And don’t forget…in order for Thea to get to Me, she will have to go through you first.”

Thea wanted to know if God loved and accepted her. I now understood that I needed to get Thea to God. And the first place she could have access God’s love and acceptance was  me. All of a sudden, all the varying opinions on the bible’s view of lesbian relationships didn’t matter anymore. I now understood my role.

---- The third, and final, part of “A Scandalous Exchange” 
will be posted in the next few days. ----

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