God’s Watch Is Slow

What do I mean by that title? It conjures up a mental picture of some big man (or woman for some of you) glancing anxiously at a watch on his wrist, doesn’t it? But of course the meaning here is metaphorical, God no more has a watch than a wrist to wear it on. So what do I mean?

Sometimes when we pray for a blessing from God in some particular area we are struggling in, and it doesn’t come as soon as we think it should, we grow impatient with God, perhaps even angry. We are expecting God to give us what we think we need on our schedule and our watch is fast. It tells us we need this thing we ask for right now, or maybe in a week if we can’t have it right away. But surely a month is the longest it should take. I’ve been guilty of this many times. How about you?

Sometimes, God does just that for us. Sure, His blessings can rain down as soon as we offer the prayer or get prayed for, like my sister-in-law who was instantly healed of her joint problems when a friend of mine prayed for her at our church. It can and does happen. But more often God’s watch tends to run slower than ours. We pray and pray but nothing seems to change. A week goes by, then a month, then a year, then five years and still our blessing hasn’t come in a way we recognize. We begin to doubt, to lose hope. Has God abandoned us? Not in the slightest.

Some blessings take longer than others, not because they somehow require a more strenuous effort from our all powerful God, but because God has already decided on the best time to give us this blessing we need. In these situations it is God’s love that makes him tarry with our blessing. God knows us all intimately, down to the very last detail, He knows our needs and wants, and He knows when and how His blessings will be most beneficial.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve wanted to be married since I was 20-years-old, I’ve wanted it so bad it hurt sometimes. I am now about as old as H.G. Wells was when he first published The Time Machine (if you wish to know his age at that time, I’d suggest a Google search) and still have not managed to tie the knot. I do have a date set now, however, as well as the person I will be getting married to. That blessing has been a long time coming and it’s still not here yet, though it’s certainly within view.

Why didn’t God help me find my future spouse at age 20? Well, He actually did, we just weren’t ready for the level of commitment marriage requires. Looking back at the personal growth we’ve both made in the intervening years, I can say this honestly. We’ve grown as people and we’ve grown as a couple. We’ve gone through many of the hardships a married couple faces and once or twice we almost didn’t make it. We’ve had to learn and relearn what it means to really be a couple a number of times. Now about the only obstacle between us and marriage is finances, but I believe God is already beginning to work for us on that score as well.

My fiancee and I have both been through a lot and have had to put off getting married longer than I would have liked, but these trials and delays were necessary for us to grow as people. If we hadn’t grown together, apart, and then back together again as much as we have, it’s likely we could not have survived being married to each other. Many couples don’t have to deal with these kinds of challenges until they’re already married; for example, my sister married the man who is now her husband after being engaged to him for less than a year. They are still together and have a 6-month old daughter. Their case was different from mine and my fiancee’s, we both have had identity issues to iron out over the years, as well as anger issues, trust issues, and a couple more kinds of issues I’ve forgotten. God treats each case differently, He knows perfectly well what we need and when we need it most.

So as tempting as it is to rail at God when good things don’t come to us exactly when we think they should, it would be better if we could take a deep breath and consider whether God has a good reason for delaying. Is there something else God is trying to grow in us so we might be better prepared to receive the blessing we’re asking of him? Just because some blessings come quickly, doesn’t mean a delay is indicative of refusal. Our God is a good God, perhaps we should learn to trust His timing.

Room at the Table – A Thanksgiving Reflection

As a child, I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in our home were always a big production. This was the time of year when mom and dad would pull the extra table leaves out of storage and magically make the dining room table two-sizes bigger to accommodate all the family and other guests who would gather at the table.

The table itself was then impeccably decorated with the finest China we owned, appointed with freshly polished, real silverware and glimmering gravy boats and bowls taken out only for these special occasions. In the end, the turkey, ham, stuffing, gravies, potatoes, yams and vegetables made the already beautiful table smell so good. You couldn’t wait to sit down at that table and take part in the family fellowship.

However, as a child, that beautiful and bountiful table was not set for you. Instead, there was a bare, rickety card table, holding the barest essentials of salt, pepper, and the everyday plates, cups and bent and marred tableware. This was called, “The Children’s Table,” and it was far less inviting and appetizing than “The Adult Table.”

You knew, though, that you had graduated in both age and respect within the family when one day, as you headed over the adult table to fix your plate and take your usual place at the lowly children’s table, one of your parents stopped you and pointed out that you now had a place set at the adult table.

What a glorious day that is … to graduate from the children’s table, where your cousins and siblings had begun to make the meal unbearable with their childish talk and antics … up to the deeper, more engaging conversations at the adult table.

As we consider the state of the world today, however, we can see that many segments of our own society remain at the spiritual children’s table … relegated to the margins, given scraps from the adult table with their real needs largely ignored. Our world has increasingly segregated itself into separate tables where the like-minded, or the ethnically or spiritually similar all gather together, excluding those who don’t think, or look, or worship as they do.

This is not the state of the world that the Holy calls us to tolerate. Instead, the Holy commands us to make room at the table for everyone. There are no children or adult tables, white or black or brown tables, LGBT or straight tables, Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Tea Party tables. There are no Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist tables.

There is but one table in this world – the table of unity – that the Holy calls us to create, not just in this world, but in our own heart. We cannot relegate anyone to the children’s table of this world, no matter how different or other we may consider their ways and beliefs to be. Instead, the Holy calls us to constantly say, “Yes,” to those who seek to come to our table, to put in a few more leaves and magically expand the feast to fit everyone who seeks room at the table.

Here Comes More of the Persecution Complex

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” wrote second century Christian theologian Tertullian. And during his June 30th mass this year, Pope Francis agreed: “The Church grows thanks to the blood of the martyrs. This is the beauty of martyrdom.”

There’s a sense, then, in which Christianities have historically wavered between a persecution complex and the desire to dominate over and control the world’s morality. Christian denominations have had as their goal, after all, the conversion of everyone to their own position as if the old saying is: “The more the truer.”

And they’re not alone. Modern defenders notwithstanding, Buddhist religions have flourished most when they were embraced by governments as have multiple Islams. Confucian ethics became culturally Chinese when the Han dynasty enforced it as a political philosophy, and Shinto has always been tied to the status of the Japanese emperor.

Even Hindu sects became strongest when the kings of India endowed their temples and deities. While in the modern period most traditions have justified nationalisms that combine religious identities and politics.

The sense of being persecuted has been a rallying cry provoking the faithful to protect their brand and even take up arms. Pacifists in these traditions may claim that they have the truer view of each faith, but history shows that often a sense of one’s religion being persecuted has led to violent defensive measures by the fearful.

That defense spawns efforts to get governments on the side of the faith for both self-protection and to enforce a sense that right is confirmed by might. We have certainly seen this in the rise of the Christian right-wing in late twentieth-century US politics.

The need to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation and also to make it so in the last fifty years has been a major thrust of right-wing religion. Yet the ever-increasing evidence that in spite of their financial and emotional investments, culture is moving further and further away from their sectarian vision of a Christian society, especially among younger generations, makes people who say “God is in charge” but down deep fear that’s not true, slide back into that persecution complex.

The pushers/dealers of addictive religion know that the fear of literal or figurative martyrdom can energize their devotees to action. Hence, the message of the day is: “We are the truly persecuted; we must therefore take the position of martyrs and fight our way out.

No more is this true than in the response to the issue of marriage equality. State by state, the barriers to it have fallen and the end of every state bans looks inevitable.

They now accuse both conservative and liberal judges of being activists who are discriminating against the sectarian right-wing. “Activist judges” as a label, after all, refers to those who decide against the right-wing.

Politicians must, therefore, figure out how to play to this right-wing religious base in the midst of the inevitable movement of history. They must show that they are willing to stand by the gate as the liberal hoards burst through to prove to the right-wing that as politicians they are moral, Christian people — though they know that this tactic will only be useful symbolically for a few more election cycles.

The strategy of right-wing tacticians has changed in turn. It’s now to use the courts and state legislatures to defend themselves from w what they call anti-religious discrimination.

We’ve already seen this in state legal attempts to “protect” businesses from having to serve LGBT people based on sectarian religious beliefs. Think of martyr Melissa Klein, the Oregon baker who shut down her bakery rather than serve gay and lesbian couples and incur a fine for discrimination, framing her martyrdom as the government destroying her career and forcing her to close her business because she stood up for her faith.

The famous Hobby Lobby case has set a precedent for more of the same in spite of any Supreme Court attempts to portray it otherwise. State legislatures will be seeking more exemptions to allow some groups, companies, and people with religious objections to refuse benefits or service for gay spouses, hoping to find themselves before judges with ideologies like those behind the Hobby Lobby decision.

The pattern to be followed, Michelangelo Signorile reported from this fall’s Values Voter Summit, will be similar to right-wing attacks on Roe v. Wade. They’ll have to seek “incremental” wins, Frank Schubert, the mastermind behind the Proposition 8 campaign in California and other marriage ban campaigns across the country, told Signorile, just as they’re doing to chip away slowly at abortion rights, which of course has been very successful. They’ll have to the find the gay “version” of “partial birth abortion,” Schubert said.

All of this, then, has the potential of fueling lucrative new fundraising for religious right-wing leaders. No longer will they be able to raise money with the treat of the legality of everyone getting married to whomever they love.

And the avalanche of victories for marriage equality will be proof to those desperate for such religious and political leadership that they are losing in the battle of the last decades to try to take over the nation. The fight will be more desperate, for the message is that the left is coming to take their very souls.

The fight will now continue on this front and will include lies told by the right-wing in the name of righteousness. Expect many fabricated stories of discrimination like those we’ve seen before. Expect those who get needed attention as martyrs to exaggerate, embellish, and create a constant supply of horrors.

This is when we’ll have to be clear about how what they’ll be doing is a re-definition of the separation of church and state, a re-definition of persecution, and a re-definition of freedom. We’ll have to call “sectarian” what they’re doing, not “Christian.” And we’ll have to be prepared in turn for some very nasty attacks in the name of religion.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

Sisterhood of the Traveling Undies: A Short Story

LINDSAY leaned over her computer keyboard, intent on the spaceman-green letters on the screen. Though her typing 201 class still used manual typewriters, here in Mr. Coyote’s Business Machines the school went high-tech. The teacher glided past Lindsay’s row like a phantom, peering down at his students through glasses that made his eyes look like pickled eggs. As he passed Lindsay’s friend Candy, who sat beside her, Candy stifled a giggle. She wore baby doll t-shirts, and Mr. Coyote always ogled her boobs.

“Uncle Pervie,” she whispered to Lindsay, as Mr. Coyote finished his rounds. They watched him steal into the mimeograph room, where, they suspected, he got high sniffing ink fumes.

“If you think that’s what he’s doing, you should tell somebody,” Lindsay told Candy.

Candy wrinkled her nose. She did that a lot, because it was cute. “Who doesn’t know it already? Adults don’t care if other adults are perverts. We live in Soap Opera World.”

Lindsay thought Candy had to be wrong. Surely older people still did the right thing, at least some of the time. “If you didn’t act like you enjoyed it, he wouldn’t zero in on you.” And Mr. Coyote did behave like Wile E. when he was around Candy. She might not be a roadrunner, but all the guys, from sixteen to sixty, thought she was a fox.

Lindsay thought so, too, though she couldn’t admit it. Nor could she gape at Candy’s boobs. Friends didn’t do things like that to each other. Especially not when their friends were other girls.

Since she always tried to do the right thing, Lindsay doggedly dated guys. She kept hoping she’d break down and fall in love with one. Now she was dating Rex, another football player with a million hands. That Saturday evening they went to the movies, she reminded him yet again that she was a Christian and didn’t go past first base, and afterwards — so late her mother glared at her for getting a phonecall — she heard from Candy.

“I’m gonna be in so much trouble,” Candy gushed. “You won’t believe what happened!”

“Try me.” Where Candy was concerned, Lindsay would believe almost anything.

“Well, I was babysitting for the Gherkins. Another whole, entire Saturday evening, wasted! But Robb came over, after I put Gigi and Georgie to bed. And we…well, you know…we messed around. Then it was almost time for the Gherkins to get home, so of course I had to make the bed…”

“You made out in their bed?” Lindsay was incredulous.

“Of course we did. Where else were we gonna do it? Anyway, I tried and tried to find my panties, but they were, like, gone, you know?”

Lindsay struggled to keep up. “You lost your underpants in their bed?”

“That sort of shit happens sometimes, you know? Only every other time, I always found them.” There was a shaky breath at the other end of the line. “I had to stop looking, you know? I mean, Robb barely got out the back door and over the fence before they came in.”

This wasn’t even her problem, but Lindsay’s head was reeling. “So your underpants are still stuck somewhere in between those people’s covers!”

“I’ve got to tell you, Lindsay, I don’t know what she’s gonna do when she changes the sheets. She’ll, like, find them, you know? And what’ll she think?

“I don’t know what she’ll think.” Though actually, Lindsay had a pretty good idea. Mrs. Gherkin would find panties not her own, and she would think Mr. Gherkin was having an affair.

Candy laughed nervously. “Well, hey, it’s 1979, you know? People are pretty cool about those things nowadays. She and Mr. Gherkin will probably just have a very interesting conversation.”

Lindsay imagined they’d have an interesting conversation, indeed. Probably involving lawyers, over who’d get custody of little Gigi and Georgie. “I…can’t tell you what Mrs. Gherkin might think,” she told Candy. If Candy couldn’t figure it out, Lindsay doubted it would do much good for her to tell her. “She’ll probably never ask you to babysit again,” she said, knowing that was all Candy would care about.

A snort came down the line. “Which only means that from now on, Robb and I would have Saturdays for ourselves. And he always pays for everything, so it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I didn’t have any money.”

Though Candy always wore blue jeans — the tighter the better — she’d been born without a clue gene. She had no idea the trouble she was bringing down on innocent people. She didn’t need to worry the trouble would fall on her; she’d never even own up to it. Lindsay could already hear her, facing the Gherkins and their lawyers with her Little Orphan Annie face and telling them she had no idea whose underpants had made their way, like the Serpent of Eden, into their matrimonial bed.

If Lindsay had never heard about this nonsense, it would be none of her business. But she had, and so it was. She was a Christian; she knew her duty. Once God had thrust the knowledge upon her, the responsibility became hers. Somehow, however improbably, she had to make this right.

“The time is out of joint,” she read in Hamlet. “O cursed spite, That I was ever born to set it right.” Surely there was a reason they were reading Hamlet right now in Mrs. Mason’s English class. But whole precious days went by, and — like the ill-fated Prince of Denmark — Lindsay stayed silent. “I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall.” She kept her head down, kept studying hard, kept dating Rex the mutant octopus and remained a dutiful believer.

Then came another Friday, three weeks later, when Candy slunk into class with her own head down. Her cheeks burned with what, had this been anybody but Candy, Lindsay would have taken for shame. “You won’t believe what’s happening now,” Candy murmured as they took their seats before the ten-key adding machines in Mr. Coyote’s classroom.

“Probably not,” Lindsay said, checking to see where the teacher was. Mr. Coyote was safely on the other side of the room, dropping his chalk, picking it up and sneaking a peek up Kathy Grady’s skirt.

“Mrs. Gherkin called me last night to say they don’t need me to babysit anymore.” Candy wasn’t following the worksheet at all. She was punching dumb, random numbers into her machine — multiplying tens of thousands until the keys jammed.

“She found the underpants,” Lindsay guessed.

“I suppose she did.” Candy gave her adding machine a whack to unjam it.

“That’s really rough.” Lindsay wouldn’t preach. Friends didn’t do that. “Getting fired must be terrible.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly get fired.” Candy prettily bit her lip, popping open the adding machine and rooting around inside with a pencil. “They sort of…laid me off. They’re selling the house and moving, you see. Mr. Gherkin’s moving to one place, and Mrs. Gherkin’s moving to another, because they’re getting a divorce.”

Cold horror descended upon Lindsay. “Do you…know what for?”

Candy scowled, slamming the top of her adding machine shut. “How the hell would I know? I mean, it’s not like it’s any of my business.”

Lindsay started to tell her that it certainly was her business, and why, but there, looming behind them, was Mr. Coyote. “Young lady,” he cooed, his pickled eggs on Candy’s bosom as he leaned over her, “when you have a problem with one of these machines, call me and let me fix it.”

While the teacher stood breathing on them, Lindsay wasn’t about to say a word. She just sat and stewed. Whether he would pay attention to their conversation, however, was debatable. If she mentioned the word “panties,” he’d be all ears. Otherwise, he could be remarkably obtuse.

Besides business machines, it appeared to Lindsay that Mr. Coyote focused only on sex and sleep. Lindsay and Candy’s friend Helena — affectionately known to the student body as Javelina — had him two years prior for Driver’s Ed. He was little help as an instructor, because he took little catnaps on every drive. Not that Javelina ever minded. Once, before he woke up, she took him halfway from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

“Thanks, Mr. Coyote,” Candy said, in her Marilyn Monroe voice, when he presented the restored machine to her. Lindsay was actually grateful for the time-out. She’d decided exactly what to do.

“I’m going to help you,” she promised Candy when Mr. Coyote had disappeared into the mimeograph room.

For reasons she didn’t understand, any other friend to whom she said this would have looked at Lindsay in horror. Candy merely beamed. “Cool! Oh, Lindsay, you’re a true friend!”

Lindsay’s heart skipped a beat. Making Candy smile was the closest she would ever get to ogling her boobs. After Lindsay did what she had to do, Candy would never even smile at her again. Though she should be glad she was being saved from causing a divorce, she’d probably hunt Lindsay down and beat the crap out of her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That Saturday afternoon, Lindsay went over to the Gherkins’ house. She knew who they were and where they lived because before Candy had become their babysitter, the job of sitting for the then-infant Gigi had belonged to Lindsay’s older sister, Ruthie. The wildest and most rebellious thing Ruthie had ever done was drag Lindsay along with her. There was a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and as Lindsay parked her ’67 Dart at the front curb, the gravity of the events Candy had set in motion really hit. Lindsay wished Ruthie wasn’t away at college, so she could drag her along with her.

When Mrs. Gherkin answered the door, she seemed friendly enough to Lindsay. She invited her in, gave her a glass of iced tea, and motioned her into a big, leather armchair that let out a thunderous farting noise when she sat down, opposite two more just like it. In one of those sat a fat little guy with a bald head and hair growing out of his ears. Mrs. Gherkin introduced him as Marcus Pomeroy, her attorney.

Mrs. Gherkin sat in the third chair, primly ignoring another fart. “How can we help you?” she asked Lindsay with a polite smile.

Lindsay just stared at them for a very long moment. She’d known exactly what she wanted to say — until now, when it was time to say it. She planned on saying it eloquently, as a Shakespearean character might: “That which I would uncover, The law of friendship bids me to reveal.” Now, in her mind, it all sounded stupid. It scrambled up inside her skull like an omelet.

“I don’t like feeling disloyal to my friends,” Lindsay blurted at last, “but those underpants you found in your bed were Candy’s.” She’d come there to say that, though she’d rehearsed getting the words out in a way less-incriminating to Candy. But one way or another, it had to be said, and she’d said it. If Candy didn’t forgive her, Lindsay would simply have to live with that.

Lindsay started to add something that might make Candy look better, but at the cold look on Mrs. Gherkin’s face her tongue froze. “Did you hear that, Marcus?” the woman demanded to her lawyer. “Peter’s been screwing a high school girl!”

Mr. Pomeroy’s piggy eyes gleamed. “That should up our ante considerably.”

“Oh, no!” Now Lindsay had to set the record straight. “No, Candy had her boyfriend over while you guys were out, and she was…fooling around in your bed with him.

The tension oozed out of Lindsay like the air from a balloon. She sank back in that whoopee-cushion of a chair, waiting for the happiness — the sheer relief — to overtake Mrs. Gherkin. Instead, the lady and her lawyer gaped in what looked, to Lindsay, a lot like disappointment.

“Oh…no,” Mr. Pomeroy said.

“Oh, no!” said Mrs. Gherkin.

“There goes the sailboat,” said Mr. Pomeroy.

Mrs. Gherkin put her head in her hands. “We can kiss the cabin in Prescott goodbye, too!”

Lindsay was mystified. “But now that means you and Mr. Gherkin can stay married!”

Mrs. Gherkin peeked out from between her fingers. “Young lady, you just cost us at least two hundred thousand dollars.”

They hustled Lindsay out the door without even letting her finish her iced tea. She sat for a while in her Dart, wondering why she’d gotten a reaction she would have expected only Candy deserved. As she ground the tired old engine to a start and lumbered off toward home, she realized that older people probably did what was right a whole lot less often than she’d wanted to believe. By the time she turned the corner off of the Gherkins’ street, it occurred to her that people who loved those they were supposed to might not be any more moral than people who didn’t.

Lindsay supposed that in a way, Candy had done her a huge favor. A much bigger one, certainly, than Candy would ever think Lindsay had done for her. That more than made up, Lindsay had to conclude, for the fact that Candy might never smile at her again.

That night over pizza and root beer, Lindsay broke up with the Octopus. All she knew, at the moment, was that she didn’t want to date any more guys. The rest of it, she’d just have to figure out later. Candy was right about one thing: it was 1979, and the world was changing fast.

When I Doubt

It is said that one who has never doubted has never had their faith tested, this is never a comfort when you’re experiencing doubt, but it’s still important to remember. We need our faith to be challenged now and then, if only to determine what we really believe or how strongly we believe it. Sometimes we find that we have believed wrongly about something in these moments of doubt, other times we hold on to what we believe already and trust God to fortify our belief.

I recently had such an experience with a friend of mine who is also a Christian. This friend has not had the best experiences with the lgbt community and judges all who are part of the community by those few bad apples he’s met and observed. He also uses his knowledge of scripture to condemn lgbt people, unless they allow God to change who they are, that is. Needless to say, this friend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. He is especially offended by transsexuals; he begins from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender as well as a complete misconception of what gender reassignment surgery is. It doesn’t get better from there, I have tried to help him understand these things as they really are but he will not hear it.

So, recently he introduced me to an old doubt that has come up again and again in my life. “Is it wrong to be transgender?” I sometimes ask myself. “Does God really prefer that we stay within the binary genders the doctors assign us at birth?” I ask myself these questions in moments of doubt and I’m just not certain of the answers. It tests my faith and taxes my belief, so far I have always maintained what I believe and ridden out the storm until it passed. It can be emotionally exhausting and the amount of negative reinforcement I get from other Christians and the culture at large threatens to swallow me up at times.

But just as it’s true that doubt is needed to test our faith, sometimes bringing necessary correction, it is also true that God rewards the faithful. I read a news story earlier this year about a transwoman who heard the call of God to devote her life to Him by becoming a nun. When she chose to accept this call a way was provided for her in the form of a Carmelite order that welcomed her as one of their own. God asked this woman to become a nun, He didn’t ask her to reverse her surgery so she could be a monk, he didn’t chastise her for “mutilating her body”, as my friend would have put it, He told her to be a nun, to devote herself to Him just as she was. Not only that, but He made it possible for her to do so, He opened that door for her Himself.

I think about this story and I just can’t buy that God’s love for the trans community is conditional. My friend would have me believe that God requires us all to identify with the genders we were assigned at birth and that if we “mutilate our bodies” with surgery in order to change them we are violating God’s law. What’s more, he believes that God actually wants him to treat transfolk like the freakshows he sees us as. There is no sense that he should be unconditional with the love he shows or the respect he gives.

I am not a transsexual myself and have therefore no desire to receive sex reassignment surgery, but I fully support any of my trans brothers and sisters who feel they must have it. Their walk with God is as different from mine as their walk with life, I have to believe that those brothers and sisters of mine who have faith are just as beloved to God before and after their transitions. The body is just a shell, it is our hearts and souls that matter most to God.

I still hold out hope that God will change the heart of my friend toward the lgbt community and transfolk in particular. I think in time He will, though doubt currently discourages me on this point. Until such time I simply need to whether the storm and remember what I believe. God will take care of the rest.

Are You Hearing Voices?

Who do we turn to when things go wrong? Who can be counted on to never leave our side? To always be there when we need them? Scripture tells us that God can be trusted for this, that in fact Jesus died and was raised again so that we could have a deeper connection with God the Father, that through Jesus the Spirit of God lives in us. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we go through, God is always looking out for us.

Who can we count on to tell us who we are? To remind us when we forget, or when we just aren’t sure anymore. Our culture has many answers to this question. Corporations try to tell us who we are and what we need every day. Sociologists have told us that we are nothing more than the sum total of the influences of our social environment; including our family, our friends, the TV, movies, and anyone and everyone we happen to meet along the way. At least that’s what the sociologists I’ve talked to have to say about it.
But let us not forget society itself, which is proud to tell us that we are either a man or a woman, pink or blue, normal or not normal. Society never fails to tell us when we transgress the written and unwritten rules of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.

Yet here again, the real answer is that God can be counted on to tell us our real identity and to remind us when we forget. God transcends the limits of culture, family, the media, and society. Many well meaning people can twist God’s words to us and tell us lies about who we are. I’ve certainly experienced that, have you? But though God loves all of his children, He doesn’t necessarily speak through all of them. He will always be honest with you, may even tell you things you don’t want to hear. Yet he never speaks guilt or shame into you when He speaks.

Anytime you hear a voice speaking guilt or shame into you, be it external or internal, know that this is not God. God is always proud of you, even when you mess up. He may correct you, but God’s correction will always build you up, not tear you down.
In the course of our lives we may hear many voices that try to tell us who we are. We may hear it from the movies or TV shows we watch, we may hear it from people trying to sell us something. We may hear it from family or friends, from politicians, or our own church leaders. We may hear it from strangers on the street who are bursting with opinions, willing to share them anyone owning a functional pair of ears.

Every day we are bombarded with messages about who we are or what we need, most of which are either false or irrelevant. Some sound good and yet simply aren’t true. Others are hurtful and are definitely untrue. Some of the most negative messages come from within ourselves; they can sound like still small voices and doesn’t God speak in a still small voice? And yet these inner voices can speak condemnation to us, telling us we are worthless, not normal, not right with God, etc. But again, we must remember that God does not speak condemnation to us. Often our inner voices are fed by culture, by media, by our social environment. Some days our past can speak lies to us: “You won’t amount to anything. You never have, don’t you remember?” or “You poison everything, look at the number of friends you’ve lost over the years.”

But God can cut through all these voices if we listen for Him, remembering that His words always encourage, even when they aren’t what we want to hear. It is sometimes difficult to hear God through the many voices of culture, society, and the inner dialogue of our own thoughts. Some people may even have other obstacles between them and God’s voice, such as my friends who suffer from schizophrenia. But God’s voice is always there, patiently reminding us who we are, we just have to listen; some of us may have to listen harder than others. And even if we can’t hear Him, we must remember that He is still there.

A simple trick to remember if we can’t hear God is this one that I use all the time: anytime you have a negative thought or feeling that’s weighing you down, embrace its opposite, even when it doesn’t feel true. God’s voice is never oppressive, so if you’re feeling oppressed it’s not from God. This technique deceptively simple, so simple we may be tempted to dismiss it. “It can’t be that easy,” we think. But in a way it is.

I myself have spent a significant portion of my life battling depression. The last few years of my life have not been good ones. I’ve lost friends, been denied many job opportunities, and am currently struggling with a mountain of student debt I acquired while studying for a degree that has yet to pay off for me. Time and time again I apply for work, sometimes I even get an interview, but I’m always passed up.

My depression would have me believe that there is no future for me, that I am beyond hope. But this is not what God has to say to me, I know that because it is not in His nature to be so cruel. And in my worst moments I find that reminding myself of this opens the door to hearing from God. I start remembering other things my God has promised me, and before long it’s like God and I are having a lengthy chat about what He thinks of me.

This approach isn’t perfect, it’s just as prone to human error as any other, but with practice it can be a useful tool. God always meets us halfway anytime we attempt to find Him in the midst of our circumstances. The truth is, when we try to seek him, we often find He’s already been trying to get our attention for quite some time.

God is always speaking, and if we let it, His voice can be much louder in our ears than any of the other voices speaking in or around us. Many will try to distract us from the voice of our God, but in the end it is we who choose what voices to listen to. Practice makes perfect.

Balancing Solitude and Solidarity in the New Whosoever Community

I learned recently that there are a lot of folks who think my wife Wanda and I are weird. We were at dinner recently with a couple of friends who were talking about another couple we know and I looked at Wanda and said jokingly, “Y’know, I wonder what they say about us when we’re not around?”

I didn’t expect an answer, but they were quick to tell us: “Oh, everybody just thinks you two are strange because you don’t do a lot of things together.”

Wanda and I kind of laughed about that, but upon reflection, I suppose we are kind of strange in that way. I don’t like camping, so Wanda goes camping with other people.

Wanda doesn’t care for bookstores, or writing retreats, or music camps, theological events or beer festivals, so I tend to go by myself or with others. One of the features we even liked about the house we own is that it allows me to be in the office doing what I want to do and her being in another part of the house doing what she wants to do.

Which is not to say that we don’t spend time together and enjoy it. We do, but it has been the time apart that has helped us stay together. We’ve encountered other couples who have to do things together all the time, even though one may not like the activity all that much. Or, one person in the couple doesn’t get to do their favorite activity because the other won’t go along or doesn’t want them to do that activity without them or with others.

Wanda and I, however, have a natural rhythm of alone and together time, but sometimes that, too, can get out of whack. There are some times that one is the loneliest number, when we’ve been apart too long and we begin to get lonely, or take the other person for granted or lose our intimate connection. There are also times when we can be together for too long and then two can become as bad as one … when we’re getting on each other’s nerves and snapping at each other.

The key to any relationship, I believe, is striking that balance between being apart and being together, between pursuing individual fulfillment and coming back together to dream common dreams.

Our personal relationships, then, are a microcosm of this larger world we live in. Each of us needs some time for personal retreat, but stay too long and you may become a lonely world-avoiding hermit. Every human being is a social creature who needs to joy and comfort of a community, but if we stay too long, we can find ourselves feeling lonely even in a crowd as we come to expect too much from those around us, asking the community to give us what we can only find in solitude.

Instead, we are called to find a balance between solitude and solidarity.

A Healing Community

Even Jesus knew how important this balance can be. In Luke 5:15-25, the story begins with Jesus retreating to “deserted places” to pray. But, by now, Jesus’ popularity has grown around the area and whenever he shows up, a crowd seems to gather, so he finds he must balance his solitude with his public ministry.

This passage gives us a clue on how to do that. As Jesus was preaching and healing inside of a home, the crowds were so large that some men who were carrying a paralyzed man on a bed could not get him in to see Jesus. So, ingenious fellows that they were, they climbed up to the roof and ripped a hole in it so they could lower the man down to Jesus.

What does this teach us about making room for being alone and together? First, it teaches us the danger of spending too much time alone. I understand this danger, because I tend to be a bit of a hermit. Given the choice of staying home or going out, I’m more apt to stoke the home fires than light up the night on the town.

Those of us who tend to hibernate are like this paralyzed man — we can no longer get out and function in the world. We’re so stuck in our caves that going out into the light of day can be painful, so we stay where we are, paralyzed with fear, or loneliness, or both.

This is where the community becomes important for hermits like me. It took a community to bring this paralytic man outside and get him the healing he desperately needed. This is the role of community — to heal us, to help us become whole, functioning human and divine beings, to hold us accountable and give us a sense of belonging.

Spend too much time alone and you become certain that you don’t belong anywhere. This is one of the major causes of depression in our society. People believe they don’t belong, that no one cares and no one would miss them if they were gone for good.

This is the calling of community, to seek out the paralyzed and get them what they need to be healed, even if we have to tear off the roof to accomplish that. This is the entire purpose of our new Whosoever Community, to seek out those paralyzed by isolation, loneliness or in the grip of the lie that they cannot reconcile their sexuality and spirituality and practice both with integrity and help them heal so they can take up their mats and walk as whole human beings.

In this new community, we come together to support one another, to grow our own faith and provide a safe and sacred place to explore both our sexuality and spirituality without the fear of being condemned for either.

I invite you to visit the Whosoever Community and see what we have to offer. Joining is easy and cheap — just $5 per month, or $50 each year (which includes two free months). Members have access to exclusive content such as podcasts, a chance to connect with LGBT Christians and straight allies in their area, message boards and live events such as book studies and special teaching and question and answer sessions.

As a community we’re called to provide for each other, whether that means giving love, friendship or just holding a space where those around us can be who they really are without fear or judgment. We are called to carry each other, to recognize our solidarity with one another and call each other into the wholeness of community life.

Go here to sign up to become part of the Whosoever Community!

Jesus Christ: Terrorist

A pastor friend of mine recently posted this status on Facebook: “‘Just follow my rules and behave, and nothing bad will happen to you,’ is the exact opposite of the message of Christ.”

It reminded me that the version of the Christian message I was given growing up as a child was even a bit more terrifying than that. I was told the “Good News” of Jesus could be summed up this way: “Do as I say, and nobody gets hurt.”

As a child, I didn’t question the message. I didn’t understand that the message was essentially the same that bank robbers, hostage takers and other terrorists use to keep their victims in line so they can get their way and control others.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith, that threat is even more menacing, since we are told from the get-go that if we even think about pursuing our God-given sexual orientation or gender identity, or give in to that “twisted gay theology,” or dare to see our differences as a “blessing,” we will get hurt. Of course, the church makes good on its threat to hurt us when we embrace how God has created us. We get criticized, yelled at, abused and finally kicked out of the church because of our failure to do as they believe God commands.

But, what they ultimately mean by getting “hurt” when we can’t keep the terroristic command to conform to compulsive heterosexuality is that we will go to hell. By daring to live into our sexual orientation or gender identity with honesty and integrity, these terroristic Christians warn us we’ll receive the worst “hurt” of all — eternal damnation in the hottest sections of a fiery and never-ending hell.

Ah, Hell …

Ah, hell … that place we like to send the people we don’t like, or the people we disagree with or those who dare to question our beliefs. We love the idea of hell because it’s a place we can consign those who don’t live up to our idea of morality. It’s a place we can put all those people who leave children or dogs in hot cars on a summer day. It’s the place we can put all those people who behead innocent journalists in the name of their bloodthirsty god, not to mention a place for anyone who professes allegiance to such a god. It’s the place we can send our political and religious foes to and feel superior about our own sense of morality.

But, if we believe in the message that Jesus actually did proclaim during his time on earth — y’know, that message that says, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” — how can we justify sending anyone, even those real terrorists who use the threat of pain, economic destruction and death to get their way, to a place of eternal damnation?

For me, a belief in a literal hell where people burn and are separated from God for all eternity, flies in the face of Jesus’ real message of grace that is freely given to everyone whether they “deserve” it or not.

Recently, a couple of good articles about hell — and how many people are beginning to get the idea that it probably doesn’t really exist — have been posted on Facebook. I highly recommend reading both of them to better understand the concept of hell, how it developed, and why it’s not really found within the teachings of either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures.

In this post, author Ken Dahl, gives us a wide ranging history on hell — how the concept was created and why it’s not a biblical concept at all.

The false concept of hell violates the nature of God, which is unconditional Love. It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God. It negates the full power of the cross of Christ. It goes against the testimony of the prophets; it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It violates the scriptures in their original languages. It violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the scriptures in the original languages. It goes against our conscience, and it goes against our hearts.

In this post, Benjamin Corey runs down the five reasons why the idea of hell is losing its cache with Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus is a terrorist.

The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just — but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them.” That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

What the Hell is the Point, Then?

Someone on Facebook, however, made the point that if everyone is saved, if there is no hell and grace is not a one-time-get-it-now-before-you-die kind of offer and God’s reconciling grace can even extend into eternity to save even someone like, y’know, Hitler, what’s the point of Christianity then? What’s the point of doing good, of being good, or evangelizing other people to accept your religion? Most importantly, if we all “get to heaven” when we die, what’s the entire point of salvation?

James Mulholland and Philip Gulley in the book, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, make a compelling argument for ditching the idea that Jesus died for our sins — that we must believe he died so that God would not hold our sins against us. In short, we’ve been taught that Jesus died to “atone” for our sins. That unless God took the life of his son as a “ransom” for our sins, God would have to hold each of us accountable for those sins. If that’s true, then Jesus had to die to protect us from God! What kind of God is that?

Instead, Mulholland and Gulley argue that the “forgiveness of sin didn’t require the death of Jesus. It only required God’s resolve to forgive. Grace isn’t about Jesus paying for our debts. It’s about God’s removing our transgressions, as far as the east is from the west.”

So, what got Jesus killed? Grace, according to these authors.

“The cross is simply one more sign of humanity’s consistent resistance to grace,” they write. “We silence any messenger who challenges our quest for a favored position.”

Moreover, we love to consign those kinds of messengers to hell, as well. But, once we understand the magnificent gift that grace really is, I think we can no longer believe in either a ransom theory of atonement or in a literal hell. This is no easy task, however, because we love to see those we hate burning in hell for all eternity because of how they treated us or those we love. A gift such as grace, that demands no repentance, no adherence to a particular religion’s set of doctrines and dogmas, and requires no confession of faith, seems deeply unfair to us. In our minds, we have to earn salvation. We have to be worthy of God’s grace.

This, Mulholland and Gulley argue, is exactly the sin we need to be saved from: our self-absorption, our belief that the world revolves around our judgments not just of ourselves, but of the world around us.

“Salvation,” Mulholland and Gulley write, “comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness.”

When Jesus gave us the greatest commandment, telling us to love God with all our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he was simply saying: “Don’t be self-absorbed.” Instead, we must step outside of ourselves and learn how to live into that unconditional love that God has for us, then extend it outward to everyone around us, friend and foe alike.

This kind of love is dangerous because it asks us to give up our ideas that our way of life, our way of belief, or our particular religion is the one, true and only way to reach God. Yes, this kind of view does make evangelism worthless if your goal in telling others about the God you serve is to “convert” them to your belief. If, however, your evangelism is about telling people about a God that offers unconditional love and grace, free of charge, abundantly and wastefully to anyone and everyone who will accept it regardless of human designations of race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, then your evangelism becomes full of purpose — that ultimate Holy purpose to help others find salvation by repenting of their own self-absorption.

As LGBT people, we have been held hostage to the image of Jesus as a terrorist long enough. We have to stop believing in any God that says, “Do as I say and nobody gets hurt.” Instead, we must turn to the true God that says, “Do as I say — love yourself and everyone around you unconditionally — and everyone will be saved.”

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

God and The Rainbow

Over the years I have heard a number of heteronormative Christians, some of them friends of mine, some of them complete strangers, complain about the LGBT appropriation of the rainbow as our symbol. “It was meant as a promise from God,” they complain, pointing to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis. And they’re right. That was the original symbolic meaning of the rainbow.

We are all familiar with the story of Noah’s ark, I trust, but let’s do a quick recap of it anyway. God sees how wicked His creatures have become apart from him and, despairing at the suffering and evil he sees in world, decides to destroy everything with a massive flood. But a certain man named Noah pleads with God to spare him and his family. After hearing the man’s case, God agrees and tells him to build a boat, collecting two of each animal. The flood comes, lasting 40 days and nights, and then the waters recede. When it’s all over, God puts a big rainbow in the sky as a promise that he would never destroy the world like that again.

So once again, our detractors are correct in saying that the rainbow was originally supposed to signify God’s promise to Noah. And even now that we know how rainbows are naturally formed, I still believe they hold that meaning. Yet our detractors are wrong to think the LGBT community’s use of the symbol is somehow a betrayal of that original meaning and therefore an affront to God.

In C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel, The Silver Chair, there is a scene where a certain sequence of words the heroes see carved in giant letters are explained to have originally had a different meaning than has been understood by the children and Puddleglum. It is explained that they used to be part of a longer phrase that pointed to the greatness of the civilization that built the city, now in ruins, which stands over them. This is thought by the speaker to cancel out the meaning the children gleaned from the words they saw. But on the heels of this Puddleglum offers the counter explanation that “[Aslan] was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” (Lewis, The Silver Chair)

Why am I quoting from a children’s fantasy novel? Because I think the point Puddleglum makes about the letters cut by the Giant King is just as applicable to God’s sending of the rainbow back in the days of Noah. If God is truly all-knowing then he would’ve already known in that day all the different meanings that would be attributed to this rainbow of His, perhaps even a few that have yet to turn up. I don’t know about you, but I would not worship a God I thought to possess only limited knowledge.

So He most certainly knew that gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgender folk would eventually come to call this symbol theirs. He knew that and He used it anyway. I submit that the rainbow was also intended as God’s promise for those of us who are not heteronormative. Our straight, cis-gender Christian brothers and sisters can’t claim any special place in God’s heart that is not already ours as well. Everyone is special, God loves all of us under that rainbow and He wants each and every one of us to come into His arms just as we are, He wants to admire the beauty he crafted in us. God does marvelous work, doesn’t he?

Christianity and Morality

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:102)

The above verses of Scripture show that we must strive to lay down our lives for God’s sake. It is in giving our bodies and minds over to Him that He can best use us; this entails sacrifice that must be considered our “reasonable service.” We are enjoined to struggle to increasingly lay our lives down so that God can use us; the more we give ourselves over to Him and His sovereign working in us, the more He can and will use us for His purposes.

Unfortunately, we often equate the manifestation of virtues deemed to be “moral” with Christianity itself. By equating the two we are in error and set ourselves up to be viewed as hypocrites. Many of God’s people sometimes behaved “immorally.”

For example, in our culture, incest is forbidden. Yet, Abraham, the father of the faith, the friend of god, married his half-sister. (Genesis 20:12) Lying is immoral. Yet, both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, lied to Abimelech (Genesis 20:5), as they had previously done with Pharaoh (Genesis 12:13) to ostensibly help save Abraham’s life. This role model of faith didn’t trust God enough to protect him, and was willing to let his wife be sexually used by others. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by the people of Sodom rather than let them homosexually rate the two angels sent by God. (Genesis 19:8) Rahab was a prostitute, yet considered by God to be a hero of faith. (Hebrews 11:31) David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and arranged the murder of his lover’s husband.

How can we reconcile our obligation not to lie, commit incest, offer our daughters to be raped, commit adultery, or murder with the standing of those who belong to God as His anointed ones? It is because “morals” are not the major part of the Christian message; our transgression of them is seen by God from the very foundation of the world.

Clearly, God’s ways and his assessment of people are not our ways. Before we were born He knew what we would do. Before they were even born He said, “… Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 8:13) Frankly, I much prefer Esau to the conniving Jacob who stole his brother’s birthright and conned his blind father into giving him Esau’s inheritance. Just one more example: before Ishmael was even born God said to Hagar, given to Abram by his wife Sarai to have sexual relations so as to beget a child, “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him …” (Genesis 16:12)

God’s people are all sinners and transgress morality. By equating morality with Christianity we do so at our peril. There are many atheists who are moral, decent people. What distinguishes the Christian from the atheist or anyone else is not only behavior that allows God’s light to shine through, but the faith we have in Him to keep His promises to us, to save and keep us, and to love and accept us, as He knew we would before we were even born. What defines a Christian is the knowledge that only God is our righteousness!

The Apostle Paul knew he was immoral. (Romans 7:15-25) Yet, he would say to the Sanhedrin, “…Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) He could only make this remarkable statement because he knew that he was a sinner in the very core of his being. Although he sought to present his body a living sacrifice and be transformed by the renewing of his mind, these actions were processes, not accomplishments. He knew that his faith was not defined by conventional morality, although he made it clear that we were not to use our liberty in Christ as a license to sin, hinder the Gospel, or to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble in the faith. He was able to have a clear conscience despite his sins and sin-nature because he trusted Christ to be his only righteousness and to deliver him to God as one whose sins were covered over by the shed Blood of Christ.

One of the most compelling reasons to take the Bible seriously is that it doesn’t sanitize the failings of God’s people. They commit incest, they murder, they are prostitutes, they are adulterers, and they are liars. Sometimes they don’t trust God. Even the father of faith, Abraham, after being called by God, Who appeared to him, and given the promises that He would “…make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great….” (Genesis 12:2,10) ran to Egypt because of a famine in the land that God promised him and his descendants.

What differentiates the Christian from all others lies not particularly in the area of morality, but lies in his or her tenaciously hanging onto God as his or her fortress, enabler, defender, and deliverer! And being LGBT isn’t immoral in the first place, so all of God’s children, chosen from the foundation of the world, have no reason to feel condemned by God!