That “other” person is someone I love!

I have traveled in the same circles with Ron Sider since I was in my twenties – actually ran into him on my son’s street a few weeks ago. I was profoundly influenced by Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I am a fan.

I say all that so my small criticism of what he recently said in Christianity Today is not taken as a slam. His article: Tragedy, Tradition, and Opportunity in the Homosexuality Debate: We need a better approach to the traditional biblical ethic on sexuality in the November 18 CT was passed around by some of my acquaintances and friends in the BIC, which made me wonder what it was all about. So I read it.

Here’s the gist: 1) He wants evangelicals to admit their track record on relating to: “gays” is tragic. 2) He makes a more-generous-than-usual argument about Biblical tradition that ends with the conclusion that everyone who is not in a lifelong heterosexual marriage should be celibate. 3) He ends with seeing the present argument as an opportunity: a) to do what it takes to nurture marriage, b) to listen to “gay people” c) To be nice: “Surely, we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to teach and nurture biblical sexual practice without ignoring, marginalizing, and driving away from Christ those who struggle with biblical norms.”

His thoughts seem revolutionary to some people. For instance, someone wrote in to voice their struggle with Ron’s assumption that gay people could be saved. Ron knows CT’s audience, so I appreciate his boldness. I saw that the moderator of our denomination and a bishop posted the article on Facebook. So he got some affirmation. One commenter said that he appreciated how a person of authority stated something that he had thought for a long time.

Is there an epidemic of early debate training?

Is there an epidemic of early debate training?

This is the one thing I offered on FB: “I don’t think I have ever been part of the ‘we’ Ron is talking about. I’ve certainly been listening to so-called gay people for my whole adult life. Just to be clear ‘gay’ people have been ‘us’ while ‘we’ have been dithering about ‘them.’”

Someone wrote in response to my thoughts: “clear?”

I guess my problem is not clear. So here I am writing about it.

For one thing, I have never been an evangelical. I officially left that fold (to the extent I was in it) when I became consciously part of the Brethren in Christ (that’s now another whole story, of course). I am fond of evangelicals, and I have ridden on their bus at times. I just wanted to miss all the excess Ron calls tragic. I am still getting tagged with the tragedy, but I tried to miss it. So when Ron says “we” need a better approach, I want to note that I did not adopt the former bad approach along with millions of other Christians.

For another thing, so-called “gay” people have been part of my life and part of the church for as long as I have been a part. The tone of the article sounds like “they” just got discovered and people should stop being reluctant to accept their existence! My views have developed along with the whole movement in the last 30 years, but my friendships with same-sex-attracted people have always been just that: friendships. They have been part of my “we.” When I think of the people Ron is talking about I think of faces, not some mysterious “other.” Christians belong to a transnational, transhistorical, transcultural body in the Spirit; only people who renounce Jesus could be considered truly “other,” I think – and we are called to love even them! So-called “gay” and so-called “straight” are called to the same allegiance and the same application of it.

We have tried to stay out of polarizing debates about sexuality during the life of Circle of Hope. But even we got blamed for the “tragic” behavior of evangelicals in the local gossip column! We ended up making our statement and trying to repair the divisions the “us” vs. “them” competition for the dominant, legalized thinking of the day caused in our community. I think we were pretty successful. But I suppose I am still sensitive about getting dragged into some loveless debate about some “thing,” when the “thing” happens to be someone I love.

Posted in Theological Help | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Despise the shame

حرام عليك (Haraam 3aleik) Shame on you!

That is the extent of the Egyptian Arabic Jonny has taught me and I still can’t pronounce it. (Shame on me!) According to him, it is an important phrase to know if you want to know about Egyptians and maybe the whole Middle East. He often calls them a shame culture. For people schooled in western philosophy and theology, the sociologists need to remind us that we are from a guilt culture. The generalizations of sociologists are hard to defend but they can be instructive to think about. Want to know more about how they label you? Here’s a full treatment of the building blocks of godless societies: fear, shame and guilt. It will help you get your mind around the ideas: link.

If you don’t want the full treatment, here’s the idea of what runs a shame culture:

Basically, shame is an act against the accepted system of values.  You feel shame when you are going against what others think you should be going with. It is especially activated when an outsider finds out that you have committed a shameful act. One author puts it this way: “He who has done a shameful deed must conceal it, for revealing one disgrace is to commit another disgrace.” There is an Arab proverb that says, “A concealed shame is two thirds forgiven.”

Dad loved Spade Cooley (and had a healthy shame attendant).

Dad loved Spade Cooley (and had a healthy shame attendant).

A 20th Century Syrian scholar, Kazem Daghestani, tells of an Arab husband who caught his wife in bed with another man. He drew a gun and pointed it at the couple while addressing the man. “I could kill you with one shot but I will let you go if you swear to keep secret the relationship you have had with my wife. If you ever talk about it I will kill you.” The man took that oath and left. The husband divorced his wife without divulging the cause. He was not concerned about the loss of his wife or her punishment but about his reputation. Public shaming and not the nature of the deed itself or the individual’s feelings had determined his action. That’s an old example from mid-twentieth century, but it is still applicable — and it tells the story of a lot of what happens in the Middle East. People are carrying secret shame.

You are probably carrying secret shame too, Egyptian or not. When you got up today, your “shame attendant” probably started doing its internal job. Maybe you looked in the mirror and said, “Yuck.” You got ready for a shower and it said, “Too fat. Too thin. Too hairy. Too out-of-shape. Too unnatractive to make love to.” The background music of our secret shame is playing all day and we never let anyone else hear it because that would feel even more shameful. So we end up dragged around by it all day; trying to feel better in spite of it all day. Right now as I write this, my left foot still hurts because I went down to the basement to turn on my laundry in the dryer (Forgot it last night, stupid) and I hit my foot on my toolbox. (Did not take it clear down to the workbench, lazy.) When I yelled in surprise and pain, my first thoughts were, “Why did you leave that there (you dummy!)?” And I also immediately thought that I did not want to tell Gwen I had hit my foot because she disapproves of me leaving my stuff lying around. My shame attendant was in full swing.

Continue reading

Posted in 1 Spiritual Discipline | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Christians are often in the forefront — note healthcare

It was quite a night last night at the BW PMs! I am still in wonder about all the stories I heard and experiences I had. We are alive in the Spirit. We are making a difference. People are seeking healing — and many are finding it, sometimes in surprising ways!

The church has always been full of surprises, hasn’t it? Historian Gary Ferngren writes that in 251 A.D., when Christians were still a small minority, the church in Rome took care of 1,500 widows, orphans, the sick and the dying. A century later, the church in Antioch supported twice as many. Out of this support network Christians created the world’s first hospitals.

machaChristians have often been in the forefront of improving the world. Just talk about this one thing: how we have contributed to health care, and we sound pretty amazing.  For instance, the Brethren in Christ Church began a hospital in the rural, far-reaches of Zambia in 1957 at Macha, a village 50 miles from the nearest town, Choma. Dr. Philip Thuma has served there for years. Under his leadership the hospital grew into an innovative and effective malaria research center. Now it is a 208-bed inpatient facility with an affiliated nursing school. The research on malaria has world-wide partners.

Continue reading

Posted in 3 The Mission | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

We are saved, not merely safe

Last night we had some interesting talkback in both PMs about my example of “hosting” our subway station at Broad and Ellsworth. I told what I thought was a humorous story that showed how hard it was for me to practice my convictions — I greeted a young woman in the station and then watched her remove herself to the far reaches of the platform. This struck a nerve in a few women. The nerve seemed reminiscent, to me, of a recent viral video of a woman walking silently through New York City for ten hours and enduring over 100 comments from men as she silently made her way.

Continue reading

Posted in 1 Spiritual Discipline | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

What I Learn from Project Runway

I discovered the other nightproject-runway-05 at the Love Feast that I might lose a couple of friends if I betrayed who won Project Runway last Thursday. Life is now DVR’d so there is no shared sense of real time — I forget these things. I am forbidden to disturb the perfect isolation of someone’s relationship with the screen. So now that I am down a few lines and have issued the spoiler alert, it was Sean from New Zealand, not Amanda from Nashville, Kini from Hawaii or Char from Detroit.

I don’t watch the show because I root for a winner. I never know why someone wins anyway (although I do think it should have been Amanda this time). I watch the show for  it’s message. It is such a perfect piece of capitalist propaganda that it is a priceless manual for my mission field.

heidi klum womens healthI was talking about the show the other day and yet another person gave me that “I’m-trying-not-to-get-into-this-with-you” look. But they could not resist. “Why do you watch that show? Isn’t it about fashion design?” The unspoken question was, “Pastor, you are into fashion design? Aren’t all those fashion people the definition of godless?” I told them, “I watch it to learn things.” Yes, Heidi Klum is still beautiful and I am fond of Tim Gunn; and it is amazing that these artists can make practical art out of anything in no time at all — those are also good reasons to watch. But mostly, I am listening for what people are being taught and Project Runway sums up America in 90 minutes each episode — 45 of which I actually view. (Thank you inventers of the DVR; I can skip most of the relational drama the film editors concoct).

Continue reading

Posted in 3 The Mission | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Stand against the hand: share and pray

When capitalism organizes your money, it undermines community. Worse, when capitalism channels your desire it warps prayer. The main things our church may be lacking the most right now are money and prayer. There is a good, macro reason for that lack which we might not even notice: we are in the grip of the “invisible hand.”

Let me say right off the top, in case you don’t read too much further:

1) We cannot sustain community without sharing money. Practically, we have made commitments as a group that require money, of course. But more profoundly, if you opt out of contributing to the whole you diminish it, even mock it, name it unworthy. You put a hole in our mutuality. Give ten dollars or a tithe, but stay in the game with us. We could lose the game.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire. Practically, if the consumption-driven economy drives you, you have another god. If you have stopped praying because, in reality,  your “needs” are met by your place in the economy and your desires are driven by the market, you look like a foreigner in the Kingdom of God. Pray one minute or make praying your vocation, but connect with the Spirit. You could die. And the church could die with you.

What is capitalism again? Continue reading

Posted in Theological Help | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Paean to partners

Someone sabotaged our computer. We discovered what they did right before we wanted to do a few things for the meeting last night. Three of us were huddled in front of it lamenting, offering ineffectual suggestions and generally having some mutual anxiety — and that just before we were to lead an evening centered on “not worrying!”

Now that everything worked out fine-if-not-perfectly, I look back fondly on the scene – back on how our strange little partnership in the gospel was revealed in that moment. We were anxious about something only Jesus could get us together to be anxious about. Each of us had travelled a long distance geographically and culturally to become important in a new kingdom and tribe. I like it when I notice that blessing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being partners lately and feeling thankful. I think my feeling is a lot like what Paul felt about the Philippians when he started a letter to them with: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:4). From the first day of Circle of Hope until now, I have had such amazing partners, beginning with my wife and family and then one person after another who Jesus drew together to form our incendiary community of faith: partners in building community, making disciples, showing compassion, doing business, inventing administration, weathering crises, sharing money and standing together in problems a lot worse than a sabotaged computer! What a blessing!

Continue reading

Posted in 2 Life as the Church | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Second Act

We’re warming up to enter the future. Lot’s of important dialogue ahead!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An old story: loving our neighbor on Tenth St.

tenth and locust windowsWhen we first got started as Circle of Hope at Tenth and Locust I was determined to stay under the radar of the Philadelphia authorities until we were established. I did not expect them to understand us, much less love us, and I have been generally right about them.

So I was pretty horrified when I showed up late for a concert one night and about six police cars were flashing outside our door! So much for staying under the radar. I think it got too hot in the mosh pit so they opened up all the windows and welcomed the neighbors to enjoy the music. One of the higher up, white-shirt policemen was about ready to go upstairs so I asked him what was going on.

Continue reading

Posted in 3 The Mission | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Ambition in hard times with Teilo

teilos headWhen we went to Llandaff Cathedral, outside Cardiff, Wales, the lonely docent said we should go find a special cupboard with Teilo’s head in it. We found one in a musty, dark corner way in the back, behind the altar. When we opened the creaky old door we got a peek at a dusty skull. As it turns out, the famous skull was in another cupboard, as you see. I don’t know who’s skull we were disrupting. But we were still excited to make the connection. The great church planter’s skull was preserved in the church, displayed in memory of a life admirably lived. He died sometime after 560, which was not an easy time to live. He had helped establish the church in Wales. Feb 9 is St. Teilo’s Day. Church planting types should mark that one their calendar. We need all the encouragement we can get.

Continue reading

Posted in 3 The Mission | Tagged , , | 1 Comment