Saturday, March 18, 2017

Building a Better Love

My life is defined by songs. Seriously. There are entire years of my life that can be defined by songs. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes defiant; there was the year when "King of Anything" by Sara Bareilles was my anthem, which can tell you a lot about the person I was dealing the most at the time. Other years it's been stuff from Broadway, or the year the "Hey There, Delilah" and "Bubbles" took over the girls dorms at college as everyone sighed at the idyllic relationship goals.

Last year, I came across this song. I'd heard it a few times before, but it wasn't until the 4th of July weekend when I went up to my camp for "a day" (four days) and was able to participate in a number of worship sessions that really broke down some pretty gnarly brick walls I'd been trying to dismantle with a spoon (at least, that's what it felt like). 

I suppose I should stop here to explain that I am a pretty charismatic Christian, on the spectrum of the faith. I don't usually go into the full measure of my beliefs, but I think it's important here. I believe in radical love that can literally heal emotional wounds that have been left gaping open, bleeding on everything in your life. I believe that the Holy Spirit can sweep in and set your body, soul, and spirit straight in an instant if you let her. I believe that God speaks to me through a variety of means, and sometimes I know things that are impossible to know about others because something in the back of my mind whispered it to me. I believe that God didn't stop doing revolutionary miracles in the first century, He does them on a daily basis right now. I believe that the reason He still does all these amazing, incomprehensible things is because He loves us more than we have the capacity to know.

So back to the song. The thing about God's love is that we filter our perception of it through our own understandings of love. It's natural. You have lenses that you have adopted as you go through life, and there's really no getting around it. So there gets to be a lot of really unloving versions of Jesus running around the Church, and much of that gets passed on to how we love others, because after all the second greatest commandment in the New Convenant is to love your neighbor as yourself. As I've said before (and I will say many, many more times) if we don't love ourselves well, we are going to do a really poor job of loving our neighbor, no matter how hard we try. 

I'm hardline about very, very few things in my Christian faith. I'm a recovering know-it-all, so I do my best to debate rather than argue, and present my beliefs as just that, my beliefs without any expectation that whoever is listening will agree. God's Love is the thing that I will fight anyone on. (and by fight, I mean pray unceasingly that you will let Him show you how much He loves you) It is God's identity to love, and He spells out what that looks like in no uncertain terms in 1 Corinthians 13, and a variety of other places. 

This song is called "Pieces." It was written by Amanda Cook, of Bethel, but the best-known version of it is sung by Steffany Gretzinger. I love Steffany's version, because she has a rawness to her voice that really cuts me to the core in the best way possible. Also, it's the one that first got through to me.

This song is brilliant in that it calls out a lot of the misconceptions about God's love that we carry with us every day. Today, I was again reminded how many of those I still had hanging on in my life, and went through another session of telling the lies to take a hike. So now I'm playing this song on repeat to drive in the Truth.

I invite you to listen to this song and read the lyrics. Listen to what His love is, and find the places in your life where that understanding hasn't reached yet. Like I said, he'll heal you. If anyone wants to know how I will gladly walk you through it via any messaging service you prefer. 

Unreserved, unrestrained
Your love is wild
Your love is wild for me
It isn't shy, it's unashamed
Your love is proud
To be seen with me

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Uncontrolled, uncontained
Your love is a fire
Burning bright for me
It's not just a spark
It's not just a flame
Your love is a light
That all the world will see
All the world will see

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us
You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Your love's not fractured
It's not a troubled mind
It isn't anxious
It's not the restless kind
Your love's not passive
It's never disengaged
It's always present
It hangs on every word we say
Love keeps its promises
It keep its word
It honors what's sacred
'Cause its vows are good
Your love's not broken
It's not insecure
Your love's not selfish
Your love is pure

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us
You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Everyone Means Everyone

Context: This is written largely in response to the post going around explaining Why Christians Can Calm Down About Beauty and the Beast featuring a subtly gay character. They had one reason. I have a different one.

I've been looking forward to the Beauty and the Beast live-action adaptation for the last two years. It was announced and I was interested. Then they announced the cast, and between Emma Watson, Sir Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, and all the other big names...

I became somewhat more than excited. I believe squealing was involved more than one time when reading news about the movie. When the trailers and sneak peeks were revealed, I was over the moon. I even bought a dress that's based off Belle's ballroom dress. I rarely buy dresses, and I never buy dresses that involve any amount of tulle. When I'm excited enough to buy a frou-frou dress, you know it is a big moment in my life.

So when I heard that there was a subtle storyline where one of the side characters is revealed to be a gay man, what did I do? I shrugged, said, "huh, that's interesting," and I moved on.

Apparently, not every Christian did. Because of course in American Christianity, you should probably actually murder someone rather than reveal yourself to be anything other than a wholesome cis-gender, straight person.

"But no, that's not what we meant!" My brothers and sisters cry. "We meant that we should not condone their behavior!"

Okay, well don't condone their behavior quietly then. When did we become so arrogant to truly believe that our main call in life and faith is to prove people wrong? I've read the Bible, I promise. I've read it in full, and read it in pieces, read one verse at a time, read and studied passages in depth, searching through the original Greek and Hebrew for the original meaning of the text. I've considered the historical context surrounding not only Jesus's teachings but the epistles, the books of prophecy, Psalms, even Leviticus, looking at why they said what they said in the way they said it.

Much like Paul, I don't say this to brag. It wasn't something I did to be able to hit people over the head with my right-ness, or "righteousness". I did all this because I believe that's how we gain understanding and insight into God's plan for our lives. I believe the Bible is where the Truth lies, and I base all my understanding of the world, culture, art, and people off of the Bible.

So why did I not freak out about Le Fou being gay?

For one thing, he is a side character. It is literally not even a major plot point from what I understand. Which is actually the point, I feel like. It's not even a bit deal to them, he just is. It's addressed briefly, and then we're back to the actual storyline of a hetero couple (I guess? I mean, the guy is a monster for most of the movie, but at least he's male?).

Second, you may have heard that life imitates art, but really art is brought out of our lives. It's inevitably going to reflect the cultural norms and values we hold. As literally every Christian blogger has pointed out, Disney hasn't been shy about their beliefs being more than a shade left. Why is that the explanation, though?

I don't think it's about politics, really. I think it's because Disney, for whatever else they are, are great story tellers. Like, really great storytellers. They've built their entire media empire around telling stories that appeal to nearly everyone. Whether you want them to or not, everyone does actually include the LGBT community. They are involved in the larger distinction. So yeah. Disney has made movies that people love, featuring multi-ethnic princesses, a movie about two sisters where one of them doesn't get married (GASP), about dogs, cats, cars, toys, and don't forget the lions. They're going to include people from all walks of life represented as well. It's the world we live in. I for one have no beef with it. In fact, I think this world has its fair share of awesome things going on for it.

You know who else actually kind of loves the world? Jesus. Don't believe me? Wait, what's the really famous verse that I could recite before I could even write it down? Oh yeah, "For God so loved the world, that He sent his one and only Son... For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16a and17, ESV. Emphasis added.)

A lot of people conveniently forget John 3:17. Possibly because it tells us that we really shouldn't be doing what we love to do, which is condemn other people. Especially "the world", that nebulous evil place (and our home). Not even Jesus was sent to condemn the world, but He was sent to save it through His incredible, overwhelming, unconditional love.

This is possibly my favorite thing about Jesus. I mean, I generally think He's pretty spectacular (to say the least). But like I said, I love this world.

I love the stunning variety of natural beauty that I get to see when I drive around California, or spend an irresponsible amount of time on Google looking up different famous places and just marveling at the Creation of God that we have the privilege of living in.

I love the art, books, and music that I come across, things that speak to me of the existence of a plane outside of our own, because otherwise where would all these brilliant ideas come from?

I love the people I meet, even the frustrating (sometimes infuriating) ones. I love reading stories, gaining the understanding of another person's mind, especially if I didn't understand before. There is a reason that Jesus taught in stories that people had to think about to really catch on. Stories are the best way to gain understanding, especially if it's so far outside of your world that you actually have to think to figure it out. I truly believe that reading the stories of people outside of your understanding should be a requirement in everyday life.

Which brings us back to Disney, in some ways the premier storytellers of the contemporary age. And Jesus, the ultimate storyteller of all eternity. And where those two meet.

Disney tries to tell stories that involve everyone. They have gotten somewhat better at it over the years. They have now added this side character, who apparently is low-key gay. The reports I read said it's almost less than a blip in the narrative of the movie. But it's still important. It's important because representation matters. Seeing someone on screen who you can relate to in some small way is incredibly important. It makes you feel less alone. Women have pushed for this for years now, for the ability to see characters who represent a wide variety of lifestyles and personalities. It's time for other groups to get that too.

And that's cool with Jesus because Jesus really does love everyone. I mean everyone. Every politician, every criminal, every conman, every murderer. I can see you all nodding your heads with me, so let me add to the list. Every person who has sex with, or simply just really, really likes someone who happens to be the same gender as them. Every person who feels that they want to be the opposite of how they were born. Every person who decided gender just wasn't for them, and they like the middle. Every person who can legitimately pull off both and decide which one they want to go with each morning. Every person who felt uncomfortable in their skin and in culture for their entire life until one day, someone told a story that made them feel like they weren't alone. Jesus loves them all, just as much as He loves you.

It's not about your theology, or your ideas of what's right, or how you think people should live. It's not about being naive. It's not about sheltering your kids from the realities of this world. It's about love. It has always been about love. Jesus did everything that He did - and does - for us out of love.

Who are we to decide who we extend His love to? Who are we to be the self-appointed gatekeepers of Heaven? Last time I checked, that was not our job. Our job is to live our lives in accordance with the Word. The Word that speaks about love constantly, that even explicitly describes what love is like in many different sections. 

I have many friends who are LGBT and you know what? Most of them aren't super fans of the Church. I would say I wonder why, but I don't want to sound too sarcastic. It's pretty clear. We as a belief system have done a pretty horrendous job of showing love to these beautiful pieces of God's creation. I've had a lot of conversations that have consisted of me listening, and then saying, "yes, I know, and I'm sorry."

That is unacceptable. It grieves me more than just about anything else. The fact that we have let 3-5 Bible verses overrule a WHOLE NARRATIVE of unconditional love.

So I leave you with this, an answer to the protests of, "but the Bible says!"

The Bible also says this, in Romans 8:31-39 (ESV, emphasis added):

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.