God is Oden…
October 6, 2010

…And I want to be like Oden:

Maybe we all can at least try being like Oden, if only for a minute each day to start. But there’s really no incentive, no ROI. (Except that it could change the world.)

(Thanks to Lauren for sharing.)

Straight Guy + Gay Pride?
June 6, 2010

[I would often make fun of gays, lesbians, and anyone else who wasn’t unquestionably heteronormative. Of course I never directly harassed or assaulted “them” because that just wouldn’t be Christian of me, but I would certainly mock them and speak terribly of them behind their backs. Perhaps the most common and most justifiable way I would do this was to tell my Christian friends and family to “pray for them, because they’re really messed up” or something to that effect. I would then segue into mocking them, doing my most flamboyant caricature. And then I’d go back to saying something like, “But just pray for them.”]

For many if not most Christians, the gay issue is the line in the sand. Once you cross it philosophically, you are officially “out there.” Sure, there are other issues that define the barriers of Christianity, but for many, one’s stance on “the gay thing” is currently the single most combustible topic. One might be considered merely “iffy” if they were to deny or question some basic tenets of the faith. But if one even vaguely affirms the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT/Q) community, they have crossed a line that deems them truly deceived.

Churches that welcome and affirm non-hetero people represent the ultimate edges of Christianity. Even if those churches were to believe some of the most conservative doctrines in Christendom, if they, for instance, allow a gay man into leadership without requiring him to denounce his “lifestyle” as sin, they are a “weird” church, or a cult or something like that, but they are certainly not really Christian. Because affirming non-hetero individuals is, for many, the one thing that is most definitely incompatible with the Bible.

So doing what I did this past weekend was a big deal: I marched in a gay pride parade. Yes, I am straight (and so is my wife). And no, I wasn’t there to protest. I was there to walk beside and affirm my brothers and sisters who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and those of other non-hetero nature. And I wasn’t alone. I was with many other Christ-followers from my church. And there were scores of others from other churches as well. And we joined with thousands of others in the streets of Austin and celebrated the beauty of us all.

The cheers were amazingly celebratory when the crowds watching us realized we were a church, and when they saw our banners, which said things like “You can love God and love gays too!” and “God loves everybody!” Onlookers whooped and hollered in agreement.  People pointed and took pictures of our signs, some teared up, some gave us hugs and high-fives. And some looked confused. And to be sure, this was definitely the first time I’ve ever seen the LGBT community actually cheer for Christians. Because Churches are known to be the ones that protest pride parades, not march in them. And because Christians are, unfortunately, the last people expected to fully accept, much less affirm LGBTs.

But enough of this dancing around the issue. What you really want to read in this post is what I believe about homosexuality, right? What side of the line do I stand on? So here it is:

I believe that what I believe does not matter unless it helps make things better. I believe that God has not pronounced that my approval or disapproval of someone or something has any credence whatsoever. What I do or do not deem as “sin” will change absolutely nothing. But I do believe that when I am face to face with another human — when I look into their eyes, when our hands touch or when we exchange a smile — if I can see them as beautiful and valuable to the universe, as a representation of God, and not just as an anonymous representative of an argument or a mindless pawn of the devil — if I can treat them with the same love that I so desperately seek — I think we can get a glimpse of the better way of living that Jesus talked about. When we join hands as humans instead of pushing against “the other,” we can create a tiny spark of divine beauty that opens a door to let God’s plan enter our lives. That’s what I believe is the Kingdom of Heaven. And while there are  arguments on both sides of the line, none really matter in the big scheme of things. But actions do.

That’s why I believe that every Christian should march together with LGBTs in a pride parade at least once. Whether I do or do not approve of something or someone makes no difference. But the way I see people does. The way I treat people creates either an environment that’s open or closed to divine possibilities. My words and actions — not my beliefs — determine, moment by moment, whether God’s will is or is not being “done here on earth as it is in Heaven.”

And when I allow God’s spirit to talk more than me, I begin to see that the line is in fact drawn in sand, not concrete. And God made the sand; we just decided to scrawl in it. To make ourselves feel more secure, perhaps? To call the best players over to our side to ensure that we’ll have the winning team in a meaningless game? I say these things not as a statement that I’m on the opposite side of some line, nor to demean people who disagree with me. I say these things because a powerful love that I feel deeply tells me that there does not have to be a line. But if there is, I choose to let God do the drawing. Because his artwork is so much more beautiful than my little lines.

Of course, many would say that God’s already drawn a firm line on this issue, based on the same ancient middle-eastern laws that also defined menstruating women as untouchable, and on the opinions of the first Christian missionary (Paul, not Jesus). So this is why LGBTs are the untouchable lepers of our society. I just choose to believe that God’s drawing does not consist merely of a series of straight dividing lines. I suggest instead that what some may see as a singular dividing line is really just a tiny section of an infinitely big circle that includes everyone.

My LGBT friends are precious, beautiful people. And one of my gay friends has been for me an amazing example of what a real man should be: integrous, loving, genuine, honest… Because people like this are in fact people like all of us, these individuals deserve the same rights and privileges. They deserve for their loved ones to be able to visit them in the hospital and make decisions on their behalf. They deserve to have their marriages acknowledged…as marriages. They deserve to be left alone. They deserve to not be mocked by people like me. They deserve the unconditional love of God as much as anyone. And they are not untouchable.

I think I may have caught a little glimpse of God’s artwork this weekend when we gathered with thousands of others to celebrate the touchableness of each other. And especially when, in an incredibly rare moment, people actually rejoiced and cheered when Christians came around…

Three Lives, Part 2: Billy Joe Daugherty
January 5, 2010

I would wake up far too early in the morning for an 18-year old. Wander out of my projects-type apartment and down to the ditch, Bible in hand, ready to bask in the purple glow of a pre-dawn session with God. My view was of the 60-feet-tall Praying Hands sculpture across the street at Oral Roberts University. I would meditate for about an hour, trying to squeeze some juicy revelation from the Holy Spirit, drop by drop, into my soul. Then I’d follow a dirt driveway to the back of Victory Christian Center, board an empty bus, and go pick up poor people to bring them to church — the ORU Mabee Center arena — to meet at least 5,000 other folks and hear Billy Joe speak.

He spoke of love and faith…and that’s about it. And he had a funny laugh, like a kid just learning to laugh. But he didn’t wave his fist in the air or try to push people down in prayer or make anyone feel guilty about not giving enough to the church. He and his wife, in their no-nonsense way, seemed to just want to be there for people…something desperately missing from most other churches that size I’ve been involved with. After the  service, Billy Joe would stand at the exit of the massive arena and shake hands with as many thousands of individuals as he could. Often by the time I made my way to him his grip was like a dead fish, but he always made sincere eye contact.

After church, I’d load back onto the bus and take the poor people back home, handing them a paper bag with a PB&J sandwich, an apple and some crackers or fruit roll-ups. Other times I’d help out by serving hot meals to people who couldn’t afford it (and eat the leftovers). And that’s what I did almost every Sunday as a discipleship student at Billy Joe’s Victory Bible Institute. It was a requirement because people were the top priority of Billy Joe’s ministry. And although some of the institute’s teachers and their classes led us to believe otherwise, Billy Joe himself always made clear that Christian ministry was for the people, not ourselves.

Billy Joe Daugherty, the Tulsa mega-church pastor, made the unlikeliest of activists for community service, but I think in a way that’s just what he was. He was so unlike most other pastors of churches that size (in my experience), or pastors who wanted their church to be that size. Sure, he and his wife had a TV show and big Easter and Christmas productions and a call-in prayer service, for which I occasionally served as a “prayer partner.” But he was not a loud man;  did not pontificate with extravagant lectures; did not sweat with holy insanity. But he would sweat alongside us fresh-out-of-high-school Bible students in the middle of an Oklahoma summer to help set up big tents and  feed the poor. And he shook hands. He looked people in the eye and tried to be as present as possible. He spoke gently of how God loves everybody…even the guy who punched him in the face during an altar call (who by the way was brought in on a bus)….

I have many memories of my five years in Tulsa, of both praying across the street from the Praying Hands and trying to vandalize them while attending ORU a couple years later. Some messed-up memories. Some jacked-up philosophy. But none of it was Billy Joe’s fault, I can tell you that. — I was, in fact, quite surprised to learn that he filled in as interim president of ORU while Richard Roberts was recently ousted by scandal. Billy Joe just seemed a little out of place in that circle, although he had been part of it for decades. Anyway, he showed me that (some) big-name pastors have hearts too. Just because we see them on TV playing the roles of televangelists doesn’t necessarily mean they are all hypocritical or greedy.

I wish I could play the part of the bitter Christian-turned-agnostic here — that would go well with my black-sheep header image — but I’m trying to get beyond unhealthy negativity. Yes, I have issues with much of what most TV preachers say…but I’d rather not turn into that guy who has a habit of punching them in the face. And Billy Joe’s life gives me hope.

So Billy Joe faded out with 2009, suddenly falling prey to cancer. I had spoken with him on occasion years ago while in Bible school, but I didn’t know him well. But from my times around him, I know he had a good soul. Today, this helps me remember to try not to be too hard on (some) big-name pastors. Just because they’re on TV doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. Yes…I think some of them have some major issues and some have hurt a lot of people and I’d better stop now or I’ll get worked up. But they are people too. Maybe not like Billy Joe, but they are people. And if I’m as open-minded and as tolerant as I would want them to be toward me, I will assume that they are trying to help more than they hurt. And I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for giving us hope for preachers, Billy Joe.