Asserting Love

I’m not a Southerner myself, so this is admitedly hearsay. However, I understand that there’s a Southern coloquialism that’s quite popular: “bless her heart”. What on the surface sounds to be a sweet, well-meaning phrase is in practice used to preface something unkind, harsh, or that we’re not proud to say. You know, like saying “Bless her heart, she can’t pass up a donut to save her life.” That kind of thing.

I feel like I’ve stumbled across the Christian equivalent of ‘bless her heart’ recently: “I say this in love”. Just like its Southern counterpart, the way this phrase is used sometimes feels like a magic wand, or a secret code. It seems to allow Christians to set aside responsibility for any consequences of their words about to follow. It functions as a free pass to say whatever we want.

This past week I’ve seen many things said “in love”, especially in regard to my creating space for conversation about how we understand homosexuality in the Church. Despite the stated intent, being “spoken in love”, I didn’t experience it as such.

“Saying this from a place of love”, or any of its derivatives, feels eerily similar to something Jeff and I call the “I’m Funny Rule”. The rule is this: an inversely proportional relationship exists between how often a person feels the need to tell others how (adjective) they are and the reality of how true that (adjective) is in actuality. The more often a person says “I’m really funny”, the less likely it is to be true. It’s the same with humility, inteligence and physical attractiveness: the more a person talks about how that characteristic applies to them, the less true it seems to be. The most hysterical people typically don’t run around announcing it—they just are. The same thing holds true with those that are highly intelligent, and is especially true for the humble. They don’t need to convince others how true those things are, it’s plainly obvious.

This rule reminds me of  how my 4 year old daughter plays ‘make believe’. The majority of time spent playing ‘make believe’ is comprised of her running around asserting who she is pretending to be. “Hey, Mommy!  I’m Cinderella!  Look at me, Daddy!  I’m Cinderella!  Hey, brothers—it’s me, Cinderella!” This cycle can (and often does) repeat for hours, with no end in sight. She is so busy asserting that she’s Cinderella (or whatever role captures her attention that day), trying to convince us of who she wants to be, that she often never actually gets around to the business of being Cinderella.

Lately the phrase “I’m saying this in love” strikes me in the same way. If we are confident that our message is inherrently loving, there should be no reason to convince others of the point. It almost seems as if we doubt our own motives so we try to cover our bases by “saying things in love”. I wonder if we are acting out our faith the same way my daughter plays “make believe”? Do we assert that we’re acting out of love, or do we simply act out of love?

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The Parable of the Leprechaun Gold Coins*

I reflected on the variety of response to my last post over a few cups of coffee this morning. A few brave souls posted their perspectives publicly (thank you, Old Marine and Melanie!), and several others shared through emails and in private conversations. Each perspective was marked by vulnerability and honesty, and was unique in the way they used words to give color to something that ultimately is much more broad, deep and all-encompasing than words are able to paint. It was awesome.

It was awesome because each perspective reflected a piece of the greater truth of the character of God. When we start to put all those pieces together, the result is a more clear understanding of God.

Like I said, awesome.

I noticed, though, that our sharing created a paradox of sorts, an unspoken tension. Some of the ways we understand aspects of God, if taken to an extreme, can appear to contradict other parts. Can we actually hold several different aspects of God together, at the same time? I found myself marveling at the challenge of fully aknowledging our not-enoughness and need for Jesus without devolving into complete self-loathing, demeaning messes.

It was in this state of reflection I found myself as I prepared a mid-morning snack of sweet potatoes for the kids.

My kids and sweet potatoes.

If I say we’re eating sweet potato fries, nary a bite will be taken—it’s as if the children are so offended I am trying to pass off the imposter vegetable as a “fry” they can’t bear to stomach more than a tiny taste. If I call them ‘sweet tater wedges’ to play up the natural sweetness, they are pushed around the plate pityingly before being cast aside altogether. Simply calling them sweet potatoes has no better result, and I might as well be calling them boogers for all they’ll be consumed. (Though, if I’m painfully honest, boogers would probably be eaten much sooner by the discerning panel of my three littles.)

If, however, I slice the sweet potatoes in thick rounds and bake them so they are soft in the middle yet crispy on the edges (you know, exactly the same way as I prepare both the fries and wedges) and call them Leprechaun Gold Coins? They’re gobbled up in seconds. No matter how many I bake, they are gone in the blink of an eye.

It’s not as if the kids believe that the Leprechaun Gold Coins are materially different from the sweet potato fries or wedges. I don’t whip up a batch the night before and pull them out in the morning with a flourish as a surprise, or pull them from a bag or a box that’s been already processed and prepared. I just bring out sweet potatoes—plain, dirty, fresh-from-the-ground sweet potatoes. Then, the kids watch me wash and prepare the sweet potatoes, step by step. (Sometimes they even help.) There are NO surprises. Everytime, without fail, it’s how I talk about the sweet potatoes that guarantee that they’ll either be eaten or sit on the plate, untouched.

All of this made me wonder if  what happens with kids and sweet potatoes is similar to what happens when Christians talk about “the main idea” of Jesus. Some of us more naturally connect with the aspects of God reflected in justice and holiness, while others more naturally connect with parts of God reflected in grace and love. (Even writing that feels a little funny, because I wonder if this is a false paradigm. I wonder if it’s not an either/or situation, but instead a both/and paradigm.) Both of these perspectives seem to give voice to an important part of the character of God. Neither one is more or less ‘God’, just as the Leprechaun Gold Coins and Wedges are no more or less ‘sweet potato’. They’re both the same thing, just presented differently.

To be clear, I’m not advocating changing what actually ‘makes up’ the message of who God is any more than I changed up what ‘made up’ the sweet potato dishes I served. (Which is not at all.) Instead, I’m wondering if increased awareness of how we approach conversation about who God is, together in the Church and with friends who may not hold the same beliefs, might bring about dramatically different results.

If this is true, as I suspect it might be, are we willing to set aside our own strong preference for Leprechaun Gold Coins and see value in the other ways of serving sweet potatoes? Can we work to create space for others to have Wedges without feeling like it devalues our own preference for how sweet potatoes are served?  How can we better focus on the ‘sweet potato’ that ties us all together?

*This parable is not included in the canon of Scripture.  🙂

Naked Faith

Hi there!  Welcome to Listening Down.

And welcome to the much-dreaded first post.  (Much dreaded by me, at least.)

First posts seem a bit like blind dates of sort—people know bits and pieces about the other involved, but have no real idea what the other person is about at their core. Both people are there with hope of getting to know the other, but find it hard to jump into relationship feet first, without reserve. There’s a tentative dance of getting to know each other, revealing carefully selected details here and there, followed by a very gradual move into deeper relationship (if all goes well, and no horrible breach of ettiquette occurs, of course).

Blind dates embody vulnerability. It’s willingly putting the deepest most sensitive parts of yourself out in the open, and waiting for someone else to assess, pick apart, and judge. Like being naked, on a stage, in front of a crowd. Or at the top of the high dive at the Olympics.

Naked, in front of God and everybody.

In many ways, that’s what writing this blog feels like.

Working through faith publicly feels like shining a light on the places that I feel vulnerable. Processing the intersection of seemingly disconnected things like faith, following Jesus, parenting, and homosexuality, and doing so in a public way? Feels even more so.

In the blind date analogy, if things get messy and go badly, or details are revealed that aren’t well received? It’s not the end of the world. Just never call or see the other person again, and be mercifully spared the experience of facing awkward fall out. This blog is different, though. Working through faith here will affect my relationships—family, friendships, church community—for better or worse.

Because of this, I feel incredibly thankful that the call to write and to work through faith in community has been so clear.  Come what may, I’m able to say that I’m responding to what I understand to be Jesus leading, the best I’m able.

So, with that said, welcome! My hope is that this will be a space to reflect on the ways Christ is present each day, and to wrestle with the business of what it means to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love others as ourselves.  Join me on the vulnerable,exposed journey of working through faith, and in ‘listening down’. I’m glad you’re here, and would love if you let me know that you stopped by.