Exposed

Excitedly, my kids told me that there were visitors standing at the front door.

I was caught off guard. The three littles and I had just returned home from an early morning of swimming lessons and I was still standing in the kitchen in my bathing suit and bare feet. The littles had just sat down for a snack and I was scrambling to unpack, start laundry, and recover from our whirlwind morning.

That’s when visitors arrived.

Normally I enjoy visitors, surprise or otherwise. But today was different.

Today I was caught off guard.

It was never meant to be this way, a secret that took on a life of its own.

It started years ago with an awareness of how many people felt about my secret, an awareness that had been present my entire life and was experienced in conversations, sideways looks, and comments. I was aware that many people, including those closest and most important to me, had strong feelings about it. Many of them not positive, some clearly condemning.

I also knew that I felt differently. Motivated by deep love and respect for those close to me, I poured over the Bible to discern how it presented the issue, and to determine how that knowledge might impact me as a follower of Jesus. I had spent years considering the significance and meaning. Even with this, I found myself in a different place of understanding.

It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, or something I took lightly.

I was keenly aware that this secret was one to guard carefully. Though safe to share with some people and in some places, I understood it was best to hold close. Revealing this about me might cause people to think differently or less of me, and could damage relationships I hold dear. I wanted to honor those I loved and not to be perceived as flaunting this, risking my reputation and spoiling my witness.

Carefully and methodically, I guarded this part of me. I deliberately planned ways to avoid drawing attention to myself or offend those who felt differently. This was especially true at some church and family gatherings. For eight months, I’d been largely successful.

Until then.

Standing at my door, with my blissfully oblivious children loudly alerting them that we were home and completely aware of their presence, these visitors unknowingly forced my hand. I felt naked and exposed. The illusion of control and privacy that I had so carefully cultivated was shattered, and I was left standing in fear.

How would the tattoo over the surgical scar on my foot, the secret I had guarded for so many months, change things now that it had been exposed?

I still don’t know the answer or how everything will ultimately shake out, though I’ve chosen a much different journey in how I handle this now. Instead of fear and guarded secrecy, I’m working to choose vulnerability and openness, living openly and in the the Light as best as I am able. I am constantly striving to rely on God’s rich grace that is bigger than my failures when I completely get things wrong, tattoo or otherwise.

This experience was powerful. Though grossly over simplistic, it allowed me to consider in small part the burden those who feel that they must guard their sexual identity carry all the time. The constant awareness of trying to carefully protect what is revealed, the stress of being ‘outed’, the fear of damage to relationships, and the exhaustion of keeping hidden an important part of self was draining. Unlike sexuality, though, my experience was entirely by choice: to get and where to place a tattoo, to reveal or conceal as desired, even to reverse my decision if things got too unpleasant. These choices are luxuries, luxuries not afforded with sexual identity.

I’m struck by how full transparency with the Church far too often has caused fear and pain. We who love Jesus need to do better. How can we shift from reinforcing that people stay in the dark to extending invitation into freedom and Light? Can we create space for people to bring themselves, ALL of themselves, and hold that gently?  Will we trust Jesus to lead, setting aside our ideas of how that must look?

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Election Crazy & The Jesus Way

I awoke today distressed, and not about the impending results of the election today. (Though, if I’m honest, that alone is enough to distress me. I seem to care more about this election that I probably should.)

This “caring probably more than I should” is why I really empathize with others who are deeply invested in the outcome. Whether their vote matches mine or they vote differently, I understand that today is wrapped in an awkward bundle of passion, hope and fear.

I get it. BELIEVE me, I do.

But that’s not what’s behind my distress.

Surprisingly, it’s not the sour taste that a long campaign season leaves, or the general weariness resulting from my attempt to consume somewhat balanced media regarding “the issues”. It’s not the ads, the opinion pieces, or the yard signs.

It’s about how many who openly call themselves followers of Christ are handling the ‘bigness’ and stress of today. And it breaks my heart.

Spending time on Facebook during election season has involved my seeing which of my friends ‘like’ Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama. Though I know this type of activity drives some people to a self-imposed media fast, it doesn’t bother me. I confess, the Social Studies teacher in me appreciates seeing the democratic process at work, and feel that it can be valuable for people to put words around the reasons why they support specific measures or candidates.

Checking Facebook last night was different, though. A political group appeared in the sidebar ticker that provides updates about what friends and family are doing online. I was not terribly surprised to see a group called “I will NOT vote for (fill in a candidate name here, since there are groups for both major candidates) in 2012” pop up in my feed, as I have family and friends all across the political spectrum. As I looked closer at the ticker, I noticed that a number of my friends were members of one of these groups, all of whom are Christ-followers, several who hold positions of leadership in the Church or community of faith.

Intrigued, I clicked over to see what kept the group going after members shared to whom they would (or would not, as the case may be) give their vote. The overall tone felt disrespectful toward those who felt differently about the upcoming election. The site moderators primarily posted opinion pieces, political cartoons/memes and election news coverage while group members engaged in name calling and open mockery of people who believed differently.

As I was thinking about the cognitive dissonance I felt over Christian leaders participating publicly in groups characterized by disrespectful and overtly negative tone, a new group showed up in my ticker: “Christians against Obama’s reelection”. Like the previous group, several publicly professing Christian friends were members. Hoping that there would be a difference between the tone of the two groups since the second publicly declared itself to be Christian, I clicked over to check out the page.

I was horrified.

Aggressive and abusive language. Name calling and hate speech. Verses pulled from the Bible and applied with seeming disregard for context.

The worst came with a short scroll down the page. A group member composed an election day prayer that the moderator(s) shared publicly. Among accusations of the President being a treacherous, lying Muslim who is “owned by the Brotherhood”, the prayer calls on God to “rid the world” of President Obama, explicitly calling him “evil” and “Satan’s child”. Last night at midnight there were 41 ‘likes’ and several comments supporting the message, most with an all-caps ‘amen’. (Mercifully, the comments section is now disabled.) By mid morning today there are 199 ‘likes’ and 82 ‘shares’.

My heart breaks over this.

199 Christians publicly judging that our President acts on behalf of Satan and calling for his death.  82 Christians sharing this ‘prayer’ in the name of Jesus.

Is it any wonder that people aren’t always jumping to learn more about the good news of Jesus?

God, forgive us.

This morning I found myself singing one of my favorite songs performed (and composed, I believe) by William and Jacob Jolliff: “Oh, the Jesus Way”. It feels timely in light of what I read last night on Facebook and what type of conduct today almost certainly holds as election results unfold.

Oh, the Jesus way

Is the way of peace

Oh, the Jesus way

Is the way of peace

Oh, the Jesus way is the way of peace

When He is King all wars will cease

May his peace begin with me.

When Christ is King, all wars (including political fighting) will end. When we choose the way of Jesus we choose peace: in our hearts, in our families, in our work, and on Facebook. Even on election day.

May we remember, today and always, that in Christ alone our hope is found, not in any candidate or political party. May we remember we have an incredible privilege and responsibility to represent Jesus with our actions and words, for better or worse. May we be constantly mindful that choosing the way of peace is an act of worship, and lean into the reality that the Jolliffs share: the peace of Jesus begins with us now.

Little Less Talk

I stumbled upon a quote by one of my favorite authors yesterday, and it’s been in my thoughts ever since.  These words capture so beautifully an idea that I’ve been increasingly drawn toward the past few months.

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, or telling them how wrong they are and how right we are…but by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Less telling, more showing. Less condescension, more grace. Less talk, more action.

The more I consider the quote, the more true it becomes. It feels simple to see how L’Engle’s words apply to a life of faith, but I wonder if we cheat ourselves by stopping there. I wonder if her words might carry an even broader challenge to those of us who choose to follow Jesus. In a season of politics and opinions, are we more concerned with discrediting the opposition (whomever we believe the opposition to be in this particular election) or humbly sharing our understanding of the good in the beliefs we hold?

Beyond politics and general faith, these words connect deeply to how I see many in the Church treat our gay friends and neighbors. With the stated concern of “drawing others to Christ”, some who follow Christ seem to get swept up in the business of “not condoning”, in essence speaking condemnation and judgement to the very people with whom they hope to share faith. The results of this witness have been abysmal, and, far too often, deadly.

I wonder how differently things might unfold if we who follow Jesus took L’Engle’s words to heart. What if we expressed our witness through actions of service and sacrifice rather than word? What if we shift our focus to a pursuit of living Christ’s joy so fully and vibrantly that it becames palpable to those with whom we’re in relationship? What if we lived in a manner that reflected trust that God is able to connect with people even without, and in many cases in spite of, our words?

I suspect that radical, God-breathed transformation just might take place.

Praying today for grace to soak in this truth that L’Engle shares, and to live into the challenge I hear in Toby Keith’s lyrics (though I’m certain he never intended them in this way):  faith that’s “a little less talk and a lot more action”.

Unwittingly Defined

After weeks of nursing my three littles through the nasty summer crud that’s been sweeping through town, I succombed. And, as is often the case for mamas in the sick-bay trenches, my sleep-deprived body was no match for the crud that hit me like a ton of bricks. What began as a nasty cold/flu evolved into a nagging cough, which blossomed into a full-blown lung infection.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time.

All that to say, I had some extra time recently to catch up on my reading and Facebook. I clicked over to a friend’s page who had recently moved, hoping for an update on her new life in North Carolina.  What I found instead were words she shared with hurting and upset friends after suffering deep injustice.

“The way we fight defines us.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, nearly choking on my tea.

The words were so simple, and at the same time profound. They rang of truth, and have stuck in my head since I read them.

The way we fight defines us.

These words weren’t  spoken to people of faith, but without a doubt they have challenged mine.

For those of us who represent Christ when we call ourselves his followers, what does the way we fight say about him? Do we take the high road, even when the invitation to travel the low is desperately tempting? Do we hit back? In the midst of deep frustration and anger, do our actions point others toward or drive them away from Jesus?

Back-to-Back on the Spectrum

This may come as a surprise, but Jeff and I have seen conflict in our marriage a time or two.

I know, shocking.

Fortunately, we share the values of honest and direct communication, and we work to see the perspective of the other, especially in places of disagreement.  These values, as well as shared commitment to attempt fighting fairly, result in misunderstandings that generally resolve quickly and without major casualties along the way.

It isn’t always the path of smooth sailing around here, though. There are times when our disagreements go very differently. Out of nowhere, tensions spike and anger flames. What began as a simple disagreement somehow morphs into a knock-down, drag-out fight.

We’ve found that even in our ugly fights, we’re often approaching the issue from a similar place. It helps to think about our disagreements as a spectrum, or a line extending infinately in each direction, each of us at a different point on the line. We’ve been surprised to find that most of the time it doesn’t really matter how near or far away from each other our positions are on the spectrum, but it matters profoundly the direction we face from our points on the line.

When our positions are close to each other and we face toward the middle, we see that we’re not as far off from each other as we originally feared. We see hope. When we face outward, pointing in opposite directions, it’s a different story. We don’t see common ground, and believe that the other perspective is so far from our own that it’s not even visible. We fight harder, and more extreme. We pull farther and farther from our original position near the middle, reaching toward the far ends of the scale.  This ‘fighting beyond’ what we actually believe moves us from conversation and relationship into a negotiating mentality: advocating for a more extreme position, knowing already that we plan on “giving a little” to move toward the middle (which, incidentally, is exactly where we started). We pour effort into entrenching ourselves in an outlaying position, gearing up for battle, rather than into listening, understanding, and working to see our common ground.

It seems like we do this as Christians, too. Sometimes we lose track of the reality that we’re all standing together in largely the same place, the ‘main idea’ of Jesus. We allow our observation that some of us more naturally face toward the side of God’s grace and mercy and others face toward the side of God’s holiness and justice to become fear—fear that our perspectives are so desperately far off that we’re not even on the same continuum. Grace see-ers begin to fear that those who see things differently are on a completely different plane, and worry that it’s a “God as vengeful, condemning, smack-bringer-when-expectations-are-not-lived-up-to” plane.  Holiness and Justice see-ers worry that those who see things differently are on a “willy-nilly, ‘anything goes’, pushover God” plane.  Standing together while looking outward seems to force our focus on our differences, rather than on the understanding that neither perspective is more right than the other—that both reflect important aspects of the character of God. Both are part of the same spectrum, together.

I wonder if the magnification of difference and perceived lack of common ground serves as a ripe compost of fear. And from the rich manure of fear grows disdain for those who see things differently, which yields a strong crop of pride, arrogance, and judgement of others at harvest time.

If this is true, it’s probably time to find new compost. How can we shift our focus from our differences onto our common ground instead? How do we turn inward after standing back-to-back, facing outward?

Escaping Rabbit Trails

The gray clouds, heavy with rain, should have been my first indication of the day that lay ahead of me. Just days before my surgery to remove a tumor that damaged nerves in my foot, I was barely keeping it together. Jeff, my husband, had left early that morning for work, and already there had been several disasters before 8:15. It was an awful morning after a horrible day following a miserable week.

Despite these disasters, I made it to a women’s Bible study at my church. Ironically, the discussion was about living devotionally, with a constant awareness of God’s goodness and presence. The author of our study book, The Good and Beautiful Life, shared ways he tried this in his own life, which some people  in our group felt read a bit like a giant spiritual “to do” list (despite the author’s stated hope it wouldn’t be interpreted as such).

The different ways people responded to the reading caught my attention. Some tended toward a “main idea” approach to the chapter (seeing devotional living as  an invitation to joy through awareness of God’s presence and action in our daily, moment-to-moment lives). Others saw a “details” approach (heaping guilt, shame, and frustration on top of other tasks on an already overloaded spiritual checklist).

Our varied responses to the chapter reminded me of my time teaching writing to 3rd graders. The delicate balance between communicating a main idea while breathing life into the story with supporting details is a tall order for students. Many fall victim to the siren’s call of the dreaded “rabbit trail,” derailing a story and casting the main idea aside  in hot pursuit of more interesting details. The scope of the story is lost completely when the focus is on detail alone, becoming a shallow, incomplete representation of the original greater truth.

I was struck by the parallel between the main idea/details paradigm from 3rd- grade writing and my own life. That very morning, I focused on the details of  feeling alone, hurt, and “not enough” rather than the main idea: that God loves and cares for, heals, sustains, and never abandons me

More often than I’d like to admit, I get caught up in the “to dos” on my list instead of focusing on my primary mission to be fully present with my kids (a more challenging task than you might expect). I’ve allowed difficult circumstances to overshadow my awareness of God’s goodness. My focus seems prone to wander in a land of details rather than to hold fast to the main idea.

This led me to think about the places that we might get caught in the same trap as followers of Christ.  Places where our focus somehow shifts from the main idea of radical, unmerited, redeeming grace and rests instead on shame, guilt, or judgment. Have we lost track of our own desperate need for (and receipt of) mercy and instead settled on judgment and condemnation rather than the joy, freedom and welcome we’ve experienced through Jesus?

Like teaching “main idea” in 3rd grade, it’s a tall order to figure out.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect action plan, air-tight theology, or tried-and-true answers. (I suspect that none of us do, though we might portray otherwise.) I wonder if our wrestling through these questions, as a community, might be the first step in drawing closer to the truth.

What about you?  What is your understanding of the ‘main idea’ of Jesus?  How do you work to firmly anchor yourself in that truth?

One step further: how can we faithfully share the ‘main idea’ of Jesus with our gay neighbors?

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.