An invitation to the “third way”

When I gathered people last year to have a conversation with Tim Otto about his book (Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships), I was a little shocked with how distressing his approach would seem to both the affirming and traditional folks involved. The gathering went well in the end, but that was after a lot of tilling (and anxiety) on my part. Throughout the whole process Tim encouraged me to simply persevere and stay centered. He is a great pastor and writer for folks like me who doubt the messaging of exclusion or false unity.

Most conservative churches seem to cloak their exclusionary policies with a welcoming message up front, only later to make it clear that same sex partners will not be allowed to do x, y, or z. In most liberal churches where the institutional exclusions have been removed, the general message is about a blanket affirmation based on the assumption that giving one’s approval will heal and restore the wounded LGBT community. To my mind, this often seems a bit too one dimensional. What it doesn’t take into account is that many folks feel more than one way about themselves and their relationships, especially when it comes to Christianity. While organizational policies aimed at stigmatizing and excluding sexual minorities smacks of the worst things in Christianity, communion that rests on getting one another’s approval (or affirmation) seems to lead to a false sense of “us.” By contrast, offering Jesus’ acceptance (not contingent on anyone’s approval) and a real embrace takes a much greater measure of empathy and courage.

This acceptance must have a finite manifestation for sure, but the internal markers are best known and appreciated within free relationships of mutuality and honesty and trust. And it cannot be manufactured by a doctrinal or position statement.

I highly recommend Tim’s response to this last weekend’s Orlando massacre that took place on “Latin Night” in a gay nightclub: An Invitation to Empathy.

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What to do with anger?

From our Tues. night bible studies…

Mark chapters 1-3 seem especially important (and timely) as we approach the November elections with all the hostility and scapegoating rhetoric that is taking place even now. Anyway, here are my reflections:

1) The Synagogue: The synagogue Jesus first entered in Mark 1–casting out an unclean spirit–appears to be the same one from Mark 3. Imagine the conflict that took place in that first interaction: there’s someone–perhaps even a person of authority–who is speaking from an unclean spirit. That might be a little surprising, right? The synagogue was a communal place to gather and, among other things, read torah. Yet how long had this man suffered? How long had he been speaking accusations to others like he did to Jesus? Wouldn’t it be strange for a newcomer like Jesus to be the one who suddenly calls him out and gives him his freedom? In any case, Mark tells us that the people who saw this liberation thought Jesus embodied real authority in sharp contrast to the non-authority of their teachers.

2) The Trap: Then, in Mark 3, as Jesus returns a second time to that synagogue, he finds that some folks were anticipating his arrival and sought to trap him. Imagine the energy in the air as Jesus walked through the door. It must have been hard for people not to look at him. Maybe he even made eye contact with his accusers. In any case, no one could be sure what he would do next. It’s no wonder that they saw him as a controversial misguided dangerous teacher. Perhaps they hoped he would simply fail the test (by healing on the sabbath) and then go away. Perhaps they saw themselves as responsible to “restore order.” But what about the man with withered hand? Ironically, the suffering person right in front of them had somehow become a weapon to solidify the crowd against Jesus and scare his brand new followers into submission.

3) Healing Anger: But their fear tactics backfired as Jesus simply gets fed up: “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (3:5a). Those who were supposed to lead the synagogue had become a force of oppression, both for themselves and others. What’s striking to me now is that Jesus’ negative feelings actually opened a way for a beautiful healing on behalf of this disabled man: “and [Jesus] said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (3:5b). So I’m left wondering: what does anger and grief have to do with God’s power to heal? I suppose if we’re honest, a lot of us feel numb or overwhelmed when it comes to our world’s suffering and the death-dealing powers at work. We might actually need strong feelings like anger and grief to wake us up! Of course, I know folks who probably have enough sadness or anger or grief in their lives (because of trauma or ongoing crises). But Jesus wasn’t angry all the time either. And this isn’t a moralistic story about Jesus trying to get everyone upset and pissed off in a distant way. In fact, he lived a very joyous life. Some of his opponents apparently considered him a wild partier. However, in this instance, Mark’s gospel shows us how he responds in a situation where the suffering man has been forgotten. Jesus felt this man’s pain. He even called him forward so that everyone could see his face and not turn away from his disability. Jesus became vulnerable with him. Jesus healed this man not in a peaceful environment where it would be welcomed and celebrated but in the midst of a trap.

4) Apocalypse of Love: In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote that we are in a real battle with a Dark Power who occupies our world: “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” So do not be surprised or intimidated when Jesus’ opponents still want to silence you. We may not have a powerful leader or even a great politician to support our message, but the rightful king is coming and will always give us the love we need to survive:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4

Knowing this we can be strengthened with God’s willingness to shake up all the false kingdoms that rule this world, especially when we have faith for healing someone in pain. Yes, God will bring a defiant healing. This is our hope, despite what happens around us. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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Iraqi Priest says, “We are never giving a blessing to war”

Iraqi priest, Father Douglas Bazi, has been kidnapped and tortured by anti-Christian elements in Iraq, runs a refugee shelter out of his parish for Christians fleeing ISIS, hosts a church that welcomes Christians from several denominations to worship together, refuses to take up arms against his enemies…

Why does this Iraqi Christian sound so much more like Jesus than most of the popular Christian leaders in the US? I feel stirred up and challenged by the Christianity Fr. Douglas is putting to the test as he cares for some of the most vulnerable people in Iraq. He makes those convictions seem normal for a person of faith. May God give us all courage to step forward into the radical surrender of Jesus and pray for our brother, Father Douglas Bazi. And may there be peacemakers who proclaim Jesus as Lord here and all over the world. May we too be willing to say no to war.

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An excerpt: “almost like he knew my fears without me saying anything”

Check out my essay “How the Gang Life and LGBT Inclusion Actually Have a Lot in Common”, published over at Hello Horatio:

The most personal and vicious verbal attacks happened in the boy’s bathroom. Any vulnerability or apparent weakness could be preyed upon with almost no consequence. I recall once deciding to use the large stall for students with disabilities instead of the open urinals, just to avoid onlookers and jokes about the size of my you-know-what. But even that resulted in a boy telling me and everyone within earshot that I must be “handicapped.”

Perhaps, then, it isn’t too surprising that in high school I started hanging out with gang youth who had themselves faced bullies and somehow still seemed strong. I wanted to be a somebody in the face of my “nobody” status. I respected their ability to overcome. They faced bullies at home (with alcoholic step-fathers), in the community (with police and other gangs), even at school (from administrators and rich white kids). As a new disciple of these “nobodies” who fought back, I learned I could threaten or intimidate a person into submission, which seemed, for a while at least, to wipe away my anxious life.

…About a year ago I had a dream about an old friend (I’ll call him Rudy) who was a gang leader. In this dream, my large and tattooed friend came walking into one of the old apartments where we used to hang out. Typically, Native American and Asian families resided in this neighborhood due to cheap rent and extended family ties along the street’s corridor. Their apartments were neat, with wall-to-wall carpeting. You would find a dozen or so modest one-story structures close to each other, embedded alongside small parking spaces and half-planted beds of dirt and shrubbery. In my dream, I sat down alone inside a home that might have been anyone’s from back then. Rudy sat down next to me on a small couch that defined the hallway close to the front door and asked how I was doing. I noticed he seemed calm and focused on me in a compassionate way, almost like he knew my fears without me saying anything and would gladly just sit there with me. Then he told me something I didn’t expect. I heard him say, “I’m trans.” No qualifications or further explanation, she just exhaled her short-and-sweet confession without any stress.

(continue reading here)

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Supporting El Viñedo Church in Lima, Peru–June 2016

Here’s a letter from Julissa about our Peru trip. It’s also an invitation for those who may want to join us…

Dear friends,

Words cannot express how joyful I feel to be writing this letter to you. It is like a dream come true for me and my family. This will be our third trip as volunteers in Peru!! Woohoo!! Thanks for your support in helping us go and please let me know if you want to join us.

Some of you might not know who we are as a family. I’m from Peru and Jason’s from California. Fortunately, we both speak each other’s language and love each other’s culture. As a couple, we’ve been traveling to Peru ever since getting engaged in 2003. We now have two wonderful children, Gabriela and Santiago, ages 4 and 7. They come with us to Lima for family visits and volunteering as often as possible. Our Peruvian family and friends always show us such incredible hospitality. Like good Latinos, they know how to celebrate life and make us feel like guests of honor.

Lima is the capital city of Peru, with a population size of almost 10 million. You will see a lot of poverty in Lima, including many children selling candy or gum along the busiest streets during traffic. On the other hand, there is also a lot of extreme wealth. You will see signs of that the closer you get to the beach. Those districts have fancy malls, American-looking fashion, nice cars, tall buildings, etc. The traffic all over Lima is often very congested and unpleasant. But Peruvians do not seem as bound to the clock as us Americans, so on most occasions it is ok to be “late.” Peruvian food is delicious (see “How Food Became Religion in Peru’s Capital City”). You will love the unique flavors and ingredients.

The neighborhood we plan to spend most of our time in is pretty far away from the beach. Our mission will be to serve at a Vineyard church there. They have volunteers from the church to support the children of their neighborhood through youth groups, one-on-one interaction, and creating little communities in their homes.

There is so much need and, at the same time, they already have so many willing people who do an amazing job in that community. When we were there these last two trips (see here and here), Jason was able to meet with some of their families to do mental health assessments (he is an MFT). He also spoke with a group of parents and staff from the ministry to talk about parenting. My father-in-law, Ken, led music and worship leading workshops. I primarily focused on building relationships and hearing people’s stories.

We will be going again this June 21st-June 30th, 2016. Winter over there (during our summer). The trip will last approximately 9 days: two days of traveling and seven days of ministry. That said, anyone is welcome to stay longer if they want to and we can help with recommendations on where to go. For example, some may want to travel to other parts of Peru (i.e., Machu Picchu, the Amazon jungle, or the Andes).

During this project, Jason and I will arrange for everyone’s accommodations and transportation to and from the site. Church members provide us with a room and sometimes even meals for our whole group. We make it a point to bless them along the way as well. The budget for our trip includes: air travel, taxi/bus fare, food, sightseeing, and gifts for our hosts. All in all, the whole trip can be done for around $1000 (for an individual).

We would like to plan a few meetings before the trip to get to know each other and talk more in detail about what to expect. We are very excited to start this process and will let you know about the dates and times for those meetings as we get a response from those who want to go. Again, please call or email with any questions (530-354-1312 or julissa AT hotmail DOT com).

Yours,

Julissa and Jason Winton

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Jayber Crow On Taking Naps

“One of the best things you can do in this world is take a nap in the woods. I slept soundly and without moving for half an hour. As often happens at such times, my mind woke up before my body did. My eyes opened right out of sleep, and I was looking up at the gently stirring treetops and the bright sky, with no other thought on my mind, and my body still deeply resting. It was delicious and I did not want to move.”

Jayber Crow (page 347)

This quote brought me back to an experience I had during the summer of 2000. I was in rural China with a team from college teaching English to Tibetan children. After a long week of teaching and culture shock, my fellow teammate, Jeff, and I went with our western advisor, Owen, to a remote village accessible only by walking or donkey. We arrived in a place so far from industrial cities or any “super power” that, for a moment, I didn’t know what to say. I felt in awe by what we saw: mud walls reaching above our heads, garden foliage poking over the tops, winding passageways patted down only by hoofs, carts, or humans, all this spread between ornately-carved portals and courtyards leading into places for human flourishing.

With this beauty and our cross-cultural exhaustion catching up with us, our Chinese host wisely invited Jeff and I to take a nap. This man showed us a neat room with a pad stuffed tightly with wool and covered by linen, and then opened the room’s sliding doors to the courtyard and garden. We laid down and listened to the garden speak in micro-movements and heavenly sounds of living things in communion and harmony. It reminded me of a real place to be at home and live. I don’t actually remember when I nodded off, but I do recall the feeling of rain in the courtyard. It was a sensation like earthly peace and the spirit of grace anchored in me from a village that we had been led up to and that we would leave in reverence by sleep, by non-human creatures, by hospitality, by rain.

I am grateful that Wendell Berry reminded me of something special from my 21st year, of a summer spent in China’s Tibetan Plateau. I may never return to that plateau again, but a story like this keeps my interest in sleeping outdoors and may in fact put me on the hunt for those special places everywhere I go.

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South Chico Free Clinic

I have a vision for a faith community to spring up around a free clinic to serve South Chico. This clinic would contribute to our community’s needs by providing behavioral health and spiritual services for free (or on a basis of “pay what you can”). All may contribute, but the goal is to erase any economic barriers to receiving help. This kind of generosity is key to the healing we seek to offer from our hearts.

I see the clinic using a location in the vicinity of Chapmantown (for example, 1010 Cleveland House or Bethel AME Church) for office space and to meet one-on-one with people seeking help, to gather groups for spiritual direction and worship, and as a drop-in desk for questions, advocacy, accompaniment or prayer. In addition to traditional counseling, the clinic may use outside spaces such as the 14th St. Garden and the Jesus Center Farm for learning new work skills and hearing God’s voice.

Although I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and part-time Counselor at Butte College, the emphasis for this counseling ministry is what I call accompaniment. Accompaniment is as much about prayer and hearing from God as it is about addressing poverty, oppression, and mental health issues. It is holistic spiritual friendship. It may include but is not limited to professional counseling. Each person seeking help will have many different kinds of needs; counselors will work with them toward an integrated kind of healing.

The long-term goals for this clinic may reflect many wonderful things in South Chico, but I am praying for God’s grace to make this little mustard seed grow among us in a non-anxious and non-stressful way. The logistics are pretty simple so far. Undoubtedly, we will need to make some adjustments along the way and maintain flexibility in order to work out any miscalculations. But the possibilities are inspiring to say the least.

Jesus taught his disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” In order to cover my own costs of facilitating the clinic and on behalf of those who join me in volunteering, I will pray for God’s grace to give freely and expect that he will provide for us better than we can imagine. When I have needs, that is, for housing or healthcare or other types of physical necessities, I will trust God and lean not on my own understanding. Like Jesus’ own vulnerable approach to ministry, we will depend on our Father in heaven who still takes care of his children.

God may lead others who see the value in what we do and are inspired by it to contribute with their own gifts (Luke 10:4-9), but we will rely on prayer and not fundraising to bring about the abundance we need. When our hearts are willing and eager to give, we feel incredible strength and hopefulness, even in poverty. In essence, we feel God’s Spirit giving to us right as we relinquish control of our stuff. We sense his presence guiding us and making it plain that we can depend directly on him.

I would ask you to join with me in “practicing his presence,” obeying Jesus’ command to love as He loves, freely giving to the poor, even becoming poor ourselves, and leading others with the simple things He’s given us to do. May we feel his Spirit blow right now in our hearts toward a mission of love, and a ministry committed to those both inside and outside our familiar boundaries.

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Misunderstanding Poverty

Perspectives on poverty, especially when defined by middle-class White dudes, inevitably seems to strike a judgmental and surface-level understanding:

  • if only the poor didn’t waste their money on cigarettes and alcohol
  • if only the kids were properly taken care of by their parents
  • if only they wanted to get jobs and stay out of trouble
  • if only the poor cared as much as we do about having a better life

What’s missing here, at least for us Christians, is real repentance and justice on behalf of the poor. Jesus proclaimed blessing to the poor and woe to the rich (Luke 6:20-26). He taught his disciples a radical gift economy that had the effect of making them poorer and yet well taken care of (Matthew 10:8). Understanding poverty from Jesus’ own instructions and example disrupts our self-preserving and often paternalistic plans on how to “end poverty” over there, while keeping the status quo where we live.

“I continue to believe that in this country the opposite of poverty is not wealth…the opposite of poverty is justice…Our system treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”

Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

“Poverty is a multidimensional reality. It is necessary, therefore, following the example of the Bible, to make sure that it is not reduced to its economic dimension, important as it is…[T]he poor represent the ‘insignificant ones’–those regarded as non-persons; those whose full rights as human beings are not acknowledged. Individuals without social or individual weight, who matter little in society and the Church. Thus are they seen or, more exactly, not seen, since they become invisible insofar as excluded in the world of today. Various reasons account for this state of affairs–economic want, to be sure, but also: having a particular skin color; being a woman; belonging to a despised culture.” (p. 18)

Gustavo Gutiérrez in The Theology of Liberation: Perspectives and Tasks

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“The Time of No Room”

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it–because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it–his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.

–Thomas Merton, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (p. 278)

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That’s A Good Story, Dr. King

Since writing my last post (here), I’ve been struggling with the impulse to include some additional examples to make clear what “lens” has shaped my experience. I’m worried that, to some, God’s judgement could seem to bolster the propaganda of powerful politicians like Donald Trump (who promises to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a “permanent border wall” between the US and Mexico). Will those same folks then try to reconcile their anti-immigrant nationalism with seeking God’s kingdom!?! Given this possibility, one that frustrates me to no end, I think we need an honest story about Jesus’ kingdom in order to give this subject of God’s judgement some actual grounding. 

So, I’ve been dialoguing with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a great deal these last few months. He is a great example, in general, but maybe especially for us Christian evangelicals who often swim in the waters of privilege. Whereas a White Christian community may simply suppress a voice like Dr. King’s, others who embrace social justice often have serious doubts about (or have even given up on) Dr. King’s call for nonviolence. It’s naive, they might point out. It encourages submission in the face of ongoing destruction of black and brown bodies. It’s too focused on the world hereafter, not relevant to the struggles of folks who face real threats. While evangelicals seem to ignore Dr. King’s call to nonviolence, activists seem to deconstruct it. This is not new. Like I said before, speaking about God’s judgement is a loaded term and, now let us also acknowledge, so is a more modern concept like nonviolence. But these two perspectives are related, in my view. And should get a hearing, at least by followers of Jesus, in the spirit of beloved community.

I’ll let Dr. King speak for himself. He offers six characteristics about liberation and nonviolence:

  • [Nonviolent resistance] is active and courageous, not passive and cowardly;
  • seeks reconciliation, not victory over;
  • distinguishes injustice from persons behaving unjustly;
  • requires the willingness to suffer without retaliating;
  • rejects physical and spiritual violence (hate, ill-will, humiliation, etc.);
  • flows from and is strengthened by the conviction that the universe itself is on the side of justice and truth.

Dr. King penned this list in the midst of oppression and resistance some 50 years ago. But how can his voice help Christians, as well as justice-minded folks in general, flesh out a truly free response in the face of oppression today?

On one level, we’ll simply need more examples of people, like King, who are living (or have lived) in the stunning liberty of God’s kingdom here. It could be folks we know locally–maybe it needs to be. But really anybody who interacts with us (living or deceased) can be that storyteller we need to hear. It will sound like Good News proclaimed in a life.

I remember Dallas Willard recommending somewhere that Christians ought to read the stories of other disciples in order to enliven their imagination. Good stories have the effect of wiping away fear and creating dissonance, especially in a media-saturated age of propaganda. (I might also add, calling on Wendell Berry, that each person ought to know particular stories in order to fulfill Jesus’ command to love your enemy and neighbor.) Our daily rehearsal of bad news and commercials don’t compare at all with Jesus’ hope-filled presence (even in grief) and laughter. Beloved community can be written on our hearts, if we are willing. Yet we must begin with the most sacred story of all: “not my will, but yours be done.”

 

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