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.

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!”