Whose Vision? (An Open Letter To Evangelicals)

Dear Evangelicals,

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times.

Homosexuality is just like any other sin. It’s no different from lying or gossiping or gluttony.

Except it’s not. You don’t believe it, and I don’t believe it, and I honestly don’t understand why we’re still saying it.

It’s different because we disagree about whether it’s a sin at all. No one tries to excuse lying or gossip or gluttony. Except, that’s not true, is it? Because we excuse those things all the time. We lie to save our skins or our reputations. We gossip and call it a prayer request or “venting.” We eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, and excuse it because it’s a special occasion. Those are just little sins, after all. They’re easy to excuse.

Obviously, homosexuality gets classed in with the big sins. It’s up there with murder and adultery. It’s the kind of sin that marks you as a morally bankrupt person, because no one jumps strait to the big sins. You start with the little ones and work your way up. So, obviously by the time you get to homosexuality you’re kind of the worst person ever. You’re probably a habitual liar and a bitter gossip and an all around general reprobate, and then you start sleeping with people of the same gender. Because if you’ve already completely abandoned your morals, why not?

So you think homosexuality is a sign of moral bankruptcy while I think it’s just a thing that happens. Some girls like other girls. Some dudes like other dudes. NO BIG DEAL. That’s a pretty intensely different way of thinking about something.

That’s not the only difference, either.  While most sins do come with their own label, no one uses “liar” or “murderer” to describe themselves. No one considers “adulterer” a vital part of their identity. No one uses “gossip” to explain how they see the world and are seen by it in return. (I mean, maybe they do, but that’s kind of unhealthy, and those people should probably seek counseling.) Certainly, no one is proud of those labels. (Again, if you do, please find someone to talk to.) But for us gay people . . . well, it’s right there in the name. Every other sin is something you do, but homosexuality is something you are.

I’m sure that you’re already gearing up some sort of argument about why I’m wrong. I’m sure that you’ve got your Bible open to Romans or I Timothy, and you’re ready to explain to me in painstaking detail how incredibly deceived I am. But you know that saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” Your actions have already told me that I’m right.

There are a lot of different ways to be a Christian. People from churches that sit across the road from each other may disagree about the role of women in ministry, the appropriate clothing to wear to the pool, or the type of music that should get sung on Sunday mornings. We argue about who is saved and how they get that way. We disagree about what the end times will look like and whether or not it’s okay to drink alcohol. But at some basic level, we all recognize each other as part of the same body. When you get down to the brass tacks, we recognize that we are called by Christ to love and to serve, and we are usually happy to do that side by side.

Except for the gays.

When I heard earlier this week that World Vision had decided to amend their hiring policy regarding queer people, the first thing I did was go look at their list of open positions. I’m six weeks away from finishing a degree in public health, and I want to work in international development. I’d pretty much given up on the idea that I would find a Christian organization to serve with. I’m a queer woman. I know where I’m not wanted. But suddenly, this week, I was a part of the body of Christ again. I was welcome as a sister, called by Christ to love and to serve alongside my fellow believers. It was a beautiful thing.

Of course it was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, I was reading World Vision’s reversal of the decision, complete with an apology to their conservative supporters who were apparently “hurt and confused” by the idea of radical inclusiveness. I felt like I’d been offered a seat at the table, only to have it jerked out from under me while the rest of the group pointed and laughed. Because of course I don’t belong here. Of course, I’m not called to love and to serve. Of course I’m not a part of the body. Not really. I’m just a sinner.

Well I’ve got some news for you. The body is made up of sinners. We’re all saved “by grace, through faith, and this not of ourselves. It is the gift of God.” And without the blood of Christ, your name would be Liar and Thief and Glutton and Murderer. Just like you keep calling me Homosexual.

Sin is sin, and only God gets to decide what that is. Only God gets to decide if I’m forgiven. Only God gets to invite me in or shut me out. And on this side of heaven, we’ll never know who’s right and who’s wrong. You are not the gatekeeper to the kingdom. You are not the arbiter of righteousness. You are not my judge.

We are all sinners, and as long as the Church insists on excluding those they deem unworthy of the name of Christ, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face, because the only thing you do by pulling that chair out from under me is make me wonder if it’s worth it to try. I have gifts to share just like anyone else, and I want to share them for God’s glory. I want to live out the call to love and to serve in a way that honors him. You need my gifts. The body doesn’t work without all the bits and pieces.

So how long will you keep this up? How long will you keep cutting out healthy tissue and calling it cancer? There’s only so much slicing and dicing a body can handle. Excluding us doesn’t help anyone. It hurts us. It hurts you. And it hurts those we should be loving and serving.

So stop lying to me, and stop lying to yourselves. Stop making the excuse that you treat homosexuality “just like any other sin” and think about the truth of your words and actions. Be honest about what you’re doing to the body of Christ, to your brothers and sisters, and to the work God called us to.

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These Ashes (are for Sinners)

Erin Ashes

To a Pentecostal girl, raised without all that fussy liturgical nonsense, Lent has always seemed a bit pretentious.  Especially Ash Wednesday.  I mean, don’t y’all know that you’re supposed to fast in secret???  Lent seemed like an opportunity to show off what a good Christian you are by giving up something hard like chocolate or soda or Facebook, and it all began with Ash Wednesday, the day when everyone wandered around with crosses smudged on their foreheads proclaiming, “Look at what an awesome Christian I am!  I got up super early and went to church on a weekday!”

My, how things have changed.

This morning, I received ashes to celebrate the beginning of Lent for the very first time, and as I have prayed and pondered this experience, I am coming to a new understanding of what Lent means.

Lent is about repentance.  It’s a time to acknowledge our short comings as human beings.  It’s a time to mourn our failures.  Our fasting does not proclaim that we are the best Christians.  Rather, it acknowledges that we are the worst.  Lent is a time to heap on the sack cloth and ashes and contemplate our inability to follow God wholeheartedly.

Lent is also about renewal.  It’s a time to recommit to our struggle against sin.  It’s a time to draw closer to God.  Our fasting is not a symbol that we have it all figured out.  Instead, it gives us space to examine our lives and critically evaluate the ways in which we honor (or fail to honor) God.  Lent is a time to cut out the distractions in our lives and make ourselves uncomfortably aware of how we are living out our faith.

Finally, Lent is about futility.  For 40 days, we wrestle with our flesh.  We repent.  We pray.  We contemplate God’s word.  We abstain from the temporal things that bring us happiness and satisfaction.  And at the end of this period, we are no better able to save ourselves than we were on Ash Wednesday.  We wake up on Good Friday to find that Christ must die for our sins, that his death and suffering are the only path to salvation.  We recognize that all our feeble efforts are in vain because we are saved by grace, through God’s gift of faith.  And on Easter Sunday morning, we embrace the futility of our striving against sin and rejoice in the gift of new life, symbolized by Christ’s resurrection.

So on this Wednesday, as I wear my ashes, I am reminded that they are not a gold star that shows what a good Christian I am.  They are not a badge of honor or courage.  These ashes are for sinners.

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Love Is (A Lot of Things)

A youth pastor I’m Facebook friends with due to connections forged in a former life* recently shared a blog post about a sermon he preached to his youth group on love.  He titled it “The Love Song that’s the Biggest Boatload of Crap” and posted a link to John Mayer’s “Who You Love.”  The song, which I’d never heard of before, talks about how the object of our love sometimes surprises us.  The chorus says, “I’ve fought against it hard enough to know that you love who you love.”

The graphic he used with the post seemed to reference the hook from Mackelmore’s “Same Love,” which was written by Mary Lambert and later expanded into a complete song, “She Keeps Me Warm.”  To be fair, that’s the closest he came to actually referencing homosexuality.  It’s also the main reason I clicked the post and probably should have been a sign to stay away.

The sermon had three points:  “Love is a choice.  Love is not an emotion.  Love is a commitment.”

It’s something I’ve heard before.  The arguments aren’t new.  I sat on my parent’s couch six weeks ago and listened to them.  But they make my blood boil every time.

I’m not a Greek scholar, but I’ve hung around churches long enough to know that there are different kinds of love.  C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book called The Four Loves, which discusses the four ancient Greek words that get translated as “love” in modern English.**  Eros is romantic love.  Philia is the love between friends.  Storge is familial affection.  Agape is unconditional love or “charity.”

Saying “Love is a choice,” is manipulative.  Some types of love are a choice.  Maybe even all types of love are a choice sometimes.  But when we say, “Love is a choice,” we usually mean “Eros is a choice,” and then back up the statement with examples of agape.  We set people up for failure when we do this, implying that if they are attracted to or fall in love with the “wrong” person (whether that means a person of the wrong gender, race, religion, or moral fortitude) they have somehow sinned.  They have failed to be self-controlled.  They have neither the mind nor the heart of Christ.

Frankly, that is the biggest boatload of crap.

There are lots of choices to be made in the romantic sphere of life.  Acting on attraction is a choice.  Entering into a relationship is a choice.  Becoming physically or emotionally intimate is a choice.  Marriage is a choice.

Commitment is an important part of a romantic relationship.  We commit ourselves to a single partner.  We commit ourselves to planning for marriage.  We commit ourselves to marriage, itself.  And each of these commitments deserves due consideration.

Love is a choice, sometimes.  Love is a commitment, sometimes.  Certainly any long-term relationship will require love to be a choice and a commitment at various points.  But love isn’t only those things.

In today’s Western culture, most marriages begin with a combination of eros and philia.  Two people find each other attractive.  They get along well.  They decide to date.  This first, heady rush is why we have idioms like “falling in love” and “love struck” and even “lovesick.”  It’s incredibly emotional.  It’s not something that’s carefully reasoned and well thought-out.  It just . . . happens.  This is the narrative we grow up with.  This is the narrative we hear from movies and television, but also from our parents and pastors and Sunday School teachers.  This is how we learn that love works.  So to stand in front of a group of teens and say, “Love is a choice,” is to twist that narrative in a way that is viciously cruel.

I know what it’s like to love as a choice.  For years, I have silently quoted I Corinthians 13:4-6 to myself during difficult moments with my parents.  I have chosen to be patient and kind and unselfish as I loved friends and co-workers.  I have wrestled with what it means to “keep no record of wrongs.”  I have been challenged by the idea that “[l]ove does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.”  I have thanked God for a love that perseveres and never fails.

I have also found myself completely and unexpectedly in a different kind of love.  I looked up one day and realized that what started as friendship with an edge of attraction had turned into something entirely different without me noticing or intending it to.  And when I realized that the object of that affection was not an appropriate partner, I made the choice to ignore those feelings and continue to nurture the other types of love in our relationship.

“Love is a choice” is a pithy tagline for a sermon, and sometimes it’s true.  But let’s be honest about what we really mean when we say that, and let’s be consistent about the story we tell when we talk about how love happens.  To do anything else is manipulative and hurtful.

*I actually unfriended this person immediately after reading the blog post.

** I apologize to any actual Greek scholars who read this for any mistakes I made in discussing these words and their meanings.  I hope my overall point is still adequately clear.

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I Quit (Trying to Make Fetch Happen)

fetch

I found out over the weekend that I was not selected as a Fulbright finalist.

It was hard to hear.  It was disappointing.  I was sad.  (I was really sad.)  I ate an entire batch of double chocolate chip cookies.  (Because emotional eating is always a reasonable response.)  I went to a crafting party and drank too much sangria.  (Which is pretty much the tamest bender ever and resulted in some really awesome Valentines.)

Now it’s Monday.  Welcome back to real life.

I’ve reached another point where I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go next.  Living and working abroad has been my dream since I was 8 years old, and I have worried and fretted and planned to make it happen.  I’ve thought and schemed and networked and prayed and done my best to prepare, personally and professionally, to follow God’s call for my life, but at this point it seems so out of reach.  I’m not sure how the dots connect.  I’m not even sure what the ideal endpoint looks like.  So I’ve made a decision.  Right now, I’m done.  I’m done trying to make it work.  I’m done trying to figure it out.  I’m done pushing and striving and crying into my pillow.

I quit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah lately.  It’s one of those stories I’ve always been uncomfortable with.  Much like real life, Jonah’s story is not straight forward.  It doesn’t have a neat ending.  In fact, I usually feel like God forgot to include the last chapter.  He can’t really have intended to just leave us with the hero sulking under a dead shade tree.  Right?

But despite this discomfort, I’ve found myself drawn back to the story in the last few weeks, and it’s been oddly comforting.  The Bible makes it pretty clear that Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s plan.  When God said, “Go west, young man,” Jonah got on the first boat headed east.  But God was determined that the people of Nineveh would hear his message, so Jonah ended up right back where God wanted him . . . on the shores of the very city he was trying to avoid.

So if God can take someone who is stubbornly resisting his plan and make sure they still end up in the right place at the right time, surely he can make sure that I get where I need to be, too.

Ultimately, the pressure of making God’s plan for my life work isn’t on me.  That pressure is on God.  I’m still going to finish school.  I’m still going to work and pray and network.  I’m still going to look for jobs.  But I’m going to stop obsessing about finding the perfect job, as though I only have one, narrow window of opportunity in which to follow my destiny.  I’m going to find a job that pays my bills and is moderately interesting.  And if at some point God opens the door for me to go overseas, that’s great.  I’ll be thrilled.  But if the time isn’t now, that’s okay.  If the time isn’t later, that’s okay, too.  God’s in control.  He’ll make sure I end up where I belong.

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For the Princess Who Is Tired of Waiting

They took away your voice

And sat you in the window of your attic bower,

A pretty picture, perfectly framed

For whatever prince happened to ride over the hill,

Armor flashing in the sun,

White horse glowing,

Ready to come to your aid.

What are you doing, princess?

How long have you been waiting like this?

Aren’t your dreams beginning to smell a little stale?

Don’t the perfectly smooth walls of this highest, tallest room

Start to feel a bit confining?

Let me tell you a secret, princess:

No one is coming to rescue you.

 

Wake up, princess.

Break out of that glass coffin.

You’re not a doll to be displayed.

Kick and punch and scream until it falls into shards.

Use them to cut off your hair and weave a ladder.

Climb down from your bower and run away.

You belong in the wider world.

Bind your breasts and trade your pretty dresses for a sword.

That dragon’s not as hard to slay as he looks.

Sell your crystal shoes and use the money to make your dreams reality.

You don’t need a man to spin you gold

Or a fairy godmother to make your wishes come true.

All you need is the brain in your head

And the strength in your spine

And the willingness to get a little dirt under your nails.

 

Don’t worry about waiting for Prince Charming.

He’ll find you eventually,

And when he does, you’ll be ready to take him on an adventure.

Don’t let society pressure you into naïve vulnerability.

You know better than to take candied apples from strangers.

And what about the evil queen?

The wicked stepmother?

The witch that guards the bottom of your prison-tower?

Don’t worry about her, either.

She has only ever had as much power as you gave her.

Don’t let them make you the victim of this story, princess.

You were always meant to be the hero.

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It’s Going to be Alright.

It’s been a rough week.

I’m doing everything right.  I’ve been drinking lots of water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and spending at least seven hours in bed every night.  I’ve even gone to the gym a few times.  I’ve been spending time with friends, going to therapy, and taking my meds.  I still feel terrible.

People talk about depression like it’s just about feeling sad.  But for me, depression has always been more about feeling empty.  I start to feel like I’m moving through molasses.  Everyday chores like laundry and cooking become a huge struggle.  It’s hard to get out of bed or off the couch.  It’s hard to leave my apartment.  There’s so much to do, but I’m so anxious about everything that I get paralyzed, stuck, and it all just keeps piling up.  Everything seems so hopeless.  I can’t stop telling myself sad stories.  I start to wonder why I should even try.  I always think that King Solomon must have been depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes.  “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

On bad days, it becomes a struggle just to take care of myself.  My appetite is weird, and I’m so apathetic that I’m usually dizzy before I really start to think about getting something to eat.  I’ll get thirsty or cold, but I won’t do anything about it until I have to get up for something else.  I find myself thinking about razor blades as a coping mechanism.  It gets ugly sometimes.

When I first started struggling with depression, my parents treated it like a major moral failure.  They acted like I’d gotten addicted to drugs or been sleeping around and picked up an STD.  They still talk about that period that way, and I’ve internalized the idea that my mental illness is a character flaw.   Deep down, I still feel like I wouldn’t be dealing with this if I were an intrinsically better person.

In reality, I’m doing everything that I can.  I’m going to therapy, taking my meds, and doing the best self-care I am capable of.  Most days are just one foot in front of the other.  Monday and Tuesday were brutal, and I didn’t leave the house or put on real clothes.  Tuesday I took a shower and ran two loads of laundry.  Yesterday, I ate three meals, showered, and went to work.  Every night, I remind myself that I get another chance tomorrow.  Every morning, I try to make today a better day.  If it’s a bad day, I make my goals “eat something” and “take a shower.”  If it’s a good day, I’ll try to get to the gym, do a little cleaning, and spend some time with my guitar.  If I’m somewhere in the middle, I prioritize a healthy diet, good sleep, and overall improvement.  I’m getting better at rolling with the punches.

Maybe someday my brain won’t be my worst enemy, but in the meantime I’m learning not to be so hard on myself.  Bad days happen, but life goes on afterwards.  Missing a few checks on the to-do-list on those bad days won’t ruin my life.  My life is going to happen, no matter what, and I’m going to make it the best I can.  It’s going to be alright.

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We’re All A Little Fucked Up (But It Gets Better)

I haven’t spoken to my parents in two weeks.  My mother called twice and left one message.  She sounded off.  Not quite angry, but definitely a little curt.  Maybe uncertain?  I can’t imagine she knows what to do now anymore than I do.

Part of me wants to end the stalemate.  I could call and pretend like everything is alright, but everything isn’t alright and bullshitting my way through a conversation won’t actually help.  Things were said that can’t be unsaid, and behind every bit of pleasant small-talk, I’m going to hear “abandoning your soul to eternal damnation” and “that church is a cult” and “this is rebellion.”  It makes me wonder whether they’re constantly hearing “I’m gay.”

Part of me wishes she would keep calling.  For years, I’ve been the “black sheep” of the family, the one who didn’t quite fit.  I’ve always been half-afraid that my parents wouldn’t miss their squeaky wheel all that much.  Seeing her number show up makes me feel sad and uncomfortable, but also a little more loved.

Being part of a family is complicated.  It comes with so many rules and expectations, so much baggage, that it’s a wonder any of us become sane adults.  And everyone’s family is a little fucked up.  It’s just how the world is.  No one survives the passing on of however many thousands of years of accumulated history and war and politics and life and evolution without a few dents and dings.  Nobody comes out of a family without a few quirks.  No one’s childhood was actually like Leave it to Beaver.

But there’s “everyone’s family is a little fucked up” and then there’s “my parents might be living in an alternate reality that only exists inside their heads.”  There’s quirky and then there’s I-can’t-talk-to-you-regularly-and-also-function-like-a-real-human-being.  We’re officially on the bad end of that spectrum in a lot of ways.

Baggage isn’t the only thing I left home with, though.  In many ways, I’m quite proud of my family.  I come from a long line of amazing women, strong individuals who made it work for their families despite difficult circumstances.  I come from people of incredible faith, and the fruits of that faith can be seen in churches planted, lives changed, and ministries grown.  Both of my parents were raised by blue collar workers but went on to finish college.  My father even has a master’s degree, and my mother is considering going back to school to get an MBA.  These are the stories I grew up on and the shoulders I stand on to accomplish anything in my life.

Sometimes when I’m cooking dinner or driving home, I really want to call my mom, but it’s not actually MY MOM that I want to talk to.  It’s this hypothetical version of my mom who divorced my dad sometime during my college years and stuck up for me when I was depressed and supported me when I decided to get an MPH instead of an MD and is always willing to listen and talk through things, even if she’s uncomfortable with them.  I think that the woman who is actually my mother would be capable of at least some of that if she weren’t also married to/enmeshed with my father.  It makes me sad.  I’d really like to meet that person, but I’m not sure she’ll ever actually exist.  Instead, I hope that I can become that person.  I hope that I can overcome some of the baggage my mom never got past and become the person that she couldn’t be.  And I hope that the next generation of our family will benefit from that.

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