My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

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The Sin of the Church

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ImageOne of my favorite films of the year has been Philomena. It is a beautiful story about a journalist who tries to find Philomena’s son. Philomena was sent to a convent by her father after becoming pregnant. While in the convent, she gave birth to a son who was then forced illegally into adoption and Philomena was never able to say goodbye to him. 50 years later, Philomena tells this painful secret that she has kept for so many years.

The film is difficult to watch at times. As a person who deeply loves the Bride of Christ, it is painful to see the wrongdoings of the Church. There are an approximate 60,000 women in Ireland that were forced to give up children because they were unwed mothers. Not only that, the Irish government has refused to release the records of these children and the adoptive parents. But Philomena is fighting within the church to see change. She even recently had an audience with Pope Francis.

Philomena Lee has said, “You can’t go through life being so unyielding …so you’ve got to forgive. You’ve got to. You just have to forgive.” This is a seemingly easy concept to live by when the pain the Church causes you is “mild.” Forgiveness is a little more difficult when the Church forces you to give up a child.

But no matter what the pain, “we can’t go through life being so unyielding.” Why? Because we are really being unyielding against ourselves. The Church is a community of people. And each of us make up that community. So when you are angry at the Church, you are, in a way, angry at yourself.

So the church said something with which you disagree? I’m sure no one has ever disagreed with you…

So the church hurt you? I’m sure you have never hurt anyone else…

So the church lied to you? I’m sure you have never lied to anyone…

The sin of the Church is the sin of its people. Our greed, corruption, manipulation, and selfishness is the sin. The Church is not some unknown group of people. It is you. It is me. And we have all made countless mistakes.

This reminds me of the story in John of the woman caught in the act of adultery. As she is brought to receive judgment, Christ makes the simple, yet profound statement, of “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” (John 8.1-11). I feel like for many of us, we have tied up the Church and are throwing the biggest rocks we can find at it. We are relentless in our pursuit of destroying it for the pain it caused us. And yet Christ is saying, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” But we can’t hear Him over the sound of stones smashing through the Bride of Christ.

Many of us inside of the Church seem to think that there is some extravagant evil force that is trying to destroy it. This may have some validity but I think it gives far too much credit to that which Christ said, “the gates of hell will not be able to overcome it.” I think we are doing a pretty outstanding job on our own of destroying the church. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes in the pursuit of trying to create something that resembles the Bride of Christ, I find myself trying to destroy the Bride of Christ to create something that resembles Caleb Trimble. I need to learn that balance.

When we throw stones at the Church, we really just hurt ourselves. We cannot go through life being so unyielding. We just need to learn how to forgive. How do you learn to forgive? Remind yourself of what it was like to be on the other end and needing forgiveness. Remember the relief you felt when someone said those three incredible words, “I forgive you.” Remind yourself that you are a part of the thing that you are destroying.

I think we can learn something from Philomena. She was deeply hurt by the Church and yet she kept her faith in God and in the Church. She chose to forgive rather than walk through life being bitter toward it. Perhaps it is because she realized that she would really just be mad at herself. How beautiful would it be if we were quicker to forgive than we were to cast stones from our tower of righteousness? Or see how we have wronged people instead of seeing how the Church has wronged us?

The sin of the Church is me. The sin of the Church is you. But praise God for His grace to each of us. May we exhibit that same grace to the Bride of Christ.

Dallas Buyers Club & Our Sin

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With the Oscars quickly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to talk more about some of the films that have been nominated. Dallas Buyers Club was one of the few films this year that completely exceeded any expectations I had. I am not too familiar with the story behind the film but I was saddened to see some of the truths that were discussed in the film. One of those truths, I want to talk about briefly.

Sin.

The film deals with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s. I remember studying about it in school and just how much it took us off guard. Evangelical Christians, for the most part, separated themselves from those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. What we knew about the disease was that it was spread amongst homosexuals and drug addicts. Some evangelical Christians went so far as to say that it was punishment from God for the actions of the immoral. I won’t enter into that conversation.

But as I walked out of the film, tears were streaming down my face. Why? Not because it ended sadly. But because I realized, for the most part, not all sin carries the same consequences.

Think of it like this: What if a person tried drugs once? He/she uses a used needle and ends up contracting HIV/AIDS. One mistake leads to a shortened life. One mistake leads to a death sentence. It brought tears to my eyes. One person + one mistake = a death sentence. Compare that to a person who is addicted to drugs and never contract HIV/AIDS and you realize just how unfair life is.

Our sin doesn’t always carry such egregious consequences. A lie here and a lie there doesn’t necessarily mean we will die at a young age. A man can cheat on his wife for years and the affair can remain hidden until his deathbed. Guys can sleep around with as many girls as they want and never contract an STI. It’s just not fair.

The evangelical church has been notoriously known for stamping a red A on those guilty of certain sins. We ostracize and alienate them. We see the curve on their stomach and we talk behind their back. We hear of a medical condition and we keep our distance. We hear of an addiction and we “pray for them” in our small groups.

And then we wonder why women get abortions.

And then we wonder why people continue to sleep around with various partners.

And then we wonder why people continue to fall back into old addictions.

Could it be that we have responded in the exact opposite way as Christ would have? Is God’s heart breaking while our hearts are being hardened? Is God trying to speak life into their lives while we are speaking condemnation? Are we robbing them of the grace that God is giving?

Every day, I see countless sins in my life. Pride, lust, envy, worry, laziness, anger, jealousy, lies, and more. None of those sins have caused me to go to jail. None of those sins have caused me to be considered an outcast of the church. In fact, those sins are pathways for me to show others Jesus. I talk constantly about how God uses brokenness to show His Kingdom.

But for someone who has HIV/AIDS, it’s quite different. For a woman who got pregnant and had an abortion, it’s quite different. For someone who has track marks on his/her arms, it’s quite different. They are not worthy to receive the grace of God.

I ask forgiveness from those who have been alienated from the church for how we have ridiculed you. In reality, our sins are just as egregious as yours. We may deny leading a broken life, but we are liars.

How can we reconcile with those who we have outcast? How can we look at someone with HIV/AIDS because of a mistake with the same eyes as someone who lies to us constantly? How can we remove the log from our eyes before we remove the speck from someone else’s eyes?

The easy way would be for us to all have the same consequence for sin…which we do…it’s called death. Perhaps we can begin seeing how our “little white lie” is just as deadly as shooting up. Perhaps we can begin seeing how our arrogance is just as deadly as sleeping around with as many people as possible.

Where are you in this? Have you lived life thinking you were better because your sin didn’t carry with it the consequences as someone else? Have you thought that God loves you more because you never contracted HIV/AIDS?

We are all in need of the same grace from God. No matter what. Perhaps it’s time that we step down from the pedestal that we built and realize that truth. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped ostracizing people based upon consequences of their actions. Perhaps it’s time that we swallow the hard truth that our sin is just as egregious as someone else’s.

Perhaps it’s time that we see things as God sees them.

That’s what I got from Dallas Buyers Club. It was humbling. It was upsetting. It was revealing. And ultimately, it was used by God to show me the honest state of my life.

There is No Grace

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Grace is a word that has been tossed around so much that it has, unfortunately, lost quite a bit of its meaning. I would endeavor to say that many of us have vague thoughts about grace. We might believe it is what saves us. We might believe that it is what God gives whenever we don’t get punished for sin. Some might confuse grace and mercy (which are two different attributes, one is not synonymous for the other). Some might think that grace has something to do with prayer. And then there are a few that might think that Grace died 30 years ago.

Whatever your thoughts, we can all agree that grace is a term that has been used quite a bit. It is for good reason. Ephesians says that “it is by grace you have been saved.” Grace is spoken of heavily throughout the Pauline epistles. In fact, we probably gather most of our teachings regarding grace from Paul, particularly from Romans.

So why do I want to talk about grace? Because there is no grace. At least not anymore.Image 

Grace used to exist. But now we are weighed down by phrases like:

You should’ve known better…

I expected more from you…

I can’t believe you did that…

When will you ever learn…

We’ve heard these phrases. Maybe from our parents. Maybe from friends. Maybe from fellow church members. Maybe from our pastor. When we hear those words, something inside of us dies. What is that thing? Our perception of grace.

In the evangelical church, we work hard at making sure grace is given to those outside the church. We want everyone to experience the grace of God; well, at least until you begin following Christ. When you start following Christ, you should know better. I mean, that’s what Paul is saying in Romans when he says “shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” What Paul is saying is that once you become a Christian, stop sinning because you shouldn’t increase grace. Right? 

Sometimes the people who feel grace the least are the ones inside the church. 

If a Christian has an abortion, she should’ve known better.

If a guy has sex with his girlfriend, he should’ve known better.

If someone is given to drunkenness, he/she should’ve known better.

Drugs? You should know better.

Did something you regret? You should know better.

And on and on the list can go. Because once you become a Christian, you should know better. Once you become a Christian, there is no grace. Well, unless it is one of the smaller sins, like lying, cheating, coveting, gossip, laziness, etc. Those sins are covered by grace because they aren’t really sins. They are the things we all do…which makes them okay; because God can’t damn us all to hell. So if you do a small sin, God’s grace covers that. But if you do a large sin, like sex, drugs, drunkenness, etc., there is no grace.

I hope we are shown as much grace as we give. One of the saddest things I see is when Christians are graceless toward other Christians. Our definition of grace has been killed by people withholding grace. For living in a covenant of grace, it sure looks a lot like the law at times.

Seeking Forgiveness is Selfish

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Within Christianity, there is a practice called confession. Upon confession, we ask God for forgiveness of sins. I’ve stopped doing this. Here’s why:

I’ve messed up again. I can’t believe I did it again. I told myself I would stop. I’m so angry at myself.

These are things that usually run through our minds when we find ourselves trapped in the same sin we thought we could stop. You know what I’m talking about. Maybe it was a New Year’s Resolution. Maybe you got caught and said you would stop. Maybe you’ve told yourself you are going to stop before someone finds out. Maybe you just came back from a conference and are on an emotional high and are ready to conquer the world. Whatever your motivation, we have all found ourselves in the place where we look at ourselves in the mirror and curse because we gave into “that” sin again.

And thus the cycle begins again. “Lord, I’m sorry.” “You are forgiven.” “Well, maybe just one more time…” “Lord, I’m sorry.” “You are forgiven.” “Well, I’ve gone for a long time without doing it, so just one more time won’t be an issue…” “Lord, I’m sorry.” The only thing that changes is our justification for falling back into the sin.

But what I found, for me at least, is that my seeking forgiveness was more about me than anything else. Sometimes, seeking forgiveness can be the most selfish thing we do. I felt bad because I told myself I would stop. I failed. I thought I had conquered that sin.

Seeking forgiveness stems from a recognition of personal failure. So seeking forgiveness, many times, stems from selfishness. What I am asking is this: Do we seek forgiveness because we recognize what we have done to the Kingdom or our community? Or do we seek forgiveness because we had such a high view of ourselves that we would not mess up again? For a lack of self-discipline?

We seek forgiveness because of personal failure. But failure isn’t personal. Failure affects everyone. So when seeking forgiveness, it cannot be for personal failure. Seeking forgiveness has to be about community. Something larger than yourself. Otherwise, seeking forgiveness is selfish. Who are we to think that we could live life without sin? Who are we to think that we could conquer sin? Who are we to think that we can control the sin in our own life? It is out of our control. It is only through a supernatural power, being the Holy Spirit, that sin can be controlled.

Here’s the point. I’m tired of seeking forgiveness because I’ve messed up. I’m tired of saying the same prayer that I won’t do it again. I’m weary of it all.

What I cannot tire over is recognizing the fact that my sin affects others. My anger hurts others. My cynicism depresses others. My sarcastic language can cut others (it would help if they would stop taking everything personally).

Our sin directly affects others. So seeking forgiveness cannot be personal. It has to be outwardly focused. Otherwise, it is selfish…and wouldn’t that make it a sin?