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Category: Theology

Questions

02

Questions can be destructive. The nature of a question, for instance, is to dig up the ground where we’re standing. It gets mud on my shoes. Forces me to move. And more often than not, those questions reveal thinly-covered canyons. Let the questions get too deep, then, and before we know it, we’re falling.

But sometimes the question moves just enough earth and mud to help us see heretofore hidden springs of fresh water. We drink. We’re renewed. The spring bubbles up and softens the ground. The rain comes down, and before we know it, we’re dancing.

In one case we die. In another we live. In both cases, there’s plenty of digging involved. It’s dirty work, but we need water to live. So we dig.

Over the years, we’ve developed a collection of strategies for the work. Best practices, if you will.

There are those who only pretend to dig. They work over ground that’s been dug before and never dig too deep. Turn over rocks on the surface. Slide their shovels through loose dirt. Stir up dust clouds.

Some are lazy.

Some have lost sight of why the work matters.

Some have lived so long in drought that they’ve forgotten what it feels like to find water. They are already almost dead.

Many are afraid: afraid of what they might find, afraid they might die, their thoughts filled with dark holes and sharp stones.

There are those who don’t dig at all. Maybe they’ve learned that their questions aren’t welcome. Maybe they’re simply standing around, waiting for someone to hand them shovels. Maybe they just don’t know how.

Some are cynical.

Some have been hurt so badly that they just can’t dig.

Some have had their shovels stolen. They are silent. Silenced. They have no voice.

Many have yet to glimpse the source of the water they drink. They have always been provided for, and if the water runs out, they will die without knowing what it is to seek and to find. Which means, as you may have already surmised – no surprise – they don’t dance.

There are those who dig.

Some dig only the ground on which others are standing. Their questions attack. They love finding canyons. For them, digging becomes a kind of addiction, an activity they must own and control; shovels belong to them and them alone. Only they may dig. Some find water, but most self-destruct. They fall into the canyons of their own making. And they take many with them.

Some dig without discernment. They have not learned to see the signs of water. But their enthusiasm can be contagious. And given the freedom to dig, most will find both springs and canyons. They will have many close calls. Occasionally, there is an accident and people are hurt. If gifted with the freedom to dig, however, they will learn; and they will find more water than rock. They will teach us to dance.

I’ve learned, then, that there are two ways to know the people in my community. One is by the fruit of their labor. Those who dig at people rather than dirt – they must be avoided. Those who find water and share, however – those are the people whose questions I can trust, whose digging I can support, even when it feels dangerous, even if I am afraid.

What about fear? Unfortunately, those who are afraid fear both canyons and springs. When I am afraid, I desire safety more than survival. Fear may protect me from canyons, but it leads me into drought. I must be careful of fear (or at least willing to set it aside).

But what if I don’t know? What if there is no record of past work to inform my decision, to help me discern?

There is another way. It is to pay attention to where the shovel goes. If it’s pointed at a person, it cannot unearth anything and should not be trusted. But if it’s pointed at the ground, there may be water.

Many are afraid: afraid of what they might find, afraid they might die, their thoughts filled with dark holes and sharp stones.

Talk

02

Sometimes, what we’re talking about isn’t what we’re really talking about.

A high school graduate called to ask if he could meet with me. Just to talk. So we met. And we talked. About his family. About his decision to take a year off from school. About his job. About the work of discerning – during that year – what he might study when he went back to school. After our talk, the student gave me a letter.

In that letter, he wrote of his feelings for a friend, a friend of the same gender.

Sometimes, what we want to talk about isn’t what we get to talk about.

That student and I talked again. For years, we talked. At church. At coffee shops. In my home. In his. I told him to trust his family. I told him to stay as connected as he could to his church. He told me he was convinced that acting on his feelings would harm his friendship and go against scripture. He told me about temptation and the boundaries he’d set in order to avoid it.

I had to reconcile my image of a God who is Love with the reality of a God who doesn’t always play fair. I couldn’t do it. We didn’t talk about that.

It’s been nearly seven years now since the student and I started talking. Celibate all those years, that student has remained active in our denomination. That student is respected. But I wonder what would happen if that student shared his story with his home church. Or with mine.

If he stood on a Sunday morning and shared a story of sexual purity, a story of victory in Jesus, a story of perseverance and of sacrifice, a compelling story – how might the telling of that story affect his future among us?
Would he be allowed to volunteer in the church nursery?
Would he be asked to lead a small group for young men?
Would he be nominated to serve as an elder?
Would we send him to our annual conference as a representative of the local church?
I’d like to think the answer to at least one of those questions might be yes. But I’m not so sure.

I’ve heard the talk.

I wonder what would happen if that student shared his story with his home church. Or with mine.

Shame

02

I’m embarrassed about a lot of the things I did in high school. And no, I’m not talking about the time I convinced my 4-year-old brother to climb into the clothes dryer. Or the time I turned on said clothes dryer. Or the hundreds of times I repeated the story – of how I’d convinced him, of my mother’s screams, of the thrill – over the following year.

In public.

With volume.

Granted, that incident – and quite a few like it – is one that probably should cause shame. But even now, as I’m typing, I’m also smiling. At the memory. Of how stupid I was. And I’m thinking about who hasn’t already heard that story because I’d kind of like to tell it again.

That’s part of the problem. People hear stories of the things I did –

an under-the-radar, pay-day loan service I ran during the lunch hour;
a series of letters to the Oregonian, urging editors to fire a certain columnist I didn’t like;
a faked disorder in which I semi-secretly and pseudo-obsessively consumed paper products for attention (for two years)

– and conclude that there couldn’t possibly be more.

But there is. Few people know, for instance, that I once took part in a public protest.

I was on the news.

I was standing on a street in Portland.

I was holding a sign: Abortion Kills Children.

My friends at church (assuming they read my blog) are probably starting to wonder where I’m headed with this. My other friends are probably wondering how they didn’t know I was THAT kind of Christian. Some of you just want me to get on with it already.

So there I was. At my first public protest. And I was being POLITICAL. I was making a STATEMENT. I was standing up for the TRUTH. And something funny happened.

This car came around the corner. It was moving slow. A woman leaned out the window, and as the car passed, she looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you just keep your penis in your pants?”

For some reason, I thought that maybe my fly was down. I put down the sign and checked. Nope. All good. When I looked up, the car was gone. And it dawned on me why she didn’t stick around for my reply. It was already on my sign.

I hadn’t taken any communications theory at that point. And I wasn’t skilled in cultural exchange analysis. But I knew that sign had a message. And as messages tend to be, it was aimed at someone.

Abortion Kills Children.

Sometimes my brain doesn’t work as fast as I’d like, but I realized, looking up, reading the sign, standing on that street in Portland on a Sunday afternoon, that my sign was aimed at women. What women were most likely to physically feel the sign’s message? Women who’d had an abortion. Women stuck between one bad choice and another. Women who were doing the best they knew how in a world that didn’t love them. And certainly didn’t understand.

I was holding up a sign that was intended to shame people.

Poor people.

Powerless people.

The abused.

The assaulted.

The already-ashamed.

For more than half my life now, I haven’t really thought about that time in Portland. Didn’t want to. Didn’t need to. Even now, writing about the incident, I feel a mixture of shame (I was once one of THEM) and relief (but I’ve CHANGED). The shame is real. But the relief is not. Because I’m still one of THEM. And even though I don’t take part in that kind of protest, I also fail to protest the protest (if you know what I mean). This little blog post is my relatively weak attempt to change that. By telling the moral that I learned that day:

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people. Even people who could have killed their brothers by sticking them in clothes dryers.

I want to love people, too.

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people.

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