Sunday, September 24, 2006

off the record

okay, so here we go again.
it seems if you really want to see the phone lines light up, just bring up either worship music or homosexuality among a group of evangelical pastors... this time the catalyst was a decision to by wal-mart to become corporate members of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
one person made this honest and open statement at the end of an email on a list which invited opinions from many different angles:

"The homosexual community is so suspicious of the Christian community that I am concerned that a boycott would only convince them of our lack of love toward them. But I'd love to hear what other people think about it! These questions always challenge me to rethink my interaction as a Christian with the larger world."

amidst a barrage of, in some cases insightful and in other cases unsightly, comments and opinions on whether or not to boycott wal-mart and the like over their willingness to join said organization, one voice resonnated with the grace of experience, so i wrote the guy to talk more. what i've tried to do is pull some of that ongoing dialogue together here so that it reads a bit like an interview... meet william gardner.

WG: Hi Jolly. Sorry my response took so long. I just got back from a missions trip where we work amongst our own samaritans (ie: acts 1.8) every summer. Then I did a quick family getaway to cottage land. Just got back from that.

JB: hey man. thanks for writing back. i remember hearing of your work from a mutual friend and how it was so obviously Holy Spirit-inspired. love it when God takes on the logistics that would typically hold us back... the same kind of stuff has happened with regard to our missions to sri lanka.

anyway, thank you for your words and, more importantly, i think, the tone of your words. there is so much unlove around- particularly among clergy- that the heart behind a few simple lines here was a cool breeze amidst so much hot air.

WG: Thanks for the kind words. Appreciated!

JB: i have a question, however. context: a guy that had started going to our church asked me to go for lunch about six months ago, so we hooked up at this great little thai place downtown. amidst a whole bunch of other questions and curios, he slipped in a question about my position on gay relationships. didn't think much of it at the time, as the whole lunch felt a bit like an interview- sort of a reverse membership process.

WG: Very cool that you had lunch with him! To me that is the way we are supposed to be. I am going out for a drink with a lesbian who has checked us out on the web and wants to know if she would be welcome at our church.... As she is? Supposed to be going this week. Have another good friend who is a practicing lesbian...errr, actually she is legally married to her partner. She has come a few times to our church and loves the love she feels here.

JB: yeah, well, last sunday he came up at archived me back to our conversation... in particular, the relationship part. then he told me that he is currently in a gay relationship.

WG: Funny how people do that.

JB: right. so, okay, now my rhetoric is being tested. i've blogged a couple times in this direction:

what i am trying to sort out is whether my position held is something that i can maintain publicly amidst possible pressure from those in our church who are spectating... believing in God's grace for themselves without receiving it to overflowing- that others' thirst for it would be quenched through a cup of it given by them in the name of the Lord, ya know?

WG: Yeah, I find people are so low on the giving grace to others scale. Showed in the recent hurly burly online. My goodness- that one guy was attacked by some really stupid comments. I wanted to jump in and call the other guy an asshole. But I have learned... the knives of right wing fundamentalists are very sharp.

JB: i always hold that we are introducing people to Jesus, and that the real work is being done by the Holy Spirit- but what if my friend missed what i was saying when i spoke of sexual purity and how intimate friendships between people of either gender are part of how we share God's love and strength with each other, but that these are not to move to sexual relations... hearing only that "love is love and the pastor said it's okay?"

WG: I think you should not worry about that. That is how we start to want to play the role of something we are not. We are not the Holy Sprit. God is. We are what we are....stumbling, fumbling, bumbling people who ache to dance with God. Indeed we do dance with God. Or rather, God dances with us and lets us stand on His feet as it were. He carries us in this crazy dance. It looks comical, like a little kid standing on his dad's feet does. But what a picture. It makes you smile. It makes you feel warm. Not sappy crap warm. But real warmth. God warmth. That draws people.

Relationship takes time. Trust. In that time and trust, lives are changed. Gently, lovingly, grace-filled-ly.

JB: i remember hearing someone refer to the neighbourhood inwhich your church is situated as being an area with a high gay/lesbian population within its demographic.

WG: Um, we probably have the same percentage that your own neighborhood has. Just some places are a bit safer for people to be honest about who they are.

One of the safest and most honest places I have ever been was a narcotics anonymous meeting with one of my people ( a recovering heroin addict). She wanted me to see her "other church"...her words. She also wanted her other church to see her pastor. They asked me to speak that night, impromptu.

It was awkward as I got up and said: "I am not worthy to speak here because I have listened to all of you speak so stripped down honestly about all kinds of stuff and I feel as though I could slip into some kind of inauthentic bullshit. I do not want to do that in this place. I just want to thank you for letting me be present here tonight. With you. Your stories are precious. Thank you."

That NA meeting was more 'church like' than most churches I have been in over the last 20 years. I was convicted by the reality there. By the presence of God there.

I share that tid bit because, I think a lot of church folks think they are bringing God into a place or situation. That is completely wrong headed. I do not bring God anywhere, He is there ahead of me and asks me to join the wild dance He is already doing in that place.

God is already amongst the Gay people. He just is looking for a few of us to go and be His skin in the situation where He already is.

JB: great story. a nice one to have lived, not simply heard somewhere... i am reminded of one of my favourite bible bits, 1 corinthians 14.24-25, where paul speaks of strangers just showing up 'impromptu' and being so moved by the apparent presence of God at a meeting that they are convicted of the sin in their own life- like what happened for you at the NA gig.

it is important for people to not only feel but actually be loved when they enter God's house- i don't really care who they are because it doesn't seem as though God does.

no- strike that.

i think it is more that God cares deeply about who they are while the people of God often get sidetracked by the sin problems that are so much more evident to the naked eye than the soul being strangled by them is. we fail to see Jesus' blood upon others, finding ourselves ever fixating upon that which our knowledge of good and evil recognizes in others (even if our knowledge of good and evil is skewed by far too much human tradition and history to be objective anyway)... this whole world view being the one thing from which God tried to save us back in the garden anyway.

WG: Yeah. Hey, sorry for blabbering on and on. Thanks for engaging me. I hope you don't mind my being fairly open and honest with you. There are a lot of people in the church world that I would not talk as honestly and real as I just did above. After reading your Warhol blog though, I felt I could be myself with you. Thanks for that.

Blessings and joy be yours!

blabbering on and on? no worries from my end... it's what i do best.

but now for some questions with no answers: when, if ever, do we address the whole area of sexuality and fidelity and the like with our gay friends, and how do we do so without coming off all sanctimonious and, as was said above, ready to perform surgery to their current sexual identity with a very sharp right-wing fundamentalist knife?

i keep saying 'they' and 'their' because, within my own sphere i know very few people who are 'out.' there are some natural degrees of social separation that i'm trying to somehow attend to for my part. however, i have had a few frustrating discussions (with one individual in particular) which have brought to articulation some pretty comfortable little prejudiced defaults of others towards clergy. because i am a pastor, i am sometimes relegated by others to as few distinguishable characteristics as your everyday homophobe might for a lesbian... in this view, i am autocratic and judgemental and presumptuously ethnocentric- holding to my own bigotted view of what the scriptures say rather than considering other more open-minded possibilities. i have conceded that this may be true of many in my vocation (thinking of the online skirmish that prompted the conversation with william, for instance) but that one has to be careful not to reverse discriminate...

however, in roll the personal doubts. these brow-beatings have me continually reassessing my own world view, wondering if these relational presumptions are in fact true of me and all that. i don't want them to be. i want to lead everyone who becomes part of our church family in the paths of righteousness, and am eager to discern by God's light, where these paths truly lead and through what terrain.

whatever- tangent. nevermind.

point is, our church is starting to become a place that is investigated every now and then by an openly gay person looking for God... i see this as a blessing because i think it means that God is trusting us with some really spiritually fragile people who have received a lot of heavy disaffirmation in their lives and have somehow heard that our church on the corner is safe.

i want it to continue grow into the identity of a safe place- even for 'others.'
i want the one investigating to sense that this is an environment where we are going after deepening relationships with God and each other and that the Holy Spirit is the one who is doing the convicting.

i guess that i am aware of the 'us and them' scenarios both on and off the record, and am eager to proceed on to the 'we.'

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

robert johnson

back in june i put together a powerpoint presentation for my son's 'grade 8 farewell' (lest we call it 'grad'!) and i got thinking about poetry and nicknames. see, my kid's nickname is dozzy- easy to say, means nothing... it's perfect. (be cooler to call him d'Ozzy or something, but that's a whole nother blog). my father's nickname was similar- his friends called him duzzy.

my nickname? i'd rather not talk about it.

the kids called me dogslop.

now i understand that nicknames are typically kids' earliest application of poetic devices into some sort of social context (e.g. as per the recent 'happy madison' movie Benchwarmers: Gerry Fairy, Gus Bus… etc) but something in me still bristles when i remember signing things using my nickname.


if it was some sort of big scriptural reference to my basic propensity to sin (proverbs 26.11) then it might allow me to build some form of outlaw persona out of it. however, all of my friends knew me as the squeeky-clean sunday-school kid who didn't smoke, drink, swear or go to parties. i was the proverbial whitesheep of the family, the designated driver of the band and the conveniently christian friend from school to introduce to one's parents if they ever got suspicious. nope, this nickname was simply a ridiculous rhyme for my last name (at least no one called me coleslaw which was probably a closer fit, but not at all interesting.)

but it's humbling to remember not only answering to this name, but signing it. i signed the name because it was given to me by my friends and, in choosing to see it as social credentials, i had entered into agreement with it.

well, as for names given to you, it is important to remember that, whether a name is thoughtfully or thoughtlessly imposed, it is not prophecy. it is simply a doorway into relationship: people have to call you something other than 'bud' or 'dude' or whatever, and a name allows others to somehow identify you in some way when refering to you. you give meaning to your name- it doesn't give meaning to you.

i am reminded of the story in mark's gospel of Jesus' encounter with the madman of the tombs. Jesus asks him 'what is your name?' and the guy replies 'legion, for we are many...'


scripture does not record his given name, only the taken one. the name that possessed him. the identity that imprisoned him spiritually and marginalized him socially. the name by which he was known by everyone in the community- and who didn't seem to really be interested in his personal redemption or restoration.

think about it. everyone knew him as the wild man of the tombs- the demoniac- there may have even been some that called him 'legion.' imagine how strange it must have been to have arrived on the scene to find the guy that had been so easy to dismiss sitting quietly at the feet of Christ. suddenly there was something wrong with this picture: the world had just changed- nothing was as it seemed anymore.

Jesus had that kind of power- the kind that healed the sick and raised the dead, the kind that set the captives free and brought into public hearing the things people only dared think about their worldly spiritual leaders, the kind that redeemed original identities.

in his book "Abba's Child",
brennan manning explores the notion of shadow selves. to paraphrase, shadow selves are created identities based on relationships which are circumstancial and ever-changing… they are highly unstable operating systems…

there are similar notions contained in john eldredge's "Wild At Heart"
and the fact that they seem to agree so deeply with this story found in mark 5 leads me to ask many questions on any given day... but most notably:

do we live bound in agreement with what hell wants us to believe about ourselves… rather than being what Jesus saw in us that was worth dying for?

letting shadow selves live in our place is like making a pact with the devil… we shake hands and go on living a life that is, at best, spiritually inconsequential. rather than meeting at the crossroads to ensure greatness (in the tradition of faust and/or the legends of bluesman robert johnson) our deal is more scriptural, ensuring the utter hopelessness of mediocrity and marginalization.

what is the alternative to living out the life of a shadow self?
living in the light of God's truth would be a logical answer. 1 john 1.5-7 informs this one.

and so i ask myself and anyone who will listen

who are you really?
how many shadow selves are you?
how many addictions do you do battle with?
how often do you renew your pact with the devil?
what would it take for you to stop going along with it and fight back by accepting the name God has for you?

this past summer i travelled to my hometown on holidays. as is my usual drill, i went running in the mornings. what i did not expect (amidst a predictably high nostalgia factor) was a return to the crossroads...

on one particular morning, i ran down a street that i had walked as a little kid and i found myself remembering a couple of incidents (one in particular) that had been the birthplace of a particularly important shadow self. this spot wasn't the scene of an abuse at the hands of another or a redefining encounter or anything like that- just the beginning of some perspective that was part of me from then on. although as a young person, i had done a bunch of praying about this one later, my identity had remained in question and i could never really figure out why.

reason? probably that i had never simply spent the time putting that shadow self to death.

but on this one sunny holiday morning, i had nothing but time. renouncing the hold that events some thirty-five years earlier had had upon me, my relationships, my behaviours etc was the first step to a new journey, informed and enwisened by the old one.

with a head full of spiritual steam, i then proceeded to a second place where i needed to continue the cleansing dialogue, systematically putting to death an even more spiritually emasculating self that had long since passed its reasonable expiry date.

and at the end of my run, i sat calmly at the feet of my Lord...
a new man built upon the ruins of the old one.

"As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you..." (mark 5.18-19)