The Awkward Middle Way

Christy Lynne Wood (1)

When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

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Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

Christy Lynne Wood

My grandpa loved burnt cookies. That last pan that got forgotten in the oven, the extra crispy ones with the hard brown edges that no one else wanted to eat, those were his favorites. When my grandparents came to visit, he always had the same question for my mom. “Got any burnt cookies?”

At first I thought he was joking or just trying to make my mom feel better if she’d burnt any. But as I grew up, I realized that my grandpa was actually serious. One of thirteen siblings, his mom was just a little busy and burnt cookies were often the result. Strangely, Grandpa not only got used to burnt cookies, he actually preferred them. I recently learned that various relatives would burn a pan for him on purpose. Good old Grandpa!

It makes me think of Jesus. As people, especially in our virtual world of social media, we value having it together. It’s important that we are looking good, behaving well, or at least pretending. But while He was on earth, Jesus seemed to prefer the broken ones, choosing to make rejected people His closest friends. He was always pursuing the outcasts and the obvious sinners. I think He was a little bit like my grandpa.

I love imagining Jesus coming in with outstretched hands and a smile, “I’m just here for the broken ones.”

I’m just here for the broken ones.

We’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus befriended weren’t any worse sinners than the Pharisees. Sin isn’t just outward behaviors.

We desperately need a bigger understanding of a lot of things. I think religious Christians often see sin as merely behaviors they need to avoid. Somehow the goal has become outward goodness and our real issues get shoved under the rug and into the closet. Guilt and shame keep them there and as a result many church people never get to fully comprehend grace.

Religion_ I’m too much of a mess. Gotta get it together before I come to God.

Sin isn’t just behavior. It’s the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It’s in our thoughts, and attitudes, and the motives of our hearts. We cannot get rid of it by ourselves. But we don’t have to!

God doesn’t want good people.

How’s that for a crazy thought? God does not value human effort at goodness. It is utterly impossible for us ever to be good enough on our own. And pride stops grace.

But this is why the gospel is good news. Jesus loves broken people, messed up ones, and total failures. And those are the kinds of people who love Him back. Because they know they need Him, because they know they can’t do it on their own. Because they come humbly to the cross and accept His free gift of forgiveness.

When we are broken, then we are able to be healed. When we are lost, then we are able to be found. When we are a total sinner, then we are able to experience forgiveness. In humility we find abundant grace, and mercy, and love.

Let’s stop trying to cover up our messes. Let’s just be burnt cookies!

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Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

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I was surprised to read a week ago Thursday that Progressive Christian author, blogger, and speaker Rachel Held Evans had been in a medically induced coma for the past two weeks. And then I was even more shocked last Saturday to hear about her death.

I’ve been down a rabbit hole of thought and research ever since.

Rachel’s second book, Faith Untraveled, was one of three books I read eighteen months ago when I was trying to learn from people that I disagreed with while processing my own recent church hurt. Of the three books I read during that time, Rachel’s was the hardest for me. We were so similar in many ways. There were many paragraphs that I felt like I could have written myself. We saw problems within the mainstream evangelical church through almost parallel eyes. I loved her raw honesty and wit. But just as I would start to agree, we would both take an abrupt right angle turn and end up at polar opposite conclusions.

As I’ve read reviews and excerpts of Rachel’s more recent books over the past few days, I know that there isn’t much we would have agreed on theologically. And yet we both felt the emptiness of religious Christianity, and we both grieved the pain people have caused in the name of Jesus. Rachel was passionate, fierce even, with a strength that I recognize in myself. I think that’s probably why I was so irritated with her while she was alive. Our “truths” definitely did not align. And yet I can’t help but admire the intentional way she lived.

It’s easier to ignore people and ideas that we don’t agree with than to face them. As I’ve journeyed down this rabbit hole of progressive thought the past few days, I’ve just been faced with the overwhelming amount of people who have been terribly hurt by the church, by Christians. Well-meaning or not, people who claim the name of Jesus have left a trail of wounded in their dust. That’s not okay. The rabbit hole is exhausting and I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to address the issues and lies and pain.

The pull of Progressive Christianity with it’s focus on love and relative truth is attractive. It’s inclusive and comfortable and happy. And if the only other option was Bible Thumpers who want to quote verses and force me to behave while ignoring my questions and doubts, then I’d become a Progressive too. But, as I’ve said so many times before, there aren’t only two options. The world is not black and white.

Despite everything humans have done to prove otherwise over the years, God is Real. He is more real than the chair I’m sitting in or the iced chai latte I’m drinking. I know because I’ve met Him and He has radically changed my life. I’ve met the Living Presence that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus who came as a human being to show us the Father and the way back home. Not just by living a life we are supposed to emulate, but by being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We aren’t going to find Him by finding our own truth. The truth is Jesus and we will only find the truth as we discover Him – not the other way around.

In the time between when I started this blog post and today as I finish it, I stumbled across a podcast by Alisa Childers. She is a historical Christian who loves apologetics. I’ve been absolutely devouring her show. The incredibly intelligent people she interviews amaze me.

I would also identify these days as a historical Christian. All that means is that we believe in the historical view of Christianity passed down for the last 2000 years. We agree with the early creeds and views about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and God Himself. This contrasts with the progressive view of Christianity which is more fluid and less literal.

I have no plans of becoming a apologist, and you probably won’t even notice in my blog posts or social media that I am listing to all of this intellectual stuff. But I feel like it’s a solid base for me to have as I work my way towards a podcast of my own.

I’m going to continue questioning ritual, tradition, and Christianese cliches. And I’m going to continue to point people back to the Real Jesus. People mess up the truth when they start putting in their own twists and spins on either side of the spectrum. My story is proof of that!

More than anything else, I long for you to know the Real Jesus. He exists and He wants to be found.

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Confessions of a Former Pharisee

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I used to be a Pharisee. One of those well-meaning religious people who totally missed God walking in front of them because they were so consumed with rules and spirituality. Yup, that was me.

And it wasn’t just back in my days in a cultic sub-group of Christianity. Honestly, I was a Pharisee up until a few years ago. I can still be a Pharisee right now.

I’ve been that religious person who only cares about people cleaning the outside of their cup and whitewashing their tombs. (Matthew 23:25-28) The one who wants you to fix your behaviors while missing your hurting heart. God used four teenage girls in leggings to remind me again just the other day.

When I’m not writing, or taking care of my family, or having coffee with friends, I’m probably Shipt shopping. That’s right, I’m a professional grocery shopper. LOL! Not exactly what I imagined myself doing for a career, but it’s all good. 🙂

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The other day I delivered to the Life Skills teacher at a local high school. I parked out front and waited for her students to come collect the pizza making supplies I’d just purchased. Four young girls showed up with a cart. They were polite and friendly as we unloaded the groceries. Pretty girls, put-together and made-up, they were typical of the upper class, suburban area where I work.

I shut my trunk, hopped back in my car, and started to drive away. Out of nowhere, tears began to sting my eyes and I felt my heart break. I’ve been learning to pay better attention to emotion and not assume that I know where its coming from. What I discovered this time surprised me. I wasn’t crying for those girls. I was crying for me.  They were tears of brokenness and repentance for the person that I have been.

See, every one of those girls was wearing leggings. A couple of years ago, that’s all I would have noticed. I would have been upset at their lack of decency and I would have missed their precious hearts. But that’s not who I am anymore.

I used to be a pastor’s wife. My husband and I went to Bible college right after we got married. We were in full-time ministry of some sort, either Christian camping or church, for the next seven years. I thought that I was free from all of the legalism and rules that I had grown up with in my teens and early twenties. But I look back and I see someone still trapped in religion, someone still obsessed with behavior.

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I cared more about people’s outward actions and appearances than I did about their hearts. Good Christian kids didn’t date too early or too much, they didn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops or two piece swim suits, and they came to youth group every week. I pushed good behaviors on people in the hopes that their hearts would change.

But I had it backwards.

There were some women who came to our church that I didn’t think were actually Christians. I remember overhearing a conversation they were having about taking one of those big pedal bikes around to the local breweries. I didn’t say anything out loud, but my face said everything anyway. Good people definitely didn’t do that kind of thing. Those women eventually stopped coming to my church and at the time I supposed they just weren’t actually serious about God. But honestly, I think they probably felt judged and condemned. I think I probably helped to push them away.

I’ve held a lot of stones over the years, and I’ve thrown a lot of them too. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until one day when the stones were pointed at me. I was the one who had messed up and made a mistake. I was the one who fell into sin. And I was the one who felt the judgement and condemnation from the other religious people holding stones.

That was when everything changed.

As I sat in the dust of condemnation and rejection, I found that Jesus was sitting there with me. Brokenness brought me face to face with my Savior, and in Him I found forgiveness and unconditional love, even in the middle of my mess.

I used to think that sin was avoidable…that we could work hard enough to be good people. Of course perfection was impossible, but somehow goodness was attainable. I thought that God wanted us to be good. I thought goodness held value.

I don’t believe that anymore.

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Sin is more than just the things we do or say that are wrong. Sin is the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It reaches into the very motives of my heart. I have been completely broken and corrupted by sin. There is no getting it together or being good. It’s never going to happen. And it doesn’t need to.

Because Jesus.

The more I sense the depth of my sin, the more I know I need rescue. I’m lost, helpless and without hope. But Jesus loves me. He has forgiven ALL of my sins. He is with me always and He wants me. I’ve known these truths since I was a child, but somehow the more broken I become, the more precious they are.

I don’t think that God values goodness as much as He values brokenness. All of my attempts at goodness are just dirty rags anyway. But when I am willing to just be broken, to repent, and to let go, then I am swept up in the beauty of His glorious grace. God has gifted me His incomprehensible goodness because of Jesus, and that has nothing to do with my pathetic attempts at fixing myself.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little… And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace'” Luke 7:47, 50.

The more I recognize my need of a Savior, the more I love Jesus. It’s not a passive love either; its a gut-wrenching LOVE. I would do anything for Him, give up anything, whatever He asks. I just want Jesus whatever that means.

Jesus wants my heart. He is after your heart too. It’s not about being good or looking like we have it together. It’s about being broken people who need a Savior.

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But First We Are People

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We recently took our kids to Chicago for a quick weekend. I’m not a city girl, not by a long shot, but I do like a good adventure. My husband is also pretty willing to take a chance. So, after finding a great deal on a hotel north of the city, we decided to take the Metra train into Chicago for the day and then use buses to travel around. It seemed like a good idea. We weren’t exactly familiar with public transportation, but how hard could it be?

Almost impossible actually.

Buying our train tickets online was a breeze. Getting onto our train and traveling into Chicago was exciting. And that’s where the fun ended.

Silly me assumed that once we got into the transportation center there would be an information desk where a nice person would tell us which bus to take and where to find it. I was wrong.

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This is London, not Chicago, but it felt similar!

Instead we were dumped into a vast sea of people who were all in a tremendous hurry and knew exactly where they were going. There was no information desk of any kind. We finally found a bus stop outside with a map, but it made absolutely no sense.

And there we were, in downtown Chicago, with our two young children, and no clue what to do next. The Internet was as useless as the bus map since all the websites we found already expected you to know how to use the bus system.

When you are a country girl, the big city can be a scary place. 

After wandering around for half an hour, we eventually ended up back inside the transportation center where we found a nice woman at a ticket counter who told us that we could buy bus tickets in the waiting room. Unfortunately the ticket machine was in cahoots with the bus map and Internet sites and was less than helpful. While we stood there trying to make sense of anything, a girl came up with her bus card. She was attempting to put more money on it, but as I just said, the machine was totally uncooperative. I jumped in to help and together we figured it out.

While my new friend and I were wrestling with the ticket machine, a young man appeared behind us. He explained the process of getting and using tickets to my husband and then pulled three single-use tickets out of his wallet and just gave them to us. We tried to pay him, but he waved us off. Beyond grateful, and with tickets in hand, we headed back down to a bus stop that we were reasonably certain was headed to Navy Pier.

Within minutes a bus sporting a beautiful 124 pulled up and the doors opened. The bus driver confirmed he was the bus to Navy Pier, but then told us he was going the wrong direction. His bus just left Navy Pier and was on it’s way back into the city. The right bus stop was across the street, but it had just left. Seriously?

The driver took a look at our dejected faces and told us to get in. That sweet older man not only gave us a free ride, he also explained the bus system to us including telling us about an app that we could download to give us real time bus locations and arrival times.

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My faith in humanity was restored. It didn’t matter that my friend at the ticket machine was Asian and that English was obviously not her first language. It didn’t matter that the man who gave us free tickets was heavily pierced and tattooed. It didn’t matter that our kind bus driver was an older African American. And it didn’t matter that I was a white, suburban housewife. Because, first we were people. People who cared, and stepped up, and helped one another.

I think about the state of our sadly divided country right now, and I shake my head. And then I honestly wonder if we are as divided as the media, and politicians, and other people in power want us to think we are. 

If we had stopped to talk about politics or religion or anything like that, these people of Chicago and I would probably have had different opinions. But those opinions don’t actually matter when it came to connecting as human beings. Because as humans we have more commonality than we have division. At our core we feel, and love, and long, and need the same. We all share the deep things that make us people.

We don’t have to believe exactly the same to love one another. And just because we disagree in some areas doesn’t mean that we have to hate each other. Different isn’t bad; it’s just different.

There is so much fear in our world these days. At least that’s what the news and social medias tell us. We are afraid and must be afraid of anyone who is different than us. That is the message drilled in over and over from both sides. But it’s simply not true.

I’ve been working on Chapter Nine of my book Impostor Jesus: Rejecting Religion in a Search for the Real God. Chapter Nine is all about being motivated by fear. Here is a little excerpt from the rough draft.

“Fear is an excellent motivator if you want power. Capitalize on people’s fears, convince them you have the only answer, and they will give you control. I see this in so many areas of life these days. People often make choices about schooling, health, vaccines, or politics based on fear. It might not be obvious on the surface, but if you look closely, you will see the familiar underlying motivations. Social media, blogs, the Internet in general, these are all excellent ways to spread fear. People in power like to use fear because it works; I know that personally. Which is partly why, as I began to get to know the Real Jesus for myself, the things I had been taught began to make less and less sense.

Fear is not from the Real God. He is not a God of fear. He doesn’t use fear to control us. These are important truths to grasp in our minds and believe in our hearts…”

I wonder what it would look like to live in a world without fear, or at least with less fear. What would happen if we refused to give into the fear driven story-line portrayed by the media? What if we purposely chose to get to know people who are different from us just to discover their beautiful humanity and the things that we do have in common?

Guys, the only people benefiting from our fear are the ones in power. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of that. I’m tired of the drama, and the fighting, and the politics. I want to live real life with the real and precious people around me. I want to broaden my own perspective by learning from people who are different from me. I want to practice acceptance, and grace, and love. I want to get out of my comfort zone and experience the richness that comes from diversity. Will you join me?

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How Two Gay Christians Changed My Life

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It all started late last spring when a good friend of mine gave me a book. She told me that it had transformed her entire view of homosexuality. It was a little, unassuming looking book by a man named Wesley Hill. I had never heard of that author before, but I was excited to read it.

Homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole is such a hot topic among Evangelical Christianity. People hold pretty fiery opinions which have often left me feeling like I was splashing around in the middle of two opposing camps. I couldn’t agree with the more conservative views, but didn’t fit into a liberal way of thinking either.

I knew that the Bible is pretty clear that a homosexual lifestyle is part of the brokenness caused by sin, but I also knew that the LGBTQ+ Community belongs to the world that God loves and sent His Son to save in John 3:16. I wanted to love and accept people the way Jesus did, but I also wanted to stay true to Scripture. Wesley Hill was about to show me that both were possible.

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I read Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality with my heart in my throat. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so close to an author. As Wes poured out his heart and struggles and was honest about his loneliness and fear, I felt my own heart break.

It wasn’t the kind of book that I could read in one sitting because I needed to process and think. I took Wes camping with me over the summer. I read him sitting around the campfire with a Kleenex in my lap so I could catch my tears. I read him in the laundry mat while waiting for clothes to dry in the middle of a thunderstorm and posted these thoughts on my Facebook page.

A friend gave me this book earlier this summer and it is opening and expanding my mind in amazing ways. Written by a Christian man who struggles with same-sex attraction but who is choosing to live a celibate life…it’s just powerful, and gut wrenching, and eye opening.

I don’t know if I have ever felt such love, and admiration, and respect for an author before.

You need to read it. Need to!!

We CANNOT live in a bubble.

And the best way to intentionally pop it is to expose ourselves to people and thoughts and perspectives that don’t exactly meet up with our own.

Washed and Waiting allowed me to stretch my mind. It’s easy to have staunch opinions about issues when we have no personal experience. But those lofty opinions are formed at a distance. It’s a completely different thing to have opinions that are formed by interaction with a person living the experience themselves. Even if that interaction is just reading a book.

I had never loved an author the way I found myself loving Wesley Hill. I even became a groupie and followed him on Instagram. 🙂

That is until I found David Bennett.

I have a good friend who works in Christian Marketing. We originally connected over a shared love of Jesus and disgust with religion. That connection morphed into breakfasts at our favorite coffee and bagel shop. I was telling her about Wesley Hill’s book and how incredibly life changing it had been for me. She got all excited and started talking about a book she was working with by a former gay activist who discovered Jesus. My friend was so enthusiastic that she gave me a copy of the book the next time I saw her.

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I’ll be honest, I devoured David’s book called A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus. I could not put it down. He challenged me, stretched me, made me reconsider how big God is, and spoke truth to my heart. I read with tears, and laughter, longing and hope. Then I followed David on Facebook and Instagram. 😀 I really wanted to be his best friend, but since he’s living in England going to Oxford for his PhD, I decided I’d have to settle for being an active follower. Here’s a sneak peek of the main idea of A War of Loves.

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Don’t you just want to go grab it and read it for yourselves?! Seriously, go order it on Amazon. I’ll even give you the link.

Guys, he met Jesus!!! And that changed everything. David has a message for the LGBTQ+ Community, but he also has an incredibly vital message for the church as a whole.

I love that God is calling and using gay Christians to share His message of truth. If that isn’t just like Jesus, I don’t know what is. 🙂 He has always pursued and used people the religious elite called outcasts. (The only thing is, that makes us Evangelicals the Pharisees…convicted much?)

So, what have I learned from my new favorite people? And how have they changed my life? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • We, the Evangelical Church, have royally screwed up and it’s time to acknowledge our failure and repent. I don’t know if it was out of fear or a religious focus on behaviors, but we have alienated an entire group of people from the gospel. Many people in the LGBTQ+ Community have felt nothing but hatred from Christians. That’s a serious problem! Especially since Jesus said people would know His disciples by their love…
  • Popular thought in our culture says that if you don’t agree with me, you must hate me. That’s not true. We don’t have to agree to love. And disagreement doesn’t have to mean that we hate. We can disagree in healthy ways while still loving each other. We can believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall and that the Bible is clear that a homosexual lifestyle is sin, and we can still unconditionally love and accept people who identify as LGBTQ+ without focusing on their behaviors.
  • We don’t have to actively announce our personal beliefs. If you look at Jesus’ example, He was always seeking out the religious outcasts. He loved and accepted them without expectation FIRST. Then He called them to repentance.
  • It’s not our job to lecture people about their behaviors. It’s our job to introduce them to Jesus. If we teach people how to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to do His job of conviction. God cares SO MUCH more about our hearts than our outward actions anyways!
  • The Evangelical Church needs to get educated! There are so many lies and false concepts circulating about homosexuality, gender identity, and such. It’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We need to get out of our Christian bubble and down from our ivory tower of spirituality and meet people in the LGBTQ+ Community. Let’s read authors like Wesley Hill and David Bennett. Let’s engage in training from places like The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. (They have awesome, Biblical teaching with a beautiful balance of truth and love.) Let’s talk to actual people who are different from us.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about two things. I am passionate about everyone knowing the Real Jesus. And I am equally passionate about rejecting behavior-driven Christianese religion. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ Community, it’s time that we left behind our traditions, and fears, and stereotypes. It’s time we embraced the Whole World with the truth of God’s love. 

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More great organizations to further discussion and learning:

Revoice – Fostering Peace, Honoring Dignity, Preserving Faith

Hole In My Heart Ministries

The Christianese Religion and the Real Jesus

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I’m working on getting back to regular blogging on this site. Lately I’ve been doing more “mini-blogs” over on my writer Facebook page. I’d love it have you join me there as well. I typically post some simple thoughts about once a day. This blog post is an expansion of one of those mini posts.

The scariest thing about the Christianese Religion is that you don’t even notice you are following it until it stops working for you. The formulas, phrases, and culture seem good and real while you are in the bubble. The things you do and believe appear to be genuine. You are part of a community that is like-minded.

What do I mean by the Christianese Religion? In his book Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper says this, “Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” For the past year, I have not been able to get that sentence out of my mind. It finally connected the dots between the ten years I spent in a cultic sub-culture of Christianity and the disillusionment people experience within “normal” church.

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When we are religious (which we naturally are), we are focused on behaviors. We are trying to do things in order to please God. But often the god in our head is more of a concept that a Being. We make him in our own image and shove him into a box. And in our obsession with performing correctly we completely miss the Real Jesus.

Christianese works great until it doesn’t. If that has happened to you, then you know. Maybe you got on the wrong side of the spiritual authority or you asked the wrong questions and felt the sharp sting of rejection. Maybe life fell apart and suddenly you realized that the pat answers no longer satisfied the deep brokenness of your heart. Empty religion may appear to work for a while, but it will always leave you searching for more. Because your soul wants Jesus.

There was a reason Jesus spent all of His time with the social outcasts and religious rejects. They knew they needed Him. They were broken and ready to hear His words of life.

The Pharisees had their religious system down and they missed God walking in front of them. I’m afraid the same thing is happening in churches all across the country. We are substituting religious experiences for the Real Jesus. But well-meaning people don’t even notice…because right now the system and the culture are working for them.

Maybe brokenness and disillusionment is actually a blessing because it opens our eyes to the emptiness of religion. Maybe not fitting in or feeling rejected is actually a good thing because it causes us to seek for more. I pray that our seeking bring us to the feet of the Real Jesus!!

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(This story is paraphrased from John chapter eight.)

She stood there silently, her head bowed in shame. They wanted to stone her. And according to the law, those religious leaders had every right. She’d been caught in the very act of adultery. But they were using her as a test, and now they waited to see what the young rabbi would say.

He didn’t say anything, just knelt down next to her, and began to write with his finger in the dirt. She saw his hand out of the corner of her eye, felt his presence next to her. He ignored the clamoring crowd and was silent as he drew. Finally, he stood. “Any of you who are without sin can be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he knelt next to her and quietly wrote in the dirt with his finger. That was it. There was an awkward silence.

After a moment, she noticed that the crowd seemed smaller. Peering through her hair, she realized that the religious men were slowly leaving. Eventually, it was just her and Jesus alone on that dusty patch of earth. He looked at her. She lifted her head. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” His voice was kind. She looked around; they were all gone.

“No one, sir.”

“I don’t condemn you either.” He smiled. “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

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Pastors, Abuse, and the Church

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Yet another mega church pastor was fired last week for inappropriate behavior. This kind of thing is starting to become old news. What in the world is going on? Having spent ten plus years under a spiritually abusive leader myself (although he wasn’t a pastor), I decided to do a little research.

It’s not new. The Abuse of Power and Religion have been best friends since The Fall. Throughout history we see broken people using religion to gain power and control…from corrupt priests in the Tabernacle, to the religious Pharisees who had Jesus crucified, to the Holy Roman Empire prior to the Reformation, to the modern Evangelical American pastors that have been in the news.

It’s not uncommon. I have talked with a shockingly large group of people who have experienced brokenness, abuse of power, or just regular abuse within a church or Christian organization. It crosses denominational lines and exists within conservative and liberal settings. I know of many people who escaped a spiritually abusive situation only to fall into yet another church filled with brokenness. And I know that for every mega pastor who makes the news, many more smaller churches are dealing with the same things. Why does this happen?

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While digging around on the Internet, I came across an article by Dr. Darrell Puls on the American Association of Christian Counselors website. Dr. Puls talked about how, as an Associate Pastor, he was nearly destroyed by his Senior Pastor and ended up resigning in despair. Later he discovered that this Senior Pastor fit the diagnosis of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After recovering with help from Christian therapists and psychiatrists, Dr. Puls went on to work as a peacemaker through conflict resolution in the faith-community. As he dealt with conflicts, Dr. Puls began to notice a large percentage of them that stood out as different. Familiar with NPD, and because of his own experience, Darrell quickly realized that all of these different conflicts had a NPD pastor in the middle of it all.

After talking with a colleague, Dr. Glenn Ball, who also noticed a similar trend, the two men decided to conduct some research. Embedded in their survey was a validated NPD test instrument. With permission, they were able to test an entire Canadian denomination’s active and retired pastors. They wondered how many narcissistic pastors they would discover.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, between 0-6.2% of the general population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, Dr. Puls and Dr. Ball discovered that 31.2% of the pastors they surveyed met the criteria for full blown NPD. Their shocking findings are published in a book called Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It.

A similar study conducted in the Netherlands in the early 2000s showed that 90% of the pastors surveyed displayed narcissistic tendencies at the least. Um, this is kind of a problem! And it also makes a lot of sense. Being a pastor is an upfront position with lots of power, praise, and often a total lack of accountability.

So it’s not just your imagination, the research shows us that a significantly above average number of pastors are either narcissistic or have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This explains why so many of the mega pastors get to the place they are and also why they are falling. It also explains the shocking number of tragic church situations I’ve heard about.

Most likely, there has always been a larger number of people with NPD in the pastorate than in the general population. Abuse has been happening within churches throughout history. However, thanks in part to the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, people aren’t staying quiet any more. And that’s a good thing.

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If this is the case, then what can we as the church do?

Some ideas include:

  • Stop defending. Too often I see Christians trying to defend a fallen leader rather than calling sin what it is. I hear things like “It could have been any of us” and “we just need to give grace.” While these things are true, we also need to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” Ephesians 5:11.
  • Stop giving grace to the wrong people. As a Christian community we are far too quick to give grace to a perpetrator while blaming their victims. This needs an about face. We must give grace and love to the victims of abuse while putting the blame and consequences on the offender. God is full of mercy, but He is also a God of justice.
  • Stop staying quiet. Manipulative leaders are great at condemning “gossip” with a broad sweeping brush. My old leader created an entire teaching and system on Only Giving a Good Report  and then The Defilement of Listening to an Evil Report in order to keep people quiet so they wouldn’t connect the dots. Just because you verbalize that something is wrong doesn’t make it gossip. Gossip has to do with the type of information you share, who you share it with, and what your motivation is for sharing it. When abuse of any kind is kept quiet, the only people who benefit are the ones in power.

And then:

  • Start exercising discernment. Just because someone is a charismatic leader and seems legit initially doesn’t make them someone to follow. There was a reason Jesus called false teachers wolves in sheep clothing. It is perfectly acceptable to inspect the fruit of someone who is in charge. If you get red flags, run!
  • Start developing your own relationship with Jesus. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about the difference between a living relationship with Jesus and a religion you follow. Religion is easy to manipulate and control. But when you know Jesus for yourself and the Holy Spirit is whispering to your heart, you will be uncontrollable. 🙂
  • Start understanding the difference between power and authority. The word “authority” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles especially by manipulative leaders. They try to make you believe that they have biblical authority and therefore you must follow them. But Jesus is the only true Head of the Church. Power is the worldly ability to make people do what you want. But, according to my current healthy church, true biblical authority, like Jesus had, is only available when you live a life so genuine that people just want to follow you. And you can’t fake that!

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For more information:

  • This is a link to Dr. Glenn and Dr. Puls’ paper written for the American Association of Christian Counselors.
  • This is a link for the study done in the Netherlands. The full report does need to be purchased.
  • This is an article on signs of a narcissistic pastor from churchleaders.org
  • Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls
  • The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson

 

 

Words for the Year

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Last year I posted this on my writer Facebook page:

“I’m gonna be honest…I was feeling kind of snarky about all these “words for the year” on social media right now. Kind of cynical and cranky.

Like seriously, people do not need to get a word from God for the year. How do we know it’s really from God? How do we know we aren’t just pulling something out of our own mind? Stop pressuring people with strange, Christianese junk!

It reminded me of the emotionally charged relationship I had with Jesus back in the day…back in my crazy fundamental days.

Then, I was sitting with my hot coffee and journal on January 1st. I wrote out the date for the first time, 2018…and I got a word. 😆 The Holy Spirit’s sense of humor is something else sometimes!

The word filling my heart and mind was HOPE. I look into 2018 with hope…hope for continued healing in my own life and in the lives of those I love…hope because God is good, and huge, and more than we can imagine.

Hope is what I want to give away through my blog, and Facebook page…hope that the real God is full of love and grace…hope that we don’t have to perform to earn anything from Him…hope that we can indeed find our way back to Him.”

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As I look back on 2018, it was indeed a year of hope. Hope restored and hope given. It was a year of healing and growth and possibility.

I’m still not a crazy fan of “words for the year.” I still think they can be overdone. I still think that people can feel pressured to get one from God. But ironically, as I was thinking back over 2018 and wondering about 2019, a word popped into my mind. It’s not a word I would have thought of myself. In fact, I’ve sat on this word for a couple of weeks now without sharing it. But as I’ve prayed and thought about it, I think it really is from the Holy Spirit and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

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When I first heard the word, VICTORY, I also wanted a verse to go with it. 1 John 5:4 just jumped from my phone as I scrolled by. It’s not about circumstances that seem victorious or about getting everything we want out of life. It’s about an inner victory that happens no matter what is going on in this world: our faith in the real Jesus…getting to know Him for ourselves in an experiential way.

That is my prayer for this year. I want to know Jesus and I want you to know Him too! I want our faith to be in something more than religious beliefs. I want our faith to be in Someone Real…that is the victory that will overcome!

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