Where Good Things Run Wild

Years ago I was on a hiking trip with three other friends (I’ll use their initials to protect their identities, although I don’t think that they would mind me sharing this story), T, S, and V. While T, S and I all were experienced hikers, V was new to this activity. She had quizzed us before the trip with all kinds of questions – what boots to buy, what kind of pack, water bottle, and hiking pole to use, what kind of training she should do to prepare for the trails, how to handle any emergencies, etc.

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Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

We were enjoying an 11+ mile day hike on a gorgeous sunny day, and came to a curve that hugged a canyon wall. It was very steep & sheer uphill and downhill of the trail – at some points you could reach your left arm out and touch the side of the mountain. T was in front and I could see across the canyon that there was a mountain goat on the trail ahead of her. I wasn’t worried about the goat attacking her, but I could see that it was using the trail because there wasn’t footing, even for the goat, any other way, and as we came around the curve behind her, T and the goat were in a stand-off, (at a safe distance, I might add!)

T and I conferred, and went with the option to politely move forward, avoiding eye contact, until the goat found a place where it could step to the side of the trail and allow us to move on past it. There were a few times when the goat seemed to consider mowing all four of us off the mountain, but fortunately it huffed and changed its mind and moved back. Finally it came to an area with a few trees and a boulder on our left, and it hopped right up, it’s hooves at our eye level. T, myself and S hot-footed it past, offering our quiet “thank you’s” and “sorry’s.”

Then I turned around to see V, the tallest of our group, walking in slow motion very stiffly past the goat. The goat was getting impatient and voiced a rather displeased huff, which made me quite nervous.

“V – hurry up!” I said in a hoarse whisper.

With her teeth clenched like a ventriloquist, V replied, “You said not to run in front of the wild animals!”

Sigh, I had said that, and V was following instructions to the letter.

“The omnivores, V, not the herbivores…it’s OK to walk quickly this time…it’s waiting for us to go by.”

She sped up, just a bit, and all turned out well.

Our National Park Service was established in 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”[1] This continent was full of wild country years ago, and as we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” in the name of progress, we’ve needed to set aside and protect unpopulated places. These parks allow room for wild things to run free, and these areas have rules and regulations to keep everyone safe.


In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.

~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 317


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Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Jim Burnett was a National Park Ranger for 30 years. He wrote a book entitled, Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks.  The following is taken from his introductory chapter:

For many current-day visitors to national parks the “great outdoors” is an alien environment, and most of what they know about dealing with the natural world comes from a TV program or magazine article. The expression, “I know just enough to be dangerous” applies in a big way to some people who decide to try a canoe trip, climb a mountain, spend a night in a campground, or even just take a short hike on a nature trail.

I’ve also concluded that a few park visitors take their goal to “get away from it all” a little too seriously and simply leave their brains at home when they go on vacation. As a result, they end up doing things that they would never dream of attempting in their native habitat, whether that happens to be a big city, suburbia, or a small town. Sometimes this situation is compounded when people try to cram too much fun into too little time, resulting in a trip that might more accurately be called, “wreck-reation” than recreation.

If it wasn’t for guidelines and laws, some people might try to use the parks as their own personal hunting safari range, or mow down rare and beautiful plants and animals with four wheelers, or toss trash into clear mountain streams – things they wouldn’t dream of doing to their neighbor’s property in their own home towns.

I am so thankful for our National Park system, and our country’s Wilderness Areas[2], and for those who work in these places to keep people and the environment safe. Most of the vacations I’ve taken in my adult life have been trips to hike, bike, and kayak through these parks. On my hikes I’ve come across moose, fox, bear, antelope, badger, prairie dogs, trout, turtle, raccoon, otter, pine martin, woodpecker, trumpeter swans, eagles, hawks, cranes, marmot, pika, elk, deer, buffalo, loon, and heard the cry of wolves. There have been fields of wildflowers filling green valleys so lush you’d think it was Eden, and waterfalls that shine like silver over smoothed out stone. Cooling breezes and warming sunlight fill the day, and countless stars sparkle as I’ve settled down to rest at night.


Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.

~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235


 

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Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Getting out past the “front country” nature trails and information kiosks into the woods for days has been a great blessing. To know that this rugged, uncultivated land is there – to look around for miles and only see things that God has put in place – to be pulled by the desire to see what’s coming around the next bend – to have enough space for all of this to exist is such a gift.


No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!

~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 208


 

Last week I came across this quote for the first time, and it’s haunted me (in a good way) since:

 The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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Custer State Park, South Dakota

We often think of the rules when it comes to Christianity – and sometimes it can seem that is all that Christians are focused on. But to do that is to miss the forest for the trees. Or perhaps, in continuing with the idea of wilderness, we can look at it another way…

A park ranger was once asked by a man leading his family in one of the great western National Parks, “What would you do if you only had 15 minutes to see this place?”

“See that bench over there?” he replied, “I would sit on it and cry.”

The vast majority of visitors to National Parks never venture 1 or 2 miles away from their car. Their experience is going to be vastly different than that of someone backpacking into the wilderness, living in the woods while carrying all their supplies. So too, I believe, are the experiences of those who dabble in having faith in Christ, getting their toes wet from time to time, rather than plunging in with their whole lives.

It’s not the rules of Christianity that hold us back, but rather we often hold ourselves back from the wild goodness that is allowed to run free under His wing. So, for the Christian, here are a few questions to consider…

Are you enjoying the good things running wild in your own life with Christ? Are you following rules and setting order for rules and for order’s sake, or are you digging deeper and walking further down the trail in your faith? Are there times you’ve carved out to spend with Jesus and allow Him to speak to you through His Word, or quiet you with His love, like a pika in it’s den? (Zeph. 3:17) Are you expressing gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with, like wildflowers in a meadow, whose pedals follow the sun across the sky? Are there moments when worship spontaneously bursts out of you like a waterfall through a crack in the rock?

If not, maybe getting out into a bit of the wild itself might help draw you into a deeper communion with the Creator of all that is good and wild, beautiful and pure, noble and true.


Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.

~ John Muir Our National Parks , 1901, page 56


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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Secondly, examine your life to see if you are you creating an environment for others to enjoy. Is your life, your home, your friendship giving room for good things to run wild? Is your house &/or are your conversations a haven, a refuge? Are you walled off with tall fences and concrete roofs, or open to the starlight? What are you shaping with your life? Are you inviting chaos with your choices, leaving destruction, ruts, and trash in your wake, or are opening wide landscapes of peace?  Is your life drawing people in, wondering what could be around the next corner?


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
~ John Muir The Yosemite (1912), page 256


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Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Consider these questions with Jesus, and ask Him how you might move forward to give room for good things to run wild in and through your life.

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,

for in You I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

apart from You I have no good thing.”

I say of the holy people who are in the land,

“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”

Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.

I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods

or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup;

You make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.

With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will You let your faithful one see decay.

You will show me the path of life;

in Your presence is fullness of joy;

in Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

(NIV/Amplified)

 

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

[1] The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

[2] There are 759 Wildernesses and 109,754,604 acres in the US.

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Expecto Patronum

As you may have already read in other pages of this blog, I’m a big C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien fan. I was slow to pick up on the Harry Potter series, but eventually it grew on me, and I came to enjoy J.K. Rowling’s creativity, character development, and use of language.

If you’re not familiar with the series, Harry Potter is an orphan being raised by his aunt and uncle, who treat him rather like a servant in comparison to their own son, Dudley. One day his rather dismal life is broken into with the surprise discovery that he is actually a wizard, and has been accepted into a school for young wizards and witches called Hogwarts. We learn about this strange new world along with Harry throughout the series, and he and his friends are put through many tests and adventures.

Rowling is a wonderful wordsmith, and creates lyrical names for her characters, the locations in the wizarding world, and the spells that the students learn to use. [You can find a quick review with some examples here: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/07/harry-potter-linguistic-innovator/] One spell in particular sparked my interest. It is known to be a difficult one to learn, and advanced skill is needed to produce it. It’s called the Patronus Charm.

We first learn about this particular charm in the books after Harry Potter is confronted by a Dementor, which in itself is a compelling term for such a creature. From the HarryPotterWiki online we learn the following about Dementors:

K. Rowling has revealed that the inspiration for Dementors came from her bout with severe depression before her phenomenal success. She described the feeling as an “absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.”[1][9]

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.

—Description of Dementors, from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban[src]

Of course with the first reading of the word, we see the echoes of the terms “demonic,” “mental,” and with the suffix “–or,” we pick up that this is a person or thing that does something, in this case, rather torturous. Looking closer at the Latin origins of the term, however, we can parse out another meaning…

De-mentor

“De-“ is a prefix used to indicate privation, removal, and separation (dehumidify), negation

(demerit; derange), descent (degrade; deduce), reversal (detract), intensity (decompound).[2] Removal and separation, negation, descent, reversal, and intensity…let’s look at what this is referring to in the second part of the word…

“Mentor” is an experienced and trusted adviser, or an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students.

ORIGIN mid 18th century: via French and Latin from Greek Mentōr, the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey .[3]

So from this we learn that a literal translation of “Dementor” could be “A person or thing that removes, separates, negates, and/or reverses someone who is an experienced and trusted adviser, trainer, and counselor.”

Another grim aspect of a Dementor that was hinted at in the description above is their ability to not only rob one of hope and happiness, but also can eventually suck out a person’s soul. This is called the “Dementor’s Kiss” in the wizarding world, and is considered a fate worse than death. (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Dementor’s_Kiss) We’ll come back to the significance of these things later on.

In order to fend off a Dementor, one can use the Patronus charm. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry learns this spell from Professor Lupin, who describes it as: “… a kind of anti-Dementor – a guardian which acts as a shield between you and the Dementor.” He goes on to say that, “The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive – but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so Dementors can’t hurt it.” Presumably, the Dementor, finding that the being confronting it does not suffer as a human would, retreats in confusion.

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Muggles’_Guide_to_Harry_Potter/Magic/Expecto_Patronum

Here is more of Professor Lupin’s lesson from the book:

‘And how do you conjure it?’

‘With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.’ Harry cast about for a happy memory. Certainly, nothing that had happened to him at the Dursleys’ was going to do. Finally, he settled on the moment when he had first ridden a broomstick.

‘Right,’ he said, trying to recall as exactly as possible the wonderful, soaring sensation in his stomach.

‘The incantation is this –’ Lupin cleared his throat, ‘expecto patronum!’

‘Expecto patronum,’ Harry repeated under his breath, ‘expecto patronum.’

‘Concentrating hard on your happy memory?’

‘Oh – yeah –’ said Harry, quickly forcing his thoughts back to that first broom-ride. ‘Expecto patrono – no, patronum – sorry – expecto patronum, expecto patronum –’

Something whooshed suddenly out of the end of his wand; it looked like a wisp of silvery gas.

‘Did you see that?’ said Harry excitedly. ‘Something happened!’

‘Very good,’ said Lupin, smiling. ‘Right then – ready to try it on a Dementor?’

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

At last we’ve come to the words that first kindled my interest…”expecto patronum.” If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films, this spell saves Harry from quite a number of dangerous situations. It’s considered quite the prodigious achievement that he comes to be able to successfully use this spell at all.

HPEPHarry Potter protecting himself and Sirius Black from Dementors, using the Patronus Charm http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Dementor

How the incantation is achieved is intriguing – one needs to concentrate fully on a single happy memory. In other words, being singularly focused on joy is what is needed to create the protection from a Dementor, from the being that can rob you of all hope and cheer and ultimately your soul. I love how Rowling uses joy as a defense against soul-depleting depression in her series. But the words of the charm hint at something more.

“Expecto” – when we read this the connotation that first comes to mind is “expect,” and indeed that is part of the original Latin meaning, but it more accurately means “await.”   It can also mean look for, need, require, or hope.

Patronum – in Latin, the word “patronus” means “protector,” or “patron.” In archaic Latin, it means “father.” (The root “pater” is where we get the term “paternal.”)

So we can say that the translation of expecto patronum is: “I await (expectantly) a protector.”

Now why go through all this word study about a world of wizards, with soul-sucking beings and spells and such? I find this all interesting not only of it’s own merit, and the wordcraft and world-generating creativity of J.K. Rowling is quite the admirable talent, but it’s also worthy of thought because fiction often draws out realities and truths that our scattered minds have a tough time bringing into focus. C.S. Lewis put it this way in regards to stories:

“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”

What, then, is the reality brought to light through the use of the patronus charm that I see applying to our non-wizarding, yet still spiritually brimming world?

In the Christian life, we live in the midst of a paradox. Tempted and tried, yet forgiven and redeemed; considered righteous in Him, yet confronted each day with our own sinful nature. We live in two places at once, between the now and the not yet. Living in this paradox creates an underlying and persistent tension.

The Now And The Not Yet

No longer what we were before,

But not all that we will be.

Tomorrow, when we lock the door,

On all our compromising,

When He appears,

He’ll draw us near,

And we’ll be changed by His glory,

Wrapped up in His glory….

We will be like Him,

For we shall see Him,

As He is.

No longer what we saw before,

But not all that we will see.

Tomorrow, when we lock the door,

On all our disbelieving,

When He appears (holy, holy),

Our view will clear,

And we’ll be changed by His glory,

Wrapped up in His glory….

But I’m caught in between

The now and the not yet;

Sometimes it seems like

Forever and ever,

That I’ve been reaching to be

All that I am,

But I’m only a few steps nearer,

Yet I’m nearer….

~ Amy Grant

How do we live well in the midst of this tension between the now and the not yet? I believe that living in hope is key. Not the kind of threadbare, splintered hope against an unbeatable foe, nor the kind of fanciful or foolish hope that is simply in denial of reality. Rather a hope that is comprised of a confident expectation. A hope that means stepping out in faith, with our eyes focused on Jesus, pointing to the thing that would suck out our very soul and shouting out –

“Expecto patronum!”

“I await a protector…” God is going to show up there…here…in the midst of my calamity, at the end of my rope, in this pit of depression, in the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges. I expect Him to show up, and work out His will for my good.

What a powerful thing to call out in one’s defense! And what a powerful attitude to carry with you though life.

We can live each day in confident expectation that the Lord is there, that He is working out His plan in our lives, crafting us into the likeness of Jesus. This is a hope that upon which one can build a sustainable life, in the midst of great obstacles and pain.

Here are a few verses to consider that speak of this kind of hope:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,

   And in his word I put my hope.

Psalm 130:5 (NIV)

I wait [patiently] for the Lord, my soul [expectantly] waits,

     And in His word do I hope.

Psalm 130:5 (AMP)

…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] Will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired.

Isaiah 40:31 (AMP)

[1] http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Dementor#cite_note-8

[2] Online Google dictionary

[3] Online Google dictionary

Gender Identity, II

I’ve been working on this series of posts for months, but I’ve also been very hesitant to write about this topic. Primarily because, as I mentioned in the last post, it is so easy to look at a person and think that addressing things that can be seen on the outside will lead to changes on the inside. In reality, that is rarely the case. I don’t want to leave the impression that becoming more feminine would lead to experiencing changes in one’s sexual orientation. And I seriously do not wish my own explorations in gender identity to be misinterpreted as some type of definitive standard.

But earlier this week I read this, and it reinforced how important it is for me to at least try to write about this subject, even if I’m not able to be perfectly articulate about it:

http://www.wset.com/story/25061872/little-girl-taken-out-of-christian-school-after-told-shes-too-much-like-a-boy#.UzFYnqKZ3wI.facebook

This poor kid – this could easily be me. (Especially as she’s wearing a Steeler’s shirt – my favorite team!) She’s only eight years old, and doesn’t think of herself as being a boy, according to the interview recorded along with this article. I really can’t see a reason to make a fuss. And it comes across, once again, as though all Christians take a knee-jerk approach to these issues.

In my case, it wasn’t a Christian school that tried to change my appearance, it was my mom. She did not understand my tomboyishness and couldn’t identify with it at all. When she was growing up, she loved dresses and high-gloss shoes with buckles and wore lace gloves to church on Sunday mornings with enjoyment. Those things felt terrible on me. But any kind of boyishness in my appearance was a terrible embarrassment to my mother. I remember when she was introducing my brother and I to someone and said, “This is my son, R___, and my feminine daughter, Debra.” While saying this she stood behind me and had her hands on my shoulders, rather close to my neck, and shook me a bit for emphasis. I got the message.

I would much prefer to speak to people in person about gender identity, as I don’t want anyone else to feel that kind of pressure and discomfort and lack of acceptance that I grew up with. As you are reading, please don’t look for the key(s) to unlock every door that blocks the way for every person who identifies as gay/lesbian/ etc., or who is expressing their gender identity in non-conventional ways. Although I went through changes in my gender identity, I don’t see myself as someone who has achieved some kind of “feminine ideal.” I don’t think that there is one. And frankly, some of what passes for idealistically feminine in our culture today just isn’t healthy.

Instead, as you read I hope that you will be encouraged that this same God who showed His faithful love to me in specific ways through the years also knows and loves each of you and those you know very deeply and intimately. I pray that you will seek Jesus on your own and spend time with Him. He will help you to grow into the wonderful, unique aspect of Christ-likeness that you have been created to reflect.

What is Gender Identity?

Our gender identity is so very subjective. It is culturally dependent – differing due to what country / tribe you are a part of at the time. And it’s time-dependent – different ages hold different styles and ideals in vogue. What was considered really hot back in the day tends to look rather ridiculous now.

It took a long time for me to sort through the complex threads of my identity as a female. I didn’t want to conform to a cultural ideal – either of the secular world or the Christian sub-culture – just for the sake of blending in. I wanted to learn if the Lord wanted me to make any changes at all, or if He would be happy with me just as I was. And if there was a prodding to make changes, I wanted them to come from the inside out – to still feel like “me,” and not feel fake, as though I was dressing up in a costume.

And, as with my sexual orientation, sometimes the church and fellow believers were very helpful, other times not at all. And sometimes I just sabotaged the heck out of myself along the way. But I came to a place of contentment, (where I happen to still be quite tomboyish), with the sure foundation of what it meant to be “God’s woman.” Not forcing myself into current cultural or Christian sub-cultural trends, but an authentic expression of what it means to be a woman in God’s eyes.

For the follower of Christ, the bigger question is, “What does the Lord tell us about what it means to be a woman in His Word?” Let’s spend some time thinking about that…

Your Hair is Like a Flock of Goats

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.

Song of Solomon 4 :1-2

Oh, how I love these verses! It seems as though this was a compliment, back in the day…which absolutely cracks me up. Several things in the Song of Solomon do translate well through the gaps of culture and time, but this isn’t one of them. I love animals, but the beauty of a flock of goats descending a mountain does not work as a flattering remark when I’m heading out for fun day.

So this passage reminds me to not shoot for the nanny goat look when styling my hair in the morning as some kind of benchmark of how the Lord wishes me to appear to the world at large. We need to remember to read the Scriptures as literature – taking the metaphors metaphorically, the literal parts literally, etc.

Holy Femininity

Seriously, then, what does the Lord have to say about what it means to be feminine in His eyes? (Which are the ones that count.)

This is not a comprehensive synopsis, but I found these truths to be very helpful when I was looking at what it meant to be feminine from the Lord’s perspective:

  1. Taking a Spiritual / Kingdom View of People
  2. We are Created Either Male or Female
  3. We are Known
  4. Beauty’s Source

Kingdom / Spiritual View

I do this all the time – look at myself and others as though we’re just people, when really we’re not. We are eternal souls walking around in temporary housing. What we can see is not all there is to life. Three points come to mind about this when we look at the Scriptures:

  1. The eternal overrides the temporary.

Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!

II Cor. 5:16-17, Amplified Bible

As believers in Christ – this is such great news! We don’t have to get caught up in the “purely human / natural standards point of view.” There is more to us than what we can see, and we are called to look at everyone past when is visible on the surface. It’s also sobering news, as C.S. Lewis expands upon this train of thought in the closing paragraph of his amazing essay, “The Weight of Glory:”

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (British spelling)

  1. We will all get new bodies anyway.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

II Cor. 5:1-5, Amplified Bible

More good news – you’re not satisfied with the body you’ve got now – when you have put your faith in Christ, you’ll get a new one! According to II Cor. 5:4, our discomfort with our bodies isn’t completely about falling short of the celebrities and models and bodybuilders we see celebrated in our culture. There is a spiritual restlessness that is there because what we’re living in now is just a makeshift stand-in for the eternal bodies we will one day have.

On the flip side – finding complete contentment with ourselves and our surroundings here on earth isn’t necessarily the goal – finding contentment in Christ regardless of where we are is.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. II Cor. 5:6-10, New Living Translation

There is such a thing as a holy tension – confidently living here, although we’d rather be home with Jesus face to face. But whether we are here or in heaven, our goal is to live out the calling to holiness that God has given each one of us.

  1. No one will be married or get married in heaven.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Matthew 22:23-33

This might be taken as either good news or bad news. Marriage is not the be-all or end-all of life. When we take our marriage vows, we often commit to one another, “…till death do us part.” Well, according to Jesus, death will part us. Marriage is an earthly institution, but not a heavenly one, when it comes to us as couples. (There is another sense in which the Church is called the “Bride of Christ….” Rev. 19:7-10, but that is another kind of marriage than what we’re talking about here.)

So if you had dreams of being united with your spouse throughout all eternity – that’s not what Jesus says is going to happen. I realize that this is getting a bit off the track of gender identity – however, it was important to me to think this through as the church can tend to worship marriage as though it was an eternal institution. I was single for a long, long time, and that wore thin on me as I was trying to find my footing in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it’s important for us as believers to keep an eternal perspective.

Created – Male and Female

We were made different from the get-go, with only two options – we exist as a binary species. I understand that there are movements of people promoting a third or a number of other genders, but I find those are man-made constructs, and create confusion more than bringing clarity.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:19-25

 

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.

Genesis 5:1

And of course we’re familiar with the Scriptures that repeat that male and female are united in marriage, without other options being given:

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,’”

Mark 10:7

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5:31

When I read these passages I found them to be pretty basic – there isn’t any instruction on how one can be more masculine or feminine within them. But I knew that I wasn’t a eunuch,* and I had been created female.

We Are Known

I found more comfort in knowing that exactly where I was right then, and each day until now, I was known – even beyond my own ability to comprehend myself.

  For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139:13-15

In this passage we read that none of us just appear by happenstance. Each of us has been put together in a “fearful and wonderful” way. And as a health care professional, I’ve gotten a bit more of a glimpse into that great truth than the average person. The way our joints are put together, how our heart muscle works constantly throughout our lives without rest – and the mysteries we don’t understand – how cartilage is nourished, how the nervous system could be repaired after it’s severed, etc. It’s all fascinating – we still have so much to learn about digestion, our brains, ageing….on and on.

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:26-31

Then, just as I’m about to get dizzy with the details of our biology, I come across this passage that really blows me away. The God who put me together in such a fantastic way, cares about me. He takes that intimate knowledge and watches out for me – even counting the number of hairs on my head. And they come and go, and I don’t even feel it! (We lose about 100 hairs each day, on average.)

 

Beauty’s Source

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

There was a great sense of relief when I read the words in this passage. For there I found what I’d suspected was true all along – when it comes to beauty, God cares more about the inside than the outside. It brought echoes of the words Jesus had about “whitewashed tombs” with the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Matthew 23:27-28

The Lord isn’t impressed by those who look sharp outwardly, yet on the inside are steeped in evil inwardly. Neither of these passages state that we shouldn’t make an effort to look good on the outside, but rather that we shouldn’t lean on outward appearances to carry the day. The work that goes into the “inward self” the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” is what is God treasures. Now, let’s check what how that verse (4) reads in the Amplified version of the Bible:

But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God.

“Quiet” then means “peaceful” rather than silent. And there is something appealing about women who are peaceful – who aren’t caught up in anxiety – that is relaxingly beautiful in nature.

So this was my summary – no recommended hairdos, clothing, or perfumes – no makeup instructions or guides to the best hat style to wear at this year’s Easter service. When women speak and teach confidently that this is the fashion or that look should be avoided – they aren’t getting it from Scripture.

Instead,  I tried to take to heart these truths from God’s Word. Looking at myself and others from a spiritual perspective, remembering that I’ve been created as a woman, in an amazing way, by a God who knows me better than I know myself. And the beauty that is important to God is about my character, not my outward appearance. Keeping these things in mind and in practice helped me to sort through everything I was seeing and hearing from the well-meaning voices around me about what it means to be feminine. And also acted as a filter to protect me from the controlling or selfish marketing voices eager to get me to try whatever they were pushing or selling. It’s still quite helpful today.

 

 

*What about eunuchs? They are mentioned throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, but as this particular situation did not pertain to me, and as I’m not aiming at writing a comprehensive summary of everyone’s situation, I’m not going into that subject here. This series of posts is about my own journey regarding gender identity.

More Food For Thought From Dr. Rosaria Butterfield

Excellent article – worth your thoughtful reading:  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/02/14/you-are-whatand-howyou-read/?comments#comments#comment-119985

And I appreciate Julie Roger’s follow-up on Dr. Butterfield’s presentation at Wheaton:  http://julierodgers.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/rosaria-butterfield-and-the-space-for-more-stories/comment-page-1/#comment-4751

Blame Paul!

Blame Canada

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CTvjwt1bvY

Apologies for the language and crude humor in this clip, but I love Robin Williams and this song cracks me up.  (I’m not a South Park fan, but they have their moments.)  Canada – it’s not just a country, it’s the perfect scapegoat.

In our last post we looked at what Jesus did and did not say regarding homosexuality.  Let’s look further into the Scriptures, at the rest of the New Testament.  Once we’ve gotten through the gospels, we come to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts for short), and then the letters that make up the majority of the NT.  There we find further elaboration on how to live the Christian life, and several specific mentions of homosexuality as incompatible with our faith.

But wait!  How could this be? There must be some mistake!  The argument goes like this…

  • Paul was only writing from his own experience, and his words do not carry the weight of Scripture.
  • Paul did not know any real homosexual couples in committed relationships.  He was actually writing against male prostitution, or molestation or promiscuity within a homosexual relationship.

More and more often, I’m seeing people blame Paul for having a bias towards heterosexuality, and that he personally caused a misconstrued understanding of the Lord’s thoughts on the subject.  So, let’s take a closer look at these arguments.

Early Consideration

Paul’s letters were actually considered Scripture by Peter, who wrote:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

2 Peter 3:15-16

(The “hard to understand” part always cracks me up.  Especially when you read his frequent run-on sentence structure.)  Anyway, Paul’s writings were taken to be Scriptural by the earliest Christians, including Peter, and if they gave his letters such weight, I’m comfortable with doing so as well.

For more information on the formation of the books included in the New Testament, please check here:  http://www.tektonics.org/lp/ntcanon.html#seven

People Don’t Exist Until They Are Labeled

The term, “homosexual” was coined by Károly Mária Kertbeny, “an Austro-Hungarian man of letters, translator, and journalist”* in 1869.*,**  Some have stated that since the concept of homosexuality wasn’t around until this guy came up with a word for it, what we read in Scripture on the subject is obsolete.

While the term wasn’t around back in the time the NT was written, the people who experienced same-sex attraction certainly were.  An obvious example is Sappho, a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos, from which we eventually got the word “lesbian.”  In fact, there are examples of an acceptance of homosexuality in ancient cultures:

After a long hiatus marked by censorship of homosexual themes,[11] modern historians picked up the thread, starting with Erich Bethe in 1907 and continuing with K. J. Dover and many others. These scholars have shown that same-sex relations were openly practiced, largely with official sanction, in many areas of life from the 7th century BC until the Roman era.***

There were occasions of same-sex marriage in ancient Rome.****

Of all the writers of the NT, Paul was the one most likely to know people like this.  He was the apostle to the Gentiles.  When he came to a city, he would first go to share the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah to the Jews at the local synagogue.  Then he would take to the streets, as it were, and share this same message to everyone else.  He traveled widely to many urban areas.  These were Roman and Greek cities and colonies, not Jewish towns.  Many were large areas of trade, and there were all kinds of people from around the known world and beyond traveling through.

Paul was the least sheltered or insulated from the culture at large, as opposed to many of the apostles who for the most part remained in Jerusalem.

More Thoughts to Consider

Not only was Paul quite aware of the world around him, we need to remember that what he was writing was Scripture, and therefore sacred, Holy writ, and God-breathed.  The words of the New Testament letters were not dependent on the opinions of the human authors, but were and are the words of God.  The Lord has never been ignorant of the existence of SSA, nor is He affected by the culture at any given time throughout history.

And That Is What Some of You Were

In this day and age, it’s rather unlikely for you to have come across a blog written by someone who has experienced a change in their sexual orientation – yet here you are.  We need to keep in mind that “unlikely” is not equivalent to “impossible.”

Not everyone who experienced same-sex attraction in ancient times was a male prostitute, nor were they always considered to be.  There were people who had SSA who became Christians, and who went on to seek change in their desires as part of becoming more like Christ.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Cor. 6:9-11

For some reason, it had escaped me for a long time that this letter was read out loud to the believers gathered in Corinth – everyone could look around and know who had done what.  There were former homosexuals in the early church, and Paul knew them and wrote to them in this letter.

When we come to Christ and accept Him as Lord, we become new people, with a new allegiance to a new King, in a new Kingdom.  Everyone needs to make some changes when we choose to follow Jesus.  But we don’t do this work alone – we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

http://www.glbtq.com/social-scienc es/kertbeny_km.html

**  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality

***http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Greece

****http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Rome

If you’d like to investigate further the actual words used in the NT writings referring to homosexuality, I found a surprisingly well-balanced view here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_the_New_Testament

Jesus Never Said…What, Exactly?

My husband and I love to watch Steven Colbert (and John Stewart).  We don’t currently subscribe to cable so we catch up on previously shown episodes regularly through the internet.  We love the satirical commentary on current events and the way that they are covered in the media.  Mostly, it’s spot-on.  The other evening, though, Steven Colbert passed along this oft-heard critique:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyxceY5XTo

The argument plays out this way;  “If Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, that must mean it’s OK.”

There are two presuppositions that jump out at me whenever I hear this:

  1. The only part of Scripture we really need to pay attention to are the words Jesus is recorded as saying.
  2. Jesus gave a comprehensive list of what is and is not considered sinful – if He didn’t mention something specifically by name, it’s not important for us to be bothered about.

Let’s take a closer look at those assumptions, starting with the first.

What Jesus Did Say

Read and Think Over His Actual Words

I find it ironic that some will argue that Christians are being hypocritical by picking out only certain commandments to obey and leaving out others in Scripture (see “On Meat and Mixed Fabrics”), yet they will turn around and argue that one could pick out only the words of Jesus as having any relevance.

For one, if we actually take the time to sit down and just read Jesus’ words, we’ll all find things that are quite disturbing.  The call to holiness, to self-sacrifice, to give beyond what you think you’re capable of doing…it’s all weighty stuff.

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

~ C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Secondly, Jesus valued all of Scripture.  He quoted from 24 different OT books (including a few parts that were written about Him.)  He kept the commandments and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, He actually expanded them.  For the Lord knows not just the sins we commit outwardly, but our innermost, quiet thoughts.  We hear often today about a growing lack of privacy in our culture.  But for those of us who follow Christ, we have been living in a kingdom that acknowledges our King’s ability to hear the things we think but don’t say, and to see the things we consider but don’t actually do.  The Lord can hear and see all of our inner life as clearly as if it were shown on a movie screen.  Christians know that we do not have a private life, and we need to learn to live on a level of internal integrity before a holy God.  (And He can and will help us!)

Thirdly – when you read it, you’ll find that there is nothing in the rest of the New Testament that contradicts any teaching of Jesus.  On the contrary, the apostles are detailing the application of what Jesus taught into the practical daily life of all believers in the various works collected into the NT.  The book of Acts is an historical account of the growth of the early church, the book of Revelation is an account of the vision had by John about the Last Days, and the rest are letters – written to answer questions and encourage new Christians scattered about the Roman Empire.  If Jesus had said that same-gender sexual expression is just fine, and one of the apostles later came up and discredited this somehow, that would be a different story.

The second presupposition mentioned above in the “Jesus never mentioned it” argument, is that whatever Jesus did not declare specifically sinful is free game.

Well, that leaves us with a mess.  Because Jesus never specifically mentioned incest, nor child sexual abuse – two rather important ones that come to mind.  Now, Jesus did teach that we are not to harm children:

And whoever causes one of these little ones (these believers) who acknowledge and cleave to Me to stumble and sin, it would be better (more profitable and wholesome) for him if a [huge] millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42, Amplified Bible

And we can infer from this that sexual abuse is included as something that harms children.

In a similar manner, Jesus used a blanket term against sexual sin, as in one of the verses we looked at in the last post:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:19

The term “sexual immorality” as translated from the Greek is porneia, and at times it includes adultery, but here it is set apart from it, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

(a) of “illicit sexual intercourse,” in Jhn 8:41; Act 15:20, 29; 21:25; 1Cr 5:1; 6:13, 18; 2Cr 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1Th 4:3; Rev 2:21; 9:21; in the plural in 1Cr 7:2; in Mat 5:32; 19:9 it stands for, or includes, adultery; it is distinguished from it in Mat 15:19; Mar 7:21;

http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?topic=VT0001117

This implies that there is such a thing as sexual sin outside of adultery, and we know that includes a number of things.

What Jesus Didn’t Say

The Flip Side – There is Not an Argument from Silence

The only time homosexuality is mentioned in Scripture is in a negative context, in both the OT and NT.  The only option for righteous / approved sexual expression throughout Scriptures is within the context of a heterosexual marriage.

Jesus would have had to correct this – He would have had to say something if this was no longer the case,  if homosexuality was now to be seen as a righteous outlet for sexual expression.  He never did.

There were opportunities, times when Jesus spoke about marriage:

Some Pharisees came to Him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matt. 19:3-6

I have seen arguments that sexual orientation as a permanent state of being was not fully understood in those days.  But that also comes with the assumption that Jesus was not fully God, all-knowing, existing before the universe and holding it all together in Himself.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:17-20

If Christ is ignorant about the existence of same-sex attraction, than He is not God, and no one need pay attention to any of His words.

Truth is woven through the Scriptures, and when one pulls on one thread, even meaning well, it tends to pull apart the entire tapestry.  When I come across these types of arguments, I first look into the Scriptures – and again, I encourage everyone reading this blog to do so for themselves.  Look to see if you can find any positive references to homosexuality, or any affirmations of same-gender sexual expression by Jesus.

And then I think about what I might be willing to trade off in order to justify myself before a holy God.  I cannot live at peace knowing that I twisted the Word to suit myself.  It is God who judges, and it’s through Christ’s death and resurrection that I’m justified.  He has paid the highest price for me, and for you.  We need not look further, for He is love, our hope and stay.

Of Meat and Mixed Fabrics

Have I Got a Book for You

In college, a classmate loaned me a copy of “Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?,” thinking that I would read it and come to ‘see the light’ as it were.  (As I recall, the approach was along the lines of, ‘You’re a Christian?  Here, read this book, it has all the answers so that you can feel OK with being gay.’)  I do appreciate this fellow’s desire to assuage the conflict between my faith and my same sex attractions – he meant well.  But I got the sense that I was a project on an assembly line, and not a person.  (I.e. – Christian = Ignorant / Entrapped / Repressed.  Add Pro-gay Theology Book + Friendship + Exposure to the Real World in Center City Philly = New Identity and Freedom.)  Life doesn’t always work out that way.  The deep roots of my faith and all the thought I’d put into these issues prior to each of us having met were not taken into account.

And we shouldn’t treat people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual in this way, either.  It takes time to get to know people for who they are, and we need to respect where they are coming from.  Now, in this blog, I’m severely limited in my ability to do this with anyone who reads these posts.  And I’m sorry – it’s the nature of the medium.  Please do know that when you take the time to post a comment, I think about the person behind the words, and hope to beat back the limitations as best I can.

Anyway, I did read “ITHMN” and I’ve read other gay apologetic works – and as much as I wanted to believe that there was another door that they could open, the reasoning they used always came up short for me.  It was easy to see through the holes in the proposals and re-interpretations of Scripture in these books.

These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.

~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”

Although Lewis wasn’t addressing books by gay theologians in the essay quoted above, he does bring depth and clarity to the current trend of “recovering the true meaning” of a variety of ancient works, not just the Bible, that one can easily see running rampant through their books.  If you have found yourself taken by the concept that older writers didn’t know what they were talking about, and believe that finding the truth is really up to us in our advanced modern, technically advanced age, I highly recommend you read over and think about the points Lewis makes in the essay:  http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html

As I’m working through these Scripture passages in this series of blog posts, please note that I’m only aiming to share what I’ve come to know, and not at covering each matter comprehensively.  Again, I first recommend that you take the time to read the words in the Bible for yourself, honestly before God.  Secondly, I can try to address questions in more detail in the comments over time, but here I will ask for your patience with this.  Thirdly, if you would like to read more on these topics, I’d recommend Joe Dallas’ book, The Gay Gospel?  (See the link on the Resources tab under Books.)  And no, I don’t think that all you need to do is read this one book and you’ll be a new person tomorrow.  As I just mentioned, this is a blog – I don’t know you!  It’s just a resource that I’ve found helpful, and you can check it out if you’d like.  Again, I hope it would move you to further study of what the Lord has to say in the Scriptures.

Train of (I Really Don’t Want to Give This Much) Thought

For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the skeptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.

~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”

I’ve seen this train of thought time and time again…

Oh, you think homosexuality is sinful because it’s written in the Bible?

Well, then whey are you eating shellfish / bacon or wearing clothing woven of different fabrics, etc.?

This line of questioning has become a popular way of dismissing a variety of people and ideas involving Christianity.  These prohibitions are actually in the Bible after all – how can people be so stupid as to not see how hypocritical they are if they’re not following these rules?  Isn’t love far more important than wearing a cotton / Lycra blend?  Or eating shrimp?  If you take this at face value, it’s easy to blow off the whole book, and the rest of the Christian faith along with it, seeing how these obvious discrepancies are being willfully overlooked.

But, there is more to the story, and it’s not that difficult to comprehend.  It’s due to something that Christians take for granted as part of their everyday faith.  Hopefully I can shed some light on this here.

In fact – let’s make it very basic – I can give you the answer to this seemingly contradictory dilemma in one word.  Are you ready?

Jesus.

Thank you, and goodnight.

OK, OK, let’s dig a bit deeper.  Pick up a Bible close to you and turn to the table of contents – you’ll see two headings: “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”  That implies that there is a division, that something happened to distinguish the two sections.  The word “testament” comes from the Late Latin testamentum and means, “a covenant with God.”  So there was an Old Covenant, and a New Covenant.

The Old Covenant

The Old Covenant is the covenant between God and Israel, the history and content of which is recorded in the first five books of the Bible.  Basically, it’s the agreement – the contract or the law – given to Israel by God on Mt. Sinai.  You might be familiar with the Ten Commandments, which are a part of the 600 or so laws that came along with this covenant.  These range from things that most everyone can agree on as being wrong (I.e. – killing or murdering another person) to those that seem strange (I.e. – wearing clothing woven of two different fabrics.)

The deal was, one needed to keep these commandments in order to be seen as righteous before God.  And with all of those prohibitions and “must-do’s,” that was a lot of work!  When people would fall short of these standards, the penalty was usually rather harsh – in many cases, death.  And, on a regular basis, the priests would gather to sacrifice an animal (or quite a few animals) to take that death penalty in the place of the guilty parties.

Cheery, eh?  Year after year of not measuring up to the standards of a righteous and holy God, left to face punishment – even death.  What hope is there to break this cycle?

The New Covenant

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Behold – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Enter Jesus – and what an intro by John the Baptist.  Jesus came and lived a perfect life – he obeyed the laws, lived up to all the commandments and more.  He then went on to stand in our place as the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God – taking our death penalty so that we wouldn’t have to.

This was a huge, radical shift in how people related to God – no more animal sacrifices, no more death penalties.  Individuals now had access to confessing and repentance of their sins without having to go to a priest who alone had access to enter the Holy of Holies within the temple to plead one’s case.

Yet, that didn’t mean that Jesus was throwing out all of the commands given to us under the Old Covenant.  Let’s look at what He said about this:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:17-20

On first reading, what Jesus teaches us here might sound very discouraging.  “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers…you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Seriously?  The Pharisees and teachers of the law went out of their way to keep all the commandments that they could – and then, they made up more rules on their own just to make it all the more difficult for everyone else.

This passage in Matthew is part of the great Sermon on the Mount.  I recommend that you stop and take some time to read it in total – chapters 5 through 7 in the book of Matthew.  In this sermon, Jesus takes digs at some of the made-up rules that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had set up, and undermines them.  Jesus also takes many of those laws under the Old Covenant that God had given, and raises the standards far above any human’s ability to reach or to monitor.

Read over how many times Jesus repeats, “You have heard it said…” in this sermon.  He takes the commandments to not murder, or commit adultery, and even to love your neighbor and teaches us that: 1. Avoiding even these major sins is not enough, if you are still harboring anger or lust in your heart, & 2.  Even loving your neighbor is not enough, we need to love our enemies too.  Jesus does not throw out the commands to not murder and to not commit adultery, nor does He tell us to stop loving our neighbor.  He takes these commands to a deeper level in our hearts.

The great news is that Jesus fulfilled all of these commands for us, and He will work within us to change our very hearts.  He doesn’t set us up for failure.  He takes up the slack and He carries us home.

Let’s go back to the meat and mixed fabrics questions.  Why don’t we still keep those?  Personally, I tend to look at the question of what commandments under the Old Covenant that we are to continue to keep by asking if the command is an outward law or an inward law?  I get this from Matthew chapter 15:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’* and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’** But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

their teachings are merely human rules.’”***

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.  Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.  “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:1-20

* Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16

** Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9

*** Isaiah 29:13

 [As a side note – anatomically our digestive system is really just a series of tubes – our food doesn’t actually enter our body until it gets digested through the walls of the stomach and intestines.  There was a good NPR program about this that I heard earlier this summer.  In it I learned how a doctor discovered how food was digested through the open wound in the stomach of a man who had been shot.  Very interesting…here’s the link:  http://www.radiolab.org/story/197112-guts/]

There are other places where Jesus re-defines things under the New Covenant – on the Sabbath is another one that comes to mind.  But I hope the general concept I mentioned is clear here – the New Covenant is one that is concerned with the heart and the mind – not so much what one eats or the type of material one wears in their clothing.

Food was rather a big deal for the new Christians to grasp.  The first believers had been Jews all their lives.  They had always kept kosher, and didn’t associate with Gentiles.  After Stephen had been stoned to death in Jerusalem, many Christians moved to various corners of the Roman Empire.  But they only shared about Jesus with other Jews.  (With one exception.)  By and large, early followers of Jesus saw Him as a specifically Jewish Messiah.  Until we get to Acts chapters 10 and 11…and the Gentiles become believers filled with the Holy Spirit, and the kosher laws get set aside.  (Hooray for bacon!)  Peter does swing back and forth on this, though – he caves to peer pressure in Antioch, which you can read about in the second chapter of Galatians.  Ironically, it’s Paul, who had been trained as a Pharisee, who calls Peter out on this.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.  And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

Galatians 2:15-16

Peter realizes his mistake, and comes to take a consistent stand on what the Lord showed him back in Acts ch. 10-11.

The reason I mention this is because I think it’s important to note that the change wasn’t an easy one for most people in the early church to wrap their heads around.  Today, however, most Christians just take all of this for granted.  Our Christian Gentile history runs a long way back, and very few of us have a personal knowledge of keeping kosher laws.  And I think that this distance is part of the reason why we don’t have a quick bumper-sticker answer at the ready for this faulty line of reasoning…that because we aren’t keeping all the archaic laws under the Old Covenant, our faith is somehow made moot, having no significance.  And the implication is that all of the commandments are somehow disqualified, except those having to do with loving our neighbor…the Golden Rule.

In reality, that stands pretty close to what Christ calls us to…love is more important than clothing or what we eat.  And the Golden Rule does sum up how we are to treat one another.  Yet, the Golden Rule isn’t all there is.  So often we skip over the rest of what Jesus said as He was talking about what is the greatest commandment:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Loving God comes first, and He gets to define what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  It means we need to love our enemies, to put our love for God first above all other loves.  It means that we learn to love Him with our heart, soul and minds – fully engaged inwardly, not just as an outward show.

Again, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the outward laws – He lived a life that was holy and without sin, keeping all of those outward commandments for us so that we don’t have to.  And through His death and resurrection, He empowers us to live up to the inward laws – the matters of the heart.  He helps us to make the choices each day that will shape us to become more like Him, to draw nearer in likeness and in approach to the Holy God.

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at what Jesus said about homosexuality.