Goodbye, Facebook Machine (You’re Bad for My Mental Health)

10 years ago I succumbed to pressure from some friends and joined this thing called Facebook. I had no idea what I was stepping into. Did any of us? At first, it was fun. Names and faces of people with whom I hadn’t connected in years, in some cases decades, began to surface. I quickly discovered that this could be a fun way to exchange DSShISaUQAAfZsgwitty banter about day-to-day life, sports, and even politics. It was fun.

Within the week I will deactivate my account. I’ve had enough. 10 years later, what was a goofy, weird, and fun place, has become Mos Eisley. That is, here on Facebook, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Facebook evolved before our fingertips, becoming a place for witty banter about things like sports and entertainment, a display case for our travels and experiences, the announcement of engagements and babies, and even a sacred space for communal grieving of loved ones who’ve passed. Those are good things. But it’s also devolved into a place where polarizing political ideologies are reinforced, misleading fake news abounds, pithy half-truth memes further divide, and authentic and thorough dialogue about complex issues too often give way to sarcastic, snarky, and cynical reductions. Beloved, “We must be cautious”.

As Facebook has devolved, many would say, “just don’t pay attention to that stuff”, “hide the idiots”, or “just don’t engage”. None of this is bad advice. But I’ve tried, and I’ve found I have two struggles with this: One, I’m a deep feeler. It’s hard for me to just ignore this stuff. I don’t do it well. When what I see as destructive rheotirc is attached to people I know and love, I feel it deeply. So I can’t just ignore it or hide people. That doesn’t work for me. I feel like I’m censoring relationships for the sake of a social media platform. Doesn’t feel right to me.

But also, and perhaps more significantly to me, we’re learning that social media is shaping public opinion more than we think. Many say, “no one’s mind is ever changed on social media”, which is mostly true, but not entirely true. People have directly told me that things I’ve shared and talked about on social media have caused them to rethink issues (albeit, very rarely).

Though our minds rarely, if ever, changed on social media, our minds and even worldviews are shaped and reinforced by social media. And much more so than I think we’re willing to admit. Between the work of the algorithms and our own filtering, we are being fed more and more of what we already like and that with which we already agree. When someone says “it’s all over Facebook” that may not be entirely true. It may just be all over Facebook for you, because Facebook is feeding you more of what you already consume. From a spiriual standpoint, just think about that for a minute. We are being fed more of the ideologies we already consume. We are morbidly obise on our ideolgies and it is creating in us a kind of emotional/spiritual socio-poltical diabetes.

With that in mind, I feel a responsibility to speak up about certain things. When a half-truth divisive meme is thrown out by someone, I feel need to call out its bullshit if only to get the person who shared it and those who “liked” it to even consider rethiking its flaws. If I filter that out, those ideologies are merely reinforced, lies are believed, half-truths are made Gospel, and, perhaps most dire, the ideological chasm that is ripping us apart is widened (and this is true for me as it is for those with whom I disagree). Quite simply, your clever, pithy meme isn’t helping. It’s hurting.

So simply ignoring things and hiding people doesn’t work for me. It might for you, but it doesn’t for me.

What it comes down to for me is this: Facebook is bad for my mental health. It just is. I tried to stay in the game to be a voice of reason, to model healthy debate (something I’ve often failed at), and to speak up for things about which I am passionate and which I believe warrant advocacy. But I can’t do it anymore. My wrestlings with mental health don’t need feedings from unneccsary sources.

The virtual straw that broke the Paul’s back landed onto my feed this week. My inward and visceral reaction to a stranger on a thread making serious accusations about my character and vocation over sports banter, combined with one more awful, divisive, half-truth meme from someone I used to be close to, led me to a place of deep reflection about the value of this platform in my life and what it’s doing to my soul.

Reflection is a dangerous thing. It can lead you to places where hard work needs to be done. Scary work. Work from which we would rather hide behind a screen of likes and shares and pithy memes. I found that the combination of my relational nature, my inability not to speak up when I feel convicted about something, and my own narcissistic tendencies to be noticed, seen, and heard have led me to need to leave Facebook. It’s just bad for my mental health. You might find that it doesn’t impact your soul and mental health like it does mine, but I would challenge you to really reflect on that. It’s impacting you, whether you notice it or not. I have yet to see any kind of study that says “social media makes you happier!”

But I’m not going to speak or decide for you. I just want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. I fear social media platforms are impacting our relationships and our mental health more than we want to admit. I know it’s true for me, and so I’m getting out of the game. Or at least one game. The game that’s chipping away at my soul the most: Facebook.

For those who are interested, I may be opening a new Facebook account that will merely be for professional purposes (part of my problem is that Social Media platforms are great tools for ministry), where I’ll share blog posts and other such things. I will keep my Twitter account active and will continue to engage in sports, politics, and religion there because I’ve found it to be less soul crushing for me. And, in all honesty, I find following and commenting on hi-profile sporting, political, and popculture events to be quite entertaining. So come follow me at @BelgianFriar, as well as here at belgianfriar.com, and feel free to contact me at pbaudhuin@gmail.com (I’m also on Instagram but that’s mostly to stalk my kids!).

It’s been an interesting decade, Facebook Machine. But I need to say goodbye. Quite simply, you’re bad for me. Maybe I’ll return someday (I suck at follow through), but for now, Goodbye. Farewell. Amen.

3 Reasons I’m Grateful for the USA

22687832_10213956779695709_3860916004584247312_nIn last week’s weekly email to my congregation, I challenged everyone to consider reasons they are grateful for the United States. We live in challenging polarizing times in which we are gripped in fear and anxiety. Anger, vitriol, and bitterness exist across the political spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be angry about. There is a lot that needs to be challenged, heavily criticized, carefully examined, and relentlessly fought against, but in all of that, it is easy to slip into untempered anger, unbridled rage, and deep despair, none of which are helpful, and all of which I easily slip into. The antidote is gratitude. Gratitude can be a balm for an anxious soul, and the soul of America is anxious. So, in order to practice what I preach, on this 4th of July, here are three things about the United States for which I am grateful:

1) Free Speech: We argue about the degree of freedom of speech, but if we all step back and look at the big picture, it’s a pretty amazing thing. All freedoms have limits, and we continually find ourselves vigorously debating about those limits (tightening them and then loosening them, depending on which is advantageous to our political agenda), but we must confess that freedom of speech is a beautiful idea, one which is still alive, one which I believe will continue to be alive, and one for which I am grateful today.

2) Baseball: Yes, we owe this to the Brits (but, c’mon, though its roots are in Cricket, baseball is a far superior game), and, yes, Baseball (like our nation) is fraught with issues these days (can we please figure out the pace issue!), but what a beautiful pastime it still is. Though my team is as frustrating as they’ve ever been, I still find a great sense of peace heading to the ballpark or even turning on a game on TV. To quote Will Ferrell, “There’s nothing more American than heading out to the ballpark, grabbing a dog and brew, and watching nine guys from the Dominican play ball.”

3) Privilege: Yup, that’s right. If I’m honest, I cannot escape this. Hear me out on this. I am a great beneficiary of pretty much the whole way in which this nation is set up: Straight, Cisgender, White, Male, Protestant, Clergy- it doesn’t get much easier than that. Why am I grateful for this? I’ll be honest: I struggled coming up with three things about the United States for which I’m grateful these days. As ideas came to mind, they are all tied to my privilege. The truth is, I wake up every morning with no fear of being detained or even murdered by a law enforcement officer; of being sexually assaulted or harassed in any way nor to any degree; of feeling I need to code-shift or hide my sexual/gender orientation or identity;  of being asked to show my papers; or fear of how people may look at me or treat me if I’m wearing my clergy collar or my religious identity is exposed. The truth is, it seems no matter who sits in the oval office or what party occupies the seats of Congress, or what viewpoints sit on the judicial bench, things work out pretty well for me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for the relatively comfortable life I have. I don’t like admitting it, but the more I worked this exercise, the more apparent it became.

Now the question is, how do I do the right thing and use the privilege I enjoy in order to break it down? I do love this country. But I want better for it. It works well for me, but it also breaks my heart that it doesn’t work well, or even at all, for so many others. What about the United States are you grateful for? And, as I discovered, how much of it is tied to your privilege? It’s an important question. Celebrate today, but also let that question haunt you a bit. Becuase I’ll say this: The more I’ve let it haunt me over the last couple years, and the more I’ve come to grips with my privilege and tried to loosen that grip, the more actually free I’ve felt. Happy Independence Day, everybody.

Children Are Not Our Future

News: Parkland School ShootingMass shootings, and school shootings in particular, have become part of 21st century American culture. In the 90s they started to become more frequent, and when Columbine happened 19 years ago there was a sort of haunting pause in America, as we all knew that something was different. Yet we did nothing. Then in 2012, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary shook us to our core as 1st graders were gunned down. Enough was enough. Except that it wasn’t. We still did nothing (keep in mind that 14 Democrats in the Senate voted down the Assault weapons ban known as the Sandy Hook Bill). We still did nothing. I don’t need to name all the shootings since then, which led us to Parkland. There we sat a little over a month ago, watching another awful school shooting with students watching their peers be gunned down en masse right before their eyes with images reminiscent of Columbine.

Those poor kids, I thought. Not just the ones who died, but all of them. They will never be the same. What I didn’t realize is just how much we would never be the same. The student body of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School immediately rose from their ashes to say “enough is enough” and “never again”. They organized, they gathered, they preached. They did everything we teach our children to do: That is, they believed they could change the world, and they rose up to do so.

tarr_1This was not some cute little viral video where we condescendingly pat a young person on the back for getting active- no these students, amid unimaginable anguish and grief, stood up and shook our foundations. Delaney Tarr captured my imagination when she stood before the Florida legislature and said, “we are not here to be patted on the back… we are coming after you…”

 

And they are. The level of organization and articulation coming out of the MSD High School student body has shaken the foundation of many politicians, and change is happening. They’re doing it.

Their movement has done something no politician or movement has been able to do in at least 20 years. They have affected actual change. We still have a long way to go before actual, meaningful, federally mandated legislation happens, but let’s just all let it in that these students have changed the minds and policies of CEOs of massive corporations (such as DICKS Sporting Goods).

All of this is to say that we need to stop calling our young people “the future”. They are not our future. They are our right here, right now, and we need to stop “patting them on the back” with one hand while putting them in their place with the other. Over and over again we hear how immature and self-absorbed this generation of young people is, but might that be because that’s how we see adn treat them? We want them to grow up… until they do. We want them to dream big… until they do. We want them to lead… until they do.

Yes, they need some wisdom, guidance, and mentorship, but they need it in such a way that empowers them rather than marginalizes them. Being a source of wisdom, guidance, and mentorship does not mean putting someone on the bench. It means getting out there with them. Our young people have a kind of vision and passion for the world that we need, and we need to find ways to empower them to get out there with it, let them make mistakes, and watch as they pick themselves up and keep going. We need to start listening to them, really listening to them, not coming back at them with cheap rhetoric like “shut up- y’all were eating Tide pods last week”.

Or the even more hateful, from GOP Candidate Leslie Gibson: “There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me…” (referring to Emma Gonzales). He has since done a 180 on those comments, but the fact that they went out at all exposes something about us: When it comes to our young people we love to pay them lip service, and we do so by continuing to call them “our future”. We like that. Let’s keep them in the future. Becuase, by God, if they are our right now, they might actually change something. So, let’s pat them on the back, and keep them in the future.

I do not believe that children are our future. They are indeed our right now, right here, in the present. After all, for those of us who ascribe to the Christianity, let’s remember that it was a 13-year-old old young woman whom God favored enough to be the vessel of the Savior of the world. A teenager.

This Saturday they will march across the nation for their lives. Beloved, let’s see them. Let’s hear them. And, most of all, no matter what any young person’s opinion is, let us not dismiss them with condescending pats on the back. Let’s empower them even when- perhaps especially when- we feel it disempowering us.

To the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Student Body and young people everywhere, don’t give up. Don’t let us keep you down. Do not grow weary in doing good.

A Powerful Afternoon with Justice Alan Page

img_9329.jpgOn Wednesday I had the pleasure of going to hear NFL Hall of Famer and honorable Justice Alan Page speak about race, justice, and equality at the Minneapolis Central Library. The lecture was billed as being about Colin Kaepernick and the flood of National Anthem protests that followed his lead in the NFL. This is an issue about which I’ve had great interest, so I was anxious to hear what someone like Alan Page had to say about it. It seemed to me that Hall of Fame football player of color who also happened to be a State Supreme Court Justice might have the perspective on this that we really need. I’ve never been so pleasantly disappointed in my life.

Justice Page opened by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “I know many of you came to hear today to hear what I have to say about Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem protests, but you may be disappointed to hear that I don’t really have much of an opinion on it because I find it to be the reddest of red herrings out there”. Page went into detail about how it is that a phenomenon like the Kaepernick protest almost always pivots away from conversations about the real and more important issue of justice and equality. While he’s right, I still find the Kaepernick protest an interesting and fruitful topic, but Page’s point did clearly point out a real problem in America today; more specifically white America.

Much of what Page had to say was not new to me since I’ve been studying the concepts of privilege, oppression, and justice over the last year, but that by no means gets me off any hook. As I sat and listened to him carefully and thoroughly outline the ways in which slavery has real and present effects on our culture today, it dawned on me just how unwilling white America really is to have this conversation. I was only willing to have it a year ago when it was forced on me in Seminary.

This unwillingness to have this conversation for real became evident to me that very same day as Page’s lecture, when I found myself in mild Twitter battle with someone I don’t know about the importance of white Americans getting educated on these concepts based off a Tweet of mine that MPR retweeted while Kerri Miller’s midmorning show was having the real conversation. And guess what happened? It didn’t take long before we were no longer Tweeting about race, power, privilege, and oppression, but were breaking down the Democratic nomination in 2016.

And this is how it goes in White America. When the conversation of race comes our way, we find ways to pivot out of it. In August of 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem of a preseason game, because he felt he couldn’t stand for a nation where black people are disproportionately incarcerated and killed by law enforcement. It didn’t take long before no one was talking about race, privilege, and systems of oppression because we quickly pivoted to talking about the military, free speech, and the importance of the flag. Alan Page was 100% right that Kaepernick has become the reddest of red herrings. As long as we keep talking about him, we don’t have to actually talk about race.

Thursday began Black History Month. I remember taking time in school every year when I was a kid during the month of February to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King. I am grateful to have grown up in a school system, where learning these things was a priority. However, they didn’t go far enough. It seems to me that much of what we learn about when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement is also a red herring. Or at least a pacifier. It teaches us enough to let us see that the plight of black and brown bodies have been hard in this country, but the teaching largely keeps the conversation in the past, pacifies white guilt, and calls little to nothing out of us.

And what’s worse is I never learned until a year ago that this thing we say we all want, called justice and equality will (and must) cost something from people like me. This is why we refuse to have the real conversation about the realities of power, privilege, and oppression. I simply do not have the space and time to outline the details of this here, and it’s not exactly my point in writing this anyway.

What is my point? It’s to say this: Fellow white folk… We’ve got some deep learning and listening to do. Just start there- shutting up to listen and learn. Let in the troubling words and ideas that are brought forth by people of color, and stop deflecting and pivoting away from them. You don’t have to like what Colin Kaepernick did. You are allowed even to be offended by it. But watch and listen. It’s high time we started listening. Really listening. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, yes it’s frightening, and yes, it may even throw you into a bit of an internal crisis like it has me beginning a year ago. We have a lot to learn. We have a lot to listen to. And I’m not going to sugar coat it, we also have a lot to lose- a lot that we must lose if we want true justice and equality.

Thank you, Justice Page, for speaking the truth. Thank you for steering me away from the red herrings.

American Conservative Evangelicalism: Woe To You, You Blind Guides…

Disclaimer: Before I say anything, I need to be clear that nothing here reflects my work as a pastor in the United Methodist Church and specifically Aldersgate United Methodist Church where I am currently appointed. This is a reflection on my own experience and my own personal opinion. It is my story. Also, I want to be clear that as I condemn Conservative Evangelical Christianity, I also recognize that there are a great many evangelical Christians who are good, honest, faithful people, who are grappling with these issues as I am. But some hard words need to be said, and they need to be said, because I believe that there are Evangelicals out there gripped in the same snares that trapped me many years ago who need to know that their inner stirrings are not wrong. Also, there may be some crude language here in which some might offense. I chose these words carefully, and these are times when I believe bold language is warranted. If it offends you, I challenge you not to be as offended by these words as the content they describe. With all that in mind…

OBJ_T_014…I’m angry. Like really angry. When I was a senior in high school, I found Jesus. It was a true kind of spiritual awakening. Something real happened in me that I cannot deny, and it dramatically altered the trajectory of my life. I felt a kind of wholeness for which my soul longed.

The only context I knew, however, in which to live out this new found faith was the conservative evangelical world of the early 90s. Things were different then. There was no social media where religious ideas were wantonly traded, and in order to find out anything about a church or religious community you physically had to go there. The front door of a church was its literal front door, not a website or social media feed. Because of this, religious communities were far more insular and isolated. And, so, not growing up in the church, all I knew was what had been exposed to me, which was Conservative Evangelical Christianity.

When I went to college at the University of Minnesota someone from the church in which I was involved got me connected to the conservative evangelical organization Campus Crusade for Christ (known today as “Cru”, I believe). I was a new and passionate Christian, deeply desiring to grow in my faith. I got hooked into their weekly gathering, a men’s Bible study, and I was given a mentor (or “discipler” as I recall we called it).

When it boiled down to it, everything was about being a good Christian- a true, solid, Bible-believing, faithful, unashamed Christian. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In a very real way I still strive for that today. But there was one problem. Well, actually there were lots of problems, but there was one big problem in particular: Pretty much all we ever talked about was sex and sexuality. The mark of one’s faith became mostly about the degree to which one was “pure”. Did you masturbate this week? Did you make out with your girlfriend last weekend? Did you have impure thoughts about that classmate this morning? Did you masturbate this week? Might your roommate be gay? If so, can you find a new one? Have you watched any R-rated movies with nudity recently? Did you masturbate this week? On and on it went. Everything was about “purity”.

As I grew in my involvement in this world, I realized it wasn’t just this organization that had this obsession. Circles of Evangelical Christianity across the nation had a similar obsession. Women were forced to be overly aware of how they dressed, so as not to “tempt” the men. Men were forced to be overly obsessed with their thoughts, so as to “take our thoughts captive”. The world was one giant cesspool of sexuality out to hijack our souls if we weren’t careful. The devil lurked around the corner at every party, at every club downtown, at every movie, in every empty dorm room, and in the back seat of every car, and sex was his game. Be alert, be shrewd- or be corrupted.

I didn’t realize it then but this created a high amount of intense anxiety in me.

First, I grew up in a home and context where acceptance of broad sexual identities and gender orientations were the norm. As I came to Evangelical Christianity, it was made clear to me that the Bible “clearly condemned” this, but I didn’t understand why, and there were a lot of other parts of the Bible I was interested in too… like those four books about Jesus, for example. I struggled with accepting, embracing, and even later becoming an ambassador of sorts for LGBTQ exclusion. I had a deep wrestling with this, about which I could not talk to anyone because this was the litmus test of one’s faith. I was literally told, “if you want to know if someone actually believes the Bible or not, just ask them for their opinions on homosexuality. If they think it’s okay, they don’t believe the Bible”. This wrestling began in me in 1990, and I wasn’t truly free from it until 2012. That’s 22 years (half of my life and the vast majority of my Christianity) of secretly wondering if I really was a Christian or not.

Second, I struggled with the idea that as “the man”, I was called to be the spiritual head of my relationship with my girlfriend. She actually seemed to have a deeper and more pure faith than me, especially since I was usually the one subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) sending signals that I wanted to make out. Did I really have to be the “spiritual head”? What does that even mean? Can’t we just make out from time to time, go to movies, hang with friends, and one day get married? “No, Paul, you must lead her in purity, and in order to do so you must be pure. If you cannot, you may need to consider breaking up.” Not only was my faith in question, but so too was the love of my life. I was tormented.

Third, growing up in a progressive home, politically I was brought up on hard DFL values. But all of this obsession with sex and sexuality in the Conservative Evangelical Christian context was connected to the GOP, the party of “family values”. The family- that is, one man and one woman, with 2.5 straight kids, going to church every Sunday family- was the foundation of any healthy community. If we mess with that, we mess the very fabric of our culture. Because of this, part of this “purity” factor was voting Republican, something I had never done. To vote otherwise spoke to a compromised faith.

As allegations of affairs and sexual harassment involving President Clinton came to the fore, the pressure to support Republican candidates intensified. Among the words used to describe President Clinton were “disgusting”, “filthy”, an “abomination to family values”, and even “evil”. We recognized that ss Christians we were called to love, but it was actually ok to hate Bill Clinton. And this was all before the news regarding Monica Lewinsky broke. Once that report was published (and let’s be honest, what Bill Clinton did is one of the, if not the, greatest abuses of power and sexual harassment we have ever seen), the deal was sealed: Any God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian could not vote for a democrat because it was the party of sexual deviancy and therefore the party that would bring God’s judgement on America.

When I say this bred anxiety in me, I don’t say it lightly. The combination of the obsession with my sex life and thought patterns, coupled with a pressure to vote a certain way because of this sexual moral ethic, left me worried every day of my life about whether I was saved or not- whether I was a true Christian or not. I loved Jesus (and still do), but the fact that I voted for Bill Clinton twice (as well as other democrats in other races, like Paul Wellstone), coupled with my inability to resist even wanting to make out with my girlfriend (and soon to be wife), tripled with my quiet belief that gay people might actually be able to have healthy relationships, families and sexual ethics left me quietly isolated and afraid that my “impurities” defiled not only my body, but my mind, heart, soul and subsequently my faith as well. In short, I was tormented.

Yes, Bill Clinton was gross. I couldn’t deny that, and, quite honestly, I still don’t. And Conservative Evangelical Christianity stood in solidarity with Republican politicians who were the party of “family values” and “purity”. And because of this, they were the party of Christianity (so I was taught). Sexual purity in all its forms- including standing against sexual harassment at the highest levels- was the calling card of the Republican party.

Here’s what I’ve discovered over the last decade, but particularly in the last 18 months: It’s all bullshit. It’s total and utter bullshit, steeped in lies and deception at the lowest levels. There are many beautiful and wonderful Conservative Evangelicals out there, who are authentically trying to find there way through this world just as I am, but as a whole, the overwhelming support for Donald Trump, and now Roy Moore, by the Conservative Evangelical Church exposes what we’ve always known to be true, but didn’t have the smoking gun point to: It’s all bullshit, and they are frauds.

The Conservative Evangelical Church does not care about “purity” and “family values”. I’m not sure exactly what it is that they do care about, but it seems to be money and patriarchy more than anything else, and the overwhelming support for Trump and Moore by evangelicals exposes it. As I’m writing this, Senator Al Franken is resigning his seat in the Senate because of sexual harassment allegations. And he should (I said it on day one of the allegations against him). But how can those who voted for Donald J. Trump, whose allegations are far worse and more wide spread than Franken’s, condemn the “disgusting” behavior of Al Franken and call him unfit for office without condemning the president they voted for as well?

Do you know how they can do this? Because they don’t care about sexual purity or ethics. They care about money, sex, power, and by that I mean, they care about having full access to all the money, sex, and power they can get their hands on. I said at the beginning of this diatribe that I’m angry, and I am. And many of you current and former Conservative Evangelicals should be too. We’ve been duped.

All that obsession and anxiety around “sexual purity” was for naught. After all I endured in this indoctrination in my twenties, I now have to tolerate the “Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief”? And I have to allow a man who is essentially a pedophile into the halls of the senate? And all the while Al Franken isn’t for for office? So I’m angry.

I’m not angry because I need a political win for the left. When it comes down to it, my hope really isn’t any political party or system. I’m angry because your rhetoric still abounds today and is likely instilling in people the same kind of anxiety and inner torture I experienced so long ago. That’s why I’m angry.

I’m angry because I (and I’m sure countless others) listened to and embraced this bullshit rhetoric for years (for over a decade in my case), with ramifications on my relationships and mental health that I’m still working through today. You, Conservative Evangelical Christianity, are a fraud. When Franklin Graham (False Prophet In Chief, these days) tweeted “Never in my lifetime have we had a @POTUS willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like @realDonaldTrump…”, I was Gobsmacked. This president embodies nothing of the values into which you indoctrinated me and you know it. But what he does do is a great job of propping up your power and patriarchy, so you’re all in.

You can rationalize it away all you want, but that’s exactly what you told me not to do 20 years ago when I was wondering about multiple matters involving sex and sexuality: “Your rationalizing, Paul.” There’s no way out of this for you, Conservative Evangelicalism, except to condemn President Trump (and demand his resignation) and Judge Moore just as you did President Clinton 20 years ago and are doing today with Al Franken. You can’t have it both ways. I won’t let you. You took too much from me for too long. You won’t sell a cake to a gay couple in the name of “purity” and “sanctity”, but you’ll sell your soul to the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief. It’s time the Church itself called you out.

Conservative Evangelical leaders, woe to you, you blind guides.

I Am A Roman Centurion

There is a lot of reason to wonder about the degree to which the western world is in the midst of a reformation these days. From the advent of new technology that has rocked the world to the subsequent various reimaginings of the faith, these are indeed interesting times. As a former cmacro-ground-warm-hd-1080P-wallpaperonservative evangelical, one of the beauties of these times is a serious and growing new expression of Christianity coming from former conservative evangelicals like myself.

Many of us have to come to see the many dire, dangerous, and deadly failings of our former religious identity, but within that we also have experiences from our past which are undeniably real- experiences not only connected to some kind of other being, but one expressly connected to the character of Jesus Christ, which has been, and continues to be, at the center of our religious experience and identity. By this I mean not merely the person of Jesus as described in the canonical gospels, but also (as a friend of mine once said) the more conceptual idea of “the jesus” that exists in religious expressions and humans throughout time and space.

All of that is to say that as we hang on to those very real experiences of “the jesus” in our lives, many of us also often come to startling crises of faith as we reimagine the wafer thin religious alignment of our pasts. I stumbled on one of those today. If you’re looking for a great ongoing conversation around these matters, check out The Liturgist Podcast. It’s beautiful. Today I was listening to one of their recent live recordings titled “God our Mother”.

Now let me clear: The idea of the sacred feminine is not new to me. I’ve been on a journey with this for about seven years now, and it was one of my exit points from conservative evangelicalism. But as I listened, Science Mike posed a question based off of some things Christina Cleveland had just outlined that troubled my soul and spirit in all the right and good ways: He asked, specifically for folk like him and I- that is, straight, white guys- “…how do we relate to a faith created by the marginalized when we are citizens of Rome and often its centurions?”

I’ve believed for over a decade about the ways in which America and the American Church are new Rome more so than a new Israel. And in that I viewed myself as one of the countercultural ragamuffin renegades standing in distinction from, if not resistance to, that power. But when Science Mike asked that question, I came to see that not only am I not what I thought I was, but that I was indeed nearly its opposite. I am not a resister to the oppressive Roman religious power, I am guardian of it. I am a centurion.

This is all very a much a mixed bag, but there is a way in which (or perhaps better stated many ways in which), as a straight, married, white, cis-gender, male, pastor I am a centurion of Rome, guarding its systems of power, expanding its imperial reach in society, and benefiting from its patriarchy. Though I may often preach equality, my language, practice, and polity often reflect a distinctly white, euro, male structure, even if not entirely obvious to me.

The question I sit in and wrestle with today is what now? Do I have the courage to lay down my privilege and let the “Black Madonna” repaint my faith? Am I willing to step into the words of Jesus and really let the last be first and the first be last by let new expressions, new metaphors, and new structures reshape my religious identity? Am I willing to let maleness and whiteness and straightness head to the back of the line? Am I ok with being corrected, rebuked, and minimized as I do so? Am I willing to be liberated from the comfortable shackles of 500 years of self-imposed patriarchal protestantism? If I’m honest: I don’t know.

Beneath the hard angled, stiff bricked and cemented structure in which I lead worship every Sunday lay a buried messy earth, silenced in over half a century of foundation. What secrets does she have? What liturgies of liberation abide in her? What songs of salvation have I muted that have not only marginalized those who don’t look nor identify as I do, but have also chained me in the comfortable shackles of power?

I am a Roman Centurion in need of liberation.

America: Home of the Afraid (Rev. 11/6/17)

Today, November 6, 2017, I sat down to write because I found myself so angry about the shooting and our culture’s response to it at 1st Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX yesterday that I had to do something. I went to my blog (which serves as more of an outlet for me than anything I actually expect people to read), and there it is: The piece I wrote after the Las Vegas shooting a month ago. I’ve already said it. No need to start over, except for one addition…

…Those of you coming at me saying “a good guy with a gun actually did stop the bad guy this time” are believing a lie. It’s a fallacy. Because, you see, the problem with that logic is that if the bad guy couldn’t get a gun in the first place, no one would be dead. So just another 26 beloved souls have been offered up on the altar of our gun addiction.

Something has to change. We have been willing to adjust our freedoms in seemingly infinite ways to make us more safe, yet we refuse to do anything when it comes to gun control. Congress, there is blood on your hands.

 

26e84572b77f4e866d6e9e183b59c610My heart aches. My soul weeps. My mind screams. My body is tired. Something has changed. This is not like a lot of things today where the world isn’t really that different, we’re just seeing things more because of social media and cable news. No, something has changed. We’ve heard it said over and over: Mass shootings are becoming the norm. And though there is a degree to which they have become normalized, when the images come across our screens, and we see the horror before our very eyes, we still weep. And we should.

But I’ll tell you what: I’m tired of weeping. I’m angry. I refuse to sit back and chalk this up to “the price of freedom”, as Bill O’Reilly and so many others are.  Since when are Americans quitters? I thought we were the home of the brave? But the prevailing sentiment seems to be that when mass shootings happen, we shake our heads in sorrow and then shrug our shoulders saying, “Welp. You can’t stop a madman.”

If you can’t stop a madman, then why have we been in a war on terror for 16 years? If you can’t stop a madman then why have so many women and men given life and limb to hunting them, finding them, and killing them? If we are the home of the brave, who stand tall in the idolatrous rhetoric of a “city on a hill”, then why is it so dark here now? Why are we so hopeless? Why are we quitting?

1449267674564.jpegAfter the San Bernadino shooting in 2015 the Daily News posted a headline that read, “God Isn’t Fixing This”. And they were 100% right. God isn’t fixing this. But we can. I thought America was the never-quit, always positive, beacon of hope in the world. Yet when it comes to gun violence, we’ve given up. We are, to use one of our President’s favorite words, “losers”.

You see, you cannot deny the United States is the deadliest developed nation in the world when it coms to gun violence. It’s data. It’s a fact. I’m sure there are alternative facts to the contrary out there, but let’s remember what alternative facts actually are: Lies. And so we then must look at what separates us from other nations who do not experience gun violence like we do.

According the gun lobby, I guess we’re just crazier. We just have too many madmen who cannot be stopped. Evidently there are no madmen in other parts of the world, because the gun lobby is convinced that no matter what we do, we can’t stop them, and they don’t seem to be killing en masse at the same rate in other countries as they are here. So other nations simply must not have these madmen.

61zuDrDlgiL._SX355_Or could the difference between us and other nations be that they have stricter and more meaningful gun laws? The fact that we are unwilling to even entertain this as a possibility is symptomatic of just how addicted to guns we are, and how much the gun is part of our national identity. Forget the eagle, just replace it with a AR-14. It’s who we are. And don’t come back at me with “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” rhetoric. The stats bare out that the more guns there are, the more deaths there are. Correlation, of course, does not necessarily equal causation, but to ignore the correlation is simply stupid.

So here’s what will happen: We will wait for the “facts of this case” to come out. Then the gun addicts will come up multiple arguments to show us how stricter gun laws would not have prevented this. Case closed. Meanwhile the narrative of increased mass shootings and gun deaths will continue to go untouched. “There’s just nothing we can do.” We quit. We lose. We’re losers. Madmen win. But let’s call them what they really are: The terrorists win. According to the gun lobby, the terrorists have won.

“Home of the brave”? If we were truly brave, and if we truly wanted to reduce the violence and death, we’d be willing to try just about anything to do it- especially things that seemed to have worked in other nations.

But we’re not. We don’t want to fix this. We just want to keep throwing out “thoughts and prayers” so we can blame God for it. We may be the land of the free, but in matters of gun violence, we are the home of the afraid. The time has already come for us to stop perverting the 2nd Amendment, and for us to have actual conversations and new legislation around gun control. To refuse to do so, is to quit.

Shame on us for quitting. Shame on us for being willing to lay down the lives of women and men to stop a madman in a cave across the sea, but not being willing to lay down our gun addiction to stop them here.

Why I “Stand” With Kaepernick #takeaknee

200It was about a year ago when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and all hell broke loose. Here we are a year later, Kaepernick doesn’t have a job, and this is still a hot issue. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last year. I’ve been trying to assess what it’s all about and why it matters so much, and I’ve been trying to see both sides in the process.

I get why people are deeply offended by him taking a knee. There is something to be said for taking that moment at a sports gathering to remember things that matter more, not the least of which is showing some respect to the country in which we live and which really is a great place to live. I understand that the raising of the flag and the singing of the anthem means even more to those who’ve served in our military and particularly for those who’ve fought and are fighting in our wars. And I get that it’s hard for people for whom that means so much to watch others take a knee during it, effectively sitting out.

But with all that in mind, and having really listened to those points, I’m at a point where I’m with Kap. Everything we’re talking about when it comes to the National Anthem is symbolic. It is something that represents something else that’s real. The blood, sweat, tears and lives given in fighting in our military are real- very real- but the flag is a symbol. The song is a symbol. And I love symbols. As a pastor symbols play a massive role in much of what I do. And what I’ve said about religious symbols also applies to any symbol, and that is that while they are beautiful, they are also dangerous. When our relationship with the symbol becomes more important than the human sitting (in Kap’s case literally kneeling) next to me, the symbol has begun to play too significant of a role in my life.

I believe the flag and the anthem have begun to play too significant of a role in our collective lives here in America. And what Kap did was expose it. Kap didn’t take a knee to disrespect soldiers. He took a knee because something in him said, “I just can’t stand up and give myself to a flag that has enslaved and murdered black bodies since its inception”. You see, what people of color have experienced in this country over the last few centuries is real. And though there have been many noble, good and great people who have fought for our freedom, what we white people need to start hearing and getting is that this freedom is one that people of color have (generally speaking) simply not experienced as we have.

The history on this is long, convoluted, and buried, but it’s there. Yet we’ve heard the voices of black America crying out for centuries, and in the last four years, that voice has begun to cry out again in a particular way. Every time it cries, white American largely dismisses it. We pat black America on the back and say, “oh it’s ok, honey, it’s not as bad as you think”. No, friends, it’s not as good as we think. As we dismiss the cries for black lives, we not only dismiss the content, but we also critique the form, which effectively silences the cries. No matter how it is that black America cries out for justice, we tell them that their means are wrong, so, therefore, we don’t have to listen.

When I think about Kaepernick’s protest, I think it may just be perfect: First of all, why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag that, though it has given him some huge blessings in the success he’s had in the NFL, it has systematically marginalized his race? Furthermore why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag and sing a song to that flag whose 3rd verse reads “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”? The land of the free has slaves?

So Kap decided, “I can’t do it”. He was being honest about what is going on inside of him. To stand and sing would be a charade. I’ll be honest: There have been times in my not so distant past where my soul has been troubled with enough doubt and sorrow that I could not stand and sing “Amazing Grace”. It would be dishonest. But as a pastor sometimes I need to do that, just as a soldier stands and sings no matter how she/he/they may feel. As far as I know, Colin Kaepernick is not a soldier. So he took a knee.

On top of all that, he did it discreetly. Certainly, he knew the cameras would find him (you can only be so discreet on an NFL sideline), but he quietly took a knee on the sideline and did not make a show of it himself. The media made it a show. And, yes, he probably knew that would happen and is part of the reason he did it, but still, he quietly knelt and chose not to sing. Not only that, he didn’t tell anyone else they shouldn’t sing. he prevented no one from honoring America, and he simply made a personal choice consistent with his thoughts, feelings, and experience.

In these ways, it’s a nearly perfect form of nonviolent protest: personal, authentic, legal, powerful, and clear.

And he’s gotten black-balled for it. Colin Kaepernick can’t find a job, primarily because he’s not that great of a football player, but also certainly because of his protest. Teams don’t want the distraction. That is a natural consequence of his actions in 2017 America. If he were at a Tom Brady level, he’d have a job. It would be worth the distraction. But what’s also true is if he hadn’t been true to himself and simply stood and sang, he’d also have a job. He’s good enough in a quarterback-hungry league to have a job somewhere. (I, for one, would love to see him in purple and gold backing up Sam Bradford. After all, with our offensive line, we need a QB who can run.) But Kap doesn’t have a job. And he doesn’t because he called out America’s racism in a clear and powerful way.

It’s quite amazing. You can rape women, beat your kid, bet on dog fights, and incur numerous DUIs in the NFL and still have a job making millions. But you take a knee during the anthem, and you’re out. The symbol has become valued above and beyond the way we’re treating humans (and dogs). Our relationship to the symbol is out of whack, and Colin Kaepernick called it out.

He called out the god under whom America is one nation: and that god is the stars and stripes. The god we worship is the flag and the way we worship it is by singing The Star Spangled Banner. The ancietns had a golden calf. America has a red, white, and blue flag. And Colin Kaepernick gets the credit for exposing our idolatry. And let me be clear: It is exposed as idolatry not because we stand and sing, but because of how we respond to those who choose not to.

We have a nasty disgusting sin of enslavement and genocide in our nation’s history and system, and we need to get honest about it. Don’t deflect it. Don’t deny it. Start really letting in the cries of the oppressed in our midst. It’s there. I get why so many boo him, and if that’s you, you absolutely have the right to do that. I’m just asking you to really examine why you boo. And I’m sorry but I can’t stomach the “men and women gave their lives to protect our freedom” rhetoric. Embedded in that statement is the notion that every military action this nation has taken has been one to defend our freedom. We’re fools if we think that’s true.

More often than not these days, what so many women and men have died defending is western imperialism. And that is not a critique of those who have fought and died in those actions, it is a critique of the women and men who sent them there to do it. It is a critique of those at the top who exploit soldiers’ loyalty and send them off to protect national interests in the veneer of “freedom”. This is not always the case, but it is enough so that we cannot give military operations a free pass. Those soldiers need to be respected and remembered and taken care of, but not necessarily the causes for which they were forced and sent to fight.

All of that is to say, I stand (or rather kneel) with Colin Kaepernick. I hear the cries, I see the pain, and I don’t want to be party to it anymore. I have a ton yet to learn, and a lot of courage to muster to fight for equality in more than symbolic ways, but for now, when I enter that NFL stadium on Thursday, though Kap won’t be there, he should be, and so I will kneel for him. I’ll sit this one out for you, Kap. And if you ever don my beloved purple and gold, I’ll sit one out with you.

Our White Rubble

My heart is heavy today. Very heavy. As I said in worship yesterday, this all began for me when I was 8 or 9 and my mom wouldn’t let me watch The Dukes of Hazzard- not because of Daisy Duke’s “daisy dukes”- but because of the General Lee and its glorious roof. I didn’t get it. It came back to me in 1991 when the video of Rodney King being assaulted by police offers was released. I got it a little more, but not entirely. Then it seemed to disappear as it was buried in a period where black Americans were imprisoned at a rate never before seen in humanity. It came back to white America in 2014 with the murder Michael Brown, and since then we’ve been in an ugly, endless, futile struggle.

It seems that about every 6-12 months something happens that takes root in our news cycle and we find ourselves in these odd social media debates around race in America. It happened again this weekend. We had actual Nazi flags being flown alongside confederate ones, as wannabe-nazis and KKK members joined forces with torches to march for the preservation of the statue of a military leader who fought to preserve slavery . It’s kind of mind boggling when you think about it.

What this stuff doesn’t take long to lead to among we progressives is a social media pissing contest to see who is the most enlightened. And while we do that, the racists, white supremacists, nazis, and grand wizards celebrate with a can of Schlitz in one hand, and a torch in the other, while progressives eat their own.

I took the bait. So my heart is heavy.brick-white-wall-1468830718LdH

I’m a cis-gender, straight, white, male, Christian pastor. I’m trying to find my way through actually doing something about privilege, white supremacy, and equality. I’m
deeply concerned about the systemic racism that is alive and well in our world and which continues to marginalize and oppress people of color. And I’m trying to do what I can as a faith/community leader to move my sphere of influence to work for a better, more whole, and equal world. And here’s my confession:

I have no idea what I’m doing. But here’s what else: I don’t know if anyone does.

My heart is heavy because all we seem able to do is lash out on the Twitter and Facebook machines about how horrible it is. And it is. And while limousine liberals like myself duke it our for social media king-of-the-hill, nothing changes. It’s not getting better. And I think part of why it’s not getting better is that we seem to be more concerned with rhetoric than we do actual change. We want to hear white supremacy condemned, and we seem to be satisfied with that.

White supremacy needs to be condemned, but if we want actual change in our culture, we’re going to have to do a lot more than preach and post on social media. This is going to take hard work that goes to the soul of whiteness. We don’t get off the hook because we preached about it Sunday. We don’t get off the hook because we called out those who didn’t. We don’t get off the hook because a black friend liked or shared what we had to say. I don’t get off the hook for writing a blog. We’ve got hard work to do. We need to get into our respective white communities and start to have the hard conversations, rather than surrounding ourselves in our echo chambers that make us feel better ourselves. And we need to be supporting and resourcing one another along the way.

My heart is heavy, because here we are again, arguing it out with people we don’t know, most of whom probably want the same end, but rather than helping each other, we’re eat each other along the way. Meanwhile white America will continue dreaming, marginalized and oppressed people will still get harmed as they are buried more deeply in our white rubble, and the Nazis and white supremacists will continue to prop up a 300 year old system that protects their (and my) privilege and power. So my heart is heavy.

It’s very heavy today. The cycle seems endless. Unless those of us who truly do want equality stop tearing each other down, and start helping one another in the fight, we will lose. Or rather, people not like me will lose. Because that’s who always loses.

My Struggle with God and Gender Inclusive Language

Seven years ago I went through a an interview with the the Board of Ordained Ministry pictogram-884043_960_720for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Though it was a cakewalk compared to ordination or commissioning interviews (this was for licensure), it was the hardest interview of my life. I walked away uncertain as ever as to what was happening, and the church to which the Bishop intended to appoint me as Associate Pastor depended on a positive outcome. About a week later my District Superintendent Called me to let me know that I had been approved and all was well to move forward with the appointment. Except for one important note. He said that it would be important for me to make an aggressive and intentional effort at using “Inclusive Language”.

There was one problem: I didn’t know what exactly that meant. I thought it meant not preaching “turn or burn in eternal hell-fire”  kinds of theology, so I thought I was good. I asked if he could clarify for me, and he said, “Well, you speak and write about God as a male exclusively. You’ll want to learn to be more inclusive with your language.”

“Ohhhhh. Well, that makes more sense.”

Side note: There are a whole host of people entering into ministry who have never even heard the phrase “inclusive language”. There are many well intended people getting dinged in board of ordained ministry and district committee interviews for not being inclusive, while they are simply have never had anyone even introduce the idea. Often they need to be taught, not shamed. But that’s not what I want to get to here.

What I want to get to is the wild, spinning, uncertain, clunky, hard, wonderful, and beautiful journey I entered as I began to embrace this. You see, though my language did indeed describe God as exclusively male (104 male pronouns for God in a three page paper- yeah, I went back and counted), in no way did I actually believe that God is exclusively male. But you wouldn’t know it from my language. So I began this journey of having to learn a new language. It was difficult. Physically difficult. I had to restructure the way I formed sentences, I found myself using the passive voice a lot (which I didn’t like), and public speaking (something which had always been easy for me) became much more labored.

But something beautiful also happened. God got bigger. A lot bigger. Now that I was intentional about my language, I was also growing intentional about my imagination. I began to imagine God not only as Father, but also as Mother. I had no idea what I had been missing. God and the world began to break wide open for me, as did gender. I grew more intentional about finding women and girls to lead in various contexts, my views of sexuality both broadened and sharpened, my views on maleness and male privilege birthed, and even the scriptures began to become more alive for me. Within about a year (maybe less) I became not only a practitioner, but an advocate of inclusive language.

Except there’s one problem. Seven years later I find myself in a deep internal struggle with how inclusive language has been practiced (both by me and many in my context) and pushed. I believe what we call “gender inclusive language” is not we practice. What we’ve actually been practicing is gender exclusive language. We are not actually including gender when talking about God, but we are stripping gender from away God. The common theological sentiment is that “God has no gender”. While there is a way in which this is true, there is also a way in which this is false, and what I’ve come to realize is that the ramifications of this stripping away of gender are not merely theological and academic; they are also spiritual. I’ve begun to lose something deeply important in my spirituality- in the way I relate to God.

I had a minor crises of faith over the last week realizing that I’ve lost a sense of intimacy with God over the last seven years. A huge part of that has little to nothing to do with “inclusive language”, but there is also a big part of it that is directly connected to adopting what I will from here on out call “gender exclusive language”. God has indeed gotten bigger for me, and that is a good and beautiful thing, but as God has gotten bigger, God has also gotten unsmaller (yeah, spellcheck doesn’t like that one but I do). God has become distant, amorphous, intangible, even to a certain degree scary- not scary like “Imma squash you like a bug” scary, but scary like “first day of college with an intimidating prof” scary. There is a real sense of intimacy I’ve lost in my relationship with God.

Before I continue, let me clear about two things: When God was functionally and linguistically exclusively male for me, though I did have a certain intimacy, there was an deeper intimacy I was missing, by never imagining the feminine face of God. In no way do I want to go back to that. Not at all. Also, let me also recognize this: As a man who has never had any real physical, sexual, or emotional issues with a man- specifically a father- I hear why male imagery, and especially the father image, are ones to which some simply cannot move. I want to be sensitive to those cases, and confess that it’s something about which I simply know little to nothing.

But I do think we need to find a way to be truly gender inclusive. First of all, for those of us who have been actually practicing gender exclusive language, I think we need to think more seriously about releasing the gender-less God, and begin embracing what I once heard a pastor describe as a gender-full God. And this is a pretty simple theological move, really. Genesis 1:27 tells us that the very image of God is male and female: “God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.” The first and direct description that we get in the Bible of the image of God- of God’s likeness- is gendered. And for many this has been easy for centuries: “God has gender, so God’s a dude.” No. It says “male and female” not “male or female” (more on this in a minute). So let’s embrace the gender-full God.

Next we need to begin to get more active and bold about recognizing and naming the feminine face of God. This can’t be merely theological. It needs to be practical. Long before there is ever an image of God as father in the Scriptures there is one of a mother. I would argue that this image comes as early as in the Bible’s second verse: “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). It is out of the waters of God’s womb
 that the universe is birthed. Later in the Scriptures (much later) Jesus is talking with a religious leader called Nicodemus and talks about the need for us to be “born from above” (or “born again”, if you like) and “born of the Spirit”. Beloved, God gives birth to things. I think it’s okay for us to call her our Mother. Let’s do this. Let’s do it a lot. God our Mother is far too buried in the depths of our linguistic practices. Let’s get her out.

So… for those of you who, like me, have had God as “he” and “father” engrained into you and in it you find great intimacy and connection to God (I get that, I really do), stop freaking out when we paraphrase Genesis 1 with things like “Male and female she created them” (more on this in a minute… wait for it.). And stop freaking out if I decide to shift the doxology to “Praise God from whom all blessings flow/ Praise God all creatures here below/ Praise God above ye heavenly host/ Praise Mother, Son and Holy Ghost”. Open up your mind, open up your heart, and open up your ears to a God who is not like a mother, but God is our Mother. She gave birth to the universe, in her you were born from above, and it is from her breast that we are nursed to life and strength and vitality and a whole lot more.

But here’s the thing. Though we need to be sensitive to the ways in which intimacy with a male is a justifiably terrifying image for many, we need to find a way to also embrace the maleness of God. This is where it gets less theological and more personal for me, and where this all ties in to my minor crisis this week. There were a lot problems with my initial conversion to Christianity, but there was also a lot of beauty in it, not the least of which is that it was real and it stuck. Something real happened to me that I’ve tried throwing away and I can’t. A big part of my initial intimacy with this crazy God in whom I believe and have given my life and livelihood is the image of God as “Father”.

At my church we’re working through the Sermon on the Mount, and this week we started chapter six. This is the part where three times in an 18 verse span Jesus says “your father who sees in secret” (Mathew 6:4, 6 & 18). These verses haunted me this week. There is a lot at work here, but part of it is that these verses took me back to my early Christian days when God’s presence in my life was as close, as intimate, and as clear as the air I breathe. Maybe some of it was having a literal father who lived 1,000+ away most of life, but my birthing years as a Christian (though very motherly in that sense and many more) were also of me spending deeply intimate moment with the Father.

Oh sure, it’s all very “Field of Dreams”, but there’s a reason so many of us cry at that movie. Since I’ve practiced gender exclusive language I feel today like I walked away from my Father. I didn’t realize it until this week, but as these verses from the wanna-have-a-catch1Sermon on the Mount haunted me, I realized that part of the lack of intimacy with God in my life these days (can a pastor say that?) is due to stepping away from the image of God as Father. And, quite honestly, more than anything right now, I just wanna have a catch. I miss it. While there is a part of me that has grown in beautiful ways in my relationship with God since become more aware of the ways I gender God, there is also a vital piece of my spirituality that is dying because of the practice that has come out of this awareness.

In all of this I realized that while we need to be careful and sensitive with gendered images for God, we also need to be careful not to abandon them all together, and, perhaps more importantly, not demand that others do. God is, in a very real way, gendered, and when we strip God of gender, I think we take something essential from God. There is a way in which God surpasses gender- that God is something wholly other- but there is also a way in which God is right here giving us birth, nurturing us, feeding us, and having a catch with us. And in this God functions with us in whatever tangible, intimate, and human ways give each of us life. To lose this is to lose a necessary intimacy with God that gives our faith a certain and essential honesty.

The problem I find we run into is this issue with those darn pronouns, isn’t it? Our English pronouns are limited to be either specifically gendered or gender neutral. So the tendency to be inclusive is to go neutral (which we can only do in the plural), but this brings us right back to functionally (if not intentionally) stripping us of a gender-full God.

I want to offer two solutions. One, why can’t we just mix up the pronouns? Let’s not go maniacal and start doing word counts on our sermon manuscripts to make sure there’s perfect equity, but let’s mix it up. I’ll be honest, after sever years of avoiding pronouns, I’m starving for one; not just because it offers more linguistic opportunity, but I find pronouns (though admittedly limiting) are more intimate than saying “God” 18 million times and using terms I’ve never been able to embrace like “Godself” (I know it works for some, but I’ve tried it on and it just doesn’t fit for me). But we have to actually mix it up. We must embrace a gender-full, and not a gender-specific nor genderless God.

My other solution I’ve only come to since my views on sexuality and gender identity have broadened. God is gender-full, and I am beginning to wonder if God is in this sense  genderqueer. “Female and male” God created us to reflect the likeness and image of God. God is not exclusively male, nor is God exclusively female. God is gender-full perhaps in the most full and beautiful way possible. We are born out her womb and also nestle up into his breast (John 1:18). What if we embraced a genderqueer God? That is, a God who is not genderless but truly full of gender? This is, after all, a bigger and broader God than one entirely stripped of Gender.

And what if the pronoun is, as many genderqueer people prefer, “they”. What does Genesis even say but “let US make humankind in OUR image”. Why, then didn’t the writers of Genesis follow this with “So God created humankind in their image, in the image of God they created them; male and female they created them.” Yes, it may sound polytheistic, but it does so no more than “let us make humankind in our image” and I haven’t seen anyone challenge that. “They” is admittedly gender neutral in some senses, but in a genderqueer context, it seems to me that it is more gender-full than neutral.

All of this is to say this: Let’s not rob ourselves of a certain kind of intimacy with God by stripping Them of gender. Let’s also be graceful and generous with one another in our language about God, but also let’s allow ourselves to push each other by broadening and stretching, not restricting, our language about, to, and with God. Let’s break the mold wide open and give this wild, crazy, beautiful God the kind of intimate moments that we have with one another: Moments of laughter, and tears, and anger, and fear, and comfort, and struggle, and love, and peace, and home.

I love God my Father. And I love God my Mother. And I want them both. I need them both. As someone who grew up in a home where mom and dad did not get along and could no longer stay together, I guess maybe I need a God where male and female are inseparably held together in a beautifully queer and life-giving way.

Help me out with this one. I think we need to talk about it more. I think we all need some pushing and stretching in this. Let’s not lock ourselves in. Let’s ride the crazy ride of exploring this endless, beautiful God.

Peace, friends.