Gratitude Is Broken

I am running around the yard the day after Christmas. I am running around the yard playing Peter Pan with two precious boys that I would die for, if need be. I am running around the yard, and they are wielding toy weapons that a grandparent sent.

This is not my choice. I would rather be inside playing a board game. I would rather they were playing with something besides weapons. I would rather I could breathe easier, instead of gasping after air–the result of my slow recovery from pneumonia a few weeks ago.

I do not think children should have toy guns (to be clear, their weapons are nerf bows and arrows–even so, I am wary of what this is teaching them about how to engage conflict through play). When I was 5, my grandfather and father went in together and bought me a rifle.

I am running around the yard on the day after Christmas and the children that I love are running recklessly, wielding toy weapons. And not for a single moment do I pause in fear that one of them will be gunned down by a grown man with a badge, so socially conditioned to fear and suspect them for the color of their skin that he will shoot them before he has time to say “hello.”

I have the luxury (should I so indulge) of being grateful that these boys will never have to face this kind of danger. Their relative safety comes at the expense of grown men with weapons channeling aggression and prejudice towards their brothers and sisters with darker skin. This is not okay.

It’s not just that this is not okay. This is royally fucked up.

I do not think that children should have toy guns. I do not think that our society should be flooded with guns. I do not think it takes a semi-automatic weapon to hunt a deer or even a bear. I do not think a basement arsenal of heavy weapons could ever protect you from government forces that wield drones and missiles and atomic bombs. That’s a stupid excuse for deep-seated insecurity.

I do not think that grown-ass men with uniforms who are supposed to “protect and serve” should be pulling guns as their first action. I do not think that our nations political system, justice system, law enforcement, economy, or penal system has been designed or implemented to protect or serve anyone outside the white, owning class.

In our country we see white adults walk through stores with fingers on the triggers of actual loaded weapons and law enforcement “protects their rights” to do so. We see hundreds of white teenagers rioting in a shopping mall and dozens of police respond with no arrests and only minor injuries reported. Meanwhile, we see individual black men, women, and children gunned down for standing still or walking away from police officers, for holding toy weapons (sometimes in toy aisles filled with toy weapons), and being brutally beaten to death or dying while in police custody. We see justice systems charged with investigating these deaths and public servants blatantly saying that they will not question the actions of the police.

Our system is (we are) fucked up. There is no pretty way to say it.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, playing with two beautiful little boys, wielding toy weapons, and I will never have to think twice about their safety, because the color of their skin is white and the police were made for protecting and serving them.

And two days later, Tamir Rice’s murderers are left to walk free, not because we don’t know exactly what happened. But because he is black, and they are wearing police badges, and he is not who they believe they are supposed to be serving and protecting, and the prosecutors and grand jury cannot bear to look at how fucking broken and racist we are.

Word of this vile decision comes on the day that the church marks the feast of the Holy Innocents. This is the day we remember the children killed because those in political power were afraid that just one of those children might one day try to reach out and take part in some of that political power. The parallels would be striking if they weren’t so nauseating.

I cannot be grateful for something that I have that is of value only because its worth has been paid for in the blood of innocents.

It is Christmas, and I am tired of toy guns, and real guns,and light sabers, and drones, and suicide bombs, and politicians scaremongering for votes, and people clinging to weapons that kill tens of thousands each year for the sake of protecting against overblown threats that kill less than a hundred annually.

It is the day after Christmas, and the children I love are running around in the yard without fearing for their lives. And this is not something anyone should ever have to be grateful for. And tens of millions of children in our country do not have this basic freedom.

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Photo taken at The King Center, Atlanta, GA.

There is no more innocence. I do not know how to be grateful if we don’t have the humanity to do the basic repair needed to lay down our weapons and our fear, and fix our individual and collective self-identity that has been centered around self-protection through annihilation of others.

And I get the feelings of rage. I want to blow up the system. I want to rip the guns out of ignorant racists’ hands. I want to seize the wealth of every last corporate fleabag who fancies himself a philanthropist for tax-sheltering his fortunes in a charitable foundation when every dime he made was through exploitation, slavery, pollution, extortion, and purchasing our legislatures.

I want to play my own grown up fantasy game, wielding a toy sword, and running around the internet liking protest videos, and signing petitions. I want to fight an epic battle and win, defeating evil and setting the world to rights.

And whoever lives by the sword must, in the end, die by the sword.

I do not think that I should have toy guns. Or real guns. Or missiles. Or drones. Or nuclear bombs. Or police who serve and protect me from my darker skinned neighbors who might want economic, political, and social justice, or simply to exist in their own yard, or in a store, or in a park (maybe even playing and holding a toy gun).

I am not grateful for these instruments of violence–these tools meant to protect me from the difficult work of figuring out how to resolve my own conflicts, share resources, and get along with others.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, searching for enough imagination to find a different way to play together, that doesn’t involve harming one another. And instead of gratitude for this skill, I am heartbroken, because we have grown so practiced in making war that we have slaughtered imagination and love, and forgotten how to make justice and peace.

In Stillness and Song

In the past months, I’ve been sailing on Puget Sound, changed jobs, continued work in my doctoral classes, travelled to a conference and presented a paper, celebrated holidays and a birthday, worked on a long-term writing project, spent a few weeks sick, and now—suddenly—we’re at the end of the year.

It’s not that I don’t have lots to say. There are so many things that need saying, and there are also so many people saying so much and so little about all the much-ness that’s happening in our world right now. Truly, I’ve found it hard to keep up with the constant stream of shootings, bombings, and acts of violence in our world. Not a day goes by that if I log into social media I won’t see video of police assaulting or killing an unarmed person of color. Not a week passes that I don’t hear about a suicide, or experience of violence against an LGBTIQA person. Globally, we’ve come to live with war like it’s a given law of the universe; as if we weren’t collectively feeding it with every choice we make, dollar we spend, and vote we cast.

And in all this, I have found myself turning to music and to silence. These two things open up such space for grief and room for imagination towards peace, hope, kindness, gentleness, and humanity. In the past year, I have taken to silence—whether on the water, at home, or sitting for two hours at a time with the good folks at Underhill House (a drop-in center for quiet, meditation, and prayer, open weekly on Thursdays in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle). I find that the stillness and quiet is much needed to listen to what is stirring up in me.

And in these months, I have also taken to music. In the past year, I’ve acquired a baritone ukulele, a banjo, a banjo-lele (that’s right a banjo body with a ukulele neck and tuning), an autoharp, a couple melodicas, harmonicas, a travel guitar, a drum or two, and a bugle. This might be a little excessive.

As a child, I was gifted and cursed with the capacity to become dramatically proficient in a lot of areas. Visual art, logic, spatial reasoning, and math came early. After a few early failures, cooking and writing followed. What this meant, however, was that I expected to be able to be quite good at a thing without having to work for it—exhibit a: standardized testing.

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So, when it became apparent that beyond singing melody, I was going to have to work for music, I quickly gave up. I spent my adolescence quietly simpering along trying to hold the melody while my father and older sister played guitar and piano, singing harmonies around me. It was a world that I loved, but one that I had to work for. I had a passably pleasant voice, but I wanted to be a star—which was not going to happen.

I had an early attempt wherein I assaulted our dog’s sensitive ears with my saxophone squawking. It was the one and only time I ever heard that dog howl, and her tortured bellow mirrored my own disappointment with my failed music making. I wanted my body to usher beauty into the world, and just wasn’t coming easily to me.

Although a baby grand piano sat in the center of our house for a decade, I didn’t dare touch it until my sister had moved out of the house. Only once she’d gone away to college, did I finally ask her, on one of her visits home, to explain to me how to form major and minor chords, and finally, I tentatively began to hammer out chord progressions into some halting resemblances of songs.

My father gave me a guitar one year for Christmas, and I fumbled my way through the chords of D, G, and A for a year before my sister saved me from humiliation by graciously permanently borrowing the instrument from me.

I dedicated two years of church attendance to focusing in and only listening to harmony lines—using my time running sound to isolate the mic’d voices of tenor and alto singers and sing along with them in my headphones. In choir, I’d get stuck on Tenor II because it was most often on melody. To sing anything else, I’d have to sandwich myself between two people with stronger ears.

It wasn’t until college that I’d finally worked enough and internalized my high school choir director’s wisdom to “listen louder than you sing.” Come to think of it—using my body to make music wasn’t all that different than my experience with sports and physical activity.

I always loved and envied the grace filled movements of the athletically inclined. I always grew extremely frustrated when my father or a well-meaning friend attempted to explain the mechanics of a backhand swing, a layup, a backstroke, or a perfectly thrown spiral. I understood the physics, the mechanics, and the math of it all. I could diagram, draw, or explain the motion.

The trouble was getting the strange and squishy of my own muscles and bones to cooperate in a way that would bring beauty, rather than shame or despair, into the world.

From a young age, I’d learned that my body held secrets that it wouldn’t be safe to disclose. My secrets were too big and unwieldy for my home or my world to handle. My church pews and dinner table couldn’t bear the fleshy questions contained inside my skin. So, it was with a necrotizing guardedness that I sought to move and make music in the world.

These things couldn’t come easy, because I knew that I couldn’t do them perfectly—not just in the sense that it took practice to learn and grow in skill, but because my intonation; the swish of my hips or wrist; the quickness of my tears might serve to unleash the secret that my body had to keep contained in order to stay safe.

So, by and large, I learned how to hide and seek in a world of words and ideas—things I could process and control how they came out. It’s much easier to vet emotion in a paragraph than in a sweaty victory dance or a raucous jam session. To allow my emotions to flow within my body might mean being seen and known; to be found out.

Two years ago during Lent, a year post-divorce and coming out to my parents, I invited friends to give me music to which I would dance. Forty days of dancing repentance. It was a continuation of a beginning of telling truth with my body; righting the world—or at least myself in the world—by living into a fragile freedom.

No one was ever born to hide inside their own skin.

Thus, I’ve not written as much here in the last several months. Instead, I’ve taken the grief and hope that wrestles in my body and I’ve sat with it in deep silence, allowing myself to feel rather than articulate what’s going on in me. And then, I’ve clumsily caught up strings and keys and fumbled my way into music that’s less pretty than it is emotionally honest. And this feels like a way forward.

When I am swept up with sorrow and desire for myself, my neighbors, my family, and the world, I have other options than to try to tell with words a way forward through the mess. Other options besides arguing or clamoring for my voice to be heard. Instead, where I feel the weight that’s sunk down like a rock in my gut, I can feel face and limb tremble, and let tears and song swell.

I needn’t fight to be understood or bury my body in a tomb of silence. Instead, out of deep soul-quiet, I can let it out—in all the imperfections—my tender trying.

It’s with our bodies, that we make and heal the world; in our practice of showing up when it doesn’t come easy just showing up in our own skin.

“How Dare You!”: De-centering whiteness from Bernie to Stonewall

“How dare you!?! How DARE you?!? How dare you call ME a racist!” These words echo through the crowd in the shaky, cell-phone videos of Black Lives Matter activists who took over the podium at last week’s Bernie Sanders event in Downtown Seattle.

When I first heard about the event takeover, I cringed. Not just because of how I knew it would be perceived and received my the majority of white liberals in Seattle. No, I cringed, because this tactic offended my sensibilities. In my head I was already mansplaining why this kind of incivility isn’t changing the conversation for the better–isn’t shifting conditions for Black people; isn’t addressing the heart-change that needs to occur hand-in-hand with systemic change.

I think like this, because I have been taught to think that I own the system. I have been taught that I know the best way, the right way, and that my version of what keeps me comfortable in crucial community conversations is the definition of civil discourse.

The cardinal sin of the two Black Lives Matter organizers was that they did the one thing worse than being an actual racist–they called people racists. Horrors!

There is no worse possible crime in the small, fragile world of our white social consciousness. And the worst way to commit this crime is to do so while expressing authentic emotions of pain, suffering, and anger at a lifetime of oppression. Add on top of this being black women, taking over a microphone and platform reserved for a white-haired, white, male politician, and cue up the outrage.

I say this sarcastically, and I say it in all seriousness. This feeling that I have of being offended because they’re derailing the best current hope for significant political change, just goes to show that my rubric for change is centered on me in my privileged experience of whiteness. Change for who? I’ve been troubled by Sanders’ apparent expectation that his past record working for civil rights should be enough credibility around race in today’s climate. But the whole enterprise of whiteness in our political system is set up to make me think that Bernie’s the good guy.

But a USAmerican president needs to be able to listen to, and engage in the complexity of this USAmerican problem. I honestly think that Bernie (if not completely hogtied by an obstinate congress) could make things a lot better in this country–by my standards. But my standards don’t take into account that we don’t talk about having jobs crises or income inequality as national problems in this country except when they occasionally creep up as problems for white USAmericans. Then they become center-stage issues.

Why? Because white guys own the center stage, that’s why.


Meanwhile, in LGBTIQ-land, part progress and part commodification as target audience means another meaningful moment in our queerstory is finally being told–only, of course, it’s being told as his-story, as per usual.

And by his-story, I mean the story of a white dude. Sure he’s gay, but this is still USAmerica. I wasn’t alive when the riots began at the Stonewall Inn. But, through digging, and searching, I’ve learned the stories. Trans women of color threw the first bricks and fists. While white folks in suits and dresses had marched in tidy lines with polite picket signs, seeking to be treated with respect and civility, those whose bodies and lives would never be “civil” enough took to rioting in the streets. So why has Hollywood decided to tell the story of Stonewall as if it were primarily about the experience of a white man?


And here’s where our language exposes us: those who are unable to be seen as civil–that quality of never bringing discomfort to those in power–are, by definition, un-civil-ized; savages. It’s the myth that “our” way is the “right” way, and the way of those “not like us,” is less than. This thinking runs so very deep in white culture. It is this systemic, linguistic, and internalized bias that makes us ALL racists.

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And why is that SOOOO offending to be called a racist? Because it’s uncivilized to call someone a racist–which is to say, it makes me question my status as basically decent, and thus it makes me feel feelings that hurt, and so I get uncomfortable. And in that moment when I feel bad, that’s mirror neurons firing. And that’s empathy for another human being trying to take hold. But I’ve been told that my comfort is more important than your oppression, so I dissociate from that human feeling of empathy and double-down on the assertion that being called a racist is a worse offense than me staying cocooned in my comfort and not addressing my actual participation in and benefits from a racist system.

The reality is that if I choose to listen to the empathy, this uncomfortable task is never going to be done, no matter how many civil rights movements I participate in throughout my life.


I know that white people experience hardship and oppression. God knows, I seek out films that have positive gay protagonists–films that don’t depict gay white men that look like me as werewolves, or serial killers, or monsters. But I don’t get to re-write the events of our common story to put someone who looks like me at the center of our real-life story when that’s not really what happened. Tell me why there’s uproar over Black Santa and Black Spider Man but only whispers on the edges of the conversation when a cute, young, white man is placed in the center of a real-life story that wasn’t his?

If it is true that all lives matter, then there should be no problem whatsoever with shouting at the top of our lungs–for as long as it takes to bring equity–that Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter. Brown Lives Matter. Native Lives Matter. Female Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. Immigrant Lives Matter. And yes, of course, White Lives Matter. None of these truths cancel out the others. It’s just that only one of these has been codified in our constitution, in our customs, in our language, in our economics, in our religious institutions, and in the fabric of our society. So, there is serious inequity (a word that shares roots with the word iniquity), and that doesn’t get changed by pretending everything is equal without taking the time to understand and change things in reality.

This truth must be acknowledged, confessed, felt, and brought forward for accountability,  by those of us who are white: white male lives have long held militarized power in center stage and oppressively forced our definition of civil-ized discourse on our society.

Debates are won by the party who defines the terms of the debate–Especially when that same party has controlled the labor that built the house, held the pen that signed the laws, carried the weapons that enforced control, written the checks, and monopolized the airwaves. Just because something is civil in terms of what keeps me comfortable as a white man, doesn’t mean it isn’t also heinous and unjust.


I don’t know the best way forward. That’s the only place that I know to start from.

I can’t keep operating out of the implicit messages of society that tell me I am right, just because I happen to have been born on center stage, with all the gun-rights, privileges, and conversation-defining responsibilities thereof. My white penis doesn’t make me the most human human. It just makes me unfairly advantaged at this point on our collective timeline.

Hear this, my fellow white folks: being ignorant of our biases is not the same thing as being objective. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore the voices of those who point out our errors. And it is inhumane to cling to our comfort through dissociation from feelings of empathy that could lead us into curiosity and compassion when we hear others tell us that we are part of a problem that is causing pain and suffering for our fellow human beings.

While I like the post-modern socialist idea of disassembling the stage altogether, I recognize that that’s the equivalent of blowing up the ice cream truck as soon as I finish standing at the front of the line and sampling all the flavors. Maybe it saves everyone from getting diabetes in the long run, but in the immediate reality, I’m the only one with any calories in my stomach.

So, perhaps what I need to do is feel my uncomfortable feelings when the discourse feels uncivil. Those feelings might be telling me something about my biases and blind spots. And if I listen, I just might learn some new ways forward through this mess, from people who’ve seen it with more clarity than I have.

The Church and The Flag (Confederate and Otherwise)

While I have long advocated the removal of the confederate flag, the reality is, growing up in the States of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, my life path could have easily veered and led to me driving a Chevy pickup down a backroad with a gun rack and 10-foot flag flying behind it.

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(image of author as a child, waiving a USAmerican flag)

It seems far-fetched, but it’s not so hard to believe. I remember when Georgia governor Roy Barnes pushed through the ugliest flag in the Union in order to try, as a compromise, to remove the confederate battle flag (though the new flag still had a smaller version of the battle flag on it). And there was significant outrage among the rural white people in the state. And then, 2 years later the next governor pushed through a change to another flag, which still flies today, this time, the confederate national flag instead of the battle flag.

I have heard the most elaborate arguments about heritage, symbols of states’ rights, and honoring war veterans. I’ve heard these words from politicians, neighbors, and relatives. But I never heard these arguments made in church. Thank God. Perhaps, in the shadow of the cross, there was enough decency and humility to be honest; to say that symbols that evoke hatred and racial oppression are important to study and remember so that we do not forget our shared stories of trauma, but they do not belong as symbols to be revered. Perhaps. Or perhaps there was just enough honesty to feel ashamed, and thus to seek out another symbol under which to lay claim to power.


Every church of my childhood had a cross and two flags. The Christian flag (did you know we had a flag?!?!) and the flag of the United States of America. I learned the Pledge of Allegiance and said it each week in church. On Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence  Day, we recognized and applauded military personnel. I’ve been in church services where people ecstatically raised their hands in worship as the congregation reached the chorus of America the beautiful: “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. . .” Even as an adolescent, it was not lost on me that these people were literally singing a worship song to a nation state that they primarily revered for it’s military power.

The confederate battle flag (and national flag, for that matter–here’s looking at you, Georgia) is inarguably a symbol of racialized oppression and disunity, with concrete historical ties to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. But make no mistake, “Old Glory” is every bit as blood spattered and represents a heinous history and ideology:

  • Genocide of dozens of sovereign nations of indigenous people
  • Continued second-tier status for U.S. owned territories
  • Exploitative global capitalism
  • Military oppression around the world
  • US Exceptionalism
  • Using the myth of the merit of citizenship to oppress, exploit, underpay, imprison, and then export immigrant workers and families all to subsidize our capital corporations

And while there are those who would argue that a flag is a symbol of our ideals, not our shortcomings, I have to ask, at what point do we finally admit that our nation-state does not, in fact, provide “liberty and justice for all”? Or perhaps, what should be clear, in the case of the US flag and the Confederate flag, we are willing to stomach just about anything as long as it is a symbol of our own supremacy.

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(image of author, age 11, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA, wearing a USA hat)

It is this dynamic that is at play when mass media refers to African American, Latino American, Native American, and Asian American communities, crime, problems, etc. But does not discuss White American communities, crimes, or problems–problems like white supremacy, rabid defense of gun ownership and access that is irrevocably linked to mass shootings the vast majority of which are committed by white men. When it is convenient for white problems to disappear, the word “American” means ever citizen of every race. But when it comes time to assert white supremacy, “American” becomes an implicit stand in for White Americans, by use of racialized modifiers to single out “problems in the Black Community.”

It’s this “American” means everybody when it’s time to take responsibility, but “American” means white when it comes time to determine who holds power, that makes this word, and this flag, so slick with blood.


This is why I detest the Confederate flag; this is why I detest the American flag.

I do not pledge allegiance. I do not stand, I do not place my hand on my heart. I do not sing the national anthem.

My allegiance and my heart belong to my human brothers and sisters. I do not give a damn what nationality they are, and this country and this flag represent a nation that has grown up out of racialized oppression, beginning with the genocide of this land’s first inhabitants and growing from there.

As a Christian my faith compels me to follow a God who moves towards all people to bless our differences and bring us into community. The heart of my faith, as taught by Jesus is to love God and love my neighbor. And from everything that I can see, the flag is a veil that is meant to obscure–to hide bloody truths, to shift directions with the wind of convenience, and, because I am a white USAmerican, it is meant to enforce my power in this world, over and against my neighbors. And that is not a poison that I am willing to ingest.


People of a faith that’s most important tenant is love have a responsibility not only to demand the removal of symbols of inequity from our houses of worship. We are also faced, in the faces of our brothers and sisters, with the call to repent of our allegiances to the symbols and ideals that callous our hearts to the lived realities of oppression. As the book of Common Prayer leads us, we must “repent of the evil that enslaves us; the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

The flag–like military force, police brutality, privatized ICE interment camps, the stock market, and unmanned drones–is an abstraction that allows us to think of ourselves as loving and good, while enacting evil on our behalf. Removing the veil from our eyes and de-sacralizing the symbols is only a first step that opens the wound so that we can do the difficult work of repentance.

Take Me to Church: Finding Space in Grief for the Life I Have Been Given [QCT 23]

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the music video to the Hozier song, “Take Me to Church.” I still haven’t forgiven her.

Artistically, it’s delicious. Anyone haunted by anthemic spiritual music should get chills the first time Hozier-Byrne riffs a phrase of amens. And his decidedly provocative lyrics call for an embodied theology that takes the human condition as seriously as the incarnation makes it out to be. Really good stuff.

Enter the video. [Trigger Warning: Disturbing Violence]

It’s a stark visual exploration of experience of finding love and belonging amidst a culture that demands secrecy, isolation, and fear through intimidation and violence that is too frequently enshrined in religious values.

That’s a very clinical way of saying it wrecked me in a way that was too close for comfort.


Next, enter the Lebron James commercial featuring the song, that aired while I watched the last Seahawks game.

“I’ve got to look up that song,” said my friend. To which I replied, “I have a link to it somewhere. It’s amazing, but the video is REALLY disturbing.” Truthfully, I couldn’t remember anything about the content of the video. I’d pressed it out of my mind, but the music had brought back my strong reaction, and all I knew was that it had been a source of disruption.

Then I watched the video again.

I’ve written a good deal about grief in my process of coming out, in wrestling to find my voice in the church, and in taking my place at the Christian table. But this song, with it’s arresting melody and hookline dug into me in a different kind of way.


I started this fall with a pilgrimage of sorts, walking for four days, by myself, along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was my first solo backpacking excursion, and I decided to walk as a way of exploring and unpacking the grief that I’ve found as the landscape upon which my life of faith has unfolded and found me flourishing.

It’s a strange thing to describe–walking as prayer; grief as a journey into a bodied experience; locating faith in wilderness. And this is a true gift: when the world offers up strange moments where our lives open up to us with clarity, if not with ease.

In the mirror of mountains and rivers, of deserts and oceans, we catch glimpses of how our spiritual and psychological selves are not disconnected from our human experience of being creaturely selves who are a part of a whole world that is, itself, subject to devastation and repair.

If there is any redemption worth pursuing, it must be in body; it must deal with the messiness of breakdown, lovemaking, aging, injury, hunger & thirst, interdependence, isolation, and deep connection to the earth. And this is something of what “Take Me to Church” is all about.

It’s about asking the deep questions of God, our religions, our communities, and the world–questions about belonging. Is there room in your cosmology for my body–my human experience? Is God found in places where our bodies open up to one another to offer shared love and mutuality or in places governed by fear of transgression that overflow into acts of violence in word and deed?

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I’ve lost so much life trying to protect myself from people and communities that were supposed to be protecting me–supposed to be offering a space where I could be a member of the community, growing into the flourishing life of God’s work and play in the world.

And there is much to grieve. On my third day of hiking I crossed three mountainsides of skeletal trunks of fir trees, bleached white with decades under relentless sun and wind, following a fire. The ground was hot and dry; rocks exposed by erosion that raked away millennia of forest soil.

I wept as I touched the desiccated bodies of the unburied dead, still lingering across the hillside. Each excoriated tree, a hollow memory of billions of needles synthesizing sunlight and carbon into a massive gathering of life that offered life, now lost. And though these mountains will recover, it will not be in my lifetime–not by the measures of soil inches or canopy, raised 200 feet towards sky.

But there are Doug Firs, as old as I am, and three feet tall.

Though small, they, along with marmots, lichen, and songbirds, are feeding on the nourishment wrought from grief, to offer back a way towards another iteration of thriving forest. And this, too, leaves me weeping.

The grief is real and the life is real. They aren’t exactly linear or causal in relationship, but the reality is that they hang together in a history that is not the way I would like to have seen it unfold. Loss and life do not cancel each other out in some cosmic equation.

In the narrative of Christianity, resurrected bodies carry wounds. And hope born out of grief is always marked by body’s memory work of facing death–which is another way of saying, life that is pulled through the abandonment of death, while gaunt and trembling, is a holy force, not to be trifled with.


As I have wondered about the space opened up in me through my brief time in the wilderness, I am realizing the recognition that I need the reflection of the landscape to speak back to me the unspeakable spaces that live within my body, where I have struggled to draw nutrients for my life of faith out of a soil eroded of capacity to feed me what I needed to thrive.

One myth that the song “Take Me to Church” challenges, is that God is encapsulated in the thunder, earthquake, and whirlwind of churches that espouse a theology in which God is at war with human peculiarity. Instead, it insists that God is present with us, in our bodies and our bedrooms, moving towards us in all the failings and flowering of our humanity.

In my own life, I’ve encountered a God who is gracious enough to weep with me after the wildfires of well-meaning people who have employed theologies to try to strip away the parts of me they deemed unfit in the ecology of God’s community. This is not to say that the church has been devoid of goodness for me as a gay man. It is just that the goodness has come primarily as a counter-narrative of redemption within a broader landscape of devastation.

Rather than attempting to weave gold from straw, or overhaul the entire system to try to make do, the slow trek towards life begins (from my perspective), with attunement to the acres of grief inside of me and feeling the space opened up by loss of what should have been present. It is in these spaces, these gaps of abandonment, where life is pulled out of us through our bodies for the life of the world.

I do not yet know what these words mean. But I know that I am in the slow work of growing a forest. Or perhaps of simply witnessing the forest being grown in the space that grief is reclaiming from narratives of death and violence that I have experienced in the church. And this kind of space feels capable, at last, of offering room for me, in my body, to be welcomed into the sacred communion of the giver of life.

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This is the 23rd post in the series “Queering The Christian Table.” Feel free to browse through older posts or start at the beginning by clicking the tab at the top of the page

The Self-ish Question around Compassion Fatigue

I’ve been wrestling a question for a while now. In a lot of ways, it has become the question.

The question is also the reason for a bit of radio silence around here lately.

In July, I began my journey towards getting a doctoral degree. It started with ten days of intensive classes and has continued with reading, writing, and unpacking the questions I want to wrestle with in the coming few years—and what I want to explore in this educational journey is a question for all who are trying to vocationally create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world; it is the question that I have come to wrestle with in the last year:

Can I have the kind of life I am working to see that others get to have?

Or, the question behind the question: Can I really offer others “the good life” if I am operating from a place of over-expenditure? Implicit in this second question is a resounding “NO.” Perhaps I can do some good for some people for some amount of time, but eventually I will implode or explode and I’ll end up doing more harm than good.

And so, the question behind the question behind the question: What kind of practices do I need to develop for myself to be rooted in a life of wholeness, from which I can offer assistance to others who are growing in wholeness for themselves?

This is the only way I can see to be able to make a sustained and substantial difference in the world, and it is a way in which I am not well versed.


 

Given the religious context that I grew up in, there’s an internal script that plays in my head, emotions, and body, that tells me to try to rescue everybody else and think of myself as merely instrumental in that crusade. It’s the equivalent of running around the depressurized airplane assisting others with their oxygen masks until, blue in the face, you collapse.

For me, there was a shitstorm of popular theological concepts gone awry, meets family dynamics that set me up to have a tiny something of a savior complex.

First, you have a lousy notion about kenosis—the idea of self-emptying—that comes from a scripture that is actually about how Jesus isn’t just human but also divine, talking about how God moves towards humanity. In some places, this idea gets twisted up (in most worship music, for instance) and the messaging becomes that God wants humans to empty ourselves of self for the sake of carrying out God’s work in the world. It’s kind of like we forget that Jesus already did the whole Jesus thing, so we don’t have to do that.

Then, when you lay the whole rid-yourself-of-a-self fiasco on top of a version of Christianity that believes God’s not capable of loving us enough to really forgive us, so he has to let his son/self be murdered to satisfy something (honoring God’s sense of justice, paying off the devil, protecting God’s incredibly fragile purity. . .—take your pick), and even then, God still doesn’t really forgive us, and needs to burn most of us in hell or annihilate us—well, it’s easy to see how growing up in that environment, it might be easy to get the impression that your only purpose in the world is to selflessly rescue others from the hell, to which your capriciously angry God who loves them so much, just has to send them.

[Yes, I know that sentence was impossible to read, but it’s okay to skip it and move along. You got the general idea.]

And so—if you can’t tell from my snark—while I no longer believe this mishmash of doctrines makes any sense, and I have other ways of interpreting and thinking about these concepts, the years of feelings, anxiety, and practiced, moralistic self-abasement live in me.

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When I open up Facebook or the news and see horrors, social injustices, and pain, from Ferguson to Fallujah, I sorrow. I see heartache and pain and harm and I want to do something to bring healing into the world. I see my privilege and how insulated I am from so much suffering, and I feel the weight of guilt. This injustice has to stop–so, obviously, it must be my responsibility to stop it all.

And in my day to day life, at work, with random acquaintances, I feel moved to help others. I feel compassion. I want to be responsible and steward my own life well for the sake of the community of which I am a part. I hear other people’s problems and stories, and I swallow down my own feelings to listen to them–because that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?

[If you happen to be privy to hearing me process aloud things from my internal world, you should take that as a sign that you are one of a few who are deeply loved and who get to experience the baby-steps of my practicing different ways of being that honor my self. I’m grateful, and I probably owe you dinner.]

But if I just keep trying to give without having a deep rooted source from which to draw, I will run dry. And being resourceful, I can make shit up. I can intuit and instinctually get pretty far—whether it’s working to address serious social problems or showing up relationally with people around me. But at some point along the way, I find myself burning out, getting beyond my normal level of introvert-needing-to-recharge tired, and getting to the point where I feel overwhelmed by all of the sorrow of which I am a witness in the world.

It’s in these moments of compassion fatigue where I begin to have great understanding for the many ways I choose to dissociate, self-soothe, and escape.

Some of this is an ethical problem that is a direct result of technological access to information. I am regularly exposed to acute horrors and insidious, systemic injustices that extend far beyond my own community. More, my community is stretched beyond a number of people that I can truly care for, and yet, I do care about each and every person I come in contact with. Without an off-switch or a Sabbath, it is nearly impossible to say no to the persistent litany of trauma that demands to be grieved–and if not grieved, lodged in our bodies and souls until it overtakes us.

A crucial part of having a self is having a “no.” When children learn that they are separate persons from their primary caregiving parent, it is usually connected with the idea of “no.” No is a way of resisting and declaring the boundaries of my self in the world. When I am flooded with messages that having a no is not okay, I eventually shut myself down or I rebel against those messages.


In my case, I also grew up with the sense that my sexuality, my orientation, and my core desire for connection with other people was deeply flawed. The religious context I grew up in told me that my developing self was certainly not okay—not okay for God, not okay for society, and not okay to bring into relationship with my family or friends. And, believing my self was deeply unsafe, it seemed reasonable to believe I should lose my self and beg God to take over my life to be a hollow instrument for bringing about something good in the world.

But the big flaw with this notion is that suggests God doesn’t really loves anybody for who God created us to be. This God just cares about us as pawns in a cosmic pyramid scheme where as a prospective target we are deeply desirable, but the second we are on the hook, we are meaningless, except as a means to the end of the next person to be recruited.

This, as opposed the God of the Bible who moves towards all creation with delight, calling us all good. And in Jesus, God continues moving towards us for relationship, to stop us from harming one another, and to offer us blessing so that we can flourish and have full and complete lives.


And here I am now. Staring down my 30th birthday in a couple of months and realizing that there are places in my body, in my mind, and in my emotional landscape, where I am still trying to save the world from an angry God who doesn’t care about me, and doesn’t particularly like some really important aspects of my humanity. To the extent that I live by those scripts, I am trying to please that God (and really, lets be honest, my parents and childhood pastors) who can never be pleased, by annihilating myself for the sake of rescuing others. And those scripts also keep me from the kind of compassion that might be useful in bearing wit(h)ness to the actual lives of other people.

When I don’t get to have a self; don’t get a “no;” don’t get a way to step back from legitimate compassion fatigue, because I am fused to pleasing a capricious God and rescuing others, then I will inevitably miss seeing the personhood of those I am trying to help. Because I think of myself as an agent of God, part of God’s Missio Dei, then I set myself up as the one best able to help another with whatever is happening in their life. I refuse others the dignity of their own agency and humanity—I deface them, and in so doing, I also deny the God who gives us all selfhood. In doing this, I set my own, hollow, self-annihilating self in the driver’s seat, like a tantrum throwing two-year-old who MUST keep wailing because they don’t know if their unpredictable mother will come back into the room.

When I don’t have a self, I collapse others and God into my vacuum and try to control everything else, because I have no central self to know or love.


And this is why I breathe.

This is why I pay attention to my breath.

This is why, when I am putting a restless six year old down for bed, I lay down on the floor next to his bed and breathe deeply.

I can only offer a stable presence in the world if I receive the gifts of my breath and my body and the life I have been given. I can only help my small friend find his own center in his own body, by first locating myself and practicing what I hope to offer him.

This is my question. The question at the heart of my questions: How do I practice having a self and enjoying the one life I have been given?

Because, in the end, we are not so different from trees. I can chop an apple tree down to make a table from which to serve people food, or I can tend the tree—prune it, protect it, feed it—and it can produce fruit for years to come; fruit to feed people and seeds enough to grow a forest.

QCT 22: Holiness and Sexuality: a Law or a Blessing?

“There are many ways to perish, or to flourish.”

-Mary Oliver

photo (1) A brief backstory:

I grew up in the Deep South, and with my grandparents, played in the river made famous by the eponymous funk sound of Muscle Shoals.

A few miles from my childhood home, my friends and I would climb the freestanding monolith in Georgia, recalled in Dr. King’s speech–a rock once a sacred site for Native Americans, then a gathering place for the klan, and, by the time of my childhood, carved up with visages of confederate soldiers, brought to life nightly with a laser show and fireworks coordinated to the strains of the battle hymn of the republic.

I went to school in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, learning to drive my roommate’s stick-shift in strip-mall parking lots and on winding river roads.   And in these places, I learned to read the Bible and sing gospel songs.

My family was a part of the Assemblies of God –a denomination of churches that, on the whole, are fairly conversant with broader evangelicalism. However, we were in the southeast, and with the rotation of people through the various churches in each town, there’s a long history of influence from the Wesleyan Holiness strains of Pentecostalism which developed in the late 1800s from lower Appalachia to Florida, that filtered over into the churches of my youth.

Now, I didn’t go churches that forbade makeup and jewelry, but some of them had in decades past, and I knew folks who did worship in such places.

And no, we didn’t handle snakes–though I did get my undergrad at a university in the one denomination to ever officially endorse the practice (albeit, only for a short period). 

And yes, I have actually been in a snake handling service (but that’s another story).

So, one of the hot debates in a lot of these Pentecostal churches was whether or not sanctification happened with salvation, as a part of baptism in the Holy Spirit, or as a distinct third event. For the uninitiated, sanctification is a word that literally means to be set apart. Another way of thinking of it is, to be made holy.

There was even a sub-debate over whether or not sanctification was ongoing or complete (meaning once it happened you no longer sin). Thankfully, whether from intellectual honesty or the legacy of charlatan evangelists throughout the 70s and 80s, most folks had abandoned the notion of complete sanctification by the time I joined the conversation.


Why have I given this backstory? Because it’s the doorway through which I entered a conversation that gets thrown down most any time Christians of different stripes try to sit down at the same table.

What to do–if anything–with the thing called sin? Or, framed in the positive, what is holiness and why does it matter?


For those Christians who put weight on the usefulness of scripture for understanding what God is up to and what that has to do with us, this sin/holiness question is complex.

In philosophical terms, there’s the issue that’s known as the Euthyphro Dilemma–a Greek question that goes like this: is a thing virtuous/good because the gods say so or do the gods say so because they recognize the thing to be virtuous/good in its own right?

Early monotheists altered the question to a singular God. And I like to remember it through the lyrics from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella–“do I love you because you’re wonderful, or are you wonderful because I love you?”

What does this have to do with bickering Christians? Well, it comes down to what shapes our thinking as we read the Bible–that fantastic collection of fragments of ancient texts, spanning thousands of years and dozens of cultures, that we confess as essential to how we understand the narrative of God’s relationship to the world and humans in particular.

So, when we read these stories we see people interacting with God, and we see the category of something called sin (connected to evil) which is sometimes seen in opposition to righteousness/justice and sometimes seen in opposition to holiness/purity and sometimes seen in opposition to healthy relationship (with God, other people, and land & animals).

And when we read about sin, we can generally agree that it is portrayed as a bad thing. Where the Euthyphro Dilemma comes into play is in this question: are the ways of living proscribed in the Bible good because God says so or does God say so, because they are inherently good? The opposite question also applies–are things labeled sin bad because God says so, or are they inherently evil and God just points that out?

Why does this question matter? Well if something is good or bad because God says so, then God is preserved as God, the source of everything–but we run the risk of a capricious deity, and we have to always wonder if we are in favor or not. But if a particular thing has inherent goodness or evil and God is just pointing that out, then God is subject to a greater governing principle and thus, not God.

Pro tip: this is why they call it a dilemma.

And this is where Biblical theologians annoy the philosophers in the room by deferring to a literary answer. We look to the narrative and ask if the dilemma we’ve created seems to be the narrative point of the text or not.

That is to say, what claims does the story make about the character and actions of God in relationship to this whole good vs. evil — holiness/righteousness/relationship vs. sin thing anyway? What do God’s actions reveal about the nature of God’s character and relationship with humanity, and what does that tell us about how God might be interacting with us around good and evil?


Now, there are lots of people who believe that the Bible tells us precisely how to live; that it clearly and definitively spells out what is sin and what is holiness.

In order to live and navigate our contemporary world and whatever culture they live in, these folks have to make some judgments and abstractions–otherwise they would simply remain neutral about modern birth control, stock market regulations, race relations, masturbation, genetic engineering, water boarding, and about a bajillion other things the Bible doesn’t even come close to mentioning.

And even though the Bible was written in a variety of completely different cultures in vastly different time periods than our own, there’s enough narrative data along with a rich legacy of interpretation, that we can make inferences about the character of God and the general shape of what makes good or evil.

But, the real question is whether or not we are doing this work 1) consciously and honestly, 2) unconsciously, thinking we are just reading the Bible and doing what it says, or 3) we are following someone else (usually our churches, authors, pastors, and media personalities) who says that they know what is right or wrong on either the first or second basis.

No matter which of the three ways we are doing this work, we are doing it within our own particular languages, cultural systems of meaning making, personal biases, and communities. I guess it’s obvious that I distinctly favor at least attempting option 1 (being honest about how we are doing this) rather than insisting on “a plain view of the text,” which I see as tantamount to the Olympics of self-deception.


And right smack in the middle of this conversation is where the conversation about LGBTIQ sexualities lands in the church.

We’re talking about culturally defined categories and identity politics that involve relationships and sex acts. And we’re trying to navigate these contemporary issues using a play book of text ranging in age from 1800 to 6000ish years old.

And so, we have to be honest and say that no one “just reads what the Bible has to say on the matter.” photo (2) The fact is, there is no singular Bible to read.

We all read translations that are compilations of thousands of fragments selected by highly skilled humans on committees (selected by biased publishing houses) making decisions about which fragments to go with, and how to convey ideas behind words that they know have multiple possible meanings.

The word homosexual didn’t emerge in English until the last 200 years, and it didn’t show up in English Bibles as a means of translating a few different untranslatable concepts until even later. There are many books written about the few verses into which we read the word homosexual in some contemporary English Bibles. Anyone who wants to make a claim condemning to hell (or endangering lives and/or limiting the civil rights of) a few hundred million people on the basis of six-ten verses should probably do some research first.

What is clear is that these verses talk about sexual acts and relationships between humans who were considered the same gender in whatever cultural understanding surrounded those things in their ancient contexts. These relationships and actions, as they were understood in their own time were certainly at least as different from modern western ideas about LGBTIQ sexualities, as contemporary sexualities among people of same genders in various cultures around the world are understood today.

That said, I think that these few verses, along with long church histories prohibiting same-sex activities and relationships in many cultural expressions rightly justifies the need to seriously ask the question: what is good and what is evil when it comes to contemporary LGBTIQ sexualities?

Rather than running from the question my conservative Christian siblings ask, I am moving towards it with them. I actually want to intensify it by taking it back to the question of holiness–when it comes to any expression of human sexuality, what do the character and actions of God, revealed in the person of Jesus and written about in scripture, tell us about what is good and what is evil?

Rather than a heinous conflict tearing apart churches and families, I want a rigorous con-frontation–I want us to sit down and face with one another the deeper question, the question that pulls us back into the whole arc of the Biblical texts and points us back towards the person of God.



So, I come back to the narrative of holiness from my childhood.

I grew up in a context that communicated about holiness, largely in terms of sanctification–of being “called out” and “set apart” for God. What was less clear to me was the answer to the follow up question: set apart, to what end?

The doctrine of sanctification/holiness–of living free from sin–seemed to have two main goals–1) getting into heaven and out of hell and 2) holiness brings glory to God.

Under point one, God is captain of team holy and sin is kryptonite. God can’t stand sin because it makes God super mad, or sad, or jealous and God literally cannot keep himself from either annihilating us or punishing us for eternity for sinning.

This view can also lead to some of the creepiest atonement theology options out there. So in this one, God seems to be held hostage by sin, only capable of one option, destroying the ones he loves. Penal substitution theory steps in here to suggest that God does come up with the solution of killing Jesus so he doesn’t have to kill us, but most adherents say he still will kill us if we don’t practice holiness, because, darn it, sin is just so powerful that God can’t take it.

Okay, so you know what I think of that option–it’s resolved the Euthyphro dilemma by saying God is subject to a higher principle–thus not God.

Under point two, where holiness brings glory to God, the Euthyphro dilemma could go either way, but tends toward a capricious God who calls certain things good, tells us to do them, we do them, and God goes on a power trip.

Here’s the snag with both of these problematic understandings of holiness: they aren’t baseless. An argument can be made for each based on Biblical texts.

The question remains, what do these interpretations say about the character of God in relationship to humans and does it make coherent sense of the bigger arc of biblical narratives and particularly the gospel stories.


Another way of tacking into this wind would be to go back to those churches I talked about before. What’s going on there, that holiness could be defined in hairstyles and handling snakes?

Well these high-walled communities are defining who is in and who is out based on practices rooted in the biblical texts. Their definition of holiness is different in degrees but not in direction from the ones explored above.

Where glorifying God (and/or staying out of hell) is defined by pleasing God through appropriately holy behaviors, it matters very much which side of the line you stand on. If you do the right things (whether it’s on your own or the result of God’s work in your life) you are in. If you do the wrong things, you burn (or in more gracious theologies, God annihilates you, or, even better, God’s not happy with you, but shows grace anyway, because, ya know–Jesus).

As I’ve intoned before, this view holds God hostage to sin. God’s holiness is either like the ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark, furious over sin, or God is a cosmic bubble-boy who must be protected from the weakest of all contagions.

If holiness is defined by what it is not–defined merely in terms of being called out or set apart from something–it ontologically requires the presence of evil in the world. This doesn’t appear to hold up to the narratives we have.

The very first story mentioning sin in scripture is immediately followed by God coming to look for and commune with the people who sinned, with God providing a way for them to live and be cared for in the midst of the fallout of the consequences for their actions.

The creation narrative is a theological text making a claim about who God is in relationship to people who do things that aren’t good. The story tells so little about the nature of good and evil, but tells much about the character of God.

If holiness is rooted in the nature of God, what does it say about what is holy when God moves toward and provides for those who have done what is wrong?


image What follows is my attempt to show how I am trying to make sense of the question of sin/holiness in the narratives of Christian scriptures.

The Pentateuch invites us to follow the stories of a people that grow out of God’s covenant with Abraham–a covenant to constitute a tribe of people who would become a blessing to every people group on the planet.

It’s a narrative that begins right after the origin story of the flood and the Tower of Babel–a story that can be read as God cursing humans for avarice or as God responding to avarice by blessing humans with diversity of cultures to increase their differences and develop contexts for greater interdependence. And there are ways we can follow the arc of the Pentateuch and reimagine what holiness might look like, had the people taken God’s covenant with Abraham seriously.

The holiness codes and the sacrificial system of law come after the people refuse God’s invitation to meet with all of them on the mountain–instead sending Moses in their place. Their elaborate legal system for bringing about holiness reads like a sectarian response to the ten words offered by God on the mountain–ten words traditionally understood as being about loving God and loving neighbor.

Should we assume their theology was always sound, and trust their versions of history, claiming God ordained the massacre of children so that they could take their land? Or could we not also read that God was faithful to them in spite of their bloody ethnocentrism and genocide?

And shouldn’t we interpret the holiness codes through the reforms of the prophets who said God detested the sacrificial system and found it worthless–instead desiring hospitality for the poor, disenfranchised, and immigrants?

And, at last, what do we make of a God who comes to live with sinful humans? It certainly seems like Jesus can stand to be in our presence, not only without annihilating us, but with genuine love, kindness, friendship, and blessing.

Again, there seems to be something in the character of God, where God moves towards those on the wrong side of the Bible’s own holiness codes. This gets repeated at Pentecost when God’s Spirit begins the relentless movement of blessing towards all nations. Mirroring the blessing of confusion originating at Babel, there is a further blessing of every nation when the good news of Jesus–God with us–is heard in every particular language.

Of course, this move by God threw the early church into chaos about how the law applied to those outside the law; those hellions from Romans 1 with their categorical sexual immorality–the Gentiles.

So what does all this say about God’s holiness? Is holiness actually less about policing our borders and more about moving past our own boundaries to bless those not like us with love? What seems apparent is that God’s holiness, when played out in our lives, looks like the fruit of the Spirit–that laundry list of relational categories that lead to blessing others rather than separating ourselves from them.

God’s holiness appears to be transgressive, offending our definitions of holiness.

Instead of being a pure sample that must be preserved, holiness as blessing acts like yeast, inoculating everything it touches. Holiness makes holy; calls things that are not as though they were; steps into places where people need connection and offers fullness of relationship. Holiness is not proscribed by a code, it is recognized by it’s fruit.

In this accounting for the texts, we don’t resolve the Euthyphro Dilemma. Instead, we two step with it. We say that the stories we hold sacred tell us that, far from being capricious, God is relentless, moving towards those who do wrong, forgiving and making holy through a relationship of blessing.

So, what is holy is what is made holy by the faithfulness of God’s love for those who do wrong. Or, like one biblical writer said, God credits us with righteousness.

In some sense, we might imagine God getting fed up and saying, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” But apparently, God has a thing for all creation and moves towards us with love–offering holiness that makes holy in relationship.


So what does this tell us Christians who are tied up in knots over gay sex?

I think we need to pay attention to how we have been shaped by our culture. We call weapons peacemakers. We are more offended by being called racist than we are by our own racism. We use politeness to deliver discrimination. We blame victims for the crimes perpetrated against them. We treat abominably those we accuse of abominations.

In short, our imagination of holiness appears to be shaped by our own impulse to be viewed as blameless.

While we use the Bible to justify our stance on holiness, we need to renew a biblical understanding of holiness rooted in what the narratives tell us about the character of God–as revealed in Jesus–as a movement towards us of blessing.

When we catch on to what the Holy Spirit is up to, we might realize that holiness is not about us getting it right to please God, but that it is God’s pleasure to bless us with relationship. In this paradigm holiness is measured in fruit, not compliance.

This shifts the conversation.

For those who view gay sex as sin, their work is not to be separate, but to offer the blessing of holiness through loving relationality. The requirement of holiness is to join the activity of the Holy Spirit, to transgress our notions of holiness in order to bless and make holy–to be evident through increased love. In this view, God’s grace and holiness are sacrament–those gifts that make sacred– freely given in relationship through Jesus.

And the work for LGBTIQ Christians and their allies is the same–to bear fruit in keeping with repentance–to grow in our capacity to move towards otherness in relational posture of blessing.

If, indeed, God is like Jesus–moving towards us where we are trapped in the competitive, zero sum game, where we demand death to preserve the purity of our system, then holiness is not about separation, but about blessing that is offered in relationship to those we see as wrong.

Jesus’ parable of the yeast is genius because it speaks to the viral spread of holiness-suggesting that holiness is not diluted or polluted, nor does it displace what it encounters–instead, holiness works with whatever it encounters and finds a way to bless and name goodness–this is the movement of a creator towards their creation.

In this interpretation, we are faced (both turned towards and given faces) by a prodigal God who is consistent in character, bringing provision and feasting with those who are on the wrong side of holiness codes. This God’s project is to bless, making good and complete until all things are brought into completion, reconciliation with God and made holy.