A story

I often write here about stories. They could be films, they could be books, they could be parts of  my own story. It’s because I like stories. Stories are a fundamental part of human existence. We are the only beings on the planet with the capability of telling stories to one another. Stories worm under our defences, help us walk in another’s shoes, see something from a way we haven’t seen before.

Large parts of the Bible are in the form of stories – histories, parables, gospels. They burrow away with truths that detonate in our heart and mind repeatedly days, weeks, months, years after encountering them.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that the debates we enter into as Christians would be changed for the considerably better if we stopped and listened to some stories for a while. Stories take debates out of the abstract and into the everyday. They give a theory a name, an idea, a face, an argument flesh and bones. It’s much harder to use rude names when you’re confronted with someone with their own name.

I was born and raised and remain one of those Christians who broadly fit under the label evangelical. I’m also, in many ways, what you might call an evangelical of a charismatic flavour. I’m not going to explain what those labels mean for me, now: that’s my story and that’s a story for another time. Part of that story is, though, that I grew up with a conservative view of homosexuality. That view of homosexuality remained static over many years; more recently I’ve tried to take a walk round the issue and examine it from different perspectives. It occurred to me that I’d never really examined other points of view on the subject; I’d simply gulped one in with the air I breathed. That can’t be good. As I walked I’ve learned that there are many other stories out there. I’ve learned that there are people in churches of the flavour that I like, who are gay; and they’ve received the message that they’re vile, hated by God and detested. That they can’t love Jesus.

I haven’t finished my wandering around this subject. I can’t say where that wandering will finish, if it ever does. I’m don’t want to call all conservatives homophobes; neither do I want to accept any lifestyle or choice or practice unquestioningly. But I do need to listen. Wherever I finish my wandering, I want to commit to always listening to stories, and always listening well.

So listen with me, will you? And before you and I opine, call people vile or abominations or detested or not-Christians, let’s remember we’re not talking about ideas. We’re talking about a person Jesus died for. A name, a face, a history, a person for whom their sexual orientation is just one part. An important part, to be sure, but only one part nonetheless.

Let’s start by taking 10 minutes to listen to this engaging, humbling, disturbing story.

What, then, shall we say?

We need more stories like this, don’t we? Stories of Jesus and grace and cross and iron nails and visions on beaches. Jesus often seems to do important things on beaches, doesn’t He? Who am I to call this man vile? Who are you?

You’re not, you say. You say you’re just repeating what God says.

Well, Jesus had many hard words to say to those who claimed to speak for God, didn’t He?

What, then, shall we say?

Let’s find a better story.

 

A lament

They say lament is good for the soul. Certainly it helps to get it out in the light, remove the mystery and drag the darkness into the brilliant glare of the one who names the moon. So.

I lament.

I lament that the church is not as it should be.

I lament that money, sex and power are tools in a power game.

I lament that children suffer as a result.

I lament that progressives blame conservatives.

I lament that conservatives blames progressives.

I lament my rush to judge.

I lament my lack of joy.

I lament that we speak at more than we listen to each other.

I lament that we speak at more than we listen to the world.

I lament that we speak at more than we listen to God.

I lament young people are committing suicide instead of coming out as gay in evangelical churches.

I lament that these churches campaign against same-sex marriage whilst the children do so.

I lament men and women in the church are defining each other by the genders of the people they like to have sex with.

I lament that I am so afraid to take a stand.

I lament that we’d crucify him all over again.

I lament that Lent is a time to give up media or food or drink not focus on the soul’s call.

I lament that theology is packaged as the type of music used in sung worship.

I lament that I am so quick to take offence.

I lament the trials that are held in the space of 140 characters.

I lament my thoughts being both greater and smaller than my deeds.

I lament that all the while people die who have not heard.

I lament disagreement on one thing preventing us hearing the majority on which we agree.

I lament a life of careless ease metres from those with cares too many to number.

I lament pain in my body, mind and soul.

I lament that the pain shows no sign of going.

I lament that I let pain change my mood.

I lament seeing through a glass darkly.

I lament.

 

 

The Cross In The Closet by Timothy Kurek

Take a deep breath.

Breathe in … A bit more … Let it out slowly … And relax.

The gay issue.

I told you to relax, didn’t I? Breathing just that bit faster? Teeth and fists clenched? Tension rising?

Breathe deeper.

The gay issue.

There’s the problem, why there’s so much tension in churches about this. Right there.

The clue is in one of those three words:

the           gay           issue

Did you spot it?

I lied. Sorry.

The clue’s in at least 2 of the words. Maybe a third.

‘The’ – the definite article. Making it, whatever ‘it’ is into something defined, boundaried, something you have to be fixed on. There’s not much room for manoeuvre, debate or questions there.

‘Issue’ – what is an issue, in this context? Relevant dictionary definitions talk of, for example, “a point in question or a matter that is in dispute … ” (dictionary.com). Is there a ‘point’ in dispute here? Well, yes. Maybe. Really what’s at stake is how some people relate to, have fellowship with, receive authority from, interpret the Bible with, other people. If it is an issue, then it’s a relationship one. Relationship, or a word that implies it would work better.

‘Gay’ – who does that include, actually? Those who practice same sex intercourse? Those who feel oriented that way but choose not to? What about transgendered people? We could go on. The frequent abbreviation is LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). Sounds more like a personality profile type, but there you have it.

I propose something like … I don’t know. The LGBT relationship dynamic.

Or not. Not quite what I was aiming for. At the moment I’m stuck in the problem.

Then along comes a book like Timothy Kurek’s The Cross In The Closet. It helps me; then again it doesn’t. The author lives in the Deep South of the USA, buckle of the Bible belt, where Christian sub-culture is often seen in one of its more conservative and vocal incarnations. He was, by his own admission, raised in and comfortable with it; he imbibed and then expressed a conservative approach to homosexuality. This book tells the story of his journey. A journey where he feels God is calling him, a single heterosexual male, to live as if he’s gay for a year.

We follow his coming out to his friends and his family, the resultant alienation from people he thought loved him, conversations with what he describes as his inner Pharisee, finding Jesus in unexpected places, being ‘re-outed’ before he was ready to his family as not really gay, the experience of what it really means to live in the closet  – as a heterosexual man in a homosexual sub-culture … and much else besides.

It’s a startlingly honest and brave book (occasionally let down by some careless editing – not the author’s fault). He willingly puts himself through all manner of stress and trauma, and ends up realising the issue of judgement runs far deeper in him than he ever dreamed. It’s a prophetic and challenging route to dealing with ‘the gay issue’, by removing the ‘issue’ and definite article, redefining it all as a series of relationships which challenge and stretch and disturb the comfort of all.

If you’re like me, you have a series of questions at this point. Is it fair, ethical, right to lie to people so deeply like this, even if it is in service of something bigger, maybe even just? How were the friendships he formed within the gay community (whatever those last 4 words mean) affected when he came out again as heterosexual at the end of it all? What’s his exegesis of key Bible passages? The first question is danced around, thought about. The second you get walked through what happened. The third – it’s not that kind of book.

Those, and a few more question besides.

The questions reverberate around my head for a time.

Then I’m reminded of a few other things.

I’m reading another book at the moment. It’s a brilliant work of more academic theology called Exclusion and Embrace, by Mirsolav Volf. He talks of the need for truth to embrace and walk in the shoes of the other in order to heal division; and he talks of not sacrificing truth to do so. That says much to those questions, as does the whole of Volf’s book (though it’s a more dense piece of theology set alongside Kurek’s narrative).

The other thing I’m reminded of is something about a man who became sin yet was without sin, and who asked me to take up my cross.

Of course, for some just using the terminology ‘sin’ there is unhelpful. The heart of the issue, you might say.

The Cross In The Closet will probably not shed new light on your understanding of the Bible. It’s not trying to. It won’t make you change your mind, wherever your mind is at the moment. I don’t think it’s trying to do that either. It’s trying to make you think about how you think, which may be a much better place to start.

This book is by no means the last word. There are many, many more words written and not yet written to help us explore and define or redefine or whatever it is we need to do. What The Cross In The Closet  gives us is a very, very important new first word.

I rated this book 4/5 on GoodReads.com