Why I Wrote a Letter to Mark Driscoll

photo © 2006 Dennis Jarvis | more info(via: Wylio)

There has been a bit of push-back to a Facebook status that Pastor Mark Driscoll posted last Friday, asking folks to tell a story “about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader (they’ve) ever personally witnessed.” While not stated explicitly, it was implicit in the note (and from Pastor Mark’s overall demeanor) that these would probably not be primarily positive stories.

I’ve read a number of posts about this. On Monday, Rachel Held Evans invited her readers to consider writing a letter to the leadership at Mars Hill Church, asking them to address the issue of bullying. I had a moment of hesitation in writing a letter because I don’t know Pastor Mark and I don’t really know any effeminate worship leaders (some metro guys for certain, but no one that I would consider to be effeminate).

And then I read a post from Tyler L. Clark that compelled me to write a letter. In his piece, Tyler wrote, “When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack “effeminate anatomically male” men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot.”

Reading that, I knew I had to write.

You see, there’s a really good chance that’s going to be my son. He is a funny, creative, smart, good-looking kid. But he’s not the most masculine boy you’re going to meet. He’s more likely to play Super Mario Brothers than to play football. He collects Pokemon cards, not baseball cards. He invented the game “hug ‘o war” at our house. He says “I love you” to people he’s just met.

This kid wears his emotions out there and as a result, he gets teased by his peers at school or at day camp. Most of the time we’re able to talk about it and he’s able to blow it off. And honestly, most of the teasing isn’t too bad yet. He’s still mostly a little boy, so things haven’t turned really nasty. But I can see it, looming. He’s getting older and expectations of “manliness” are going to start to become more and more persistent. And odds are good that some day, my son is going to tell me or his dad or some other trusted adult a story similar to the one that Tyler referenced above.

There’s one place where he should be absolutely free to be who he is, and that’s the Church. He should never have to fear that he’s going to be verbally assaulted or mocked or torn down or gossiped about when he steps through the doors of the church. Instead, it should be a place where he can go to have wounds healed. A place where he can be encouraged. A place where he can have his talents nurtured and used.

Pastor Mark’s call for stories about effeminate males was a call for stories about someone’s son or brother or friend. The post dehumanized a group of people by reducing them to a single trait. Of course, if I look at Pastor Mark as just a bully, I risk doing the same. He becomes a caricature instead of a person.

So I wrote my letter. Because I don’t want Pastor Mark to be reduced to the part of villain. And I don’t want my son to be reduced to the part of anatomically correct male. They are both so much more than any single negative trait. When we choose stand up for one person, we are standing up for all of them.

What Are God’s Ways Like?


photo © 2007 matthew venn | more info(via: Wylio)

Since the release of Rob Bell’s latest book, there has been a lot of talk about hell. Francis Chan is in on it. The Southern Baptist Convention is in on it. Some guy I don’t know is in on it.

Honestly, it’s not a topic I’ve spent a lot of time studying. I have no idea who is right in this case. I’m only on the very beginning of reading through some of these things. But even in my very brief study, I do have some questions that won’t go away. Not exactly questions about hell, but questions about hell speaks about the nature of God.

Whenever this discussion comes up it’s hard for me to understand how we talk about it without putting it in human terms. Most of us are appalled when we hear about stories of torture of any kind, particularly prolonged torture. It cuts at the very nature of us to think that someone is experiencing agony. Even if they are bad by every metric we have available, torture is almost universally met with disgust and loathing.

And yet when it comes to God, we seem to have no problem assuming that this is how he operates.

He condemns people that we work with, that we go to little league games with, who ring up our groceries, who may even attend our church to an eternal torture. And we are to believe that this is good and just. Despite nearly all of us agreeing that torture in this life is reprehensible, we are to believe that eternal torture is just.

And how do we know that it is just? We simply say that his ways are not like our ways (Isaiah 55:8).

Here is where it gets tricky for me. Why is it that when it comes to eternity, his ways are significantly shittier than our ways?

As a parent, I get that just does not always mean fun or happy. I get that we might not see the full picture. But I also know that my kids have a pretty good head on them and they know when a punishment is just and when it’s just me acting out in an angry, mean way. They may not always like justice, but they know what justice is.

I feel like part of being made in the image of God is that we have an ability to see that which is good. The Scripture tells us that even in our evil ways, we still know how to give our children good gifts. We have the capacity for creation, for generosity, for love. Folks frequently point to our inherent ability to know right from wrong as a proof of God. And yet we all too often simply abandon our gut instinct about the goodness or justice of Anne Frank sharing the same eternity of torture with Adolf Hitler.

Over at Rachel Held Evans’s blog last week, KatR commented, “I hope when I get to the end of my life I will find that God is not the a-hole that so many Christians insist that he is.”


I hope the same thing.


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How do you reconcile the idea of justice with the idea of eternal torture for temporal wrong-doing? Do we have any way of understanding God’s ways?  

The Day Running Didn’t Kill Me

photo © 2006 Ian Burt | more info(via: Wylio)

As per yesterday’s post, I decided to get started on the Couch to 5K program right away. I’ve read all the stuff about not worrying about the beginning of a week or month or whatever to start something, just start it. And since I’m loathe to be any more of a cliche than absolutely necessary, I decided I’d get moving.

Of course, starting this in the summer in the midst of a heat-wave means that I had to wake up EARLY this morning to get to the track as soon as it opened so I didn’t collapse from heat bitchiness. (Yes, I know that real runners don’t run on a track. But I live in WV with many, many hills and there’s just no way I could do any part of this on the actual roads, not to start, anyway.) What follows is a detailed look at my first C25K morning. Enjoy.

  • 5:45AM alarm: Why did I post this on my blog? People are expecting me to do this. I could be asleep right now. It’s summer vacation for heaven’s sake!
  • 5:50 AM: Get dressed. Realize I can’t find any ties for my hair. Raid the kids’ silly band collection. Hope I find one that looks like a runner. Actually find one that I don’t know what it is.
  • 6:00 AM: Tweet that I’m doing this.
  • 6:01 AM: Check to see if anyone has offered encouragement. Realize that it’s flippin’ six in the morning and most people are asleep. Like I want to be.
  • 6:07 AM: Get to the track. Pray that no 16 year old hard-bodies are out there to laugh at me. Realize again that it’s very early and all 16 year old hard-bodies are probably asleep. Stretch, based on clips of what I’ve seen on TV, not from any actual fitness information.
  • Five minute warm up. Here we go. I have survived 20+ hours of labor at a time. I can do this for 27 minutes.
  • First 2 minute run, beginning: What was I worried about? I’m a rockstar! I can totally do this!
  • First 2 minute run, 13 second in: What the hell was I thinking? This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.
  • First 3 minute walk: The podcast guy is telling me that I should be breathing heavier, but should recover in the 3 minutes. I don’t think that is going to happen. I’m pretty sure I will be breathing like this until sometime after lunch.
  • Second 2 minute run: Already? Okay, I caught my breath, but…already?
  • Second 3 minute walk: Oh, this is bad. I have to do this two more times. You know, if I quit now and just sat in the bleachers until the end of the podcast, I could pretend I’m awesome. No one is here. No one will know. I’ll still be plenty sweaty to pretend that I did the whole thing.
  • Third 2 minute run: *expletive deleted* Are my legs on fire because of the running or because the friction between my thighs is causing some kind of chemical reaction? *expletive deleted*
  • Third 3 minute walk: I’m dying. I’m dying. I know Janet Oberholtzer does this with with one leg, but I’m not that strong. I’m just a fat old lady and I can’t do this. I’m dying.
  • Last 2 minute run: *many, many expletives deleted* Where are my effing endorphins???? I was told I’m supposed to get some kind of high from doing this!!!!! Why don’t I feel high???? *many more expletives deleted*
  • Cool down: Holy crap, I just did that. The sun is coming up over the trees and I kinda’ want to cry because it’s so beautiful. Is that what they’re talking about? Cuz that’s not the worst feeling in the world.
  • 6:42 AM: Home. Wait, you mean I have to walk from my car to my house????
I survived. It was horrible and exhilarating and painful and empowering. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be the runner that many of my friends are and that’s okay. I’m not going to be skinny and that’s also okay. But I can be a more fit and certainly happier version of me and that’s VERY okay.
Have you started any new projects lately? Do you have a favorite Couch to 5K podcast? And if you’re celebrating this achievement with me, maybe you could do so with a donation to Nuru for my birthday?

A Christ Centered Marriage

Being married, I pay pretty close attention to just about whatever I can find about marriage. Given that most of my friends are Christians and I myself am a Christian, much of what I read about marriage comes from a Christian perspective.

Honestly, I find this okay because really, most advice is pretty standard regardless of religious affiliation. One doesn’t have to be a Christian to know that honesty, trust, fidelity and love are important bedrocks to any successful marriage.


photo © 2007 firemedic58 | more info(via: Wylio)

But there’s one phrase that I have heard (or heard a variation of) in every piece of Christian marriage literature that I’ve read.

“Keep Christ at the center of your marriage.”

For years, I totally agreed with this and I would have said that it was true of my own marriage. We attended church together. We prayed together. We discussed spiritual things together. We played music in church together. Most decisions that we made were based on what we felt God was telling us to do.

Obviously that changed when Jason told me that he no longer shared my belief in God.

But lately I’ve been wondering if it was really God at the center of our marriage or religious ritual. And quite frankly, I wonder if God can be at the center of any Christian marriage or if it’s always the ritual.

To be clear, I think a shared belief is a very good thing. Not sharing a belief system has it’s difficulties and going into a marriage without it or it occurring later (regardless if one moves toward or away from God) can have moments of disappointment (sometimes profound disappointment) for both spouses. Common interests and goals are incredibly important to a successful marriage, and shared faith is something that is a beautiful bond.

I also want to be clear that I believe as Christians we should keep Christ at the center of our own lives. I find comfort and joy in my faith and my relationship with God is one that is dear to me.

I wonder if perhaps we need to be as wary of the advice to keep Christ at the center of our marriage as we are of cautioning parents against placing their children at the center of their marriage. I’ve seen marriages center around children and their activities and then when they’re gone, the couple finds that they’ve invested more in those rituals than in building a variety of common interests.

I never thought that faith was something that would change for us, but it did. And our marriage is not even a little bit unique in that. Advice like this can be hugely guilt-inducing on both members of the marriage if that happens. When we’re tasked with keeping Christ at the center, we become responsible not only for the working out of our own relationship with Christ, but also that of our spouse. And when you’ve already lost a common interest, that is a guilt one can live without.

I would much rather see a shift toward encouraging people to keep Christ at the center of their lives and keep things like love, respect, humor and trust at the center of their marriage. A focus on these things can help sustain a marriage even if there is the loss of another key commonality.

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What do you think it means to have a Christ-centered marriage? When it comes to relationships, what ways can we know that it’s Christ-centered aside from rituals? And if you have no opinion on any of that, what do you like in the center of your donuts?

Free Will and Calvinist Atheists

photo © 2004 gualtiero | more info(via: Wylio)

I have been really humbled by the response from many in the atheist community to my post over at Rachel Held Evans’s blog last month. It has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m very grateful for the kindness that I’ve been shown at Rachel’s blog and in other posts around the blogosphere.

That said, there has been one common criticism of the piece and it’s of this line:

Most atheists who have “deconverted” from a religious background have studied it and other religions thoroughly before choosing not to believe. (emphasis added by me)

The overwhelming consensus from the atheist community is that non-belief is not a choice. One absolutely lovely woman with whom I’ve been corresponding sent this to me (quoted with her permission):

I didn’t choose not to believe. Losing my faith wasn’t something that I did. It was something that happened to me.

In a conversation with my daughter about this, not too long ago, she had this same idea and perhaps still does — that belief is a choice. I tried to explain to her, as a sort of illustration, suppose you’re walking along the sidewalk, and suddenly a bus which is barreling down the busy street accidentally gets too close the curb and kills you.

People gather around your lifeless body. Some are sympathetic and weeping for you. But others condemn you and say “She chose to get run over by that bus.”

That’s how it feels for me and so many other people who were, metaphorically speaking, run over by a bus. It’s something that happened to us. It wasn’t a choice that we made. We were just walking along the sidewalk like everybody else does, trying to get to our destination, and we didn’t choose to get run over by a bus.

When I lost my faith and stopped going to church, not one person expressed sympathy. My husband and children were upset and confused, and that’s my fault because I wasn’t able back then to express what was going on in my heart and mind. I wasn’t able to share with them what was happening, the doubts and questions I was having, and so it all came as a big surprise to them. They were so afraid for me, because they had been taught that people who don’t go to church are going to hell. I was too immature and at a loss for words and couldn’t even begin to formulate a coherent explanation or talk to them about it. I tried to console them, and that’s the best I could do at the time.

Everyone else simply condemned me and shunned me. They truly believed that I had chosen to lose my faith. One or two dear ladies later told me they were praying for me. Other people spread the rumor that I was a Satanist, and a Communist, and that I and my husband were getting a divorce, etc. These people were “Christians”, the “saints”, leaders and respected members of the church.

There was no support group or whatever, in that church, for anybody who was suffering a loss of faith. That’s one thing I wish churches would form — some sort of support network, or whatever, some sort of help for people who are going through this time of such emotional distress that is going to have absolutely life-changing impact for themselves and their families.

Such a support would have as its main focus and goal, to “be there” and to assure the person that regardless of where their search for truth might take them, they were loved and accepted.

Such a support would not be a coercive sort of thing set up to shame the person and attempt to make them conform to doctrine, beating them over the head (so to speak) with dogma and authority.

So anyway, that’s one thing that I wanted to write to you about while it’s on my mind, as I’m reading your blog and Rachel Held Evans’ blog. I wish Christians would understand that neither belief nor non-belief are “choices” — they’re things that happen to us. We can’t make ourselves believe something we don’t believe, and we can’t make ourselves stop believing anything ether.   It’s whatever individual brains are able or unable to do. 

A simple experiment can prove or disprove this — if people would simply think of something they don’t believe, and make themselves believe it. Or conversely, think of something they do believe, and make themselves not believe it.

Needless to say, this gave me a lot to think about!

I admit, I’m still not 100% convinced that these things aren’t a choice. At the very least, I would say that belief or unbelief is the cumulative effect of a number of other choices. I choose to read this book or that. I choose to interact with these people or those. I choose to attend this event or that.

When Jason came out to me as an atheist, I would say that I was faced with a choice. I feel certain that there was a part of me that could have chosen to leave my faith. There are still a lot of areas where I struggle to believe. And while I see where my friend is coming from, I would still characterize my belief as a choice.

That said, I think the larger point of being sensitive to those who are going through a faith transition, whether by choice or not, is very valid. As we talked about on Monday, our natural inclination when someone is going through something difficult is often to either try to fix them or to just pull away altogether. Taking time to simply be there for someone going through a crisis of faith is like being there for them through any other crisis.

When Thomas expressed doubts, Jesus didn’t push him away, but rather invited him closer. If we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we must do the same.

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What are your thoughts about faith and free will? How can you offer support to someone going through a crisis of faith? How could someone with strong faith better love you if you’re the one going through a faith transition?

The 24/7 Project

Last week I had the distinct honor of posting over at the Friendly Atheist site. I meant everything I wrote there.

And the very next day, Hemant posted something that just tried my patience big time.

I decided that I could sit here and complain, or I could follow my own advice and do something. I hate being a hypocrite, so it’s time to do.

One of my very favorite organizations in the whole world is Nuru International. They go into a community that is dealing with extreme poverty and they work with that community to help them learn better agricultural techniques and better hygiene techniques, which allows them to earn more money, help their children become better educated and end the cycle of extreme poverty. Their methods are working. They are seeing huge improvements from farmers who participate (averaging a 300% increase in production) and these farmers are repaying the initial loans at 98%. 
 
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this organization. They are making a difference. 

Philip’s Question from Nuru International on Vimeo.

 
Take a look at the following video. This is why I care so much about this organization.

So here’s the deal. Six other bloggers are joining with me and in the next 24 days, we want to try to raise $7000 for Nuru. (24/7, right?)

I get it. $7000 is a whole lot. Likely more than we can raise in 24 days. I admit, there was a minute when I really wanted to just cop out and try for a way smaller number. But I don’t need faith for a small thing. Seven large takes a lot more faith to put out there.

But in a week where I’ve written about keeping my title consistent with my contentand about taking risks, I want to stretch my faith. So I’m asking you (and me) to dig deep and see what we can do. To see what God can do through us.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Donate. Head over to the Nuru Donation Page and give something. Give anything. If you’ve got an extra $12.47, they can use it. The amount doesn’t matter (well, it has to be at least $5, so it matters a little bit). When you make a donation, please include “24/7 Project” in the comment box so the good folks at Nuru can keep us updated on our progress toward the goal.
  • Spread the word. Do you have a Facebook page? Then share this post. Share the posts of the other bloggers who are participating (check the bottom of this post to get to their sites). If you’re on Twitter, follow the hashtag #247Project and retweet stuff you see coming in under that title. Write your own blog post about Nuru and as your readers to donate (and shoot me a link so I can promote it as well!). Send an email to your friends (though feel free to exclude the obligatory “if you really love Jesus, you’ll donate” line). You can follow Nuru’s Facebook page and Twitter feed so you can see what they’re doing.
  • Pray. While I don’t want us to be people who JUST pray, I don’t discount the power of praying. The other bloggers have agreed to pray for Nuru for the next 24 days and if you pray, I would love it if you’d join with us in that.
  • Donate. Seriously, please make a donation. These folks are doing amazing work and the way they can continue to do it is with money. (Even if you’re not a person of faith, I would encourage you to check out and donate to Nuru. Even though it is founded by people of faith and as a response to their faith, they are not a religious organization, so the help they offer is not dependent on folks listening to a sermon or attending a Bible study. Again – the “do instead of just pray” thing is a big part of why I love this organization.)
Here are the other bloggers who are joining in with me. I am ridiculously grateful to them for their support and for their heart for Nuru. If you don’t already read these folks, here’s a great opportunity to start. Add them to your RSS feed because they’re fantastic writers and you don’t want to miss what they’ve got to say.

 

  • Seeking Pastor (Matt Cannon)
  • Randomly Chad (Chad Jones)
  • From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell (Sarah Bost Askins)
  • Off the Cuff (K.C. Proctor)
  • Shawn Smucker (Shawn Smucker)
  • Jennifer Luitwieler (Jen Luitwieler)
All of us have an opportunity in these next few weeks before Easter to be a part of something big. Ending extreme poverty seems like an insurmountable goal, but Nuru is making it happen and we can join with them.
Be hope. Be light. Be Nuru.

My Big Gay Post

I’m Alise, and I affirm gay relationships.

This wasn’t something that I came to lightly. Rather, this has been a long journey that I have spent years waffling, thinking, studying, and praying about before finally coming to a decision.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought that being gay was a sin. It never made sense to me that being attracted to someone could be inherently wrong and nothing in the Scripture seemed to indicate that it was sinful. Everything seemed to be related to action rather than attraction, so I made my peace with it and just camped there for a long time. Of course, living in a small town and having no friends who were out certainly made it easier to simply not think about it and when I went to college any gay friends that I had were decidedly not Christian, so their sexual orientation didn’t really have any bearing on my theology.

And then things changed.

 
Tina helping me dye my hair at Camp Happy

My closest friend from high school was in a climbing accident that left her severely injured and which killed her best friend. And as we sat on the deck of her parents’ house, her covered in bruises with a broken eye-socket and grieving, she told me that her friend was more than simply a good friend. She had lost someone not only who she loved, but with whom she was in love. All of a sudden, everything that I knew about being a gay Christian was challenged.

For fourteen years I rolled this issue around in my head. I went online and talked to gay Christians who had no problem embracing their sexual orientation and their faith. I read articles and books about the difficult passages of Scripture that seem to condemn homosexual behavior. I examined nearly every avenue I could in trying to come to some peace, but peace would not be found.

If I came to the conclusion that homosexuality was not a sin, there could be a rift in relationships with a number of people – people who probably thought I believed the way I did on nearly everything else just to be contentious. I didn’t know how to look at a pastor and say, “I think you and most of your colleagues with years of biblical training are wrong about this issue.” I didn’t know how to tell my family, “Add this to the list of thing that I don’t agree with you about.” I didn’t know how to tell my kids, “You’re probably going to be told that homosexuality is a sin, but I don’t think it is.”

I could do this with things that affected me more directly. I could explain why I primarily vote Democrat and consider myself a liberal. I could carry on a discussion about why I accept theistic evolution and have a real problem with things like the Creation Museum. I could talk about social justice and the importance of caring for the poor. But gay stuff? Why would I put my neck out on the line for that? I’m a straight, married, stay-at-home mom of four. What’s the up-side to me not just supporting gay rights, but going one step further and affirming gay relationships in the Church?

Of course, if I came to the conclusion that homosexuality was a sin, there was only one person where there could be a relational shift. But that one person was important to me. She was a person with whom I had shared fake birthdays. She was a person who invented games with me. She was a person who had been my best friend during my unbearably awkward teenage years. And she was a person who wanted what I had – to share her life with someone that she loved.

I spent years agonizing over this.

And then it clicked.

God is love.

 
Tina and me at a friend’s wedding

I want to make it more complicated than that, but that’s it. God is love. Two people wanting to share love is of God. John 13:35 tells us how we know we’re being disciples of Jesus – we love. Love isn’t something that needs to be fixed or healed or redeemed. It’s already the highest law. It’s what God created us to do.

There are other reasons why I’ve come to this conclusion (I highly recommend Jack Rogers’s excellent resource, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality for a more thorough examination of the Scriptures and history surrounding the issue), but the primary reason is because of love. So maybe I can change my opening statement just a little bit.

I’m Alise, and I affirm love.

Celebrating Women

Yesterday I was speaking with a couple of the #coffeeclub ladies on Twitter and Veronica mentioned that next month is Women’s History Month and that perhaps some of us should celebrate that on our blogs. Sarah Askins and I were both on board with that, so we hammered out a few details and decided that each Wednesday in March, we would write about a specific topic as related to women. Here is our tentative schedule (as women, we retain the right to change our minds):

  • March 2 — We will be sharing personal narratives on how we became or are becoming stronger women.
  • March 9 — We will be discussing views on strong women and/or feminism.
  • March 16 — We will be writing about feminist parenting. How can we help our sons and daughters (or any young people that we meet, if one is not a parent) have a healthy view toward women.
  • March 23 — We will be focusing on an influential woman writer. One who has influenced our own writing or our thoughts about writing.
  • March 30 — We will wrap up the month by talking about ways we can each have a positive effect on women’s issues locally and perhaps even globally.
We would love it if you would consider joining us in writing about these topics next month. Each of us will be hosting a linky on our blogs so you can read our posts and you can add your own as well. And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow the hashtag #CelebrateWomen to see what else we find that is pertinent to this month.