Archive for April, 2019

Transcending: The Situation

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love

I’m going to start a blog series about the Bible and LGBTQ people and Christians and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people in particular. To give it a catchy title on my blog, I’m calling the series Transcending. The subtitle, which I may not repeat in every post, will be They’ll Know Us by Our Love. That’s the overarching biblical command that applies.

In this first post, I’m going to explain why I’m looking at this topic.

I have a transgender daughter. She came out a few years ago as an adult, when she was 27 years old. She lives on the other side of the country from me, in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate in that she did tell me in person, so I could see with my own eyes this is still my beloved, wonderful child. I was prepared to mourn my son – but I don’t have to, because my child is still the same person I’ve loved all her life.

That happened three and a half years ago. The intervening time has had some bumpy moments, but my daughter has told me that living as a woman feels like Truth. And that’s what I’ve been praying for her all along.

I got to visit my daughter in February this year, and learned the happy news that she is engaged to be married! She’s marrying another transgender woman, so this is definitely a gay wedding – and I’m super happy for them. I see lots of signs that the two of them are good for each other, and I’m so happy to welcome another daughter into my heart.

But when I got back from my trip, my church called a meeting of the deacons to get their feedback about a new policy the elders want to add to the church constitution.

Here are the two paragraphs of the policy that upset me the most:

Marriage reflects Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). It is defined from the beginning of scripture as uniting one man and one woman in a lifetime commitment to each other and provides for intimate companionship, pure sexual expression, and procreation. Jesus reaffirmed this definition of marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19:4-5). God designed sexual intimacy for a marriage relationship and does not endorse or condone it in any other context. Any form of sexual expression outside of a marriage relationship is sinful and dishonors God (Genesis 1:27, 2:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; Hebrews 13:4; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20). Sexual sin is not, however, unforgivable sin and the same redemption through Christ, available to all sinners, is available to those committing sexual sin. Additionally, temptation, including sexual attractions, is not sin. Sin is yielding to temptation in thought, word, or deed.

Due to the effects of sin and human brokenness in this world, one’s experience of their sex and gender is not always as God originally designed. It is our desire to come alongside as a loving and accepting community supporting anyone experiencing a gender identity discordant with their birth sex. However, recognizing that our sex as male and female is designed and ordered by God, we do not agree with any attempt to alter one’s birth sex through medical intervention on the basis that it dishonors God’s design (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:18-22; Romans 12:1-2). This does not apply to intersex individuals born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

I disagree that marriage can only be between one man and one woman (and this completely ignores all the polygamy in the Old Testament), but I at least understand where in the Bible this is coming from, even though I disagree with this interpretation. I hope to get to that eventually in this series.

But my main focus at least at the beginning of this series will be looking at the paragraph about transgender people and why I believe it is not remotely biblical.

Now, before I start those arguments, some of my friends may wonder why I am still attending a church that proposes such a policy. So this first post will be about my history with this church and why I feel called to stay – at least until the congregation votes on this policy in Fall 2019.

And the policy has not passed yet. To add anything to the church constitution, there must be a meeting of members, announced in the program at least two consecutive Sundays before the meeting, and the change would need a two-thirds vote of the members present.

That’s a high bar to pass. If two-thirds of the members really do think that being transgender dishonors God’s design, then it is time for me to find another church. But I still have much hope that this will not happen.

Honestly? I believe that to make up a rule not found in Scripture and enshrine it in a policy statement would be to commit the sin of the Pharisees from Matthew 23, tying up heavy loads and placing them on people’s shoulders. I love these people and hope I can convince at least a third of them not to take this step.

But why are they worth it? Well, one thing I’ve always loved about this church is that they do not ever preach (well, until now) that one political view is the “Christian view.” Whenever the pastor has a point that will appeal to conservatives, he balances it with a point that will appeal to liberals.

All my life growing up in conservative evangelical churches, the churches I attended would pass out “political scorecards” which claimed to tell which legislators were taking the “biblical” position in their votes. At the time, I already knew the Bible well enough to know things weren’t as simple or as clear as they pretended. It always bothered me that they dared to know the “Christian” view on every issue. But the pastor at the church I attend now has never allowed anyone to pass out those scorecards. I so respect that!

About six years ago, this pastor did a political series, looking at some major political issues for about four weeks. I cringed, expecting to hear only one side on each issue. But no! Much to my surprise, he admitted that Christians were on both sides of each one of the issues presented. In many cases, he had someone come in to present another side, and where that didn’t happen, he worked hard to research the other side.

In the case of same-sex marriage, you could tell what the pastor thought, but he did present why many Christians believe homosexuality is not a sin. In fact, I had already slowly come to that conclusion – but that sermon was the first time I heard a reasonable way to approach the Bible verses that seem to be about it.

There’s no Code of Conduct at this church. Yes, if there are concerns, it could keep someone from becoming a member. Yes, when an elder had an affair, he was removed from office and there was church discipline until he showed honest repentance and was restored to fellowship. But when we become members, they ask us in front of the church if we have accepted Jesus as Lord of our life and if we feel called to give our time, treasure, and talent here at this church. There’s never any impression that you have to follow a list of rules to be a member.

My sense is that we’re a bunch of people who don’t necessarily agree about every little thing, about politics or every point of doctrine – but we all love Jesus and want to follow him. And we’re here to serve and care for each other.

I’ve got a long history with this church, too. They’re like my family. I came to northern Virginia from Germany after my then-husband had an affair and got himself ordered to Japan so I couldn’t follow him. I came to Virginia to be near two dear friends I’d known since third grade. They both attended this church – and right away the church took me in and loved on me and helped me survive my divorce and heal and grow.

So I’m not going to leave lightly. And I’m deeply grieved at the thought that these people I love might make a policy that would exclude so many wonderful people.

They don’t want it to exclude. And that’s partly why they’re trying to bury the new policy in the bylaws of the church constitution rather than in the statement of faith. They don’t even necessarily want people visiting the church to know it’s there.

What I’m hearing from the leadership is that the reason for the policy is that the Supreme Court has ruled that you can’t discriminate against LGBTQ people unless it’s based on a deeply held belief, and it’s not a deeply held belief unless it’s in writing.

Now, my solution to that is simple: Don’t discriminate.

I think the rationale for why we need this now is that the church recently built a building and we run a child care center. The leadership doesn’t want to be required to hire LGBTQ staff for the child care center. And I think they also don’t want to have to rent the facility to hold same-sex marriages. They are afraid they might be targeted by some sort of malicious lawsuit and want to cover themselves by having a statement that this is sinful. (At least this is my understanding of the rationale.)

Again, my solution is simple: I don’t think being LGBTQ is sinful, so I don’t think we should discriminate against LGBTQ people in any way. For that matter, you may not even know if someone applying to work there is transgender or gay or anything else, and you don’t really need to know that to determine if they will be a good teacher. (And background checks are required for all volunteers and staff who work with children, as well as plenty of training to be extra careful that the children in our care are safe.)

So that’s the situation. This church is filled with people I love. I’ve always been so proud of the church for not pretending that one political viewpoint is the “Christian view.” We’re a bunch of people who love Jesus and want to follow him seeking to join together in authentic Christian community.

And now we’re contemplating a policy that I believe would exclude vulnerable people and tell them that God is not pleased with who they are.

I have talked at length with the pastor and the elders about this, and they listened to me with compassion and respect — for a while at least. The last few emails I sent were not answered at all. I don’t blame them for getting weary of talking with me about it — I keep bringing it up. I should add that the first version I saw was worded much worse than this version, and I appreciate that they changed it — but it’s still not enough. And it still hurts that they would propose a policy so hurtful to my child and any other LGBTQ folks who might have otherwise been attracted to the gospel of Christ.

But that’s why I’m now ready to talk with the other members about this. There are many, many reasons why I am against this policy. Writing them out will help me keep track of those reasons and practice presenting them to others. I do know what I’m talking about — I’ve memorized the New Testament and got my undergraduate degree at Biola University, where everyone minors in Bible. With my personal connection, I have a perspective on it that others might not and a strong reason to do the research.

So the posts that follow will explain why I so strongly believe that transgender people should be fully loved and affirmed for who they say they are. And why I believe that fits much better with what the Bible teaches.

With Thanksgiving

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

I did a post recently about praying with thanksgiving.

Today I’m thinking about a big prayer request I’ve had for a long time: I’d like to get married again.

After taking a year and a half off from “looking” while I was on the Newbery committee, a couple months ago I paid for six months on an online dating site – and have not found any good matches. Yes, a few were interesting to me, but so far no one has shown interest back.

I know I’ll be hard to match. My faith is important enough in my life that I’m not really interested in anyone who doesn’t even mention their faith on their profile. At the same time, I have an adult transgender daughter who’s planning a gay wedding, and I’m thrilled about that. I hate it that it’s not always true that someone whose faith is important to them is completely accepting of LGBTQ people, but unfortunately, they don’t always go together. I’ve got a few other quirks that might make me hard to match, and so far I haven’t found anyone.

I feel ready to date again. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I dated someone for two months. (Found him online!) And I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of healing since that time. Some of the healing came from that relationship – only the second relationship in my life, the first being my ex-husband. Some of the healing came from breaking up with him myself instead of getting left, as I did with my ex-husband. If I were desperate, I would not have let a perfectly good boyfriend go! So in a sense breaking up with him was affirmation that I am not desperate to be in a relationship.

[I need to add that my ex-boyfriend is a wonderful person and will make a wonderful partner for someone. I just don’t think we’re a great match. I’m happy to still be friends with him five years later, and I’m even more convinced we’re better off as friends. I do think that’s another sign that I’ve come a long way in healing since my divorce.]

The biggest factor in my healing journey was writing Project 52, the story of my life, including the divorce years. I looked at old journals, confronted that my marriage hadn’t been as ideal as I remembered it, and looked at the painful times with the knowledge that things really did work out for good. My life is happy – how can I continue to hold it against my ex-husband that it’s not anything like I expected it to be – when it’s so very good?

Also in the past five years, I have come into my own as a librarian. I was on the Newbery Committee!!! (That still thrills me!) And this year I won the Allie Beth Martin Award given by the Public Library Association. That feels wild. I didn’t officially become a librarian (with a Master’s in Library Science) until I was 43, and still have the feeling that coming to the profession so late makes me somehow less of a “real” librarian. Yes, I knew I’d found my calling – but to be validated like that? Wow!

That’s all good, and that’s all true, but it’s also true that I liked being married. I liked being married to my best friend, or at least the person I thought was my best friend. I also think being married helps me be a better person, getting the perspective of someone other than me. So yes, I’d like to apply all the lessons learned in the healing process to a new relationship. As far as I’m concerned, all this healing means I’m ready now to jump in again.

I’ve been praying about it for a long time, and nothing’s happened. I made a big deal of putting up an online profile again – and nothing’s happened.

But a few things encouraged me about it today.

One was from taking a personal spiritual retreat a couple weeks ago. It was wonderful – and then I got back excited about doing more writing and wanting to write an hour every day as well as post my book reviews and post pictures and have daily quiet times. And I ended up staying up late every day the next week, which wasn’t a good way to do it.

And I realized that if I were married, I’d have even less time for personal projects like that. I was reminded of I Corinthians 7 where it says that a married woman wants to please her husband, but an unmarried woman can be devoted to the Lord in body and spirit.

If I can’t even do all the meaningful things I’d like to do when I’m single, it would be even harder with a man in my life. Maybe this is my opportunity to figure out my priorities and realize that I have no one to blame but myself when I don’t get everything done I’d like to do.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe it’s not that I’m not finding a match because I’m a hard person to match. Maybe it’s not that God is ignoring my request.

Maybe the Lord is saying, “Sondy, I love you so much I’m going to let you linger in this happy place for a while. You went through the wilderness. Now is an interlude in the garden.”

And thinking of it that way (rather than what is wrong with me that I can’t find a match? or what is taking God so long?) makes it much easier to rejoice.

All of this brings me right back to praying with thanksgiving. Because today was a day off, and the weather was utterly glorious. And I got to thinking about all the things that would have at least been different if I were married.

So I’m going to make a list of things that happened today that wouldn’t have necessarily happened that way if I were married. I am thankful for them all.

— I got to sleep late.
— I had a leisurely quiet time, reading chapters from several additional books, taking my sweet time.
— I got to choose from the piles of interesting books on my dining room table.
— I got to listen to Christian music and sang along without embarrassment.
— I memorized Scripture, reciting aloud without bothering anyone.
— I took a wonderful walk by my lake, at my own pace, stopping to take pictures whenever the fancy struck me.
— I sang in the shower without bothering anyone.
— I cleaned my bathroom. It was much less work than if I didn’t live alone and I’ve got a nice monthly cleaning rotation that works really well. This is less frequent than if I didn’t live alone, and there was no negotiating necessary.
— I did my laundry. Also less work.
— I made dinner – with enough leftovers to last me the whole week. Wouldn’t be true if I were cooking for more than one.
— I had time to write.
— I went to some friends’ house and played games. No worries about whether my romantic partner can handle being beaten in a game. No accusations that I am too competitive. (Now those things definitely don’t have to happen. But there was also no anxiety at the possibility they might happen.) Just a lot of fun. And I got to be around people I enjoy.

And did I mention? The weather was glorious today. The new grass and new leaves are all bright Spring green and were shining under the bright blue sky. A wind was blowing, and it was neither hot nor cold. I didn’t need air conditioning or heat and wore a light jacket when I went on my walk. At one point I looked out the window and saw a great blue heron soar past.

That’s another thing I probably wouldn’t have if I were married: My cozy condo by the lake, decorated exactly as I want it with things meaningful to me and also with stacks and bookcases of books. There’s not really enough room for another person’s stuff, so I will probably move if I ever marry again. But meanwhile, I love Sondy’s Snuggery.

Now, I’ll admit I do have hopes of finding someone who maybe even likes to hear me singing. But you get the idea. For this time in my life I get to be selfish. I get to take only my own needs into account. I would like to have someone else to consider; I would like to be able to give someone else love day after day. But there are perks to living alone.

So yes, Lord, my request is still that I will meet someone who is a good partner for me, who loves You and seeks to follow You, and who will share life together with me, adding love and joy to my days. I ask that we would enhance each other’s lives and help each other follow You. But meanwhile, thank You so much for today, such a wonderful and joyful gift.

Thank You for this season in my life. Thank You for all the healing You’ve done in my life, and may that healing continue so I have all the more to offer a man You bring into my life. And may I continue to delight in the many good and perfect gifts You send my way.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – I Timothy 4:10

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Today’s verse — I Timothy 4:10 — Isn’t really a problem for either side. But I think the universalist interpretation fits better. Here’s the verse:

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

It’s the “especially” clause that gives non-universalists their out. Because without that, it’s pretty clear: God is the Savior of all people.

So what does it mean, “especially of those who believe”? Notice that it does not say, “exclusively of those who believe.”

What I think it means is “God is the Savior of all people, and those who believe in this life get to experience that salvation more fully.”

What I do not think it means is “God offers salvation to all people, but only those who believe will actually receive it.”

Especially implies this is more fully and richly true for those who believe, but not that they are the only ones for whom it’s true.

Can you really say that God is the Savior of someone if they end up being subjected to never-ending torment after death? Even if they in effect chose it by not believing — in what sense is God their Savior?

Still, I don’t see this as a problem passage for non-universalists. I do think that the universalist interpretation makes more sense, though.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – I Timothy 2:1-6

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – I Timothy 2:1-6

During this series of Looking at the New Testament from a universalist’s perspective, I’ve found some verses that universalists do need to explain why they don’t mean what they at first glance seem to mean. (Usually that’s because of a poor translation.) But this is a verse that non-universalists have to explain away in order to hold their theory of eternal torment for nonbelievers.

The passage is I Timothy 2:1-6:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

There are two important “all”s in this passage.

First, it says that God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Could that possibly be clearer?

Now, the devotional that our church is using actually says that doesn’t mean that God wills all people to finally be saved. And the reason given is that if God wanted everyone to be saved then everyone would be saved! They cite Romans 9:19, which says that no one can resist God’s will.

So they’re basically saying God doesn’t want everyone to be saved (despite what this passage says) because if that were true, universalism would be true!

So they’re making my point for me, that if this verse means what it seems to mean – that God wants everyone to be saved – then universalism is true.

It seems like your choices one of these three:

1) Universalism is true.
2) God doesn’t really want all people to be saved.
3) God wants all people to be saved, but the power of those people to rebel is greater than God’s power to win them over. So regretfully, not all will be saved.

I think the interpretation that fits Scripture best is that God indeed wants all people to be saved and He indeed loves the world and everyone in it. And what God wills, God can bring about, even though it may take until the end of the ages for some to come to Him. But one day God will be all in all.

And that’s not the only “all” in this passage. Another is that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

If Jesus gave Himself to save all people, but all people are not saved – then was His sacrifice ineffective?

This is the main reason Thomas Allin gives for believing universalism, and the reason he titled his book Christ Triumphant. You can read my review to get a taste of that reasoning – but do we really think God set out to save the world and then failed?

Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people, so if all people are not ransomed, then surely Jesus was defeated in each case of a person who was not saved.

But back to the beginning. Do you believe in your heart that God truly wants all people everywhere to be saved? Isn’t that a bigger, a more powerful and more loving God than the one you hear about who (however regretfully) sends people to suffer eternally because they didn’t accept His offer and believe the right formula while they were still on earth?

God loves you and He loves me and He loves our loved ones more than we do ourselves. And He also loves those people I didn’t really want or expect to see in heaven. All of them, even, maybe especially, those who seem truly lost now.

And truly this brings glory to God our Savior.

On Prayer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

This is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts about prayer, and I want to tell about an amazing answer to prayer as well, because now it’s public information.

An Example

Let me start with the start of the story of an answer to prayer. First, about the praying:

It was December 2018. I was thinking about my New Year’s Goals. Every year for the last few years, besides goals, I’ve made prayer requests that I pray every day. What are the top things I want to ask God for?

For years, one of those requests has been getting out of debt. It was a long-term goal (We’re talking $30,000 in credit card debt) and I didn’t really expect it to happen any time soon. But then in early 2018 after my old car died and I bought a new one – I discovered that I had enough equity in my home to get a home equity loan that would pay off all my credit cards! So my prayer was answered! And my monthly payments were smaller so I hoped to build up some savings.

But alas! In the summer, just when I’d successfully paid off some unexpected large bills including a dental crown – my hot water heater broke and the cost to replace was over $3000. I charged it.

So now it was December 2018 and I was discouraged by that bill. I’d just paid it down to exactly $3000 but it felt like I was back in that grind. I was probably going to add to my debt with Christmas gifts and some more unexpected expenses hitting then. Would I ever get it paid off?

The next day when I went for my walk and prayed through my prayer requests, I actually thought, Why do I even bother praying to get out of debt? It’s not like God can give me a sudden influx of cash now. I’m not applying for a better job. There are no prospects of money on the horizon. Why do I even pray about this?

And it took a minute, but I thought, No, I’m going to ask. Because wasn’t I completely surprised when God did it last year? And now what I owe is so much less.

Lord, I do ask that you would get me out of debt. I don’t see how you’ll do it, and maybe it will take patience on my part, but that’s what I ask. Thank you that you helped me pay off ten times this amount last year when I least expected it. Lord, if this is my opportunity to pay it down little by little over a few years, thank you that it can still happen. Thank you for providing for me. Thank you that I have a job I love. Thank you for credit cards and that I was able to get that water heater fixed when it was leaking down into my neighbor’s hot water closet. Thank you that I can afford the payments on this, and thank you that you faithfully provide for me.

With Thanksgiving

That’s what I want to talk about regarding prayer: With thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Why give thanks when making a request? It reminds us that God will come through. Whether or not we get what we want, God will come through. Doing it in my prayer above completely changed my attitude.

A lot of Christians know about the Philippians verse. But did you know this idea is also in the Psalms?

I’ve already talked about forms of psalms, particularly Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms. Both forms – even the lament where you’re asking for help from a dire situation – end in praise.

I also love the words of assurance – Here’s what God will do.

In a lament, the psalmist fully moans about his plight – and then talks himself into trust. Sometimes he asks God “What’s taking you so long? Don’t you even see what trouble I’m in?” But he goes on to say, “I’m going to be praising you in the great assembly after you get me out of this!”

Look at the end of Psalm 4, after he’s asking for help:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Look at the end of Psalm 5, where he’s got enemies after him:

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Or look at the refrain in the great Thanksgiving Psalm, Psalm 107:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

But I’ll go on for hours if I try to list all the Psalms that end with thanks. Go through yourself and look at how psalms end – so many end in praise. And yet many also begin with requests for help out of great trouble.

And one thing so interesting about the Psalms is that a lot of that thanks and praise is about what God is going to do. They give thanks for God’s future actions. Yes, psalms go over what God has already done, but that’s usually in the main body of the psalm. As the psalmists work themselves into a better place, they remember what they know about God – and one of those things is that they can count on him to help.

Look at the end of Psalm 7. Note the future tense:

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

I’ve been looking at Psalm 117 lately, the shortest psalm in the Bible. The first verse says to praise the Lord, and the second verse says why:

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

God is faithful.

So we know that however he answers our request – Yes or No – He will still be faithful; he will still be good to us.

My challenge is: Thank God for the outcome, whatever it is. And thank him ahead of time.

Manipulation and Faith

When I desperately demand that God answer a certain way, when I believe it will be utter disaster if he does not make happen what I want to happen – then I’m trying to manipulate God, trying to tell him what to do, trying to control circumstances with my “faith.” But is that faith?

When my ex-husband left me, I connected with a well-meaning ministry that taught you must “stand for your marriage,” and for years I tried to pray my husband back. (Now, this ministry had many positive effects in my life, one of them being encouragement to listen to what God wanted to tell me.)

But through various means, it became clear to me that with my prayers and my words and everything I did or didn’t do, everything I said or didn’t say – I was trying with all my might to make my husband come back – or even to make God make my husband come back. Put bluntly, I was trying to manipulate God. Or at least I was trying to manipulate my husband by manipulating God.

But if I stopped praying for my husband to come back, wouldn’t that be lack of faith?

One day, our pastor preached a sermon that spoke to that. He brought in an actual chalkboard and made a big diagram on it. On one end he put “Fate” or “Letting it happen” and on the other end he put “Control” or “Making it happen.” He said where we want to be is the sweet spot in the middle – the Path of Trust.

And it dawned on me that telling God what to do is not trusting God. All this time in my prayers, I’d been telling God what to do – bring my husband back.

But isn’t that what we think of as faithful prayer? Tell God what to do! And the more boldly you insist, the greater your faith, right?

But what if instead I lay my requests before God – and thank him for what he’s going to do. Do I still trust that God is faithful if his answer is No?

I can think of a lot of prayers that didn’t go as I hoped. My husband did not come back. Because I needed to work full-time for the first time in my life, I got my Master’s in Library Science and became a librarian. I love being a librarian, but I wouldn’t have done it if not for the divorce, I would have been content working part-time.

Back in 2013, I was on the ballot to be on the Newbery committee. I missed being elected by 15 votes (out of about 800) – and was heartbroken. Four years later I tried again – and the timing was much, much better, for multiple reasons including that now I had an empty nest and more time for it.

There have been a couple of jobs I applied for and prayed for and didn’t get. There was the time I got cut from the library because of budget cuts. But all of those things worked out to the amazingly wonderful job I have now, with co-workers who are fantastic to work with, a library system that paid for my trips to the ALA conferences for Newbery deliberations and even nominated me for an award. (More about that in a minute.)

All that is to say that God does and has done in my life exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. And very often the blessings come after not getting what I asked for.

Why not thank God for the outcome in advance. The thing is – whatever happens, I know that God is faithful.

Answer to Prayer

Back to that December 2018 prayer about getting out of debt, prayed on a day when I had just paid down the debt to be exactly $3000.

The next day I was at work, and my branch manager asked me for my resume. She said she hadn’t wanted to mention it to me, but I was being nominated for an award and they wanted to be sure they listed all of my qualifications. She wasn’t sure exactly what the award committee was looking for, but it was a Public Library Association Award about knowledge of books. The Library Director of our library system and Branch Coordinator (who had once worked with me as my branch manager) had asked her to write up a nomination for me for this award.

Well, I was completely honored! Wow! Nominated for a librarian award! Kind of puts a capstone on God working things out for good from my divorce. Kind of emphasizes that my life is going a good direction. Feels really good to be nominated, too! Wow!

But she hadn’t known exactly what they were looking for, so I started wondering – would I feel like a fraud being nominated for this award? Did I at all fit what they’re looking for? So – I did a search on the PLA Awards. I knew this was about knowledge of books.

I found the Allie Beth Martin Award. The award is for a public librarian who has demonstrated: “(1) extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and (2) distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” At the bottom of the page it says to think of people “who have widely and enthusiastically shared their knowledge through book talks, presentations to community or professional groups, written reviews, etc.”

Okay, I don’t feel like a fraud being nominated for this award, seeing as I’ve been writing Sonderbooks since 2001 – on my own time and for the love of it. I’ve always felt like Sonderbooks epitomizes who I am – incorporating my love of reading, love of writing, and fun with a little bit of computer coding. And now I learn there’s an award for being who I am! Not to mention that it feels like being on the Newbery committee gave me an advantage – since I’d been living and breathing books all year.

But the punchline? Much to my surprise (the Newbery doesn’t come with any money), the Allie Beth Martin Award comes with a $3000 honorarium!

And I found this out the day after I’d asked God for help paying off my $3000 credit card debt! Even though I didn’t think he could! It felt like God saying to me with a big smile, “Oh can’t I?”

The postscript to the story is that I did win the award. I won’t receive the honorarium until June at ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. (Since it’s in DC, some of my colleagues can come to the presentation.) Honestly, I recently had to get another dental crown – and the total I owe is now more than $3000. And they’ll take out taxes, too. But I simply don’t have any doubt at this point that God will meet my needs. And can get me completely out of debt again.

It sure took the worry away.

Now, I’ve got other prayer requests. Some others that I’ve prayed daily for years without getting what I asked for. I’m not saying that praying this way always has such a dramatic result.

But I’m more and more sure that God is faithful.

And like the psalmist says:
I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will be telling everyone I know about the amazing ways you will work these things out.
Thank you, Lord!

Acceptance, Approval, Affirmation, and Love

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Recently, a friend posted a meme on Pinterest that says “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

I disagree with this statement. I don’t think the writer understands the depth of what happens when people reject LGBTQ people. (Let’s be honest. That’s what they’re talking about here.)

[Note: I talked with my friend about it, and he wasn’t thinking about LGBTQ people at all. I still think the author of the meme was, and that’s what I’m arguing with.]

I hang around Christians and am a Christian and love Christians. But I’ve heard a lot of defensiveness about condemnation of LGBTQ people. They say we should “Love the sin and hate the sinner,” which just comes across as hate. They say you can accept someone without approving of what they do.

And that’s actually true. For example, I have a very good friend who’s polyamorous. I don’t approve of being polyamorous and would never ever do that myself. But who’s asking me? It doesn’t matter in the slightest what I think about my friend’s love life. I care about my friend and love talking with him, and he’s given me plenty of wise insight on relationships – some of which he’s gotten because he’s had to pay extra attention in order to navigate relationships with more than one woman at the same time.

Has being a universalist made me less worried about his soul? Yes, actually it has. Whether his behavior is sinful or not is between him and God – and they can work it out. One thing I’m sure of: His love life in no way blocks him from God’s love for him. And it doesn’t block him from my friendly love for him, either.

Just because I don’t “agree with his lifestyle” or “approve” of what he’s doing – doesn’t mean I need to disapprove of it either.

But let’s talk about LGBTQ folks. What’s at issue here is identity. This is about who they are.

It’s most obvious when you talk about transgender people.

My oldest child is a transgender woman. So there was a day when she told me that she was no longer going by the name I gave her at birth. And she told me that I was wrong about her – that she is not a man but a woman.

Suppose I say, “I love you, but you are wrong. You are deluded. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve changed your diapers and know what’s between your legs, and that’s what makes you male or female. I know better than you.” And I refuse to call her by her new name or refer to her as my daughter.

Or even worse, suppose I say, “I love you, but it’s evil to say you’re a woman. It goes against God’s design.”

Could my child possibly feel loved in that situation?

Never mind that the Endocrine Society – doctors who deal with this – have come out with a statement that there is strong scientific evidence that we are born with a gender – but that gender is determined by what is between our ears rather than what is between our legs. And it doesn’t always match.

But let’s say that I decide that I know better, that since God created humans male and female and I am sure that knowing which one depends on what you can see on the outside of a person, then making the outside match the inside is evil and wrong.

I just can’t imagine that my child will feel loved by me if I insist on calling her my son and call her by the male-gendered name I gave her at birth. If I do that, am I really loving her? Or only the person I think she is, but that matches less and less who she says she is.

How could she possibly feel loved by me if I don’t even call her by her own name? I’m loving my fantasy child, not the child I actually have.

I’ve known many people in my lifetime who have gotten my name wrong, calling me Sandy or Sandra. One person thought my name was spelled Sandra and I was just trying to sound cultured or something pronouncing it “Sondra” – which he refused to do. I usually make the mistake of being too polite to correct these people, but if it persists, I have a hard time feeling like they know me at all. Now imagine if other people don’t even get your gender right.

I keep going back to the writings of Patricia Evans on verbal abuse. She says that verbal abuse is defining someone differently than the way they define themselves, insisting that you know better than they do who they are. Refusing to believe a person when they tell you what gender they are seems like the ultimate expression of this.

A person being treated this way is not going to feel loved.

Someone might say (and I’ve actually heard people say this), I accept your son, but I don’t approve of taking hormones and dressing like a woman. I believe that’s sinful.

I’m sorry, but if you’re not accepting my daughter, then you’re not accepting who she actually is.

With gays and lesbians, it’s also about identity. Being sexually attracted to people of the same gender isn’t something they chose; it’s the way God made them.

Now, you might say that the problem isn’t the attraction but acting on it. You accept the people, but you don’t approve of same-sex marriages.

My transgender daughter is engaged to a transgender woman, so there are those who think I should not approve of my daughter’s upcoming marriage.

Again, this is about her very identity. If people make a point of showing their disapproval by staying away from the wedding or delivering a judgmental sermon rather than a wedding gift – well, my daughter’s not going to feel loved by them.

Now, the main reason to disapprove is because you think the Bible teaches that same-sex relationships are evil and perverted. I’ve studied this issue, and I don’t think that’s a correct interpretation. I think Paul was talking about sexual exploitation, not loving same-sex relationships. So, as it happens, I do agree and approve and I’m happy for my daughter and her fiancé.

I guess part of the question is this: Who am I to approve or disapprove how another adult chooses to live their life? Doesn’t that fall under Jesus’ command, “Judge not lest you be judged?” How about we accept other people for who they are, and let God handle the approving or disapproving?

In fact, in the case of LGBTQ people, I believe that being vocal about your disapproval and calling it sinful can actually do that person harm, telling them that God will punish them if they authentically live the way He created them.

Back to the meme that touched off a reaction to things I’ve been hearing people say ever since my daughter came out – the first “lie” it called out is that “if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them.”

Well, if you only disagree, there’s no problem. But if you feel a need to protest that lifestyle, to get in their face, to loudly proclaim that this person is evil – as some Christians have in fact done to LGBTQ people – well, it’s pretty normal for the targets of that to feel feared or hated.

The second “lie” that the meme claims our culture has swallowed is that to love someone means you have to agree with everything they believe or do. Of course that’s nonsense.

But do be aware that if you “disagree” about someone’s very identity – it’s going to be a lot harder for them to feel loved by you. You don’t even know who they really are!

If you “disagree” that someone should be married to the spouse they’ve chosen – are you really able to make them feel loved? You can say you love them until your tongue falls off, but I don’t know if they will feel loved by you. It will certainly add constraints to your relationship.

It seems like the meme is trying to make black and white something that’s full of nuance. It’s trying to say that it’s possible to “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Yes, I can love people I think are sinning. But mostly I’ve found that it’s not my business if the people around me are sinning or not. As Paul says in Romans, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master, he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

There’s a huge difference between disagreement and judgment. Are you really sure you’re only disagreeing?

Is it compromising my convictions to not worry about whether my friend’s lifestyle is sinful or not? Maybe rather than worrying about whether he’s sinning, I should worry about whether I’m loving my neighbor as myself.

In general, I find that when I’m most convinced someone else is sinning is when I’m least likely to be able to influence them to change. Funny thing about that. It’s almost like it’s not my job to convict other people of sin at all.

I wrote this entire post, and then yesterday I posted a quote by John Pavlovitz that says it more concisely:

One of the things you learn when you walk down the path of being an ally is that people aren’t LGBTQ based on the consent you give or don’t give to them, the approval you provide or withhold. That’s not how gender identity and sexual orientation work. Your acceptance doesn’t give people permission to be anything. It simply allows them to be fully authentic in your presence and to feel loved as they are. It secures people in those places where they should feel fully secured: in their families and friendships and workplaces and churches. If you don’t think you have LGBTQ family members, coworkers, classmates, and friends right now, you may want to ask yourself if that’s because you’ve created an environment in which they would be afraid to share it even if they were. It might be that your words and manner have already told people that they’re not safe to be honest with you. As our society thankfully becomes less and less hostile to the LGBTQ community and as people begin to gradually feel safer in authenticity, more children will come out and more families will have a new reality to reckon with. Those families will continue to seek spiritually and they will continue to need and deserve to be in faith communities where they are fully welcomed. It is one of the reasons the table needs to be made bigger.

I still haven’t touched on affirmation. Affirmation goes a step further than agreeing or disagreeing. Affirming someone is saying, “Yes! I hear who you say you are, and I find that delightful!”

It’s saying to my daughter: “You are beautiful, Zephyr! I’m so happy you are telling the world who you truly are! I’m so happy to have you for a daughter. I believe what you are saying about yourself, and I’m honored to learn this truth about you.”

It’s hugging and congratulating my daughter and her fiancé and rejoicing with them and dancing at their wedding.

And sure, you can love someone without affirming everything they do.

But affirmation sure feels nicer than judgment.

Getaway Reflections

Friday, April 12th, 2019

I spent three nights this week at a “Getaway” cabin. It’s a very small cabin with cooking facilities. And you get to not talk to anyone. They left a card for you to leave behind thoughts, a quote, or a picture.

Here’s what I wrote:

Silenced

I came with an agenda,
so much to think about,
so much to plan.

I sat out by the trees,
and the woods said to me,
“Shut up!”

I laid by the big window,
and the stars said to me,
“Shut up!”

Silenced by beauty,
stopped short by wonder.

And it was good.

***

That was my reaction to the first night. I’d brought lots of books to read and had intended to do some major planning. But when I arrived and saw the space was smaller than I’d anticipated, instead of spreading out the books and notebooks and getting to work – I went outside and read a book.

After it got dark, I laid on the bed and discovered I could see more stars through the big window than I’ve seen in a very long time. And it calmed my mind.

The next day, I did get busy with my getaway.

The space was smaller than I’d expected. Somehow I’d expected drawers, closets, shelves, and certainly mirrors, something more like a hotel room. This was not that. But my suitcases did work to hold my clothes.

I brought far, far too many books. But I’d known I was bringing too many, and it turned out there was room to line them up so I could choose, so I could dabble in a wide variety.

There was a hiking trail and it turned out to branch into two directions. I took the first way the first day, and it eventually petered out (unless I missed a turn?), then took the second way the second day and was relieved to find the trail was a loop so I didn’t have to turn back. I did have a scary moment crossing the stream on stepping stones. People who lay out stepping stone paths generally don’t plan for people with very short legs such as me, and despite myself and despite the super shallow water, I got so scared I was shaking, and then was more afraid I wouldn’t make the step.

Believe it or not, here are the stepping stones that scared me:

Then I went and found a walking stick, and I got my foot a little wet, but I did it! Both walks took about an hour, walks through the woods with plenty of birds singing and not seeing a single solitary human. On the first walk, I saw someone as I got back to my cabin and told her where the trail started.

In some ways, I’ve got a getaway in my own home, since I live alone. And I had a getaway all three times I went to a library conference while on the Newbery committee – since I had a large hotel room to myself.

But the gift of this place was that part of not talking to any people. I’ll admit, I did check my phone. And answered a couple of emails very briefly. But it was ideal for a place to read and write on my own agenda. I made simple meals and did not have to go out and find food, as I did when I stayed in a hotel room on Chincoteague.

My purpose in going was to decide: Do I want to take up writing again, now that my time serving on the Newbery committee is done?

The answer was an unequivocal YES.

Now, it was two years – since April 2017 – that I knew I would be on the Newbery committee, and another year before that I knew I would be on the ballot. So I’ve been putting my writing on hold for three years. And it was a beautiful experience being on the Newbery.

I brought all my old writing – the three books I’ve finished, three books I’ve started, and two short stories. My plan was to read them all and decide whether there is anything to salvage out of them and what to work on next. I was also planning to think through possibilities for nonfiction writing.

I didn’t have time to read all of those. What I ended up reading was an old writing journal I’d written 1995 to 2001, when I was a mother of young kids and planned to write. Toward the end of the journal, I thought of writing Sonderbooks, and it was fun to see that idea develop.

In the journal, I was reflecting on writing books I’d been reading. And I was asserting that I am a writer.

The lovely thing, reading that now? I no longer feel the need to assert that so hard. Yes, I am a writer. Now I know it in my bones.

All the years of writing Sonderbooks reviews, of responding to life in Sonderjourneys, and especially all the friends I’ve emailed about so many big issues – about my marriage falling apart, about what directions to take, about dreams and hopes, about theology – and even writing my life story in Project 52. I’ve figured out that I think things through by writing about them. How I put it, when I apologize to friends for the long emails I send, is this: I am a writer at heart.

Whether or not I ever get a book published, I am a writer. That’s who I am.

And taking some time out to think about that reasserted that. Yes, now that the Newbery’s done, yes, I want to spend at least a half-hour a day writing. I don’t think I’m going to not count writing reviews any more (like I used to) because some day I might want to write some kind of collection of book reviews. I won’t, however, count the time it takes to post the reviews.

But yeah, I’m a writer. And thinking about adding that back into my life makes me happy.

In fact, I’m not putting this on my online profile, but it makes me a lot happier than the thought of dating someone again. Maybe I’m not discouraged after all that I’m not finding a match that way! I’m thinking out a schedule for getting that half-hour in, and maybe having a longer time once a week… and I’m not sure I’ll be real patient with anyone wanting to interrupt that.

As for what to work on – one of those short stories is a very silly story about a kid saving the world from alien invasion. I’m going to try to turn that into a beginning chapter book.

It’s a very unserious story, and I like that for my again trying to write a book.

Today I read this in the book Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers:

One writer I know, Brandon, is dying to write what he calls his magnum opus, a fantasy novel that brings all of his ideas together in one stunning story. But he feels stuck as a writer, completely blocked, and he has trouble starting even small pieces. Many of his friends have told him he needs to write his magnificent book and risk failure in order to save it. The longer he sits on his project, the more blocked Brandon will become.

But he won’t start writing.

I’ve always wanted to write a great book. Reading for the Newbery, I read plenty of great books. So if I get back into it by writing a silly little book – maybe it won’t be so paralyzing.

Anyway, that’s my plan. And I just spent a half-hour writing about that plan. Funny how easy that is.

But it was a lovely Getaway.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – II Thessalonians 1:9

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

As our church is reading through the New Testament together, I’m pointing out passages that look a little different when you read them with the eyes of a universalist. Today we encountered another, II Thessalonians 1:3-10:

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Once again, there are concerns about the way this is translated. The Greek word translated “everlasting” is the same Greek word eonian which means “of the ages,” and “everlasting” is a misleading translation.

I looked over my books on universalism and a few address this passage. Thomas Talbott goes on at great length in his book The Inescapable Love of God, also looking at where the word “destruction” is used elsewhere by Paul and it is a redemptive kind of destruction. George Sarris says some of the same things in Heaven’s Doors, but he’s a lot more concise, so I’ll copy that out here:

In II Thessalonians 1:9, the apostle Paul tells his readers that those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus will be “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . .”

Those are pretty strong words! If you were punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord, where else would you be but in hell? Here again, the translation into English is misleading.

As we have seen, the word translated as everlasting does not mean never-ending. It means the end is not known. The verse definitely talks of punishment, but it does not talk of punishment that never ends.

The actual Greek text of this verse also does not say that those punished will be shut out from the presence of the Lord. It simply says that the punishment is from the presence of the Lord. Depending on the context, that phrase could mean punishment away from or punishment coming from the Lord.

A few verses earlier, Paul says that God is just and will punish those who unjustly treated the Thessalonian Christians. He’s not talking about punishment that keeps people shut out from the presence of the Lord. He’s talking about just punishment that comes from the presence of the Lord on those who are mistreating His people.

The destruction Paul refers to literally means ruin or desolation. In this passage, Paul is simply saying that those who are unjustly persecuting the Thessalonian believers will experience ruin from the hand of God in the age to come. He’s not talking about endless torment. He’s talking about how the wicked will be humbled before God, and the plans of their hearts will be brought to nothing, as God justly pays them back for the trouble they have caused His people.

Again I’m reminded that the teaching that hell is never-ending torment was not part of the teaching of the church fathers as long as they were native Greek speakers. When Augustine, who did not speak Greek, came to be a leader of the church, he popularized the idea that hell is unending torment.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – The Rich Man and Lazarus

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

I’m following along with my church’s reading of the New Testament and making comments when there’s a passage that might look different when read from the perspective of a universalist. Today we read Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

I like the discussion of this story in George Sarris’s book, Heaven’s Doors, so I’m going to copy that out here.

Note first that the newest edition of the NIV Bible correctly translates the word “Hades” in the parable rather than using “hell.” “Hades” means “the grave” rather than a place of torment. But here’s more from George Sarris:

At first glance, it certainly looks like there’s no way around understanding this parable as promoting the idea of endless, conscious torment. After all, the rich man is in hell. He is “in torment and agony in this fire.” A great chasm has been fixed between the rich man and Lazarus. And those who want to cross over that chasm cannot.

However, if we take a closer look at the passage, a few things bring that interpretation into question.

First of all, the rich man was not in hell.

As mentioned earlier, the English word hell automatically brings to mind never-ending punishment. But as we have just seen, the Greek word Jesus actually used here does not communicate that idea at all.

Jesus said the rich man was in Hades, and Scripture specifically says that Hades, as a place of punishment, does not last forever. Hades will one day give up the dead who are in it and will itself be cast into the lake of fire.

The next thing we should note is that this is a parable. Jesus is telling a fictional story to teach certain truths to His listeners.

The audience for this parable was made up of two distinct groups of people. One group, the tax collectors and sinners, were spiritually poor and recognized their need for God. The other group, made up of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, were materially rich and had deceived themselves into thinking they were favored by God. Like the rich man in the parable, many of those religious leaders were actually clothed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

In this parable, Jesus alluded to an Egyptian folktale that both the religious leaders and the tax collectors were familiar with. But He told it with a very important twist.

The story known to His listeners was about a poor scholar and a rich tax collector. After the two men died, one of the poor scholar’s colleagues had a dream. In his dream, he saw the fate of the two men in the next world. The poor scholar was in “gardens of paradisal beauty, watered by flowing streams.” But the rich tax collector was standing on the bank of a stream, trying to reach the water but unable to do so.

In the original folktale, the Pharisees and teachers of the law would have identified with the poor scholar since they were also scholars who prided themselves on their knowledge of Moses and the prophets. They looked with marked disdain on the tax collector who they considered a great sinner simply by virtue of his occupation. In an absolutely brilliant move, Jesus turned the tables on the listeners and identified the religious leaders not with the hero in the story, but with the villain. They were the ones who were rich in this world’s goods, but poor in the eyes of God.

Jesus wasn’t relating definitive facts about the afterlife. He was using the story to communicate specific truth about this life. The pride and hypocrisy of the religious leaders kept them from understanding what Moses and the prophets taught.

The last thing to note about this passage is that the parable was told before Jesus had risen from the dead.

A great chasm separated the rich man from Lazarus. But there is nothing in the account that says that the chasm will always be there. Neither Abraham, nor the rich man, nor Lazarus could do anything to make it possible to go from one side of the chasm to the other. That was the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection. God bridged the chasm through Him.