Archive for the ‘Acceptance’ Category

Living Alongside

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

It isn’t about taking some loud, blustery stand against sin, it isn’t about how much we pound our pulpits or how loudly we condemn or the cultural battles we wage. It isn’t about drawing some moral line in the sand. It’s about our willingness to be with people and live alongside them.

This is why the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the body of Christ is so important in these days, and why it is one of the hills worth dying on for me as a pastor, because it is one of the greatest opportunities we have to set the kind of table Jesus set for the believers he entrusted to carry the message forward. It is an opportunity to show the watching world what Christ looks like by emulating him. The Church’s resistance to and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning men and women is a push against the Holy Spirit because it runs in direct opposition to the heart of Jesus as reflected in the Gospel biographies and the book of Acts. It isn’t just shrinking the table: it’s walling off the table from those who desire to be present. And the answer isn’t offering some tentative, heavily conditioned token tolerance as a compromise. (If that were the case, Jesus’ table gatherings would have been very different.) It is to be fully obedient to Jesus’ command to love another as oneself. The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it nees the LGBTQ community for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation — because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete. Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, the Church will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be. When Christians attempt to exclude any group from the table, they distort the Church because they deny the heart of Jesus for all of humanity. Discrimination hinders people from finding community, and it robs the Church of the tremendous gifts that diversity brings.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 138-139

Photo: View from Burgruine Koppenstein, Germany, September 19, 1998

Sharing Life

Friday, September 4th, 2020

As people watched how they lived, how they faithfully cared for one another, how they embraced diversity, how they lifted one another up, they noticed that they resembled Jesus. The believers began to claim ownership of the name Christian and to redefine the word and themselves, precisely because of their bigger table.

This was far more radical than we can really appreciate today. In a culture reinforcing the sharply drawn lines between people — the lines of religion, ethnicity, nationality, and gender — the followers of Jesus were erasing the lines, knocking down walls, and pulling up chairs. The incredibly narrow “chosen people” of the Old Testament tradition was now giving way to a far more expansive new “kingdom people” based solely on their faith in Jesus. As the apostle Paul would describe, in their tribe, there were no longer any divisions that mattered more than what grafted them together in redemptive community (Gal. 3:26-29). They were one body with disparate but equally necessary members. Their primary commonality was Christ. He became their peace. To be Christian meant to willingly cast aside any idea that another was unworthy to share in fellowship; it was to give up the moral evaluations and preconceptions they may have had before. When we look back at the table of Jesus, this early Christian community really shouldn’t surprise us because he was pointing toward this day the entire time, as he met with lepers and Pharisees and tax collectors and street people. The early Church wasn’t doing anything in its infancy other than replicating his life together with those in their midst. In the two thousand years since then, we’ve added a great deal around this idea, cumbersome layers of tradition and doctrine and pageantry, and yet these are the things we could easily discard and still have the essence of the Church. We would still have people sharing life.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 134-135

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 4, 2020

All People Were Always Welcome.

Friday, August 21st, 2020

The violent death of Jesus on the cross revealed the truth about the great problem of human sin and violence. The truth is that such violence comes from us; not God. When we see this in how we killed Jesus, His violent death on the cross reveals that God never wanted or needed blood sacrifice or sacred violence of any kind in order for people to draw near to Him. All people were always welcome. We can draw near to God simply because we have no reason to stay away from Him. He has always loved us, and always forgiven us. One group is not more or less sinful than anyone else. All are invited in. All are welcome. The blood of Jesus has brought everyone near, by proving that no one was ever kept at a distance. All divisions of men are nothing more than man-made divisions, and now Jesus has torn them all down, giving us all equal access to God and equal standing before Him.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 246

Photo: View from Stirling Castle, Scotland, July 2003

Our Actual, Non-Ideal Selves

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

Christians should help one another to silence the voice that accuses. To celebrate a repentance — a snapping out of it, a thinking of new thoughts — which leads to possibilities we never considered. To love one another as God loves us. To love ourselves as God loves us. To remind each other of the true voice of God. And there’s only one way to do this: by being unapologetically and humbly ourselves. By not pretending. By being genuine. Real. Our actual, non-ideal selves.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 183

Photo: near Skyline Drive, Virginia, August 6, 2009

The Eyes of Christ

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

Other followers of Jesus see something different when they look at the mess in front of them. They see pain. They see need. They see longing. They see an opportunity to bring restoration here and now. They are focused as much on this world as they are on the next. These, I’ll contend, are the eyes of Christ, and these are the eyes of those who would build the bigger table. We are learning to see differently than we once did.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 124

Photo: SchloƟ Dhaun, Germany, July 2002

Proximity

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

The kind of intimacy Jesus shares with people, the kind that was and is transformational, only comes with close proximity. It is not possible screamed from across the road or shouted from a pulpit or laid out in a carefully researched dissertation. It cannot be gleaned from a clever meme or a spirited Twitter exchange or a hermeneutic debate. It only comes through the redemptive relationship forged when we are willing to sit across from people who believe differently than we believe, willing to get close enough and stay long enough to see both their unique humanity and their inherent divinity. This is how we love people well; it is how we put flesh on our faith; and it is how we follow so close behind the rabbi Jesus that we are covered in his dust. The only way the table can really expand is when we, like Christ, are willing to take our place across from those who appear to be or even desire to be our adversaries. Jesus’ call to embrace love as theology isn’t merely a surface, sugary platitude. It’s the most difficult, radical, time-consuming work of reflecting Christ to the world around us. In the end, the thing that glorifies God isn’t our belief system, but how we treat those who don’t share that belief system. We can be people of deep conviction without needing to pick up a bullhorn.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 121

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, June 25, 2020

Creating Proximity

Friday, June 5th, 2020

The beauty of the bigger table is that it creates proximity in the way Jesus did. It destroys distance between people, and distance — whether real or imagined — is the enemy of relationship. This chasm allows us to otherize people with little accountability to their reality. It enables us to hold onto the belief that the crudely drawn caricatures we fashion for those we disagree with are at all accurate, allowing us to craft a clearly defined us-vs.-them narrative and place them opposite us. This simple narrative can’t accommodate people’s individual stories, as this is too labor intensive and time consuming. Instead it lumps those stories together into the closest-fitting generalization (a political party, a religious tradition, a people-group stereotype) and operates with that as truth. But these containers are simply never adequate. Our labels are never large enough for unique image bearers of God, and unless we become relentless in really straining to see individual people, we will always default to this easy, lazy shorthand, and we will always shortchange the beauty within them. We’ll also be satisfied viewing them from this safe distance of our self-righteousness and shouting through bullhorns or shaking tambourines.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 120-121

Photo: Great Falls National Park, June 14, 2016

Experience

Monday, May 11th, 2020

For me, going to the beach is always like meeting God. There’s that moment when you make your way down the path that cuts through the dunes. As you walk farther, the quiet noise in the distance gradually becomes a welcome roar. You crane your neck as if unsure it’s all still there. Your pace quickens as the sound rises and the wind grows, and suddenly you’re emptied out into the full, vivid majesty of it all. And you breathe. It never fails to level me. It is never commonplace. It is always holy ground. If you’ve been to the beach, you understand exactly what I mean. If you haven’t — well, you just won’t. That’s the thing about the ocean: until you experience it, no one can explain it to you, and once you have experienced it, no one needs to. The love of God is this way. For far too long, Christians have been content with telling people about the ocean and believing that is enough.

We’ve spoken endlessly of a God whose lavish, scandalous love is beyond measure, whose forgiveness reaches from the furthest places and into our deepest personal darkness. We’ve spun gorgeous, fanciful tales of a redeeming grace that is greater than the worst thing we’ve done and available to anyone who desires it. We’ve talked about a Church that welcomes the entire hurting world openly with the very arms of Jesus. We’ve talked and talked and talked — and much of the time we’ve been a clanging gong, our lives and shared testimony making a largely loveless noise in their ears. They receive our condemnation They know our protests. They experience our exclusion. They endure our judgment. They encounter our bigotry. And all of our flowery words ring hollow. It’s little wonder they eventually choose to walk away from the shore, the idea as delivered through our daily encounters with them not compelling enough to pursue for themselves. Our commitments to hospitality, authenticity, diversity, and community can be empty words, too, if we don’t put them into practice.

Church, the world doesn’t need more talking from us. It doesn’t need our sweet platitudes or our eloquent speeches or our passionate preaching or our brilliant exegesis. These are all just words about the ocean, and ultimately they fail to adequately describe it. The world needs the goodness of God incarnated in the flesh of the people who claim to know this good God. As they meet us, they need to come face-to-face with radical welcome, with unconditional love, with counterintuitive forgiveness. They need to experience all of this in our individual lives and in the Church, or they will decide that it is all no more than a beautiful but ultimately greatly exaggerated story about sand and waves and colors that cannot be described.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 105-106

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 10, 2020

Favorites?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

We must be honest and humble about this: Many people of other faiths, like Sufi masters, Jewish prophets, many philosophers, and Hindu mystics, have lived in light of the Divine encounter better than many Christians. And why would a God worthy of the name God not care about all of the children? (Read Wisdom 11:23-12:2 for a humdinger of a Scripture in this regard.) Does God really have favorites among his children? What an unhappy family that would create — and indeed it has created. Our complete and happy inclusion of the Jewish scriptures inside of the Christian canon ought to have served as a structural and definitive statement about Christianity’s movement toward radical inclusivity. How did we miss that? No other religion does that.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 34-35

Photo: Burnside Farms, Virginia, April 24, 2015

Recalibrating Our Hearts

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

As we who already comprise the Church recalibrate our hearts for a different purpose, we are beautifully altered too. When we treasure people as they are, we become less manipulative; we become better listeners; we are less prone to morality policing. Agenda-free community allows messiness and failure and regression in ways that are so rarely tolerated in the traditional church. Again, this is the table Christ sets over and over in the Scriptures: the place of continual restoration, perennial communion, unending fellowship. You don’t earn a spot there; you don’t fail and then find yourselves outside of it. Just ask Peter. He was one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, the one who publicly boasted of his faithfulness to his teacher, even if it meant his own death. It would be this same Peter who would soon stand in the public square following Jesus’ arrest, denying three times that he even knew him. And the Gospel writer John describes this same Peter weeks later, standing on the shoreline, being forgiven three times by a resurrected Jesus, as a symbolic wiping away of his failure following a restorative waterside meal hosted by his teacher (John 21:15-22). This is the table Jesus sets. It is the table of second chances, and two hundredth chances, the table of grace. There you don’t ever lose your place, and you are never “finished.”

At the table, Jesus had wisdom to share, hard words to give, and purpose to call people to, but more than that he had their humanity to affirm. He allowed them the dignity of being seen and heard and known. Imagine what it would look like if we oriented ourselves around that pursuit, if we had no other agenda than walking alongside people sharing the view of God from where we stand, not needing them to see what we see, or believe what we believe, but to encounter Jesus in our very flesh.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 102

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 25, 2020