A new take on Ephesians 2

June is Pride month, for the LGBTQ/ queer community, and usually I don’t post much. Not to ignore it, but more because I can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it. This year, I have been ruminating on a few things. Specifically….I have been reading Ephesians…. and yesterday morning I was stuck on chapter 2, specifically verses 14-18:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Let me just start by saying I realize not everyone is going to track with where I am going, and that is ok. I have to be faithful to the heart God has given me for the LGBTQ community. If you are open at all, I’d encourage you just to listen. Not judge, not condemn, but listen. That’s all I ask. I’ll trust that if it’s something the Lord wants to teach you about now, he’ll do that. I’m not here to argue or debate. Just share…and plead.

I know we all see this passage in Ephesians and read it literally, that yes, we who are not Jewish by heritage now have access to the savior promised to them. We are grafted in. Having been married to a Messianic Jew for 25 years, I get that so clearly. I used to joke that I am about as gentile as they get (haha!) But I am trying to put myself in Paul’s shoes, at how revolutionary it might have been for early believers, to include the Gentiles in all the promises of God. After all, for generations the Gentiles were people who they just knew were outside of God’s favor. God didn’t love them, they were just sure of it. Heck, the honesty of Psalms shows they prayed for God to smite them and bring judgement on them. Granted, they were worshipping another god, bowing to idols, I know. But still.

I can’t help but wonder if here, even in a country full of such richness of culture and heritage, we get stuck in reading this as Jew/Gentile and we forget it has such larger implications. Could we (shouldn’t we?) begin to read this that Jesus has brought peace to us, between those who are “same sex oriented” and those who are “opposite-sex oriented”?

Call me heretical, but what if we could, in grace and mercy, read Paul’s words to us like this instead:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united queer and straight into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us….Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Isn’t that what this passage really means? In Christ, people who were at opposite ends were brought together to reflect the goodness and richness of the glory of God. In times of election, I could say the same for Democrats and Republicans, frankly. At the cross, we are supposed to be equals. Yet somehow…. this seems a bigger bite to chew.

Back in Paul’s time, I’m sure some Jews thought “but those Gentiles are not holy! They do things/think things we aren’t supposed to as Jews”.

Hm. I thought Jesus made us holy and that settled the score. Holiness, sanctification, being made whole and complete into who we were created to be, to reflect God’s glory in all its fullness, to a world that thinks there is no hope – isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t that what happens to all of us when we submit our lives to Jesus and walk out his principles? More than than that, sure it feels risky but we have Peter right there in Acts arguing for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises of God in our sacred text. What if this became us, arguing for the inclusion of those who are LGBTQ in our own churches?

Too often we shut the door at even considering and asking questions. We tout verses “The Bible says THIS”! I know what it says. I have done the research on original language, original usage, passage context, and read things on both sides of the argument. But do we ever enter into conversation to see their humanity, ask their story, see that they too bear the image of the one we claim? Or do we stay away because we don’t know how to start? All it takes is an invite to lunch and a humble heart willing to learn.

If they are seeking Jesus, they are part of the body of Christ – just a part too afraid to bring their whole selves to church because they fear how everyone will react. If you have reached a place of trust with someone so they actually TELL you this is part of their story – LOVE THEM. They have not “changed” who they are. You are just now seeing a part of them they don’t show too many people. Defend them. Include them. Have them to dinner. Help them grow in the gifts God has given them. Pray for them. Then help others get to a place of compassion and understanding too.

The larger LGBTQ community needs the life of God just like the larger straight community, people. We all need Jesus. We all have massive glaring inadequacies, we have all failed, we all want better for our kids, our communities, our families and the world. Can we make it more about that than their sexuality? They are SO MUCH DEEPER than that. We all are.

Not the only one

So often, we feel like we are the only person going through [insert experience here]. The thought of sharing what is really going on can be terrifying, intimidating, and vulnerable, no matter how big or how little it is. I remember when our kids hit the teen years and we started to deal with some… teen stuff. Let’s just say I did NOT want to share that with too many people, partly because I thought it reflected on how I was doing as a parent (it didn’t) and partly because I was afraid of what people would think – and let me just tell you, God is pretty faithful to not let you stay tied to that fear 🙂

We had some friends that we would share holidays with since our family wasn’t local, and these holiday gatherings (in addition to the occasional coffee or margarita / chips /salsa double date) always led to catching up on how we were really doing. I remember how risky it felt to share was what going on, how it was affecting us as parents, and in some ways not really knowing what to do but walking through it anyway. What always amazed me was how much THEY were going through the same thing – whether it was attitude, friend concerns, sneaking out, low self esteem in their kids – you name it. Our oldest two were nearly the same age as theirs, and so if they weren’t dealing with it now, guaranteed by the next holiday – they were as well.

It was so normalizing to know that someone else was struggling, just like us. Someone else was trying to raise their kids with respect and honestly, with a faith foundation and with hope towards the future. Someone else who was doing the best they could but things were not turning out like you’d expected. Someone else who “got” parenting being hard.

I’m guessing you know what I am talking about – whether its talking about having a newborn and walking through life half dazed from lack of sleep, or talking about the terrible two’s (or three’s) and how to manage four under the age of 5. It could be the weight of having aging parents, or having mental illness in the family. Being an alcoholic and finding others who get the struggle.

It helps you know you are not alone, and somehow, that brings strength. We need each other!!!

Well, with all that was going on in our family, I figured that I would never find anyone who was going through the same thing, so I had settled to just having a story that no one understood.

God obviously had a different plan (doesn’t He always??)

This past January I went to the Queer Christian Fellowship conference (formerly Gay Christian Network) in Denver. I’d wanted to go in the past, fueled by a desire to see if what I hoped was really true – and it was. I had written about this in a previous blog (search Part 2: Caught in the Middle on my home page) about how I felt stuck in the middle in a way – because I believed in the gifts of the spirit, the presence of God in worship and in fellowship, and yet I was gay affirming. I have never really seen the two exist together, outside of some very brave communities in other states. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to see both old and young in the LGBTQ community there, worshipping Jesus, just like me.

For once I was the one that didn’t really fit in, but they didn’t care. There were singles, couples, friends and allies, pastors and parents that had been rejected by their churches because they came out in support of their own kids that were LGBTQ. They were a family of their own, a minority, because the larger “C”hurch didn’t know what to do with them or how to answer them.

I mention this because of one of the sessions I went to on Mixed Orientation Marriages, as they called it. I wanted to hear what they had to say, and if they had anything to offer – given that my marriage was now ending due to having been in one (although I never had heard that term before.)

Although the leaders didn’t really have much to say that spoke to my situation, they gave some good advice to the younger folks there, that they need to go in eyes wide open, because it will present some challenges. [to which I add a resounding YES IT DOES]

Someone in the session asked how faith made a difference, when a marriage was ending because one spouse is straight and the other is not. I couldn’t stay quiet, it was just too personal. What did I have to lose? I stood up, and with determination (and a few tears) spoke up:

My faith meant that my vow to honor my spouse was going to stand, even as we dissolved our marriage, no matter how painful it was

My faith meant that we were going to commit to remain friends and raise our kids together, not just walk away

My faith meant that I was committed to facing my bitterness, anger, grief, feelings of betrayal, and whatever else the process brought , and not stay in that place

My faith meant that even in this, I knew I had to honor the Lord.

It was in this strange place that I found, of all things, a few folks that made me feel not so alone – because they were going through the exact same thing. I cannot tell you what relief I felt, to know someone else GOT IT.

Because this is the stuff you can’t talk about in church circles……

Releasing your spouse and your vows as an act of love and sacrifice

Tearfully coming to the recognition that someone who is gay or lesbian marrying someone who is straight doesn’t always work… and the shock that comes when you realize the truth

Knowing you have a story that no one else is really going to get, and people might very well condemn you for making the choice you are making. And that you will forever live in the tension of having broken covenant in order to set one person free

What I found that weekend were people who got me and what I was going through – and others who would cry with me because they were the gay spouses who had also gone through this or they were couples just starting the process.

I know it sounds crazy, but there was something hard and holy about that weekend for me. I can’t say there’s any verse or lesson I learned, but what I walked away with was this invaluable truth:

We are never alone, no matter how strange or hard our story is. Sometimes you just have to look in more nooks and crannies to find the ones who get you.

The other thing I landed on, as I pondered the events of the weekend is this, which – again – if you cant go here with me, all I ask is that you consider the challenge I am raising:

The church needs to change its message so very badly. Please, please do not ever tell someone who is struggling to understand their sexuality to marry someone to “fix” it and “make” them straight. Jon and I have been there, done that. We have prayed, we have fasted, we have cried out to God and leaned on him for everything… and nothing changed. His orientation is the same as it was before we got married (even though I didn’t know til after we were married…. and that is a whole other story). Please love them as they are, not as people that need to be fixed.

I know clearly what the Bible text speaks of is husband and wife, and that is what I long for… but I am straight. I have no earthly idea what its like to be told you can only ever marry someone who you will never be attracted to…. but can we let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters make that decision on their own, and not demand it of them? Can we trust their discernment for their own lives?

I have hope though, hope that this next generation and the wave of grace that is being shown and cried out for in scattered places might just allow our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to stop being rejected, might stop judging families and parents and making them feel like outsiders because their kids aren’t straight.

Hope that one day, we will be able to read Paul’s words in Colossians 3 and know that we have brothers and sisters who identify as gay or lesbian, but they too are “taking off their old selves, being renewed in knowledge in image of their creator”…and that in Christ, gay and straight are no longer dividing factors. That in Christ, we are equal at the foot of the cross.

In closing, if you are looking for some books to read on this topic, I’d recommend the following:

Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin (great book about the heart cry of the LGBTQ community as well as building bridges in churches)

Torn, but Justin Lee (his story of growing up in a “perfect” Christian home, and how he realized he was gay at a young age, even loving Jesus and crying out to God for change, yet believing he has been given the freedom by God to seek a relationship instead of being celibate)

Washed and Waiting, by Wesley Hill (about those who are in the LGBTQ community and are holding to celibacy in the church)

Unclobber, by Andrew Marin (his story as a pastor, as well as digging into handling of the verses that address homosexuality in the bible)

Finding Family

My family, we have this crazy tradition. Jon and I started it when we were dating, and it has only continued as the years went by. The general rule is this: If you spend Easter with us, you are going to end up having blue lips, and you are going to have your picture taken!

Who knew that malted milk ball easter eggs could be so fun??

This year, I flew back to see my family in Virginia, and Jon and the girls celebrated Easter together in Colorado. I must say, I went in stealth mode, because although we have tons of friends back in Richmond, I really needed family time. (So if you wonder why I didn’t call you…. please forgive me. I will catch you next time. I promise).

Coming back from that trip, I realized again how absolutely blessed I am to have such close family. I know not everyone does. I don’t take it for granted either. But given the time in life that have entered, things are changing for me too, and so is what my family looks like, especially with both girls going their own direction! That plus finding new friends out here, I have been doing a lot of thinking on what family means, and how we define family for ourselves.

If I am honest, because I have always had such a close nuclear family, I am not sure I really understood it when people said they created family out of whoever was close to them and they trusted. Not to sound shallow – we had friends that were like family back in Illinois – sure! But I mean – they all had core families too. So it was like a secondary family in some ways.

Out here, I have had the privilege of being invited into the world of some 20-somethings, and I watch them with wonder. They are away from their core family, starting out on their own, going through their own trials and hardships of getting started – and they are family for each other. It’s really quite beautiful. And yes I know this is what we do as people – right? We look for those we can trust, people we can be ourselves with and who will be there for us when we need them. We build relationships with others, and many times our friends can become closer to us than our biological family – sometimes due purely to time in life or geographical location – and sometimes due to broken places in family that make it too hard to be together.

This last part – this is where my mind wanders to a verse kind of stuck in the middle of a bunch of random throughts in Psalm 68:6

God sets the lonely in families” (NIV)

The actual Hebrew is ” God [yashab] sits down, dwells with, sets a [bayith] home, place, family with the [yachiyd] solitary ones (aka…lonely ones)”

Sit and think about that a minute.

That is HUGE.

Why? Because it says God is right there with you when you are lonely. It means his heart is to create a space for you when you are, a space that has people, a space that feels SAFE…. one that represents family for you: the good kind where you are loved for who you are, where you are wanted and welcomed. The way it should be.

Now, depending on whether or not you LIKE this idea – the desire God has to sit down with you in your loneliness and provide for you in it – may or may not sound good to you. I hope you can see it’s good. But even when He does, even when you see people around you welcoming you in, hanging out with you, pursuing you – it’s up to YOU to be willing to LET them be family for you.

That, my friend, can be a challenge, can’t it?

Sometimes its just easier to put up walls and circle the wagons and say you don’t need them, that you can do this life by yourself. Just you and God, you got this.

Are you so sure about that?

I know I’m learning a lot about that now. God was pretty clear with me that I needed to get connected out here, and I am still learning to lean on the people I have met that tell me to call them when I need something. I realize I am still hesitant to let them be my “family”.

But like I tell them, I don’t really have a choice. I need them. I plan on being here a long time, and yep, building from scratch is hard, but I need family out here. So I’m taking the risk to believe that for what I have seen of them, they are trustworthy. I’m choosing to believe that God is meeting me in my loneliness and providing people that will be a family to me.

How about you?

My challenge to you today is to take stock of who God has put around you. I know there are probably hurts from the past (or present) that seem too surmountable. Why risk relationship again when all they are going to do is let you down? Maybe you have been burned too many times, or maybe you have given up hope. It’s never too late.

Yes, its risky. I can’t promise anything about how people will react. We’re all imperfect and we all have our scars. But I can promise that if you take stock and find there aren’t many you can call family….. if you ask God to open your eyes to see who can be that for you…. and keep seeking… you will find the clarity you need. Then take the risk to believe that yes, you are worth bringing all that you are to your new “family” 🙂

Parties in heaven?

The other night we watched a movie that, to many, may have not seemed that engaging. It took a while for some of the plot to develop and get the back story of the characters, but it was endearing enough for me to keep watching. The title? Gifted. It’s a story about a young man named Frank, who, due to tragic circumstances, ended up raising his niece Mary. It depicts the struggle in which he finds himself when the tiny town in Florida in which they live figures out that, at the tender age of six, Mary is already a brilliant mathematician.

Soon a court case ensues, spurred on by her grandmother – much to the uncle’s dismay. The grandmother (and exacting woman who seems to have no confidence in her own son and his ability to care for the child), insists that she has greater wealth and influence in her New England hometown, both of which could be used to help her granddaughter achieve greatness.

As part of the court case, the grandmother’s lawyer digs up the girls biological father – who conveniently names her as the legal guardian. Frank’s attorney quickly dismisses the father as one who has no right to make that kind of call. Although Mary is nowhere to be seen during this part of the movie, Frank at some point decides to tell her that her father testified.

The news is crushing. She locks herself in the bathroom, hunkers down on the floor, sobbing. Her uncle and a neighbor friend Roberta try to talk to her (well, Roberta actually chides Frank for even saying anything)… but the words the girl speaks are haunting: “My real dad is in town and he didn’t even want anything to do with me?”

Oh…..how movies can bring reality to life.

I can’t say I understand what she was feeling. My dad has always been in my life, and I have always known he loves me. Yet I know that is not the same for all of you. I know that some of you had absent fathers, abusive fathers, fathers that may have been in the picture but didn’t care about entering into your world. I cannot even begin to imagine what its like, yet my heart broke watching that scene because what cried out from that little actresses heart was a question every one of us has had, at some point (and some of you more than others):

Am I really wanted?

What Frank does next takes a while to follow, as he gives no hints what he’s doing as they get in the car (even to Roberta, who he drags along for the ride). All you see next is that they are in a hospital, and that they sit there….. for a very, very long time.

Initially I wondered if Mary’s biological father might work at the hospital, and Frank was waiting til he got off shift so Mary could meet him.

Nope. Frank had something much more important in mind.

You see, Frank could have coaxed Mary out of the bathroom, or waited til she came out on her own. He could have sat her down and explained to her that her dad didn’t even know about her, or that people are flawed and don’t often think about others. He could have sat with her in her hurt and simply acknowledged that sometimes people make dumb choices and this was one of them. All of those may have been decent ways of handling Mary’s grief… but none of them would have replaced those feelings of unworthiness with reality – and Frank knew Mary needed the truth.

The camera starts to follow the reaction of a family sitting near to them in the waiting room. The older man sits up straighter in his chair, and the women turn and look at each other, but it is silent so you have no real idea what is going on.

Frank taps Mary to wake her up, having fallen asleep since it was now the middle of the night. She scowls at him, confused.

All of a sudden, a young man comes out through the two doors of the hallway and shouts “It’s a boy!!” — at which point of course everyone goes wild and jumps up and down with excitement, hugging each other, eyes full of tears for the joy of this tiny life entering the world.

It reminded me of Luke 15:10 when Jesus talks about the angels celebrating over even one person who turns to God.

Mary sits up and looks at her uncle, who at that point leans over and whispers to her “THAT’S what it was like when you were born,” he says. In that moment, Frank communicates so much more than Mary realized she needed to understand:

You were loved from the moment you entered the world.

You were celebrated.

You still are, even if people who should care for you don’t…. Or never did.

You are worth fighting over

My friend, this is what you need to hear the Father in heaven speak over your life!

It doesn’t matter what your story is, or was. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done well or how much you’ve blown it. This is the joy God felt over you the day you were born, and even moreso the day you realized He loved you like this. He longs for you to find freedom from every lie you’ve been told, from every hurt that has kept you caged, from every wound that has left you broken.

What Mary does next is even more amazing. “Can we stay for another?” She asks her uncle….so they stay and watch until another family gets the happy news of the birth of their daughter. Mary practically jumps out of her chair with excitement, goes over to the family and joins them in the celebration, smiling and clapping for them. I’m sure they didn’t quite understand why it she joined them, but they welcomed her in and let her celebrate too.

This is the work of the kingdom, my friends. To know the joy the Father has over YOU, and then to join Him and rejoice when others find the same grace, love, and mercy for their lives. There really is nothing more beautiful and pure than watching the recognition of how much someone is loved by God wash over their lives, and to see His healing making them whole. Whether it happens in a moment or over time… it’s just flat out beautiful, no matter what their age.

So go be part of the kingdom: Find the joy God has over you. Bask in it, if you never have. Let Jesus bind up those wounds and show you how to trade truth for a lie. Then go share it with others and watch as God uses you to awaken them to His love. Its a lifetime work, my friends… but it’s worth it.

Here’s to more parties in heaven 🙂