“You’re Not Crazy, and You’re Not Alone”

So begins Chapter 1 of Kathy Escobar’s fantastic new book, Faith Shift:  Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Falling Apart.  From those first few pages to the very last, I found myself nodding along, scribbling in the margins, breathing 'amens', and thinking to myself, now THIS is the book I wish I’d had ten years ago, THIS is the book I’ll be recommending to family, friends, and readers experiencing crises of faith. 

It’s been a magnificent fall for book releases, and I know I’ve been recommending a lot these days (sorry!), but for those of you who resonated with Faith Unraveled (formerly titled Evolving in Monkey Town), Faith Shift is a must-read.   While there are plenty of spiritual memoirs that describe what it’s like for a person of faith to enter a time of deep questioning, and plenty of theological books designed to address those questions, Faith Shift is unique in that it offers practical, pastoral advice for managing the emotional, relational, and spiritual fallout from those questions. 

Nearly every time I do a Q&A time after a presentation, someone in the audience asks how my changing faith has affected my relationships with my family and friends. Often, there are tears in the person’s eyes, and I know I’ve found a fellow traveller, a sister sojourner traversing the dark and difficult road of doubt.  The fact is, when your community, identity, and sense of purpose and security are all tightly intertwined with your faith, challenges and changes to that faith can wreak havoc on your relationships and spiritual and emotional health. And unfortunately, for many, the people they most want to turn to for support and guidance—pastors, friends, even spouses and family—at best simply don’t understand their experiences and at worst condemn them as sinful. 

This is why Kathy Escobar is the perfect person to write this book. Not only has she gone through a faith shift of her own, she has years of experience counseling people who find themselves in some sort of spiritual wilderness. So in addition to including Kathy’s own story, Faith Shift is packed with resources, prayers, ideas, conversation-starters, questions for personal reflection, and exercises. The appendix includes an incredibly helpful guide for talking about faith shifts with friends and family and even provides suggestions for “how to be a good friend to someone in a faith shift” that you may want to photocopy and mail to that aunt who has been sending you Christian apologetics books every week since she found out you were questioning young earth creationism. 

For these reasons and more, I highly recommend this book not only for people experiencing a crisis of faith but for people who love and care for someone experiencing a crisis of faith and don’t know how to respond. Pastors too would benefit immensely from a quick read-through. 

Now, this is not a book for skeptics looking for answers, or for those interested in seriously exploring atheism. From the get-go, Kathy assumes that her readers are interested in holding on to some remnant of their faith even as their beliefs dramatically change. If you do not share that presupposition, the book could be frustrating at times. 

But for all the people who come up to me at book signings with tears streaming down their faces because they feel so isolated in their journey through questions and doubt, I am thrilled that I can say with more confidence, “you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone, and you’re going to love this book…”

***

Note: While I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, I am not paid for reviews. 

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Work of the People Video: The risk of following Jesus

I had such a good time working with Travis Reed from Work of the People on a series of videos about faith, doubt, the sacraments, and church. The video above is the first of many in the series. Be sure to follow Work of the People for more and for other interviews with Barbara Brown Taylor, Richard Rohr, Brene Brown, etc. 

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God and the Gay Christian’ Discussion, Week 6 & Conclusion

Over the past few weeks, on Wednesdays, we have been discussing Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. (See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5I chose this particular book because I think it provides the most accessible and personal introduction to the biblical and historical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, and because Matthew is a theologically conservative Christian who affirms the authority of Scripture and who is also gay. His research is sound and his story compelling, and he’s a friend—someone I like and respect and enjoy learning from. 

This week we wrap up our discussion with a look at Matthew’s argument in support of marriage equality in Chapter 8 and his concluding remarks in Chapters 9 and 10. 

The Biblical Argument for Marriage Equality

In Chapter 8, Matthew tackles a big question: can same-sex marriage fit a Christian basis for marriage? 

“Our question is not whether the Bible addresses the modern concepts of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage,” he writes. “We know it doesn’t. Instead, our question is: can we translate basic biblical principles about marriage to this new situation without losing something essential in the process?” 

That’s a complicated question for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the reality that Christians themselves disagree on exactly what constitutes “biblical principles about marriage”! I know plenty of people who would describe my marriage with Dan as “unbiblical” because it functions as a partnership rather than a hierarchy, with our roles determined by gifting rather than gender. So we’re wading into tricky territory here, but Matthew handles it gracefully. 

He begins with Ephesians 5, where the apostle Paul describes marriage as a “profound mystery” pointing to the ultimate union between Christ and the Church. “In marriage,” writes Matthew, “we are called to reflect God’s love for us through our self-giving love for our spouse.” This is something same-sex couples can do just as well as heterosexual couples, he says. Matthew then goes on to address three common objections to same-sex marriage: procreation, gender hierarchy, and gender complementarity. 

Procreation

One of the most common reasons for opposing same-sex marriage cited by non-affirming Christians is that only a man and woman can biologically procreate. Appealing to Genesis 1:28 as a direct command rather than a creative blessing, they argue that the capacity to procreate is critical to a God-honoring union. 

While much of Hebrew Scripture focuses on God’s covenantal blessing to Israel through biological procreation, “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a host of transformative changes,” writes Matthew. “And one of the change is vital to our conversation: Biological procreation no longer determines membership in God’s Kingdom. Spiritual re-birth through faith in Christ does.” 

To support this, Matthew points to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, as well as his statement in Matthew 12:46-50 that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” This new emphasis on being “grafted in” to the family of God brought those who had traditionally been left out—eunuchs, for example—in.  Furthermore, despite the significance of procreation in the Old Testament, Matthew argues, infertile marriages were not considered illegitimate. Take Abraham and Sarah, for example, or Elkanah and Hannah. Song of Songs beautifully celebrates the joys of erotic love for their own pleasurable merits, not simply for the purpose of procreation.  And neither Jesus nor the apostle Paul suggest that non-procreative marriages are illegitimate or that procreation is the only purpose of sex.  “From a theological perspective,” Matthew concludes, “marriage primarily involves a covenant-keeping relationship of mutual self-giving that reflects God’s love for us….Marriage is only secondarily—and not necessarily at all—about having biological children.” 

Gender Hierarchy 

This, in my opinion, is the big one. Because some Christians interpret the New Testament household codes as prescribing hierarchal gender roles wherein wives function as subordinates to their husbands, their challenge to same-sex couples is, who’s in charge? 

We discuss the New Testament Household Codes here, and at length in our series on the subject, here, but in summary:  Just as the New Testament household codes assume a hierarchy between master and slave, they assume a hierarchy between men and women. It would be silly to expect anything else to emerge out of writings from the Greco-Roman culture. What makes the New Testament household codes powerful and countercultural is that they actually challenge those hierarchies by instructing all members of the household—even the masters, who in that culture held unilateral authority over their slaves, wives, and children— to imitate Jesus Christ in their relationships by modeling his self-sacrificing love. 

Matthew points out that in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that three types of hierarchies would fade away in Christ. One was that of male and female. The others were distinctions between Jew and Gentile and distinctions between slave and free. “In opposing slavery,” writes Matthew, “Christians in the 19th century took that message to heart. Since there will not be a distinction in God’s kingdom of slave and free, Christians decided to abolish the inhumane institution of slavery in the West….Christians did not work for change so that slaves would be regarded as having equal value while maintaining a subordinate status and role in society. They chose to abolish the subordinate status altogether.” 

And yet many today continue to argue that Galatians 3:28 only refers to salvific status when it comes to women, that Paul is simply granting women access to salvation, not equal status with men. (This doesn’t make much sense since women were already regarded as having access to salvation.) But if this thinking were applied to slaves, who are mentioned in the very same verse, then Christians could not appeal to Galatians 3:28 for the abolition of slavery.   In other words, “neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female” has to mean something more than shared access to salvation. It has to mean something radical about how relationships among Christians in this patriarchal culture were to change. 

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a million times more: What makes a marriage holy and sacred isn’t the degree to which it reflects a rigid hierarchy, but rather the degree to which it reflects the self-giving, self-sacrificing love of Jesus.  It’s not about putting Jesus at the top of a flowchart, with the man next in line, and the woman at the bottom. It’s about putting Christ at the center.  That, I believe, is the truly radical message of the New Testament Household Codes that so often gets drowned out by advocates of Christian patriarchy. And I see no reason why the self-sacrificing love of Jesus cannot be modeled in a committed same-sex relationship as well as it can be modeled in a committed heterosexual relationship. (After all, if anatomical complementarity alone were what sanctified a marriage, then an abusive heterosexual marriage would be considered more “sanctified” than a loving homosexual one.)

[For more on the New Testament, check out our "Submit One To Another" series.]

Anatomical Complementarity 

A final argument against same-sex marriage is that two people cannot become “one flesh” if they do exhibit anatomical complementarity. Here Matthew cites Jim Brownson’s Bible, Gender Sexuality, where the Bible scholar argues that such an interpretation of Genesis 2:24 over-sexualizes the phrase “one flesh,” which in the Bible is used metaphorically to describe ties of kinship between all sorts of people. (In Genesis 29, Laban describes his son-in-law Jacob as “my bone and my flesh,” for example.)  “Becoming ‘one flesh,’” Matthew argues, “encompasses much more than the act of sex. It includes the entire covenantal context in which God intends for sex to take place.” 

In Ephesians 5:31-32, the phrase “one flesh” is said to be a mystery of marriage that relates to Christ and the Church. "Not only does Ephesians 5 never mention gender-determined anatomical differences, it focuses instead on the fact that husbands and wives are part of the same body…So according to Ephesians, gender difference is not necessary to become one flesh in the Bible’s understanding of those words.” 

Matthew concludes this chapter with a stirring call: “In God’s glorious, limitless love, he has imparted to us that most precious and humbling of gifts: our own capacity for love. Not all Christians are called to marriage, and the church must uphold the validity of celibacy for those who are called to it. But for those who do not sense a calling to celibacy, God’s gift of sexual love in marriage should be affirmed. There is no biblical reason to exclude the covenantal bonds of gay Christians from that affirmation.”

I suspect that as marriage equality continues to spread across the country, the Church’s conversation around LGBT inclusion will change. Will churches that oppose same-sex marriage encourage married couples to divorce? Will they turn away gay or lesbian couples when they bring their kids to Sunday school? Will they deny that Christ-imitating, self-sacrificing love is indeed present in many same-sex relationship and continue to advocate against ensuring gay couples can visit one another in the hospital? God has this strange habit of using “outsiders” to school the “insiders” on what it really means to love and serve. I suspect it will be no different in this case. 

The Image of God and LGBT Christians

In Chapter 9, Matthew makes a strong case that being created in the image of God cannot uniquely be tied to heterosexuality and points to the Trinity to show that part of being created in the image of God is longing for intimacy and relationship. It’s too much to reiterate in the limited space we have left, so I urge you to pick up God and the Gay Christian for the full argument.  I would simply add that, having had a conversation just yesterday with someone who is intersex, it is time we accept the reality God has not created a rigid, one-dimensional world when it comes to gender and sexuality. As someone put it the other day: Acknowledging the existence of twilight doesn’t require rejecting the existence of day and night. 

Matthew addresses the incredible damage done by Christians who teach LGBT people to hate their sexuality, which cannot so easily be separated from their very selves. “When we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shameful and disordered,” he writes, “we encourage them to hate a core part of who they are. And when we reject the desires of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a lifelong covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God, and we tarnish their ability to bear his image.” 

Then Matthew concludes with this little truth bomb:  “Instead of asking whether it’s acceptable for the church to deny gay Christians the possibility of sexual fulfillment in marriage, we should ask a different question. Is it acceptable to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a God-reflecting covenant.” 

Questions for Discussion: 

1.    Are there same-sex couples in your life whose relationships reflects the self-giving love of Jesus? Tell us about that. 

2.    As more states embrace marriage equality and civil rights for LGBT people, how do you think the conversation regarding their inclusion in the church will change? 

3. Finally, as we conclude this series, do you have any lingering questions, thoughts or ideas you would like to discuss? Has this conversation changed anything for you, and what would you like to see happen moving forward—both on the blog and in the wider Church?  

***

Finally: I'd like to issue a big thank-you to our friend, Matthew Vines, who not only wrote a great book for discussion, but who has jumped into the comment section several times to respond to your questions and ideas. I've gotten to know Matthew a little better over the course of the last few weeks and I have to say, his guy's stubborn sense of hope, joy, and commitment to Jesus continues to inspire and challenge me. Let's be in prayer for his efforts at The Reformation Project's Regional Training Conference this week. 

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See you in Ohio, Georgia, & Alabama….

I’ve been enjoying my travels significantly more this season, having scaled back a bit. Stewarding my time in this way has helped me feel more present and engaged with each group, and I’m so grateful for every opportunity I get to have real, in-the-flesh conversations with readers. My last three trips of the season will take me to Ohio Wesleyan University, Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia, and the great city of Birmingham, Alabama—my old “stomping ground.”  Here are the details, if you’re interested in joining us: 

Friday, November 7
Ohio Wesleyan University Love Across the Spectrum Event 
Delaware, Ohio
7 p.m. - “My Year of Biblical Womanhood” 
FREE & Open to Public  
More Info

Friday, November 14 – Saturday, November 15
Young Adult Retreat hosted by North Georgia UMC 
Glisson Camp and Retreat Center, Dahlonega, Georgia 
All weekend - “Keep the Church Weird” (material from the new book!) 
One-day rate available 
More Info

Sunday, November 16
Canterbury United Methodist Church
Birmingham, Alabama 
Sunday School hour: “My Year of Biblical Womanhood” 
6 p.m. -  “Keep the Church Weird” (material from the new book!) 
FREE & Open to the Public 
More Info 
 

Let me know if I’ll see you there! 

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Sunday Superlatives 11/2/14

Around the Blogosphere...

Wisest:
Efrem Smith with “The Privileged and The Poor” 

“To dismantle poverty in this way, we not only need multi-ethnic congregations, we need multi-class congregations. Poor people ought to have a voice in the Church. They ought to have the opportunity to serve as elders, deacons, preachers, and board members alongside the Privileged. Putting all Privileged People in power and places of influence may be the American way, but it’s not the Kingdom of God way.”

Bravest: 
Micha Boyett with “Deacons and Elders and Me” 

“This is not a story of rebellion. This is not the story of a girl who moved two thousand miles away and learned to take scripture less seriously. This is the story of how my love for scripture deepened and grew more technicolored, beautiful. This is the story of finding myself in a church where I was invited to use my gifts in order to love God faithfully. I will kneel before my church on Sunday in holy trembling, because of the men who led me as a child, because of the women who led me without titles. I will commit my weak-willed soul to the leadership of my church because of the deacons and their wives who gave me courage to travel all the way to these vows. On Sunday I will be ordained.”

Boldest:
Austin Channing Brown with “Bring Yourself” 

“I believe in the legacy of black women who refused to be satisfied with lies. I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I believe that I am created in the image of the Divine. I believe that I am at my best when I bring my wholeness to the table. I believe that the weight of racism and patriarchy can’t drown me. I believe that I am made for resistance, for freedom, for community.”

Truest: 
Jason Micheli at Jesus Creed with “If you can’t say it about Jesus, don’t say it about God” 

"We can’t say or think or act like God hates ‘sinners’ because we know Jesus didn’t. We can’t say or think or act like God doesn’t care about the poor because we know Jesus did. We can’t say or think or act as if God is against our enemies because we know Jesus loved them. We can’t scratch our heads and wonder if we need to forgive that person in our lives because know what Jesus said about it."

Coolest: 
Guerilla Mosaic Artist Now Filling Chicago Potholes with Flowers

Most Eye-Opening:
We’ve taken to listening to NPR’s “On the Media” on the 45-minute drive to church on Sundays, and this week’s episode—particularly the reports on money in politics and  “The Unseen World of Content Moderation”—certainly reinforced my conviction that sin is real (just in time for confession). Though some parts were kind of a downer, this episode is worth a listen. 

Most Challenging: 
Tanya Marlow with “What’s Her Name?”

“I understand that there are difficulties with accommodating the various needs of disabled people in churches and conferences. I know this is about pragmatism and budget. But that moment was a humiliating one. I fought back tears, and as people looked on, I smiled my biggest smile to show how fine I was with it. But as I was pushed into the sparsely populated, dimly-lit seating at the front, I wondered if we would tolerate any other minority group in church being segregated in such a blatant form.”

Best Insight: 
Larry Largent with “When We Doubt: The Wilderness Between Our Mountaintop Experiences”

“Our churches would do well to consider Elijah as they interact with those who are brave enough to give voice to their own dark nights of the soul. Not the Elijah on Carmel or Sinai, but the Elijah that was once alone in the Negev wilderness.”

Best Reflection(s)
Everything Richard Beck says about Halloween, Death, and All Saints 

Best Point: 
Caryn Rivadeneira with “School Prayer Doesn’t Need a Comeback” 

“I object to any mission to bring prayer “back” to school because I can’t support the faulty theology—downright heresy—of implying God is only around to hear our prayers when the building sanctions his presence. Prayer never left schools. And God never did either. To suggest otherwise should make us shudder. And yet, that’s what campaigns full of good God-fearing folks seem to be saying.”

[Reminds me of one of my first posts to ever go ‘viral’—“God Can’t Be Kept Out.”

On Facebook…

We have a really great conversation happening on Facebook this week regarding the reality of sin and the use of the word ‘broken.’ I have a feeling this will generate several posts. Feel free to weigh in. 

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So, what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on your blog?

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