Love: Amazing Love

Every language has a word or words for love.  The biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek are no exception. The two main words are hesed and agapé.  [1]  In both words, love reaches its apex as “love for the sake of the other.”

This kind of love includes altruism, philanthropy, etc.  But it is not defined by these ideas.  They reflect a commendable desire to live unselfishly, and that would be a major step forward for some people.  But hesed and agapé do not merely describe an other-orientation , they describe a sense of oneness with others.

Our being created in the image of God (that we noted last week) is a good place to focus our look at God’s amazing love.  It is love based in actual likeness.  But it is not a love based on our merit, but rather on our essence.  If that were not so, God’s love would be spasmodic and conditional.  Instead, hesed and agapé are continuous and gracious.  We refer to this as steadfast love.

God’s love says, “You are mine’” and in addition to the idea of our being a cherished possession of God, it means we are beloved children of God.  In a very holy sense, God sees God’s nature in us, and it is a real seeing because we are made in the image of God.  This means that God’s love is amazing, not because it is transactional or obligatory, but because it is a genuine Heart-to-heart relationship—a Lover/beloved relationship.

Part of the amazing nature of this love is that Jesus said we could love others the way we are loved by God.  It’s the second great commandment: , “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Of course it means loving others the way we like to be loved (as per the Golden Rule), and it includes the psychological truth that our capacity to love others usually reflects the extent to which we love ourselves in a healthy way.  But again, there is more goung on in Jesus’ words than that.

Loving your neighbor “as yoyrself” is recognizing the oneness between yourself and another person in the same way God recognizes the oneness between ourselves and God.  We love others “as ourselves” because in a genuine (though indescribable) way, they are us!  Buddhists have a word for it: interbeing—an essential oneness that everyone shares with everyone else.  Bringing the word alongside Jesus’ words that say the same thing, we find that love is amazing because it exists and expresses itself because of a radical oneness in the whole of creation.  How we love anyone is how we love everyone.  And how we love anyone is how we love God (1John 4:20-21).

That’s amazing love.


[1] This post is not a word study on love.  For that, I recommend William Mounce’s ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006), 424-429.

Posted in Love

Along the Way: What’s Going On?

We are living through an intense time of polarization, with resulting fragmentations of all sorts and sizes.  Every day adds new impetus for asking, “What’s going on?”  The depth and breadth of our conflicts makes a blanket answer impossible.  I limit my frame of reference in this post to the fractured state of contemporary Christianity in general, and how it is expressing itself in my denomination—the United Methodist Church.  Even on this smaller field multiple factors are in play, which also go beyond the scope of a blog-length post.  But this more specific context does provide a basis to ask, “What’s going on?” in a way that can face us in a helpful direction.

In Christian circles, one of the allegations is that we have differing views due to varying commitments to the authority of Scripture.  And that plays out along this general line of assertion: conservatives believe in the authority of Scripture, and progressives do not.  Right now, that assertion is being used to attempt to answer the question, “What’s going on in the United Methodist Church? ”  The marketed assumption is that conservatives are the “true Bible believers” and everyone else is less so, or in some cases, not at all.

The problem with that allegation is this: it isn’t true.  And….conservatives who are honest about it know it’s not true.  Across the theological spectrum, Christians affirm the authority of Scripture with equal devotion.  Conservatives simply do not have the corner on that market.  To make the authority of Scripture the answer to the question, “What’s going on?” is a straw-man allegation which ends up misleading people and obscuring a larger perspective with respect to the question.

A more accurate response to the question has to do with the fact that we are living in a pivotal moment, a time of fundamental change—what some have observed in history as axial ages.  We can see this from the Bible itself, where God said about a time roughly 2,700 years ago, “Look I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:19)   This biblical passage was written during the very time called the axial age by Karl Jaspers, a period of time running from the 8th through the 3rd centuries BCE, with “new things” happening everywhere.  Isaiah’s words are a sign that Scripture recognizes the dynamic nature of history and the unfolding nature of revelation. [1]

A full description of our new axial age is beyond the scope of my knowledge, and of this blog. [2]. As before, our new axial age is transforming things in multiple fields of knowledge and in numerous places. Suffice it to say that it is this larger reality (not the authority of Scripture) which provides the backdrop for exploring the question, “What’s going on?’  Simply put, we are living in a time of awakening, and the end of our polarization—or the perpetuation of it—hinges on whether we are those who accept this, or reject it.  It is not about the authority of Scripture, but rather about the belief that God is doing “a new thing,” and God’s question to the people of Isaiah’s day is now the question God is asking us, “Don’t you recognize it?” [3]

Our new axial age is, as they all are, simultaneously a recovery and a discovery.  In our case, it is a recovery from a nearly 600-year period of analytical rationalism that has served us well in many respects, but has failed us in others—one being the separating of things to the extent that egotism and ethnocentrism have room to create falsehoods based on superiority and expressed in conflict.  Truth is couched in right/wrong categories which eclipse its both/and dimensions.  Dualistic thinking takes charge, and we take sides where someone has to win while designated “others” must lose.  We descend into sectarianism where, in fact, everyone loses.  Nationalism and other forms of groupism define and control us. For the past 600 years (the “Enlightenment era”) we have been on this downward spiral, reaping the whirlwind in terrible ways today, and bringing us to tipping points which threaten our future.

 But our new axial age is also a time of discovery—of “treasures old and new” as Jesus put it when teaching us about the Kingdom of God, in contrast to the fallen kingdoms of this world (Matthew 13:52).  In fact, he taught that it is our call to be the kind of people who keep both old and new things together.  We are called to be nondual thinkers who live a unitive consciousness.  We are called to bring separated things together.  We are called to pour Kingdom wine into new wineskins.  We are called to rediscover Wisdom and consecrate our knowledge to its advancement.

Our new axial age is recovering/discovering the oneness of all things.  The physical sciences at the micro level (atomical and genetic) and macro level (astrophysical and cosmic) are revealing the universality of all things in ways we’ve never known before.  We are called to be co-creators with God in furthering the trajectory of God’s eternal plan, “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). 

This unification does not ignore differences, but  it refuses to turn them into conflicted hierarchies. It does not ignore evil, but it interprets it differently than fallen-world ideologies do. It’s energy is expended in creating community and living for the common good.  It is rooted in love (hesed/agapé) where restoration, not retribution, is the spirit and aim. It refuses to create “others” based on some notion of superiority.  It seeks to live in a common human family that understands loving is more difficult and messy than labeling.  It calls for the end of in/out thinking.

“What’s going on?” is not answered by an assertion of the authority of Scripture by one group against another.  “What’s going on?” is addressed by the recognition in our day of what others before us (like Isaiah) have recognized—that there are times when God does a new thing, and when God is doing so, we are called to join in.


[1] For more about the Axial Age see, (1) Mark W. Muesse, ‘Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East (Augsburg, 2015), and (2) Karen Armstrong, ‘The Great Transformation’ (Anchor, 2006).

[2] I may write more about this.  If I do, I will use the same title (“What’s Going On?”) with a numbering system, so you can immediately spot sequels.  They will be included in this “Along the Way” category if you want to re-read them.

[3] My initial exploration of this question resulted in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).

Posted in Along the Way

Love: God is Love

Three words sum up the essence of everything: God is love.  They not only tell us who God is, but also who we are, and who/what everyone and everything else is.  At the creation level of cosmos and cells, love is seen in the law of attraction. [1]  In our humanity we see love in the imago dei, which gives us an existential likeness to God.  In short, love saturates all of life, revealing Reality as it is meant to be.

But true as this is, we must not leave love in the abstract.  When we say that God is love, we are not simply declaring a grand idea, we are describing a glorious relationship.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sees it in the name of God we call Yahweh.  Through this name God reveals the relational essence of the divine nature, entering into our lives with mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and steadfast love. [2]. Yahweh is the name of God through which we see God’s love (hesed).

At the outset of this series, the realization that God is love is the centering vision.  It locates us at the Source.  To acknowledge that God is love is the transforming vision.  It means that nothing other than God has the final say in our lives (Romans 8:38).  To believe that God is love gives us hope.  It brings the present moment into our lives to be a redemptive force in whatever ways we need to be free. [3]

In the course of this series we will move around the circumference of the circle of love, noting one thing after another.  But no matter where we are standing, we will be making our exploration in relation to one Center: God is love.. As they say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.


[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw the union of creation and theology in the word love.  He wrote about it in nearly all his books, especially ‘The Divine Milieu.,’  Ilia Delio has made Teilhard accessible to us through her Omega Center.  Her book, ‘Compassion’ (St Anthony Messenger Press, 2011) traces the theme of love through Sts Francis and Clare.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’ (Fortress Press, 2009), 215 ff.

[3] This is Paul’s affirmation in Galatians 5:1.  St. Ignatius of Loyola made freedom one of the hallmarks of his understanding of the Christian life.  Father James Martin’s book, ‘The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything’ (HarperCollins, 2010)) is a good guide into the life of freedom.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Incarnation

​Having recently celebrated Christmas, the Incarnation has been front-and-center in our faith.  In the birth of Jesus, the Word became flesh, and lived a while on the earth full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The coming of the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ (second person of the Holy Trinity) was the perfect fusion of spirit and matter.  In Jesus, heaven and earth were united as never before, or since.

But the incarnation was more than unique and historic, it is also universal and timeless.  The Bible teaches that Jesus was the new Adam (Romans 12:5-18), now often referred to as “The Human One.” [1]  In Jesus we see how humanity was meant to be, and was, before the fall. [2]  Christlikeness is the one-word summary for the definition of life as God wills it to be for us.

We are not, and will never be, the perfect fusion of spirit and matter that Jesus was, but we are a fusion of spirit and matter—what the Bible calls “living souls” (Genesis 2:7).  In our humanity we are holy, as God is holy in deity. Far from being a wild idea, this “likeness” to God is what it means to be made in the image of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas described it in these words, “Grace renders us like God and a partaker of the divine nature. Divine virtue gives deification itself, that is, participating in the Godhead, which is through grace.” [3]

This is a grand truth, but we must not allow it to hang in the air as a dangling doctrine, and even worse, we must not let it deteriorate into wishful thinking or, still worse, into sentimentalism–which is precisely where the world leaves “baby Jesus” during Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus is the revelation that our humanity is not only to be gentle and meek, but also strong and courageous–that is, pastoral and prophetic.

Jesus show us what the full range of human holiness looks like, and the revelation becomes an invitation.  This is complicated, but we must not let that prevent us from receiving the message which comes from Jesus’ incarnation to us: we are human, and that glorious reality is a vision which is meant to invite us into fullness of life—life in Christ.  The new year is a fresh invitation to become what we are meant to be, God’s beloved children.  The incarnation is meant to recur in us.  It is one way God says to us, “Don’t forget who you are.”  Jesus is the living reminder.


[1] Adam is the word for  humankind–before being represented in maleness and femaleness.  As the new Adam, Jesus revealed in his flesh the nature of humanity irrespective of gender.  By calling him “The Human One” we see his example to be applicable to people of all genders.  The Common English Study Bible has good articles about “The Human One,” and uses this translation in place of the traditional rendering “Son of Man” to more clearly describe Jesus’ humanity as an example for all people.

[2] This is impossible to put into words because it is Mystery.  Adam was not the Christ in the technical and full sense of the word, because humanity and deity are distinct.  But being fully human, Jesus revealed what we can call a pre-fall humanity—a humanity which is possible for any of us.  We never become God (that’s heresy), but we can be “like God” (that’s biblical—Genesis 1:26-28).  

[3] Quoted in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation, December 23, 2019.

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Introduction

​Decades ago, a popular song said  “Love is a many splendored thing.”  Indeed it is, and I have been blessed to know this throughout my lifetime.  This coming April, Jeannie and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and every year of our courtship and marriage she has shown me what love is..  She has given me love in every way a human being can.  And she has been a means through whom I have experienced the love of God..  I have decided to make “Love” the 2020 theme series here on Oboedire, and I dedicate this series to Jeannie, the love of my life.   

Our desire to be loved is the deepest desire, and I believe it is so because we are made in the image of God.  When we open ourselves to this Reality, we find that the love of God not only becomes alive in us, it flows through us to others.  Each week, over the course of this coming year, we will follow the flow of love from its inward manifestations to its outward expressions.

We find ourselves in a love-starved world.  Individually and collectively we hunger for love.  So, this series is more than a sentimental examination of a beautiful idea, it is a call to be lovers of God and others as a means of shining light and giving life.  Our souls and our planet depend on love in order to survive.

The need for love is particularly acute in our country right now.  The past few years (actually, decades) have strained our will and capacity to love.  The national renewal we need is a renewal of love.  It is not an exaggeration to say that our problems, challenges, and sins are manifestations of a failure to love. We are once again in a great need for strength to love. [1]

I hope you will join me on this love journey.  If you know others who would benefit from it, invite them to do so.  It’s easy and free to subscribe to Oboedire by entering an email address into the ‘Sign Me Up,” box on the righthand sidebar. 

When the early church was just getting started, the elder apostle John is said to have had only one message whenever he spoke to the community, ‘Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).  I hope this series brings an increase of love to you and a fresh outpouring of love through you. 


[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ (Harper & Row, 1963) made the three words part of our national vocabulary in the 1960’s.  His book remains on my desk to this day, and I read from it frequently as a way of seeking a fresh inpouring of strength to love in my life.

Posted in Love

Christmas: Descent Into Oneness

​Christmas is the time for experiencing the formative work of descent.  We sing, “Love came down at Christmas.”  It is the hymnodic way of declaring with John that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14).  Christ’s “coming down” was a descent into oneness, and his incarnation is a model for a similar descent in our lives

Descent is where we find commonality.  Thinking of it linguistically, descent is living as nouns without adjectives.  Descent is shedding all the modifiers which so easily separates us from each other.  For the cosmic, universal Christ the singular noun is ‘flesh.’  Christmas is the revelation of Christ’s descent into oneness with everyone of us. The singular noun is ‘human.’

We manifest the descent into oneness as we live into the second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  We typically and correctly interpret this through the word ‘love,’ and ponder the depth and breadth of our love for others.  Indeed, “Love came down at Christmas,” and love is the essence of our oneness with God and with everyone and everything else.

But the lens of affection is not the end of the interpretation.  The commandment is also about identification, and that comes through in the words ‘as yourself.’  To love others as ourselves is to recognize our oneness with them.  Buddhists call this ‘interbeing’—that is, the awareness that at the base we literally share a common existence.  Reality is oneness.  Illusion is separateness.

Jesus brought this reality into Christianity in the words ‘as yourself.’  Affection and identification come together.  Love and oneness are conjoined.  St. Paul described the same reality, “If one part suffers, all  the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Meister Eckhart put it this way, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”  

Dorothy Day experienced this oneness during her first time in jail.  She wrote, “I was no longer myself… I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary.”

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke similarly, “The self cannot be self without other selves. . . . All life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

These affirmations of faith are paralleled in the cosmos through quantum entanglement–that is, the interconnectedness of all things.  The revelation is that there is one Life, and we share in it in our life together.  When we think otherwise we fall prey to pride which manifests itself as superiority, partisanship, exclusion, power/control, greed, and violence.  Christmas is God’s annual invitation to become Christlike and “come down” into oneness.

This oneness was effected by Christ, who broke down the dividing wall and reconciled everyone into a new common humanity (Ephesians 2:14).  As a result, we no longer see or support separatism, choosing rather to live “as one” with others.  Just as Christ descended into oneness with us in the incarnation. We descend into oneness as we love our neighbors as ourselves.  Love not only came down that first Christmas day, it comes down whenever we descend into oneness as siblings in the human family.

Posted in Connections

Oboedire 2020

Except for a meditation on Christmas day, I’m taking a break from Oboedire until January 1st. But here’s what’s in store for 2020–a continuation of some themes and the beginning of some new ones…

(1) 2020 Theme: “Love.”–Each Wednesday we will focus on some aspect of love, as a way of living the two great commandments more faithfully.

(2) “In-Sight”–This longstanding series continues on the first Saturday of each month, exploring the spiritual life from a variety of vantage points.

(3) “Along the Way.”  A new, occasional series that addresses a current event in relation to spiritual formation.

Thanks for being part of the Oboedire community.  I hope these posts in 2020 will be helpful to you.

Blessings!  Steve

Posted in Site Updates

Holy Love: A Final Word

​I hope your reading of ‘Holy Love’ and these related posts has been helpful.  In the book, I include two additional writings: a word to LGBTQ+ people (“You  Are Loved”) and a word to those who disagree with me (”A Word to Non-Affirming Christians”).  I add the following remarks to what’s there, and use this post to bring this series to an end.

First, to LGBTQ+ people.  The past 5+ years have been a blessing to Jeannie and me, getting to know you, and seeing in you full humanity, genuine faith, and devoted discipleship.  No matter what others may say to you, or about you–never cease to know that you are God’s beloved children.  You do not need to change who you are or who you love.  All you have to do is what all the rest of us have to do: love God, love others, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and grow in grace.  Thank you for showing us how deep and wide God’s love is.

Second, to non-affirming Christians.  The past 5+ years has confirmed that there is (and has always been) more diversity in Christianity about human sexuality than you are willing to admit.  I do not say this harshly, but only realistically.  I wish more of you would admit it too.  In the past 5+ years my belief concerning the inspiration and authority of Scripture has not diminished one bit, and I have discovered it is possible to be a “Bible believing Christian” and also an ally with LGBTQ+ people, affirming their civil rights and their full inclusion in the Church–with complete access to its sacraments, ministries, and ministries.  Thank you, non-affirming Christians, for pushing back on my becoming an ally; it is a gift even if you did not mean it to be so. Your rejections have caused me to explore beyond your borders and see a depth and breadth of God’s love I did not see for so long.

We are engaged in a great and unresolved debate in the world, the nation, and  the Church concerning LGBTQ+ people.  In the past 5+ years one verse has increasingly guided my thinking and living, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The first three words have been my affirmation for 57 years, “Christ is all”—Jesus is Lord!  I say so now.

The second three words “and in all” have been God’s revelation into which I am now living, and doing so through friendships with LGBTQ+ people, the study of Scripture and extra-biblical material, and by participation in LGBTQ+ groups and related advocacy organizations.

The only way I know to end this series is as a witness, not a debater. I can only tell you what I have seen and heard: “Christ is all and in all.”  All means all.  All I can do is invite you to find this out for yourself, if you have not done so already.  And if you have discovered it, all I can ask you to be is a public witness to this reality, and an active ally with God’s beloved LGBTQ+ children– our siblings in the human family.

Posted in Holy Love

Holy Love: The Life

In the final chapter of ‘Holy Love’ I hope to turn theory into practice, beliefs into behaviors—what John Wesley called “practical divinity.”  He believed that faith had to be practiced, not just professed.  He called it “living faith”—in the spirit of St. James who wrote, “faith without actions is dead” (James 2:26).  And so, to the already-existing Anglican trilateral for doing theology, he added experience (lived theology) to the picture.

In the final chapter of ‘Holy Love’ I seek to do the same.  Since I became an ally with LGBTQ+ people in 2014, many people have asked me how they might consider becoming so.  The last chapter of the book is my response to their inquiry.  This post develops that response further.

I begin broadly, and with a pastoral challenge.  Attitudes and actions toward LGBTQ+ people are critical today–significant matters in our time—both with respect to the society and the Church.  Here’s my question/challenge: are you willing to base your opinion solely on second-hand information and on what you have been taught—or—do you recognize the need to do your own homework and develop first-hand convictions?  Are you willing to stand on your own two feet, or are you going to settle for only getting your ideas from others?

This is a serious question.  It means are we active or passive—engaged or disengaged?  This is important to think about with respect to any significant matter, and it is a crucial consideration with respect to our beliefs about and behaviors toward LGBTQ+ people.  As Christians, we are called to “ask, seek, and knock,” ourselves and not be spoon fed by others.  I hope you are willing to do this.  The rest of this post is a response to the question, “How can I go about doing my homework?”

First, establish relationships and friendships with LGBTQ+ people.  Talk with them.  Invite them to speak in your church, and attend the meetings of religious and civic LGBTQ+ groups and related advocacy organizations.  More than anything else, forming these relationships will provide you with discoveries, experiences, and learnings you cannot get any other way. [1]

Second, study.  Hopefully, your reading of ‘Holy Love’ has already set this point in motion for you.  Now, use the Reading List in the back of the book to keep going.  Ask LGBTQ+ people what you should read.  Inquire the same from local organizations.  There is plenty more to explore.

Third, manifest the fruit of the Spirit.  If you become proactive, and especially if you seek to learn about views other than those advanced by conservatives/traditionalists, you will receive pushback.  Accept that fact, knowing there is more than one way to view the matter.  Keep love for all paramount.  

Fourth, follow the example of Jesus.  He bore witness to inclusion through his words and deeds. Do the same.

I cannot predict how these four things will change you or where you will end up.  But I guarantee that a year from now, you will not be exactly the same as you are right now.  And that brings us back to the original question, “Are you willing to do the work necessary to form your own opinion, or will you settle for second-hand information?”


[1] Begin by going online.  The websites for the Human Rights Campaign and the PFLAG organization contain a wealth of information, including contact information for local chapters of these groups.  This action alone will get you started.  You can also call your City Hall, Chamber of Commerce, and United Way to discover additional groups in your area.  Once connected, you will be able to befriend LGBTQ+ people, be befriended by them, and learn so much in the process.



Posted in Holy Love

In-Sight: Immanuel

​Michael Card has been one of my favorite musicians for a long time, recognized by many as a musical theologian, not just a performer.  His composition, “Immanuel,” is the song Jeannie and I turn to every Advent. We are still moved listening to it, even after doing so for decades.

Immanuel is the one-word summary for Advent—God with us.  The cosmic Christ fit into a manger and lived among us full of grace and truth (John 1:14, 17).  Indeed, the Kingdom of God has come near.  We no longer have to ask what God is like.  Jesus puts a face on God.  We no longer have to ask what it means to be a disciple.  We are followers of Christ.  We no longer have to ask what the Christian life is.  It is Christlikeness.

Immanuel provides the vision, the intention, and the means of our faith and our life. [1]  Indeed, in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Advent is not a time to limit our focus on “baby Jesus,” though the stories in Matthew and Luke are memorable and moving.  Advent is a time, as the word shows, to begin (begin again) our journey “with God.”  Advent is the reminder that it is God who initiated the journey, becoming incarnate in Jesus—and who now, through the Holy Spirit, continues to be with us.  Immanuel is the one-word reminder that we are never alone. [2]

Advent is our annual opportunity to renew the with-God life.  The Christian Year begins in Advent as a realization of the fact that twelve months is the maximum amount of time any of us should be in a distant relationship with God.  Every year, God says in Christ, “I am with you.”  Every year, God asks, “Will you be with me?”  And in these days of Advent, we have the marvelous opportunity to respond, “Yes, O yes!”

Listen, as Michael Card takes you into this good news…https://g.co/kgs/BLHsPk

[1] The ‘Life With God Bible’ (HarperOne, 2005) uses the “With-God Life” the interpretive paradigm for the entirety of Scripture.  This version of the Bible was developed by Richard Foster and others involved in the Renovaré spiritual formation ministry, and it is remains the central resource of that ministry.

[2] Joseph Girzone has written a moving testimony to this reality in his book. ‘Never Alone’ (Doubleday, 1994).

Posted in In-Sight

Holy Love: Passages #4

Romans 1:18-32

There’s no doubt that this passage is the focal text for interpreting human sexuality in general and LGBTQ+ sexuality in particular.  Romans links in spirit and substance with Leviticus.  Just as Israel was entering a new land, so too Christians were moving into a new world.  In both contexts, separated by more than a thousand years and a thousand mikes, the people of God were moving into cultures and religions that viewed and practiced sexuality differently than God intended.  In both cases, it was important to address sexual immorality and affirm sexual righteousness in keeping with the principles of the Covenant which we have previously explored: sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and (with the coming of the New Covenant) monogamy.  This is why some scholars view this passage as a “Holiness Code” for Christian sexuality.

The passage also provides the larger context for the sexual addiction (malakoi) and sexual abuse (arsenokoitai) which Paul specifically named in the two passages we explored in the last post.  Romans provides the “why” factor to any of the “whats” regarding human sexuality.  Consequently, it is the pivotal passage.  And like the other passages, there is a key in the text itself which opens the door to interpreting it: the “downward spiral” that Paul describes as the passage unfolds.  We can trace it through the following words and ideas.

First, multiple concerns.  One of the immediate mistakes in interpreting this passage is the rush to make sexuality the emphasis.  The same mistake is made with respect to the Holiness Code. Paul’s and Moses’ concerns included many things.  Paul mentions twenty two concerns in this passage.  We must begin here, or we will never interpret Paul’s words correctly.  There are things that Paul is equally concerned about.  Read the list in verses 29-31, and be prepared to be surprised by what’s on it.  Also, ponder why there is comparative silence about 21 sins and so much “noise” about one.

Second, idolatry (v  21-23).  This is the single source from which all the sins mentioned by Paul emerge.  He begins exactly where Moses began, setting sexual sin in the context of Covenant violation, and specifically the violation of the first commandment (Exodus 20:3).  In Canaan, Greece, and Rome sex was idolatrous because it was egoic, glorifying the fallen self rather than God.  This takes sexuality out of its original context (the imago dei), turning God-given sexuality into self-serving gratification—a complete perversion of covenant love. Paul sums it up as sex that “ worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator” (1:25), sex that does not “ acknowledge God” (1:28)—that is, sex which is not sacred.

Third, lust (v 24). Here is the one-word summary for fallen-world sexuality, whether in Canaan, Rome, or our country.  It is the sexual manifestation of idolatry—what the Bible describes in two key words: fornication and adultery.  Lustful sexuality is inordinately passionate and promiscuous.  It includes the two kinds (malakoi and arsenokoitai) that we have already explored—and more.

Interestingly, John Wesley used the phrase ”lustful idolatry” to summarize this passage. [1] He rightly saw the comprehensiveness of the sinfulness Paul was pointing to, emphasizing in his notes the multi-faceted ways in which we abandon the ways of God and embrace thevways of egotism/ethnocentrism.

Fourth, the downward spiral continues with promiscuity (v 24-27).  We see this in two ways: Paul’s use of plural words and more especially in his use of the words “ traded in” (CEB) or “exchanged” (NRSV).  The Greek word means “temporarily set aside” their orientation for another one.  This is the pivot for the kind of sexuality Paul is describing.  Get ready.

He is describing heterosexual persons, not homosexuals!  The sinners here are heterosexuals who behave as if they were homosexuals. Simply put. Paul is not writing about LGBTQ+ people, but about heterosexual persons who sin by acting contrary to their orientation.  And this leads immediately to the next stage in the downward spiral.

Fifth, this sexuality is unnatural (v 26-27).  Scholars are generally agreed that the word “unnatural” as used here by Paul is not a physical term, but a philosophical one taken from Stoicism.  For the Stoics, “natural” sexual behavior was respectful, relational, personal, and affectionate. [2]  The kind of heterosexual sin described by Paul as “unnatural” was (as the larger context shows) exploitive, transactional, objectified, and loveless.  The connection of Paul’s thought with Stoicism comes through his use of the word ‘foolish’ twice (v 21 and 22), the very word that Stoicism used to describe “unnatural” sexuality.  

It is worth noting in this point that Paul is being a good evangelist in this passage.  He used something the Romans who read his letter would understand, Stoic thought about sexuality.  He did not appeal to the Law (as Mosrs did in Leviticus) because the Romans would either not have known it or would have ignored in their culture.  Without ever saying it outright, Paul was saying, “Heterosexual sin is denounced in your own culture by the Stoics.”  In other words, heterosexual sin (behaving as if they were homosexual) is wrong, and the Romans’ own accepted philosophy said so.

The Romans passage is complex, and to fully understand it requires a depth of historical, cultural, and religious knowledge beyond what I have written about here.  But the gist is this: the passage is not about LGBTQ+ people or their sexual behavior.  It is about heterosexuals behaving contrary to their orientation because they idolatrously and lustfully prefer self-gratification over God-glorification.

In short, sexual sin as Paul describes it here is sexual behavior contrary to one’s orientation.  So, when. LGBTQ+ people express their sexuality in congruence with their orientation and with covenant love (sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy), their sexuality is holy. [3]

And so…

(1) Assuming this interpretation of Romans 1 is new to you, rather than posing a question, I simply ask you to reflect further upon this post.   It took me a while to “see into” the passage.  Be willing to do so.

(2) Consider reading one of the books in the “Scripture” section of the ‘For Further Reading’ list at the back of ‘Holy Love.’  Jennifer Knust’s book is a good overview.


[1] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755), comment about the passage as-a-whole. He makes no comment about homosexuality.

[2] Arius Didymus’ work, ‘Epitome of Stoic Ethics’ goes into detail about these qualities of wise sexuality.

[3] After I wrote ‘Holy Love,’ I found five additional books that are noteworthy for understanding the Romans passage in its historical/cultural context: (1) Marilyn Skinner, ‘Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture’ 2nd edition, (2) David Garrison, ‘Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece,(3) Judith Hallett, Roman Sexualities, (4) K.J. Dover, ‘Greek Sexuality,’ and (5) Craig Williams, ‘Roman Sexuality.’


Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Resting

​Our journey this year through the lens of “Here and Now” has taken us in many directions.  As we conclude the series, we must remember that here-and-now living brings us into a deep rest.  We live from the rest of a contemplative foundation. 

It is the rest of existence.  E. Stanley Jones said it’s the sense that enables us to say,”for this I am made.”  Living here-and-now is living from the core purpose of loving God and others, being an instrument of God’s peace.

it is the rest of pace.  Susan Muto calls it living in the pace of grace. It is entering into what is happening rather than working to make something happen. Living here-and-now is living receptively.

It is the rest of increments. Mother Teresa called it the “little-by-little principle” It is living with the belief that the meaning of life is in its steps than in its conclusions.  Living here-and-now is living appreciatively.

It is the rest of authenticity.  Parker Palmer calls it living in our “season” of life rsther than trying to be someone other than who we are.  It is receiving the gifts that each stage of life has to offer. Living here-and-now is living abundantly.

This coming Sunday, we begin a new Christian year. I hope that Advent and the seasons which follow it will be provide you with many opportunities for living here-and-now, and that as you do so you will find rest for your soul.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Passages #3

​1 Corinthians 16:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10

Paul’s missionary journeys had taken him to Corinth and Cyprus before he made it to Rome.  So, I decided to treat these two passages before Romans 1.  What he experienced with respect to sexuality came through his firsthand observation in Asia Minor.  In fact, what he wrote in Romans 1 was based on second-hand information, only later confirmed when he ended up in Rome.

As with the Levitical passages, these two texts are directly related to their cultural cultural/historical context. [1]  And as with the Levitical passages, we must begin with that context but use it to glean abiding messages that we can apply today.  In ‘Holy Love’ I write mostly about the abiding message and its application.  In this post, I will say more about the original context.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy is linked to the misogynistic culture of the Greeks.  At the extreme of unbridled hedonism, the sexual ethic was a male “anything goes” sexuality.  But even where the virtues of truth, goodness, and beauty were factored in, Greek culture gave wide-ranging license to men’s sexual behaviors.  The fact that some male sexuality was more civil and discreet (just as some of it is today) did not mean it was moral.  

By pointing specifically at two aberrant male sexual behaviors, Paul was calling out misogyny in general and  expressions of it in particular.  Although in its early stages, here are two texts that show a new day was dawning with regard to gender equality.  Jesus’ regard for women was the pivot, and the first Christians continued to open the door to equality.  We see this even more clearly in other of Paul’s writing– Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:21, 1 Tim 3:11, and especially his naming of Junia as an apostle in Romans 16:7.  This dawning of egalitarianism reset the context in which human sexuality came to be viewed in Christianity.  We catch a glimpse of it here through the two male sexual sins that Paul denounces.

In the two texts we are looking at today, Paul addresses both of the expressions. Malakoi is the more general practice.  Arsenokoitai is a more specific practice.  Both words are difficult to interpret because they are not used frequently in the Bible.  In fact, arsenokoitai only appears in the 1 Timothy text.  And even outside Scripture it is a strange word. [2]. In ‘Holy Love’ I focus on these two words because it is through them that we get the abiding message which we can apply today.  I will say a bit more about them in this post, and then turn to an unfortunate turn of events with respect to the words.

Malakoi—this is the word which more generally describes mysoginistic sexuality that characterized Greek culture.  The word literally means “soft,” and it was a way of saying a man was effeminate. But with respect to sexual morality, the “softness” applied  to hedonistic practices that were unbridled, sensual, and egoic.  Today, we would describe it as sexual addiction.  In Greek culture, malakoi frequently expressed that addiction by becoming prostitutes.  But the word means more than that, it means men whose sexuality was out of control.  It describes males whose sexuality lacks restraint.

Arsenokoitai—this word included the ideas contained in malakoi, but in a more sinister way.  Arsenokoitai were males who exploited others for their own gratification, treating their partners like objects, not people.  These males went beyond consensual sex to forced behaviors (e.g. rape), and the word is used outside the Bible to describe men involved in the sex industry (prostitution) and related sex-trafficking. Ardenokoitai are sex abusers.

In looking at these two words, it is important to know that neither of them describe a male’s sexual orientation, but rather his behavior.  The fact is, it is not possible to say these words refer to homosexuals. 

But that’s how both words are viewed.  The two words are generally thought to refer to homosexuals.  How did this happen?

The answer lies in The Revised Standard Version that came out in 1946. It was the first translation to use the word ‘homosexual’ in these two passages.  It was an inaccurate translation so far as the Greek words are concerned (as we have seen above), and it was more nearly a linguistic capitulation to an emerging cultural perception—namely that homosexuality is itself sinful.  With the publication of the RSV, conservative Christians could make their case from the Bible.  Other subsequent translations followed the RSV’s lead.  So that today, there is a cut-and-dried “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” viewpoint—a viewpoint made and held onto simply because the word ‘homosexual’ was put into the biblical text. [3]

So, where does all this leave us?  What is the abiding message?  Most importantly we learn that the two passages are not about homosexuality as we think of it today.  They are not about sexual orientation.  Today, we would call it “males behaving badly”—in promiscuous and abusive ways that violate the Covenant requirement that sexual behavior honor sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy.  Neither malakoi males nor arsenokoitsi males do that.

So….

(1) What did you learn today that you have not known before?

(2) How do your learnings influence your thinking?


[1] Since writing ‘Holy Love,’ I have found Dale Martin’s book, ‘The Corinthian Body’ (Yale University Press, 1999) and also Marilyn Skinner’s ‘Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture, 2nd Edition (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).  Both look at the cultural context for Paul’s words in great detail.  

[2] Dale Martin has written one of the most complete studies of these two words, in a chapter entitled, “Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences” in the book edited by Robert Brawley, ‘Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture’ (WJK. 1996).

[3] Kathy Baldock and Ed Oxford have been at work to show how the 1946 RSV charted an inaccurate course, one that a senior scholar on the translation team later acknowledged.  Kathy and Ed have gone through the complete archives of the RSV translation project, and in January 2020, their book ‘Forging A Sacred Weapon: How the Bible became Anti-Gay.’  In the meantime you can read some interim articles on the Canyonwalker Connections website.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Engagement

​When we are  present to life here and now, we become engaged with life itself.  Communion, celebration, and compassion connect us to life in the present moment in ways that are life-giving to us and to others.  We see this in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Communion.  Out of his ongoing communion with God (Luke 5:16),  Jesus made the astounding claim that his every word and deed was in response to what the Father told him to say and do.  There is no closer connection between heaven and earth than this.

Jesus also communed with nature, “the first Bible.”  I believe this is why he could so easily connect us with life through his parables, many of which were drawn from nature.  He taught against the backdrop of a firmament that showed God’s handiwork (Psalm 19:1), and his insights help us to see it too.

Celebration.  Jesus lived with the note of joy as his keynote.  Sometimes it was the joy of  pleasurable moments and people.  He seems to have been a regular party goer. But he also found joy in the challenging moments of life through offering others hope and healing.  And in his own experience, he could see joy in his endurance of suffering on the cross (Hebrews 13:2).

Compassion.  The first two elements illustrate compassion, but we speak of it in order to remind ourselves that there is no authentic spirituality apart from compassion.  Jesus “went about doung good.”. This was the disposition of his heart and the expression of his will. Several times we read that his first response to others was to have compassion on them.

In these ways and more, he exemplified engagement and told us to “go and do likewise.”  As the Father sent him, he sends us.

This kind of spirituality is not a separate entity, a compartment, or a day of the week. It is the essence of life as God intends for us to live it–to live it engaged, which means to live it in love.  Mirabai Starr describes it this way, “love—active, engaged, fearless love—is the only way to save ourselves and each other from the firestorm of war that rages around us. There is a renewed urgency to this task now. We are asked not only to tolerate the other, but also to actively engage the love that transmutes the lead of ignorance and hatred into the gold of authentic connection. This is the “narrow gate” Christ speaks of in the Gospels.” [1]  This kind of here-and-now engagement is the sign of genuine spirituality.


[1] Mirabai Starr, ‘God of Love’ (Monkfish, 2012), loc 153.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Passages #2

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Honestly, I was not prepared for the complexity regarding these two passages.  Far from being cut-and-dried as a one-sentence, straightforward condemnation of male homosexual activity, the passages are in relation to a cultural and religious context far different from ours today.  An exploration of this context reveals a number of significant things.

First of all, the family system of ancient Israel was radically different.  Marriage was different, often with a polygamous configuration.  The status and role of women bears little resemblance to today.  The level of male dominance and authority was even greater than is typical now.  All three of these differences were not considered sinful then, even though some would be considered to be so today, and some aspects would even be illegal. [1]  

A second complicating factor has to do with the section of Leviticus in which the two verses appear, chapters 17-26 (or sometimes including chapter 27), called The Holiness Code.  It is the section which applies holy living to all the people, not just the priests.  It was a section specifically to instruct the Israelites as to how their behavior was to be different from that of the Egyptians (from whose land they had come) and the Canaanites (into whose land they were entering), see Leviticus 18:1-3.  What makes The Holiness Code complicated is that portions of it are no longer practiced today, even by many Jews (e.g. 18:19, 19:19).  For scholars this raises these questions: (1) Is The Holiness Code timeless or meant only to apply to its original historical setting?  (2) If it has a timeless dimension, but not all of it, which passages do we follow today?  There is no scholarly consensus on either question.

These two complicating factors have led some scholars to dismiss the Levitical verses as not applicable today (in much the same way nearly all scholars no longer include Genesis 19 in the discussion of homosexuality).  In ‘Holy Love’ I took a different approach on two levels.  First, I did not write about the historical factors because the book is a primer-level study.  But second, I did not dismiss the verses because they remain active and influential in the current conversation, and I felt that omitting them would be viewed as sidestepping a key portion of Scripture. 

My choice to include them is based on my general sense of biblical revelation—that even time-bound passages contain a message that can help us live faithfully and well in the present.  If we omit time-bound passages from our study, we reduce the influence of the Bible in our lives. Truth be told, every verse in the Bible is time bound from our vantage point.  The most recent passages are over 1900 years in the past, and the earliest may be nearly 4,000 years away from us.  To dismiss any passage because of its historical distance and difference is a decision that casts a shadow over the entire Bible one way or another.  We see this today in those who view the Bible as irrelevant precisely because it is an “old and outdated book”

In ‘Holy Love’ I have walked another path with respect to Scripture.  I have avoided a straight-line approach that generates a literalist mindset which says, “It’s in the Bible, so I have to practice it now as people did then.”  As I have already shown above, almost no Christians (even very conservative ones) read Scripture that literally.  There are historically-contextualized passages, and we must acknowledge them.  But that does not mean dismissing them.

I believe the two Levitical verses are significantly historically contextualized, so I do not simply  lift out the words and put them on today’s table saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  The Levitical passages (and others in Scripture) are not that “then and now” cut-and-dried.  But neither are they irrelevant or devoid of a message for us with respect to human sexuality.  I take them seriously, and in doing so, two things stand out.

First, the context.  As I noted above, the Holiness Code is a statement about how the Israelites were to behave when they entered Canaan.  In short, the Code was about how they were to prevent Judaism from being amalgamated into Canaanite religion.  The two Levitical texts are culturally/religiously about not connecting Judaism to fertility religion,  a religion that included same-sex acts with temple prostitutes as a way to invoke agricultural prosperity.

In the cultural/religious context, the two verses are violations of the first commandment, “You must have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).  In that context, the two verses have nothing to do with the person’s sexual orientation.  They are about not being idolatrous.  God was saying, “Do not depend on the Canaanite deities for your agricultural prosperity, depend on me.”

The second thing to take seriously is the text itself, and the phrase “lie with” or “have sexual intercourse with.”  These are English renditions of the Hebrew word shakab. Rather than being a universal prohibition of male homosexuality it is a prohibition against promiscuity.  The word shakab means “roaming”—what we refer to today as “sleeping around.”

The Bible is against promiscuous sex because (as I pointed out in the last post) it violates all four aspects of the Covenant ethic: sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy.  That is the timeless message.  The verses have nothing directly to say about  male homosexuality itself (as an orientation); in fact, the practice prohibited by Leviticus (as we know from biblical history) was one that males in general were subject to practicing.  The verses prohibit promiscuity, have nothing directly to do with homosexual people, and are silent about whether or not two males (females are not mentioned) could have a lifelong relationship that keeps the Covenant.

There is one more point that we can make early on through the Leviticus texts, a point continued in the Bible; namely that there is no biblical teaching that LGBTQ+ people must be celibate.  That is a view 100% concocted by conservative Christians as a way to build their case for being “welcoming but not affirming”—a view I am personally familiar with because I held it for so long.  It is a conservative way of accepting LGBTQ+ people while denying them the right to marry.  It is a human constraint that puts LGBTQ+ people in a category the Bible itself does not create.  There is no biblical passage to support mandatory celibacy for LGBTQ+ people.  In fact, it is a prohibition that artificially precludes them from the opportunity to live in a Covenant relationship that honors sacred, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy.

Simply put, the Levitical passages send us a message, but it is not the one that many Christians say it is.  The Levitical message is this: promiscuous sexuality is not the will of God.  It is a message for us all, not just LGBTQ+ people. 

So…

(1) Are you willing to look at these passages in a new way?

(2) If not, why?  If so, what have you learned as a result? 


[1] The CEB Study Bible has a good summary of sexuality in relation to the Israelite family system, p. 184 OT.  A much more detailed and scholarly study has been written by David Baile, ‘Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America’ (Basic Books, 1992). 

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The Soul of Impeachment

​As the public phase of the impeachment process begins, nothing is more certain than this: it will occur in a whirlwind of confusion, fueled to a great degree by political partisanship that will seek to frame the matter along party lines.  But the fact is, as some are willing to admit, the impeachment process itself is not defined or directed by partisanship—or at least was not originally designed to be so.  Impeachment is an indication of something much larger—a sign not only that laws may have been violated, but that our national character may have been compromised.

It is in this dimension where we see that at its core, impeachment is about the soul of our nation, not merely its laws.  It is about the morality of a President not just his methodology.  Of course, the process moves on the assessment of law and order.  But it is an evaluation of law and order based on a deeper sense of what is good for our country, and whether or not we have the will to hold the President accountable for personifying that goodness. The Presidential oath of office can be subject to legality with respect to a particular President’s fidelity to it, but the oath itself is a statement of character and a President’s promise to uphold it.

Jon Meacham writes about this in the current issue of Time magazine. [1]  But he is not the first to do so.  President Harry Truman, for example, saw the need for the nation to periodically correct itself.  Impeachment operates in that context with respect to the President. It is a process, as Meacham notes, of honoring something in our national life and expecting the President to do so as well.

So, as we watch the impeachment process unfold, let’s keep in mind that while the immediate context is whether the President has committed an impeachable offense, the long-term consideration is, “What kind of nation would we become if we allowed our President to behave this way?”  The impeachment process is ultimately about the trajectory that a President’s behavior sets and the message it sends.  Impeachment is ultimately about what becomes of our national soul. 


[1] John Meacham, “A National Test,” Time magazine, Novembrr 14, 2019, pp. 34-38.

Posted in Editorials

Here and Now: Community

Being reconciled to one another in Christ here and now, we can move to establish community.  It is community based on grace, nothing else.  We do not have to be alike.  We do not have agree.  Our community is not contingent upon any secondary descriptor or pre-requisite.

All the pressure is off!  We can be together because we are together.  All the ways the world (and sadly, the church too) labels us (and then uses the labels to divide us from each other) cease to be factors.  They are stripped of their power to separate us.  We are one in Christ.

In this kind of community we also live beyond ourselves.  Mission thrives because we no longer vote for or against them based on our preferences.  When everything belongs, the only missional question is, “Will this give us the opportunity to draw closer to others and do them good?”  If it does, we are for it!

The overarching term for this “the beloved community”–the community in which the love of God poured into our hearts through the Spirit enables us to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.  When this life together is real, the Kingdom of God is present and active. 

The past five years or so, I have discovered it is much easier to be accepting than judging.  All you have to do to be accepting is to accept.  But to be judging, you have to expend a lot of energy developing your case and defending it.  It is wonderful to be able to enter any situation and all you have to do is say, “My name is Steve.  What’s yours?” This kind of here-and-now simplicity creates community in ways that pre-judging never can.  And in that simplicity, it is amazing who you meet!

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: The Passages #1

Introduction

 I have not counted the total number of passages in the Bible that refer to human sexuality in general or sexual behavior in particular.  There are many, hundreds I would assume.  What I do know is that only a few are said to refer to homosexuality.  I use the words “said to refer” because I have come to believe the verses are used to substantiate a view which the Bible itself does not teach.  I write about these passages in chapter three of ‘Holy Love.’  In this post, and the upcoming round of them I will expand upon what I wrote in the book.  This post is an overview/summary.  Upcoming ones  will be about specific passages.

To begin with, it is a complex and tricky thing to read the selected passages using contemporary definitions of sexuality, sexual identity, sexual orientation, etc.  In fact, it is possible that the so-called “clobber passages” have nothing to do with homosexuality as we typically think of it today.  I realize this is a radical statement, but I also believe it is plausible. [1] The history of homosexuality makes a direct link between the present and the past difficult. [2]. No matter where anyone comes down regarding the passages, this complexity must be acknowledged.  Failure to do so is theological obscurantism.

But at the same time, it is true that the oft-cited passages are all negative and prohibitive.  The question is, “What are they negative about?  What kind of sexuality does the Bible prohibit?  Here is a brief summary that I will expand upon in upcoming posts…

     –Leviticus 18;:22, 20:13—sexuality that is promiscuous.

     –1 Corinthians 6:9-10—sexuality that is lustful (malakoi)

     –1Timothy 1:10—sexua!ity that  is abusive (arsenokoitai)

     –Romans 1:18-32—sexuality that is idolatrous

From these passages, we see that sexual sinfulness is about aberrant behavior, not a person’s gender, sexual identity or orientation.  There is not a straight sexuality and a gay sexuality, there is only human sexuality. People of all sexualities can honor it.  Holy sexuality is not limited to heterosexuals.

So, what id the means for establishing sexual morality in Scripture?  It is the Covenant.  As Walter Brueggemann rightly notes, the Covenant is the way God intends for people to relate to God and each other, summed up (as I have already described it) in the word love as expressed in the two great commandments.  With respect to sexuality, the Covenant enjoins behavior that reflects sacredness, fidelity, permanence, and (with the coming of the New Covenant) monogamous.

This is precisely why promiscuous, idolatrous, lustful, and abusive sexuality is forbidden.  These behaviors are contrary to God’s will for sexuality, not because of the identities/orientations of the people, but because they violate Covenant standards.  Conversely, holy sexuality reverences and reflects sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy—and all people can honor the Covenant in their sexuality, and they do.  The sign of their intent to do so (in both the Old and New Testaments) is marriage.  And that is why all people must be allowed to enter into “the covenant of holy wedlock.”

There is more to be said about the specific passages, and I turn to this in upcoming posts, even while recognizing the limitations of such in both the book and these blogs.  Nevertheless, what we see in this introduction is a Scriptural basis for an inclusive sexuality.  Some Christians will not agree, but the plausibility exists regardless.  [3]

So….

(1) Are you willing to explore biblical passages about sexuality in ways that invite you to consider more than one point of view?

(2) Are you willing to include in your study of Scripture the contributions of tradition, reason, and experience?


[1] The word ‘plausible’ is crucial.  I recognize that serious scholarship has been done on the conservative side of the theological spectrum.  My aim is only to show that a more progressive interpretation is serious and scholarly as well.  So, I use the word ‘plausible’ to state my case and make my claim as a “Bible-believing Christian” just as conservatives do.  It is wrong for conservatives to allege their interpretation is correct and everyone else’s is less so.  I reject that view, and instead advocate a view that has a comparable scholarly foundation underneath it. The diversity of views is not due to differences in belief regarding the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but rather a difference in hermeneutics (interpretation) with respect to the cited passages.

[2] Francis Mondimore’s book, ‘A Natural History of Homosexuality’ shows the complexity of the subject from a historical point of view.  Jerold Greenberg’s book, ‘Exploring Dimensions of Human Sexuality’ reveals the same thing from a scientific perspective.

[3]  Christians have held varying views of human sexuality and sexual ethics across the centuries, and will likely continue to do so.  What is essential, however, is to unmask the false allegation that the conservative view is the only one that can legitimately be drawn from the Bible.  That is simply not true.  Equally devout Christians and credible scholars see things differently.

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Here and Now: Reconciliation

​When our life in the present moment brings us to the point of seeing that everything belongs, it also reveals that God has given us a ministry–the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).  From that moment on, we know why we are on the earth.

We are called to the ministry of reconciliation because even though there is a pervasive inclusion inherent in creation, not everything fits together as it should or as it is meant to be.  There is work to be done.

Living here-and-now cleans the lens, enabling us to see the purpose of God. [1]. That purpose, in the words of St. Paul, is to remove “the dividing wall” between us and to bring together “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Present-moment living puts us on the lookout for places where reconciliation is needed, and when we see these places, we should consider that God has given us the insight as an invitation to become involved somehow as a minister of reconciliation. This does not mean trying to be all over the map and involved in every good effort [2]  That futile attempt will only wear us out, overwhelm us, and sow seeds of despair.

But it does mean cultivating a general disposition toward reconciliation (through an incorporation of things like the fruit of the Spirit and the prayer of St. Francis), and then finding selective and focused ways to practice it.

Tending our little plot of ground connects with everyone else who is doing the same thing all over the earth.  And in this way, the whole world is under the influence of reconciliation.  We have been singing about this since we were children,

“Clean up, clean up,
Everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do their share.”

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘Everything Belongs’ (Crossroad, 1999).

[2]  In practicing discernment about this, we include the fact that God is not calling us to be involved everywhere we see the need for reconciliation.  Thomas R. Kelly wrote helpfully about this in his book, ‘A Testament of Devotion’ (Harper & Row, 1941), in the section entitled ” The Eternal Now and Social Concern. “

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Consummation

​When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The previous facets  of the hermeneutic of love have helped us see love “on earth.” When we turn to consummation, we see love “as it is in heaven.”  Theologically, we call this eschatology.  But we simply mean, “Where things are headed.”

Unfortunately, we have lived most of our lives under an eschatology that says we are headed for Armageddon.  I was a teenager when Hal Lindsey wrote ‘The Late Great Planet Earth,’ and was joined by a host of radio and television preachers who spoke more about the “lake of fire” (i.e. damnation) than about the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e. deliverance).  The tone was one of fear and anxiety.  A bit later, the ‘Left Behind’ series took the trepidation trajectory to a new level of intensity.  Not going to hell became the prism through which many folks defined (and many still do) the ultimate purpose of the Gospel.  For many, this “turn or burn” narrative was the biblical message. Jesus was seen as the one offering spiritual “fire insurance” more than abundant living. [1]

To the extent this was the focus, the love of God was eclipsed by a view of God who is essentially mad at us and  is looking for ways to punish us—unless we can convince God to do otherwise.  With love in eclipse, grace soon left the (church) building, replaced by a performance-orientation (i.e. works righteousness) by which we hoped to end up in heaven because the plusses of our lives outnumbered the minuses.  This kind of consummation told us we are saved by the skin of our teeth rather than by grace.  It put the emphasis on us more than God.  God was “up there” passively waiting to see if we could do more good things than bad before we die, not actively at work to “forgive us our trespasses and deliver us from evil.” 

 This self-focus fed the ego, creating a self-righteousness that frequently espoused certainty regarding who would end up in heaven and who would not.  And for the purposes of this series suffice it to say that the left-behind list included LGBTQ+ people.

So…how do we get out of this faux gospel and into the Gospel itself?  How do we make consummation a love-defined reality?  We do so in two key ways, both related to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega—the one who reveals where things came from and where they are heading. [2]

First, through the person of the universal Christ.  The second person of the Holy Trinity is the eternal and pervasive presence of the Godhead. [3]  As the means of creation (e.g. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16), everyone and everything is a product and reflection of Christ (Colossians 3:11).  This is an ontological oneness that links us in love in ways that nothing can separate (Romans 8:38).  The eternal Christ is the Path on whom we all walk toward the consummation.

Second, through the work of the universal Christ.  Christ establishes the trajectory toward which the consummation moves.  Paul described it generally when he wrote that the eternal plan of God is “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10)—a  plan through which  God “accomplishes everything according to his design” (Ephesians 1:11).  Jesus’ whole ministry (preaching, teaching, and healing) and his entire countenance (inclusive love) were means toward this, and we must see his entire incarnation as advancing the trajectory.  But Paul also notes that the climax/apex of this was Jesus’ atonement in which God  “reconciled all things to himself through him, whether things on earth or in the heavens” (Colossians 1:20).

Taken together, the person and work of the universal Christ enable us to live with confidence and with hope.  We live with confidence that we are participating (in our lives and by our witness) in the cosmic purpose of God.  We are heirs of the promise and co-creators in helping to bring it to pass.  We are confident that we are God’s beloved.

From this confidence, we live with hope.  It is the kind of hope the writer of Hebrews described as “not seen” (2:8-9; 11:1).  This is not a hope rooted in circumstance, but in outcome.  That’s why we call it consummation.  Even though we often see the lack of love in the world, we believe that love will prevail.  We have this hope, and we give ourselves to being instruments of love in the meantime.  Love will be the final word spoken for eternity, for all.  All means all.

So….

(1) How does this cosmic perspective affect your view of things here and now?

(2) How can you be an instrument of this perspective in your life and work?


[1] While many assume this is what the Bible teaches, it is actually what a person named John Nelson Darby taught, and was fashioned by others into what is today called Dispensationalism—a theology that interprets where things are going through the lens of double predestination (hyper Calvinism) that enjoins a strict and unchangeable who’s “in” and who’s “out” view with respect to heaven.

[2] I have been greatly helped in my understanding of consummation by Richard Rohr in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019), particularly in chapter seven, “Going Somewhere Good.”

[3] Language fails to describe this.  It is Mystery, but that does not mean we cannot write ir speak about it, it only means we will never fathom it.

Posted in Holy Love

In-Sight: What a Wonderful World

Jeannie and I have just returned  from a great visit with our family in Kentucky.  The trip included several opportunities to experience the wonder and beauty of nature as fall settles in.  It really is a spectacular season.

Seeing the colors and  feeling the cool breezes reminded me of how blessed Jeannie and I have been to travel in all of the forty-eight continental United  States and five Canadian provinces.  Journeying in her “Little Red Truck” and staying in our pop-up camper, we have frequently been at the right place at the right time to experience the wonder of nature. And thanks to Jeannie’s photographic eye, we have literally thousands of pictures to help us relive many of those moments.

 It is easy to understand why creation has been called “the first Bible” by many Christians, especially those in the Franciscan tradition. Indeed, “heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)  But Christianity does not have exclusive claim on that.  Other world religions likewise extol the magnificence of creation.  The verse above comes from Judaism.  Hindus recite Sanskrit mantras daily that revere their rivers, mountains, trees and animals.  Buddhists reverence creation and daily engage in a spiritual practice called “Touching the Earth” that reminds them of their oneness with creation. Taoists believe that when human nature is aligned with the rest of nature, order and harmony are the result.  Muslims define a good life (Hayat Tayebah ) as living lightly on Earth (Zohd) and caring for both people and nature. 

As the seasons change in both of the earth’s hemispheres, now is a good time to spend time outdoors, experiencing the world God has made, of which we are an essential part.  We don’t have to  travel somewhere spectacular; we only have to place ourselves in creation right where we are, and soon we will recognize that “all nature sings.”   

Creation spirituality is not the totality of the spiritual life, but it is the largest context for it, from the smallest particle to the farthest star.  It is the 13.8 billion year revelation which frames our brief but spectacular life on the earth.  It is in creation that we most easily sense our oneness with everyone and everything, and in creation where we come to understand our calling to care for all God has made.

Ilia Delio has helped me see and appreciate the wonders of creation through her combining of her Franciscan spiritual tradition with the scientific insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. [1]  It is a cosmic linking of the inner and outer worlds in ways that are transformational.  She describes it this way, “Our main work must now shift to the inner universe, to discover the vast layers of consciousness and the creation of new space. We do not know what a new consciousness might look like or how it will be enacted in the lived experience. But we must begin to take one step at a time, beginning from the inside, and discover the new creature.” [2] This happens as we increasingly interact with nature.

Not long ago, Jeannie and I were having  lunch in our backyard by the pond, a place teeming with life.  As we ate our meal, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew onto a branch only several feet away from us.  Our eyes met, and for a couple of minutes we were in each other’s presence unafraid and grateful.  The silent space between us was holy.  A timelessness in the midst of time.  And we thought to ourselves what a wonderful world.


[1] You can follow her ministry by going online to The Omega Center.

[2] Ilia Delio, “A Hunger for Wholeness,” article on The Omega Center website, March 23, 2018.  Her latest book carries the same title and expands on this idea.

Posted in In-Sight

Here and Now: Inclusion

​When we live in the present moment with the fullness of our true personhood in play, we experience inclusion and offer it to others.  We are included in everything, and everything is included in us.  As Richard Rohr has put it, everything belongs.

Our Buddhist friends understand this better than many Christians do.  They call it interbeing, the sense that we are each part of a fundamental and pervasive oneness.  Another name for it is unitive consciousness. Prior to the Enlightenment, Christianity recognized this along with other philosophies and religions.

With the rise of the Age of Reason, science and mechanics began to see things in pieces and parts.  The Church’s theology followed suit, losing a defining sense of cosmic oneness so that to bring it up today doesn’t even sound like Christian faith–but in the larger sweep of history, it is.  In fact, unitive consciousness has been the milieu of theology more than separateness. [1]

The tree named Pano in northern Utah illustrates the idea.  When you arrive to see it, your first thought is that you are entering a forest–one made up of approximately 46,000 trees.  But the fact is, Pano is one tree (root ball) that has come through the soil with thousands of manifestations.  The expressions are different, but all of them are part of an invisible union.  Everything belongs.

Henri Nouwen wrote beautifully and powerfully about this, “To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the ‘beloved,’ is to learn that that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of dwelling in the present moment that can never be separated.” [2]

When we live in the present moment, we are given “eyes to see and ears to hear” (Mark 8:18), and with our spiritual senses we recognize a larger unity than our specific diversity reveals.  Beneath the surface of things we all are the manifestations of a singular Reality.  “In him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Everything belongs.  Interbeing.  Inclusion.

Once we recognize this, we live differently from then on.

 

[1] In the Christian tradition, the Orthodox Church has represented unitive consciousness more clearly than Roman Catholicism.  The Protestant tradition is a mixture.  The Wesleyan tradition was more unitive (“and”) than separatist (“either/or”) until a segment of it was taken over by a rationalist way of thinking.  Paul Chilcote has written an excellent book about the unitive nature of Wesleyan theology, ‘Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision’ (InterVarsity Press, 2004).

[2] Henri Nouwen, ‘Bread for the Journey’ (HarperCollins, 1997), November 24th.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Church

Expanding on the hermeneutic of love in the Church beyond what I write in the book means enlarging the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ.  I write some about it this in the book, but today I add these thoughts.

 First, the hermeneutic of love flows naturally from Christ into the Church through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:32-23).  The fruit is the meeting place to describe who Jesus was (and the universal Christ is), and who God intends for us to be as we abide in Christ  (John 15) and are  guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).   The definitive word in the list of the fruit of the Spirit is love.  John Wesley called love “the root of all the rest.” [1]. Similarly. E. Stanley Jones wrote, “Love is the first outcome of the Spirit within, and if it is lacking, everything is lacking.” [2]

Simply put, as the Body of Christ, the Church manifests the nature of Christ, which is love—even as he incarnated the nature of God, which is love.  Love is the core DNA of the Church.

Second, the Church manifests the love of Christ in the world.  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave the disciples a sign of this love, washing the disciples’ feet and telling them/us to do likewise (John 13:1-20).  And a few minutes later he gave the disciples a new commandment, “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love each other.  This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34).  Through his action and his teaching, Jesus said that the hallmark of our witness is love.

Thomas Merton wrote about this and said, “So the mystery of the Church demands that Christians love one another in a visible and concrete way–and that they love all people.  Christ will not be visible to the world in His Church except in proportion as Christians seek peace and unity with one another and with all.” [3]

When I pause to reflect on all this, it is as if I hear the Risen Christ saying, “Is this clear enough?” And all I can say is, “ Yes Lord, it is.”  All means all.


So….

(1) How does the Church help you to be more loving?

(2) How and where is your church loving inclusively?


[1] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755), his comment on Galatians 5:22.

[2] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce and Washbaigh, 1953), subsequently reprinted by Abingdon Press in 1978, Week 18, Monday.

[3] Thomas Merton. ‘Seasons of Celebration’ (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1965 ), 216.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: True Personhood

​Living here-and-now makes all of life formative, and it evokes the emergence of our true personhood.  By not being tethered by the past (e.g.”What I should have been or might have been”) and by not being pulled into the future (e.g.”What I ought to be”), we are free to be who we are.  In the present moment, the “I AM” God intersects the “I am” self, and we are never more truly or fully ourselves than when that happens.

Living in the present moment opens the way to experience communion with God without distraction or diminishment.  The spiritual life thrives in the paradox that less is more, and that to be present in the hear-and-now brings more life to us than trying to be “all over the map” in a never-ending round of feverish activity.

In this concentration our true self has the opportunity to emerge, not covered over by the illusion of either the past or the future.  Living here-and-now brings our fulness into the present moment, enabling us to say, “I am here!” and hearing God speak back, “I am too!”

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Christ

​The fourth vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love is Christ, the one who reveals the creator (“whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” John 14:9), the one who made the creation (“ everything came into being through the Word,” John 1:3), and the one who is the mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24).  So, everything we have said thus far comes together in Christ, and it does so through love (John 13:1).

One of the things I have heard people say about the relation between Christ and human sexuality is this, “I wish he had made it clear about sexual identities, orientations, same-sex marriage, etc.  I have wished the same.  I have thought, “If only I could spend five minutes with Jesus.”  I have a list of questions.  Human sexuality is one of them.  

Scholars are correct in noting Jesus’ silence about homosexuality.  And they are correct that we cannot use his silence to make a point one way or the other.  Arguments from silence, on any subject, are not regarded as strong ones.  I understand and respect that, but Jesus’ silence does not create a vacuum.  In fact, when we turn to him, he teaches some very important things about human sexuality.

First, Jesus was the incarnation of the pre/post incarnate Christ. [1]. He personified the cosmic reality that Paul described, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The first three words lead us to his Lordship, the last three lead us to our sacredness.  “Christ is in all” is a powerful affirmation based on the fact that we are made in the image of God.  All of us.  This comprehensiveness is the existential basis for the sacred worth of all people.  Christ is in all.   All means all.

Second, Jesus bypassed two golden opportunities to denounce same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  With regard to marriage (Matthew 19:5) he could have said, “One man, one woman marriage is the only kind God approves of.”  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because even though one man/one woman marriages wete/are normative, they are not definitive.  Marriage is a covenant bond, not based in gender but rather (as we have seen) in the Covenant principles of sacredness, fidelity, permanency—and later in the New Covenant, monogamy.  His remarks in Matthew were not about marriage per se, but about how divorce regulations had cheapened the union God intended. 

In the same moment, he could have taken the “one flesh” phrase and  limit it to a physical act reserved for heterosexuals, but he didn’t.  Why? Because “one flesh” is not a physical term.  When it is used in the Old Testament (Gen 2:24, Gen 29:14, Judges 9:2,  2 Sam 5:1, 2 Sam 19:12-13, and 1 Chron 11:1), it is a metaphorical phrase describing a deep kinship bond—what we mean today when we refer to people who have a “heart-to-heart” relationship, or who we say are “joined at the hip.”

But the real blockbuster Jesus gave us is in his second missed opportunity to denounce  homosexuality. It came with respect to eunuchs (Matthew 19:12).  People called eunuchs were the biblical way of noting and referring to nonbinary human beings. Today, we have specified the idea in the categories of intersex, transgender, etc.  Jesus could have spoken of those born that way as aberrations, but he didn’t. He could have referred to those who chose to be spiritual eunuchs as living against God’s will, but he didn’t.  Rather, he spoke positively about eunuchs, in keeping with God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.  This passage is so important that we must explore it further.  It teaches a number of important things about nonbinary people…

          –they are fully human (v 3). Eunuchs must not say they are “dry trees,”—that is, they are not disordered human beings. They are not aberrations of God’s design.  They are nonbinary expressions of it along the spectrum of humanity in the first creation story.

         –they can keep the Covenant, as eunuchs (v 4)—that is, they do not have to sublimate their  sexuality (e.g. through celibacy) or be “normalized” in some way. They have full access to religion.

         –they are honored people (v 5)—that is, they are given a monument in in both the temple (religion) and the city walls (society).

         –they are given a name better than sons and daughters (v 5)—that is, better than the identities of maleness and femaleness (e.g. the Native-American view of two-spirited people).  Perhaps more like Adam before Eve was separated, more like God’s nature which is nonbinary. (This is an amazing idea!)

Jesus’ carrying forward of the substance and spirit of Isaiah’s words through his valuing of eunuchs is his most powerful affirmation of nonbinary sexuality.  It effectively shuts down any notion that non-heterosexual people are aberrations or that they are unable to be fully included in both the Church and the society.

And thirdly, Jesus modeled the Message revealed in Galatians 3:11, by his inclusion of those whom conventional religion either excluded or marginalized.  His radical inclusion is one of the things that got him into trouble with religious leaders.  It was one of his most powerful confirmations to the second great love commandment.

Taken together, these points have produced what some call The Jesus Hermeneutic; that is, he becomes the lens through whom we see the rest of the Bible. [2]  Some of the highlights of his hermeneutic are these,

     –he was not confined to traditional interpretations (Matthew 5:17-48)

     –he was not legalistic: he violated laws in order to show mercy (Luke 4:31-44)

     –he was inclined toward inclusion.  (Matthew 11:28)

     –he put mercy and compassion over the Law.  (Matthew 23:23)

     –he even protected those who were said to deserve death (John 7:53—8:11)

In fact, what we find in Jesus is that his harshest words were spoken to those who  insisted they were not sinners, and from their pedestals of self-righteousness looked down upon the designated less-than “others” with judgmentalism and condemnation. Jesus was negative toward those who claimed to know better than the “others”—the ones who claimed to be correct. [3]

Jesus’ hermeneutic was not a collection of random acts of kindness, it was the outworking of his declared mission on day-one of his ministry.  Choosing Isaiah 61:1-2 as his text, he told his fellow Nazarenes that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him—the Holy Spirit moving him to engage with the poor, with prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed—announcing to them all “the Lord’s favor”(Luke 4:18-19).  Jesus stopped reading from Isaiah right there, but the original text included the phrase, “and to proclaim…a day of vindication for our God”  Jesus made a clean break with retribution, and declared that his ministry would be restorative.  Later he summed it up in one sentence, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

My conclusion about Christ is that he was by no means silent about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He was not silent with respect to the overall context in which these things must be viewed.  His model and message was inclusive love, unqualified affirmation, and full access.  He set the pattern and calls us to follow it.  All means all.


So…..

(1) How does Jesus encourage you to love?

(2) How does Jesus challenge you to love?

            


[1] I learned the terms pre-incarnate Christ and post-incarnate Christ from E. Stanley Jones, terms he used to describe the eternal and universal Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

[2] Richard Rohr writes about The Jesus Hermeneutic in chapter three of his book, ‘What Do We Do with the Bible?’ (CAC Publishing, 2018).

[3] Years ago, I heard the claim about Jesus’ negativity essentially being expressed on religious leaders and others who self-righteousness, and I was not sure the claim was correct.  So, I read the four gospels, noting every place where Jesus spoke negatively.  And sure enough, the claim is correct!

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Suffering

​There are other positive things we could note about living here and now.  But it would be a mistake to think that the blessings of present-moment living are limited to them.  We must include suffering as a portal for our formation.

Long ago, David spoke of it, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger” (Psalm 23:4).  Other psalms likewise show life to be a mixture of pleasure and pain.

Such an understanding of life is described in the classic paradigm of consolation/desolation.  Of course, we want to experience consolation (e.g. happiness) in our lives, but God is equally present to bless us in times of desolation.  It is in our suffering where we experience the fullness of the truth that God is with us always.  And that makes every moment a God moment–a moment when grace can come to us in relation to our need.  

God does not wait outside our lives until our sufferings cease and things “brighten up”–God walks into our darkness and is present in our trials.  It is in suffering where we learn one of the great lessons of living here-and-now: we are never alone.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Covenant

The third vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love is the Covenant.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is the creator/creation congruence we have looked at in the past two posts.  But that congruence raises the question, “How can we tell when the will of God is being done on earth?”  The answer is found in one word: Covenant. [1]

In the book I explore Covenant in various ways.  In this post I want to expand the exploration by using Walter Brueggemann’s phrase “journey to the common good.” [2]  In using this phrase he understands that Covenant manifests itself throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament.  

The metaphor of journey is the context for Covenant.  For one thing the covenant was given during the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Among other things, this means it was given in the midst of day-to-day living.  The covenant is God’s way of saying, “This is what loving me and loving others looks like here and now.”  The historical context for Covenant is important to know, but we must not limit the Message to its original milieu.  To do so locks it in the past and limits it to a life none of us live today.  The Covenant speaks to us today because it speaks a timeless word.

Furthermore, by giving the covenant during Israel’s journey, God is showing how we receive the Message but live into it little-by-little.  For example, the Ten Commandments do not look the same and they are not lived the same every day.  On the day God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, they had only a rudimentary understanding of them—an understanding that would necessarily grow as they applied them day after day.

We too receive and practice them as we journey.  Dawn and high noon are not the same, but the sun’s light provides both.  With respect to human sexuality, Covenant tells us that our belief will begin small and develop over time as we establish relations with LGBTQ+ people.  Nothing appears in full at first. [3]  This is how relationships work—they unfold.  As they do, we nourish them with patience, tenderness, and expectation.  We live into the covenant as we journey.

And then, we discover that Covenant is for the common good.  This is the content of Covenant—life together.  I note in the book that all three iterations of the covenant (Noah, Abraham, and Moses) show it was universal, intended for all people everywhere.  But what exactly was intended?  Two things stand out.

First, the avoidance of exploitation, in whatever form it occurred.  This is one reason why there ended up being 613 commandments.  It was not so that the covenant would micromanage every detail of our lives (which is what a legalistic use of Covenant did…and does), but because holiness applies to every aspect of life.  The covenant called out exploitation because it is the mark that the relational oneness in the Godhead is being ignored and the intended onenes in creation is being violated.  One way to read every commandment is to ask two questions, “What exploitation does this commandment expose?”….and….(2) “What expression of holiness does it invite?”

The second question leads to the second major feature of Covenant, the emancipation of people.  The literal slavery in Egypt was an example, but it was also a sign of God’s pervasive message, “ Let my people go!”  This is why Paul summed it up the purpose of the covenant in his letter to the Galatians, “Christ has set us free for freedom” (5:1)   Charles Wesley described in by writing, “My chains fell off. My heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” [4]

The avoidance of exploitation and the experience of emancipation are the simultaneous results of one thing: love—the hesed and agapé we have previoysly noted.  Again this is why Paul describes the new creation by writing, “All these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)

We enter that passage in the phrase, “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  We are intended to be a covenant people, offering love to all in ways that protect them from exploitation and in ways that emancipate them.  Legalism does not do this, but Covenant does.  As Paul put it, “what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). We are God’s covenant people called to share covenant love—to everyone.  All means all.


So…..

(1) Do you accept the two love commandments as the summation of the Covenant?

(2) How are you expressing them, and are you expressing them to everyone?


[1] Notice I did not say Law.  Covenant is a larger concept than Law.  When we look at Leviticus in a future post, I will say more about the Law.

[2] Brueggemann develops this phrase in his book of the same title, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Westminster John Knox, 2010).

[3] I have discovered that this happens also when LGBTQ+ people begin to relate to Christians.  They have been so harmed by the Christian community that they don’t accept the overture of love and acceptance quickly or easily.  Every LGBTQ+ person I know has been told by a Christian, “You are loved,” only to later discover it was not so.  The entire Christian/LGBTQ+ relationship develops slowly and in stages.  Affirming Christians must gain the trust of LGBTQ+ people because they have been given waxed fruit rather than the fruit of the Spirit by Christians whose allegation, “We love the gays” turned out to be quite conditional, and in some cases, bogus.

[4] From Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be?”

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Gratitude

​David Steindl-Rast introduced me to gratitude as a sign that we are living in the present moment. He wrote, “Our eyes are opened to the surprise character of the world around us the moment we wake up from taking things for granted.” [1]

We have already noted that living here and now is an awakening.  Through Brother David’s writing, I have learned it is the awakening of gratitude–what he names above as not taking things for granted.  When we do not live in the present moment we miss a lot that is going on, and consequently we take those things for granted.  When that becomes a pattern, we lose (or at least diminish) our capacity for gratitude.

The Bible exhorts us to give thanks.  It is a way of pointing out things that are happening, and it is a sign that those things are being received by us.  Gratitude is an outward witness flowing from an inward experience. [2]

Gratitude is an important way of remembering that we live in a grace-saturated world.  Life is coming to us all the time.  Gratitude is our response.  Richard Rohr reminds us that our response to grace is not to earn God’s love, but rather to return it. [3] 

Thich Nhat Hanh has added to my understanding of gratitude through his little books about walking, sitting, eating, etc.  He says it simply, every act is “gratitude to all of life.” [4]  And as we will gratefully, we also live joyfully.

Anne Lamott is bold to say that “thanks” is one of the three best prayers we ever pray.  Prayers of gratefulness shape a pattern in us; they create a disposition of our hearts toward wonder, aliveness, surprise, hope, and love.  Gratitude is an infilling with things that enliven us. [5]

[1] David Steindl-Rast, ‘Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer’ (Paulist Press, 1984), 9.

[2] Diana Butler-Bass has written an excellent book, ‘Grateful: The Transforming Power of Giving Thanks’ (Harper One, 2018).  Susan Muto’s book, ‘Gratefulness: The Habit of a Grace-filled Life’ (Ave Maria Press, 2018) is another one to note.

[3] Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger, eds., ‘Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love’ (Orbis Books: 2018), 61.

[4] Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Living Budda, Living Christ’ 10th Anniversary Edition (Riverhead Books, 2007), 26.

[5] Anne Lamott, ‘Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers’ (Riverhead Books, 2012).

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Creation

Creation is the second vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love. We live in a God-made world (Genesis 1:1).  It is reasonable to assume that there would be congruence between who God is and what God has made.  Indeed there is, “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  And what is that glory, that handiwork?  Among other things, it is diversity.

In the Godhead there is diversity.  We call it the Holy Trinity, a nonbinary relational reality, which ontologically establishes “the law of three”—the law of diversity. [1]  Furthermore,  within the Godhead there is a diversity of names (e.g. Elohim, El Shaddai, El Roi) further communicating diversity.  God is nonbinary in both nature and activity.

So too is the creation.  I point out in the book that the pairings (e.g. heavens/earth) in the first creation story are not doublets.  They are spectrum words.  The same is true for the male/female pairing.  It is unfortunate that we see and affirm the nonbinary nature of creation in the other pairings but do not do the same with humanity.  The Bible is not a science book, but it is a reality book, and one of the first realities in Scripture is the nonbinary nature of the creation.

I have come to see that one of the major failures of a conservative theology of human sexuality is its unwillingness to recognize the nonbinary nature of humanity. That unwillingness , however, is a linchpin in their nonaffirming theology of LGBTQ+ people, so I understand their reluctance to give up a notion of binary creation.  If male/female is a “two” then sexuality diversity is a sin (departure) from the original creation—either as a deliberate choice (rebellion) against human nature, or some deformation (aberation) of human nature—both options arising from the fall in Genesis 3. [2]

But this is not the revelation of Scripture, which portrays a nonbinary cosmos—a portrayal confirmed today by the natural and behavioral sciences.  Here is a second failure of a conservative theology of human sexuality—namely, an unwillingness to incorporate the findings of science into their theology.  In the Wesleyan tradition we would call this a failure to interface Scripture and reason. [3] This failure is skewing the view of many Christians about LGBTQ+ people, and providing an ideological justification for their exclusion and/or limitation in the Church–a  form of doing harm specifically forbidden in the General Rules of the Wesleyan tradition.

I include in the book some resources from the behavioral and natural sciences to show the nonbinary nature of human sexuality, a finding that ascribes sacred worth to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.  But since I wrote the book, I continue to find ongoing scientific affirmation.  I mention two in this post.

The first is an article in Science magazine, a professional publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general science membership society.  The article, “Giant Study  Links DNA Variants to Same-Sex Behavior,” by Michael Price (October 20, 2018) chronicles four genetic variations which are the focus of interest among geneticists as they continue refining a more than thirty-year scientific exploration of human sexuality.  The most recent findings, while still in the early stages, are encouraging because they fit into the trajectory of evidence that confirms the nonbinary nature of humanity and the resulting diversity in human sexuality.

The second affirmation is a massive synthesis report (akin to the one above) entitled, “Diversity in Human Sexuality: Implications for Policy in Africa.”  It was conducted by The Academy of Science in South Africa at the request of the government as a means for providing a basis for just legislation concerning LGBTQ+ people. The 93-page report (subsequently endorsed by the Uganda National Academy of Science) was published in May 2015. [4]. Drawing on studies from the fields of genetics, epigenetics, brain morphology, and endocrinology the scientists conclude, “ There is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation… just as there are many ways to be heterosexual, there are many homosexualities.” [5]

These relatively early findings have opened the door to the realization of diversity in human sexuality.  There is no “gay gene”—the formation of sexual diversity is not that simple.  But it is the result of complex DNA variation.  Another indication of what the Bible tells us elsewhere, that we are sacredly and variously made (Psalm 139:14).

What we see is that the Bible and science tell the same story about human sexuality, and it is the story of diversity. God-made, not sin-produced.  Nonbinary, not binary. Part of  the grand revelation of divine order, not intrinsic disorder.  A sign of original goodness, not original sin. 

 Without hesitation, I exhort theologians not to put forward a theology of human sexuality that fails to incorporate (by accident or intent) the findings of contemporary science. This requires a commitment to lifelong learning and attentiveness to truth outside of the Bible. When we do this, we will find creation as another manifestation of the hermeneutic of God’s holy love for all.  All means all.

So…..

(1) Are you willing to study the biblical revelation of a nonbinary creation?

(2) Are you willing to incorporate the findings of science into your beliefs about human sexuality?


[1] For more on this, read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, ‘The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three ‘ (Shambala, 2013).

[2] As I point out in the book, the choice/aberration allegations compromise a core conservative resistance to diversity in human sexuality, both based on a binary view of creation.  The deliberate-choice (rebellion) allegation runs throughout conservative theology, ancient and modern.  The aberration (intrinsic disordering) allegation is a more-recent one, but one adopted by conservative evangelicals who recognize genetic variation but interpret it as a sign of the fall.  One of the most pronounced expressions of the binary view is the Nashville Statement, made public by the Coalition for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on August 29, 2017.  Most of the Articles in the Statement enforce binary (male/female) heteronormativity as intrinsic to the creation, thus requiring a rejection of nonbinary diversity through some view of  deformation by the fall.  This is an unfortunate imposition on Scripture, not one that arises from the text itself.  I will say more about this when I write a future post about the Romans 1 passage.

[3] I believe much of this is due to the fact that many simply do not know what the sciences are discovering.  But there are some who do know, yet choose to ignore the findings, falsely calling them “junk science” and thus perpetuating a bogus and obscurantist theology of binary humanity that erroneously normalizes male/female heterosexuality.

[4] You can easily  download a pdf copy of this report by googling the title.  I urge you to do so.

[5] From the study, p. 32.

Posted in Holy Love

In-Sight: Surprised into Transformatiom

​A writing project I am engaged in has taken me back into the books of E. Stanley Jones.  I have spent large amounts of time re-reading them. I have been reminded why he is the overall major influence in my faith formation.  

Decades ago, when I read E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of the Indian Road,’ for the first time, I was surprised by what I found before I completed the Introduction.[1]  Jones had barely arrived in India to begin his missionary ministry before he faced his most formidable challenge: the Westernization of Christianity, offered to the Indian people in ways that reflected British colonialism more than Christ.

Jones saw that Western values (e.g.  domination, conflict, and racism) were defining Christianity and the Church more than the Gospel. He wrote that very quickly, “It became clear that we were not there to implant Western civilization.” [2]  In fact, Jones had to drop the word ‘Christianity’ from announcements about his public speaking because the word had become so acculturated by British views and values that Indian people either boycotted his meetings or attended with preconceptions that made them indifferent and cold.  

Jones saw that their skepticism did not lie in their resistance to God.  On the contrary, most were warmly religious in their respective faith traditions.  Their resistance was rooted in their sense that Christianity was mostly a religious means of subjugating them to Great Britain as a country and to an Aryanism racial superiority. He observed that “hitherto it has been exceedingly difficult to get non-Christians to come to a Christian address of any kind.” [3]

When Jones shared his discovery with fellow missionaries, he received less than agreement. Other Christians too were perplexed and did what is often done to those who see things differently—they caricatured him, and labeled his as having become a Modernist. [4]  In some cases, he was met with resistance by them.  Some were so wedded to “the system” that any critique of it was suspect. Jones saw that too much of Christianity was under the influence of an institutionalized Jesus rather than the universal Christ—not just in India, but elsewhere in the world. He set out to change that. [5]

All this happened a hundred years ago, but the need to liberate Christ from Christianity and the Church is as great now as it was then.  The public face of North American Christianity (largely a neo-fundamentalism) is once again too Western—or to say it more generally, too acculturated. But to many even mainstream Christianity looks more like a corporation than the Body of Christ.  It’s a rough time for institutionalized Christianity.

Moreover, the person of Jesus looks too much like a citizen and too little like the Christ.  The values of our acculturated Jesus express the values of a capitalist/corporate  America more than they express the ethos of simplicity, equity, compassion,  and generosity.  The Church is too much captured by a “prosperity gospel” (which is not the Gospel) and a mission to try and convince us that “the kingdoms of this world” are the Kingdom of God, when they are not and never have been. We are living in a neo-Constantinian era when religion, economics, politics, and the military-industrial complex are leading us away from God more than toward God.

And just like the people in India saw through the acculturated gospel (“British greatness” imperialized), people today are seeing through an acculturated gospel once again (“American greatness” globalized).  Just as there were nones/dones in Jones’ day, there are nones/dones in ours—in growing numbers.  It is a sad irony that non-Christians often have a keener sense of who Jesus is, what Christianity should be, and what the Church ought to be than those of us who have lived inside institutionalized Christianity for so long that we cannot see any difference between an ecclesial Jesus and the universal Christ.

But God is never without a witness.  E. Stanley Jones is an example of one in the past.  Others today are rising up to do what Jones did—i.e. to unwrap Christ from the burial clothes of acculturated Christianity and offer him to a world in fresh ways that make him be the Lord and giver of Life…..to ALL.  The prophetic task—to call out falsehood by calling forth a new vision of shalom—is incumbent upon us today.  God is always looking for people who will separate the chaff of an acculturated Jesus from the wheat of a universal Christ.  He found such a person in E. Stanley Jones.  Will he find such persons among us?

[1] E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road’ (Abingdon Press, 1925).

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] E. Stanley Jones, ‘A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Autobiography’ (Abingdon Press, 1968), 92.  In that day, to be called a Modernist was the harshest judgment that fundamentalist Christians could make against someone, even more judgmental than calling someone liberal.  To be called Modernist was tantamount to being called un-Christian.

[5] I believe this is why his strategy was to begin his message at the widest possible place (the excarnate Christ, the Word) and then move to lift up the incarnate Christ (the Word made flesh) as a universal Savior and Lord.  We see this approach in his books, The Christ of Every Road (1930), Victorious Living (1936), Abundant Living (1942), The Way (1946), and The word Became Flesh (1963).

[6] There is no way to list all those who are rising as prophets in our day.  As always, there are many who have not bowed to Baal.  I list these few only as illustrations of that larger number: Christena Cleveland, Nadia Bolz-Webber, Rachel Held Evans (r.i.p.), Wilda Gaffney, Barbara Brown Taylor, Mirabai Starr, Jen Hatmaker, Joan Chittister, Cynthia Bourgesult, Richard Rohr, William Barber, Liz Theoharis, John Dear, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Parker Palmer, and John Pavlovich—to name a few.

Posted in In-Sight

Here and Now: Freedom

​In last week’s post, I wrote about the importance of simplicity in present-moment living.  Such simplicity is the means for another quality of here-and-now living: freedom.

It is the freedom that arises when we are available to life here and now.  Simplicity frees us from being attached to the past and the future, and that leaves us free to experience life in the present moment.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes about freedom in these words, “You make yourself available to life and life becomes available to you.” [1]

We have all had the experience of talking with someone, and in the midst of the conversation we realized we were not paying attention to what the other person was saying.  We were distracted.  And the distraction prevented us to be free in the present moment to concentrate on the person.  In a very real sense, we were “somewhere else.”

Freedom is being here not somewhere else.  Freedom is the fruit of simplification, because we are not distracted by what has happened in the past, or by what might happen in the future.  Jesus spoke of this in two sayings: “don’t put your hand to the plow and look back” (Luke 9:62) and “don’t worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34).  As we do this, all that’s left is living today, living in the present moment.  Living here and now is living with a lightness of being, and that is freedom.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Creator

​The first vantage point for developing a hermeneutic of holy love is the Creator.  In the previous post we began our look at God through the core attribute of love.  There are multiple words for love in Hebrew and Greek, but in relation to God the words hesed and agapé are central.

Hesed is the Hebrew word.  It is the word used to describe the loving relationship between God and human beings, and between humans.  It tells us that the phrase “God is love” is more than a concept, it is a communion.  It is a relationship which reveals that God is loyal, kind, and merciful.  Hesed is the love between God and the people of God, spelled out in the Covenant, which we will look at in a future post. It is the revelation that God’s love is steadfast, unfailing, and never-ending.

Beyond these indications of God’s nature and relationship, hesed describes the rule of God—one that is loving in its essence, not legal.  Restorative, not retributive.  It is gracious love; that is, God will continue to love us even when we do not love God.  Hesed is love that redeems and renews—the love that inspires wonder in us that leads to worship. [1]

Agapé is the Greek word.  It includes everything just noted about hesed.  It is the word used to describe the core of God’s nature in the Septuagint and in the New Testament.  It is also the love God has shed abroad in our hearts enabling us to love God and others. 

Some of you will know that agapé is one of four Greek words for love. It seems to have been the word chosen to best describe the love of God because agapé is not love for one’s own sake, but rather for the sake of the other.  The other loves (eros, philéo, and storgé) ebb and flow depending on the loveability of the other and the love response we receive from the other.  Agapé does not fluctuate because it is not determined conditionally.  God loves because God is love. God is love itself, and God’s being determines God’s behavior, described in relation to Christ as the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 12:8).  Unchanging.  What the hymnwriter meant by, “O Love, that will not let me go.”

 Agapé is rooted in the will of the lover, which in God’s case is the will to love the world (John 3:16)—which means everyone.  It is universal, sacrificial, gracious, merciful, forgiving, strengthening, outgoing, and redeeming.  It is the atmosphere in which we live, move, and have our being.  And as with hesed,  it is the love which defines our worshipful response and our loving service. [2]

Our theology of human sexuality begins, continues, and end in the words, “God is love”—love as revealed in hesed  and agapé.  God loves everyone.  God loves everyone the same.  There is no “other” (lesser) love because there are no “others” (less thans) to be loved differently.  God loves all. All means all.


So….

(1) How do the words “God is love” enter into you?

(2) How do the words ”God is love” pass out of you to others?


[1] This description of hesed is adapted from William Mounce’s ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006),  426-427.

[2] This description of agapé is adapted from Mounce’s dictionary and from William Barclay’s ‘New Testament Words’ (SCM Press, 1964), 17-30.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Simplicity

​Nearly forty years ago, Richard Foster introduced me to simplicity as an essential discipline in the spiritual life. [1]  His own witness about simplicity has been exemplary, but he has also pointed me (and so many others) to additional witnesses to the simpke life like Francis and Clare, Teresa of Avila, Francois Fenelon, Brother Lawrence, and A.W. Tozer to name a few.

Coming alongside these influencers, I have been guided by Thomas Moore, best known as the author of ‘The Care of the Soul.’ [2]. In the book he speaks about simplicity, but it was his later coining of a word that made an impact on me.  It is the word ‘complexification’–essentially moving away from simplicity.  Moore called it one of the major contemporary soul damagers.

With Moore’s word, along with what I had already learned about simplicity, I was given eyes to see and ears to hear it, and honestly, substantially in contrast to my own lack of it.  I knew more about complexification than I did about simplicity, and in some ways that is still true.

But I have learned enough to know that simplicity is a means for learning to live in the present moment.  Simplicity creates and sustains an inward disposition that de-quantifies a definition of life where “more is better” is alleged to be the truth, when it is not true.  Simplicity enables us to recognize and celebrate what the saints call ordinary holiness.

Theologically, simplicity is the preference for regular moments, learning to be content with them rather than being obsessed with thinking about only “big things” and “spectacular moments” matter.  Simplicity enables us to see that life is largely made up of little things and routine activities.  It conditions us to find purpose and joy in them.

Practically speaking, simplicity means we do fewer things in a given period of time.  But that very reduction opens the space to go deeper into our lives, paying attention to what we are actually thinking or doing rather than being preoccupied with the past or the future.

Simplification in the present moment is really about relaxing in the moment, putting the past and the future in their places so that what’s going on here and now has a better chance of getting through.

[1] Richard Foster, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ (Harper & Row, 1978), chapter 6.  He followed this with an entire book devoted to the subject, ‘Freedom of Simplicity’ (Harper & Row, 1981).  Both books have been republished in revised editions.

[2] Thomas Moore, ‘The Care of the Soul’ (HarperCollins, 1992).

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: A Hermeneutic of Holy Love

​The Bible is simultaneously sixty-six books written over a period of approximately 1600 years, and one Book that communicates a unified revelation.  With respect to a theology of human sexuality, we must begin by discerning the overarching view before looking at specific passages.  As I pointed out in the previous post, many books have not done this.  The failure to begin at the widest point leaves open the misinterpretation of the Bible on any subject, and that includes a misunderstanding of what it says about human sexuality.

But is it possible to discover the overarching hermeneutic for the Bible as-a-whole?  The answer is, “Yes,” and the discovery comes through the common way we talk about the Bible as “the written Word of God.” [1]. The key is in the two words “of God.”  The Bible is God’s revelation, so it is reasonable to assume that it will be congruent with the nature and purpose of God.  In other words, God is the ultimate hermeneutic of Scripture.  The being and activity of God is the unifying element of the Bible. [2]

With respect to the nature of God, the Bible sums it up in one sentence, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Dr. Walter Brueggemann sees this core reality revealed in the divine name Yahweh—the name ascribed to God in general (first used in Genesis 2:4) and to Jesus in particular (first used in Luke 2:11).  Brueggemann notes that five attributes are contained in the name: mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and steadfast love. [3]  Given this, we see that the Bible is a revelation of who God is.  And the word is love.

With respect to the purpose of God, the Bible sums it up in one word too: holiness.  God is holy and wants to create a people shaped by grace who are holy as well. [4]  To be holy essentially means to be  lovers (individually and collectively) of the world (ie. John 3:16)—which is to say lovers of everyone and everything.  Holiness is summed up in the two great commandments, to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  It is in this respect that we are most like God. 

Taken together, love and holiness reveal the overarching hermeneutic of Scripture.  Directly or indirectly every particular passage tells us something about holy love.  The Bible does this through some key vantage points.  We will look at them one-by-one in upcoming posts.


So….

(1) How does the phrase “holy love” describe what you already believe?

(2) How does the phrase “holy love” challenge you to enrich/expand your beliefs?


[1] Theologically it is necessary to point out that the Bible itself is not the Word  of God, and the Bible tells us this itself.  The Word of God is the logos, understood essentially as the second person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate, incarnate, and post-incarnate Christ.  The Word of God is person not paper.  

[2] The CEB Study Bible has an excellent article about this, “The Bible’s Unity,” by Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson.  In the article she notes that “the Bible is held together by a single narrative and that the central figure is the Triune God” (p. 533 nt).

[3] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’ (Fortress Press, 2009).

[4] For more on this, see Dr. Kenneth Collins’ book, ‘The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Abingdon Press, 2007).  Dr. Collins and I do not have the same theology of human sexuality, but he rightly captures the essence of Wesleyan theology.  And because my book was intended to link a theology of human sexuality with the Wesleyan tradition, I deliberately chose the title ‘Holy Love.’

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Compassion

​The courage born of living in the present moment is not only what we usually think of as strength, standing up to opposition, and the will will to take risks.  It is also living so as to encourage others.  The root of encouragement is compassion.

For people to feel encouraged, they have to feel noticed and valued.  The people who do not feel this way are usually the “invisible” ones who have been ignored, marginalized, and often harmed by societies and churches who, like the Pharisees, clamor for seats at the head table where they can be noticed and powerful.

But as Jesus showed, day after day, there are always “others” kept outside by the imperialistic movers and shakers.  It is specifically “the least of these” (in the world’s eyes, not God’s) to whom Jesus tells us to show compassion.  But in order to do this, we must see them–and where we see them is here and now.

When we ask what it means to show compassion, it is frequently summed up in the words ‘being kind.’  But in his letter, James makes it clear that kindness is more than words, it is deeds. Kindness is our tangible response to people in need, and even a cup of cold water counts–not because kindness is quantified, but because it is a sign that one person noticed another person, and took steps to help.  These steps occur here and now.

Eugene Peterson coined what he called “the pastor’s question,” but it turns out to be a question that shows compassion to be present and active: “Who are these people, and how can I be with them, so that they can become what God wishes to make of them?”  There is no single answer to the question, but if we want to live in the present moment, it is one we must ask–over and over.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: The Hermeneutic

​Chapter two of the book opens the door to many things which call for our attention.  I will devote multiple posts to this chapter.  This one deals with hermeneutics—that is, the necessity and means for interpreting Scripture.

Everyone reads the Bible interpretively.  There is no such thing as a purely objective reading of it. We all bring things to the reading of Scripture which effect how we read it, and having read it, we take things away which will influence how we read it in the future.

Furthermore, there is no single interpretation of Scripture that is “the true one” in contrast to other ways of interpreting it.  Any group that would have you believe “our interpretation of the Bible is the correct one” is simply not telling you the truth.  The diversity of interpretations across the centuries renders that claim bogus.  No interpretation is perfect, and that is one reason why bonafide biblical scholars seek to learn from and contribute to other points of view.

The aim of biblical interpretation must be to develop a view that is credible and plausible.  Hermeneutics does not seek a right/wrong outcome; it seeks to bring together interpretive principles that make a particular interpretation worthy of our attention.  Hermeneutics says, “You need to pay attention to this, and here’s why.”

In the Wesleyan tradition the ingredients we use to interpret the Bible are fourfold: Scripture itself (the text), tradition (learnings from history), reason (thoughtful reading informed by other disciplines), and experience (engagement with the text through application of it in life).  We believe these interpretive lenses enable us to see the revelation and respond to it faithfully.

In the book I not only make use of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience in developing a theology for human sexuality, I also employ an interpretive method called inductive Bible study.  In the Church today there is a great need to teach inductive methodology, so that Christians can responsibly engage Scripture for themselves rather than taking someone else’s word for it. [1]  In fact, with respect to a theology of human sexuality, one of the problems we face today is that too many Christians have become passive with respect to it.  They do not study it for themselves, and as a result are vulnerable to falling prey to misunderstanding.

Sadly, church history shows that Christianity has been weakest when the laity became passive in their study of the Bible.  In that vacuum there have always been teachers who said in effect, “I will tell you what the Bible says; you only need to accept and parrot what I tell you.”  This is in direct opposition to the instruction of Jesus, who told people, “Go and learn what this means” (Matthew 9:13) and commended the process of asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7) as the means to discovery.  The Church is always at its best when it eschews “gurus” and discovers the will of God through firsthand exploration.  Hermeneutics invites the active study of the Bible by everyone.

A key factor in this is determining the larger message before we look at the parts. Biblical interpretation begins with context before turning to the text.  This is true for individual books in Scripture, and it is true for the Bible as-a-whole.  Applying this to a theology of human sexuality, I discovered that many of the books written on the subject do not do this.  Many books extract six to eight passages from the Old and New Teatament and then attempt to “work their way up” to a message.  But this approach goes in reverse of how the best biblical interpretation operates.  Hermeneutics begins with the widest point, with the panorama, and uses it to “work its way down” into selected passages.

In the next post, I will describe what I believe to be the widest context for interpreting what the Bible says about human sexuality.  Today, I only want to reveal the fact that we all read the Bible interpretively, and we inevitably do not all read it the same way.  If we admit this, we will find ourselves in a conversational mode rather than a competitive mode.  Hermeneutics calls for humility  as we read the Bible—a humility that makes us pilgrims who want to make progress in holiness.  Hermeneutics places us in a learning mode, and being a learner is a core meaning of what it means to be a disciple.  Hermeneutics creates a receptive mode, not a resistant one.  Hermeneutics builds bridges, not walls.

When it comes to developing a biblical theology for human sexuality, hermeneutics is a way forward—a way that takes what we know and interfaces it with what we do not yet know, so that the written Word will become a living Word in us and through us.

So……

(1) Are you open to exploring interpretations of Scripture concerning human sexuality other than the one you currently hold?

(2) Are you willing to bring tradition, reason, and experience alongside Scripture in order to glean a credible and plausible interpretation?

(3) Can you hold your view with conviction while acknowledging yours is not the only way to interpret Scripture?


[1] In ‘Holy Love’ I reference some good books that teach inductive methodology.  In addition, the CEB Study Bible has a good overview article entitled, “Guidelines for Reading the Bible,” written by Dr. Brian Russell.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Courage

​Living in the present moment is living with “eyes wide open,” seeing into things so that their realities come into view (see Mark 8:18).  This kind of seeing gives us courage.

First and foremost, we gain the courage to become our true selves.  Knowing that we are God’s beloved children, we no longer desire or make use of secondary identifiers.  We conjugate our lives (as Evelyn Underhill puts it) through the verb “be,” not the verbs ” have” and “do.”  To be our authentic self is an act of courage in a world where associations, accolades, and assumptions create “safe spaces” between our personhood and the public.  Living here-and-now puts a stop to “looking good,” and roots us in the desire to be good, the soil from which the fruit of the Spirit grows.

With the “naked now” (as Richard Rohr calls it) identifying us, we are enlivened to act for the sake of others.  Speaking and acting for the common good is possible because we live responsively rather than reactively.  Having taken the time to stop, look, and listen in the present moment, we are able to recognize what Parker Palmer has called “the tragic gap” between what is and what ought to be.  He notes, “the people who achieve the greatest good are those who have the greatest capacity to stand in the tragic gap.” [1]

The prophets in every age exemplify this best. Using their x-ray vision of Spirit-inspired attentiveness, they expose what the “movers and shakers” prefer to keep hidden.  But as Walter Brueggemann points out repeatedly, they do not stop with exposure (judgment), they move on to speak and act for justice (i.e. where everyone is given what they need to thrive) in the larger context of hope.

But here’s the point for today: prophets are not a specialized category of persons.  They are any of us who are willing to live in the present moment with the courage it gives us.  The “kingdoms of this world” are only challenged and changed into the Kingdom of God through courage.

[1] Parker Palmer, ‘A Hidden Wholeness’ (Josey-Bass, 2004), 180.

Posted in Uncategorized

Holy Love: The Journey

​When I was asked to write ‘Holy Love,’ it included the hope that I would not only write from the Christian tradition but also from within the Wesleyan tradition.  To do this meant including the hermeneutic of experience.  I accepted that invitation because I have come to see that all theology, sooner or later, is autobiographical.  The Wesleyan concept of “living faith” means connecting the Story with our story in some way.  Otherwise, all we have is dead orthodoxy.

We must stand within the Message as participants, not apart from it as detached observers.  We are witnesses, not reporters.  Because this was particularly true for the development of my theology of human sexuality, it became the way I chose to begin and end the book—a kind of literary way of setting the theology within the frame of my living of it.  

Additionally, since I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ in 2014, one of the questions people asked me most was, “How did you change your mind?”  It was not only a question of general interest but more especially one of particular significance since my change of mind (and heart) necessitated a movement out of decades of a conservative theology regarding human sexuality and into one considered to be progressive.  It also meant moving away from the “Asbury world” in which I had lived and worked for so long into a new world made up of devoted disciples of Jesus who thought, spoke, and acted differently with respect to human sexuality.  Chapter One tells the story of that journey, and I need not repeat it here.

For the purposes of this post, I want to set my personal journey against the backdrop of a larger necessity in our spiritual formation—the inevitability of having to choose whether to remain in one’s group or move outside it in the exploration of truth.  Notice I did not say moving beyond community, for Christian community is always larger than one’s group—unless the group has become obsessed with itself and bestowed upon itself a “pure church” mindset that says, “Everything you need to know is in this group. You need not look elsewhere; indeed, you must not look elsewhere if you want to be in our group.”

Groupism and “group think” are deformative regardless of the topic being considered.  In the Kingdom of God there is no such thing as “one-stop shopping.”  And sooner or later, our journey will take us beyond a group, unless we make a U-Turn and revert to a view of reality no larger than that of the group.  E. Stanley Jones called this giving in to a “herd mentality,” and cautioned against falling prey to it. [1]

Jones rightly notes the difficulty of moving beyond the herd because we have a God-given instinct for belonging.  But he shows that “belonging” is a psychological urge, but “belonging to” is a sociological requirement.  He wrote, “When the herd becomes God and determines our conduct, then all human relations are thrown into confusion…. Sometimes the herd appeal is so strong that we blindly follow it to our doom. ” [2]

Maturation in the spiritual life eventually requires moving beyond a particular group and into a larger reality than can ever be communicated by or contained within a single group.  We see this movement in Jesus himself, both through his actions (e.g. choosing to eat and drink with “sinners”) and his teachings (i.e. “you have heard that it was said…but I say unto you”).  We can trace it also in people like the early Christian ammas and abbas, Francis and Clare, John Wesley, and Dorothy Day—to name a few.  In every case the decision to move beyond the herd brought down rejection upon them in some way.  Groups have no choice but to declare such folks personas non grata, for not to do so would be to ascribe some level of credibility to those who move beyond them and to the new groups with whom they affiliate. Exclusion by the herd is a natural result when someone chooses to think and act differently.

So, I had to write about this journey, not only to explain how it happened, but also to make clear that my new position did not come to pass without struggle and consequence.  No one’s ever does.  

But even this is not the main point of the first chapter.  The main point is that moving beyond the group is a journey into liberation.  It is one aspect of Paul’s conviction that “Christ has set us free for freedom” (Galatians 5:1).  In his letter that meant the Galatians moving beyond the Judaiser herd into the larger Christian life–away from a life based in law to one based in grace–what Paul called moving out of living in the flesh and moving into living in the Spirit, essentially moving away from legalism and into love.

The fact is, there is no way to see the limitations of the herd until you have moved beyond it.  This movement does not mean we deny whatever good there was in our past, it only means that we realize that making the past our only frame of reference turns it into a prison. Freedom affirms a wideness in God’s mercy—a wideness we can never recognize if we choose to remain in the herd.  Our experiences beyond the group are transformative.  The people we meet outside the group are precious.  And the life we discover is abundant.


So…….

(1) In what ways have you previously had to move beyond a group in order to be more alive and true to yourself?

(2) Are there places currently where you are sensing a need to explore beyond your current reality?  Are there voices outside your group that you feel you should listen to?

(3) Is your belief about human sexuality such a place?  Are new ways of looking at it such a voice?


[1] Jones writes about this in more than one place, but he wrote a weeklong series about the herd instinct in his book, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce & Washabough, 1953), Week 13.

[2] Ibid., Week 13, Tuesday.

Posted in Holy Love

In-Sight: Excavating the Feminine

​One of the marks of Pentecost was, “Your sons and daughters willl prophesy….upon my servants, men and women  I will pour my spirit” (Acts 2:17-18).  This same inclusive mark is evidenced whenever the Spirit is moving.  Women’s voices arise in civil and religious discourse.  Women’s actions influence the public square.  And in a world defined by male dominance over the ages, many men do not like it.  Our day is no different.  But as always, women cannot be silenced because the Spirit cannot be stopped.

Mirabai Starr is one woman who has helped me see, appreciate, and affirm the pentecostal power of women.  She did not grow up in any religious tradition, so in responding to her hunger of the heart, she instinctively sought the Sacred in an eclectic way.  For that reason her wisdom is both deep and wide. That is refreshing to me as I seek depth, and also breadth, in my life with God.  In a recent interview she spoke about how the recognition of women’s voices, “requires excavation, because they are hidden in the patriarchal overlay. It’s at the heart of all the world’s spiritual traditions, it’s the way they were designed and built from the get go: by men, for men.” [1]

That design is in the essence of all the worlds religions, where males have either founded or dominated them.  Even more, masculine bias reaches an apex as God is most always described in masculine terms.  Thankfully, some of this is benign, but too much of it is a deliberate attempt on the part of men to subjugate the role of women in the society, the academy, and the church.  All of it, whether innocent or not, distorts God’s egalitarian intent and deforms the spirit of any who align with it. [2]

Fortunately, we have spiritual leaders in the Christian tradition who keep God’s egalitarian way in view. Jesus himself affirmed the the way.  Paul voiced it. Francis’ collaboration with Clare is a powerful testimony, as is John Wesley’s inclusion of women leaders in the Methodist movement. [3]  Beyond this, we have the witness of women themselves within and outside of the Christian tradition.

And that brings me back to Mirabai Starr, who is such a woman and one who has introduced us to other women—most recently in her book, ‘Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics.’ [4]  In an interview related to the book she noted, “The feminine is rising at last.  She is shifting the global paradigm from one of dominance and individualized salvation to one of collective awakening and service to all beings.” [5]

This is surely one reason why women are signs that the Spirit is moving, because God seeks to awaken us to the realization of our oneness, and from that universality to express kindness in a world sorely in need of it.  Women combine courage and compassion in ways men too often do not—the fierce and tender combination Mirabai Starr writes about.  Our daughters are prophesying, and the world is better because they are.


[1] Sounds True interview, 4/9/19.

[2] Ironically, some women accept the skewed inequality, and affirm male dominance in their political and religious views, forgetting (or perhaps never being taught) that male dominance is one of the results of the fall (Genesis 3:16).  Alpha males don’t share that message.

[3]  With respect to Wesley, I call your attention to these books: (1) Maldwyn Edwards, ‘My Dear Sister’ (Penwork, n.d.), and (2) Paul W. Chilcote, ‘She Offered Them Christ’ (Abingdon, 1993).

[4] Mirabai Starr, ‘Wild Mercy: The Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics’ (Sounds True, 2019).

[5] Mirabai Starr, “Indwelling and Outflowing, “ The Mendicant, Spring 2019 (Center for Action and Contemplation).

Posted in In-Sight

Here and Now: Discernment

​Life is a gift.  But like every gift, it comes wrapped.  We can think of this as the immediate impression which each moment provides.  And as with some gifts, what we see first (i.e. the wrapping paper, bow, etc) is noteworthy in and of itself.

But the outside decoration is not the extent of the gift.  In fact, the actual gift is inside the box, and it has to be opened in order to know what’s there.

Present-moment living works like this.  Our senses bring innumerable “wrappings” to us, but to discover the gift we have to go beneath the surface.  We have to “unwrap” the moment and look inside it.

Buddhists call the act of going beneath the surface “deep seeing.”  I like that term because it is a reminder there is always more going on than meets the eye.  In Christian language, the word is meditation, defined by Hugh of St. Victor as ” piercing to the core of a particular truth.”

Living here-and-now provides the opportunity to go more deeply into our experiences, piercing the into the core of them, being attentive to more than the initial revelation.  We believe that it is when we stop, look, and listen that we come to discernment.  And it is in moments of discernment when we realize (as St. Francis put it) God is doing cartwheels in creation.  It is in discernment where we see and accept (as E. Stanley Jones put it) our marching orders.

 

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Prologue

Today, we move from the larger context of the new pentecost (or whatever else it is called) to the topic of human sexuality—one particular place where the fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing.  Upcoming posts will follow the development of my book, ‘Holy Love.’ [1]  You can read these posts without having the book, but they will make more sense if you do. These posts expand what is in the book.

As we turn to explore the book, it is important for you to understand that it is a primer, not a lengthy study.  You will find yourself saying, “I wish he had said more about this” at various places.  Keep in mind that the book is like a key– it opens the door to a more in-depth exploration.  I was asked to write an introductory book that would show there is another legitimate way (a more progressive way) to interpret Scripture with respect to human sexuality.  The footnotes and reading list provide the means for going beyond what I wrote about.  Hopefully, these posts will serve that purpose too.

The meeting that I had with “The Other Sheep” group at First United Methodist Church in Orlando in late May of 2014 was crucial in my journey into being an ally with LGBTQ+ people.  The meeting occurred soon after my book, ‘ For the Sake of the Bride’ was published. [2]  I was already embroiled in pushback for writing the book, experiencing the early waves of rejection for having changed my mind (and heart) about LGBTQ+ sexuality and for moving away from the conservative theology I had held so long concerning it.

The meeting was crucial because it was the beginning of turning my newfound, inclusive theology about LGBTQ+ people into a lived experience with them.  As I write in the Prologue to ‘Holy Love,’ I quickly realized that I was not at the meeting to give, but to receive.  And from that evening until now, LGBTQ+ people have been grace gifts to me and to Jeannie.  For one thing, they have offered us love and acceptance when other Christians have chosen to make us personas non grata.  But more than this, they have confirmed over and over the genuineness of who they are,the reality of their faith, the depth of their discipleship, the validity of their marriages, the winsomeness of their witness, and the effectiveness of their ministries. 
I have come to realize the truth of Walter Brueggemann’s belief that if we we are to change our view of LGBTQ+ people, it will occur not through biblical interpretation but rather from establishing friendships with them.  This is my story, and it is why I began ‘ Holy Love’ as I did.

In the ensuing years, I have grown weary of hearing Christians say, “We love the gays,” but then finding out they have no personal and ongoing relationships with LGBTQ+ people.  They do not have LGBTQ+ friends.  They do not attend conferences and other gatherings conducted by LGBTQ+ people.  They do not participate in community events that show respect to and support for LGBTQ+ people.  They are not affiliated with or involved in ecclesial and civic organizations devoted to overcoming LGBTQ+ discrimination and harm.  They are notoriously separated and absent from programs and places where their alleged positivity would be made real. Consequently, their “we love the gays” allegation falls flat on my ears, and it falls flat on the ears of LGBTQ+ people too.

In the letter of James, we find these words, “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?….Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2:14, 17).  Similarly, “we love the gays” mantras are dead when they prove to be words devoid of relationships.  And…it is impossible to claim we love anyone whom we do not protect from harm.

My meeting with “The Other Sheep” group turned affirmation into actuality, theology into friendships, revelation into relationships, content into community.  I cannot imagine what would have happened to my change of heart if it had remained theoretical.  I only know that experiencing the Word becoming flesh was essential.  Many of the people I met that evening continue to be good friends to Jeannie and me.  They—and those we have met since–are precious gifts. Thanks be to God!

So…….

(1) What ongoing relationships do you have with LGBTQ+ people?

(2) What LGBTQ+ people/ally gatherings do you attend?

(3) What ecclesial/civic LGBTQ+ advocacy groups are you affiliated with?

Relationships are the means of making things real.  Lived theology, not affirmed theology, is what makes faith genuine.


[1] Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’ (Abingdon Press, 2019).

[2] At that meeting there were also members of the “Open Arms” group at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and some folks from other  faith communities in Orlando and elsewhere.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Presence

Living in the here-and-now gives us the opportunity to experience Presence.  When we are preoccupied with what has happened, or with what might happen, we risk missing what IS happening.

Recent studies have shown that the notion we can multitask is largely an illusion created by the fact that our minds can move from one thing to another with amazing speed.  The illusion is that we are adept at giving our attention to multiple things simultaneously.

In the spiritual life, we call this having a “monkey mind,” and rather than being a good thing, it is actually a distraction.  If we make it a pattern, we live superficially.  I agree with Richard Foster when he says, ” Superficiality is the curse of our age.” [1]

I have learned that it is more difficult to stay focused on one thing than to allow my mind to flit from one thing to another.  It has taken spiritual exercise to train myself to concentrate on one thing.  And I still find myself “all over the place” much of the time; old patterns are hard to change.

One of my favorite definitions of meditation comes from Hugh of St. Victor, “Piercing the core of a particular truth.”  This means making a willful choice and effort to “practice the presence of God” (as Brother Lawrence put it) in relation to a single reality–a “particular truth” to repeat Hugh’s words.

Being present to Presence is rooted in the belief that “every moment is a God moment” and that each moment has more than enough life in it to give us life in some way, if we take the time to notice and receive.

[1] Richard Foster, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ 40th Anniversary Edition (HarperOne, 2018), 1.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Fresh Wind Blowing #3

​The new pentecost is more of a movement than it is an institution.  Jesus said that new wine must be poured into new wineskins (Matthew 9 17)), and that is what is happening today.  The fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing through a multitude of fresh expressions.  Some are part of the traditional/structural Church, others are springing up apart from it.  

This new axial age is not without form, however.  Just as the original creation moved from chaos into order, the new creation has an observable order in it as well.  We turn to this in today’s post. [1]

In a way that I did not see when I wrote ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ six years ago, the essence of the order is love.  That’s why these introductory posts precede our upcoming exploration of the book ‘Holy Love.’  Thanks largely to the influence of Ilia Delio, I see love as the existential ordering of the entire cosmos. [2]  We are made by Love, to love.  When we live in love, we live in congruence with God, our humanity (imago dei), and our life purpose (the two great commandments).

Living in love brings us into community with others seeking to live the same way.  The first Pentecost described the believers as being “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).  The history of Christianity shows that in times of renewal Christians form life-giving associations which nurture themselves and offer life to others.  This new order is simultaneously formative and missional.

The new order gives shape and substance to the new monasticism we looked at in the last post.  The new order is the new wineskins God is creating to hold the new wine of the Gispel in our day.  Social media reveals the diversity of opportunities to be in community.  This Oboedire site is a concrete example.  Technology enables us to find and connect with others around common callings and interests.

But more… and more importantly….we discover local groups with which we can affiliate to turn online participation into tangible engagement, so that our deepest passions are expressed in at-hand activity.  The Word becomes flesh through this kind of ordering.

This ordering requires leaders and participants who understand the nature and activities of spiritual orders—something different than institutional management and membership. I write about these roles in chapter three of ‘Fresh Wind Blowing,’ so I will not repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that living in love in the new ordering of things brings a sense of greater meaning and purpose to our lives  We thrive in our life together because holy love is always love in relationship.

The aim of all this (as I describe it in chapter four of ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’) is the exaltation of Christ.  Jesus said that when the Spirit is moving, “he will glorify me” (John 16:4).  Likewise, when the fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing, Christ increases and we decrease.  This why one of the surest signs that a group is not part of the new thing God is doing is when “groupism” and “group think” define things more than radical obedience to Christ—an obedience always more risky, but more genuine, than obedience to the group’s take on things.

Exalting Christ includes the necessity of questioning the status quo and critiquing sacred cows simply because Christ is bigger than our conventional wisdom and larger than the boxes we manufacture to hold it.  Christ inevitably leads us beyond our assumptions and associations, in order to show that he is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), not just in our group. This is part of what Paul meant when he told the Galatians to get out of the Judaisers’ box (of legalism and judgmentalism) and live in grace.  It was, he wrote, this kind of freedom Christ came to give (Galatians 5:1).

It is this larger Reality (i.e. the Kingdom of God) which calls for our allegiance, not the lesser realities (i.e. “the kingdoms of this world”).  It is when we are willing to live in this new creation that God then calls us to work in particular ways to realize the Kingdom here on earth.  One of those ways is the affirmation and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the Body of Christ through their full access to all the ministries of the Church.  I now see it was recognizing and receiving the larger Reality of the fresh wind of the Spirit blowing on the earth today that led me to being an ally with LGBTQ+ people, and in turn to the writing of ‘Holy Love,’ which we will begin to explore in the next post.  I wrote these opening contextual posts because I want you to see the forest before we look at one tree in it.

So…..

     (1) How is love a communal word for you?

     (2) How does exalting Christ call you to move beyond groupism and “group think”?


[1] I write about this further in chapter three of ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’

[2] The range of Ilia’s ministry, including her writings and related videos, now expresses itself online at The Omega Center.. Richard Rohr has recently written similarly in the chapter “Love is the Meaning” in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019).. They both point to the views of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in their establishment of a Love-saturated cosmos.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: The Pace of Grace

Having laid our foundation for here-and-now living in Scripture and tradition, the rest of this series will be more topical in nature.  And I can think of no better segway than to look at the pace of grace. Living in the present moment is one aspect of living in grace.  

The world has a pace.  We call it busy-ness, activism, freneticism.  And at the extreme we name it “hurry sickness.”  We are all familiar with this, for we live in a world geared for it. And we know firsthand the debilitating effects of running faster and trying harder in the world’s feverish round of unceasing activities.  

I went for years as a Christian without ever thinking that grace has a pace.  No one ever taught me to think differently, and my extroverted personality made the speed at which I lived appear normal, even “spiritual.”  I had a Bible verse for it, “growing weary in welldoing” (Galatians 6:9), and my misunderstanding of it enabled me to justify “exceeding the speed limit” in too many aspects of my life. [1]  

It took an encounter with a book by my friend. Susan Muto, to challenge me to change. [2]. It has taken ongoing commitment and effort to actually change, with a lot of reversions into “hurry sickness” along the way.  But having seen another way to live, through the book, the pace of grace has become both a life to experience and a call to reclaim when I fall back into the world’s pace.

Let me inject one important note here, for without it we can become cynical about the pace of grace and maybe give up on it for the most part. The point is simply this: it is easier at some stages of life to live the pace of grace than it is at other times.  It is far easier to live the pace of grace in retirement than when the responsibilities of life (legitimate ones, I might add) seemed to turn me every which way but loose.  God knows this about us, and in such times, the pace of grace may be more of a vision to keep than an actual practice to achieve.  That’s why it is a pace of GRACE.

But even “in the whirlwind,” we do not have to become victims of the soul-draining pace of the world.  We can live in the pace of grace through the practice of the spiritual disciplines–means of grace that give our lives pattern and rhythm. The disciplines of abstinence (e.g. solitude, silence, sabbath) are especially helpful.

The disciplines are not only a collection of formative activities, they are also means to help us establish the spirit of the Christian life: engagement and abstinence. [3]  The pace of grace is the combination of doing and being, working and resting.  If we fall prey to a performance-oriented view of life (e.g. “I am what I do”), it will be difficult to see the pace of grace which essentially says, “I do what I am,” and puts the core of life in our personhood, not our productivity.

The pace of grace comes alive in us as we practice disciplines of abstinence as much as we practice disciplines of engagement. [4]  And even when we cannot fully live into this pattern and rhythm, we keep the reality and experience of it alive in little acts of everyday living that grow us in both our character and our conduct, lest in our freneticism we forget who we are.

[1]  My misinterpretation was largely because I did not take to heart the fact that the verse begins, “let us not…”. In other words, I did not realize (or refused to see) that the weariness was not a proof of my spirituality, but actually a sign of its absence.

[2] Susan Muto, ‘Meditation in Motion’ (Image Books, 1986), especially Chapter 2.  

[3] Dallas Willard, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’ (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988). This is the book that transformed my understanding of the disciplines as a collection of good spiritual practices to viewing them as gifts from God that establish and maintain the pattern and rhythm of the spiritual life.

[4] There are numerous and varied spiritual disciplines–many more means of grace than can be put on any list.  But here are some examples of disciplines of engagement and abstinence.  Engagement: worship, prayer, study, service, celebration, confession, submission, guidance, and fellowship.  Abstinence: solitude, fasting, simplicity, meditation, chastity, silence, and confidentiality.  Dallas Willard’s book above looks at these, as does Richard Foster’s book, ‘Celebration of Discipline,’ 40th Anniversary edition (HarperOne, 2018).

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Fresh Wind Blowing #2

​As far as I know, no one who reads my posts is a monk.  And I am guessing those who do would not hesitate to say, I am not a monk.”  But the fact is, surprising as it is, we are all monks.  We are all monastic, and the new pentecost God is effecting today calls us to recognize and respond to this call.

The word ‘monk’ does not mean a person who lives a cloistered life, but one who lives a singular life.  Monk means “monos”—singular.  It means devotion to God alone and the offering of ourselves to God as living sacrifices. The fresh wind of the Spirit is creating a new monasticism. [1]  But what does that mean, particularly for those of us who will never live in monasteries, convents, or other cloistered communities but rather as disciples of Jesus in the world?

We begin our response to that question by turning to Jesus and his call of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19).  The first thing we see is that they shared a common twofold calling: to be with Jesus and to be sent out in his name.  Our singularity is first found in commonality—in community.  The earliest monks found this out when their attempts to be isolated hermits gave way to their need to be in fellowship with other monks.  Cenobitic monasticism (life together), not hermetical monasticism (life apart) became the model.  Similarly, we share a common vocation, no matter where we live or what we do: to be with Jesus and to go into the world in his name.

In Christian history this is the singular Rule of Life for every disciple: worship (oratio) and work (labora). [2]  We live this out through spiritual practices called works of piety and works of mercy.  In the Wesleyan tradition we call these the instituted and prudential means of grace. [3] They form us inwardly and outwardly in our singular devotion to Christ.  This life together is genuinely monastic—singular in intent and expression, the common way we fulfill the two great love commandments and manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

From this foundational unity, God moves us into necessary diversity.  We see it in three ways in Scripture.  First, tradition teaches that each of the twelve apostles eventually fanned out into different parts of the world, either on a part-time or full-time basis.  For example, Thomas went to India and likely died there. [4]  Others of the twelve are said to have gone to Rome, Ephesus, Greece, Asia Minor, Russia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Persia, Macedonua, Syria, Parthia, Media, and Ethiopia.  Their common commissioning sent them into a variety of places.

The second evidence of diversity comes through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given differently to different people, expressed through a variety of ministries, and with a multitude of outcomes (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).  No one has all the gifts.  But each of us has one or more spiritual gifts—some are abiding and some are temporary.  All are given to glorify God.

The third sign of diversity comes through the list of ministries: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).  The word ‘some’ is added to each of the four ministries as a way of indicating a sacred allotment of these ministries to certain people.  Through discernment we locate ourselves in a particular ministry area and find it to be a means to serve Christ in the world. [5]

The point here is that we devote singular (monastic) and concentrated (focused) attention in a diversity of locations, differing giftedness, and specific ministries.  The essential oneness is not broken by this diversity, but rather expressed through it.  The New Monasticism is reviving this vision, and God is using it to simultaneously bond us together in Christian unity and send us out for a singular devotion to many specific things.

Applying this personally enables me to recognize that I am one with everyone in a common humanity and one with all Christians in a common faith, while at the same time being called to a current prophetic ministry that particularly emphasizes being an ally with LGBTQ+ people. It explains how ‘Holy Love’ came to be a book, and how these posts expand on it.

The same unity/diversity singularity is given to you as a means of strengthening your bond of love with everyone and revealing the particular ways God is calling you to love.  And it is precisely here that we see and celebrate the fact that we are indeed, monks—privileged to live in a time when God’s fresh wind is blowing!


So…..

     (1) How did this post help you understand yourself as monk?

    (2) Does any characteristic of the monastic (singular) life invite you into a deeper discipleship?


[1]  This is the focus of chapter two of my book, ‘ Fresh Wind Blowing.’  For more, see Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, ‘The New Monasticism’ (Brazos Press, 2008) and John Michael Talbot, ‘The Universal Monk: The Way of the New Monastics’ (Liturgical Press, 2011).

[2] The Rule of St. Benedict is the best-known expression of the worship/work life together.  The Rule is easily accessible in traditional and ebook formats, as well as online.  I have written an extended series of meditations on the Rule here at Oboedire.  Go to the righthand sidebar of the home page and click the “Benedict’s Rule” category to see it.

[3] Elaine Heath has written an excellent book on the Wesleyan instituted means of grace (works of piety), ‘ The Means of Grace’ (Abingdon Press, 2017).  I also have a book about the instituted means, ‘ Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition: A Workbook (Upper Room Books,1995).  I also have a chapter, “Works of Piety as Spiritual Formation” in Paul Chilcote’s book, ‘The Wesleyan Tradition: A Paradigm for Renewal (Abingdon Press, 2002).  Rebekah Miles has a chapter in the same book, exploring the Wesleyan prudential means of grace, “Works of Mercy as Spiritual Formation.”

[4] I had the opportunity to visit St. Thomas’ tomb in Hyderabad, India in 1973.  It was a moving and memorable experience.

[5] Daryl and Andrew Smith have written a book to assist people in finding and expressing their ministry focus, ‘Discovering Your Missional Potential’ (100 Movements, 2019).

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: William Barber, II and Liz Theoharis

I choose to end our look at tradition (e.g. people and movements) with William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, the two co-leaders of the renewed Poor People’s Campaign.  They represent a growing grassroots movement for reform that is rooted in a commitment to here-and-now living.

Of particular note is the fact that the Campaign has become reactivated as a result of what is called the “Auditing America Report.”  Rather than move on the basis of generic ideas, the Campaign has taken a long, broad look at the nation today and concluded there are five current realities which must be challenged and overcome: systemic racism, poverty & inequality, ecological devastation, war economy & militarism, and a distorted national narrative.  Woven into these five themes are numerous sub themes (e.g. LGBTQ+ discrimination) which add to the urgency and focus of the movement.

Every concern is rooted in present-moment reality, and the Campaign’s ensuing words and actions are in the spirit of Charles Wesley’s hymn phrase, “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill. O, may it all my powers engage, to do my Master’s will.” [1]

The witness of the Campaign to here-and-now living is laudable, but there is also something very practical here as well.  What might congregations find if they established a “ministry zone” (e.g. three-mile radius of their church) and did an audit to determine the top-five needs nearest to them?

There are approximately 500,000 congregations in the USA.  Think of the territory that would be covered if each one defined and ministered to their respective “coverage area.”  Through such an effort, we would experience what it means to live in the present moment where God has placed us.

[1] Hymn, ‘A Charge to Keep.’ by Charles Wesley

Posted in Here and Now

In-Sight: The Third Temptation

I do not usually post something on both Fscebook and Oboedire.  This is an exception.

_______________________________

“The Third Temptation”

I cut my teeth as a new Christian on Evangelicalism.  I developed my faith within Evangelicalism.  I lived into my sixties ministering in various ways as an Evangelical.  Today, I have abandoned the word.  I have left the camp.  Some in that camp have interpreted my leaving it with leaving the faith because to them, Evangelicalism and Christianity are virtually synonymous.  But that has never been true, and it is not true in my case either. [1] 

 

But they are correct in one facet of their observation:  I am no longer an Evangelical as it has come to be identified (hijacked) by Christian fundamentalists today. [2]  The Evangelicalism that I moved with for so long has radically changed, contorting it into a shape that in key respects looks very little like Jesus.  Evangelicalism today, at least as it is represented by its main leaders in North America, has become Christian populism.  That is what I have left behind.

 

I was reminded of this recently when a friend told me about a new book written by Ben Howe, entitled ‘The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values.’  It is a penetrating and provocative book, written by one who still identifies himself as conservative, but now believes that American Christian conservativism is too often working at cross purposes with the Gospel, and doing so in unChristlike ways.  

 

Howe is by no means the only person to feel this way.  He is just one of the latest Christians to have the courage to say that Christian populism is an emperor who has no clothes on.  Nearly ten years ago in the same month (March 2019) two distinguished scholars (George Marsden and Mark Noll) published detailed, scholarly accounts showing how evangelicalism was being coopted by fundamentalism. [3]  

 

Marsden clearly showed that the two things were distinct movements in American church history, but that fundamentalism was blending them into one.  Noll chronicled the same thing, going on to say that evangelicalism’s takeover by fundamentalists resulted in a loss of looking at the world in a Christian way, but rather in ways that combined political and theological thinking into a calculated obscurantism that ended up making the Moral Majority movement quite immoral. [4]

 

I read Marsden and Noll in 2010, with an eye-opening effect.  So, it is no surprise that Howe’s book has reopened thoughts and feelings that have been swirling in me for more than a decade. From a deep place in me, that is simultaneously painful  and liberating, I ask myself, “What happened?  How did Evangelicalism become what it is today?”

 

For me, the answer is seen through the lens of one word: power.  Evangelicals “got the power” in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the wheels on the Evangelical/Fundamentalist combo bus began to turn, going round-and-round on a journey with increasing speed that brings it to where it is today.

 

And as I think about this yet again, a memory comes into the picture.  I was befriended and guided by Ed Robb, Jr. in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Ed called himself (as others did then) a “neo-Evangelical” because he did not want the revived Evangelicalism to be equated with fundamentalism.  On one occasion, I was in a group with Ed, when someone asked him, “What is your greatest concern about the new Evangelicals?”  He replied, “What will happen to us when we have the power.” [5]

 

So….there it is, no matter who says it, or when.  Power.  Evangelicals have yielded to the third temptation: “I will give you the kingdoms of the world and their glory, if you bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).  It can happen to anyone, and over the centuries it has happened to all sorts and stripes of Christians.  We happen to be living in a time when it is happening in the evangelical/fundamentalist combo of Christian populism.

 

Walter Brueggemann further awakened me to this several years ago as he exposed the evils of imperialism. And along with others (e.g. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, William Barber II, Wilda Gaffney, Christena Cleveland, Joan Chittister, Elaine Heath, John Dear, Mirabai Starr, Cheryl Anderson, and Richard Rohr) I have come to see the unholy mixture of religion and politics that doles out power and privilege to any who go along with it.  Christian populism is a major benefactor. [6]

 

When religious leaders put power as the ultimate value, anything can happen after that.  Once religious leaders equate “the kingdoms of this world” with the Kingdom of God, no one is safe except those who hunker down in the civic/ecclesial fortresses, ascribing near-messianic status to designated people in the state and the church.  Once power takes over, “the cause” becomes everything, and winning over the identified “others” is the goal—a victory justified as a sign of righteous indignation, with resisters and critics consigned to lesser levels of alleged unrighteousness.

 

There are many casualties.  Much damage is done inside the Church.  But  even more is done outside it, as ordinary folks walk out of the Church or walk on without ever going inside–able in either case to tell the differences between it and Christ.

 

We are always  harmed by people who yield to the third temptation.  Power.   Thankfully, Jesus resisted it, and he calls us to resist it too.

 

 

[1] I use the word “ camp” intentionally, because in the history of Christianity, the Evangelical tradition has been the Word-centered stream in the larger Christian river, a good stream unlike what the word ‘Evangelical’ has come to stand for today.  Richard Foster has written well about the good Evangelical stream in Christian history, along with five others that he calls the six great traditions of the Christian faith: the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, and the incarnational tradition.  His book is entitled, ‘Streams of Living Water’ (HarperOne, 1998).

 

[2] Truth be told, I am less taken with any labels, for there is no single adjective put before the word ‘Christian’ that fully describes my faith.  Eugene Peterson and I visited about this years ago.  He shared his sense that adjectival descriptors of Christianity weaken it.  He said he had come to the place of simply saying, “I am a Christian” and letting it go at that.  I feel the same today.

 

[3] George Marsden, ‘Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism’ (Eerdmans, 2010) and Mark Noll, ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 2010).

 

[4] My awakening to what was happening to Evangelicalism (with a lot still to be unearthed in ciming years), came at roughly the same time Phylis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and others (quickly labeled by the fundamentalists as having lost their faith, in ways I later came to be labeled) were declaring that a “great emergence” (also called by other names) was growing on the earth—that God was doing a new thing.  Marsden and Knoll opened my eyes.  Tickle and McLaren showed me what to look at.  But I stayed in the camp for four more years.

 

[5] I have wondered a thousand times where Ed would locate himself today in the swirling mess we find ourselves in, and I offer no predictions.  But of this much I am sure: Ed would see clearly how Evangelicalism has “drunk the Kool-Aid” in its rise to power in North America. He saw the peril of power long before many did, and in ways some still refuse to see.

 

[6] To these newer people, I add longer-standing influences like Sts. Francis and Clare, Catherine of Sienna,  John Wesley, Harriet Tubman, E. Stanley Jones, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, and John Lewis—to name a few.

 

 

 

Posted in In-Sight

Holy Love: Fresh Wind Blowing #1

​In order to embrace the significance of LGBTQ+ inclusion, we must understand that it is part of something larger that God is bringing to pass on the earth today—a new pentecost.  A fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing, and we are called to raise our sails and become part of the movement.  I have previously written about this in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing,’ and to explore the larger context of what God is doing on the earth today, you may want to have this book and read it prior to ‘Holy Love.’ [1]

I join a large number of people who, for the past twenty years or so, have become convinced that we are living in a pivotal moment in history, a new axial age, what some are calling a “great emergence.”  We did not choose to be alive today, but as followers of Christ, we are responsible for living in alignment with the new things God is doing.  The movement is global and pervasive of all aspects of life.  [2]

As with similar previous times in history, the invitation to be co-creators with God comes in a whirlwind of complexity, complete with challenges by status-quo imperialists for whom change is always threatening. [3]. If you had asked Martin Luther, “How’s it going?” upon seeing him leaving the Diet of Worms, he would not have said, “Great, it’s the beginning of the Reformation!” He would more likely have said, “Not so good.  They just excommunicated me, and some intend me more harm.” [4]

Living in a new pentecost is risky because our involvement occurs before we know how others (including longstanding friends and colleagues) will react.  Living in a new pentecost means radically seeking to live for “God alone” and being willing to leave (or to be expelled from) groups from whom much of our former identity and affirmation came.  Living in a new pentecost is in keeping with Jesus’ call to put our hands to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62).  Living in a new pentecost is a leaving/cleaving experience inspired by a vision of a greater good and enacted by a deliberate practice of the better.

Living in a new pentecost is not a compulsion, it is an invitation.  As it has always been, it is a choice that God lays out before us (e.g. Deuteronomy 27-30), culminating in the necessary call to “Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies because the Lord your God marches with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Living in a new pentecost means deciding that your soul belongs to God, and not to anyone or anything else.

So…..

     (1) Have you sensed a “fresh wind blowing”? If so, how?  If not, how did this post awaken you to it?

     (2)How can you raise your sails so that the Spirit can fill them and make you part of the new thing God is doing today?


[1] Steve Harper, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).  It is available in paperback and ebook formats.  The book is part of The New Monastic Library series, books devoted to taking ancient principles and practices and applying them to contemporary renewal in the society and church.

[2] There are many ways to see the pervasive nature of the new pentecost.  I call your attention to five illustrations of it: (1) The Wild Goose Festival, (2) The New Poor People’s Campaign, (3) The Center for Action and Contemplation, (4) Pace ë Bene, and (5) the New Monasticism. You can google each one to learn more.  Even more significant are the local, state, and national organizations (civic and religious) daily working in sync with the new pentecost.

[3] My understanding of the inevitability of challenges to change has been greatly shaped by the writing (and some videos) by Dr. Walter Brueggemann.  I note his classic book, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ and his more-recent one, ‘Tenacious Solidarity.’

[4] I write more about this in ‘Fresh Wind Blowing,’ 2-4.

Posted in Holy Love

A Reminder

Once or twice a year, I post a reminder that Oboedire grows almost entirely by word of mouth.  I do not advertise it.

Whether you have been part of the Oboedire fellowship for a long time, or only a short while, if you find it helpful please tell others about it.

The 2019 theme series, “Here and Now” continues each Wednesday.

 “In Sight” returns with a monthly (first Saturday) writing that looks at the spiritual life from a variety of vantage points.

And, most recently, the new series ‘Holy Love’ posts each Monday as a companion piece for my latest book of the same name.

If you know people who would find these things to be formative in their spiritual journey, I hope you will introduce them to Oboedire.  Thanks!

Posted in Site Updates

Here and Now: Henri Nouwen

I cannot write about here-and-now living without mentioning Henri Nouwen.  Although he did not introduce me to the idea, he has added significant content and perspective to it.

Nearly all his books speak about living in the present moment.  But he wrote one book devoted entirely to the theme, ‘Here and Now.’ [1]  He called this kind of life “living in the Spirit,” and he wrote about it in a full orbed way.  With customary honesty, Nouwen included experiences of sorrow and suffering among the formative aspects of the spiritual life.  And one of the things I appreciate most about his view is the way he makes simplicity the usual means for living well in the present moment

Through his letters, we can see Nouwen’s commitment to here-and-now living going back much earlier than this book.  In 1978 he wrote to a former student and his wife, who were trying to discern whether or not to move away from one form of ministry and go into another one.  While encouraging them to remain open to a new call from God, Henri offered these words of counsel.

“My first response to your letter is that right now [God] calls you to be just where you are.” [2]  He went on to say that he believed the best way to hear a new call from God was by being faithful to the current call.  For Nouwen, the present moment is the good soil into which new seeds can be sown, in turn germinating and producing a fresh harvest that nourishes us in the future.

Nouwen has enabled me to realize that the best way to be receptive to the future is to be attentive in the present.  Spiritual seeing and hearing is cultivated here-and-now.  If we can see and hear what’s in front of us, we envision and discern what’s ahead of us.

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, ‘Here and Now’ (Crossroad, 1994).

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, ‘Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life’ (Convergent, 2016), 28.

Posted in Here and Now