Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sex and the Gospel

This is something I’ve wanted to blog about in the past but have always decided against, for obvious reasons! And yet as I’ve continued to walk in newness of life in this area, I’ve realized that this part of my story is every bit as reclaimed, renewed, and transformed by the gospel as any other— and therefore to not speak of it at all is to keep secret something that should be shouted from the rooftops: the God of rescue rescues us totally. He doesn’t only heal some parts of us from the damaging effects of darkness. He doesn’t just rewrite part of our story, the part that’s easy to talk about and popular to confess. He redeems and restores the deepest, darkest, most personal part of who we are and that includes our sexuality.  (I’ll pause here: it if weren’t for others who were willing to talk about God’s rescue in this area of their lives, I might never have sought the healing God has given me. So I encourage you to talk about it yourself with someone trustworthy, if you’re in need of healing or help in the area of your sexuality.) That being said, I’m going to proceed with extreme caution because sharing “gory details” (I happen to know from experience) usually does more harm than good. And I want what I share to be edifying, not distracting. 

So. Now that I’ve dropped the bomb…what do I want to say? This may turn into more posts in the future, I’m not sure. I’m going to be praying about it, though (and I’m open to input!)  I’ll start with a little context. I have an, er, variegated past. A variety of experiences—both that happened “to” me and those that I participated in— shaped my understanding of sexuality, love, intimacy, and my identity as a woman.  Add growing up without a father to that cocktail of broken experiences and out comes a pretty confused perspective on sex and intimacy.  This doesn’t make me unique! Honestly, who hasn’t been negatively affected in this area, one way or another? But it does make me in need of the life-changing, life-restoring power of the gospel. And lucky for me (and for all affected by sexual brokenness!) the gospel isn’t just an idea or transaction affecting our status in the afterlife. It’s the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ putting to death in me what needs to die, and raising to life in me what I’ve buried because of sin.

God has been at work in me. Putting to death those deeply (even subconsciously) held beliefs about what it means to be a woman or what it means to give and receive love. He’s been at work exposing lies that have choked my life and relationships for years. He’s also been at work bringing me to life. Restoring a sense of dignity and delight to my body. Transforming my understanding of what it means to be a woman. Giving me courage to feel again, to take the risk to really love and be loved.

Pretty words, I know. But it hasn’t been a pretty process! It’s been long and hard and painful. And messy.  But God is willing! He’s walked the long road with me— even when at times, I’ve wanted to turn back. At times I’ve kicked and screamed in protest to His painful healing in this area of my life.

I’ve been blogging about this a lot lately, how Jesus is willing to make me uncomfortable in order to bring about greater healing. In order to rescue, renew, and redeem me. Just like a doctor has to inflict pain in order to restore a broken bone or a parent will allow a child to feel the pain of a poor choice in order to teach him, my God is willing to let me experience discomfort so that I can learn to walk in the newness of life bought for me in the gospel.  An addict can know that a sober life is better, and he can truly want it— but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to avoid the pain of withdrawals, and the awkward, uncomfortable season of reintegrating to life and relationships without drugs— in order to have it. In the same way, I’ve known that God’s definition of sexuality is best; I’ve even wanted it! And yet, it’s been a painful, uncomfortable, and awkward road learning how to “unlearn” what I’d believed for so long about who I am, who God is, and what that has to do with my sexuality.

So, I realize I haven't shared a lot of specifics of the healing yet. If you have strong opinions about whether or not I should keep going, feel free to comment or message me privately. If it’s just not your cup of tea, I’ll warn you to stop reading when you see the word “sex” in the title! And if you’re someone who needs to talk, please know that I am a safe person to start that conversation with at the very least! I know that it can be paralyzing to think of actually inviting others in to this part of your soul; but the reality is that this is a deeply significant part of our stories, and can be deeply transformed by the gospel. Hard, but good. Painful, but freeing. Life-changing for me. Do you want that too? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Christian Response to RENT

Last night, Michael and I watched the movie RENT for my first time. (Pause- if you're a music friend, you're probably gasping for air right now! It's true, I went to choir college and somehow never saw RENT!)  If you're not familiar with the story, all I can say is google it! I copied a brief synopsis from IMDB below, if you need it:

Rent tells the story of one year in the life of friends living the Bohemian life in modern day East Village, New York City. Among the group are nerdy filmmaker (Mark), his ex-girlfriend (Maureen) and her lesbian lover (Joanne); Mark's roommate (Roger), HIV-positive musician and former junkie; his girlfriend (Mimi), HIV-positive drug addicted S&M dancer; their former roommate, HIV-positive computer genius (Tom); and Tom's HIV-positive drag queen lover (Angel); and (Benny), a former member of the group who married for money and has since become their landlord and the opposite of everything they stand for.

There you have it. Not the stuff of typical "Christian movie nights" (again, if you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about!) and it definitely got my attention! Two close friends, both in the arts world, asked about my reaction to the film and I have to admit, my reaction was strong enough to want to share! 

The story is absolutely gripping because it follows the lives of real people. The protagonists don't fit the usual cookie-cutter description. The romances are complex and messy. In other words, it ain't Disney! And honestly, that's refreshing. If movies only told the stories of Disney Princesses and their pain-free endings, they would not match real life. Real stories involve broken people, with painful pasts and hidden demons and life-changing illnesses and financial challenges. Rent honors that by showing the real complexity of human relationships and human struggle. 
One scene especially captured me. In an AIDS life support session, the members sing together,
"Will I lose my dignity? 
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow
From this nightmare?"
This is the plight of a suffering community that is largely unknown to me- I don't know if I've ever met a person with AIDS!- but this story taught me that I don't need to know all the details of the disease to know that people have truly suffered by it- physically, socially, and spiritually. I realized that I don't need to be an AIDS expert to see these men and women as fellow humans with real stories- stories filled with questions just like mine. Questions and fears and insecurities and a desire to be known and loved. 

Angel and Tom seek to answer these questions for each other. This is their song: 
Live in my house
I'll be your shelter
Just pay me back with one thousand kisses
Be my lover and I'll cover you
Open your door - I'll be your tenant
Don't got much baggage to lay at your feet
But sweet kisses I've got to spare
I'll be there - I'll cover you
That phrase, "I'll cover you" was heavy on me. Watching this film I was reminded that people of all different orientations and lifestyles are essentially asking the same questions and seeking the same thing. Who will accept me? Whose love has the power to protect me? Shelter me? Cover me? 

Watching this movie, I also couldn't help noticing the drastically different expression of morality and lifestyle represented here. The men and women in this story do not fall into a categorically "Christian" way of living- and in fact, in one scene (La Vie Boheme) they proudly make that known. 

So during this film I was thinking, it would be easy to write off the humanity of these characters because their lifestyle makes me uncomfortable. It would be easy to not give weight to their pain, their questions, their stories, because I disagree with the way they lead their lives. It would be easy, for example to say, "you chose to risk getting AIDS when you chose to become a junkie! You expect me to feel sorry for you? You got what you deserved!" It would be easy, but it wouldn't be right. 

And it would be equally easy to accept the solution the characters come up with for their problems; to get swept away in the emotion of Tom and Angel promising to "cover each other" and to be comforted by Mimi's "white light" experience with the afterlife. It would be easy, for example to say, "you've all found friends and lovers! You've covered your wounds and now everything's OK! live in the moment- no day but today- all we need is each other!" It would be easy, (and it would feel good!) but it wouldn't be true. 

That's when I realized that Jesus doesn't take the easy path. He doesn't condemn or write off even the most shocking of "sinners"- instead, He enters their story. He listens to their questions. He knows their fears. He weeps when they weep. Am I not just as "deserving" of my own suffering? I may have never taken a dirty needle but I've desperately clung to my own addictions, damaging myself and others. But Jesus is gentle with me. He listens to my cry for help and He comforts me, even when I'm the cause of my own pain. And yet neither does Jesus accept my pat answers. He doesn't just smile approvingly at songs I write for myself that give temporary comfort but long term deceit. In this story, He mourns with Angel and yet He continues to mourn when Angel turns to Tom for salvation. Jesus says, "I care for you, and I am the only one who can cover you. Let Me be your shelter." 

Real stories involve broken people. We're not not two-dimensional Disney royalty, you and me, we're Bohemians. We're real. Full of fear and pain. We can't be another person's covering, another person's shelter. We do have too much baggage for another to carry; it doesn't matter what particular shape it takes. The beauty is God knows this, and that's why He sent His Son. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) Jesus is the only Person without baggage, and He invites us, "Cast your cares upon Me, for I care for you." (1 Pet. 5:7) Jesus is the only Person who defeated His demons, and He promises us, "My perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18) Jesus is the only Person who put his dark past to death, and He offers to us, "I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten." (Joel 2:25)

Gay, straight, transvestite, junkie, AIDS patient, bigot, white supremacist, Disney princess, it makes no difference to Him. He knows you're broken. He cares for you. And He wants more for you than temporary relief. He wants to cover you with His perfect love, and in doing so, He wants to heal you. Are you willing to lay your baggage at His feet?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Truth About My iPhone

So I finally caved in. I got an iphone. It's ironic that I'd even start this post saying that I "caved in" to get one-- making sure everyone knows how saintly I am and how I resisted to the last to even get such a nice thing-- since I'm writing about how this tiny piece of metal (or whatever it is) has been used of God to reveal my sin in the last 48 hours. 

To share this story I'll have to give a little history lesson first. There was a dramatic "financial" transition in my life around 9th grade when my father passed away. We went from having the kind of house that was talked about at school to, well, not having a house. The point is I went from being a "privileged child" to one that felt less privileged than many in our upper-middle class school. This awkward-- and painful-- change in my life was actually a rescue in many ways from an identity completely wrapped up in money. I had to learn how to say no to things at times. I had to learn that driving a junker was not the end of the world. I had to learn that wearing shirts without a tiny horse on them is OK. I had to learn that having a phone period is a blessing and to be happy with whatever I have! 

This was a great work of God in my life: freeing me from bondage to the false god of materialism. And yet, I decided to add to that work. I decided I was holier than those who could afford Polo shirts and nice jeeps. I rolled my eyes and sighed at how "spoiled" those kids were who did receive the material blessings I didn't. Into my adult life, I specifically expressed this self-righteousness toward Apple users. "Oh brother, who actually needs a computer that nice," I'd always think. "They're obviously not stewarding their money well." (There's that obsession with control and stewardship again!) I took a good thing God had done in my life-- loosening my grasp on things-- and made it an evil thing, automatically judging the heart of anyone with a nice laptop or iphone.

So the irony is that when after much prayer, God clearly led us and clearly provided for us to get these phones (of course I followed all the "good stewardship" rules), I become intoxicated by it. I literally couldn't fall asleep the first night we had them because I was thinking about my shiny, white, perfect, phone. I didn't hear when Michael spoke to me because I was too busy stroking my precious keys. I spent my time driving thinking about what I might need to ask Siri (yes, the phone talks!) so I could use it while in the car. And here's the really scary stuff: I actually felt prettier. I felt cooler. I felt more important. 

A phone! A piece of metal. I bought the very lie I pretended to be so "above." I so easily and quickly fell into the same sin I claimed to stand against; a sin that was actually in my heart all along. God is good to bless me with a nice thing, and He's good to use that very blessing to humble and heal me. 

Self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and materialism. I'm not above them. In fact, I can't even see them operating in my life most of the time. But my God is a God of rescue, and He'll expose me in order to free me. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Gospel is Like...

"I hope that as you continue to study, you stop seeing the gospel like a stone that fits in your pocket, but rather like a panorama of the Swiss Alps. And I hope you realize that seminary is like standing there with a bucket and a spoon and trying to scoop it all up."