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broken glass

Our home church of First Baptist London has launched a new congregation based on contemporary worship and meaningful community, called Maitland Street Church. It has been a massive undertaking, and since the launch in November has enjoyed a great start.

This should be a major cause to celebrate. In spite of this, I find myself asking – why bother?

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been part of online discussions with other Christians/theologians around the church’s stance on LGBT, and have been deeply troubled by what I have encountered – ranging from perspectives such as “what science teaches us about sexuality doesn’t trump the fact the Bible says homosexuality is sinful” to appeals to “natural theology makes it clear homosexuality is wrong”, with one person saying the idea of a homosexual Christian is something they hadn’t even heard of until very recently, and they find very confusing.

Yikes.

There’s absolutely no way to persuade someone if (their interpretation of) Scripture comes before everything else. Modern psychology and genetics teach that sexuality is not a choice, which to me would indicate to me that the entire sexual spectrum is intentional, yet so many in the church continue to refer to it as a “sinful lifestyle”. The longer the church holds onto these beliefs, the further it drifts into irrelevance.

What does this have to do with Maitland? Very little. But as part of the global church it is part of the massive upheavals happening across the world in respect to Christianity, and religion in general. CBC posted an article today called “Rise in new city churches bucks secular trend”, reporting on the rise and fall of churches in Canada and the demographics behind it. As well, NPR posted this article, “Sunday Assembly: A Church For The Godless Picks Up Steam”. CBC reports:

“…in Australia where, in late December, one in five residents identified themselves as non-religious. New Zealand numbers are even more stark. There, two-fifths of citizens identified as non-religious, pushing Christianity out of its longtime spot as the clear majority.

In Canada in 2011, about 7.8 million people — 24 per cent of the population — cite no religious affiliation, up nine per cent from a decade prior.”

I found this interesting, especially reading it in conjunction with the NPR article, which reports how a non-religious church is gaining attention by giving people a place to meet, dance, sing and have fellowship without religion. This is how they describe it:

It sometimes feels like church in the auditorium of the Professional Musicians union in Hollywood. It’s a Sunday morning, and hundreds of people are gathered to meditate, sing and listen to inspirational poetry and stories.

But then the live band starts up — performing songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis. And instead of a sermon, there’s a lecture by experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Jessica Cail about the biology of gender identification and sexual orientation.

Churches across North America (and elsewhere) are tackling the massive question of how to keep people interested in going to church, and especially how to draw back the many people that have “strayed” – most churches see about a 1/4 rate of retention from youth to young adults/adult congregants. Reginald Bibby, a University of Lethbridge sociology professor suggests in the CBC article “…many churches need to rethink their roles and become more family-focused, something evangelical churches have done right for decades, leaving them as one of the few not experiencing substantial drops in attendance. Evangelicals take for granted that they need to have a top-notch Sunday school for kids so the little kids are going to look forward to coming to church,”.

To me, these kinds of suggestions skate over the fundamental issues plaguing the church by making it sound like something as simple as shaking up Sunday School is the solution. As a young adult in the church, I’ve heard many snide remarks from senior congregants ranging from bemoaning “the moral laxness of this generation” to how the entire world is going to Hell via the unbelieving heathens. Not new sentiments, but one that young ears are sharp to pick up, especially when pointing at issues youth tend to care deeply about – issues like LGBT rights/equality and reproductive rights. Why would we put up this?

I know that by stepping away from an organization I am stepping away for opportunity to add my voice, and only contribute to the monoculture with my absence. But, I find myself starting this year wondering if I am really changing anything by being in church, and if it would be better to step away from it, even temporarily. I have been a hesitant Christian/churchgoer ever since I started about 7 years ago, but I seem to be finding especially few reasons to go now.

Not that there hasn’t been liberal movements inside the modern church. Pastor Mark Sandlin has been instrumental in creating The Christian Left and The God Article, which among other movements have provided a liberal perspective in what is otherwise an oppressively conservative culture. Pope Francis has shaken the world since becoming the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming Time’s Person of the Year as he has challenged the Catholic Church to move in the world with compassion over condemnation, breathing fresh air into the church. Despite maintaining the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, the Advocate LGBT magazine named Pope Francis their “Person of the Year”. From the CBC article:

The Advocate magazine said it gave Francis the honour because, although he is still against homosexual marriage, his pontificate so far had shown “a stark change in [anti-gay] rhetoric from his two predecessors”. It hailed as a landmark his famous response last July to a reporter who asked about gay people in the Church: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

I’m grateful to have met other liberal Christians through resources like The Christian Left. I shouldn’t expect to surround myself only with like-minded people, but at the same time, it has been an enormous relief to find a wider of community that have similar struggles to me. And they have helped me continue to see the value of being part of a church community, though there are times like this that I still wonder.

So this is what I continue to struggle with. Should I keep with church and attempt to be a progressive voice, or decide that my energy, time and sanity are better invested elsewhere? I hope to remain and to be a positive influence in the church, and to challenge myself to read scripture, research further and work to expand my understanding of different theologies/philosophies in and outside the church. I believe that scientific and spiritual inquiry can and should work together, and I hope to find ways that this can work, and explore methods others use.

pride flag

Right now is an exciting time in our church community, as we launch a new church from First Baptist Church London, called Maitland Street Church.

The team that is dedicated to the launch is meeting several times a week in a flurry of enthusiastic activity to iron out details as well as prepare the building (819 Maitland Street) for services starting in the fall. When I first committed to the project, I was likewise excited at the prospect of starting a new church founded on a philosophy of community, relationship and service.

But I’m struggling to remain excited, at no fault of the church or the people there.

I’ve always been hesitant in my Christianity. I came to faith in my early 20’s despite strong misgivings with many aspects of the global church and my experiences growing up (I wrote about it in more detail in my post What I Believe), and am always conscious of the associations that are created by saying I believe and attempt to follow Jesus Christ.

Even as we prepare for our new church, one that may be the closest thing I’ve found yet to a church I may be truly comfortable to call home, I feel more conscious than ever of how much Christians are in the news, in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.

This summer a debate has raged in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over female reproductive rights, with conservative Christians leading the charge for draconian measures that will put many lives in jeopardy. Even as a major victory for equality and civil rights was won when DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional, conservative Christian groups across America continue to push to keep the definition of marriage only one man and one woman. Though it is absolutely no cost to them or their relationship, these conservative Christians are working to continue to deny thousands of homosexual couples the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.

Closer to home, the news isn’t much better.

Metro News reported recently that despite dropping levels of hate crimes in London, not all the news is good:

The bad news is that hate crimes against the LGBT community across the country rose by 10 per cent in 2011 after an increase in 2010 as well.

Local numbers weren’t broken down by race, religion or sexual orientation, but Pride London Festival president Andrew Rossner believes the local LGBT community is still too often the target of abuse.

Far too often the Bible is wielded by ignorant minds and inept hands as a cudgel instead of a message of support and encouragement, and Christians the oppressors instead of allies. In a Metro News article written yesterday on a Pride London event called Ignite Pride (hosted by Aeolian Hall, mirroring other successful events such as Ignite London and Ignite Health), the one commenter chose to quote Romans 1:18 as a Biblical example of why homosexuality is apparently sinful. Pastor and author Mark Sandlin has written the best commentary I’ve read about this kind of misappropriation of scripture, calling such methods “Biblical” gay bashing. I also wrote this post last summer on sexuality and scripture, and why methods like this of lifting text in an attempt to make a point not supported by the entirety of the Bible does a disservice to God and to scripture.

When I marched in the Pride London parade last year, the only mar on an otherwise great day was the clusters of people holding signs along the parade route with scripture similar to Romans 1:18. Unfortunately, so often when I think of Christians, this is what comes to mind: people that worship the same God I do, but (in my mind) doing it so very wrong. What I struggle to accept that we are all part of one broken, splintered and diverse church. And, there are many that are just as unhappy that I’m part of the fold.

What I hope to remember instead as I reflect on my belief and my faith is people like this I met at Pride, instead:

Pride London sign

I discovered that day that there are many people that believe like I do, including the directors of a London “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. They conducted a church service in Queen’s Park before the parade got underway on the spirituality of sexuality and on how we are all God’s children. I’m so glad that I happened upon the gathering that day, in doing so I’ve made new friends, and found much needed renewal of my faith.

It also helped me to reconfirm my commitment to the church and the community, something that in writing this I hope to do again. I struggle as I see so many Christians doing what I see as so much damage to the world and each other, but have found that there are others that think as I do, and are willing to remain in the church despite so much pain, knowing that it would be much easier just to leave, knowing what is easy is almost never the right choice.

I know that we need to be the change that we want to see, and that if I were to just turn my back on the church, it would only become even more of what I despise.

And we all have so much we can give to the church, and there is still so much the church can do for the community. Churches continue to be one of the foundations of many communities, supplying counseling, support, encouragement, food and shelter to those that need it most.

This is what I want to focus on as I think of the new church we hope to build. The goal is to create a church founded on community and support, being a relational centre where the members are there for each other, but much more importantly, are there for their community at large. My hope is that I participate in this church by connecting with the community associations in the area and finding ways that we can support each other, while drawing further experience that may assist the Argyle Community Association as well. There are brief moments (including the Awesome London pitch party this week) where I see and feel the power of collaboration and what people can do together when they share experiences and assets to the benefit of all. I hope that as our communities and L0ndoners in general discover their strengths and those of the people around them, these experiences will only grow.

It can be daunting, but it is so important to stand up for what we believe in, and surprisingly community connections can be made when we do. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride London again this year, it is so important to stand up and be seen as an ally, and to celebrate our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you’ve been out to Pride before, I hope that you’ll be there again, and if this is your first time to the event, I especially hope that you’ll come and see what it is about!

Pastors often say that to be truly living a Christ-centred life you need to follow God out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, I feel that it is our duty to give voice to those who are marginalized, to be an ally to those who need support, and to remember that the most clear instruction we receive from Jesus was to love others and love God. If we start looking at the world through the lens of love first, everything else second, it becomes absurd to say my books says you and your partner should have different chromosomes to be together.

Step out of your comfort zone, and love extravagantly. That, to me, is the real purpose of the church.

equality cross

In 2005, Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, legalizing same-sex marriage. This was the final step in a debate that slowly swept through the provinces, with some provinces recognizing same-sex marriage as early as 2001. Through the long battle towards marriage equality here, lines were drawn between politicians and religious groups on either side of a seemingly impassable void. The agreement that was eventually struck was that civil marriages were legally available to both same- and opposite-sex couples, but religious institutions continue to have the choice to perform or not perform marriages, as per their individual beliefs. But even then the law was still in jeopardy, as several Conservative motions in the House of Commons sought to re-open the debate, until Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed the case was closed.

Now in 2013, the United States are facing a similar decision. The Supreme Court of the United States is now addressing the constitutional legality of the 1996 law DOMA, Defence of Marriage Act, which codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages, restricting legally recognized marriages to being only between people of opposite sex. Many groups in the States argue this law intrudes on the lawful ability of individual states to recognize same-sex marriage, a view that some of the federal justices seem to share. There is growing excitement both in the States and as people watch from around the world, as this law may be overturned, potentially opening the floodgates to marriage equality in the United States.

But 2013 finds the States still bitterly divided over this issue, with more optimistic polls showing support for same-sex marriage slightly above 50%; although this number is less than encouraging to Canadians that see support levels closer to 80-90%, it is still a massive shift in American beliefs. As it was here, it is conservative religious and political groups leading the charge against same-sex marriage, with arguments including the belief that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that the rest of society shouldn’t have to tolerate, and is in fact destructive to society. On the other side, people in support of same-sex marriage tend to believe it is a legal issue, not a religious one, and that allowing same-sex marriage is an important step in ensuring true equality for all.

And in the middle of it all, many of the bitter battles of words and actions are waged by Christians on both side of the issue. This is something I struggle with deeply, and find myself wondering about as I examine this extraordinarily complex issue.

How do we meet others in this debate in a respectful and considerate way?

How do we discuss with others, when our views seem so completely at odds?

How do we meet in tolerance? Do we have to tolerate intolerance?

How we face this challenge in a Christian way is deeply challenging, though to me, the right choice is astoundingly simple. With a balance of scientific and scriptural study, I believe that Christians are called to walk with our LGBT brothers and sisters, and struggle with them towards marriage equality.

All reputable psychological associations, based on rigorous research across numerous disciplines, teach that sexuality is not a choice. In all the research I found, the organizations confirm that one cannot to choose their sexuality (while stressing sexual behaviour is the person’s individual choice). Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists states:

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.

As well, because sexuality is not a choice and therefore an ingrained part of who a person is, it is unhealthy to encourage/allow practices that try to “change” one’s sexuality. They argue that it cannot be done, and only damages the person to be “changed”, as sexuality is not a “problem” to be “fixed”. The American Psychological Association, the most respected and relied upon psychological association in the world, states [emphasis mine]:

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

This leads to the issue of what Christians and the Bible have to say about sexuality and sin. I also believe through critical and thorough reading of the Bible that one’s sexuality isn’t a sin, Christians should support same sex marriage. I find it abhorrent that the Holy Word of God, our God of mercy and compassion, is used out of context to prop up brittle arguments to restrict what should be a right. There are few enough passages that address homosexuality, written in a time when the word has little to no bearing on the meaning today. Above all, the message that speaks to my heart, that I believe should compel every Christian to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, is the Greatest Commandment:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

This takes us back to – how do we face this difficult issue in a Christ-like way?

I think it starts with open hearts, and compassionate dialogue. We should prayerfully consider what exactly it is that we believe, and meet others in a place where we can truly talk it over, and learn and consider exactly where their heart directs them. You may be very surprised where it is, and hopefully the conversation can be one of mutual enlightenment.

One of the most powerful conversations I had about same-sex marriage was with one of our pastors, someone I deeply respect and admire. I found out that our views are very different about same-sex marriage, but I believe we both left with a better understanding of the issue, and a greater respect for each other. If nothing else, by knowledge of the depth of thought and feeling we’ve each poured into it.

I expressed many of the thoughts written here, while he told me that he has prayed and thought and read over same-sex marriage for many years, and has been deeply saddened and wounded by actions of many in the global church towards the LGBT community, but also very wounded that many have assumed the worst of him because he doesn’t think the church should perform same-sex marriages. Through his scholarship and work in the church, he believes that Jesus called on only one man and one woman to be wed; I obviously disagree, but I hope that I have gained better understanding as we talked, and that I may have planted even a small seed of further consideration in his heart.

In the very end, this is an issue of marriage rights, legal and not religious. Marriage is a legal right before a religious one, and I believe that every consenting adult couple should have the ability to wed, to share a life together, and not be restricted from the legal rights heterosexual couples enjoy, and far too often, take for granted. No one should be restricted from what should be their right by their chromosomes, an issue I am honestly amazed still exists in 2013. I believe religious institutions should perform same-sex marriages as expressions of love and devotion, but it is their right not to. It should not be their right to influence the legality of the marriage. We are not theocracies.

But regardless of what I believe, this debate is largely a bitter battle between Christians as it continues to unfold, and will likely continue to long after the legal debate is settled. As we approach Easter, and spiritually approach the cross, how can we face each other, and accept both Christ and the global church into our hearts?

We must follow Christ’s divine example, and reach out with compassion, grace, and understanding.

sunburst

In my previous post, What I Believe, I attempted to put down into words the foundation and a passable summary of what it is I believe. I may write further posts on it as I continue to define and refine it, but I hope that it is a good starting point as the basis for future spiritual posts, like this one.

An idea I’ve come to encounter more and more is “spiritual but not religious”, especially as we come into contact with many different beliefs both through our relationships and the easy availability of information. We question what we believe, and if any religion/spirituality is necessary at all.

Although we may not adhere to a central religion, we all feel the call of deeper meaning, the meaning of life (the universe, and everything). Why are we here? How did we come to be? What do I want to accomplish with my life? What happens we I die? We all yearn and search for meaning and understanding. This quest can be lived out in a multitude of ways, and lead down both religious/spiritual as well as scientific paths (two major streams that by no means have to diverge).

Buddhism teaches us that we are spirit and flesh woven together, and that our spiritual essence is tied to the mundane, so we must live in both worlds simultaneously. The teaching is that in this world the body reigns, but this world is only one stepping stone in the path to enlightenment, and ahead are further worlds where the spirit is given more prominence, as the needs of the body recede.

I find this explanation very appealing, in that, we are all spirits, though it is hard often to know it in this hard, painful world. Often we question if we have a spirit/soul at all, or if we are nothing more than a body that will one day die, and return to absolute nothingness.

How does religion fit into this? Religious dogma and traditions can be comforting in their continuity and persistent regularity. Religion grounds us where we are, but may hinder us from hearing the truth of the spirit.

What can Christians take away from this?

Can we break free from religion to embrace the raw spirituality of the Gospel? Can we? Should we? Can we find a balance?

I believe everything about human nature and history points to the fact that we are a curious, inquistive and searching species. Human endeavour continues to search and question the nature of our world and of ourselves, each giving further insight into the other while often triggering still more questions in the process.

Everyone understands our reality, our own selves and the nature of our being here differently. Perhaps most destructive is anything that makes us complacent in ourselves and our nature, and seeks to dull our thirst for discovery.

However, I don’t believe we should abandon our religious traditions and ceremonies, as they are part of our culture and who we are. I would instead suggest we examine ourselves as we go through familiar traditions, and attempt to enter them with a fresh mind and heart, remembering what it was like to partake in them for the first time. I also think we should embrace other traditions, learn what they mean to others, and consider how they inform our own experiences.

Last week, as we entered Lent, I took part in the Imposition of Ashes, a tradition held in many church denominations but unfamiliar to me. It was extremely powerful, the ash in the shape of the cross pressed to my forehead a reminder of from whence we came and to what we will return. I hope that if I continue this tradition, I can return to it with the same openness as this time.

We crave comfort and familiarity, but I pray that we will not become complacent in our lives or our faith. I believe God wants us to enter our reading and interpreting of the Bible with a likewise open and discerning mind.

I believe the Bible shows us a God that intended us as we are: inquisitive and relational with ourselves, each other, our world, and Himself.

The author Brian D. McLaren talks about “God A” vs. “God B” in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy”, describing the spiritual and philisophical change from the Old Testament to the Gospel. He describes “God A” as “a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will”, while God B is “a unified, eternal, mysterious, rational community/family/society/entity of saving Love”. He continues:

“Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutuality, freedom. I’m not sure what comes first – the kind of universe you see or the kind of God you believe in, but as a Christian who believes in Jesus as the Son of God, I find myself in universe B, getting to know God B.

This is why, for starters, I am a Christian: the image of God conveyed by Jesus as the Son of God, and the image of the universe that resonates with this image of God best fit my deepest experience, best resonate with my deepest intuition, best inspire my deepest hope, and best challenge me to live with what my friend, the late Mike Yaconelli, called “dangerous wonder,” which is the starting point for a generous orthodoxy.”

How amazing is the philisophy? And how different from many of the churches we’ve been to, and continue to see today? To me this is a challenge to how we meet with God, how we view our world and how we reflect on ourselves. It also challenges us to see how we do church very differently. I pray that we may always search and question, and find wonder all around us.

Father God, may we not become complacent in our belief, and mouth words we think may be pleasing to You but without our hearts. May we enter each day, each moment, with a thirst to understand you better, and to better be your hands and feet in this world. May we nurture our soul as well as our bodies, and be a better example of you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Next post: Be the light

trinity carving

Last summer, I wrote a series of posts about religion, spirituality, theology, Christianity, psychology, sexuality and equality (links are at the bottom of this post). I’ve been thinking for some time about renewing the series, continuing with themes such as religion and spirituality, spirituality and science, and how they may intersect and collide. I thought before I start though, I should back up and write about what exactly it is I believe. This post has been a struggle as I think and pray over this, and though I know it must still leave out a lot, it can adequately express what is in my mind and heart.

I grew up in the small town of Wiarton, a town of about 2,000 people and at least 10 churches. Our family was one of the few in town that only rarely went to church, something I was reminded of often. But what I didn’t hear from my classmates who asked me to come to their church (or roundly condemned me for not participating) was the spirituality of the church. What I came to understand was what church to go to depending on who I wanted to be friends with, but nothing deeper. Needless to say, this didn’t make my visits any more frequent.

With one exception. A close friend of mine and her family went to church more often than anyone else I knew, and from our group asking her to hang out after school, quickly saw how active she and her family were in the community. When we asked her what she did all those nights after school she’d invite us to join her and sometimes we’d accept, but it was really the only time she mentioned it. I understand now that they felt guided to speak through actions instead of words, something that has always stayed with me.

I grew up always wondering about Christianity and other beliefs, but never feeling compelled to step into a church. Too much of what I saw from the Christians I grew up with turned me away, for many years. Intolerance, anger, ignorance, and judgement. So much judgement. When I discovered the phrase “church burned”, I knew exactly what they meant. It frightens and saddens me just how many people this describes perfectly.

In time, I came to question and read many different religious texts, including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, and writings by the Dalai Lama. I met my wife Sarah and my Baptist pastor father-in-law Dave, and was amazed at what I discovered. With them and through them I have met many liberal theologians intent on a message of peace, love, compassion and understanding. How much more amazing that it was all grounded in the same Bible I encountered as a child, the Bible so many know as a book of oppression and pain.

This takes me to what I believe. Through reading, questioning, searching, angst, anger, pain, confusion and prayer, I have come to believe in one God, that is three Gods. A God that loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us. A God that fulfils an ancient promise, a God that is a contradiction. A God that created all, intending peace, love, compassion. A God…in a time we no longer need Gods.

The Bible is rife with contradiction, depending on how it is interpreted. I read the transition from the Old Testament to the New as a change in God’s covenant with us, one from fire, brimstone and judgement to one of relationship, forgiveness and redemption. In the personhood of Jesus, I believe that God sacrificed Himself for us, became us, died for us. And was reborn.

It is absurd.

It is also miraculous, though perhaps in a post-miracle time.

I grew up scorning the Christians around me, entertained they could believe in a fantasy, and a truly absurd one at that. If that self could see me now, would it laugh at who I have become? Maybe. In the darkness of the soul, I fear that I deserve to be laughed at.

Yet so much of what I have read, thought, questioned and tested has led me to this belief, strange and impossible as it seems. But I feel as if I am only grasping the edges of truth, or maybe even only mistaking illusion for truth. There is no certainty, but I am becoming increasingly convinced there shouldn’t be certainty, it may even be in the uncertainty that faith lies.

Part of what always bothered me growing up was the smugness of my classmates, even the adults. The certainty that they knew the exact nature of God, of a creator I was sure was in their heads. The presumption that they knew the nature of a being thought to be beyond space and time, in essence, the very opposite of our so-very-finite selves. I now think it was to cover a fear, a fear I know deeply, I think that we all do. No matter our belief, our perspective, our philosophy…could I be all wrong? Am I doing this all wrong? Can I even know?

I doubt often, as I suspect everyone does. I certainly hope we all do.

Then there is the nature of belief itself. My understanding of God informs who I am, what I believe, but I also pour myself into that new belief. How much do I believe because it is what I want to believe, and how much is what God leads me to believe? This is something I am never sure of, may never be sure of. My interpretation of God’s message is a very liberal one. I read, think and pray over my interpretations and seek strong theology, but I’m also a very liberal person.

Something that has always confounded and upset me is the apparent schism between science and religion/spirituality/theology, hearing both “Scientific belief X is blasphemous/disproven by scripture” and “Religion has absolutely no place in this century” far too often for my comfort. I take interest and delight in the latest scientific discoveries, the latest technological advancements…and believe that it is entirely appropriate for a Christian to feel this way. If God created the world and breathed life into it, why should we not delight in absolutely everything that teaches more about that creation?

One of the strongest guides on my path to Christianity was Grace Miedema, a former chaplain at Fanshawe College when I was there. Grace taught me a great deal about the Bible, but also taught me that scripture of any kind can only take us so far in understanding ourselves and our purpose in the world of today. Grace taught me that the entire world is a second Bible, one that informs and shapes who we are, and the two must be read in context of each other to gain a deeper understanding.

In some ways, my belief is confusing, complicated, even frightening. But at the same time, it seems blissfully simple, if only it could be fulfilled.

We are called to love our God and to love one another. How truly terrible it is that the experience for so many, including myself, when in God’s community is only pain, fear, prejudice and hate. I hope that this year may be a year of returned relevance for the global church as well as all spiritual communities, as we all work to step out of exclusive circles into one of brotherhood, sisterhood, acceptance and assistance.

As we enter Lent, I pray for healing. Healing within myself, within every church between members, within every denomination between churches, between every denomination, between every faith, between all people. All people, may we find commonality long before we find difference. How simple to write, how horribly difficult to put into action. But may it happen, each with our own acts of goodness.

It all comes down to this, the Greatest Commandment:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

May I, may we all, help fulfil this commandment, every day.

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Knitting

I have been knitting for over 6 years now, and it is definitely one of my favourite pastimes. As I’ve learned more about it, and slowly learned new projects and new methods, my appreciation of it has only deepened. I’ve learned that there are so many benefits to knitting, beyond being able to produce clothes on my own. They include:

Community

Knitting (and other hobbies) are a wonderful way to meet others and connect over a common activity, share ideas/patterns and participate in mentoring/learning relationships. There are even digital knitting communities, like the hugely popular knitting social networking site, Ravelry.

Relaxation

In her always sold out talks, knitting blogger The Yarn Harlot (aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) has explored the neuroscience of knitting, and its short and long-term impact on the human brain. Long time knitters have the same overdeveloped areas of the brain as people who meditate constantly, like Buddhist monks. Its meditative qualities both allow it to be an activity that is entertaining when done alone, or done unconsciously while the brain engages in other activity. Knitting has been shown to possibly reduce the pain of diseases like Crohn’s and fibromyalgia. Knitting has been shown to potentially reduce trauma and post-traumatic stress when “used” in emergency situations. If we all carried emergency knitting, we could reduce the impact of bad days, bad news, and stressful or frightening situations. Some students with ADHD use knitting as part of their learning plan, allowing part of their brain to focus on the repetitive motion of knitting, and increasing focus and engagement on their lesson or reading. None of these effects happen overnight though, a small amount of practice on the basic stitches is necessary first.

Appreciation of history

Knitting has helped me develop a greater appreciation for history and tradition, connecting with an occupation that people having been doing for over 1000 years. And as a male knitter, I’m often teased for doing something so “delicate” and “feminine”. Beyond disagreeing to such constrictive gender identifications, I’m fascinated to learn more about how much male tradition there is in knitting (it was originally a male-only occupation). This includes events like the world wars, where often men were sent knitting needles and wool instead of completed clothing, because they were to produce their own in times of rest. Beyond utility, this may have been a welcome distraction, as the repetition and focus knitting demands could have helped soldiers find some peace.

Charity

This is one of my favourite aspects of knitting, and connects so well with others. There are many community groups and organizations that knit together for common goals, both close to home and international. Currently I knit for a London group called Keeping Kids Warm, which collect hand-knitted and bought clothing for children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the city. To me, this is a wonderful way to give back to our city, meet other knitters and connect over a common hobby and passion. It is also a terrific way for many to continue to connect with their city, as many of the contributors are elderly and/or shut in, so though they cannot come out to events they can continue to participate.

These are only a few of the many benefits of knitting. There are many knitting groups across the city, and in most communities. I encourage everyone to give it a try, and am always glad to help others learn if they’re interested in starting!

I’ve been searching for sources that point to the Christian perspective of how they are perceived by broader society, partially to answer the question “does the church realize how out of touch it is?”. I ended up turning to my bookshelf, to a book I studied as a relatively new Christian in 2007.

The book is “unChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity”, by authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. In it, they report and analyze research performed by The Barna Group on American 16-29 year olds to gauge their feelings about Christianity. Their findings were overwhelmingly negative, ranging from hypocritical, too concerned with converting people, too political, sheltered, judgmental, and anti-homosexual. Their research was performed in the USA, but the work is extrapolated to the church in Canada, with many Christian groups here continuing to study it and preach/meditate on the connotations it has for all North American churches.

As a new-ish Christian I was gratified to see this type of research being performed, especially as I had distanced myself from Christianity for so long partially because of how it is perceived, as well as my own perceptions based on my experiences with Christians growing up.

However, though I was glad at the research being performed, the book raised some questions about how much the church as represented by the authors really wants to change. Opening it again as a more mature Christian, I found their conclusions much more difficult to stomach.

Both the results published and the conclusion the authors took from them are telling. Of all the stereotypes, anti-homosexual came up the most often. As the authors note:

In our research, the perception that Christians are “against” gays and lesbians – not only objecting to their lifestyles but also harboring irrational fear and unmerited scorn toward them – has reached critical mass. The gay issue has become the “big one”, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimension that most clearly demonstrates the unChristian faith to young people today, surfacing a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say our hostility towards gays – not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals – has become virtually synonymous with Christian faith.

What I find most telling is the wording they choose to frame their argument. Lifestyle. Unmerited. Critical Mass. Using these words, homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. There is such thing as merited scorn. Critical mass seems to denote a PR crisis, not a spiritual crisis. The list goes on. They continue:

Of course homosexuality is an electric topic. Most people have strong feelings about it. And the issue is incredibly complex, affecting families and children and influencing media and culture. Gay activists have been aggressive in their attempt to change Americans’ perceptions, and values on this topic. We cannot underestimate how a morally relativistic generation, along with sophisticated media and political strategies, have created a tinder box for Christians’ reputations in this regard.

I believe that our sexuality is not a choice because of reports by mainstream psychological associations stating that it isn’t. I believe that sexuality isn’t a sin because of intelligent analysis of the Bible by scholars arguing persuasively it isn’t. These arguments don’t take these into account, instead arguing that I and anyone that thinks like me has been hoodwinked by what some call the (I wish I was kidding) “gaygenda”.

The “conspiracy” really isn’t to transform our countries into anything other a place where people who love as I love have the freedom to marry the partner of their choice and enjoy the same legal freedoms I do. I am troubled by the continued assertions by conservative Christians that there is something sinister at work instead of a basic struggle for freedom and equality, and the suggestion I support equality for LGBT people because I am part of a “morally relativistic” generation. Also consider:

It is one thing to be against homosexuality, to affirm that the Bible rejects the practice of same-sex lifestyles, but it is another to be against homosexuals, to let your disagreement with their behavior spill out in your feelings and words toward them as people. It is unChristian to lose your sense that everyone’s fallen nature affects all aspects of his or her life, including sexuality, and to forget God’s command to love people in order to point them to Jesus.

This sounds a lot more like “love the sinner, hate the sin” (not biblical) than “Do not judge, or you too shall be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV).

There is a great deal of debate over whether homosexuality is a sin; while I believe Christians are called to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, many will disagree. However, the psychological consensus is that our sexuality is not a choice, and not caused by any kind of mental disorder.

Homosexuals are the same as everyone else. I continue to struggle with this issue as I come to truly appreciate how different my understanding of the Bible on this issue is to many others’, yet grapple with my understanding that our sexuality isn’t a choice. I truly believe God wouldn’t create people in a way he would condemn. Homosexuality isn’t an aberration, yet so many Christians continue to mistreat people based on something that cannot help. Where is Christ in such actions? Where does the interpretation of scripture end and bigotry begin? Ultimately, what do we do when so many Christians behave in such unChristian ways? How do we respond in a Christ-like way?

Obviously, there is a great deal of work to do to change perceptions in the church about homosexuality. How do we start a conversation with fellow Christians on this important issue? That will be the focus of my next post in the series.

I grew up in the small town of Wiarton, Ontario. Like many other towns, it has a small population (2,291) yet contains at least 10 distinct churches. Growing up, I had many people (classmates and adults alike) lecture me about not going to church. However church had no attraction for me, especially as those I spoke to didn’t seem interested in inviting me to join the church as the body of Christ, but only to tell me why their church was superior to everyone else’s, and to make sure that I started going to the “right one”.

Any person with this attitude gives me a great deal of concern, for the damage they do to the global church body by believing that their way is the only way. It damages relationships, and it stunts potential spiritual growth. I began to avoid the company of people who would try to lead me to join their church, no matter how well-meaning their invitations may be. It was only until college that I met a chaplain that was a leader at Fanshawe, and through many conversations and cups of coffee that I explored my spirituality, and ultimately became a believer in Christ.

As I continue on my journey, I have become more and more concerned about the damage the church does when it chooses to condemn. Living in Wiarton, I encountered many forms of prejudice, but perhaps especially homophobia, and most especially from those that I consider to be the most devout church-goers. This always surprised and appalled me, because the impression I had from my limited understanding of the Bible was that Christ had died on the cross for all people and all sin, and that all were welcome to partake in and share the Good News. In my child’s mind, these two realities shouldn’t have anything to do with each other.

It wasn’t based on real-world understandings of homosexuals. Several of my classmates have come out since graduating from school and moving from Wiarton. Unfortunately the atmosphere there was far too oppressive for anyone to be willing to be open about their sexuality while still there. It seemed no one that I knew had encountered a “real” homosexual, they only knew that the Bible told them (and often, their priest/pastor preached) that it was a sin.

All too often, the Bible is used to denounce behavior we disagree with by lifting convenient passages and quoting them out of context (a topic I covered in a previous blog post). All too often, passages of the Bible that call all that follow Jesus to stand up for the oppressed are omitted or ignored so that those that practice it may continue to feel their prejudice and judgement is Biblically supported. Jesus teaches us:

“Do not judge, or you too shall be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all a time there is a plank in your own eye. You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

As well, there are the Beatitudes of Jesus, that present Christian ideals of love and humility, mercy and compassion. They are:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those that are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV)   

I firmly believe that Jesus would have us stand up for our LGBT brothers and sisters, instead of being part of the force that stands against them. Before the Pride London parade, I happened to meet Karen Low from Sabbath Place, and heard her pre-parade sermon delivered in Queen’s Park. She was kind enough to share her sermon notes with me, I’d like to share a portion of it here.

In a few moments we will take to the street to take our place amongst our community, wearing the colours of the rainbow and claiming our identities. On this day we will march, banners flying, declaring our pride in who we were created to be. We will dance in sheer exuberance and irresistible joy as a living vision of justice and equity; all will be welcome, all will be included, all will be safe. We will be every size, colour, gender and type, each with the right of self-expression, each with the right to love and live and be free. We will look around and see the beauty of creation on every face and in every heart. We will feel uncontainable wonder at the truth within us and around us…

And as we gratefully look into this circle of the spirit, we also turn our attention outward to see the millions who live lives of quiet desperation, to feel the suffering of those who exist without freedom, to hear the cries of those who struggle against the bars of injustice, praying and striving for the realization of that day when love becomes a palpable force in all lives and where all people know of their essential unity.

Here at home as well as all around the world, the LGBT community continues to be oppressed, partially by Christians, despite the fact that sexuality isn’t a choice someone makes for themselves. As we contemplate Karen’s message, we must remember Jesus’ message of peace, love, acceptance and understanding. I believe that Christ would have us stand with our LGBT brethren, not against them.

For the last while I’ve been thinking more about my beliefs about human sexuality, different perceptions about what is/isn’t sinful, and whether to be homosexual/bisexual/transgender is a choice or a lifestyle. This has become more intense as I have become more involved in living out my beliefs by participating in Pride London last week, and as the issue has taken centre stage in the United States again as the Chick-Fil-A controversy unfolds.

I’ve been thinking about the theological questions posed about sexuality and marriage from the Bible, and working to speak with/read from different people to explore different perspectives on sexuality. However, I’ll tackle it in a future post, and want to start with the debate if sexuality is a lifestyle choice or a predisposition that is ingrained in who we are.

I’ve tried to read from a variety of scientific publications, and I’ve found strong scientific evidence to support my belief that sexuality of all kinds isn’t a choice. From what I’ve read from organizations like the American Psychological Association and Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists is that there seems to be a strong scientific consensus that not only is sexuality (both hetero- and homosexuality) formed by biological conditions (and therefore a part of who the person is) it is a natural part of human bonding, not an aberration or disease. As well, many studies warn against the prejudice and discrimination that non-heterosexual people face based on negative stereotypes that persist although they aren’t backed by evidence, which harm the individual victimized as well as the society/community as a whole.

This “Submission to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality” by Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2004 states that there isn’t evidence to support the claim parenting/early childhood experiences shape sexuality:

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.

The RCP also issued this statement:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists holds the view that lesbian, gay and bisexual people should be regarded as valued members of society who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. This includes equal access to health care, the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil partnership, the rights and responsibilities involved in procreating and bringing up children, freedom to practice a religion as a lay person or religious leader, freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.

From this Q&A-style statement by the American Psychological Association titled “Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality”, answering “Is homosexuality a mental disorder?”:

No, lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding.

The article also makes a statement about therapy intended to change sexual orientation:

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Finally, this publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that adverse life events aren’t responsible for sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences…Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.

It also states:

The mechanisms for the development of a particular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.

From these and other scientific reports, I conclude that human sexuality is a continuum, and that there isn’t anything innately “wrong” with any one kind of sexuality. There isn’t scientific evidence to support any kind of sexuality-based discrimination, and evidence that when we do discriminate, not only are we doing terrible harm to the victim, but harm to our entire society.

This also raises serious theological questions: if God creates people along a sexual continuum instead of only heterosexual, what implications does this have for our understanding of God and scripture? I hope to write soon on this subject.