Bible

have we become the pharisees?

Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I'm working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I'm transitioning back to writing some fiction, I've been finding that it's taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that's more normal than I'm giving myself credit for.

With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that's not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.

have we become the pharisees?

When I was younger and still in Sunday school or just in school for that matter, since I went to a Christian K-12 school for a long time, sitting in a sagging, scratchy couch in one of the many rooms scattered along the length of the Catholic church activities building that my school rented, I always thought that things were pretty straight forward. By the time I left that school after my sophomore year of high school, it was easy for me to assume that I had a lot of things about my faith and about the Bible all figured out, something that remains one of the most false thoughts I’ve ever had in my entire life. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is the way that we learned to categorize people in Bible stories. I always used to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys in the Gospels, but something I’ve been realizing is that they really weren’t, at least not at the time. No, quite the contrary, the Pharisees were the good guys in their day, and they were probably viewed as the ones who were as good as anyone was going to get.

The Pharisees knew their Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament law. They could probably recite entire chapters from what they had of the Bible without missing a beat. To make a loose parallel, the Pharisees were the pastors’ kids who were born and raised in the church, the kids that showed up to church every Wednesday and Sunday, the kids that were on worship team and hospitality team and everything else in between. Unlike how we were taught to view the Pharisees in Sunday school, they were the good guys, the good Christian kids of Biblical times.

And Jesus and His disciples? They were probably seen as the rebels of youth group and Sunday school. Jesus was the lone rabbi who may or may not have actually had rabbi credentials who went around Israel with his ragtag group of twelve, give or take a few. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t work during His ministry, instead living primarily off the support of his followers such as Mary and Martha and perhaps His family. When you think about it that way, it’s actually not too hard to imagine why the Pharisees and the other religious folk didn’t like Him.

Jesus was the unemployed fake rabbi wannabe who lived in his parents’ basement and only seemed to stir up trouble wherever He went. He took out the moneychangers in the temple with a whip, he hung out with the other good-for-nothings in Jewish/Roman society like the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he repeatedly broke the Sabbath, which, last I checked, was probably just as central to the Pharisees’ theology as being pro-life and saying that marriage is between one man and one woman are to conservative Christian theology today. On top of all that, he told them over and over again that they were being too legalistic, using all kinds of relatively nasty metaphors to get that message across. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whitewashed graves. Blind guides. Jesus didn’t hold back when it came to telling the Pharisees exactly what He thought of them.

The more I think about those dynamics, the more I think that perhaps I would’ve been pissed at Jesus had I been living during that time period too, and that’s a scary thought to have, because I think that many of us have been raised and taught to identify more with the oppression and hounding of Jesus and His disciples than with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees responsible when I don’t think that’s the place that we hold in modern Christian circles. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, it makes more sense to put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes than in those of Jesus and His disciples, if we’re being very, brutally honest.

Again, the Pharisees really knew their stuff. They knew what the law said about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath or the regulations stipulating this or that about ceremonial uncleanliness, and I think that’s really reflective of many of us today, myself included. Many of us were raised in the church, and we also know all the Bible stories as well as what they’re supposed to mean and what we’re supposed to get out of them. Along the same lines, we also know all the verses that tell us what’s good and what’s not. We know the verses that supposedly tell us that women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. We know the verses that say homosexuality is an abomination. And we know the verses that “clearly” state every other thing we’ve learned in church or in school, but because of that we’re missing the point, just like the Pharisees were.

Because the truth of the matter is that it’s not about the rules or the law or anything else that makes the world seem like it’s black and white to us. It’s always been about standing out and being different, with radical love as our banner, because that’s what Jesus did, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense all the time. If you think about it, Jesus didn’t have to heal or do miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t have to be kind and loving to the tax collectors who were seen as sellouts to the Romans. He didn’t have to heal the Roman centurion’s servant. He didn’t have to do any of it if He really wanted to fit in with the Pharisees and live His days as the good Jewish boy that He could’ve been, but instead He chose to be radical in way that directly opposed many of the religious traditions and norms of His day. He prioritized people and meeting with them, touching them, and loving them individually over religious correctness, and I think that’s crazy. I also think that the saying is true that we would probably crucify Jesus all over again if He walked the earth today, regardless of whether that’s physically, politically, socially, or culturally and that saddens me, though I would also include myself in that statement.

Something else that I kept asking myself as I was going through elementary school and middle school was how all of these people missed what Jesus was trying to do and how they couldn’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts that He was trying to teach them, but I think I understand now because our American world has become so similar to the world that Jesus lived in, filled with people who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who know theology like it’s their native language, who know facts about God and arguments for this doctrine or that doctrine, but also filled with people who don’t know what love looks like anymore. All of sudden, love looks like being right when it comes to this or that theological question and knowing all the proper motions to go through at church, because you know that your love for God is measured by how often you show up to church, or how good of notes you took at that last sermon, or whether or not you’re on the church or school worship team, or whether or not you support the right political candidate, or whether or not your views on a particular issue align exactly with those of your church. That’s what love and devotion to God look like in 21st century American culture, and I think that’s the exact same kind of religious atmosphere that Jesus was born into 2000 years ago, at least by my reading of the Bible, and that makes us the Pharisees, regardless of whether we like it or not. We’ve become the bad guys that we loved to hate in Sunday school, all without even realizing it, because just like them, we think that we’re the good guys.

In light of that, I think that we need to try and do what the Pharisees failed to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and start worrying less about being the good guys and more about loving the way that He did, because that’s the only way that we’re truly going to transform and engage with culture, not by being right or good, but by being loving.

how I finally learned what love is

The air was cool for Minnesota summer, and a fire crackled and snapped over wet logs in the fire pit in front of me. I was about to tell a story I had only told once before, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the words still felt almost fake as they churned inside of me, bringing a new sensation of reality to the term word vomit. It just didn’t feel right. In a way, it felt selfish, what I was about to do. At a cursory glance, everything about my life seemed to be just as it should, if not better, but I was about to confess that for the majority of my life I had felt like I had to earn love and wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant to be loved.  

I mean, honestly, I’m 19 years old, have a college diploma hanging on my bedroom wall, my family is great to me and always has been, my friends are some of the best you could ask for, and I have everything I need, among other things, but I couldn’t escape the voice of God trying to convince me, for the umpteenth time in however many years, that there was no possible way for anyone to ever earn someone else’s love. But along with that, He also seemed to whisper that the reason was that you didn’t have to. His love, as well as anyone else’s authentic love, doesn’t need to be earned. That seems like such a simple, basic concept, but it’s one I’m honestly still processing and learning to be true.

 

I don’t know exactly when it started to why, but what I do know is that for most of my life, I’ve harbored this nagging voice constantly telling me I have to be smart enough, nice enough, Christian enough, musical enough, x enough, y enough, or z enough in order for people to like me, and by extension, love me. For most of grade school, and I suppose parts of college as well, I partially satisfied that voice by assuring myself I would be the smartest, and I guess that’s why I have a college diploma framed on my bedroom wall before my twenties. Beyond that, I fed that voice’s hunger by also telling myself I would have the most friends and be the best Christian person I could be, but all of those things have come under attack in the last few years as God has started breaking down those walls to show me what He’s really about, and what He’s about is unconditional love.

 

For about as long as I can remember, I believed it was my job to keep my friends around and stay in their good graces as well as God’s. In grade school and to this day, I was always the person wondering and freaking out about why someone hadn’t texted or messaged me back yet. Depending how long it had been, I would start thinking back to anything I had done recently, or even further in the past, to make them not want to talk to me anymore. Or if someone canceled plans with me, I would wonder if it was perhaps my fault that they didn’t want to get together anymore. With every little thing I was questioning myself, trying to find something I had done or maybe even just something about myself that had caused it, and this vicious cycle continued to perpetuate itself, only exacerbated by the fact that a handful of my former friends did just up and disappear off the face of the earth one day.

 

But the fact of the matter was that I was trying to earn and maintain the love of everyone around me, and it was eating away at me inside. By junior year of high school, I was having anxiety attacks on the regular, paralyzed by this gripping fear and panic that trapped me in my own mind, going through all the different reasons someone might’ve decided they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore or didn’t like me anymore, until the fated person or people messaged me back or rescheduled our plans or whatever it might have been. Then, everything would be fine, until it happened again. It created a constant fear and terror that the people I cared about and loved would all of a sudden decide one day that they didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, even if I had just seen them a few days before, and it was a mentally and emotionally draining.

 

At the same time, I was coming to grips with a lot of other things going on in life, and it was about the same time most mainstream churches were really cracking down and getting brutally honest with what they thought about LGBTQ topics. All the while another tempest was brewing inside of me, I was also sitting in church listening to pastors essentially telling me I was deformed by the Fall, doomed to a constant state of constant lust, and that the only way for me to be right with God was to relegate myself to being alone forever, and that’s if they were being kind about it. On social media, other evangelical Christian leaders were telling me I was an abomination, an insult to men, a spawn of the devil, just another step away from a pedophile, and a myriad of other things I could choose to repeat but won’t. It wasn’t much help that my youth pastors talked about people like me and treated me directly like I was spiritually sick, as if who I was could somehow be cured if I just prayed enough and had enough accountability, whatever that was supposed to mean (in my head, it sounded like weekly updates on what it was like to be gay that week, which I didn’t really understand the purpose of).

 

Combined, the world started to look like a really dark, bleak place to be. Already struggling with the idea that the people I loved and cared about most might just one day cast me aside, the message that I was either inherently bad by nature of existing or destined to be alone forever really supercharged my drive to prove that I was okay and that I could be good, and my need to earn the love of others only skyrocketed. I became convinced that if I was just good enough, if I was Christian enough, and if I could make a relationship work that I’d be able to prove to myself, to God, and to everyone else that I actually was good and that the way I was could be good and that the way I loved could be good, that I wasn’t all of those bad and awful things the church had told me that I was. And if I did all of those things, I’d also be able to convince God and everyone else to love me.

 

But all of those things crumbled to the ground as soon as this most recent season of life started, with college ending, me not going to church because it still stings too much, and me still being very much single. Suddenly, everything holding me together had disappeared and I was starting to feel it. But the thing is that God always seems to make the biggest breakthroughs when you don’t have anything left to give, which oddly enough, also happens to be the point right after He’s already taken away all the false hopes and defenses we’ve built up for ourselves.

 

Having stripped away everything else I thought I was hanging onto, what He taught me and is continuing to teach me is that you can never ever make anyone love you, at least if you’re talking about real love that is. And unlike normally, the same rules apply to God. You can’t make Him love you, and even though that sounds scary and out of your control (because it is), it’s actually the best thing He ever could’ve said, because the truth is that you don’t need to make Him love you. He already does, and He always will.

 

Maybe part of the truth is that my learning of this profound, but also incredibly basic idea was hindered due to the fact that 97% of the boys and men I encountered made fun of me and directly, straight up, no punches pulled told me I wasn’t good enough up or I was too different until my junior year of high school (when I finally met some real ones, mind you) or the fact that the church told me I was worse, dirtier, inherently flawed, and more sinful for so long, but I think another part of the truth is that God needs each of us to learn the insanely beautiful truth that we are loved by others and loved beyond compare by Him, without any restrictions, loopholes, conditions, or exceptions, on our own, in our own way, before we can really believe it for ourselves.

 

So, if you took the time to read this, just know that you are loved. You are so loved. Full stop.

the lie of nonexistent intimate friendships (part two)

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Something that I’ve noticed about American relational culture recently, and perhaps especially so with Christian American relational culture, is that we really like to have lines clearly drawn. I see this as the reason why we have phenomena in Christian colleges like DTRs (defining the relationship). There seems to be an increasing neediness to always know what the status of your relationship with another person, and it doesn’t necessarily come from within ourselves. More often than not, it comes as an external question, when we may or may not have been thinking about it.

 

I think most of us have probably found ourselves in a situation, or at least observed a situation in which two people have begun spending significant amounts of time with each other, prompting some or all of their friends to probe them on whether they’re “just friends” or something more than friends. This can be an incredibly awkward or frustrating experience for everyone involved, regardless of whether the two people actually might have feelings for each other and are trying to navigate that or whether they are close friends who enjoy spending a lot of time together.

 

Either way, I think this fascination with needing to define relationships has begun hurting our conceptions of friendship, because along with a desire to know exactly what status a relationship has, there also exists an assumption that the relationship will also fit neatly within the preconceived assumptions of what “just friends” or something more than friends might look like. (That being said, I’ve really grown to hate the term “just friends” as I’ve been learning more about friendship and working through this series, because I’ve come to realize it’s a rather derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.) If we really think about it, friendships already tend to exist in the middle ground of a Venn diagram, but our attitudes toward them skew towards trying to keep them cleanly isolated to only their safe extremes on a gradient spectrum and this severely limits our ability to understand and have healthy friendships in my opinion.

 

I've really grown to hate the term "just friends," because I've come to realize it's such a derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.

Anam Cara || Irish Gaelic

In conducting my linguistic research for this post as well as my last, this term for a relationship between friends impacted me the most. I had originally found it online while doing some cursory searches for terms for intimate friendship in other languages, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was understanding it correctly until I came across the word again while I was reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, used in a eulogy by one half of an inseparable pair of friends in reference to the other after her untimely death. Though the Bible doesn’t go into detail about the specific circumstances, I like to think David’s mourning over Jonathan’s death in 2 Samuel was similar to the heart wrenching eulogy spanning several pages in Accidental Saints half of the pair of friends wrote for the other. It read similarly to how a lover might have mourned for a lost partner, and that’s when I was sure that I understood how this term was meant to be used.

 

According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs when the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said two spouses would become one flesh in Genesis.

 

A simple definition of ‘anam cara’ refers to it being the Celtic spiritual belief in the bonding of two souls in friendship. In Celtic spirituality, the soul is thought of as radiating out from the body in an aura that interacts with everything and everyone that you come into contact with. If a person formed a strong enough bond or connection with another person, through being fully open and fully trusting of each other, among other things, it was believed that their souls began to run and flow together as one and that they had found an ‘anam cara.’ Though that may sound romantic in nature and though this term is often translated as ‘soul mate,’ the literal translation is ‘soul friend,’ this translation being supported by the modern Irish notion that while your spouse may be an ‘anam cara,’ it’s still usually reserved for friends rather than lovers. In a way, this makes sense and causes this perception of an ‘anam cara’ to align more closely with the oft forgotten Christian idea of spiritual friendship as a result. According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs in which the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said in Genesis that two spouses would become one flesh through their physical union, an idea taken from 1 Samuel 18 when David’s soul is described as being knit to Jonathan’s upon meeting him for the first time. Specifically, it says this:

As soon as he had finished talking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. // 1 Samuel 18:1-3

 

This passage was something my mind was immediately drawn to upon reading about the concept of an ‘anam cara,’ and I think it fits the description well. Though the only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate at all anymore is the covenant relationship of marriage (which is a problem that needs to be remedied in American Christianity), multiple different kinds of covenant relationships existed in the Bible, including this covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan as well as the covenants that God Himself made with Israel and later with all believers. For this reason, I see it as impossible to deny the significance and weight friendship holds when certain types of friendships are bound together by the same kinds of covenants that seal relationships that we as Christians tend to idolize, such as the covenant of marriage. This is especially true when Jonathan risks his life and crosses his father, the king of Israel, for the sake of his friendship and covenant with David later in the story, all acts of love and sacrifice that we typically only see in portrayed within the confines of romantic love in many stories that we grow up with today, which does so much to destroy the beauty, depth, and intimacy of what true friendship is supposed to look like.

 

The only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate anymore in American Christianity is the covenant of marriage, which is a problem that needs to be remedied.

 

If my friend, Sheridan, is my [nakama] from my last post, then my friend Joseph is my anam cara.

 

I first met Joseph under less than ideal circumstances and basically by accident a few years ago. I was at this weeklong, overnight leadership camp being held a Christian college, and I definitely wasn’t there voluntarily. Though not necessarily forced to go, I probably would’ve come up with any excuse to back out if my family and I hadn’t already paid for it, and I had been dreading it even more so when I realized that I likely wouldn’t know anybody else there upon arrival. And to top it all off, you weren’t allowed to bring your phone or any other type of electronic device in order to keep you present during the week. Great.

 

The camp consisted of three or four lecture-type sessions every day with teaching on various aspects of leadership and worldview with team activities (which you were sorted into randomly), meals, and free time in between. During the first session the first night, I had spotted a friend from church that I vaguely knew across the way and my awkward self made its way over in order to hide the fact that I was still feeling horribly uncomfortable. With him was Joseph, and if I’m being honest, at that moment, I felt something similar to what Jonathan felt when he met David. In that moment, I knew I wanted this person in my life, probably forever, but at the same time, I met him during our five minutes of stretching and mingling time in the middle of a session, so I wasn’t actually sure if I would see him again or actually become friends with him.

 

That quickly changed the next day. Our first block of free time in the afternoon had just rolled around, and I wasn’t really sure who I was going to be spending the next three hours with. Having been pretty exhausted the previous night from the dread of not even wanting to be at this camp, I went to bed early without really meeting anyone else, plagued by a runny nose and cough due to the mold that was lowkey growing in the dorms we were staying in. So like any awkward camper, I looked at the directory to see what room the church friend I hardly knew was staying in and thought I’d pop over there to see if I could not be alone for those three hours of free time. When I knocked on the door, Joseph answered, being roommates with this church friend and struck up a conversation with me after informing me that the guy I had actually been looking for was gone and he didn’t know where he was. And thus began an entire week of spending the majority of our time together, along with the small group of friends that we formed, ditching our assigned small groups to eat with each other, being essentially inseparable during sessions, and swapping numbers at the end of camp to ensure that we would remain in contact. We’ve been friends since then, our lives continuing to intersect almost accidentally, like when we both discovered about two weeks before Welcome Week that we’d both be going to Bethel in the fall of 2013.

 

"You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their 'relationship,' but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out." // Andrew Sullivan

 

He truly is one of my soul friends, and he’s one of the few people that I really do feel comfortable sharing my soul with. He’s a strong non-anxious presence, being one of the very few people I feel completely safe and unjudged with, and we’ve both made it clear that nothing is off limits between us. We can talk about anything and everything without feeling like we’re burdening or annoying each other with it, which goes for both the smallest of things and the biggest. Beyond that sense of just safety with him, he’s also so good for me, because he challenges me on why I think certain things and doesn’t just agree with me in order to avoid a potential disagreement in opinion. So, we’ll have excellent talks that weave in and out of serious and lighthearted topics, and he’s also incredible at just being, which is probably one of my favorite things about him. I’ve read several articles recently that talk about how millennials don’t know how to handle silence and just being, but Joseph is a pro at mindful silence and makes me want to be better at it too. All in all, I think a quote by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote extensively about this idea of ‘anam cara’ in his book Love Undetected, describes our relationship quite well. He writes, “You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their “relationship,” but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out.”

 

The very last words are particularly relevant. Even as of late, several people have asked me if we’re together, and some don’t even believe me when I tell them that we aren’t, which is just funny to me. I mean, I’m not shy about saying that I do genuinely love him, but even that seems to be such a polarizing thing to say in American relational culture. They always assume that something else must be going on between us because there’s just no precedent for that kind of friendship in American culture, and that raises a lot of good questions. Why can’t friends pay for each other when they go out to meals together? Why can’t friends hold hands or link arms walking down the street (this is actually quite common in many countries, especially non-Westernized countries, but also countries like Spain and Italy)? And why can’t friends say “I love you,” to each other?

 

Why have we created such a warped and distorted view of friendship in American culture that we've started to believe friendships can't be this deep or intimate without being a threat to marriage?

 

I think our perception of friendship has been so warped and distorted in American culture and American Christian culture that we’ve started to believe that friendships can’t be this deep or this intimate without being a threat to marriage or romantic relationships because the lines might be too blurry. While obviously those relationships are distinct, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Greeks and even C.S. Lewis counted friendship among the different forms of love, so why do we keep insisting on limiting love to the kind we see in romcoms and keeping it in a box when it’s so much broader and more beautiful than that? I think that perhaps if we reoriented and repaired our perceptions of friendship and other forms of love that aren’t romantic, sexual love, maybe those relationships in our lives would be improved and strengthened too, because we’d start to see love more holistically than the way it’s been fed to us over the last several decades.

 

Maybe the Greeks were onto something when they used different words for the different forms of love. Maybe they knew that having only one word to encompass so many different kinds of nuanced relationships would cause us to unhealthily emphasize one over all the others. Maybe that’s the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships.

 

All of that being said, start thinking about how you think about your significant others in your life, because they can be your friends, your family, and so many other people other than just someone you might be romantically involved with. Do you automatically prioritize a romantic relationship over others in your life? If so, why? And is it even Biblical to do that?

 

Maybe the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships stems from the fact that the words we have to talk about different kinds of relationships in American English are so limited and narrow, lacking the nuance that the Greeks had to talk about love.

 

After that, start thinking about how you can love your friends better. Tell your friends you love them. Show some physical affection maybe. I’m not necessarily saying we need to knock marriage down a few notches, but I am definitely saying that friendship is a beautiful and complex thing that hasn’t been getting enough of the credit it truly deserves.

 

(In writing this post, I referenced a couple articles and they can be found at these links below if you’re interested in reading more about this kind of friendship.)

 

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/12/anam-cara-john-o-donohue-soul-friend/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/23/love-undetectable-andrew-sullivan-friendship/

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff and please, please share my writing if you resonate with it!

 

when wisdom means saying "i don't know"

Note: This post is the first in an ongoing series of posts entitled “Lessons from CWC” in which I reflect on some ideas taken out of Christianity & Western Culture, a gen ed class at Bethel that I TA’ed for during my time there. I think that there’s a lot to be learned from history and other thinkers before us, and I loved the class and being able to TA for it. These posts will have their own individual titles, but they’ll be organized under the category “Lessons from CWC” which can be accessed from the ‘Menu’ tab at the top right corner of any page of the blog. Happy reading. As a blogger and a writer, you could say that the way words flow together and the juxtaposition of their meanings really strikes a chord with me. Maybe that’s why I’m quick to remember quotes or phrases that I like or that are especially meaningful to me. Today, I was reminded of something that one of my professors said in class last semester that has stuck with me ever since. (In reality, I feel like maybe I had heard this saying before, but I’m going to attribute it to Dan Rotach anyway.)

While I was reflecting on a little back and forth that some of my friends and I had gotten into on Facebook, stemming from my last blog post, I thought back to this saying: The wisest people are also the quickest to say, “I don’t know.”

The wisest people are also the quickest to say, "I don't know."

At first, that statement seems to be counterintuitive. How can you be wise if you’re also going to be the first person to say that you don’t know or that you aren’t sure? Won’t people think that you don’t really know what you’re talking about or that you must be ill informed if you don’t always have an answer ready for them? Perhaps, but I think that being wise also involves an understanding that there’s always going to be more to learn and that the only person who has an answer for everything is God. And even then, we’re not always privy to those answers.

This is something that Socrates, an ancient Athenian philosopher, understood that I think a lot of us, myself included, often forget. Though he lived before the time of Christ and thus couldn’t be considered a Christian by most traditional benchmarks, I think that there’s still a lot that we can learn from his reflections on life. He was famous for saying things like this:

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” - Socrates

Maybe that sounds radical, but I think that it’s true. After all, in almost every field that humans have studied, we have eventually reached a point where we must ask ourselves more questions, and sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” for a long time or even longer. Think about it. Some of the smartest people in the world are still trying to figure out how it so happened that life is sustainable on earth, how people and other living things can be made up of millions of cells but function as an entire unit, how emotions make sense from chemical processes in the brain, and so many other things. True, sometimes we can come up with baseline answers for these questions, but a lot of the time, we end up back at “I don’t know.”

Perhaps this is the same approach we should take to topics that we still aren’t completely versed in or that we might never be as well, such as human sexuality or theology. The former we still don’t entirely understand, and the latter deals with the study of God, an infinite being that we’ll never be able to fully comprehend. Yes, we should absolutely seek to learn as much about God and about theology as we can, but maybe that also means admitting that we don’t know sometimes. There are those outspoken for Calvinism and Arminianism, affirming and non-affirming theology, whether or not women can or cannot be leaders in the church, and many other things, but those things aren’t necessarily salvific. And if that’s the case, are they really worth tearing ourselves apart over?

I’ve heard Calvinists accuse others of not taking the sovereignty of God seriously. I’ve heard non-affirming leaders accuse others of destroying the sanctity of marriage. I’ve heard creationists attack the faith of evolutionists. I’ve seen a lot of strife in the church and between Christians centered around things that shouldn’t be tearing apart the body of Christ.

Yes, I think that it’s absolutely crucial that people figure out what they believe and why they believe it, but are we really so arrogant to believe that our own interpretation, our pastor, our church, our denomination, etc. has gotten it completely, 100% right? That’s an awfully pressure-packed position to stand in.

Every other Christian out there is trying to live out and figure out their faith one day at a time, just like we are.

Of course, I’m not arguing that people abandon those beliefs, but I do think that perhaps we could all use a small enough dose of humility to say that perhaps we’re wrong, not to put doubt into our own beliefs necessarily, but to have enough grace not to attack others or question the validity of their faith because we recognize that every other Christian out there is doing the exact same thing that we are: trying to live out and figure out their faith and what that means for his or her life one day at a time.

In light of that, my posture in almost every situation is to hold to something else that I’ve been told repeatedly in my life. In many difficult life situations, often involving loss, my dad has said something to this effect, “I’m not one to judge someone else’s faith, because you can’t know. That’s between them and God.”

"I'm not one to judge someone else's faith. That's between them and God."

While we might not necessarily agree with what someone else believes, I think that those words are true. We aren’t the bouncers to the Kingdom, so why do we so often insist on policing the beliefs and morality of others? I certainly don’t know for certain whether this or that contested belief on a particular topic is true. Maybe neither of them are. Maybe the reality is something that humans can’t even fathom. With that in mind, I think that I’ll stick to doing the one thing that I do know I’m supposed to do.

I’ll stick to loving and admitting that sometimes I don’t know what the right answer is and that sometimes I’ll get things wrong.

mark yarhouse talked to my christian college on sexuality and this is how it went

Alright, here's the full, unedited version of the article that was published in the Bethel Clarion earlier this week, detailing my stream of thought about the Mark Yarhouse sexuality event last week. The Clarion staff did a great job editing it, but it definitely read more like a newspaper article (as it should have) than some of my normal writing, so I wanted to stick the original version up on here. Take a read if you weren't at the event or haven't already. I checked the time on my phone as I speed walked through the BC on my way to the Underground. It was already 8:01pm and I was late, having just come from helping lead an exam review session for CWC.  Mark Yarhouse, a psychologist and professor from Regent University, was giving a talk on sexuality and I was going to be there, though a bit reluctant at first. From what I had heard and read of him in the past, I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the event, but the Underground was relatively full, so I slid into the second row from the front and took out my notebook just as it was beginning.

Over the course of his talk, which consisted of a presentation of his research on sexual minorities at Christian colleges and a Q&A afterward, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well he handled the topic and how nuanced many of his answers were, a sentiment that I found many other LGBT students in attendance shared following the event.

Among the positives in his presentation, he gave a mildly muddled, but overall helpful explanation of why it’s important to LGBT people to identify as “gay,” “lesbian,” etc., rather than “same-sex attracted” or “homosexual.” This is an important distinction for the Bethel community to realize because using non-standard terminology can often carry dehumanizing connotations for LGBT students, even Christian LGBT students, because they often have roots that go back to ex-gay reparative therapy movements or when homosexuality was still considered a mental health disorder, two things that he also touched on briefly.

In addition, he affirmed several fundamental truths of existence for LGBT Christians that often get glossed over the highly politicized culture wars over LGBT issues. Among these, he made it clear that it is very possible to be gay or lesbian or transgender and also a Christian, defending that those two things are not mutually exclusive, something that is still debated in some Christian circles. Further, he noted that even though he doesn’t take an affirming stance in terms of same-sex marriage or sexual relationships, that doesn’t mean that people who do are necessarily wrong. He explained that many of his LGBT friends hold different positions there, but that doesn’t have any impact on the quality or legitimacy of their relationship, because there are many good Christians who happen to fall on different sides of that spectrum of belief. This is so significant because these types of differences tend to be highly polarized, with either side being alternately considered morally right or morally wrong, so the fact that he also explicitly stated that he never questioned the faith of his friends who held to differing beliefs is a good example of how non-affirming Christians can and should react to those kinds of differences, choosing to maintain relationships with people who hold other perspectives rather than feeling the constant need to remind them that we disagree with them. And this goes for both sides, affirming and non-affirming.

Finally, he also spoke quite a bit on what it might look like to engage with these kinds of issues on Christian college campuses, his main point being that we should strive to create safe spaces where LGBT students can still feel wanted and fully included in those communities. Thus, he spoke against using the phrase “love the sinner; hate the sin,” a popular saying that has been used in reference to LGBT Christians and only serves to reduce those people to their sexuality while simultaneously dehumanizing them. In addition, he indicated that he’s not a proponent of reparative therapy, meant to make LGBT Christians straight, and only reserves the right of sexual orientation change efforts to informed adults who voluntarily seek it out. Rather, he advocated for the climate change on Christian college campuses and support for LGBT students, pointing out that LGBT students have no fewer needs for intimacy than straight students, that coming from interpersonal relationships and social and institutional support among other sources. Thus, while his claims that policy change is probably not the most realistic expectation for LGBT students might upset some and be considered less than satisfactory, his calls for broader and deeper support for LGBT students at Christian colleges are a bright spot and definitely a good starting point for schools like Bethel.

Overall, it was refreshing to hear a speaker that represented our stories more or less accurately, portrayed us in a humanizing way, and helped other students and faculty understand what it’s like to walk the journeys that we do a little better. Though ideally we would be hearing these stories from LGBT Christians and students themselves, the mere fact that this event occurred and that he was willing to engage with the difficult questions many of us raised is a positive step toward the right direction for a place like Bethel, especially for students who still harbor fears of alienation, unacceptance, or backlash related to coming out.

Beyond that, though events like this may be considered to be only baby steps by students who are looking for more sweeping reform and change, they are still strides in the right direction and help raise greater awareness for topics like this at Bethel. It’s my opinion that events like these are the beginnings of creating places of openness and safety where LGBT students can feel comfortable and supported coming out and being a part the community fully, not fearing reprisal, condemnation, or questioning of their faith, but rather feeling wanted, included, and valued.

Obviously, there’s still more work to do, but I personally hope that all the positive progress will encourage more students to come out and share their stories, being willing to help drive the movement to create safe spaces and be the change that they’re looking for, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of students that will come to Bethel in the future. Though it might take a while to get there, the progress and openness that I’ve seen gives me a vision of Bethel possibly becoming a model of how Christian colleges, though non-affirming officially, can become safe spaces that advocate for the humanity and inclusion of LGBT students.