Jesus

setting sail from ephesus

I feel like this is probably a super millennial thing to say, but the transition to the adult world has been pretty jarring over the past few weeks. My college student body isn’t used to getting up at 6am to make it to work at 7:45am and then going to bed early to do it all over again, and my mind isn’t accustomed to all the new routines and mental switches I have to make during the day. All of that being said, it hasn’t been too rough yet, but I think one of the hardest things for me was also one of the more cliche things you could probably say about leaving college and starting to work full time: I honestly miss Bethel so much, and not necessarily specific friends or specific people at Bethel (though I definitely do miss all my friends and everything SO much; don’t get that mixed up, haha). But it’s more the sense that Bethel really did become my second home over the course of my three years there and it was so bittersweet to graduate and leave. I actually applied to a couple jobs at Bethel as graduation was coming up just to see if I could stick around a little longer, and as my job search got longer and more tedious over the summer, I actually started to get upset about the fact that I wouldn’t be going back (now that fall has rolled around, it’s more like tears and a lot of emotions, lol).  

Currently, I work in the office at a charter school in St. Paul, and even though I do really like it, there’s still a large part of my heart and soul that misses Bethel and aches to be back there this fall, coupled with the fact that so many of my closest friends are still seniors there. At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given moment is exactly where God wants us to be for that season of life. That’s something that was hard for me to accept, being in a place where I maybe didn’t want to be, and something that I’m still working on and through during this period of so much change and adaptation to a different world, a different schedule, a different mindset, and a different group of people that I find myself spending the majority of my days with now. But I still cling to the promise that God never has us walk through specific corridors of life in vain, and right now, as much as I might not like it, I know that where I am is exactly where He wants me to be.

 

But at the same time, maybe just as an encouragement to me (today was the first day of school at work, and it was a crazy, hectic, draining day), God seems to have reaffirmed that eventually my desire to return to Bethel will be fulfilled at some point in the not too distant future, prompting some ugly tears from me in my bedroom circa 8:30pm tonight. This promise came through a section of Acts 18 I was reading. In it, Paul has been moving all over, preaching and teaching in various cities as the Spirit led him. Right around verses 20 & 21, he’s leaving Ephesus and it says that the people asked him to stay with them a little longer but that he declined because he felt the Lord calling him to continue traveling and ministering elsewhere at that point in his life.

 

However, it also says this: But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. – Acts 18:21

 

In all of my weariness and also maybe bitterness about not being back at Bethel this fall, I think this was probably one of the gentlest ways that God could’ve encouraged me and told me to keep at it for this stage of life. And maybe that promise seems like a stretch, but I also think that’s the way that God tends to operate and maybe what He meant when He promised that His word would always be relevant to us, over the course of all of time.

 

Throughout my time at Bethel, Ephesians was always a go-to book for me, and it was also the first time in my life I could actually say I had a favorite book of the Bible. I still want a tattoo eventually to commemorate two of my favorite verses from it (v. 20-21 also super not coincidentally, because that’s how God likes to roll), and it quickly became a home base of sorts in the Bible, just like Bethel became a second home to me, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and physically. So, it seems just like God to sneak this reminder and promise into my day just before bed after a day where I honestly questioned whether I’d be able to make it through the whole year working at this school where every day just seems to suck all the energy right out of me. It’s seriously mind blowing how God does that, how He speaks to us when we’re at our lowest that bring tears to our eyes and an nodding affirmation as we wipe them away that yes, we can do this, but only because He’ll be walking by our side the whole way.

 

I’m not exactly sure when God will bring me back to Bethel, and whether that’ll be in the distant future or whether it’ll be a little sooner, but I’ll be anxiously awaiting that day while simultaneously asking Him for the strength and grace to get through this season that He’s brought me to. I want to love and serve as much as I can right now, right here where I am, but look out, Bethel, because I’m coming back for you someday, and I’ll probably be crying buckets when I finally make my way back.

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.

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.

coming out: one year later preview & good friday reflections

img_0662.jpg

Notes: Before I get into this post, I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who’s been reading this blog and keeping up to date on my outward thought process. For many of you, that’s involved sitting with me as I rifle through thoughts and ideas over tea and food on multiple occasions, and I’m especially thankful for that. For others, that’s encompassed your kind and encouraging words that create safe spaces as I continue to write and think out loud in a public space on what it really means to be on this journey and on this path that has all the twists and turns you could imagine. And for yet others, that means challenging me and having open discussions on where we’re coming from, the perspectives that we hold, and why we hold them. So thank you. And for anyone who’s just met me recently or who’s new to the blog, I hope that you find this as a safe place, a safe place as an LGBT Christian, as a Christian in general who has a heart for this, as a Christian who might not know a lot about this sphere, as anyone. I hope that everyone who comes here finds this as a safe place where dialogue is open, where learning is sought after, and where ignorance is not always willful or inherently bad. So, (in a bit of self-promotion here) for you guys (and anyone else who hasn’t yet), feel free to subscribe to the blog so you can get emails that link to new posts when they go up, and also feel free to engage and talk with me about anything that you might be thinking, whether that’s questions about what I’ve written or what I believe on this, curiosities on things in general, or just to talk. I’m open to that and I love it.

All of that being said, I want to talk about two things in this post: a couple things that I’ve seen and realized thinking over everything that’s happened since last year when I started writing this blog and also some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on, specifically regarding LGBT Christians, as it’s Holy Week this week and Good Friday today.

I think that the most significant thing that I’ve noticed between last year around this time and this year is both the magnitude and also surprising lack of change, which I’ll explain. If you had asked me relatively soon after coming out where I saw myself in a year, I’m not sure I would know how to answer that question. I’ve already written a “one year later” post/letter, and I’m going to put that up later this week, but I think that with everything going on a year ago, I don’t think I ever would have thought that I’d look one year into the future and see that a lot of things were actually pretty similar, pretty normal. And I think that lack of change is beautiful, because it feels so normal. It takes away a lot of that stigma that many people feel surrounding the coming out process. It seems like this thing that’s going to change your life forever and make it so that it’s never the same. While that is true to an extent, I think that when the people around you choose to value relationships over rightness and to see you as the same person you were before you came out, it really creates this beautiful normalcy that I’m starting to return to, and I’ll talk more about that in my “one year later” letter.

At the same time, I think that it’s also encouraging to see all the change that has happened over the past year. The Supreme Court ruling forever changed the way that people in this country will view LGBT people, and I think that’s a good thing. It created the visibility and (though not always productive) kickstarted a lot of conversations that needed to start happening. In addition, even in my smaller sphere I’ve seen change. After appearing in the Clarion (Bethel’s student newspaper) article about what it was like to be LGBT at Bethel, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the aftermath, even more so after studying abroad for a semester. I didn’t know what kind of ripple effect that would have and what my final semester at Bethel would look like, but I think that I’ve been pleasantly surprised to the atmosphere of openness and curiosity that’s been created on campus.

Several weeks ago, I was walking through the halls and noticed this sign outside the Student Life office. It advertised the fact that Student Life, and the message was that by extension Bethel as an institutional whole, was willing to dialogue about controversial topics. One of the little boards stated that “It’s okay to talk about sexuality,” and I think that’s a massive step forward for a Christian university, and one that I like to think I contributed to by being open and willing to take risks last year. However, I think that the vast majority of the credit goes to Bethel and the student body for having an air of openness prior to last year that was just ready for all of this change. So, I’m glad to see that magnitude of change. I’m glad to see campus pastors and Campus Ministries engaging in topics such as race and sexuality that people may try to shy away from, and I’m glad that it’s being presented as a way for everyone to learn from each other, rather than Campus Ministries throwing the Bible at people and saying that they will teach you how you should think about things and how you should react to them. Coming from a very conservative and stringent Christian background in elementary and middle school, I think that this is huge for the Christian community at Bethel, because it reminds everyone that black lives matter, that LGBT lives matter, that students with disabilities’ lives matter, that EVERYONE matters, and I think that is so crucial because it re-humanizes people, which is the first step to getting to a better place in any sort of conflict or tension.

And that openness and culture of respect that I’ve seen develop and am proud to say that I’m a part of ties into my Good Friday reflections: I think that it’s really easy for us to only selectively apply Jesus’ sacrifice, and I think that we give up on people too easily when we feel like the differences between us and them are too great.

In the midst of all the conflicts that exist in the world, I think that we need to remember to re-humanize people continually, and that’s not just something that applies to hot button topics like LGBT issues or Black Lives Matter or things like that. I think that it’s something we need to remember in any situation arising out of conflict, whether that’s conflict with your roommate or your manager at work or anyone else, because I think that in the heat of conflict, the first casualty of that conflict is usually the other person’s humanity. We start thinking of them as just being wrong or being annoying or being hurtful or being whatever might be going through our minds at the time, and all of sudden that’s all that person becomes to us. But what we need to remember is that regardless of the situation, regardless of how confident we are that we’re right, regardless of all those things, the other person is still human, for better or for worse. They’re human, and that means they make mistakes and they’re not perfect and that happens. And they’re human, and that means that they are made in the image of God and deserve our respect even when we’re not in the best of moods and even when we disagree and even when they’re treating us less than human in the same ways. Because, in the end, the blood of Jesus covers us equally and none of us is better or worse in His eyes. His sacrifice was for all of us.

And my second thought also ties into this one: I think that we give up on people too easily, whether it’s that friend who can’t seem to text you back to save their life, or that one relative who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t in any way act like it, the entire population of people of color in America, or the LGBT population. I think that American Christians give up on people too easily. They seem too hard to deal with. It seems like too much work to engage in relationships with people rather than judging them by stereotypes. It’s too frustrating. Whatever the reason we come up with, I still find myself saying that I think we give up on people too easily, and that’s a problem, especially for Christians.

Over and over in the Bible, we see that God never did that. He never gave up on us, even though I think we can all agree that He had every reason to. Just look at the Old Testament. Most Christians would agree that Israel had probably four thousand more chances than they really deserved, but God never gave up on them. In fact, he had Hosea marry a prostitute and told him to continue seeking after her when she went back to her old ways to illustrate just how much God doesn’t give up on us.

In relation to Good Friday there’s two more examples I want to point out. The first one is Peter. I think that I would probably give up on someone and cut my losses if someone denied me not once, not twice, but three times in the face of arguably the hardest and most difficult point of my entire life. I would be done and over that faster than Westboro Baptist would be over me. But that’s not what happened. After His resurrection, Jesus reconciled with Peter and told him that he would be the stone upon which the church was built, and from that passage, Roman Catholics consider Peter to be the very first Pope in many traditions.

Secondly, Jesus spoke with the criminal to His side even as He was dying on the cross. I’m pretty sure that any rational person would probably consider someone being crucified beyond hope at that point, but Jesus didn’t. Even as He was hanging there, bleeding out and in agony, He found it in Himself to reach out to someone who was being crucified right next to Him for a crime that he actually did commit. Even at the last possible moment, Jesus didn’t give up on him.

I think that those should all be examples for us as Christians today in the 21st century when we consider other people being able to get legally married as a threat to our faith system and when red Starbucks cups become an attack on Christianity. And this is all when it can take months for pastors to be investigated and dealt with for allegations of sexual abuse while a tenured professor at a Christian university can be fired in four days for even wanting to discuss perspectives on LGBT issues in a class. So, yes, I think that we give too easily on the things that actually matter while blowing insignificant things out of proportion.

So, don’t give up. LGBT Christians, don’t give up on the church. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on other Christians. Don’t give up on those that are Side A or Side B or whatever the opposite side is. Don’t give up when it feels like it’s getting hopeless. Don’t give up when it feels lonely. Don’t give up, because Jesus hasn’t given up on you and He’s not going to.

And mainstream Christians, don’t give up. Don’t give up when your church tells you that “homosexuals” are beyond hope and deserve to burn in hell. Don’t give up when other Christians or your church spurns you for showing love. And don’t give up on LGBT Christians or anyone else. Jesus saved the other criminal on the cross just hours or minutes before both of their deaths. Let’s follow that example that says that anything is possible and it’s never too late.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s been a lot of change in the past year, in both my life and the world. You don’t know how much of a difference a few months or a year will make or what God can do in that time. So keep loving. Keep persevering, and don’t give up, regardless of what it is.

As we’re in Good Friday and as the Resurrection approaches, may the Lord find you all where you are. May the memory of His sacrifice linger in our hearts past today, and may the glory and hope of His resurrection strengthen us to face whatever it is that we may encounter, reminding us never to give up.