Why no one mentioned Jesus in the Asher’s Case.

When there is any debate engaged in the public sphere on the role of religion or conscience or rights there is a lot of talk of belief. How beliefs shape the way we live and act, what we think is right or wrong and how that manifests itself in how we treat each other. Yet, in the midst of all the media reporting and blogging and tweeting about the Asher’s case there has been one voice that has not been mentioned by Christians in all the furor.

Jesus.

Now before I lose you, and maybe I’ve already lost some of you, this is not an attempt to get you to believe one side over an other. This is not an attempt to bring you round to one understanding or to lay out an array of Bible verses to support or reject gay marriage. It is simply my attempt at bringing the central Christian message that Jesus came to share of Peace, understanding, Grace and Love for all people, back into focus in this conversation.

Stay with me, you may just be surprised.

Let me explain.

As a Christian my primary goal has to be to live in a way that not necessarily directly mimics the way Jesus lived but to mimic the principles that he exhibited in His interactions with normal people on His journeys prior to and also after his death. To copy a life that sought to show people what truly being alive feels like; to show how we can creatively live in ways that allow everyone to be part of something that includes but is so much bigger than themselves.

If we were to study Jesus life, we’d see that He rarely took concrete stances on issues like many of us feel is our Christian duty today. He didn’t protest, He didn’t refuse to speak with certain people, He didn’t gloat. What He did was to see what was going on above and beyond any issue and dig deep into the root of what it means to be a human with all our flaws, especially our flaws. He questioned His own religion, He remained calm when dealing with those who thought He was a threat, He got angry only with the religious. He was never defensive.

Yet why do many of us who claim to be followers of His teachings insist on maintaining such a posture?

One reason is I believe is, that Christians have allowed our beliefs to become more important than the reason for the belief. (Tweet This)

Where you stand on gay marriage determines how welcoming or how apprehensive we are towards each other.

Take for instance, the time when Jesus was found by the Pharisees, the religious fundamentalists of the day, to be picking grain on the Sabbath. A seemingly innocent enough activity, but one which was forbidden by the Law. The very Law that Jesus was brought up on and was the central teaching of His Jewish faith. (Yeah that’s right, Jesus wasn’t a Christian, He was Jewish). Like Jesus put to the Pharisees, what good does is it do for anyone to leave their ox stuck in a well on the Sabbath (least of all the ox, poor thing), just because you’re forbidden to do any work.

When questioned on it, Jesus made the point that the Jewish Law was made for man, not man for the Law. Simply put, these ancient rules were to bless and give life, rather than for us to blindly remain loyal and obedient to the Law.

For Jesus, beliefs were fine until they got in the way of sharing life with others. Or got an ox killed.

This means that when it comes to the Laws and ideals for us to live by as Christians, we are not called to follow them blindly if it means others are oppressed or hurt.

Put another way, Christians don’t need to protect themselves because that leaves us unable to be loving and compassionate.

Sometimes we behave as if loving others and being vulnerable is going to end up with the end of Christianity. (Sidenote, we’ve done a pretty good job at self destruction over the years and we’re still doing alright)

But what does this have to do with the Asher’s case, the broader issue of religious conscience and especially how Christians should approach these types of situations?

To answer this we must first answer a question that I was posed on Twitter several weeks ago.

Would Jesus have baked the cake? Jesus cake

Well, I’m not sure. But I do know that his reaction would have shocked and surprised us. To understand a little about how Jesus would have responded, let’s consider other instances in which Jesus used examples to show us how we are to react to those that we may fundamentally disagree with and the fears that underlie them.

An argument that I have heard throughout the Asher’s trial is that if we’re forced as Christians to support ideals and beliefs that we fundamentally disagree with, then somehow our Christian voices will be completely removed from the public sphere.

Whilst I can understand how one may come to that conclusion, like Jesus demonstrated this is a simplistic and closed view of how we are able to influence our communities for Him.

In one famous illustration, Jesus commanded his listeners to not just carry a Roman soldier’s bags one mile, which was well in the right of the Roman soldier to demand, but to walk a further mile. Something that would have made the soldier a very naughty boy (Well done if you get this reference).

What Jesus was doing here was showing another way of reacting to someone rather than being defensive. We could very easily read this as Jesus demonstrating total and complete agreement with the way the Romans ruled the country since He was willing to go further than He was required. Yet, Jesus suggestion of walking the extra mile did not mean that He was asking His listeners to simply bow down and lay down their beliefs and morals, but like we have already seen, as a way of showing that we don’t need to fight for our beliefs.

Our beliefs aren’t what change the world, it’s our actions that do the talking. (Tweet This).

Unfortunately because of the Asher’s case, many outside the church, LGBT or otherwise will know exactly where many Christians stand on homosexuality but will not have witnessed very much of the love we’re called to show to the world.

Jesus example of the Roman soldier shows us that even if we are forced to work and serve (or bake a cake) for those who we completely disagree with, there is a more imaginative and creative way of reacting.

In this case I think that Asher’s had a wonderful opportunity to do just that. But I don’t blame them for not taking it. We’re just not used to this type of thinking in the church. We are afraid of thinking outside the box, or loving others in surprising ways.

We’re so consumed with what we believe about something and making sure that that isn’t compromised that we fail to see that all that demanding our rights to be heard and obeyed leads to, is our love for others being compromised.

Another fear is that a defeat for Asher’s will open up a whole can of worms which would allow those who are intent on causing trouble to demand services from others, simply to cause them pain. Even if this would be true, there is one example from Jesus life that shows what a wonderful opportunity this would be to bring healing.

Along with the previous example of carrying a Roman Soldier’s bags two miles instead of one, Jesus, shockingly and puzzlingly suggested allowing someone to hit you twice. You know, because there’s nothing worse than having just one side of your face in pain.

This has often been taken to mean that as Christians we are to let people walk over us in this world as if God is biding His time and in the end will smite our enemies for being a dick towards us. But this isn’t the Old Testament we’re living in.

What Jesus is doing here, is cleverly showing us that by allowing someone to hit us twice we can ultimately alter perceptions of hate into Peace. One slap to the face, using the outside of the hand signified a stance of control over you. Effectively showing the person being hit who exactly is in charge. But rather than offering the other side of your face as a way of cementing that control, it would be essentially forcing your oppressor to punch you. A significant move, only when we understand that for Jesus listeners, they knew this meant that you were equals. As you only reserved using the inside of your hand to hit someone on a par with you.

So what does this have to do with Asher’s. If we have a cream pie jammed into the side of our face, turn your cheek for a banoffee?

Like carrying bags for a Roman soldier, it means there are more imaginative ways to deal with those who we feel, whether it’s true or not, are persecuting us.

Jesus had so many opportunities to turn down his Love for those that stood fundamentally against the faith He grew up with. He had dinner with Zacchaeus, a tax collector which was the worst type of job for a Jew, as it meant cheating your own people out of money for “the man.” He gave a woman caught in adultery, something that demanded by Law for her life to be taken, freedom and hope. He promised a Samaritan (big enemies of the religious establishment) woman, everlasting life. He healed the daughter of a soldier of the oppressive Roman government.

What religious stance He was “supposed” to take in regards to Samaritans or people who slept with others spouses or Israel’s enemies, wasn’t Jesus chief motivation for His actions towards them. That’s why He was such a threat to the religious; He didn’t act the way He was “supposed” to. He saw the bigger picture.

The way he acted towards these people went against everything He was supposed to believe in. But ultimately the most important belief for him was Love.

And Jesus saw something else equally important. He saw that we’re all really the same. Jewish, Roman, Protestant, Catholic, straight, gay, not sure, male, female, baker, candlestick maker.

Whatever the final verdict from the Asher’s case, there is no winner. The lines are wonderfully and fantastically blurred. We’ve had quite enough of that in Northern Ireland. This is not an Us V Them case.

And this is exactly what ties all the examples from Jesus life that I have used together. Jesus, time and time again with subtle, creative, beautiful ways, broke down this decisive and dangerous idea of Us and Them. He blew open the expectations of what it means to be His follower. And what it meant to be for someone to be your “enemy”.

God is not on the side of Ashers. God is not on the side of the LGBTQ community. God is on the side of all. (Tweet This).

He doesn’t operate in the ways in which we have regularly and aimlessly fought to protect.

It is time for Christians to really stand up for what we believe in.

But that is not what we believe about homosexuality. But Love and Hope and acceptance.

For all.

Identity, forgiveness and Peace (Ourselves and themuns)

We want to be perfect now? Why? Because we want to be able to experience God fully now in these moments, because we want to be used by God somehow?

Or because it sucks to be you right now? Because today you are acutely aware of who you are not and how far you are from who you want to be? And it feels horrible.

Grace is difficult to offer other people sometimes. But not nearly as hard as it is to offer ourselves. We constantly point to our sin rather than to the freedom that is already ours. You wouldn’t even imagine doing this to someone else (or maybe you would) but yet it’s so easy to beat ourselves up.

Why is this? Why do we choose to live this way? Continue reading

Oversimplifying sin. Or why sin is not what you think.

A couple of days I wrote a blog that kind of went crazy. In it I questioned the manner that John Piper spoke about porn in a sermon.

Needless to say I got a lot of flack from some people. Yet I also received a lot of comments from people who had been hurt by similar styles of talking about sin in Church. I didn’t write it for John Piper fans. I wrote it for those very people whose voice has been lost because the church has piled on more and more shame.

Reading and responding to the comments it became quickly apparent that this had become something bigger than just about a view of porn addiction. Continue reading

The problem with “God’s ways are not our ways”

All of us at some point or another have questioned our faith. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry your time will come. Things happen to us that seem so unfair and beyond any reason, that we question how something like this could happen. How could God allow us to suffer in this way? In what way could this possibly be any good for anyone?

It’s not just limited to our very human experiences where we question God. It can be in theological beliefs that seem to contradict everything that we believe about God. We can’t get our head around predestination because how could a loving God willingly create some people knowing fully that they will end up in Hell? How could a God create a place like Hell in the first place? How can some people even start to suggest that someone like Hitler may get the chance to repent for all the horrible things he committed, so that even Hitler could end up in Heaven?

I’ve touched on a few but there are a thousand more different doubts that can manifest in our minds.

When faced with these questions and when we are honest enough to admit to others that we are struggling with some aspects of our faith, often we will bring these to someone we think will have some sort of answer. Many times, the best answer is to not have an answer. To allow someone the freedom to have questions and have that be alright. Yet, an answer that is regularly given, has become our default position for such questions.

It is this.

“God’s ways are not our ways”

This is a great answer because in one quick response we have given an answer that is intended to clear up everything and leave the person satisfied. If there are some things that we can’t understand about God and the ways things are (or at least perceived to be) then we can stop questioning. We can never understand. We will always have questions and we should just accept it and get on with things.

Except, this response and ones like it only leave us frustrated and with more questions that answers.

When someone we love is tragically taken from us, I wonder how comforting it is to know that God has some plan we can’t see.

If the idea of your friends going to Hell because there is nothing they can do to change it because God has already decided, doesn’t sit well with you; I wonder how we can continue to spread God’s love, when it seems so pointless.

As a human I am well aware of my frailties and I have experienced the love of God, even amidst suffering, (some self inflicted, some not) many, many times. There have been thousands of moments where I have just not “got it” only to see God reveal something magical and beautiful that only He could have seen coming.

So I understand that there are things that we will never understand but God’s love and Grace is big enough for us to still have questions, doubts and anger towards God. A reply like “God’s ways are not our ways” is only helpful to the person posed the question as it allows them off the hook from engaging with the person in their pain, in their sense of injustice. In their doubt.

We can wipe our hands clean, without actually entering into dialogue or sitting with someone who is dealing with a new world framed by tragedy.

It is actually in those times if we were just to allow ourselves to be with the person and accept their questions and doubts, that God can actually reveal Himself.

Even Jesus before He was killed had questions about why He needed to suffer. He, just like us, “didn’t get it”. He actually asked God if there could be another way other than what was planned. Yet, even in that place of despair and anguish, He was obedient.

Perhaps this is why we give such glib answers when confronted with others pain. If Jesus was obedient then we should just accept what happens to us too. Yet, the very real fears that Jesus held aren’t something we can just ignore. They are actually the way that we can bring our doubts to God honestly without fear of being rejected. We may not understand why this is happening, but we can understand at least in a purely theoretical way if not practically at first, that Jesus “gets it”.

After all, He had the same questions as we do. So we can be confident that our doubts are legitimate. Our pain is real and it is recognized. Telling someone that this is just the way things are, leaves us further from God.

But on the cross Jesus, grew closer to God. He understood that in some strange way, this pain was not unseen. So too, we can approach God knowing our pain is seen and known. And it is not glib to God.

The point of this post is not to give you answers in the pain you are deeply hurting by right now. I can’t and I may never be able to.

What I and we all can do hopefully though, is allow each other the love to deeply feel those pains. To be fully human. To not fob each other off with answers that simply exist to cause more hurt.

Much of this type of discussion is built around ideas of justice. When things happen to us that don’t seem fair we question how God can be just. Yet the very same people that tell us that God’s ways of justice are not the same as ours, will become defensive when we suggest that everyone may have a chance to be redeemed. Our views of justice tell us that people who do wrong need to be punished. That God can’t face sin and He needs to reject everything that causes sin. But what if God’s view is that those people need to be loved more than anything. Yes, that may mean that they are prevented from acting in evil ways again, but it does not mean we reject them fully.

Take predestination which I previously mentioned. The basic idea that God has ordained that only certain people, the “elect”, will be saved and everyone else will spend eternity in Hell. There are other slight variations on this but at the core is this belief. Yet, how does this idea of God fit into all the accounts of God and Jesus where They show incredible love for people.

At this point, the answer of “God’s ways…” answers it for us. We can ignore all the logical problems that predestination causes because we can’t know. Perhaps, we can’t but is there a chance that the way we have thought about this could be wrong? God is God but He was also fully human which means to ignore the very real human problems we have with such ideas, is to ignore some of the character of God.

Maybe, it is actually to these traditional points of view of predestination or God’s eternal justice, where we need to say “God’s ways are not our ways”.

We have it all figured out on who is in and who is out.

But maybe,

“God’s ways are not our ways”

We experience pain, we experience things that don’t make sense. Yet the point of Isaiah 55 is not that we should just suck it up, but that there is peace even in the pain. Often, we can’t see around it but God is offering us peace. Not just on the other side of suffering or doubt (if there is in fact ever another side sometimes) but in the middle of it.

If you are someone that thinks that those answers that leave us cold, are not the end, then this is good news. It’s good news because you have seen who God is. You are seeing God as Jesus, who understood doubt and pain more than anyone.

You are invited to open yourself to those questions. It will be painful and difficult. Occassionally, it will not make sense. Yet you will not be alone. You will be understood. God’s love is far bigger and wider than certain beliefs we hold onto. It is more welcoming and full of grace than we give God credit for.

Which is great news for everyone,

Because God’s ways are not our ways.