Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rainbow Joward

The Supreme Court's decision to extend equal marriage rights to the homosexual community this week broke the internet.

It became the fad to add a rainbow filter over your Facebook profile photo, whether or not you'd ever openly advocated for gay rights before. Companies and news organizations trumpeted the ruling and jumped on a massive multicolored, politically-correct landslide.

I'm not here to debate politics. What I am here to do is leave a message for the Christianfolk with whom I (at times begrudgingly) identify.

To those of you who posted updates about how gays and lesbians will burn in hell, to those of you who wildly flailed your crucifixes in desperate hope that you wouldn't be mistaken for having agreed with the movement, for those of you who posted bible verse after bible verse condemning homosexuality -- this is for you.

Just because you don't agree with the movement doesn't mean you should be spreading a movement of hatred and fear.

We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as I've written about before. But we are also called to love the people around us -- and that's regardless of their age, race, eye color, hairstyle, religion, height, smell, favorite hockey team... and sexual orientation.

Putting a rainbow on my Facebook doesn't mean I'm a-jumpin' on the gay train, it carries a far more valuable meaning. I'm taking a stand to be loving and accepting, regardless of how others who share my faith have been reacting all week long.

Some of my thoughts were sparked by something a friend posted, a message by Ian Pratt on Instagram which captured my feelings in a really good way. Pratt talks about how Jesus met with and loved people from all walks of life, from the pharisees to the tax collectors and prostitutes. Pratt was moved to action, not by his convictions on the issue of gay marriage, but on the reaction from fellow believers.

"My message to the gay community is this," he writes. "You are loved. You have infinite dignity and worth."

And that should be the message. My personal beliefs aside, I love you guys. This isn't one of the, 'Hey, you can do what you want as long as it doesn't affect me,' things. I hope to treat you as I should the rest of my friends, with love and respect for who you are.

Jesus loves you, and that doesn't change.

To those who are 'enraged,' as one commented mentioned, I'd challenge you to discover why. Gay people are nothing to be afraid of. In fact, they are to be loved as neighbors -- much like the Samaritan, who would have been the sworn enemy of the Jews along the road. God doesn't set parameters of who he loves and when he loves, so why should we?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Jesus the wave-maker strikes again

Jesus is excellent at shock-value statements. Excellent.
It seems to be through some strange plan of God's that I find myself sitting in a cafe hiding from the rain, sipping a sweetly caffinated beverage and reading up on Jewish law on an otherwise unremarkable Monday afternoon.

My mini-study began as research on a post about how sex and worship are on a level with one another, and it ended with a fairly fascinating realization regarding a verse and a bible story I'd known for years.

It's a story reflected in three of the Gospels -- Mark, Luke and Matthew -- and we know from experience that if God wants to emphasize something in his word, it gets repeated.

Flashback: Jesus is asked by one of his disciples (you can read the whole story here) about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of the Heaven. It's a selfish request from selfish men, who size one another up and ask for special favors on more than one occasion.

But Jesus isn't about to cater to their worldly wants. We're talking about one who has the power to calm the wind and the waves, and he's about to make a few waves on his own.

Jesus responds in a way that likely surprised them, calling a child over to sit on his knee and explaining to his followers that the greatest in the Heaven will be the ones who humble themselves like children. Jesus then goes on to make an interesting statement.

"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea," Jesus tells his audience.

For the Jews, who would have understood the basic rules and prohibitions of their culture extremely well, that statement would have been mind-blowing.

A large part of Judaic law centered around preserving life -- even at the cost of violating minor laws. There's an extensive list of what things do and don't count as "minor" enough, a list which excludes desecrating the name of the Lord -- whether through idolatry, public transgressions of Judaic law meant to desecrate the Torah or otherwise. It also includes certain forms of sexual immorality, and murder.

It's a little more complicated than I fully understand or have the time/space to include, but the Jews were supposed to value life -- even their own life -- above everything but those three commandments. If the Jews were under threat of death, they were supposed to allow themselves to be killed rather than break one of the three above-all rules. Jesus is now telling them that, rather then cause a child to sin, it would be better for them to literally tie a giant rock around your neck and jumping into the sea.

It goes beyond personal responsibility, and has to do with how your actions affect those around you.

Jesus is laying the groundwork for the theatre of the mind in which we battle to manage our thoughts and imaginations. Lust is equated to adultry -- part of the "sexual imorality" section -- and hatred is akin to murder. In a moment, he'll talk about how it is better to cut off your hand than have it cause you to sin -- the same with one of your eyes.

It's a well-known quotation of Jesus that the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The Jewish leaders took the same commandment to justify giving up your own life -- all your strength -- in order to fulfill the commandment. Loving your neighbor was rule 1A in the mind of Jesus, and with that background in mind, his words would have hit home with those listening.

Your actions, and the way they affect the people around you, matter. Jesus adds essentially adds a fourth exception, saying that causing others to stumble was on a level with murder and should be avoided on pain of death.

Thankfully, God forgives. The penalty for all sins, big and small, is death. We have grace as we stumble and cause others to stumble with us, but Jesus gives a strong warning: in the same way that it's better to cut off a hand than steal or cut out an eye than lust, death is better than being a stumbling block.