Tuesday, May 11, 2021

finding affirmation: [part 3] bring it to the table

[part 1]

[part 2]

I want to return to that last conversation a minute.

“Personally, I really wish I could be affirming, but...”

Most of my life, I believed that attitudes like this one were exclusively problematic for their potential to bring an agenda that would corrupt our interpretation of scripture.

But not too long ago, I began to process this question:

What if that agenda isn’t MY agenda?

See, if I’m being honest, I’m not the most empathetic person in the world. The instinct toward compassion and empathy I see in my wife puts me to shame. It comes more naturally to her.

No, my compassionate empathy isn’t innate, but has developed through exploring and imitating the life and teachings of Jesus -- who constantly extends surprising welcome and compassion to people who were seen by the religious community of their day as unclean outsiders. More often than not, Jesus pushed the boundaries of love, justice, and inclusion to such extremes the crowds turned violent against him for his perceived heresy.

I have spent much of my life among those crowds, finding myself inside the commonly accepted standards of church & culture, while maintaining the exclusion of those predetermined to be on the outside.

That only began to change when I let myself consider and be transformed by the radical movement of Jesus. As a result, I am different than I once was. I feel different than I once felt.

So if the empathy inside of me is really just an encapsulation of what I understand to be the character of Jesus, why would I not let that be an influential consideration in how I understand the rest of the Bible?

In fact, to try to discern and interpret the rest of scripture while holding back my understanding of the character of Jesus would be like trying to untangle a knot with one hand tied behind my back.

Now I’m not saying there are no other considerations or that our empathy should be our primary consideration. And I'm not saying that our feelings are always correct or that all of our feelings come from the work of God in our life -- we should certainly always be asking ourselves whether the way we feel is consistent with who we see Jesus to be.

But if you consider your own compassionate empathy, and it reflects your understanding of Jesus, then I encourage you to bring that to the table of interpretation, not hide from it.

For too long, we’ve been told our feelings don’t belong. 

For too long, we’ve been told not to bring compassion to an interpretation party.

But maybe embracing the boundary-shattering compassion of Jesus is exactly what’s needed to see God’s movement in our world clearly.


Note: As usual, this is a blog post about the need to take complicated interpretation seriously, not a public space for anyone to publicly debate the status of my LGBTQ brothers & sisters. There will be zero tolerance for that.

Monday, May 3, 2021

finding affirmation: [part 2] why now?!

[part 1]

Note: This blog series is just an introductory conversation about my experiences surrounding LGBTQ affirmation, not a deep dive into the topic. I'm writing this primarily for those who have only casually thought about the topic, without deeper exploration. If you are someone who has spent time exploring the depths of the scriptures and the arguments on both sides of LGBTQ inclusion & affirmation, and --through that exploration-- have found yourself in a non-affirming position, this post is not for you.


As someone who is theologically affirming of my LGBTQ neighbors BECAUSE of my exploration of scripture, not in spite of it, another statement I hear all the time is this:

“Personally, I really want to be affirming, but I just can’t get past the literal words on the pages of the Bible. It’s too big an obstacle.”

And the response in my head is usually: “Ok. But why?” 

Or more accurately, “Why now?”

Usually the conversation partner has already gone beyond the literal words on the page quite often in their interpretation of scripture.

They usually: 

  • support war for causes they perceive to be just, instead of turning the other cheek as Jesus taught

  • attend churches where women aren’t required to be silent, in contrast to Paul’s teaching

  • embrace braided hair for women, allow haircuts for their daughters, and don’t protest the man bun

  • defend themselves in court if sued

  • believe it is proper for slaves to resist, protest, and fight for their freedom

And all these interpretive choices have usually been made without much hand-wringing.

I’ve never heard someone say, “I don’t pray with my head covered, but I wrestle with that 1 Corinthians 11 passage daily.”

No. In so many other circumstances, the need for interpretation is considered a normal part of understanding scripture.

But here, the literal words, apart from any deeper study & interpretation, often get presented as an insurmountable barrier.

Why now? Why on this issue, differently than the others?

Here, any effort to do historical, cultural, & textual exploration to inform interpretation (as are common for these other topics) is often construed as pursuing an agenda.

Why now? Why on this issue?

What is different about this issue that causes so many to embrace different standards for interpretation than they have already embraced regarding other issues?

I’ll leave that answer to our own self-exploration.

Now, I don’t assume that everyone who dives deeply into the interpretive process on this topic will come to the same conclusion I have. It’s complicated. I believe there are good people that will explore the depths of this and come to decisions I disagree with.

All I ask is that we try to apply the same standards for interpretation to understanding this issue that we have to the other issues throughout scripture. And either the literal words on the page are an insurmountable obstacle, or they’re not. 

But if they sometimes are, and sometimes aren’t. I have to ask...

Why now?


Final note: Once more, this is a blog post about the need to take complicated interpretation seriously, not a public space for anyone to publicly debate the status of my LGBTQ brothers & sisters. There will be zero tolerance for that.

Monday, April 26, 2021

finding affirmation: [part 1] are you serious?

I try to take the Bible seriously. I am also theologically affirming of my LGBTQ neighbors.

This is BECAUSE of my understanding of the narrative of the scriptures, clarified by Jesus, not in spite of it.

More times than not, when other church people find out, I hear some form of:
“I get that, but for meeeeee....I believe the words written in the Bible when it says that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

The implication is that I (or the many others like me) have either never read those words or have read them and simply choose to ignore their existence.

The further implication is that those who are serious about the Bible follow it literally.

But here are some other words written in the New Testament:

  • Women should be silent in church (1 Co 14:34-35) 

  • Women shouldn’t braid their hair, or wear gold or pearls (1 Pe 3:3, 1 Ti 2:9)

  • Men must pray with their head covered (1 Co 11:4)

  • Women shouldn’t cut their hair short (1 Co 11:6)

  • It is a disgrace for men to have long hair (1 Co 11:14)

  • Slaves should obey their masters in everything (Col 3:22)

  • Give to anyone who begs from you or asks to borrow (Matt 5:42)

  • If anyone sues us, we must not resist but must give them even more than they ask for (Matt 5:40)

  • If our eye causes us to stumble, we must gouge it out and throw it away (Matt 5:29)

  • Anyone who calls someone a fool will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:22)

  • We should not resist evil people when they try to hurt us, instead when they hit us we should turn the other cheek to them so they can hit that too (Matt 5:39)

Most people I talk with don’t take these very clear words very seriously literally.

And I’m not saying they should.

Because the Bible needs interpreted. We need to understand context and culture and examine the whole picture. And we make those choices every time we read the Bible.

Every time we choose NOT to take something literally, that’s a choice of interpretation.

And every time we choose TO take something literally, that’s ALSO a choice of interpretation.

It’s not taking it more seriously. It’s just coming to a different interpretation.

Now I’m not saying all interpretations are correct. And I’m not going to argue with you right now that MY interpretation is correct. And what we’re definitely not going to do is publicly debate the souls of friends.

All I’m asking is that we stop playing the game that acts like everything is as simple as reading the words on the page. 

And then maybe sometime we can grab coffee and discuss the rest.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Lament for South Bend

South Bend Tribune Photo // Santiago Flores
(a response to the Common Council decision to turn down funding to build Permanent Supportive Housing units in a local neighborhood)

Today is not a proud day for South Bend.

I had hopes for South Bend, as a city that claims “progressive” values, but I’ve seen the other side too often.

Gateway Center?  “Love the idea, we really need it, but it should go somewhere else”

Sober Living House? “We really believe our city needs these, but suggest this other neighborhood as a better fit”

Permanent Supportive Housing? (PSH) “Yes! But not here.”

It turns out that South Bend is more just like the rest of humanity.  We generally want good things for others, but not when it comes at any significant cost to ourselves.

And I can’t fault people for looking out for themselves.  Heck, a Granger neighborhood just went apoplectic over the thought of Menards moving literally one block north.

But I somehow thought South Bend with its progressive values would be different.  It turns out we just like to learn about progressive values, then use progressive language to protect our interests, while making it seem like we’re really out for some greater good.

The progressive arguments were made: this neighborhood needs more investment and it would be racially unjust to put this upon them.  But is it really about racial justice? If so, why at the meeting I was at last week, was it mostly middle class white people speaking on their own behalf?  And name a neighborhood near downtown that has received more investment through the years than the near west side?  I can only think of the East Bank.  When we were doing development work in Keller Park years ago (another redlined neighborhood), we were told that there wouldn’t be redevelopment grants available for us because all of the investment was going to the NNN and SB Heritage (who was developing primarily in the near west at the time).  We’re talking about a prime focus area for SB Heritage as well as the home of Indiana Landmark.  We’re talking about a neighborhood that has seen sidewalk and curb and tree lawn upgrades through the years.  And we’re talking about an area that borders a neighborhood with literal historical mansions (indeed some of the opposition was coming from this part of the neighborhood). I’m not saying that this is comparable on any level to the development of the East Bank, but just to say that there has been significant investment already. (Compare that with the Far Northwest or Keller Park which have received little-to-no investment).  And if we’re going to say that a project like this is needed, and it needs to be near downtown for accessibility, and it needs to be in a neighborhood that has had some investment already...the area we’re talking about is probably in the top 2-3 locations I can think of.  Would the East Bank be better?  Sure.  But if we’re only going to use the absolute 1st choice ideals, nothing will ever get done, and our homeless neighbors suffer in the meantime.

The progressive arguments were made: PSH complexes are not AS GOOD as scattered site housing.  While this is true, I don’t believe these arguments were primarily made with the interest of our homeless neighbors in mind.  And while scattered site may be better, due to how grant monies are made available there wasn’t more money for that, while there is for this.  And in the meantime, we’re telling our homeless neighbors “we’re not going to build you housing, because it’s not optimal for you.  We’ll wait for something better.”  I’m not sure that would be heard as compassion.

The progressive arguments were made: there was environmental contamination in the past...we can’t put people there.  And while this was also possibly true, the city said that all remediation standards were met and they were promising to meet all future remediation standards if anything else came up.  But I have to ask, do the people raising these concerns also raise them for other development around town?  The Studebaker redevelopment?  The apartments by the baseball stadium?  The building on the east bank?  In an old industrial town, there are traces of contamination everywhere that we should take seriously.  And I applaud those who hold our leadership accountable for that.  But is this an example of legitimate concern for contamination by people so inclined? Or is this latching onto progressive language to stop something undesirable for different reasons, while absolving the guilt?

I am constantly haunted by Dr. King’s wisdom in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

I can’t help but wonder if we have embraced the same moderate mindset towards our homeless or recovering neighbors.

Finally, my experience has come from intentionally living in complicated places.  Our cars were both shot up last year.  There are shell casings spray painted on my block from shooting two weeks ago.  We get about 4 quiet nights a week where yelling and screaming outside doesn’t keep us awake.  Don't get me wrong, it definitely isn’t easy.  I regularly dream of moving.  But to this point, I keep coming back with the reminder that I am a better human being due to the influence of my neighbors.  My children are more well-rounded and compassionate due to the experiences on our blocks through the years.  Yes, there is pain here, but there is strength in the midst of the pain and we do not want to miss that: the mom who has the strength to scrape life together to keep her kids moving forward, the formerly homeless neighbor who has become the grandfather of the entire block, the young couple just starting to figure out life on their own as adults.

And even in this lament, I recognize the goodness of those working for our hurting neighbors: those who show up on the streets and at the tent communities to make sure everyone is healthy and has an opportunity for warmth, those working for the service providers for too little money and for too long of hours, those crafting policy and scrounging for public funding even though it will likely get shot down in the end, and the neighbors who show up and speak on behalf of projects like this even in the face of opposition from those who live around them.

The complexity of life, both the pain and the joys, is beautiful.  My hope for South Bend is that we can become a city that embraces both with care.  My hope is that we will become a city that truly works for justice for others, even at great sacrifice to ourselves, because we realize we are all better off for it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

it did [not] happen: the end of our adoption adventure

“Can you be faithful in your community even when the only thing changing is you?”
- Pastor Jonathan Brooks [@PastahJ]

As many of you know, our family has been in a season of preparing for another adoption.  Shortly after my last post, processing the end of our foster care adventure, we were contacted by a dear friend in a difficult place.  Since that time, we have been preparing for life with a baby girl, due this February.

We have been blessed by a community that has been immensely supportive, through prayer, encouragement, and supplies.  You all are blessings we never want to take for granted.

Throughout this process, we have let our friend know that our primary goal is not to grow our family, but to provide care where needed, and that we support her if she changes her mind.  This past week, she let us know that she felt ready to give mothering a chance.  At this point, our new adoption adventure has finished its course.

Again, this whole process comes with a range of emotions: Joy for a mother's act of courage to reach out for help and another to boldly walk the beautiful challenge of parenting.  Happiness for a baby girl who will know the love of her mother.  Awkwardness for taking so many of you on this roller coaster adventure with us.  Gratitude for the support and encouragement of friends. Sadness for missed snuggles and Miki’s lost* dream of becoming a big sister. Relief for not facing those sleepless nights.  Guilt for feeling that relief.

A good friend said to me, “I’m really sorry it didn’t happen for you.”

I really appreciate the empathy.

But as I process, I realize that while first instinct might feel like this is a story about what did not happen, I believe it is a story about what did happen.

Our adventure started in an effort to be faithful with the generosity God has shown our family, to provide relief to a friend, and a loving environment for a sweet yet-to-be-born baby girl.  In the end, each of those were accomplished.

Our friend found peace to process her pregnancy without the fear of the parenting challenges ahead.  She found the space to get to a personally healthy place, which allowed the restoration of her own family support systems.  As a result, she now is ready to be the healthy momma this sweet baby girl will adore. 

The lesson our family will process is that the impact of our actions is not always what we expect, but it does not have to be.  The goal is to simply be faithful and let the chips fall where they may; live like Jesus, and let God worry about the results.

Maybe it changes our communities.  Maybe it just changes us.

May we continue to make ourselves available for either.

Blessings to the sweet baby girl and her incredibly brave and loving momma.  You will always be in our hearts.

*I’m clearly the last to know what our life will look like, and I’ve made the claim we are done having more children 4 previous times so far, so take any of my claims knowing the future (or present) with a grain of salt.  I'm obviously bad at it.

**if you have any curiosity about foster care or adoption, visit embracesouthbend.com to see what your next steps may be.

Monday, June 18, 2018

one pound, one ounce: a foster care post-mortem

As many of you know, our family has been marching forward on our renewed foster care adventure.  With our youngest adoptive daughter turning four this month, and the overwhelming need for foster care in our state, we began asking ourselves earlier this year whether we have the capacity to dive back in.

For us, the question was never really about growing the family, rather our core belief that as Christians we are called to use our capacity for the good of others.  With this in mind, we decided to call our local DCS office and begin the process of renewing our foster care license.

Cue a lengthy adventure that included nearly 30 hours of workshops and training, more paperwork than you can shake a ball point pen at, the purchase of a new van capable of holding all of these children, and a scramble to reorient our house to an appropriate environment for babies.  Within two short months, we were ready.

Thirty minutes after turning in our final paperwork, we received a call for a likely permanent (adoptive) placement for a 3 yr old boy.  Though his age was outside of our pre-established healthy range for our family (due to being only months younger than our youngest), we couldn’t help but see the need for an adorable little boy to find a loving home and say “yes!”

We walked that road toward a move-in date with the dear boy as he began to find his way deeper into our hearts with every hug.  However, after a month of progress, we discerned that he and our youngest were just too similar to ever live happily together and (when alerted to another family looking to adopt the young boy) we stepped aside.

Back to square one.

The next couple of weeks were an up-and-down adventure of taking our new understanding of our capacity and learning to say “no”.  Newborn twins.  An older 2 yr old.  A preemie still on oxygen support and with a feeding tube.  Finally, we got a call that seemed like a great fit: we invited a preemie baby boy into the family as a short-term foster son.

Baby Z came to us at 6 weeks old, but due to his premature 29-wk birth, was still 5 weeks away from his original due date, just over 4 lbs, and resisting weight gain.  We knew this would be a short term placement, and our task was to wake him every three hours, all day and night to make sure he ate to gain the weight needed for proper brain and body development.

We loved our time with Baby Z.  He was about as perfect as you could ever dream.  His eyes only opened for about an hour per day, but when they did, they stole your heart.  Our 3 daughters were captivated as was Robin who spoke with clarity:  “I need to remember this, because he will likely be the cutest thing my eyes will ever see.”

Baby Z and our 4 yr old

Five amazing, yet sleep deprived days later, we said goodbye to sweet Baby Z.  He was placed with his loving grandparents, which brought us great peace.

The exchange happened at the doctor’s office as Z got his weekly checkup.  When they put him on the scale, we saw a miracle.  He had gained a full pound and an ounce -- 25% of his body weight in just five days!  The doctor was amazed.  We were overwhelmed with joy.

The days after a placement come with some interesting feelings: The relief of renewed sleep.  The guilt of that relief.  The awkward empty feeling of a slightly less full house.  The sadness of a lost relationship.  The curiosity about the future.

For us, it also came with some processing.  Baby Z was about as perfect as it could get, and yet we realized it was still pretty overwhelming for our family.  Our (now) 4 year old really struggled, and we struggled as parents to both meet her needs and manage caring for a baby.  Further, our lack of sleep and its results alerted us that our mental health was not as stable as we supposed.

Ultimately, we realized that we just don’t have the capacity to be foster parents at this time.

This realization brought its own feelings: guilt--that we cannot help all the children that are in desperate need.  Shame--that our own weaknesses contribute to our lack of capacity to help.  Awkwardness--in the awareness that so many have supported us in this path that we are now stepping off.

But in the end, I return to the old poem: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

The reality is that we all have limitations.  Too often we allow our limitations or the fear of our limitations to hold us back from even attempting to sacrifice or make a difference in the world according to the way of Jesus.  As a family, our desire is to always be testing the waters of what we can sacrifice for others.  Sometimes that means that we step out and we have our lives & world changed forever, like with the fostering and adoption of our youngest daughter.  Sometimes it means we step out and hit a wall and need to readjust our understandings of our own capacity.  But without stepping out, we will never know which is which.

‘Tis better to sacrifice and reach your limitations, than out of fear for your limitations, never to sacrifice at all.

Finally, regardless of the premature end to this adventure, it was worth it.

The thirty hours of training.  The mountains of paperwork.  The house cleaning.  The van purchase.  The emotional roller coaster.  The sleepless week.

It was all worth it.

If for nothing more than one child’s life, for five days of healing and development.

For one pound, one ounce.

It was worth it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

standing and sitting

Tonight was a rough one for our block for a number of reasons.

At the top of the list, was being awakened at 4a by a young woman screaming as she fled down the center of the street, trailed by her would-be sexual assaulter.  Thank God, more than a dozen neighbors came out of their houses to chase away the attacker, as the terrified woman collapsed into an exhausted heap in the middle of the street.

I took note of three types of neighbors during this trauma:

The first are those who did nothing.  Perhaps they heard and just rolled over in bed, or peeked out the window and simply watched from a distance.  Regardless, God help us for the ways in which we ever stay detached from the needs of others.

Thankfully, there was a solid core of a different type of neighbor -- those willing to stand up & get involved on some level.  These were the neighbors who called the police, turned on their porch light or were willing to step outside.  They were willing to put themselves in a bit of risk to be visible and present for a neighbor in great need.  I am so thankful for neighbors like this -- those willing to live here instead of moving out and those willing to act on behalf of others.

Finally, as I walked down the block toward the woman on the street, I saw a man whose neighboring rose to another level.  He was an older man, still shirtless from sleep despite the chill in the air, who left his porch, walked out to the woman crying in the street and simply sat down next to her in the middle of the dirty street.  He wasn’t really saying or doing anything in that moment.  He was just being present with her, making sure she was not alone.

The world needs more neighbors willing to step off the porch, sit down and just be present with others in the midst of their pain -- for safety, for support, but also just human connection.

Hebrews 13:3
Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.

Philippians 2:5-7
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Jesus:
Who, though he was God, did not consider his status as something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he gave up his privilege by taking the very nature of a servant, embracing our humanity.