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Like it or not we’ve become a Heidi-&-Spencer society in church. We like things clean, neat and perfect…and we don’t want a mess. It doesn’t matter what kind of mess: hot, cold or lukewarm, the church in America wants to look good. Let me explain my point:

I have a friend who is gay. He has tried all the groups, prayers, deliverance, dating girls, and has been celibate for well over a decade. He has shared this with a pastor…a pastor in a church with You Are Loved! on the church marquee. The pastor questions my friend’s Christian walk..apparently you’re loved unconditionally if you aren’t messy. Otherwise, as in the case of my friend, you’re pointed to a group that will santize you–oops, a group that will “show you a better way” to live for the Lord.

This isn’t an isolated situation. When my friend leaves the church, he isn’t running from God…he’s running from people who continually tell him he’s too messy to be truly be love by Jesus. Jesus never said that…the Heidi-&-Spencer church did. Jesus washes feet. Jesus sups with sinners. Jesus ate with tax collectors. Jesus loves Heidi and Spencer, He just doesn’t want his body to be the Temple of Heidi-&-Spencer.

Messy? Not an outwardly perfect Christian. You know that person who isn’t messy: one who has all their bills paid, is a perfect size with less than 20% body fat, good tan, no sickness, great house and family, and they always have a seat next to the pastor. They’re the only ones that the pastor will look at in the eye–otherwise, he’s scanning the crowd for Heidi-&-Spencer. Everyone loves perfect.

I have no idea who made those rules for our church in America, but most people in church know not to challenge them. These church folk realize the phrase “we love you no matter what” is generally a lie. We’re only allowed one no matter what visit to church, then you’d better change into Heidi-&-Spencer or the die is cast against you.

Same goes for teens. A girl goes to the youth group. A victim of many things…a predator, deep hurt from people she loved, being betrayed, having to deal with medical issues decades before most people think about such things…then in the picture perfect youth group she’s an outcast. Now those words aren’t spoken, they are there. People pick on her for things others are doing. There are new groups within the group for people who are “serious about the Lord”…and she’s never asked. No one talks to her and no one wants to hang out. The group wants to look pretty and cool.

And the older ladies–they love their luncheons. Years ago their prayer group slowly gave way to other things. When the leader died they chose someone safe, and not the person who got under their skin…a person who spoke the truth. Truth burned their ears and rubbed their hearts the wrong way. It didn’t tickle.

Slowly the isolation drives a man from a potentially wonderful church. He will be judged for not attending church and people will gossip. They will claim it is because the sin of homosexuality is deceiving him. The girl in the youth group doesn’t want to return. She loves the Lord, but she doesn’t feel the love of those who represent Him in His Church. She knows no one will call her, because they prefer to forget the year she was with them…she challenged their belief system about picture-perfect Christianity. The elderly gals just want to slide on into eternity without conflict (think about Corrie ten Boom’s father who died in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in his home…that was messy and he didn’t meet eternity on clean sheets surrounded by his loved ones).

Does Heidi-&-Spencer make us feel good because then we believe we’re perfect? Why can’t we love messy? You know messy can be irritating and harsh. Messy can challenge our belief system, and we want to quickly nail together a little building and push our messy into it. In hiding messy, we overlook the real sin. And what would that be, Cheryl? you say to me.

That would be the lack of grace, for one. That would be ignoring the girl who tells her youth pastor there is excessive gossip in the youth group, and his response is “I’ve preached on gossip, there is none in our group.” Spiritual pride, maybe? Has someone who is messy exposed our soft belly? If she was a real Christian she would be_____. That blank would be judgment. Judging her keeps us from looking at the hidden sins of our heart.

My friends here all love the Lord and realize they are messy. They want to be heard and have friends and be treated with dignity. That means no group referral and no isolation We are all like them, but we hide behind the things we make pretty and flawless. The American church only likes Heidi-&-Spencer. Heidi got extensive plastic surgery because she didn’t like how she looked. She wanted to cover the flaws. We want to get rid of messy in our church.

However, Jesus is with the messy. Where do you stand?

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Hasn’t the news been full of deaths lately? Some expected, some a shock, and most untimely. We just returned from a family reunion in Houston. It was great! We left with our souls over-flowing with love, both given and gotten. So how does this all weave together—other than the fact we were on our way to the family reunion when we heard about Michael Jackson?

People have a need for their family to ride out the bad times, but also be there to help restore lost souls. The Lord is the one who ultimately restores our souls, but He makes good use of our family in the process. When they’re there, who else do you need? What happens, then, to people without family (either blood or by religious bond)?

I heard Chuck Smith, Jr. once say that when a person isn’t allowed in church, or to come home it’s like a musical piece that abruptly stops without warning. Even the non-musical sorts can discern that something isn’t right. When we separate from our loved ones because of a matter we disagree with…whether it’s spiritual, personal, or because of an argument about dish washer detergent (it’s happened!)…it is a song that isn’t finished, and leaves all persons with a void.

Many conservative Christian communities embrace the concept of disfellowship. There’s scripture selected for this practice. I can remember 40 years ago I had a relative-in-law disfellowshipped from the church because he killed his wife…nothing was said about the wife’s many transgressions, or the fact the fatal bullet may not have come from his gun because it was like an Old West shootout; it was messy. However, I was 15 when this happened, and considered disfellowship a wrong practice for these reason:

  1. If he killed a person, wouldn’t it be good to have him in church? Just when you need to embrace the Savior, the people who know Him just don’t think you belong with them even though it says in the Bible that murder is a sin like gossip and lying and coveting…
  2. The concept of disfellowship goes against the grain of what Jesus taught. He embraced all the outcasts and seemed to have a distaste for those religious sorts who thought they were better than everyone else (i.e. see the church disfellowship voters in #1).
  3. And then, finally, if gay people don’t belong in church (I’ve heard this twice in the last few weeks from people outside my geographical region) because of their sin…hum…well, then how are they to know how much Jesus loves them? And what about sin in the church, I mean if we kick out people because they aren’t clean enough to come into the church…my, my, my…let me think about people who are dirty with gossip and lying and coveting, for starts.

We conservatives don’t have an exclusive club with a secret knock. We have a building of whosoevers who have joined because Jesus lives in their heart, OR they are seeking to find out more about Jesus. If we rip the final chord from the song, then we’re left without a song. If we don’t allow certain people in a church, then we’ve forced people to believe that God doesn’t love them. Their hearts are then broken and they may seek other things to heal that hurt, or to fill the void. When we don’t allow our family members to come home “until they repent,” then we shut a door.

We have been given a great salvation, and to whom much is given, much is required. Open the door and welcome in that lost child…extend grace….love beyond reason and God will change your heart!

I think one of the bigger issues this week has been the bill having to do with punishment for people who commit hate crimes. I’ve gotten a couple of pieces of advice from both sides of the debate. I would like to weigh-in a bit on this for my more conservative pals.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that when I was ten we moved from the “north” (Kentucky) to an area just south of Tuscaloosa, AL. I had lived my first years where the integration of schools was simply merging a school rather than a political drama. The drama began (after we moved) in 1964 when my fifth grade teacher asked me about going to school with black student…she actually used the n-word. She asked about “them” smelling and biting. I learned that “them” were hated by the locals. As well the locals believed that “them” could be treated in a sub-human way. Members of my father’s church bragged about the terrible deeds they did to “them”. Members of our church harassed my father for refusing to join their local whites-only club called the KKK.

So here we are 45 years later. I’m finding there is a new “them” out there. I’m a school counselor and one of “my” children told me it was okay to hit, stab or kill a person because they were gay. Certainly a nine-year-old doesn’t just go to bed at night and dream this up without a bit of help from a significant adult in their lives promoting this belief.

I’m not much for making comments on hot political issues, but let me throw this one out for you (my conservative pals) to chew on….

Almost eleven years ago we had the opportunity to speak out for someone who had been injured by a crime borne of hate. Matthew Sheppard was brutally killed and I don’t remember one significant conservative pastor opening their mouth to say “this is wrong!” Instead we were silent…I was silent. Maybe we just wanted to be “us” and if we spoke out against what happened someone might think we were “them.” No clue.

Instead, in our silence there was one “Christian” voice–an evil man who said he represented “us” because in his demonstrations of hate he held signs that stated he was a Christian, and was speaking for God. Because we chose to remain silent, he became the face of fundamentalism and in many peoples’ eyes they think he is one of us…

This bill was written to protect people from him. So when we worry about what the hate crimes bill will do to “us”–we need to first think about what happens when our acts of grace remain hidden. Next, take we need to take our “grace” temperature. Are we servants who live like Jesus or do we have a political agenda to protect our rights? Grace isn’t a warm fuzzy…it is dying to self so others can see Jesus at work.

I’ve heard rumor will this take away the rights of pastors/Christians who want to point a finger at sin. The answer I have: a person giving grace won’t lose their rights. When we live like Jesus our “rights” aren’t so important. We will take a bullet for them because we refuse to let “them” be harmed. Jesus did it for us…

I read in the newspaper about conservative churches being picketed by gay groups. I already knew that $73 million was spent on this election on the gay marriage issue. Thought: WWJD with that much money? That’s a lot of warm meals for hungry people poured down the proverbial toilet. We didn’t have that on the ballot in my state; however, if we did, and if the final tally went against my belief I know that when I got up the next day the sun would still come up and nothing would change because God is still in control. But some people forget that and forget about grace.

There are rumors of all kinds of change that might occur if the gay community got the right for same-sex marriage. One of those rumors is that “kindergarten children will be taught about same-sex marriage.” Answer: Kindergarten teachers don’t have time to teach what they have to teach, and certainly won’t take their time to teach about same-sex marriage. However, most teachers already speak to the hearts of their children and make them feel safe. These teachers will do whatever it takes to make their students feel “normal.” Last year a dear ultra-conservative Christian co-worker had a child with two moms, and she always treated those moms with dignity. So Mrs. K was teaching her students that she respected every parent as well as every child no matter what.

I would like to suggest that God’s heart breaks when we conservatives speak such harsh words about people who believe differently from us. I believe that God wonders how we can experience such grace for our lives and not turn around and hand it out to others.

And talk about the things we make up to try to win people to our side…did you ever hear “the one” about how all gay people want to corrupt our kids and make them gay? Sure you have if you attend a conservative church. Guess what…its a lie. Certainly that myth was in my mind the first time I let my daughter spend the night with a girl who was the daughter of a lesbian couple. But she came home and the only thing that she knew was that her mother (me) lived my faith.

I just want to leave you with this parting thought: 3 John 1:9-11 says: I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

In this scripture I believe that God is warning us about gossiping in a manner that hurts people, refusing to welcome brothers, and putting people out of the church; God calls it evil. Therefore, use your words wisely, my dear conservative fellows. God loved us so much that Jesus died for us. For ALL of us.

And $73 million of walls have been built between the conservative community and the gay community. What would Jesus do? Simply read the Gospels and see what Jesus did each and every day.

Read a review of my book by American Library Association executive council member, Diane Chen. This is from her blog on the School Library Journal: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/830000283/post/700031070.html

…are the words to a popular Christian song. We sang it at CFO. As we sang I started thinking about grace being enough. You know it’s great to have grace extended to us, and (at those times) grace IS enough for us. Grace was and is all about the work that Jesus did on the cross. Yet in our neck of the woods we tend to enjoy meddling in other people’s business. Call it what you will, but we have an opinion on everything and how people need to do it. It might be the dress Sister Bessie is wearing. It may be the way our friends are raising their children. 

Does a worship service consist of three songs and a prayer, or is it an hour of rocking, jumping and swaying as we become deeply connected with the Lord? I personally don’t care much for Southern Gospel genre of music. Last night I went to a concert that was the Southern Gospel equivalent of Country Music’s Fanfare.  There in the middle of rose-scented talcum powder (no doubt applied with a fluffy puff) and Old Spice After-Shave, I found myself experiencing a little bit of heaven on Earth. I was caught up in the richness of harmony that’s sung (generally) with family.

In our Christian homes, sometimes there is a disruption of harmony. Family will be at odds over the silliest things…my closest friend’s sister-in-law was mad at her mother for four years because of dish detergent. Sometimes it is big: a child or sibling or friend announces (s)he is gay. Oh my…then we get all structure and legalistic on our dearest gifts from God. Then grace isn’t enough. At least grace from us—the grace that says “I’ll love you no matter what” to “until you change you can’t come home”. Maybe there’s even a hint that it would have been better had we died.

So if grace is enough, then grace is enough. Grace isn’t “love the shoes, love the dress” when we honestly hate it. That’s lying. Grace is laying down our expectations, desires, wishes and loving beyond reason. That’s what Jesus did, and it was enough.

I think if it was enough for Jesus, then loving beyond reason and when it is most difficult should be enough for us. And when you love beyond reason…heaven will open no matter where you are. Corrie ten Boom was able to tell the world: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Grace isn’t subtly wrapped in rules or ultimatums. His grace is enough!

This is probably part one of a series of thoughts on the heart.

I’ve always been conservative, and keep more of a conservative leash on myself than most people would realize. On the other hand, in the last few years I’ve tried to listen to people on the outside to understand what they’re hearing from us. One thing that continues to pop up in commentaries and newscasts is that we conservative Christians are two-issue people: we’re pro-life and anti-gay. And when it shakes out, that’s about where we stand.

A decade ago the talking heads of conservative religion said that if you were pro-choice or homosexual you were the “doom of America”. Somehow that unbalanced train of thought continues today. What we don’t realized is that something happens when we make those our only issues…I’ll cover those in a minute….

First, Jesus was all about the spiritual. Pharisees and all those like them were going around making sure every mint twig was tithed and Koshered. Jesus ALWAYS spoke about a person’s heart–so we need to remember that in all we do. It was the giving heart of the widow in the “widow’s mite.” It was the heart of the Samaritan. Let’s put a new twist on the Samaritan for today.

There was a man in Hartford, Connecticut who was hit by a car and no one stopped to help. Many people passed him on the street and didn’t want to get involved. Surely there were many church people who drove or walked past. And God looked down and wondered what was wrong with their hearts that they could ignore someone in pain when all of them had so much–health, material goods, jobs, family, and so on.

I don’t know if America is going to fall or rise. If we fall, I can’t say what will be the magic bullet to kill the nation, but since Jesus clearly spoke about the condition of the heart we need to look inside an examine our ways. Because that’s probably why we’re sinking…

Therefore when we isolate a group and make them our scapegoat, then we disenfranchise this group of people. We make them non-people, and non-people become expendable. Once they’re expendable then you hear a grade school child say: well, it’s okay to kill a gay person. (And the child could not understand why I said it was wrong.)

If Jesus were to return today he wouldn’t ask any of my conservative fellows about the political issues of the day and how we changed the world by an amendment here and there. He’d ask if we treated our neighbors with honor–you know the neighbors who’ve just returned from a California wedding. He’d ask why we hadn’t been there to wipe the tears of our child we sent away because (s)he was “living in sin”. Jesus would ask how we could forget about this child’s pain because God never forgets about our pain. He never sends us away. That would be like the people passing the man in Hartford, and God isn’t like that…

Therefore, forget the outside…look at the heart, your own heart. Listen for the heart of the person you don’t understand. Listen for the cry of their heart.