Why I Care About the Islamic Center in NYC

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of links to articles about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve decided to take a little break from doing that, not because my convictions have changed, but because I’m afraid that if I post too many people will quit reading the articles. In case you haven’t seen the links, let me state my position clearly (in a bold font): I am strongly in favor of allowing Muslims in the United States to build Islamic centers, mosques, and any other meeting spaces they want to have. Why? Why as a Christian would I support building structures that will be used for Muslim worship services? Why do I even care about this issue enough to keep posting links and arguing in the comments section?

1. I have always been very sensitive to oppression in any form.

It’s always been easy for me to identify with the the little guy who’s being bullied by the ones with the power. As a teenager, I read Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. and even though I was a white guy living in a predominately white small town in the South, I began to care about civil rights. I recently read about the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the Europeans and was horrified by the blood I see on my own hands. I hear about Christians in China and Indonesia having to hide for fear of being killed and I hurt along with them as members of the same body.

And now I see Muslims in the United States – not terrorists, not supporters of terror, but peaceful Muslims who simply want to live their lives and practice their religion – being told by potbellied rednecks on TV that “our laws don’t apply to you.” I see victims of the terrorists in New York (many Muslims died that day too and all were profoundly wounded by the attacks) being told that they sponsored the very terrorists that stole their family members away. I see politicians and pundits attempting to deny Muslims one of the fundamental rights that our country was founded on – the right to practice your religion without government interference. I don’t care if you agree with the Muslims or not, but to deny them basic civil rights goes against everything our country stands for. It’s oppression of a minority group in what is supposed to be the most freedom loving country on earth and it’s wrong.

2. I can’t stand it when I see people use lies and fear to manipulate people’s emotions.

Muslims have become the new boogeyman in America, the people it’s socially acceptable to hate, and politicians and commentators have been quick to use this collective hatred to rally their supporters. They do this by lying and stirring up fear. The very name “Ground Zero Mosque” is an example of this tactic. There’s no mosque and it’s not being built at Ground Zero. Heck, when I first heard about the project I was against it and I think any rational person would be against building a mosque (or any worship center) in the hole left behind when the WTC fell. (Incidentally, there is a plan is to build something in that hole – a mall. Go capitalism!) So why do the opponents of this building call it the Ground Zero Mosque? Because it stirs up an immediate visceral emotional response and stirs up people’s fears of an imminent Muslim invasion.

Fear is a powerful emotion and people know how to use it to get the desired results. The guy who tells his girlfriend that he’s going to leave if she doesn’t have sex with him is using fear. Church-sponsored “judgment houses” at Halloween attempt to scare  people into a relationship with Jesus. Tea Party leaders say our nation is being taken away from us by socialists, communists, Muslims, etc. and if we don’t do something about it the hammer and sickle will be flown at the White House, the Constitution will be replaced by Sharia law, and we’ll all be forced to have computer chips implanted inside of us to buy or sell goods. Combine fear with lies and you can pretty much convince people of anything. People who oppose building mosques across the country regularly accuse the builders of supporting terrorists (even if they’ve publicly denounced terrorism and worked to fight against it). Supporters of these projects are called un-American, deluded, naive, insensitive, and a host of other names.

As a Tennessean, I’m particularly embarrassed by false statements that have been made by politicians in the primary elections. Ron Ramsey declared Islam “a cult,” while Lou Ann Zelenik said that a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro (the town I live in) would be a “terrorist training center.” I wasn’t aware that terrorist training centers had swimming pools and basketball courts. I guess even radicals need a little breaks from planning world domination. Thankfully both these politicians were voted down, but their statements still rile up their constituents and fuel the flames of fear against Muslims. If you have to resort to lies and manipulation to support your position, your position must be pretty shaky in the first place.

3. Most importantly, if we deny Muslims the right to practice their religion peacefully, we  act unlovingly  and drive people away from the Gospel.

As Christian, my first response to any person should be one of love. That includes people I disagree with. To act differently is to directly disobey what Jesus called the greatest commandment: love God and love people. To quote Dr. David Gushee,  Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University:

For those mainly conservative Christians who are responding to this and other mosque projects with open expressions of anti-Muslim hatred, and open rejections of the principles of religious liberty from which Christians themselves daily benefit, shame on you! As a fellow Christian, I say that you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ, you directly disobey his command that we love our neighbors, and you drive the watching world even further away from any interest in the Gospel message!

As a Christian I benefit every day from the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. How can I deny others those same rights, even if I disagree with them? I truly believe that if we hope to win over the hearts of the Muslim people we must show love and understanding, and that means stopping the needless protests, the name-calling, and the generalizing that I see so much of. I hear pundits talking about remembering the feelings of the victims’ families, but we must also remember that on 9/11 many Muslims in that neighborhood also lost loved ones. Rather than acknowledging their pain and seeing that this center is part of their emotional healing, we instead lump them in with the very people who caused so much pain in the first place. We will only win people by showing love, not fighting.

If you’re interested, here are the links I’ve been posting about the issue:
The leader of proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero defends his plan
Controversy at Ground Zero
There Is Already a Mosque Less Than a Mile From Ground Zero
Why Building the Mosque is Good for America!
Islam has long history downtown
The Shameful Mosque Controversy
Olbermann: There Is No ‘Ground Zero Mosque’
“The Mosque at Ground Zero”

Annoyances or Opportunities?

Yesterday as I was unloading groceries into the back of my van in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, a young man asked if he could take my cart when I finished getting everything out. I assumed he was going to use it himself and wanted to do a good deed at the same time, so I said sure. It was a hot day and that would save me the walk. That’s when I looked up and saw his dark tie, white shirt, and dark pants. He was wearing a small name tag on his lapel that said he was with the Church of Latter Day Saints.

“Great,” I thought, “he’s a Mormon. He caught me off guard while I was looking in the cart or I would have walked away. Here comes the sales pitch.”

He introduced himself and I introduced myself as Jody, the youth minister at First Baptist Church, hoping that throwing around my religious credentials would dissuade him from trying to convert me. Instead, he surprised me by saying that he hoped I didn’t have anything that would melt on the way home since it was such a hot day. He told me that he was on his two year mission and that he had just arrived in town a couple of months ago. Then he surprised me even more by saying that if I ever needed any help with anything, like mowing my yard, to feel free to ask him or any of the other Mormon missionaries. He gave me a big smile and told me to have a nice day, taking my cart and leaving it in the closest cart return spot. No sales pitch, no argument about how the Book of Mormon is just as important as the Bible, just putting up a cart for someone on a very hot day.

As I drove home, a couple of things struck me about this short exchange. The first was my own lousy attitude in assuming that talking with this guy would be a waste of my time and wanting to avoid any contact with him. I was so wrapped up in myself and what I had to do that I was going out of my way to avoid people who might be “annoyances” instead of seeing people that way that God sees them and looking for opportunities to show love.

The second thought followed quickly behind, “I know why the Mormons are getting so many converts while biblical churches are struggling.” This guy was genuinely nice and helpful. He was friendly and didn’t mind going out of his way to help others. He was spending two years of his life not pursuing an education or trying to get girls, but going to a strange city to help put grocery carts up and share a little about his faith with others.

A couple of years ago, Alanna and I went to Salt Lake City and while we were there, we went downtown to the Tabernacle, the headquarters of the LDS Church. Again, I was struck by the friendliness and the willingness to take time and talk with a stranger. How does a stranger feel when they walk into our church? Are they struck by our friendliness or do they leave without being noticed? Do people take time to genuinely talk with them, or is interacted limited to a quick handshake?

When people see Christians out in the world, the malls, the schools, the Wal-Mart parking lots, what impression do we give? I fear that many times, the only thing visibly “Christian” about us when we go out is our bumper stickers. When we witness, do we share ourselves and our God, or do we pass out tracts and read from a script?

It makes me sad when I encounter people like this young man, first because these wonderful Mormon people are being deceived by the enemy, and most Christians don’t care enough to share the truth with them. Even worse, it makes me sad to see how much more effective Mormons are in interacting with the world than most Christians. We must be willing to go out of our way to share our lives with others and show them love. It’s inconvenient. It’s uncomfortable. But for many people, our lives and our attitudes may be the first glimpse of Jesus some people ever see.

X-Rated: Adults Only!

A little disclaimer before you read this post: This was not originally a blog post. I was commissioned by Circle Six Magazine, an online magazine aimed at Christian men ages 18-35, to write an article about Song of Solomon for Valentine’s Day. With their readership in mind, I let it all hang out with no self-censoring for this article. This might make you blush. It kind of makes me blush to have it on my blog. The article was published in 2006 and I’m just now posting a link to it in 2010. (I still can’t bring myself to share the link on Facebook.) But here’s the thing: I think this may be one of the best articles I’ve ever written.

After the article was published someone wrote in the forums that this article changed her life. She said that she and her husband had been doing everything that the article suggests, but she always felt a little guilty about it, like enjoying sex was wrong. Reading this, she said, gave her new freedom in her marriage. I loved that! So here it is… if you have trouble making eye contact with me after reading this, I’ll try to understand.

You have tried the candles, the wine, the Barry White, maybe even some toys… so what else is there? How about the Song of Solomon? You may not believe it, but hidden in the middle of the Bible is a book all about sex and love, and Solomon holds nothing back. The Song of Solomon is an X-rated, adults-only celebration of love and sex, as erotic as anything you are going to find in a porno shop. In fact, some Jewish rabbis recommend that no one under the age of thirty be allowed to read the book.

Song of Solomon paints a beautiful picture of romance, sex, and intimacy in the context of marriage, but for thousands of years interpreters have been trying to find some way to get around it. Surely God would not talk about things like that in the Bible! So they find all kinds of hidden meanings about God’s relationship with Israel or Jesus’ relationship with the Church – anything to avoid sex in the Bible. The fact is Song of Solomon is a celebration of love and sex enjoyed freely by a married couple the way God intended. This book is thick with eroticism and offers plenty of tips for married couples on how to keep each other happy between the sheets. There’s a lot of good stuff in these eight chapters, but I am going to cut to the chase and just talk about the dirty parts. Feel free to take notes.

First, let’s introduce the characters in the story. We have Solomon, the king of all Israel, and his new bride, a simple girl from the country who is only identified as “the Shulammite.” Already this sounds like the perfect setup for either a hit romantic comedy or a dirty porn. It is their wedding day, and this girl is already getting hot and bothered thinking about what is coming later that night. As we look at this book, there are some wonderful and steamy tips every couple can take away and put into practice.

Tip #1: Ladies, never be afraid to initiate sex in your marriage. Trust me; your husband will appreciate it!

1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;

your name is like perfume poured out.

No wonder the maidens love you!

4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!

Let the king bring me into his chambers.

As the wedding approaches, the Shulammite is not worried about whether or not the caterer has been paid or what the flowers look like for the ceremony. She just wants to get this show on the road and get down to the business of lovemaking. She is imagining him kissing her, thinking about how he smells, and she longs to enter his chambers with him. This is a girl who has her priorities straight. She is not ashamed of her sex drive and is willing to initiate things when she feels the urge.

Tip #2: Try new things! Do not be afraid to experiment.

2:3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.

I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

Here she is giving him a little sneak peak of what she wants to do after they have walked across the threshold. She wants him to be standing while she sits in his shade and tastes his “fruit.” Now what exactly could she mean by fruit? Apples? Pears? Nuts? Most guys would run down the aisle if their bride-to-be starting making these kinds of offers. She is not afraid to experiment with her husband and tell him what she wants. All men should be so lucky.

Tip #3: Men, take your time and enjoy building anticipation. Do not rush through foreplay.

The wedding takes place in Chapter 3, and in Chapter 4, the marriage is consummated. For the first seven verses, Solomon looks at his new bride wearing nothing but a veil over her eyes, and talks seductively to her. (Note to men: When your wife is naked in front of you, choose your words carefully!) His eyes slowly inch down her body, as he describes her hair, her eyes, her lips, and her cheeks flushed with anticipation and desire.

4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.

Why does seeing his wife topless make Solomon think of two furry little woodland creatures? I think there is something subtle going on here. When you see furry little baby animals, what is your first instinct? You pet them! Solomon is a breast man, and he cannot wait to get his hands on her. Instead of rushing right in though, he takes his time and uses his words to get her ready. Foreplay is important to a woman. He speaks of their sultry adventures, which only seem to end with the setting of the sun.

Tip #4: Enjoy every part of your partner. All five senses are important in the bedroom.

4:12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates

with choice fruits,

with henna and nard,

14 nard and saffron,

calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,

with myrrh and aloes

and all the finest spices.

15 You are a garden fountain,

a well of flowing water

streaming down from Lebanon.

The woman has saved her virginity for her husband and until this point has been a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain.” Now that garden is wide open, and Solomon is enjoying all its fruits. Pomegranates, henna flowers, nard, saffron, calamus, cinnamon, incense, myrrh, and aloes were the finest fruits and spices available in the Middle East, and all had erotic implications. He’s talking about smells and tastes coming from her body, which he now calls a “well of flowing water streaming down from Lebanon.” There is no place for inhibitions in the bedroom. Explore, touch, taste, feel, smell, and experience your partner in every way you can. After all this sensory indulgence, she is hot, horny, and ready, and she invites him to keep going. She gives herself freely to him.

Tip #5: Men, when your wife is in the mood for love, be willing to change your schedule around for her.

5:2 I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My lover is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,

my dove, my flawless one.

My head is drenched with dew,

my hair with the dampness of the night.”

3 I have taken off my robe—

must I put it on again?

I have washed my feet—

must I soil them again?

4 My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening;

my heart began to pound for him.

5 I arose to open for my lover,

and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with flowing myrrh,

on the handles of the lock.

6 I opened for my lover,

but my lover had left; he was gone.

Every couple has a bad night now and then; Solomon and the Shulammite were no exception. The beginning of the chapter says Solomon arrived home late, and his beloved was naked in bed awaiting his arrival. She had already perfumed her body with myrrh, a sure sign she had planned on making love, yet now the mood is ruined. She becomes angry with her beloved for not calling (forgetting, of course, that phones would not be invented for a few thousand more years) and refuses to unlock the door for him.

Solomon tries to smooth talk her into showing him a little affection, calling her “my darling,” “my dove,” and “my flawless one.” This time, though, his words fall on deaf ears, and he makes one final attempt reaching for his beloved through an opening in the door. Seeing how much he wants to be with her moves her heart, and she decides to open up for him. She goes to open the door, but it is too late. Solomon is gone. Solomon’s story aside, if you keep your wife waiting until one in the morning while you play X-Box, do not assume your wife is going to be so thrilled over your Halo victory that she will want to celebrate with you. Be considerate of her feelings. When she is in the mood, go spend time with her, or you may find her back to you, being in no mood for passion.

Tip #6: Ladies, every man appreciates a good striptease.

In Chapter 7, Solomon’s new bride gives him a private performance by dancing naked for him. This is one of the most explicit passages in the entire book. Solomon watches her intently, observing each part of her body, from her feet to the top of her head, leaving nothing out. The word Solomon uses for one of her body parts is so graphic the English translators get a little scared and translate it as “navel.” Solomon compares this body part to a bowl of wine: round, red, and wet. He says it is full of wine, sweet to the taste and intoxicating. Whoever said the Bible had to be boring? After her dance, he can no longer remain an observer.

Tip #7: When the time is right, let her know how you feel and make your move.

7:7 Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruit.

8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree;

I will take hold of its fruit.”

May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine,

the fragrance of your breath like apples,

9a and your mouth like the best wine.

Solomon makes his intentions clear – he wants to take hold of his bride, touch her breasts, taste them, and kiss her, taking in every part of her. The environment is perfect for a night of satisfying lovemaking.

Tip #8: Be spontaneous!

7:11 Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.

12 Let us go early to the vineyards

to see if the vines have budded,

if their blossoms have opened,

and if the pomegranates are in bloom—

there I will give you my love.

13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance,

and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,

that I have stored up for you, my lover.

In the final sexual scene of the book, the Shulammite asks Solomon to take her away for the weekend. She wants to take a vacation to keep things fresh. Budding vines, opening blossoms, pomegranates, and mandrakes were all considered to be aphrodisiacs. Here, among all these outdoor delicacies, she promises, “There I will give you my love.” Not just in the country, but outside under the open sky, they will find a place for just the two of them where they can give themselves to each other. Outdoor sex… have I mentioned that Solomon was a lucky guy?

Did you take good notes? If not, pick up your Bible and read it again. You might even try reading some of it out loud to your wife. The Song of Solomon is what marriage and sex are all about: love, commitment, pleasure, enjoyment, and mutual satisfaction. God, in all his wisdom, gave us a guide book for a happy sex life, so make sure to not overlook it. Now stop reading and put your Bible study into action. You can have this same kind of passion in your own marriage. Go light the candles, pour some wine, turn up the music, and enjoy the fruits of your own private garden.

Originally published at Circle Six Magazine.

Hold Me Jesus

Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

I’m singing hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

As recorded by Rich Mullins on the album A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band (1993)

Longetivity

Dan Haseltine, lead vocalist for Jars of Clay, has written a great article for this month’s issue of Relevant Magazine about the harmful ideas our culture has about relationships and marriage. He looks to the marriage of his grandparents as an example of selfless love and love and lifelong commitment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the article online, but it’s got so much good stuff to say, that I’m going to type up most of it. After celebrating his grandparents’ sixtieth anniversary, Haseltine wonders why so many people from older generations stayed the course while younger couples give up, why people have discounted the idea that marriage can last.

“Iti is a cloudy morning in Baltimore. I just hopped on a plane headed for a family reunion of sorts. The point to acknowledge is that my grandparents have lived for 80 years, and even more significant, they have labored in marriage for 60 of those years.I am headed to a celebration. I find that as years pass and as we continue to celebrate the great accomplishment of years and the profound mercy and grace surrounding the life of my grandparents, the celebrations become a bit more sobering. They become less of a cheer and more of a sigh of relief. I am so thankful that they have lived this long, and I cannot believe that they still find ways of loving each other well. It is affirmation of something that seems to be constantly eroded and discredited —the idea that marriage can last, and that there truly is enough grace to cover the wounds, even the deep ones.”

“There are many reasons why people do not stay together anymore. I have watched relationships crumble, and I have been in orbit around couples that never realized they didn’t know each other and didn’t even have the desire to dig in. They slowly constructed parallel lives with huge embankments and heavily decorated medians. And then the roads split off with no apparent convergence in sight. And it all happened without much drama. If you asked them, they would say that they just had different goals and that they were fine with the separation.”

“I think some of our cultural ideas can be poison for relationships. We seem to operate on two basic ideas: what we deserve, and who we can blame for not getting it.”

“There seem to be more “Christian” marriages that dissolve slowly or end quickly, and I am amazed that even counselors, who are provoked in their vocation by the Gospel, tell couples that the situation they are in is just too corrupt to be reconciled. I have often wondered what this truly means in light of the Gospel. I look at those who have stood the test of time, and after wading through so many back-handed comments and justifications that dismiss the accomplishment—statements like, “Well, they are just from another generation, a generation of people who stayed together”—I am aware that we just don’t see the Gospel account of marriage as valid anymore.”

“Look at the marriage of Jesus, the one He has been in for eternity, the one with the bride who sleeps around, never listens, disowns, scorns, dishonors, runs away, intentionally proves to be more interested in anything but her husband, is selfish and bears the children of every affair and the scent of every escapade. It was a marriage that killed Jesus. And it was the Gospel that brought Him back to life to love once more. Jesus endures the worst marriage of all. His bride nails Him to a cross, and there are no metaphors to compare His suffering to what we think we endure.”

“We will continue to search for ways to be appreciated in our marriages, for ways to be cherished, and if we do not find them, then we leave. Because we are not getting what we want, or feel like we need, our spouse is to blame. We are people who like to move from relationship to relationship, church to church, in search of what fills us, rather than what allows us to fill others. But what we think we deserve by way of our cultural cues is quite different from what we do deserve.What we deserve is to be lonely, what we deserve is to be isolated from the one who loves us better than anyone else. What we deserve is to never be pushed forward, to never deepen in our wisdom and experience of love and community. What we deserve is to die a dark and disconnected fate. And if we are going to apply the rules of culture today, the only one to blame for not getting what we deserve is Jesus.”

“I watched my grandparents hold hands and walk together. They are most definitely from a different generation. They have seen the invention of computers, cell phones, MTV, chemical warfare, strip malls, Nazi Germany, cable TV, rock ’n’ roll, the civil rights movement, the rise of heroes and the fall of heroes. And they held hands through it all. They fought to keep a family, bent on falling apart and dissolving, together. They were honored by those of us who stood around them smiling, while in our minds taking stock of our own marriages. We wondered if we would have the tools to last that long. And for a brief moment, we were able to escape the cultural winds of blame and entitlement, we had cake and we ate it too. Now on another plane heading away from the experience, I know it to still be true. And it is good to have these times of clarity.”

“For people like my grandparents, who have lived long enough to feel the effect of carrying the accumulative weight of scars, life was about the fight. But what they remember most is the way burdens were lifted by laughter and how the fight was always interrupted by the joy of victory, and those moments, however fleeting, carried a sweet fragrance. They have lived in the trenches and on the mountaintops, and their story of life and marriage is worth describing. It is worth recounting. Theirs is a legacy that illuminates grace, mercy, pain and redemption. I hope more people from our generation will find this view of marriage to be worth the fight.”

Real Love

Christian faith has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Believing that there is a God who created this world we live in feels as natural as breathing. I could no more stop believing in God than I could stop loving my wife. I know that because of Adam’s sin, I’m fundamentally flawed, and that I need to be rescued from myself. I also know that Jesus is God and that he left heaven to come down to earth to rescue me by giving his own life in my place. I know that in trusting him to forgive my sin and turning away from those sins, I have become clean in the eyes of God. I know and believe a lot of things. It’s just been a long time since I’ve really felt anything. I’m in seminary and that does a great job of increasing my understanding on an intellectual level, but there’s just something about a faith based almost entirely on intellect that is wrong. I know I’m supposed to love God with all my mind, but what about the part of loving him with all my heart and soul? Heart love seems deeper and truer than just head love.

For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel again. For some reason, I’m on the verge of tears now when I start really thinking about God. What I’m starting to feel again is love. I think my eyes are being opened. After several very difficult years with trials and difficulties dragging me deeper and deeper into self pity, I’m starting to feel God’s love again. Not because those situations have changed. The trials are just as bad as ever. I’ve been so wrapped up in myself that it’s been hard to see that Jesus loves me.

When you’re a kid it’s easy to believe that Jesus loves you in a real way. As you get older and go through more of life it can start to seem like he loves you out of principle because it’s the right thing to do. People in the church make you feel like love is a conditional thing. You have to act, dress, speak, and vote a certain way to earn the approval of other Christians. I know this is a blanket statement that is wrong in a lot of ways, but it’s how I’ve felt. I’ve based my feelings about Jesus love on the love (or lack of love) I’ve received from the church. When my paycheck from the church hasn’t been enough to stretch across my bills, it’s made me feel like I wasn’t valuable. I’ve felt like a lot of people in the church have seen me as a means to an end. Like as a person I wasn’t that valuable outside of what I could do for the church. These people may love me in a way, but I definitely haven’t felt like those same people really like me. And somewhere in my head, I got the church’s version of love mixed up with Jesus’ love. Like he loves me as much as I deserve to be loved. That’s a pretty depressing thought considering how undeserving I felt.

There’s some kind of profound change taking place now though. I’m starting to feel like Jesus is not someone who just loves me in some kind of cosmic God way. If I met him face to face, I feel like Jesus would really be interested in me. He’d want to know my story. He’d ask me about my hopes and dreams and he’d really listen while I rambled about my frustrations. He’d let me get angry and once I calmed down, he would look me in the eye and tell me the truth. He would smile and I would see on face and in his voice that he really liked me. He would rebuke me, too, and he would tell me that I have prejudices against some church people that I need to deal with. He would tell me there are other people out there who need love and that he wants me to love them the same way that he does. I think he would tell me what my gifts are and why I have them, and help me know how to use them. He would point out very clearly how God has taken care of me through all these years, all the things he’s protected me from and all plans he has for me.

I want to know Jesus the way that Bill Bright did. When an interviewer asked him about Jesus, Bill Bright just broke down and cried right there at his desk. I want to love Jesus like that. I want my heart to break when I think about how unconditionally he accepts me as I am and at the same time wants me to become more like him so I can love other people the same way. I repent of letting other people define my self worth. God is getting into my heart and showing me how to love by showing me how loved I really am. Real love is something beautiful and magical, but it’s hard to put into words. I think I’ve been trying to hard to understand, without letting myself feel. There are parts of the Christian life that I don’t think you’re supposed to understand. You just have to know and believe.