There’s a long story here, but I’m going to skip to the end (maybe give a pre-quel later). 🙂 The other day, I was emailing a friend, Pat Loughery, and said this in response to a question he asked me:
The actual shape of my life day to day matters so much more than I used to think. Realizing this has brought me to more of a “one day at a time” approach, and makes me more appreciative of friends who support me in really pursuing a life of love.
When I typed the last three words, an idea–and a strong motivation–to start a support group built around the purpose of pursuing a life of love, in the way of Christ, hit me hard. I spoke to a few close friends about it, and a couple of other folks that I think the Spirit highlighted for me. We had our first meeting this last Tuesday, and I was really, really encouraged, and I think many were.
For those who aren’t familiar with support groups, the below outline may not give a clear enough idea of what we do (and why and how), but I figured I’d post it anyway. I’m a little jazzed, too, that after having just our first meeting and giving out this outline, someone else volunteered to facilitate the next meeting. Here’s to Love.
LIFE OF LOVE GROUP – Proposed Meeting Format
A Support Group for People Who’s Highest Goal Is To Make Real Progress in Living a Life of Love in the Way of Jesus
- Hangout, snacks, etc.
- At the appointed time, the facilitator calls everyone to the meeting; someone reads: “The purpose of this group is to support each other as we seek to live lives of greater love in the way of Jesus. The desire for such progress in love is the only requirement for membership.”
- Someone reads a scripture chosen by the facilitator in keeping with our purpose. (e.g., I Cor. 13, various I John passages, various Psalms, John 3:16, etc.).
- If there are any newcomers, the facilitator gives basic outline for the meeting and the closing time.
- The facilitator (i) introduces a time of silence to give everyone the opportunity to stop, think and/or pray, and (ii) closes the time with a simple “Amen” or the serenity prayer or another appropriate prayer to the group’s purpose, whether scripted or spontaneous.
- If there are relatively new people, the facilitator may go over the basic rules of the discussion time, which are born out of our common purpose: +++ Respect for other members: This is a space for people to “work out their own rescue” from lovelessness in the presence of God and others. Each person is chiefly responsible for his or her own progress in love or the lack of it, therefore, each person is welcome to share or not in turn as they deem best. Feelings and/or personal experience are preferable to theory. No hard rules on length, but we want in general to be considerate so that others also have time to be heard. Listening is our primary way to love each other in the discussion time. So that each of us can avail ourselves of this time without being shamed, we do not give feedback or advice to other members unless they specifically ask for it (even then, it may be best not to give it during discussion, but rather to share your own experience and pray!). Affirmations or gratitude for what someone else has shared is always welcome. +++ Confidentiality: Everything said in the meeting is confidential, and will not be disclosed to others.
- The facilitator introduces the topic of discussion as well as the freedom (and encouragement!) to deviate from the topic. Each person is encouraged to talk about whatever they feel will help them make progress in love. If there are any (relatively) newcomers, the facilitator should ask each person to introduce themselves by first names at their turn to share. More than one “round” of discussion is totally fine, as are additional, related topics or questions by the facilitator until time is up.
- At the agreed time, the facilitator announces the end of discussion time, invites all to make note of any particular items that they want to “take away” for their own progress, allows each person a quick opportunity to share their take away or not.
- [optional] Time of singing to God. The facilitator encourages people to approach this time within the context of our goal of learning to love God and receive love from him. Try not to simply sing out of habit. Each person is free to sing, , listen, stand, sit, kneel, etc. as each deems helpful toward our goal.
- Close by leading all in the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 or other group prayer appropriate to the purpose. The facilitator encourages anyone who wants to pray further or receive prayer to do so. Same for discussion, snacks, helping to clean up, or leaving the meeting.
“If anyone [gay] wants to come with me, let him deny himself [the rest of you are already good to go].”
Dave Fitch is hosting a difficult and important conversation at his blog, and with much grace all around. The following is my latest comment, which I probably should have posted separately here in the first place. Sorry Dave! Looking forward to future posts in the series!
One of the things I’m getting (and liking) in this conversation is a small taste of what I hope David means by “welcoming and mutually transforming.”
By David’s and Isaac’s conversation, I’m already seeing how I have taken so many of my own practices and desires and even parts of what I consider my own identity as givens, or rather how I’ve attached to them a sense of entitlement that is beyond questioning, even by Christ’s purposes.
I find the last comment by Isaac particularly interesting (Isaac, I don’t want you to feel like you have to address it if you’re growing tired of the conversation; you’ve already given a great deal.), especially as it ends with the idea that sexual orientation seems to be much larger than sexual desire.
As you guys mentioned, there are several ways in which this is true. There are almost always communal bonds at stake, not just with one’s partner but also one’s “people”, one’s community and friends. People frame their identities not merely as persons having this or that sexual “desire” but also as people who are faithful to their particular communities. I wonder which pulls us and shapes our sense of identity more, especially on this issue, our desires or our ties to our communities?
As I think about all these things, I’m reminded of Jesus’ call to priortize him and following him even over our communal ties to parents or children or spouse. Not a favorite passage of mine. We often think of or present Christianity as saying “you have to give up or resist this or that desire to be loyal to Jesus.” But it’s really more radical, more exacting, than that. It’s much larger than our desires. Jesus’ call to follow him is clearly a call to subrogate our desires and our identities and the communal bonds that form and maintain them to Jesus. Everything that would come under the broad definition of “our life” (everything we would lose by death) is what is up for transformation and redirection by Christ.
But I don’t think this is what the LGBTQ sees the largely hetero Church doing or even saying Jesus is actually about in America. We have implicitly said that Jesus doesn’t have any serious correction to give to the typical American way of life, other than to add tithing and church attendance. It’s a club with a cross on the building, claiming to be formed and frequented by God himself, and it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation for who can join.
Maybe part of these discussions in real life has to be particular and personal confessions by hetero Christians of how they’ve flatly ignored Jesus’ Lordship because it has threatened this or that community bond or standing, or some other part of what we want “our” life to be like. Isaac and the LGBTQ community are right in that there is a double standard for what is required at the door of the Church, what’s required to “be Jesus’ disciple” as we’ve implicitly redefined it around us. That has to change, and it has to start with those already in the building, those claiming to be God’s friends. We’ve got to have a few more serious stories of our own about what we have given up to have the pearl. We have to reframe our own discipleship.
No time for a full post on how best for all concerned to view leaders in a church, but I will firmly say that this bit of biblical study (make sure you read all the biblical uses towards the end) and this bit speak volumes (that often go unsaid . . . I wonder why?). Let’s hear what these biblical words are often saying and then listen to Jesus again (and again) and let it all simmer for several hours, maybe even weeks and years. Then maybe even think about good marriages you know: do husbands (or wives, for that matter) lead by command and exercise authority over their spouses, or by service, by putting the other family members first and by persuasion based on their demonstrated character? I know, it ain’t rocket science. I’m glad someone is finally getting the word out that the bible’s own language says the same thing that we all acknowledge in healthy marriages.
This is a post in search of language, and still in the early stages, but I’m just gonna work this one out publicly. So feel free to help me out as I try to make sense of the glasses I was nearly born wearing and the ones I’m wearing now.
Growing up, I was told more times than I can recall about Jesus’ death and resurrection (for which I am grateful). I was told more than anything that believing that he died for my sins and was raised was the key to being justified (and I had to tell another human being about it to really complete the process). This faith in the cross and resurrection was focused on the judgment which would determine where I would spend eternity after I died. The cross and resurrection of Jesus made the biggest difference for people, or not, at the judgment. This was the story of Christianity that I was given, and I wanted it to be my story too. Let me say now that I don’t disagree with the truth of that story even now as an adult. It is, though, to use the phrase of Scot Mcknight, “right, but not right enough.”
By contrast, AA’s 12 steps focus on a different kind of belief in God, and I’m not referring to the more anonymous “Higher Power” label. Even if we stick Jesus himself into the Higher Power role, as many Christians who work the steps do, the focus of the steps simply isn’t on what happens in the afterlife. That’s not the focus of their program (which emerged from a western church whose focus wasn’t transformation). AAs say in step three that they turn “[their] will and [their] lives over to the care of God.” AA’s focus is turning today over to God, this life, one day at a time, because this life is what they need help with. The “promises” AA makes to those who work the program are true and beautiful, but have nothing to do with the afterlife. This life is the hell that alcoholics and their families know, and they want rescue from it, or better, deliverance through it. So they turn the reins of this life over to God, become “entirely willing” to change and serve others, believing or at least hoping that God’s managment will yield better results than theirs has. They pick up their cross and follow, today, letting tomorrow worry about itself.
It is obvious to me, now, that AA’s are focused on appropriating the power of Jesus’ way of life–a life lived under the management and care of the Father for the benefit of others over self, a daily cross-shaped or “cruciform” life, while evangelicals are more focused on appropriating the power of Jesus’ substitutionary death, particularly as it pertains to whether one is justified before God at the final judgment. Of course, how we think about and plan for the future has bearing on the present, and vice-versa.
Todd Hunter has said that John Wimber gave Jesus back to him, in terms of Jesus’ ministry of healing, and that Dallas Willard gave Jesus back to him in terms of his teaching. Hefty gifts, and I would echo Todd’s thankfulness. I want to add my own thanks to Michael Gorman, and to a lesser extent, Tom Wright, for giving Jesus back to me in terms of his cross and resurrection as the key to life in this age and the next. Thanks to them, I can see how AA’s aim to transform this life is best accomplished through participating in Jesus’ cross and resurrection ourselves, which the AA program, I believe, often leads folks to do implicitly rather than explicitly. And it is this participating in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, allowing ourselves to submit to the death of our self-run life and be raised to life in Christ and not merely believing its historicity, that the apostle Paul has in mind when he tells us to trust or have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our daily or even hour by hour participation in the cross will simultaneously result in the transformation that AA’s are pursuing and the justification that my evangelical brothers and sisters are announcing, and more besides. The fruit of participation in the cross is the ultimate both/and–followed by an ellipsis (!) which at least contains all the graces of God that each of the various Christian traditions have highlighted and likely more besides.