Friday, May 31, 2013

I would rather go to hell than follow a God that excludes gay kids from His buildings

Did you ever play that hand game, when you were little, "Here is the church, here is the steeple"? It says open the doors and see all the people. It never talked about what kind of people, I always assumed it was all kinds of people. I grew up in churches that welcomed all kinds of people, even the janitor with the naked lady tattooed on his arm. Guest preachers of all races, gender, class etc were welcome. Catholic priests could give a message as well as my protestant dad. I guess the rhyme does say open the doors and see all the people, it's doesn't say open the doors and walk right in. It seems today that there are some conditions to be met before you might be allowed in. Sadly there is a perception by many outside of the church that the rhyme is more like, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and let in the right kind of people".

I have a scandalous secret for you. It may rock your world, it might even shake your faith. Here it is, every Sunday there are people different from you sitting in your church and I think God himself would welcome them there. You know what, there are sinners sitting in church too.  Really, I know it's scandalous but there are. Your pastor he or she is a sinner. Yep, sorry to burst your bubble, your spiritual guide is not perfect.  Guess what, you sin too. Yes that's right and so do I. None of us is perfect. We all hurt people in different ways, we each have our own level's of apathy, we don't always do the right thing and we are allowed into church every Sunday. We are allowed to come to worship God, and be a part of a fellowship of believers. Regardless of our choices in life, of how we were born, of our socioeconomic class, race, etc. no matter what our faith even,  we are allowed and should be welcomed into the church. This is why I am still smoldering with anger about the many stories in the news this week, about churches considering banning Boy Scouts from their buildings. I am not a big Boy Scout cheerleader, far from it, I am secretly hoping to never have to dress my son up in a scout uniform. That's just because our family can't handle one more commitment and  the thought of being a den mother makes my skin crawl.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about their moral compass. Churches this week, all across the country are talking about kicking out the scouts because they lifted a ban on gay kids. These churches are even considering starting their own scouting programs.

This denying groups of people admittance into your church seems to go against everything I know about Jesus, and everything I have come to love about the church. I am not going to get into whether or not homosexuality is a sin, in this post, or any other. I hate that argument and I hate that it has come to define so much of Christianity. What I think is deplorable about this whole thing, is that churches would think they have the right to keep anybody out, because of their perceived "sin". Jesus came to this earth and hung out with EVERYONE, and he talked about the fact that all of us have issues.  He didn't let people's issues get in the way of his love for them.  He hung out with those that were regarded as the worst, the misfits, the outcasts. If he had issues with a person's behavior he worked that out with them quietly as he spoke love into their life. He accepted them first, reached across cultural lines to make them feel welcome in his presence. He scared off those that were going to cast the first stone.  It was the religious leaders that he publicly chastised, and the salesmen commissioned by the leaders that he ran out of the temple.

You don't endorse someone's choices or behaviors by letting them into your church. You don't get to decide who can come and who can't.  We are the body of Christ. He is the head, the boss. So let's harken back to the 90s, really look at the gospels and think about WWJD. It doesn't matter what people are doing, whether it's sin or not, if they are repentant or not, they can be there, Jesus loves them.

Admittedly, I'm just a youth pastor, or actually Director of youth ministries, some people get upset when the term pastor is used to describe me, even though it's the easiest way to communicate what I do, and most resembles the duties I perform.  All I have though is a bachelor's in Bible, Theology and Youth Ministry, and 17+ years of experience working in churches, and faith that goes back as far as I can remember. I am not ordained, I do not have an expensive seminary degree, or a PHD, I haven't published any books or pastored a big church.  So you can judge for yourself how qualified or not, I am to make these statements, you can discount my opinion, you can cast me as naive. That's fine. I used to get easily offended by that, but I won't anymore, because I have seen far too many people with far bigger qualifications than mine, make horrible, misleading statements about the Gospel. I have heard people with "certifiable authority" say things in the name of Christianity that sound nothing  like the Jesus I know.

If those experts are right, if Jesus is exclusive, and discriminating towards certain "sins" or certain kinds of people,if he isn't full of grace for all, if his love isn't bigger than anything I can muster then I would rather be wrong. I would rather live in my ignorance. I would rather go to hell myself, than be with a God that would deny kids entrance into his church because they are gay.

And one more thing, I may not like what these people are doing, I may not agree with their views, but I still have to welcome them into my church, to my table. So if you disagree, if you take offense, let's get some coffee together, let's share a meal. We may or may not enjoy it, but at least we will be working at trying to be like Christ and isn't that what being a Christian is all about?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tattoo Story #7- my family tree (please God don't let me screw up my kids)

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) Beaverton, OR
It took three years to complete, but it's finally done and since I can't share these stories from the pulpit, my tattoos are illustrations of the story God has written with me, and this is one I love deeply, so I will share it here.

It's not a family tree in the genealogical sense, but it holds far more meaning to me. It's about the passing on of more than genetic material, it's the passing on of our faith. There is a lot of pressure on parents. It seems there are so many opportunities to screw our kids up. I think that pressure is felt even more acutely when it comes to matters of faith. You want your  kids to develop their own faith, their own moral compass, their own sense of compassion. You don't just want them to be automatons for whatever you program them with, but you have to share what you believe, you have to pass on your values and your traditions.  So you try your best, and then you are bombarded with ideas and advice about what you should do. Are you doing enough, are you doing too much? How can you not screw up their paradigm of faith?

I grew up as a PK, a Pastor's Kid, and though that seems to screw a lot of kids up, I think it worked for me.  I think it worked because while I got a look at how horrible Christians and the church could be from the inside, I also saw the loving example of everyday faith from my parents. They are followers f Jesus, and you can see that in the way that they love others. They didn't worry about the religious acts of faith, so much. We didn't have family devotion times, times where we all got together and read the Bible every night, or once a week growing up in my house. In fact we had to stop praying at dinner time because my sister and I weren't taking it seriously. I once volunteered to pray for dinner in front of the nuns at my sister's Catholic school, and said, "hail Mary full of grace bless us now while we stuff our face". I think that's when we got rid of every night meal time prayers. We did always go to church even on vacation in Disneyworld, which admittedly was a drag, but but it did teach me to make God a priority.  We talked about the Bible, like people talk about sports teams, we prayed when we felt we needed to, and my parents were incredibly generous, loving and Christ like to just about everyone we encountered everywhere. I understood from a very young age what it meant to follow Jesus and have a relationship with God.  I don't feel like I built my house on the rock, that Jesus talks about in the parable. I feel like I grew out of and around that rock.

My faith roots me in God, and always has, that doesn't mean there are not doubts, questions, frustrations etc. There are times I have wanted to walk away from my faith, abandon my calling, and I have yelled out to God. Doubt informs my faith, strengthens it at times, and forces me to delve deeper into the Bible to figure things out. Often the things that send me running away from God soon have me running right back. I am blessed to have experienced a loving, God full of grace and mercy, that forgives, and reveals himself to me. I am blessed to have parents that could exemplify that.
That is what I hope we are giving to our kids, and that is what this tree represents. My faith, grown from the foundation of God's great love, shown to me first by my parents. It's a faith, I hope my kids come to know and understand. God has always been there for me, my rock, my anchor in times of struggle, my joy in times of celebration and in mourning and my parent's example is how that faith first started to form.

I have also been blessed to have many other adults in my life that followed Jesus with a genuine, compassionate faith, and loved me out of the love God gave them, helping to shape me into who I am.  This tattoo is a nod to them as well. There are so, so many, but the Davis family is where I first encountered a Japanese Maple.  One grew right by their doorway. I loved that tree, and I loved being at their house, it has always been a place filled with love and a hospitality like no other.

As for how I share my faith and pass on what I think it means to live as a follower of Jesus to my kids, well, it's not perfect but it works for us. We don't do regular family devotion times, we don't pray at dinner every night, but I think we are doing a pretty good job of passing on a genuine faith to our kids. We pray as we feel led to, when something is tough, and when things are good. We breathe out prayers of relief, and we giggle out prayers of thanksgiving. Elijah always wants to pray with me before bed, "Now I lay me down to sleep", but I don't know how much of that is actually wanting to talk to God and how much is comforting ritual, either way it's okay by me. We read the Bible together sometimes, or when a question comes up. I talk to Tabitha sometimes about what I am teaching at church and ask her what she thinks, or how she would present it. She knows my favorite Bible stories just like she knows my favorite books from childhood. We named them both after Biblical people that we loved and would love for them to be like, and those are some of their favorite stories, they go to over and over again. They also love when King Solomon talks about cutting the baby in half too, but that's a little different. At any given time there are multiple Bibles strewn about the house. We go to church every week, multiple times (because I work there) and sometimes my kids don't want to go and say they hate it. That has more to do with being stuck there for hours on end as I work, and having to get up early on a tired Sunday morning. They know the people there love them, and they have friends there of all ages. We incorporate giving into our holidays and we talk about the importance of living like Jesus in our daily lives. Questions about God come up all the time as we are driving to school or getting ready for bed.  Like I said, our strategy isn't perfect, but they know that God is an important part of our lives, that church is a place of imperfect people, but it's also a place of healing, love, challenges, and fun. Most importantly, right now, they know that they are loved by God and should love others with that same generous, grace filled love.

Elijah's Profile Silhouette
Tabitha's Profile Silhouette
While I don't have a favorite, this piece is a great collaborative of my kids ideas and their Uncle Tattoo Mike's ability to take ideas and make them happen. The signatures are my kids, at I think, their most precious stage of handwriting. It tells you so much about their personalities too, Tab's is careful and thought out, the boy's scrawls up my arm with a backwards J.  They wrote them, our artist transferred them using a copy machine with the stencil ink which is how all tattoo stencils are applied after the artist creates the initial sketch. The tree is a Japanese Maple, my favorite, which are normally short and squat, but had to be tall and gangly like me to fit my arm, which was a challenge. It originally started as just the rock and the tree, three years ago but Elijah was upset there was no grass. He didn't like it floating there, so two years ago we added the grass. There was no room on my arm from the original tree and rock to put a proper border or frame on with the grass, so our artist, Michael, had the brilliant idea to put a silhouette of each kids' profile in the grass to form the border. You can see them in the pictures. AMAZING! This year Tabitha decided that she wanted there to be clouds and sky on the tattoo since Elijah got grass.  Again having no definable border was an issue, but Mike made it work, and I think it has taken the tattoo to a whole new level of greatness. The colors in this thing are awesome. Mike's color saturation is excellent by the way, the skin on this arm seems to not appreciate blue ink, and has had issues healing. The leaves are layered in purples, reds, yellows and oranges, so much color went into those leaves that two years and lots of sun later they are still vibrant. It was amazing to watch it get painted into my arm.
the kid's signatures 

I hope someday they will come to have a family faith tree too, maybe not a tattoo, but an appreciation and an understanding of how their own personal faith developed from the many wonderful people and experiences God put in their life.