Archive for January, 2014
The closing notes of Todd Agnew’s Grace Like Rain were fading out; and as I stationed my finger just above the stop button on my phone’s music player, I knew that The Holy Spirit had arrived with great power, allowing our piddly human efforts to set the tone for something truly special. Many hours had been spent with my co-facilitator, Ben, preparing for this spiritual retreat and, kneeling before the cross in prayer just before beginning, we petitioned intensely to grab their hearts early with an eye toward an extraordinary joining in His name. Last time, our topic was ‘discipleship’; this time it was ‘grace.’ I had written a spoken word piece on the topic, and as I uttered the final word of the poem, the first note of Agnew’s song struck with a fluidity seeming to suggest we had written our respective works to function as a unit.
I scanned the room of forty-plus men and women, as Ben called for some silent prayer. They all seemed to be experiencing strong feelings of some kind; even her. Truth be known, she had more of my focus than anyone else. This is mainly because she was the one I was most concerned about. The retreat is marketed as spiritual; not inherently Christian. Therefore, while we are predominated by believers, there are always a handful of “others.” We tend to be fairly concentrated on these folks, not because we wish to cater to them; but because we want to make sure there is plenty of room available for them to be in faith in whatever way feels appropriate without feeling outcast. At the same time, while the experience is not centrally designed to create converts, we always have one eye on evangelistic opportunities. Striking such a balance successfully was something both Ben and I knew was well outside our human competence; hence, all the praying.
As for the so-called “others,” some are more otherly than others; and I was quite confident that the object of my focus, a 22-year old lesbian named Christy, was the most other of all. Christy and I had known each other for some time, and always got along famously. So when my buddy Jonathan had to drop out of the retreat at the last second, I needed a replacement for the two person scene I had written to demonstrate the fall of man. The scene was entitled “Adam and Enosh,” a fantasized conversation between the first human and his grandson. I could not think of another man in the membership who would be right for it, and then, for some reason, Christy popped into my head. I had no evidence whatsoever that she was an actress, but her bubbly energy just struck me as potentially captivating for the scene. Looking back, already wondering whether she would be comfortable in the retreat, I’m not sure why the decision to ask her came so easily. But I did; without hesitation, she said yes; and, within a few hours, the scene had been retitled, “Adam and Eypha.”
The plan was for she and I to meet after the first nights events had concluded, somewhere around 11pm. As the first small group reached its end, after I had attended to some housekeeping details, Christy and I headed to a quiet space for rehearsal. She was staggering. By her own testimony, she had never acted in her life; but, boy oh boy, you’d never know it. Christy is a big girl; just under six feet with a thick build. But, as we ran through the scene, scripts in hand, me upright in a chair, and she sitting before me cross-legged; she utterly transformed into a nine-year old girl seeking wisdom from her grandfather. It was clear I was not the only one in the room who could feel the powerful energy; nor the only one amazed at her unearthed acting chops. And, even though I had not located where this time together was headed, I knew something greater than my little scene or our respective talents was at play.
After we had run the scene three times, we mutually agreed we were ready, and Christy began gathering her things to head over to the women’s house and get some sleep with an eye toward an 8am start in the morning. As she did so, I asked her how she was feeling about the overall experience so far, and she began to share that a lot had been coming up for her around familial difficulties, as well as doubts that she was serving the women she mentors in our common fellowship effectively. I let her know that I could identify with such troubles and that, for me, the answers almost always seem to lie in my spiritual connectedness; or lack thereof.
She said, “You mean Jesus.” “Yes,” I responded, “But that doesn’t mean it has to be Jesus for you.” “I know,” she said, “And I appreciate your saying that. But, I really respect you, and I’m curious how that happened for you.” I said I’d be happy to share the story if she’d like to stay and hear it. “But you have important things to do really early in the morning.” I answered, “There’s nothing I have to do more important than this.” And with that, I launched into my testimony. As I shared the pertinent details of my journey from conservative Jewish boy to on-fire follow of Christ, she asked a few clarifying questions, but mostly just listened with rapt attention.
As I casually related my story, there was a concurrent frenetic monologue racing in my mind. “What is happening?” I thought, “Does she long for Jesus in her life? Is that possible? What in God’s name am I going to say when she inevitably asks whether her sex life is wrong in Gods eyes and whether she’d have to stop that to be a Christian?” That’s when it hit me. I needed to invoke God’s name. My fear that I could not attend to such a question effectively was absolutely correct. But God could most assuredly do it through me. “Holy Spirit,” I thought, “I humbly ask that you enter this room. Please, move in me and through me that I may have the words necessary to deliver to this beautiful lost sheep whatever message the Father needs her to hear.” Seconds later, she said through a choked up voice paired with eyes welling fast with tears, “Let’s face it, Michael, even if I was interested in Jesus, there is a pretty obvious problem.” “And that would be?” I questioned, knowing full well what she meant. “I’m gay.” “Are you sure that’s a problem?” I asked; at the same time, wondering what caused me to ask a question I was pretty sure I knew the answer to. “Doesn’t the bible say that it’s a sin?” I thought for a moment. “Let me make sure I understand what you are asking,” I clunkily stammered, “You are wondering if the details of your present sex life serve as an impediment in giving your life to Christ, yes?” “Well, yeah, I guess.” “I don’t believe that it is,” I responded, again wondering where I was going with this and whether I was going to soon need the out of saying something like, “You know what? I think you are going to have to talk to somebody else about this. Because I am pretty much speaking out of my backside here.” “But, I don’t get it, how could it not be a problem?” “Look Christy, here’s what I know. Yes, the Bible does say in multiple places that sex between two people of the same gender is sinful. I can’t say that I understand why. And I can definitely tell you that I don’t care for it, and if God ever sees fit to put the universe in my hands, I suspect I might consider changing it. With that said, pride is a sin; and I commit that sin regularly. Same goes for envy, vanity, envy, selfishness, and dishonesty. So if your concern is that people who sin can’t come to Christ, I’m living proof that that’s a crock. Maybe the question isn’t so much whether you would have to stop engaging with women if you converted; maybe it’s, if you gave your life to Christ, would your thoughts and feelings about sex change? I mean, it doesn’t so much matter what I think about it; and, all due respect, even what you think about it. What matters is what God thinks about it. If you actually give your life to Him, he’ll be inside of you, through the gift of Jesus and the power of The Holy Spirit. Consequently, I feel very confident that He’ll let you know all you need to know about this subject and any other.” There was a few moments of silence in which I was thinking, “Who said that?!” There was no question in my mind that Christy was having a direct conversation with Jesus. I didn’t even feel like I was in the room any longer. “He would tell me, like, how?” She inquired. “Well, why do you sleep with women?” I asked. “Um…cuz I was born this way.” She said sheepishly. “No,” I responded, “That’s a possible explanation for why you are driven to sleep with women. But isn’t it the drive itself, regardless of where it originated, that leads you to do it?” “Well, yeah.” She said. I continued, “So, what if, all of a sudden, the drive was gone? I’m not saying that will be the case; but what if it was? Would you continue sleeping with women?” She thought about this. “Well, no. I’m not determined to be gay. I just am.” “Exactly,” I said, “so that would be an example of God letting you know, rather than you willfully making some kind of perceived moral decision.” In a near whisper, she said, “I really can’t imagine that happening.” “Well, Christy, if there’s one thing I can tell you for sure, it’s that God’s capacities are in no way limited by what we can imagine Him doing.” She thought some more. “Okay, but even if He could do it, I don’t even know if I want Him to.” I said, “I hear you and, honestly Christy, that’s totally up to you. I can just tell you that the fruits of my relationship with Christ are dependent on wanting him and union with my heavenly Father more than I want anything else. In fact, I’m fairly certain that for someone who has no interest in having everything they do and think and feel turned utterly upside-down, a relationship with Christ is probably not a very good idea.” She smiled warmly, “All right, I got it. So, then, I have a bunch of questions about the basics of this whole thing. I mean, if you can make the time.” “Christy,” I said joyfully, “I have all the time you need.”
Over the next few hours, she inquired about the fall, the purpose of the Old Testament, the need for salvation, the nature of atonement, the Trinity, the idea of faith vs. works and many others. As answers to these queries flowed from my mouth, I no longer felt like I was outside the room. I was starting to wonder whether gravity was still rooting me to the planet. Despite her expression and her words giving off the impression that I was making some semblance of sense and that she was getting what she needed; there were moments when my sense of being completely outside my body had me wondering if I was still speaking English. Somewhere between 3 and 4 am, Christy said she wanted to give her life to Christ.
If you are thinking, having heard the story up to this point, that I should have seen this coming, you may very well be correct. But that does nothing to change the fact that I totally didn’t. I was flabbergasted. I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of, “Okay,” although it would not surprise me if I had actually said, “shoelaces,” or “underpants,” or just dribbled some Sunkist onto my t-shirt.
We both got on our knees and she told God she was sorry for her sins, that she believed He sent Jesus to die and come back from the dead for her, and that she wanted Christ to be her Lord and savior. As we both stood up with tear-stained faces, I took her in my arms and she hugged me back tightly. I whispered into her ear, “You just made the most important decision of your life.” I felt her body go limp as she exhaled in a way, I suspected, she never had before. She thanked me and I told her all the praise belongs to God. She said she wanted to go and wake her friends up and tell them the good news. I said that sounded delightful and, just like that, she was gone.
I stood there, motionless, for what seemed like a much longer time than it probably was. There was no way I could sleep and nobody in the house was awake; so I did the only thing that seemed appropriate, or, quite frankly, feasible at that moment. I walked into the empty chapel, made my way up to the enormous cross on the back wall with Jesus hanging limply from the top beam, dropped to my knees and just stared into his beautiful face. I had been kneeling and staring for some time, it could have been 10 minutes, it could have been 40; when I became aware that I felt a longing to speak, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, with something of a guttural bellow, I voiced forth, “Why?!” I couldn’t even decipher what exactly I was asking, but it was the only word I could muster that seemed to fit the occasion. So I just kept asking, “Why? Why? Why? Why?” Once I had fully exhausted myself, I wandered back to my room, lay on the bed without removing my clothes and fell into a deep slumber.
I had a vivid dream. I am in some sort of enormous bustling city full of activity. I am moving somewhat rapidly but feel neither anxious nor hurried. There is a light breeze but I am not cold. The sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky, but not so as deliver even a drop of humidity. As one person after another glides past, each one smiles and greets me jubilantly. As I continue on, I realize I have never been in this place before, and yet, it strikes my heart as familiar. Just then, I hear a voice calling my name from across the street. I turn, and there, jumping up and down, waving her hands wildly in the air, with a huge grin and tears of joy cascading down her flushed cheeks, is Christy.
So, here we go,
Do you already feel hostile?
I get that,
I was just like you.
Closed off to the concept
Of absolute truth.
But for now, forget truth.
Perhaps we’ll find more utility;
With the broader lens of
Is it possible
From falling short;
Desperate to be a winner?
Is it possible the solution
Is that you’re a sinner?
I heard that word,
I nearly bolted;
I felt jolted,
Bear with me,
just put aside what you think you’re hearing.
You got kids?
So take child rearing:
Ever notice that you need to
show ’em how to be good?
To do what they should;
Assuming that decent people you wish to make ’em.
Yet those same rules
You gotta teach ’em,
They just seem to know how to break ’em.
Is it possible that’s inherent?
Like a toxin woven all the way
Up inside our DNA?
Is it possible man fell?
And the one most bothered
Was your maker;
Who’s, in fact, your original Father?
Is it possible that’s not the way He wants you to live?
Is it possible His nature makes Him want to forgive?
And is it possible that to do so
And deny consequence;
Let you stroll scott free from behaving so bad;
Would make Him the very worst kind of a dad?
Is it possible your being left to the way you behave
Is not an unwillingness on His part to save?
Or that He just won’t budge?
Is it possible that it’s justice
In His role as the judge?
That His nature, while loving,
Is righteous as well?
And the sentence you’ve earned is unequivocally hell?
Is it possible that He’s got quite a bit on His plate;
Seeking to be both your old man
And your magistrate?
Is it possible
Threat on the land,
Would require the creation of some kind of God-man?
And is it possible that the being into whom the Lord squeezes
Both His and our nature
Is the one we call Jesus?
Is it possible He displays the width and breadth of His glory
By writing Himself into His very own story?
Coming as a human
With the creators capacity;
And endless tenacity;
And perfect veracity;
To take up all the sin
That ever has been,
And pack it all in:
Every last bit,
And take the hit
For every son every daughter;
Hanging limp and turgid
From a crimson slaughter?
Is it possible that this effort
To cure the depraved,
Had him walk from the grave;
And through resurrection,
Came course correction?
Swapping his perfection
For our alienated fractured position
Last breath as a tear split the temple partition
Delivering the good news
Of God’s rescue mission?
Is it possible that in painfully bearing our load
He laid the asphalt
Paving one holy road?
That seems exclusive,
Makes you feel confrontational.
But is it possible
If you were God laying this out,
To deliver the truth and extinguish the doubt;
In providing your children a highway to heaven;
You’d grant one simple passage
Instead of ten or eleven?
Is it possible
In seeking their worship and praise,
You’d build them an interstate
Instead of a maze?
Is it possible
In your striving to rescue your flock;
Rather than stock
The earth chock
Full of shepherds;
Having each of them say,
“Hey y’all, I’ve discovered the way,
Look and see!”
You’d have one voice
“The way to the Father
I know your brain’s screaming,
“No, this can’t be true.”
But, my friend,
Is it possible
God’s smarter than you?
Cuz y’know, a creator
Who you can outthink;
Probably ain’t one whose cup you wanna pick up and drink.
This ain’t just what I think.
It’s more than a belief.
It’s sweet relief.
2000 years later
And it’s never been diminished.
Cuz there’s no third act
It is finished.
This is the shalom the good Lord foreswore.
If you want, I can go;
But is it possible
You’d let me tell you some more?