Fear and Love in an Ever-Changing America

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Justin Barringer is a guest writer whose voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about Justin in his bio at the end of the piece.

Today as I was frantically trying to finish up some writing for a major project I had the TV on the in the background and Facebook open in another window. I was switching among the coverage of the American presidential inauguration, the commentary of my social media friends, and the document I needed to complete. I felt like I needed to say something because I have seen so many well-meaning Christian friends (and perhaps a few with less beneficent intentions) offer up words of apparent comfort but that have come across as mere aphorisms at best and as disdainful toward marginalized and frightened people at worst. Here is what I wrote.

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A LOVEboldly Thanksgiving

loveboldlythanksgivingThe previous few weeks have been difficult and heavy. I’m sure that, like me, many of you have been bombarded with story after story of injustices, hate-crimes and hate-groups, and fear, sorrow, and outrage in the wake of the election.Right now, it’s harder than ever to have real, honest, productive, civil conversations about topics that divide us. However you voted, or didn’t vote, perhaps your heart, like mine, has been heavy as you’ve watched folks around you respond in ways that don’t seem much like Jesus. Right now, it’s harder than ever to have real, honest, productive, civil conversations about topics that divide us. And now this week we prepare to gather to give thanks around a table with family and friends, who perhaps have wildly different viewpoints than we ascribe to, or who have hurt us with their words, or worse – have disinvited us from the table altogether.

The importance of creating spaces to have meaningful conversations on divisive topics is felt more profoundly today than what most of us can ever remember. I am reminded how vitally important our work is. God is still at work with us. He is transforming lives with these dialogues. I’m convinced the path ahead, while tough at times, is all the more necessary for us to navigate.

The importance of creating spaces to have meaningful conversations on divisive topics is felt more profoundly today than what most of us can ever remember. On Friday, we held a public dialogue on faith, sexuality, and gender identity. The presenters held vastly different viewpoints – from conservative/traditional to progressive/liberal. But we all came together, as Christian brothers and sisters, to turn our hearts and minds towards how we can find ways to move forward together. The experience left me reminded of the great hope that we have in a Savior that moved into our neighborhood when we were still his enemies. I pray that we might find ways to move toward one another in the midst of conflict, rather than away. If you need some encouragement this week that this sort of relationship-building and sustaining is possible, you can watch the recording of the event here.

There is much for us to be thankful for this year, but most of all I am encouraged by each of you who remain in conversation with us. As we quickly approach the close of this year, I hope you will consider a year-end gift to support our work. We need your support in these conversations now, perhaps more than ever.
Grace and Peace,
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Heidi Weaver-Smith
President & Founder

The Church is a Blue Light Special

Blue Lights

Do you remember Kmart? My local store had a little eatery in the back that served soggy French fries—a smell that always hunkered down in the toy section. And who could forget the Blue Light Specials, which were never as special as that whirling blue light promised (at least to a child who would have preferred a two-for-one deal on G.I. Joe action figures instead of Windex).

The first place I got lost in my life was at Kmart. I was 5 years old and my mom was trying on dresses. When she went into the changing room, I was instructed to “stay put.” But those dresses were magical. As a small child, you can enter a rack of clothes like entering C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. The fabrics were so soft and enveloped you with what felt like a thousand fingers each with a loving touch.

When I emerged on the other side of that wardrobe of dresses, I found myself in an aisle I didn’t recognize. Instead of turning around and going back or staying put as I was advised, I moved forward. I went through a sea of coats and then a jungle of belts and scarves and finally landed in a scary territory of tools—sharp and dangerous. It was then I began to cry.

I’ve been lost a lot since that experience in Kmart. As a gay Christian in the church, I’ve been lost without even leaving my pew. At first, it was the sense that I had to lose a part of myself (the sexual part) in order to be found a faithful Christian. I didn’t know how to reconcile a sincere faith with my deep desire to be in a sexual relationship with a man. And it wasn’t a question simply asked. So, I found it easier to hide this part of me in a wardrobe instead of walking through it into some unknown land that very well could be sharp and dangerous—where God might not be present.

But one can’t hide forever. There is no dark place the Lord’s light won’t find. But one can’t hide forever. There is no dark place the Lord’s light won’t find. I was found in my acting out—in my growing addiction to pornography in the early days of the Internet. In those days, the technology was so new that I didn’t realize that what seemed hidden was in fact archived and tagged like rows of clothes in the men’s section of Kmart. A number of people went through that section of my life. Many showed considerable grace for what they found on my racks of shame. Not everyone was kind, but some were and those folks started traveling with me as I tried to find grace for myself in the midst of sexual feelings that made me feel very lost.

Today, my lostness in the church has taken a slightly different form. Now, I’m lost in a family-centric community that doesn’t quite know how to invite a single, gay man into a flourishing life in their midst. I suspect many single people in the church, whatever their orientation, feel this same tension. How do we become the parts of the body that the church needs us to be if the entire focus of church life is centered on couples and kids (or helping singles get coupled)? Of course, that’s an overstatement, but just barely.

In that tool section in Kmart, a kind sales associate with a Blue Light Special lapel pin found me weeping and alerted my mom over the loud speaker. I wish being found was that easy in the rest of my life. God doesn’t often use a PA system. But he does use people and nature and music and the sacraments and the Bible and even our own sin to lead us like a shepherd.

I’m still very much on the journey to being found. Along the way, I’ve often recalled my mom’s words—stay put. I pray more gay people and single people will join me in staying put in the church. Yes, you will feel lost there at times, but oh the joy when the clouds part, like a sea of dresses, and you see your mother standing right where she has been all along.