Happy New Year! As I write that, I am mindful of how easily that can roll off someone’s tongue and how much it can miss the mark of the reality that many are living. Last year, many people wished me a happy new year. But neither they nor I had any idea of the unexpected challenges, grief and loss that would come in 2012. Likewise, when I wish people happy new year now – we have no idea what lies ahead of us. Some of us are struggling – spiritually, emotionally, financially, relationally ….. and some of us are doing that in great isolation. Happy new year? Well maybe not a superficial hallmark greeting …. but as people of faith we do extend confident prayers for one another that the new year will be blessed.
We have a tradition at my church of praying over the calendar at our New Year’s day service. We talk together about some of the things that are likely to happen in the months ahead, but mainly we simply consecrate each day of the year to God in the knowledge that so many unexpected things may happen. As a community, when difficult things happen, it is not uncommon to remind each other, “Remember, we consecrated this day to God.” We live, as a community, in the remembrance that we serve Emmanuel – God with us. We live in the knowledge that God enters and exits each day with us.
During our mini-retreat for New Direction, several of us gathered to reflect on 2012 and to look with anticipation towards 2013. And I can honestly say that I am as excited as I have probably ever been in my years with New Direction for what lies ahead. For many years, I have been leading change in our organization. But, as I have thought, prayed, reflected, spoken and taught about generous spaciousness in the last year, I find myself feeling a paradoxical sense of restful anticipation. Generous spaciousness is where New Direction is supposed to be, it is what we are supposed to be about, it is what we need to model, share, and promote.
We acknowledge that Christians who love Jesus and care deeply about the Scriptures arrive at different conclusions about gay marriage for Christians. In this acknowledgement, we commit ourselves to nurture spaces that give room for people to wrestle with, clarify, and live in alignment with their beliefs and values concerning faithful discipleship for gay people. In the midst of this spacious place, we want to point people to Jesus, to encourage vibrant, intimate relationship with our Trinitarian, relational God. We want to support people as they grow in discernment, in spiritual disciplines, in living out obedience, faithfulness, justice and love in their day-to-day lives. We want to bless people to experience gracious freedom as they serve God with their whole life. We want to see people know joy, grow in being peace-makers, and work for the common good of those around them. We want to put first things first and not allow second-place things to divide, fracture or disrupt our unity as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Generous spaciousness is a way of being together in the Body of Christ. Gay marriage, as such, is simply one case study. But there are so many realities in our complex and pluralistic world that challenge us in our unity as Christians. Learning to listen to one another, learning to clothe ourselves in a deep humility, learning to extend grace to one another in the midst of the tensions of disagreements or different views, learning to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit and trust his leading – these are spiritually formational opportunities.
Last year I had so many opportunities to meet gay people who had either drifted away from connection with church community, were feeling marginalized or like they didn’t really fit in their congregation, or were frustrated with the lack of space and opportunity they experienced in their church. The sparks of faith were not dead, but rather than fanning these sparks into flames – the church was quenching them. This has motivated me all the more to be bold in sharing the message of generous spaciousness.
The idea that Christians disagree on a moral matter is nothing new in the church. Paul dealt with it. And instead of making a pronouncement about what was the RIGHT position – Paul implored the sisters and brothers to treat each other gently and to make room for people to follow their conscience. He recognized that people were coming from very different backgrounds and experiences – and his priority was that people would have every opportunity to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Truth is we need one another in the Body of Christ – as painful as it is at times to encounter perspectives that differ from our own. Iron sharpens iron. We need each other to challenge our tendency to get lazy, selfish, and complacent. We need to hold one another accountable to get back to our prayer closets, back into the story of Scripture, and back to extending forgiveness and grace to each other. We need each other to really learn how to love. Jesus told us that it was easy to love our friends, and by extension to love those who agree with us. But he called us to a higher standard – to love our enemies. To love those who are different than we are, those we disagree with, those we would tend to judge negatively and evaluate as missing the mark.
Generous spaciousness challenges us to grow up. It demands a level of maturity where it isn’t all about us and our correct way of interpreting things. Generous spaciousness honours the people Jesus honoured – the last workers in the vineyard, the prodigal sons, the folks from the wrong side of the tracks. Generous spaciousness staggers us as we realize WE are the ones who are recipients of such outrageous grace. It challenges us to live incarnationally – to strip ourselves of the privilege we have and to identify with those who lack such privilege. And it is really hard. It costs us. It is uncomfortable. It exposes our fears, our judgments, our insecurities.
But generous spaciousness, I am more convinced than ever, smells a lot like Jesus. It isn’t about control or fear or pride. It is about giving room to one another to encounter Jesus, to share with each other the ways that Jesus is impacting our lives, and to encourage each other to love Jesus more deeply.
So in the year ahead, we are planning on talking a whole lot more about generous spaciousness and the way that it can bring hope and encouragement to our sexual minority sisters and brothers in the church. We hope to get across Canada and offer seminars in a number of major cities. We are also preparing for a spring conference/retreat with generous spaciousness as the focus. This year I’ll also begin working on my thesis for my doctorate with the focus being, you guessed it, the impact of generous spaciousness on how a congregation navigates a discussion on gay marriage. And, by hook or by crook, I will get my book manuscript published this year – the title being, “Nurturing Generous Spaciousness: A Response to Gay Christians in the Church”.
I know and love gay Christians who are navigating their journeys of faith in Christ in a variety of ways. I want to encourage their faith, in full confidence that God who began a good work in them will bring it to completion. And I commit, in 2013 and beyond, to do what I can to expose, address and remove the barriers that would keep sexual minority Christians from finding their place in the community of faith and from growing as vibrant disciples of Jesus Christ. New Direction, with every resource available to us, will be out there, faithfully day-after-day, talking about generous spaciousness as a way of life that will help the church live out the good news of the gospel in more hospitable, generous, and fruitful ways.