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The Witness of Hospitality

There is no question that my sense of mission and focus has been evolving over the last number of years. This hasn’t been an easy journey for many different reasons. People on all sides of the questions around integrating faith and sexuality have, at times, misunderstood my intentions or misjudged my motives. Sometimes that has felt very lonely – yet God has been faithful to send people to encourage and help me along the way. I have wondered if this example might be helpful to try to explain the kind of shifts in focus I’ve been making – though I’m always aware that any kind of illustration will inevitably fall short and not be completely effective. But here goes…. Imagine if you came to work for an organization that was focused on supporting the Israeli cause. You spoke on the issue, tried to rally others to support it and so on. You made several trips to Israel even. But along the way, you began to meet Palestinians. And you built relationships with them. You listened to their stories. And you began to experience the pain of the division and enmity between people over these larger issues. And while you continued to have deep sympathies for the concerns of Israel, you began to realize that some of your priorities were shifting. You began to yearn for reconciliation and to see the enmity dismantled. And you began to dream of safe and hospitable space where people from Israel and people from Palestine could meet one another, listen to one another, and share meals together. You began to sense that hospitality in the midst of this enmity was the truly subversive Christ-like response. And so you began to speak about this, have conversations with those for whom these were personal realities, and develop friendships that embodied this kind of generous space. And along the way, people who supported Israel felt some sense of betrayal and said you were now promoting the Palestinian cause – but didn’t care about them – which broke your heart – because you did care about them. And some in support of Palestine assumed you would now lobby for their cause. And when you tried to explain that your deep concern was that there could be a space where Israeli’s and Palestinian’s could see one another’s humanity, where there could be shared generosity, and the hope that peace could come through relationship and reconciliation – some “got it” but others said, “But what’s your position? You’ve got to have a position. You’ve got to choose a side.” I’m not so sure this is a great example – I know it’s like talking about apples and oranges. But I’ve been trying to find a way to express this deep passion that I have for bridge-building and peace-making in the midst of the often divisive engagements around the intersection of faith and sexuality in a way that people will understand. The reality is that there are people who have different perspectives on the topic of homosexuality. Some of those people do not situate themselves within a paradigm of faith. But for those who do live as followers of Jesus – there is also great diversity on the question of whether there is room in God’s mercy for monogamous partnerships between people sexually oriented to their own gender. I have found that so much of the conversation has been fixated on whether or not gay people can or cannot have an intimate sexual relationship, on whether you are right or wrong, on my team or against me ….. that we’ve lost sight of some foundational aspects of the person and ministry of Christ. Slowly over the years, I realized that all of the arguments about causation and orientation change were mainly just tragic distractions. That pouring literally millions of dollars into fighting gay marriage was an indictment on North American Christians’ obsession with power and control and often driven by fear and anger. And that somehow trying to prevent same-sex attracted followers of Jesus from ever getting off the treadmill of striving for heterosexuality was most often impoverishing their journey of faith. As my awareness in these areas crystallized, they began to haunt me and drive me to embody a new paradigm and a new set of priorities in mission and ministry with those marginalized from the privilege of heterosexual majority. I began to see and understand systemic inequity in ways I’d never seen before. I reflected on the misuse of power and dominance and found myself in deep lament for the state of empire-driven Christendom. The shape of this new paradigm emerged slowly – and is still being shaped and formed as it is lived out. • I became convinced that our work needed to be shaped around relationship. And God honoured that by opening many new opportunities to develop friendships with people from very different places. • I found myself stepping away from a cause-driven agenda and moving towards a ministry of presence with a commitment to try to be simply and incarnationally with people in their journey. Bottom line, I was much more concerned and interested in a person’s wholistic walk with God than just the question of their commitments and decisions around how they would integrate their sexual identity with their faith. Not that they are completely unrelated – but one’s entire relationship with God is not defined by one’s sexuality. • I was confronted with my own tendencies to want to control and manipulate the outcomes in people’s lives. And God began to form a new and deep commitment in me to let go and trust the Holy Spirit to convict and direct. • As I encountered hurt and betrayal from people I’d poured my heart into, I slowly grew in centering myself in the secure confidence that I am His Beloved. This took discipline and accountability and submitting myself to others who could both remind, encourage and challenge me. • The picture of hospitality began to take root in a deep place in me – and wouldn’t let me go. This place of hospitality was about embodying the way of Jesus. It was not about trying to bring change as much as it seemed to be about being a witness – a witness to the way of Jesus within the systems of domination, exclusion and division. I saw such systems all around me. On the one side was a system in the Christian community (not perpetuated by all Christians – but a system with a good amount of weight behind it none-the-less) that seemed to lose sight of the real people impacted by this question of integrating faith and sexuality. Real people who needed to experience the unconditional love of Christ through His people. A system that seemed content to be systematic and theoretical. A system that both knowingly and unknowingly enabled attitudes and stereotypes and assumptions that alienated, ostracized and dehumanized. A system that had essentially no room for the “other”. On the other side was a system within the gay community (not perpetuated by all gay people – but a system with a good amount of weight behind it none-the-less) that also had an “our way or the highway” drive. It seemed to be a system that had great difficulty making room for people’s deep convictions if they differed from their own. A system that had a win-lose motif. Walter Wink has said, “God at one and the same time upholds a given political and economic system, since some such system is required to support human life; condemns that system insofar as it is destructive of fully human life; and presses for its transformation into a more humane order. Conservatives stress the first, revolutionaries the second, reformers the third. The Christian is expected to hold together all three.” I think one of the ways the Christian holds all three responses together is in the expression of hospitality. Both of the dominant and warring systems within these two communities seemed to have very little connection with the concept of hospitality – of making room. Now the difference between tolerance and hospitality here is crucial. With tolerance, we merely accept one another at a superficial level. We stifle our attitudes and opinions for the sake of political correctness. The result is shallow relationships with simmering resentments. For there is no safe place for conversation about our differences. Difference is just assimilated into the dominant paradigm – and nobody really feels like they have any choices or any power. Hospitality creates room for robust conversation about difference while extending a humble and intentionally power-less welcome to the “other”. In this space, authentic relationships can grow – even when there are divergent views or even beliefs. For the follower of Jesus, I believe hospitality is a non-negotiable. It was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and if we follow in his way, we are called to embody that same unconditional welcome and opportunity for friendship. As I think about embodying this paradigm as a primary priority in our ministry, I believe our witness to the world will be focused on the following: • The deep belief that we are the Beloved – with the opportunity to invite others to experience and embrace their Belovedness • A model of living in relationship with one another – a counter-cultural witness in the face of individualism, isolation and division • The ministry of reconciliation – breaking down enmity • The commitment to shalom and concern for the common good – marked by sharing, generosity, mutuality, respect and being non-patronizing • The shared vision of justice Such a place makes room for people to hold their deepest convictions with pure motives – because motives energized by fear, prejudice or dominance have been challenged and dismantled. In such a place people can explore faith – without experiencing coercion or control. The vision of such a space is shaped by a desire for shalom and to be a voice for shalom in the larger conversations around sexuality. In this space, celibate gay Christians and partnerered gay Christians can link arms, despite their differences and disagreements, and speak words of fidelity and self-giving love to the self-driven, consuming sexuality so pervasive in our culture. In Christ, they can stand as a witness to a wholistic understanding of our sexuality as that drive to overcome our aloneness – that is met in what we can give to others not what we can take. In this space followers of Jesus, despite significant differences in interpretation around sexual ethics, can point to the good intentions of beauty and fruitfulness and the image of God to be woven through our expressions of sexuality – as manifested with so much more depth than the typical genital reductionism of the media around us. So many followers of Jesus I encounter live in tension around questions of faith and sexuality. This hospitable space creates room for questions and paradox and mystery. It allows the Spirit to speak and to keep on revealing Jesus’ heart to us. It fosters a place of dependence and trust where we acknowledge our desperate need of God. This, I believe, will bear witness to a cynical and often sexually burned-out world more than our cause-driven, right and wrong apologetics, or theoretical rhetoric ever could. And as this relationally energized hospitality is lived out, I believe it will be transformational and lead us more deeply into the heart of God.

#dealingwithfear #generousspaciousness

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