Tag Archives: Change

No Homosexual Lifestyle???

In August of last year, the darling of the progressive Christian world, John Pavlovitz, wrote a post titled Repeat After Me: “There is No Such Thing as a “Homosexual Lifestyle.”  What?!? No homosexual lifestyle? I find that hard to believe. I mean, if there’s no “homosexual lifestyle”, that means I’ve been an asshole for absolutely no reason whatsoever. That is a turn of events I just cannot accept.

Look, there are numerous places where the Bible plainly states homosexuality is a sin. Here are a few of those places:

  • In Leviticus 18:22, God told Moses that men shouldn’t lie with men as they do with women because that is an abomination. Of course, a few chapters earlier, God also told Moses that the people shouldn’t eat pork and shrimp. But, I love pork and shrimp, so I ignore that part. Thank you, God, for the miracle of proof-texting!
  • In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul said that “homosexuals” won’t “inherit the kingdom of God”. Yes, I know the word “homosexual” doesn’t appear in the Bible until the middle of the 20th century. But, the words that have been rendered as “homosexual” are slang terms and we really don’t know what they mean. But, hey, if we don’t know what Paul meant, what’s wrong with interpreting it in a way that benefits us “normal”, straight folks?
  • In Romans 1:26-28, Paul tells us that men and women gave up natural, God-ordained relations and defiled themselves with icky, same-sex shenanigans and were promptly punished for it. Sure, in the very next chapter, Paul tells us that God condemns the kind of judgement he just threw out, but that doesn’t help my case, so I’m ignoring it.

Seriously, is this man, this “pastor”, trying to tell me that my deeply held religious belief about the homosexuals, based on a Bible verses that have been few proof-texted and cherry-picked within an inch of their life, is wrong? Really?

According to Pavlovitz, “We all have a gender identity and a sexual orientation and these things all fall along a vast and complicated continuum. It is this specific combination of both how we see ourselves and who we are drawn to that form this essential part of who we are.” Oh, come on, “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”? Everyone knows God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. And, Eve was always Eve, not Steve who decided he was Eve. No less an authority than the Southern Baptist Convention backs this up in their resolution “On Transgender Identity”. How could that many Baptists be wrong about something like this?

He also says that the Christians are holding onto “the prejudices and fears our faith inherited 3500 years ago when we didn’t know what we know now” and is “deliberately choosing to not know now; preferring religion to reality”. Well, of course we are. Otherwise we might have to change. And, if there’s one thing we don’t do very well, it’s change.

Look, the bottom line is that accepting homosexuality as innate and not a “lifestyle” is just another step onto the slippery slope that will ultimately lead Christians to live by the teachings of Jesus and start loving our neighbor and turning the other cheek. God only knows where that could lead.

You’re Going To Be Disappointed

disappointmentFor those of you who don’t already know, I volunteer at Love Wins Ministries, “a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.” It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I first met Hugh at The Morning Times coffee shop in downtown Raleigh (his “office” at the time) five years ago. After an early retirement from the fire department in 2012, I was finally able to jump in and help on a regular basis. I’ve spent most of my life serving my community one way or another and that’s not an impulse you just turn off. Thanks to my friends at Love Wins, I didn’t have to.

One of the things I do around the hospitality house is provide rides to a local food pantry. It’s really a great way for me to be involved; as someone who’s more introverted, I do better in small groups and I’ve made some amazing friends on these runs. Getting to know some of the folks who come by our little oasis in the desert that is poverty/homelessness has changed many of my attitudes about people dealing with these situations. While it’s been good for everyone involved, it hasn’t been easy.

In the years I’ve been hanging out at Love Wins, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people and I’ve celebrated their good days and shared the sorrow of their bad ones. Unfortunately, the latter seems to outnumber the former by a pretty significant margin. And, a lot of the time, those bad days are the result of my friends’ lack of judgment. I’ll be honest with you, it’s exasperating beyond measure to put time and effort into helping someone better their situation only to see them shoot themselves in the foot over and over again.

Hugh has said more than once that if you do this work expecting people to get better, you’re going to be disappointed because, by and large, people don’t change. It’s one thing to hear these words in the abstract and think to yourself, “Sure, but I’m tough; I can handle it.” It’s a different story when you’re actually invested in the situation. Things change after you’ve bent over backward to get someone into housing only to find they about to be evicted because they aren’t paying their rent. You can tell yourself all you want that you don’t expect them to change (i.e.”get better”), but the simple truth is that, on some level, we all expect it. At the very least, we want it and it hurts when it doesn’t happen.

Regardless of what The Big Man says, being disappointed comes with the territory when you do this kind of work and it’s happened to me a few times (and by “a few times”, I mean “so many times, I’ve lost count”). When it does, I have to remind myself that what I see is only a snapshot of this person’s life. I don’t know what went before and I really don’t know what comes after this moment where our paths have crossed. Maybe they’ve tried so many times to “get better” without success they’ve given up.  I can understand that; all too often, the deck is so stacked against my friends that I’m amazed they can get out of bed in the morning, much less get through the day. A ride to the food pantry or a local church for a shower isn’t going to magically change anyone’s attitude and make them what society calls “normal”, but it probably will make their day a little more bearable. In this business, we call that a win. And, yes, that’s a little disappointing in itself. But, it’s enough to keep me going. One day, it might not be. One day, I may get so burned out that I throw up my hands and say “Fine! If you don’t care, why should I?” and just walk away. But, today? Today, is not that day.

News That’s Not Really News

I would like to think people come here looking for commentary that features depth and nuance. If that’s the case, I am so sorry because you’re most likely fucked; depth and nuance aren’t what you’d call my specialties. I wish they were, but you’ve got to work with what the good Lord gave you. Which, in my case means stupidity, snark and sarcasm. Oh well.

I’m a little lazy today, so I fell back on the bloggers best friend: the list. Today’s offering features a few items that are either new or make regular appearances in my news feed. I don’t know why, because none of them are really news.

Was that deep and nuance-y? I hope so. But, even if it wasn’t, I found a way to use some ideas that have cluttering things up around here. I call that a win.

 

That Could’ve Been Me

There was one of these billboards just across the line in Randolph County when I was a youngster.
There was one of these billboards just across the line in Randolph County when I was a youngster.
           Last week, PBS aired Klansville U.S.A.,  a documentary about Bob Jones and the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolian in the 1960’s. It was one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in quite a while and I highly recommend it. The basics presented weren’t exactly news to me, as I grew in the 60’s and 70’s knowing that the Klan not only existed, but that some of the people in my community were most likely members. Hell, as the caption in the picture above states, there were billboards across the state attesting to that fact. But, I did not know that the North Carolina chapter of the United Klans of America was the largest in the country in its heyday, boasting 10,000 dues-paying members. Coupled with the fact that North Carolina has long been considered the most progressive state in the South((a reputation our “esteemed” legislators seem intent on trashing)), this fact illustrates the weird relationship many southerners have with race relations.
          While I found all that interesting, the characterization of Bob Jones had me absolutely riveted. Jones was a working-class guy from Salisbury, NC who drifted from job to job, was kicked out of the Navy in the 1940’s for refusing to salute a black officer and found his raison d’être as the most influential Klan leader in the country. As I watched a couple of interviews with him, I was struck at the ease with which the word “n***er” rolled off his tongue. And, like many southerners of the time((Hell, like many southerners today)), Jones had no real animosity toward his African-American neighbors…, as long as they knew their place and stayed in it, of course. His father was a Klansman during its early 20th century  resurgence and Jones liked to boast that his mother marched with the local Klavern while she was pregnant with him. Right about now, you’re probably wondering why someone like Bob Jones would capture my attention that way. It’s because I could easily have turned out just like him.
          I also grew up in a working-class family, the descendant of farmers and mill hands. I drifted from job to job until I found my raison d’etre in the fire department. Hell, I was even kicked out the Air Force((not because I wouldn’t salute a black officer, though)). Racism was present in my own family, too. My grandfather never hesitated to drop an “N-bomb” and was incensed at Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record. My dad loved tell my brother and I racial jokes and broke out a few “N-bombs” himself over the years. And, as I got older, it was rumored that at least one fellow volunteer firefighter was a card-carrying Klansman((A rumor he did nothing to dispel)). Add to that the fact that I was a white kid during the civil rights movement, a time of great upheaval in the South and a racially charged atmosphere was impossible to avoid, and even I question how I didn’t become the next Bob Jones.
          So, what happened? Why didn’t I turn out like Jones or the people I knew growing up with who supported the Klan, either through membership or turning a blind eye to it? My family, that’s what happened. Because, while my father and grandfather could say “n***er” with relative impunity, that was a short cut to getting my mouth washed out with soap (which was really a best-case scenario). Because some members of my family might not have always spoken kindly about African-Americans as as a group, they always treated individual black people with respect and kindness. Because, even though he loved telling those awful jokes, my father taught me that what mattered was a person’s character, not their skin color((he never said so overtly, but that’s the way he lived)). While all of that was important in making me who am I today, I think I turned out this way mostly because my family wasn’t afraid.
         I say that because racism and discrimination exist because of fear. Fear of what, you ask? In a word, change. Poor  white  people fought (and still fight) integration and equal rights for people of color not because they’re bad people, but because they’re afraid that if these folks achieve equality, they could lose what little they have. And, when you don’t have much, you’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve it.
           So, why didn’t my family succumb to this fear? At least part of it can be attributed to our economic situation. My father worked for the U.S. Post Office, which was about as secure as jobs got in those days. My grandfather drove a truck for Southern Railway, which almost as good. But, there was also a strength in my forebears that wouldn’t allow them to blame their misfortunes on others. When hours got cut and money was tight, well, you took your belt up another notch and did whatever was needed to get by. You did not, under any circumstances, waste time finding someone to blame for your bad luck. Were we that different from other families? I don’t think so, but sometimes I wonder.
          I realize this an odd post for Martin Luther King Day, but I believe it’s more honest than anything I could write about Dr. King. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the man and am astounded at what he accomplished. But, as a white man born and raised in the South, my journey is vastly different from King’s and that of my friends and neighbors of color. But, those paths intersect on a regular basis and we have to find a way walk together when they do. That only happens when we see each other as human, not rednecks or n***ers.

Maybe I Should Do This More Often

NC AG Roy Cooper tells counties to prepare to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.
NC AG Roy Cooper tells counties to prepare to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States released the list of cases they have chosen to hear this session. Noticeably absent from that list were the circuit court rulings on same-sex marriage that were on appeal. While the absence of something isn’t normally that big a deal, this case is a little different. It’s a big deal because refusing to hear these cases means the rulings of the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeal will stand. Basically, same-sex marriage is now (or will soon become) legal in 11 more states. That means more than half the states in the country (30) now recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. Like I said, it’s a big deal.

Of course, this isn’t coming off without a hitch. While some of the states immediately affected by the rulings (Virginia and Wisconsin) are moving ahead and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, others (Indiana and Oklahoma) chose to wait for more direction. Utah seems even more conflicted , with some counties issuing licenses and others holding off. In the states not directly affected by the rulings, some Republican administrations and law-makers are vowing to fight on. Take Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, for example. According to Sam, he “swore an oath to support the Constitution of the State of Kansas.” and that an “overwhelming majority of Kansas voters amended the Constitution to include a definition of marriage as one man and one woman. Activist judges should not overrule the people of Kansas.” Then, there’s South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley and AG Alan Wilson, who “said Monday they would keep on fighting in federal court a lawsuit filed in 2013 by a South Carolina same-sex couple.” Isn’t that special?

In my own state (NC), things are also a bit divided. AG Roy Cooper said in the wake of the 4th Circuit’s ruling that there wasn’t any point of continuing the fight as Virginia had made every argument he could make and yesterday told each county’s register of deeds to prepare to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples as soon as Judge William Osteen makes his ruling to overturn our marriage amendment. Meanwhile, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger said they plan to intervene and defend it. I’m not sure how, since it’s not their job, but that’s what they’re saying. Obviously, this isn’t going to be easy.

It’s not going to be easy because we’re looking at a massive change in the way we see marriage and that scares the shit out of some people.  Sure, it’s a change that should’ve happened a long, long time ago. But, that doesn’t make it any less scary for some folks. I think it is incumbent upon those of us who believe this is change is a good one to help our conservative brothers and sisters get over their fear and learn to live in this brave, new world. I have some ideas about how we might do that, but they’ll have to wait for another post.

After Monday’s big news, I was thinking “It seems like every time I take a vacation, something big happens.” That’s not true, of course, but it feels that way. And, a couple of big things have happened while I was on vacation. Last year’s DOMA ruling came down while I was at the beach. Combine that with this latest bombshell and it adds up to something. Like, maybe I should do this (vacation) more often. Works for me.

Making A Change

My morning has not followed its usual pattern. For one thing, I got up early this morning and…, wait, let me rephrase that. I got up at the same time, but I left the house much earlier than I usually do. Diana and I are making one of our semi-annual trips to Florida this weekend and the car needed to be serviced and inspected, necessitating the early departure. While that’s going on, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, writing; which is something I rarely do. The change of scenery is somewhat stimulating, but I have also seen the downside to writing in public: old men with voices that carry like you wouldn’t believe. Seriously, this dude isin another room and I can hear him over the music that’s practically blasting through my headphones. Fortunately, it’s nothing that good coffee, patience and some Los Lobos won’t fix. And, to top it all off, I’m writing the first post for my new blog.

If you’re a fan or (even better) a follower of my other little corner of the web, But Not Yet, you’re probably wondering what the hell is going on, because this is not where you usually find me. I guess a little explanation is in order. Four years ago, when I started this blogging thing, I was beginning to change the way I approached my faith and needed a way to get my thoughts in order. Flannery O’Connor once said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say” and, like a lot of writers, I find that to be true. Now, you’re probably thinking that a personal journal would take care of that and, you’d be right. But I’m just vain enough to believe others might like to hear what I have to say. That meant that a blog was the way to go. I started out with a free site on Google’s Blogger and titled “But Not Yet” because it was part of a quote by St. Augustine that I thought was catchy. I stuck with it for a couple of iterations of my site, but I’m realizing it doesn’t work anymore. Especially since, a couple of years ago, I decided to chase a dream I’ve had for almost as long as I can remember: to make a living as an author. And,  while But Not Yet provided a cool tagline, it didn’t really say anything about what I’m trying to do here. Hence, the change. 

So, I’ve explained the reason for the change, but not what I changed it to. First, the address. Every blogging guru I’ve ever read says your name (or the name of your business) should figure prominently in your URL. Now, I’ve tried a lot of stuff recommended by said gurus without a lot of success, so a part of me wonders why I’m doing this. But, hey, maybe (thirty)third time’s the charm.

The name of the new blog, The Progressive Redneck, comes to us courtesy of Hugh Hollowell who is the closest thing I have to a mentor in all this craziness. It refers to the fact that, while I am pretty progressive, I still have a few redneck tendencies (something I’ll detail in another post). It’s also a play on words and a back-handed tribute to my grandfather, James Ronald Steele (one of the magazines he read on a regular basis  was The Progressive Farmer)While he might not agree with some of the things I say here, Grandpa was a good man and had a huge hand in who I’ve become. I’d like to think he’d be proud even if he thought I was wrong.

So, there you have it. I’ve moved and I’m praying it brings about the desired outcome: a following crazy enough to spend money on whatever ridiculous ideas fall out of my head. Will it? Only time will tell. But, you have a hand in that, dear reader. If you liked the old blog enough to subscribe, please do the same here. If you’ve never read my blog and like what you see, do the same. And, all you guys, please share this with anyone you can think of. I’ll end by saying that I love each and everyone one of you, whether you follow me or not. Although, I’ll probably love you a lot more if you do.

What Is Salvation?

admitting you're an assholeRecently, a friend posted the following status on Facebook: “I’m glad not being an asshole is not a prerequisite of salvation.” I responded “Hmm, looks like we define “salvation” differently. Not to mention, “asshole” and went about my business, which included a morning at Love Wins and a trip to the store to replenish someone’s supply of peanut M&M’s. I didn’t really stop thinking about it, though, wondering how I might reply if someone questioned my comment. As I thought about it, I began to realize there might be a blog post in there somewhere. There was and this is it.

So, how do I define “salvation”? First, let’s take a look at the dictionary (stop rolling your eyes, damn it) and see what it has to say about this word. As usual, Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions, but the one that applies in this context is “deliverance from the power and effects of sin”. There are other definitions out there, but this is the one I like. It’s simple, it’s direct and it’s free from proselytizing. Of course, it doesn’t really answer the question. In fact, it kind of brings up another one: what is sin? This time, you’re in luck because I don’t have to go to the dictionary for an answer. Several years ago, a pastor I respect and admire said sin was anything that separates us from God. And, that’s where asshole comes into the equation.

I did go to the dictionary for this and found a classic example of why I love these dusty old tomes. I googled “asshole”, expecting only to find an entry on Urban Dictionary. But, to my surprise (and delight), it had entries in Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, The Free Dictionary and even the Oxford English Dictionary. I mean, seriously, a vulgar word like “asshole” in the esteemed Oxford English Dictionary? How cool is that? (Yes, I’m geeking out. Shut up) For once, all the definitions were pretty much in agreement: as asshole is a stupid, irritating, incompetent, mean or detestable person (a combination of all the definitions). So, what does this have to do with sin? For me, to be separated from God is to not love my neighbor because that is only way I can get my head around loving such an abstract concept like God. I think it’s safe to say that if you’re being stupid, irritating, incompetent, mean or detestable, you’re not loving your neighbor.

Now, if you’re a normal person, you’ve already seen a glaring error in this piece; I didn’t until I was deep into it. Right in the middle of this stunning display of theological brilliance, I realized I had missed one important word in Terry’s status: “not”. As in “not being an asshole is not a prerequisite of salvation”. Once again, my ADD had bitten me in the ass.

Once I saw my mistake, I struggled with salvaging all the work I’d put into this until I realized my jerkitude (entry #2) actually illustrated the point at hand: salvation does not preclude humanity. In other words, salvation isn’t losing the capacity to be an asshole; it is the realization you can be an incredibly assy person and the instilling of a desire to change that.

Good News Indeed

tolstoy-2

When people hear the name Leo Tolstoy, they almost always think of his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But, Tolstoy wasn’t just a novelist; he was a theologian, too. His interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount led him to Christian Anarchy and pacifism and his writings on nonviolent resistance influenced Gandhi and MLK. Unfortunately, in a big picture way, he missed the point of what Jesus was all about.

In Pamphlets. Translated From the RussianTolstoy said “And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” God knows you couldn’t accuse him of that as he tried often enough. But, it never took. Tolstoy was born into the Russian aristocracy and lived an incredibly dissolute early life filled with gambling, mistresses and an illegitimate son. After a stint in the army and a couple of trips around Europe, he gave up the wild life of his youth and tried to follow the teachings of Jesus. But, his every attempt failed and he was tortured by his inability to measure up to the standard set by Christ. It seems to me that Leo was caught in the same trap many of us have found ourselves in: he thought you had to change in order to follow Jesus instead of following Jesus and letting that change you.

My experience is nothing like Tolstoy’s. Oh, there are dark corners, but mine are filled with more mundane things than mistresses and illegitimate children. My “dissolute” period was informed as much by an intense dislike of all things religious as it was a desire to indulge in sins of the flesh. And, when I came back to God, I wasn’t wracked with guilt whenever I didn’t measure up; the truth is, for a long time, I didn’t pay much attention to whether I met any standard of behavior at all. Instead of focusing on what I was doing, I was more concerned with how the others were getting it wrong.

At best, I paid lip service to what Jesus taught. Still a staunch conservative, I opposed all government assistance on the grounds that it took away people’s drive to do for themselves. I opposed health care reform because I thought it was socialized medicine. Now, I’m not saying that people who believe this way aren’t following Christ, I’m saying that I wasn’t because I was woefully in the dark about the conditions poor and needy people deal with every day and I made no attempt to change that.

But, one thing I did do was study. I read the Bible, books about the Bible, books about faith, and about social and economic justice. I met smart people who exposed me to other ways of thinking, other ways of living. And, little by little, I began to change. I started to see the message of Jesus in an entirely different light; one that shows me the Gospel is about a good life for everyone, right here and right now and not just about me and what happens after I die.

More so than most, Tolstoy had an insight into the broken condition of humanity. But, like all too many of us, the idea of grace completely escaped him. He never understood that you don’t change to follow Jesus, you follow Jesus and he changes you. And, that is good news. Good news, indeed.

A Hornet’s Nest?

Yes, I know these are actually wasps. Don't be a nitpicker. Nobody likes that.
Yes, I know these are actually wasps. Don’t be a nitpicker. Nobody likes that.

All this talk about Paula Deen and Orson Scott Card has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Yesterday, someone said on the Emergent Village Facebook page, “Later today, or tomorrow morning…if you are a morning pooper…every single one of us will sit on a toilet and poop. It will stink. This poop will stink. Why? Because we are human, and we make poop. On a spiritual/metaphorical level…it reminds us that we are human, and death and decay are in our future. Does pooping make me bad? No. It makes me human. WHICH IS WHY THE MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY ABOUT ORSON SCOTT CARD’S “ENDERS GAME”/ANTI-GAY INSANITY, ALONG WITH PAULA DEEN’S “RACIST” INSANITY, IS SUCH A WASTE OF TIME. Everybody poops. Didn’t you watch “Sesame Street”? Everybody poops!! (Unless you grew up believing the “The Family Guy” – “Nobody Poops But You”). Come on. Even poopers can produce something good occasionally. And remember…even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.” Another friend said in response “...personally I’m all for a society that takes away social and economic status from bigots.”

And, someone commented on yesterday’s blog post, saying “When the guy votes to shutter NOM, resigns from their Board, and renounces his past statements, then he will be deserving of grace from me.” All I’ll say about that is if it has conditions, it’s not really grace, is it?

Change is hard and I’d hate to be working it out in public the way Deen and Card are destined to. And, we should remember that both are products of their environment and that plays a huge part in how we change. I was lucky enough to grow up in one that taught me (however imperfectly) that everyone has worth. And, that I’m not always right, whatever I might think.

Both stories have meaning for me, just in different ways. If Deen is a bigot because of what she’s admitted to (and that’s all we really know; the rest is allegation), then so am I. What makes this hard for me is that, in a lot of ways, I really am a bigot even though I strive to suppress that.

As for Card, well, he’s said some pretty despicable things about LGBT people and my daughter is in that group. Now, I’m faced with deciding whether these things negate his work. This is a big deal because Card has been an influence on me as a writer. Plus, as one who fancies himself a member of that (not-so) august trade, if what you do outside your work can render it moot, well…

The scary part about all this is that, as I said, if Deen and Card are bigots, so am I. And, if bigots have to pay a social price for their words or actions, I will too. So, there is an element of selfishness in my calls for forgiveness and grace. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

There is a difference between calling for grace/forgiveness for people who have done hurtful and offensive things and wiping those things away. Forgiveness and grace don’t mean that we’ve forgotten what been said or done or that it’s okay. It means that we’re dealing with it and that we’re working on loving that person as a brother or sister. Every so often I forget that everyone gets to the point where they can forgive an offender in their own time and in their own way. Maybe I should write that on my palm or put a big sign up over my desk so I won’t forget.

God is Love

keep-calm-and-know-that-god-is-loveI didn’t really have time to write anything today, due to some medical stuff (nothing serious, just follow-up for previous issues), so, I’m cheating. This is basically a repost of something I wrote several months ago in response to a blog challenge from Tony Jones. In it, he asked bloggers to write something substantive about God. This was my contribution (with some editing):

When I decided to take up this challenge, I wondered what the heck I could say to meet the criteria and not  look like an idiot. When I get into these situations, I get intimidated because I’ve never been to Div school; hell, I’ve never even been to college. I spent most of life as a firefighter and only returned to church about 8 or 9 years ago. In that time, however, I’ve done a lot of reading; especially since I started writing But Not Yet (funny writing leads to more reading). I racked my brain for a topic, but nothing came to me.

Eventually, though, I came with an idea that took me all the way back to Sunday school and VBS at Rehobeth Methodist Church in Greensboro NC, where I grew up. That idea was something we heard a lot from our teachers and preachers back then, just three little words: God is Love. I’ll admit I struggled with that phrase for a long time and it had a lot to do with my concept of God.

It wasn’t really my fault, though, I got mixed messages. In Sunday school, I’d hear “God is love”, which would be followed up by a sermon about God’s testing of Job or one the other stories that made God sound like a real jerk. Especially confusing was the reason given for Jesus’ crucifixion. God sent Jesus into the world so he could die a horrible death for my sins? Even as kid, that struck me as jerky and certainly not what I would consider loving. As I got older, I read and found even more mixed messages in the Bible and some theological literature. I was confused, which is not an unusual state for me. But, it’s an unsettling one nonetheless.

It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to Rob Bell through the NOOMA videos that things began to improve. The words I heard there about forgiveness, love and God prompted to dig even further. That was when I found out there was more than one theory for atonement, that God wasn’t necessarily a dick that demanded blood. I found out the Hell I’d been threatened with may not exist, and that God didn’t condemn anyone to eternal damnation for things that happened in a few short years here on earth. And, I finally understood that it was true: God is love. It wasn’t until I gave up that image of God as an old man with a beard and long flowing robe, hurling lightning bolts at those who displeased him that those words finally made sense. Letting go of that image allowed me to see God, not in human form, but as something else. I quit focusing on the God part so much and began to concentrate on the love part. While I’d like to say that made the picture got clearer and things got easier, it didn’t. God remains a mystery and I have to love some pretty unlovable people sometimes. But if God is love and I am his child, how I do things differently?