Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? // Part 2: Making peace in a culture of verbal violence

I closed yesterday’s post (which should be read first for this one to have the right context) lamenting the tone and direction of so much of the public conversation about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:

You don’t have to believe what Jesus said [Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God] or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.

And yet I believe that realization creates a particular responsibility for those who do follow Jesus. If we claim to believe what Jesus said — that those who make peace will be called God’s children — it’s time to put up or shut up. The world around us is sinking into a canyon of hatred and anger and division, and we’re too busy proving that the chasm isn’t our fault to climb in and help. Either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that many of these fights aren’t even about right and wrong anymore because they have devolved into the kind of cyclical verbal violence that eviscerates God’s image-bearers and mocks the way He made people to relate to one another, we continue to use our precious words and energy to play around in the breach rather than make peace.

Let me be clear about this: there is a difference in a peacemaker and a peace-keeper. I am not suggesting that we tiptoe around patting everyone on the head, never having an opinion about anything. But if our reaction to the Zimmerman verdict or Obamacare or gay marriage or whatever else lights our fire isn’t running through the filter of the Gospel and driven by a compulsion to abandon the safety of our finely-built boat and swim alongside the people we think are in dangerous water (or just wrong), then we are fighting the wrong damned fight (and my word choice is intentional and theological). If our response to people we don’t understand, even if they have wronged or offended us, is to churn out angry or defensive words instead of graciously and sincerely seeking to understand them, then we are motivated by our own defense and vindication and not the coming Kingdom of Jesus. If we can’t identify the line between healthy conversation and futile bickering…if we are teasing out people’s anger rather than provoking them to love and real life…if we are drawing them offsides and mocking them rather than meeting them where they are and listening to them, then we are deciding that we’d rather play those games than be called God’s children.

It happens. I get it. We’re human — again, wonderful and awful. But it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is — overt disobedience to a whole pile of scripture that is every bit as problematic as whatever sin we think we’re addressing. The Bible goes after this at least as aggressively as any of the hot button cultural wars we seem so eager to fight. A sampling:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

Whoever is patient and slow to anger shows great
but whoever has a quick temper magnifies his foolishness.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I confess that my journey into obedience to this part of the way of Jesus has been and remains long and difficult. I fail regularly, and my internal mechanisms are still being reformed even in areas where I have learned to keep my mouth (or computer) shut. So as is always the case, each and every “we” here is sincere.

But I think we have a problem that goes well beyond the natural margin of human error. I think it’s time to stop and ask why we have decided that these fights we can’t let go of are more important that assuming the identity and occupation of God’s children. Why don’t we believe that making peace in the way Jesus said God’s people make peace is enough to reconcile all things, including the issues that have us twisted in knots? Why can we not recognize that when we decide that the end of advocating for the right position justifies the means of repeatedly poking people with sharp sticks just to try to bleed the life out of their wrong position, we have become what we despise?

If we are preoccupied with convincing others that they are wrong and proving that we are right — especially about secondary issues of politics or culture — then we are at risk of telling a different story than the Story:

It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Cor 5:19)

That’s our message to the world around us, no matter how much they injure or offend us and no matter how wrong we have decided they are. It’s the only message that matters: God loves you relentlessly, and he sent Jesus not to condemn you for what you’ve done wrong, but to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve done wrong — to lead you back home and make you free. Jesus not only reconciles you with God, but he reconciles all broken relationships. He’s the one. That feeling deep inside you that people aren’t supposed to hate and hurt one another forever — that there has to be some way out of this. There is. It’s Jesus, who has done what no one else could: prove that the way to real life isn’t through conquest and getting our way, but through service and sacrifice and death. 

A few sentences after declaring that Jesus is the Great Reconciler and that we exist to announce and embody his reconciliation, Paul quotes God (speaking through Isaiah):

When the time was right, I listened to you;
and that day you were delivered, I was your help.

And then he says this:

We are careful in what we teach so that our words won’t be a stumbling block…

God’s response to the same world we’re fighting was to listen and become their help. If we are his children, we not only follow his lead, but we take care that our words do not clutter anyone’s path to God’s message of reconciliation.

If our other messages and pet arguments and causes in any way distract people from seeing Jesus the Reconciler as he is…if they make us messengers of an incomplete reconciliation…if we are causing or exacerbating broken relationships instead of modeling the full reconciliation of the Gospel, then we are not only pushing our own agenda, but we are creating obstacles to the Gospel itself.

The world outside the Church doesn’t read the Bible. It reads Christians. May it read in us an eagerness to be called God’s children rather than children of another cause. May it read in us a love for making peace that is better than our best opinions and solutions. May it read in us the willingness to listen and understand before speaking. May it read in us the courage to step into even the bloodiest of frays and point the way toward grace and understanding. May it read in us the selfless story that points to Jesus as the reconciler of all things and the hope of all humanity.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church

On the heels of my guest post on GRACE’s website in May (which I republished here), I have been part of a small group of women and men led by my new friend Boz Tchividjian who are invested in both the Church and in care for survivors of abuse. As various scandals and tragic stories continue to surface, we noticed two troubling things happening: the Church often was dropping the ball in caring well for the abused, and the Church’s public voice on the issue was quickly being narrowed to the headlines from these cases and a few public statements by evangelical leaders that, for us anyway, came up short. We were and are convinced that this is an issue of primary importance to both Jesus and the world around us, and we desperately want to see the Church articulate and embody the heart of Jesus for the abused and forgotten. We have poured some of that energy into the drafting of a public statement about this issue, which is printed below. We certainly don’t think statements like this actually solve problems, but we hope this can be a starting place for many. Our goal is to rekindle some hope that there are women and men leading the Church with the guts and compassion to do whatever it takes to love broken and hurting people, showing no partiality based on titles or positions or appearances. Prior to publishing the statement this morning, we invited a number of others to sign on, and their names are listed after the statement. We hope many of you will sign on as well, both by adding your name online and by sharing it in your own spaces (blogs, other social media, etc.). 

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28). Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.

Carol Ajamian, Retired

Jim Arcieri
Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA

William S. Barker
Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Steve Brown
Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author

P. J. (“Flip”) Buys
Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa

Rebecca Campbell
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary

Alan Chambers
Founder, Speak.Love

Kelly Clark
Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR

Julie Clinton
President of Extraordinary Women

Tim Clinton
President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University

Wentzel Coetzer
Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)

James Courtney
Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Margaret Courtney
Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Glenn Davies
Bishop of North Sydney, Australia

D. Clair Davis
Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary

Chuck DeGroat
Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House

Mary DeMuth
Author and Blogger

David G. Dunbar
Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diana S. Durrill
Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor

Michael J. Durrill
Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO

William Edgar
Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Rob Edwards
Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA

Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho
Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)

Elyse Fitzpatrick Counselor and Author

Ryan Ferguson
Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

E. Robert Geehan
Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)

Shannon Geiger
Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX

Douglas Green
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Fred Harrell, Sr.
Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA

Robert Heerdt
Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.

Walter Henegar
Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA

Craig Higgins
Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship

Justin Holcomb
Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary

Lindsey Holcomb
Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center

Peter Hubbard
Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

Carolyn James
President of WhitbyForum

Frank James
President of Biblical Theological Seminary

Karen Jansson
Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA

Kathy Koch
President and Founder of Celebrate Kids

Matthew Lacey
Development Director for GRACE

David Lamb
Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diane Langberg
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Daniel N. LaValla
Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan
International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary

Tremper Longman
Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College

Kin Yip Louie
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology

Fergus Macdonald
Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)

Todd Mangum
Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Dan McCartney
Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary

Scot McKnight
Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author

Jonathan Merritt
Faith and Culture writer

Pat Millen
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary

Philip Monroe
Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Amy Norvell
Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor

Thad Norvell
Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX

K. Eric Perrin
Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ

Michael Reagan
President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation

Matthew Redmond

Nathan Rice
Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA

Tamara Rice
Freelance Writer and Editor

Adam L Saenz
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Karen L. Sawyer
Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University

Scotty Smith
Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Ron Scates
Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas

Andrew J. Schmutzer
Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute

Chris Seay
Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX

Mike Sloan
Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA

Basyle J. Tchividjian
Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Laura Thien
LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC

Jessica Thompson

Rick Tyson
Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA

John Williams
Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI

John Wilson
Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

William Paul Young

Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? // Part 1: What I don’t know about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.

That’s what Jesus said. I’ve lived among Christians for 38 years and a month or so, and I’ve picked up on a couple of things that seem to be sort of a big deal. Believing what Jesus said is one of them. So I’m wondering: why don’t we want to be called God’s children?

I’ll come back to that.

I don’t know what happened the night George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I’m not sure anyone does. I’ve read, “Only Zimmerman and Martin know what happened that night,” but I’m not sure even that is true. I’ve waded through the aftermath of many situations far less traumatic than this one and often found that the participants and witnesses tell strikingly different stories. Without exception, we are subjective creatures, and all of our experiences inform and shape how we interpret every moment of our lives. That does not mean, of course, that we should not pursue truth and justice; it simply highlights the need for a system designed to sort out the complicated convergence of subjective humans when laws are broken and people are hurt. And if we are honest, it reminds us that even our best ideas and efforts for justice are limited by our humanness. We are not robots programmed to spit out emotionless narrations of fact. We are complex beings bursting with feelings and opinions, some that we choose and some that choose us. That’s just the way it is, and it is wonderful and awful.

My sense of the nuance and complexity of these moments — including both the events of Trayvon’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal 504 days later — makes it extremely difficult for me to comprehend the certainty of so many of the words I’ve read and heard since Saturday night. I’ve watched people with no connection to either person celebrate the verdict as absolutely right or decry it as a mockery of justice, and either reaction seems fundamentally illogical unless those folks watched the entire trial. Please do not react to something I did not write. I did not write that deep emotion about this situation is illogical. I’m talking about that emotion being directed at a verdict rather than at the deeper, longer struggles we are tying to a jury’s legal conclusion.

A trial verdict is a very specific response to very specific questions asked of jurors about not what transpired between Zimmerman and Martin, but what transpired in the trial. I wonder how many people understand that it is not an opportunity for jurors to express their opinions about what Zimmerman or Martin did on February 26, 2012. The jury was bound by excruciatingly detailed instructions and by the laws of the state of Florida to ultimately discern whether or not the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Ask anyone who has served on a criminal jury whether or not their verdict was perfectly in line with their opinion of what really happened, and most will answer negatively.

The system is designed, however imperfectly, to protect against the whims of our emotions and opinions and set a high standard for convictions. That system does fail, and it is not free of the prejudices and inequities that still permeate our society. But in the trial of George Zimmerman, the jurors were not asked and should not have been expected to remedy systemic injustice over and above the facts they were presented with respect to Florida law which, for better or worse, makes it legal to shoot and kill someone for various reasons, even away from your home. They were asked and should have been expected only to determine whether or not the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin according to laws the jury did not write. This is not me criticizing those who didn’t like the verdict. I think this truth is just as relevant to those who were celebrating the acquittal. If you did not watch the trial (and I didn’t), you simply don’t know (and I don’t) whether or not the jury’s verdict was reasonable or whether it represented justice in this case based on what transpired in the trial. (If you did watch every minute, certainly your opinions of the verdict have deeper roots.)

Again, none of that is intended to suggest that people should not have reactions to the death of Trayvon Martin or to the man who killed him. I would be troubled if we did not have strong feelings about this dreadful situation. I just think we’d be wise to understand that most of those reactions have less to do with the legal nuances of a trial and more to do with the crippling fractures in the way we relate to one another as humans.

Even at our best, we are reacting to the frustration of being black and having to wearily explain again and again that Dr. King’s dream hasn’t been fulfilled just because the laws have changed. We are reacting to the confusion of being white and feeling like we are expected to apologize for our skin color, even if we don’t believe we are racist. We are reacting to the insanity of laws that encourage gun ownership in an effort to curb violence. We are reacting to the reductionist politics of gun control that blame an object for human behavior. We are reacting to our inability to shake the feeling that Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal reinforce what most black men intuitively know: that forty-nine years and two weeks after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time still makes you a suspect, not just for the cops, but for any self-appointed neighborhood protector carrying a gun, so you better watch your back. We are reacting to our exhaustion from trying hard to learn how to speak and act appropriately with folks of other heritages and races, only to discover that we’re still offending people.

And at our worst, we’re just belligerent and unwilling to consider any viewpoint but our own, secretly rejoicing in these opportunities to crank out bombastic rants on the internet or at parties. We simultaneously feed and consume the verbal and visual anger-porn that is the lifeblood of a media whose primary bias is neither liberal nor conservative, but greed. And pissed off people sell.

This dysfunction is not limited to issues of race, violence, and justice, but that is a cocktail that offers our collective compulsion to tear one another apart a direct route the surface. The result is what we’ve all experienced over the last few days — people talking over and at one another in ways that deepen divides and move us further away from anything resembling peace and human decency.

You don’t have to believe what Jesus said or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.

(Tomorrow — Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? Part 2: Making peace in a culture of verbal violence)

That time I went viral*

[This is a bit of an interlude between what I wrote last week and the follow-up post I hope to write in the next day or two.]

I don’t write this kind of post often, but there are a lot more people stopping by here than usual. A lot more. I realize that even talking about the numbers will be off-putting to some, but maybe you can trust me for a moment (even if you think I’m headed to hell for what I wrote) and believe that, though I struggle with pride and love for the wrong things (including myself) as much as any of you, I’m not looking to impress anyone with this information. It just is what it is. In the six days since I posted Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel, the site has had over 25,000 hits. I know that’s all in a day’s work for a lot of writers/bloggers, but that’s more like “all in a couple years’ work” for me. My posting has been sporadic lately, and while a few posts have generated 1,000+ page views, this is something else entirely.

I like to imagine the 25,000 of you like this:

I realize it’s probably more like this:


But if you’re still here or circling back for some reason, welcome. I’m thankful for your time and attention. Obviously I haven’t worked with any real vigor to draw this kind of crowd, but I am not flippant about the fact that a crowd has gathered anyway, at least for a moment. Surprised and a bit overwhelmed? Sure. I admit I’ve labored for days over some posts in the past, and they’ve been read by a few hundred (or a few dozen) people. This one I wrote in an hour or less with seven kids buzzing around me, and within a few hours it had been read by more people than live in the little West Texas town where I grew up (spread far the fame of the Golden Cranes)!

And it’s truly been a viral sort of effect. Rather than being a function of one or two extremely popular individuals pointing you all here, over 90 percent of the traffic is coming in from Facebook. On Monday, Alan Chambers, the long-time president of Exodus International who has been in the news lately for his apology to the gay community (followed by the decision to shut down Exodus completely), tweeted the link to my post with some kinds words and sent me a nice note. But the traffic pattern stayed the same – a chunk of referrals from Twitter, but most continuing to come from Facebook. The internets are weird, y’all. I mean, if I could have picked something to go viral about, it definitely would have been something that would make me super popular and beloved like gay marriage…

Also new to me is the challenge of sorting through over a hundred comments and many other notes sent to me directly. That experience has been a bizarre mix of encouraging and exasperating. Some have been very kind. Some have been critical, but fair. Some have sent me to hell or accused me of gearing up for the coming movement to legalize human-pet marriages (and let’s be honest, that ship has sailed…we all know people who are pretty much married to their pets). I have been fascinated by how one little post managed to simultaneously (forgive me, for there is no more precise term here) piss off people who disagree with each other completely…and to simultaneously encourage and inspire people who disagree with each other completely. I have gotten both positive and negative feedback from folks on all sides of this issue who represent a wide theological, political, and social spectrum. People are beautiful. And nuts. All of us.

I confess I remember being annoyed by popular writers who would post something, then never answer questions or remarks posted in the comments. All it took was one post going viral* for me to totally get that. And that’s weird for me. I believe in community and questions and dialogue, and yet I’m at a complete loss for how to foster and facilitate that in this context with the questions, challenges, and comments coming so quickly and from so many different perspectives (never mind trying to discern tone and motive.) Maybe it’s possible, but you’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m not ignoring you, and as I said, I’m slowly hammering out some more thoughts that I plan to convert to words soon. I hope that will help, but I certainly can’t promise I’ll answer every question. In fact, I promise that I won’t.

But in the interest of being human and open about my own process, I want to share what this experience already has taught me about the way I read and hear other people, especially people I don’t know. One of the most striking dynamics of this whole thing is how many people seem agitated by what I did not say. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how much conversation there has been about what I didn’t write instead of about what I did write (and if I’m honest, “conversation” is a generous characterization of some of it).

I’m wrong all the time, so I’m not discounting the opinions of those who disagree with me, but here’s what’s strange: most of the “disagreement” left in the comments is not actually disagreement with what I wrote. It’s disagreement with what is assumed from what I didn’t write…assumptions about what I think, believe, or intend to communicate based on the fact that I did not say certain things people think I should have said. Many of those assumptions are wrong – some of them way wrong.

I think this phenomenon is symptomatic of some deeper issues we’re facing, both culturally and within the Church. But I’ll be reflecting on that for a while, and I don’t want to rush to a bunch of wild conclusions about it. For now, my receiving that kind of feedback in this case has exposed two things that are true of me in many other situations.

The first is that I’ve often demanded, even if sometimes unintentionally, that when someone deals with an important issue (and especially one I care a lot about) they say everything that I think needs to be said about that issue if they’re going to say anything about it. I’ve had very little grace to just let them say the one thing that seemed important to them to say in that moment. And especially when I don’t know that person, it becomes far too easy for me to bring all of my bias and baggage on the issue to the table and, through that filter, size that person up based not only on that very limited window into who they are, but also (and even more troubling) based on assumptions I make just because they haven’t said everything I want them to say about the issue. And it is good for me to gain that insight into my lack of grace and discernment in how I judge others. I don’t particularly enjoy being reduced to one moment or one conversation or one post that I’ve written, but I do that to others all the time. My bad. I repent. God help me to change.

The second thing I’ve realized is that sometimes I do that because it’s easier than dealing with the fact that what that person has written or said pokes holes in the boxes I’ve built around my safe ways of thinking and living. I don’t presume motives for anyone commenting on my post, and I’m not discounting anyone’s input for that reason. But it’s hard not to read some of what has been written and notice that it doesn’t deal with what I did write; it just seems to discount or dismiss it because of what I didn’t write. And while my incomplete and imperfect view of Jesus (in general and in that post) shouldn’t be mistaken for Jesus himself, there are some very clear truths and realities presented there that seem to be too easily brushed aside in the rush to gather up the caveats (which may or may not have been sort of the point of the post in the first place). But it’s hard for me to stay irritated about that (not impossible, just hard) because I’m aware of how easy it is for me to do exactly that when I’m on the other side of the transaction.

And again, I’m thankful for the reminder that I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to find loopholes or escape routes when the comfortable rhythms of my thinking and living are interrupted by people or ideas I can’t immediately reconcile. I don’t want to shift the conversation before I’ve weighed the challenge in front of me. And I definitely don’t want to see Jesus, even if I’m seeing him in a new way, and jump too quickly to, “yeah, but…” ‘Cause I have an endless supply of yeah buts, and they almost always are weapons of self-protection, not keys to the Kingdom.

I want to test everything, certainly, but my goodness it’s easy for me to lean into (good) things like conviction and mistake my current imperfect understanding of truth for truth itself. And I’m not sure there’s a more reliable way to slowly wander away from truth than that.

Again, thanks to those of you who are new and those who are not. Thanks for the encouraging words and for the questions and challenges. I’m just a guy who has been ruined by the love of God and the life of Jesus, and I’m not going to get all of this right. I’m happy to have you stick around, but only if my fallible external processing here won’t cost you any sleep or create too much anguish for you.

If this new gig doesn’t work out…

*I used the word viral thrice in this post. My pal Ross (who has a terrific new record coming out soon that you should definitely buy) and I discussed what the official internet threshold for viral was and concluded that it probably was 10,000, which was handy since we had that conversation right as I passed the 10,000 mark. Ross suggested that if anyone ever tells us viral really means a million, we’ll just say, “Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.”

My friend Nick Flora (who has a terrific new record that just came out that you should definitely buy) was around during this craziness, and he concurred that five digits was where one crossed into viral territory. Nick has 14,000 Twitter followers (if you count the 41 following Fake Nick Flora) and once had a tweet retweeted like 16,000 times, so he’s pretty much an expert on this.

So it’s settled, if only so I can say for the rest of my life, “Remember that time I went viral?” And pretty much everyone will say, “Not really.” Or “you had something that got to a million people?”

Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.