Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why I'm Choosing to Forgive Fred Phelps

The extreme always makes the ordinary seem smaller. An extremely tall person will make a person of average height seem short, for example. An extremely bright light will make ordinary light seem darker.

Fred Phelps did that with homophobia.

His extreme fear and hatred made ordinary homophobia seem innocuous. That was what irked me most about him, to be honest. He gave our nation an automatic excuse, an insidious shield behind which we could hide: “Well, at least I’m not as bad as Fred Phelps.”

I have always approached the Westboro group with an attitude of “ignore them and they’ll go away.” However, I decided to break my own rule today to offer a thought on the day Fred Phelps died.

I need to say, “I forgive you, Fred Phelps.” I know in my head that I need to say that. I know that is the Christian thing to do. I know that Jesus gave his life so that Fred Phelps would know the depth of God’s love for him, and receive the gift of everlasting life.

I know all that.

And yet I cannot stop thinking about all of the ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill homophobia that Fred Phelps’ extremism obscured.

Once a man told me he didn’t want any gay people to sing in church choir because he didn’t want one to put his hand on his knee in the middle of choir practice. Of course, he was no Fred Phelps …

Once a woman in a Bible study got upset that anyone would dare to “accuse” David and Jonathan of being gay. But now, at least she wasn’t Fred Phelps, you know…

Once a man said to me, with a chuckle and a wink, “I don’t care what they do in their personal lives, just so long as they don’t change the definition of marriage.” But hey! Fred Phelps…

It is very hard for me to forgive him for being the extreme that made the ordinary seem smaller.

Because I believe that the hidden homophobia that infects our society is actually a lot more dangerous than the extreme. The extreme is outlandish, a cartoon, a circus. It draws our collective attention away from more subtle but no less hateful actions. The devil is perfectly content for us to spend all our time and energy painting the porch while the true evil is working to erode away the foundation of the house, well outside of our collective attention span.

So let me just say this. Fred Phelps, you have no power over me. You have no power over any of my friends, neither those who happen to be gay nor those who happen to be homophobic. We no longer have you behind which to hide our ordinary homophobia. And now, if we will forgive you, that will set us free to love people – ALL people – like Jesus calls us to love.

We must no longer use your extreme ideas to hide our own hurtful attitudes and actions. Instead, we must confront them, confess them, and allow the grace of God to transform them. And in order for this to happen, we must forgive you. We know that we should. We know that if we do not, you will continue to hold this bizarre sort of power over us. And so…

Fred Phelps, we forgive you.

Dear God, receive Fred into the arms of your mercy, and raise him up with all your people.
Receive us as well. May we live as those who are prepared to die. And when our lives here are accomplished, may we die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love made known to us in Jesus Christ.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Your Calendar - Your Budget - Your Faith?

For my Christian friends:

If a stranger saw your calendar and your budget, would they be able to tell that you were a Christian?

I know you are busy, and you keep track of your days from morning to night. I know that you have a planner, or an online calendar, something on your smart phone you can pull up anywhere, any time.

Just curious, is the word “worship” on that calendar anywhere?

In all the hours that you have planned out for yourself and perhaps your family over the course of the week, is one of those hours intentionally set aside to gather together with others to worship God? Just one?

I know you are busy, you travel, you have to be places for work, for the team, for fun. Now, I might be underestimating here, but I’ll bet you they have churches in those places where you have to be. So pick one, find out when they worship, and go.

And by the way, have you scheduled in a time for daily prayer?

In all of the minutes you have so carefully strung together, are maybe five of them designated for “prayer” every day? That calendar on your phone has a notification function, doesn’t it? You could set it to notify you every day, “It is time to pray.” Your attention is drawn from this to that with whiplash intensity all day long. When is your attention drawn completely to God? When do you simply pray? Not “while I’m driving” or “while I’m exercising” … just praying.

And you know, I’ll bet that your calendar has on it a meeting or two that is intended to make you better at something you do: a staff meeting, an in-service, a training event, a conference, something like that.

But is there a meeting on your calendar intended to make you better at following Christ? Sunday school or Bible study or small group or something like that? I know that you are not content to just maintain your current skill level when it comes to your work or your sport or your hobby; why in the world would you be satisfied merely maintaining your current spiritual “skill set,” then? Does your calendar include your spiritual growth?

And if that stranger were to pick up your budget, what would they see there? I know that you keep a budget; you are careful and faithful with your resources, you want to be responsible. Is “Tithe” on the first line of your budgeted expenses? You know, the “first fruits” of each harvest, that initial 10% from every pay period that Scripture says we are to give to God.

Or is your generosity more of a sporadic “when I think about it I’ll drop a twenty or two in the plate” kind of giving? Putting it in your budget, and putting it first, gives your generosity the intentionality and purpose that is asked of Christian disciples.  

And then, on top of that, would that stranger see in your budget resources that you intend to share with those who are in need? Have you budgeted so that you can offer help when help is needed? Have you budgeted so that you can respond with abundance when disaster strikes? Have you budgeted so that you can serve “the least of these” in a way that is faithful to the Christian call? Does your budget empower you to follow Jesus?

Our time and our money are two of our most precious resources, and we are wise to track these resources carefully with calendar and budget. As such, these ought to reflect our priorities, revealing what is truly important to us. One might say, they reveal who we are.

Who would a stranger think you were, based on your calendar and your budget? Would they think you had even heard of Jesus, let alone profess to follow him as Lord and Savior?

If a complete stranger saw your calendar and your budget, would they know you were a Christian?