Advent & laments

I am supposed to be reading my Bible right now and spending time with Jesus.  I am supposed to be working on my Advent Devotional, and/or at least creating social assets to share about my Advent devotional.  But I cannot.

My throat is swollen with unshed tears and un-shared words.

My fingers fly from key to key and I do not know how to wrap this up in words that make sense.

I am so f-ing disappointed in us, church.

That is not written with hate, but grief.  Not frustration, but sorrow.  This is a lament.

Oh, my beloved, I am so disappointed in us.

I spent yesterday in a center in Harlem that offers services without condition to youth in NYC who have been kicked out of their homes because they’re LGBTQ+.  When the center was started in the early 2000’s there were only faith based orgs and not enough of them would provide unconditional services to queer teens in order to meet the need.  40% of homeless youth are LGTQ+ and the leading cause of homelessness is due to family rejection.

I sat in the room with kids who have been forced out of their homes – and wondered with an aching heart: how can it be that we are living in some strange alternate universe where many of us are believing that Christians are the ones in danger in this current climate? Not yet, friends.  Not yet have I met a Christian who has been forced into homelessness because of their beliefs in God.

Earlier this week I read an excerpt of a review from a Christian resource that I have personally written for in the past.  They were reviewing a movie I saw earlier this year.

The movie is the (true) story of a boy whose well-meaning Christian parents try to put him in the conversion therapy.  The whole movie is the journey of his attempt to change who is so he can be loved and accepted.  And finally he says: I cannot.  I cannot change so that you accept me.  This is me, accept me or don’t.  I prayed and hoped this would challenge christians to be aware of real power dynamics; that we must must take responsibility for translating the belief that we hold dearest: that all people have dignity and worth as image bearers of God; that they are wanted and loved and precious and God needs nothing from them.

So, when I was scrolling through IG this week, and I saw that this Christian outlet was reviewing this movie I slowed my hand.  And what I read made my heart sink.  Somehow, the review focused on the threat the culture presented to the father; he was the one misunderstood; he was the backed into a corner when presented with an ultimatum – to accept his son or lose him.

I suppose representation is a real thing, and maybe there is not enough diversity in the leadership of organizations like this for anyone to identify with anyone besides the white man with the power.  I felt like I was once again hearing (post Kavanaugh) about the danger posed by the “Me Too” movement to men.

Oh how those with power feel persecuted by the empowerment of the marginalized.

That center exists in Harlem yesterday because teenagers are dying.  Dying because their families won’t just love and accept them.  Dying because ‘Christian’ services ask them to meet conditions that include pretending to be something they’re not.

I want to wail; tear my clothes and nash my teeth.

Oh Church.  Oh my beloved Church who I have defended so many of the breaths that I have – I do not know how to defend you in this. You are preaching a Gospel of fear. Fear of accidentally loving people so much that they think what?  That you’re okay with their choices?  Does God worry about this when He lavishes us with kindness and love?  Is it not the kindness of God that changes us?

We are fighting the wrong fights.  We are trapped inside so great an echo chamber that we do not see the true battle out here.  We must step outside our walls.  Out here, the battle is one where individuals are fighting to believe that they have dignity and worth.

Church, women are not running from you because they want to rule the world – or don’t agree with your theology – they are running from you because they do not experience a culture that behaves as if their voices have equal weight and worth.   Church, people are not leaving your walls because they don’t trust the Bible, but because they are tired of it being wielded as a weapon to tear down.

We can cling all we want to the narrative that the Gospel is offensive, but know this – when Jesus preached it, it was the religious who were offended.

Church, none of us our culturally neutral.  We are all being shaped by the world, and we are the ones most in danger, until we have the humility to admit that it is not only the Bible that shapes our convictions.  We are all of us guilt of conforming to the pattern of our own worlds.  And Church, your world is formed by white male heterosexual cultural norms and you are not immune from that influence: that culture makes certain sins more dangerous than others, it gives some people more value than others, it makes some people less able to belong.

And can’t we just be honest about that?  Can’t we just own that we are culturally biased?

Otherwise, why would we be so inconsistent?  Why not make divorce illegal?  Why not make pre-marital sex a crime?  Or overeating?  Why not throw people in jail when they work on the Sabbath?

Why not be afraid that if you don’t point out all the indicators that your kid loves you more than they love Jesus, that might accidentally think idolatry is okay? Why not summon the elders to your house to pray and weep over that one?

You know why we don’t do that? Because of Advent.

Because our God did not just lay out a list of laws and say – unless you meet these conditions you cannot have my love.  And our God did not say – if I give you my love, all of it, without condition, then you may start to think that you can do whatever you want.  You may start to think I approve of you.  Our God does not point out all the things you do that are not in line with His heart.

You know why?  Because Advent interrupted all of that.  Because He sent His son to meet all the conditions so that He could love you absolutely, holding nothing back, exactly as you are.   He says – I give you my love, all of it, without condition, because the more you know how deeply I approve of you, the more free you will be to be the you I made you to be.  

I left that center yesterday with one thought ringing in my heart – this is the Lord’s work.  And I want in on it.  I have stood on a stage and I have written blogs and unpacked the Bible, and I love to do that, but wrapping my arms around a teenage girl in Harlem and using my body to help her soul feel its worth – this is the Lords work.  And if any theology leads that girl to think she is less worthy of belonging because she is not heterosexual, something has become deeply disordered in that theology.

Oh Advent. How I love you.

This baby – born into humiliation and marginalization himself.  Beloved by the oppressed and excluded and despised by the religious.  This man who is my compass and my anchor and makes me want to write this Advent devotional because He is better than all of us.  This man who was God became flesh and subject to all this brokenness as well.

I’m supposed to be announcing this Advent thing.  And this is not how I’d planned to do it, but it’s why I have to do it.  I have no time this season. I cannot make something beautiful and printed and magical, but I am obsessed with this Jesus and I don’t know how not to share Him.

Because He could have come like Thor – splashing down as a hero to save us all, but He didn’t.  He could have come as a prince, as a politician, a man of power and influence – but He didn’t.  He came in a stable and dirt and blood.  He came homeless and hungry.  Because this is the gift of Advent – a God who became the least of us all so that He could know how it feels.   He became like us in all things so that we would have a merciful high priest who knows what it’s like.

Each day of Advent (in theory) I’m going to do my best to unpack a way that we can reconnect with the man who was Jesus; a way to find the Jesus who identifies with all of us and has shared this experience of humanity with us. Who never once made sinners feel less than human because He knows what shame feels like.   Who had all the power and gave it all up so He can know what it feels like to be vulnerable.  Who had all the privilege and left it behind so that He can know what it feels like to be rejected and despised.

He has come to us in helplessness and dirt and I will follow Him, especially when he leads me to Harlem.

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