Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fruit

Here's something the Word says: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4:5,6)

This passage is so rich. But I am struck by the first part of the verse: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The word gentleness... The Amplified expands the word to its closest Greek meaning, listing unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit) as a fuller definition. The Greek is, phonetically, "epieikea" (minus macrons, etc.) which means moderation, patient and gentle.

They sound so much like personality traits-- and traits which do not necessarily fit my hyper personality. When I look at these words simply as definitions, I think of a sweet, mild, quiet type of person-- the girl who shows up as the future-makeover in a made for TV movie: she's quiet and unassuming and none of the boys see her true beauty. She is pale and not scary.

But I don't believe the writer was talking about a personality type. How much trouble would every one of us be in if we were judged by God on our personality type? Instead, I've been thinking about the spiritual manifestation of His gentleness in us....

Joshua ended up in the middle of PRIDE festivities (Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer) downtown this weekend. He plays ultimate frisbee and they had a game scheduled at Piedmont Park. I love my stepson-- he's always in the middle of something. Anyway, he was telling me that one of the things that most struck him was the presence of street preachers hollering "God hates fags" and "He made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" and "Turn or burn".

When has that ever been an effective way to let people know that they are deeply loved by God?

And how is that gentle?

And really, practically speaking, how do they even imagine that their actions are even remotely effecting the change they desire?

And where in the Bible does it say that God hates "fags"?

Anyway.

Gentleness. When I think of that word, and the writer's exhortation to us to let it be evident to all, I wonder how often we keep our gentleness hidden. Like our light. Under a bushel. What does it mean to be gentle? The word says in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind-- I wonder if, perhaps, He is the author of that gentleness as well. Perhaps, when we are walking in His spirit, He manifests Himself through us in gentleness.

Have you ever felt broken, like you have fallen on a rock and been smashed to pieces? Did you long for judging faces? Criticism? Gentleness touches without pushing. Gentleness does not hold a grudge. Gentleness is supernatural patience. It is not a personality type-- when we allow our "gentleness to be evident to all," we are allowing His gentleness to speak of His beauty and salvation. If we would let our gentleness-- that gentleness which took up residence in us when we said yes to Him-- be evident to all, would we beat each other up with our words? Would we pummel unbelievers with our theories? Would we make assumptions about people who live their lives differently?

This is not a permissive gentleness. Rather, it is humble. I have seen men standing on street corners, screaming at me to give my life to the Lord. Glaring down at me with glowering eyes, with hatred, telling me that the end is near and that I am a lost piece of scum. Where is their discernment?

Granted, the men screaming in Piedmont Park this weekend and on street corners everywhere are not even slightly good representations of the church-- and my friends who are gay and lesbian know that and are used to those guys. But those men, totally devoid of gentleness, completely dedicated to showing the world a side of Jesus which I never have yet uncovered in His word, are what so many lonely, hurting people see or think of first. The voices of the street preachers are louder than ours in the midst of people He would love. Why?

Gentleness. The writer exhorts us to let the lovingkindness of Jesus be evident to all. To let the mildness of the Lord be evident to all-- His utter lack of meanness and criticism. To let the patience of the Lord be manifest in us, evident to all-- even those who exhaust us, who will not listen, who make the same mistakes again and again... people exactly like ourselves. And if it is a question of salvation, I wonder how many hurting people feel drawn to a source of anger that they perceive in the church? I have sat with so many friends who recount horror stories from the church. And it occurs to me that, when we walk in criticism and meanness, we are actually maligning the name of the God we claim to love. And as far as that goes, have you ever been misrepresented by a friend? How did you feel about it? How might we assume our God feels about it?

At this point, there are multiple other verses which must be brought in, so I'm off to my journal. But here is what I am sitting with today: I want the gentleness of Jesus Christ to be evident to all in me. I want His goodness and kindness to be obvious. I want to smell like Him (2 Corinth 2) and bother people with His stubborn mercy.

And at the same time, I want to find those street preachers who hurt countless people this weekend and stumbled my stepson, and I want to forget about gentleness for about 30 minutes.

But I digress.

***Please see the comment section for Sarah's response***

3 comments:

Renee said...

You put into words so beautifully what I have been trying to express to my nephew. He says that Christians are so judgemental that he can't consider Christianity as an option for him. I have enjoyed your blog--and I enjoy pondering your writings.

Samantha said...

thank you for your words!! and i can relate to your nephew-- i think that many of us can, honestly, even within the body of Christ. i have several friends who have given up on the church-- not Christianity, but gathering with other believers, because of wounds inflicted long ago. and that's so sad-- we represent Christ here, and our churches/fellowships should reflect His sweetness (and i think that ours does...just think of that prayer circle we were in the other night...), but so often we are just magnifying our human weaknesses by banding together.... yikes.

Samantha said...

** Please read this important response from my friend Sarah**

Last year the Sidewalk Preachers were so bad that the Atlanta City Council proposed "free speech zones," a double-speek of sorts because these zones would limit where protestors could demonstrate. Shirly Franklin and many others had the Sidewalk Preachers in mind when they first thought of the "free speech zones."

(Background: Last year the Sidewalk Preachers were relentless. I'm sure that at least one was arrested. A few of them actually stayed in front of the gay bookstore by the park for days and days following Pride, harrassing queer folks for a long time after Pride had ended.)

The queer community that come out loudly in opposition to the "free speech zones." As people who are so often silenced, it's clearly evident how harmful zones like these would be. We came out in support of the Sidewalk Preachers using their voices at Pride, but only because it means that they can, in fact, attend and share their message. They should choose not to come. I look forward to the day when they do, in fact, choose not to come at all because that is their decision and not because the City told them they couldn't be there. What I value is the choice they have. I've never liked what they've done with their free will.

The fact is, if we hadn't come out against this proposal, it would have been me who would have been told that I couldn't protest in some "free speech zone" a few months from now.

I don't think it should be queer folks or City of Atlanta folks who should take responsibility for addressing the behavior of the Sidewalk Preachers. It should be straight Christians allys who can speak Jesus and speak Bible right along with them. This is so much more serious than one group of folks disagreeing with another. This is a spirit of hatred and anger. It's evident in their eyes and faces. You can see it later in the officers who have to stand guard around them all day- how tired they are and not just from the sun.

I am not a stranger to talking to many different kinds of people who call themselves Christians. I've talked to believers, people who are socially Christian (that is, follow rules but not a belief), and I've talked to people who are believers while also engaging in social Christianity. These Sidewalk Preachers are almost always, I think, social or political Christians. When they talk about belief or faith, you can see that it only goes as deep as their throat. They can speak it, yes. The believers who are also socially Christain are perhaps the easiest for me to understand. Their faith ranges from gut to throat, but I think mostly stays in the gut. This other group, the group of believers who aren't socially Chirstian...they are into this individualist age and have to be taken one at a time. In the end, doesn't everyone want gut belief? And if you really have gut belief, won't you seek a lifestlye that nourishes the deepness and wholeness of that belief?

I'm sorry for those Sidewalk Preachers. I'm sorry that they don't know peace. They think they've done something for God. They think they know they've done what God would want. I wonder if any of them would put down their angry signs (for the masses to see) and witness to someone who asked with an open heart about faith? I wonder what they would say to a gay person who said, "Tell me about your God." Would they keep saying, "My God will send you to hell unless you turn from your ways" or would any one of them take that opportunity to say "My God is a Carpenter. Let's sit in the shade and I'll tell you more." It's so sad.

And do not fear- there are SO many churches and other spiritual groups who have booths at Pride who hand out materials that say "God loves you." Most of those groups march in the Pride parade too. There are straight folks who staff the church booths right next to their queer peers. There are even gay churches. There are churches that are particularly known for thier acceptance of queer folks. Once people get into the park and walk around just a little bit, it becomes even more clear that the men (they are always men, aren't they?) shouting hatred outside the festival are outnumbered by a vast company of believers.

Love to you, dear Sam.

Posted by Sarah on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 8:16 PM