To the Shepherd Afraid of His Flock, an Open Letter

Dear Pastor Anthony,

This post is in response to your article, your claim that some Christians are so scary they’d frighten Jesus, were it possible. You, for one, are frightened.

For the sake of understanding, I’m going to put your words in blue, since red is already taken. By Jesus. You’re peeved and grieved about two things: how the president is handling the transgender military issue, and how many conservative, evangelical Christians are celebrating. You then settle into a tour de force: Christians are a twisted, offensiveangry, and unmerciful bunch. Scary.

I too am grieved.

I’m grieved someone I love read this article and thought of me. I’m grieved at the possibility I am painted in these adjectives. But what most grieves me is something on which we agree: the tags Christian and conservative have become, for some segments of the population, interchangeable with expletives. Articles like yours are gasoline on that flame.

An email got under your skin– a conservative Christian group praised the President’s ban on transgender military personnel. I understand getting worked up. The very same thing happened when I read your article, which I consider a nebulous condemnation of Christianity and singularly interesting, considering you are a senior pastor of a fairly large church.

You begin your rhetoric with the Christian controversy over Bible versions. We (a loosely defined subset of Christians, but most certainly those who have not come out in opposition to the President) have been reading the Reversed Standard Version of the Bible. It has been poison kool aid, this version, guilty of reversing what the Bible clearly teaches, and someone on the inside needs to say so loud and clear.

Here’s my understanding, based on your article, why we frighten Jesus:

  1. Christians (among others) believe transgenderism may not be in the best interests of our military personnel and that perhaps the government shouldn’t pay for the surgeries that will settle their sexuality.
  2. Mega church leaders of various and sundry denominations, five of them, fell from grace or were disgraced by unethical practices. Thank you for calling to mind each specific sin in your article, for using their failures to prove Christians, more than the rest of humanity, are indeed scary. You forgot to mention King David, writer of the Psalms. He was a far worse fellow than your five examples.
  3. Christians believe in praying for the president. Someone shot a picture of it. How frightening. I hope no one ever sees me hunched over my Bible praying for the president. How can anyone know what motivates another human being to pray? I don’t, and neither do you.

Finally, we come to my favorite paragraph in your article, which begins: I get it.

Because, truly, you do. You understand: The military exists to destroy the enemy. Accordingly, it must have standards that potential recruits must meet in order to achieve its objectives. That’s common sense. And, I agree that the military should not pay for gender reassignment surgeries. You completely and totally, utterly agree with the very sentiment that so outraged you and was the impetus for your article– the email from a conservative Christian group to its own members, an internal group email. Not a press statement to Fox News. Not an op-ed to the Huffington Post. Whatever other Christian arrogance caused you to write the article, you don’t mention. I can only answer what you’ve brought up.

You ask: Must we bludgeon people in our disagreement? Is that what Jesus did? Is an email to a closed group of like-minded members bludgeoning people in our disagreement?

Your advice to the scary ones: Learn to express ourselves with compassion. That’s it. We’ve been given the green light to hold an opinion from Pastor Anthony, but we just need to be nicer about it. That’s the lesson. How do we throw off this scary Christian persona and don the garb of CNN-approved righteousness? For certainly you are keeper of the wardrobe.

Here is your solution to the problem of scary Christians: At the very time when America needs humble courage, aloof arrogance is running amuck. I think it’s time we put down the false RSV Bible and start reading one of the real translations. It’s not possible to follow Jesus otherwise.

Read the Bible. A good lesson. Except. In the name of kindness, gentleness, and the fact that a sermon on sexuality is not the scope of this letter, I’m going to refrain from quoting The Holy Bible, any version, on sexuality. I’ll just quote your church’s stance on it instead, in the hope that you agree– taking a communication meant for a closed group (in your case, people who would like to unite with your church) and using it as a tool of public argumentation can be misconstrued, misunderstood, and cause hurt feelings.

On the controversial subject of transgenderism your bylaws state:

We believe that God created the human race as male and female, and that
gender and sex are determined by God. Humans, therefore, must not attempt to
alter their own gender or sex or that of any other human being.

I humbly, and with grief in my heart, write this open letter because I believe too many of us hold our candles in a closet, for fear of exactly the retribution you deliver in your article: that we will be villainized. I love transgendered people, gay people, peoples of all ethnicity. However, I’m not going to apologize for my belief that not all lifestyles are equally advantageous, productive, meaningful, or abundant. And, based on your own admission, neither do you.

We don’t disagree that we ought to love. We disagree on what it looks like, this love. People disagree on what constitutes a human being (conception, breath, time). We disagree on what constitutes a marriage. On what constitutes gender. And when such plasticity is introduced into what ought to be tectonic, you get earthquakes. Should we be surprised?

Pastor Anthony, is it just that we don’t actively condemn our President that so offends you? Can that really be all there is to it? The antithesis of my enemy’s enemy is my friend? The way your article reads is this: a friend of my enemy is no friend of mine. In fact, he’s downright frightening. Even Jesus would say so, were it possible. But no. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies.

I thought you might like to hear from another person on the inside, also a conservative Christian but not a senior-pastor-at-a-fairly-large-church, just someone who loves Jesus and does her best to follow Him.

 

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My Conversation with a Bumper Sticker

Reproductive Rights are Human Rights

Said the bumper sticker on a lime green, lime-shaped hybrid. Why waste a red light when you can give an ethics lesson to the lucky chap behind you? Bumper stickers are the ultimate one-sided argument.

So rather than slam down on the accelerator, I had a conversation.

Bumper sticker,

I don’t disagree with your assertion, but I do believe you’re being wily when you say Reproductive rights are human rights. To reproduce or not to reproduce, that is the right. The question, however, is what you mean by reproductive. Because I’ve a sneaking suspicion you mean we have the right to kill a certain subset of our reproductions.

Not that you’re in favor of killing. That’d be ludicrous. If I’m scraping cherry pie from my plate into the trash I’m not killing anything. We’re talking about cherries here, you’d say. Void and viscous lumps. Certainly we’re not talking about the heirs of rights: humans.

That’s what’s up for grabs, oh Bumper Sticker: just who is human? Who deserves these rights? Only some. Would it surprise you to learn slaveholders assuaged themselves with similar rhetoric?

I’m all for most forms of birth control, including that fail-safe: a word called no. But if you simply must have sex (I understand), it’s certainly and absolutely your right to erect a blockade for either eggs or sperm, your choice. That’s your choice.

Thanks for listening, Bumper Sticker.

 

 

The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

The lake marsh had become a peaceful, bounteous place; the animals no longer worried for their next meal or for their safety. Wolves barely came by anymore, and the deer only nibbled the tree leaves and tamped lovely paths to the water’s edge. Even the trees had conveniently died and their smooth bones reached like skyscrapers out of the placid waters, homes for the tree swallows.

You know what they say about ease and idleness.

Not surprisingly it was an otter who first became… dissatisfied. Or perhaps the word is disgruntled. Or confused. Or certain. Otter felt in herself a strange disquiet. Like a belly that, even stuffed, wasn’t filled.

Otter realized: I feel uncomfortable in my fur and in this thick, luxurious tail. In the pit of myself is a wrongness I can’t quite put my paw on, but it’s wrong to my core, it’s thwarting my happiness.

Otter wasn’t sure what the solution was, but the problem was clear: otterness. Otterness was the problem.

Otter lay down on a mossy rock and cried in the warm sunlight, free of predators. Into her haze a busy sound began to prod… slapping tails, gnawing teeth, and the papery crashing of a young tree, then the scraping of weight against old leaves as a trunk was dragged: the constant carpentry of beavers. Otter sat up with a start.

Inspiration struck.

A furry paw smacked a furry head. Otter ran around in circles of triumphant joy and nearly fell into the water. It was exquisite revelation. It was like pulling heaven down by a white wispy beard and grumbling a complaint in His face: You got me wrong. I’m so… beaverish. Otter looked at her fine grey fur and thick tail, despising the cuteness. Otter ran a tongue along the petite teeth, the useless teeth.

Surely there had been a mistake. Otter should know. Otter felt beaverish through and through, and Otter came up with a plan to make things right.

Some beavers were chewing on a particularly thick tree when Otter came by.

“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” warned a grey-haired beaver. But he’d been chomping and had a mouthful, so it sounded more like Ah woodna stan air wiff ahh eryoof and was punctuated by bits of wood spit from his mouth. How beautiful they looked to Otter, those huge, yellow, useful teeth. That should be me, thought Otter. But the beaver, being old, probably wouldn’t understand, so Otter did not share her thoughts.

The old beaver shook his head at Otter’s insistence on standing in the very path of a Buckeye tree that was mere bites away from plummeting.

The sharp crack of wood prompted the beavers to take cover. Otter stood with her eyes tightly closed, paws clasped, resolute. The tree came right at her, was going to fall directly on her, crush her.

Suddenly, from behind, a young beaver plowed into Otter, shoving her out of the way just as the trunk slammed into the ground like a gavel, throwing up a cloud of dirt and leaves and skittish ducks. Beaver and Otter tumbled end over end and were tangled in the smaller branches of the fallen colossal.

Beaver smiled his huge toothy smile. “Whew! That was close.”

Otter blinked.

Beaver asked, “You hit your head or something?”

Otter came to herself. “Gar! Now I have to start all over, thanks to you.”

“Huh?” asked Beaver.

“I want to be a beaver.”

“Beavers get out of the way when trees fall.”

“Duh, I wanted it to crush my tail flat like yours. Then I was going to pluck the hairs out.”

“Sounds painful.”

“Not as painful as being an otter.”

“Huh,” Beaver said. Huh was the perfect noncommittal when he didn’t know what to say. Then he added, “There’ll be other trees to fall on you, no worries.”

But Otter did have worries. Big trees were rarely felled, which meant waiting. Not like she was waiting for a pleasantry. This tree business was seriously frightening. And her other problem: what to do about her tine-like, ugly teeth that were only good for eating fish, not felling trees? Unjust and unfair were her dealt cards, and the more Otter thought about it, the madder she got.

Being mad is a potent motivator.

Otter convinced her beaver friend to chew on a mature tree. He had to enlist help, and it still took them almost three weeks to get through it. This time Beaver didn’t push Otter out of the way, and the tree crashed right on her tail. Otter screamed and flailed her arms. Her eyes bulged and her paws pushed ineffectually at the huge tree.

“Get it off!” she managed, though hyperventilating fiercely. In their haste to free Otter, the beavers dragged the trunk instead of rolling it, and ripped the tail clean off.

***

“You were lucky not to bleed out,” said her new friend the beaver.

Otter rolled her eyes. “Where’s my tail?”

Beaver looked uncomfortable.

“I know it fell off. I want it anyway.”

For a pregnant moment the only sound was Beaver’s nervous tail, thumping against the forest floor. Huh could not help him now, though he desperately wanted to try it.

“Huh?” Beaver asked.

“Where’s. My. TAIL?”

Beaver licked his huge teeth and took a deep breath. “I hung it on a tree… Hawk took it.”

Otter’s response to this piece of news could be heard well into the forest depths, stopping animals short, drawing ears to instant attention, tightening haunches like ready bows for flight. Such a fit no animal had ever before thrown.

But when no threat manifested, all went back to their business. Otter’s tirade so took the life out of her she fainted back into the leaf bed, comatose. Beaver kept vigil, certain Otter would die of despair. But inside Otter was counting the cost, deciding whether or not to give up. Otters don’t, you know.

Set within Otter was an unrecognizable creature who did not match the reflection in the water and who was now officially disfigured. Could it get any worse?

***

By and by Otter became a beaver. Otter insisted on being referred to as “Beaver,” which was very confusing, especially to the younger animals and transients.

“Hey, uh… You. Your… thing fell off,” buzzed a dragonfly, a recent migrant to the marsh who didn’t know the story and thought he was being helpful.

Otter glared and stomped away.  It fell to Beaver-who-saved-her to duct-tape the piece of tire to her stump whenever it fell off, which was often. Beaver also whittled her a new set of teeth when her old ones broke off or got soggy. All very inconvenient, this.

Even with all the beaver accoutrements, Otter’s insides still felt empty. But being a beaver took so much work, and there were the marsh meetings Otter called where she made passionate speeches about the problem of otterness, or gooseness, or duckness, or any number of other problems. Like hawks: they had to go. In all the work to be done, all the self-manicuring and re-training into beaverness, Otter was so distracted she didn’t have time to think.

But the movement caught on. At first the animals came to gawk at the cobbled creature who waved her paws around and defiantly cursed whatever powers be, who challenged the status quo. “Should we not all ask ourselves if we are what we want to be? Are you satisfied?” asked Otter-beaver. Most shook their heads, no.

“Well then do something about it,” thundered Otter-beaver, and she was quite the orator. Before long, animals were mutilating themselves left and right. Everyone had a problem. The sounds of the marsh evolved. Gone were the primitive whacks and slaps of work. No. Mostly there was talk, complaints, advice, how-to’s. Entrepreneurs and savvy thinkers took to collecting tire pieces and making wooden teeth, antlers, fake rabbit tails from milkweed strings. The marsh was a busy, busy place.

…a harried, frenzied place where not a lot of thinking went on, not a pollen-sized piece of true joy could be found. Just a trade: one dissatisfaction for another. Otterness for psuedo-beaverness and all the complications thereof. No doubt a real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter and in the other changeling animals– a yearning for wholeness or satisfaction, for more, for less, for peace. A real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter. And still does.

The end.

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:14, 15

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 1 Timothy 6:6,7