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.

 

Incidentally You Have a Brain Tumor and Your Van Won’t Start

I’m not whining, for the record, I’m recording. Those violins are entirely coincidental.

Ever have an experience that was so thoroughly insane that you wondered whether God-in-heaven had just bragged about you to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, X?”

March, 2014. I had pneumonia. Not walking pneumonia, mind you. Although I walked from the parking lot into the doctor’s office, mewling, and kept it up while I waited for them to work their magic and make everything better.

“Well… what have we here?” asked a motherly Indian doctor. I cried. I gasped. She said she doubted I had pneumonia but she’d do a chest x-ray just in case. I didn’t even say I told you so. Breathing the words required too much effort.

Dr. Thank-God gave me some superhero antibiotics, steroid lung mist, and a codeine cough syrup that made me think I was hearing choruses from The Grateful Dead. I looked forward to being not dead and grateful.

Convalescing is lovely for kids and old people and anyone else who can afford two weeks on her back. Not me. My refrigerator was empty, and the minions were hungry. No, starving. They’re always starving. We go straight from full-of-orange-chicken to desperately languishing. It takes five minutes, I tell you, and a mother can only take so much whining.

I shuffled into Aldi, weak and shaky, and considered turning around and going back home, but I’m prideful and didn’t want to admit weakness the kids would flog me for returning empty-handed. As I pushed the cart down one aisle and then another, I felt weaker and weaker, like my knees couldn’t be trusted. That being an entirely new and unwelcome feeling for me, I became alarmed. My heart raced, and no matter how much air I gulped, it wasn’t enough. I began to fear the very real prospect of fainting in Aldi.

It took herculean effort to put those groceries on the belt and gasp into my phone. Come… get me.

In all our 20 years of marriage, I have never asked Bob to come get me.

On a bench in Aldi, quite the spectacle, I waited. Bob was taking forever (7 minutes), and I regretted not calling the squad. I’m going to die in Bob’s car.  Because I couldn’t feel my arms and legs, because my heart was completely out of control, because I couldn’t breathe– I sincerely believed I might be dying. What a relief to make it to the ER. Much rather die there.

The intake nurse asked if I ever had a panic attack before.

No. I don’t have panic attacks. I’m here for you to fix this whole weak kneed, heart pounding, head hurting, unable to breathe thing I’ve got going on. Don’t judge me, just fix it.

I think the strategy in ER’s is to make you wait until you either 1. die or 2. get better on your own. My symptoms worked themselves out while I lay there waiting for test results. #2 for me.

The doctor told me they didn’t know what caused my presenting symptoms, but they had found something else while they were in there looking around. An incidental finding, he called it. A mass, he called it, about 7 millimeters diameter in my brain.

[record screech]

I know metric measurements, and I know what diameter is. And I thoroughly know masses don’t belong in one’s brain. Still, I held up my fingers and asked: This?  Like a marble? Yes, that. He was a nice-enough guy. He was just punching me in the gut with his incidental finding. It’s hard to like someone when they’re doing that, even if they speak like Buddha and gently touch your skull while illustrating. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, he told me. Just see this neurosurgeon…

Don’t lose sleep over it?  I have pneumonia and a brain tumor and I still don’t know what mutiny happened inside my body to bring me in here in the first place.

Have you considered my servant, Kelly?  Only that could explain the ridiculous pile-up of medical afflictions with which I found myself. Don’t lose sleep over it, snort.

Bob put his arm around me, and we hobbled to our van, aware we still had a trunk full of groceries in the Aldi parking lot. I was in shock and beat down and mumbling bits of Scripture to myself.

The van was dead. The whirring, moaning sound it made left little doubt. In my mind I laughed that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening maniacal laugh reserved for the truly absurd. I wouldn’t be more surprised than if we walked out of the ER to a couple of dairy cows in our parking space.

What I know now, without a doubt, is there is no hedge and no escape from the brokenness of our world.  Anything can and will happen. Jesus tried to warn me (John 16:33b), but I’m more of an experiential learner: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. 

He has, I tell you– overcome. It’s been more than a year since they discovered my marble. I find it a handy excuse when I forget things or am generally scatterbrained. Maybe I’ll have it cut out someday if it gets unwieldy. Life gets unwieldy sometimes, like that day. But then there’s a next day, and a next. And eventually you can look back and laugh, not even maniacally. You can look back with Jesus and watch your personal storm together like you’re watching a movie, and he looks at you and you look at Him, and He winks.