I never expected to be back in church, let alone return to pastoring.

In 2007, when I left my job as graphics/publication artist for Fremont Community Church, I had sworn off church.  The pain and trauma from that experience, as well as from my experience as a staff pastor for Friends Community Church Fresno had sent me not only to the edge of the cliff, but flying over it at full speed.  

So when I left the church, I completely left the church.  I was cynical of church leadership and anything having to do with Christianity.  I still loved Jesus, and I still read the Bible.  But church?  Well, that was a deal breaker for me.  And so for the next 10+ years, I suffered in silence, missing the community that church provided, but unable to step through the front doors without a panic attack.

Then I came out... but that's a longer story.

As I've talked with people, I've begun to see the deep need for people in marginalized communities to hear that they are loved by God.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus consistently went to the margins.  He called the religious leaders of His day out of their comfort zones -- the temple grounds -- and out to the places they had deemed "God-forsaken."  People they had pushed there so they wouldn't have to be faced by their presence.  So that they wouldn't have to recognize their humanity.    
He told the story of the Good Samaritan -- framing the Samaritan as the hero while making the rabbi and levite out to be the villians.  I can only imagine how much this would have infuriated the religious leaders -- after all, they were supposed to be the good guys while Samaritans were the ones whose very identity was seen as an affront to God.  Can you think of any groups of people like that today?

Jesus continually met the marginalized where they were in order to show them God's love.

The Woman at the Well.  The healing of the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda.  The touching of the lepers.  Of the demon-possessed.  The time He saved the life of a woman from a bloodthirsty mob of religious leaders who wanted to kill her after setting her up to be caught in the act of adultery... Over and over again, Jesus challenges the religious to see the fingerprints of God on the lives of the ones the Church had turned its back on.  
Time after time, Jesus pushed the religious people -- whose social circles had eliminated anyone who didn't fit into their preconceived notions of what and how "God's people" would look like -- to see God's handiwork in every part of God's creation.  In times, He became so frustrated with them that His highest criticisms were saved for the religious leaders, and when He threatened their pride and bottom line, then they plotted to have Him killed.

If you're a part of a community that the Church has marginalized, then I want you to know that today's Church is not speaking on behalf of God.

I have to admit, I never realized what privilege was until I came out.  Those things I took for granted -- giving my opinion in meetings, getting my oil changed, going to the bathroom without thinking about my safety -- they're things that are now no longer thoughts in the back of my head but are rather conscious notes that I have to remember as I go about my days.
But in my transition, I've come to realize the reality of freedom in Christ -- the freedom to no longer fight my identity, but to embrace it.  The shift in my life that took me from thinking that my identity was God's cruel joke and suffering constantly under the weight of guilt and shame to a place now where I am thankful to God that I am alive and able to fully enjoy Her in the world.  I am who I was meant to be.  And if you have never been given permission for that, I want to let you know that ALL of you is loved.  There isn't a part of your life that you have to hide from God.  God knows.  
The Church, however, is still working as they were in Jesus' day to force people into the parameters they had built for their own comfort and safety.  But they don't speak for God.  Where the Church says you are forsaken, evil, demonic -- or whatever the catchphrase of the day is -- God says you are loved.  You are seen.  And you are welcome.  Just as you are.

In high school, I learned what it meant to have a relationship with God.

During my senior year, I transferred from an all-boys Catholic school to Los Alamitos High School, home at the time to the Orange County High School of the Arts.  It was a major shift, but one I welcomed wholeheartedly following the trauma I had experienced at my previous school.  By that time, I was heavily involted with the Catholic Church I had been raised in, but as I went through puberty, I began to experience more of the questions around my own sexuality.
My first friend at Los Al was a girl named Robin, who connected me with the Christian club on campus -- where I began to learn what it meant to have a relationship with God.  This entirely different approach to faith along with the encouragement of my new peer group sent me on a quest to understand if this, perhaps, would help save me from my perceived struggle to be "normal."  Of course, I couldn't let on with anyone that this was the real reason why I was searching so desperately for answers...

What I believe

When I first moved to Fresno, California, after spending years trying to build a systematic theology that worked with the ideology that I knew out of my own experiences, I searched through a number of different churches to try and find one that would align with where I was.

At the time, I believed that the only true way to preach was verse by verse through the Bible, rather than topical preaching.  I believed that Jesus' return was imminent, and that every attempt should be made to preach the Gospel and save souls.  To top it all off, my experiences had told me that being gay was something that one could overcome if they just prayed hard enough.  Read the Bible more.  Joined another group.  After all, I was supposed to be gay, but I was attracted to women -- so God had saved me, right?

It was Rachel Held Evans who reminded me that "the opposite of faith is certainty."  So while I am going to try and state a few of the things I believe here, one of the things I am learning to do on this journey is to hold everything with a loose hand, recognizing that God asks us for faith rather than knowledge.  
We are all bearers of the image of God
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
(Gen. 1:27, NIV)
While many Evangelical Christians quickly get distracted by the last portion of this verse (which, by the way, are often mistranslated when talking about the transgender community), the very essence of this verse is that each and EVERY person is created in the image of God -- and that as such, we are called to recognize this in each and every person we meet.  Throughout Jesus' ministry, we see Jesus challenging the religious to see those they had marginalized in the same way He did.  I believe our call is to do the same, seeing that God looks at the image that She has instilled in each and every person and recognizing that in our encounters.
The Bible is inspired, but not all interpretations.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
(Acts 17:11, NIV)
One of the things that I absolutely value within the Jewish culture is that they would often sit and debate Scripture.  As Rachel Held Evans once wrote, "The Jewish people use the Bible to start a conversation, while Christians use it to end one."  (Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.)  

While the inerrancy of Scripture is often debated, the one thing that underlies a lot of that debate is simply this -- how do we interpret the Bible?  Talk with many Christians, and they'll be convinced that the Bible can make their point -- but then the question must be, is that really in the Bible, or is that coming from your Pastor's teaching on the Bible?  Are you quoting the Bible in context - both historical and literal - or are you relying on the translations that often don't convey the whole meaning?

I believe that the Bible is a collection of stories, letters, and poetry that point to the bigger picture of who God is and what God is calling us to in the world.  I also believe that it was written to a specific people in a specific time period, and to try and interpret the Bible through our modern-day understanding of the world is to miss some of the entire points that God had intended.  Is understanding the Bible possible for lay people?  Of course, but doing so takes diligence and work to understand the cultural context and language that is being used.  Tools like Blue Letter Bible and Bible Gateway give access to multiple translations, and the Bible Background Commentary along with Halley's Bible Handbook and multitudes of other commentaries can help us gain a better understanding of why the Bible says what it says.  Then, and only then I believe, can we take what is being taught and apply it towards a deeper understanding.  Failure to do so can have deadly consequences, as is the experience of many within the LGBTQ+ communities.
Everything within our faith points to two commands.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 
This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
If one were to take the entire Constitution of the United States and print only that, it would exist only as a small booklet.  At the same time, however, entire books and volumes have been handed down -- laws and decisions have been made, all based off of one document and its 33 amendments, trying to explain what the Constitution means in certain cases.  So when we look at the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the 613 laws that followed as the Mosaic Law was formed from that, it's not hard to see how it could quickly become overwhelming and confusing.  

When I was a young kid in Catechism classes, we learned about the Ten Commandments, and how the first four dealt with how to love God, and the last six dealt with how to love each other.  So when Jesus comes in and boils EVERYTHING down to two commands, stating that ALL of the Law and the Prophets hang on how we love God and love our neighbor, then perhaps it's something that we should listen to.  

If I try to watch TV without my glasses, I can't really see what's on the screen.  I can make out some things, but for the most part, what I "see" isn't really much of anything at all without my glasses.  I need them to be able to see.  To be able to drive.  To be able to navigate around the house without bumping into furniture (as much) or, worse yet, stepping on a cat.  I need to have these lenses that are specifically tailored for my eyes so that I can clearly focus on what is before me.  In much the same way, if Jesus said that EVERYTHING in the Law and the Prophets hung on the two greatest commands, then isn't that the lens that we should be reading Scripture through?  

When we read of the Berean church, they were commended for going back and asking themselves if what they were being told was true, and in much the same way, we should learn to ask those critical questions.  But most of all, we should ALWAYS ask ourselves how what we are reading, learning, and even teaching lines up with the two commands that Jesus said were the greatest: is what I am advocating and practicing helping foster my relationship with God?  Is it helping others to grow in their relationship with God?  Or is it a barrier to acceptance?  What about love for our neighbor?  Love isn't "love the sin, hate the sinner."  Why do I know this?  Because when we see how it is practiced, we see how that mentality and teaching pushes people to believe that there is no place for them to seek God in the Church.  In their families.  It cuts people off from God and from each other.  And is that love?  I think not.

So for everything that I teach and read, I try my hardest to challenge people to look through that lens.  After all, it was so important that Jesus didn't just say it; He was the very embodiment of that in the world.

Dear @HeGetsUs -- please don't buy a commercial spot during the #TonyAwards when the theology you promote continues to harm the #LGBTQ+ community that is watching.

Christians: "Pride goes before a fall."

Also Christians: "Buy this Bible with the words 'I'm proud to be an American'" added to it along with a bunch of extra stuff about America.

Christians to LGBTQ+ people: "stop adding things to the Bible to make it say what you want."

It's not enough for #transwomen to be excluded from competitive sports, but now apparently recreational sports are a problem in #NassauCounty. Just because a lack of - or wrong - information is making people "uncomfortable."

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"Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all..." Galatians 6:10, The Message

Do you want to join me in doing this work?  Are you struggling with wondering if you're really loved by God, just as you are?  Are you wondering how to best love your LGBTQ+ child?  Reach out - I'd love to hear from you!
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