Shut Up and Roll Over

dog_bellyrub_croppedMy dog, Zack*, and I are a lot alike.

I was going about my regular routine this morning, getting ready for work, and Zack jumps up on the bed to get cozy while he watches me. Somewhere in the middle of what I was doing, I stop and look at him, so devotedly following me with his eyes. I sit down next to him to pet him, and he rolls over onto his back so I can rub his belly.

Some dogs will just plop down, roll over onto their backs, and wiggle around enthusiastically, reveling in the pleasure. My colleague Jerry tells me about his dogs, golden retrievers, who roll over so excitedly just when he approaches them, that sometimes they’ll lose control and even wet themselves. And he can’t even get them to sit up; they just go limp like rag dolls. They’ve completely given in to the joy of it. But not Zack. He has his head cocked so he can watch me. And I can see in his eyes that he is being cautious, a bit reluctant, not totally comfortable, as if he doesn’t entirely trust me. We’ve had Zack since he was a puppy, and he’s never been abused, never had his trust violated. I don’t even rough-house with him too much since he’s such a sensitive soul (with me, anyway). Of course with two other dogs in the house, he always has to be a little wary. Clarice will bulldoze him around; she’s a klutz and often temperamental. Rascal is always wanting to play, and is not above just pouncing on him for sport. And when they’re tired or hungry, they can get on each others’ nerves and snip at each other. So perhaps Zack’s wariness is justified. But with him being a little uptight, I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he could be.

As I pet his stomach, I was struck by the inconsistency in his behavior: partly open, partly vulnerable, partly submissive, wanting affection — but only partly. Never fully surrendering to it totally. And as I look in his eyes, I can almost catch a glimmer of his thoughts: he’s worried over appearing undignified.

“Isn’t this exactly how I behave with God?” The question popped into my mind. We’re supposed to come boldly before his throne, we’re supposed to bare our hearts to him, to come spiritually naked, open and vulnerable, expecting only a warm welcome, trusting in his loving embrace. But instead, we — I — often come to him still wearing armor, surrendering to his powerful presence only partially, still holding back, perhaps anticipating some hostility or unexpected roughness. And is there a hint of pride, too? Somewhere in the back of my head, do I feel that joyfully bounding into his throne room like a beloved child is a bit undignified? Will I look or feel foolish?

Worse, though, how is my guardedness preventing me from just enjoying God’s presence? How is it hindering me walking away feeling refreshed or receiving the answers I need for the day? I know many times I end my quiet time with God feeling just as frustrated or cranky as when I began it.

Zack loves me. He derives a great deal of security from being around me, and I really enjoy having him around. And despite any minor misgivings he might have, he’s safe with me, and I’ll always be receptive to his wants and needs. Is God any less devoted to me than I am to my dog? Has he ever rebuffed me or rebuked me harshly to warrant my cautious approach? Or am I still carrying defensive shields from the friction of coarse treatment inflicted by other people who intersect my life?

I need to change my behavior, my attitude. I need to deliberately lower my guard when I greet God in the morning and invite him into my day. And not just because that’s what trusting children (and dogs) do. But because I NEED the benefit of his presence. I NEED to have my mind and heart restored by his peace, re-energized by his joy. I NEED to walk away from my time in prayer with the strength and confidence to face the chaos that awaits me today. And, if I ever expect to grow, I need to uncover every corner of my heart before him, so he’ll have free access to change the things he wants changed. I just can’t afford to have my connection with God hindered in any way.

So when I approach God tomorrow to spend some uninterrupted, quality time with him, I gonna try to deliberately throw down my guard, and recklessly throw myself into his presence, stripped of any caution, reluctance, or concern for dignity. I want to let go of my uptightness, silence those ungrounded fears and worries in my head, and expose my vulnerability to God’s loving hands. I think only then will I be in a position to receive his affection unimpeded and to fully derive a sense of security from his love. Only then will I fully enjoy the experience.  I just need to shut up and roll over.  And who knows how that will affect the rest of my day?

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* Dogs’ names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Gay Pride : WWJD ?

miamibeach_gaypride

On June 1st, President Barack Obama officially declared June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Of course, June has been “Gay Pride” month since the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, and there are parades and festivities occurring this month all around the world, from Omaha to London to Tel Aviv to Shanghai. Cities around the world have cordoned off streets and beaches for the concerts and parties. The parades have become the public arena for corporate floats, aspiring politicians, community activists, churches, and everyday citizens demonstrating for civil rights and social acceptance, as well as those out just for a good time.

And then there’s the other side. The drunkenness, the public display of nudity and sexuality, the flaunting of common decency in the name of shock value “because we can”. Many of the events are family-friendly, but many should never have come out of the seedy, dark underground where practices unsuited for prime time are now being aired defiantly. It’s Mardi Gras with a rainbow flag.

Like a lot of things in our world today, Christians even remotely interested in such events are faced with a dilemma. Do I go? Do I participate? Or is this something that should be completely avoided? I asked a few of my Christian friends for their opinions, and as expected, received answers ranging all along the spectrum, from adamantly opposed, to strongly supportive, and even apathy and uncertainty in between. Regardless of the value or lack of value in supporting the cause of civil rights, is it appropriate for Christians to associate with these kinds of events and these kinds of people? As one friend quoted the Bible to me, “what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” But as another countered, “how else is the light to shine except in darkness? The light shines, and darkness has not overcome it.”

Everyone will have to answer that question for themselves, according to their own motivations and conscience, but I thought it would be helpful to ask that popular question, “What would Jesus do?”

I think everyone will agree that Gay Pride celebrations are generally not for the timid or faint of heart. There are strongly motivated people out there — those advocating their liberty, those voicing opposition, and those just plain ole acting up. And it goes without saying that followers of Christ should not be involved in lewdness and debauchery. But these types of celebrations — especially this one — are filled with hurting and hungry people. And that to me is the key to solving the dilemma.

Jesus went wherever people needed him. “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:30-32). “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10). This motivation drove Jesus to some very questionable places and caused him to associate with certain types of people that the more religious would never even talk to much less hang out with. His behavior and choice of companions so outraged the religious that they called him a drunk and a glutton (Mt 11:19). They accused him of being demon possessed. Why? Because he loved people. And let’s be clear about one thing here: while Jesus would not have been condoning wild revelry, he was no stranger to parties and enjoying himself. Remember his first miracle? It was at a wedding reception, where celebrating people were busy getting drunk. And what does he do? Give them more wine to celebrate. (John 2). And he was frequently seen at banquets and dinner parties, hanging around tax collectors, corrupt officials, prostitutes. The Pharisees of his day called him on it: how can you associate with such unclean people? He saw something, he knew something, that they did not. He understood the heart of God.

Would Jesus go to a Gay Pride parade? You bet he would. I doubt very much he’d be marching in it (he tended to avoid political activism since that wasn’t his purpose), but he’d certainly have a booth out on the fair grounds with big signs telling people that God loved them. He’d be shouting into the crowds (in a very undignified way), “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He’d say, “Come to me, all who are hungry, and let me give you what you’re seeking. Come to me, all of you who are thirsty, and I will give you water to drink that will fill your souls and overflow out of you to water others.” (Mt 11:28; Lk 1:53; Lk 6:21; Jn 7:38)

Especially at Gay Pride celebrations, where so many Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender people have been rejected by our religious organizations, our churches, hurt by family, told they are hated by God, told they are going to hell. Is there any other group of people more needing of the love and acceptance of Jesus? Would he be among the conservative church goers there, holding up protest signs that say “Fags go to Hell”, or hurling insults at those dressed in feather boas or sexually-explicit costumes? Would he be among those throwing stones? Did he EVER do that in the Gospels? No. Today, at any Gay Pride parade or picnic he went to, he’d walk up to such scandalous people, wrap his arms around them, kiss them on the cheek, and say “You are SO loved by the Father.” Some people would reject him, now just as they did 2000 years ago. But those who hunger for a relationship with God would hug him back, and follow him to some grassy picnic area where he’d tell them stories about how the Kingdom of God is made up of people such as themselves. And from such people, he would raise up followers who would know the grace of God and see a face of God that those who grew up in the church have never seen and will never experience.

Not everybody at Gay Pride celebrations is hurt or damaged, of course. And only a small percentage of those gathered at these events will be acting in outrageous ways. Many people will be there just for the festivities and entertainment. Many of these will be fellow believers — gay and straight. And Jesus would be sitting at their table, sharing hamburgers with them, blessing them, listening to their stories and encouraging them. He’d laugh with them, cry with them, and remind them that he’s always with them and will never abandon them.

Should a Christian, gay or straight, attend Gay Pride events? That, of course, depends on your motive for being there. But when I think about Jesus, any question whether it’s appropriate or right melts away. All we need to ask ourselves — all we should be imitating in our own lives — is What would Jesus do?