Friday, August 2, 2013

Who is This God You Love?

New York playwright Bill Cain came to Los Angeles to spend time with Father Greg Boyle, a Catholic Priest and founder of the Los Angeles gang intervention program Homeboy Industries.  He wanted material for a screenplay. He meant to stay for only a few weeks, but ended up staying for 10 years. Here is what he said about the experience:
"It was a great pleasure talking to him (Father Boyle) discover the infinity and lushness of the God he believes in." Isn't that beautiful? That makes a great prayer:

Dear God,
May the way I act and speak 
draw others 
to your infinity and lushness.

I am starting to figure out that drawing people to God is really what it is all about. I was raised to believe people needed to be "converted" "saved" or  "led to Christ. " There are many ways I can do this:
Go up to random strangers to tell them they need God.
Lure them to church by promising them BBQ hot dogs.
Hold up a sign in an intersection that says "Do you know where you'll spend eternity?"
Stand on a corner, worn Bible in hand and yell through a megaphone: "You need Jesus!"
You've probably seen and heard them all. They rarely work.  And to me, they feel more like dragging than drawing.
I read a stat the other day that unless you find God before you turn 18, your chances of conversion are about 15%. Wow. That seems to say that unless someone grows up in a Christian home or has a Christian friend early on their chances of finding God are slim to none. So how do I "share the Gospel" with someone who is over 18...or anyone for that matter? 

LOVE in a way that draws them to the lushness and infinity of God.
SPEAK in a way that makes them curious: "Who is this God you love?"
LIVE in a way that compels them to ask: "Where does your peace/love/joy/kindness/compassion come from?"
Sounds easy, but as we all know, saying it and living it are two different things.  It is so much easier to just make a fancy sign, hand out a pamphlet or fire up the church BBQ.

I just finished Jeff Chu's book Does Jesus Really Love Me?  
I can summarize the book in one word:
I honestly think it put me in a "funk" and in some ways, I wish I hadn't read it. Prize winning writer and Harvard Divinity School fellow, Jeff Chu travels around the United States visiting various Christian churches to ask pastors, priests and congregants about their beliefs about God as it relates to homosexuality. Jeff is a gay Christian so the book is part memoir, part investigative analysis. Why does Pastor A believe God hates me? Why does Pastor B say God loves me? Jeff interviews everyone from liberal pastors in the Metropolitan Community Church to Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church (of God Hates Fags fame). The book includes stories of those who have been told by pastors and other Christians that God doesn't love them--gay Christians who have been cast out, counseled and corralled into therapies, prayer sessions and treatments of all sorts to relieve them of the one thing they were told stood between them and God: Homosexuality. In other words, God is not infinite and lush enough to love gay people. God's love does not extend to them. At least not unless they change. It is meant only for those who are "living right."
I am not drawn to that God.
That god seems very small.
I am drawn to the God of Father Greg Boyle. The God who loves the tattooed, baggy pant bad-asses of the Los Angeles streets. The God who motivates Father Boyle to get up every day and dedicate his life to reaching out to their families with love. The lush God he serves compels him to give out meals, jobs and hugs to turn them from guns, jail and funerals. The God he loves heals, forgives and offers hope. No wonder so many find God through Father Boyle. He is like the shepherd in Matthew 18 -- he goes out to "find the one" who wandered away. He doesn't shout, "Get out of here! And don't come back until you've changed!" Nope, he loves each one as is and that love drives them to change their lives and wonder, "Who is this God Father Boyle loves?" That's when they see beyond the pain and violence to a peace that passes understanding. That's when they find Jesus.
Many of the people in Jeff Chu's book have had the opposite experience. They have been cast out. Told to leave. Judged. Rejected. This makes them believe: Jesus can only love me when I love the "right" (opposite sex) person.  I can't do that, therefore, Jesus doesn't love me.
Wow. That's not a small God. That is a TINY god. Whether or not that God loves, depends on me.
Isn't that depressing? This is why Jeff's book, as interesting as it was, was a real drain for me.
There were a few bright spots. One of the gay-friendly pastors Jeff interviewed said he wants to help the gay Christians in his congregation  "remember the pain" (of being cast out) without "reliving it." He wants them to be so full of confidence that God loves them that thinking of past rejection is like remembering a bad family vacation. It's disappointing, but it doesn't reduce you to tears and make clouds of depression and self hate roll in like beach fog. That is a great goal.
The other bright spot of the book was the author, Jeff. What I like about Jeff is that he really loves God and wants to please Him. He is God-focused, not Gay-focused. He is not satisfied going to a "gay church" in fact, I get the impression that while he thinks they are great for some, he kind of wishes they didn't exist. I agree. Why do we need a gay church (Like the Metropolitan Community Church)? Because other churches exclude. It is proof that Christians are not as Jesus prayed we would be in John 17:  United. 
Jeff says, "...while I don't want alienation or exclusion when I'm in the pews, I'm also not there to celebrate other people. I thought the whole point was to celebrate God."
Amen, Jeff.  Let's celebrate our lush, infinite God. Let's celebrate Him by living in such a way that ALL people are drawn to him. Like Father Boyle, let's show them how BIG our God is. How forgiving. How loving. How gracious. 

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Twitter @HopeNote
Contact author on gmail using hopeh1122

I Thessalonians 2:6-7Our attitude among you was one of tenderness, like that of a devoted nurse among her babies. Because we loved you, it was a joy for us to give you not only the Gospel of God, but our very hearts—so dear did you become to us. (JB Philips Translation)
Link to the article about Father Boyle in L.A. Magazine:

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