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Friday, September 22, 2023

Redeemers

 I ordered a chair this week. It came in a big, heavy box, as you might expect. The box had gotten pretty battered during shipping, and when I opened it and got the chair out, I saw that it had been damaged too. A noticeable rip in the upholstery, right where a similar-sized hole in the box was. 

      I looked online to see about how to return the chair, and I immediately saw a problem. The company would send me a shipping label, they assured me. They were really sorry for the damage to my chair, and of course they’d issue a complete refund. Just box the chair back up, take it to the shipper of my choice, and, oh yes….pay for shipping. 

     I have no idea, and I don’t want to know, what shipping that chair back to the manufacturer would have cost!

     So I called their customer service number, and thankfully, this was one of those rare times that “customer service number” wasn’t an oxymoron. The woman I talked to was very friendly and helpful. She asked me to email her a photo of the damage, then within a few minutes assured me that they would send me a replacement chair and that I didn’t need to ship the ripped one back at all. 

     So I got a free — if slightly damaged — chair out of the deal.

     I mentioned all this to a few people this week, and got interesting responses. Almost every one kind of shook their heads and tsk-tsk’ed the wastefulness of the company. I guess, since it directly benefitted me, I didn't consider that. I suppose there is a bit of wastefulness in it. Wouldn’t it make sense for the company to want the chair back? I mean, they could re-cover it and sell it as new, right? Who would know? Knock off a few bucks and they might even be able to sell it as-is. At the very least, wouldn’t it make sense for them to want the parts from that damaged chair, the frame and motors and actuators and whatever else? More sense, at least, than giving me a buy-one-get-one-free deal on a chair?

     But, of course, no. They buy all the parts in bulk. Those few parts, or whatever they could make by repairing or selling that chair as damaged, isn’t worth the price of shipping it back and the labor of fixing or stripping it. In their estimation, the cost to them is too high to justify. It's a lost cause. That damaged chair is just not worth it.

     In Chicago, we’re dealing with an influx of asylum-seekers from Central and South America sent to us from other states. Obviously, there’s a cost involved with trying to house around 13,000 people without homes, jobs, and basic necessities. I don’t know all the right answers, except to say that the lives of these human beings, created by God and trying to make a way for themselves and their families, shouldn’t be manipulated for the sake of political theater. I also know that there are people in our city, just like in those states from which our asylum-seekers came, who would basically regard them in the same way that company regarded its chair. 

     Not worth it. Not worth the trouble and expense. 

     In the part of the Bible most Christians refer to as the Old Testament, there’s a series of laws that are pretty interesting. They all revolve around the role of family and next of kin. You might summarize these laws by saying that the next of kin had certain responsibilities. If someone intended to sell a field, the next of kin had the right of first refusal to buy it so that it would stay in the family. If someone was murdered, the next of kin had the obligation to avenge that death. If a person was facing the economic necessity of selling themselves into indentured servitude, his next of kin could purchase his freedom. If someone died, his next of kin was responsible for marrying the widow and bearing children in the name of his deceased relative. When parents had their first child, they were responsible for making an offering to God as a replacement for God’s requirement that every firstborn was consecrated to him.

     This next-of-kin was called a ga’al in Hebrew. It’s often translated “redeemer” in English Bibles.

     I love that God created laws for Israel to help make sure that human beings aren’t forgotten or ignored when they become expensive, when they tax our resources of patience, time, energy, money, and attention. What I take from those laws is that I need to find ways to make God’s concern for redemption a big part of the way I live. We all at times need a redeemer, someone who in our worst moments will speak up for us, come looking for us, defend us, invest in us, and help us to be free. We’ve all had someone like that in our lives, whether we admit it or not. And we all need to be a redeemer to the people in our lives sometimes. 

     Of course, God’s concern for redemption comes from who he is. At least 17 times in the Bible, God is called Israel’s ga’al — their Redeemer. God is the next of kin for his people, their Father who vindicates them, protects them, avenges them, and frees them from slavery. Embedded deep in the concept of redemption is family. God expects his people to be family for each other because he is our family. And family doesn’t give up on each other when we become too expensive. 

     You probably already know that redemption isn’t just an “Old Testament thing,” though.

     Paul writes this to Titus, the young servant he left to help the church in Crete:  

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

To Paul, one of the ways that Jesus embodied the glory of God was in his role as Redeemer. Which actually answers a question about God as Israel’s Redeemer. The Law was explicit, more or less, about what the redemption price of a field or servant or firstborn child was. But how can God be a Redeemer? What cost can redemption have for him? 

     You already know, don’t you? 

     “Jesus Christ…gave himself for us to redeem us….” 

     That’s what it took for God to Redeem us — the life of Jesus, the life of his Son. “For God so loved the world,” John wrote in his Gospel, “that he gave his only Son.” God refused to give us up, even when according to every metric we weren’t worth the expense. By most measurements we weren’t worth the cost of repair, not even of stripping for parts. 

     But our Maker thinks differently. His metrics are not most metrics. We aren’t a commodity to him, we are his family. And family doesn’t give up on each other.

     So if anyone wants to tell you that you’re like my chair, too damaged to matter to anyone, tell them your Maker feels otherwise. He’s your Redeemer, and the cost he paid was the life of Jesus. He did that so you could finally get free of all the things that cheapen you and make you his — and eager to do good.

     And one of the ways he most wants us to do good is to treat other people in the very same way. As people who matter to their Maker, who could be set free to be good-doing people of God as well. 

     We’ve been redeemed. Let’s be redeemers. 

     To God, we’re all worth a second chance. 


Friday, September 8, 2023

On Prophets Outside the Camp

 I was reading this week about a church in my fellowship, the Churches of Christ, that has been dwindling in membership, shrinking by about 7/8ths over the last few decades. They’ve had hard decisions to make recently, most specifically what to do with a building that was bigger than they needed and could support. The church, like many churches of all stripes, had gotten considerably older and had largely become a “commuter congregation,” with fewer members who live in the neighborhood in which they’re located. They were weighing options: merge with another church? Sell their building and find something smaller?

     What they decided, however, was neither of those things.

     Recently, the church announced plans to become a new neighborhood campus for a multi-campus church.

     Maybe you’re not familiar with that concept. It’s been made possible in the last few years with the advent of technology, but what it boils down to is a church with multiple locations in a city or a metropolitan area. One church, but with worshipers attending in more than one building, usually hearing the same sermon simulcast from the live location through live streaming.

     The interesting — and somewhat controversial — thing about this particular case is that the Church of Christ is becoming a campus of a community church from a different denomination.  

     Churches of Christ have had for most of our history a somewhat antagonistic relationship with other tribes of Christianity, to the degree that some of us wouldn’t even consider people in many other denominations Christians in any real sense. (In my experience that’s not the majority view, but it’s not unheard-of.) For many of us, our understanding and practice of baptism is the dividing line. An even more practical issue is the use of instruments in worship; most of “us” still prefer vocal music only, and for some it’s much more than a preference.

     There are varied reasons behind all these things, but a large part of it is our conviction that we are to be “New Testament Christians” who reject denominational divisions and unite around what the Bible says. Suffice to say that it makes the idea of one of “our” churches becoming a campus for another denomination hard to imagine for many of us. (Some of us will even object to my use of the phrase “other denominations.” For them, “the denominations” refer to everyone but us, who are “the Lord’s church.”)

     Most of us, I suppose, are on some part of the spectrum of these views. While I think most of us appreciate the faith of people who aren’t “us,” and affirm their desire to please the Lord and be shaped by the Bible, at heart some of us — maybe even most of us — would see the decision of this church as a compromise of some sort. Even if we might understand the reasons for it.

     I was struck by the diversity in the comments section of the post. Some praised God that the work of his kingdom would continue in that place. Some, with kindness and compassion, expressed sentiments that they would struggle with the decision of whether or not to remain a member of that congregation. Both, I think, reasonable responses. Some attacked the publication of the article — not so reasonable, and a classic case of shooting the messenger! 

     But one sentiment — repeated more than once — has stuck with me. Some said that they’d rather that church had closed than make the decision they made. 

     Don’t get me wrong: there are valid reasons for churches to close. Most every local expression of the church has a starting date and ending date, and it’s important for churches to make good decisions about their life cycle. I know of churches that have sold too-large buildings to provide affordable housing, and I think that’s amazing. Some churches at the end of their life cycle are able to give their resources to other churches and ministries to help them grow.

     But, with love, I struggle to understand an outlook that says it would be better for that church to have closed, for the site to have become a shopping center or what have you, than for the work of the kingdom to continue in that place with a new sign on the side of the building. 

     I see it as similar to the attitude of Jesus’ disciples when they met up with a guy who was using Jesus’ name to drive out demons. If there’s anything that looked like what Jesus was already doing it was that, right? It was what those disciples were told and empowered to do as well. But when they see this guy, doing Jesus’ work in Jesus’ name, they shut him down. He wasn’t one of them, see. 

     I wonder if they stopped to think of Eldad and Medad, who didn’t make it to a meeting with Moses where 70 “elders” were filled with the Holy Spirit to help Moses. When the Spirit came, though, it also fell on them, even though they didn’t get to the official meeting. Someone told Moses, and Joshua advised him to stop their unsanctioned prophecy.

     Moses, though, disagreed. “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

     And Jesus said the same thing about the non-sanctioned exorcist his disciples were so worried about. “Do not stop him….For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

     This squeamishness about people “prophesying outside the camp” is an aspect of my heritage that I reject. It doesn’t make me love and appreciate the good any less. But I don’t understand how we can so readily embrace an attitude that neither Jesus nor Moses seemed to have. Neither of them, apparently, felt the need to dictate to God how he does his work. Both recognized that he could give varied gifts in varied circumstances to different people and raise up servants who operate in different circles and in different ways to do the work of his kingdom in the world.

     Paul talked about how the very Jewish Jerusalem church gave his work among Gentiles “the right hand of fellowship.” He refused, over and over, the tyranny of those who wanted to shackle his churches with their expectations. He welcomed the preaching of the gospel even when he had doubts about the preachers’ motives!

     If Jesus, Moses, and Paul were comfortable with the idea that God can work where and with whom he pleases, I think it’s safe for us to be as well. That doesn’t require compromising anything we feel strongly about. It’s just recognizing that God doesn’t use anyone because we get every doctrinal “i” dotted and “t” crossed. He just might place his Spirit on folks outside our camp too, and that’s all right. Someone working in the name of Jesus is more likely to be an ally than an antagonist.

      To think that if it’s not “us” following Jesus, then the doors might as well shut, is to give in to the same sectarian, divisive impulse that we claim to believe has been a shame to Christianity. 

     How about this, instead? Let’s be faithful to the tasks God gives us. Let’s preach the gospel to the best of our ability, every chance we get. Let’s serve with love to roll back the darkness in our world. And let’s pray for and encourage other servants of Jesus to do the same.

      And when our time is done, let’s bequeath our efforts to those who will follow us, with all confidence in God.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Biblical but Not Christlike

I ran across a quote this week that is so good, I really might get it tattooed backwards on my forehead so I can see it every time I look in the mirror. It’s from Stephen Mattison, who I don’t know and couldn’t find in a quick online search. But I love his quote; it’s one of those that I wish I’d come up with:


Of all the things Satan could’ve used to destroy Christ, he decided to tempt Jesus with the Bible. In the same way, Satan will attack Christianity by tricking people into believing they’re “being biblical” without being Christlike at all.

     To be Christlike is to love your neighbor as yourself.

     To be “biblical” is to quote verses that align with your personal agendas and contextualize scripture according to your own opinions. 

     Too many people are being “biblical” without being Christlike. May God help us sacrificially love others to the best of our ability.



On second thought, I guess it’s a little too long to tattoo on my forehead. 

     But it is something I need to remember. How about you?

     What Mattison’s definition of “biblical” assumes is that we tend to use Scripture to backstop our own opinions and preconceptions. I do think that there’s a way of interacting with Scripture that minimizes this tendency, and to that degree gives us a chance to let the Bible shape us and change us. After all, one of the chief ways we know what it is to be Christlike is through what we see of Jesus in the Bible. 

     As someone who cares about being “biblical,” though, I’m not ready to say that it’s necessarily antithetical to being “Christlike.”

     Mattison hints at a synthesis of the two: let Jesus’ ethic of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors at least as much as we love ourselves also guide and order our reading of the Bible. Sometimes, I think, people who want to be “biblical,” like I do, accidentally end up prioritizing the Bible over Jesus. 

     For instance: In my fellowship of churches, the Churches of Christ, we have historically emphasized the epistles of the New Testament and Acts over every other part of the Bible. I think that’s changed somewhat, but it hasn’t been long that you would be far more likely to hear a sermon in our churches that quoted Paul than one  that quoted Isaiah or Leviticus — or even Jesus.

     This is because the epistles and Acts are where we’ve gotten much of our theology and practice. It’s easier. There seems to be more in those parts of the Bible that’s directly relevant and familiar. We’ve tended to regard the Bible as a collection of data points about particular topics, collated and synthesized all this data, and come to our conclusions. And a disproportionately large set of that data has come from those parts of the Bible.

     And so, when we look at Jesus, we tend to look at him through the epistles and Acts. 

     We dismiss the scriptures of Israel, and sometimes even the Gospels, as having to do with the “old covenant” or “old dispensation,” and therefore not authoritative for us. Which is odd, since Paul himself told Timothy that the scriptures made him “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” It’s odd, since the Gospels were written for the church every bit as much as Acts was. (Luke himself wrote Acts and a Gospel.)

     Of course, Luke and Paul and the other epistle-writers intended for their works to be understood in relation to Jesus. Paul’s letters, the book of Acts, the Gospels, Revelation — none of them mean anything at all without  Jesus, and their authors knew that. 

     Of course, Jesus understood what he was doing as a fulfillment of (not an undoing of) what we refer to as “the Old Testament.” 

     Jesus’ opponents claimed that they were being “biblical” in their concern for Sabbath-keeping. After all, their “Bibles clearly said” that no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

     But, somehow, they found themselves on the wrong side of an argument with Jesus over whether he should heal someone on the Sabbath. Not once. Not twice. Not three times. At least four times they had this exact debate. No wonder Jesus was frustrated with them. No wonder he said about a woman he healed in the synagogue, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” They weren’t so “biblical” that they didn't care for their animals on the Sabbath. What in the world should keep them from caring about a woman who needed to be healed? 

     What kept them from caring — or at least from seeing the need of that woman and the other people Jesus “violated Scripture” to heal — was the way they read the Bible. I hope that bothers us, at least a little. 

     “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ,” Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Paul knew his Scriptures and could have told the church to follow him in that. But he didn’t. What qualified him as a paradigm for living as a Christian was that he followed Jesus. Because of an inconvenient chapter break, the specific way that he followed Jesus gets lost: “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

     May that always be our intent — not to do what’s good for ourselves, but for others. That’s biblical, but more importantly it’s what we learn from Jesus. 

     Using Mattison’s terms, being “Christlike” must come before being “biblical.” Jesus is the rubric by which we should be checking our interpretations of the Bible. Any conclusion we draw from Scripture that doesn’t lead us to prioritize devotion to God and the well-being of our neighbors is not likely to be correct. Any reading of the Bible that obstructs people from entering God’s kingdom is just wrong. Any interpretation that demands sacrifice without offering mercy is mistaken. Any exegesis that values religious observance over spirituality, gratitude for God’s love, and human flourishing is wrong-headed. Any application of Scripture that would limit God’s work in the world to what we can categorize, understand, and give our stamp of approval to is far too narrow. If our reading of the Bible is primarily about proving a point, winning an argument, or finding support for a position instead of learning to give ourselves up for God and the people around us, perhaps we need to go back for a new reading. One shaped more by what we know of Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit.

     Being Christlike is to be shaped by our relationship with Jesus, to learn from him as a disciple. To let him  teach us everything — even how to read our Bibles. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Way Things Are

 We’ve spent some time this week waiting for medical decisions. If that’s not something you’ve never had to do, then maybe you don’t realize how frustrating it can be. Doctors and hospitals seem to move glacially slow sometimes — largely, I guess, because when we’re waiting for them, it’s because we or people we love are sick. We want to get well.


     Doctors, meanwhile, have to wrestle with The Way Things Are. They have to look at the risks and side effects of treatment alongside the goal of making their patients well.

     I’ve been preaching from Jeremiah this month, and Jeremiah is a prophet of The Way Things Are. God sent him to give his people a theological perspective on what they’re mostly looking at with geo-political eyes. From their perspective, The Way Things Are is not acceptable. They’re being threatened, existentially, by the kingdom of Babylon. But they’re the kingdom of Judah, the people God has made a covenant with, so of course God must be on their side. Some of Jeremiah’s prophetic colleagues are telling the people that God is going to intervene and vindicate them. Just a year or two, these prophets say, and Babylon will be defeated. 

     Jeremiah has been given a different message. One that doesn’t make him popular, but that has the advantage of being the truth. “The Way Things Are is going to be with us for a while,” he tells the people. He tells them that, for 70 years, they’re going to have to live under the Babylonian thumb. The time upon them is one in which they’ll live in exile in the kingdom of Babylon, away from the land that God gave them. Jerusalem, and the Temple upon which they’ve placed so much of their faith and from which they’ve gotten so much of their national identity, will fall into ruins. It will seem to everyone that God has given up on them. 

     In chapter 29, the prophet tells God’s people to “build houses and settle down” in Babylon. They are to have children and build families. They are to “seek  the peace and prosperity of the city.” They are to “pray  to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah tells them that they’re in Babylon for the long haul; it’ll be their grandchildren and great-grandchildren who get to return to the land of promise and see Jerusalem again.

     That must have been a difficult message to swallow. But the Babylonian siege ramps are already against Jerusalem’s walls. God says, “I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.” He warns King Zedekiah that if he chooses to fight against Babylon, his army will fail. 

     This is The Way Things Are. Israel can’t beat Babylon, God says, so they might as well — not join them, exactly, but invest in their lives there. They can prosper, even away from the Land of Promised, the city of David, and their cherished temple. They shouldn’t just blend in; they should keep their identity as God’s people. But their prosperity for the next several decades will be tied to the prosperity of the Babylonians. Like it or not, their future is entwined with the future of Babylon.

     Jeremiah is walking a fine line. His people need to recognize The Way Things Are. They need to be realistic about that. The Way Things Are is not the whole story, though. 

     In chapter 32, Jeremiah buys a field. From a strictly financial point of view, it’s an odd decision. The value of land in the Kingdom of Judah is about to plummet. Jeremiah will eventually go into exile with the rest of his people. There’s going to be no one to farm or develop his new property. Jeremiah might as well dig a hole and put his money in it. With The Way Things Are, buying a piece of property makes no sense. 

     I guess that’s why God has to tell him to go through with the purchase. But it isn’t that God wants Jeremiah to be a real estate baron; the purchase is symbolic. While the people should be investing in Babylon, Jeremiah’s example shows that they shouldn’t give up on the Promised Land either. 

     God says:  

“Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time….Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah’s purchase of land is a way of assuring the people that there’s a future life for them in the Promised Land. The deed to his field will be waiting for his descendants when they return. 

     The Way Things Are now isn’t the way things will always be. 

     That’s hard for most of us to understand. I guess it’s human nature to imagine that nothing will ever change. When things are tough, it seems they’ll always be tough. When we’re waiting for treatment options for a medical problem, or waiting for a bad situation at work to get better, or wondering if a relationship will survive, or worrying about financial problems, we tend to assume things will always be as they are now. It can he hard to imagine a better future.

     Jeremiah’s message from God encouraged his people to deal with the realities of The Way Things Are. Sometimes we use religion to avoid exactly that. We hide behind our doctrines, our systems, our rituals, our Bibles and our hymns and our prophets, because we don’t want to engage with things as they are right now. But we have lives to live, even with The Way Things Are. We have jobs to do, families to raise, prayers to pray. We can still find the beauty of God’s world to enjoy. We can prosper, even when we don’t like how Things Are, and we can help others to prosper too, in all the ways that we need and in all the ways that matter. 

      We need to resist or urge to withdraw and not deal with The Way Things Are.

      But we can also get overwhelmed by The Way Things Are. Dragged down by it. That’s what Jesus was talking about, I think, when he warned about getting weighed down by fear and worry. We can lose all perspective. Give up on the hope of things ever changing for the better. When that happens, we can become bitter, angry, pessimistic people who delight only in dragging everyone else down into the muck to keep us company. To make our choices and live our lives as though nothing will ever change, there’s no hope of more or better, will inevitably lead us to bad decisions and all their repercussions. 

     So God tells his people to invest in Babylon. But he also tells Jeremiah to invest in Jerusalem.

     I think it’s interesting that God told Jeremiah to put the deed to his new piece of property in a clay jar, so that it will last “a long time.” Sometimes life requires that we put our hope for a better future away for a while. 

      When that happens, we have to take special care that our hope doesn’t get lost. We need to make sure that we preserve it so that, when the time comes, we remember that we have it. That means looking after ourselves spiritually, knowing that The Way Things Are doesn’t negate the promises and faithfulness and compassion and love and grace of God. That’s why we worship and pray and take Communion. We’re protecting our hope.

     God tells his people to invest both in Babylon and Jerusalem, both in The Way Things Are and The Way Things Will Be. In both cases, of course, he’s telling them — and us — to invest in him. It’s God who will help us to cope with The Way Things Are, help us to push through our fear and disappointment, prosper, and help others to prosper. And it’s God who will keep our vision of The Way Things Will Be in front of us, especially in the promises he makes to us in Christ.

     In Christ, may we never lose sight of the Way Things Will Be. And may we always make the most of The Way Things Are.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Pronouns

 Lately I’ve had some grammar conversations with Christians.


     Specifically, the conversations have been about pronouns. You know what I mean, the increasing practice in our world of identifying preferred pronouns in email signatures, resum├ęs, CV’s, and so forth. 

     The practice has developed out of sensitivity to those who, for various reasons, don’t think the pronouns that might usually be assigned to them based on the usual cues to their biological sex — dress, secondary sexual characteristics, speech, and so on — adequately convey their own understanding of their gender.

     And that’s the problem for some of us. For people who believe that our sex is given to us by God, and that our understanding of gender should come from that, it can seem like we’re in foreign territory. Why would we refer to a biological female as “he”? Why would we refer to a person of determinate biological sex as “they”?

     And, deeper still, the unasked question: “Why would a person’s gender not conform to their biological sex?”

     And the related question: “If I use someone’s preferred pronouns, or identify my own (even assuming they match my biological sex), am I compromising something of my faith?” Am I validating deeper theological problems, like the relative nature of truth or the goodness of God’s creation or questions of sexual morality?

     In many contexts in our world today, even asking questions like this would be considered inappropriate and offensive. To believers, they’re real questions, at least for some of us. Other believers might not have such questions, but that may be less about having greater spiritual insight and more about already being immersed in the world’s view of the subject. (Many younger believers think it’s odd and even reprehensible that some of us older Christians would even ask such things, but they are in schools and workplaces that have already embraced a much more open attitude toward this subject — and may even discipline violations of it.) 

     So, I’m having the grammar conversations: “Should I use someone’s preferred pronouns at my school or workplace? Should I not use pronouns at all? Am I compromising my faith if I do? Am I contributing to the idea of the church as an intolerant mob if I don’t?”

     I think these are good questions that indicate a desire to live out our faith in the real world that we live and work in every day. If you’re honestly thinking through questions like these, honestly are trying to figure out how to navigate this situation at your own school, workplace, or even home, then read on. I’m just going to offer suggestions, not rules. Beginning points. Some hopefully solid ground you can stand on as you try to find leverage to deal with this issue. 

     First, it’s not going away. The tide’s not turning, the preferred pronoun genie isn’t going back in the bottle. 

     Second, let’s cut each other some slack, especially in the church. Let’s figure this out together, and let’s not try to immolate each other if we come up with different answers. This is complicated. There is no verse that says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.” Any answer we come up with is going to require some interpretation, and that can be as dangerous as it is helpful. 

     One text that might be helpful is 1 John 3:18 — “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” John is addressing a situation where someone sees someone in need and “has no pity on them.” He asks, “How can the love of God be in that person?” So he wants embodied love — not just affirmations of care for human beings, but real, in-the-flesh evidence that you love people in the life situations that they’re in.

     It’s maybe significant that John was writing to push back against a heresy that the physical body and reality didn’t matter, a heresy that had reached the point of denying even that Jesus came in a body. Whether or not to feed to feed the hungry was likely an open question because they believed that physical bodies were only temporary vessels holding immortal souls. A disembodied gospel has consequences, including a lack of compassion toward those in need.

     John reminds us that human beings have bodies. Jesus came as a human being in order to bring redemption to those bodies, and he did it through laying down what he wanted in order to show love to others:   

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (I John 3:16, NIV)

     I don’t think it’s possible to love other people without taking seriously their physical reality. You can’t love someone who’s hungry without recognizing their hunger, you can’t love someone who’s sick without acknowledging their illness. And I don’t think you can really show love to someone whose gender and biological sex are in some way disjointed without acknowledging that fact. 

    Some might argue that love requires us to refuse, that a person who believes they’re anything other than their biological sex is deluded. That might be the case. But agreeing with their belief and going along with what they ask are not necessarily the same thing, are they? Assuming that it is a delusion, isn’t going along with their pronoun choice simply one small way to let them know that they are accepted and valued as human beings, even if we can’t really understand what they’re feeling? 

     Besides, very few of us would be even close to qualified to try to talk someone out of their feeling that their sex and gender don’t match, and to try could have devastating consequences. 

      I think that sometimes in trying honestly to deal with this topic from a Christian perspective, we make the mistake of failing to show compassion. Maybe we too quickly turn it into a cultural battleground, and it becomes all about politics and our frustration that traditional Christian faith doesn’t seem to have a comfortable place in the world anymore. Maybe it’s just because we’re uncomfortable with the whole idea. But most people who ask you to address them with a particular pronoun aren’t trying to make a political statement. They’re trying, as well, to find a comfortable place to live and work. 

     It’s my belief that if we’re going to make mistakes — and we will sometimes — then we should make those mistakes on the side of compassion, love, and kindness. 

     Here’s where I come out, if you’re curious: I don’t post preferred pronouns. My name, my appearance, my voice, the way I dress point other people to the pronoun that’s appropriate for me. I believe God intended that when he created us male and female.

     But I also believe that, as with other aspects of creation, sometimes there are disconnects in the way we see ourselves. What should be done about that is for people more qualified than I am to determine. What we’re called to do is to show love, compassion, and kindness to people who are struggling to navigate those complex questions and feelings about who they are. If one of the ways we can do that is by simply using the pronouns for them that they prefer, then — for myself — I don’t see what would be wrong with that. 

     Let’s don’t forget that it’s also our job to introduce people to the God who knows them better than even they know themselves, who created them and who, if they can learn to trust him, is able to offer them clarity about who they are. Certainly more able than any of us.