A Calling Long Forgotten

We’ve been talking a lot at home lately about the role of the Church in America today, as well as our duties as Christians when it comes to politics, world events, social justice, etc.  I have admittedly been torn on a lot of these issues, and my thinking has evolved on many of them over the years, but I think I was most affected by a story I read about Joshua Fest, a Christian music festival that took place over this past Labor Day Weekend.

Here is a LINK to the article if you want to read it, but I’ll summarize it anyway.  As you may have heard, Trey Pearson, lead singer of the popular rock band Everyday Sunday, came out as gay this past May, which obviously caused a great deal of controversy within the Christian music industry.  Of course, I have my own thoughts about modern Christian music in general, which you can read about HERE if you want.  But anyway, Everyday Sunday was originally booked to play at Joshua Fest (as they have for many years), but “just weeks before the performance, 11 members of the festival’s production team announced that they would walk out if Pearson was allowed to perform.”  The festival owner pleaded with them to change their minds, since his back was against the wall and he didn’t have the time, money, or resources to get a new crew together.  But reluctantly, he had to speak with Pearson personally, who agreed to step aside and cancel his band’s performance so the festival could still go on as planned.

Pearson chose not to talk to the media about the incident, because he didn’t want to make the festival owner – a friend – look bad.  However, he did end up simply attending the event to watch some of the other bands play.  Well, during the performance of one of my all-time favorite bands, Five Iron Frenzy (who I’ve also written about before), lead singer Reese Roper asked Pearson to come up on stage and join them for their final song, Every New Day.  The lyrics to that song are quoted below:

When I was young, the smallest trick of light could catch my eye.
Then life was new and every new day I thought that I could fly.
I believed in what I hoped for, and I hoped for things unseen,
I had wings and dreams could soar, I just don’t feel like flying anymore.
When the stars threw down their spears, watered Heaven with their tears,
Before words were spoken, before eternity.

Dear Father, I need you, your strength my heart to mend.
I want to fly higher, every new day again.

When I was small, the furthest I could reach was not so high,
Then I thought the world was so much smaller, feeling that I could fly.
Through distant deeps and skies, behind infinity,
Below the face of Heaven, he stoops to create me.

Dear Father, I need you, your strength my heart to mend.
I want to fly higher, every new day again.

Man versus himself. Man versus machine.
Man versus the world. Mankind versus me.
The struggles go on, the wisdom I lack,
The burdens keep pilling up on my back.
So hard to breathe, to take the next step.
The mountain is high, I wait in the depths.
Yearning for grace, and hoping for peace.
Dear God… increase.

Healing hands of God, have mercy on our unclean souls once again.
Jesus Christ, light of the world burning bright within our hearts forever.
Freedom means love without condition, without a beginning or an end.
Here’s my heart, let it be forever yours.
Only you can make every new day seem so new.

It’s a beautiful song of worship, and Five Iron Frenzy has closed every show with it for as long as I can remember.  No matter what anyone may think of Pearson, a married father of two, can he not still be afforded the right to cry out to God?  In an interview after the festival, Roper told Billboard that while he remained conflicted and unclear regarding the biblical stance on homosexuality (a rather complex debate we will not get into here), he also said “that it is clear that we are to love each other as Christ loved us, and I don’t think the Church is doing that.”

Unfortunately, I have to agree with him.

For those who don’t know, Five Iron Frenzy broke up over ten years ago, but then they recently got back together, released a fantastic new album, and started touring again.  And while most of the band members remain committed Christians, two of them (bassist Scott Kerr and drummer Andy Verdecchio) have since lost their faith and became atheists.  So riddle me this, Batman:  Why is it that the production team at Joshua Fest was perfectly fine with allowing Five Iron Frenzy to perform, when two of their members are now outright atheists, but they protested against Trey Pearson, who came out as gay but still professes the Christian faith?  Doesn’t that seem a bit hypocritical?  Doesn’t that seem absurd and unbalanced?  I mean, Jesus told his disciples that they would be known by their love.  So is that who we are today?  Is that how our society views the Church?  Seems to me we’ve dropped the ball.

A few months ago, we had a guest speaker at our church, and he gave a great sermon on responding to sin (sexual sin, specifically).  He retold the story of the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery, and of course, Jesus tells her accusers, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Then when everyone leaves and no one is left to condemn her, Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

It was the order of words in that last sentence to which the speaker drew our attention, because far too often we get them backwards.  We look at people and essentially tell them, “Sin no more, and then we won’t condemn you.”  But that’s not what Jesus said, was it?  Nope.  Jesus started with an unconditional statement:  I don’t condemn you.  Only afterward did he tell her to sin no more.  This is a small but important distinction.

We welcome with open arms people who are, say, divorced and remarried.  But biblically, in most cases, being divorced and remarried means that you are living in an adulterous relationshipliving in sin.  So how can we, with good conscience, refuse to open our arms to someone who is gay?  Or an atheist?  Or a Muslim?  Or homeless?  Or a prostitute?  Or a glutton?  Or someone who struggles with pride, envy, or anger?  How can we justifiably shun or exclude anyone?  I don’t think Jesus would find any difference between one sin and another.

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I’m not implying that we should ignore sin, reject truth out of convenience, or allow the whims of a secular society to dictate our morals.  Not at all.  What I am saying is that we have been doing a really poor job of being “known by our love” for kind of a long time now, and it’s really not helping.  And yes, that goes for me too.  I’m just as guilty as the next person.  And in my humble opinion, that’s probably the number one reason why so many people in the younger generation are leaving the Church.  I mean, we can make Sunday services into rock concerts all we want, but until we start truly loving the people around us without condition – regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, or where they are in life – outsiders are going to continue to see the Church as nothing more than a cold, sterilized bubble full of Bible-thumping Ned Flanders clones.  Far too often we seem to react out of fear rather than love.  We’re afraid of those who are different than us and whose struggles may not match our own.  We’re afraid to be uncomfortable.  So we turn to boycotts and self-righteous protests and ludicrous political candidates to somehow save us from being oppressed and destroyed by all the terrible sinners that are just waiting at our doorsteps.  We’ve clung so tightly to our safe, sanitized version of American Christianity that we’ve forgotten all about Christ himself.

Hey, doesn’t the Bible say something about love casting out fear?

Look, I’m not trying to preach or to offer any simple answers.  I’m just writing from the heart here.  The only challenge I’ll offer (which I need to take up myself as well) can best be summarized by a quote from the movie Bruce Almighty.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Deep theology, right?  Well, you just might be surprised.  Near the end of the film, as Bruce, played by Jim Carrey, surveys the chaos around him and begs God to fix everything, God, played by Morgan Freeman, profoundly says, “You want to see a miracle, son?  Be the miracle.”  And if you ask me, from a human standpoint, there is no miracle greater than unconditional love.  Seriously.  We may not be able to heal the blind or raise people from the dead, but we can always love people.  And when we truly commit to loving people sacrificially, without condition, beyond human understanding, to the point where others start to think that we’re totally nuts (in a good way), well… love like that can change lives.

I want to finish this lengthy post with a set of song lyrics from Brave Saint Saturn, another band fronted by Reese Roper.  The song is called Under Bridges

Yesterday while walking beneath an overpass,
I saw the figure of Jesus standing barefoot on broken glass.
His beard was graying, the smell of urine filled the air,
Asking if I had some change, anything that I could spare.

Emaciated, his shaking fists balled up,
Influenza and pneumonia, begging God to take his cup.
So different from his pictures, breathing air through yellowed tubes,
Jesus Christ, dying of AIDS, can look right through you.

And all have hated, crucified and walked away,
The Savior of the prostitutes, drunkards, rapists, and the gays.

Under bridges, with hands raised,
From the ghettos they praise his name.
Broke and crippled in the dark of night,
Raise your voices to Jesus Christ.
Hallelujah.

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