Friday, May 07, 2010

My Friend, So Long -- Part 2

I imagine what it must have been like.

The Church at Corinth meets together at their regular time on Sunday morning. There's a buzz before worship starts on this day, though. News is being passed around that can only be described as startling. It's being bandied about that one of the young adult guys actually is sleeping with his step-mother! Can you believe this? It is UNbelievable...

"That's right! Unbelievably AWESOME! High fives all around. What a score for him, right?!"

This is how the Church at Corinth reacts apparently. Surprised? This is a town where, when you show up on someone's doorstep, instead of a doorbell you're greeted with shapes of human reproductive organs. You see, in 1st century Corinth, sexual irregularity was a virtue. The kinkier the better. It's like your most awkward bachelor or bachelorette party, only it's every day life in Corinth.

And you thought OUR culture was in the dump.

In our last installment, we engaged some of the questions that Jennifer Knapp's out-of-the-closet announcement raised. In this installment, I just want to focus on one:

What does it mean for kingdom people to dwell with Jennifer Knapp?

Raised by Scot McKnight, this to me is the most challenging and most pressing question. Questions about nature & nurture are interesting (not to mention eternally inconclusive) but ultimately secondary to the fundamental issue of how we deal with people. Because for kingdom people, our greatest commandments -- our primary standing orders -- address how we deal with others.

So, kingdom people, how should we dwell with Jennifer?

Let's pick up where we just left off. Our primary command is to love. To love with everything we have, and to love as much as we love ourselves. So how we respond, it should occur to us, needs to come from a primary motive to love.

But love is a very complicated thing. Love doesn't always result in saccharin, feel-good niceties.

Take the Apostle Paul. In his relationship with the Church at Corinth, scholars tell us that Paul wrote at least 4 letters. FOUR letters. "But I only have 2 in my Bible." That's right. But Paul references the other letters he wrote -- which we do not have any copies of -- in the 2 letters we do have. We know that Paul wrote one of the letters before he wrote 1st Corinthians. And we know that Paul wrote the other letter in between writing the two letters we have in our Bibles: the ones that we call 1st & 2nd Corinthians. Paul talks about THAT letter right here:

So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Notice that this letter, which Paul later references again & is often called "the sorrowful letter," was written out of "distress," "anguish of heart," "with many tears," and out of "the depth of (his) love." Paul apparently had to spank the Corinthians verbally. But he did so out of a motive of love.

Paul didn't do this so that he could feel better about himself. He didn't unleash his rage just to vent all of his pastoral frustration on these difficult people. That wouldn't have been love; that would have been selfish. Instead, Paul wrote what he did out of love, because he loved that church too much to not say something.

I want it to be well-attested here that what comes next comes from a place of love. And, in that sense, a complicated love. Because I've never actually met Jennifer Knapp personally. I don't know her, and she doesn't know me. Which makes it difficult to even address this issue. In her Larry King interview, Jennifer verbally spanked Pastor Bob Botsford for having the gall to speak to her as a spiritual mentor when he doesn't even have a real relationship with her to speak of.

And yet, here we are in the 21st century. With rock-and-roll superstars that you feel like you know, and digital connections that shrink the world.

I don't know Jennifer. And yet I can't escape the notion that I know a lot about her. The fact that Jennifer wrote her lyrics with a remarkable depth and quality says a lot about her as a person. And those lyrics themselves say a lot about her, too. The fact that when I listen to her music I sense that she's mining out from the depths of my own heart speaks to the connection that she's fashioned -- not only with me, but with all her fans. The nature of fanhood in the 21st century produces an "unknown knowing" level of relationship that, while certainly odd, cannot be denied.

I feel a deep gratitude to Jennifer for her music. A gratitude for the entertainment quality. A gratitude for her giving words & lending her voice to deep spiritual insights. A gratitude for the companionship of her music in vulnerable moments. Her music has been a gift, and she's made her fans feel loved by it.

That connection, while not a personal one-on-one association, moves me to speak.

Not only that, but here I am expressing these ideas on a blog. Perhaps you found them via a link on Facebook. Maybe even a couple of you will go post a link to this on Twitter. The world is small. Whenever we move on geographically through our various stages of life, we're no longer forced to leave our friends behind. We still connect with them. It's wild. Churches are no longer simply small pockets & reservoirs of spirituality located in church buildings a few days a week. Churches are interacting with each other every day through status updates and instant messages. And churches aren't limited geographically. They're interconnected by whatever your standards of friendship are on Facebook.

So I say what I say about Jennifer not just as a member of the Lynn Haven Church of Christ -- wagging my finger at her & whatever church she attends across some spanse of space. I say this as one believer to another in this large, increasingly boundary-less group of believers.

So I hope I don't get verbally spanked by Jennifer like Bob Botsford did. I just love her. Yes, perhaps just fan love. But it is from a place of love, and motivated out of love.

Back to Corinth. Again.

This blog entry opened briefly with the tale of the immoral brother from 1st Corinthians 5. A man was sleeping with his father's wife. And looking closely at the original language, this was probably an on-going affair -- not just a one-time event.

And the congregation accepted this. Celebrated this. They thought that this was a good thing.

It didn't matter what they thought, though. Because the Kingdom of God isn't a democracy where you can sway sentiment & public opinion to establish your own idea of what's right & wrong. We live under the reign of God. Only His vote matters. What He says goes.

Then Paul wrote the following:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Two harsh points need to be made here.

#1, Is it the Church's place to judge Jennifer? Actually, yes. "Say whaaaaaat??" We have the responsibility as believers to look after our own. And while we have to be cautious about that, and remove the planks from our own eyes before we go speck-hunting in others' eyes, Paul twice here mentions passing judgment on those who are in the faith. How could we ignore that?! We can't ignore that. It's right there in the text, plain as day, in black & white.

While Jennifer Knapp remains in a same-sex romantic relationship, she remains in sin. She can turn away from that lifestyle choice at any time. But so long as she is steadfast in this choice, she is steadfast in sin.

I want to clarify: it's not the urge or the temptation that makes it sin, it is the choice. Here in 1st Cor. 5, Paul mentions a variety of sins that we may be more drawn or less drawn to. That said, I can't imagine any of them being as tempting as what Jennifer faces. But some people, it seems, are born to struggle with something.

I think about Frank Abagnale, Jr., the character at the center of the film "Catch Me If You Can." That man was born to be a swindler. And swindle he did. Until one day he repented. He didn't change his nature; he changed his mind. And he went to work for the FBI to fight financial fraud. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for him to know methods & cons where he could defraud people in seconds, and yet chooses not to. He has a gift. It almost seems like he was born with it. And yet, he has turned away.

Jennifer, too, can turn away. And it might be a thousand times more challenging to live with than Abagnale's predisposition. But she must turn. It's important that she hears that from her brothers & sisters who love her.

Harsh point #2... The church really needs to re-orient its attitude toward the homosexual community. Paul clearly instructs that this posture toward the immoral brother is NOT the same posture to take with the world. Go read it again: "not at all meaning the people of this world..." and "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?"

Christians need to grasp the concept that the world is going to be the world. The "homosexual community" -- the one that primarily exists outside of faith -- they're going to be who they are. And they may intimidate you & make you feel really weird. DEAL with it. They are who they are, and they're going to be who they're going to be. Let go of the hate. Let go of the spite. And stop talking like they're what's wrong with the world. SIN is what's wrong with the world.

The church needs to shut its mouth about condemning homosexuals as a group. That's not our job. We need to stop hating, and start learning how it is we're going to be salt and light to these people & maybe win over a few of them. That's what Jesus would do. That's what Paul would do. That's what we need to do. Period.

One of my other favorite voices in the community of Contemporary Christian Music is dcTalk. They haven't been together as a group for almost a decade. But they're still rocking concert venues as solo artists and fill-in lead singers (Michael Tait now performing as lead singer for Newsboys... weird, huh?).

It seems they knew that they were coming to an end as a band & were about to launch their solo careers. In their final full album, they released a song called, "My Friend (So Long)." It was sort of a warning to from each of them to themselves. From the beginning they'd used the music of dcTalk to honor God & further the Kingdom. And, going their separate ways, they didn't want to see any of them use their fame to launch solo careers that were only out to make money & bring honor to only themselves. So they wrote this song as an intervention to make a pact to keep honoring God with their music.

When I listen to this song, I can't help but think of people I've known who've left the faith. People I've cared about who've gone astray. It's a sad song. And now, I think about Jennifer.

Embedding is disabled, but here's the link to the song on YouTube. And here are the lyrics:

I heard your record on the telephone
It was my cousin, Joan
She picked it up in the top 40 rack and then...

I read your interview in Rolling Stone
You threw the boys a bone
And so I genuinely felt obliged to call...

I know You never meant to hurt us, man
We're just "a baby band"
You found a quicker way
To scale the wall of fame...

The situation's awfully dim
Should we up and go with him?
No way [no way, 1, 2, 3, 4]

We know exactly where you are, and you're gone [my friend]
Don't know exactly where you're coming from
You've gone away my friend
We know exactly where you are, and you're gone [my friend]
Don't know exactly where you're coming from
Have you gone astray [gone]

I saw your video on VH1
Looks like they spent a ton
How does it feel to be the flavor for a spell...

And I remember when you used to say
"Jesus is the way"
I never thought I'd see your light begin to fade...

The situation's awfully dim
Should we up and go with him?
No way [no way, 1, 2, 3, 4]

(repeat chorus)

Don't think we don't miss you
[We think about you every day]
We still love you anyway
[Love don't go away]
There's still this burning question
[I got to know] Why?

[What will people think when they
Hear that I'm a Jesus freak?]

Ah, ah, ah [hey]
[While this is something of fantasy]
[The moral of the story is]
[To stick with your friends]
Ah, ah, ah, ah [hey]
Ah, ah, ah, [hey]
Ah, ah, ah [hey, hey, 1, 2, 3, 4]

(repeat chorus)

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, and you're gone [my friend]
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, so long
You've gone away, my friend
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, and you're gone [my friend]
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, so long
We'll see you someday
Wish you well
Na, na, na, na, na, my friend

So how should kingdom people dwell with Jennifer Knapp? I guess I can only answer how this kingdom person is going to dwell with Jennifer Knapp.

* I'm not going to buy any of her new music. I won't be going to any of her upcoming concerts. As much as I'd love to listen to her new tunes, I can't abide her choices. I won't support those choices with my money.

* I'll continue to keep up with her goings-on. I'll be watching from afar as she talks about her life, her faith, her lifestyle choice to love another woman. I'll be hoping that last one changes. I'll be praying for her regularly.

* And I'll keep listening to her old music that I still have on my iPod. I'm not going to delete any record of her & purge her from my memory. That seems inappropriate. I still love her old expressions of faith put to song. To me now, they're like pictures in an old photo album that remind me better times with her. Those aren't going away. I'll still be listening to those, probably praying as I hear each song.

So this is where we part. Jennifer has made her choice. I've outlined how I can't abide that choice.

One more thing: I don't feel like I, or the church, is leaving Jennifer. Point of fact, she left us. Maybe she didn't want to; maybe one day she'll come back. I'll be hoping and praying for that day.

My friend, so long.


Rachel said...

Well articulated, as usual. Once again, I appreciate your humility. What I'm discovering about conversations like this is really that, if people involved in the discussion don't have the same basic view of Scripture, it's very confusing at best, and more than likely, somewhat pointless.
I hold Scripture in high regard, obviously. It's the basis for what I know of Christ, who I try to follow as closely as I can. However, I often view Paul's writings much like I would view Brian McClaren's, for instance. Or another dad, a long-time missionary in Africa, still writes letters back to his churches on occasion that may include rebukes, or loving, burdened pleas on behalf of what's right. I wonder if Paul's writings are more inspired than Dad's...and I don't mean that the way it sounds. To some degree, was Paul not just another flawed human being who had experienced Jesus in a way that convicted him to be a leader in the church?

Again, we're just scratching the surface here. I just think we're jumping to the top of the tree instead of trying to climb up slowly.

Anonymous said...

great - you can live with your high and mighty self and leave the cds/mp3s you would have purchased and space at the concerts for the people who love and appreciate Jennifer - the same Jennifer that is a person of faith, fearfully and wonderfully made, as she was before. you can quote scripture till you're blue in the face - but how about a little WWJD? would he sit at the table and 'dwell' with all kinds of people of faith or would he judge their lives at the door? whether you believe her 'choices' are 'sin' or not, they are at the very best, debatable. you pray for Jen and we'll pray for you and all the other sinners out in the world.

III said...

@ Rachel

"What I'm discovering about conversations like this is really that, if people involved in the discussion don't have the same basic view of Scripture, it's very confusing at best, and more than likely, somewhat pointless."


And I understand your decision to re-draw the canonical lines. And by that I mean not to write-off Paul, but to recognize a "topography" in Scripture: some portions of Scripture are higher/weightier than other.

I have issues with that, though. With that approach, it's too easy to dismiss Scriptures that should probably challenge us. I'm not saying discernment isn't in order with Scripture, but I think we should be more humble in letting Scripture stand in judgment of us than standing in judgment of Scripture.

And I know you didn't mean to slight Paul, but I can't let a pet peeve go by. To call Paul a "flawed human being" -- as he is referenced extraordinarily often -- is like calling Cliff Ganus Jr. a stingy money-grubbing scoundrel: the descriptions scarcely apply. I understand that Paul was human & wasn't perfect. I'm aware that Paul had a dark history in relation to the church before his conversion. But we're talking about a man who planted churches fully half-way around the Mediterranean Sea. There's levels of flawed human beings, and I'm willing to declare that Paul is a whole lot less a flawed human being than you or I are. I expect you wouldn't disagree with that premise. Just a pet peeve.

(And I would consider anything your Dad wrote as darn near close to inspired as anything else out there not called "Holy Bible." On your core point there, I don't imagine we're as far apart as my comments here might indicate.)

Furthermore, Paul claims special insight. To establish your view, you'd have to wiggle pretty hard to get around passages like Eph. 3:1-6.

Not sure what you mean about jumping to the top of the tree. This is where I stand for now. And I think I have to stand somewhere. I fully grant that at some point I may encounter new information or experiences that will cause me to re-evaluate where exactly or how exactly I stand. But for now I will stand. If we have anything to share with the world, don't we have to take stakes on certain positions?

I think this is one of those positions where such a stand is called for. I don't think this is one of those we hem & haw our way through. I recognize you disagree with that. Although I'd love the opportunity to change your mind over coffee sometime in the future. ;)

Katherine said...

Obviously, I disagree. When I want to respond, but I want to pray about it and let the Holy Spirit lead me so that I too respond out of love and not out of anger.
Also, I feel led to also start a blog. I want to tell the world how God moves my heart. I am sealed in His hands. The same Paul that you quote to condem believers like me wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:

Chapter 1: 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
in my quite time yesterday God I cam across those verses. There is power in knowing you are sealed. Yes, the first earthly priority is to love, but I love God above all. I am so thankful to have Jesus as my Savior and I know the Holy Spirt is with me. My faith is not any less valuable to him than any other sinner.

One thing that has not been adressed. . . According to your previous post you should shun me and people like me. I should turn away from the temptation. You base everything on sexual immorality. But, there is more to my relationship with Becky than sex. Being with her is honoring her as my spouse. What if we are celebate? Or like any married couple who just doesn't have sex anymore? Does that still make my faith any less and justify the church or any other believer shunning me?
I am deeply grieved by your post.I had never bought any of Jennifer;s music, but I did this week. I had only listened to what came on the radio or the WOW CDs. And I listen to her words and I am so blessed that she took her struggles and let God use them to minister to others. God can use anything for His Glory, even in the form of another sinner. If God works through her music in the future, and you refuse to support her, then you and the other believers you tell not to buy her music may miss out on the blessing God intended for you. Being open to God's blessings in another sinner's expression is not celebrating her 'decision' as you put it. Being supportive and discernfully looking at what each song says would be adequate. God works and ministers through us all.

more to come later.

III said...

@ Katherine

Your soul is certainly no less valuable than any other sinner's. On that we're in absolute agreement.

I'll respond to the rest of your queries in private.

Jordan said...

Nothing like Anonymous comments on blogs :) Just ask any local newspaper.

I am quite intrigued by the idea of 'expecting excellence from our members'. I think that we have had a long history of abusing that calling which has in turn caused us to overreact and abandon the practice altogether in many places.

I also find it interesting that the early church struggled with Paul's position of authority. He was quite polarizing to Jewish Christians. Acts 15 and Galatians 2 are interesting in that regard.

Jordan said...

also, today in class we studied Joshua 7 and I think that it may pertain here.

This is the old Achan's Sin passage. I find the first verse very interesting in that it says, "the Israelites acted unfaithfully". The sin of the one affects the purity of the whole. It is certainly interesting to ponder.

Please keep me accountable for my actions so that I do not contaminate God's community.

Rachel said...

What I meant by “jumping to the top of the tree” was that we were all talking about something very complex when we didn’t share the same view of scripture. Seemed like we were skipping an important step.
That said, you talk about how this is an important issue on which to take a stand, and that it’s something we have the duty to share with the world. I guess this is what concerns me. I look at church websites for a living. Seriously. So, as you can imagine, I can get pretty cynical. Just yesterday, I came across one and clicked on their “What we Believe” tab. Under that tab were two phrases: “Statement of faith” and “Statement on Abortion”. I wanted to puke. Seriously? Those are your two statements of belief? Faith, and abortion? I think that Christians today are guilty of focusing on specific sins of others instead of their own…not to mention the general condition of sin itself. We’re known for picketing abortion clinics…but, we’re NOT known for taking in would-be-aborted babies into our own homes. Scripture tells us that we ought to be known by our LOVE, and I’m fairly certain that’s not what we’re known by to most of the world.
I believe that sex is one of Satan’s greatest tools against humanity. Probably because it’s one of God’s greatest gifts, so there’s a lot of motivation to get us to misuse it. And we do. All the time. I know tons of girls who’ve spent their lives trying to fulfill men sexually because of stuff that happened to little kids, and it’s soul-crushing. People medicate with sex, and become emptier with every partner. I’m fine with making a stand for sexual purity, but we have to do it consistently. As Katherine sort of alluded to, we’re focusing a lot on the nature of a relationship like hers, which is faithful and monogamous, instead of the kind of flagrant sexual immorality that runs rampant in our culture and crushes spirits. Our focus is in the wrong place.
Bottom line, at the risk of sounding too harsh, Christians are guilty of focusing all judgement and condemnation on “sins” or “conditions” that they don’t understand. Homosexuality is one. We’re very quick to point out what scripture says regarding the issue, when really, it’s not nearly as clearly condemned as so many other things in Scripture…like lying, judging, bragging, etc. He was hardest on the Pharisees who did those things. Philip, I can assure you I wasn’t using my views on Paul’s writings to go easy on myself, and as an excuse to skip challenging teachings. I don’t see anything in Paul’s writings as challenging as some of the things Jesus said, like, “Turn the other cheek”, or “Give all you have to the poor”. THOSE are challenging, and because Jesus, God in the flesh, said them, I take them very very seriously. Back in college, when I still believed that the Bible was totally faultless and perfect, I used to really wrestle with the statement Paul makes about being single. He pretty clearly states that it’s the best way to serve God. I remember thinking, then why are so many Godly people I know married? Is no one willing to take Paul’s teachings seriously? Are we ignoring this for convenience sake? What was all that crap about Adam needing a mate and God sending her, then? Until I realized…Paul was a servant-hearted man who encountered Jesus Christ, and laid his life down to serve him. He had a personal relationship with God that he shared with all of us, thankfully. But again, he was just a man…not an intercessor…no more of a “disciple” than you or I ought to be. That was my point.
Overall, I think Christians need to consider what it would be like to write a blog about their own very specific sin, instead of focusing on something we don’t understand.
That’s enough of my very lengthy opinion on the matter.  Once again, Philip, I respect your willingness to put yourself out there, and so humbly listen to opinions so different than yours. It’s made me want to do likewise. 