There Goes That Backwards God Again, Or You’d Better Get Used To Being Wrong

(Here’s my 2nd post in a row about popular “heretics” in Christianity – it’s unofficial “he’s a friend of sinners!” week.)

This weekend I read a sermon by Sara Miles whom I’ve written about previously. I devoured her first book – which is in the top 3 Christian lit I’ve ever read, and I just started her second, which had me journaling through the first page – it’s that good.

Within the first two paragraphs of this sermon Sara had me mesmerized by Jesus (again). There is just something about how she understands Jesus and his gospel – it’s so penetrating and beautiful and untainted by a lifetime immersed in religion. I linked to the sermon above, this is my second strong suggestion you check it out.

Heretics are people too. And they smile!

Sara converted from a liberal atheistic background into the Episcopalian tradition. Sara is gay, which automatically places her in the fringe of popular of Christian authors. And quite frankly I think it speaks volumes of Sara that she hasn’t denounced Christianity for all the flack she has received from her other Christians.

I know plenty of people immediately write off Sara Miles because she’s a lesbian – I’ve read the letters to the editor in Christianity Today. But we need to get accustomed to the idea that God uses people we would never suspect – maybe even people who offend us. I suppose I understand why people discount whatever she has to say, but at the same time I think they’re experiencing a narrow version of the kingdom.

We tend to think that God only uses neat and tidy Christians, well polished reputable people who appear near flawless. And we may say we intellectually believe God can use anyone (though we usually say that to make self-conscious Christians feel better, not necessarily referencing people we consider untouchable), when it comes down to it we’re like the people in John 1:46 who say” Nazareth? What good can come from there?” We have unspoken categories for who can make a difference, and an even bigger one for those who can’t.

Sometimes I worry my “message” is for the very people not reading my blog – as I truly see my readers as wise and mature. It’s a bit like preaching to the choir. However I think this message is something we all mix up. I know I judge tons of people and immediately write them off, as if they have little value because they are this or that, but over and over again God demonstrates that he can truly use anyone. It’s very disruptive and disturbing to some Christians, but it actually speaks of the power (and the love) of our God. I’ll even say that in the gospels Jesus seems to go out of his way to use messy (hate that Christian buzzword) people in order to make a statement.

We judge people like this as a time-saving effort. If we were to give everyone the time of day we’d never have a clean house or time to ride our bicycles. In a way, the judgments are born of a necessity. But when we don’t write off someone for whatever list of reasons we come up with, we find innumerable people and places where God is moving and speaking into our lives.

I think as long as we only look to clean cut or pruned-of-sin Christians as people through whom God speaks, we’ll only have a small understanding of the one we call Lord.

Who has God used that you had written off?

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25 Responses to There Goes That Backwards God Again, Or You’d Better Get Used To Being Wrong

  1. I sure don’t see THIS particular reader (me) as very wise or mature. Pretty screwed up, actually. 🙂

    So yesterday we had Rob Bell, now today we have a lesbian minister. Wow, bro, you really hitting the high spots, huh!

    Not sure at all of exactly what I want to go on the record with about this one.

  2. David says:

    God can use a donkey, that’s the baseline; he’s done it before.

    It’s an interesting thing, God can use the Devil (who has more faith than most Christians), but that doesn’t make him a Christian; it means that God can use all things for the good of those that love Him! (Romans 8:28) Kingdom principals work for anyone – could have been Hitler, or Mother Teresa. God doesn’t change the law of love, of salvation, or the law of gravity based on sin.

    That said, as I also stated yesterday that it is based on what is written in the heart and nothing else. It is a little confusing because we judge by actions, that which we cannot see in a person. (Good reason to make use of the spiritual gifts!)

    My job is to hear God’s still small voice and do it, not read a Bible passage and fire it at someone Else’s life.

    Who has God used that you had written off? Beside you, Charlie, I can’t think of any off hand. 😉

  3. Jeff says:

    OK Charlie.Im willing to let the gays in. But then we are going to have to find someone else that I can say I am more special than in God’s eyes. We have already let the Blacks in, the drug addicts, the divorced women, people who eat pork and shellfish. Before you know it guys like you won’t keep anyone out of our club.

  4. Su says:

    This is really ugly, but I’ve had a couple of roommates who I thought would need lots of work before God could do anything with them. Sigh… I wish he’d let me be right from time to time.

  5. Chris says:

    “We tend to think that God only uses neat and tidy Christians, well polished reputable people who appear near flawless.

    I don’t know, she looks pretty tidy and neat to me. Near flawless. Quite attractive even.


    Does she come to speak the message or does she want to change it? Does she want to amplify and augment and offer insight or does she want to contradict? Does she honor the voices of previous wisdom or does she want to wipe the slate clean and start over? Does she want to unpack or does she want to deconstruct?
    As David said, God may use anyone for his purposes and perhaps there are prophetic new voices that God is ushering in. But you had better have your discernment antennae up because not everyone believes the same things and these battles have been fought in the past. I know the idea of fighting battles isn’t pleasant. It isn’t to me either. I’m no war-monger. But sometimes conflict is forced upon you and you have no alternative but to respond.
    As time goes on, I’m seeing that there is a certain amount of tension within my faith that I must live with. I think we all do to some degree or another. I have some opinions and I have some convictions. My opinions I hold more lightly, but my convictions I hold much tighter, although not with a death grip. I have to admit I might be wrong about many different things. When you change your opinions you just change your mind, but when you change your convictions you change your essential self. You change who you are. I want to be open, to the Spirit, but not to foolishness or fads and not to swallow whole everything that is put before me. I have to be convinced that something is from God. I’m sorry if I don’t just take Sara’s word for it, as good of a writer as she might be (although I haven’t read her sermon, but will try and give it a fair hearing). I might be getting all crankified as I get older, but I actually feel comfortable with my crankiness. I actually always looked forward to it. I hope you find it as comforting when you get there. It’ll be here before you know it. 😉

    • David says:

      I read the sermon – she said that Jesus just blesses the downtrodden (3rd to last pr) . I don’t buy it in the out of context form. Those that are blessed by Jesus have a real faith in, not a disconnected faith. They know him. His love is equal for all those trapped in their sin. He did not bless them for their poverty. He was saying that power, money, and health do not reflect his love. Blessed are the poor “in spirit”, not the poor.

      HERE is my take on the biblical meaning of poor. It has had over 7,000 views. Interesting.

      • @Chris – the inherent difficulty with God using anyone, even though who seem very unqualified, is that you have to be very discerning. If not, you may end up following every road side prophet with schizophrenia. That’s extreme I know, but it does get a lot sketchier when you enter in that water. I don’t have a solid answer for how to deal with those.

        @David – I’ll have to think about what you raised. And I’ll make it 7001 views. Well done sir!

  6. Angela says:

    First off, you read Christianity Today?

    And I think you’re right about writing people off. We’re really accustomed to only trusting perfect looking Christians. But the truth is, that just means they are hiding more. We’re all messed up.

  7. Larry Hughes says:

    If God really does embrace followers that are messy confused Rednecks, then I am a shoe in.

  8. Brian says:

    I commented on your most recent post, but maybe I should have researched what you believe first. If homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God, I don’t think it up for debate whether or not they will go to hell.

  9. dave says:

    Charlie – this post was my first visit to your blog, which I saw via a friend, and clicked because it had to do with Sara Miles, whose writing is also among my favorites. And without knowing your full theological background, I have one nit to pick. That is the characterization of Sara Miles as an example of a not so neat and tidy person to whom we should listen. I’m fine with the language of nobody being perfect, and as such we are all messed up. But the reason I read for you referring to her in this way is her orientation. Because on the surface, Sara Miles’ story is as admirable and pedestal-worthy as any in the church world: secular-athiest has a powerful encounter with God’s grace, accepts the path of Jesus and is compelled to build a large, dynamic ministry to the homeless of one of America’s great cities. That’s the kind of overview that we’re used to seeing held up as the ideal. A top-notch hearer and doer of the word. So I guess her outside the box untidy-ness comes solely from her orientation?

    Don’t get me wrong, Charlie, I’m grateful for you writing movingly about how Sara’s work has affected you, because it’s affected me as well. And I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments to see peoples’ responses. My concern is in how we frame or categorize people as part of our communities. Is it less common for LGBT voices to be heard in Christian contexts? Sure, I’ll give you that, but using only one’s orientation as a way to speak of them as being other than the archetypal ideal reinforces that archetype as an ideal, not merely one way of seeing our fellow sisters and brothers.

    Thanks for hearing me out on that. And thanks even more for linking to Sara’s sermon, which I’ve been enjoying each time I’ve read it. I’m looking forward to seeing which other “heretics” you highlight this week! All my best.

  10. that is a fantastic point – that even though I’m venerating Sara in some way I’m still continuing to marginalize her in another way. Thanks for pointing that out. I do have to say her orientation is what makes her story so much more interesting, especially in light of all the flack she has received – and it is hard to discuss her without highlighting that one detail about her. I guess we’ll know we’ve really moved forward when this ceases to be a talking point. Thanks for coming by, and feel free to shamelessly drop a link to your blog if you have one, I truly to like hearing what “my” readers have to say.

    • dave says:

      thanks charlie – i think that’s it – the difference between being an “unexpected” voice and being an “untidy” voice. my guess is that those of us with more expected backgrounds relate positively to a term like untidy because it makes us feel a little braver in our desire to share the muck of life.

      i agree that in time the specifics of one’s orientation will matter little, and also that that part of sara miles’s life is a significant part of what is unexpected.

      thanks for your graciousness. i’m not really blogging right now, but if i ever get into a groove i’ll be sure to shoot you the info.

      • and if it were not for our cultural mores around her orientation I probably wouldn’t have heard of her books and gotten interested in them. and that would have been a shame, because even not considering her orientation she is a fantastic writer.

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