Monday, July 30, 2007

my heart is heavy

my heart is heavy (part I, focus on the family)

so... i got a response back from focus on the family...

if you don't know the back story, i recently sent them a letter and expressed some concerns about the content of some of the mailings i had recived and asked to be removed from their mailing lists. the concerns i listed were:

1. in one letter from dr. dobson requesting a donation, he referred to the judges in our country as 'imperialistic, unaccountable, and liberal' and stated that they were responsible for the threatening state of our society today. i felt like that was slightly slanderous and i kind of don't think Jesus would resort to name calling for the sake of fundraising

2. in the same letter he thanked those who voted for doing their 'duty as God fearing citizens' and noted that if we didn't vote we should reconsider our position and vote in the next election. my concern was that it seemed somewhat arrogant to assume that we would all know exactly how to vote and vote in a manner that dr. dobson would agree with. i pointed out that there are a good deal of issues that our generation is concerned with that can make it difficult to know who to vote for.

3. i expressed that it is difficult for me to bring my homosexual friends into the arms of God because they have been put off by organizations like focus on the family that claim the love of God but make public statements that are beyond hurtful and reaching into just plain mean.

i will post my focus on the family letter in my next blog, if you care to read it in it's entirity. i felt i was diplomatic. i tried very hard to be diplomatic, anyway, which can be difficult when one feels strongly about the issues at hand.

anyhow... i got a response... and basically, they skirted around the issues at hand, sent me a few brochures to 'enlighten' me as to how christians should respond to 'pro-gay theology' (whatever that means... and while we're at it, should i assume that the use of this ridiculous term means that their theology is 'anti-gay' ? 'cause that's kind of how i feel at this point.), and reccomended that i visit a few web sites that could further explain their views on political matters.

i suppose i am not really surprised at all. i didn't really expect a response at all, to be honest, and i thought that if they did respond, it might be kind of like this. but i guess somewhere deep down i harbored a hope that someone might engage in a meaningful dialogue with me and either help me really understand what in the world is going on over there and where their hearts are really at and what makes them say the things they say and if i might be seriously misunderstanding something... or seriously do some organizational self examination in relationship to who Jesus says He is before just sending me a rote answer and a list of resources. it is disappointing, to say the least.

ah, but this is getting long.... i will tell you more about my heart in a moment...

my heart is heavy (part II - my heart)

so, anyway... i've been reading through the gospels lately to get a feel for Jesus' character. maybe that sounds weird. i don't know. but i really feel like i need to get to know Him as a person, not just as this huge religious figure whose every word should be dissected. it just wasn't working out for me that way. this has been going on since october-ish.

the things i am finding in Jesus' character make me actually like Him. not because i 'should' like Him, but because He's actually pretty cool. He's a total smart ass to the pharisees and He goes around breaking rules to prove His point that the love of God is really the point and you gotta do what you gotta do to spread that love around. and He cares about people. i mean really cares about peopl - he hurts for people. and sometimes, when the disciples and everybody else around Him just don't get it, yet again, i can almost hear the tired sigh in His voice. and i wonder how that must have hurt... to have everyone around Him and yet no one really understanding Him... and i see Jesus being a storyteller, too. and i see Him loving people and making people think about the answers to the questions they have and empowering people and living in community and when i see all this i just wonder... maybe Jesus is a tuesday night Jesus. maybe He would sit there with us on tuesday nights and drink a beer and listen to our stories and tell us His stories and really care about our hurts and our joys. maybe He would call us out on our ugly stuff and rejoice over the beauty in us and really do everything in His power to make us see that God loves us and is good.

and i really, really like that Jesus. i think i am falling in love with that Jesus.

but then i look at the things i've received from focus on the family, and some of the things i've experienced in the church, and i don't see that Jesus. when i look at these things, i see a Jesus who will say mean, spiteful things to prove a point rather than speak the truth in love. i see a Jesus who wants to fundraise and who wants everyone to look and act and think like a conservative republican and doesn't care that we all have unique ways in which we love Him. i see a Jesus who is more concerned about the law than He is about the poor and the broken and the addicted and the desperate. i see a Jesus who hates ambiguity and ignores it whenever possible and when its not possible, uses cliches like they were going out of style to explain away our doubts. i see a Jesus who doesn't want to see the truth of despair in us and doesn't want to hear us lament our pain and confusion. i see a Jesus who demands that we meet His every standard all at once rather than one who wants to walk our journeys with us and let us follow Him to God at the pace we can handle - even if we're crawling or backpedaling. i see a Jesus who cares more about being right than He does about being Love.

and i do not like this Jesus. i do not like Him at all.

so you might say that i should just love the Jesus i see and leave it at that. but here's the thing...

focus on the family... and the bad experiences i've had in the church... i think they happen because of the filter someone's looked at Jesus through... like someone wants to see Jesus a certain way because its safe or because it validates something they want, or because they just plain want to be right, and so they mold their Jesus to look like what they want Him to be. they look through their filter and decide that Jesus is whatever would make a good God to suit their purpose. but i know...

*and this is what makes it so terrible and makes my heart so heavy*...

that i have filters, too. really, anyone can see Jesus however they like. and they can even believe that their Jesus is the real one without any qualms... because we all have filters that we see the world - and Jesus - through.

so how do i know that i even know Jesus? how do i know that it's not just me, making Him what i want Him to be - interpreting the gospels so they tell the story i want them to tell? i know that i want to know Him for what He really is... if only because i know in my heart that i want to know my friends like Curt and Sarah for what they really are and not just what would make me feel good... if i want to know them like that, maybe my desire to know Jesus like that can be pure too. but even if my desire is pure... what if i am wrong and focus on the family is right?

and what if i am wrong all my life and i fall all the way into love with a Jesus that isn't real? and then what will happen to my heart when i die and stand before God and i find out its all been a sham? maybe he will cast me into hell - if there is a hell as we understand it, which i have my doubts about - and maybe that would be right, for making Jesus just some conglomerate of my own desires. but the prospect of hell pales in comparison to the prospect of how my heart will break if the Jesus i have come to love is not, in fact, Jesus at all. i don't care - cast me into hell - but don't let me be so blind that i have made a man who isn't - that i have made myself into my own god and given it Jesus' name. because i really don't believe that any hell could compare to the state of my heart if i found out that i have done this and Jesus is not all those things i am coming to be in love with.. or if i found out that God is not good after all or that God is good and all along what i've believed to be beautiful in Him is an ugly lie... it wouldn't matter then anyway. i wouldn't be able to see hell. because when your heart is shattered the way mine would be you can't see anything else.

my heart is heavy (part III - the letter)

so here it is... my letter to focus on the family, for anyone who wants to read. this is a somewhat, er, filtered and diplomatic version of what sits heavily on my heart... to those of you who know me, i have not gone soft or lost that blaze of passion that some of you love but drives some of you crazy, but as Roland might say, the time for the fist had passed and the time for the open hand had come. here goes...

Dear Focus on the Family,
My name is XXXXXXX XXXXX. I am a 25 year old young woman living in Midwest America. I am writing to you today because I have finally come to a point where I feel that I have to speak, even if my voice may not be heard. I don't know if anyone will read this or not. But if you have read this far, I implore you to read a bit further, because I feel that I represent a good portion of my generation in what I have to say, and I feel that it is important for a young generation's voice to be heard, as it is the voice of the future.

My parents have received Focus on the Family magazine for as long as I can remember. Naturally, when I became an adult and established my own residence, I started to receive it. At one point I made a donation to go toward putting ultrasound machines in hope centers (or something akin to hope centers- I don't know the exact terminology that you use for your crisis pregnancy centers. In my town they are called hope centers). Since that time I have received a large volume of mail requesting donations. I completely understand this. In fact, my job is to raise money for a non-for-profit group and I understand the wisdom in asking for money from people who have given before. I do not mind the solicitation in and of itself. However, in the past few years, the letters that accompany these requests have become more and more disturbing to me as I consider the state of the world in relationship to who the Bible tells me God is.
Specifically, several of these letters have seemed downright slanderous to certain political leaders and political parties. As an example, I offer a quote from the most recent letter I received, signed by James Dobson:

"Indeed, the unelected, unaccountable and imperialistic liberal judges in this country are responsible for the threatening situation that is assaulting the institution of marriage."

Are the judges unelected? Yes. Are they unaccountable, imperialistic liberals who are responsible for the 'threatening' state of the world today? Perhaps. But it seems to me that a statement like this is designed to provoke negative feelings in the hopes of securing funds for positive changes. I do not feel good about this at all. It feels like slinging accusations. I really don't think that the Jesus I know would sling accusations for the sake of fundraising. I don't think He would even sling accusations in the hopes of good coming of it. It just doesn't seem like His character. I think the Jesus I know would be far more interested in meeting these judges and learning about their stories and building relationships with them and then bringing positive changes out of that. I admit that I could be way off base and I understand that politics is not as simple as making a friend of someone and then going from there. I do believe that we have a responsibility to take action on issues that are important to God's mission. I'm just not convinced that this is the way to go about it.

Secondly, I know I am not alone when I say that I feel like Focus on the Family is on a political crusade with a republican agenda. I'm sorry – I know that statement sounds a bit harsh. I am not sure how to phrase it so that I say what I mean otherwise. Please forgive my literary clumsiness and know that I mean well. I offer another example from Dr. Dobson's recent mailing:

"If you voted in this election, thank you for doing your duty as a God-fearing citizen. If you did not, then I ask you to search your conscience and determine to participate next time."

I had difficultly knowing what exactly to make of this statement. It seems to be implied that as a God-fearing citizen it should be obvious whom I should vote for and that I should be eager to cast this vote without a second thought. This is part of what I want to say that I feel is so critical to understanding many individuals of my generation. Frankly, many of us are confused about who we should vote for. Most of my peers find themselves unable to focus on one issue and vote according to it. We find multiple worthy causes represented by multiple political leaders across a number of political parties. Certainly it is important to represent the issues important to God. But which issues should we choose? Family and faith issues are important to us. However, social issues weigh heavily on us, as do environmental issues. We don't know whether to vote for the politician who promises to stand against abortion or the politician who promises to house the homeless and increase the odds of self-sufficiency through more and better jobs. We don't know whether to worry about the war in Iraq or how long the planet will continue to withstand our abuse. To assume that it should be obvious where we should cast our votes is to discount the myriad of issues concerning my generation. I would love to have the 10 commandments in my courtrooms. I would also love to know that because of where I cast my vote, someone had a place to sleep tonight. Of course, if Christians took it upon themselves to provide for the poor as we have been instructed to do, we might not have a need for government social programs. But that is another issue for another day.

I know that I speak for many when I say that statements like the one quoted above feel like an insult to our ability to consider multiple issues, and sound like advertisements for the Republican Party. And if there is one thing my generation is coming to realize, it is that God does not endorse political parties. The Jesus that I know stayed out of political matters and focused on bringing the Kingdom of God to everyone. He was not a republican because He was not a politician. God endorses holiness. If you look closely, you will find holiness in a variety of parties. I would encourage Focus on the Family to carefully consider all of the political issues that God cares about – from poverty to marriage – when distributing press or marketing materials regarding elections. I believe that a view including all of the issues we care about would be more readily received from my generation. That is not to say that I do not wish for you to make a decision on your political stance. It is to say that I would like to see that decision processed while including more of what is near and dear to God's heart than just what you seem to have fixed your eye on at this time.

Lastly, I feel strongly that I need to address the issue of homosexuality. In an effort to protect and preserve the sanctity of marriage, many of the publications I receive from Focus on the Family seem to attack homosexuals. In referring to their relationships as "so called 'same-sex unions'" (again, from the most recent letter I received), it seems to be implied that homosexuals and the feelings and relationships they have are somehow less important than heterosexuals. Again, this is not the language of the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know would not issue statements that scoff at these people or their relationships. The Jesus I know would get to know them and their stories and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to them.

I think I can understand Focus on the Family's increasingly negative statements regarding homosexuality. After all, your focus is on the family and the issue of gay marriage stands to change the definition of family as we understand it. However, what seems like a portrayal of homosexuals and lawmakers as tirades intent on attacking the institution of marriage is not going over well with many in my generation. Of my peers, nearly every one of us is either a) homosexual, b) a relative of a homosexual, or c) a close friend of a homosexual. It has become increasingly difficult to read Focus on the Family publications that address the issue of homosexuality without cringing at the realization that what is being portrayed bears little to no resemblance to the homosexuals whom we live and work with every day. I do not know any homosexuals who are intent on destroying the family. I just know homosexuals who want to be loved and accepted like everybody else. I do not believe that lawmakers who act on their behalf are intent on destroying the family either. I think these lawmakers see the pain of homosexuals and wish to relieve it in whatever way possible. I don't know if this is true, but I think it is certainly a possibility. I am not saying that this is right or wrong. I am only saying that perhaps their intentions should be more carefully considered before they are slandered. I know many people who would be far more receptive to the statement, "We believe that lawmakers who wish to relieve the injustice felt by homosexuals have been led astray," than to the first statement I quoted in this letter. Even if I didn't agree with it, I might at least be able to read on without a sick feeling in my stomach.

In expressing my frustrations to a close friend of mine, I recently said (in reference to Focus on the Family), "If they put half the effort into loving homosexuals as they did into their political agendas against them, maybe I wouldn't get so angry". I would love to see this love expressed by Focus on the Family. I am so disappointed that I do not. I think sometimes we get so concerned with the issue and who is right or wrong that we lose sight of the love God commanded us to show to the world. I would really love to see this love supercede the notions of rightness or wrongness in your organization. Jesus did not tell us, "Make sure your neighbor knows that you are right". He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. After all, even if you are correct in deeming homosexuals wrong, what good does that do us? It doesn't make these individuals any less gay and it certainly doesn't make God any more appealing to them. It just makes you right. I am tired of being right at the cost of not being able to bring my homosexual friends into the arms of God because they have been so put off by the things they have heard from Christian organizations like yours. I know that we have been commanded to speak the truth and that you are doing this as you see fit. However, we have been commanded to speak the truth in love. It's the in love part that I have had trouble seeing in your recent media.
Please understand that I am not attacking your notion of homosexuality as wrong in God's eyes. I don't know whether it is wrong in God's eyes or not. This is an issue that I am learning about and exploring in every way possible – including through prayer and careful consideration of Biblical teachings – and I have not come to a place where I am comfortable making a declaration of belief. I respect that you have considered this issue and have come to a conclusion. It is the way this belief has been represented in so many letters and publications I have received that makes me question whether you are speaking the truth in love. I would encourage Focus on the Family to carefully consider whether the way your message is portrayed estranges people whom we should be drawing into the arms of God.

If you have read this far, I thank you. I apologize if I have offended anybody or hurt any feelings. I do feel though, just as you clearly do, that when I see something that strikes me as being ungodly, that I have a responsibility to bring the issue to the table. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do so.

I am more than open to the possibility of exploring these issues further. I understand that I do not have the whole handle on truth and that many issues in my life might take on a different hue when viewed from an organizational perspective. If anyone from your organization would like to contact me for the purpose of examining these issues and the role that Focus on the Family plays in the public eye, I can be contacted through the following mediums:

Home address:
### XXXXXX Ave.
Fort Wayne, IN
Home phone:
(###) ###-####


Otherwise, I would prefer not to receive further correspondence from your organization. I respectfully request to be removed from all Focus on the Family mailing lists at this time.
Thank you for your time and patience.


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