UPDATE: Ok. Moderation on. Keep your comments civil. We are not bashing anyone here. Don’t make me impose a two-drink limit.
MOD NOTE: Comments are closed for the time being. Sheesh, I leave for a few hours and return to find a bar fight!
It might be comforting, to those Christians who doubt the current indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our damaged, compromised selves, to tell ourselves that our failures are because Jesus is now far, far away.
It might be reassuring, to those tired of dealing with our violent, scary, or just unpleasant neighbors, to think that we can worship God by turning our backs on them. That we can’t do much anymore about our lives or the lives of other people, except gaze at the sky and pray to a disembodied spirit. That Jesus was alive once, and we remember him fondly, but now we’re left with nothing more powerful than plastic crosses, Christian rock bands and church committees. WIth Jesus safely tucked away in heaven, we’re off the hook.
But he’s still breathing in us.
Sara Miles–Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead
In a literary landscape littered with memoirs–mostly overwritten, self-serving examples of why most memoirs should be approached with great caution, if approached at all–it is really fun to come across one that is well-written, and written about something worth reading. This is the case with Sara Miles’ Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. Miles, a lay minister in an Episcopal church in San Francisco, relates how her church reaches out to the homeless, mentally-challenged, drug-addicted population of the inner city–the very people Jesus Â came to seek and save–in radical and unique ways. More than this, Miles presents Jesus to us in his raw, real form as found in the Gospels, and does it as well as anyone I have read in quite a while. For instance, she writes:
In stories that still have the power to scare us, Jesus tells his disciples to live by the upside-down values of God’s kingdom, rather than the fear-driven values of human society. He shows how family, tribe, money, violence, and religion–the powers of the world–cannot stand against the love of God. And he tells us that we, too, are called to follow him in breaking down all worldly divisions that get in the way of carrying out his instructions. Sure, it’s impossible to feed five thousand people, make a deaf man hear, bring a dead girl to life, as long as you obey human rules. So do it God’s way instead, Jesus teaches. Say yes. Jump right in. Come and see. Embrace the wrong people. Don’t idolize religion.
Good stuff, isn’t it? As the iMonk himself would have said, this is Jesus-shaped spirituality. As I read the first pages of Jesus Freak, I thought this would be a great book to review for the iMonk community. But then I came across three words that told me I wouldn’t be able to do so. Three small, short, powerful words.
My wife, Martha.
Those three words were written by Miles, referring to herself. Sara Miles has a wife, Martha. Sara Miles is in a same-sex relationship. (I knew this before I read the book, but it was actually reading those words in print that made me realize there would be trouble in River City.) And because of those three words, I knew that anything good that we could discuss from Jesus Freak would be buried in the avalanche of comments about the author’s homosexuality. And that is a real shame.
Before you start hurling those rocks in your hands at me, let me say this right now. Homosexuality is a sin. And I am as straight as a knife’s edge. There. That’s said. Happy?
Yet it frustrates me that because Sara Miles refers to her homosexuality in passing I know that the content of her book will be of little or no consequence. The entire discussion would be made up of, “Should we listen to anything she says?” kind of comments. Or at least the comments would center around her sexual orientation much more than they would the stories of feeding the poor. I shared this with a group of friends recently–shared the topic of the book and read a few passages. I asked if it was a book they might want to read, and the overall response was positive. Then I mentioned that the author is a homosexual. Everyone of those I asked changed their tune: “No, we would not read that book. Not if it was written by a practicing homosexual.”
So we are going to take very good content, very good stories of feeding those in need, and toss it away because…because…because why, exactly? Is it not possible that we can reach a point where we say, “I have no idea what God thinks of someone who professes to love Him, yet continues in sin”? Or, maybe better yet, “I’m glad God still loves me even though I continue to sin daily.”
Again, loose your grip on that stone. You’re going to pop a blood vessel in your hand. I am not advocating an “anything goes” morality. But I would like to ask just how far God’s grace can go. Does it cover every sin? Really? Even continuing homosexuality? Is God’s grace scandalous, as Robert Capon would put it? Capon, after all, takes grace to extremes that can be very frightening. From his book, The Mystery Of Christ–And Why We Don’t Get It, he writes,
There is no sin you can commit that God in Jesus hasn’t forgiven already. The only way you can get yourself in permanent Dutch is to refuse forgiveness. That’s hell. The old baloney about heaven being for good guys and hell for bad guys is dead wrong. Heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, not spiritual and moral aces. And hell is populated entirely by forgiven sinners. The only difference between the two groups is that those in heaven accept the forgiveness and those in hell reject it. Which is why heaven is a party–the endless wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride–and hell is nothing but the dreariest bar in town.
Ok, let’s forget whether a practicing homosexual can be a follower of Jesus or not, at least for the moment. (Michael Spencer wrote about the topic of Evangelicals and Homosexuals a couple of years ago, and presents his case much better than I can. You should read that post for his wise insights.) Let’s change the question. Can we possibly receive anything good from one who is a practicing homosexual? Is it possible that we can read a book like Sara Miles’ Jesus Freak and focus on what is good–the feeding of the poor and outcast and forgotten–and ignore what makes us uncomfortable? Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is for the friends I asked about the book.
Or am I wrong? If I did a review of this book, would the comments stay on the content and not the author’s lifestyle? Not according to very, very recent past. In this past weekend’s Saturday Ramblings, I mentioned Jennifer Knapp is in a same-sex relationship. How many of the 110+ comments do you think were about something other than Knapp’s sexual orientation?
So, instead of reviewing Jesus Freak, I will return the book unreviewed. But I read it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I learned from it. I was encouraged and entertained. I was not offended, but at the same time I do not condone all that is talked about in the book. I pray that the grace God extends to Sara Miles is extended to cover my sins as well.