Off the Page began posting pieces three times a week earlier this year. This is the 232nd post we’ve published. We’ve published pieces from 34 different writers all across the United States, and now have a writing duo from our Canadian neighbors (Matthew and Joy Steem). It was fun to look back over all the pieces written this year and see which ones were read the most. They are a broad array of topics, much like the site itself. But one thing is clear. The heart behind each of the articles is an authentic life – one struggling with issues of community, sexuality, and faith.
If this is your first time to Off the Page, I hope that is the sense you get from the posts we’ve published as well as the ones yet to come: we don’t have the answers but are interested in asking the questions. We want to wrestle with what faith, community, and sexuality look like according to the Bible – as well as what the Bible itself means. Anyone can read for themselves what the Bible says, but we want to know what the Bible means for our lives, our communities, and our world.
With all that in mind, here are the top posts from 2015:
If God is so beyond us, can we speak of God truly? Or speak of God at all? Maybe all we can say is…nothing, like an Iowa boy who can describe the Rockies only by gesturing to the cornfields under the endless sky and saying, “It’s nothing like this.”
But what if the Rockies came to us? I think our challenge to speak of God truly—or at all—often begins from the wrong place. Namely, us.
When we talk about community—particularly in relationship to our local churches—it feels like a bit of a mysterious, amorphous concept. We all agree that it’s important, even crucial, to the life of the church. But there doesn’t seem to be a single, foolproof way to make it happen. We start small groups and life groups and Bible studies. We introduce new Sunday morning classes and Wednesday morning moms’ groups and we integrate every program we can think of . . .
And still people manage to fall through the cracks. And what can we do? What is there to do?
When I first met my refugee friends–most of them Muslim, and from East Africa–I was a self-assured student at a conservative Bible college. I had all the right answers, all the right beliefs, and I tried to explain them to my new friends. But as I started to live life with them, as I started to experience the hardships of navigating America as a cultural minority, as people relegated to a life of displacement and poverty, and as I started to hear the stories of the traumas that pushed them from their homes, my quick and easy theologies started to crumble.
Where was God? Why did they experience all of this suffering, while I remained pristine and untouched by sorrow? Why was the world so unequal, so unjust? Why was everything so horrible, why was God so apparently absent?
Despite our differences, we are neighbors. We’ve celebrated new jobs, holidays, driver’s licenses, and they even join us for church quite regularly. I’ve listened long, learned some things, and I’ve also been heard. I’ve had the freedom to express my hope in redemption and the setting right of all things in the end by a just God.
I often wonder how would I want my family to be treated if the circumstances were reversed. What if we were aliens in a foreign land who had lost everything?
A lot of the time, it feels like my faith is an old house, falling down. It seemed like a dream home once, back when I stood on the new, firm foundation of JESUS and watched in awe as the whole thing started going up around me. One wall, then another, all of it exactly what I needed.
But now, twenty-five years later, the whole things feels outdated with ’90s fixtures. The rooms that once seemed spacious are stuffed full with all my baggage. And worse, it’s crumbling around me in invisible, terrifying ways.
I am not Cheryl Strayed. I lack her literary depth and her distinctly sassy voice and her super-cool moniker, Sugar. I am not a licensed therapist (though I have been to a lot of therapy) or a spiritual director or an expert. There is so much I don’t know, and I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way qualified to give wisdom or advice.
But I can give radical empathy.
I can read your letter and speak to you from the raging reality of my own failures, my own baggage, my own hard-fought battles. And this is why I agreed to start this new column, Dear Addie.
As I came to know Zain better, I began to observe an underlying toughness, if not fierceness, on display through her emboldened Muslim womanhood. During our interfaith dialogues, for instance, she would not easily concede the conversation to young Muslim men no matter how adept they were at quoting this-or-that religious scholar. Instead, she was fond of making razor-sharp statements like: “I’m trying to look at this text anthropologically, not merely religiously.” Unfazed by what conservative Muslim students—male or female—might think or say, Zain was the kind of person who could buy lunch for an older, married man (okay, sure, it was only me!) without a trace of awkward intentions.
The last time I saw Zain was over the semester break in December 2012. She had dropped by the Baptist student center for a visit. Sorrow and grief were splashed all over her light-brown face. Her dad was dead.
This is by far one of the hardest questions I’ve had to think through as I wrestled with this topic. It’s one thing to weep with those who experience same-sex attraction but think it’s wrong to act on it. But what about those Christians who have studied the Bible and disagree with my interpretation? They love Jesus, believe in God’s Word, and yet interpret the passages talking about homosexuality differently. They believe that consensual, monogamous, faithful, loving, Christ-centered marriages, between same-sex couples can be God-honoring.
This is, perhaps, one of the most pressing ethical questions facing the church today.
Having single people around isn’t (and shouldn’t be) just another way for married parents to get cheap or free babysitting or single people to feel less lonely—although when the diverse body of Christ comes together, we see that we can serve one another in unique ways! Real mutuality requires we learn from one another and give generously in ways that open ourselves to one another. With so many cultural forces pushing us apart to look at our screens and pursue only the relationships that are comfortable for us, adding another person into the mix and the initial investment in opening a home to be more hospitable still often takes more work, even if no extra effort goes into cleaning or cooking. The emotional investment tends, however, to quickly pay off as we share life together.
10. We Are Not Alone
Determined to find another soul who at least wrote about what I wrestled with so secretly, I went to a local Christian bookstore. I couldn’t find a single title on the shelves about homosexuality. I gathered my trembling courage and approached the salesperson with the name of an author I was told wrote about the issue.
She tappity-tapped on her computer, searching. I knew the second she read the name of the book because her fingers froze on the keyboard—her face stunned. “Um, we don’t have that title,” she said, looking at me with what I could only describe as both terror and disgust. My face flushed as I quickly mumbled, “That’s fine.” I bolted out the door. I felt so alone. I was in a same-sex relationship with another Christian, but I did not feel like I could talk about what was going on with anyone outside of our relationship.