Jenner, LaBeouf, Lamott and Me (or – Jesus Keeps Good Company)

11168893_10204079572661967_636148430257844832_nBy: Jana Greene

This post has been on my heart for weeks now, and it was a difficult one to write. Still, this spiritual journey I’m on of getting to know Jesus on a more intimate level and not accepting the church “status quo” as what He necessarily intended it to be has really messed me up. In the best way.

And the reaction from an alarming number of fellow Christians to two big celebs making news recently has riled me up.

There is potty-mouth language in this piece, be forewarned. If that offends you, you can stop reading now. But then, if that offends you, you are probably not among the ragamuffin band of readers who follow my blog (who are open-hearted, open-minded, spiritually seeking, awesome people, by the way.)

I’m referring to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Shia Labeouf – both whom have at some juncture accepted Christ as their personal saviors, and made some really non-mainstream choices.

On many of the blogs by Christian authors I follow (and in voices both hushed and raised in indignation in the real world) I hear it over and over again:

(Fill in the blank with the celebrity who most offends your sensibilities) isn’t a “real Christian.” Obviously. Look at their life choices! We are in the end times, they say. We can’t just accept what’s going on here! And we are scrambling to portray an image of a godly people …  but are we portraying Jesus in the way we do it?

When will I feel comfortable determining someone else isn’t a “real Christian?”

When I can see past the board in my own eye.

When will I feel comfortable damning another soul to hell?

When I don’t live in a glass house anymore.

The world knows what the mainstream Bible believing community thinks already. Truly. Does the world-at-large know that Jesus saved his biggest criticism for the keepers of religion back in the day? He came to shatter our rule-keeping, self-righteousness with the power of His Father, who is Love. He kept company with all kinds of ne’er-do-wells. The real fringes of society.

I’ve decided to err on the side of love.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized.  For others will treat you as you treat them.  And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.” – Jesus.  Matthew 7:3 (Living Translation)

Shia LaBeauf’s defacto damning offense? Using four-letter words in an interview with – aptly – Interview Magazine.

“I became a Christian man, and not in a f*cking bullsh*t way — in a very real way … I could have just said the prayers that were on the page. But it was a real thing that really saved me.  And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it.”
GASP. Oh no he didn’t!
Yes, he did. And you know what? I can understand the rawness of his sentiment. It sounds like it came from a soul absolutely desperate for crazy-genuine redemption, and not a nice white-washing. Really nice white-washing isn’t working. Prayers on the page are not cutting it. The world sees right through it.
The whole LaBeauf debacle reminds me of my very favorite author and her propensity for peppered language, Anne Lamott. Her writing is incredible! She does things with words that I’ve not seen anywhere else and probably won’t see again this side of the Kingdom. She is a Christian, too. A messy, relate-able, strong-faith, cussing believer. She is far-left liberal and you might think we have nothing in common on the surface – if you don’t bother to scratch that surface –  but in every other way, she is my soul sister. Why? When I was at my alcoholic lowest,  I was done with my fellow Christians telling me they would pray for me. I couldn’t even be REAL with them, so how could they even know what to pray? What got through to me – and the shame of being a Christian with a Big Fat Secret – was reading Lamott’s  2000 released book, Traveling Mercies. Chronicling her conversion to Christianity, she used raw words (some four-letter ones) to weave an incredible tale of unpolished, honest redemption that I could relate to where I was at that moment.
So, I call bullsh*t. This idea that we can ascertain where on this crazy plane of life another human being’s spirit is borne of our love of placing other human beings on the graph lower on the plane than we are on. You might not be where I am in recovery or my spiritual walk, but you might be further along than me in other areas.
God only knows. Literally.
And Jenner?
If you’ve been living in a cave (or cloistered yourself from the worldliness at the risk of contamination) you might not know that The Celebrity Formerly Known as Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner because she decided he was a she and transitioned from man to woman. What were those lyrics from “Lola” by The Kinks so many years ago? Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world.
Let me just preface by saying Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s particular issue makes me uncomfortable personally. I’m just being honest … yes, it made me feel squirmy. So I squirmed a little and recognized that to me personally, it felt like an icky thing.

But you know what made me feel ickier? Reading that he/she is going to hell by a Christian blogger. That made me ashamed. How much torment must this human being have endured in life? Where is the compassion from followers of Christ? That’s between him/her and Her Maker, sir. Frankly, we aren’t called to feel comfortable with everybody’s life choices.

(And further, how clean would the surfaces of our lives stay if we had paparazzi following us around? Yet God sees it all, and loves us like mad anyway.)

We are called to love.

I felt uncomfortable about Jenner. But I never felt as if he/she should be condemned to hell. We all have encounters with the ‘ick’ and our triggers are different. (My own addiction issues have made plenty of people feel icky, I know.)

Who am I that I should judge the state of others’ souls? Because I am a Christian, it’s okay for me to judge who is damned and who is “really a Christian?”

We the Church are so worried about ‘watering down the gospel’ by sending a message of love to others that we are dehydrating the whole world of Living Water. The world is thirsty for the only thing that separates Christ-followers from the rest of religion – organized or not.

If you have committed any of the following, there are Christians walking this planet who believe you are doomed to hell: Being divorced, drinking alcohol, watching TV, cursing, committing adultery, have children out of wedlock, or being wealthy. Sucks, doesn’t it?

“And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it.”

They will know we are Christians by our holiness? By our goodness, our refraining from using four-letter words? Our pious-ness, our general knack for clean-living?

No.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Or let’s face it. We’re all screwed.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – Jesus Himself. John 13:35 (The Message)

We cannot withhold the massive, radical love that God showed us through His Son because of four letters in a word or even a sex-change operation. You believe it is wrong, Biblical? Refrain from doing it. Pray for people you believe need praying for. But the world is not ours to condemn. God must have thought we beings were worth saving because He sacrificed His son. For this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Begotten Son, so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have ever-lasting life.” – John 3:16 (and even the most heathen-esque among us know THAT scripture.)

Jesus didn’t give His life for our self-righteous asses. Although our self-righteousness was also one of the nails he took willingly.

A friend of mine once said to me, in response to this issue “Yeah … but God thought sin was a pretty big deal.”

Yes. But He thought love was a much bigger deal.

Go and sin no more is an excellent, excellent scripture and oft-quoted. But how often do we really absorb the text preceding it?

“Then everyone went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early the next morning he went back to the Temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”

“No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” – John 8 (Good News translation.)

Do you think she ever sinned again? Have you ever thought about that? Do you think that when and if she did, she was dead to God? Of course not. She had encountered the Christ. And in his eyes, she was LOVED.

So I implore my fellow Christ-followers to stop acting like we are all running for public office, like we have to present a platform for every issue and current event. You have no constituents to impress, only mercy to share. We are in the end times, we can’t just accept what’s going on here!

We are scrambling to portray an image of a godly people, but are we portraying Jesus in the way we do it?

Let’s be a people who live in glass houses – transparent, letting in plenty of Light, open to a hurting world. Throwing stones is so incredibly shattering, far beyond our comfy church circles.

The Rabbi’s platform was radical, all-encompassing love. Shouldn’t ours be, also?

Viral Spiral: A dozen thoughts on ‘going viral’

long-spiral-staircase

By: Jana Greene

In 2014, I received a totally unexpected gift. In February, I wrote a blog post that truly went “viral.” My blog had been up and running two years at that point, and I wasn’t expecting it.

I’d written the piece (“Skewer the Stigma“) on the fly in a 20-minute span. It somehow took flight across the world and ultimately ended up landing in the hands of a quarter of a million people. No one is more surprised about that than me.

I had written it, posted it, and left it alone. But within a few hours, I started receiving email notifications that readers were leaving comments. Like 100 of them – surpassing my normal total daily readership and confounding the mess out of me.

Naturally, I assumed someone had passed out on her keyboard whilst looking at addiction recovery sites, and the multitude of visits were caused by her forehead landing on the “refresh” button repeatedly. It was the only logical explanation.

At 15,000 hits, I was convinced it was a cruel joke of some sort. Those pesky hackers.

But no, for some reason, the article  was truly going ‘viral.’ Something about it resonated with people enough to pass it along. And as a writer, that is really the most you can hope for – to hit the note that resonates with others.

I had wondered what it would feel like to have so many visitors…to have a blog post go viral. Strangely, the experience taught me more about myself than my readers.

Through the experience of going viral, I learned:

1) To pray for favor.

In many ways it was a post like every other. It wasn’t – in my estimation –  better or worse than anything else in the previous 180 blog posts on The Beggar’s Bakery. But I did specifically ask God for favor when I posted it. Now this is where it gets tricky, because while God’s favor is everything, I would subsequently pray favor over all of my posts and gleaned a little pearl of wisdom. I became willing to accept that God’s favor does not “look like” ours. He may favor you with two readers whose lives are forever changed by your words. His favor may look like 1,000,000 hits. Or He may favor you by revealing something to YOU in your own words that you never would have recognized any other way, even in a post that never makes it online. Prospering spiritually is so much richer than prospering in numbers. Speaking of numbers…..

2)  That numbers do not validate me.

I’m not really a “numbers girl” normally. I’m a Words Girl. I have this crazy, innate aversion to numbers, whether they be accessorized with mathematical symbols or dollar signs. But there is nothing like obsessively checking the stats of a blog post to muddy the blogging waters with numbers. 250,000 hits? That’s crazy talk. I must be legit now, right? Numbers that climb ever-higher may feel validating, but they really whip up insecurities. In many ways, blog stats are like alcoholic beverages to me: One is too many and a thousand not enough. When have I “arrived?” The stats and numbers do not hold that answer. Higher numbers often equal higher anxiety. Not a good thing for folks like me whose OCD feeds off of getting “one more hit.”

3) To stake my claim.

People are going to think you are crazy, or wrong. Or crazy wrong. The same vulnerability that makes your writing authentic opens you up to all kinds of criticism. I will never forget the first really negative comment that posted as a comment. The reader was very angry, taking exception with my statement that alcoholics and addicts get well with help from God. “What about atheists? What about them, huh? You must recant! You can’t make blanket statements like that!”  To which I replied, “Oh but I can. And I did. And I will.” At first, it hurt my feelings, but then it gave me an opportunity to learn how to stand firm.

My blog is my reality; my point of view. It is what works for me. I’m not going for a PC award, and I refuse to water down my message to appease readers. You can be both kind and firm. The experience taught me to strike my own authentic stance, and hold it. With hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, any reader who insists I change the content can, well … move along, little doggy.

4) To consider my work realistically.

Even when I write something I’m sure will get tons of traffic, very few posts actually do. I am neither the best nor the worst blogger out there is cyberspace. Going viral taught me to ride the wave without expecting a medal for surfing. Just enjoy the ride.

5) To pray for my readers.

This one should have been a foregone conclusion, but I had to learn to do it. Prayer takes a normal, natural article into a supernatural force to be reckoned with. I will never know where my messages ripple. Asking God to use it for his purposes assures me that even if a post only makes one person smile, or say “Aye carumba! I totally know how this feels!” it was worth writing and posting.

6) To blog honest or not blog at all.

When the post first started going viral, I fought the urge to go back in to WordPress and “perfect” it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted this. Maybe I could take that out. But I try not to censor myself a whole bunch. I usually edit a piece several times before it goes up, but I try to keep the editing to grammar and spelling, and leave the truth raw and bare. It’s the only way, really, to share experience, strength and hope authentically.

7) Confidence to (self) publish my first book.

How many times did I say to myself, “I have a book in me”? Before this experience, I didn’t honestly think it would ever come out. But we all have books ‘in’ us – several. God spurred me to actually write that book – and self-publish it – in a two-week span after “Skewer the Stigma” went viral. God had told my spirit several months before: “Before you walked with me, your story was your story. When it became your testimony, it belongs to others, too.” I pray that the book falls supernaturally into the hands of those who might need some hope regarding addiction recovery. Going viral helped boost me in the direction to share it, just because I felt more confident. That was the only variable that had changed. I didn’t write the book to make money (which is a good thing, since I didn’t) but to share a story. You have one, too.

8) To expect viral posts to spread like … a virus.

It kind of picks up a life of it’s own. It becomes – as it should – more about the message and less about the author. It becomes out of your control in an epic way, in a manner that makes it impossible to track. I discovered that no, I really don’t crave fame. I’m proud of the piece and grateful to Abba for allowing me to share it in such a huge way. But getting my name “out there” was strangely anti-climatic. I became very ‘meh’ about it, very quickly. It just doesn’t satisfy the way you imagine it would. Only God can satisfy that wholly, that perfectly.

9) That I may have peaked, cyber-wise.

I may never go this way again. The heady, surreal nature of going viral is so fleeting. How to recreate it? That’s where faith comes in. God will give me the words he wants me to spread, and hopefully he will help me filter the words I shouldn’t spread. I cannot ‘recreate it’ nor should I try.

There are far, far better things ahead than what we leave behind, as C.S. Lewis said.

Or as is written in Ecclesiastes… to everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn…)

10) Not to bastardize my craft.

When I began blogging, I felt like such an amateur writer. Then a post went viral and I felt legit. And then after things calmed down, I worried after my worth as a writer again. I was causing myself so much drama in figuring out my place in the blogosphere! Nothing I’ve written since has gone bananas, and it may never happen again. And I’m okay with that. Now, I still sometimes wonder how it would feel to be a legitimate writer, for real and for true. And then God reminds me that it’s my job to write, and to skip the labeling, and get over myself. To just write already, and let the flow happen. A real, legitimate writer would just keep writing. It’s that simple.

11) Nifty stats are not my friend.

Oh my heavens, the detail available! There are numbers, and even color-coded maps of the countries whose residents read it!  India. Saudi Arabia. France? Ooo la LA! Such neat accoutrements – they must be tools for success, no?

No. Stats take a creative, open, spiritual soul out of the lush garden, and make her a neurotic, over-analyzing, nut-job in the dry desert. And that about sums up my experience with fancy statistics.

12) Going viral is kind of neato-keen for a while, but not essential.

Our Father in Heaven is not interested in the numbers games, but we humans love to count pats on the back. Pair numbers with technology and you have the virtual world in your fingertips and a real world that hasn’t been touched at all. Algorithms and marketing (I did absolutely none with the one post that went viral) do not determine the “success” of a blog post.

Sometimes I post a blog that gets hit ten times. I am so grateful for my readership, no matter the size. Sometimes I will just be having a day that sucks, and I’m not feeling spiritual at all, and my feelings need a place to go –  so I jot my grumpy words down. And once in a while, a reader will comment that they, too, are having a sucky day and not feeling spiritual at all, but it was a comfort to know that their circumstances were not sucking in a vacuum – that we are all intertwined, somehow. Chin up! You are never alone!

Because we are all intertwined, somehow. And no one is more surprised about that than me – every time it happens. As a writer, that is really the most you can hope for – to hit the note that resonates with others.

God controls the ripples, the currents, and who consumes the words. In all of the great Cyberland, we share our words as experience, and it comes back to us joy. And that is something to get infectiously viral about.

A real gift.