Friday, November 18th, 2011
People all over the world are seemingly living out the same vision and heart’s desire as I have.
“A ministry with the gay community that reveals the message of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and genuine community with His followers – because every person deserves to know that Jesus loves them.”
This weekend, I’ll be traveling to meet with several folks who are asking the same questions I am about how God wants us to work with the Gay community to reveal more of Christ’s love for each and every one of them. We will spend many hours together in a “think tank” of questions and discussion. I am really looking forward to what God will show us as we pray and meet together. We have it in mind to explore a third voice regarding ministry with the gay community:
Neither a voice of condemnation;
Nor a voice of permissiveness;
We are seeking a voice that some how can find the balance between:
100% Truth and 100% Grace
As you may remember, our last year end goals included pursuing meetings with other Christians who held similar desires to love the gay community as God would have us to. I had all kinds of ideas as to how this might come about but as the year has unfolded, it seems God has lead me slowly, but succinctly towards our goals differently than I would have imagined.
Two years ago I was introduced to a wonderful man that lives in Australia. I won’t give his city as his outreach is a very sensitive one. But, this godly man has developed a ministry where he and his team go to the gay bars in their city regularly and have built wonderful relationships with the men and women that are regulars there. They have such credibility that they are invited to their homes and lives.
God is doing an amazing thing there and it is a privilege to have a relationship with this guy. We email back and forth and have Skyped on several occasions. His live is a tremendous sacrifice for these people. He once was an Anglican priest, is married with children and the folks in the bars call him, the “straight priest”.
Another friend who lives in a city in south central United States, has a presence on the gay internet blogs. He sends out an invitation to join him for a meal at a local restaurant to the wide audience who may see it. He has been doing this for a couple of years now and has developed quite the following. Last year on the week before Thanksgiving, he facilitated a dinner for those he had met through his monthly meals. There were 45 people in attendance! He has told me it is his desire to offer a relational alternative for the typical bar pick-up atmosphere. It sounds like he is really making an impact. I have had many long conversations and also time on Skype with him. I love his heart and the wisdom that he has for what he is doing.
In England, another friend has developed a bible study network for those who desire to know more about their faith and study with others that are gay that have the same desires. His ministry has been going now for over twenty years and in the last 12 years has been more focused on further development of discipleship within the gay community to know Christ more and grow further with Him. He and I enjoy sharing idea and providing support for each other through regular Skype meetings. He has become a very important friend as I continue to seek God for what He has for me to do in ministry with the gay community.
Through the giving of our financial supporters I’ve traveled to California, Texas, Alabama, and England. In each of those trips I’ve gained more insight, and wisdom on what God is doing through my life and relationships with the gay community.
Last month we had the privilege of having Andrew Marin (Love is an Orientation) here in Memphis. His talks with us helped to gain even more tools for us to use as we pursue ministry with the gay community locally.
This is such a delicate ministry. The wounds within the gay community are deep with regards to church relationships. This causes a great challenge with bringing a message of God’s love to those who have been so hurt. This is why I have been elusive about mentioning cities, or names. I do not in any way want to say something that might cause people to feel as though they are a ministry target project, or to reveal someone’s ministry location. It is also delicate due to the many misunderstandings that occur within the Christian community about this issue.
What we do is “missional”. This means that it is a ministry outside the church buildings and requires of us to go into the world and build relationships of authenticity and trust. It is not necessarily built upon an “invitation” to church, but rather an invitation to join one another in the journey of life. This kind of ministry would not likely have a platform in a church building because it requires an organic life in our homes, our communities, and on the streets of our lives.
In a recent meeting a friend said this;
“it is like you are saying to invite some into your river of life, jump into the water with them and begin paddling alongside one another.”
This is exactly right!
Just as Jesus did. He saw someone alongside their road of life, invited them to join Him. There were no conditions, no requirements, just a willingness to begin walking alongside Him. As they encountered life together He taught them about who He was and how He desired them to live. Moment by moment, year by year, they learned, grew, and yet they also struggled with life along the way. Judas struggled so much that in the end he betrayed Jesus but Jesus never kicked him out even though He could clearly see the underlying battle.
Friday, November 11th, 2011
A Memphis Film Premier
The film, “This is What Love In Action Looks Like” was premiered in Memphis at the “Playhouse on the Square” to a sold out crowd on November 4th, 2011.
I’ve attended three movie premier events for this film. Certainly the one in San Francisco was a memorable time for me personally, spiritually, and relationally.
Montgomery Alabama was certainly smaller but none the less, I met some wonderful people there and the response was very much the same as the larger event in San Francisco. But, the premier in Memphis was completely different.
As I prepared my heart for seeing the film and being on the discussion panel afterwards, I felt a lot of anxiety because this is my town, with the potential of a lot of people in the audience that I know personally. To add to the situation, There would be people there who were from many places in their personal lives seeing the film for the very first time.
During the week prior to the film a local pastor contacted me to schedule a meeting. He said he and his church had a great burden to connect to the gay community around them and wanted to pick my brain about the issues. I was excited to meet him and to see what they had in mind. As I walked into the coffee shop he greeted me with another person from his church. I looked up and it was someone I had known from another church I had been a part of. He was someone I never thought would show an interest in connecting with the gay community. So this was a nice surprise. At the end of the meeting, they said that they were attending the film premier as well.
I have a small group of people that I work with at our local community theater that I really love. Three of them said they were coming to the premier as well. They were curious about the story and knowing me added to their interest in coming.
So, as my wife and I got to the theater for the film, I had settled in my mind who would be there from my closer circle of friends. But, when we walked into the lobby, six people were there that I certainly did NOT expect to see there. They were from our home group that meets every Saturday night. I was surprised and also curious about why they were there. I was really anxious now! What would they think? How would they perceive this film and the surrounding subject matter?
We all got ready for the opening statements and Morgan Jon Fox, the film’s creator, began to address some of the details and then said, “I have some other very important business to take care of.” At that point he asked his partner, Declan, to come to the stage. He talked about how none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the support of Declan. He then got down on one knee, pulled out a small box, and proposed to Declan. Well, that was sure a surprise!
I felt so many things going on around me and in my heart. I knew there were people in the crowd that would find that incongruent with their values, their understanding of God, and our culture. Some of them were my friends. So, I was flushed with all kinds of things at that point. I worried what they might be thinking I was thinking. I felt all kinds of performance pressures come upon me to remain neutral in all of my responses.
Regardless of what I was thinking I felt such a strong need to please everyone around me with my outward actions.
As I thought about the crowd all I could think of was to ponder this strange crossing of all of my worlds together in one room at one time. In all honesty, I was mainly comforted thinking of my friends from the theater because I feel the most freedom from performance when I am with them. Interesting that a theater crowd is a place where I DON”T have to perform!
After the proposal, the film began. I wondered now even more what all of these folks might have been thinking when there was such a strong voice against ex-gay ministry in the film’s content. The interviews on the film were examples of people who talked about their experiences with ex-gay ministry, how they had been wounded by a lack of understanding of what it is like to be gay and family battles over homosexuality.
The story was about Zach, a 16 year old, who’s parents basically forced him to attend a two week program. There were protestors who were friends of Zach’s who came to show him they loved him. The protest drew international publicity and national and local media coverage.
There were also many excerpts from the news reports and interviews on national news. Then interviews with Lance who was in the program with him. Zach’s program was extended and after he finished, he wanted to pretty much remain in the background and went to college. Lance separated from his parent’s home and went on to be more public in how he felt harmed, and pressured by coming to the program. There were interviews with some others who had been in the adult program describing their negative reactions to having been involved in ex-gay ministry.
At the end of the film, it was mentioned that the producers attempted to gain interviews from people who had favorable experiences with Love In Action but none were willing to make any comments.
All I could think of is how sobering this film was for me. As I watched it, now for the third time, I was still keenly aware of the significance of the lives of those who were sharing their experiences through the venue of a film interview. I was once again, drawn to a place of personal responsibility for my own actions and how in many ways had been part of the problem.
While the theme of the film is the story of Zach, a 16 year old who was forced by his parents into a teen program to attempt to eradicate his homosexuality, there was a very strong lineage that was the life of John Smid. My face, voice, and story were front and center throughout the entire film.
As I listened once again to the stories of these men, I also heard, loud and clear, things that I said six years ago and some that I said only a little over a year ago. These two people were not the same! I have changed so much since the protests of 2005.
The audience was very reactionary towards things in the film. Some of the most overt were some who hissed when images of conservative Christianity came up in the film.
After the film was over, there was a panel discussion with five people including me on the panel. I remember moving to the front in preparation for sitting on the stage with the others being quite challenging. Being the center of the “problem” addressed in the film, it was vital that I maintain a humble composure.
Questions were asked of my own response to the film, and comments as to how the film shows a dramatic change in the way I am responding to homosexuality, so I commented on all of that. I spoke of how we at Love In Action had changed the teen program due to our awareness that we had not addressed the families of the teens, especially the parents, nearly enough. We recognized that working with the teens without including intensive work with the parents was potentially harmful for the teens upon their completion of the program.
As the panel discussion finished, the crowd applauded and began to leave the theater. As I walked off the stage, I was bombarded with people. All I could see were people coming towards me thanking me, shaking my hand, and then the real comments began.
“John, I am so proud of you.”
“Thank you so much for being here. I know it took a lot of courage to stand in front of this crowd.”
“I can’t tell you how healing it is for me personally to see you here and to hear your story.”
“John, I can see clearly how some people are really angry with you, but for me personally, the real story is how you have allowed God to work in your life to bring changes that are significant in your approach to loving people. Thank you.”
I was ready to leave and spend time with some friends but I had a very hard time leaving the theater due to people trying to talk with me. There were several opportunities where women came to me just to hug me. Some with tears in their eyes and all they could get out was, “Thank you.”
Some of my theater friends and my wife and I decided to go to a restaurant close by to “process” the evening. As I sat down I mentioned to them that I felt so embarrassed to have them see the “old” John in the film. It was the “preachy” voice of black and white that I used to be that was so hard for me to look at in the film and I felt embarrassed to have them see that person.
One friend, Dot, replied, “John, if I would have known you then, I would have loved you just like I do today.” She went on to say that she felt a tremendous privilege to know me as a friend. Wow! I had a hard time receiving her words and yet it was so comforting to hear them.
As we finished our discussion and began to leave I was grabbed by a lady sitting at a table with a lot of her friends. She said, “John!” She reached out to hug me and I noticed she was one of the news reporters who had interviewed me several times over the years. I attempted to draw her memory to remember that the film was premiered that night. She said, “Oh, I know. John, I want you to know that I knew you way back during the protests and I loved you then, and I love and respect you even more now.” She had such kindness in her eyes something really got to me in her words.
As I went outside, I grabbed Dot and said, “Dot, that news reporter just said the very same thing you said at the table!” I couldn’t miss the obvious message that God had for me in their words. “John, I love you because of who you are, not what you do, or don’t do.”
Some people wonder why I have been a part of these film premiers. Sure, the film is very negative about my ministry work over the years. Yes, there are some who’s interviews include some false information. But, at the same time, their words reflect their perceptions which are very real. One lady told me she could see the out of proportion comments and that I needed to know that it was not all a waste and that good things occurred through the years.
I must also be present to take responsibility for those things that I have done wrong. I felt accountable to be up front, with my face to the crowd, to say to them, “I am sorry for the things that I have said and done that have in any way harmed you.”
One thing I have learned by going through all of the responses, experiences, and reactions to the film is this;
I must continue to control defensiveness in my heart regarding the negativity from others because when I get defensive, my ears close up. It is imperative that I hear their words. This is where I grow to better understand life and people.
Friday, November 4th, 2011
People Are Missing!
This morning I woke up early and immediately heard the words “People are Missing!” This is what I spend my days thinking about, pondering, and why I spend so much time and energy doing the things I do. Since my wife and I earn part of our living cleaning houses I have an intermittent schedule. I don’t have huge blocks of time where I am in my Grace Rivers office. I am here for an hour here, or 30 minutes there. Sometimes I have a couple of hours at a time to really dig into something, but that is certainly not every day.
But every time I walk up to my office, I have a burden, a heart’s desire, a reason for sitting down at my desk. It is because I am so burdened about people who are missing! They are out there hungry for someone to care. Yes, my greatest burden is for those in the gay community. But today, I just want to call out to anyone who will consider those you know who may need a touch from you today.
What has happened to them? Are they wounded, lost, rejected, or consumed with shame and feeling alone and unsupported? Some may be seeking connections in other places that will not encourage them towards a deeper walk with Jesus. In just a couple of minutes, you can connect someone to the love of God today!
Is your neighbor hoping you will say hello? What about the lady you work with that you’ve been thinking about lately? It could change the course of her entire life if you asked her to have coffee with you. Yes, it is that simple. She likely needs a relationship with someone who will listen to her heart. Safe and caring one on one meetings with the missing could make an invaluable mark on someone else’s life.
That man you said hello to in the hallway so often may be wondering why you have been so friendly. Consider saying more than hello today. The friend you haven’t seen in six months may really need you to go to lunch with them this week. Can you set aside the time and call them today? What about the FaceBook friend that just posted something that appears to be a very challenging situation. A phone call from you could be the very thing that gets them through the day.
People go missing over time. They may be struggling today, decide to stay home this weekend, then as the fears build, their absence becomes a week, then a couple of months, then they go missing and it seems no one notices. Is God bringing them to your mind right now?
Oh, sure, it will take time and certainly the leading of God since this may be a very sensitive thing to do. What are the options? Who is going to leave the 99 to look for the 1? Jesus said He would. Modeling Jesus life may include a choice today to look for the missing one.
Oh, I know all too well the intimidation of getting in touch with someone you haven’t seen in a long time. We all have a little narcissism in us. The fears of rejection can be a barrier to taking the step into someone’s life. Passivity can block us from setting aside a few minutes to call them. And we tell ourselves they don’t want to be bothered, or if they really wanted me in their life they would make that known. We wonder, “what difference could I make?”
Is the life of the missing complicated? Of course it is. Just think for a minute about how complicated your life really is. Do you experience things in your life that you are embarrassed about? Ashamed of? Or fearful and insecure about? Sure you do. How would you want someone to approach you if you were feeling especially lonely today? Maybe you think you want to be alone but what about the time someone did call and afterwards it really made the difference?
Missing people tell themselves they don’t need anyone, or that others don’t want to hear from them. They can learn how to cope without others in their lives. Or, they think their lives don’t matter. Sometimes missing people find crowds to hang around where they appear to be connected but truthfully, the loneliness can be debilitating.
Missing people want to experience unconditional love just like you would. We are all on the same road of life and in our human experience we will not likely see perfection any time soon. The tools of the enemy aren’t that creative. He stands outside the sheep pen with a lure. “Look at what you’ve just done. They are really angry with you. You’re so stupid.” “See how they just rejected you because of what you’ve done.” Or, “Come out here, it’s going to be much better here.” Then after you stray outside the fence, he will use other tactics to keep you estranged. “Look, they don’t even notice you are gone.” Or, “See, they didn’t really want you there anyway.”
After a few people reached into my life when I was missing, I was found. It wasn’t easy, or immediate, but I felt cared for. I really needed to know someone noticed I was missing. I had created a barrier around my life of self protection and shame. But someone reached through my facade.
It’s not necessarily the right thing to invite someone to church, but it is often a great thing to invite someone into your life long enough to say “I care.” It is really important to seek ways to relate to others who will feel really intimidated by gatherings of “religious” folk.
Can you be a bridge builder? How can we connect the lost, the forsaken and the lonely to relationships, growth, and peace in a life with Christ that is rewarding?
Will you ask God to lead you to someone today who needs a touch from Him?
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:1-3