A Book Review of “One” by Deidra Riggs

one deidra riggsThe back cover of “One” reads, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.”

It seems that’s exactly what Deidra Riggs is promoting in her book. she makes a case for Christians not necessarily having missed the boat on the gospel as much as we have missed the boat on our understanding of love in the kingdom of God. We are divided within the church and our example and witness hardly seems consistent when we talk about a God who accomplishes the impossible.

Riggs writes, “As members of the body of Christ, our language and cultural differences and our music and sermon length preferences seem like weak and empty reasons for separating ourselves from one another and thinking it’s okay to do so.” We have separated and segregated ourselves, sequestering ourselves in homogenous communities, churches, and other places. Riggs indicts Christians as having chosen, “churches and faith communities that envelop us in the comfort of people who look like us, think like us, vote like us, and dream like us.”

We’ve chosen to divide ourselves by our issues rather than looking past them to our commonalities. Our differences seem to be the one thing that our God can’t seem to conquer, at least in our own minds. We don’t work to move past these things because of the potential mess and discomfort that would be involved. Instead of looking to understand differences in ideas, opinions, and viewpoints, we choose instead to turn them into lines in the sand. Riggs writes, “…distilling a moment in a person’s journey to categories – pro-life or pro-choice, criminal or upstanding citizen, sinner or saint – limits out ability to let God be God in the life of that person.” She adds later, “When the people on the other side of our argument become our enemies, and we identify them as such, we have let our argument become our idol.”

“A faith that uses Jesus to justify any type of division, prejudice, injustice, or superiority needs to be examined and brought back into alignment with the truth of Christ’s message of good news.” We can’t remove our call to love our neighbors from the message of Jesus Christ. While that may feel uncomfortable, justifying our division, as Riggs says, needs to be evaluated in light of that message.

Riggs is incredibly honest about her own part in this. She admits her struggle and candidly shares of her own story. She is not perfect and never comes across as such. She admits, “When I mistake my position on an issue as being critical to my identity, I’ve let these differences stand between me and others in the body of Christ.”

We often struggle when we don’t fully understand from where someone is coming. Our lack of understanding, or ignorance, should be no excuse for downplaying how someone experiences something that is completely foreign to us. Instead, we need to lean into the relationship to try our best to understand where the other person is coming from. We cannot dictate how a person should or should not respond to a situation, especially when they’re coming to it from a completely different perspective or viewpoint than us.

When it comes to racial divides, It’s inappropriate for white people to be telling black people to “get over it” or “move on from the past” when the past continues to rear its ugly head and prove that it’s not as far back in the past as we’ve made it seem. Love and understanding need to be our primary goal when we encounter these situations that divide us. In fact, downplaying and diminishing the experiences of others in the midst of this will actually increase the divisions that already exist.

So much of what Riggs shares speaks to my heart. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the past months exploring the issue of division and race. There is a tension that I feel though as I read “One” and I keep trying to put my finger on just what it is. Is it my own discomfort in having to change my ways or is it a discomfort in something that just feels wrong or different?

Riggs writes, “If we let our convictions take the place of Jesus in our lives, we could very well be standing in the way of the same Holy Spirit with whom we profess to be filled.” As I read this, I’m trying to understand just what Riggs wants us to do with our convictions. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who gives us those convictions? How can the convictions that we have received from the Holy Spirit stand in the way of the Holy Spirit himself?

Of course, we can easily be reminded of the story of Peter in Acts having a vision of animals that had been called “unclean” to him coming down from heaven while he heard a voice telling him to eat. His own convictions ended up being wrong because God had expanded the menu. As Riggs writes, hiding behind spiritual convictions to justify our own prejudices is unacceptable.

I read Riggs’ arguments as being specifically pertaining to the racial divide that we see within the church, but there are times when I wonder if she’s moving past that to other areas that are seemingly dividers within the church. While she never explicitly mentions it, it’s hard not to think about the current state of the church in America and some of the other divisions that we see over convictions and the interpretation of those convictions. While I don’t condone unloving or ungodly prejudices, there is a tension that we will feel as followers of Christ when we hold to conviction of sin while still loving our neighbors, regardless of where they stand.

I may be reading too deeply into what Riggs has written and my own bias may be expanding her arguments past what her intentions were. Despite my discomfort with my interpretation of what Riggs is saying, I applaud her for speaking into this topic of division and race with such conviction and raw honesty. What she offers in “One” is an opportunity to engage a difficult subject by someone who has been far more impacted by it than I have and whose understanding can help me with my own.

“One” is an opportunity to begin to understand, especially if you are like me and are coming at the issue of racial division within the church from one who is not the minority. I would encourage you to hear what Deidra Riggs has to say. Let it challenge you, but more importantly, let it move you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Every.Single.Milestone

Yesterday was kindergarten registration and I brought my baby girl to register. Seriously, how did these years go so fast? This is the last one, my baby, my only girl, my princess, which is one reason why it’s that much harder. Sure, she’ll always be “daddy’s girl” but it’s just one of a series of milestones that I just have to get used to, no matter how hard it is.

Compounding the kindergarten registration, it’s just been a rough week. We had some minor issues with our house, nothing unusual or serious, but for some reason, every issue with houses, cars, and family always seems to be monumental when I’m going through it.

My emotional state wasn’t helped at all when a dear family in my church tragically lost their twelve year old grandson…

And it probably also didn’t help things any when I backed our van into my car on Saturday…

Then it was the four year anniversary of my dad’s death on Monday…

Then the father of my oldest son’s friend passed away…

Then another friend was handed a breast cancer diagnosis…

And the hits just keep on coming. But that’s life, right?

In the midst of these moments, the ups and downs, the high points and the low points, I feel the loss of my parents that much more. Just the comfort of hearing my mom’s voice on the other end of the phone and ending our conversation with prayer was a game changer for me. I’m no longer able to benefit from their experiences, other than the ones that they shared with me, which in less than 40 years just doesn’t really seem like much.

But God…

Yup, he’s still there. He is still not surprised by any of this. He still cares. He hasn’t removed himself from the picture. In fact, in the shadow of Easter, we remember that he suffered anguish and pain, that the difficulties of this world are not unfamiliar to him. He walked his own journey, felt his own loss, struggled with his own pain, and wept his own tears.

Sometimes it feels like every single milestone requires an exorbitant amount of strength just to get through or over. It’s like the fatigue that you feel on the last set of your workout. I sometimes feel like the little engine that could, continually reassuring myself with the simple words, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”

I want those words to be replaced with something about how I know God can, but I’d be lying if I said that those words were always at the top of my list or on the tip of my tongue.

In Bible study the other morning with the eighth grade boys that I mentor the lesson was on Mark 9 and the man whose son was demon possessed. When Jesus asked him how long his son had been like that, the father answered, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

You can just hear the frustration and exhaustion in the man’s voice. He’d probably been to person after person who he’d been told could help his son, only to come to another dead end, another disappointment, another ounce of hope dashed to the ground. I can completely understand his response to Jesus, regardless of whether or not he knew who Jesus was. I’ve been there before, I’ll probably be there again.

But God…

Yes, he’s still there, but sometimes he seems silent. Maybe he’s just speaking softer than we can hear. Maybe we just need to find solitude and quiet in order that we can actually hear him. Maybe he knows better than most people in the midst of dark times and instead of filling the air with empty words and platitudes, he simply offers us his presence, choosing rather to grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. God has not left the building and he, in fact, knows how best to minister to us better than anyone else around us, but it’s not through prescribed solutions and quick fix answers.

Life continues to march on. Milestones come and go, registrations happen, sickness happens, loss happens, transitions happen. They are all a sign that things continue to move. We cannot stop the passing of time. 

But we are not alone, nor were we meant to be alone. We have been given the gift of God’s presence, those of us who call ourselves his children. We have been given the gift of the presence of each other, which can sometimes feel more significant because of its tangibility.

As I drove away from the elementary school after registering my daughter, tears welling up in my eyes, my mind jumped to my family’s cross country trip last summer. I thought about the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and Carlsbad Caverns and New Orleans and Memphis and Los Angeles and Denver and all of the places we went. I thought about the many miles we drove, packed together in a minivan. I thought about the absurd moments that took place, I laughed at the shared moments by which we are all bonded together, and I wondered whether or not my kids have any friends who have dads who are as goofy, inappropriate, and unrefined as me. I thought of all those things……..and I smiled.

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, at least for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his suffering and beating, the injustices done against him, his abandonment by those who called themselves his followers. As I think about all that happened on Good Friday, none of it seems to add up to giving it the moniker “good.”

But we can’t look at Good Friday on its’ own. The only way that Good Friday can really be called “good” is if we look at it in light of what happens just three days later. Good Friday becomes good when we realize just what it led to, the celebration of Easter Sunday.

As I think about Good Friday and all that Jesus did, I realize that his work is nothing that can be duplicated by any of us. He alone was able to live a perfect life. He alone was able to be a sacrifice for our sins. He alone was able to rise again after three days in the tomb. But I think we can learn lessons from what Jesus did, at least one lesson for every day that he was in the grave (give me a break, good things come in threes, right?).

1) The will of the Father was more important than his own

Jesus knew his purpose and mission from the beginning. From the moment when he began his public ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus exhibited submission to the Father. The Father’s voice rang out from the heavens, “This is my beloved son in him I am well pleased.”

While most of us may have gone the selfish route, Jesus did not waiver in deed from his mission. He submitted to the Father’s plan and accomplished the perfect work. Jesus’ agenda was the agenda of his Father, not his own.

How many of us can say the same thing? Do we really allow the will of our Father to take priority to our own?

2) He knew there was a bigger plan at work

Not only was Jesus submissive to the Father, but he also kept the bigger plan in mind. Jesus knew what the end result needed to be and he did not waver from it. Jesus had every reason to get caught up in who he was, the Messiah, and what he was able to do, but he didn’t. Jesus, in fact, continued to try to conceal who he was until the moment was right. He knew the bigger plan and did not want to derail that plan or for anything to happen before the appointed time.

How often do we remember that God has a bigger plan in mind? Do we get hijacked in thinking that our plan is more important than the master plan?

3) He didn’t open his mouth

In fulfilling the prophecies that had been spoken of him, when Jesus was arrested and tried, he did not say much at all. He did not defend himself. He did not use his divine powers. He simply kept his mouth shut.

I don’t know about you, but this has to be one of the most difficult things for me to do in following the example of Jesus, especially when I feel that I am under attack. It’s hard not to be defensive, let alone not opening my mouth. My reflex and automatic response is always self=preservation, yet Jesus was less concerned about himself and more concerned about what we saw in lessons 1 and 2 above. The will of the Father was more important than his own and the bigger plan was more important than his own plan.

As I reflect on Jesus’ work over the course of these days leading up to Easter as well as the lessons we learn from him, it’s a little overwhelming to think about. No matter how hard I could try, I could never measure up to Jesus and all that he did. While that may seem deflating, it’s actually freeing to understand that Jesus’ work was enough and there is nothing that I can add to it. While I can follow his example, even when I don’t, he offers me forgiveness and grace.

Good Friday is indeed good. What happened on Easter was great. May we constantly pursue the example of Jesus as we are constantly transformed into the image in which we were created, the imago dei, the image of God.

Learning to Repent

It’s been a journey in the making for about eight years, but if I’m really honest, it’s probably been longer than that. It might be closer to forty years. It’s been a journey of enlightenment, a journey of self-discovery, and a journey of humility.

I’ve benefitted from white privilege for the bulk of my life. I was raised into it, though I did nothing to deserve it or earn it. I’ve never fought it or complained that it was given to me. I’ve never done anything to give it away, and I’ve never really done anything to repent of its benefits.

For those of us who have benefited from white privilege, it’s hard to acknowledge it and sometimes harder to come to terms with the fact that it’s something of which we should repent. You see, I think our Christianity in the west has been heavily influenced by our westernized, individualistic culture. We’ve lost the corporate nature of humanity as we’ve all set on our own individual ways. We seek after a personal relationship with Christ, which is important but we miss the point of the corporate language of the Bible. We read so many of the passages in the Bible that say “you” as talking to us as individuals rather than talking to us as a group, one body.

Those of us who fail to see that repentance is necessary are the same ones who fail to see why “All lives matter” is not a legitimate phrase. We also wonder why we need to repent for the things for which we can’t claim personal responsibility. After all, we weren’t the ones pulling the trigger, right? We weren’t there when some of these atrocities took place, right? We never asked for the white privilege that we received, did we?

But asking those questions and making those statements are an indication of us missing the point.

The Book of Nehemiah in the Bible is among my favorite books. It contains thirteen chapters of leadership and life lessons. One of the things that has captivated me about the book is found in the first chapter, specifically, Nehemiah’s prayer, for it’s in that prayer that I think I first began to understand corporate sin and corporate repentance. It’s in that prayer that I realized that there are times when we confess the sins that we might not have personally committed, times when we need to own things that others did, maybe even way before we were even born. It was in that prayer that I began to learn that being responsible for and taking responsibility for are not necessarily the same thing.

As Nehemiah prays to the Lord, he says, Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

Why did Nehemiah pray that prayer? He wasn’t personally responsible for Israel’s exile. He didn’t do anything to cause it. Yet, he was willing to own it and to bring it before the Lord.

Why?

I think that Nehemiah understood corporate sin. I think he understood that there was something to be said about sins for which he may have not been personally responsible, but for which he was corporately responsible. Nehemiah is an example that we who have benefitted from white privilege should follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and that’s fine. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand, I feel like I’m beginning to see what I’ve missed before. I may not have personally caused the mess or committed the sin, but I’ve been a recipient of the privilege that resulted from it. And that’s why it makes perfect sense for me to repent. I might not be personally responsible for the sins, but I can take responsibility for them. 

Yes, my journey’s been a long one, and it’s certainly not over. I’m beginning to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart. Opening my eyes to see, opening my ears to hear, and opening my heart to feel.

The journey has involved reading things that I wouldn’t normally read, books that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved going places that I wouldn’t normally go, places that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved talking with people that I might not normally talk with, people that might make me feel uncomfortable. But the only way we grow is to feel that discomfort, to move outside of the safe zone with which we tend to surround ourselves.

I’m not there, but I’m doing what I can do broaden my horizons and look at things from a different perspective. I know that God is doing a work in me and I can only hope that it continues.