Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Special Lenten '21 City Notes | No Longer Strangers: Finding Belonging in a World of Alienation Through Losing & Gaining

 


If Jesus is telling the truth, we gain much more than we could possibly lose. + Gregory Coles, No Longer Strangers


For this Special City Notes released on the day of this books release, I'm honored to be part of Gregory Coles book launch team for his second book, No Longer Strangers: Finding Belonging in a World of Alienation, after his inaugural work, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity. Greg has already had much to teach me about Jesus' beauty and faithfulness in writing and in person when I had the pleasure of meeting him at Revoice: Fostering Peace. Honoring Dignity. Preserving Faith. back in the summer of 2019, and I'm grateful to continue to learn from him in what I'm sure will be one of my Top 10 books from 2021.

If we only ever pay attention to our own sense of belonging, without giving a second thought to the belonging of others, we might miss out on the moments when our location in the world matters most. Those who belong like Jesus belonged don't just receive the gift of belonging; we turn around and give it away. + Gregory Coles, No Longer Strangers

The "Gaining More Than We Could Possibly Lose" excerpts below are adapted
 from Chapter 11: The Origami Artists in No Longer Strangers: Finding Belonging in a World of Alienation by Gregory Coles

No Longer Strangers: Gaining More Than We Could Possibly Lose

I said a tentative goodbye to the idea of having kids in the same moment I concluded I was probably going to be single and celibate for my entire life. I told myself it was fitting for someone so obviously ill-suited to childcare to remain childless. Sometimes I even felt relieved ... But sometimes, Greg-Without-Kids didn't want to be passionate about things in solitude. Sometimes I dreamed of sharing my life's ordinary moments with mini-humans who might adopt my fascinations and mimic my mannerisms
 – who might grow up differently because they had grown up in my company. Sometimes the thought of never having kids felt like a tremendous loss. Sometimes it still does ... 

I am not, in the physiological sense of the word, a eunuch. And yet, based on the amount of sex I'm currently having and the number of biological offspring I expect to leave behind when I die, the distinction between me and a eunuch sometimes feels negligible. I am, as far as I can tell, precisely the kind of person Jesus has in view when He says in Matthew 19, "There are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others –
 
and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven." I seem to fit that third category rather well: the people who live a sexless and childless life, not because they have no other options, but because they truly believe that the Kingdom of heaven is worth every ounce of their devotion.


For people of Jesus' day, one of the great tragedies of a eunuch's life was that he would never have the opportunity to become a biological parent. His bloodline would end the day he died, leaving no one behind to carry on his legacy or to prove that his time on earth had mattered. Infertile women of that era faced the same fear. So did every married couple unable to conceive children together for any reason. To be without offspring was to go unremembered. Perhaps it's fitting that Jesus' next act in Matthew 19 – just after describing people who, like Jesus Himself, live as eunuchs by choice – is to place His hands on and pray for the little children who are brought to Him.

Jesus doesn't withdraw from the lives of children simply because He's not the one parenting them. On the contrary, Jesus declares children central to the Kingdom of heaven. He invests in them, takes them seriously, invites them to follow in His footsteps of passionate love for God and neighbor. For Jesus' disciples, biological parenting isn't meant to be the only way we leave a legacy or build a family. It's not even meant to be the primary way we leave a legacy or build a family. Jesus treats the family of God as something much more substantial than just a pretty metaphor. It is a concrete claim, a literal state of being. Those who follow God together are family to one another.

 

At the end of Matthew 19, Jesus promises that the people who give up the usual trappings of home and spouse and children for the sake of the Gospel will receive a hundred times as much in return. In short, he is promising us the family of God.


Jesus is promising us to one another. If this promise doesn't sound like good news – if the family of God sounds like a cheap substitute for a spouse and a picket fence and two-and-a-quarter children – perhaps it's because we in the Church have failed to really live like family to one another. Do we believe that nuclear family is in some way superior – more permanent, more dependable, more meaningful, more concrete – than spiritual family? Jesus certainly didn't seem to. Maybe it's time for those of us who claim to follow Him to step up our game and start acting like actual sisters and brothers and fathers and mothers to one another. Maybe we need to start being for one another the family Jesus promised we would be for one another.


Another of my favorite biblical promises for single people comes from Isaiah: 


And let not eunuch complain, 
"I am only a dry tree." 
For this is what the LORD says: 
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, 
who choose what pleases Me and hold fast to My covenant –  
to them I will give within My temple and its walls 
a memorial and a name 
better than sons and daughters; 
I will give them an everlasting name 
that will endure forever." (56:3-5)


I'm not saying that those of us who remain single, or those couples unable to conceive biological kids, can't still become parents. Fostering and adoption are beautiful and necessary modes of parenting that are open to us all  even the celibates. My point is, rather, that every follower of Jesus is called to leave a legacy, to partake in the family of God, to participate in the lives of those younger than us, regardless of whether we ever become parents in a biological or legal sense. There is something we lose when our obedience to Jesus leaves us childless ... 


But if Jesus is telling the truth, we gain much more than we could possibly lose. 
+ Gregory Coles, No Longer Strangers, pgs. 107-109


Bonus: Here is a recent song to complement the content above:

Maverick City Music, 2019 A.D.

I will sing of Your goodness,
I will sing of Your love, 
Though the seasons come quickly, 
You have always been enough. 
Though the night may get darker, 
Though the waiting seems long, 
You have always been faithful 
To remind me of Your love.

You are good, 
In the morning "I’ll sing You are good!" 
In the evening, "I’ll sing You are good!" 
You are good to me. 

You have always been patient, 
You have always been kind.
You’re consistent through the ages, 
Oh, what a friend of mine. 
So I’ll remind my soul to bless You, 
Standing firm upon Your Truth 
Knowing You cannot be shaken, 
‘Cause I’ve seen what you can do!
(Chorus

You keep on getting better! You keep on getting better!


Here are links to previous City Notes books:


Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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