LOOKING BEYOND

August 9th, 2007… 

A day that feels as familiar as yesterday. A day that marked a new chapter and beginning into a calling and a ministry. This is the day I moved to Kansas City, MO. I had just gotten back from living and teaching in Asia. I could still remember the fast pace of moving. Within 3 weeks I moved from Asia to Illinois and then to Kansas City - a place I knew little to nothing about.  I remember feeling overwhelmed, lonely, and unsure of my decision to attend Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City and I truly did not have a clue as to what my ministry would look like. Looking back, I can say that I don’t think I would have ever imagined doing what I am and living where I am now, yet I am so thankful that this is the calling I’m investing in and living out nearly 10 years later.

 I serve as a Co-pastor with my husband, Andy, and with Letiah Fraser at Trinity Family Midtown Church of the Nazarene. Our church is in an urban setting and located within a very diverse community. There are many ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and life experiences that are way different than my experiences of growing up in a rural Southern Illinois town. Some days, pastoring in this context has its challenges and culture shock moments where I find myself saying: “I wish I would have learned this in Seminary.” Or “I can’t make this up… this is really happening.” There is also beauty and grace beyond measure in the midst of my neighborhood and something that proves to be more valuable than I would ever realize - seeing people as human.

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      There are not many ways to escape the view of humanity in its various forms in Midtown. The people I have the privilege to know, interact with, pastor, and journey with are some of the most genuine individuals I have ever had the chance of encountering. Where I grew up, it was easy to live in a way that people saw only what one wanted them to see. While that can still exist today, living in my community does not provide that opportunity often.

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      My ministry is unique because the calling and commitment in my life is to live in and among a group of people with whom the church has not had the best relationship over the years. I am a pastor of a church that reaches out to the LGBTQ community. This has been a topic of questions and concerns over the years from various church folk. Some have engaged with the church out of genuine curiosity and others have sought an argument rather than an understanding.

      A rule I seek to live by as a pastor comes from Jesus, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

The first part of this verse may be familiar and most people can say “Of course, that’s right…I’m on board. This is easy.” It’s the second part of the verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself” that needs to be fleshed out.  Often we ask in our hearts “Who is my neighbor?” Asking this question can have two effects: 1.) Identify people we may have overlooked and intentionally investing in establishing a connection with them. 2.) It can also provide the “upper hand” to go about our regularly scheduled business. We do this by making mental checklists of those we want to love because it is easy. By doing this, we fail to go deeper in love towards others with whom we are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Love is costly and requires time, energy, sacrifice, transparency, and vulnerability.

      All humans were created with needs. First and foremost we were designed for a relationship with God Our Creator and secondly, we were designed to live in community and relationship with one another as a reflection of the loving relationship God has bestowed upon us. Jesus’ example of love was through interaction. Many people wanted Jesus’ attention and had areas of their lives that needed transformation through an encounter with Him. In these various encounters in scripture, Jesus doesn’t treat people like tasks who have been crossed off a holy to-do checklist." Instead, Jesus often engages people in conversation, which serves as an identifying factor in understanding the physical and spiritual needs of that person. Not only that, but these conversations allow Jesus to know how to meet a person's needs.' I’ve learned and am still learning what this looks like on my journey.

      There is no denying that all humans have needs, individually and communally. This is our connection. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs sums up human needs well:

  • Biological needs - air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.
  • Safety needs - protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  • Love and relational needs - friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love, affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
  • Esteem needs - achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others
  • Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. [1]
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As we seek to love ourselves, the desire and want of these needs to be fulfilled becomes obvious. We work to make sure we have adequate food, shelter, and healthy habits. Individual and cultural routines are developed so we are safe and stable. Relationships are of great value to us as we seek to understand, be understood, and belong because there are not many feelings worse than rejection. Once we have these basic needs met individually there is an opportunity to pursue further needs like esteem and self-actualization. If we are lacking in any of the basic needs, there is a sense of floundering and purposelessness in our lives, at times. Respect for one another is the key to honoring and fulfilling mutual human needs. When people feel cared for, valued, and loved, they do better.  

      One of the ways I have experienced this happen in my ministry context was early on in our marriage. Andy and I committed ourselves to opening our home on Thanksgiving and Christmas to our church family. Holidays are not always joyful for people who have experienced loss, rejection, distance, and strained relationships with their families and other loved ones. Anyone is welcome at our house for a Thanksgiving meal/fellowship and Christmas brunch. Our families have also been invited and have joined us from time to time for these celebrations. Sometimes, they choose not to come and we adjust our time to celebrate the day after so we can be available and connected to our church family. The need for human connection is met in a plethora of ways through this time together where all are welcome.

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      There is danger, however, when limits and qualifications are placed on the fulfillment of needs based on various factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or one’s sexual orientation. When limits and qualifications come into the picture, there is a breakdown in the message of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. When there is a failure to love one’s neighbor as oneself seeing the humanity of our neighbor is reduced severely.

      Consequences are incurred when placing legalism above holy love. Legalism is divisive because it’s centered around disagreements where there will always be one person in the right and another person in the wrong. Legalism also provides the temptation to think one is better than another by merit and actions. Last of all, legalism provides an “Us vs. Them” mentality and an opportunity to disengage from the other. The “Us vs. Them” approach rarely allows for unity and understanding because there is a preconceived notion that the “other” will not measure up to such a high standard as the “us”.

      Holy love bears fruit. It is the commitment to seek understanding, and to extend grace, patience, and generosity. Holy love is the recognition of wanting the best for another and taking the steps and actions to help achieve it even in the midst of differences that may exist.

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    Seeing people as human, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, requires looking beyond what we’ve been told most of our lives as Christians and engaging deeper. This is reflected in how we provide safe spaces in our churches for dialogue and a sense of belonging - how we speak to people and converse in daily life. This is how we work to provide safety for LGBTQ youth who have experienced rejection from their families or homelessness because of their sexual orientation. This is also reflected in how we engage issues such as Anti-Discrimination Laws for Jobs and Housing opportunities, anti-violence, anti-bullying initiatives, or access to proper medical care. All of these fit in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and investing on the basic level provides trust and hope that esteem and self-actualization will eventually be reached. People flourish when they are loved, invested in, and cared for.

      As a pastor, I am responsible for living the message of the Gospel. I have to continually put myself in the shoes of another and remind myself “If this is not how I would like to be talked to, I best not treat this person in that way.” It is important to be mindful of another and to not think we have the right to say anything we want and in any way we want. Our society has taken this path and as a consequence it has glossed over many people. We are not to live this way and we are certainly not to strip dignity away from any human created in the image of God.

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     There is freedom living into the Gospel. It truly is a liberating message of love; there is freedom to engage people representing the beautiful, grace-filled love of Christ that harbors no condemnation. There is no picking or choosing who Christ calls us to love because we are all human and that means we have the responsibility to love one another as Christ first loved us. This is lived out in my ministry context. No matter who you are or what your experience in life has been, if you walk through the doors of Trinity Family Midtown Church of the Nazarene, we are going to love you.


[1] Saul A. McLeod, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Last modified 2016. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html


AUTHOR

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Director of Community Development at Love Wins.:LGBT

SARAH MCGEE

Brett Baumgardner