My review of “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach
“Messy Grace”, written by Caleb Kaltenbach, is an honest insider’s look into a man’s life that grew up being raised by openly gay parents, who one day became a follower of Christ and a Pastor, struggling to embrace God’s truth while rendering grace. Moving from the use of scripture and autobiographical transparency, the author makes an attempt to skillfully (Chapters 1 to 6) fuse the love of God with the truth of God (Chapters 7 to 12) while juggling the tension that resides at the intersection of the two.
Working for a year closely connected as a Chaplain to the longest free-standing HIV clinic in Houston, I had the opportunity to interact with many in the LGBT community daily. As a result, I strongly believe that Kaltenbach is correct when he contends that many Christians fail to think critically or talk comfortably about the issue of homosexuality without and within the church context. In failing to approach the issue of homosexuality, we miss opportunities to dialogue and worse, hurt others in the process. Through his usage of story, imagery, example and painful transparency, Kaltenbach describes and unveils his personal history of his own mother and her partner, along with his father who would one day reveal his love for the same gender. What I do find intriguing is how vividly Kaltenbach describes his recollections of the seeming hatred and perceived venom directed at the gay community as he marched (as a child) alongside his mother and her partner in gay pride parades and generally in the gay community. He grew to simply believe all Christians hated anyone who wasn’t like them; and thus hated gay people. He also (some justifiably so) grew to believe that many hurts and prejudices were enacted and imposed by the Christian community, historically. As I look at even the Southern Baptist origin (of which I am a part) and how it originated (white Baptists in the south were opposed to the freeing of slaves; and wished to distinguish themselves from those in the north, who were against slavery) I must concur with many injustices done at the hands of “Christian” people and the “church.” But as with anything or religion that is extreme, this has its own limitations. After all, as the author points out, this doesn’t reflect the character of Christ.
The author seeks to persuade the reader to live in what he calls “the tension of grace and truth.” He clearly seems to suggest that those who are apart of Christianity already live in tension. But he invites all who are in the Judeo-Christian arena to explore Grace and Truth’s intersection; and live there.
The author contends that a real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us. And that we have tragically done a better job of wounding those who are different from than building them up. BUT…I like how Kaltenbach skillfully turns the tide in chapter 7 towards God’s truth. With rapidity, he stresses the fact that God’s truth must be balanced with God’s grace and love. God’s truth should not come at the alienation of God’s love; and neither should an emphasis on the love of God expunge the fact of God’s love towards messy people. The truth is – we are all messy.
I have two sides, when it comes to reading and reviewing this book. On the one hand, I am excited to see someone dealing with the issue of homosexuality, the church’s ignorance regarding the issue, same-gender attraction and confronting and loving others who struggle (or do not struggle) with same-sex attraction. On the other, the theologian in me kicks in…and I am uncomfortable with some of Kaltenbach’s assertions, views, perspectives and translations of scripture. But I realize he isn’t trying to just speak to the theologian; but to the charge at large and in general. I do believe him to be sincere; and that he makes an attempt to interpret God’s truth in light of the road he has traveled. He makes some very helpful steps to responding to those who “come out” and dealing with same-gender attraction in one’s own life or family.
Some of the weak points of the book are when he states that the best alternative for those who are gay be celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. I see quite a few loopholes in this regard. For the sake of brevity and my lack of a plausible alternative; I will simply say this peeked my interest; and invite others to gather your own thoughts on the author’s assertions. But to address the practice of celibacy in short I will say that, in this sex-crazed culture (which Kaltenbach does address, I give him this), still having a non-sexual relationship with the person you are attracted to of the same sex, without a time-frame of ending the race…is an act waiting to happen. I’ll leave that there. To marry another person of the opposite sex when one is still gay, almost seems akin to “praying the gay away.” Again, in my view, this has fallacies. I would also add that this volume seems to deal with the perspective of the LBGT towards Christianity from one side of the aisle. Knowing quite a few persons in the LBGT, I can attest to the fact that this is not the view of all; and Kaltenbach does point this out.
I do think that every Christian reader and pastor should atleast skin through this volume; and it would help to purchase a copy of this book as a helpful resource to gain an understanding of someone who has lived on both sides of the proverbial aisle. On a scale of 1 to 10, it is a 6 when it comes to reading difficulty, 7 in Christian living and a 9 in practicality. All in all, I am glad I took some time to read this book during the course of this past week. After all, “Messy Grace” is a story about us all!