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on level ground

“Every valley shall be lifted up.
and every mountain and hill be made low
the uneven ground shall become level,
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”
– Isaiah 40: 3-5

When I was in high school, I was part of an organization called Young Life.

It was a great experience.  I enjoyed the general social comfort I found there, grew in my own personal understanding of Christianity, and appreciated being a part of a faith-based group that’s designed to introduce kids to the idea of knowing God for a lifetime.

The summer after my graduation from high school, I attended a weeklong trip to a Young Life-operated summer camp, a place that’s affectionately referred to as Castaway Club.

And it was awesome.  I spent seven days having fun outdoors with old and new friends, enjoying deep conversations, learning about God with other students my age.  As a high school student, I looked up to my Young Life leaders a lot.  In many ways, I still do.  They introduced me to the idea of walking with God through my college years, and I continue to respect and appreciate the influence they held in my life.

Since I got to university, I haven’t really been in solid communication with my former students or leaders.   We’re all still friends on Facebook, but we don’t talk all that often and it’s been more than a few years since I’ve gotten together with other Young Life people for “Campaigners” or “Club” (Bible study & hangout/worship time).  Nonetheless, I have never forgotten their lasting influence in my own spiritual walk.

Though I have definitely changed a little (maybe even matured) since those days, I think I’m still on a similar path.  I continue to worship weekly with other Christians, now at my campus’ Catholic church and at our local Wesley foundation.  I’ve gotten involved in student ministry and activism regarding human trafficking and LGBT issues in the church, and I’m thinking about attending seminary after graduation.

One of my old leaders, it turns out, is on a similar path.  And she’s doing amazing things.

level ground

Samantha Curley just graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary (that’s a big deal!).  Fuller pulls some of the smartest Christians from around the world to Pasadena, California, where they prayerfully study theology, the Bible, and how to faithfully continue Jesus’ quest of extending God’s love (from ancient history into the 21st century).  While there, Sam co-founded a group called OneTable, a place for students and members of the local community to gather and create safe spaces to dialogue about issues of faith and gender and sexuality and spirituality.  OneTable got some flak for being the first ever LGBTQ-affiliated group at an evangelical seminary institution, and I respect Sam enormously for following God’s call to begin this group despite those who did not want to see these safe spaces created.

That was last year.

Now, Sam is launching the world’s first film festival committed to dialogue at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality.

It’s called “Level Ground.”

Here’s a video introducing the event:

But why this issue?  Why now?

Sam says it best: “there really aren’t any spaces for people to come together and create real conversations…we see people on all sides being unable to sit in the complexity and nuance of difference, finding it easier to ignore or demonize the other.”

She’s right, you know.  If you know anything about the conversation that’s going on in the church right now about Christianity and homosexuality, you know that there is a lot of spiritual pain and emotional bruises in this discussion, on all sides.  This is where Level Ground Film Festival comes in.  In the middle of this conflict and tension, here’s this group saying that they want to love gays and Christians and heterosexual couples and nonbelievers – and they want to help us love each other better as well.

Why a film festival?

“We believe that art has the unique ability to kind of capture and create that [safe] space,” says Sam.

Art and film are intended to tell stories, or, to simply make a bit of room for themselves to exist in a world cluttered with anger and pain and people taking sides.  Creating safe spaces through art is extremely appropriate, and is the perfect way to frame this conversation.

Level Ground is taking real steps – uncomfortable and tense steps though they may be – to bring about lasting safe spaces, level ground, where “reconciliation and relationship, even across difference and disagreement, can occur.”

But is this just naive optimism?  I am often told that opposing forces (like those who practice religion and those who have been burned by it, closeted gay folks and welcoming and affirming ones, conservatives and liberals) will never be able to sit down at the same table.  Many of my friends insist that real conversation and mutual growth are no longer possible in such a schismatic world.

But what do you believe?  Is there hope for building bridges?

Can the lion and the lamb lay down together?

If you want to help make the answer to that question yes, I have some good news for you.

But first I should mention that some really cool people are coming to this festival.  Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning writer of Milk, is attending.  So is Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop elected to the Episcopal church.  Others include filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, authors Jeff Chu, Eve Tushnet, and Wesley Hill, and many more.

Level Ground is welcoming those of every perspective, calling for anyone with a stake in this conversation to share their voice and their story.

I mentioned that you could say a definite yes to those questions.  It’s true.  I’m particularly excited to write about this cause  because you can actually help make this whole thing happen.

You can take tangible steps to support Sam in her journey to help heal this conversation and find a better way of speaking to each other on this issue:

You can share this post.

You can follow Level Ground on Facebook and Twitter.

You can attend the event, which will be held in Pasadena this February.

If you can’t make it all the way to California, you can help fund Sam on her Indiegogo page here.  She has set a pretty optimistic goal for her campaign, and I urge you to consider helping her meet it.  I know that contributing even one dollar really does help.

Lastly, if you are interested, you can get involved in Young Life, and help to create safe spaces and biblically faithful environments for teenagers near where you live.  Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about the group here in Champaign-Urbana, the North Shore of Chicago, or wherever else you may be.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on FAITH AUTOPSY and commented:
    This is definitely worth supporting…

    November 4, 2013
  2. Allie Morris #

    Wait Ryan this is crazy. Just got back from a younglife event in pasedena all fired up (we’re restarting club in my area which is about 45 mins away) and I get an email with this post. Also the guy who spoke at club was wearing a fuller seminary. (Weird probably not a coincidence) I love how god works in the smallest ways with those little connections between things.

    This festival sounds amazing!! I definitely am going to look into going!! Are you coming to CA to go?

    November 5, 2013
    • Allie, I can’t believe I never responded to this. how are you?!? I freaked out when I saw this comment because of the coincidence and I sent it to my friend Sam (who I mention in the post) and she was amused/excited as well. I would love to come to California to attend the event but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so. you should definitely look into it though. how are you?

      December 12, 2013

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