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A stained-glass window depicting Methodism founder John Wesley is seen at First-Centenary United Methodist Church on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. A special session of the United Methodists General Conference begins Saturday in St. Louis, Mo., where delegates are expected to hear discussion on homosexuality in the Methodist church.

The email arrived a week or so ago, not long after the United Methodist church voted to affirm its ban on gay marriage and gay clergy.

(That vote has recently been called into question.)

I believe otherwise — that gay and straight do not matter in the kingdom of Heaven — and said so in a pair of columns.

That's why the email appeared. It was only one sentence. A question, actually.

"Would you please share with me the scripture that supports your claim that being gay (and I assume you mean practicing a homosexual lifestyle) is not a sin nor a spiritual 'crime,'" a reader asked.

She gave her name. I won't. We'll call her Ms. H.

Ms. H's email wasn't the only one. Part of my inbox was an angry thicket; readers, including one school board member, were incredulous at the very thought that gay people can be Christians.

But Ms. H.? Her email felt different. It was just one tiny question.

So, here's my answer.

No.

With all due respect, Ms. H., no.

I won't share Scripture with you.

Because sharing Scripture has become part of the problem.

I could march out a dozen verses supporting my side, but then the other side comes back with two dozen. In the fight over Scripture, we use verses like half-nelsons or sandbags before a flood — stacking verse on top of verse to build our defense, which only leaves us frustrated and walled off.

And the battle continues.

Ms. H., let's go past that.

Imagine that you and I really want to understand water.

We read book after book. Memorize water's scientific properties, sketch out the water cycle, consult with water experts.

But if we really wanted to understand water, we would need to put our books down.

To understand water, we need to get wet.

To experience water, we need to jump in the river.

Because books about water are not water; they can only take us so far.

Just as menus are not the meal.

Nor maps the actual territory.

(Thank you, Alan Watts, Alfred Korzybski and Thich Nhat Hahn for the metaphors.)

Put it another way: if we went outside on a clear night and looked up, we would see the moon.

We might point to the moon, gazing in silence at its beauty and mystery.

Yet we would not mistake our pointing fingers for the moon itself.

The finger is only pointing at the moon.

Giving us direction.

But never replacing the moon itself.

And the Bible is only pointing to God.

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David Cook

The Bible is not God; it is a book about God.

If we want to really know God, we must jump in.

"I know that the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape," writes preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor in "Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith."

Verses must be secondary to the primary experience of recognizing the divine in our daily lives. You asked for verses? Instead, go talk to gay Christians. Or the families of gay teens who have committed suicide.

When Christ told his friends about God, he didn't tell them to go memorize Scripture.

He told them to open their eyes.

"People can learn as much about the ways of God from business deals gone bad or sparrows falling to the ground as they can from reciting the books of the Bible in order," Taylor writes. "They can learn as much from a love affair or a wildflower as they can from knowing the Ten Commandments by heart."

I'm not saying the Bible isn't holy or life-changing, especially for me.

But it should lead us to experience God, not replace God.

Your email mentioned "practicing a homosexual lifestyle." Frankly, that's about the same as a straight lifestyle. Gay people grocery shop. Clip coupons. Walk the dog. Moan over politics. Binge Netflix. Pray before bed. Smile at spring flowers. And have sex. Just like the rest of us.

And, if they listen, they can hear the voice of God saying: you, too, are my beloved.

When we jump into the water that is God, we find all else is folly. The words we pin on the divine are all unthinkably, preposterously large. The Alpha and Omega. The Beloved. The One who knit each of us in the womb and numbers the hairs on our head.

Straight.

And gay.

Ms. H., thank you for your email.

You asked.

This is my answer.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329.

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