Sunday, February 27, 2005

Just how shocking is the Gospel?

Sunday morning, I went to hear Rev. James Buchanan preach at Fourth Presbyterian Church, "a light in the City" in the shadow of the Hancock Building, at Michigan and Chestnut streets on the Magnificent Mile. It was an amazing experience - one of the first places that I have felt really welcomed into a church in almost 2 years. I'll be quoting some of his sermon - an incredibly powerful preaching on "the woman at the well" passage (John 4) - later on this week. But as a result of his preaching, this image came to me, almost completely, as we prayed the prayers of the church.

Pastor Buchanan started his sermon with the prayer, "Startle us, o God..." - and I admit, I prayed that prayer with him. (I'd say it was the first time one of my prayers had been answered that directly in a long, long certainly worked for me.) Thank you, Pastor, for the inspiration...and with apologies to the author of the Gospel of John, I offer you...

Jesus Talks With A Gay Man - (John 4:1-33, 39-42 - more or less...)

1 In late July, the Metro Chicago Synod heard that Jesus was attracting more first-time visitors and baptizing more adults than any other ELCA pastor in the city, 2 although in fact it was not really Jesus who had baptized them, but his irregularly-commisioned staff of unordained lay ministers. 3 Now when Jesus learned of this, he left the seminary community in Hyde Park and went back once more toward the ELCA headquarters on Higgins Road.

4 Now to get there, he had to go through an area just north of downtown called Boystown. 5 So he came to a part of Boystown called Northhalsted, not far from the plot of ground where Emperor Mayor Daley had ordained that the Chicago Cubs should play baseball. 6 Cub's Stadium was near there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey on the Red Line, sat down at a sidewalk café table outside the bar called Hydrate. It was just about lunch-time, and though the rainbow flags were fluttering in the breeze and the music inside the bar was pumping, there weren't many people around (because it's often hot and miserable outside, at mid-day in late July, in Chicago).

7 A waiter came to the table, wearing a bright pink "His+His" t-shirt and a "Silence=Death" armband, and raised one eyebrow at the man seated at the table in front of him in the "Come Follow Me" t-shirt. Jesus said to him, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (All the lay ministers had gone down the street to pick up Subway sandwiches for the rest of the journey.)

9 The gay man said to him, " tell me. After all, you appear to be a straight Christian, and I'm a gay man. Let's face it - we don't get many religious folks in Boystown, let alone places like this. And I'm not only a gay man, but I'm a Muslim gay man. So where does a guy like you get off asking someone like me for a drink?" (For Christians do not associate with gays, nor with Muslims if they can help it.)

10 Jesus answered him, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

11 "Hey, mister," the gay man said, "I'm the waiter here. I don't see you with an order pad or a serving tray, and it's tough for customers to even get close to our fountain-drink station, let alone our bar. So how are you going to get anything for me to drink, let alone 'living water'? Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you somehow greater than the folks who own this place, who let us drink have free water and soda (and snitch the occasional mixed drink) whenever we want?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks your water, or your soda, or your beer will get thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The gay man said to him, "Yeah? know what, I have no idea who you really are, or even what the heck you're talking about. But you're the first Christian man in 20 years that hasn't spit on me, or called me 'an abomination' to my face. Somehow, I think I want some of what you're offering. Give me some of this water you keep talking about, so I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to get something to drink."

16 Jesus told the man, "OK - just call your wife and come back here, and we'll talk."

17 "Who are you kidding?" the gay man said. "Don't you know where you are? You're in Boystown, for cryin' out loud. I don't have a wife, or a girlfriend. Heck, right now I don't even have a boyfriend," he replied.

Jesus said to her, "You're right when you say you have no boyfriend. The fact is, you've had five boyfriends, and the guy you're living with now isn't even your boyfriend. He's just a guy you picked up in the club - some guy who doesn't even know your real last name."

19 Whoah, buddy," the gay man said, "that's pretty intense! How'd you know that about me?" Jesus was silent. "OK...I get it. Maybe you're one of those folks who can see right through people - maybe one of those guys with 'second sight.' Maybe you're one of those folks who 'have the Spirit,' like those televangelists say. 20 I don't know anything about that. My family - my people (the ones who are observant, anyway) - think that you have to pray five times a day to Allah to get that kind of power. The rest of the people I know don't even bother with that spiritual mumbo-jumbo...they just think you have to work out a lot, look good, live fast, die hard and leave a good-looking corpse. And all the Christians I've met think that I have to pray their way, and start living life their way, or I'm 'going to hell.' Either way, my day-to-day life is so empty, I'm not convinced that I'm not already in hell. What's a guy supposed to believe?"

21 Jesus said, "Believe me, my friend, a time is coming when you won't worship God in Mecca, or in the gym, or in the club, or in a church sanctuary. 22 You and your friends worship what you think you know, but do not know. Christians worship what they do know, for salvation is promised in Scripture. 23 Yet a time is coming - and has now come - when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The gay man said, "I know that the church folks say that their Savior is coming. Maybe when he finally gets here, he will explain everything to us."

26 Then Jesus declared, "Then wait no longer. I'm the one they're waiting for."

The Irregularly-Commissioned Lay Ministers Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then the lay ministers returned and were more than a little surprised to find Jesus apparently talking with a gay man - one who appeared to be Middle-Eastern in origin, to boot. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with him?"

28 Then, leaving his tray and his order pad behind at the table, the gay man went back to the bar, and even next door to the gym and to the other clubs, and said to the people, 29 "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted. Could this possibly be 'the Christ' all those religious folks keep talking about?" 30 People came out of the gym, and out of the bars and clubs, and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile the lay ministers (the ones who considered themselves Jesus' disciples) kept saying, "Hey, padré, you may walk on water, but come on - even Michael Jordan's gotta eat something." 32 But Jesus said to them, "I have a source of energy that you know nothing about."

33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Did someone slip him some Mrs. Field's cookies while we weren't looking?"
Many Gays and Lesbians Believe

39 Many of the gays and lesbians who gathered from all around Boystown believed in Jesus because of what the waiter said: "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted." 40 So when the people of that area - gay men, lesbians, bisexuals (even people in civil unions from Vermont and Episcopalians visiting from New Hampshire) came to him, they urged Jesus to stay with them. So rather than continuing the ride out to Higgins Road, the irregularly consecrated lay ministers found some rooms at a nearby bed-&-breakfast, and he stayed in Boystown - amidst the people with whom most Christians would not associate - for two days. 41 And because of what Jesus spoke to the men and women there, many more became believers.

42 The people who heard Jesus said to the gay man who first encountered him, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
+ + +
Yes, Virginia - yes indeed...the Gospel really IS that shocking.

March 17, 2005

Over my shoulder, a backward glance...

Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever expect the attention this entry has received. It's been humbling, and gratifying.

Over the last three weeks, I've followed Sitemeter links to many, many blogs that have linked to it, and read loads of comments. As a result, I feel I need to address a couple things that have been major themes in those comments.

First of all, this entry just poured out of my soul the night after I heard Pastor Buchanan's sermon. In it, I hoped to share a contemporary context for a story that still stuns and amazes me. I haven't gone back and edited the original post, because I truly believe that I was driven to write it by a Higher Power - that's all I can say. In many ways, this is not my writing. I took the NIV text of John 4, and worked from that.

A number of people have quite rightly gotten irate about the image of Christians spitting on a gay man. They have been justifiably angered by a broad-brush tarring of all Christians as homophobic - and I truly do regret that. However, in the same breath I have to admit that many of my gay friends have experienced that kind of behavior, and for several of them, I was the first Christian they had met who hadn't shouted at them, spit at them, or screamed, "You're going to HELL, faggot!" In addition, for 12 years I lived in suburban Kansas City, and repeatedly experienced the Gospel according to the so-called Rev. Fred Phelps as he and his followers protested in front of churches, and even at funerals of gay men.

Even in my own tradition, there is a strong sense that homosexuality is "the rhinoceros in the living room" - so long as we don't wake it up, it won't gore us. It has only been recently (after experiencing the worship communities at Trinity UCC and Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago) that I've found Christian churches that have gone beyond the "don't-ask-don't-tell" level of acceptance. So if you felt this reaction, accept this apology: if I were re-writing it today, I'd do it differently.

I mentioned that I took the NIV text as my starting point. One of the most frequent criticisms of this telling has been, "So where is the repentance? How come you left out the 'go and sin no more' portion of the text?" The fact is, I left it out simply because John left it out.

(Interestingly enough, there are lots of behaviors that I haven't repented of. I still struggle with lust, gluttony, and lying (white and otherwise); I can still be a particularly vulgar individual (especially in Chicago traffic); in short, I have not repented of a lot of the sins I committed before I accepted Christ as my savior. That doesn't mean I don't believe; that doesn't mean I don't strive. It's the difference between justification and sanctification, I guess. And frankly, people have been arguing models of soteriology for hundreds of years. I'm not going to solve those battles here...)

Another recurring comment is, "What's so freakin' shocking?" The answer, surprisingly, should be "Nothing." After all, in churches that have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of the woman at the well has come up every three years for a long, long time. And the commentaries on the Gospels talk about just how much despising there was between Samaritans and Jews. So we've known all this for a while. It shouldn't surprise anyone.

But people are shocked, and startled. One man wrote, "It's like opening a bottle of ginger ale and finding Bushmill's Irish Whiskey inside; it's not bad, but it is a bit of a shock."

I think a part of this is because so much of the media and conservative Christianity has painted homosexuals as the destroyers of marriage, families, and all that is good - and the image of Jesus talking to one of "them" has been mind-blowing to a number of folks. We forget how scandalous Romans 5:8 really is: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (NIV).

A number of people have pointed out that Jesus was a Middle-Easterner, and no one would have talked to Jesus about being "Christian" or being connected with them. You're right on - point taken. If I were re-writing it, I'd probably have changed the word to "religious people."

A few comments have been made about my use of the term "irregularly-consecrated lay ministers" instead of "disciples." This is a particularly un-subtle dig at my denomination, who regularly claims "the priesthood of all believers," but sets up sacraments (such as baptism) as things only done by regularly consecrated and ordained ministers. Call me a heretic (get in line, if you do...) but I believe the presence of the Word, the water, the people, and the Holy Spirit was enough for Jesus' time...what's different now?....

I posted some additional reflections a couple days after writing this - you can find them here and here.

Finally - to everyone who has written, and commented, and linked: I give thanks to God for you, for your affirmation, and for the time you spent to comment, to encourage, and to challenge. I'm grateful for all the attention - and hope that my few scratchings here point people back to the Gospel, to an outrageous Jesus, and to the endless love that is in Christ. Soli Deo gloria.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A much-needed gift

It'd been a long day...and lots of questions rolling around in my head. Do I continue to stay where I am working, try to make it permanent? Is there a future for me in ministry? Do I even bother to spend the time and money to finish this degree, or is my call really in some other direction? And so on...the hamster in my mind evidently had a good dose of crack, and the little exercise wheel had been spinning all day, fast enough to set the bearings on fire.

And then I came home, checked my email, and found this simple message. A fellow denizen of the blogosphere, who I've never met in person, gave me this gift:

I just wanted to say hi and that I was thinking about you and that I'm glad you're alive in this world.
peace to you tonight.

Out of all the nights to receive this, I got it when I rather desperately needed it. Of all the schmucks shoveling words in the blogosphere this person could write to (and that number is huge), it came to me.

An affirming gift like that is "a jewel of rare price."

Who do you know who might need to hear those words today? Whose world might you change?

Thank you, my friend. I am blessed beyond words to have you in my life.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Both...and" in Lent

Happy Second Wednesday in Lent.

"Ah, sorry," a wise man might say, "but you're off a bit. Isn't this the 'Third Wednesday in Lent' (if we ever counted such things)?"

"Ah, sorry indeed," a much wiser woman might say, "but we don't count Ash Wednesday as a 'Wednesday' in Lent. It's the feast day (or famine day, depending on your view). So, yes, this indeed is the Second Wednesday in Lent."

Church folks who follow this "church calendar" thing find these kinds of discussions very interesting. For those of you who could give a rat's patootie about this stuff, a brief explanation. The liturgical calendar, or church year, is a cycle that starts with Advent (anticipating the birth of Christ) through Christmas (Christmas and the 12 days following) and Epiphany, then the Easter cycle (Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Easter) and then what is either called "Common Time" or "The Time of the Church," after Pentecost.

It mirrors, in some ways, the life of Christ - birth, death, resurrection, and living in the world after the resurrection. It also brings a great deal of structure and symbolism to the worship life of churches who follow it. That's a hideously-simplified description (through which I'm sure my truly-seminary-trained friends will poke endless holes), but it's close enough. Folks who care about the church calendar also care a lot about where they are in it - that's why they note that November 13, 2005 is actually the 26th Sunday after Pentecost (!). According to them, it's important to know where you are in the liturgical calendar. (I've never been one of those people, in case you wondered.)

Now, two years ago, on the First Sunday of Lent (the Sunday after Ash Wednesday), my pastor in Kansas did an odd thing. He, along with the Sunday school kids, buried the word "Hallelujah." On the church grounds.

You see, among some churches (the Lutheran tradition among them), the time of Lent is a time for reflections on our sinful selves, a time (for some) of fasting and physical mortification. Part of the Lutheran worship tradition is that for Lent, there are no hymns or songs sung in a major key - they must all be minor-key. And these Lenten observers also forbid the use of the word "Alleluia" (or "Hallelujah") during the time of Lent. So the word "Hallelujah" went "into the tomb" - to be dug up and rise again with Jesus on Easter. It's an interesting image, and Joe pulled it off well.

But I really struggled with it. You see, there's something wrong, here. (Forgive a little lecturing...)

We understand the season of Lent to be 40 days - 40 being a number of great significance (Moses spent 40 years in the desert, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the desert, etc.). But Lent starts with Ash Wednesday (this year, February 9th) and finishes on Saturday of Holy Week (this year, March 26th) - forty-six days later.

"Ah, that's an easy one," says the local liturgi-geek. "Sundays aren't considered a part of Lent. There are six Sundays in Lent (five "Sundays in Lent" and Palm Sunday), and (six Sundays) + (40 days of Lent) = 46 days. Ta-da!"

Here's where we get back to Pastor Joe, burying the little box with the word "Hallelujah" in it. The question becomes, "But why are you doing that?"

Because it's not "Lent" on Sundays.

On Sundays in Lent, we still celebrate the Eucharist. "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Death is not in the future; resurrection is not pending. All the joy of eternal life with the risen King of Kings is still very much present. So why the long faces and songs in the key of moping-around?

It is, perhaps, the best indication of the "Both...and"-ism of Luther. We are doomed and we are saved; Christ is on the way to the cross and Christ is risen. We are examining our sinful selves and yet we rejoice in our justification and impending sanctification. We are a mess - and we are made white as snow.

This is true every Sunday. We are all of these things every day of the year. So why don't we focus on our "both...and" status every day of the year? Why don't we live in the tension between Good Friday and Easter Sunday every single day?

I'd suggest that the Church would be much more relevant in the world if we acknowledged our sinfulness and brokenness more the other 325 days of the year, and found more joy in the resurrection during these 40.

I know - it's heresy. It's probably a damn good thing the Lutherans won't ordain me. But there's at least a grain of truth in every heresy, isn't there?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

One of the best brush-off's I've ever received...

Hi. This is the qmail-send program at
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following
This is a permanent error; I've given up.
Sorry it didn't work out.

It's bad when the intelligent systems in one's life is more polite than many of the people therein...

Lights in the darkness

Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world...
...the light no darkness can overcome;
Stay with us now, for it is evening...

...and the day is almost over;
Let your light scatter the darkness...

...and shine within your people here.
(The opening of "Evening Prayer," from Marty Haugen's
Holden Evening Prayer
It's been a frustrating 24 hours - but it's also been a great evening.

Having ranted about my former school last night, I was all set to continue blasting the ELCA for a couple articles in The Lutheran magazine about Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life - articles which I really feel just prove how out of step this denomination is with Christ's call to the church. So by the time I was done reading their nonsense, trust me - I was smokin'. (Trust me - that article is still on its way...)

Added to that, continuing work on electrical power systems where I work during the day today meant that there was no power to one wing of the building - which also meant no access to our shared server files (where, of course, all my critical data is stored) or the internet for the entire day. By 4 PM, I'd done all the useless make-work I could ...and besides it was starting to get cold, so I went home an hour early. It wasn't a bad day - after all, no one was drunk, high, shot at, or naked in public, and no obscenities were used in any memos - but it was frustrating.

However, the day's blessings were two-fold - both taking the form of warm floods of memories. First, in shopping over the weekend, I found a blast from the past in a bottle of Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. Now, you may never have even heard of this stuff - it's got a kind of cult following. But Yoo-hoo was a big deal in my mother's family - she always loved chocolate drinks (even the ghastly diet chocolate soda, which I'd rather suck drain-cleaner than drink). I don't think I'd had a taste of Yoo-hoo in 25 years - if then - but I resolved that I was going to buy just one Snapple-sized bottle for old-times' sake.

So instead of Oreos or Thin Mints after my salad topped with cocoa-chipotle-mole' chicken (a leftover from our Chocolate Fest), I settled down with some relaxing Windham Hill music, a copy of the New York Times (the physical paper, not their e-nonsense), and my bottle of Yoo-hoo. I almost drowsed off, so high was the serenity quotient (or maybe it was just my blood-sugar levels hitting exponential notation...). It's not something I'll do every day - but just for a bit, Mom (and an easier, softer time) felt a lot closer this evening.

Then, about 9:20, I walked down to the seminary to meet with another old friend. Back in 1992 or '93, my dear friend Don Pieper introduced my congregation to Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer, and I just fell in love with it (as hundreds of thousands of people around the world have done). Haugen composed the work as part of his musical residency at Holden Village, and it originally was simply titled "Vespers '86." But thousands of visitors to Holden carried the music home in their hearts, and the evening prayer service became a staple of worship, particularly in the ELCA Lutheran community.

When my first "home congregation" in Kansas was on its way to schism, the one thing that all sides found in common was the beauty and simplicity of the Holden service. One of my most beautiful memories is that of our "Diaspora" group, gathered around the pool at Bev & Jerry Amundson's home in Shawnee, KS, sharing the Holden service as floating candles drifted around the pool in the deepening dusk, driven by the circulating currents under the surface. The group of 40 or 50 communed each other in a great circle around the pool, passing bread and grape juice from person to person in an outdoor Eucharist that was truly an expression both of the Body of Christ and "the priesthood of all believers." And I was honored when, two years later, we repeated that service as I headed off to seminary...

The LSTC community has chosen the Holden Evening Prayer as a weekly vespers service during we gathered this evening around flickering votive candles on the floor of Augustana Chapel to sing, and to pray. I saw a few faces of students I hadn't seen all semester - and a number of old friends...and it was very, very good. I have no problem admitting that there were a number of times that tears trickled unbidden during the service - and I didn't mind a bit. Tonight, I was surrounded by people who knew me, here...even a few crazy enough to hug me. But somehow, all the deep, close friends with whom I've shared the Holden Service over the years felt just a little closer in the words of the songs, and the glow of the candles. And the presence of friends, both present and across the globe, brightened the evening immeasurably.
...Now as evening falls around us,
We will raise our song to you -
God of daybreak, God of shadows,
Come and light our hearts anew.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fiddling while Rome burns

Back two weeks ago, I wrote about the extremely positive experience I had attending the HIV/AIDS Workshop for Medical and Religious Professionals, put on at LSTC by their Zygon Center for Science and Religion, with the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago(UIC) College of Medicine and the Midwest AIDS Training & Education Center (MATEC). I still am torn about this event - very happy, for the powerful information and witnessing that was shared; and very annoyed, because so few seminarians attended it, especially from LSTC (not to mention the other five ACTS-consortium seminaries within walking distance of us!).

My annoyance stepped up several notches when I picked up my mail later that week, and found that the lead story on The Door (the LSTC student publication) was entitled "The Modern Importance of Bach’s Theological Library." A pioneering workshop had been held at our school, on a subject whose "modern importance" is magnified by the massive issues of faith and pastoral-care attached to it - and there was not a single peep about it in the host institution's publication. But the "ever-present relevance and importance of Bach’s cantatas concerning contemporary Lutheranism" (a direct quote from the article) was splashed across the entire front page.

Giving the editor and student-writers the benefit of the doubt, I thought, "Surely it's just because the AIDS conference happened two days before the publication date...they just missed the deadline. We'll see it next issue." Alas, the front page of the next issue of The Door was dominated by an article titled "Controversial 'Vagina Monologues' Comes to LSTC." And again, while I'm glad the LSTC/MTS student body put on the Monologues (for reasons which I won't even get into, for now) I'm still more than a little amazed at what The Door's editorial staff deem "important" or "relevant" to the future rostered clergy of the ELCA.

The problem is, as a former (but not current) student, I don't really feel I have the right to call The Door, or the student body per se to task for the immense pastoral-care-education opportunity that they blew off in their own back yard. So I've struggled for two weeks - write? Don't write? Just say "screw it" and go on with something a little closer to life-on-life's-terms?

Now, I have to issue a disclaimer here: I happen to find great beauty and inspiration in the works of J.S. Bach. Whether orchestral, choral, small-ensemble or organ works, I've been comforted, soothed, and inspired by the works of one of the greatest msuical geniuses of the past millenium. So don't peg me for a Bach-hater...'cause it just ain't so. Quite the contrary, in fact.

But I'm not sure that the theological leanings of a composer who has been worm-food for 250-plus years really compares with the real-life pastoral-care issues facing today's churches in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. And I continue to be amazed by those folks in denial (including a sad number of pastors) who don't even see why this whole issue disturbs me. Two different people have said to me, in so many words, "Oh, well, Steve, let's face it: HIV/AIDS is just not an issue in the demographic groups served by the ELCA."

I just have one question: Who the hell do they think they're kidding?

(Especially in an urban setting like Chicago, where the ELCA is headquartered?)

Then people in the church wonder why so many folks outside our hallowed halls think that Christianity is irrelevant to today's world.


Monday, February 21, 2005

This is definitely "sinning boldly"...

Check out this article on the "Luther Burger."

Though the subject is R&B singer Luther Vandross' supposed favorite snack (and not my favorite loud-mouthed theologian), I think Br'er Martin would have approved. Somehow, I'm almost positive that a bacon cheeseburger served on a Krispy Kreme doughnut would be a pretty good definition of concupiscence.

Friday, February 18, 2005

It's hard not to feel envious of this....

In the community of recovery, it's often said that if you stick around long enough, you will hear someone else tell your story. Today, I picked up a book and found the church I've been searching for more than 15 years. (Of course - since God has a sense of humor - the only real problem is, it's in Minneapolis....and of course, I'm in Chicago...)

This is directly (and shamelessly) quoted from Reimagining Spiritual Formation - A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church, by Doug Pagitt and the Solomon's Porch Community [El Cajon, CA: emergentYS/Zondervan, 2004], page 17.
We dream of a church where…
1. We listen to and are obedient to God
2. People who are not Christians become followers of God in the way of Jesus
3. Those who are not involved in church would become an active part of it
4. People are deeply connected to God is all of life; body, mind, soul, & spirit
5. Beauty, art, and creativity are valued, used, and understood as coming from the Creator
6. Culture is met, embraced, and transformed
7. Joy, fun, and excitement are part of our lives
8. The Kingdom of God is increased in real ways in the world
9. The biblical story of God is told and contributed to
10. Biblical justice, mercy, grace, love and righteousness lead the way
11. Truth, honesty, and health are a way of life
12. We value innovation, and are willing to take risks in order to bring glory to God
13. Worship of God is full, vibrant, real, and pleasing to God
14. Faith, hope, and love are the context for all
15. The next generation of leadership is built up and leaders are servants
16. Everyone is equipped to do ministry
17. God's Spirit takes precedence over all structures and systems
18. Christian community is the attraction to outsiders and the answer to questions of faith
19. People participate in the Kingdom of God in accordance with their abilities and gifts
20. We are connected to, dependent on, and serve the global Church
21. People learn the ways of God and are encouraged to make it central to their lives
22. Other churches are valued and supported
23. People's visions and ideas of ministry come to life.
Are you ready to go? I know I am.
Two words: road trip.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Thoughts of love

I love you. It's none of my business what you think of me...none of my business. It's my business what I think of you, and I love you. Now, if you happen to love me back, it's a plus. So you can add to my life, but you cannot take away - because I'm not trading with you. I love you, period...because I know who you are, whether you do or not. You're God's children, every one of you. I believe that you can't prove love...if you love someone, you do things for them. Love is not a feeling; it is an action. Love is not 50-50, and it's not 75-25. Love is 1000-to-nothing." (excerpted from Chuck C.'s book A New Pair of Glasses)

I've heard it said that love's a feeling -
but this is only just the start
'Cause feelings change as fast as weather,
And love's a matter of the mind and will,
a matter of the head and heart...
Suppose I walk a thousand highways
To bring you back, when you are lost - this is love...
Suppose it costs me my possessions
And I gladly bear the cost - this is love...
Suppose I face the soldiers' weapons,
Suppose I climb the prison walls - this is love....
But if I give my life to save you,
This is the greatest love of all.

(Ken Medema, The Greatest Love of All, from the CD "In the Dragon's Jaws")

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1st Corinthians 13:13, NIV)
For weeks, across cable and broadcast TV, radio, and the Internet, pink and red hearts have been circulating, and millions of words have been written and spoken all to answer the one question of the day: how do I get them (whoever they are) to "love" me? Suggestions include the right toothpaste, the right brand of mattress, the right car (with a pretty pink or red bow, of course), and of course the right jewelry, flowers, greeting card and meal. Even on Christian radio stations, I keep hearing about suggestions for Valentine's Day gifts, as if somehow if I would just do some thing right, then I'd get romance - which so much of our culture equates with love.

Church C. and singer Ken Medema say it best, for me. Romance is a fleeting (if wonderful) experience, but love is not a feeling, but an action - it is both "a matter of the mind and will....a matter of the head and heart." If I am doing things so that I get love, I've already failed - because the action becomes just the means to an end. It is loving acts that says, as Chuck C. does, "it doesn't matter what I think of're God's kids, and I love you" - regardless of whether anyone returns that love.

I have to admit that I'm often not God-centered or self-assured enough to love like that. But I also know that the Source of love is the One who sacrificed all for me...and on this day, when the culture celebrates being together with someone, I know that even though I walk a single life, I am never alone - and I am always loved. And on Valentine's Day - indeed, every day - that's a very, very good thing to know.

Thank you God, for the gift of life, for the gift of your love, and for the opportunity each and every day to show love. May those who encounter me this day see you in my life through my acts of love and caring. Amen.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

A bit of humor....

Courtesy of my friend Damien, you definitely need to check this out. But as Damien points out, the heading does say, "Satire/The Borowitz Report." So relax, folks...and thanks, br'er Damien!

Checkin' in and catchin' up

It has been, as a dear friend used to say, a Dickensian week - that is to say, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." First, I have been busied beyond even my standard guinea-pig-on-crack-on-the-exercise-wheel level, especially at work, related to my temporary employers' major fundraising event of the year and major pubic exhibition of the year. At the same time, I have struggled with some kind of intestinal bug all week (which sucks by itself, trust me!).

The combination of (a) and (b) (especially given my role as registrar and money-counter for our Winter Gala fundraiser) just sapped most of my best energy, with the result that I have been at work, at some (but not all) my usual AA meetings, then basically have gone home and collapsed into bed.

The result is that I have been absent from the keyboard for five whole days - and not really commenting with my friends in the blogosphere for a week or more - which is far too long. For me, this really sucks, because I find so much spiritual feeding comes from sharing my life with my online community - and through this venue, with friends as close as across the courtyard, and indeed as far as across the world. So to my friends and blogo-sistas-&-bruthas, I can say with a yawn (because I'm still draggin' tail), "He's BAAAAACK...."

A quick, 30,000-foot surveillance of the last week's events:
+ I have spent way too much time at work recently - but then everyone at work has spent way too much time at work, preparing for our Winter Gala and Chocolate Fest. (The Garfield Park Conservatory - the largest "garden under glass" in the nation - has the only fruiting cacao trees in Chicago (or for hundreds of miles from here, for that matter), and the cacao/chocolate pods actually ripen in February.

So this weekend was our Chocolate Tree Cabaret fundraising gala Friday night, and then Saturday (today) and Sunday are our ChocolateFest, where we will host more than 5,000 families each day, and share around a quarter-million pieces of chocolate from Godiva, Fannie May, Ghiradelli, Hershey, and other fine chocolatiers. Friday (gala day) started at 8:00 AM Friday and finished at 1:15 AM Saturday...and I was up at 8:45 this AM to hit my regular AA home-group meeting at 10 before hitting the ChocoFest from 12:30-6. All I can say about that is: nine more hours, and we're done. Then the clean-up starts...

+ My dear Kansas-City friend Tim Ternes visited Chicago last week. He and I went to the closest thing that Lutherans have to a basilica on Ash Wednesday - and I'll be sharing about that little adventure in high-liturgy-land later on in the week. The short version: it was emphatically not the worship service I wanted or needed - but Tim's company was delightful, and what worship service can't be improved with a visit to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards? In fact, some folks would say that the Cheesecake Factory is proof indeed that "God is good...ALL the time..."

+ Two days after a ground-breaking conference on HIV/AIDS drew medical and religious professionals to LSTC, the lead article (consuming the entire cover page) of LSTC's student publication The Door was titled "The Modern Importance of Bach's Theological Library." (Tune back later on this week in to hear a wee bit o'commentary on that editoral well as thoughts about Lent and seasons in the church in general.)

+ Permanent employment at my current job-site again seems elusive - but there are a couple blips on the horizon that seem to have some promise. So once again there is hope of something more permanent, somewhere.
That's it for now, folks - I'm going to bed, and take time to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually before the onslaught tomorrow. In all likelihood, I'll step back into the pulpit Monday night...till then, peace and e-hugs, y'all!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More about HIV/AIDS and the church

Interestingly enough - just 3 days before I went to the HIV/AIDS Workshop for Medical & Religious Professionals, this editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star (my former hometown paper), speaking specifically about the challenges of speaking about HIV/AIDS in the black Christian church. This had also been the topic of Rev. Alberta Ware of the Balm In Gilead project.

The article says some good things - so I'll let you read it. But the points Rev. Ware made last Saturday were also rather pointed:

+ Black gay men will often do anything - including marry, and then carry on with extra-marital relationships - rather than "come out," precisely because of the stigma that homosexuality carries in the black church. In this way, the church of Christ creates more harm than they ever could create hope. (You may hear the slang term "down-low," or "DL's," to describe this culture of secrecy.) Because of this growing practice, women married to secretly-gay black men are becoming a significant transmission vector in the spread of AIDS among the heterosexual population.

+ In the black church (and, to be honest, in many white churches) the pastor's salary is their only income - they don't have the chance to hold outside occupations to help pay the rent. So in many churches, pastors won't address sexuality issues (let alone hot-button topics like HIV/AIDS) because they don't want to raise up trouble around their bread-&-butter. They will, however, respond to the call from concerned church members to "step on up" on a particular topic (which is where the work of Balm in Gilead is so effective).

While I was grateful to Rev. Ware's presentation on Saturday, and I fully support what the Balm In Gilead group is doing, I find there is a horrible tragedy that the first full week of March (the 6th-12th, this year) is designated The Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. There is just a huge part of me that wants to scream, "So when the hell is the WHITE Church praying for the Healing of AIDS? Huh?!? Can't we do anything together anymore??"

Yes, I know that the black church is hit harder than the white church is. Yes, I know that many blacks still have trouble believing that whites would pray for anything for blacks, other than that they'd all disappear. But there is still that part that says, "Dear God, if we can't get freakin' racism out of the way, how are we ever going to deal with issues of sexuality and disease?" My prayers generally devolve into something approximating, "Maranatha - come quickly, Lord Jesus" (or for traditionalists, "E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come").

One other thing from yesterday's post is that I didn't mean to sound like all of the Christian church, except for these few organizations, has been completely averse to caring for people with HIV/AIDS. I simply meant that in my experience, there hasn't been a lot of public support for people living with HIV/AIDS (victims, their families, loved ones and friends) from within the Christian community. As I told a friend earlier this evening, part of the miracle of the workshop this weekend was that medical professionals got to hear religious professionals (especially a number of Christian ones) who were caring, compassionate, and inclusive about the GLBT community - rather than just hearing more of the poison that so many so-called "evangelical" church leaders have spewed over the years about gays and HIV/AIDS.

One disappointment is that I won't be able to get to Jeremiah Wright's Trinity UCC Church (or any other church) this weekend, because of my employer's Chocolate Fest going on Saturday and Sunday's a command performance. But I will be able to watch the web-cast of their early AM service, which will just have to do, for a week or so.

And, to steal a phrase from Steven Curtis Chapman, "while it is still called today..." I'm going to put my big ol' self to bed.

Monday, February 07, 2005

An amazing workshop that was not in San Diego

The only people talking about gay men dying are gay men, and the ones that wish we'd all die. (Bill Kraus, in And The Band Played On)

I never want to speak on this topic without reflecting on the thirty-one people from my congregation who have died from AIDS...I believe that if you can bring a casket into your sanctuary and speak of people in death, you'd better be ready to bring them into that same sanctuary and speak to them while they are alive. (Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, St. Cloud, MN)

Almighty God, reach out your loving hand to all those who have been both infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. (a suggestion for prayers of the congregation, from Rev. Alberta Ware, of The Balm in Gilead)
I have to admit to a particularly severe and un-Christian case of envy of those who have been part of the EmergentYS conference in San Diego. As I've followed Dave's running commentary, I've really regretted not being able to be there and experience it myself. (Anybody want to contribute to getting me to the Nashville conference in May?)

But this last Saturday, on the north end of the south side of Chicago, I took part in an amazing gathering at the first-ever HIV/AIDS Workshop for Medical & Religious Professionals here at LSTC. Not only was it a great breakthrough in bringing both medical and religious professionals together to talk about HIV/AIDS, it also was the first clear sign of Christian compassion I've experienced for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA's) outside of the blogging community.

I'm really grateful for the medical professionals - the folks in the trenches - who shared with the religious community a lot of facts (as well as rampant fictions) about HIV/AIDS. I'm not uninformed on the topic - but I learned a lot that morning...not only the terrifying statistics, but mostly about new and old myths about transmission, about new treatments, and about how religious professionals and friends can support people in HIV/AIDS treatment. Really good, really basic stuff that anyone who can come into contact with PLWHA's should have.

But it was Rev. Jeremiah Wright - pastor of the massive Trinity United Church of Christ in south Chicago - who set the tone for the religious-professional portion of the day, declaring, "In this pandemic, the church has created more suffering than hope," and calling for Christians everywhere to be in a ministry of presence and healing to those living with HIV and AIDS.

One awakening that Rev. Wright pointed out was so clear, and so simple, that I was almost ashamed for not realizing it earlier. "So many people believe that education and information can cure homophobia," he said, "but the key part of homophobia is phobia - an emotional imbalance or blockage. It's a disease of the homophobia cannot be cured simply by intellectualism or information."

Rabbi Edelheit spoke of the shame and stigma of HIV/AIDS - and pointed out that HIV/AIDS caregivers are often branded with the same stigma (don't touch my kids, don't eat off my plates, I don't want to "get it" from you) that the patients themselves suffer. He called each of us to stop treating PLWHA's as simply carrying "the mark of Cain," and to find ways to care, rather than simply cast out (or worse yet, provide lip service from afar, as my friend Rick spotlights so clearly here).

Rev. Alberta Ware, from The Balm in Gilead, said it so clearly: "The HIV stigma shattered the traditional model of caring in the church." If you have cancer, if you have heart disease, and you get sick, folks in the church flock to make sure that you have food, your kids get to school and to church, you name it. Not so with HIV - people were all-of-a-sudden using gloves to shake hands, burning the paper plates that were used by PLWHA's, refusing to visit them at home, or even to sit by them in church. Balm-in-Gilead's booklet, Blessed Are They That Comfort: An Introduction to HIV/AIDS for Black Congregations is worthwhile for non-black congregations, as well. In fact, the whole BalmInGilead website is an invaluable resource for both religious and non-religious folks of all colors and walks.

But for me, the joy of the day was finding openly Christian people who were willing and active in sharing care and compassion with the GLBT community and with the HIV/AIDS community in particular. I'm looking forward to hooking up with these folks, and finding new ways to minister alongside them. And that, to be honest, has been the first light of hope in my life-after-seminary quest in months...for which I give God much thanks.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A good day...and night

...starting off with a brief rush at work, followed by medical testing at the U of C, followed by a reasonably good AA meeting and great conversation with a sponsee after the meeting at the UC Hutch Commons.

And then, as I commented over on Chris' blog, to mark the night that some guy made a Speech in Complete Denial of the True State of the Union, I finished celebrating the evening with a Stargate SG-1 marathon. Oh, and Creme Brulee coffee and Pecan Sandies. Somehow, it seemed just enough...especially the Pecan Sandies.

And now I'm headed to bed - admittedly later than I should, but still 7 minutes before today becomes tomorrow...which is a definite improvement from last night.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A testimony of different people - different spiritual gifts

[A corrective note: over the last several months, several folks have asked me to send them a link to the poem, "So I Stay Near the Door," by Rev. Sam Shoemaker, which was an integral part of this post. I've since broken it out into a separate posting, so people can link straight to it. Yes, it's shamelessly revisionist. Sorry.]

Over the next several postings, I'm going to be weighing into the murky swamp of the emergent church. And I'm pretty sure that by the end of it, I will have agreed with parts of almost every major cadre with an opinion about the emerging church and the culture into which it is emerging. But there is a very good reason for this, I think.

When I came back to Christ, and came back to faith, nearly 15 years ago, my gateway to the family of believers was a little Garden church in Prairie Village, KS. They had traditions, and they had worship, and they had Sunday school - and they did all of it pretty well. In time, they even built a pipe organ - all for the goal of preserving the historic Lutheran liturgy and worship practices that had been a part of that community for 50 years.

In 50 years, you could count on one hand the number of adult baptisms in this church. When new members joined, they invariably joined from other churches - and 99% of them came from other Lutheran churches (what I've come to understand as vampire evangelism - just sucking life-blood from one part of the Body to another).

Now in this church, there was also a band of people who believed that the Great Commission was just as much a part of the call to Christian living as the two Great Commandments. They felt that to "go and make disciples" was as much a part of the mandate of a disciple of Christ as loving God and loving our neighbors. That group of people felt that there was less value in preserving traditions than there was in doing whatever they could do to reach out to those who didn't know Christ. And so battle-lines slowly started to form in our little Garden, between those who would keep life as it was, and people who would change things and drag all these newcomers into the presence of Christ.

Into this developing theoligical battlefield fell a 30-something man - estranged from his faith, from his family, from his past, even from his present. A man who felt "apart from" the people in this church - because he hadn't grown up with the traditions, barely knew the Christian story, hadn't had to memorize the books of the Bible or a confirmation verse or the articles of the historic Creeds...and set-apart even more, because his life had been apart from "good Christian living" by more than a dozen years of sin and addiction.

But a Lutheran pastor had reached out to him, as his world had fallen apart, and shared the unbelievable story of a Prodigal Son who had fallen far from grace - and a Prodigious Father, willing to cast every sin of the past aside and welcome the wayward son back home.

That was me.

That was my life, crumbling to pieces in late 1990. I had lived three-and-a-half decades - ten years of which I'd spent attending Mass six days a week. But in all that time, I had somehow never encountered the impossible, unbelievable love of God for me in Jesus Christ. And what I could hardly believe (even less than the concept of God loving me that much) was these human beings - especially that cadre of Great-Commission-huggers - who saw my brokenness, and yet didn't much care about it. By the time I got to Kansas in April, 1991, I was ready for a change. All these people seemed to see was this man who was soaking up Christ like a new sponge - and nothing else mattered (not my vulgarity, not my financial wreckage, not my divorce or my then very- recently-arrested alcoholism).

Somehow, when I came to this church, broken and in flames spiritually, they were the ones who took me in, and put out the flames. I'll never forget Janet Pierce and Jeannine Linder grabbing me by the elbows on my second Sunday at Faith, and marching me down to the choir room. They'd heard that I'd been a singer with my former wife, and they announced loudly, as they dragged me down the hall, "You were a visitor LAST Sunday - but THIS Sunday, you're family. Come on."

That band of young Great-Commissioners mentored me in my Christian walk - teaching me about the Bible, reminding me that the Old Testament was up front, the Psalms were in the middle, and the Gospels and Epistles were in the back. They welcomed me into Bible studies, and choral singing, and stuff I had no idea how to do. And they encouraged me, and served as examples to me.

But more than that, they stood with me, and they wouldn't let me go. I remember being at a rehearsal for our little singing group, "Friends of Faith," and Joel Jacobsen was practicing songs for a wedding while we were waiting. Joel started singing Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here" with incredible beauty and passion - but all I could hear was an indictment of what a fraud my marriage had been, and what a lie it would have been if someone had sung that song at my wedding. I don't think I even made a conscious decision...but suddenly all I could do was move to the back of the sanctuary, as far away from the "happy Christians" as I could get, and to try not to be too obvious about my uncontrollable weeping.

To this day, I don't know whether it was Eric Amundson, or Larry Hanson, or simply an angel, who came up behind me and just put their hand on my shoulder. Somehow, they knew what was going on with me - and their actions just said, "It's OK...we're here with you. You don't have to go anywhere else - it's OK to be here, just as you are." Eventually, the song ended, I dried my eyes, and we went on with our practice. But I never forgot the hand on the shoulder, nor the comfort and inclusion I felt that night.

The events of that night changed me, and my perspective on evangelism, forever. My "primary purpose," other than staying sober, became being able to share that welcome, that mentoring, and that encouragment with anyone who would listen.

It was about that time that I read of the deep friendship between Bill W. (a cofounder of AA) and the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who was the Episcopal Rector at Calvary Church in New York, where the founding characters of AA met in the old Oxford Groups of the time. I fell deeply in love with the image of "Sam" being the first hand that connected with these people who struggled so with their faith. It's in that spirit that I've posted separately Rev. Shoemaker's poem, "So I Stay Near the Door" (also sometimes known as "So I Stand Near the Door.") It's probably not great poetry, on an absolute scale - and I don't think it was ever meant to be. But as a confession of faith, I'd nail it to the door right next to the 95 Theses...

I know (today) that the people who find passion for liturgical perfection, or purity of ritual, or preservation of traditions all believe that they are right. I used to quibble with them, even rail against them; I don't fall into that trap so much these days. However, I do know that what is right for me is a function of what I've experienced, and that this is true for me, regardless what others experience or hold dear.

Perhaps, in all this massive flood of words and memories, there is this grain of truth and value: that we are called to serve and worship in different ways, emphasizing different gifts and values - but that we can all choose to be arrows pointing to the same God, yet pointing in seemingly different directions. Just because we value different parts of the mission of Christ does not mean that we are wrong. We are simply different, and called to different service.

Thank you, Br'er Shoemaker, for "this manifesto for a life of faith. Lord God, let this be my final testimony - that no matter the path You lead me down, let me be faithful to this calling. Amen.

"So I Stay Near The Door"

[A pre-note to this classic poem: I apologize for, but won't correct, all the male-centric language. I simply ask the pardon of the women who read this, whom I truly believe Sam intended to include within his 1930's-worldview understanding of "man" as "all humanity." Believe me when I say, "You're in here, too."]
An Apologia For My Life
By the Reverend Canon Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., D.D., S.T.D.

I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it -
So I stay near the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter –
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it – because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him -
So I stay near the door.

Go in, great saints, go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics –
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, or sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening -
So I stay near the door.

There is another reason why I stay there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia.
And want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much;
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.

The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving–preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stay near the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
For those, I shall stay by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
"I had rather be a door-keeper..."
So I stay near the door.
Sam Shoemaker, founder of Faith At Work at Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, in 1926, was also one of the spiritual leaders who influenced the Alocholics Anonymous members (primarily Bill W. and Dr. Bob) who drafted the 12 steps of recovery. Those steps are at the core of the textbook Alcoholics Anonymous, and have been adapted by legions of addiction-recovery organizations.

Read Sam Shoemaker's article: "What the Church can Learn from A.A."

Want to read more about this poem, and Sam Shoemaker's effect on the 12-step programs? Check out Dick B's link here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Time magazine & Brian McLaren

Check this out - Time names Brian McLaren (A Generous Orthodoxy, A New Kind of Christian) one of the "25 most influential Evangelicals." Not sure I would have pegged him in the "Evangelical" column...but glad to see him getting the press. Thanks to Adam for the link...

Spiritual slovenly-ness

It's been a busy weekend - despite the fact that I didn't have to do the HIV/AIDS workshop (silly boy that I am, it's next weekend, not this last one). Still, I managed to fill up the weekend pretty well. But I've missed being out here in the blogosphere, and it feels good to get back. Got some peaceful Windham Hill music (Liz Story, Will Ackerman, Nightnoise, and others) "spinning" on the PC jukebox, and I'm reflecting on one of those "oh, wow...ouch" revelations that hit me this last Saturday morning.

In my AA home-group meeting, a man I respect said, "You know, the way I treat my living space is a pretty clear indication of my emotional and spiritual condition... and looking around recently, I realized I didn't like what my apartment said about me."

Well, I had known that little truism for a while - but I've also been pretty much in denial about it, at the same time. However, having it said "out in the open" made me look at my rating on the "Pig-Pen scale" (for all you Charlie Brown fans!), and I didn't score too well. Or I scored very well, depending on how you view it. (In fact, while I have never been much of a neatnik, a quick glance around indicated that if messiness and disorganization is a symptom of depression, I definitely should be on medication - lots of it.) So a significant part of the weekend became about reclaiming my living space. I've got a ways to go - but I'm making progress.

I even bought a vacuum cleaner.

(Now, to many folks this might not seem like a very big deal. I mean, on the long-end of 47 years old, you'd think that a vacuum cleaner would be pretty much standard fixture of life, right? And to be honest, it's not like I'm some kind of vacuuming-virgin or anything...I'd even had an honest-to-God Electrolux for a number of years. However, it died an irrevocable death before I moved to Chicago, and since 99% of my current residence is hardwood or tile, I'd just relied on ye olde Swiffer to pick up the dust-bunnies for some time. But for a variety of reasons, that just wasn't cutting part of Saturday's adventures was a journey to that icon of suburban concupiscence, Wal-Mart, to pick up my very own floor-sucker.)

Capital purchases aside, this reflecting on the whole "how does your living space reflect 'how it is with your soul'?" question made me stop and take stock in a number of areas besides just personal cleanliness. How hard am I working to stay "up" with Br'er Cleaveland and the Pilgrimage? Not very. How's my devotional and prayer life been lately? Sad to say, not what it should be. In fact, there are a number of areas that are at least "a bubble off square" - and it wasn't a very pleasant recognition, to be even fractionally honest.

The difference, of course, is that these days I know what the answer is - even if I don't necessarily want to hear it. "Action conquers fear," a wise man in AA once told me...and so far as I can tell, it's still true. So I made an appointment to get together with some spiritually-anchored folks in the fellowship this weekend...and have been willing to at least pray to become willing to change what I'm doing. As is so often the case for me, when it comes to spiritual progress, I'm very content to "rest on my laurels," even though I know full well that nothing wilts faster than laurels-being-rested-on. I can coast for a while...but in the end, there's only one direction to coast successfully - downhill.

So - back to peeling the onion, eh? One more layer, one more surrender, one more recognition of who I am, and Whose I am - and a renewed effort to live this day in the knowledge of the Love that surrounds me like a warm blanket.
God, I offer myself to You, broken and damaged as I am, for You to build with and to with as You choose. Relieve me of the bondage of self - my selfishness, my self-centeredness, my self-seeking - that I might better do Your will. Take away my difficulties - all the nonsense that blocks me from You - so that victory over those difficulties might bear witness to those that need to know You of Your power, your love, and your way of life. Help me to even want to do Your will - because without Your help, I'm pretty sure I'm done-for before I even start. Amen. (my own liberal reading of AA's "3rd step prayer")