Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You really need to check these out...

My brother and friend Damien sends us a classic link link to Gay Church Schisms. The pertinent passage:
Meanwhile, this week the North Carolina Baptist State Convention has sparked its own gay controversy with a Tuesday vote deciding to expel any member churches that display queer-friendly tendencies. Among the dissenting minority was Rob Helton, a messenger from the Cherry Point Baptist Church in Havelock, NC, who challenged the convention to practice equal opportunity expulsion: writing policies for every sin in the Bible, and not just homosexuality.
You absolutely need to go to see Damien's images for this post here, too.

Damien also has a painfully honest reaction to the Catholic announcement about gays in the priesthood over here

Tom Scharbach issues a powerful challenge in the face of the Vatican's announcement over here. His post is a trumpet-call:
If the Vatican's finding is correct, then sexual orientation is a job qualification for the bishopric, and gay bishops are - to be blunt - unqualified and should be removed ... That being the case, I think that it is fair to ask each of our bishops, on the record, whether they are gay -- whether they lack an essential qualification for the office they hold.

So do ask.

I intend to ask my bishops, The Most Reverend Joseph Perry, the Auxiliary of Vicariate VI, and His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, the next time I am within earshot.

And I intend to get an answer, not an evasion.
I feel for them. After all, I know a little bit about not being wanted by the church that I'd devoted a goodly chunk of my life to. But for all the rejection I felt at the time, they never told me that I was "intrinsically disordered" (at least not to my face). But who knows what else they might have said...

To Catholics everywhere - gay and straight - I'm sorry for your pain. As I commented on Damien's blog, maybe it's time to find some parchment, a nail, a hammer, and a wooden church door on which to nail them...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Weeping in heaven...

In my former hometown of Toledo, OH, there was a stretch of Byrne Road whose speed limit dropped to 25 from 35 for three short blocks. For years, people like me blew through there - probably closer to 45 than 25 - because the few times that we got pulled over, we were just given warnings. The first time I got a $50 ticket (which, in 1990 dollars, was a big deal...), I became much more careful about how I drove - both in general, and on that specific stretch of road.

I bring this up after reading this morning's NY Times article carrying reactions from around the country related to the Catholic Church's leaked-enough-to-be-official statement regarding gays in the priesthood. (You can read the article here, or go to the Catholic News Service and read their take on it in more detail. Thanks to Damien for the hat-tip on the CNS link...)

If the Catholic Church was sticking to its standing dogma, then every gay man who has been ordained since 1961 has been irregularly ordained - since a 1961 Vatican document on religious-order priests said homosexuals should be excluded from religious vows and ordination. So "tradition" is not a supporting argument - because the church itself has been the greatest violator of that tradition.

In the NY Times article, there is a telling statement:
Most supporters of the directive said they believed there was a link between homosexuality and the sexual abuse by clergy members that has recently rocked the church, and they said the initiative would make such scandals less likely in the future.
To get back to the Byrne Road analogy, the Catholic position would be like saying that since males between 16 and 30 tend to be hot-rodders, the solution to speeding problems would be to not license any young men under the age of 30. In this case, the Toledo Police Department made the right choice - when people were speeding, they arrested them. The Catholic Church's failure was in not enforcing the existing rules related to clergy sexual abuse, and punishing the offenders forthwith.

Preventing gay ordination will only hurt the church. Placing pressure of scrutiny (or worse) on already-ordained gay priests will only help drive them out of a church that they already believe doesn't want them. After all, if you are called to celibacy, obedience, and poverty - and then proclaimed as "objectively disordered" and placed under ever-increasing scrutiny - how long would it take you to find something else to do with your life?

Here's another sign of how much denial is involved with this issue:
...supporters of the Vatican's stance said that such a step was necessary to root out priests whom they considered dangerous.

"If it is part of church doctrine, we'd be better off with 5 percent less priests, but who conform to church doctrine, rather than a few more," said Travis Corcoran, 34, the owner of an online DVD rental company, as he left an early Mass yesterday at St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, Mass., near Boston. "It's the same way if there's a shortage of school bus drivers. If you drug-test school bus drivers and the result is there are a few less school bus drivers, that's better."
Just five percent, eh, Mr. Corcoran? It'll be interesting what you think when you see just how big your "acceptable losses" really are...

And the other flaw, Mr. Corcoran, is that drug-use is directly related to impaired bus-driving. A homosexual orientation is not a direct cause of sexual abuse.

But unthinking comments like these underscore the massive two-pronged tragedy that exists not only in the Catholic Church but in the greater society: first, the idea that a homosexual orientation is a choice - something that can be un-chosen or somehow reversed; and second, that homosexuals are, by default, by their nature, considered dangerous. Both of those statements are fundamentally flawed - in the same way that saying that "all hunters are potential terrorists, because they all have guns" - and yet it seems these kinds of assumptions are the basis for church doctrine.

The actions (and, more importantly, inactions) of the Catholic Church have served to smear a significant portion of their priesthood with the sins of a few. And now, rather than admit their errors, I'm very much afraid that the Church has chosen the scapegoats for their own sins, and the righteous and the unrighteous will all be consumed in that fire.

You might well ask, "You're not Catholic - what does it matter to you?" And it would be a fair question - after all, I am not under the authority of Rome. But there are a lot of folks, both friends and persons I know or have contact with - all of whom are faithful, caring, committed, celibate servants of God - who may well be left dangling over the fire on this issue. And there are also a lot of people who will point to Rome's position and say, "See? See?" None of these decisions are being made in a vacuum.

I just have to believe that there is weeping in Heaven over this.

A quick note....

It's been a full, and wonderful Thanksgiving. Way too much turkey, the family-recipe stuffing, and not enough getting up off the sofa made for periods of real sloth this weekend. But there were bursts of activity - fixing up a few honey-do's at my sister Sue's, fabulous Tony's Ribs and turkeyfoot in Findlay with both sisters and their husbands, seeing the new Harry Potter movie with brother-in-law Jeff, and an absolutely great AA gratitude meeting at 7:30 AM Thanksgiving Day. (And I brought Tony's ribs home for me, and for my young friend Matt. Definitely a good thing!)

It was a winter wonderland - the roads were great going into Toledo on Wednesday night, but Thursday morning found snow and black ice as I came out to go to the meeting - my poor car looked like a glazed donut! And we had more snow-bursts Thursday afternoon and Friday night - it wasn't until the rains came early Sunday morning that winter abated for a bit (enough to drive home, anyway).

Strong recommendation - if you're a Harry Potter fan, this movie is the best of them all. Definitely a big-screen show. I won't give anything away, but it is definitely a two-thumbs-up thing.

Topics for this week will include wondering about how sin-free you have to be to pray for the church; World AIDS Day (December 1st); and getting back into some Discipline.

If you read nothing else on the internet today, read this incredible post by my friend Rick at a new life emerging. In fact, as I'm trying to catch up in the blogosphere, I'd say you should start with this one, and just read everything he's written since. Incredibly, incredibly powerful stuff.

OK, enough blogging - off into the rain and the wind...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Quiet gratitude...

O, wad gift the Giftie gie us,
to see oursels as others see us!

(an ould Scots rhyme)

It's now officially Wednesday morning. I should be in bed, but I'm not. Nothing new there...

In about 22 hours, I will be with my sisters in Ohio for Thanksgiving weekend. I'm more than ready to be there, too. (I can smell the family-tradition stuffing from 240 miles away...) The weather forecast is for cold, snow and slush across northern Indiana and northwest Ohio - so my travel goal will simply be "slow and steady progress," with a lot of music and more than a few phone conversations to keep me company as I eat up the eastbound miles.

This evening, I made the mistake of looking back at my Thanksgiving-eve post from a year ago. The problem is, every single word of that post is still true today - so it seems a little redundant to repeat it all in this space. But in retrospect, it also sounded a little bit like a blogger's Oscar acceptance speech - there is perhaps more of a strain of pomposity woven through the gush of gratitude than I would have liked to have seen in that posting.

It's that awareness, which is happening on so many levels in my life, that is making this Thanksgiving both sweeter and more bittersweet than last year.

A week or more ago, a friend said to me, "You haven't been blogging much lately," and I half-heartedly replied, "Yeah, well, I haven't felt much like being inspiring." His snappy comeback hit home: "Oh, well, not to worry - you never really were inspiring, anyway." More truth than I wanted to hear, at the time...but truth, nonetheless.

This year has been one of constant digestion of truths like that - or, perhaps, indigestion. I've spent this year alternating between just trying to survive, putting one foot in front of the other, and then chewing my way slowly through a number of uncomfortable revelations about myself, my motives, and the consequences of my actions over the last several years. It's all been necessary - and a great deal of it has been good and worthwhile, but not much of it has been comfortable, to be honest.

What's different, this year?

Well, my material condition is considerably less bad than it was a year ago. By last Thanksgiving-time, I'd only been working steadily for two weeks...I was still smarting from post-seminary financial reverses that I couldn't even have imagined a year earlier. And those continued through this year, despite a low-but-steady income all year. Even on the cusp of being made a full-time, really-real employee again, life's still gonna be less than peaches-and-cream for a while. But it's a whole lot better than it was a year ago - for which I give much thanks.

I have wandered for a year without really participating in a faith community. Oh, I've attended a bunch of 'em - notably Fourth Presbyterian of Chicago - but I never really found a place where I could really feel "a part of." And I think it's going to take some time before I'll really feel comfortable going back and getting in the middle of a church community again. It will happen - this particular man was not meant to live his faith life alone, to be sure - but I'm going to need to do some healing first.

My saving grace this year has been quadruply-anchored in the love of my sisters; the support, encouragement and love I've received from the community of recovery; the ongoing prayers of my brothers and sisters in faith, both from my Kansas congregation and from Fourth Pres; and the accountability and encouragement of my online sisters and brothers in the blogosphere. Without each of you, I do not believe I would have had the strength to "keep on keepin' on," as my mentor Tex Sample used to say. And for each of you, I am eternally grateful to God.

And I'm thankful for at least the willingness to take the painful steps toward being more honest - about my life, my faith, and my struggles with them both. There is much more to say about that journey - but at least today I'm aware I don't have to say it all tonight. Or this morning, as the case may be...

As the old spiritual goes, "I ain't where I wanna be, and I ain't where I'm gonna be, but thank you Jesus, I ain't where I used'ta be." It's been a long, strange trip - but it' a long way from over, too. And today, I really do believe that the best is yet to be...

To each and every one of you who have read my feeble scratchings, and have shared your thoughts and your hearts in this space, I'll steal the words of Shakespeare: "I can only say thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks." You've helped make the journey more than worthwhile; you've pushed and pulled me when I've wanted to stay rooted, and you've both lifted me up and kicked my ass precisely when I've needed it the most. That is a gift that's worth celebrating.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blessed are the poor...

God, we thank you for bread and meat, for the shelter of house and the warmth of clothing, for daily work and thoughtful friends, for reasonable margins of security comfort. But how can we thank you for these things, and yet have no pain of heart that even now other children of yours starve, are homeless and hopeless? Can we do so with no sign of human caring for those who fear tomorrow more than death?

If we can give thanks for all our blessings, yet not find any anguish for those who do without, then leave us without blessing until we learn the ways of mercy. Deliver us from the gross sin of indifference, and sanctify the things we enjoy by the courage and kindness with which we share them. Amen.

(Samuel Miller, Prayers for Daily Use (New York: Harper & Bros., 1957), page 120)

Saturday night, at the end of a Disney-character-laden parade, the Mayor of Chicago threw the switch that illuminated nearly a bazillion Christmas lights along the the stretch of Michigan Avenue known as "The Magnificent Mile." Thousands of parents clutched their children and tote bags from Marshall Fields, Filene's, Anne Klein, Virgin Records, and a hundred other stores downtown as they watched the parade and the majesty of the lighting ceremony.

What most Chicagoans downtown on Saturday had no eyes for were the people who are always downtown - folks with signs that said "Homeless," "Hungry," "Will Work For Food," or my personal favorite: "Just Lookin' for a Blessin'." But as I watched, people just kept on walking, ignoring the helpless and hopeless. I emptied my meagre wallet on my short walk to the bus - knowing full well that what little I could do wouldn't really mean anything - but nonetheless unwilling to just walk on by, say nothing and do nothing.

This metropolitan area has one of the largest concentrations of self-identified Christians in the nation. The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is one of the largest in the nation; Bill Hybel's Willow Creek Church is one of the leading evangelical mega-churches in the nation. Yet church giving to the poor, outside of the significant ministry of a few downtown and South-Side churches, is ridiculously low.

Those in power - in the church and at the the city, state and national level - take great pride in claiming this nation's "Christian heritage." But where is the Body of Christ, when it comes to taking care of "the least of these"? Is what we say about being followers of Christ being mirrored in how we feed, clothe, and care for those who have the least and suffer the most? As I prepare to give thanks for all that I have, am I doing what I can to let the leaders of my church and my nation know that we need to share our blessings with those who are "lookin' for a blessin'"?

Lord God, let my thanks-giving be mirrored in my giving - of my time, my talents, and my possessions. And let my voice not be silent in calling others who claim Christ with their lips to claim His children as our own. Let my words be few, and my actions be plentiful. Amen!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Seasons - and life - changes

May the light of the Lord shine from your eyes
like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler.

(part of an old Irish blessing - see the whole message here)

Well, it is well and truly winter.

This weekend, we had gale winds, but temperatures still in the 60's. I woke up yesterday, and all the Fahrenheits had evidently run south - it was 29 degrees. By the time I headed to work at 11, it was 24 degrees...and this morning, the sun is out and it's a crisp fourteen degrees. I now know where (and how much) each of my aging windows are leaking cold air. (In at least one case, I would be doing better to just put up burlap instead. Thank you God, for 3M shrink-wrap window coverings...)

You'd better believe I'm wearing my long underwear for the walk to the train station.

My friend Loye Mattie sent me a particularly beautiful Irish blessing, part of which you see above. Having seen (and owned) dead, lifeless eyes, I love the idea of candlelight shining in "the windows of the soul." Blessings, indeed...

Our late-night payroll processing went well - we were actually done by 10:30, and I was out of the office by 11. My boss seemed pleased - I think I'm catching on to the rhythm of the processing here. The paperwork is submitted to open my job position up for me to apply - the target hire date is November 21, which leaves them a week to slip before I end up in insurance jeopardy (my school insurance would have to be renewed - for more than $700 - before December 1).

And I've set myself a deadline of December 2nd to have my apartment cleaned up, so I can have my sponsees over for dinner and a Christmas-tree decorating party. That is gonna take some work, to be honest, especially with being gone for Thanksgiving weekend. Just means I'm going to have to do some serious work on Friday night and Sunday this week...

The train is calling - but more will be coming...I promise.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Just keep dancing...

To misquote Garrison Keillor, "It's been a busy week in the Pullman Historical District, my hometown..." A number of events have conspired to keep me out on the edge of my time and energy budget, which have been both a blessing and rewarding.

My work with three young men in the community of recovery has intensified for this last week - I don't know whether it's the phase of the moon, or the change of the seasons, but it has been a wee bit more intense, timewise, than I would have chosen. (Not that I want them to stop calling - on the off-chance they're reading this [very off]). The AA text tells me a truth that I've learned over and over again:
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail...Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends - this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.
So this is not whining - just a partial explanation for my absence in the blogosphere.

There are many changes happening here, which is the other part of my absence. I am adapting - not always well - to a much different life as a carless commuter. The new job requires that I be "on" a lot more than my previous job - so no time to slip in creative moments. And I've also been wrestling with a couple personal demons - ones that have been hiding in the background for a while. It's a worthy wrestling - but it just sucks up time.

So I will be back here soon. But in the meantime, let me point you toward a wonderful, and powerful post by my brother Rick over at a new life emerging. That process of getting naked (in a spiritual, and not a physical, sense) is part of what I have been experiencing for the last month or so. Rick is always worthwhile reading, but this is especially appropriate for me. And there's only 5 days until the new Harry Potter movie opens. And God is still on the throne, and I'm sunny-side-up, suckin' air, sober, and bilaterally symmetrical. How much better can it get?

I'll see you soon...

Monday, November 07, 2005

My story, and The Story

I was a storyteller before I was a Christian. One of the wonderful resources I found in Jesus for A New Generation by Kevin Ford was the idea of narrative evangelism - in his words, "finding the place where your story and The Greatest Story Ever Told intersect."

My story intersects The Story in so many places. I am Adam, wanting to blame someone else for getting his ass booted from the Garden. I am Moses, doubting if God is really big enough to pull this whole Exodus thing off. I am David, coveting beauty and indulging in lust enough to kill someone to make it happen. I am Peter, falling into the sea that the Son of God had helped me walk on. And I am still Peter, being summoned to Galilee by special angelic invitation.

There is not only the risk of the failure of "heroes," but the absolute certainty of it. In fact, it is more likely that children of earth will identify with the muck-ups rather than the Joshua's of the Bible. But even in Joshua's story, it's not the story of them marching and blowing trumpets - but of Joshua saying, "God says THIS, and that's what we're going to do," and then God acting.

Every part of my broken relationships, my broken trusts, my failures of faith and hope are mirrored in Scripture. I identify with so many of the psalms - especially 13 and 137 and the rest of the lament psalms. They make perfect sense to me.

Harold Washington, Old Testament Professor at St. Paul School of Theology, once told us that the story of the OT was that of a loving father and a flock of stubborn, disobedient and willful children who seemed to know nothing so well as how to end up in "time-out." No matter how many times the children were punished, no matter how many times they seemed irredeemable, a loving Parent left the door open for restoration.

Ralph Klein, OT professor at LSTC, pointed out that it wasn't Moses' staff that parted the Red Sea. But Moses had to be willing to do his part - and then God stepped in and did God's part.

I'll admit, that is much more accurate in the grand-sweep of the OT than in the specifics of individual episodes of death, plague, pestilence, etc. There's plenty of individual places in the OT (as one friend in recovery used to say) where Yahweh could easily get confused with someone crossed between Genghis Khan and Santa Claus - someone who hated my guts, but was willing to make a deal for good behavior.

And trust me - looking at stories like the Moses/Exodus epic, it seemed that it was not "Yahweh or my way," but more like "Yahweh AND the highway."

But there is also a danger in reducing Scripture to story, or myth. There are many powerful myths that parallel story-lines in Scripture - but there is a difference in the longevity of the myths versus the power of Scriptural story. There has to be some Divine radium in the pitchblende in order for that kind of endurance to occur.

Last thought (for now, anyway) - CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce, spoke of the idea that the choice for heaven or hell would be retrospective in nature. A tragedy which one endured, and ultimately grew in faith from could lead one to choose Heaven - and then all the person's life would be seen, in retrospect, to have been leading toward Heaven...even the tragedy.

By the same token, if one gave up on God as a result of the same tragedy, it could lead one to Hell - and the person's life would then be seen as one unending slide toward perdition. One person would say, "I have always been in Heaven," the other "I have always been in Hell," and they would both be right. It's an interesting concept.

Never again...

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 7:14-17, NIV)

These words are particularly comforting as I reflected on All Saints Sunday. As I get older, the list of people who have died - "gone on to GLORY," as my Gospel Choir friends would say - gets longer and longer.

I have never been a particularly heaven-minded person - I tend to think of the here-and-now, of God in flesh walking this earth, of the Holy Spirit guiding us and leading us. Before I came back to faith, I often thought that life was a vale of tears - but wasn't so sure about Heaven, because my sins weren't going to let me get *there*. But in faith, I see Christ's incarnation as the key - Emmanuel, God-with-us - and so I tend to be more focused on the real world, and real hurts and real pains.

But at this time of year, I think of my family and friends who have died in faith, and that's when this passage of of great comfort to me. I have faith and trust that there is an afterlife, that eternal life with God is possible (even for a schmuck like me!) thanks to faith in Christ. I have faith that eternal life means that those "never again" phrases in this passage from Revelation 7 are promises of eternal peace.

Those promises bring me peace in the here-and-now, as I think of my loved ones who have died in faith. And it's that faith that allows me, as I think of those who are gone, to sing:

"I'll see you, when I get home
In the sweet by-and-by,
And we'll walk along the streets of gold
With angels by our side,
And time will have no meaning there
In a land of no goodbyes,
Oh, it's good to know...
I'll see you, when I get home."
(4Him, "When I Get Home")

Save me a seat at the banquet table, y'all...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

We need more power, Scotty...

What a rollercoaster!

This is just a brief update - I got out of work last night at 11:15 (payroll processing week) and have been in phone calls and conversations with folks such that I'm generally dropping into bed about 1 AM. I should be getting dressed right now - but wanted to reach out to my friends in the blogosphere....

The good news: it looks like I may be a full-time employee at Hewitt as soon as November 21 - just over the minimum 30 days needed to be made full-time, and a couple days ahead of my December 1 benefits cut-off. Even better news: after a 14-hour day yesterday, the team I'm on was in great spirits, and I seemed to fit in really, really well.

I've had a wild ride recently - the weekend was absolutely filled with activity, including some powerful, powerful activity in the recovery community. One of my first Chicago sponsees celebrated a year of sobriety on Sunday - and in the process of conversations, there were tears of joy and gratitude. Thank you, God, for allowing me to be of service.

For now, I'm falling back on a prayer from the classic Lutheran morning prayer service:
Lord God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love is supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(from the Lutheran Book of Worship, Morning Prayer)