Thursday, June 30, 2005

Theology at its best & worst...


Hmmm...Posted by Hello

When my friend Damien saw this picture in the coverage of the Pride Parade on the Chicago Windy City Times, his first reaction was, "Too bad for God...he never gets any time off, ever..."

Of course, my theo(not-so)logical mind said, "So, God doesn't have to keep the Sabbath? He stays angry at the wicked all day, every day?"

It just might be a good thing that they aren't going to ordain a thinker like me...

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:34-36, NRSV)
One good proof-text deserves another, heh?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Not quite there yet

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. (one of many sets of promises made in the book Alcoholics Anonymous - this set from pages 83-84 - emphasis mine)
The email came out of the blue ten days ago. My former wife wrote to say she would be in Chicago on Sunday - and in the process of looking me up, she had found this blog, and had read it from start to finish. (That alone should get her an award for patience, tolerance and endurance, all by itself.) But what she had read raised some questions about our former life together - and she wanted to get together and talk.

To say I was surprised was an understatement...

We've been divorced for 14-plus years - as my drinking life blew apart at the end of 1990, one of the many casualties was my six-&-a-half year marriage. And, let me say for the record, that she was exactly right, and entirely justified in kicking my worthless butt out. Furthermore, if she had agreed to my pleadings to stay married, I'm sure I would not have hit bottom, as I so desperately needed to do. And if that had not happened, in all likelihood I would have either found the strength to take my own life (as my best friend had done eight months earlier), or else I would have managed a slower death by alcohol and/or medication. So in saving herself from my insanity, I believe my former wife also helped save me, as well.

We'd not seen each other in seven years - when she had attended a conference in Kansas City in 1998. And we'd not had any contact at all since I'd moved to Chicago nearly two years ago. So it was with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness that I drove from church to pick her up at McCormick Place, and then spent a goodly amount of the afternoon talking in the food court at Water Tower Place.

To be honest, I'd rather have eaten ground glass than talk about the insanity of my past - the things I did, and didn't do, that led both to my self-destruction and our divorce. I hated to once again see the pain that those things had caused her, and I hated feeling the waves of self-loathing that washed over me once again. As we talked about the past, I found that in spite of some extended sobriety, and working the 12 steps of recovery, it seems I still "regret the past" in many ways, and "wish to shut the door on it" much more than I would have admitted.

The difference this time was that as we talked, as those awful feelings flooded over me, I knew (and could cling to) the rest of the story...or at least the story so far. It's true that I am the man who acted, and failed to act, to cause horrendous hurt and harm. And I know that man is still "in there." As my friend Bob S. says, "The tiger is in the cage, Steve - but the cage is not locked."

But I can also cling to the fact that today, I am not the same man that did those things. If I continue to do the things I am doing today - and rely on the God of my misunderstanding to steer my otherwise-broken brain - I will never have to go back to being the man I was. I'm not sure I can ever undo the pain and trauma I've inflicted, on my former wife and on others. But (to steal a page from Hippocrates) I can ask for guidance and help to "first, do no harm."

And I trust that the God I have come to know in sobriety is one of transformation: the ultimate lemons-to-lemonade worker, who can take my crap and ultimately compost it to something powerfully fertile. I know this is true, because a lot of people - including some of you, reading this - have testified to the Power that seems to work in me and through me. I'm well aware that I am not the Reservoir - but on the good days, the man I am becoming can at least be a pipeline for the Living Water.

We had a good talk - not just about the wreckage of our past, but a whole bunch of catching-up. She talked about her new artistic endeavors, of sculpting fabric and steel and barbed-wire and all manner of materials - and I couldn't help but be a little envious of the talents she's uncovered and the recognition she's receiving. She also shared the struggles she's had with her health - which definitely took the edge off my envy in a hurry. I talked about the end of my ministry career, and the struggles to find the next path to take. We took a driving tour of Hyde Park and the Pullman historical district - and as evening came, I dropped her off at her car, promised to stay in touch, and wished her well.

I really do wish her well...that she might find every good gift that I couldn't give her in my own brokenness. And I don't say that just because there's a high probability that she'll read this, either. The folks who know me best already know that there are many things in "the best of me" that are only there because of her, and the short life we spent together. I don't regret the good times, but only what I did to cause the bad times. And I only wish I could have been a man that could give to her as she has given to me...

That's why this particular set of promises from our recovery text have been on my mind the last 24 hours. They clearly aren't all true for me - but I can trust that they are all becoming true. I'm not quite there yet - but with a little help from my Friend, there's hope of getting closer still...
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Man, would this be nice...

Saturday...a break in the heat (it's only 85, but partly-cloudy) and a day of peace, if not rest. I have a shload (you recognize the contraction, of course) of laundry and cleaning to do, that has been waiting for, well, a while. So I'm not going to write much...

One of the first blogs I really identified with is Renee Altson's ianua - I've written about her book and reflected on a number of times when she has definitely been "reading my mail." For one thing and another, I just haven't been reading her much lately - so it was amazing to connect back up with her, and read about a "week of rest" imposed company-wide by her employer, Youth Specialties. You can read about the company decision to take a week of recovery over here, and then follow the arc of her week of rediscovery and rest starting here.

That just sounds like heaven to me.

No great pontifications today - it's just time to take out the trash and do the laundry. In fact, it's way past time. So, in the spirit of "first things first," I'm off to do just that.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pointing to others, today

It's Friday in Chicago - 8 AM and 80 degrees already. Of course, it's not as bad as it could be - I could be with my brother Chris H. in Phoenix, but checking the NWS weather tells me that Phoenix is 48% humidity, where we're at 77% already, and the sun is barely up at this point. No one will be talking about "a dry heat" in Chi-town today...

High-quality hat-tip: if you haven't already made his acquaintance, you really need to go over and see Rick L. at a new life emerging. He's one of the first bright lights in the blogosphere that I connected with, and this post of his sermon intro for Pride Sunday in San Francisco is a home-run. Wish I was there to hear the whole thing, brother - maybe get someone to record it and audioblog it?...(not that I would have any idea how to do that, but I know Chris does...)

Another brother-in-spirit is [rhymes with kerouac] (don't you just wonder what his name really is?), and his post here is a real convicting piece on the standards Christians are called to live to. Makes a lot of the posturing of the so-called "evangelical right" look pretty pathetic...

It's going to be a very busy weekend - cleaning up the wreckage of stuff I should have done a week or more ago. So, since it seems I'm supposed to be channeling the spirit of Anselm, I thought I'd share these words from him, which are very appropriate for this weekend:
Come now, little man, and turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest with him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, "I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek." --Anselm, "A Call to Meditation"
I'm going to work hard to do that, today - to try, throughout the day, to "free myself for God and rest with him." That sounds like a good way to make this day go better!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Three places I'm not

We ain't where we wanna be
We ain't where we're gonna be
But thank you, Jesus,
We ain't where we used t'be.

(apocryphal African-American spiritual)

It's been my experience that when I'm sharing an idea or a tenet of faith with someone else, the thing that I share is the very thing I most need to hear. It's true in the 12-step communities, and it's more than a little true in preaching as well; so many times the thing I get so passionate about sharing from Scripture is the very thing I struggle with the most.

That's why this old spiritual came to mind tonight - because once again it's telling my story. I'm definitely not where I want to be, or where I hope I'm going to be - but I'm also light-years from where I used to be, for which I'm grateful.

Wednesday night I had dinner with a young man in the middle of his first year of sobriety. For him, it was certainly a time of the glass is half-empty, and a time of struggling with self-centered fear - of the opinions of others, of the future, of the effects of the wreckage of his past, and especially fear that it's just never going to get better, is it? At one point in the conversation, he looked at me and said, "There. That's what sucks in my life...."

"...now fix it."

Dear God, if I only could, I would. For him...and for me.

The irony here, of course, for those of you who've been tuned in for a while, is that in the struggles of his last couple days my young friend named every fear that I have struggled with ever since my seminary career derailed a year and a half ago. And here he was, looking for swimming lessons from a man who's spent the last 20 months in various stages of drowning in the same sinkhole that was sucking him down.

So all I could do is share what I know to be true - even if I'm having trouble hearing, seeing it, or acting on it at times. And as I left my young friend tonight, I realized that I'd identified some of what Max Lucado would call "the anchor points of my life" - the places, in the midst of the storms, where I can "anchor deep and hold on" to make it through the tempest.

Back two weeks ago, my brother Rick L. wrote this classic post about what he'd gotten for the $50,000 that his seminary education had cost him. I'm not sure, but I think my half-an-M.Div (or 2/3-an- M.A.) probably cost me and my church about $40,000, spread over seven years. (It's more expensive if you drag it out...)

Answering the question "what did I get" could be a book by itself - maybe it will be (enough with the not-so-subtle hints, already). But here's at least a start on the answers...

Encountering your worst fear won't kill you. When I left for seminary, an unvoiced fear was that because I'd been raised Catholic, because I'd left the church for almost 1/3 of my life, because of X, Y, and Z, that somehow I wouldn't be Lutheran enough to get ordained. Eventually, I found that I couldn't be ordained, period - no matter how Lutheran I was. Finding that out broke my heart and shattered my spirit in a billion tiny pieces. (In fact, I don't think I ever knew the meaning of those phrases until last year.) And there were plenty of times when dying sounded like the easier, softer way out - trust me on that one. But I found out that having to start life over didn't mean I had to drink, or taste gun-metal - although there still was plenty of self-destructive behavior I could engage in. But it wasn't the end of life - just the end of that part of my life.

I know I'm Luther-like, no matter how Luther-an I am. I came to identify more and more with the crazed German monk - the one who struggled with grace, flogged himself in an effort to make himself acceptable to God, and who wrote A Mighty Fortress Is Our God in the pits of despair while on the run and sentenced to death for heresy. (It's sheer grandiosity to hope that one day my pen would inflame hearts for God as his did...) I have channelled Luther's spirit more than I would have ever believed.

But I am not one of the "traditional Lutherans," no matter how much my friend Tom S. razzes me about it. I am not bound to tradition and to "the ancient traditions of the church." My spirit rankles whenever I hear "But we've never done it that way before." Given the choice between having an "irregular" communion by an unordained person with non-traditional elements and "not having communion," I'll vote for the Wheat Thins and Dr. Pepper in the mountains every time. I don't believe in fruit-n-Jello salad (or vestments, or anything else) in colors of the liturgical season. And I believe, as the AA text says, that God wants us to be happy, joyous and free. As many of my friends would note, that doesn't sound terribly Lutheran to a lot of our denomination (even among the backsliding members of the ELCA...).

I'm more of a Wesleyan than I ever thought... The "Wesleyan quadrilateral" of Scripture, experience, tradition and reason is a concept that is woven throughout my own life, and even is even visible in the writings of Luther, even though it is never named as such. Having encountered the quadrilateral, one would have a tough time going back to "the four solas" alone. I'd have to admit that my "quadrilateral" would be more of a trapezoid - longer on reason and experience than many folks in my current tradition would find comfortable. But I'm grateful to the folks from St. Paul School of Theology - not only students like Norma and Chuck, but prophetic folk like Tex Sample, Susan Vogel, Adam Hamilton and so many others in my life - who opened my eyes to a new way of seeing. They showed me Christ in powerful ways, and I'm thankful for a season in their path.

...and I'm more Roman Catholic than I'd have believed possible. While there is much I'd leave behind in Roman Catholicism - the Papacy and the historic episcopate, the historic emphasis on works and the power of the local priesthood, their ignorance of women in ministry and their blatant homophobia, to name a few - there is also much for which to give thanks. Put simply, the practices of spiritual formation that gave us Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a' Beckett, Theresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John the Twenty-Third and Pope Paul VII just can't be all bad. In the renewing spirit of Richard Foster's Renovare' movement, I salute my Catholic sisters and brothers, and the legacy of faith they've given me. And only those who knew me as the loud-mouthed, angry "recovering Catholic" will know how far I've come to get to this point...

The age of miracles is not yet past. The young man who I spoke with on Wednesday night has been a miracle of healing for me, even as he thinks God sent me to him for his own healing. In moments of deepest despair, when I've seen nothing but wreckage in my life, he's reminded me that God still uses broken tools - and that God is the ultimate arbiter of what has value, and what does not. Miracles of healing, of transformation and renewal are happening every day. It's not the withered hand, foot or flesh that was restored in the Bible, but the withered soul, the damaged heart and the sinful past that are healed and made new - one day at a time. My young friend is proof of that; and so, if I'm rigorously honest, am I.

The pain, sorrow, guilt and shame of today are gifts for tomorrow. All that I hate about right now is nothing but raw sewage. In the presence of the Sunlight of the Spirit and fresh air, that sewage will be composted into fertile soil - soil from which joy will grow up tomorrow (or the day after...). It's hard to believe it, with the stench of sewage around my ankles (or waist!), but everything about my life (and so many others in the communities of faith and recovery) tells me this is so.

God's love and grace are available to everyone in the room - and I am in the room. It is so easy to fall for the lie that the world loves beautiful, charming, physically attractive, successful people - and even easier to believe that God would act in our image, rather than the reverse. This is a lesson I sometimes struggle with mightily - that as ugly, broken, and failed as I can feel, God accepts me and loves me just as I am. But I have received a lot of love from God's kids, even when I've been an ugly, broken failure; I can't deny that. So I have to believe that if God's very broken kids could show me that kind of love, how is it that I could ever be undesirable to the ultimate Parent of us all?

My life is not futile; my failures are not fatal; and my death is not final. That simple bit of beginning theology, stolen from Max Lucado's Six Hours One Friday nearly fifteen years ago, is a lesson I still need to hear, and a truth I still have trouble believing. My actions don't often confess these three truths. But at the rock-bottom core of my being, I desperately cling to them as the core of the Gospel. I'll never be able to thank Emile Boselli enough for giving me that book. Perhaps he'll read this, and know what a gift he gave me.

The dinner that spawned all this reflection cost $28. For that pittance, I got three hours of blessing, the encouragement of a young friend, and reminders of a lifetime's accumulation of faith, experience, strength and hope.

I'm $28 poorer - and yet I once again find myself richer than I could possibly imagine. What an absolutely incredible deal.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

100% Anselm, 93% Luther...

I'm not really shirking my duties - just managed to "twist & shout" the ol' lower back a bit too much at the wedding, and so I'm spending more time on ice-pack and with Advil. And the fact is, sitting at a PC all day and then sitting at one all night just puts a little too much pressure on those disc thingies, and my left leg gets numb. So I'm been in bed, and I'll be back there soon, too.

Upcoming topics which you can anticipate:
- Why I'm not a Catholic, and why that's both good and too bad
- The good news of being disillusioned - and composting as spiritual growth
- The ruts we settle into
- The Pride parade and my blogging anniversary, and
- Whatever else flits into this little-bitty mind o' mine.

But I have to admit - some of these test things are fun!

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm

100%

Martin Luther

93%

John Calvin

80%

Paul Tillich

73%

J├╝rgen Moltmann

67%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

47%

Augustine

33%

Charles Finney

33%

Karl Barth

33%

Jonathan Edwards

27%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wedding joy, simple pleasures

It's been an interesting weekend - I had the blessed opportunity to attend the wedding of a classmate in Dubuque, Iowa. The journey up and back provided me with some eye-opening revelations.

The first is how much I've been longing to leave the city. We left Chicago late on Friday - so we didn't get to Dubuque until pretty late, unfortunately. But since my friend Barb was driving, the traffic just didn't faze her.

Dubuque is a beautiful little town. I could see how it could become small and smothering - like many small cities, it struggles with the loss of major employers and the domination of others. But the cleanness, the openness, the slowness of life besides the Mississippi is an amazing thing. The trolley driver apologized for it being a slow day downtown...I told him that I didn't miss busy one bit, to be honest.

Signs you're in a small city in the summer:
- it smells cleaner, somehow. I'd gotten so used to the smell of the city that it was sort of a shock to get out of the car last night at the hotel. And walking and trolley-ing around the downtown and port area, it came to me that things looked clean, but felt cleaner, somehow. That's when I realized: it just doesn't smell so bad - that's the difference...

- The absence of traffic. Sitting outside at the coffee joint across the street from the Julien Inn, I was astonished at the peace and calm on the main street of town. It was in marked contrast to what I'm used to...

Usually, on Saturdays in Chicago, I get out about 8:45 and head north on Lake Shore Drive and over to the Dan Ryan Expressway to an AA meeting up on North Ave. Even by 9 AM, the Dan Ryan (I-80/94 through downtown, for you out-of-towners) is already busy...not "busy" for Chicago, but definitely not serene by any means.

By contrast, in downtown Dubuque on Saturday, you could count the cars going by, with entire minutes or more between each one. Even on the "expressway," traffic would be best described as "pretty darn light."

- People smiled, said hello, and were gracious when you asked directions. The trolley driver (from the business district to the casino and resort on the riverside and around town) was pleasant and chatty. There were no panhandlers in sight. The air was light and crisp; the skies were clear blue, with cottony vapor contrails slashed across them. It was a level of beauty and serenity that I didn't even know I'd been missing while living in Chicago.

I was in Dubuque one other time, for about 36 hours back in 1998 - at Wartburg Seminary, for their "Called To Do What?" conference on calls to ministry, when I was "thinkin' about gettin' ready to consider the possibility" of going to seminary full-time. I didn't get to "see" much of the city, but I remember visiting a unique AA meeting site in that town which has always stuck with me.

In a little strip shopping center, there was a central vestibule with three doors - three choices. To the left, a donut shop; to the right, a bar - and straight ahead, stairs leading to the lower level, where the AA meeting was held. The way it was set up, you literally had to decide what to choose - one addiction, another addiction, or recovery...so every meeting was a "first-step meeting," in some way. I didn't get to go there this time, but it was a fun memory.

The wedding was a joyous time. We arrived early, just to get a good seat - the Wartburg Seminary Chapel is not that big, and the guest list had grown over the last several months. The prelude music consisted of classical pieces alternating between organ and solo piano - it was kind of fun to see the musician spin off the organ seat and dash to the piano bench to begin again. The service was brief; the vows were heartfelt, and Laila came close to losing it when she said her vows...but she hung on, and the couple's first kiss was a bit of an endurance run.

In short, it was a joy-filled celebration.

The reception was at the Grand River Center, on the banks of the Mississippi. The food was fantastic; the toasts amusing and beautiful; and the company was neat. A couple from Chicago, now in suburban KC and members at Advent Lutheran in Olathe (at 143rd & Pflumm!) sat next to me (talk about six degrees of separation!).

The dancing was the amazing part. I had more or less decided that I was going to just sneak out after a couple of dances (because I hadn't danced in years, and wasn't going to start now), but something drove me out onto the dance floor. I knew I'd look stupid - at my age and size, it'd be hard not to - but I also had this idea in the back of my head that looking stupid was not going to stop me from having fun. (It's taken a while to learn that lesson...)

It was amazing. All those classic dance songs - "Shake a Tail Feather," "Twist'n'Shout," even (God help us) "YMCA" and "Baby Got Back," along with dozens more. I even found myself in the position of encouraging one of my twenty-something former classmates to get out on the floor with me...which is definitely of God, and not myself, because usually I'd rather have my teeth drilled than dance. But for some reason, I knew this was a time to celebrate, and so I just asked God for help to leave my self-consciousness at the table, and just went for it. Even on the second day after, I know I have muscles I haven' used in, oh, 4 or more years - and I definitely needed Advil...for serious pain when I got up this morning.

But it was worth every bit of it.

I rode home with my young dancing parter-in-crime, Tom G., and we had a delightful time talking about every topic under the sun. I couldn't help being struck with how the countryside in western and north-central Illinois is much like that where my dad's family is from, in western New York state - rolling hills, farms, lushly green fields and trees, and "trucks use lower gear"-type hills. Several times, we'd crest a hill and see some farmland panorama, and Tom would just break off conversation and say, "Oh, wow..." It would have been perfect to have "What a Wonderful World" playing in the background...

So now it's back to reality. The newlyweds are headed to Hawaii for a couple weeks of honeymoon, joining a list of several friends (who I'm trying hard not to resent!) who are off on exotic vacations. But I'm grateful for a weekend of small-town pleasures and joyous times, to give me a little recharge for the journey ahead. The looks of joy and love on my friends' faces, and the memories of small-town serenity, will surely ease the path as I "trudge the road of happy destiny" this week!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Lives beginning, lives ending

This weekend I'm heading to Dubuque, Iowa for the wedding of my friend Laila. She and I were buddies through Pentateuch, my struggles with Greek (she's a language wiz!), and a number of other classes at LSTC. She and Nate have been engaged-in-the-heart much longer than they have been sporting rings, so this will be an enjoyable journey.

God is smiling on Chicago again...it's 64 degrees according to the WeatherBug, and it feels glorious - a blessed change from Monday's ghastliness. If I could write specs for Heaven, the skies would be this blue, the gentle breeze would have this rich, floral scent, and no one would be sweating, anywhere...

I'd commend to you this article on end-of-life decisions in today's NY Times. This quote seems to sum the article for me:
The results of Ms. Schiavo's autopsy, released on Wednesday, underscored the need to make one's wishes known, said Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that politicians had been eager to intervene in her case even though it was now evident that her brain was irredeemably damaged.

"The movement to say, 'You've got to have Tom DeLay act as a third-party surrogate witness before you can have medical treatment stopped' seemed to be irrefutably silenced by the autopsy report," Dr. Caplan said.
That would be my deepest prayer - but I don't think James Dobson and Tom DeLay are going to roll over that quickly. After all, it's the same group who pulled the plug on Terri - those "doctors who like to play God" - who performed the autopsy. And it's those "activist lawyers and judges" who are writing these advanced-directive documents...

I'd also urge you to follow the link to the interactive media presentation on people's advance directives. I've been putting off making my own advanced directives document - but I know that it's got to be done. I don't want some yo-yo that I don't know (there's a Dr. Seuss book in there, somewhere...) making decisions about my life because they think they know what's best for me. So far, I haven't found either the government or the church to hit the mark in that way very often!

And, while you're at it (since we haven't mentioned the "H-word" in a while), check out this article in Relevant magazine titled, So You Say Your Friend Is Gay. An interesting article, with comments that (typically) run the gamut from "hate the sin, love the sinner" to this classic question:
What if this gay friend was a Christian who had a strong relationship with God, who was actively involved in Christian ministry, had never been suicidal and had a strong relationship with his/her family? What if this person was a C. S. Lewis, Yancey reading, Cornerstone attending church boy who just happened to be gay?
What, indeed...

I'll be offline for the weekend...but I'm sure there will be lots to report on Sunday night!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bone-tired

As much fun as being up with Chris was last night, today was one long day - and it started out on short sleep rations.

We had a big-deal reception planned for our members and donors - and unfortunately, the plans for what we were doing and where we were doing it got changed at the second-to-last minute, and then again at the last minute, by powers greater than myself. (The good news is that there actually is a last minute - otherwise nothing would ever get done!)

The end result was, of course, that there was a lot of last minute rework, a lot of running back and forth from one end of our facility to the other (a long full city block) through tropical (read: steamy and warm) environments. So I'm exhausted, my feet are sore, and I'm just drained.

So I'm going to trust that there really isn't anything that has to be said tonight, and I'm going to bed, and deal with the wreckage of today when the sun comes up. Peace, y'all...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Thirty-four miles to a blessing

I've been catching up on about, oh, three weeks of blog-reading from my blog-brothers and -sisters. It's really cool, because I find new and fascinating things - and yet it sucks, because I realize that I've missed out on some great conversations.

So this morning, I clicked on the link to Chris H.'s radio rebellion and found out that, lo & behold! He is here in the metro Chicago area - attending a worship conference up at Willow Creek Community Church. I remembered that he was gonna be here from an email conversation a month or two ago - so I fired off an email that basically said, "Hey! Can we meet face-to-face?"

Of course, by noon, I'd assumed he was tied up, and it wasn't going to happen, and gave up on the idea. But at quarter to seven, the cell-phone rang, and it was Chris. I quickly figured it would be way easier to meet him in Schaumburg (northwest of O'Hare) than to try to navigate him down here somewhere. So I hopped in the trusty Camry and raced northward to have my first "real-time, real-life" blogger encounter!

It was funny - I recognized Chris from pictures he's got on his blog - but more than that, it seemed that I just connected with him in a way few "earth people" do. We settled on dinner over at Woodfield Mall (which, contrary to Chris' posting, is the real "mothership" in those parts), put our name in for a table at the restaurant, and started in on what would be just shy of 3 hours of sacred time - good talk, plenty of laughter, and good food.

As we stood in front of the restaurant, Chris said something like this: "OK...since I'm your first 'live' blogger encounter, you gotta give me this. When (not if, but when) you write your book, you gotta give me the shot to write that little 'we were standing in front of the restaurant...' kind of forward or preface, so I can say I knew you when..." I told Chris that he was the third person to refer to writing-a-book in as many days...and that yes, if this particular elephant ever gets birthed, his clever anecdote(s) will get "a seat up front..."

We had the chance to flesh out each others' life stories - our challenges and struggles with life, with ministry, and with what it means to be faithful. I'm sure no one would be surprised if I admitted to talking way more than I listened - or that my blood sugar levels were way up in the stratosphere as a result of the desserts. In fact, the time just flew away - all of a sudden it was 11:30 PM, and I had a longish drive through the center of Chicago yet to come.

I checked the journey back to Hyde Park - thirty four miles. Just 34 miles to meet a brother I'd never met, to share stories and struggles, and be blessed in ways I could never describe. I'd have gone if the distance was twice as far - especially knowing how cool things turned out. I know this - I was blessed in powerful ways by our time together. But for now, I've GOT to get to bed.

Thanks for the gift, Chris - of dinner, of honesty, of friendship-on-sight. Thanks for being a part of my life, and letting me be a part of yours. And thanks be to God for allowing our circles to intersect!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

When will they come for me?

A posting from my brother Damien sent a wave of fear right down my back. You really need to read this...because we have men and women dying overseas supposedly to protect our nation from having this kind of crap happen.

The question I'd be asking is not "how do I feel about this particular group of people?" - but instead ask yourself this: "When will they come to register the group that I belong to?"

It's instructive to remember this poem, written by a man who knows the answer to that question:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

(by German pastor Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945) (read more about Niemoller here)

It's time to pray - and it's time to speak out, and speak UP...

Some poweful links

I'm not shirking my duties here - but there are a couple things I'd rather have you read than me right now.

First are two links from my digital pal Rick at a new life emerging. First - and most powerfully - is his retrospective on his seminary studies, which ought to be required reading for every ministry candidacy committee and every seminarian. Rick is one of the most compassionate Jesus-followers I've never met - and I believe he's going to be an amazing, church-transforming pastor.

Second is this post by Rick about clutter - which is one of my major enemies, right now. I know I do OK as a writer, but Rick has a powerful gift for asking cut-to-the-heart questions, and painting powerful images. (Every image he encountered in what he read for his $50K seems to have stuck in his mind, too...) This has been a convicting study in getting rid of the dross and baggage in my life. Thanks for giving me another sharp tack to sit on, Rick ol' buddy...and a belated thanks to [rwk] for the gentle boot in the butt a couple days ago...

If you've ever been accosted by panhandlers, you'll find this entry by [rhymes with kerouac] to be an eye-opening one. In fact, there isn't much he writes that won't both kick your butt and open your mind. But this post and this one are both big keepers...

Next is this blog. It's one side of a rapidly deteriorating two-fold battle, at it's very simplest, over both parenting rights and religious-practice vs. medical-treatment rights. Basically, Michele and Edward Wernecke have a 12-year old daughter, Katie, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. While allowing her to be treated, the parents balked at transfusions (on religious grounds) and radiation (because Katie is so young, and the effects of radiation are profound at that age). I'd encourage you to read their blog, because this has all the makings of another Schiavo-like situation being tried in the media. Listen to the parents' side - and Katie's side - first, please.

An interesting discussion on a Dallas Theological Seminary student's encounter with a lesbian at a religious conference. Is it the model of acceptance I'd wish for? No...but it's a damn sight closer to tolerance than many GLBT folks I know have experienced from DTS grads. I can't remember whose blog I got the hat-tip from - but thank you. A ray of hope...

Read...think...pray.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The meaning of life

Tonight, I got an email from my brother and friend Rick L. over at a new life emerging. We both "met" a fellow blogger in England who's been sober a while, and yet has continued to struggle with demons from his past that have affected him in powerful ways. Rick pointed out a recent post by our mutual friend, which just all-but-screamed out frustration and anger - with life, with having to struggle, and for the seeming lack of care or concern from God as he understands God.

I'm sure that it's just coincidence that not two hours before I read this fellow's digital screm, I'd picked up Robert Fulghum's classic book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, and was breezing over some of the stories I'd sticky-tagged in it for when I needed to find 'em. (Fulghum paints some amazing images - some hysterical, and some touching almost beyond description.)

The following are Fulghum's words - and yet they are also a testimony to my own life, and to the Power that has both saved me and driven me into the wilderness, time and time again.

Just to set the story, Fulghum is a younger man, studying Greek language and culture in Greece for the summer. Alexander Papderos had founded an institute devoted to healing the wounds of war on the island of Crete. At the end of a two-week conference, Dr. Papaderos asked, "Are there any questions?" And Fulghum, half-jokingly, asked, "What is the meaning of life?" Papaderos said, "I will answer your question," pulled a small round mirror out of his wallet, and said these words, which touched me deeply again after reading my friend's post. These are Fulghum's best remembrance of Papaderos' words:
"When I was a small child, living during the war [WWII], we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

"I tried to find all the pieces and put them back together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy, and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - truth, understanding, knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the black places in the hearts of men - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."

And then he took out his small mirror, and holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.
Now, you could choose to believe that at a time when I continue to struggle with "what to do with the rest of my life," that I picked up a book written 15 years ago, which I probably haven't looked at in four or five years, and found a testimony of what I hope my life could become in the decades-old memories of an encounter with a Greek peaceworker transcribed by a Unitarian minister two years before I got sober.

It could all be a coincidence.

It's also remotely possible that a tornado blowing through a junkyard could deposit a fully-assembled 727 airliner at the end of it, too.

But let's face it - how many times do you have to throw the parts of a bicycle into the air and have them come down by chance as a bicycle?

There is a Power greater than me - a God who has rarely given me what I wanted, a God who has rarely saved me from humbling, if not humiliation, when it's been necessary. But I believe that's also a God who loves me, and accepts me (even when I cannot), and has freed me from bondage (even from the things to which I continue to chain myself).

That Power - that Person - is not a genie, or the Shell Answer Man. That God rarely answers the question "why?" but almost always answers the question "what?" or "what next?"

What I need to focus on - starting in about 5 hours - is how I can reflect the Light of the World into the dark places of people's hearts - and how this Power will help me accomplish the work and play of this day.

If God can do this for me, God can be present to you. I know this to be true.

This is for you, Spencer...and also for my friend Drew. This may not be a prescription of how God will reach you - but it's a promise that in listening to you, and praying for you, God managed to reach me, yet again. And if it can happen for me, there is definitely hope for each of you. Peace, brothers...and sisters.

Boy, THIS is going to be a surprise...

Well, I answered the quiz, and this was my score...so it's gotta be right, eh? Thanks to Damien for the hat-tip on this one!

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern


86%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


57%

Charismatic/Pentecostal


46%

Classical Liberal


46%

Roman Catholic


43%

Neo orthodox


43%

Modern Liberal


43%

Reformed Evangelical


36%

Fundamentalist


4%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, June 10, 2005

Happy Founders Day!

We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body...(from the foreward to the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous)
Seventy years ago today, a broken-down stockbroker named Bill W. and an Akron proctologist named Dr. Bob S. chose to stay sober together, rather than die drunk separately. The founding of the worldwide fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is tied to June 10, 1935, Dr. Bob's sobriety date.
The spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group was struck at Akron, Ohio in June 1935, during a talk between a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician...Prior to his journey to Akron, the broker had worked hard with many alcoholics on the theory that only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic, but he had succeeded only in keeping sober himself. The broker had gone to Akron on a business venture which had collapsed, leaving him greatly in fear that he might start drinking again. He suddenly realized that in order to save himself he must carry his message to another alcoholic. That alcoholic turned out to be the Akron physician.

...when the broker gave him Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism and its hopelessness, the physician began to pursue the spiritual remedy for his malady with a willingness he had never before been able to muster. He sobered, never to drink again up to the moment of his death in 1950. This seemed to prove that one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic with another, was vital to permanent recovery.
(also from the foreward to the first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous)
This weekend, thousands of sober alcoholics and their families (between 8,000-12,000) will crowd into Akron, Ohio, to attend "Founders Day" celebrations in and around town. For a 50-mile radius around Akron, not a motel or hotel room will be available, and reservations clerks will say, "Yeah, we're full up because of Founders Day." And hundreds of times this weekend, non-alcoholics will ask the question, "Founders Day for what?" And there will be an uncomfortable silence, and the clerks will say, "You know...Founders Day..."

I've never been much for pilgrimages, but in 1994 I found myself assigned to be working about 70 miles from Akron over Founders Day weekend. Despite all my worldly "so-what" attitudes, I drove into Akron, registered for "the weekend," and took the shuttle bus over to Dr. Bob's house on Ardmore Street. A lady sitting across from me said, "First time here?" I admitted that it had been my first time in Akron sober - I'd spent a lot of time drunk at the University of Akron as a teen. I told her a friend had said that if I ever got up here, I should go to Dr. Bob's house. I remember saying to him, as if to a simpleton, "Why? It's just a house, for cryin' out loud!"

And then we rounded the corner - and I saw the little house - with the 12 original steps leading up to the front door. On each step was an AA member - and every one of them was saying what the huge banner across the front porch said: "Welcome Home."

It was a galvanic moment.

The speaker at the "big meeting" that night said it best: "Yeah, it's just a little house, very much like little houses in any city in the world...except that a miracle occurred there." And this weekend, thousands of miracles will converve on the University of Akron campus, Dr. Bob's house, the former Mayflower Hotel, and scores of sites around that Ohio city - to celebrate the gift of recovery that God gave to the stockbroker and the doctor. I wish I was there this weekend - but I'm happy to be here, "sunny-side up, suckin' air and sober," instead. As sucky as yesterday was, today is a good day.

Thank you, God, for the gift of a way out - the fellowship, the steps of recovery, and a way back to You. Let me try to share that gift today, and every day, with those who would have it. Amen.

Regardless if you are part of the recovering community or not, this passage from Alcoholics Anonymous can be an instruction to the church and the society. I leave you with Bill's words:
Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

May God bless you and keep you -- until then.
(from Alcoholics Anonymous, "A Vision for You," page 164)

It makes perfect sense to me...

If you were to read this story, you'd read how two America West pilots were convicted of being drunk while in the cockpit - the equivalent of an aerial DUI. An excerpt:
Cloyd, 47, and Hughes, 44, were arrested after security screeners smelled alcohol on them. Their plane had just been pushed back from the gate when police ordered it to return.

Assistant State Attorney Deisy Rodriguez had called the defendants "stumbling, fumbling" drunks who put 117 passengers and crew in grave danger.

The pilots maintained they were not operating the aircraft because the Airbus 319 was being pushed by a runway tug and its steering was disengaged at the time it was ordered back to the terminal.
Now, that kind of rationalization and justification made perfect sense to me. I've used variations on that line of reasoning any number of times, sadly. Of course, today my question would be, How the hell did they get into the cockpit and actually push away from the gate? I'm thinkin' somebody still needs to get spanked for actually letting them on the plane...

But make no mistake: while what they did was awful, I really have no room to judge them. My history shows that I am no better than they - because I drove tens of thousands of drunken miles before I got sober 14-plus years ago. My behavior was no less potentially deadly - the stakes were just a bit lower in an '83 Celebrity than in an Airbus A319. I just didn't get caught. But if life was truly fair, I'd be in jail for a long, long time.

Why is this story important, early on this Friday morning?

Well, it's important because of the perspective it brings.

At 11 AM Thursday morning, I would have told you that (as my friend Robin would say) I was having a day that had been FedEx'd straight from the bowels of Hell. For one brief hour, I wasn't sure whether I was going to have to quit my job or be fired - and I found that I hardly cared, at that point. It would have been humbling, humiliating, depressing, and financially devastating - but it also would have closed and locked a couple doors, and opened some others. And even that would not have been so bad, compared to those pilot's choices...

It's funny, because on my way in to the day-from-hell, I was listening to my Kansas pastor's sermon from the week he spent here in Chicago at the Homiletics Festival. His central theme was the idea that God is rarely finished speaking, just because a particular message has been delivered - by a pastor in a pulpit, by a doctor in an exam room, or even by a friend on his knees with me in prayer. Sometimes, it takes a little longer to get the message...

My friend Robin is also the same friend that Tom S. and Damien have quoted periodically as saying, "Did you drink or drug today? No? Then what the hell is your problem?" Today, I know that there is no job, no humbling situation, just nothing that is worth going to jail for. I certainly don't think I'm any better than those pilots - but by God's amazing grace I don't have to make the choices they had to make this week.

The fact is, there is lots of good news in my life, if I'm willing to focus on it. I am invited to my former seminary classmate Laila's wedding a week from today, and to Kansas for the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of my surrogate parents, Neil & MaryLou Lentz, a month from now. I have challenges, and struggles - but I also have health, friends, the love of family, and choices...and those are all good things.

And when it looked blackest today, and I thought, "I'm going to be unemployed by dinner-time," I remembered a quote my pastor used in his sermon, which he very well may have stolen from the UCC folks (who, of course, stole it from Gracie Allen...) - "Never put a period where God has placed a comma." Holding onto just that tiny bit of faith was all it took to keep on moving through the day. And it was sufficient for the day...

Today, I got the message loud and clear. As my favorite ad says,,: "God is still speaking,"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Worse than the f-word...

In my current circumstances, I am surrounded by lots of 20-somethings - folks whom have never seen a kitchen plastic bag without a zip-loc seal, who've never known TVs without remote controls, etc. So our conversations can get a little disjointed.

And there are things that I have real, real difficulty dealing with - things that just don't seem to faze the younger folks all that much. We started talking about this over lunch today, after I came back from the grocery store near my work site (which most folks would say was "in the 'hood"). Almost as soon as I got out of the car at the store, I started to hear it. I heard it yelled across the parking lot; I heard it blasting out of a car stereo. In fact, I probably heard it 15 or 20 times just walking to the store, and it really annoyed me - worse than "kike," "wop," queer," "fag," or any other epithet. The more I listened, the angrier I got. What one word has the power to do this, you ask? This one:

Nigger. I hate that word.

Now bear with me. Realize, first of all, that I am a child of the late 50's. I was seven in 1964 as the Civil Rights Act was passed. I was 11 during that horrible summer when both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. And I was the grandson of Polish immigrants who were tired of hearing "Polack" bandied about.

But more than that, I was the son of two white Silent-Generation types who were anything but silent when it came to respecting people of all walks in life. I never got my mouth washed out with an authentic bar of Ivory Soap - but the closest I ever came was when I made the mistake of asking what a "nigger" was, and why was it such a big deal to say. In strident tones, my mom told me (in essence) that it was a word used by idiots to refer to people who were much better than the idiots were. The explanation went on for much longer than that, but that was the jist of it. It became clear to me that when it came to respecting one's fellow human beings, my folks expected me to err on the side of respect and care.

I guess that also explains why it irks me so much - because I don't ever want to think of anyone as idiots, but that's just what I think when I hear one black person referring to another one by the n-word.

God knows, it's hard enough to get bigoted white people to not use it - but when the world hear African-Americans tossing that word about casually, it becomes hard to argue against using it (even though I know damn well what's right and wrong about speaking that word).

I've heard the arguments - it's a term of casual slang, like gay people referring to each other as "fags" (something that grates on me, as well); that it's all a just-in-fun thing between blacks; and so on. Sorry, folks; I'm not buyin' any of it - never have, never will, no matter how trendy it gets.

I just can't get my mind to bend that way. I know it's largely about "accepting the things I can't change," but I know too many black people who fought way too long and hard for acceptance and respect to ever condone the use of that word - ever. For me, if you're using the word, you qualify for the label - in all its original meaning - no matter what color your skin is.

Just say no. Please.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

An answer to many prayers...

It's an interesting thing about praying for healing or change. When we prayed for no one, no one got healed. When we prayed for many people, some people got healed, and some did not. So clearly, it made more sense to pray for everyone than for no one. (Nicky Gumbel on healing prayer, from the Alpha video on "How and Why Should We Pray?")

Good news/bad news - feeling once again like a Dickens novel ("the best of times...the worst of times"). Some alternatives for living situations are appearing - not as I would choose them, but they are appearing, nonetheless. It's like the old poster I saw years ago of the very small mouse looking up at the very large cat and saying, "You're not what I prayed for - but apparently you're the answer..."

Still, these things (humbling though they are) look like alternatives that could very well allow me to stay in Chicago (I know, it's a crazy idea, but remember who's talkin' here...) and allow me to regain some long-lost independence. Lots of open questions at this point, but right now, the answer that's staring me in the face looks better than I hoped for - certainly better than I would have prayed for.

Not everything has changed for the better - my employment situation is stil hanging fire, and I wish it wouldn't. But the good news is, at least one potential residence site doesn't care about whether I'm "officially employed" or not - his question was, "So - are you willing and able to pay the rent?" That, by itself, is an answer to a prayer I was unwilling to pray.

On my shelf is a thin volume by J.B. Phillips entitled Your God Is Too Small - and its title convicted me this evening, for sure. For now, I'm going to trust that God's plan for me is infinitely bigger - and better - than I could imagine...and I'll give thanks this day for a new day.

And while I'm at it, giving thanks - I am so grateful to each and every one of you who have commented, and emailed, over the last week. Some deeply philosophical, some closer to get-off-your-ass brusque, and more than a few emails accused me of "killing them softly with my song." All I can say to everyone who reached out is "Thank you - and thank God for you." It means more than you can know!

One of the side-effects of Einstein's theories of relativity proved that some seconds could last longer than others - and during parts of last week, time seemed to move so slowly that seconds were beating out about 15 to the hour. But the day looks better, today - even though it's 1:05 AM, and I need to be up in five short hours. So, off to bed.

Where are you? Where have you been?

I thought this was kind of cool...it's a key to where I've visited and lived. This CGI thing bolds the states you've been to, underlines the states you've lived in, but I changed it to bold-italic-underline the state I'm in now...

It's perhaps proof that there's so many places yet to visit - there's no sense in moving back to some place, eh?...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C. /

Go HERE to have this clever form generate the HTML for you.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Outta my mind on Sunday moanin'....

...catching up with sisters and brothers in the blogosphere, and in life in general. As one loving friend said to me recently, "It's about time you pulled your head out, Steve..." So this is going to be a mulligan-stew post...

Good moanin' - it was great to see my former hometown team, the Kansas City Royals, beat the Yankees. Now, anyone who's been here a while knows that I don't have much use for sports, generally. But it's nice to see underdogs (and currently there's no one under the Royals) get a boost - and it's always encouraging (in a slightly evil way) to see what the 12-steppers call ego-deflation at depth occuring to the high and mighty (in this case, the Yankees). I won't kick 'em any more while they're down - but as a lowly earth-dweller, it is a little sinister fun to see how the mighty have fallen...

Good moanin' - hat-tip to Lisa at CrazyFaith for the reminder that The Sound of Music celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. I am an unapologetic fan of TSOM, and I don't care. I am also old enough that I saw this in the theatres the first time around - so songs like Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi and Edelweiss are just woven into my DNA. A great article in the New York Times says it best for me: The Hills Still Resonate. May you bloom and grow, indeed.

Just moanin' - about Lisa's reference to Jesus Christ, Vampire Slayer - a cult movie that she loves and for which I couldn't wait for the end. She seems like such a smart young lady, most times...In short, the very worst bits of Godspell, The Saint, Buffy and a bad kung-fu movie all rolled into one. Sheesh...

Interestin' moanin' - back to the NY Times - an incredibly insightful essay by Matt Miller called Is Persuasion Dead? He asks the very pertinent question - can anybody be persuaded of anything, these days? Here's a teaser...
The signs are not good. Ninety percent of political conversation amounts to dueling "talking points." Best-selling books reinforce what folks thought when they bought them. Talk radio and opinion journals preach to the converted. Let's face it: the purpose of most political speech is not to persuade but to win, be it power, ratings, celebrity or even cash.

By contrast, marshaling a case to persuade those who start from a different position is a lost art. Honoring what's right in the other side's argument seems a superfluous thing that can only cause trouble, like an appendix. Politicos huddle with like-minded souls in opinion cocoons that seem impervious to facts.
There's probably a whole post dedicated to this question - especially as it deals with questions of faith and practice over which churches are ready to schism. (It's also a great question for the blogosphere, where many folks are so convinced of their opinion, that there is no need to muddy their thoughts with trivia like facts.) It's a worthwhile read, in the meantime.

That's it for now - I've got to spend some time at work, to prepare for a deadline I'm still not ready for, and then taking-care-of-life stuff. Peace, y'all.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The size of the task...

Then David continued, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the LORD is finished correctly. (1 Chronicles 28:20, NLT)
This quote was the "theme" of the 2003 "junior" class at LSTC as I came to Chicago two years ago. In fact, all my preparations to leave Kansas for Chicago "Do not be afraid or discouraged...for the Lord God is with you" woven through them.

In retrospect, I have to admit that over the last year and a half (since the first shock-wave hit about my ineligibility for ordination) that I stopped listening to that phrase. As I've mentioned here (a time or two) one recurring idea that I keep struggling with is that God has not failed me - nor really forsaken me - but it does feel like S/He's off tending to other folks. As an AA wife of an Alanon husband once said, "He learned detachment and release - but it sure felt like amputation and disinterest to me."

But now that I know I have to find new employment and a new place to live in the next 60 days, I'm trying to bring this particular piece of scripture back home again. "Be strong and do the work" and "do not be discouraged" both sound like impossibilities to me, at times. An evening of Stargate SG-1 sounds much more entertaining than boxing up books or washing, sorting and packing away clothes. Most of the time, to be honest, a sci-fi video even sounds better than blogging - because at times it just seems like too much effort to be even fractionally open, honest, or vulnerable. I'd much rather pull the covers over my head, go to bed, and stay there - for, oh, a year or so.

The only problem is, it's just a slower form of self-destruction. The one lesson I learned from my friend Skip's suicide is that it solved nothing for him - it didn't fix any of his problems. It only took him out of the solution to those problems. In the same way, turning on The Bourne Identity would be just a more-exciting version of saying "La-la-la-I-can't-hear-you" - it solves nothing. It just burns up the hours I could spend getting closer to solutions.

Honestly, I'd rather have a gasoline enema than move. I hate the prospect that much.

But the uncomfortable fact is that I will either move or be moved. The remaining question is, "How much of a part do I want to play in the decisions?"

Fourteen years ago, a man said to me, "Why don't you choose your own conception of God? Perpahs you could come up with a conception of God that is big enough to help you in your problems, and loving, caring, accepting, and forgiving enough to take you exactly where and how you are, right now." I think that's still good advice.

So I'm going to try to reconnect with a God that will "will not fail me or forsake me," a God that is bigger than the size of the task before me, and a God who will take the broken pillar of my self-image and self-worth and pour the Holy Spirit around me and through me. I'm going to try to trust that the God of my misunderstanding is bigger than I can imagine, and more loving and accepting than any image I can come up with. I'm trusting that this will be a God that will be more than equal to "the size of the task."

Reveal yourself to me, mighty God. I need you now, more than ever. Amen.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Obscured by calamity...

"Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself." (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, "We Agnostics," pg. 55)

It continues to amaze me how much I find myself in the words of this book - and how imperfectly I have learned its lessons in more than 14 years without a drink. That part makes me a little crazy, sometimes. Like now.

My "fundamental idea of God," and God's faithfulness and lovingkindness, sure can be "obscured by calamity." And sadly, for me, calamity can be something as simple as the need to step out of fantasy and denial and check into the Hotel Reality. It's positively embarrassing, at times, how close I am to an agnostic, and how willing I am to cry out, "Where the hell ARE You, anyway?" - especially when the one who has been wandering around lost is me...

I bring this up because a number of other bloggers have been struggling with depression, with the inability to find clear direction, and with other questions about life and faith that go way beyond "What's it all about, Alfie?" I've been back in touch with a dear friend who struggles with significant depression, and has had to essentially step out of active ministry for a while. A fellow I admire (who sounds like he's been doing the kind of youthpastoring that I always wished I'd had) has confessed his own struggles on his blog - and it seems that his readers have done a great job of burying him under (a) cliches and (b) "friends of Job-style" advice.

I understand both my friends' frustrations - because I've been on both sides of it.

I'm enough of a codependent that I wish I could just fix whatever the hell is going on with those I care about. In the recovery community, it's called rescue, save, and repair. This kind of behavior tends to be characterized best by whatever parts of the book of Job are not said by either (a) Job or (b) God. In my experience, it's always well-meaning - and it always stimulates in me the desire to scream at people who I know love me.

And I do know depression - the kind of depression when it's much easier to walk over dirty clothes than wash them; when it's easier to ignore problems than take action on them; when hope just seems to flee, and prayers seem to rise up like smoke and dissipate in the wind, without ever reaching even what CS Lewis would call near Heaven. Sleep seems elusive, life seems illusory - and each solution "peg" that someone suggests seems just a little too round to fit in my particular square hole.

It's in these situations that I find that God's presence is "obscured by calamity." It's not that God's presence is absent (however much it feels otherwise), but it's definitely obscured. Like now.

In my own case, time is running out to find full-time employment with benefits, and I've been given a deadline to leave my formerly-comfortable seminary housing and get back into the real world. It would be much easier to do (b) if (a) were a reality - but the fact is, it's not. And Tuesday, having come back from a great weekend with my sisters, I was confronted with just how big the hurdles I'm facing are - and how much the wreckage of my own past is weighing on me at this stage of the game.

And it just sucked.

My dear friend Damien sat and listened to my self-pitying, self-flaggelating monologue over dinner Tuesday night. He's a wise man, and he just let all the toxicity just drain out of me, like a cyst that'd been lanced. And after that, some clear thoughts managed to break through - things I'd always known, but that for some reason I just couldn't hear from my own mouth, about me:

(1) No matter what, my failures are not fatal. (Thank you, Br'er Lucado, for drilling that one into me years ago.)
(2) I may have failed at what I came here to do; that does not make me a failure.
(3) People's lives have been changed, for the better, by my presence here. It doesn't matter whether I can see those changes or not - they are present, nonetheless.
(4) God loves me, even if (3) wasn't true. Period. Whether I start with Peter and work down, or start with the "good thief" and work up, God has put screw-ups in the story of redemption just so I'd identify.
(5) It no longer matters how I got here; the answer is, where am I going to go now?
(6) There is always something - however small - that I can do to make my life less chaotic, if I will but do it.
(7) As with any journey, the longest part is always the getting my ass off the sofa and out the front door part.
(8) As my sisters and brothers in the UCC would say, "God is still speaking," even if I am not still listening. I can choose to "tune in," and the message is still there for me.

Now, the challenge will be to pray this simple prayer throughout the course of this day:
Dear God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, let me live this day as if I believe this stuff. Amen