Thursday, March 30, 2006

Not quite restored to sanity

I had a lot of fun with the posting on "why men should not be ordained." I ended up forwarding the link to about 20 or 30 ladies I know - most of whom got a tee-hee out of it. I did get two significantly negative responses to the post, however.

The first one was of a type I've come to recognize in the blogosphere. The subject line of the email said simply "Shame! Shame!! SHAME!!!" (and that was the nicest thing it said to me, to be honest). The author, who I did not know, poured out an incredible pile of vituperation and invective, questioning everything from my faith in Christ to my "apparent lack of masculine endowment." (Evidently she's been peeking...)

The email ended, as these things always seem to end, with a bold declaration concerning Where I Am Going To Spend Eternity, how it is I will end up There, and how good it will be for the author and all the faithful to hear my screams of torment while I burn for all time Down There.

I deleted it.

But then came a brief missive from a woman who is a friend of a friend, a person who has been extraordainarily helpful to me on a number of occasions. She wrote:
I know you mean well...but if I want to read what you want to put out, I'll read it on your blog (yes, I do have it bookmarked).

I won't inflict you with my beliefs if you promise not to demean mine...
That bothered me more than the declaration concerning Where I Am Going To Spend Eternity, to be honest. (After all, absent the saving power of Christ, that's old news anyway...)

So, by way of apology to anyone else whose beliefs I offended, I share with you what I wrote to her:
Thank you for your note.

You are right - I did "mean well," in the sense of wanting to share some humor, and an alternative view too rarely shared on a particular topic.

I'm sorry if my desire to share some humor was seen as either self-importance or pomposity. You've heard enough about me from our mutual friend to know that they are both character defects I struggle with.

I never intended to
inflict any belief on you, and I would never intentionally demean anyone or anything - having been on the receiving end of that treatment way too many times in my life.
And I promised not to darken her inbox with my missives again, and apologized for offending her.

It never ceases to amaze me how, despite all the progress I think I have made, that I can impact people so negatively with just a few words. I keep praying for God to restore me to sanity - and I believe that God can do that.

It just doesn't seem like God has made much progess on those gentle requests, yet.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Top 10 reasons men should not be ordained

One of the reasons I'd never be a member of one of the more fundamental Christian denominations (including the Roman Catholics) is because they won't ordain women. I've heard some powerful, truly-anointed women ministers, and I think a great deal of the hoo-ha in the Christian world comes from egocentric, macho-centric male Christians.

That said, there's a good reason why this is making it's way around the blogosphere. Hat-tip to Rick at a new life emerging for this:

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

10. A man's place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be "unnatural" for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father's Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Many women have posted this on their blogs, and I'm grateful to them, and to Transforming Seminarian for the orgininal post.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Joy from a beautiful Neighborhood

There is a woman with whom I work - a feisty little Italian grandma with a fantastic attitude and a great a sense of humor. She and I have been the "cut-up" pair on our work team - and she's been the perfect foil for my offbeat humor over the last three months. If it was at all possible to laugh during the challenges we've faced since January, she and I have managed to do it.

When my friend gets particularly angry, her primary coping method (other than swearing, which she does quite well) is to start singing the theme song from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood:"
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine?...
Could you be mine?...
Well, one morning after a particularly long night at the office, I was driving back downtown and heard a review of Music From The Neighborhood, a tribute to the beautiful songs written and scored by Fred Rogers for his long-running PBS show. And I thought of my long-suffering co-worker immediately.

So as soon as I got to the office, I ordered it from Amazon. And - predictably - it was backordered.

It finally got here Thursday.

By the time I'd gotten in on Friday, things had evidently been going south for a while. So when I got to my desk, my co-worker's first snappy comment was, "Well, look who's finally rolled in! Where da'Hell have YOU been?" I smiled and said, "Hmmm... let's see what Uncle Steve has in his bag for Miss Grumpy today..." And I pulled out the CD, and handed it to her.

She took it and said, "What da hell is dis?..." and then she got a look at the cover art. She said, "Oh, my GOD...I can't believe this..."

And she got up and gave me a big hug.
(OK, that was more like it.)

And she proceeded to listen to the silly thing all the rest of the day. Her obvious enoyment of the music made the whole thing worthwhile.

But here's the really sappy part.

First, confession time. I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in my life. (No, I don't know how that happened, either. But I'm pretty sure it's true.) I had no idea about the show; couldn't name any of the characters; knew nothing of the show's music (other than the first 4 lines of the show'd title song); and I knew even less of the life of Fred Rogers himself.

That is, until tonight.

I came home from a day of running all over hell's half acres, opened my own copy of Songs from the Neighborhood, and sat down to watch the companion "making-of" DVD.

And that's when I started to cry, too....

This powerful obituary on said,
In 1963, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister with a charge to continue his work with children and families through television... He said, "I believe that those of us who are the producers and purveyors of television -- or video games or newspapers or any mass media -- I believe that we are the servants of this nation."

That's why he got into television in the first place.

"I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
Now there's a ministry.

By closing, I leave you with the lyrics from one of those songs I'd never heard before tonight. I know that Fred Rogers sang this song to the kids he cared for so deeply, and not to me. But as I listened to this CD, with a smile on my face and sappy tears of joy in my eyes, I heard a message from the God that Mister Rogers served - a message to all God's kids, me included:
It's you I like
It's not the things you wear
It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like

The way you are right now
Way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you
It's not your toys - they're just beside you

But it's you I like
Every part of you
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you, yourself
It's you I like
Preach it, neighbor...amen, and ever amen.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Those Christians are at it again..."

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:18,22-24 NIV)
I've been a bit slow in catching up with the news lately, so I missed the fact that several Catholic priests and bishops (including one who broadcasts on the EWTN cable channel) have called to boycott the movie "The DaVinci Code." Still others (Catholic and Protestant) have called to NOT boycott the movie, and still others have said, "It's ok to see this movie,but it needs a disclaimer up front that this is not Biblical."

For me, I've not read the book, so I'm not even qualified to make a comment about either the book or the movie.

But my own experience has been that when Christians condemn something or someone - especially declaring someone or something to be "heresy" - they are just "cruisin' for a bruisin'," because every single one of us is a blip on someone's "heresy" radar...whether you start from Martin Luther and work down, or start with my own poor self and work up.

The saddest part was that in talking with an unchurched friend about all this errant nonsense, he simply said, "Yeah, well, there go those Christians again..."

And, Christ help us, he's right.

So much of what Christianity has become in the world today has been about who "we" are supposedly against. And small groups of vocal Christians tend to tar the entire Church with the same brush. So much of the world assumes that we Christians ALL hate (or, God help us, even want to kill) the same groups of people. Go through the news, and you can tell who "we" are supposed to be against.

And yet we hear so little about those whom we are called to be "for" and to love - the poor, the needy, the broken, and the outsiders. In fact, who we are supposed to be "for" is a lot of the folks that so-called Christians are "against."

The important thing to note from Sunday's lectionary reading in 1st Corinthians is that the boycotting folks (and the hating folks) have missed the point entirely.

"We preach Christ, and him crucified...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

Not against movies, or this cause or that group of supposedly unacceptable people. In fact, it seems we have no place deciding who is unacceptable - that job is already done. "There is no one righteous, not evenone..." It's all there in Romans 3. Check it out...

Nope. There really is only one sermon topic, it seems. Just Christ, and him crucified. God's unending love for us through Christ. It ought to be enough, shouldn't it?

Find me a church that points me to Christ, rather than pointing me away from my sinful fellow humans (which would seem, according to the apostle Paul, to be just about everyone) and I'll attend gladly.

But anyone who is making sermon fodder out of "Da Code" (as us Chicagoans would say), and missing the chance to preach on a more timely topic (for instance, the "when I was hungry, you fed me" passage from Matthew 25:31-46)...well, those preachers ain't gonna win any points on my scoreboard.
Lord God, help us to remember that we are called to preach Christ, and his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Let us leave the world to deal with the rest. Let us, in this holy time, be an arrow pointing to Christ, and how each of us needs him. Amen.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Day by day through "hell week"

What a set of screwball days...

Monday morning, it was 61 degrees. By noon, it was 37 and blowing a gale. Yesterday it was light-jacket weather, and this morning it is 35, with a major snowstorm showing up right at the morning rush-hour. Thank God that today, I can take the train and bus.

It has been insane at work...every day seemed like it was going well, and then a series of unbelievable technical fubars threw our schedule into the dumpster. I drove to work on purpose Tuesday, knowing that our Tuesdays almost always go badly, and ended up leaving the office at 3:15 AM on Wednesday. I set the alarm for 7, got up at nine, rolled out of bed and turned the laptop on in my underwear.

I didn't even get to put pants on until 3:30 PM. So much for staying home and doing the laundry...

My boss and her 2nd-in-command (who I'd sent home on the 10:40 train on Saturday) were online with me until 2 AM. They, of course, made it into work just FINE on Wednesday, and caught the lion's share of the raw-sewage that hit all day. At 8:30, they were both still there.

I just don't know when it's going to end. People have been promised, and then withdrawn. We're still going backwards, in terms of our work load. And I'm not sure who's going to quit first - personally, I'm betting on our team-2nd-in-charge, who's older (56), talented (in payroll for 30 years), and very, very tired of all the stinky-stuff. But when (not if) she goes, our every-other-week Gethsemane will just get that much worse.

Now I know the whole one-day-at-a-time thing. I do. And I know you can endure almost anything for just 24 hours.

And financially, I really, really need this to work.

I just don't know if I can do six months of this. If I were a tire, I'd be replaced after the first 3 months as a "high-mileage model."

So for now, I'm left with the classic Alanon text "Just For Today," as I start "trudging the road of Happy Destiny" for this day. At least I have the promise of an AA meeting tonight, fellowship with friends on Saturday, and some tasks of home maintenance between the work I know I've got to do this weekend.

For now, angel children, it's trash day, so I gotta get going. Peace...

Monday, March 13, 2006

One of a number of possible valid answers...

Marvin K. Mooney
You are Marvin K. Mooney!

I know more than a couple folks who will find this fun...

Which Dr. Seuss character are you?

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Alive and well...

...if sleep deprived. Nature finished power-washing itself about 3:30 AM, so I'm dragging tail more than a bit. But, as my friend Bob L. often says, we are "sunny-side up, suckin' air and sober." Which is not a bad way to greet a sunny Monday morning.

And it's 61 degrees - almost shorts weather....

If I die before I wake...

There is a line of severe storms rolling across middle America tonight. A number of them are spawning supercells - the breeding ground for tornadoes. And the target path of these storms is aimed right across my neighborhood - the far south side of Chicago and nearby Indiana counties.

The most deadly time for tornadoes to strike is at night - sleeping folk rarely hear the sirens, and I don't even think this neighborhood has tornado sirens (in contrast to my world in Kansas, where there were siren towers on every other corner). And the targeted arrival time for these storms in our area is around 4 AM...

So the old children's prayer comes to mind tonight:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
And if that does happen, I need to say this.

God has been good to me. Much better than I deserve, in fact. I forget that truth a lot - even as recently as this morning, in fact. That doesn't change the truth, however.

I would have chosen things to go much differently in my life than they have gone - of that, there is no doubt. But I have had 15 years of grace "in the bonus round," so to speak. I have had the love of my family restored, and a circle of friends that I could not have imagined - including many digital denizens whom I've met across the blogosphere. Each of you have blessed my life in real and powerful ways - and I am grateful to a loving God that I've had a season in your path.

Chances are many to one that nothing will happen, and I will rise and have to drag my carcass to work. But if something unpleasant does happen, let these words from Marty Haugen be a worthy elegy:
Healer of our every ill
Light of each tomorrow
Give us faith beyond our fears
And hope beyond our sorrows...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What I'd like Christians to give up for Lent

There are times in my life when another person captures the cry of my heart much better than I possibly could have put in words. This is one of them.

Rick Luoni, a newly-minted Episcopal priest from San Francisco, wrote this over here at a new life emerging. He is always insightful, always straight-from-the-heart, yet this time he just wrote the words of my heart for all to see. I have included the entire text of his post here, because it's way, way more inspired and true than anything I could possibly write tonight.

If I could, I would pay to have this read in every Christian church in the nation this coming Sunday. To me, it captures the heart of Christ's true work for the Church - more than 90% of the sermons I've heard, more than The Passion of the Christ or the Left Behind series, more than many Christian writers, and (except for Billy Graham) more than virtually every single so-called "evangelical Christian leader" I've heard in the last 10 years.

I wish I had written these words - but thank you God, for your servant Rick.

Do you want to know the true secret to transforming the world in the 40 days of Lent?

This morning while meditating on Isaiah 58 I discovered the secrets to fasting "Yahweh-style."

It seems that God is looking for a different kind of fasting than those things we normally give-up during Lent. Take a look at the Isaiah text.

"This is the kind of fast day I am after." (Isaiah 58:6)

1. To break the chains of injustice,
2. Get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
3. Free the oppressed, and
4. Cancel debts.

"What I'm interested in seeing you do is" (Isaiah 58:7)
1. Sharing your food with the hungry,
2. Inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
3. Putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, and
4. Being available to your own families.

Notice what's missing?

The "me-centered" spirituality. We may be loved individually but it was never intended to remain personal.

If you do this here are the results you can expect of fasting Yahweh-style:

"Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The GOD of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, GOD will answer. You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.' "

"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins; if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, then your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places - firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry." (Isaiah 58:8-11)

Imagine if we fasted from poverty, exploiting workers, oppression, homelessness, broken families, debt, blaming victims, and picking on other folk's sins... imagine what this world would look like.

Apparently the kind of fasting God notices is when we fast from those things that rob people of their dignity and humanity.

There you have it - fasting Yahweh-style.

I think I learned something new about fasting.
How 'bout you?
Lord God, as this man of God has written, let it be with me today. May we stop judging and condeming and labeling each other long enough to actually start building Your kingdom here on earth. In this season of Lent, let us not give up TV or chocolate or bourbon, but help us simply give up deciding who is going to hell and who deserves heaven.

Loving God, let us stop worrying about how we are going to further split the body of Christ because "they" don't believe as "we" believe, or worrying about who wants to marry who, and let us start taking action about who is going to feed and clothe and comfort and bring justice to those who need it. Help us stop worrying about the so-called "seven texts" long enough to focus on two Great Commandments and one Great Commission.

God of all power and might, let this begin - and let it begin with me.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Looking back, looking forward

First, to my sisters and brothers in the blogosphere, my apologies for a week of absence from my digital haunts. It has been a long, long week in a series of long, long weeks.

My trip to Kansas was both beautiful and awful, invigorating and draining. The trip down was rushed but wonderful, the stay was filled with early mornings and late nights and many beautiful friends, and the trip back plagued with annoying delays and pleasant visits. I needed one more day to recover from the trip and the drive - but the job simply wouldn't wait one more day. So back I went.

The highpoints of the visit were
- KC barbeque at Oklahoma Joe's in Olathe;
- seeing a swarm of my AA friends all day Saturday (either at the home group in Lenexa, at breakfast and dinner, and at the Sunflower Roundup Saturday night);
- worship at my home congregation Sunday morning;
- an absolutely beautiful memorial service for Jerry Amundson Sunday night;
- visits with my friend Norma, and friends Nathan and Laura, on my way back Monday.

The only real low points were that I overscheduled myself, to the detriment of sleep, and the fact that I ended up having not one, but three separate automotive crises involving tires, and one very close call with construction debris falling off a truck (which resulted in one of the flat tires).

The problem was that I didn't get home Monday until 3:30 AM Tuesday, and got up at 7:30 to be in the office by 9. Then we didn't get done with work until 1:15 AM Wednesday. In fact, the rest of the week was not nearly so long-houred - but in terms of sheer stress it was equally as draining. The result was that, outside of going to my traditional Saturday morning AA meeting, I basically slept this entire weekend away - with the exception of getting much-needed laundry done this evening.

I still like a great deal of my job - and I even got a commendation and a raise this last Thursday. But I know that the folks on my team are starting to lose hope of things getting better any time soon. And added to the stress and strain is the inevitable swarm of finger-pointers, trying to diagnose problems and institute control systems (in effect, putting fingers into the mud after the dike has washed away). The blame-storming is already underway, and the various spin-doctors are demanding time that we already need to just get through the everyday hassles.

So it's a little tough, now.

I should have been dialed in and working from home at least half a day this weekend, but I simply couldn't raise the internal energy to do it. All the body wanted to do was sleep, and the mind was more than willing to follow suit. But my goal is to be in bed in about five minutes, so I can get an earlier start on the day (since I'll have the additional entertainment of wet snow and slush to slog through to get to the train tomorrow morning).

Yes, I'm grateful for what I have. But I have to admit that it's tougher to remember that gratitude, from time to time.

I know that "this too will pass..." - sometimes like gas, sometimes like gall-stones. For tonight, I'm going to trust that better days are coming, and sleep in that trust.