Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Seasons of love

I started this on Thanksgiving eve...and it's now Saturday night. So this is going to be one of those work-in-process posts...

First and foremost, happy Thanksgiving to you all. Part of the blessings I give thanks for is getting to share my life and my loves (and occasional snarkiness) with each of you. Your responses and comments continue to bless me, well after my writing has been forgotten.

I was leaving my apartment/office to go to my sister's place, to help make broccoli-cheese casserole, cranberry-nut jello cups, and turtle pumpkin cream pie when I got a call from Chris about the attacks in Mumbai. My employer has hundreds of workers in Mumbai, about a dozen of which are members of my client team. Naturally, I called the office, and no one had heard anything about it, so I asked a co-worker to pass word on to one of our team leads.

Sadly to say, when I got home at 10:30 from Sue & Jeff's, there was no note of condolence or caring sent from any of our leadership. (Nice work, folks. ) While working with our Mumbai team can often be an opportunity for growth, they are part of our group - and that should count for something. So I took the time to send out a note to everyone I knew from Mumbai - wishing them well, letting them know they were being thought of and prayed for, and hoping for their safety.

It's thoughts like this - of caring for those we know - that are closest to me this extended weekend. One of the blessings of the week started off with coffee and a sandwich with a dear friend today. Our lives tend in slightly different directions these days, but whether five miles apart or a thousand, we have managed to remain connected in spirit across more than three decades. That, by itself, is an incredible gift. Another friend frequently comments on these ramblings from his new home in Florida. His marriage has endured for 18 years, and he has definitely seen mountain-tops and valley-floors in those years. That is another friendship that endures across time.

I think of my loving friends from Kansas, from Chicago...from seminary, from church, from work, from the community of recovery. They feel close to me, even though our contact is not nearly as much as it was a year or two ago. Our lives are diverging - and yet so much of me is anchored there.

It was funny that we were listening to a Travel Channel program on barbeque across America as we were cooking Wednesday night, and there on the screen was Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City (the very best), Gates BBQ (where everyone is greeted with "MAYAHHEPYOO?!?! ("May I help you," for those who are uninitiated) and so many other Kansas City BBQ landmarks. I could just imagine Natalie, Eric & Laura, Ed & Becca, Sandy, Cherri, and so many others gathered for a plate of the best - and it transported me 750 miles in seconds....

(To be fair, though, if I was thinking of Natalie, the image would have been at Rosedale's, down on Southwest Trafficway. A lot easier to get to than Bryant's, and brisket that just can't be beat...)

And I can't think of Kansas City without thinking of my dear friend Norma and Stroud's Restaurant ("we choke our own chickens") and so many other adventures. ( I keep trying to get my friend Ted to get to Stroud's when he goes there periodically...perhaps one of these days he'll make it.) Norma and I started school together at St. Paul School of Theology in KCMO back eleven years ago (can you believe it?...) in September 1997. We have had the blessing of sharing in each others' great joy, and great sorrow, and back to joy. What a long, strange trip it's been, sister...

But this isn't just some gastronomic reverie - my mind simply ties beautiful people in disparate places and great food together in a remembrance that is both tantalizing and holy, at the same time. (As someone once said, "My mind is an interesting place to live, I guess...I don't always agree with it, all the time, but it sure is interesting...")

Chris and I have been reflecting a lot about times and places, lately. It was the end of September last year when I was first introduced to him. It was a year ago the beginning of November when he met my family for the first time...and a year ago next week that his house in Springfield sold, and he made the decision to move up here "to pursue a very special relationship," as he said at the time...

My sister wrote this to Chris in her Thanksgiving note to us:
Well, around a year has come 'n' gone. It's been interesting! We are definitely not afraid of change. I just wanted to tell you that I'm so happy for you n Stevie. He was alone for a long time, and he's got a lot to give and I'm so glad he's got you in his life, and vice versa.

I never thought there would be room in my life for "another man", but there is and I'm glad it's you. Welcome again to "the family".
Now there's something to give thanks about...

In fact, all the people to whom I have introduced Chris have all been genuinely glad to meet him and welcoming - which is both a credit to Chris and a tribute to my friends, to be sure. In this day and age, that is still an incredible gift of grace.

Two years ago, I couldn't have imagined meeting anyone I would consider sharing my life with, ever again. I had quite simply given up hope of that happening. People I know in the recovery community would hear me whine about being a solitaire, and say, "Awww, don't worry about it - celibacy is non-fatal, and it's ultimately treatable." However, I had all but accepted that for me, there would be no treatment. I couldn't see how it could possibly happen.

Today, I simply cannot imagine life without this man in my life.

I know that, in the eyes of the probate court, or the emergency-room nurse, or the judge or the clergyman, we are just two people sharing an address.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

So tonight, as I go back to assembling a too-large Christmas tree in a too-small apartment, I'm giving thanks for many, many things - but most of all, for a life-giving love that I believe could only have come from God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Done with....graceless politics

(see the original here)

I have been taking a bit of a blogging sabbatical. And, as Pete Seeger once said, "it turned into a Mondical, and a Tuesdical..."

It hasn't been that I haven't had anything to say; quite the contrary. But I have been so overwhelmed with so much raw emotion that I really couldn't put my thoughts into focus until today. Two blog posts have brought the issue into sharp focus.

I know the author of one of the posts. In it, a person who considers themselves a Christian spews every kind of poison and vituperation about the US president-elect, forecasting a fall into socialism and communism, doing the whole Osama/Obama thing, and basically predicting the end of American democracy and capitalism. This person basically echoes the most absolutely divisive, abusive portions of the weeks-before-the-election nonsense - including the nonsense that Barack Obama is a Muslim and is sold out to al-Quaeda.

It's clear that this person is so blinded by party-line hate that they have lost all sense of proportion - and that there is no sense in confusing them with any facts, or indeed any questions about what they believe to be facts (like, what was a Muslim doing as a long-term member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago?).

I won't even link to their post; I don't want to give them any more traffic than they get already. But it brought into sharp relief the divisiveness and hatefulness that has stampeded into the American psyche in the last ten years - a hatefulness that seemed to swell and crescendo in the last three months.

And, God help me, I started to buy into it. Those hateful bastards!, I found myself shouting at the radio in the car. How could morons like that be that way?!? I found myself listening to news programs and getting furious - absolutely furious - about the misinformation and the sheer evil that was being spewed in the name of "righteousness" and "defending America."

That's when I realized it: I was getting hateful - about hatefulness. How sick is that?

That's when a voice of pure grace came through - courtesy of this post from the I Am Done with... blog. It put into clear focus just what I've been "done with."

Graceless politics.

Look at these faces:

These are not the faces of two enemies, no matter how much some people would like to paint them as such.

These are not the Godless Muslim Socialist and the Right-Wing Whack Job.

These are not the Right One and the Wrong One, or vice-versa.

They are two men who are, I hope, dedicated to their country and to their ideals. They both profess to believe in God.

And - despite language about "landslides" and "mandates" - both of them would have been leading a nation that is neither red nor blue, but decidedly purple.

So what I am "done with" is this idea of " Us" and "Them." I am done with the idea that people who disagree with me - regardless of the topic - are The Enemy. I am done with the idea that the world is going to end because of the results of the election. And I am really, really, really done with the idea that we could be any worse off in 4 years because of the election than we are now (James Dobson and Focus on The Family notwithstanding).

The fact is, regardless of who won the election, we are very likely to be a lot worse off in 4 years than we are now. I don't believe that any one president could possibly undo the evil that we have done to ourselves in the name of greed and selfishness in the last decade.

And I believe that the so-called Christian church, in their rush to focus on their own very specific agenda of the last dozen years, has absolutely failed to address the fundamental sins of selfishness, self-centeredness, and conspicuous consumption that have led us to this point. Yes, we may be safe from same-sex marriage in the near term - but I hate to tell you: that's not what got us to the edge of economic and social disaster, folks.

I found this passage from the "I am done with..." post particularly appropriate:
What I am saying is we don't have to vote for someone we disagree with, we don't have to support them but we do have to love and extend Grace to them if we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ. The Religious Right is known as a legalistic, moralistic, loveless, extreme of the Republican Party because there is no Grace shown to anyone that opposes them. That is not Jesus.
(emphasis added)
Are you hearing this? You and I are not simply proponents or opponents on this topic, or that one. We are individuals. Human beings. Members of families. We are your brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors, and co-workers. We are all "children of the Heavenly Father," as the old hymn says (even the group of us who don't believe in that same Heavenly Father and won't sing that hymn). And those of us who profess to follow Christ need to remember that Jesus came with a new set of instructions:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, NIV)
Note that it doesn't say "that you love the folks who look like you" or "love the folks who vote like you, or go to your church." But it does say that everyone else will know that we are Jesus' disciples - if we have love for one another. Not if we vote the right ticket; not if we go to the right place to worship or listen to the right preacher or exclude the right undesirable folks.

I'd issue a challenge to every person who is both a believer in Christ and a politically-active person: that we read those two verses - twice, slowly - before we write or speak anything (anything) - about those who might disagree with you.

It will be interesting to see how the political landscape would change if we all would practice that tiny little portion of what we preach.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A note of sanity...

I've been amazed at the anger I built up before the election.

I've been afraid of it, actually. I found myself shouting at the walls when Chris wasn't around; shouting at the insanity on some of the radio stations; talking back to some of the moronicity I heard, even on respected stations like the BBC. And, being the conflict-averse person I am, I just shrank back from it all. I didn't want to get into the shouting-matches. Yes, I am a coward.

And then, catching up on blogging after a week away, I found this. I won't say anything more - because to do that would reduce the impact of what's being said here. If you know someone who is vocal on this topic, ask them to respond - preferably in writing - to the questions posed here. Thank you, Keith Olbermann, for your brave words of compassion and your plea for honesty on this topic. And thanks to Eugene at Paradoxy for the hat-tip:

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Belated All-Saints Day reflections

I wrote this on Sunday - before the work week got crazy; before I found out about "the letter from 2012"; before the election insanity peaked; before the world changed. So forgive me if it's a bit behind the times. We'll catch up with all that pesky "reality" in a little bit. But for now....

As I write this, I am sitting at the trailhead at Island Lake State Park, outside of Brighton, Michigan. It's really too cool to sit out at the picnic table - I really shouldn't have trusted the weatherman, and should have brought the coat along anyway - so I'm sitting in the cab of Chris's truck, laptop on my lap, looking off at the falling leaves and gently rustling pine branches.

Chris is off on what will likely be his last Michigan bike ride of the year. We woke up early, thanks to the death of Daylight Savings Time, and I just spontaneously said, "If it's halfway decent out, let's get you up to Brighton for one last ride." So we piled his bike and my laptop bag into the truck, and off we went.

On the way, I made him pick up breakfast at Tim Horton's (the breakfast sandwiches are proof yet again that "five million Canadians can't be wrong"), and led him on a ten-mile detour out to Secor Metropark. The trees form an arching tunnel overhead as we rode from Bancroft Street to Central Avenue, showcasing the last of the fall colors in a brilliant show of yellows, golds and oranges, with the occasional flaming-red sumac thrown in as a kind of Divine exclamation-mark.

It's All Saints' Day, and for the first time in a long time, I missed being in a worship service today. In the recovery community, November is traditionally "Gratitude Month," so the combination of the day and the month has me thinking about the people who have died or who are out-of-sight for whom I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for the men who taught me to be a man, once I finally decided that getting sober and growing-up might be a good thing. I'm thankful for my sponsors - Bob S., here in Toledo; Bruce F., Nick T., and Barry S, in Kansas; and Tom S. in Chicago. I'm especially grateful for Bruce, who first told me that my sexuality was something I was going to have to deal with at some point (more than a dozen years before I was ready to hear it) - and for Tom S. and his partner, Michael D., who were ready to lead me out of the closet and into the light when I finally ran out of denial. Though all but Bob S. are hundreds of miles away, their voices live on in me, and it always brings a warm feeling and a smile when I hear myself speaking their words in meetings.

I'm forever grateful to Jeff Wise, a high-school and DeMolay friend who, when I was finally ready to hear words of grace, directed me to the pastors at Epiphany Lutheran Church. I'm grateful to Emile Boselli, a DeMolay brother and Church of Christ pastor-in-training, who first introduced me to Max Lucado and the incredible images of grace in the book Six Hours One Friday. But the man I'm most thinking of this weekend is my pastor, mentor and friend, Tom Housholder. His life, his servant faith, and his willingness to share his struggles gave me an image of Christ and Christianity that will endure for my lifetime. When I was introduced to Henri Nouwen's image of "the wounded healer," I recognized it instantly - because I'd seen it for years in Tom Housholder's life and ministry.

Another man I miss greatly is Jerry Amundson, another surrogate-father who I met through his son, Eric. Jerry was a big bear of a man whose only real surrender in life was at the very end, to death itself. He was a soldier, a talented artist and businessman, a loving father, and a man who displayed passion in every area of his life - whether it was love for his wife and kids, hunting and the outdoors, or for his favorite Kansas City barbeque. I pray that someday people will see in me the kind of passion he displayed for those he loved, his life and his God.

And today, more than most days, I'm missing my mother. Mom was one of those persons who knew the motto of the Dead Poet's Society long before the movie came out - "to suck the marrow out of life," to enjoy each and every moment that one possibly could. Looking back, she also understood that classic line from Auntie Mame - "Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death." Her gifts of humor, spontaneity, and physical displays of affection (she was a hugger way before it was cool) continue to give to this very day. Her "what the hell, let's just go somewhere" attitude is at least partly why we are in Michigan today - because she passed on to me a drive to never miss a chance for joy if it was at all possible.

There was a moment, last Monday, when I really wished Mom had been around to share a moment with Chris and I. We had wanted to have a kind of anniversary dinner for a couple weeks, but this and that and the other thing just kept us from doing it. But finally, we had a night when nothing else was in the way - and I took Chris up to Eddie Lee's (up on the north side of Toledo, near Sylvania) for some classic prime rib.

Neither Mom, Chris or I had ever been there, but when we walked in I knew - this was Mom's kind of place. Not fancy-schmantzy (though she also got a kick out of that), but a nice joint. She would have loved the French onion soup - the baked kind, with the cheese baked onto the side of the bowl - and there was the bread-basket with warm rolls and the little bread-stick crackers that she loved to munch on before a meal.

We didn't want to spend a bunch of money, so we split a prime-rib dinner. (Yeah, Mom would have said "Just go ahead and have a dinner, for cryin' out loud- live a little!") But I think she would have been smiling as we reveled in the perfectly-cooked meat, quickly dipped in au-jus seasoned with just a bit of strong fresh horseradish. (Eddie Lee's is definitely an under-sung treasure in Toledo dining.) And she definitely would have approved of how much joy it was to just be, without any deadlines or gotta-do lists, to just sit back and celebrate the end of a good three days together.

My faith in an afterlife is what encourages me, this day - knowing that Tom, and Jerry, and Mom, and Chris's grandmother and uncle, and so many other people who have encouraged us both along the way are with us today. I trust that they can see what has come up, and gone down, in our lives - that they celebrate the victories and the joys, and mourn the losses and sorrows with us. I really wish that they were here to share this time with us. But I know in my heart that they are here, and smiling, nonetheless.

It is a day of faith, of hope, and definitely of loving remembrance. Top that with great food and great love, and you really couldn't ask for anything more....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A prayer for healing and acceptance

Dear God, be with America as it votes for leadership today.

Help each of us remember that the person next to us in line is our brother or our sister - regardless how they feel, regardless how they act, or what they are chanting or singing, or for whom they vote. They are not the enemy; they are not "them" or "us." They are "We, the People...." and they are children created in the sight of God.

Be with those who man the polling stations. Theirs is a thankless and unenviable position, and their day will be long and horrifically busy. But they are the ones who help make democracy work, Lord, and we give thanks for them. Encourage them to carry on, honestly and thoroughly, so that no shadow may fall on this day in the life of American democracy. Let us not become what we have so long despised in other countries, Lord.

Let every person who faces a daunting line be emboldened to stay, and to vote. Let every person who is voting for the first time make the commitment to stay, and to cast their vote, regardless of the obstacles, Lord.

And then let there be healing, Lord. Let the lines which divide us, built by the media and by hatemongering on both sides, dissolve. Your people have often prayed, "Let the walls come down," and there is no day which this needs to happen more than today, Lord. Our problems are bigger than "them" or "us" or "those people" - our unity must be bigger, as well, Lord.

Guide and shape this day, Lord God. Regardless what the fearmongers say, regardless what the pundits and the polls say, you are still in control. You know that; remind us, please, of that eternal truth. Amen.