Monday, February 25, 2008

Flashbacks and thanks

They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world." (John 4:42, NIV)
Sunday's Gospel reading was the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman of questionable background at the well.

Two years ago, after visiting Fourth Presbyterian Church and hearing Pastor James Buchanan preach on "the woman at the well," I went home wanting to startle people out of their sensibilities. In 2008, it's getting hard to remember the power of prejudice and cultural barriers. Less than 45 years ago, many white men wouldn't drink out of a drinking fountain if a black man had "tainted it" by drinking from it first. We can't imagine the extreme prejudice that existed between Jews and Samaritans back in Jesus' day.

To kind of bring that truth to light, I went home that afternoon and literally re-wrote the John 4 story as if Jesus were speaking to a Muslim gay waiter in the Boystown neighborhood in modern-day Chicago. I posted the story here, entitled "Just How Shocking Is The Gospel."

Evidently, it worked.

I never had more hits on my blog than I did then. I had a rash of comments - some startlingly angry, some quite supportive. Only one or two were actually of the "fag-lover" category, thankfully. But it sparked an awful lot of discussion. A year later, I followed a Sitemeter link from that post to a women's bible-study blog at a very conservative Bible college in Indiana. I've had responses from all over the world.

This last weekend, a number of people (including my dear friend Michael and the esteemed Maggi Dawn!) have brought fresh attention to the post. It's been fascinating to see where they all have come from.

I continue to be blessed that this writing still blesses others - or at least makes them think! That, in the end, was the whole purpose. Soli Deo gloria.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Getting back on the bicycle

I have been struggling, since getting to Ohio, with a number of things. One of the things I struggled with that never really ever floated to the top was the idea of finding a new "church home." In fact, to be honest, I struggled with it from the time I left my real "church home" in Kansas in 2003.

In seminary, we were always going where we were told for church. This visitation, this "ministry in context" site, this special project. Seminary was a place where I started falling in love with most of the theology of Martin Luther, even as I was falling out of love with the traditional ELCA Lutheran church. I saw worship as rote performance, worship as theatre and showmanship, but somehow had missed sincerity and humility in all the places I'd tried going.

I know it's a sad commentary for a man who intended to spend the rest of his life in church on Sunday morning - but except for Christmas and Easter, I've been hard-pressed to get fired up about going to church. In a way, I've felt the pull of demanding work and demanding family, and Sunday morning was the one morning I didn't have to be anything for anyone. No demands, no nothing. It felt pretty good.

And, to be honest, it seemed that the whole "committed to serve" thing that I had for the church just kind of flamed-out when I had to drop out of seminary. So many times, becoming a member of a church means becoming fresh meat for the church activity meat-grinder. Sunday mornings - sometimes all morning. Choir, Sunday school teacher, church council, prayer team leader - as a dear professor of mine once said, "The church is an addictive institution, and their drug of choice is over-commitment and overwork..." I have to admit a certain fear of being sucked back into the co-dependent "they need you there, Steve" syndrome.

And, to be honest, I haven't wanted to deal with finding a church that I can attend with my significant other and feel welcome. It's a tragic thing to say, but I really didn't want to be bothered with the struggle. Call it being conflict-averse, call it avoiding church closets, I don't know. Any more, my feelings about church has been a take-off on the old cigarette commercial: "I'd rather switch than fight."

Two things have kicked my church-aversion in the pants. One was the incredible richness of worship at the GCN conference at the beginning of January. I was completely overwhelmed by the power of the worship, and sense of being "a part of" that it brought me. Deep inside, I'd missed that sense - even though the blossoming relationship I'm in has brought a great deal of that back for me.

The other thing happened on Wednesday. I was at the Budapest Restaurant in Toledo Wednesday night, at a "145th anniversary" party for a friend. He turned 70 late last year, celebrated 45 years as a Catholic priest in December, and passed his 30th sobriety anniversary on Tuesday. So he invited all his friends to dinner on his dime to celebrate all 3 anniversaries. And after that, I went to an AA meeting downtown at a GLBT-friendly Episcopal church.

As we were walking up to the church, one of my fellow AA's said, "What's happening at the church tonight? Why's it so busy on a Wednesday night?" And that's when it hit me.

It's Ash Wednesday - that's why. The start of Lent. The beginning of the countdown to the Three Days and Easter. The church would be busy on Ash Wednesday, wouldn't they?...

And for the second year in a row, I wasn't in church on Ash Wednesday.

How the hell did that happen? How did I manage to ignore the ads, the big push to sell pazckis (Polish pastries sold before Lent, pronounced "poonschki," for reasons not readily apparent), and all the other signs of Mardi Gras and impending fasting?

How did it turn out to be Ash Wednesday, and I'm not there?

The enormity of it about blew me away. Something just cracked - just enough to let the idea of going back to church back into my head. And when I talked about it with a friend, he said, "Well, it's a lot like riding a bicycle - once you get back on, you'll remember how to ride..."

So we're going to try, this Sunday. There's a "church for people who don't like to go to church" not far from us. So I think Chris and I will try there, first. We won't go in waving the rainbow flag or anything - but we'll see what happens. And I'm trying to focus on what we heard so much at Christmas: "the reason for the season." The central reason why people should go to church, rather than all the other BS reasons we often come up with.

I know we'll have to deal with a bunch of Christians when we go. My hope is, we'll find some followers of Christ too.