Friday, December 26, 2008

the Day AFTER Christmas

Well, today the rest of America seems to be winding down from Christmas. Parts of the country (including my part of Idaho) were hit by a big winter storm yesterday, and in some parts of the country (like Omaha) it's obscenely warm. 

Christmas and Christmas Eve were such big days for the church. For so many people, Christmas (and maybe Easter) is all they get for an encounter with God. Whether it be guilt, family tradition, or maybe even a wish to hear about the baby Jesus, something pulls people into church on that day. 

I've been thinking about it a bit, and at first I was rather annoyed by it. These people aren't here in the bad times of the church with arguments about budgets and other things that take up the church's time. There's not here to support the church the rest of the year. 

But then I realized how poor that kind of life is. Whether it be because church has hurt them in the past or they get tired of the failings of the people of the church or because they forget or ignore the church most of the year, this little service has to support and nourish them for a year. People who come but once or twice a year have to get along without the continual nourishment from God that comes from the Church. 

So Christmas is still an offering the church makes to a hurting, lost world. We offer and invite people again and again to meet Jesus (whether in the stable, on the roads of the world, on the cross or as the resurrected Christ). Some may accept this invitation once every year, some may come more frequently, and some may not come at all. We have to continually witness to Christ, to show and share the love of Christ with the world, knowing that some can't or won't receive it right now. I know that I sometimes refuse to accept Christ's love, and I go to church every Sunday. 

Accepting the invitation is hard, but God continually offers it to us. We'll never be late to the wedding banquet on God's holy mountain; God has put no deadline on the RSVP. God invites us to share in his love and his life every moment of our lives. We can accept, decline, accept again, hesitate, fully accept... you get the idea. God is the kindest of hosts; he won't refuse you if you accept, even if you rejected all the other invitations. In the same way, the Church can embrace that hospitality. Invite again and again the people of God. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

On the outside, looking in

As part of my internship, we have spiritual direction every other week.

The week before last, my spiritual director encouraged me to look at how I'm an outsider. I'm on the outside at my parish because I can't be open about my sexuality. I'm on the outside in the house because I'm such a baby Episcopalian. I'm on the outside in much of the gay community because I'm Christian. I'm on the outside in South Omaha because I'm pretty, well, white.

This isn't to say that I'm a complete outsider; I'm definitely part of these communities in certain ways. I'm fairly Anglo-Catholic, so I'm a good fit for my parish. I'm Episcopalian, so I'm on the inside in the house. I'm gay, so I'm part of the gay community regardless. I support South Omaha in its efforts by coming in not as a leader but as a helper, so I'm in a way part of South O.

However, I still sit on the outside in some ways. This has helped me to understand my parents' hesitation to go to church: "won't I be judged because I don't know a lot about the Bible? Or because I'm not wealthy?" I realize now that not everyone is as passionate as I. Some people are afraid of judgment for whatever reason, and it takes a lot of courage to overcome that fear of being rebuffed.

When I first started my process of converting to Christianity through the UCC, I wasn't about to let anyone come between me and God. The pastors had to answer my every question about whether my being gay would be a hindrance to them.

I had been standing outside, and I wanted to come in to see Jesus. It's like those scenes where someone bursts into an office, bypasses the secretary and storms into the boss's office to speak her mind. Or when the Rev. Troy Perry burst into the hospital administrator's office to demand that the staff go in and feed a dying AIDS patient whom they were neglecting. God's call sometimes requires us to rush in and disregard all sorts of protocol and niceties so that God's will can be done and God's grace be known.

Demanding a place at the table has been a huge part of the LGBT Christian movement. Standing on the outside when people seem happy to ignore your existence is extraordinarily painful. If our whole beings (including our sexuality and gender) cannot be a part of the rich tapestry of the church, then can we give our whole beings to God? The powers and bishops can say and do what they wish, but they do not necessarily speak God's word or do God's will. Sometimes Christ had to harangue the clerics who stood in the way of God. In this way, Christ stood as an outsider looking in; like the prophets, he stood on the outside of the group in order to condemn their sins and call them to repentance.

Then there's being invited in. If not done from a position of power ("oh, I guess we'll let you in") but from a position of hospitality ("come in and have some wine and bread with us!"), then that invitation shows us the real power of God's grace. It is a time of celebration and a time to rejoice in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. Christ called so many people to share in God's kingdom. The outcasts, the Pharisees, Samaritans and Gentiles were all called to do God's will and to love him. In this way, Christ was the insider looking out. He issued the wedding invitation, and we all should get ready to go.

By being both insider and outsider, Christ calls us all to wholeness and reconciliation. If I stand inside and pour contempt on the outsider, then Christ will be there to judge me. If I stand outside and look inside with despair at what I do not have, then Christ will be there to invite me in.

This isn't to say that we should have no boundaries or rules or that healing and reconciliation should come easily. In everything we should be turning to Christ. As the inside group called 'the Church,' are we building people up who don't know the first thing about the Bible or Christianity? My parents aren't knowledgeable about the Episcopal Church, but would they be invited to share in the Eucharist and be invited to share their knowledge? I hope so. Would the congregation condesendingly teach my parents about "the faith once delivered to the saints" or would it joyfully and lovingly teach my parents about "our living hope through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ"?

And as outsiders: are we proclaiming the truth, or are we sitting on the outside festering in hatred or despair? Are we jealous for what the people on the inside have? Or do we work for justice and reconciliation?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Depression, pt 1.

I'm talking about depression not in the economic sense but in the psychological one.

As someone who's struggled with depression for many, many years, it's always kind of scary when it creeps up on you.

Suddenly you realize that you aren't happy. It takes twice the energy to get out of bed, to do your work, and sometimes even to eat. Everything is draining. People go on happily around you, frequently not noticing your pain. You're all alone in suffering.

In that time of isolation the thought would frequently come to me: I don't deserve to be happy. That would be my brain's mechanism for keeping me depressed. Everything would be a sign that I wasn't good enough, attractive enough, smart enough. When it takes a ton of energy just to keep going physically, it takes even more energy --energy I don't seem to have-- to challenge that kind of thinking, and, besides, it seems wrong to say that I'm not fundamentally and absolutely evil and despicable.

Those are very dark moments. Happiness is but a fleeting memory, and it sometimes feels like a sin to smile (when you can even muster up the energy to smile).

It is in those moments that I have learned a lot about the Gospel and grace. Instead of seeing myself as lower than a worm, I reflect on God's immense love for all. There is nothing that I can do to earn that love. Nothing at all! I'm not good enough, attractive enough or smart enough to merit God's love, as God's already given me his love. God won't withdraw love because I say something stupid or have a bad hair day.

I also recall Christ's command for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I know that I am called to love my neighbor, but I'm also called to love myself. I can't hate those whom God loves, right? Just as I am not allowed to sit in judgment over others, neither am I allowed to sit in my own judgment. Strangely, being humble means submitting to God's judgment in this case. Self-hatred is not piety.

I'm sure that I'll never 'get over' depression. Whenever I think I'm doing fine, it will be there for a brief moment to remind me that I'm not healed from it. It brings me to tears, but it is a pain that can be my cross not as divine punishment but as a blessing to others. Suffering from depression teaches me that many, many people suffer from isolation, abandonment, and mental illness. While I can't ever understand exactly what they're going through, I do know what incredible pain depression causes me in my own life. No one should have to suffer rejection because of their mental illness; it is horrible enough to be your own worst enemy and to hate yourself. My own pain teaches me sympathy and empathy, and it calls me to (with the help of God) share God's grace with others. God's grace is our rock, our safe port in the storm.

PS As you can probably guess, I have been dealing with a bout of depression recently. Things are going better now, but I ask your prayers for all those who are currently suffering from depression, especially those who do not know or believe the immense love God has for them.

Interfaith relations, pt 2

Yesterday was another meeting of the local interfaith organization's committee planning for the big tri-faith event in the spring.

We were working on the liturgies that would be used for that evening. I was heartened to see the rabbi and the Muslims insisting that we all do authentic prayer. Nothing was to be hidden or sugar coated to minimize or hide our differences. The Christian Evening Prayer was to be not that different from what would offered in your regular Episcopal parish. The Shabbat service (notably shortened) was to include all the things that make it Jewish. The Muslims started working out the logistics of prayer; would women be present? Would there be a screen to separate men from women?

This shows the real discussion going on in the Islamic community here in Omaha. There is no monolithic "Muslim" perspective; some see no reason to separate men from women, some are concerned about modesty.

Instead of glossing over differences, the creative tension and debate brings us to understanding. Hiding things leaves them unexamined. It leaves them to fester underneath a pleasant exterior. We can pretend that only little things divide us, but that's untrue, and hiding those differences means we don't end up learning from each other. I trust that I am secure enough in my faith and others in theirs that me being authentically Christian doesn't diminish their personhood just as their religion doesn't diminish my personhood.

I'm really excited for when we start working on preparing the book for the liturgies. The religion nerd inside me can't wait to start working on the commentaries to the worship services.