Sunday, December 27, 2009

Adventure in the capital!

Tomorrow I head off to start my new job with a journey to the state's capital. It'll be the first time I've been there for more than a few hours in a long, long time; the last time I stayed overnight was in junior high for an academic competition (Future Problem Solving, anyone?).

Sadly, the friend who lives there is actually here on the east side of the state with her family for the holidays, so I won't have anyone to show me the highlights of Boise. I'll pop into the cathedral, of course, for evening and morning prayer if I can, but most other places I'd rather have someone with me.

It's been a few months since my last driving adventure. Sure, the jaunt down to Twin Falls kinda counts, but it was only for the day. Not for the better part of a week.

I hope the weather stays nice.

I feel like an adult now. It's amazing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

To Escape or to Conquer

Since Kim asked, I'll post briefly on my new job. It's as an admissions consultant for a for-profit school out of Utah which recently opened a branch here. Full-time work that is more engaging than tackling problems at the service desk for a retailer, and I can actually start living a life since I can make plans more than a week in advance. Yay! Life is a little more exciting as of late, for sure. Also, other positive things are going on in live, but I'll save those for a later date.

Now, on to what I'd said I would do until Christmas:

The chapters assigned for the past few days in Father Benson's Benedictus Dominus have been dealing with the "Christians vs The World" problem.

Christians have been admonished to transcend the world, to escape it and its perceived evil. Or else we have been counseled to overcome it and replace it with the Kingdom of God as fierce warriors for God. This is a deeply political and religious problem in a pluralistic world. Are Christians to run away from the world so tainted by sin or are they to impose their worldview on others who don't share it? What about hiding our faith so as to not offend others? Or making the government into a charity to care about the poor and needy, whether or not others are so moved to help? Both conservatives and liberals are capable of escaping and conquering the world.

It's incredibly black-and-white, and thankfully both miss the point. To be a Christian isn't about rejecting or conquering the world, but instead giving up both of those ideas. I can't hide from the world because that would be giving up on it (and God doesn't give up, believe me), and I can't conquer it because there's no way I could run it right, as much as I might pretend otherwise.

So we can't reject the world, we can't conquer the world, and there's not much we can do, it seems. We can strive to love the world, even when we sigh as we read about the foolishness and cruelty of human beings to one another. We can't abandon them to their cruelty, just as God doesn't abandon us to our own cruelty and sinfulness. We can't impose our will on them, either, because we're not much better (if we even are better, which I doubt). But we can still love it and serve the people of the world.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Guiding Light

Instead of giving yet another update on life (I start a new job at the end of this month! Hurrah!) or trying to find something on the internet to comment on (which so many other people do much better), I'll be using bits of Father Richard M. Benson's book Benedictus Dominus (in the public domain, link here) as the basis for some meditations for the lead up to Christmas.

Father Richard gives four different titles to Christ involving light for today's meditation. They are: The Lifegiving Light, the Forthshining of the Eternal, the Transforming Light, and the Abiding Light.

  • The Lifegiving Light: Christ is the root from which we get all our spiritual nutrition; when contemplating God's love, we can't help but think of Christ's love for the world in his offering of himself. He is the Son and also our Sun. In this time of waiting for his coming again, Christ can feel incredibly distant. As Christians, we remember the time when the whole world was groaning, awaiting the arrival of its savior, and now we are waiting again. This time, however, we know what to look for. Christ is not the warrior-king who will conquer by force, but the priest-king who lifts earth up to heaven as a gift to God and who brings the love of God down to earth. Even across the distance of space, the sun still warms us, and even across the distance Christ still brings us to God and brings God to us.
  • The Forthshining of the Eternal: In Christ we get glimpses of the divine eternity. When we talk about the End of Times, it's not about darkness and tribulations and all sorts of horrible things happening; it's about our humanity finally being taken up to God. Instead of living in fear, greed, anger, distrust, jealousy, and hatred, we will be living in God's love and peace. We catch glimpses of that here, but the Kingdom of God isn't quite fully here yet.
  • The Transforming Light: Knowing that Christ nourishes us and also directs us onto a better future, we can't help but change. We can't be dead when we're alive in Christ! A relationship with God means I'm never done changing and growing. We all keep learning and failing and trying again throughout our lives, and Christ's presence continually changes us inside when we're open to God. Slowly, quietly, subtly, Christ is there in our prayers and work and slowly shapes us.
  • The Aibiding Light: Christ will be here with us until the end. Unlike our sun which will die out in millions of years, Christ never will die out. More importantly, Jesus will never abandon us in our darkest nights and seasons of deep pain. We might not see him as brightly as we see the sun, but Christ hears us and loves us deeply, weeping over the pain of his beloved brothers and sisters. Christ also abides in the love of friends, the church, and partners; the transformation Jesus works in us is not just for our benefit alone but for the benefit of everyone around us. The Transforming Light shines out through us to be the Abiding Light for others.
May the light of Christ be with you in this season of Advent.

(Note: Richard Meux Benson was a priest in the Church of England during the late 1800's and founded a monastic order for men, the Society of St John the Evangelist, which continues to this day in the US. The SSJE can be found through the link to the right.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Open Ended Future

The scariest aspect of the future is its unpredictability.

I know that's what frightens me the most; there are more variables at play than I can account for, yet I must make a decision. I have to place a bet on one decision, one plan, and hope that the variables fall into place to make it more or less happen. I can't predict that my decision will result in what I want, but I can try to make it more likely. My decision could have unexpected or even undesired consequences, and I might end up discovering what I wanted wasn't really what I wanted. I might even realize that I want my life going a completely different direction after all.

The obsession with prophecies such as Nostradamus or the current concern over the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 speaks to our desire for certainty, even if it is morbid apocalyptic certainty. It's almost comforting to think that the universe will perish in fire and destruction (especially if something supernatural or divine is behind it all, something beyond scientific exploration) instead of the universe expiring as the last star dies in the sky to leave a cold, lifeless universe. The universe should at least have the sense to die in a rain of sparks and collapsing stars!

It's as if there's some cosmic clock, ticking down the final millenia/years/seconds left, then BOOM! end of creation. It creates a sense of urgency; what I do today has to make the best use of my limited time.

On the one hand, it could encourage us to use what little time we have well. Maybe a perspective that makes us realize how little time we have could get us as individuals and as a species to work together for peace and justice.

Or it could put undue pressure on the moment. If I don't make the best use of this moment, then I've wasted it. Life could be like a summer vacation packed with all sorts of "fantastic memories" of family vacations to exotic locales, a childhood filled with non-stop sports and activities, or a car trip spent switching the radio stations just in case that one song you really want to hear in that moment comes on one of the other stations.

Right now I'm re-evaluating my life plans. It needed to happen, and it's a good thing. It's exciting to see new possibilities that I hadn't thought of. In order to do it, though, I have to accept the fact that the future's open-ended. I can't live in the shadow of some cosmic clock waiting to destroy everything I've worked for, and I can't live in the fear that I'm making a huge mistake that will waste the little time I have.

The message in the book of Revelation is that at the end, all of creation is in God's hand. Human history is part of God's story, too. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to make the absolute best use of what little time we have (especially since it can't, because there are too many things going on for us to understand them all). God will exalt our good, will cleanse our sins, and all things will again be put right. While we have to make the best use of our talents and time now, we don't have to be perfect.

And the unpredictable future might still be scary, but it's also an adventure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Human Priorities

How badly ordered are our priorities? We treat some things as life-and-death issues when they're merely silly things, and then we dismiss or ignore those problems that might actually mean life or death for someone else.

People get upset over a handful of cents. People call, furious that the franchise that operates within our store is doing a promotion that other stores aren't doing. People become angry that my hands are tied when they don't have a receipt.

Are shoes that important to someone that you would be furious you couldn't get multiple pairs at a lower price? If the price you claim the glass dish was is twenty cents less than what rang up, is it really worth fighting over?

But I guess that's our condition. Our priorities are always in the wrong order. We can easily get upset over what personally affects us. We can easily get upset over what we can see or feel.

But we can't get upset so easily when it doesn't personally affect us. The pain and suffering of LGBT people in parts of Africa is far, far removed from American life. The struggles of people wanting to be free are too far away for us to care; we got our independence, so why worry about yours? And what about the people throughout the world who are struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives after seeing how empty the promises of the consumerist economy are?

And we are able to ignore intangible problems. If we can't see it or feel it, it's not much a problem, it seems. In America, everything is a commodity, and religion is now the same way. It has to be made acceptable, innocuous and non-threatening to the consumer. It's now only a "personal" matter, not of much interest to others except those who would sell us a new and improved spirituality. And health care- if I don't have to see the suffering of friends and neighbors struggling to take care of their bodies, then I don't have to worry about it.

I can't say I blame people much for this. As imaginative as we can be, our imagination can only stretch so far. We have to work hard at understanding what's happening beyond our own eyes and ears, and we have to work even harder to care in a way beyond muttering, "What a shame."

Praying for people far away and for the people we don't see or hear is crucial for bringing the problems of the world into our own. I may not be able to do much for them, but at least through prayer we unite ourselves to those we pray for.

But the mulitiple pairs of shoes? I don't think your life will improve that much if you get those fake fur boots with the high heels.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Thanks be to God that I finally got a job. It's part time, it's retail, and it's enjoyable. Seriously! My co-workers are cool, my supervisors are nice, and (so far) customers have been generally positive.

It's hard, though, to rejoice when what you're doing is completely unrelated to what you studied. And, worse yet, we've been conditioned to see certain occupations as "beneath me". Yet all labor honestly done has inherent dignity.

I admit it- I go to fast food joints every once in a while even though I try to watch my diet. Do I enjoy it? Of course! I need someone there to cook my food, don't I? And I need people to clean up stores, to take my order at a restaurant, to cashier for me at all the different stores I visit.

All of those occupations are important to our society! As Douglas Adams pointed out in his satirical "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series, the society that fired all their telephone sanitizers was quickly wiped out by a disease spread by dirty telephones. Not every job is glamorous, and not every job will impress someone on a first date.

What's important is not so much the status of a job but rather whether the laborer is fulfilled by his or her work. If they feel they've done a job well and go home satisfied (even if they're exhausted!), then it's good.

So thanks be to God for employment with a good company. Thanks for the hard work of so many people and for the fair compensation of labor. Let's continue to pray for the underemployed and the unemployed, and also for those whose work goes unnoticed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Healthcare, Politics and Paul

The Daily Office readings from Scripture for the past week have included part of Acts which deals with Paul's arrest and being taken from court to court as the crowds try to find someone who will rid them of this troublemaker.

The High Priest and his associates throw out accusations of capital crimes, but they don't hold up under examination. It becomes clear to the political authorities that the crowds are really upset about Paul's teaching about Jesus. They see Paul as a blasphemer and want him out of their lives. Paul's religious teaching isn't much a threat to the state (unless, of course, we see serious political implications in the Gospel), so the authorities can't find a really good reason to execute him. Not that they needed one, but they don't want to just cave into the crowds because that would set a bad precedent.

All the false accusations levied against Paul are an attempt to hide their real motives. They want him eliminated at any cost even if they have to lie to get it. The ends justify the means.

In all the news about health care reform, it seems like a lot of this is going on. Some people opposed to reform or the plans being discussed by Congress make up rumors or blatant lies such as the "They're gonna pull the plug on Gramma" lie (considering that the amendment for compensation for optional end-of-life counseling was introduced by a Republican representative).

I'm not trying to paint with too broad a brush here; some people opposed to current measures being debated in Congress do argue based on reasonable grounds such as whether the cost of such measures outweighs the benefits, whether the government should have the authority or the responsibility to provide health care, or whether it will negatively impact health care advances. Those are all valid point to debate civilly.

I'm talking about the people who want to propagate and believe these lies in order to bring down health care reform. They're not pointing out flaws but are attacking others however they can. When one lie is exposed, then there's another to take its place. Most of it is pointed at President Obama in such hateful and fearful language that was unheard of during the Bush administration outside the far, far-left fringes. It seems that it doesn't matter how it's done as long as Obama is brought down.

I know the fear and anger are real in these people. I can only be mad at the ones who make up lies to stoke the flames. Fear does horrible things to otherwise loving, wonderful people.

This all makes me feel a bit of pity for those in Jerusalem trying to get rid of Paul. He must've been quite a threat (or at least symbolized their greatest fears) for them to go to such lengths to make up accusations.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Feast of Blessed Mother Mary!

Today is the feast of the Dormition/Assumption of St Mary the Mother of Jesus.

The Dormition is the Eastern Orthodox reference to Mary's death. The Assumption is the Roman Catholic doctrine that says Mary was taken, body and soul, into heaven. Neither one denies the other (though some Roman Catholics deny that Mary died before she was assumed into Heaven).

For the longest time I wasn't sure how I felt about the whole doctrine of the Assumption; it felt so strange that just one person was taken up bodily into heaven (why not the Beloved Disciple?).

It felt like idolizing Mary. She gets what none of the disciples, none of the apostles or evangelists got. The rest of them are still, as St Paul would say, asleep. Mary alone was taken up after death. She wasn't a martyr, either.

But it does feel fitting because her 'yes' to God brought the Word into the world. Her assumption into Heaven shows what will happen to us all, too; we will all be taken up, body and soul, in the resurrection.

The collect (prayer) for this feast day also suggests that the Episcopal Church believes in the Assumption:

O God, who have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary,
mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been
redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your
eternal kingdom; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and for ever. Amen.

So the Dormition and Assumption of Mary are glimpses into our own future. We all shall die, just as she did. Death did not spare Christ, and death did not spare Mary; however, death did not have the final say. Christ rose again from the dead, victorious over sin and death, and Mary was taken up into Heaven because Christ's resurrection robbed death of power.


The Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church have produced a joint document on Mary, available here: Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ.


I was asked about my fortune from a while ago. My fortune cookie at the end of April said that in three months something wonderful would happen. I can't say one single fantastic thing happened. I didn't hit the lottery, my knight in shining armor didn't ride into town to sweep me off my feet, and I didn't get some special revelation from God. Not all was in vain, though; the journey that brought me to the end of July was a fantastic one, and I feel more sure of what I'm called to do even if the road seems a lot longer and bumpier than I thought it would.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK

Today I was working for a fellow parishioner in taking care of her mother's house. Today was a yardwork day, so I spent the morning mowing around trees, cutting off dead limbs, and clearing out very ugly vines.

Sawing through big tree branches was actually kind of fun. There was a definite sense of accomplishment and the sharp smell of pine. I pulled down a lot of the vine, but it still plagues the trees.

All was well until some of that pine sap fell on my hair and gave me a pine fresh scent.

And then I realized that, since it was exhausting to saw through branches, then sawing through a tree without a chainsaw would be worse.

"Not being a lumberjack" was probably one of my better decisions.

That had nothing to do with religion or anything, I guess. But it was definitely a fulfilling day even if it weren't anything traditionally considered "fun."

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Gay Vocation

I just finished a book called Gifted by Otherness by L. William Countryman and M.R. Ritley. Definitely a great read for God's children, especially those of "the gay tribe."

It's hard to know sometimes exactly what good comes out of being gay. In a straight world, it would be much easier to just be straight. There would be no need to hide my sexuality from anyone. There would be no threat of violence for just being who I am. I would never have had to reconcile religion and sexuality. Things could have just been easier. What do I gain from confusion, pain and all that comes from being gay?

But that's not God's way. God's way is not hiding in fear. Jesus never said that the Christian life was easy. He warned us about persecutions and hatred and violence, and he himself died from torture.

In finishing this book, I realized that being gay is like a vocation. It's a quiet little feeling that lies quietly until the right time, then it never goes away. You can hide it, you can run from it, you can deny it, you can try to eliminate it, but it never goes away. It constantly nags you, it continually makes itself known, and it demands to be heard. Being gay is part of my own life. I tried to hide it and hide from it, but my gayness kept on entering my life.

People who have spent time discerning their call have told me that this constant nagging is what a vocation feels like. The Holy Spirit is persistent and continues knocking even when we slam the door in her face. We can try to run and we can try to hide, but the Spirit finds us anyway.

So why would God call me to this life? Why would God not leave me and so many other LGBT folk alone until we came out and embraced our God-given vocation?

God needs his Church to have courage. As Jesus said, "In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’" (John 16:33)

In the world today we're facing threats from all quarters. Environmental degradation is rampant. Economies are in serious trouble. Violence still plagues so many places and so many hearts. And people are looking for someone to blame and for someone to save them.

In other words, fear is everywhere. I'm afraid of what will happen in the near future; who isn't?

Let me take a small detour. In the US we continually hear about the decline of the mainline churches. It's like seeing the decline of the nation as our beloved institutions which were once so powerful have lost the ears of many and the strength to get things done. We lose power, we lose control, we lose the ability to defend ourselves. We fear that we will cease to exist and that our "enemies" (whoever they may be) will prevail. Isn't that one of the greatest concerns of people in this country? Aren't we afraid that we will lose power and the security that comes from economic superiority and military might? Aren't we afraid that we will cease to be? That we as a people or an institution will, in other words, die?

As a gay man, one of my biggest fears when I was younger was that I would lose control over my image. "What would people say if they found out that I liked guys?" was a pretty constant question during those years. I worried about the consequences. If people found out, would I lose their love and respect? Would I lose opportunities? Would I even have to face violence? By losing control over my image, it was entirely possible that I would lose everything.

Now none of that has happened to me. I have never to this day been faced with physical threats. I haven't lost close friends when they find out. I haven't lost important opportunities because of my sexuality. That's definitely a huge blessing, and I'm grateful.

There's still definitely a risk in being open about who you are, though, as so many people around the world attest. People are still attacked or killed for being who they are (race, religion, sexuality, sex, gender, ethnicity, and the list goes on). Worse yet, people still hate and hurt others who are just being who they are.

Now how does all of this relate to God's call for the Church to have courage in the face of fear? In being who you really are, in being a whole human, in living a life in communion with God, you are proclaiming the Good News that pain, injustice, violence and fear cannot force your hand.

In other words, by being just as gay as God made me (in addition to living my baptismal covenant), I'm saying that no one, no thing on heaven or earth can separate me from the love of God. Hmmm.... I think St Paul said something like that...

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

So the gay vocation is about calling the church again of God's promise. In the face of fear and destruction and death, nothing can separate us from living out the Good News of God's unconquerable love.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prayer request (because it's too important to not ask)

I ask your prayers for a friend and his family tonight. Two months ago my friend's father went missing, and it is now apparent that it was suicide. Please pray for the deceased, my friend and his family, and also pray for those in pain and despair who are contemplating taking their own lives.

The unexpected date

So a personal update:

Apparently I've been dating and only realized it lately. I guess I was waiting for the word 'date' to pop up for it to be official.

We'd been introduced by a mutual friend, and we got together for dinner and a movie. Admittedly sounds like a date (and was followed by going to the park to watch the stars), but it's nothing I wouldn't do with friends, too. It felt a smidge ambiguous, and I didn't want to assume things.

Last night was our third date, and he used the word 'date.' I guess it was confirmation of what I'd been suspecting all along; felt like a date, looked like a date, probably was a date. I'm a little too analytical sometimes, though, so I didn't want to put a word on it that wasn't right. Even though I wasn't sure about the word, I went along with the flow because it felt good and nice. Sure, the word changes some things, but it also doesn't change the substance. I guess it's my Zen experience talking; sometimes naming something or analyzing it gets in the way of living it (definitely true!).

What gets me is how, well, unexpected it was. I wasn't really looking. I didn't meet him with that expectation. I wasn't prepared at all.

He's also moving away in a little while.

This fits into no one's five year plan.

But I don't much care right now. It's OK to let things be, to enjoy life as it unfolds in the present moment.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Progress in Idaho / Ending the silence

Last night was a local PFLAG meeting, and I finally decided that I should go. It's important (especially in this town where gays) to know some supportive people.

I finally saw pictures of the PFLAG chapter's float in the Fourth of July parade, and I was astonished to see how good it was! They spent a long, long time doing paper-mache to build a bright little scene of a child, flowers and a dog. This perfectly fit the parade's theme of "Through the eyes of a child." I was proud that they marched in the parade, and from what I hear they got a lot of praises for being so joyful and fun. (incidentally, the "Tea party" people had a float of the tree of liberty with an ax next to it reading 'Obama,' and they've been criticized from all corners for an overtly and excessively political float and for not even caring about the parade's theme)

I can't imagine PFLAG doing a float when I was in high school. But now they're pretty out and proud! And two students from my high school were there to talk to us about their Gay-Straight Alliance. I'm so proud of them for that! I can't imagine that it's easy for them, but it's a definite start.

The hardest part of being LGBT in a community like this is the silence. The silence about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folk is incredibly powerful because it takes away information. When I'm talking information, I mean something more than just facts. When no one's talking about LGBT folk, then we LGBT folk and our allies don't know who to trust. We won't know who is supportive of us, who disagrees with us but still care, and who would do us harm. When you're not sure how someone would react, then there's this impulse to hide our information, too. If I'm not sure how you stand on gay people, then I will probably be inclined to withhold that information about myself until I know. We all want to be safe and loved.

When this silence on LGBT issues is community-wide, though, then it also isolates. In order to have a meaningful conversation on LGBT issues, you have to take a side. You can't hide your cards and wait for someone else to reveal their position. Unless someone is willing to come out in support, then the default option seems to be to assume that others are against you. You assume that their love is conditional on you not being gay, so you don't risk losing it. It hurts a lot and it isolates.

Given that my home state has the third highest teen suicide rate in the nation, I can only assume that a significant portion of those are from LGBT youth who feel alone and scared for their futures. If you don't know you are loved for being LGBT, then it feels like you're living a lie. If people aren't open about their support and love, then LGBT youth are left feeling that they're "broken," "sick," or "sinful." That can only go on so long before it deals horrible damage. Silence really is death; if not physical death, then definitely emotional and spiritual death.

Ending the silence here in Idaho will be a great blessing, and God is blessing Idaho through the work of PFLAG and the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Family Duties

For anyone who knows me personally, my parents and I have a good relationship. We're very close and get along very well. Part of it, I think, is the fact that my parents are pretty reserved, quiet people, so I learned how to be happy at home.

That same relationship does not exist between other parts of the family, though. My father's side of the family is not quite as close emotionally, yet there is a strong sense of family obligations. What I mean is that, for example, my dad is not that close to his father, yet my dad does everything to help him out (who, honestly, should be in some kind of assisted living facility). My dad used to put our family plans on hold so that he could do whatever his father asked of him. My dad is pretty much the exemplar of what the "dutiful son" should be.

Except that that's not what a dutiful son should be. He used to sacrifice his relationships with his sons and wife in order to do what his father asked of him. There's a good reason Jesus talked about the whole "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife" (Mark 10:7). There is a separation that marriage (and adulthood) implies. My dad's parents acted like a horrible boss who would demand that the worker stay until late and work weekends at the boss' whim. My dad's learned how he's not nearly as responsible for his parents as he has thought he was; he's still a good, dutiful son if he tells his father, "No, I'm not doing that for you." Even if it means that it's left undone. He is not responsible for everything.

However, my dad still has obligations for his father. Too frequently we would want to write off "the old man" and put him in a nursing home to get rid of him, visiting him just once in a while to avoid feeling guilty. Now, putting someone in a nursing facility who honestly needs it is fine enough, but sometimes we get this idea that anything that messes with our happiness must be gotten rid of. Just because my dad is not bound to do everything his father demands does not mean that he's free of all responsibility.

Then we have to figure out exactly what those duties are. What is my dad responsible for?

In fact, what are our family obligations? What do we owe our relatives? Our spouse? Our kids? Our parents?

Is there anything special about families (now I'm talking about both extended and nuclear families) that requires us to do more for them than we'd do for others? Now, I think we all agree that parents/guardians have a special obligation for their children for nurturing and making sure the children have their physical, emotional and social needs met while children have a special obligation for listening to their parents and learning to do what is right. I'm sure there are a few others that I'm leaving out. Beyond that, though, is there something specific about family bonds that requires greater obligations?

For example, if I'm an adult and I have a mother who I'm not that close to living in Georgia who has friends there and a church home, who has greater duties: me or her friends? Is it because of blood or is it because of friendship? Is it by physical nearness or something else?

Or maybe a different scenario: I'm a lifelong member of a church and one member of the congregation's elderly. Now he'd been almost an uncle to me all my life- there for me when I couldn't talk to my parents and there for me in times of celebration and sadness. But now he's in declining health. Is there some duty in the bonds of affection that the bond of baptism doesn't give?

Or to put it another way: what bond does family create that isn't given in baptism? What duties do we have for parents, friends, and strangers, and what duties are required just because of baptism?


And I promised that I would eventually put up pictures of something. Here you go!

This is a bowl of petunias. That is my handprint down in the corner, too. Scary to think it was made 15 years ago!

Pink flamingos! Those adorable, pink, plastic lawn ornaments.

Prayer flags blowing in the wind before a nice little storm.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Building a Gay Community

Last night a gay and bisexual men's group operating out of a local university hosted their monthly coffee night here in my hometown of Idaho Falls. Because of the university and a gay bar, Pocatello naturally has a stronger and more visible gay community. Idaho Falls is much more conservative town even though it is roughly the same size as Pocatello, so, unless you know people already in the community, it would be hard to find a visible gay community here.

It's a blessing that the group has coffee night once a month here because Idaho Falls needs a stronger and healthier gay community, and it needs something that will reflect the character of Idaho Falls.

When I was in Atkinson, Nebraska visiting a gay friend who's a priest, he lamented the breakdown of institutions like gay bars. With the rise of the internet it's become easier to network but frequently it's done anonymously. He told me stories about men who were known to be gay in their communities but instead chose to live a lie and hide it. Being secretive may seem safe, but it attacks our ability to trust one another and really be ourselves.

It is incredibly easy not to risk being "out," but that comes at the cost of wholeness. Sexuality is set apart and compartmentalized in unhealthy ways. I understand the concern; I.F. is not known for being accepting of anything that isn't Mormon/white/straight/Republican. Hiding in the closet only to emerge for unhealthy expressions of sexuality, though, is not the answer. It is spiritually, emotionally and mentally harmful.

Building a gay community here in I.F. (and by extension the northern part of the Snake River Valley) will be a hard task, but it could have great results. And what's more important is that it will be authentically Idaho Falls and authentically gay. There are parts of gay culture I don't agree with or support, and some of it I just don't participate in because it doesn't resonate with me. Part of it, I'm sure, is the effect of living in Idaho Falls. That's fine; not everyone needs to be like me.

So a gay community here in Idaho Falls is about building something that is healthy and is rooted in the people here. It recognizes who we are and both challenges us to be proudly and happily gay while at the same time meets us where we are.

In a way it's like the Anglican tradition of Christianity (see? I was gonna fit religion in here somewhere). Anglicans see Christianity as not a "one size fits all" way of relating to God. There are so many different ways we worship God and different ways we talk about God and different ways we live out that relationship with God. In all the differences, though, there is the same Gospel, the same Lord, and the same Baptism. The seed of the Gospel is nourished by the ground it is rooted in, but, if it is faithful to God and the Gospel, the differences help the Gospel make sense to different people. So we need to build a gay community here that reflects the character of Idaho Falls (and not San Francisco, not Salt Lake City, not Omaha). At the risk of generalizing, though, there will still be something that unites all of us gays.

The similarity doesn't end there, either. Being gay and being Christian both require living openly even in the face of risk. It's not much a choice but a calling. The visibility of the church and the visibility of the gay community should be signs of the goodness of those communities. Not debauchery, not judgmentalism, not passivity, not hypocrisy, not vanity. Being known as a Christian or being known as gay can be risky, but I'd rather take the risk for the truth instead of hurting myself and others with secrecy.

So in the tradition of Stonewall, I'm proud to be who I am: gay, Christian, Idahoan. Thanks be to God for calling us to a life abundant!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Procession in the nursing home

Today I accompanied a parishioner on a visit to a local nursing facility to assist with the "Protestant Worship Service" (part of me cringes, 'cause we Episcopalians are Catholic, too!).

Conducting a worship service for a nursing home is a challenge, I can tell. Making a service appeal firstly to a broad group of people is hard; Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians have different worship styles. And secondly, making a service meaningful to people who, to say it kindly, aren't in the greatest shape physically or mentally and still challenge and encourage them with the Gospel is hard, too. I'm glad to see so many make the effort to include all our brothers and sisters in Christ in the worship of the church.

I don't have some surprising or startling insight to share, though. There's just an image I thought I'd share.

After the service, we helped wheel the nursing home residents to the dining room for dinner. As we slowly took people one by one, the pianist kept playing. I'd hear faint notes of a hymn down the hallway as I escorted someone to dinner. The music didn't stop until everyone had been taken down to the dining room.

The image was like that of a procession out- everyone was parading out of the chapel to go do the work given to them, even if they were being taken in a wheelchair. The grace was apparent- even if for just half an hour, Christ was really present and Christ was being taken out into the world.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grief and Guilt

Today was the funeral for a beloved member of my parish in Idaho. Because I've been bouncing around due to college and my internship, I haven't had the greatest opportunity to sit down and get to know the people here.

From my time in Omaha and now here, it feels incredibly odd to be around those grieving when you're not racked by the same feelings. For me there's been a feeling of guilt; I feel guilty because I'm not suffering like everyone else and guilty that I'm present for a funeral even though I didn't know the man nearly as well as everyone else present.

There's a significant emotional distance between me and those grieving. I don't have wonderful stories to remember about the deceased. I can't share the pain of loss even though I can offer my ears and heart for listening. I can offer my prayers and sympathies but I can't take the pain away. If I were suffering like them then at least we could feel some kind of comfort in our shared pain, but even then there's nothing I can do to make the pain go away.

As I sat and thought about this, I realized why the idea of God becoming human in Christ was just so important. God, with a heart of perfect love, stands with creation, watching all sorts of pain and misery. God watches as death claims those we love, God watches as human beings destroy one another and creation itself, and God wants us to know that there is immense love for us burning within the divine heart.

But our pain, our grief, our suffering is tied to our mortality and our humanity. Might God have felt some guilt for being so close to us and yet so far away? I don't know, but God became human so that God could truly feel human pain. God had to become a mortal and limited human being to cross that emotional distance.

Our pain and suffering, then, are not a barrier to God's love and understanding. God, who knows and loves us more than any other could possibly love us, is fully present with us in the midst of our pain as someone who suffers with us.

And as for me, my own experience of grief and loss should enable me to be better present to those mourning the loss of their friend, husband and father today. I do not know what pain they are going through, but our union in the body of Christ and our shared humanity might just be enough to make present the immense love of God.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reflections on hospitality

I've finally returned to Idaho! My internship ended in May, but I've been having a great road trip adventure for the past week and a half!

I was invited to Atkinson, Nebraska to spend a week with the great people in the rural parts of the state. After that I spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado to stay with some dear friends from college whom I haven't seen since their wedding last summer.

Being a guest can be a challenging experience. When you live in someone else's house for a while, the impulse is naturally to want to repay them for their kindness and hospitality. That's all good and well; we should never take gifts from someone lightly. But sometimes that wish to reciprocate is almost a desire to be "debt-free"; if I repay you for hosting me for a while, then we're "even." I won't owe you anything if I pay you back.

Accepting the generosity of others even when I had the means to pay them back made me realize that Jesus meant it with the whole "inviting people to dinner who can't pay you back" thing (Luke 14:7-14). We want so hard to make things "right." We want to wipe out our obligations to others so that no one has any claim over us. When we sink into this, then the spirit of generosity is lost. No one gets to give freely because it's more like a loan: I do this for you and then you'll do this for me.

If I worked to repay my hosts for their generosity because I didn't want to feel indebted, then I wouldn't have really been living into their hospitality. That isn't to say I didn't try to help out when I could; what I did do I did because I saw some need I could help out with. My "debt" couldn't be repaid because it wasn't a debt at all. It was a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated! And then what I did could be a gift, too.

I won't lie; I sometimes felt extraordinarily self-conscious about my needs while being a guest. That's understandable because even if we recognize hospitality as a gift we don't want to abuse that kindness and generosity. I didn't want to be a burden to my hosts! But when I've hosted people for dinner or a party, I enjoy helping them enjoy themselves by providing for those needs and wants. So being a guest requires balance: balance between being a burden and feeling indebted. It was a gift, so I enjoyed being with my friends. It was a gift, so I didn't abuse their generosity.


Because I've been so lax on updating (yes, I was without internet access for a week, but is that an excuse?), I'll post a few more updates later unpacking my latest adventure. I might even put up some pictures, too!

And let me thank my gracious hosts, Randy, Michael, Ryan and Katie for their hospitality in this trip, and all my friends new and old who made it such a wonderful time. Thanks, y'all!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Westboro, Day 2

Today was the second day of Westboro "Baptist Church" protests in Omaha (or so I think). Today they were protesting at the graduations of two local high schools. 

Our mission was to be focused not on countering their message but providing a completely different one: Congratulations to the graduates! Instead of making the young adults have to suffer because two groups of people were fighting over God, we change the rules of the game. We provide cheering and loud congratulations to the graduates and their families so that they remember it as a great day when people came to support them. 

It was great to more or less ignore the Westboro group's message and give a message of joy and love to the graduates. Plus, we got to have fun. 

Of course the Westboro group's heart didn't seem to be in it; they're in town because one of them is due in court in Sarpy County because of flag desecration. They weren't really enthusiastic about being there. They didn't taunt, they didn't do much at all. But that definitely was a win for the graduates. 

Friday, May 15, 2009


In this strange time when I'm getting ready to leave Omaha and my internship behind, I'm plagued by a good amount of sadness. I'm leaving behind friends who are close to me, friends who have been there in times of joy and sadness. The mere thought of not seeing them again (whether it be for a long time or for the rest of my life) is incredibly difficult to bear, even though I've been down this path before in graduating college and high school. 

Our relationships are in a state of change all the time. When we're with someone we learn more about each other and grow together as friends. When we're far apart from someone, our relationship changes, too. It can grow colder and distant, or it can be just distant. Sometimes we have such powerful friendships that time and distance do not destroy the relationship; when we see each other again we know that the love there hasn't died one bit. 

But we have no guarantees of that. We can't be certain that the friends we have now will still be our friends in the future. 

In leaving friends behind, I ask, "Will they remember me five years from now? Will it be a fond memory or just a recollection of who I am and what we did together?" No one likes to be forgotten. We all want - and hope - that we have made a significant (and hopefully good) impact in others' lives and that somehow the memory of who we are will continue. 

I can't help but think of a couple of scenes from the gospels that illustrate this. The woman who anoints Jesus in Mark's gospel (14:3-9) is honored for all eternity because the story will be told in memory of her (though, sadly and ironically, her name is forgotten). And one of the thieves asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom (Luke 23:42).

"Remember me!" the thief cries to us down all these centuries. His cry rings in our ears because we want the same thing. We want to be remembered. We want stories told about us when we die: stories of the funny, stupid things we did that made others laugh; stories of the good things we'd done to help others; stories of our failures and how God's grace was present (or absent) in those times. We want our stories to be told again and again to the glory of God. And we want our dear friends to remember us because we remember them. When we love others we can't help but hope that they love us, too. 

That's probably why Jesus wanted us to celebrate supper with him, the bread and wine in memory of him. It's one of the reasons we give things to others when we part: we hope that the little token will remind them of us and hopefully call up good and pleasant memories. 

Each Sunday in the Eucharist we communally remember Jesus in what is called the anamnesis, the "not-forgetting." We tell the story of God's work in Jesus. We recall his life, death, resurrection and ascension so that we and generations to come might hear the story of salvation and sanctification. We want Jesus' story to be told again and again so that we might remember God's mighty acts in history and hope for God's mighty acts in our lives and the world. 

In all our desire to be remembered, though, we have to realize that God remembers, too. God does not forget our friendships, joys and failures. All of these are, in a way, eternal in the sight of God. We live on in God for that reason alone because our story does not die with us but will live on forever. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Westboro protests, day one

Today was the first of the Westboro "Baptist Church" (I don't think they qualify as Baptist or a church) protests here in Omaha. They've decided to protest at the high school graduations this weekend and decided to kick it all off by protesting at South High School this afternoon. 

As part of the church contingent (we're very much concerned because one, the graduates, students and their families do not need this stupidity and hate, and two, the cathedral's right across the street from where the graduations will be held), I went down to help de-escalate things. The Westboro people know how to provoke people and want to see people react. It's pretty sick, really. 

Teenagers are also not known for being calm, cool and collect in the face of such outrageous behavior, but I was delighted to see them exercise their energies on a sizable counter-demonstration on the other side of the street. I'm so happy to see them stand up and use their voice. The Westboro people were pretty quiet today, too, so that helped. Oh, yes, it was also raining. I'm pretty sure God had a hand in that one. 

The fact that it went off without a hitch, without any loud shouts or much baiting, is nice. It was quiet and it gave me the chance to get a look at the Westboro people more closely as they returned to their van. It was scary to look at those faces. They looked like they should be normal, sensible people, but beneath that facade lurked undeniably evil hatred. I don't use the word 'evil' lightly- look at the Westboro website if you want a glimpse into the pure hatred which permeates every word. It's disgusting, and it cannot come from God. 

But their faces! They weren't contorted or ugly or anything. Nothing would distinguish them from anyone else if it weren't for those signs and their words, and I guess that is a glimpse into what we call "the banality of evil." It doesn't bear nice marks to distinguish it, nothing to set it apart. It looks and seems to act like one of us. Now it sounds like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or something.  

So, friends, can I ask your prayers and thoughts for the young people (and the Jewish community) of Omaha this week? They all need strength in these times. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Live in Christ as he lives in you, and bear fruit for the glory of God

Yesterday was my last day at the cathedral here in Omaha and I had the honor of giving the sermon. The text of it will be at the bottom of this post. 

Last week I was having the hardest time writing my sermon. We had two baptisms today, so using the lesson from Acts about the baptism of the Ethiopian court official seemed the most natural. But nooooo, whatever I wrote turned out badly. It was completely uninspired. Finally I gave up trying to write a baptism/farewell sermon and instead wrote a sermon focusing on the Gospel lesson for today from John about abiding in Christ and bearing fruit. 

The process of writing this sermon wasn't much better, but I didn't feel dismayed upon reading my sermon notes so it was the sermon I went with. It came haltingly and almost a little formulaicly. 

Yesterday morning with fear and trepidation I ascended the pulpit and delivered this sermon. At the early service I stumbled a bit, paused a bit too long in places, and rejoiced that I had notes to bear me along. I didn't feel happy about it at all. But after the service people told me that it spoke to them, so I had to be happy that something of use was in it. At the second service it came more naturally and flowed. I asked for it to be recorded, so I've listened to my sermon and found that it was much better than I'd thought even though it needed more work and skill (which comes from much, much more experience of preaching). 

Yesterday I was also admitted to the Fellowship of St John, the associates of the Society of St John the Evangelist (a monastic order of the Episcopal Church). Upon the Fellowship's cross which was bestowed on me today are the words, "Abide in me and I in you." After realizing that the words there were the same ones we read today, I saw that the Spirit was telling me to pay attention to my own sermon; I wasn't allowed to preach on the other texts because God wanted the words to be about abiding in Christ, not baptism or anything else. 

The Scripture:

John 15:1-8

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

The Sermon:

The words from John's Gospel we heard today are some of the most beautiful words he wrote. They're very mystical. "Abide in me as I abide in you." It calls forth a union with God, a quiet awareness of just how close God is to us. 

The language of abiding in Christ though seems to be a little, well, inactive. It suggests that it's all about a quiet meditative awareness of God's closeness, something only monks and nuns whose vocation is to such stillness can achieve with regularity. 

The word 'abide' though doesn't seem to get to the heart of what Jesus is asking of us. He's calling us to something more active than just sitting there. 'Living' might be a better way of latching onto the concept. This living in Christ consists of more than just that quiet awareness of God's presence; living in Christ also consists in prayer and listening. Our prayer life is an important way through which we are joined to God. We are listening to God when we pay attention to the words God gives us through others, even strangers. In listening we are open to not only God's presence but God's words for us today. 

Living in Christ is only part of the message. We have to bear fruit as well. Bearing fruit should come naturally from abiding in Christ; if we receive nourishment from Christ, it's only natural that we should share it. The 'bearing fruit' metaphor is more than just a nice turn of phrase. It points to the nourishing quality of the work. We're not just called to do good works but we're called to feed those around us with the love of God. 

The process of bearing fruit has a couple of parts to it. The first is preparation; our spiritual life feeds us, gives us spiritual gifts, disciplines us and gives us a deep well of wisdom from God. We have to be preparing our hearts for God all the time, so that is why listening is such an important part of living in God. We don't know when God will inspire us with something that will be helpful for someone else. 

The second step is serving. Strange, yes, that we go straight from serving to preparation, but whatever gifts God gives us we must be ready to just give away because serving is not about us, it is about the other person. We are servants for God, doing God's work. What we have prepared, what God has given us when we abide in Christ is then given away freely. 

The third is to rejoice! It is our joy to give thanks to God for all our gifts and for the opportunity to give them away. It's important to remember, again, that all good things come from God. The fruit we bear isn't really ours because the nutrients, the wisdom and love and grace, are from Christ. We just take them into ourselves and then give them away. All these good things, though, are gifts from God. God gives them just as freely as we do. 

The final step is to let go. The gifts are not our own but are from God, so when we have served others we must let go and let God do the work necessary. The other person has received a gift from God through us, and now God is at work in that person helping them to understand and to be nourished by that gift. Letting go frees us, actually. We get to stop focusing on what we've done to help and get to return to God. We're freed from the dangers of being egocentric and of holding the gift against the person. 

The process of bearing fruit does come naturally from living in Christ, but it also takes our own work. We have to contribute. But if we are truly living in Christ, then the abundance of God's gift should just spill over as we share our lives with others. 

While it isn't nearly as poetic as John's writing, here's a summary: Live in Christ as he lives in you, and bear fruit for the glory of God.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Leaving Omaha

Now that I have less than two weeks as an intern here in Omaha, I've started the process of saying my final goodbyes. 

Yesterday was my last day with the youth group. We went out for pizza and played kickball, and they presented me with a shirt, a picture of the youth group and a piece of the original slate roof of the cathedral. Today I was given a shirt and dog tag from the Boys and Girls Club. All these little gifts and mementos show me how much I've meant to others, and that's kinda humbling. 

But they're a reminder of the transitory nature of our relationships. Only a handful of people will remain very close to us (in distance and in friendship) throughout our lives; others will be part of it for just a little part of our journey and soon fade as time and distance come between. For me it's hard to handle. I love these people so much, yet my future is not to stay with them forever. I have to move on to a different place, and our friendship is not going to stay the same once we stop seeing each other all the time. 

It's also something that we can't help but live with. If we were to remain in one place all our lives and remain with only a handful of people for the rest of our time, we'd miss out on meeting so many others. 

While our friendships might be in flux and be just for a few brief moments, they're still friendships. Even if it seems to have grown cold, there can still be a fondness and many pleasant memories. 

So, to friends old and new, far and near, I love you all. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fortune cookie time!

Last night I ate dinner in my favorite Chinese restaurant. Normally I discard the fortune from the cookie after reading it with a short laugh at either how vague it is or how much it isn't me. 

I decided to start saving them, however, when I realized how frequently I was eating Chinese food. I would have a whole bunch of fortunes and I could look back on them and laugh. But either I'm getting superstitious or they're striking a good chord with me. 

Here are the two that are especially interesting. 

"Someone thinks you are wonderfully mysterious." 

If only that would be true. What could be better than being wonderfully mysterious?

And here's the one I got last night:

"Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you." 

So now I have to remember to think about what will happen in the time leading up to July 30.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Religion and Torture

I saw this headline while looking at CNN: "Survey: Churchgoers more likely to support torture."(yes, put aside the definite problems in their survey methodology and all that). I was confused for a second. "What? Really? But... I'm a churchgoer and I'm adamantly opposed to torture..." Then I thought that maybe the media was biased against Christians. Then I wondered whether this would be yet another item used to condemn the church. "If Christians can support physically torturing another human being even though torture doesn't yield anything helpful and is an attack on humanity itself..." 

Seriously, I cannot even pretend to comprehend why someone would support torture, especially Christians. People who believe and preach the love of God and God's amazing merciful grace for us all should be the last, the very last to ever support such acts. Our Lord was nailed to a cross; God was basically tortured to death. Martyrs throughout the centuries have been tortured and/or executed for the faith. 

The argument that torture could ever lead to useful information fails to understand what torture really does. If you were tortured, you would either tell the person whatever they wanted to hear or defy them. The emphasis is on "whatever they wanted to hear." You'd possibly confess to any crime they accused you of, you would denounce innocent people just so they'd stop hurting you. How is that going to help us pursue justice? How will that bring the guilty to trial? It doesn't. It only helps America's enemies by giving them moral ammunition against us. America is too great to lose its soul by torturing. 

Reading this article made me worry about the Church's reputation. Yes, the Church should be concerned about how she is perceived. The Gospel is preached by sinners, yes, but redeemed sinners who must show God's grace in their words and lives. 

But look at the bottom of the article. Mainline Protestants were listed as boasting the highest percentage of people who would say torture was never justified. And, get this: they defined what a "Mainline Protestant" was. "Such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians." 

Huh. We got a ways to go until Christians in general are the group most likely to oppose torture, but it's a start. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sustaining the Enthusiasm of Easter

For this entire season we begin the mass with "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" instead of the usual invocation of the Trinity, but how do we maintain the emotion and enthusiasm that the first proclamation during the Easter Vigil brought? During Lent we sacrificed our alleluias, remembering the trials and tribulations of Christ. It wasn't a joyous season but a holy and helpful one. 

Now that Lent is over, we can again proclaim "Alleluia!" with all the joy our hearts and voices can muster, but how do we realize the radicalness of what we're saying? Seriously, we're talking about how Jesus was raised on the third day after he had been nailed to a cross. His incarnation, life, death and resurrection all form the lynchpin of history; all of creation was waiting for that glorious moment when death itself would be conquered. 

And it get really, really easy to forget that. The minute I could eat chocolate cream eggs in celebration of the resurrection, I did. No waiting. It felt great to remember Christ's resurrection with each delicious, chocolatey bite. 

But now that the fast of Lent is fading in memory, it's harder to remember all that. It's harder to say Alleluia! with the same enthusiasm as before. For me it's like I've jumped straight into the season after Pentecost. 

So, Christian friends, how do you maintain your enthusiasm? Do you feel a kind of "Alleluia fade" that I do? And if you're not Christian, have you had experiences where something really beautiful, holy and important kind of feels, well, old hat? 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who is a victim?

Last night I went to see the film, "April Showers." The funeral scene in the movie was shot at the cathedral here in Omaha and the dean appears in a speaking role, so I had to see it. All the wierdness aside of seeing the place where I work and worship as a scene in a movie, the subject matter set me to thinking. 

The film is based on the experiences of youth who survived the shooting at Columbine. In the credits they list all the victims of school shootings from the 60's onward. In the list of the victims for Columbine and Virginia Tech, however, three names stood out: the names of the shooters. 

It was definitely an interesting decision on the part of the producers, but I have to ask: is it appropriate? Does it demean those whom they killed by inviting pity for the shooters? 

I don't know if it was the best decision. We can pray for sociopaths, we can pray for murderers, but do we consider them victims, too? It was troubling that nothing set them apart on those lists. No asterisk, no note to say that they were responsible for the bloodshed. 

What's the appropriate Christian response? The best response would be to pray for the shooters and for the families and friends who still grieve the loss. We cannot and should not try to diminish the evils committed by those young people by trying to blame others for bullying them or for not seeing the mental illness or sociopathy, but we pray for the dead regardless of who they were.

And then we comfort the living because we can really do something for them. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A blessed Easter?

Tonight was the Easter Vigil. It's a great time to make the transition from Lent to Easter- from the death and suffering of Christ to his triumphant resurrection. It's a time for us to rejoice in his victory over death and to celebrate our redemption through his life. 

After the service tonight I decided to indulge and go to a restaraunt nearby that serves some of the most delicious Chinese food ever made. As I sat there in that mostly deserted place (I believe they get most of their business from take-out and deliveries), I watched the world around me. I could hear  a couple arguing at the nearby bus stop. I watched as a gang began loitering just down the street a little. I overheard as a man and woman came into the restaraunt, the woman either high on some drugs or else unwell mentally and the guy seemed a little manipulative of her. 

What did I see? That all of this is what Christ came to save. It's like how after a death we see joy in the world and want to scream, "Do you know who died today? Do you know how much pain and sorrow I have?" This is the flip side: we see the resurrection and know that Christ has emerged victorious from his crucifixion and now sits at the right hand of God, but the world that doesn't know him is still immersed in the mire of suffering and death. Not to say that we don't sit in suffering and death, too, but we have a perspective of eternal hope that can help us. 

Thank God for showing us this. In this time of joy we must remember to pray for a world still suffering, just like how we could not let the deep introspection of Lent turn us away from the needs and joys of creation. 

Have a blessed Easter!
Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Christ our High Priest

As promised, here is the 'text' of the sermon I delivered on the fifth Sunday of Lent.


The Greeks who came to worship for the Passover must have seen Jesus as a great teacher. Greek culture esteemed wisdom and philosophy, so why not come to listen to this strange Jewish philosopher? Perhaps these Greeks saw Jesus as Israel’s Socrates; some thinker who astounded and angered so many powerful people with his words. The Greeks then wanted to come to Jesus, ask him a few questions, sit and listen to his words and parables.

Meeting Christ, though, is more than sitting at his feet and listening to his parables and teaching. Jesus is not summed up in the words he spoke. To really see Christ requires us to see the entirety of his life and to see who he really is. His teaching, his life, his death, and his resurrection are tied up together; they cannot be separated from each other.

He did not come as just a sage or teacher; to see Christ as merely a teacher severs his word from his work and life. Like all good teachers, the teaching should be reflected in the work and life of the teacher. Christ was sent by God the Father to be the shepherd of the sheep, to be the Messiah, and to be our high priest.

Jesus represents us before God and acts on our behalf. Christ lifts us up to God and represents our humanity and our frailty. Christ cries and rejoices with us when we turn again to God after having wandered away, and Christ cries in mourning when we walk away.

Christ as the go-between of God and humanity means that Christ’s teaching is not about making us blameless and sinless before God but in preparing all our hearts, our souls and our minds for our relationship with God. We cannot satisfy the letter of the Law. We cannot be perfect, but we can be prepared for a life of justice and love which brings us into closer communion with God.

Our high priest does not satisfy God with bloody animal sacrifices but is himself the sacrifice so that we can know that God wants us, wants our humanity, not the blood of bulls. Christ offered himself so that the bond between Creation and its Creator might be healed, strengthened, and brought into perfect union.

Once a year in ancient Israel, the high priest would enter into the innermost chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. In this chamber God dwelt, and no one would dare enter into God’s sacred space. The high priest had to enter the chamber with a little rope tied around his ankle so that in case he died in God’s presence he could be pulled out without anyone else having to run into that holy chamber. For who can gaze on God’s face and live? Which of us could dare to look at God’s face? To see the Most Holy? To gaze into the eyes of the Creator of all that is? Who would willingly risk walking into the presence of God Almighty in the hopes of reconciling this world filled with injustice, destruction and hatred with the God who is Love?

Christ as our high priest makes that risk for us. Christ, being the Son of God, enters into the chamber of God the Father to continually bring us into a right relationship with God, and to bring the powerful grace of God to us. The Son of God became incarnate to draw all of creation to God and to bring God to creation.

But in order to serve Christ our high priest, we must follow him. We cannot serve Christ without following in his footsteps as a loyal servant, always ready to say, “Your servant is listening.” But if we follow Christ in our lives and in our deaths, do we not also have to approach God’s innermost chamber? To walk into the presence of Almighty God alongside our High Priest and to risk gazing on the Face of God?

My mother frequently told me as a child that her greatest fear was Judgment Day because it was the day when she would look upon God, look deep into those eyes of love, and realize she had not loved enough. She worried that she did not love God enough and that she did not love her neighbor enough. To me, that would be the worst Hell imaginable: to look into God’s loving face and see how much I had NOT loved. To see how much I had not loved God when it is the greatest joy to love God. To see how much I had not loved my neighbor because bearing hatred in my heart was “easier” or made me feel righteous. To see how much I had not loved myself because I had deemed myself unworthy of all love.

Looking into God’s face is both our joy and our judgment. When we stand before God who is Love, we are finally given what our hearts long for: perfect union with God and creation. But when we stand before God we are also reminded of how much we are called to love. We are called to love God with all our hearts, all our strength and all our minds, and we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Christ’s teaching prepares our lives for that day when we are brought into God’s presence, our hands clutching Christ’s hand, clinging to the boldness and the compassion of our high priest. Our ministry of love and justice is not what allows us to enter so boldly into the Presence of God; we follow our High Priest who is perfect, bringing ourselves as an offering of love to God.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday in Holy Week 2009

Today we march closer and closer to the Last Supper, Crucifixion and Resurrection. For the past few days the clergy around me have emphasized the mystery of Holy Week. What we're talking about is sacred story which invites us into something larger than we can comprehend. 

It's almost like the dark wonder in looking at the stars in a clear night sky: as much as we might understand the facts regarding stars, their motions, and their incredible distance from us and from each other, you can only "get" the night sky by letting your heart pound a little as you look at those marvelous lights. It's felt, but it's not a "warm fuzzy" feeling. It's a feeling that calls your whole body to wonder at the enormity of creation. 

This is like our experience of Holy Week; we might know the facts of the passion, but before it all we must be mute and throw our whole selves into the wonder of the final days of Christ on earth. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Is it the truth, or is it a lie?

It's been an exciting week for me. On Sunday I preached at Church of the Resurrection (the text of which will be finding its way here shortly), and for the past few days I've been at a Benedictine monastery for a Lenten retreat. 

The monastery was the same place where we'd gone at the beginning of this internship, and it was actually nice to be back at the place. I've changed a lot since I was there; I'm a bit more confident in what I do, I've learned a lot about myself and have realized that I might actually be called to the priesthood. 

These times of retreat and quiet can be scary and dangerous. Sometimes we find out things about ourselves that are unpleasant and that we try to hide, but sometimes quiet can leave us alone with the Accuser, Satan. Now, I'm not going to get into a discussion about Satan, but suffice to say that what might seem to be the "dark truth" about us can be a distortion and a lie, too. Humility comes from learning the truth about ourselves, not from believing we are "a worm and no man." It's this facet of spirituality that we who struggle with guilt and shame need to accept. 

It's so easy to think that we are incredibly weak, flawed, wretched and just plain un-lovable human beings when we struggle with shame. We like to think that we know ourselves that well. People can be deluded about their greatness, we think, but people who know how horrible they are thinking the truth. 

For a long time I knew that others were to be loved and cared for. Everyone was a beloved child of God, and no one should hate themselves for their faults. The only problem was that I put a little asterisk (*) there like you see on packaging as a little disclaimer: "well, that refers to everyone but you." That little asterisk of unlovability enabled me to sit in judgment of myself. I was going to be strict with myself. Hating myself was OK, but I wouldn't allow someone else to hate themselves because I knew they were loved by God. When people would tell me that I was worthy of love, I would nod but reject it. That little asterisk seemed like I was being humble, being truthful to the Gospel. 

Humility requires being open to the truth. Humility is not at its heart about knowing how "bad" you are or how flawed you are. Humility is recognizing the truth about yourself and taking it to heart. Humility requires you to recognize your talents, skills, flaws and imperfections. You have to know how good you are and how bad you are; all of us do good things but we also all do bad things. We're not perfectly good, but we're not perfectly evil, either. 

If you've been struggling with self-hatred and despair, it's time to leave it here. That little voice that tells you you're a horrible person outside of God's love is not your conscience; it's the voice of Satan. The voice that tears you down and tears you apart and does not build you up into a child of God does not speak the truth; the truth may hurt when you hear it but it also helps you grow as a child of God. 

If you're like me, giving up that little asterisk of unlovability, giving up that idea of "I'm unlovable" is hard. There might be the fear that you will become arrogant or that you will stop listening to your conscience. It's a possibility, but it's doubtful. As long as you seek the truth and not the lies, then you're in good shape. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On St. Joseph

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, my patron saint. I've come to find new levels of inspiration in his life and work.

"What life and what work?" you should be asking. The guy's only mentioned briefly in the Gospels, and he barely did, well, anything. He was righteous so he didn't expose Mary to condemnation because she was pregnant, and he made sure the Holy Family was safe in Egypt when a certain tyrant was trying to kill Jesus.

We get no real story about Joseph; he's there when they have to find Jesus in the Temple but is not there once Jesus starts his ministry. From tradition and non-canonical writings we get a few more glimpses of the person of Joseph, but not much more.

Why be devoted to someone we know so little about him? He didn't leave any writings for me to study furiously. He didn't die the death of a martyr. He wasn't a heroic example of the faith by conventional standards.

And that is why he is my patron. As someone who is so eager to study theology, to practice contemplation, to do great things for the faith, it's easy for me to forget what we're really called to do as Christians. Joseph was not some hero whose works I will never be able to imitate but the common Christian who was called to nurture others, to protect the weak, and to love all.

It's that simple. It's hard enough to live that kind of quiet life which always points to God, but it's something we must all strive towards.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Sermon on the Wesleys

The usual disclaimers apply here. I didn't deliver this sermon word for word, so this isn't exactly what I preached on Tuesday, March 3.

"The Authority of the Apostles"

On this day we remember the lives and work of John and Charles Wesley. Charles we remember for his beautiful hymns which grace our worship with their musical and poetic power.


John, on the other hand, is remembered chiefly for his role in founding what would later become the Methodist church. His theology put him at odds with the Church of England which had ordained him, but he was completely devoted to preaching the word and serving God’s people. He was involved early in the abolitionist movement and orphanages and prison reform, and for his work we are grateful.


John also advocated the use of lay preachers, and for that I am grateful even as I lack a formal training in preaching. John Wesley’s view of ordained ministry is very, very different from what we in the Anglican tradition believe, but his work, I’m sure, left the seeds for the re-valuing of the laity in recent years. He knew that the Gospel could be taught not only by learned priests but also by laborers who knew Jesus in their lives.


While not everyone is suited to preach from the pulpit and not every person should, every person does have a ministry whether they wear a little white collar or not. Every one of us has been called to a life of service to God and our neighbor. This life of service is living out the Gospel; it is bringing the Jesus we meet here in word and Sacrament out into a world of injustice, confusion, and heartache.


In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends out the Twelve “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Not the smallest of tasks; the power of healing occupied so much of Jesus’ time, and then to add in the proclamation of the Kingdom? The apostles had a monumental task to fulfill.


But then Christ orders them to take nothing for their trip; no extra clothes, no food, not even money for these things. The apostles are supposed to find a place to stay, trust in the hospitality of strangers, and then go out into the city and preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Trusting in God and in the hospitality of strangers, they were to go out and proclaim the Good News to the neighboring towns.


How effective could the apostles be if they were supposed to take nothing for their journey? How could they focus on preaching and healing if they had to worry about what they were going to eat, where they were going to stay? This concern later led the apostles to ordain deacons to assist them; how could they focus on teaching if they had to wait on tables all day?


Today we would say that it would be irresponsible to send people out so ill-equipped. Won’t they need some supplies? Some money to get a room for the night? Some food? How can they be effective preachers and teachers if we don’t give them any supplies?


But Christ commanded them to take nothing for their journey. The apostles would have to live as vulnerable strangers in the land. They would have to hope that others would invite them in to stay the night and invite them to share in their food. In return, the apostles could give only the message of God’s kingdom and the healing of diseases. While healing diseases might be a very welcome gift, the proclamation of the kingdom which heals our hearts and minds and world might not be so welcome.


The apostles would have to live, then, as Christ lived. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and lived among us as a vulnerable human being. The Son of God was sent to us by the authority of the Father in order to draw us back to God. Christ was sent as our Messiah so that we might be made whole, that we might love God with all our hearts and minds and strength and that we might love our neighbors as ourselves.


But Christ did not bring anything with him except the power to heal and to teach. When tempted by the devil in the desert to turn rocks into bread, Jesus refused. His power and authority was not to serve himself, to provide for his own needs but to provide for the needs of God’s people, for our needs. And his living out the Gospel is why people were amazed at his words, for he taught as someone with authority, as someone who heeded his own message and whose good fruits were evident!


So the apostles were sent out like Jesus. While it wasn’t read today, the Gospel reads that Jesus called together the apostles and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. Their power to heal the sick came from God, and they were sent out to do so. Their power and authority was to be of service.


But Christ didn’t give them the power and authority to proclaim the Gospel, to preach the good news about the kingdom of God. This power and authority was not to be given but instead to be lived. If the Gospel could not be lived by those teaching it, then of what use was it? If the rightness of the teaching was not evident in the lives of its teachers, then how could it be right?


By living as vulnerable people, the apostles were given the chance to rely on God and to have faith in God and in God’s people. Their authority was in living out the freedom of the Gospel. They could not wander about, thinking that their job was to preach the Good News which others were then expected to follow. They had to be ready to serve and to accept help from others and to proclaim the Gospel of a God made flesh to save us. They had to live these things, and that is the root of their authority.


And so lay people, just as deacons, priests and bishops, are called to preach the Gospel. And they are called to preach it in living it out. Their authority to live the Gospel comes not from the ordination to Holy Orders but from baptism, as that is our call to the Christian life. Our baptism sends us out, and the Gospel becomes evident in our lives.


So you today may not feel eloquent, but do you live the Gospel? You may not give a brilliant sermon on the Scripture readings for the day but do you live the Gospel? Do you live as a witness to Christ Jesus who came to us that we might live a new life in God? Do you live as a servant to your neighbors around you, caring for the needs of those you love and the needs of those you do not or cannot love?


If you do, then you have the authority to proclaim the Good News because you’re living the Good News. The teaching that comes from the example of your life has authority because its rightness, its faithfulness to God is evident.


So go out there, and preach the Gospel by living it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Lenten practice of gratitude

Last night one of my fellow interns made the usual accusation of me being too close to Rome and unappreciative/disloyal/unfaithful to the Anglican tradition which I am a part of. At first I was annoyed; how many times must I bear that accusation? I came to this church as a convert, and I know why I'm here and why I'm not anywhere else. It gets frustrating and disheartening to be accused of spiritual infidelity. In essence, I was being accused of being a bad spouse because I seemed to be flirting all the time with another church instead of staying at home with the one I'm married to. 

Now, I'm not sure exactly whether he was serious or not, but it got me to thinking: Am I grateful for the Episcopal Church? Moreover, did I express that thanks? Was I one of those Anglicans who look to Rome for marching orders? 

My fellow intern has expressed to me before his concern that I'm excessively critical of the church and that I love Pope Benedict more than Presiding Bishop Katherine. Instead of defending myself, I think it might just be a sign from God to express my gratitude more. 

As a Lenten practice, I've started keeping a list of reasons why I'm Episcopalian. Louie Crew has already put together an exhaustive list from many, many Episcopalians (which can be found by clicking here). 

So as a Lenten exercise, be grateful and say it. Tell God how thankful you are for the blessings in your life and for the gift of grace in all your pain and suffering. Tell others how grateful you are for their gift of themselves in your life. Tell all of creation how grateful you are for its wildness and freedom. 

"If the only prayer you say in your life is "Thank you," it will be enough." -Meister Eckhart

PS and thank you for reading! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Holy Spirit strikes again

At first I was going to post the sermon I preached on Tuesday in honor of Archbishop Janani Luwum, but then I thought better of it. 

I had worked on it so hard over the weekend. I rewrote it twice, trying to fine tune it and get the language just right. I wanted it to be so easy for me to remember as I'd had problems the week before getting through my sermon without my notes. 

Because of some significant things in the last week and because of a death in the cathedral family on Tuesday, I didn't have the energy or the strength to preach what I'd written. It almost felt hollow, a little too academic or planned to be right. 

My heart pounding in my chest as I stepped outside the chapel altar rail, I stood before the few people gathered and preached. More specifically and more truthfully, the Spirit gave me the words and I was as much part of the audience as everyone else. 

My sermon focused on a different understanding of what is really at the heart of martyrdom; the image of the devout Christian being fed to the lions for confessing "Christ is Lord" is correct but misses the point. Martyrdom is rooted in being who we have been called to be. As Christians, it means never giving up our faith in the face of oppression, violence and injustice. 

"Christ has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly." The abundant life is in living out our call: our call to be humans who are created not for violence and abuse but for love and justice. When the world laughs at our belief that human beings were made for love and not brutality or when we're told to deny who God has called us to be, then we must be ready to live and die in the belief that God has called us to life in Christ and has created us for love. 

Given that in the past week I've been struggling with how to work my gay identity into my ministry and that I realized I'd been sort of hiding my gayness for fear of repercussions, I realized through the sermon that God was giving me the words that I myself needed to hear. I don't know what it meant to people hearing, but it was definitely powerful to hear those words and to know in my heart the truth of them. 

Today I received confirmation of the truth of the sermon God gave me:  the two most important thngs I said today were, "That's not how I roll," and "I'm a Christian." 

Let me put them in context. I went down to the local youth organization as I like to do and was asked to once again open the weight room. After doing some benchpresses at their request, I started closing down the weight room when one of them asked me, "Why doesn't your girlfriend tell you to work out more?" Yes, teenagers can be awkward. To this I responded, "I don't have a girlfriend." He asked why, and I responded, "That's not how I roll." I don't know why that phrase popped into my mind, but it did. He looked at me quizzically for a second then remarked that he understood what I meant. 

Just a minute or so later we were all in a discussion about college, and I remarked that I was a religion major in college. I was asked what religion I was, and I replied, "I'm a Christian." 

In those two sentences I uttered today I was bearing witness to the truth the Holy Spirit had revealed yesterday. I was being true to who God has called me to be, and being a gay Christian is exactly who God has called me to be!

The lesson of the story?
The Holy Spirit is wild and free, indeed, and do not be ashamed to be yourself.