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. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Galaxies of Nebraska

Last night I was flying back to Omaha from a meeting in Berkeley, California. Strangely, the plane would hit a little bit of turbulence any time I opened my book, so I decided that looking out the window would be the better way to spend the flight. For the record, I'm not the biggest fan of flying. 

It's been almost a year since I've flown. Normally I'd fly home for Christmas break in college, and inevitably some part of the flight would be at night. Those flights were kind of pretty; the ground far, far below us would be inky black, unbroken save for a few random lights here and there. That is, unless the moon were full; then the moonlight would be reflected off of the snowy peaks and valleys of Idaho or Washington. Those were always beautiful flights. Seeing nature from high above, pristine and safe from human development, reminded me of the sheer grandeur and immensity of God's creation right in our own little world. 

Last night, though, I had expected yet more inky darkness, but that was not what I saw. I would see no mountains but towns all lit up. At first I was wondering what people below were doing that night while we were flying overhead. Then as we passed over more and more towns, I noticed how these little patches were like galaxies in the darkness. Little patches of light spaced far apart and connected by nearly invisible roads. 

Two different feelings welled up in me. On the one hand, I was fascinated to see these little towns, these little galaxies. Who doesn't feel a sense of awe and majesty in looking at pictures from space? To see bright colors surrouned by darkness, to know how vast and beautiful all creation is? I was amazed to see little clusters of people. I wondered what the names of each little town were. 

On the other hand, I wondered what it meant that these little galaxies were spread out like that. There wasn't a large stretch of darkness, a place where we have not extended our reach, a realm that lies under our stewardship but not our dominion. Real galaxies remind us how much we will never know, how many places that will never be explored, colonized and conquered by us. 

Is this the reason why we seem to have lost our sense of wonder? On the hand, there is a real sense of wonder at what we, the human animal, can accomplish, but then have we lost our sense of wonder for everything else?

Late at night when I was younger I would sometimes take a walk in our pasture and look up at the night sky. I would see the Milky Way, constellations I knew and constellations I didn't. Sometimes I would even be graced by a falling star. On those nights, I would be scared and awed by it all; the sheer size of all creation is beautiful and amazing, but then I would be scared by how small and fragile we really are. 

That feeling of limitation and fear, I think, is not wholly unwelcome. That reminder of just Whose creation this is can bring us to the knowledge of how much we rely on God to sustain us. 

I really loved seeing those little galaxies in the night, but I missed the inky blackness, too.