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.