Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roger Ebert on Loneliness and the Internet

Roger Ebert here has posted a wonderfully thoughtful piece on loneliness.

This weekend I've had two big events in my life, one wonderful and another heart-breaking.

Let me start with the heart-break. A guy I was very close to, someone who made me feel so wonderfully special and attractive and desirable, someone whom I thought was devastatingly attractive and fun and witty, finally told me that he was seeing someone else. It's not like we were dating; he was in Texas and I in crazy Idaho. He's going to be a vet and I something religious-y. I cried and cried. I felt foolish. I felt horrible. Someone who made me feel so wonderful (and I hope I made him feel wonderful, too) suddenly was out of reach. I couldn't hope, pine away or daydream about him in that way any longer. A great guy I'd met online was suddenly made even more removed.

It hurts still. Can I hope that there is another guy out there who will make me feel wonderful like that? Is there another guy out there to whom I can give my heart, and can I trust that he won't break it? It's been in moments such as these that I wished I had a heart of stone. Something unshakable. Something impermeable. Something that wouldn't break so easily.

I spoke with him about it, and he helped me to feel less foolish. That sometimes makes it worse; knowing that the guy whom you can't have is such a nice guy that he cares for you even in your worst moments. Still, what does the future hold? Should I just close myself off to avoid any heartbreak?

And last night (before the heart break happened) I had a wonderful date with a good guy. Very nice, very attractive, and somehow he found me attractive and nice, too. A possibility full of hope, perhaps. And I met him online, too.

The internet is wonderful, but it makes loneliness even worse at times. You can find so many interesting people, possible friends, and maybe even the partner you've been hoping for, if only you'd look in the right place. You can make your own persona and you can be as closed or open as you wish.

Regardless, loneliness hurts a lot. An incredible amount. It's enough to make people shy away from relationships at all. But then there's hope, the true queen of the virtues. Not love, not faith, but hope.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

St Laika's

St Laika's is an online religious community formed from the wonderful community that sprang up around the musings of Rev. Jonathan Hagger (aka MadPriest), a priest of the Church of England. is his home blog.

It's an interesting community, to say the least, and for brief moments I get to enter into others' lives. He has written candidly about his own struggles personal and ecclesiastical, and in reading his work I am drawn into his world. The Church is like that- we are asked to share our world with others and to become part of theirs.

This online religious community at St Laika's is an experiment in coming together for prayer over the internet. Can a community be authentically religious online? Sometimes I think that the anonymity of the internet can create more honesty, and the Church needs that an awful lot.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Priesthood of all Believers

I've been a member of a few different religions in my life thus far, and now there is always a slight temptation to abandon ship when things aren't all peachy.

There is also the feeling of rejection; I rejected previous faith traditions for some reason, and therefore they must have had nothing of real value if I didn't stay, right? The zeal of the convert makes it very hard to see things clearly.Sometimes I suddenly realize something of great value in a previous tradition, and it reminds me that God has had something of value to say in each one of them.

The hardest one has always been the LDS Church (commonly called the Mormon church). As the majority religion where I grew up and also the religion of my family, it played a big role in my childhood. It was always the easiest one to hate, too. Strict moral rules, strict gender roles, a rejection of everything not Mormon, and other personal things made it easy for me to leave the LDS Church as an idealistic teenager.

A friend of mine, however, called that all into question last summer. In addition to introducing me to a great guy (a gay returned missionary, no less!), she showed me a deeply intellectual, questioning side to the Mormon church. She brought me to the edges of Mormon culture, forcing me to confront what I formerly was.

In the LDS Church, basically half of the members are priests. Half! Men are ordained to the priesthoods and exercise their priesthood under the direction of the local bishop and stake president. Priests abound! There is no shortage of priestly ministry.

It's not difficult to find someone with the appropriate priesthood if you're Mormon. We in other traditions, however, tend to reserve it in smaller groups. We ordain "the few, the proud." It's something special and it carries an enormous weight. We send future priests off to seminary to study for a few years, and, of course, seminary is something that few lay people will ever have the resources to attend. We want our leaders to be specially formed and trained because the whole church is responsible for those it ordains so we are more selective.

Then we talk about the 'priesthood of all believers' and invoke the image of a 'whole nation of priests to serve our God' (from Revelation 5). Do we in the Episcopal and other churches really believe that? We try to talk about priestly ministry for laypeople but then restrict things to the chosen few. Many people may have gifts, but we want only a few to have "The Reverend" in front of their name. We struggle to have clergy for tiny parishes in the rural parts of the country, and a church is lucky to have a single full-time priest. We begrudgingly ordain people to serve locally instead of embracing it. We lament that they won't have a 'proper' seminary education and refuse to see the problem that we set the bar for educating laypeople so low. (A side note: in my part of the country, Mormons in public schools leave campus for a seminary class every day)

So thank you, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for teaching me the value of laypeople and the priesthood and just how freely God gives grace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Summary of the Gospel

A practice I loved at Mass was the reading of the Summary of the Law at the beginning:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these hang all the Law and the Prophets. (From Matthew 22)
These words, spoken by Jesus, tell us what we truly need to know about the Law. The Law's fulfillment comes from living a life of love toward God and neighbor. When St Paul talks about the inability of the Law to justify anyone, he means that even the greatest Christians and Jews alive couldn't keep the Law without messing up. Inevitably we will mess up and love something other than God or love our neighbor or ourselves less than we should. We have the Gospel of Christ, however, to save us. We aren't perfect, but there is still help for us.

The Summary of the Law, then, is intended to guide us and show us our failing. If we weren't sinful people in a fallen creation, we wouldn't need to be told to love God, our neighbor and ourselves. Because we are sinful we need the Law to tell us how we have messed up and what we need to work on.

But what is the Summary of the Gospel? In order to answer that we would have to say what the Gospel itself is.

Frequently we might say something about loving God or something about the cross or something about the blessing of the 'least of these' in order to explain the Gospel. These all touch on some dimension of the Gospel story.

My question: "What does the Gospel say about us and God that couldn't be accomplished by the Law?" We are not 'saved' by the Law. There's nothing we can do to deserve God's love, and our highest duty is to love God and our neighbor. Contrary to popular belief, there's also not a base percentage of loving we have to do in order to get into heaven. (Yes, Lord, I loved people 76% of the time! God's response: ah ha! you didn't love 77% of the time, and that is the base standard for entry. Off to hellfire with you! Too bad, so sad!)

If being a 'good enough' person was enough to get in, then would we try hard? Would we really feel sorry for not loving God, ourselves and our neighbors, just as long as we were 'good enough' overall? We wouldn't. We need a challenge. We were created in the image of God to love God and creation, so behaving like anything less than what we are is a rejection of our true nature.

Love is the foundation of the human nature. Or at least it was meant to be that way. Because of sin (rejection of God, rejection of neighbor, rejection of ourselves) we do not live up to our fundamental human nature. Because the Law commands us to love, it restores our sight. We see more clearly what we should do. The Gospel is the fulfillment of the Law; the Gospel completes what we fail to do through the Law.

So where the Law tell us what to do, the Gospel tells us who we are. We are loved by God and called to love. The Law tell us to do what is already written on our hearts, and we are not anywhere near close to doing that perfectly. We are fundamentally flawed yet loved.

The cross stands in stark contrast to the world. An instrument of torture, shame and oppression has become a sign of our salvation. Our God loves us so much that he became incarnate, he became flesh and blood, to walk with us and love us and teach us and die for us.

We do not believe in a completely 'foreign' God, someone who can't understand our pain and suffering. We believe in a God who left behind so much of his God-ness in order to become a mortal human being. We believe in a human who was not fundamentally flawed- he lived up completely to his true nature as human because only God could do it.

And God in Christ Jesus died on the cross. Died.


What kind of God does this? What kind of God suffers the death of a traitor, what kind of God has the life of a peasant?

God is a God who descends to the depths of human suffering and cruelty to save us. When we close our ears and when we feast upon riches and power, God stands among the poor and the weak and the oppressed. When we sacrifice an innocent to save ourselves, when we make that dark bargain, God is there.

The poor and the tax collectors and the prostitutes. Peter who denied Christ in his suffering. Paul who persecuted Christ's disciples. People who felt so estranged from God and people who walked away from God. All of these people, too, are not abandoned by God.

God can't be chased away by the darkness of the fallen human race. The Law tells us what to do, and it shows us what we do not do. So the Gospel shows who God is: God is a God who will be with us even in darkness.

The essence of the Gospel is thus: We are made for love, and God will not abandon us because we do not love. God will go to the depths to find us and be with us. God will give up everything, even Godhood, to be with us.

The Scripture that sums this up in a way for me is this piece from St Paul's letter to the Romans:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 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)
We are not abandoned to judgment because we do not love. We are not abandoned to darkness because of the darkness of human hearts, both ours and others. Nothing, nothing, nothing can ever completely separate us from God. Our darkness does not keep God away. No sin, oppression, poverty, pride, despair, political system, and not even death and destruction itself can keep God away. God wants to be with us.

To anybody who is reading this: what do you see as a "Summary of the Gospel"? Any particular piece of Scripture that sums up the Gospel to you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The unworthiness of Ministers does not hinder the effect of the Sacraments

Or thus says the 26th Article of Religion for the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

In a time of trial for the church in the world with all the scandals and hypocrisy, this is probably one of the least desired statements. We want to be able to point to clergy behaving themselves like, well, clergy. People of the highest moral caliber who do not lord it over others. Quick to bless, slow to anger, hasty to love and hesitant to criticize.

Yet the media calls up yet another example (every morning, it seems) of another cleric behaving horribly. An antigay preacher suddenly being accused of having relationships with young men in his care. A cleric stealing money from his parish. A whole bunch of bishops covering up sexual abuse. No wonder that people aren't beating down the doors of the church to come in and pray!

For those in the church world, too, we see these same things. We see clergy who wear their collar as a crown and are full of a sense of superiority. We see clergy who micromanage and dictate to their congregations and who attack any who disagree. We see clergy who use their power on the budget/discipline/discernment committee to keep other clergy and laypeople from speaking out. No wonder that people can get burnt out when those entrusted as pastors start to believe that they are lords in God's kingdom.

In all this, it would be so easy to just walk away. Run away. Never turn back. Escape into the desert, free of the stain of evil. Indulge ourselves in the comfortable Gospel of Consumerist Conformity which promises to satisfy every desire and need. After all, what is supposed to be a community forged in the love of God and of neighbor is so frequently a place of politics and abuse of power.

This article of religion is actually an antidote to the despair that harms the church every day. Yes, we have corrupt leaders. Yes, our people are incredibly flawed. Yes, we are far, far from being the perfect community that Jesus calls us to be. Yes, we can be a den of hypocrisy and judgment. Perfection and goodness are far from us, we freely admit.

And there's no excuse for it. None at all. The church is continually under God's judgment for its flaws and sins.

But that's not the end. In a community that proclaims the Gospel, even if the tongues that do it are full of venom, the Gospel can still be heard however faintly. There is always a hope that things will change and that courage and grace can once again flourish. And an unworthy minister can still bless and preside at communion because it is Christ who does it, not truly the minister. Christ will not and cannot be banished by evil. I can not out-sin the grace of God, and neither can any cleric, priest, bishop or pastor.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Memento Mori

Remember your death.

A few years ago I remember a priest's sermon about death and the afterlife. Or, rather, his meditation on what we think the life-after-death will be like. Any afterlife we might have would not be all clouds, angels and harps, of course, but we're very quick to go back to that image.

Wondered the priest: might we focus too much on living, walking and thinking in a life after death? Do we really imagine that life after death will be peaches and cream where life on earth goes on, just better and more permanent? Is it all because we are too afraid to peer into death and see the end of "me"?

One of the most frightening experiences of my childhood was when I realized that there was a time before I existed. My family was watching TV and I was staring at our leather-bound encyclopedias. The thought just hit me: where was I before I was born? In 1985, the year before I was born, I wasn't even a thought. No consciousness. No mind. No soul. Nothing. Complete nothing. Not a soul in heaven waiting to be born, to be exiled to earth. Nothing.

That same fear makes me cling to life. Now that I have thought and memory, how can wonderful me cease to think and remember? Once a thinking mind has been made, can it be unmade at death? What would it be like to die? How would it feel?

Being dead and no longer a thinking soul would leave me, well, empty. I wouldn't be there to protest against death since "I" wouldn't exist any longer. The prospect of losing "I" still terrifies me.

Christian talk of the "life after death" seemed too convenient to me. Too easy a way of pretending that death wasn't anything after all, nothing really to be afraid of. I could imagine my grandfather (God rest his soul!) having arguments with the angels about Scripture, my pets waiting eagerly for me to arrive (how morbid!) and the great figures of the past all having tea and muffins around a table (a great set up to a joke!). But all those images felt so crafted and finely tuned to my need for stability and continuity. Everything has to continue on, right?

These images try to preserve the way things are. It assumes that death does not change those we love. It assumes that heaven might just be us walking around in a nice village where everyone knows each other and God is hanging around as everybody's favorite neighbor. It can coat over the real pain and alienation and sin that we are stuck in. It preserves the "I", the ego, something of such monumental importance that God would seemingly ensure that it survived mostly intact after death, possibly in even better shape.

But what if it isn't like that? What then?

What if we die and are no more? What if we sleep in death and do not get to walk around in a charming celestial village?

Would you or I be content to be in God's memory?

Sitting in that aged pew I remember the relief I had when the priest mentioned that idea. Relief! I didn't feel like I had to fight for a naive image of heaven. It didn't matter. God would always be, even if I ceased to be. God would remember, even if I failed to remember. Nothing that lived, nothing that was done, nothing since the beginning of creation would be forgotten.

This isn't to say that I do not believe in the Resurrection. I do. God has taken a liking for us incredibly flawed and fallible human beings, giving us so much love and light. God, in Jesus Christ, chose to walk among us. He lived with us, argued with us, judged us, loved us, taught us, died for us. God chose that! Against all odds, God delights in us, so it isn't a far jump that God might choose to spend eternity with us (whether that 'us' is a select few, the multitudes, or all).

Knowing that God can remember us even without the Resurrection can free us from the greeting card image of heaven. Death is painful and powerful. It attacks at the human soul through fear and anguish.

Death does not have the final say, however; God has chosen us, remembers us, and loves us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Affection and Rejection

Yesterday I was told by someone that I was sexually and emotionally attractive to him, but then he told me that he did not find me physically attractive. Very odd, you can imagine.

We are very quick to make the connection between physical and sexual attraction. Romance movies always portray the two future lovers as beautiful, and frequently the entire reason they start going out is due to physical attraction. A guy stares at a beautiful woman at work for months before getting the nerve to ask her out, or a woman dreams up ways to just happen to run into Mr Dreamy and amaze him with witty conversation. Rarely do they know anything about the personality of the person they desire, but they are beautiful.

Being told by someone that you are not physically attractive to them yet are still very sexually attractive seems like an oxymoron. Aren't physical and sexual attraction the same thing? And even if they're not, don't you somehow become physically attractive when someone finds you emotionally attractive? Isn't that the consolation prize of all of us who are charming, wonderful people who might not have it made in the looks department? If we can just manage to wow someone through our kindness and intellect, then maybe, just maybe, they'll stick around?

I have to admit that it stung when he told me that. I've had people tell me they were attracted to me before, and I've even had some wonderfully crazy people tell me that I was handsome, but no one has flat out told me they did not find me physically attractive. His excuse was that I didn't fit his type.

Yes, type. Everyone has the 'type' they are looking for: tall dark and handsome; wealthy, sophisticated yet adventurous; thin, fashionable and witty; muscular, masculine and caring; full-figured, kind and intelligent. It can get specific even down to race, height, weight and occupation.

The problem comes when looking for that type drowns out everything else. We look for our type, never even considering that there might be other kinds of people that would make us happy. We search for a person in a box, specially made just for me. My soulmate who is exactly what I've always wanted for Christmas. A caricature. An idol on a pedestal just waiting for me and me alone. Not a living, breathing, flawed human being that loves, infuriates, saddens and overjoys us.

What type of God is it that I desire? What kind of God fits my needs and wants right now? Is it a nicely bland one in the Buddha's lotus position that talks about love and cosmic energy while smelling suspiciously of patchouli and tea tree oil? Is it a strong, manly God who just loves to smite my enemies like a powerful knight would do for all those who dare malign the honor of his fair princess? Is it a long-haired rabbi from Nazareth who said nothing that might possibly make me uncomfortable and who never meant that I actually have to share his message with others?

Types. Types of partners, types of gods, types of religious and spiritual systems. We can seek all day and night for the type we think we want, but the types won't be found. Types aren't alive; they're just ideas. A real flesh and blood spouse is alive and ready to love and be loved and to challenge and to encourage. A real, living God is ready to do the same, and I hope I don't reject God based on the type of god I want.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Christian Identity

When I was writing my thesis for my undergraduate degree, I wrote and read a lot about LGBT identities. How would Christ, in becoming human, take on his identities? He was a Jewish male living in an occupied country and was not of the political, economic or religious elites. For some feminist writers, a male Christ is a fundamental roadblock to relationships because he was, well, male. As a male, he enjoyed male privilege, so how could he truly understand the problems facing women? It's a topic that feminist theologians have been working with, and faithful women will probably be working with the problem for a long time.

Since the gospels don't present us with a straight Jesus (I'm fairly certain the Spirit had something to do with that), gay theologians can play around with Jesus' sexuality and overcome those roadblocks. It was fun and fascinating to read of how theologians would wrestle with Jesus' sexuality, but I really think that work can be missing the point.

Instead of looking to Christ's identity to see our own reflected, why are we not as quick to see Christ's identity reflected in our own?

As God Incarnate, Christ had to straddle the divine and human, somehow united both in his person. How do we do that? How do we reflect his human identity? In baptism when we are united with him, how do we reflect his divinity?

A sermon by Br. Mark Brown, SSJE tackled Christian identity:

Personal identity can often seem in flux, and yet as Christians we have a place to come back to. We’re called back to a sense of being grounded in Christ’s own being. How we understand, how we appropriate our personal identity in Christ is a highly individual thing. We may grow in this understanding over time, in incremental ways. It may come to us as an occasional insight in moments of spiritual clarity. We may experience considerable confusion as we navigate between our various identities. And yet the center is Christ himself.

Now there’s nothing wrong with any of our particular identities, whether they be national or professional or relational or whatever. They are perfectly natural. The problem with these identities is 1) they are unstable and 2) they are too small. Even national identities are unstable and change over time. What it means to be American today is not what it meant fifty years ago (tell that to the Tea Party). What it means to be English is not what it meant fifty years ago, let alone what it may have meant to St. Bede. Professional and relational identities are notoriously unstable, they are shifting sands.

It is only Christ himself who can give us an identity large enough. Only Christ can bestow upon us an identity expansive enough for the fullness of our humanity. And so he calls us to something new, something large. Something new and always renewing; something large and always expanding. Only that which is newest and most expansive is good enough for the Kingdom. And so, what he calls us to is his own being, his own essence. Into his marvelous light, his own self. (Link to full sermon)

I encourage you to read the sermon. It's good, and it's right on. All of our identities are unstable (which was a huge part of my undergraduate thesis), so all the human identities that Christ took on are also unstable too. The only identity that really matters and the only identity that is unchangeable is the one given in baptism. We are one in Christ Jesus, and all the rest, at the end, don't really matter.

If we cling too tightly to our identities, demanding that they be part of the 'diversity' of God, then we are in danger of idolatry. It is very easy to demand that God be in our own image. That said, we are all called to use our whole selves, including these identities, for the service and glory of God.

Friday, May 28, 2010

For the Lutherans

The local ELCA Lutheran congregation voted on Sunday to leave the national church over the social statement adopted last summer.

One of my best friends and her family have been members of this congregation for over twenty years. As good country folk, the church was their social community and home away from home; relationships formed in church were very important to them, and the Lutheran spirituality permeated their lives.

This Sunday, though, things changed. It has been brewing for a long time; the pastor had made it very clear in the pulpit that he wanted to take the congregation out of the ELCA. The congregation has been breaking into two groups, and there was little Christian charity from one side toward the other. No room for disagreeing on 'the gay issue.' No room for sharing at Christ's table for those who, in good faith and conscience, held to a position that others disagreed with. One side just couldn't have that. There is no compromising the 'purity' of the faith.

There were some underhanded political moves as well. Human beings are political beings.

The pain I saw in their faces hurt me deeply. The actions on Sunday were divorce and death at the same time. I know that they'll persevere. They're not giving up, as the vote won't be final until ninety days from now. They'll keep trying to heal wounds and exorcise demons that work so hard to fracture and destroy the Body of Christ (Yes, I say exorcise; when hate, pride, and schism abound, I say something dark is at work). Will it work? I have no clue. But I know them, and I know the depth of their faith. That doesn't erase the pain, though.

Saturday, May 15, 2010



The cornerstone of the stereotype of Europeans. The hallmark of disillusioned college students.

I've noticed it a lot more in myself lately. I don't know if it's just the continued rancor in the national discourse. I don't know if it's just a dissatisfaction with my life as it is. I don't know if it's just a feeling of aimlessness since I'm a lot less sure about my life than I was just a year ago. I don't know if it's just loneliness and a fear that I won't find a romantic partner.

Safest bet is that all of those are working together to breed cynicism in me.

Cynicism is so incredibly destructive. Not only does it destroy hope, but it also actively attacks anything positive. It refuses to believe that anything can change for the better. Considering that hope is a fundamental Christian value, it's easy to see why cynicism is a sin.

I wonder how many people in this country would see cynicism as sinful. I know it's taken time for me to see the effects of it in my life. My commentary during the morning news used to be insightful; now it's just spiteful. The great progress on positive self-image I've made in the last few years takes hits as my cynicism turns inward.

What's the remedy for such a brutal sin which tries to eradicate any hope?

For me, I'm not sure. Now that I see it, I can be aware of its harmful effects. Finding the cure will be more difficult. I will, with God's help, try to loosen the hold that cynicism has on me. It'll be highly appropriate, since a good friend of mine and her children will be baptized on Pentecost! What better time to break the hold of something destructive?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Christian Flower

I nominate the pansy to be the emblematic flower of Christianity. It comes in all sorts of colors and varieties, representing the diversity of the Christian family.

It's not an expensive flower, representing the free gift of grace.

The word 'pansy' is frequently used as a derogatory term much like "Christian" was (and sometimes is even now).

But honestly and truly, the reason it should represent Christianity is that it does not give up. My family has not planted pansies for years yet we find them hiding throughout the flowerbeds and yard. Yes, a single pansy is easy enough to pull up and dispose of, much like the individual Christian martyr is; but, as a whole, the Christian faith and the Church will live on through oppression, violence and slander just like the pansies continue to pop up where they can find the sunlight and the nourishment . And when Christianity is at its best, it will endure all sorts of things without resorting to violence to "protect" itself, its honor, its Scripture, or its leaders.

God help us if the pansies fight back.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Too late for confession

Last night at the Good Friday liturgy I noticed something odd: no confession.

On a day that is one of only two major fast days in the Church's calendar, it is entirely counterintuitive. On this day, surely, we should be confessing our sins, acknowledging how our sinfulness led Christ to the cross and how our sin works to destroy us.

Nope. No confession unless you are receiving communion from the reserved sacrament of Maundy Thursday. No communion, no confession, and that was how it was last night.

Good Friday is too late to be sorrowful for sin and is far too late for confession. The wheels had been set in motion; the crucifixion was inevitable once the table for the Last Supper was set. Wheels slowly, slowly turning during the meal, moving hesitantly throughout the night as Christ prayed for the disciples he was soon going to be leaving behind.

In the hour of crisis, confession is too late. There is little to be done to set things right; films make it seem to us like it's never too late because something can always be done. Sometimes our sins will be too much for us to make amends.

I'm sure the disciples wanted to confess their wrongdoings as Jesus was led to the cross and executed. "Lord, forgive me, just let Jesus go!" their lips might have mumbled as they tried to bargain with the God who seemed so hidden at the moment.

Too late for confession. Nothing to be done. The wheels of sin and death are in motion, crushing the innocent and guilty.

But Christ set in motion something else. Something that would break the wheels of sin and death.

Confession might come too late, but salvation still stands firmly before us, even before the brink.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fear of What Didn't Happen

Last night we avoided a serious catastrophe.

Story starts yesterday afternoon. A car crash down the road leaves the power out all afternoon. I'm at work, so all I get is a call from my mom about the lack of electricity. No problem- I plan on stopping by the store to pick up bottled water just in case the power is out for a long time.

I pick up the goods and head to play practice at church. We're using bits of Jesus Christ Superstar for Palm Sunday, and it was the full musical rehearsal. Afterward I debate about going to gay coffee night. I was an hour late for it, and I decide to just head home as the sky's looking nasty, and I felt like relaxing after work. I sing out to a mixed CD (delightfully titled "Incredibly Gay, Volume 1") all the way home.

I arrive home to a dark house. The power's still out. Ten minutes after I get home, though, the power clicks back on. I help my mom reset the clocks in the house when we hear strange noises from the utility room.

I'd never heard those noises before. They sounded almost like gurgling. Shortly thereafter we both smell smoke. We go into the utility room nearby and cough as smoke starts to fill the room. We look around trying to find the source, then I open the back door to clear out some smoke so we can find the source (yes, I know that could have potentially exacerbated it, but without finding a source we would've been in worse trouble).

When the power had come back on, it surged. Because it was chilly, the furnace clicked on at the exact same time. Guess what caught on fire?

Yep. The wiring in the furnace overloaded and started on fire. We pulled off the cover for the furnace after seeing smoke coming from the vent to reveal a flame. After a split second of hesitation ("say now, that's not supposed to be on fire") my mom grabs the fire extinguisher and puts out the flame and flips off the circuit breaker. We hastily call the fire department to make sure that we're safe for the night.

Everything's fine- we all spent the night incredibly nervous that maybe, just maybe, a fire was smoldering unseen. The smell of burnt plastic would rouse me from sleep just to instill a brief second of fear, forcing me to go and investigate, just in case.

After the fire was out, I realized how good it was that I hadn't gone out after play practice. Had I not been in the vicinity of the utility room, how long might it have been before my mom smelled the smoke? Would it have gotten into the insulation or the wood before she noticed? Would it have ended a lot worse?

Heaven knows. I'm glad it didn't end up worse, but there's that weird fear of what didn't happen.

Normally we always worry about what happened. We wish that we would've done it differently or go back and use the knowledge we have now instead of the limited perspective of the past.

This is different. By chance or providence (I know not which) we caught it before it got out of hand. Given that it probably would've happened regardless, we had the best possible outcome.

Yet there's this odd fear of what didn't happen. It's not like the fear that I had last night of the possibility of a smoldering flame hidden deep in the house's wiring; it's a fear of what bad things could have happened had I acted differently.

Normally in these situations we launch straight into God's providence, God's blessing. I'm grateful, of course. I'm glad that this was the worst that happened last night; still, I have a sense of fear for an outcome that didn't happen.

I'm not how much I can explain it. Perhaps the fear is the flip side to the relief I feel. I know how bad it could have ended last night, so then I feel great relief that it didn't. Without even knowing it, I made a choice that helped prevent a catastrophe.

I have no clue as to how this could relate to the holy and fearful events of Holy Week. Good Friday was definitely the worst that could happen for the disciples; there wasn't a "whew, that was close!" moment. Jesus was really condemned, mocked, and nailed to a cross. He died. The disciples ran off and one even betrayed Jesus. No catastrophe was prevented there. No one really saw the Resurrection coming.

In all those horrible, cruel, evil choices made 2000 years ago by the religious establishment and the political hierarchy, was an even worse outcome for humanity avoided? Did Judas, did Pilate, did Caiaphas really understand the wheels they set in motion? Did they unknowingly make choices that averted an even greater catastrophe?

Not just a catastrophe of political or religious power; I mean a cosmic, universal catastrophe. These men thought that the nation was headed for disaster if this heretic/rebel was allowed to continue; however, what would have happened had Jesus not been condemned and executed?

I don't know.

May this upcoming week so full of pain and suffering strengthen you. May the remembrance of Christ's passion and death and resurrection fill your heart with grace and light and love.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Edible Emotions

This last week was particularly stressful and upsetting. I'm sure my hormones were out of whack, but events in multiple parts of my life made last week an unhappy one.

By Wednesday of last week I broke my Lenten abstinence from chocolate. Those Oreo cookies were calling to me, promising sweet relief from the stress and pain. After devouring them with the angriest face I could muster, I noted that guilt didn't seem to be raising its ugly head. A little shocked, I assumed that eventually I would feel downright horrible for eating chocolate during Lent. I'm not "hardcore" like the Eastern Orthodox who abstain from a lot more during Great Lent; yet I caved in to chocolate.

I had expected at least some kind of inner turmoil from eating the forbidden sweets. Nope. Could it have been anger and stress that granted me an indulgence? Possibly.

The episode certainly led me to realize just how comforting food is. I knew that when I was stressed I would crave certain foods: things fried, things sweet, things full of carbohydrates. After eating them, though, I noticed that I wasn't feeling relief or happiness or sorrowful delight. I just felt angry with a few crumbs of Oreo in my mustache.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Somewhere that's green...

I returned from a long weekend in Texas to visit an important friend for the first time. We'd been talking on the phone for a long time, but finally meeting him in the flesh was great.

Leaving Fort Worth yesterday was incredibly difficult. I wanted nothing more than to be with him one more minute, one more hour, one more day. He made me feel wonderful, and I hope I did the same for him.

I feel a pit in my heart now that I'm away from him. He was very deliberate in not wanting me to feel tied down to him or to feel any obligation toward him, and I'm not sure how to handle that.

I opened myself to him, feeling comfortable enough to cry in front of him. Normally I try to hide my emotions away so that others aren't burdened by my emotions and so that I'm not the "focus". He asked how I was feeling, and I told him instead of replying, "I'm OK" or "Fine" as I usually do when I'm feeling upset but don't want to reveal my heart.

I'm not sure what to do right now. I know that for the next week or so I will be second-guessing myself, overanalyzing everything and fretting about the future, but I want him to know how much he means to me and how much I want to nurture our relationship without being a burden. I don't know if he cried after I left or if he's feeling anything similar, and I don't have the right to pry overmuch.

Right now I'm getting ready for work to get back to life as it was before I left, knowing that my life's changed for the better no matter what happens.

Peace, friends.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes to Ashes, Light from Light

Today was Ash Wednesday, the start to Lent. Lent also happens to be, oddly enough, my favorite liturgical season. The quiet reflection and the darkness under the shadow of the cross speak to me by emphasizing the presence of God in the worst.

Much to my surprise, then, I noticed that at tonight's service people were smiling so easily. Today is a day of fasting and repentance, yet people were smiling and happy to see one another. We couldn't start this most dour and depressing of seasons with smiles, could we?

We did.

Ash Wednesday is an invitation to the darkness. An invitation to a place of reflection, penitence and growing as Christians. In the darkness, though, there is light.

If the outward sign of Lent is a downcast face, a sad heart, and overly sorrowful liturgy, then the real grace and light of Lent is lost. Lent is a time for freedom even in fasting.

Fasting from all that which would tear us away from God. Fasting from even good things from God's creation so that we might treasure them all the more. Fasting to unite ourselves in the pain, suffering and temptation of Christ and of God's beloved children.

Seeing Lent as a time of darkness and sorrow is really only part right; yes, it is a time of darkness because the cross looms over us, but it is not a time of sorrow for sorrow's sake. Put off your sackcloth, wash your face, and smile through the rumblings in your stomach. Smile for the freedom that fasting gives you for you are not bound by guilty pleasures, hateful thoughts and sin; you are united forever to the God of all creation through His Son.

From ashes you arise, and to ashes you shall return. And you shall return to the Light that created you.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The one right path

I know what you're thinking, and, no, this isn't going to be about exclusivism vs inclusivism regarding salvation. It's a fascinating conversation to have, but, truth be told, it's never very helpful.

My question is about issues of living one's life. I have a problem with a relationship. I'll be purposefully cryptic, but I think I can get my point across.

What importance I should attach to a relationship that might draw me from the path I'm currently on? It would mean giving up, at least for a time, my plans and ideas and allowing myself to do something kind of carefree.

In a way, I'm asking myself if I should bind myself to the path I'm on or should I free myself for something new.

Given that I'm not old (as much as I wear "grandpa sweaters") and certainly not wise (though the beard certainly gives off that vibe), I haven't had a lot of experiences in being wild and free. As a youth, I was focused on the goal: college. And in college I was focused on the goal: grad school. Now that I'm out of college and have spent some time thinking about where I'm supposed to be / called to be, I'm realizing that I haven't spent much time not thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing.

So, after being all cryptic, what am I actually wondering?

Is there one and only one right path to take?

Surely the answer would be, "no," right? A life cannot be so strictly ordered, a human being ordained to one and only one path in life, right?

At times I'm not so sure. From childhood, not going onto college would've been seen as a huge mistake, something that couldn't be corrected. And now with the way I'm going, it feels the same way. If I don't continue this way, I will be deemed a "failure" for picking a path that isn't the expected and "correct" one.

I do understand how important it is to figure out where it is I'm supposed to be and what it is I should be doing. Wandering aimlessly is not the best position to be in. But what if the way I feel I should go (or at least seriously consider going) isn't where most everyone else thinks I should be going?

Could the life lived well in communion with God take many different paths? Could more than one of them be good and right for me?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ethical Math

I didn't make it to Boise this week. My boss wanted me to stay in town for this last week because she thought I might learn more through "trial by fire" instead of being mentored. I'd agree. Right now the local office runs a little differently than the one in Boise, so learning the ropes right here makes sense; however, I also have to be mindful of the ways that things are done elsewhere. I'm accountable to the local office and to the rest of the company.

At any moment we have to be adapted to the local yet be thinking of the global. For example, we're involved in our communities to help those in poverty work toward a better life. We run soup kitchens and pantries to feed the hungry. At the same time we have to remember the greater poverty elsewhere in the world and then see ourselves connected to their suffering. We can see ourselves in the center of nearly infinite circles stretching out on the horizon. We see the closer circles more clearly and can do a lot more.That doesn't diminish our responsibility for the circles farther out, though.

Our responsibilities are layered and pretty confusing. For every dollar or can of food I give to a local food bank, that's one less possible donation to feeding people elsewhere. We could get into an endless debate about where to start (should I give to those who might die today without food, or do I have a greater responsibility for those who I might help lift out of poverty and hunger?) because it ends up feeling like a giant math problem. People get boiled down to numbers and probabilities and percentages in order to maximize (what a nice economic word!) the good.

I can't solve this giant math problem. I can't perfectly balance all my duties between the local and regional and national and global (and universal). I can, however, try to keep them all in mind. Perfection is impossible, solving the world's problems alone is impossible. Being responsible and aware, though, are very, very possible.