Thursday, November 29, 2012


I am a bit stuck.  A journalist wants to interview me for an article on the state of the church and LGBT people.  Now, I would love to tell my story.  I would love to shed some light on the growth that has been made.  But I also would love to point out where things have fallen short.

It is this second point that causes the dilemma.  If I truthfully (or at least the truth as I see it) am I slitting my throat?  They said that I can use a pseudonym, but considering Nic is also going to be in the article, it will be pretty easy to figure out who is speaking.

Yet, when the National Church makes a proclamation, but allows the local bishops to counter this proclamation, what does this say to the world?  Where are the courage of ones convictions?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 Days to Go!

Santa is watching!  Oh, Nasty Santa!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Apology in advance

Something happened yesterday.  Yes, we re-elected Pres. Obama, but something else has happened.

I am greatly at peace with leaving the Episcopal church.  I know I have been chatting about this ad nausium, but this feels so much more real.

I got the word from the higher ups that a church I had been working with recently, and in the past, is just going to be allowed to die.  I have tried to talk with them, but have gotten no real answer.

I understand that everyone is overworked (except me!) and that resources are stretched thin, but I am getting tired of waiting for something to happen in the church.  I find no assistance in what I should be doing. I guess I should be smart enough to figure it out myself, but frankly, I am lost.

I feel very childlike in this situation and I am not comfortable with that.  Part of me want's someone to come and rescue me, but I know that is not helpful thinking in any way.

I will start pursuing credentialing in the MCC.  Maybe that will help.  I need to find job for the year or so that it will take to get credentialed.

Not optimal, but it is a way forward.

Oh, the apology: Sorry for always being so maudlin.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

    Quiz: What Kind of Liberal Are You?

My Liberal Identity

You are a    Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a   proud member of what's known as the reality-based  community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-centric thought reign supreme.
Take the quiz at Political Humor

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Observations Surrounding Circumstances

What I find interesting in the Facebook would is that people have difficulty with a clergy person having difficulty with life.

I stated that I find solitude most complete while being surrounded by people.  The return comment was, "you can find that in church."

I commented about not getting a call; the comments were "God has something better for your."

What I find telling is that a clergy and a therapist were the only people who said anything like, "that sucks!"

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person is affirm that sometimes the world sucks.  People want a clergy that is all "happy, happy, joy, joy," but sometimes life isn't that way.  Sometimes life just sucks.

I would hope that my journey could be  means of creating a more realistic faith.  Being a person of faith does not mean that everything will be wonderful, but it does mean that we have tools for dealing with the difficulties.

If I said that I have never thought of pitching my faith out the window, I would be lying.  More than once I wanted to tell the world to just go to hell.  I have contemplated "shedding this veil of tears."  (Some might find that shocking, but if you have been reading this blog, it should come as no surprise.)  Still do consider shedding it, at times.

But I am one of those silly people who believes that if we want change, we need to be the ones making it.  I do believe that anger should be focused on changing the things that make us angry.  I am also a big picture person which can make life very frustrating.

I think it is possible to be a person of faith and to also doubt in the existence of God.  David did it.  Moses did it.  Even Jesus did it!  (Think Garden of Gethsemane.)

No wonder the Christian faith is failing:  We can't be Christian and be human.  How sad for us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another Rejection Letter

Yes, the position that seemed to have it all (literally!  Good location, good outreach, good social justice) turned me down.  I saw it posted on the church's Facebook page before they informed me.  Not necessarily the best way to find out things.

I am getting really tired of this.  Digs up all kinds of buried skeletons in my psyche.  My father's voice is the loudest with, "You can't do anything right.  Everything you touch, you break."  So, of course, this is all my fault.  My brain just keeps repeating how I am nothing but a failure.  I will never amount to anything because I will break anything I touch.

My rational mind tells me that this is all bogus, but the cowering little boy just wants to do something right so daddy will love me.

Yeah, I know, it is three months 'til Christmas.  But I am not really excited about that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Been Thinking

Lots of things have been going through my head over the past week or so. Being a clergy person in this world is not easy.  There are no quick answers.  There are no easy solutions

I get so frustrated with people who call themselves "Christians" yet act in a manner that I find totally at odds with what I think "Christian" should be.  I do not think "Christian" has anything to do with hatred or attacking others.  I do think "Christians" are to be about loving others.

I have been asked how I would respond to people who are of the Republican bent.  If they are not about social justice, I find it difficult.  Am I supposed to say that being selfish is ok?  Am I supposed to tell people that we are not to care for the widows and orphans?  Am I supposed to tell people that we are not to welcome the stranger?  I cannot see how one can be Christian and not do these things.  However, there is a large group of people who feel that one cannot be Christian and be about these social justice issues.  Am I supposed to tell these people that what they believe is ok, just so they will keep contributing to the church.  I can't do that with a clear conscience.

I also get frustrated when people think that those who would blow up consulates, or abortion clinics, or pretty much anything else is the proper way to spread the love of God or Allah, or whatever you choose to call a divine deity.  And then people assume that all "Christians" think this way and respond to me in sometimes rude and cruel ways.

Then there is the whole thing of trying to find a call at a church.  Wondering if it will ever happen and wondering if it is worth the effort.  Frankly, I am tired of the effort.  I keep saying that I can't go on, but I keep finding some way to do it.  Now, I am getting to the end of my rope.

Oh, and we have to move again by the end of October.  Where?  Who knows.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Life Was Getting Just A Little Too Comfortable

Last night, Nic came home from across the state as said, "Did you check your e-mail?"

When I checked, I found an e-mail telling us that the owner of the house we were housesitting was returning at the end of October.  Now, this, in and of itself, wouldn't be a bad thing.  However, with all the stuff that is in the air, it is horrible!

We don't quite know where or how we should move.  I am waiting on a possible call to a church in NC.  If that one falls through, there is the possibility of a place just 70 miles away from here.  The second one won't come about, thought, for almost 6 months.

Does Nic look for an apartment in the Detroit area?  If so, what size?  Do we move all of our stuff?  Do we put it in storage?  Should I rip all my hair out?

Never a dull moment.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Was Jesus a Racist?

There are some things in life we just do not like to talk about.  And often we get reminded that certain subjects are not appropriate for “polite company.”  But if we do not speak about them, then how do we grow?  If we don’t speak about them, then falsehoods and misinformation abounds.
Today’s gospel and epistle readings are just such topics.  These are not really pleasant things to talk about, especially in front of congregation of people, and a diverse congregation at that!  But I am going to press on here and hope that I don’t irreparably offend anyone.  I will probably offend someone along the way, but that is bound to happen.  I guess it is better to offend someone and get the topic open than to never ever bring it up because we want to be nice.
The topic I want to discuss is prejudice.
It is really kind of fun to read the commentaries about today’s gospel reading.  People do so many mental gymnastics to try to take the sting out of Jesus’ words to the Syropheonetian woman.  There are attempts to make it into a series of jokes.  (Ha ha, you dog!)  There are attempts to say that the “dog” that Jesus is talking about is a lap dog like a Yorkie or something.  (Which is still offensive, in my opinion.)  And still others who say that Jesus was rude to make a point.  (To make a point at the expense of a grieving mother is just wrong!)  We cannot get around the point that Jesus does something very un-Jesuslike. 
What we need to remember is that prejudice is not a new thing; it is as old as people.  In Jesus’ time, gentiles were considered on a par with dogs.  To be Jewish during Biblical times was to consider oneself on a higher level than non-Jews.  It was just the way things were; it was just part of society.  And I am guessing it was not something people questioned much.
Who are the people we consider below us?  This is a difficult question to ask and an even more difficult one to answer.  I am sure we like to think of ourselves as kind and loving people.  We do not want to consider that we might lift ourselves to a higher level than others.  However much we would like to think we are above prejudice, we all have our biases.  I will admit that I am prejudice toward Caucasian people.  Being born white and spending most of my formative years around white people has instilled prejudices in me.  I am prejudice toward intellectuals.  I have spent many years in college and have grown quite accustomed to people with advanced degrees.  I am prejudiced toward the middle class and toward moderate Christians.  Guess how I grew up?  That’s right!  I grew up in a middle class, Christian, home.  The things that surround us become the things that are accepted and become the prejudices that we really need to work to uncover.
For the sake of argument, since Jesus was fully human while being fully God, we can assume that Jesus also had some prejudices.  Jesus, being part of his society, made assumptions about situations.  And like us, these assumptions may not have been entirely accurate.  Now this may be making some people uncomfortable.  We do not like to think about Jesus having human foibles.  But in seeing Jesus work through one of these foibles, we can learn how we may grow in faith and learn to deal with others around us.
You will notice again, that the interaction with the woman occurs face-to-face.  Jesus must confront the person, she is standing right there.  With the woman standing there, Jesus must put a face and a story to the prejudice he is feeling.  He can’t just call her a gentile dog and move on.  She is there, she has a story, and she has a request.
Our prejudices thrive when we isolate ourselves from the object of that prejudice.  It is easy to think that a transgender person is just a man in a dress, or that Republicans are just old white men.  It is easy to think that black people are lazy or that gay people are all effeminate.   It is easy to think that Muslims are all terrorists or that Christians are judgmental bigots.  I sure we can come up with more stereotypes.  If there is a group of people out there, there is a stereotype for them.  And as long as we don’t ever have to come face-to-face with these groups, we don’t ever need to challenge our prejudices.
I think another danger is the assumption that we don’t have prejudices.  One woman in one of my past congregations said to me concerning gay people, “Most people are not like me.  I have no problem with them…but they better not want to come here and change everything.”  She did not catch it within herself.  In her mind, she was totally open and accepting of THEM.  But also, the people she spoke of would always be THEM.
When the Woman started talking to Jesus, he thought of her as THEM.  And if she would have walked away, Jesus may have continued to think of her as THEM.  But the Woman continued and her persistence helped Jesus to see that the distinction he was making between the Jews and the Gentiles was an arbitrary distinction. At the core, we are all people who need to rely on each other to make it through life.
A trend that you hopefully noticed over the past weeks is the trend toward relationships.  So often we think that all we need to do is throw money at situations and they will get better.  But Jesus invites us into relationship.  Jesus calls us together, to sit down together, to talk together, to listen.  Jesus calls us into diversity, not to impose our beliefs on others, but to learn from each other; Jesus does not force the woman to become a Jew before helping her.  He is reminded of her humanity and therefore changes his mind and helps her.  (This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus changes his mind!)
I think it is wonderful that you are reaching out into the community.  Having meals for the local people is a great thing!  But it is just the beginning!  Going to Haiti is a great thing!  All of these things are wonderful!  But this is not the place stop.  I have seen congregations hang their whole outreach on a Thanksgiving Dinner; it is a good place to start, but we are continually called to reach out into our community.  How else do we get to know people, face-to-face?  How do we move beyond thinking of another as THEM instead of as one of US?
We are called to look beyond our prejudices.  We are called to honestly face judgments and stop making excuses for the ways we belittle others.  Jesus gives us the tools to look beyond our preconceived notions and truly opens our eyes.  We may be uncomfortable with Jesus’ actions in this reading.  We may not like what he does.  But this needs to remind us of our own actions and should make us just as uncomfortable.  In the end, all are still called to the table and all are welcomed by Christ.  But how about us, Christ’s hands and heart in the world.  Are we willing to accept all in the same way?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Well, I am at that spot in processes that is a little scary.  I had a phone interview with a church at the beginning of the month, and their application time was through Labor Day.  So now comes the waiting period.  Will I receive a phone call, an e-mail, or a letter.  The first two are good things, the last, usually not so good.  So I get to wait.

I have been supplying around, and that is a good thing, it keeps my skills in shape.  Although I do find that some of my critical thinking skills have seemed to slip somewhat.  I also find that the specter of depression is always in the wings.  I guess that is just going to be something that I will have to live with.

I am feeling better about all the stuff that happened at my last church. Maybe someday I will write a book about clergy abuse.  (Isn't that what we all do, write a book?)  People can be so mean.  And when they get mean, they get abusive.  I know that I was just the car in the way, but it often feels so intentional.  I really have to question what people mean when they say they are Christian.  Such hate and anger does not strike me as kind.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Holy Uncertainty (Proper 16B)

Proper 16   John 6:56-69

I had a professor in college who said something that has stuck with me for now over 25 years.  It had to do with the character of faith.  He said that once we are SURE of our faith, our faith was dead.  The essence of a living faith is what he called “Holy Uncertainty.”
Holy Uncertainty is that internal gnawing that pushes us forward.  It is the questioning that keeps us unhappy with the answers that just seem too easy.  It is those questions that we ponder just as we drift off to sleep.  Holy Uncertainty may not give us an easy faith, but it gives us a depth and profundity of faith that we cannot get just from accepting the easy answers and the hard and fast rules.
My professor would say that once we become assured of our faith, we cease to grow in faith.  We have all the answers and we have everything nicely placed in its box.  We don’t have to think any more.  We can just say, “Oh, that person is lazy; they are bad.”  Or, “That person is greedy; they are bad.”  Or even, “That person is a Cubs fan; that person is totally delusional!”  We can become pretty smug concerning our judgments of other people.  When we have lost our Holy Uncertainty, all we have to do is make our judgment and move on.
But Holy Uncertainty does not let us get by so easily.  Holy Uncertainty pushes us toward understanding and away from judging.  It moves us to search deeper in life than just accepting what we can see with a quick glance; Holy Uncertainty drives us to compassionately search for answers.
Holy Uncertainty is definitely not easy.  It asks us to sit in those gray places in life.  It can cause us to lose sleep at night.  Holy Uncertainty can make us very uncomfortable.  And it is the discomfort that drives many people toward black and white understandings of God and the world.  Black and white may be easier to understand, but black and white views often deprive us of the richness that surrounds us.
In our gospel reading for today, the people are becoming uncomfortable.  Jesus has been teaching about being the Bread of Life and about how people need to eat this bread to find everlasting life and forgiveness.  This was (and still is!) some radical teaching.  It did not fit nicely into The Law as the Jewish people knew it.  The teachings that Jesus was giving the people were introducing a while range of gray to the established, cut and dried, system.  Suddenly the people who were listening to Jesus were thrust into the realm of Holy Uncertainty.  Many, possibly for the first time in their lives, were caught in the gray area. And with the laws changing, Jesus noticed that the big crowds were dwindling.  People were leaving.  The discomfort of the new teaching was just too much for them.
I think we often feel this way, too.  As I said, Holy Uncertainty is uncomfortable and we really don’t like discomfort.  But I am not so sure certainty is so comfortable, either.  Certainty may feel like comfort, but it can leave us feeling torn.  We see people we love being judged harshly and many of us know that under different circumstances we could be in that position of being judged.  But instead of questioning the law, we question the person.  The law cannot be wrong, it has been there forever and why would we need to change it now?  So we assume the person is bad and we go on.
But Christ was offering forgiveness.  He was saying that just because someone went afoul of the law doesn’t mean that they are forever damned.  Jesus was saying that people can be forgiven and redeemed.  But instead of rejoicing at the news, people began to leave, they began seeking another teacher.
When I was a kid, I had really bad feet.  I had to wear these funky shoes and had to have various kinds of supports placed in them.  When the supports were first placed in the shoes, they hurt!  But eventually my feet would conform to the supports and I would find relief.  That transition time was not the most pleasant time, but the finial result was being able to sleep through the night without ankle and foot pain.  I could have ripped the supports out, I would have had immediate relief, but the chronic pain would have continued.  In dealing with the pain of change, I was able to sleep more soundly.  Holy Uncertainty involves living through the discomfort and finding the relief that Christ has promised.
Changes are occurring on all levels of life.  Some of these changes can be scary and downright painful.  The Episcopal Church is making all kinds of changes that some feel are just too much.  We have an election happening that is promising to be all kinds of uncomfortable.  In our lives, there is the possibility we are being asked to open ourselves to new teaching that can be uncomfortable. 
It is easy to turn away when a teaching feel too difficult.  Jesus acknowledges this.  He acknowledges that what he is teaching is difficult and opens the opportunity for the disciples to leave.  That is part of human nature: Leave when the going gets tough.  But Jesus does not want the disciples to leave; he wants them to stick around, work through the discomfort and to grow.  He reminds them that they have been through difficult teachings in the past and not to lose heart.  But Jesus also knows that some will fall away but asks us, his followers to continue to press on, to continue to persist through the uncertainty and to grow.
One of the wonderful things about the Episcopal Church is that Holy Uncertainty is build right into our system.  We are able to deal with uncertainty because we have our points of stability.  We believe that God is Almighty.  We believe that Jesus is God’s Son.  We believe that through Christ’s death and resurrection we have received forgiveness and new life.  And we have our worship where we can gather as a community and place ourselves at Christ’s feet.  Many of the other points of faith are open for discussion.  We still disagree on things like ordination of women and more recently the ordination of gays, lesbians, and transgender people, but those things do not stop us from worshipping together.  At each of these times, there was much discord and people declaring the demise of the church. But you know what? We are still here!  We keep the vision of what is important, God is Almighty, and then work together through the details.
I believe that as long as we continue to work together, Christ will be present in the process.  As long as we look to our Savior, we will find the teachings we need.  As Simon Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  And as long as we continue to search, with Holy Uncertainty, for the leading of the Holy Spirit, I believe we will find it.
There will always be changes. Even something we hold as dear as the church will have changes.  Even our interpretations of the Bible may change. But we are not to turn our back on the community.  We are not to turn our backs on those who disagree with us. Christ calls us to keep our faith in him and to not turn our back. Christ calls us to hold fast to our faith, even though we may be uncertain as to what is happening. But as long as we remain faithful, and as long as we keep working to understand, as long as we remain engaged, we can trust that Christ will be there.

Drunk on the World (Proper 15 B)

Have you ever seen anyone who was drunk?  I would be willing to guess that we all have seen at least one person who was, as they say, “under the influence.”  There are a couple of things that I have noticed; for one, they are VERY sure they are right.  Arguing with a drunken person is an exercise in futility.    No amount of logic or reason seems to work.  The drunken person is absolutely sure that he or she has the truth and no one else is going to tell that person any different.
And if one drunken person isn’t bad enough, when you start putting drunken people together, it gets even worse.  It is kind like they develop telepathic skills.   Even though they could be totally wrong, they will continue to tell each other that they are right.
Eventually, the people sober up.  And when the influence wears off, the truth sinks in:  “Wow, what have I done?  Did I really just get married at a drive through chapel in Las Vegas?”  And with sobering up comes the reality that life has changed; what seemed like a good idea while intoxicated now doesn’t look so good.  What sounded good while under the influence now means you now have “Mother” written across your biceps for the whole world to see.
So if being drunk can lead to such problems, why do people go out and get drunk?  Well, I am sure if we asked, most would tell you that while being drunk, it is a lot of fun!  The feeling of invincibility.  The feeling of being all powerful.  The feeling of being almost a god.  That feeling can be very addicting.  And while it may feel real while the person is under the influence, eventually the truth will break in and the person will have to realize that he or she is not a god.  And quite often, what happens then is the person returns to being intoxicated to once again feel that power.
Now, you may be wondering why I am going into such depth on the subject of addiction; it may seem like a far shot from the gospel reading with Jesus saying he is the bread of life, and you might be right.  But I was captured by the Ephesians reading where the people are told not to get drunk with wine. 
The writer of Ephesians contrasts being drunk on wine to being filled with the Spirit.  I hope we do not take that contrast literally because there are many things that can get in our way of being filled with the Spirit.  We can become drunk on power.  We can become drunk on money.  We can become drunk on fame.  We can become addicted to religion.  Yep, you heard me right.  Religion can make us drunk and can prevent us from being filled with the Spirit.
Paul so often reminds the recipients of his letters to be in the world but not of the world.  He wants us to live in our world but not to be consumed by the world.  This has been a problem for a long time; obviously since Biblical times.  But I think it is even a bigger problem now since we can communicate around the world as easily as we communicate with our neighbors.  Actually, it may be easier to communicate with people on the other side of the globe.  Also, we may never need to hear another opinion other than the ones we agree with.  I have my computer set to send most of the political messages to a separate file that I can choose to look at or ignore.  If I want, I need never see what those who are opposed to my opinion think.  I can become quite drunk on my own thoughts and my own logic.  Without anything to counter my thoughts, I can begin to think myself quite godlike.
Paul knew that this was dangerous.  He knew that when we get intoxicated with our own worth, we begin to forget the way of God.  We become rigid.  We become less willing to look out for the good of others.  When we become intoxicated with life.  We think we are doing wonderful things, but in fact, we may be causing problems.  We are drunk on life.
But this is not how we are to live.  Paul tells us something different.  We are to live as wise people.  We are to be filled with the Spirit.  And, like we talked about last week, we are to be kind.  We are to be on the lookout for how we can be the hands, the heart, and the mouth of Christ in the world.  We are to be on the lookout for how we can bring Christ’s love into the world.  In effect, we are to be open to the leading of God, not only in our own lives, but in the life of the congregation.  And not only in the life of our congregation here, but the Church (with a capital “C”) throughout the world.
Striving to live life with wisdom and Spirit can be difficult!  When we surround ourselves only with people who think the same as we do, and speak the same as we do, and respond the same way we do, we can begin to think that OUR way MUST be the way of God.  Our way must be God’s way because it surrounds us!  When we see nothing else, we have nothing to compare our beliefs to.  We are not bad for thinking and feeling what we do, but when we are only surrounded by people like us, we can become limited.
But Christ calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He calls us to join him at the table.  But he does not call just us.  He does not just call the people who look like us or think like us.  He calls all people; he calls the whole Church (with a capital “C”), he calls all of creation.  He calls us to sit down with each other, to tell our stories, and to get to know each other.  He calls us to see beyond our own reality, and to experience the reality of those who are different than us.  To experience the reality of those who disagree with us.  To experience life larger than we thought possible.
The first way we do this is by realizing that we may, in fact, be intoxicated by the lies of the world.  We may have closed out so many of the other voices in the world that we really cannot see what is truly happening.  We may have settled on what we are going to believe and we are not going to budge.  We may say that this is faith, but it is not.  This is idolatry.  This is not the worship of what God has planned for us; it is the worship of our own ideals.
What we need to do is to trust in the Holy Spirit.  We need to trust that when we open our hearts and our minds to the leading of the Holy Spirit that we will find the guidance of God.  We need to trust that when we gather around Christ’s table, that the story of the person sitting across from us is as real and as IMPORTAT as our own.  And we need to be as ready to help that person as we are ready to have someone help us.  The table of Christ and all who are seated around us are the ones who fill us with the joy of the Spirit and keep us from being under the influence of the world.  This influence, the intoxication of our world can be very difficult to see, just as it is difficult to see logic while one is drunk.  But this is the place of worldly influence is where we need to trust in Jesus the most.  We need to trust that the one who came to save us will, in fact, SAVE US!
When we travel alone through the world, or travel with those who are drunk on the promises of power, wealth, or esteem, we can get drawn away from God’s plan for the world.  But when we gather together, when we share the table with our brothers and sisters from around the world, when we look into the eyes of those with a different story, when we gather to Eat the Bread of Life, it is then that we come to know, through Christ, the will of the Father.  It is when we are gathered together that we can break free of our own desires and discern what God has planned for us.
Are we drunk on the promises of wealth, power, and recognition?  Or are we living in the wisdom that we receive through Christ?  It is a question that is as old as Christianity and a question we each need to answer, as individuals and as a congregation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can We Just Be Kind?

Be kind.  That seems so easy, doesn’t it?  Be kind.  Be nice.  Treat other people the way we would like to be treated.  It seems really easy.  I am sure we all can imagine how wonderful the world would be if everyone would just be kind to each other.  If we all were kind, things would just be so much better!
If it is so easy to be kind, why do we have to be continually reminded about it?  Why do we have to have people tell us to be nice?  I hear mothers telling their kids, “Now be nice!”  Shouldn’t it just be something that we do?  It SHOULD be, but obviously it is not.  We can look at the big things like the murders in the Sikh church last Sunday and know that people are not being kind to each other.  We can look at the theater in Aurora and know that people are not being kind to each other.  We can look at these big things and KNOW that people are not being kind.
But these are the big things, right?  And these are people who are probably not quite hitting on all cylinders, right?  Yes, these are fringe people, but to attribute all the unkindness in the world to the fringe people is to stick our head in the sand and ignore the problem.
Be kind.  Our epistle reading gives us this command.  I generally don’t like the word command, but I will use it here.  We are commanded to “be kind,” period.  This is not, “be kind to people who are kind to you.”  It is not, “be kind to your friends but forget about everyone else.”  It is not, “be kind to the people who look like us, act like us, and believe like us.”  It is a simple, direct, command:  “Be kind.”  And, you know, we really seem to have a hard time with it.
Now, this is not to get down on our world, our epistle reading comes from 2000 years ago.  People have been having difficulty with this whole “kind” thing since before then.  You would think we would have it figured out by now, but we don’t.  We keep walking about through life missing all sorts of opportunities to be kind.  I would say that, quite often, we do not even intend to be unkind; it just sort of happens.  We get caught up in the routine of life and the next thing we know, we find ourselves being rude and pushy.
One thing we need to remember is that kindness is not just some kind of knee-jerk reaction.  Kindness is not something that we do innately, it is something that we must work on.  Kindness means moving outside of ourselves and looking around at those who inhabit this world with us.  Kindness means that we move beyond our unthinking reactions and taking time to RESPOND to the situation.  Kindness means that we stop and consider the needs and wants of others along with the needs and wants of ourselves.
In the epistle, we are told to be kind, tender hearted, forgiving.  I see these things as removing the stumbling blocks from the path of those around us.  When we see someone struggling through life, we are called to help remove those things that are getting in the way.  We will not be able to remove all the stumbling blocks, but maybe we can remove some.  Tenderhearted means that we are to empathize with the other person and find a way to give them rest.  It seems as if society keeps looking for ways to put more roadblocks in peoples’ way instead of looking for ways to decrease the roadblocks.  We seem to look for ways of getting more for ourselves instead of looking at ways we can assure enough for everyone.  Keeping the best part for ourselves my be totally human, but it is not what is required of us as Christians.
Some may consider what I am saying to be some kind of liberal communism, maybe it is.  But I find it sad that people will weep over the death of a dog and turn around and scream that a starving person is “getting what he deserves.”  Where is the kindness in that?  Or when people say that the poor and homeless are lazy; we never take the time to look at how we may have deprived these people of a chance to thrive.
We really need to thank God that God does not judge us by our sins.  We need to thank God that God, for the sake of Christ, HAS forgiven us and continues to forgive us.  We have been forgiven in our baptism and that forgiveness continues through our lives.  Now, just because we have received this forgiveness does not mean that we never sin.  Just a quick question to prove this: How many of us would like to have people from church go through our house, our bank accounts, or our computer files?    See, we all fall short; it is just the way of life.  We are not as loving as we could be.  We are not as kind as we could be.  We are not the perfect people we would like to project to the world.  But even thought we are not perfect, we are still forgiven, and that is what we need to remember.
This forgiveness that we find in Jesus is the basis of our desire to be kind.  Even in the face of evil, we are called to be kind.  Even in the face of nasty drivers who we have to wonder if they even passed the driver’s test.  (Because, of course, I am the BEST driver EVER!)  We are called to be kind.  In the presence of those that have hurt us, we are called to forgiveness and to be kind.  To all people, to one another, we are to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” and be kind.
What makes me sad is when I look at the world today, I have a hard time finding kindness.  I find lots of fear.  I find lots of hatred.  I find a lot of people doing all kinds of verbal gymnastics trying to dress up evil as kindness.  I find people getting angry when their lack of kindness is exposed.  I find people segregating themselves into smaller and smaller groups.  I find so many people looking at “them” and responding with fear.  Maybe it is unkind of me to say anything about what I see around me, but I find it difficult to keep quiet.  
Wow, who would have thought that something as seemingly simple as “be kind” could be so difficult?
So how do we make a change?  How can we turn the tide of fear and hatred that we see throughout the world?  It seems so big!
I had someone say to me, “If you can’t fit it into a wheelbarrow then you need to shrink it down.”  So taking on all the extremists would be just too big.  But we all can do smaller things.  We can smile at the cashier.  We can thank the grocery bagger.  We can be patient if the lines are long.  We can let someone merge onto the highway.  We can stand so someone may have a seat.  None of these things cost us anything!  (And as someone who has worked with the public, a kind, smiling, face can make the whole day better.)  We might choose to not pass on that snide Facebook post.  We can be compassionate to the plight of others.  We can assume that people are trying to do their best, just as we are trying to do our best.  (Why do we assume that others are slackers?)  It is NOT hard!  However, it does take presence of mind and involves responding as opposed to reacting.
We can forgive.  I think this is one of the hardest things to do and could be a whole sermon unto itself.  We can present our feelings of hurt and being wronged to God and ask God to heal them.  We can realize that the people we strike out against are often not the ones who hurt us.  The man in Wisconsin may have felt that he was hurt by Sikhs, but even if he was, it is more than likely that he was not hurt by the particular group of Sikhs that he attacked.
Hate and fear create more hate and fear.  It is when we RESPOND in kindness instead of REACTING in fear that things begin to change. 
Now, this could end up sounding like some kind of new-agey, self-help thing unless we remember what Christ tells us in the gospel reading.  Christ is the bread of life, and it is through this bread, through this promise that we are give the strength to persevere.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I read something, somewhere (if I were less lazy, I would find the link) about homophobia being exactly that, a fear of homosexuality.  As I think about it, I am of the assumption that this is exactly the case.  People will say, "I can't be homophobic, I am not afraid of homosexual people."  And they are probably right, they are not afraid of the homosexuality is someone else.  What they ARE afraid of it the homosexuality they see in themselves.  By seeing people who are comfortable with their homosexuality points out how uncomfortable they are with their own feelings.  So, instead of dealing with their own feelings and comfort level, they try to make the gay people go away.  The underlying assumption being, "If I don't see them, I don't have to deal with my discomfort."

The Kinsey Report has been around since the late 1940's.  In this report (on males) he speaks of sexuality not being binary, but being on a continuum.  And here, 70 years later we still cling to that binary understanding.  When someone does not fall on the heterosexual end (and we continue to vilify homosexuality) there is discomfort.  "Oh no!  I find my teammate's penis arousing!!!!"  Instead of realizing that this is natural, there is fear.  And from this fear, often comes violence.  (Be it actual physical violence or societal violence.)

I just read about an Episcopal bishop speaking about "gender anarchy."  Gender anarchy??  This sounds like someone who wants the 50's binary gender roles to return.  Women wear dresses pearls and gloves; men wear ties, jackets, and wing-tip shoes.  We can look at a person and know exactly what we are seeing.  But this is silly.  We have never had such doggedly defined gender roles in America.  The belief that we could ever "return" to that is wishful thinking.

What would happen if this bishop were to deal with the gender anarchy he finds within himself?  If he could make peace with his own gender ambiguity, then maybe he could deal with the ambiguity in the world.  But instead, he is forcing his psychic struggles on an entire state and all the congregations within the state.  And by trying to force changes on the denomination,  he is, in effect, trying to "infect" the entire denomination with his anxiety.

It is interesting:  Because I am ok with my gender identity, it makes him anxious.  So, instead of dealing with his anxiety, he wants the whole world to become anxious with him.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Words of the Prophet

In my twelve years of being clergy, I have had to suggest that someone leave the congregation only once.  And from my point of view, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
As briefly as possible:  A woman in one of my former congregations felt that the diocese and the former priest had badly wronged her.  When I started at the congregation, I understood the situation and I agreed with the past actions.  Because I did not jump to her defense, her anger was transferred to me.
She continued to push for me to change things back to the way they were and I continued to resist.  As I resisted, she gathered allies from the congregation and sowed discontent.  She also would avoid coming to worship but would show up for coffee afterwards.
Eventually, I told her that I was not going to change my position and that it may be better to seek a different congregation where she could find a new beginning without all the pain and anger that she was still feeling at her present congregation.  Of course, this went over like a lead balloon.
She did eventually find another congregation and, from what I understand, is doing well there.  But before she left, she proceeded to tell everyone that I was hateful, self-serving, evil, and unqualified to lead a congregation.
Now, why am I telling you this?  This is probably the most profound example when I had to act in a prophetic manner.  I had to say and do things that were not going to be pleasant, but to not say and do them would be even worse.  I could have worked to maintain my “good guy” image, but the only person who would have been served would have been me.  To do what needed to be done, I had to risk the disapproval of many people; in fact, I had to risk the disapproval of the whole congregation.
So often in churches we talk about prophetic messages, but prophetic messages are not necessarily pleasant things to hear or to have directed toward us.  Prophetic messages mean that things we have become quite comfortable with are going to have to change.  And our general response when we first hear prophecy is to become angry with the person speaking the prophecy.  If the person would just go with the flow, everything would be so much better.  If the prophet would stop rocking the boat, we could all sleep soundly at night.  But, usually, the prophet will not be quiet.  The prophet keeps speaking and the people continue to get angry.
This is the situation that we see in the gospel reading for today.  Jesus is speaking to the people.  But the words he spoke were not making the people happy.  But instead of listening to what Jesus was saying, the people kept looking for ways to discredit him.  They brought up that he was just a carpenter.  They brought up that he was “Mary’s son.”  (Note:  They didn’t say, “Joseph’s Son.”  By not mentioning Joseph, they were publicly slamming Jesus’ questionable paternity.)  Then kept coming up with as many things as possible to discredit the message Jesus was speaking.  This is an old trick, if we can discredit the messenger, we don’t have to pay any attention to the message.
But, this says more about the person hearing the message than the person sharing the message.  When we don’t want to hear the message, we will actively look for ways to not have to attend to the message.  But we ignore Christ’s message to our own peril.  We need to remember that the message Jesus speaks is presented for our BENEFIT!  It is not there to make our life difficult; it is there to make our life BETTER.  The difficult thing is putting our ego aside and really LISTENING to the message. 
Thinking back to my situation in the congregation, I wanted what was the best for the congregation and for the woman.  I wasn’t suggesting that she leave just to make my life easier, it actually caused some additional problems of me, but it was suggested to help her.  She was skipping worship services and just coming to fellowship.  Whenever she was at church, she always seemed angry.  Being part of the congregation seemed to be making her life worse.  Although suggesting she go somewhere else seemed quite offensive to her, the hope was that she would continue to grow in her faith.
When Jesus gives a prophecy to us, it may sound offensive; however, we need to have faith, trust the source, and realize that it is given to us in love.  Christ is not trying to make our life worse, but to make it better!  Aside from helping others, when we attend to Jesus prophetic speech, it helps us.  Tithing helps us to keep our finances in perspective.  Helping the poor and sick helps us to appreciate our blessings in life and to appreciate our health.  Doing these things may not be easy, but we become more mature through the process.  We ignore the words of the prophet to our loss!  (You knew that one was coming!)
Of course, this also means that when we go out into the world to spread Christ’s word, we may find the reception to be a little cool.  Asking people to welcome the stranger is likely to be met with resistance.  Telling people to give to help the poor and needy is likely to be met with claims that the poor and needy are that way by their own fault. To be the true prophetic voice of Christ in the world is very likely to make you unpopular in certain sectors of the population.  But there were certain sectors of the population where Christ was not very popular either.  However, just because it may not be the popular thing to do or say does not mean it is not the right thing to do.
Probably the most difficult part of listening to prophecy is knowing which is the true prophet and which is the false prophet.  And here, I do not have any easy answers.  The only thing that I can tell you with assurance is that we need to have faith and trust.  We need to have faith that God will work through us if we just place our trust in him.  We need to have faith that God will be present and can take our activities and use them for the benefit of God’s Kingdom.  But we also need to do something.  We cannot expect to just sit still and have God move our hands like some kind of puppeteer.  If we are willing to move, God will be there to guide our feet and hands.  But if we choose to sit, God will sit there with us; but I believe that God wants us to be out and about in the world.
Prophetic voices are not easy things to deal with.  We really do not want to hear them, and we really don’t want to speak them.  Prophetic voices are risky.  Prophetic voices can make some pretty powerful people angry.  But when the prophetic voice is offered in love, it can change the world.  I think God wants us to be more than we ever dream for ourselves.  I believe God wants us to be the people who speak love and forgiveness to the world.  I believe God wants us to be the people who can change the world!  Pretty incredible, huh?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This is Difficult

I went to a job fair last week.  I didn't spend any time talking to the recruiters; I spent all my time working on revamping my resume.  This was difficult.  It made the transition thing that much more real.

Trying to take my preacher experience and make it understandable to the business world is not the easiest thing.  We do a lot that people do not consider.  Also, business look for outcomes which are hard to measure in the church.  Your "average preacher" (whatever that is) has done things from being a CEO to crisis intervention. But so many people just think of clergy as naive and out of touch, a la Fr. Dowling.  Trying to get people to take our skills seriously takes a bit of sleight of hand.

But how do you leave that for which you have trained so long?  It may sound silly, but I kind of knew, from a very early age, that I should be doing things in the church.  And even for all the frustration that I receive, I still feel that I do an adequate job at it.  But the stress and lack of any kind of guidance is just tearing me apart.

When I had written about Cognitive Distortions, some had suggested that I get out and be part of the world. I appreciate the suggestion.  What stops me from really doing things is the lack of money.  I do not get any kind of assistance from the government nor from the governing body of my denomination.  We are living on what Nic makes.  I feel guilty spending money.  I do make some money preaching on Sundays, but with the latest church to turn me down, my preaching opportunities have been quite sparse.  Using money, when I don't have to, makes me feel awkward.

And trying to find a job where we are living seems a bit of a waste too.  We will be moving in the fall and I would like to find something more than just a entry-level thing.  Frankly, I get really bored.  And I am not a lot of fun to be around when I am bored.

Fear of success?  Fear of failure?  Lazy?  Depressed?  Fuck-up?  I don't know.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We're Half Way There!

Happy Annual Semi-Annual Christmas!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cognitive Distortions

I have decided that one of the worst thing are cognitive distortions.  My present one is that the situation will NEVER get any better.  Now, I know that to use a word like "Never" is the hallmark of a cognitive distortion.  I also know that distortions live on things like, "Always"  "Never," and "The Worst."

And although I know this to be the case, and I know that what I am feeling is more than likely a cognitive distortion, I still feel stuck in the distortion.  I look at my situation and say that it is never going to get any better.  It is difficult to drum up the energy to do anything when deep in your core you know that whatever you do will be futile.

Right now, my cognition is telling me that this is never going to change.  That no matter what I do, I am going to be stuck.  This is a cognitive distortion, but it has taken hold and damned if it is going to let go.  I know on an intellectual level that things have to change, but I do not believe it.

And between lack of job, excessive heat. and creeping depression, I don't even want to get out of bed in the morning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Continuing Saga

Hey all!  (Average 12-16 of you!)

Well, church life seems to be becoming a thing of the past.  I found out that another whole state is off the table for me. So it seems that even though there are churches that need clergy, they would rather have no one than to have me.

What I hate is that being gay becomes front and center.  People ask why gay people always want to talk about being gay.  I would like to not have to talk about being gay.  I would like to not have to say, "I am gay, if this is a deal breaker, then we need not go farther."  I would like to be able to talk about my talents and skills, not have people speculate what I do in bed.  I have found to not bring it up is just not an answer because then it looks like I am trying to hide something.  But to name it means that people begin to think that "gay" is my sole definition.

I am going to a job fair on Thursday.  Hopefully I will be able to find a job that will be interesting and fulfilling.  It seems that church is becoming something in the rear view mirror.

I will be checking with one more denomination, but I do not hold out much hope.

Redefining oneself is an arduous process.  I transferred from Roman Catholic to ELCA Lutheran, from Lutheran to Episcopalian, from straight to gay, and now it seems another redefinition is about to occur.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Setbacks?

I used to hold one of my former congregations out as an example of  unexpected folks being very accepting of Stereotypic Non-Conforming People.  I used to tell how Nic and I have always been accepted into my former congregation by people who were close to 20 years older than me; not the usual group most consider "accepting."  It was always so pleasant going there.  Even if Nic wasn't with me, people would ask how he was doing and send good wishes.  I would even include Nic in my sermons as many clergy will do about their spouses; he is a large part of my life, so, of course, he will show up in the sermons.

But I heard something last weekend that saddened me:  This congregation, who is in need of an on-site clergy, is having difficulty because the clergy in question is gay!  Three people did not want him because he is not heterosexual.  Now this may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that there may be between 7-14 people in the congregation, that is a major portion!  This congregation has been looking for a clergy for three years now and this priest would work there for the amount the congregation had been paying supply clergy.  It sounded like a total "win-win!"  But there are those (who they are, I do not know, nor to I want to know) who do not want this guy because he is gay.

I makes me wonder if these people were just tolerating me.  I am sorry, as it has been said, "we tolerate traffic;" I don't want to be just tolerated.  In the time that I have been there, haven't these people learned anything?

I am stuck in this quandry:  Preaching is a call, we don't do it for the money.  For all the harping I do about it, I still feel like a ship without a rudder.  I am beginning to feel like leading congregations is out of the picture because people cannot get beyond their prejudices.  Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, people will hold so tightly to their failing belief system.

Two congregations that do not want me because I am gay, and one that seemed to be the beacon of hope, still caught in such out-dated frameworks.  It is difficult to not feel frustrated.

The good Dr. Ur-Spo, among others, have told me to just start making glass.  That sounds wonderful short of the fact that the economy is still tanked and I am ok, but I do not consider myself "good."  I still have much to learn before I would feel comfortable making stained glass a profession.

Thus the dilemma I see:  Trying to continue in ministry, knowing that finding a congregation will be neigh on impossible.  Or doing something else, knowing that no matter how hard I try, my heart will not be in it.

[Pity Party]  I feel at the end of a rope.  I am not good at designing structure for myself, and without a job, I just float.  I see news talking about how people are saying outrageous things, but yet no one seems to be holding the people accountable.  I yelled at a guy yesterday for parking with the end of his car sticking out into traffic (on a curve in the road) and was going to leave it sit there.  "Didn't you notice you are blocking the lane?  Didn't you notice that people can't see you until the turn the corner and are right on top of you?!?" I am going quietly or not so quietly insane.  And who wants a certifiable priest? [/Pity Party]

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just what I wanted to hear.

I think most of you know, I have been going through some difficult times lately.  Things just don’t seem to working out lately.  I keep waiting for SOMETHING to happen, and things just seem to keep loping along with nothing really happening.  Nic, in his dear, sweet, loving, way keeps reminding me that “the Israelites roamed in the wilderness for forty years before THEY got to the Promised Land.”  (Did I say he was “dear, sweet, and loving”?)  Arrrgggg!  I don’t want to hear that.  I want something to happen now!
So, I figured I could go to the Bible and I would find something.  I should be able to find something that will cheer me up and give me some inspiration to keep moving forward.  And what do I find?  I find the epistle reading for today.  You know, Paul really is not one to read when feeling down.  He goes on about how he has been thrown in jail.  How he has almost died.  How his life has been, actually, quite messed up since he became a disciple.  That is not the thing I wanted to hear.
Really, when we think about it, Paul seems to be the opposite of what we would want in as a spokesperson for the faith.  Marketing would tell us that we want people to feel good about their faith.  We want people to see their lives fill with good things.  We want people to believe that if they just believe, then their lives will be filled with wealth, health, and material blessings.  There is a whole branch of religion, the Prosperity Movement, that is focused on that frame of thought.  But Paul is just not going to go that way.  He wears his trials like badges of honor.
Now, Paul could become quite tiring if all he did was bemoan how horrible his life was.  He could become one of those people with whom you pretend you got a phone call just so you can get away.  But he doesn’t seem to fall into the pity-party trap.  He doesn’t life his trials up as a means to get people to feel sorry for him.  Quite the contrary!  He lifts up his trials in life as a means of showing the world just how awesome God has been and how God has been at work in his life.
I know you all here have been going through your own time in the Wilderness, and sometimes it must feel like God has abandoned you.  And I will also tell you that what you are feeling is understandable.  But I think we all can benefit from what Paul is saying in the epistle reading. 
This reading is the culmination of Paul’s argument in the book of 2 Corinthians.  He has been talking about how times may seem difficult for the people of Corinth, but that they are not supposed to give up faith.  That they are supposed to look at their past and see how God has helped them out and then use that assurance as a means of moving on into the future.  Paul lists his hardships, not as a means of saying “Look how great I am,” but as a way of saying “Look how great God is!”  He is not saying that God put him into the situations to prove anything, but that God was able to use the situations to show to Paul and to those who would see, that God is able to prevail in the midst of difficulty.
One of the things that I think Paul understood was that, in life, bad things were going to happen.  And if we dwell on the bad things, we can become quite frustrated with life.  But Paul asks us to do more.  Paul asks us to look beyond the bad things and look at how God was at work through those things.  We are to look at how God was present even when things looked beyond repair.
But we are not just supposed to spend our time looking back.  We are supposed to learn from how God was present and use this as a means of seeing us through the trial and challenges we see around us today.  We are supposed to use this knowledge that God will see us through and apply it to those difficulties we are living through now.
And as we can expect from Paul, not only are we supposed to look at how God is at work in our lives, we are supposed to spread that word to the world!  Our faith and our belief is to be the impetus to go out into the world.  Just because things are happening in our lives doesn’t mean we are to hide ourselves away and never share our message with the world.  In the midst of difficulty we are to be about spreading God’s love.
There are some very good reasons for doing this:  The first is that amid all of the strife and division we see in the world, a word of love and acceptance needs to ring over the babble of discord.  Secondly, when people feel lost, they are looking for a place to find safe harbor.  Our words of love can be the rest that many people need so as to find a moment of rest in a chaotic world.  And third, WE need to be out to gain perspective on our problems.  We need to see that in many ways, in the midst of our troubles, we ARE blessed and to open our eyes to those blessings that have moved off our radar.  I didn’t truly appreciate family and friends until I delivered Thanksgiving meals to those who were homeless and alone.
I know I can get caught in the problems of my life.  I am sure you all have difficulties that can bring you down.  And I KNOW that you are struggling as a congregation.  But Paul would have us look back; look back at how God has been present in past struggles in our lives.  To look as see how, even when we weren’t aware of it, God was leading and guiding.  And then to take this assuredness and move it into our present.  To move it into the troubles we see right now.  Paul would assure us that the same God who can break the bonds of sin and death can guide us through the trials of our lives.
Paul would NOT tell us that the problems will just disappear, though.  Jesus DID die.  Christ on the cross was not some sort of parlor trick to fool people.  The pain was real, the death was real.  But the pain and the death were not the end of the story.  That is what we need to be focusing on.  In the midst of the mess of a crucifixion, God was still there.  In the midst of a call process that seems to go on forever, God is still there.  In facing what may look like death, GOD IS STILL THERE!
Finally, Paul would tell us that while all this is going on that we are not to lose heart and that we are to continue to spread the good news of Gods love to the world.  We are to trust in our belief and go out and speak.  Again, this may be one of the hardest parts because when things are not going well, well, that is the last time we want to be out among the people.  But this is our call.
God has been evident in St. Swithin’s before, and God is still here!  It is easy to look at the current situation and decide that God has walked away.  But that is to forget the wondrous ways God has been present in the past and that is to forget that God is still present.  Paul urges us to look at the past as a promise for our future.

Monday, June 04, 2012

How Can Three Individuals Be One Person?

A friend of mine, who happens to be an atheist, made an interesting comment:  While discussing mystery, he said, “Mysteries don't get embraced they get figured out or not!”  He was pretty adamant about this; there was an exclamation point on the sentence. In his world, you either knew things, you figured out things, or you just left them alone.  In his world, there was no place for things to just be.  He was making the mistake that I think many people make.  He was making the mistake of identifying “mystery” with “puzzle.”
I think, quite often, we all do that.  We have come to associate the word “mystery” with the word “puzzle.”  We watch Jessica Fletcher solve a “mystery” in just under one hour.  We read “mystery novels” and know whodunit in around 500 pages.  We have these things that we call “mysteries” and so when we hear the word “mystery,” this is what we expect:  We expect that if we find all the clues, we can come up with an explanation.  But we are wrong.  What Jessica Fletcher and most of the other things we call “mysteries” have in common is that they are not “mysteries” at all, they are puzzles.
A puzzle is something that we figure out.  Puzzles have an answer.  Generally, a puzzle has only one answer and it is our task to figure out what we need to do so we can reach that one answer.  What we generally refer to mysteries are really puzzles; if we can just put the clues together in the proper way, we can figure out who the killer is.  If we can just figure out where to jump in the video game, we can rescue the princess.  If we can just find the Hicks Boson, then we can discover where the entire universe came from.  We may refer to these things as “mysteries” but, in fact, they are puzzles.
Mysteries are a whole different animal.  Mysteries are something that we will never figure out; there will never be one answer to a mystery.  Where a puzzle limits one’s creativity, a mystery calls us deeper and deeper into creativity.  On its simplest level, in a puzzle, we have to put all the pieces together in THE correct manner to see the picture.  Video games may take us another step away, we may have to think of punching the wall to find the secret door; but the puzzle of a video game still does not instill creativity.  I may wish to build a ladder to get over the wall instead of punching a hole through it, but if the game is not set up for that, I cannot do it.  Complex puzzles may look like mysteries, there may seem to be an endless amount of possibilities.  But as long as we have to punch the wall instead of building a ladder, or vise-versa, we are still dealing with a puzzle.
Quite often I think we are like my atheist friend; we want to flatten all things in the world into puzzles.  We want to figure out the words to put into the grid, the wall to punch, the prayers to say, or the specific things to do so we can “figure out life.”  We look at the world around us as one big puzzle to be figured out instead of thinking of life as a big mystery to be lived within and savored.
The problem with seeing life as a puzzle is that it creates a very flat existence; once the puzzle is completed, the game is over.  How many of you have puzzle books sitting around the house with all the words found, and all the boxes filled in?  What good is the puzzle after it is solved?  We may burn the book for heat, but other than that, the book is not much good.  No, once you have solved the puzzle, going back and trying to “re-solve” it contains as much enjoyment as watching ice melt.  That is the downfall of puzzles, only one answer.  That also becomes the downfall of seeing life as a puzzle; the search for the one answer becomes the focus of life.  And in becoming so focused, we lose the view around us.
But as I said, life is NOT a puzzle, it is a mystery!  Every discovery leads us to new questions and new challenges.  Mysteries beg us to move deeper and deeper into our understanding.  Mysteries challenge us to broaden our sense of understanding, to look around us and contemplate.  Mysteries encourage us to build a ladder instead of punching the wall, or maybe even build a helicopter!  Mysteries do not have just one answer, as I said before, mysteries do not have answers!  To be part of a mystery is to be part of a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s world.
Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.  I really don’t know if mysteries of the church get much bigger than this.  So often I get asked to “explain” the Trinity.  But to try to explain it is to get caught up in thinking of the Trinity as a puzzle to be “figured out” and not to view it as a mystery to be contemplated with awe.  “How can Jesus be God and be the Holy Spirit while being separate from each other?”  I don’t know.  And trying to figure it out and explain it is an invitation to crazy-making.  The Trinity is a mystery we are asked to accept on faith.  And in accepting this mystery, we are asked to search deeper and deeper into what it means to be human, what it means to be People of God, and what it means to be Christian.
Part of the definition of what it means to be God is that God is ineffable; we cannot figure out God.  If we could understand God, then God would not be God.  It is similar to saying if our brains were simple enough to be understood, we would be too simple to understand them.  But we seem to shy away from true mysteries; we like to have things figured out.  And since we cannot understand God, we try to come up with ways to try to explain God, we try to come up with ways to solve the puzzle.  But because God is a mystery, our explanations can never fully engulf the totality of God.  Our explanations satisfy some of our curiosity, but they still leave us searching for more.
So often we turn to the Bible looking for the solutions, but the Bible isn’t a puzzle book, even though so many want to make it into one.  It isn’t even a “mystery,” as society understands it.  The Bible is a truly GREAT mystery.  It invites us in and invites us to plumb its depths.  It asks us questions but is not satisfied with our answers.  One of the things that I love about being a priest is that the answers I may have found in the scriptures three years ago, or six years ago, while still being relevant, now are inadequate as there are even deeper mysteries to explore.  To go back to the video game, six years ago, punching the wall may have made sense, but now building the ladder makes sense too!  And in six more years, who knows?
You have probably heard many attempts at explaining the Trinity.  But trying to explain the Trinity as an apple, or a snowball, or as Love, or as whatever, may make us feel good for a while, but these explanations will always leave us wanting for more.  They will always leave us feeling unsatisfied.  That is the magic of mystery!  One answer opens a whole new world of questions!  What does it mean to have God as Father/Mother/Parent?  What does it mean to have God as Jesus the Son?  What does it mean to have God as Holy Spirit/Advocate/Enlightener?  And what does it mean that these can all exist simultaneously?  We will never know!  But we are asked to contemplate these possibilities and to open our faith to what might yet lie beyond.
How we view the world greatly effects how we approach our faith.  When we see the whole world as a puzzle, what we end up doing is looking for the proper pieces, the proper actions, to make God love us or to make sure we get into heaven.  When we see the world as a puzzle, we look for what will make God do what we want.  When we see life as a puzzle, it is not the journey that is important so much as reaching the conclusion.
But when we open our lives to the enormity of mystery, we are continually amazed by the journey.  We are drawn to seek new insights, new beauty, new life!  We are sent out to be at work in the world.  We are presented with new challenges.  When we open ourselves to the enormity of mystery, we realize the depth of forgiveness we find in the person of Christ, and joy of knowing that this forgiveness frees us to be about working in the world.  When we immerse ourselves in the mystery, we do not need to fear mistakes because we know that the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us if we should have a misstep.  And in the wonder of mystery, what may appear to be a misstep may actually lead to a deeper understanding.
Puzzles and mysteries; what we use as our guide greatly effects our life.  When we look to solve the puzzle of faith, we end up striving to build our own salvation.  But if we open ourselves to mystery of God, we can become part of the wonder that is the Trinity.  Mystery draws us in.  The mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the incarnations, the mystery of the Eucharist.  These are often stumbling blocks for many people.  But they can also be the call to enter into a deeper relationship with the ineffable.
As we begin the summer season, things can get pretty busy.  But I ask you to let the mystery of the Holy Trinity be your invitation into mystery.  I invite you to take time to contemplate the mysteries of the world, of our God and of each other.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moving into the Real World

I am becoming more and more convinced that I need to be looking in a different direction.  I really don't feel like the church has a place for me; at least not me with Nik.  Unless I can find an exceedingly liberal congregation, I think I am going to be constantly set up just to get struck down because "others will be uncomfortable."

As I said before, this leaves me in a bit of a predicament:  I haven't used my psych background in almost 14 years.  I have experience but most people are not comfortable attributing clergy with all that we do.  It seems that most people want to keep their Fr. Dowling assumptions about clergy.

What I am afraid is that I will have to go back to school.  I am STILL paying off grad school.  I actually think with the forbearances I have had that I owe more now then I originally borrowed.  But to get anywhere near employable, I am going to need to spiff up my skills.

I hope to find some grants that may help me.  I would like to learn some stuff about computing/graphics.  I have always been intrigued by electronics.  I also would like to learn more about the nexus of art and computing.  It could be cool.

At least I have been able to work on stained glass.

Friday, May 18, 2012

That Awkward Moment...

...when you receive an e-mail from a congregation that will not call you to be their priest, but asks you to supply on Sunday.

Yep, that happened.  The congregation I have been talking about the past week or so sent me a request to supply.  Now, to their credit, the person who does the leg work to get supply priests is not on the call committee.  But you would think that the call committee chair would have informed the supply person.  Oh well.  Yes, it was a bit (BIT??) uncomfortable to send back a message that as of last week, my  supplying for this congregation would not be a good idea.

This whole thing has been odd.  For those of you who do not know how the call process works in a congregation; A person sends information to the congregation.  The call committee looks over the information.  If the call committee feels that the person may be a fit, then they schedule an interview.  Often the interview will also coincide with an "Audition" sermon where the person in question will preside and preach for the congregation.  In the Episcopal church, the decision of who to call is entirely within the hands of the call committee.

I had supplied at this church before submitting my information.  I also was supplying for them while they were considering my information.  They had my information for at least three months before we had an interview.  This makes for an uncomfortable situation within the congregation also.  People had a chance to get to know me and to chat with me.  I would stay for coffee hour and chat with those around.

Many people have stated that they would like me as their priest, to which I would respond, "We will have to see!"

At the risk of sounding conceited, I do feel sorry for the person who is called.  If the congregation really does want me, but the committee has not chosen me, the person who comes in will have at least one obstacle to confront from the very beginning:  That person will have to prove to the congregation that he/she was the better choice.  The person the call committee calls may very well be a better choice, but that is not something that I would want to face upon entering a congregation.

When I applied, I asked the Bishop's office if I should continue to supply for this congregation and I was told that I should.  I don't know if it was just assumed that I would become the Rector there or not.  I now do see how this has become a bit of a mess.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Continued Struggle

Nic and I have talked about my joining his denomination.  That wouldn't be a bad thing, however, it would entail another 1 -2 years of classes, internship, interviews.  I am really tired of what constantly seems to be evaluations of my being.  It seems that I cannot be me; and when I try to be me, I can't find a call.

I spent close to 40 years pretending to be straight (to greater and lesser effect) and now I feel like I have to pretend again.  I don't want to pretend.  I know that there are accepted standards in society, but I am tired of those heaped upon clergy because we are supposed to be "oh so holy."

I think part of the problem of the church today is the "oh so holy" crap.  Who can keep it up?  And then when we mess up, those who have worked harder to deny their being can look down on those who decided to be real, or the world forces to be real.

I don't seem to be able to do anything good enough anymore.  And this may sound like a spoiled "first-world" problem, but I don't know if I could do something like work in a factory or go back to SBUX.  I am afraid I would be sent to jail for assault.  For those who work in factories and the food service industry, I applaud you; but I don't think I can do something like that any more.  I am afraid I would just deck someone or develop a drinking problem.

This is part of the "painted in a corner" predicament I mentioned in the last post.  I know I am pretty bright but I just can't seem to find the proper place where I can be of help.  I see all these things on FB about being "The best You that YOU can be!" And I want to barf.  What if the "Me" I can be is not what the world wants?  I guess I feel like the small-pox virus.