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.