Taking a breather

I have decided to ban myself from Facebook for a few days.  Despite what I am sure it may feel like to some of my friends, it was not a hasty decision or even prompted by any specific incident.  It was rather a culmination of things that just became too much in the wake of the Paris attack and our conversations about it.  Although admittedly I’m not sure conversations is even the right word for what was happening.  Demonizing might be a better word.

The Left was dehumanizing the opposite side by calling them racist, xenophobic, challenging their beliefs, ignoring their valid concerns and engaging in name-calling.  The Right was dehumanizing the opposite side by making crude comparisons, ignoring their valid concerns, refusing to see any side but their own and engaging in slander against a whole group of people, innocent and not.  I am not proud of the fact that I was one of these voices at times.

It just got to be too much.  Too much negativity, too much anger, too much hurt.  Everywhere I turned people that I know and love and respect (whether I agree with them or not) were posting things that vilified one group or the other, were arguing with people that I know they also love and respect in ways that frankly bothered me.  It was like someone has tossed a grenade of fear into social media and we were using the shockwave to reinforce our worst perceptions about each other.  Whether “pointy-headed, naïve commie liberal” or “racist, ignorant conservative”, the discussions were less about sharing ideas and finding ways to build common ground and more about pitting “my” version of reality against “yours” and proving my way is the only right way to see things.  And I engaged.  I did it to… and for that I am truly sorry.

As a minister in a faith community that claims the name of Christ, I feel like this last week was not one of my better weeks.

I was not a presence of his love, peace and justice among the world in which I live.  I did not lift people up, care for their wounds, or listen to their concerns in the ways that I probably should have.  I struggled to show love to my neighbors.  I questioned whether I even wanted to remain known as a “Christian.”  But I believe God is real.  I trust in the experiences that I have had and others have shared with me throughout my life.  I trust that Christ is love and calls us to live a better life than we see is possible now.  I hope for and have faith that the world can be a better place.  But I can’t build that world, which we call Zion, if I do not walk the walk as well as talk the talk.  And this week I hurt people.  Whether I meant to or not is irrelevant.  I showed people a caricature of a Christian who says one thing but does another.  I screwed up.

So I am taking a break.

I hope to spend the next few days with God.  As Christ showed us, sometimes we need that break.  To pray with Him, to be with Him… to recharge so that when we reenter the world we are not over-come by it.  I pray for all those affected by the Paris attacks, and yes, that includes the killers and more importantly, their families.  I pray for the thousands of refugees around the world who will suffer needlessly because of the actions of a few.  I pray for me, that I will be a better mirror of Christ’s love to the world I live in.  And I pray for us all, that as God promises, Love will overcome Fear and Division.

See you in a few…

Religious Liberty vs The Law

This probably isn’t news anymore, but here’s a little secret that many in ministry don’t like to discuss openly…we struggle too.  We struggle everyday with feelings of inadequacy, failure, anger, hurt.  We wrestle with the big questions, wonder if our faith is big enough, strong enough.  We worry about all the answers we don’t have, about the answers we do.  And these are on top of all the things that we face just because we’re human just like you and we have lives and jobs and families and responsibilities that weigh on us.

Some of these struggles are caused by internal things.  But others are caused by external stimuli; things that happen that we feel like we have to react to, or not react to as the case may be.  For me one of the most difficult struggles recently has been Ms. Davis’ stand against issuing marriage licenses in KY lately.  Well, I suppose in many ways that’s not entirely true.  It’s not so much her stand as it is all of the noise out of both sides of the issue that I think are obscuring the most important issues at play here.

The first is that these are people involved in this standoff.  Real people, who have family, people who love them, both the couples trying to get married and Ms. Davis herself.  These people have hopes, desires, beliefs; they get hurt, they are struggling with the situation that they find themselves in and they are both being held up as something larger than themselves by activists on both the Right and the Left.  It magnifies and intensifies every aspect of what is already a painful and stressful situation.

The second can best be summed up by the meme below:

ReligiousLaw_meme

However, it’s not entirely that simple either.  (And please note, I am NOT comparing Ms. Davis’ stand to Osama’s murders, but to the rationale behind each one’s stance)

Saying that religious beliefs should be protected and promoted above the law of the land is great if it’s a belief that you agree with.  At that point, sure, what’s the harm in making MY thoughts and MY beliefs that supreme figure of our nation…except that not everyone shares those same thoughts and same beliefs.  What if the religious beliefs being supported are for a religion you disagree with, or are afraid of?  Will you still support those decisions?  And at what point can and should the government intervene?  Be very careful with how much intervention you ask for.  It opens the door to many many unintended consequences…just talk to Hobby Lobby and the Satanic Temple in Detroit.  Pretty sure those two groups never thought they’d have something in common until after Hobby Lobby won their lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

I am not saying that I agree with Ms. Davis, because I don’t.  But I don’t want to dismiss her thoughts and beliefs out of hand either.  As a believer, even one with different beliefs than Ms. Davis, how much do I want the government to force me to do something against my religion?  Because that’s what we’re talking about here.  Personally I think she should just resign.  Or barring that, reassign her to another position and give her duties to someone who can fully carry out the responsibilities of that office.

But to see my first point above, Ms. Davis is a person.  She may be biased against full LGBT rights, but does demonizing her or sending death threats to her house and family make the position of those who disagree with her any stronger?  One of the most powerful forces of the Civil Rights Movement was that it was the persecuted being arrested, not those doing the persecuting.  I fear that this request of gov’t involvement will reframe the discussion in a way that is harmful to the LGBT community for decades to come.

I am also a believer in the building of community, not tearing it down.  And that means living with and dealing with people who agree with me AND people who do not agree with me.  I look at my Facebook wall and the many posts from members and other ministers in my denomination (and other denominations) about this and other decisive topics and I see so much hurt, anger and feelings that run so strongly there seems to be no way for us to hear each other…let alone manage to have a civil conversation about it or attempt to understand why the other person feels the way they do.

It may be a vain hope, but I will keep trying to get people to listen to each other.  Not to change their points of view, but perhaps to more fully see each other as someone of worth.  To understand that in order for our community to grow and be healthy we need ALL of us.  Not just the ones we like.

Charleston, N.C.

I don’t know if I have much more to add to the discussion on what happened to the church in Charleston than things that have already been said.  But I think Jon Stewart does a great job of summing up where in some ways where I am…

Puppy Love

You ever have one of those moments when your heart rushes in and the brain follows along more slowly, like a sloth admiring the flowers?  Unless you’re dead or under 12 of course you have.  We call it puppy love, crushes, infatuations, different names to try and convince ourselves it isn’t “real” love.  That somehow this attraction isn’t really worth our time nor will it last.  It can happen between people, but it can also happen between people and pets… in my case dogs.

So N and I had been discussing for a while whether we wanted a dog, another baby or both or neither.  It took us a while but we finally agreed that while we want another baby to go with Boo, we were okay with waiting for a while.  And we both like dogs, so that seemed like a good compromise for now.  Until that is, both came home.

Sometimes things work like peanut butter & jelly.  They just go together so easily you can’t really understand why everybody doesn’t just get it.  Others though are a bit more like oil & vinegar.  They don’t mix no matter how hard you shake.  Oh, they may work out for a while, but eventually they separate themselves out.  That seems to be the case with Pepper and Riley (the dogs in question).  Personally I am convinced that given some time, training and a little bit of work, the dogs can work it out to be together.  But in the meantime, it will be stressful for all concerned….

And that’s where the real love is…

In the middle of all that stress and work and frustration, to continue on anyway because you believe in something better, you believe in something good that can come out of the situation.  That’s when that initial puppy love that swept you away starts to transform into something greater.

It’s the same way with marriages, children and friendships.  What often starts out easy and thrilling becomes work after a while.  This is not a down-side, or a bug as a friend of mine would say, it’s a feature.  Real relationship, whether with loved ones, people in the community or between animals, takes work, forgiveness and understanding.  But it all starts with those big puppy eyes and the rush to the heart.

Riley

Why do I stand by?

So I called my ex yesterday, my son’s biological mother.  First time I’d spoken to her since he went into the mental hospital.  I’d missed and/or avoided calling her back right away after he got out…for a number of reasons.  One of which is I have now had two therapist/counselors tell me that my son continuing to see him mother in the current circumstances are detrimental to his emotional and psychological health.  So how do you discuss this?  I have been asked if I have ever considered legal measures to change visitations and offer more protections to my son, so that he doesn’t quite come back the wreck he does….  but so far I haven’t, although I’ve talked to a lawyer several times before.

So why do I stand by and just let this happen, every time he goes to see her?  I’ve asked myself that many a time, particularly when I’m in the middle of one of my rants about the condition he comes back in or when something injurious happens to him.  Part of it has been financial.  Rarely in my adult life have I been fiscally solvent.  It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I have been in a place where I could start saving money and paying my bills more or less on time.  Lawyers and courts cost and I have not wanted to go farther into debt or start something that I was not sure I could afford to finish.

Part of it has been a fear of what would happen with my relationship with my son.  We are still very gingerly working our way to a better future together…and what a wrecking ball would I throw through that if I started this process?  I have also had a neutral relationship with my ex.  While we don’t always get along we have not had really any serious disagreements over anything to do with my son and it’s hard to rock the boat unless there is a clear and present danger…but that’s what makes this so hard, because the danger here is slow growing and often can be hidden.  But I know this, so why else?

I also, after speaking with his psychiatrist the other day realized that part of my reluctance stems from a sense of what I can only describe of the “pot calling the kettle black” syndrome.  As much as I have railed against the drama, stress and chaos of what happens at his mothers, it’s not like it’s exactly stress or drama or chaos free here.  Both of my son’s parents, her and I have struggled with healthy and positive relationships, we’ve both had money troubles…. I look and I find it hard to say that yes, he has been better off here with me than with her.  I believe that, looking at her other two children.  I believe that because of the support system and help I have in place for he and I.  But that small voice in the back of my head just won’t shut up.  And my conscience just won’t let me forget it.  After all, I can’t guarantee that my son didn’t experience emotional harm in my home.  I am not sure what all my partners over the years said or did, particularly while I was working nights for three years.  I can’t say I’ve been perfect with my temper or always pursued the healthiest option for him.  I know I’ve been aggressive verbally at times with him when I shouldn’t have.  I’m always trying to get better, but it’s a process.  I just… I don’t know…  it is hard to look at the other person who helped you bring such a wonderful child into this world and say “You are not healthy for him to be around right now.”  No matter my own personal feelings on it, it’s hard.  And I don’t know that my mental, emotional or psychological hurts are healed enough to begin that journey just yet.

But I’m not sure how much longer my son can wait…

Staring it in the face

So it’s been a while since I put anything up…hmm… Not as long as I thought though. Maybe I am getting better at getting back to writing stuff more regularly?  Riiiiight.  I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

I came up against this reality not long ago.  But first I want to share something with you.  As I was praying in my room this morning, just sitting on my floor talkin’ to God, my eyes wandered around and across to an orange page on the floor not far from me.  After reading it the story on the page really hit my gut as being in direct answer to my prayer.  God truly can act in the most amazing ways in our lives…so, here it is —

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.  Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

This story really hit me today as I was thinking about how I felt my own efforts in my ministry, my work, my relationship were not up to where I’d like them to be.  But then there’s the moral too, just to add icing to the cake…

Each of us has our own unique flaws.  We’re all cracked pots.  But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table.  In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste.  Don’t be afraid of your flaws.  Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty.  Know that in our weakness [God can] find our strength.

I must admit I’ve been feeling a little like a fifth wheel some lately.  As I’ve mention previously I was recently ordained a minister and not only that but as of the first of this year, am also a co-pastor in my congregation.  I’m still busy at work and my son and I are starting a joint family therapy bi-weekly session to start working on how we relate to each other.  Things there are much much better than they have been, but at times it’s still a struggle.  And to top it all off, and this is really one of the most important things for me (and one of the most wonderful), I’m engaged to be married and the wedding is in about 4 months….  So… it’s not like I don’t have a bit on my plate I suppose.  But like the pot, I was feeling more and more aware of my flaws, rather than the beauty God had been (and continues to) using my flaws to create.  It was a good reminder and comes at a good time for me.

I am not perfect.  I screw up, make mistakes, don’t take advantage of the opportunities afforded me, ignore people I shouldn’t… but like the pot, if I listen to the water bearer, the bearer of the Word, acknowledge the flaws in my life and make room for His word… well, then… grace and beauty are only a part of what He can do with my life, and with yours.

Listening

So I was driving into work today and I heard the following story about the Russian “Bruce Springstien” : http://www.npr.org/2011/01/04/132620334/yuri-shevchuk-russias-musical-advocate-for-democracy

And one line at the end really spoke to me, particularly in light of the people we minister to at my home congregation and with respect to the people I have worked with in the past in my work in social services.  The line was “Look at me and do not be silent.”  This may perhaps be even more true for me now than a year ago for two very different but very important reasons.

First, the coming out of my father.  It has made life very exciting and challenging at times, but I don’t think I have ever seen my parents happier and more at peace together than they are now.  I feel it every time I am around them and it has made my own relationship with him better than ever.  But it has also forced me to really examine where my own hidden prejudices and fears drove me at times.  It’s one thing to have friends and other cherished loved ones who deal with the social stigma (unfortunately) of being gay or transgendered or something other than what is considered “normal.”  There is still distance that can be maintained, an impersonality to it that I am ashamed to say I was all too willing to use as an excuse to not write, to not push, to not stand…to see and yet stay silent, as the marginalized were marginalized more and more.  The challenge for me now is how to stand up and make my voice heard.  I still struggle with making myself something of a target, but how can I do any less?  If I believe, truly believe in the phrase that “God loves us all, every one,” then aren’t I obligated to go cheerfully into those situations and places where the hurt linger, where fear tries to divide and where hate attempts to rend apart?  Oi…  Scary, but exciting too.  In the manner of doing something right that always feels a little scary and exciting.

The second has to do with my own faith journey.  As of Halloween (which is so appropriate for so many reasons) I am now an ordained minister in my denomination.  And as of January 1st, I am now a co-pastor in my congregation.  We are called constantly to see the “other” or maligned in our midst and to speak up for the protection and benefit of those around us.  Even when that makes us uncomfortable.  And that’s always interesting…  I just got a new neighbor in my building and I must admit I’m a little less than enthusiastic about them.  It’s nothing definite, just a hunch, but I have gone from leaving my door unlocked regularly to making sure everything is closed up properly before I leave.  And I wonder… is it me?  Is it justified?  Is focusing on keeping the material things I have safe worthier than braving my own shortcomings and reaching out to these people?  Granted it’s only the third day they’ve lived there, but they have already forced me to confront a reality of my perception…that I had, in the back of my mind, somewhere, that I was “different”…maybe even “better than”… and that’s not what I am to be about.  I am to witness bravely, to build new and lasting relationships through which the love and grace of God can shine, past the torrid mess of my own preconceptions.

Who am I to sit in judgement?  I am to see God in the other…and to not be silent any longer on the love God has for each of us.