God Speaks…

God speaks…

…in the early morning, during the final dream state of the night, as my Unconsciousness magically expresses my deepest longings or greatest fears in a symphony of emotions, free from the…

commanding…

demanding…

structuring…

influence of Consciousness.

God speaks…

…as my mind slowly climbs out of the clinging, inviting arms of slumber, and the enticing gaze of the snooze button, then regretfully instructs my arm to wrestle the covers off my body, and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

God speaks…

…while my muddled steps wind their way to the waiting coffee maker, and my fingers fumble with the filter after partially spilling water poured into the reservoir, followed by coffee spilled both in the filter and into the water on the counter.

God speaks…

…as I grumble about needing to clean the spill, but lose the argument, push the “Start Brewing” button, then wander to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

God speaks…

…when the aroma of brewing coffee  brightens my optimism for the day, all the while trying to desperately grasp, or shake loose the retreating emotions of my final dream.

God speaks…

…when I remember that the dream wildly leapt from one unfinished storyline to the next in a disconnected ramble which elicits a response of, “What was THAT all about?”, while the toothbrush rumbles away in my mouth.

God speaks…

…in my first taste of coffee…

…which energizes me to clean the mess surrounding the coffee maker, and order my thoughts about the day before me.

God speaks…

…when my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day work perfectly, and I begin to progressively feel like I have a handle on this thing called Adulthood.

God speaks…

…as the events of the day conspire to crush my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day, and I am left hearing Life laugh at my audacious attempts to control the future.

God speaks…

…graciously, on the days I have NO plan, and events work perfectly in SPITE of my incomplete preparations.

God speaks…

…when I am listening…

God speaks…

…when I am NOT listening…

God speaks…

…when my response to Parker Palmer’s wise counsel to “Let Your Life Speak” is, “But my life speaks a language I don’t understand, and I could use either an interpreter, or a ‘Life-to-English’ dictionary! Is there a Gibberish interpreter in the house?”

God continues to speak…

…and I will too…

Later!

 

 

Only Love Matters…

Every other Sunday evening, I take my mother to church. Connie, my sister, and I take turns. The service we attend is called: Country Church. Most of the folks that attend are older, and the music is kind of down-home with more than a hint of Southern gospel. They have a background set that looks like an old country store. The band and worship ensemble wear western boots and an occasional western hat. The service begins with the worship leader…or maybe that should be trail boss… greeting the congregation with “HowDEEE!”
Really….
Pure kitsch…
But… I sometimes kind of like it. (When my eyes aren’t rolling…) Mainly because many of the songs they sing are ones from my childhood. It reminds me from where I came, and my heritage, or at least some of it. Mom really enjoys it, especially the preaching. That part I sometimes find hard to sit through. It is a Southern Baptist church, and the conservative slant can really grate on my moderate nerves.
Mom is 89-years-old. She has increasing, age-related dementia, exacerbated, I think, by the fact that she has bi-polar disorder. We never knew that as we were growing up, but noticed that about every 7 years, she would have a depressive break. Looking back, and talking to my brother and sister, I think that each break changed her. She is on medication now, but my sister bore the brunt of her last break, and it was really difficult for her and Butch, my brother-in-law. Moving here has been an opportunity for me to take on some of the load of dealing with Mom.

As I considered moving, that was one of the issues that worried me. How would I respond to Mom? Our relationship, or maybe it is more accurate to say my relationship with her, has been difficult. Yet I am not sure I realized that, until the last 10-15 years. It especially became apparent to me after my divorce, and I began to take some classes in seminary that led me to explore issues with my family of origin. Especially issues with my mother. I had to take an honest look at this most intimate, and fundamental female relationship.
We each begin existence encased in the body of another person. When we are born, the mother-child relationship is extremely important, because in it we find our most basic needs are met, or they aren’t. We learn a lot about the world, or rather what we expect from the world in terms of safety and comfort and provision in this one relationship. Even though a father can come alongside to care and help a mother meet the needs of an infant, the child’s attachment to its mother contributes to what it feels about life and the world… and themselves.
I won’t go into it here, but Mom’s illness affected me in those earliest days of my infancy. I have needed to look back, be honest about the lack of stability in our relationship, but also other parts of my life as a growing child. I needed to grieve it, which included anger at the way I felt I was perceived by my mother. I felt like I was expected to be a heathen, and many times as an adolescent, I fulfilled the expectation nicely. I know that she and my father loved me, but I couldn’t gloss over how some of their decisions, manner of living, and approach to life; which included Mom’s illness; affected me. I am NOT trying to figure out where to place blame. Blame is a form of denial, not truth-finding. I needed to understand why I felt the way I did for much of my life, so I could begin to heal, grow and change.

When I first moved to Florida, near my mother, and siblings; I was still angry with her. I now understand the anger was both natural… I needed to feel it… but it was tied to my own unfulfilled expectations of her, and how I wished she would have interacted with me. This was a necessary step in my healing. When she called…I didn’t answer. I seldom spent time with her. I was afraid that her tendency to live in guilt would affect my thinking and feelings about myself. It had my whole life, and I was just being freed from it due to personal growth, and God’s grace. She felt the absence, too, and kept trying to get me to draw nearer to her. By using guilt… so it was a vicious circle.
Then I became involved in a relationship with a woman that eventually didn’t work out. When we broke up, I began to explore my part in the break-up. I did a similar, much more extensive process when my marriage of 23 years ended. In both circumstances, I tried to examine what I did well, and what I didn’t do so well.
One day, as I was thinking about the most recent break-up, I believe God spoke to me, and helped me realize that in order for me to go forward into another relationship with a woman; I needed to seek reconciliation with my mother. Or, more honestly, reconciliation with my feelings about Mom. I needed to see her as she is, was, and what she was capable of being, rather than what I wished and expected her to be. She needed to be a flesh-and-blood person, with great strengths and great failings. I needed to see… her… not a caricature of my own making. I was beginning to believe I could see her as a sister-in-Christ…as the Beloved of God. Maybe, if I could see her in that light, I could love her as she is and was, and maybe even…myself. God began to show me that, as she continues to grow older, and more child-like, I would sort of father my mother. This began to give me some hope, because I enjoy many aspects of being a father. Age has softened me, too, so I am more patient, and am able to find humor instead of frustration…

Mostly…
Every quarter, Country Church has a service with only music. They call it: The Grand Old Gospel Opry…
Of course they do…
The Grand Old Gospel Opry is quite popular especially with the crowd that usually attends Country Church, which are generally senior adults. Mom, however, usually doesn’t attend because she likes to hear the pastor preach. This past Sunday evening was one of those nights and there were “Special Guests” to go along with the regular bunkhouse gang. (Actually, the worship team and band is quite talented…) On this night there was a bluegrass band and a men’s quartet, a man and wife who travel as evangelists, and other groupings of people that attend the church.
We began with congregational singing. I enjoyed the songs, because they were ones we would sing while my family was in evangelism. A noticeable theme began to evolve with each song: Heaven.
“That makes sense…” I thought. “Play to your crowd.”
The evangelists got up next and began to sing together. I was reminded of sooo many couples I have seen and known through the years. People that travelled from church to church, singing and preaching the gospel. People like my family. This was before four-dollar-gas and one-hundred-dollar-a-night motels; when singers used pre-recorded-sound-tracks that weren’t considered karaoke, and there were only three or four channels on TV, so there weren’t as many entertainment opportunities to compete with the drama of revivals. My first thoughts in response to the couple were pretty negative:

“C’mon brother… don’t you know that your time has passed? That style of doing church is dead and ineffective.”
However, it occurs to me just how much I needed to see them. They were like characters emanating from my heritage of faith. People who put aside a safe, and consumptive lifestyle in order to tell other people about the Christ of new beginnings, of new life, of resurrection… I need to embrace that heritage. It was hard and disruptive… for me, but also for my mother. Mom raised three kids on the road, from one conglomeration of church services to another, all the while having to keep the kids occupied and quiet every evening for a couple hours of church, while sitting IN FRONT of scores of people that could be VERY critical of the preacher’s wife and kids! It was keeping the kids entertained in the car through endless miles of travel. It was keeping the family fed while in poverty, and in clean clothes washed either in borrowed washers and dryers, in a laundromat, or in the sink of a travel trailer and then hung to dry on a makeshift clothesline. It was using cold starch on my father’s white shirts, so they would be… just….so……. It was being the kids’ first (and only at least for a period of time) teacher. It was singing in front of people though she felt intimidated by her self-perceived lack of musical talent.
A tough life…
A committed life…
The service wound along until a trio of women began to sing. Mom said that one of the women was…

“…the daughter of the song leader. She just finished college and is really pretty. I wish I knew somebody that knows her, so I could introduce you to her.”
“Um…. Mom….she is the same age as my daughter…”
“Oh…”
Right now, to my mother at times, I am still about 27. A young man. I think it is because I am single, and we weren’t around each other for so many years. For my first birthday after I moved here, she gave me a book entitled: “God’s Little Instruction Book for Graduates”.
Well… I have been in grad-school for the past three years…
And I confess that in my OWN mind, I still feel like I am 27… at least until I wake up in the morning… then my body says: “Helloooo 52…”
The most beautiful part of the Opry was several songs into the set of the men’s quartet. I had been enjoying the quartet, and remembered how often we would drive many miles to hear quartets when I was young. My dad loved men’s quartets. While he was in college and grad-school at small religious schools, Dad travelled with other young men in a quartet doing public relations for the school. In fact, that was how my mom and dad first met. Dad’s quartet held a concert at the church my mother attended, and they first noticed each other. Eventually, Mom enrolled in the same school.
Pretty effective public relations, I would say…
My father was the first tenor in that quartet, and as Mom and I listened to the first tenor of the Opry quartet singing lead; she leaned in to me and said with quivering voice, “That makes me think of your dad.”

I gently put my arm around my mother, and pulled her tightly against me. She began to quietly cry freely.
For just a moment, my imagination took me to a little church in West Virginia, and I saw a young woman, with striking auburn hair and expressive brown eyes, about 17 or 18-years-old sitting in a hot, crowded sanctuary listening attentively to a group of young men sing. One young man especially held her attention… the good looking first tenor with the crisply starched, white shirt beneath the trimly cut black suit. His hair was dark, and slicked back, and she noticed that as his gaze travelled across the crowd, it would linger with increasing frequency in her direction. With each repeated gaze, both their hearts would beat a little faster. After the concert was over, she would go to the table with information about the college he represented, and ask for a brochure… just to, you know, learn about the academic programs. He would shyly approach her, and their eyes would once again meet. He would hand her the brochure… their hands would touch ever-so slightly… Sparks!
As she cried, my heart cried with her.
For her loss of her Love…
For the loneliness in her life now…
For her desire to be near him again…
Somewhere inside me, I began to see my mother for the first time. The past disappointments and frustrations I felt through the years didn’t really matter. Love began to vibrate for this woman that bore me and introduced me so imperfectly to the world. I saw, instead, God’s beloved daughter. My natural fatherly instincts began to take over. As the song ended, and before we began to applaud, I kissed her on the forehead, as I would my own daughter.

Before I moved to Florida, I wrote four blogs in which I suggested the need for me to be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage redeemed to me.
God is doing just that…

Liturgy for A Political Divide…

I just returned from the Face 2 Face component of my online seminary program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Part of the program entails travelling to the seminary campus in Portland, for a more traditional classroom setting. This occurs each semester, and allows us to come together with the members of our cohort, meet the professor and online coordinator, and other members of the seminary community. Face 2 Face is always the highlight of each semester. The document below, was written for a class I am taking: Christian Ministry for Reconciliation. The class is about the process of reconciliation; whether it be in a marriage, racial divides, societal issues, gender issues, or whatever division needing reconciliation. The document below was drafted by myself and two classmates for an assignment which required us to draft a liturgy for a public worship service. My group had to choose the issue needing reconciliation, and then create the liturgy. Our group chose the issue of reconciliation between political parties after a national election. My group was compiled of three men. Two of us came from denominational traditions which had little experience designing liturgy, and one member from a tradition which frequently does use liturgy. Derek, designed the liturgy, while John wrote the statement from the winning party, and I wrote the statement from the losing party. While I didn’t vote for the candidate which lost the recent presidential election, I found it quite helpful to have to put myself in the place of the opposing side. In fact, I think it very helpful in working towards political unity, at least a functional unity with a commitment to choose active engagement with the other side in order to come to practical consensus leading to effective governance, in order to be forced to consider the other side’s position and “place”. In other words, to put myself in the shoes of the other guy/gal. Actually, in the reconciliation of a marriage, one of the important parts in the process is to understand how our choices, actions, and beliefs affect the other person. 

We could see this being used in a Washington Prayer Breakfast, or similar worship service attended by members of both parties:

( I should note that the “enemy” which is part of the scripture passage in Lamentations, is not the other political party! The “Enemy” is rather the Enemy of our souls, who thrives on dissension and divided communities.)

Opening Scripture

Matthew 5:24 ESV

Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Call and Response

LEADER: Lord, we come together, but we stand divided

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

 

LEADER: Lord, our hearts share the interest of our people, but we have failed to deliver them their hope

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

LEADER: Lord, we have not become all things to all people, willing to see both sides of every issue as equal and relevant.

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

 

ALL: Reconcile us, we pray.

 

 

 

The Confession of the elected Party

With sincere humility we confess that the outcome of this election in no way confers moral or divine superiority to our party. We recognize that no one group or party can represent every issue, or understand the needs and concerns of every person. In light of this we commit to the following:

1)      To walk in humility, honesty, integrity and respect for every person regardless of their stance on any particular issue or affiliation with any particular party

2)      To seek the good of all people and groups regardless of their race, gender, age, culture, or personal conviction.

3)      When the inevitable change of power comes about, to seek the good of the nation as a whole and work with those duly elected in a spirit of peace and reconciliation

 

Confession of the defeated Party

We acknowledge the recent political election has resulted in our electoral loss.

We acknowledge that our country is currently divided along disparate lines.

We acknowledge the need for greater statesmanship and a commitment to governance.

We realize the necessity of listening to each other and refrain from the temptation to believe political power will ultimately answer all the issues we face as a country.

We realize the need to live in respect for each other, and hold our views and interests in humility.

We realize our country is in tumultuous change, and in need of compassion, and justice for all.

We commit ourselves to courageously voice our principles and to listen to those which disagree with us.

We commit ourselves to maintain an open mind, and open heart to those with differing opinions.

We commit ourselves to stay engaged in ongoing conversations and to work to unity in addressing the issues our country faces.

ALL:

May the Lord give us strength; may the Lord bless us with peace.  Amen

Psalms 29:11

Empty Calories II…

(This is a continuation of a post from several days ago…)

And yet…

It isn’t the end of the story, as John tells it. The story continues as Jesus leaves the crowd and his companions to venture into the mountains by himself to pray. The disciples go down to the shore, enter their boats, and push off into the sea. A surprising response to both the miracle, and to Jesus’ absence, but life once again must go on, even after miracles… Darkness catches the disciples in the middle of the sea, without Jesus, and a storm rushes in. As the disciples despair of life, they find Jesus…

…in the middle of the sea

…in the middle of the storm

…walking on the water

…the disciples fear him a ghost

…and Jesus calls Peter onto the water

…catches him when he falls

…then gets in the boat and it comes quickly to shore.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

I have a renewed friendship with a woman I knew in college. At the time, we were basically friendly acquaintances, whose paths crossed in the music department while in choirs, operas, and the like. Eventually, she married a guy that shared an apartment with me at the time. I really liked the guy, and he was especially caring for me when my father was killed in a truck accident. Our lives took sharp turns away from each other after college, and she enjoyed a deep love with my buddy as well as shared ministry with him. They had two daughters later in life, and while the girls were young, he was found to have cancer. After a heroic battle with the disease, he died, and his wife… my re-found friend… was left to raise the girls alone. My buddy did a wonderful job of organizing their financial affairs during the final stages of his disease, so his three girls have been supported and cared for by him even from the grave. He was and is a wonderful, courageous father and husband… one for his daughters to remember as a model as they eventually enter relationships of their own.

Lori, Dave’s wife and my friend, has born the grief in heroic fashion, too, I must say. Even though Dave’s provision has cared for their needs, and her church family was deeply supportive, she still has had to walk through the dark storm of grief, loss, and the wet blanket of loneliness which seems to suffocate hope at times. I imagine her to be like the disciples in the boat, on a violently tossing sea, fighting despair and trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus through the darkness, rain, and waves.

This year is the fourth since Dave’s death. Each New Year, Lori tries to find a one-word theme to pull her through each day as a faith-mantra that invites her gaze to continue to slice through the storm to find the Beloved Christ walking upon the open sea. This year, our friendship was renewed due to a Facebook status I wrote at the end of 2012 which was trying to point towards the living presence of Christ in 2013 even before we arrived there. I wrote the status, as a message not only to others, but also to myself. I suggested that we either do or do not trust that God loves us, and is capable of bringing resurrection out of death. Lori and I exchanged comments about the post, and I suggested a beloved book I have read: Ruthless Trust, by Brennan Manning. Through this interaction, Lori decided to use the word, Trust, as her theme for 2013. We are now reading the book together and conversing about our lives and God’s presence in them.

I will include below some excerpts from Ruthless Trust about following the confident, water-striding Christ:

Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for the love of it” (Pg. 2)

 

“Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic. When the shadow of Jesus’ cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one, when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place—at those times we may cry out in anguish, ‘How could a loving God permit this to happen?’ At those moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.” (Pg. 4)

 

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys childlike trust in the Father’s active goodness and unrestricted love.

We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case. Our trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46)

If we could free ourselves from the temptation to make faith a mindless assent to a dusty pawnshop of doctrinal beliefs, we would discover with alarm that the essence of biblical faith lies in trusting God. And as Marcus Borg has noted, ‘The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.’

The faith that animates the Christian community is less a matter of believing in the existence of God than a practical trust in his loving care under whatever pressure. The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart ‘God exists,’ until I have said, ‘I trust you.’ The first assertion is rational, abstract, a matter perhaps of natural theology, the mind laboring at its logic. The second is ‘communion, bread on the tongue from an unseen hand.’ Against insurmountable obstacles and without a clue as to the outcome, the trusting heart says, ‘Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you without any reservation and with boundless confidence, for you are my loving Father.” (Pg. 6-7)

 

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.” (Pg. 12-13)

 

“Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.” (Pg.15)

 

Hopefully you get just a taste of the feast within this small book. Trusting God is stepping out of the boat of perceived safety all-the-while feeling like an idiot! Risking trust will most likely open us to the criticism of those still huddled in fear in the thin structures of the boat of legalistic comfort, and humanly constructed and maintained moral safety which is inherent in human empires… especially religious ones. The crowd in the boat will most likely shout words of shame in our direction, and our inner voices are tempted to pick up the chant and even expand them. Yet the grace and mercy of the walking Christ invites us to cast the words into the depths of the untamable waves of God’s forgiveness. There is no going back… Rather… full speed ahead!

Of Dreams, Death, Resurrection, and the Tower of Babel…

A few weeks ago, I again watched the movie “Meet Joe Black.” The central character, or central human character, is Bill, an uber-wealthy man about to celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday. However, Bill has been experiencing intermittent chest pains, and begins to hear an audible, whispered voice saying, “Yes…” Despite all his wealth, intelligence, and good will from the people who love him; Bill comes face to face with the inevitability of his own death:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae-mN5aD8Qg&feature=plcp

Death becomes a person: Joe Black. The rest of the movie shows a man trying to deal with death walking beside him in his everyday life. At first, it is really awkward, introducing this new “friend” to work associates and family. As part of the deal Bill makes with death which will buy him more time with his family, Bill must allow Joe to go with him everywhere. Essentially, Joe calls the shots! Bill knows if he doesn’t play the game right, he is done. However, eventually, death begins to pay particularly close attention to Bill’s beloved daughter, and Bill stands up in protection of her. Throughout the movie, you see Bill having such normal reactions to the death that walks beside him.

He denies…

He bargains…

He fights…

and finally… He not only is resigned to the ongoing presence of death, he seems to even embrace it. Bill begins to see his life differently while death walks beside him, and tries to make things right with the people, dreams, and legacy to which he had given his life. He spent his life building something, and began to see how quickly it could be taken away. And yet…

Bill’s experience of walking with death by his side, brings him to the place of gratitude for all of his life:

I am reminded of Jesus’ words of invitation to “…take up your cross daily and follow me.”

Our tendency as a species seems to be to build towers that we believe will take us to God. The tower can be experience, money, power, pleasure, morality, or even… or maybe especially… theological/religious ones. We begin to build, and even invite others to build with us, but eventually, we each become so focused, so obsessed, in a glassy-eyed, tunnel-vision dream-like state; upon only our piece of the tower. We stop listening to each other. We become deaf to the call of community, due to the clarion call of our personal obsession.

…and the tower goes unfinished…

It is God’s grace to send the whisper of death into our deafness. We must learn to embrace death in order for Resurrection to supplant it. For there is no resurrection without death…

Death of our dreams…

Death of our expectations…

Death of our obsessive need to be right…

Death of our illusion of control…

But the cross is the gateway to new life! What we thought we wanted is replaced with something better, richer, deeper, eternal. The way to embrace our death, and to receive new life, is the way of Trust in the God of the Resurrection. Trust changes the grief of death to the gratitude for a life without end, from which  love is the by-product.

Courageous love…

Servant love…

Encouraging love…

Listening love…

Embracing love…

Tenacious love…

Sustaining love…

Patient love…

Healing love…

Giving love…

Forgiving love…

Christ’s love…

Deep Sex II…

I was seated in the living room of a single man who had opened his home to a diverse group of people attending the same church in urban Kansas City. The occasion was a community dinner where small groups would come together and get to know others within the congregation. The church is unique. While it is far from conservative, it isn’t quite liberal either, especially in the theology of its leadership. Instead, I would describe it as being somewhat experimental in it approach to developing ways to follow Jesus and teach scripture which are respectful to church history, yet open to newer metaphors.

The group of people I was with was an eclectic mix of young, older, single, married, straight, and gay. We had finished eating and were beginning to share about our lives in a deeper way. Just two days before, the woman to which I was married at the time and I had finished the paperwork to begin the legal process of divorce. Not only was I feeling very melancholy about this fact, I was also quite reticent to go into life as a single man. I told the story about how I had recently visited a church by myself, and aside from the traditional greeters just inside the front doors, nobody had spoken to me. I explained to the group that it felt as if people were a little intimidated by me, as if they were extending their arms, palms outward, to ward me off. After I finished my statement, a younger man in his mid-thirties, boldly spoke: “That’s what it feels like to walk into a church as a gay man…” He then began to tell his story about trying to find a church that would embrace him as he was. He spoke about knowing about his homosexuality from his earliest remembrances. I responded of knowing my own heterosexuality from my earliest remembrances. We both spoke, and we both listened. I was struck by how similar we were rather than how different.

Does it really matter with whom we have sex?

I believe it does… but probably not for the reason you might be thinking.

Image

Recently, I was given the gracious invitation by my niece to take family pictures of her family. I agreed to do it, with great joy. Her family, with husband (my sister’s son) and three kids; my sister and husband; and myself met at a local tourist location with many backdrop options. After shooting about 180 pictures or so, we came to my house for them to see my home. In the corner of the living room, I have placed the mirror and collection of frames shown above. Each of the frames has a story linked uniquely to my heritage:

The gold oval frame originally contained my grandparent’s wedding picture, although the image and bubbled glass protecting it were broken in my mother’s move just after Dad was killed in a traffic accident.

The frame just beneath the gold frame was given to my father, along with a hand-painted landscape, by an artist he met in a church in which he held revival decades ago. Although the picture is long gone, I still have the frame.

Beneath the two previous frames is one made with barn siding taken from a home site in Southwestern Kansas upon which my dad’s family lived during his childhood.

This collection of articles, although not originally intended as such, is a spiritual metaphor to me. As we were sitting around talking, and looking at the images I had just taken of the family, I haphazardly looked into the mirror behind the frames, and noticed the reflection of London, the eldest daughter of my nephew and niece, framed by the successive frames. I immediately stopped, retrieved my camera, and took two shots of London’s reflection in the mirror. We then eventually said our good nights and they went home.

 

The next morning, as I was getting ready for work, I couldn’t get the image off my mind. Slowly, it dawned on me the symbolic impact of London’s image which could be seen through the tunnel of frames resting on the mirror. I began to remember the familial significance of each frame. It was as if this girl’s story, and image, were being framed by the stories of the familial and cultural heritage of those who came before her.

The gold oval frame symbolizes the long tradition of intact families. My grandparents (my father’s parents in this case) were married for over 60 years, even though my grandfather was 11 years older than my grandmother. In the long line of marriages within at least of 100 years of direct lineage, of which I am aware; London’s direct family tree (at least on her father’s side. I don’t know about her mother’s side) contains no divorces. The result is an expectation that marriage is for life, and couples have worked out their differences and stayed together.

The middle frame symbolizes the impact of the larger community of Christian believers throughout the centuries. My father’s family expressed openness and generosity to, as well as respect for, other expressions of the Christian faith than that to which they held. My mother also was open to growth in other expressions of the faith. Other faith traditions were treated with respect, with a careful understanding and communication to their children as to why they remained Christian.

The frame closest to the mirror symbolizes survival in hard times. Both my parents’ families lived through the Great Depression. They were poor. In fact, for the most part, we remained poor economically. We learned how to make do with few resources. Such difficulties help people rely heavily upon both each other, and to the provision of God, even when it is meager.

Most importantly, the mirror itself symbolizes God, and that we each bear God’s image. Each of us is a reflection of some aspect of the infinite Creator.

Ultimately, it is to this image that the search for Deep Sex is intended to take us. The journey to this image can be difficult, and takes a lifetime to clarify. In some families, the framework obstructs our capability to see the image. For all of us, the culture within which we live can also provide obstructions, or even worse, alternate images of ourselves that we are encouraged to emulate. Many times we can be our own worst enemies in acknowledging, embracing, and then living into the image of God in us. However, even in our brokenness, we reflect a God who can innervate us with God’s presence so that our entire experience is redeemed to benefit the community around us. Deep Sex is the expression of our deepest selves in love to God and others.

For instance, although I am the first person on my father’s side of my family to be divorced; God has redeemed the experience. I am learning more about myself, and life in general. I don’t recommend divorce… Divorce sucks… yet, as Jesus mentioned, Moses permitted the practice due to “the hardness of your hearts.” From my perspective, this isn’t just necessary because our hearts are hard in the midst of a bad marriage; so hard in fact, that forgiveness may be considered to be completely unreasonable by one or both partners; but divorce can be valuable because the pain and disappointment are so sharp as to pierce the callouses of our heart and allow us to be teachable once again. That is if we choose growth instead of bitterness. It is certainly possible to allow the pain to deepen the callouses of our heart, but this time the callouses cover a layer of pus which develops when we allow bitterness to guide our experience. We then are entrenched in our personal, relational dysfunction in ways that make personal vulnerability unlikely. Sadly, vulnerability is a necessary quality of love.

In warfare, I have heard it said that we are always preparing to fight the last war. Relationships can be like that, I think. It is easy to learn the lessons from the prior relationship, yet be unable to adapt to a new story. That is why I have come to find that the best way for me to be open to the possibility of a new love, is to learn all I can about how to live in healthier ways myself. Honestly, that isn’t an easy task. In so doing, however, I open myself to God  to allow God to bring my own “Shadow” to light. It is difficult to know what “healthy” even looks like for me, if I don’t realize my dysfunction. I hate to see it… but I need to see it. Acknowledging my Shadow opens me to the grace of God. In this process, celibacy is invaluable. It is really easy for me to become obsessed with the fantasy which is at the beginning of a new relationship, and doing so can short-circuit the process of deep growth. But the fantasy feels so good! It is  easy to overlook aspects of the relationship which really don’t work for us, because being close to someone feels comforting. Besides…

We wanna get laid…

But, what happens after the physical release? Are we really stronger and wiser? Or are we chasing a ghost of the dream when we fell in love for the first time?

More Thoughts on the Story of Cain and Abel…

God’s statements about Cain’s action towards his brother:

Gen. 4:10- “…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

Gen. 4:11- “And now you are cursed from the ground.”

Gen. 4:12- “When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you it’s

strength.”

Gen. 4:12- “…you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”

Thoughts:

-Our violent actions towards others cut us off from Eden’s strength and richness. We trade God’s provision and personal protection for Want and Fear. Our attitude changes from receiving gratefully with intentions of mutuality to taking with selfishness and exclusion. We walk away from Eden and settle in Nod to build self-made empires which war with Edenic principles.

Cain’s response:

Gen. 4:13- “My punishment is greater than I can bear!”

Gen. 4:14- “Today you have driven me away from the soil…”

Gen. 4:14- “…and I shall be hidden from your face.”

Gen. 4:14- “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth…”

Gen. 4:14- “…and anyone who meets me may kill me.”

Thoughts:

-Cain’s thoughts about punishment show immaturity regarding the responsibility and consequences of his own actions. Violence sows the seeds of its own punishment. Living by the sword and exerting power is self-defeating. Humans and the earth have long memories. Cain speaks as a child punished by a greater, adult power rather than as an adult who realizes with horror the sad viciousness of their own behavior, and the isolation of their own hatred. Power isolates; it doesn’t bring the healing coalescence of forgiveness and repentance. Cain’s statements about his “punishment” being “greater than I can bear” points to the need for a “second Abel” who’s death and resurrection frees us from the dysfunctional society brought about by a reliance upon power as a means of interacting with each other. The words, life, and death of Christ absorbs the power of violence, and reinstates Edenic principles which embrace death while inviting us into daily life unencumbered by fear while bracing into the Garden-life given us by God.

-“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s unanswered question continues to reverberate in our experience. While there is a sense in which we are our brother’s/sister’s keeper, there is also a dissonant chord in life and throughout the scripture which weds communal connection with personal responsibility. The economic structures of Levitical law maintain this dissonance. Although it is still possible for one to sell themself into bondage, there is also a Kinsman Redeemer who arrives to buy the family homestead back into the fold of the larger community. By so doing, generational poverty is averted, and the gifts of God are redeemed.

-While Cain’s violent action towards his brother is allowed, he is saved from the vengeance of those unknown persons living in lands through which he might wander. God places a “mark” on Cain, which distinguishes him in his wanderings as one forgiven and protected. By so doing, God redeems his life, yet doesn’t restrict his freedom. God’s daring work of grace invites Cain back into relationship with God, but also into the community. Cain’s mark hints that, although Cain is in exile, God goes with him into exile.

-Is violence always a physical act? Is there a difference between power and control?