Comfort is rightly taken in community. Traditions can lift us up. Lent in general and Ash Wednesday in particular are extra-Biblical traditions dating back as early as the fourth century. As a child I often bristled, “The Catholic Church just made them up!” Possibly, but after attending my first Ash Wednesday service, I feel blessed by this tradition. As a Protestant church, the Lenten season can be something we observe not out of obligation, but with deliberation. Jesus asks,
But what about you? Who do you say that I am?
And we cry, holy holy holy, is the lamb! Life is difficult, but it is also precious and sacred. New York is a whirlwind of city: meetings, tourists, traffic, shows, events, entertainment; everything moves at a breakneck pace. I've been here five months, almost half a year, and it feels as if I moved in just yesterday. Today, for the first time, I am moving with deliberation, taking in each step, each encounter, each experience with purpose and with thanksgiving. Soup and salad never tasted so good!
For ashes you are and to ashes you will return.
My time in this life is precious, what am I going to do with it?
A Brief Introduction
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say that I am?"Sister Carol Perry has prepared a Lenten devotional for the church to journey through each morning. It is a compilation of questions that Jesus asks throughout the Gospels. This morning, I focused on this pivotal question from Matthew: What do I think of Jesus?
Comforter, role model, teacher, leader... sacrifice. Yes, all of these things. But was he a Savior? He transformed the lives of those around him. His message of grace and of justice resonates in believers who in very real ways change the world: Advent Conspiracy, BloodWaterMission, the homeless ministry of the church down the street. Savior, indeed.
But what else? Who do I say that he is?
The church community provides friendship and support. It is a place to go and there are always things to do. A faith in God and in Jesus gives an authority to the work of justice: it is not just because I think the way should be such, but rather because God demands it. It is nice to feel connected, needed, belonging. Am I a Christian because it provides a framework for me to operate within? A structure to live within and a community to be a part of? Those are not bad aspects of the Christian community; in fact, they may be some of its strongest assets, but are they enough? Do I believe in the ideals of community, faith, hope, grace, justice... or do I believe in One who laid them down first?
"Who do you say that I am?" Way to hit the ground running, Sister Perry!
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I have searched for Your will in all of this. I read, I have studied, I have prayed, I have discussed. It has been a long and difficult process and sometimes I worry that I have not progressed toward a greater understanding but slipped away from one. But everything You've shown me so far is that I must accept my orientation as one part of Your plan for my life. And so that is what I will do. I have asked those around me to approach this with an open heart and an open mind and so I have tried to do the same thing. If you have other plans for me, let me know; I am still listening.
Thus was the prayer I offered during my sophomore year in college at USC. I had only recently come out, after many years of struggling to find what was right. It took years for me to move from a place that saw all gay relationships (if not gay people) as sinful to a place that embraced the diversity of God's creation and recognized the value which gay and trans people have and the blessings that their relationships can bring. But even then, it was not an easy road.
I came out but had only a tentative understanding for what that meant to my life as a Christian. To be honest, I took a break, for all intents and purposes, from faith communities. I had grown up in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, immersed in YoungLife, and (occasionally) attending Campus Crusade with friends. Being gay didn't fit in any of those places and I wasn't sure where to go.
I realized that Christian faith had played such a formative role in my life that I simply couldn't abandon it and I slowly began to walk back towards it, attempting to piece together everything I thought I knew and believed.
Senior year of college I had been dating Pat, a guy I met through my former roommate Frank, for about six weeks when Chase Edler died in a skateboarding accident. I'd only met Chase once but he was close friends with many of my good friends and the roommate of one of my best friends. It was unexpected and it hit me hard. I could not wait any longer to figure out who God was or to determine my relationship to the Creator. As my (straight) roommate Sean would later put it: "Nice guy, things were going great. But then Brian freaked out."
I ended the relationship and immediately began to question whether I had been living authentically for the past three years. Is this really what God wanted? For awhile, I thought I had made a tragic mistake. I launched back into small group, started going back to church regularly, and made it a habit to study the Word.
This time I was sure: God didn't create in me a capacity to love so that I might deny it.
Equality Ride only cemented my understanding that anti-gay teachings are thoroughly misguided. No matter how dressed up with smiles the teachings may be, they lack a cogent Scriptural basis and wreck havoc upon the lives they reach. Bad fruits if I've ever tasted them. Soulforce reminds us--gay, straight, Christian, atheist, condemning, affirming--that one must not chose one or the other. Interactions save lives and restore faiths.
I have been blessed with Marble Collegiate Church, a beautiful church community, since moving to New York City. I have also been challenged to grow in my faith in greater ways than ever before. Sometimes I can feel the growing pains as my soul stretches. And as Lent approaches, I'm preparing for even more growth. Growing up Protestant, Lent is not a time of year that is often focused on, and this will be my first year observing it. I am excited to set aside the upcoming 40 days and call them holy, to use them to grow in my understanding of my faith, and to appreciate the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus of Nazareth made on our behalf.
And yet, I can't say that I am not nervous. Sometimes, when I go to sleep I wonder if those growing pains are my soul aching to return to a Truth I've been missing. When Lent comes, when my comforts are stripped away, when I am left face to face with God; what will I find? My sophomore year prayer is in my head and in my heart every day. I take it with me wherever I go. I'm still listening, but will I be strong enough to change if I hear something different this time? Will I be confident enough to lay it to rest if the challenge I face is continued advocacy or even greater sacrifice for justice? On this year's Mardi Gras I'm left wondering if I didn't skip out on Lent because it was "too constructed by humans" but rather because it was too inspired by God.
Lent approaches and I am nervous, but I am ready.
Monday, February 04, 2008
For three weeks WeWo focused on the soul. Not surprisingly, suffering was examined at length. “Life is difficult.” That is the opening line of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled and it is something our pastor Dr. Arthur Caliandro repeats often. Indeed life is difficult. From finding food to eat in remote villages to navigating family relationships in a metropolis, we humans are faced with the difficult task of navigating through life.
What struck me about Pastor Lewicki's sermon was that it focused not on why we suffer or even how to avoid suffering, but rather how to respond to suffering. He painted the picture of a river of suffering that runs through life, everyone eventually comes to it. We can stand on the side and never cross or we can wade and swim and struggle through. It is easy, maybe even natural, to desire the comfort and safety of the river shore, but it is only through navigating those difficult waters that a soul can grow. “Our souls are smaller than they could because it is easier, safer,” David says.
But there is another way. Simone Weil, a wealthy European Jew quit her lucrative job to work in a factory. When the Nazis rose to power she escaped to England and lived on the rations of those in occupied France. Inspired by a conversion to Christianity, She worked endlessly for justice for the working class and then for the Jews during the reign of Hitler. She believe that:
“It is possible for a person to engage in and take seriously, even take on, the suffering of others. One can not only live with suffering, but live as a suffering person, in a way that does not wallow in it or glorifies it but trusts that God will use even suffering to dignify and even elevate the human soul”
As David continued to talk about suffering and our response to it, both our own suffering and that of those around us, I remembered just how important Equality Ride was. That voluntary redemptive suffering is not an idea someone cooked up recently. It isn't even a tactic that Gandhi created. Rather, voluntary redemptive suffering is a very basic way in which we can confront suffering and injustice and rise above it, refusing to be beaten down. Suffering can “compress the human soul into a cramped knot of bitterness” as Weil said, or it can explode it into something powerful and beautiful, as I saw in my two-months on the road and the unexpected path my life has since taken.
I return to a faith in Christ not because I expect to make life easier, or prettier, or more orderly. Far from it, for my life has been more demanding, more taxing, and more uncertain than ever before, but it has also been more fulfilling.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
I have been a lot spinning around in my head over the past few months. There is a lot to talk about but it is overwhelming to even think about how to say it and say it well. Grace, justice, God's will, my life, my future, my walk with Christ: it's all been stewing, enhanced by some great time reading in Scripture.
More recently there was this week's WeWo service, today's sermon on Micah 6:8. Connection's discussion on Lent, discussions with Sam about Passion, and general reflection. Life has been challenging and rewarding and I'm looking forward to getting it all out it writing.
But for now, there's the Super Bowl.
Friday, February 01, 2008
The Washington Post reports that the Maryland Circuit court affirmed the Maryland State School Board which affirmed the Montgomery County school board which included information about sexual orientation in the health education curriculum. The judged ruled there was no reason to "second-guess the appropriateness" of the curriculum chosen by the Montgomery community. Which includes giving the factually correct answer "No," if asked if being gay is a mental disorder.
For all the talk of activist judges and special interest groups ramming agendas... it seems is is the anti-gay agenda which is out of step with the people, the public interest, and the process of law.