You Seem so Sure

June 30, 2010

We all know someone who’s so sure in their faith that nothing seems to deter them.  One that I deal with on regular basis is my ex-wife.  To say we have a dysfunctional relationship is like saying the sun is a bright spot in the sky, so if what I say seems critical or mean-spirited, take it with a grain of salt.  Anyway, she attends a very conservative Southern Baptist church; one that scrupulously follows the N. C. Convention’s admonition not to allow openly gay people to be members.  In fact, their former pastor introduced the very resolution stating that.  I don’t understand the thinking behind that.  As I said the other day, if you believe these people are such terrible sinners, why are you pulling in the welcome mat?  I asked her about that and the answer was that if they couldn’t allow someone to join the church who was going to continue to knowingly sin.  When I pointed out that they excluding these people, she said “Oh no, they can come to our church.  They just can’t be members.”  When I asked if she’d want to attend a church that would never let her all the way in, she didn’t have an answer.  Unfortunately, that lack of an answer didn’t budge her conviction that what her church was doing was right.  I’ve recommended books that helped me in my faith walk, only to be told that she got everything she needed from the Bible.  Sometimes I wish I was that confident in my faith.
Well, actually, I don’t wish that.  That’s not confidence as much as close-mindedness.  But, the idea of not having a bunch of questions banging around in your head all the time has its attraction.  I’m a naturally inquisitive fellow, have been all my life.  When I was little, I was forever taking things apart to see how they worked.  Putting them back together again was a different story.  Heck, with my ADD, sometimes I’d get distracted before I got them apart.  That curiosity began to manifest in questions as I got older.  When no one had an answer, I started looking for my own.  When I was about 11, my parent’s left the Methodist Church they’d attended for years; led away to what, for all intent and purpose, was a cult.  I won’t go into detail here, but it wasn’t good.  Especially for an inquisitive young man such as myself.  Questions about faith were actively discouraged, even if I’d thought to ask them.  You just did what you were told and shut up.  I was a teen when we finally got out of that and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care to see the inside of a church and the mere mention of God didn’t set very well with me.  When I finally did come back to the church about 7 years ago, it was with the understanding that I wouldn’t take anything at face value.  Whatever I was presented with was going to get poked, prodded, bent, folded and spindled to make sure I understood it and wasn’t being fed another bill of goods.  Maybe that’s cynical, but it’s the way I operate. 
That’s a double-edged sword, though.  Because, once you start asking questions, you can’t stop.  Questions lead to more questions, which lead to more questions, which…, well you get the picture.  And, while I like studying these spiritual things, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming.  Just once, I’d like to ask a question that has a nice, pat answer.  Not one that leads to hours on the computer, searching the web for an answer or bent over the Bible, trying to sort out something from infuriatingly obscure references that I don’t really have the cultural background or knowledge to understand.  Which only leads me back to the computer to search for something that puts it into a context that I can begin to comprehend.  Tell me again why I like this?

Second Class Citizens

June 29, 2010

In her blog “Evolving in Monkey Town“, Rachel Evans talks about “women’s  roles in the church, home, and society”.  She covers the whole subject much better than I ever could, but it ties in with something I’ve been dealing with lately.  A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog entry that was mostly flipping God the bird over some things that were happening in my life.  One of the things I was ranting about was the fact that my oldest daughter had decided to change churches, leaving the one I attend and moving to one that I feel is diametrically opposed to the message of Jesus.  And, I just don’t get it. 

Right now, I guess you’re wondering how I could feel that an established church could be so at odds with what Jesus preached.   What could they possibly be doing that’s the exact opposite of the essential Christian message?  Just this: exclusion.  If you’re not a straight, you’re not in.  And, even if you are straight, if you happen to be a woman, you’ll never be a leader in the church.  Those positions are reserved for men because a woman should never have authority over a man.  They’re not the only ones to believe this and, like the others, they cite the Paul’s teaching for this idea.  There are two passages people like to use to back up this belief.  The first comes from I Timothy 2:12-13, where the writer (possibly not Paul, the authorship is hotly debated) says that women should learn in submission and that he doesn’t allow women to have authority over men.  His reasons are not very enlightened.  Like others of his time and culture, he held women responsible for Adam and Eve’s fall from grace.  The other scripture that gets used to keep women in “their place” is Ephesians 5:22This is another controversial passage, one that leads many to think Paul a misogynist.  There’s a problem with that assessment: it’s based on a faulty interpretation.  The part of that particular bit of scripture that gets quoted and thrown about by the fundamentalists is the part about wives submitting to their husbands.  What almost always gets glossed over is the part just two sentences on where he tells husbands to do the same.  Here’s the whole passage, ” Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body”  Isn’t funny what gets left out?  There’s another problem with both sections of scripture mentioned here.  They’re from letters written to a specific group of people about a specific situation going on there.  They are not, nor where they ever meant to be, universal truth.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the Pauline or the Pastoral letters can’t be mined for truth that we apply to our current situation.  Quite the contrary; in Galatians, Paul lays out the case for grace.  In Romans, he talks about sin.  And, before you accuse me of picking an choosing, the folks I’m talking about do the same.  How many woman do you see in a Christian church wearing a full burka?  Because, when Paul talks about women dressing “modestly and decently in suitable clothing”, that’s what he meant.  There are other instances of this, I’m just too lazy to look them up right now.  I firmly believe it that the type of plumbing you’re born with has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to share the Gospel.

What I don’t understand is a sane, educated, rational woman choosing to attend a church that constantly tells her that she isn’t as worthy as a man.  Because that’s the heart of that message.  And, that’s not the only place these folks exclude others.  The former minister of the church my daughter is now attending pushed through the amendment to the N.C. Southern Baptist Convention that says any church that allows openly homosexual members wouldn’t be allowed in the Convention.  Now, I have a rather different view on homosexuality than many of my Christian brothers and sisters.  I’m not going into here; if you’re interested, read this.  But, whatever you think about homosexuals, telling them they can’t be members of your church is hardly the way to minister to them.  Think about it for a minute, even if you believe that being gay is the most heinous sin possible, aren’t those the very people you need to be reaching out too?  And, if your doors aren’t open to them, you aren’t reaching out. 

So, I’ve pointed ways I feel this particular church (and others, by extension) is being exclusionary.  And, I said that went against what Jesus taught while he was here.  I say that because everything the man did was about inclusion.  He invited everyone under the tent.  Not just the religious ones.  In fact, he spent much more time with the dregs of society than he did with religious elites.  He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners according to the Bible.  And, we’re supposed to follow him, our rabbi, closely.   So closely, in fact, that we get covered in the dust kicked up by his shoes.  Which means you’ve got to get outside your comfort zone and get down in the trenches with folks that might just give you the heebie-jeebies.  Because that’s what he did. 

P.S. Yes, this entry is rather link-heavy.  But, I’m lazy and if I explained all those things in the post it would so long you’d never read the whole thing.

Yesterday, I wrote about some issues I’m dealing with, not the least of which is some anger at and doubt about God.  It wasn’t a good night.  I was tired and feeling the weight of everything that’s going on in my life and it came out in my writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for anything.  I’m still pissed at God and the doubt that’s always simmering on the back burner has come to a hard boil.  I stand by everything I said last night, even if it was a little raw.  I’m just explaining why it was so raw.  Between some soul-searching and two conversations, things are quite as bad as they seemed last night.  The first was a reminder of a conversation John Wesley had with a man named Peter Boehler.  The second, conversations with my brother and a close friend.

The Wesley story comes first.  In 1738, John Wesley visited his brother, Charles, and found him recovering from a bout of pleurisy.  He found Charles attended by a mutual friend, the Moravian missionary Peter Boehler.  John, recently returned from a disastrous mission to the province of Georgia (U.S.), was suffering a crisis of faith.  Wesley had gone to Georgia hoping to take the Word of God to the Native Americans.  Instead, after backing out of an engagement to Sophia Hopkey, he skipped out of the country just ahead of a second attempt to hold him for breach of promise.  To say that Wesley’s faith was at low ebb is putting it mildly.  As far as he was concerned, he didn’t possess the requisite faith for salvation.  He was even considering giving up preaching.  In his journal, he said “Leave of preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler, whether he thought I should leave it or not. He answered, “By no mean.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”  This morning, I was going through my morning internet routine (yes, I know that’s kind of geeky), something reminded me of this story.  Unable to recall the exact details, I started looking for it.  A Google search turned it up on one of the blogs I read regularly, The Wesley Report by Shane Raynor.  Now, Shane and I don’t agree on much, what with his more conservative approach to faith.  But, he does make me think and that’s always a good thing.  In an entry from last year, he posted an excerpt from Wesley journal.  Which I just stole for my own purposes.  Over the course of the morning, I decided if that approach was good enough for Wesley, I’d give it a go.  Except, I don’t preach.  So, I’m going to keep following the practices that I’ve been using and wait.  For what, I’m not exactly sure.  Gotta leave the Boss (no, not Springsteen) room to work.

The first conversation of the two mentioned was with my brother, who I’ve numerous theological conversations with.  In it, he talked about a book by Madeline L’Engle he’d read where she called free will “a terrible gift”.  I don’t remember everything he said about it, but some things stuck.  When God gave us free will, he made us completely and totally free.  Free to do it right and free to do it wrong.  That’s a very liberating idea, while at the same time being a little scary.  Liberating, because we’re not bound by anything; scary, because when we screw it up, there’s no one else to blame.  Lately, I’ve been experiencing the good side of free will.  Now, I’m on the receiving end of the not-so-good part.  The part where other’s actions affect me and I really can’t do a damn thing but accept it.  Then, we started talking about what I can take away from this.  What message God is trying to get across to me in this FUBARed mess.  Patience was one.  Why is it the way you always get to learn and practice patience is by enduring some s–tty situation?  I also came to the realization that maybe some of this is being used to test my commitment to answering the call I mentioned yesterday.  Both ideas suck just enough to be plausible.  The second conversation was with my friend and fellow youth leader, Sean.  Nothing new came up in this one, it was more about putting disjointed thoughts together and getting a coherent picture of things.  He’s good for that, letting me talk it out and pointing me in the right direction when I need it and gentle (or not-so-gentle, if need be) when called for.  He and my brother are just two of the people I’ve been able to call on to work out ideas.  I’m a lucky guy that way.

The final thing I figured out was that, while this situation sucks the big one, I’m really not that bad off.  I have dry place to sleep, food to eat, a job to keep those things coming and plenty of family and friends to back me up when I need it.  So, I’ll practice faith until I feel it again.  However long it takes.

What the Hell, God?

June 26, 2010

*Caution: If you’re offended by “bad”  language, questions (especially to God) and doubt, I wouldn’t read this post.  I apologize if it does, but it’s what I’m feeling right now.*

I’m having a rough time, lately.  Family drama, work issues and health problems are all combining to kick my ass.  My ex is moving an hour and a half away, taking my youngest daughter with her; the closer relationship I thought I was building with my older daughter seems to be falling apart; I don’t feel the passion I used to for my job; and, finally, it seems like I get one health problem under control and another crops up.  If that’s not enough, my  internet connection has sucked for the past week and there doesn’t seem to be much Verizon can do about it.  And, where the hell is God in all this?  I keep asking for help and every time I do, something else shitty comes up.  Oh, that’s so fucking helpful. 

I suppose the groundwork for this was laid in 2007.  That was most definitely a sucky year for me.  In March, I found out I had Type II diabetes and had to change my eating habits completely.  At almost the same time, my daughters were in a horrific auto accident.  Well, maybe horrific is overstating it a bit.  But, it was bad.   Then, just as I’m getting a handle on that, I hurt my knee cleaning up ice storm damage at my parent’s and wound up getting arthroscopic surgery.  Two days before the surgeon released me to full duty, I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer.  Stage III means the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and that requires chemotherapy.  Which absolutely, positively sucks.  From September ’07 to February ’08 I was either recovering from surgery or throwing up my toenails.  And, let me tell you, chemo sick takes “suck” to a whole new level.  Without a doubt, the most violently sick I’ve ever been.  More than one day, I begged God to make it stop.  I didn’t care how, just make it stop.  It didn’t, but I’ve always told myself that he sent people to help me through it.  Right now, I’m questioning that.  Why?  Because, less than a year after I got through that, I started having more problems.  Swelling in my head and upper body, dizziness, elevated heart rate and blood pressure and no stamina at all.  The least little exertion wore me out.  After about 7 months of tests and doctor visits, I found out the port that was put in to administer the chemo drugs had slipped and caused a complete blockage of my superior vena cava.  It took until November of last year to that cleared up.  I was fine until it started to get hot.  Like 85 to 90 degrees hot.  When the temperature gets that high, it’s just like it was before I underwent all that earlier shit.  Now, if I lived in an area with a more northern clime or had a different job, that wouldn’t be such a big deal.  Unfortunately, I’m a firefighter in North Carolina.  Avoiding heat isn’t in the cards on either account.  Now, I’m right back where I was last year this time: trying to figure what the hell is wrong with me.  Lovely.

Like I said just a minute ago, I’m a firefighter.  More precisely, I’m a Fire Lieutenant.  Which is a fancy way of saying I drive the fire truck.  I’ve done it for over 2o years.  For the last year, however, I’ve been working in the administrative offices.  Before my heart issues got the better of me, I was asking to come off the fire truck and move into a less physically demanding job because of my health problems.  I’ve kept asking for the last year.  I keep getting the same answer: there’s no place for you but on the truck.  Never mind that I’ve had several major insults to my body and that being a firefighter is one of the most physically demanding jobs around, there’s no place for me out that atmosphere.  Saying I’m not thrilled with my bosses is putting it mildly.   On top of that, last November I felt called to ministry.  I’ve felt a nudge in that direction in the past, but never pursued it; I was always under the impression I was just too old.  Plus, I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, so how I could go to divinity school?  This time, it was different.  It was at a youth conference and the other leader I was working with was in the ordination process and it kept nagging at me until I asked him about.  Turns out, there are several options open to us older types who feel the call.  I’m really being pulled in that direction; but again, whenever I ask God for help, all I seem to get is more roadblocks. 

In the first paragraph, I mentioned my ex is moving to another town and taking my daughter with her.  Now, if it was just her, I’d probably celebrate.  I realize that’s not a very Christian attitude, but she’s one of those people I just need to stay away from.  I’m working on forgiving her for the stuff that’s transpired; but every time I do, she shits on me again.  And hour and a half distance between us seems pretty attractive to me.  But, it’s not just her.  I’m not the perfect father, but I’m a damn good dad.  And, the thought of my little  girl being that far away and not being able to see her whenever I want is killing me.  She also has anxiety issues and no one can convince me that uprooting her from everything she knows and is comfortable with is a good thing.  My oldest daughter and I have had some ups and downs, but I’ve always tried to be there for her.  Again, I’m not perfect and I’ve screwed up in the past, but I’ve done my best to make sure she knows I love her.  Her mother, on the other hand, seems to glory in dumping on the girl.  And, no matter what happens, she goes right back for more.  Tonight, she informed me that she’s decided that the church she’s been attending with me for the last 5 years, the church that always welcomed her with open arms and done their best to nurture her and help her become the fantastic young lady that is today, just isn’t doing it for her anymore.  She doesn’t feel connected and the Sunday School isn’t reaching her.  So, what does she do?  Talk to me or the pastor or anyone of a number of folks who could help her through this?  No, she decides to transfer her membership to a church that, to me, is the very antithesis of Jesus’ message.  One that practices what I consider a very exclusionary version of that message.  In that last few weeks, I thought we were getting closer and, in the last two days, it’s like she’s turned her back on me and everything I believe.  I’ve asking for help, guidance, anything on this and what I’ve gotten is silence.  Worse than silence, everything just keeps getting worse. 

Where the hell are you, God?  I’m asking for your help and I’m getting nothing.  Not help, not guidance, not even peace with what’s going on.  Are you even there?  Or, are you there and you just don’t give a shit what happens down here?  I’m trying to pursue this call you’ve laid on me and this is what I get?  Does my life have to be a complete shambles before you’ll do anything?  I’m more than a little pissed off at you, right now.  This whole relationship thing is feeling like one way street, and that sucks.  I’ve been saying that I’m not in this to go to heaven, I’m in it because you make my life better.  And, I’m not feeling it.  Not… at… all.  

To anyone who reads this: Please don’t give me platitudes about how prayer (like “God answers all prayers.  Sometimes, the answer is no) or suffering or any of that kind crap.  I don’t need it.  If you’ve been here and have some insight or just want to say give me a pat on the back, that’s different.

Carwash Religion

June 19, 2010

So, this morning the MYF at my church had a car wash fund-raiser.  If you spent any time at all in a church youth group, you’ve raised money this way.  We did pretty well.  Not bikini car wash good (think what a ruckus that would cause), but okay.  About $400 and a sermon.  Yeah, a sermon and not from our pastor.  One of our customers, after we finished washing his truck and tobacco harvester (hey, we’re in North Carolina), asked us to gather all the kids together because he’d like to speak to them.  I figured he wanted to thank them and say something about how nice it was to see young folks involved in church.  Instead, he says he wants to share some words from the book of Romans and starts in on this rip about how everyone sins and the wages of sin is death and, if you don’t want to burn in hell, you need to accept Jesus as your personal savior and that Hell is a real place and blah, blah, frickin’ blah (frickin’ is not the word I want to use here).  I just sat there thinking “Dude, do you even realize where you’re at?  This is a church youth group, doing a fund-raiser in the church parking lot and this is what you’re telling them?  Do you realize that it’s more than possible that we’ve been over that with them?”  Okay, maybe we haven’t done it in that fundamentalist scare-the-crap-out-of-you way that you just spouted, but still.”  Followed up shortly after by “What f–king arrogance”.  I thought this, I didn’t say it, even though every fiber of my being was screaming it in my head.  How did the other two adults with me react?  With what I considered remarkable grace.  They thanked him for his words, took his money (the important part), and saw him on his way.  Like I said, remarkable grace.

I suppose you’re wondering at the virulence of my reaction.  I’ve listened to fundamentalists talk about Christianity and God’s love in ways that I believe pervert those ideals.  I’m so sick of people trying to scare others into coming to God with tales of Hell, or how if you don’t subscribe to their own personal brand of belief you’re destined for the Lake of Fire that I want to puke.  There’s never a mention of grace or love in their words and I’m convinced they more drive people away from God than they ever bring closer.  I don’t care how pure their motives are, their means suck.  Jesus’ message was always one of love and inclusion and  these nimrods twist it to promote a religion that’s at least as exclusionary as what the Pharisees espoused in the 1st century.  If you want a relationship with God, if it’s not on their very narrow terms, it doesn’t count.  I once heard a good Southern Baptist say that the Baptist’s are the only ones who are doing Christianity right and the rest of us are probably going to Hell.  They’re excellent at pointing out the sins of others while ignoring their own.  And, God forbid you’re gay.  That’s an immediate, don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, go straight to Hell sin.  Unless, of course, you repent of your sin and never do it again.  Or even, better, go to one of those gay rehab camps, renounce your sexuality and cram yourself into a mold that will make them comfortable.  Yet, these same people commit daily sins at least as bad as the ones they’re so against.  It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple.  That, along with the remarkable arrogance that only they possess knowledge of the true way to Christ, is why I get so riled up at these well-meaning, misguided souls.  And, I’m just as bad as I say they are.  If not worse.

I get pissed at their arrogance and hypocrisy and react with an arrogance and hypocrisy of my own that equals if not exceeds theirs.  When I wrote the preceeding paragraph, I didn’t censor myself, except for language that I felt might detract from the message.  What you read there are my true, unvarnished feelings on the subject.  I did it to make a point.  As I was writing it, I didn’t have any idea how well that point would be made, though.  In that one paragraph, I’m intolerant, rude, hypocritical and arrogant.  The very things that rake others over the coals for all the time.  I’ve tried to justify it, change it and deal with it.  All to no avail; it’s like the default settings in your computer: screw up bad enough and, when I reboot, that’s the way I think.  Lucky for me, I get another chance every time I mess up.  Now, if I can just start giving others the same chances.

How Can I Justify That?

June 18, 2010

Several years ago, I decided that I needed to simplify my life.  I was working two jobs, totaling about 70 to 80 hours a week, not spending enough time with my kids and the things I wanted seemed to always be just out of reach.  At one point, I had some of them: I was married, had a nice house, two cars and two daughters.  Then, things blew up in my face.  My marriage failed, I lost the house, and my ex totaled one of the cars.  All that I  had left was my girls and, as I said earlier, I wasn’t around anywhere near as much as I should’ve been.  It was time for a change.  I just didn’t see that, then my part-time employer showed the way: he fired me.  I didn’t feel I deserved to be fired and I was pissed when it happened.  But, after a little time had passed, I began to realize I was being handed an opportunity.  I could be available for my children, I just had to scale back a bit.  A good bit.  Nowadays, I don’t live in as big a house as some of my contemporaries, I don’t drive a new car and I don’t have a lot of grown up toys.  But, I’m happy.  Most of the time.  I have another confession to make: I’m a frustrated guitar collector.  I’m not a great player, more of a dabbler, but I’m working on that.  As much as playing guitars, I love to look at them.  While the true artistry of a 1957 Les Paul Custom (also known as the Black Beauty) is in it’s sound, the guitar itself is beautiful too.  Take a look.


You probably have to a guitar geek like me to see actual beauty in this, but you gotta admit, it’s nice looking guitar.  Along with the early  Gibson Firebirds, this is the Holy Grail of guitars for me.  And, they’re both unattainable unless I come into a lot of money.  Each is easily worth over $10,000 and, much as I’d love to have one (or both), even if I had the money, I ‘d never be able to spend it on that. 

That brings us to what inspired this post.  I believe even if you live in a cave, you’re aware that Apple is about to release the iPhone 4G.  What the hell does an iPhone have to do with my guitar fetish, you ask.  Simply this: these things are like crack to Apple fanboys and girls and my guitar story was an attempt to relate to this.  Within the month, people are going to line up around the freakin’ block for these things.  Don’t ask me why, I’m not an Apple fanatic and don’t really get the fascination with phones that do things besides make phone calls.  Yeah, I’m a dinosaur; I just started texting in the last year or so.  But, here’s the thing: it’s going to cost around $200-300.  That ain’t cheap.  On her Twitter page, Anne Jackson (author) posted the following:  “600k iPhone 4G orders = 2.5 million Africans with clean water for life”.  Think about that for a minute.  We’re going to spend enough money on what amounts to a toy to provide 2.5 million people with clean water for the rest of their lives.  I know me doing without an iPhone 4G isn’t going to help those folks, but I just can’t justify that kind of consumption anymore. 

And, it’s not just Africans who are starving or doing without basic needs.  There are entirely too many people right here in the United States who are hungry, don’t have a dry place to sleep, the ability to go to the doctor when they’re sick and host of other little things that many of us take for granted everyday.  I’m going to leave you with some words from Matthew that influenced my feelings on this: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”

“Nobody’s Perfect”

June 15, 2010

Lately, I’ve had forgiveness on my mind…, a lot.  Forgiving others and being forgiven myself; it is a two-way street, you know.  It seems like I’m getting forgiveness thrown in my face everywhere I go.  Back when Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce made a really bad call that robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game, one of the local morning radio shows had listeners call in with what they felt the appropriate punishment should be for Joyce.  It was supposedly all in fun, but some of the callers were a bit over the top.  Most were pretty  violent and I was struck by the fact that, for what’s supposed to be a “Christian” nation, we’re have revenge on the brain.  But, what really got me was the person you would expect to be the first in line for Joyce scalp was the voice of grace in this: Armando Gallaraga.  Gallaraga’s response to the blown call?  “Nobody’s perfect”.  For once, I was proud of the way professional athletes handled a delicate subject.  Jim Joyce, after seeing his mistake in instant replay, admitted he screwed up and apologized to Gallaraga.  Gallaraga, instead of pitching a fit, accepted the apology with grace and tact and forgave Joyce as soon as it happened.  No dirt kicked, no bats thrown, no curses shouted.  A class act.  It’s about time.

You know how I mentioned that forgiveness is a two-way street in the first paragraph?  I don’t do that very well.  Oh, I accept forgiveness for my mistakes and screw-ups easy enough.  It’s extending that grace to others where I drop the ball.  I get infinite chances from God to get it right and, no matter how many times I get it wrong, He still loves me and gives yet another chance.  I, on the other hand, get mad and scream curse words at strangers when I don’t like the way they drive.  Lately, I’ve been working on that and a few other things besides.  I’ve started to assist a downtown homeless ministry, which is big for me.  As a firefighter, I’ve not been very fond of the homeless population.  They’ve mostly been a pain in my ass, interrupting meals, sleep and leisure time.  It had gotten to the point that I didn’t even see them as people anymore.  At least not people on my level.  Then, I stumbled across a website called Love Wins.  It’s the site of the ministry I spoke of earlier and there are stories about several homeless folks there.  Reading those stories brought their humanity back into focus and I realized that’s one of the places I’m supposed to working.  And, I’m really starting to look forward to it.

Today, as I went through my morning internet routine, I checked my Twitter account and found a post from a group I follow called Big Tent Christianity.  They’re hosting a conference in September and one of the speakers is a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber, who writes a blog called “Sarcastic Lutheran”.  Of course, with a title like that, I had check it out.  The post this morning was about…, forgiveness.  She related the story from Luke about the fallen woman who follows Jesus into a Pharisee’s house and washes and anoints his feet with fragrant oil.  Of course, the Pharisee is not happy with this woman.  It says in the text that the woman was a sinner.  When it comes to women in the Bible, the word “sinner” is usually a euphemism for prostitute or something along those lines.  Certainly not the kind of woman a Pharisee would allow into his house.  Jesus, sensing the man’s discomfort, explains that she had a lot to be forgiven for, therefore she’s infinitely grateful for that forgiveness and is merely showing it.  In the following text of her blog, Ms. Bolz-Weber relates this to our times with a story about one Easter when she wanted her church to really look good because there would be a lot of visitors.  After a lot of work, on the appointed day, an obviously drunk homeless fellow came in. Uninvited.   And stayed.  He talked to people, participated in the festivities and, when he left, left a changed group of people behind.  Then, a little later she did something that really got me.  She changed the situation and made the uninvited guest someone who was a part of mainstream society, but still didn’t fit into that particular scene.  It made me think about a group of folks I’ve been less than courteous to: Fundamentalists.  They don’t believe like I do, they’re not cool and hip and into the things I am…, and I’ve been extremely judgmental of them.  Which is exactly one of the main things I take them to task for.  I wondered why I had such a problem with these folks and it dawned on me that I’m more like them than I want to admit.  Not any easy realization to stomach.

So, in addition to keeping my temper on the road, my issues with our homeless brothers and sisters and God knows how many other things I have work out, I get to practice forgiveness with the one group that gets my goat on a regular basis.  Believe me, that last one’s gonna be the hardest.  There’s nothing I like better than a good theological argument and befuddling a conservative Fundie is great fun.  I know Jesus did the same thing to the Pharisees; I wonder if He enjoyed it too.

In case you were wondering, that old saying in the title comes from Alexander Pope, English poet and scholar.  I tried to read some of the poem the line comes from, with a distinct lack of success.  The amount of poetry I read is rather limited.  Mostly, because there are only about 3 poets I like and Pope isn’t one of them.  And, when I say lack of success, I mean I thought my head would explode after 2 stanzas.  But, Alexander Pope’s lyrical abilities aren’t what I want to discuss.  Today, it’s forgiveness that’s on my mind.  Several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m struggling with forgiving someone who’s wronged me.  Another big reason is that Ted Haggard has announced that he’s starting a new church and to say that it’s stirring up some controversy is putting it mildly.  In case you’ve forgotten, Haggard was the pastor at the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  In 2006, it came to light that Haggard, who’d been preaching against homosexuality for a pretty good while, got caught in a scandal involving a gay male prostitute and a meth habit.  Talk about a fall from grace. 

Haggard experienced what other pastors have when they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  Because of their position, their sin was somehow greater than everyone else’s.  We tend to hold our religious leaders to a higher level of accountability than is expected of ourselves or anyone else.  In fact, sometimes that level is unattainable.  Doesn’t stop us from expecting it, though.  Why is that?  Why do we believe a pastor or bishop or monsignor or any other church officeholder isn’t supposed to sin?  They sure haven’t shown that capacity in the past.   Truth be told, sometimes religious leaders are the chief sinners in any group.  Think back to Jim Bakker’s fall, or the Catholic’s dirty little secret.  Church leaders screwing up so bad it’s not funny.  Ironic maybe, but not funny.  In his song “Conversation with the Devil”, Ray Wylie Hubbard (as the Devil) sang:

“Over there’s where we put the preachers, I never liked those clowns
They’re always blaming me for everything wrong under the sun
It aint harder to what’s right, it’s just maybe not as much fun
Then the walk around thinking they’re better than me and you
Then they get caught in a motel room doing what they said not to do”

The point of that is that church leaders are just as human, just as broken, as you and I.  All holding them to a higher standard will do is give them further to fall when they inevitably do. 

Unfortunately for Haggard, he’s still experiencing the fallout from his actions.  As I said earlier, he and his wife are starting a new church and opinions are mixed.  Some folks think it’s great, others say it’s too soon for Ted to be thinking about leading another congregation.  Still others doubt he should ever be the head of another church.  All I can say is that I’m not throwing any rocks his way.  In my experience, they usually come back at you sooner or later. 

My personal forgiveness issue is entirely different from what we’ve been talking about.  By that, I mean it’s not sex-related.  I can’t say what it is about without revealing more than I want too.  Also, if I do that, I’ll be trying to get you on my side and I’m trying to get away from that.  I will say that the person in question has done several things to hurt me, complete with justifications of why what they did was right.  Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to step away from them.  External factors dictate I maintain contact.  And, because it’s in my nature to trust people (sometimes even after they’ve given me ample reason not to), I will be leaving myself open to be hurt again.  And, I’m not sure how to deal with this.  It’s a rather thorny dilemma, one I don’t see an answer to.  Any advice would be appreciated.

Radical Grace

June 3, 2010

If you come to this site very much, you know I have several different blogs I read on a regular basis.  I have a new one to add the list.  It’s called People of the Second Chance, written by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite.  The description says “Radical Grace in Life and Leadership”.  Radical grace, I like that.  Since I have a definition fetish, I looked up “radical” and it’s one of those words with multiple meanings.  And, more than one definition works here.  For instance, radical can mean “of or going to the root or origin; fundamental” (all of these come from, btw), “thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms” or “favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms”.  I like the idea of social reform almost as much as I like an extreme change from the traditional forms.  I mean, let’s face it, we need some social reform and in this instance, tradition isn’t standing us in good stead.  Because society and tradition fly in the face of what Jesus taught us about forgiveness.  I’m talking about that 70 times 7 thing.    We don’t get mad, we get even; or, we don’t get even, we get ahead.

The post that inspired this one is entitled “I AM THE PERPETRATOR“.  I’ve always looked at grace from a receivers standpoint, grateful for everything I’ve been given because I don’t deserve any of it.  What I suck at is extending even the tiniest portion of that grace to anyone else.  Entirely to easily, I fall into the trap of revenge, or judgment, or (this is the worst) holding others to standard I’ll never attain.  One place this manifests is in my reaction to homeless people.  I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years and I’m all to familiar with the homeless population of Raleigh.  Or so, I thought, anyway.  What I was familiar with was the way they interfered with my day, my sleep and my stress level.  In short, it was all about me.  Even the ones I knew by name, I didn’t really see as people.  I’m trying to change that.  With varying degrees of success, though.

One of the other ways I drop the ball with others is through arrogance.  I actually have the temerity to think that people I don’t even know are doing things just to piss me off.  Amazing, huh?  Oh, right now, in the cold light of day, I know that’s ridiculous.  But, in the heat of the moment, it certainly seems that other driver cut me off in traffic and is giggling about it the whole time.  And, I’m arrogant about other’s arrogance.  There’s a lot of talk about absolute truth and relativism and all that stuff.  I believe that God revealed His truth.  I just wonder who has that truth.  Because there’s a bunch of different groups out there and they all claim to have it.  Until recently, I kinda  looked down on those folks.  No, not kinda, really looked down on them.  Of course, I knew that I was right and they were wrong.  I’m trying to do better about that, too.  Why am I telling you all this?  Because I’m just as broken and fallen and lost as all those people I’ve spent the last almost 50 years looking down on.  And, if I can get a another shot at it, why can’t they?

Radical grace and second chances.  That sounds good until you realize that it’s not just the people you like, or the ones you’re comfortable around or even the ones that agree with you that get second chances.  Everyone does.  Everyone, from the lowest addict on the street to the President (which ever one you don’t like) to the preacher caught in a very public scandal.  Everyone, no matter how repulsive you find them or their actions.  Everyone, because you got a second chance, they get one too.  When we get that, we can start to become what Mike Foster calls the People of the Second Chance.