"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, February 24, 2004 I'm finding a big hurdle in my sabbatical is getting over guilt.
It's just in the last week that I felt I could spend a couple of hours doing something that had no tangible result or wasn't something I was "supposed to do" and feel OK about it. It's funny, because when I talk with other people about their lives, I tell them that not only is that OK but that it's important. Funny how we have other rules for ourselves than we have for other people.
Anyway, last Friday (I think), I plopped down on the futon while Hayden took a nap and watched "Network" ... a fabulous movie from the mid-70s about our entertainment culture and the de-evolution of network TV news, in particular. Now, it may seem neurotic to note with pride that I did this without guilt, but this is a pretty big deal for me!
And it's about something much bigger than taking a couple hours and watching a good old movie. It's about letting myself be ministered to -- by myself, by God. It's about living out the fact that God has given us each day as a gift. A gift that, yes, should be used to the love and betterment of God and each other ... but also a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated.
So on Friday, I lay on the futon in my basement and, without guilt, watched a great movie and felt refreshed afterwards.
I think this Lent, I'm not going to give things up or even take something on ... I'm going to try to live with a different intentionality. I'm going to try to live in a way that incarnates God's will for me to celebrate life. And that does mean continuing to work for justice and peace. And that does mean giving myself away in relationship. But it also means stopping and smelling the roses, or watching a movie, or taking a nap in a hammock (when it gets a little warmer). And not feeling guilty about it ... but being thankful for it.
Friday, February 20, 2004 Is it bringing us closer to Christ?
The more I think about it, the more I think that is the question we need to ask about EVERYTHING we do as the church. Is it bringing us -- us as a community, us as individuals, us as a society or even us as a planet -- closer to Christ?
Being away from ECM is great for getting perspective on what we've done the past 7 years. Sometimes I wonder if we're too busy ... overprogrammed. Maybe we need to scale back, make sure we're doing the things that we know are about bringing us closer to Christ. Maybe it's not about cutting back. Maybe it's just about making sure we're true to that focus.
And that doesn't mean not doing anything social or not having any fun. In fact, it might mean doing MORE of that ... but doing it with the intentionality of doing it to come closer to Christ. Really listening to each other when we're together. Really reaching out to new people. Really being thankful for the joy we get from being together. Really taking the time and the big 'ol scary risk of letting people into our lives, our dreams, our fears instead of being content to splash around on the surface.
As I get some space from ECM, I think there are ways that as the community's priest I've often been too busy with the activities of the community and not intentional enough about the kind of deep diving within those activities and within the everyday just being together that brings us closer to Christ.
Next year is going to be so exciting. We have so many wonderful seniors graduating and we'll miss them all, but it is a wonderful opportunity to remake the community because we KNOW we won't be the same.
Keep praying for me as I continue through this sabbatical. And know that I'm praying for you.
And know that I'm grateful and humbled by the ways you have brought me closer to Christ.
| Mike at 2/20/2004 10:50:00 PM
Thursday, February 19, 2004 If you died today and could take only one memory from your entire life into eternity, what would you choose?
I just finished watching a Japanese movie called "After Life" that raises that question. It's set in this way station between life and whatever's next where people come every week, have 3 days to choose one memory, the staff there recreates it for them and then they go off into eternity with it.
So I've been thinking ... what would it be? It's not just picking something great to keep you happy ... it's realizing that EVERY other memory you have would be wiped away. What one memory would you be left with. Who is the person, who are the people you would want to carry with you through eternity. For me, it becomes a question of what moment has, what people have borne Christ to me most powerfully?
And then comes the next question ... have I been a part of someone else's experience of Christ... have I brought someone else joy ... have I done something with my life that would make someone else choose a memory with me in it? It's not a question of me wanting to be liked or loved (which, of course, I do!), but more a statement of possibility. Each one of us has the possibility of effecting someone's life -- of being part of God shaping someone's life -- in a way that is so amazing that they would look back on it and say "THAT is the moment."
I don't know what memory I would choose. But I know it would be full of amazing people. ... most of whom, all of them who don't consider themselves amazing. But they are. Through Christ we all can be.
| Mike at 2/19/2004 11:54:00 AM
Friday, February 13, 2004 Movies I want to see during my sabbatical:
Do the Right Thing
Dog Day Afternoon
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
His Girl Friday
Harold and Maude
Lost in America
The French Connection
The Manchurian Candidate
12 Angry Men
Thursday, February 12, 2004 This whole "sanctity of marriage is threatened by gay marriage business" has become pretty tiresome, but as a priest, I've got a particular bent on this whole mess -- one that not suprisingly puts me at odds with most of mainline American Christianity (most of which is, I am convinced, so far from anything Christ would have wanted to be associated that I am happy to be at odds with it!).
I think there are at least two major issues here.
The first is the role of the church as agent of the state in marriage. As an Episcopal priest performing a wedding, I wear two hats -- priest and agent of the state. As a result, I have to conform not only to the canons of my church but to the laws of the state.
I have come to believe that this is a really, really bad idea and that the church should get out of the "agent of the state" business. This would do two things.
1)Eliminate the problem around the word "marriage." Most of people's problem with gay marriage is based in a literal reading of Judeo-Christian scripture that narrowly defines it as between a man and a woman. There is no reason the state needs to be concerned with what is essentially a theological debate. Let the churches have the word "marriage" and let them each define it as they choose. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to define it as between a man and a woman, great. If the Episcopal Church wishes to talk about a covenanted relationship of mutuality, fidelity, monagamy self-giving love without regard to the gender of the partners -- hooray for us!
With the church out of the agent of the state business, the state can have one category for everyone -- civil union. Frankly, that's the only thing it's appropriate for the state to license to begin with. Marriage is a religious category. If people want to have their relationships blessed, they are free to do that in whichever church they wish to and it is up to that church to decide whether or not they will call it a marriage or something else.
One of my biggest problems with the whole debate that is happening in Massachusetts and the idiotic talk about a consitutional ammendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is that it is not the state's job to define marriage -- it is the church's job. Marriage is a sacrament. What is next? A constitutional ammendment defining confirmation age? A state supreme court ruling about who can receive Eucharist? The only reason that state has authority over the term is that we have this place where the Venn diagrams of church and state meet in clergy performing marriages. Eliminate that and you eliminate the state's jurisdiction over the term.
2) It would allow us to redeem marriage as a religious covenant. Right now anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) who wants to be toegether as a couple and have full civil benefits as such has to "get married." These days it is the minority (not a small minority, but a minority nonetheless) of couples who care about the religious implications of the marriage covenant -- and yet everyone is shoved through the same door.
If we eliminated clergy as agents of the state, then every couple would have to go through the legal process of getting a civil union. Then, those who were serious about having a religious covenant in the context of a church community could enter into that in addition. You wouldn't force people who really weren't interested in the religious aspects of it to go through the motions, and you could really have buy-in from those who chose to do it.
The second is all this "crisis in the sanctity of marriage" crap. It's been well document what a true load that is. Britney Spears' latest debacle and things like "the Bachelor" are just the slow-pitch/easy to hit examples of how absurd their line of thinking is. Anyone who thinks that committed gay and lesbian people wanting to get married is responsible for the serial monogamy that has replaced marriage as the norm in this country is either in deep denial, deeply deluded or just not terribly bright.
The thing is, there is a huge crisis in this country that marriage is wrapped up in. And ironically, it is a crisis that many gay and lesbian couples I know can be examples for us as we struggle to get through it. The crisis is a crisis of commitment.
We have become such habitual consumers of everything in this country -- including relationship. The norm is no longer lifelong commitment -- to anything. The norm is staying with something as long as it suits us and then switching to something else. We see this not only in the high rate of not just divorce but multiple divorce, but in many other things -- the volatility of the stock market (I remember my parents sold stock as often as they bought new cars -- they always talked about choosing a good company that they believed in and really investing in it ... sticking with it ... that is nowhere near the norm anymore), the way people will flee from one church to another if there is a time of conflict or if they don't like the priest, the way people's support for political candidates will disappear overnight if the candidate makes one mistake.
An amazing friend of mine, Becca Stevens, told me once that "we live in a society that permits everything but forgives nothing." We are ready to cut anything and anybody loose to leave 'em twisting in the wind if it becomes inconvenient or -- God forbid -- painful to stick with them. And we call people naive or worse when they demonstrate otherwise.
Now, there are definitely situations where divorce is an unfortunate necessity. I believe the bar is when the relationship becomes toxic to the degree that it stops being a sacrament (which is always life-giving) and starts being death-producing. Same with commitments to other communities and same with friendships, which I also believe are sacramental (revealing of God's grace). And yet we are consistently told to get out when it suits us.
It's not universal. There are plenty of people who are committed to things and stick with them ... but they certainly don't get the publicity, and they certainly are not the model that is held up for us as a society -- which is where our societal norms come from.
So there is a crisis in this country ... and it is a crisis of commitment. Of sticking with something. Of keeping promises. Of honoring vows and relationships not just when convenient but especially when it's not.
But it's much, much easier to point to a minority group like gays and lesbians and say that they are the reason for the "crisis in the sanctity of marriage" -- especially for those in power. Because if we were to look at the real problem we would all have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask questions like:
*how is it our president can pledge to "leave no child behind" and then pass education legislation that adversely effects poor school districts?
*how is it our president can promise not to engage in nation building with the U.S. military and then proceed to do that within a year of being in office?
*how is it that we live in a country that is founded on the principle that "all (people) are created equal" and that all have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and yet our household pets get better health care than the vast majority of people on this planet, and a huge number of people in this country?
*how is it that we claim to be "one nation, under God," continually chant "God bless America" and spout off about how this country is the great, divinely-ordained force for good against evil in the world when we conveniently forget Jesus' command to feed the hungry and heal the sick (and in doing so meet him) when we fail to fund the Global Fund for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and give only 0.1% of our GNP -- the lowest of any developed nation -- to help the 30+ million people dying of AIDS, the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day and countless others who lack even the most basic necessities of life.
These are all about commitment. Commitment to values. Commitment to each other as human beings. Commitment to our fellow men and women as citizens of this country. Far from leaving no child behind, we will leave just about anyone behind.
In the midst of this, I look to gay and lesbian couples who have persevered in long-term committed relationships without support of society and often without support of family and friends and I say "THANK GOD FOR THEM!" They -- and others who have stayed in heterosexual marriages through tough times, and others who have stuck with communities during tough times, and who have stuck with issues when they became unpopular and with people when they became scapegoated -- all of these people remind me of what is possible, of the greatness that human beings, with God's help, are capable of.
So I have no patience for this "defend the sanctity of marriage" bullshit. For one, it's one more non-issue to take up our time while real people are dying and going without education and health care. God forbid we should actually DO SOMETHING about that! But more than that, it's just one more tiresome piece of avoidance. Of one group of people burying it's head in the sand while patting itself on the back for being so much superior.
We'll have one of these idiotic ammendments coming up in Missouri, too. And the biggest problem I have with it is that so many people who really want to be spending their time doiing things that are really worthwhile will have to waste their time fighting against it. I'm convinced that's how the devil works. We are Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.
But fear not and keep the faith. As Gandhi said, at every important moment in history, the power of good has always won. Evil has flourished for awhile, and for awhile it has even looked like evil would win ... but in the end, good always is the victor.
I am not convinced that I am the agent of good in all things -- or even in most things. I am much to acquainted with my own faults to do that. But I am convinced when we, through Christ, have the strength to stand on the side of honoring loving commitment and spending our energies to feed the hungry, care for the sick and to free the oppressed that we're in the right place.
| Mike at 2/12/2004 09:07:00 PM
I'm finding it more difficult to find time to post than I thought it would be (probably should try writing shorter ... tough for me).
My spiritual life has been suffering since I've been on sabbatical -- something I should have seen coming but really has caught me a liittle by surprise. Somehow I figured that the extra time to pray, read, reflect, etc. would allow me to reconnect in ways I had been unable to. Two problems with that. First, that "extra time" doesn't really exist! Being a full-time dad pretty much takes all my time. It's great, but there isn't a lot more time available. Second ... and this is the piece I should have seen coming better ... so much of my experience of Christ comes through my community -- particularly in worship -- and being cut off from that community means more than just missing people.
Of course every problem is an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to seek Christ more deeply in relationships like my family, and in new places.
I imagine our seniors might be experiencing some anxiety or dread over the kind of separation I'm experiencing this semester. It's definitely tough being away ... but every problem is an opportunity. And every time we meet Christ in a different place, we get a new experience of the divine and that changes us. And what could be better than that?
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."