Monday, February 28, 2005

A Delicate subject

The following is my column from the March issue of ChurchActs, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of WNY

There are certain subjects that Episcopalians are traditionally reluctant to discuss. Two of them will spring to mind instantly – Evangelism and Stewardship. But there's a third that we avoid discussing so utterly it simply never occurs to us to include it on the list – Sex. (You may think that the current debate in the worldwide Communion is more than enough talk of sex. I would argue that it has very little to do with sex actually and has much more to do with Scripture and our understanding thereof) As a young person you're being raised in world saturated in more sexual imagery than any other civilization of which I'm aware. For your church NOT to talk with you about it from a faith based point of view is quite simply a sin in my opinion.
So let me go and sin no more. Let's talk about sex.
First I'm not going to spend ANY time discussing the "plumbing". Our schools begin telling you how everything works starting at an amazingly young age. If you don't know "how it works" then you're REALLY not paying attention.
Second I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the "Thou Shalt Not" and "It's a Sin" arguments. Why? Because I know that way too many young people just shrug those ideas off. Maybe there aren't any better arguments than that but I'm not willing to walk away without trying. So here goes.

Argument #1 – We've got sex at the wrong end of the relationship
I've lived more than half of my expected lifetime as I write this and I haven't found anything more intimate than sex. It is quite simply the profound act coming of two people together. It scores at the high end of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual scales. There's nothing that comes close that won't kill you. So why on earth would anyone do this with someone they don't already know intimately, deeply, profoundly? Having sex with someone changes the relationship forever. Concepts like "hooking up" and "friends with privileges" and the granddaddy of them all "casual sex" attempt to make this profound act into snack food. God made sex special, that's my profound belief. God made us special, I believe that equally profoundly. So explain how having sex with any willing "hottie" honors the act, or ourselves, or He who made us and it?
Is waiting for that truly wonderful profound relationship hard? Frustrating beyond belief at times? Oh yes. By placing sex in the right position in that committed, long term relationship(which the church has historically recognized as marriage. Not because we want to keep young folks from having fun but as a recognition of the importance of the gift)we honor God, we honor ourselves, we honor the person we love.
Which leads us to:

Argument #2 – Being Loved vs. Making Love
These two have been confused for generations at least. It grows from one of the stupidest statements ever created: "If you loved me, you would". Let's get this straight, if he (or she because some young women now use this line) loved you, they wouldn't ask you to do something that you aren't prepared to do. When sex becomes a negotiating tool, when it is used in exchange for affection, respect, position or something of value it's no longer love of any kind. When someone withholds their emotional love and support unless they get what they want they are telling something very important about your relationship. You are not a beloved partner, you're a service provider. This concept of sex as a product on sale at all times I believe is why we see the rise in things like "date rape". You have what I want, I make what I think is a reasonable offer and if you don't sell, then I take it.
And that leads us to:

Argument #3 – It shouldn't be about selfishness
Our culture bases its attitude toward sex on a simple understanding: "It feels good, I like feeling good, I should be allowed to feel good as often as possible. Because it's all about me." I'm not arguing that it doesn't feel good. Rather I'm suggesting our faith doesn't call us to place ourselves in the center of everything. We're called to love God and we're called to love another. Do we love God if we use his gift as part of some kind of sexual Open House? Are we loving one another if we are using someone, even with affection, just to get our jollies? Doesn't a truly outwardly directed love bring us back to the concepts of Argument #1?
And finally:

Argument #4 – The self interest argument
How much are you worth? The Bible tells us that we are God's beloved. That's no small thing. The Creator of the Universe thinks you're wonderful and special. Even on your weird days. So are you willing to risk that special person by sleeping with someone whom you don't know well enough to know where they've been? And with whom they've been? Are you willing to trade that special person away for a date, or a piece of jewelry? Are you willing to let that beloved of God be someone else's plaything? Or are you going to say "I am beloved. With the right person in the right relationship at the RIGHT time we will do the right thing. And it will be wonderful. I won't accept anything less for me or for them or for God who loves me and wants me to enjoy it then."

Personally I'm with God on this one. You deserve nothing less, you should expect nothing less, you should settle for nothing less.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Better than I thought!

A bit of end of week silliness. Next week I've got a post that I'm very proud of (I know pride's a sin) and I hope you'll like it as well. It's title "A Delicate Subject" and I'll be talking about sex. Tune in first thing next week! Now for the silliness.

I'm actually not as nerdy as I've always thought. Of course my daughter says I'm a dork not a nerd so there you go. Actually her last assessment was random, weird psycho dork...

I am nerdier than 45% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A call to Change

A couple weeks ago I posted a thought process that had started on my way to work (Feb 8 "A thing I think I think"). It got me started thinking about how we approach bringing folks along in their life in faith. Are we trying to make it easy when we shouldn't? Then in my previous post (Feb 11, "A bit at a time")I thought I'd take on the "basics" one by one.
Upon further contemplation I've decided against that. You want to see what I believe are the basic "beliefs" of Christianity check the link in the title of the Feb 8 post. I like what Mike chose for that list and how he explains them. I'm not going to try and out write him on the subject.

So where does that leave me? How do I answer that initial question? It came to me while I was driving again. What we're failing to do, the way that we're making this too easy is that we're not clearly explaining that all that stuff doesn't mean a thing if you don't change. That's the foundational piece that I think we're missing. The idea is that you will be changed.

And not just by going to church on Sunday. The change that comes through faith is more than another schedule item on your PDA. We're not making clear that a life in faith changes everything. How we view people, how we view money, how we drive, how we talk, how we think, how we treat people, how we spend our money, how we use our time. It means changing how we view ourselves. It means turning away from the inward focus for our lives and accepting an outward one.

That's a scary thought and no doubt some folks will turn away from us because of it. Guess what they turned away from Jesus too at that same point. That change doesn't mean that we all become little faith 'droids carefully programmed to respond exactly the same as all the other little 'droids. Rather it gives us a standard by which to measure our lives and what we do with them. That measure is love. Love for God, the big I AM, and realizing that such a relationship is not all one way. We want God to love us and help us and value those things we love. God wants the same thing. The shift away from an inward focus ("What about MY needs?") to an outward focus means we begin to place God's concerns up front, even if they inconvenience us.

In the end during my drive I came to realize how overwhelming that change is. Quite literally there is NO part of my life that should not feel the impact of that change. My marriage, my parenting, how I deal with cashiers at the store. My relationship with the environment, the government, the economy, the culture. None of survives as it was.

It's not the learning or the believing that's the hard part so it's too bad we spend so much time and effort there. It's the living that's hard. It's the change that's so daunting and scary and hard.

So we should probably get started right now.


Friday, February 11, 2005

A bit at a time

This entry was the victim of a time crunch when I first wrote it. I've added a little bit to it that I had wanted in the original.

I've decided to take on the subject of a previous post a little at a time. I was talking about my feelings that we may be going too far over the edge in making the step into a life in faith easy. There are some hard choices (Yes even if you're a liberal Christian!) And there's some stuff that I think is non-negotiable. But most of that is heavy stuff and I don't want to do an incredibly LOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNGGGGG post to deal with them all. So let's take them on one at a time.

Which led me to the question of what's bedrock? What's the absolute bottom of the pile that has to be there? And the answer came back : God exists. If you're a person of faith in any of the three Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) this is the foundation of it all. If you don't buy this one then the rest fall down. If you don't buy this one you may be a lot of things but you can't be a Christian. (I'll let Jewish and Islamic bloggers take it from here on their branches of the family) And I'm not buying the God as "The Force" kind of thing that some theologians (including a very well known Episcopal bishop) seem to be peddling. God is an entity that is capable of interacting with his creation (can we hold off on the gender neutral language debate? I will simply say that I don't believe that God is an anatomically correct male). In fact large portions of the stories of our faith are about those interactions.
But then something else dawned on me. It doesn't matter if I believe that God exists. And it doesn't matter if you (or someone) DOESN'T believe that God exists. Neither point of view changes a single damn thing about God. It doesn't matter if a Harvard professor declares God dead. It doesn't matter how much I pray, how little or what kind of music we play at worship. God is what God is. I don't think we're even capable of understanding what that last sentence really means. I'm also not sure that it matters too awful much. Remember when Moses was up on the mountain and asked God what he should tell the people? God didn't give a big bio, no divine CV of miracles and creation. As much as we like to fluff up the description, adding the beard and the flowing robes and the good looks (at least if you're into old white guys) what was sent back down that mountain was pretty simple...

He said - I am.

Works for me.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Just strange

I've got some more thoughts to share on the last post but I'm still working on them. In the meantime something that has perplexed me.

Don't know if it's happened where you are but the major fast food burger joints are all moving towards accepting credit cards.

Does that strike anyone else as ...well weird, bizarre, just wrong somehow? I just can't bring myself to walk up and say "I'd like two Happy meals and I'd like to put it on my platinum card".

Either the prices have gone way high or there's something else bizarre happening here.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A thing I think I think

You'll have to pardon me because this is a thought only at the beginning of growth. I have no idea where these ideas come from (I'm willing to blame anyone but myself) but they rattle around in my head. I was literally driving in to work this morning when I thought:

"Why are we wasting all this time with formation and education and relationship? Seems to me that more often than not Jesus just said, 'This is what you need to do'. Period. Think about the rich young man"

Again this is a thought just a 'borning here. I just don't remember any stories of Jesus doing small groups (other than the disciples), I don't remember him doing a lot of hanging out and relating. There was a lot of "This is what you need to be doing, like it or lump it" and if memory serves a lot of folks shaking their heads and walking away.

It's the kind of evangelism that folks in the middle half (both "liberal" and "conservative" - as much as I hate those labels) of the community of faith like to criticize as being done at either extreme. Yet the thought occurred (heresy for a moderately liberal person like myself) "What if they're right? What if they're following the example of Jesus by saying 'You know what? Some things are not negotiable. It's not about us making it easy for you, it's about you getting up off your comfortable butt and just doing it."

I have to admit there are parts of that attitude that I like. Some things aren't negotiable. Jesus was (and is) Messiah. That God exists. That we are the beloved of that God. And that God has expectations. That's a real simplification. The best summary of what I think of as ground zero was written by Mike Yaconnelli. If you click on the title of this entry it'll take you to it. I have a copy of it hanging in my office.

There's still the nagging question that I have to wrestle with - how much easing of the way do we need to do for new believers? How much of it is just "Take it or leave it"? And how do we find the balance that leaves us living out our evangelism in a loving, Christ-like manner?

That's what I get for thinking in my car.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Leave Everything

This is my February column for "ChurchActs" the newspaper of the Diocese of WNY

I heard an interesting story on the radio the other day. Airline flight attendants are trained for any possible kind of problem. For instance they're trained for the event of an “emergency landing”. Right down to the short, precise instructions they are to use to help people exit the plane. Recently they've had to add a new instruction to the training, “Leave Everything”. Seems that they've had a rash of folks who have stopped and tried to retrieve their stuff before they exited the aircraft. Now remember this is during an EMERGENCY. We're talking the plane has a serious problem and these folks are trying to pull things out of the overhead bins. The real problem of course is that they're likely to get themselves killed and kill everyone in the aisle behind them too. Crazy.
It struck me as I listened to the story that some of the hardest sayings of Jesus carry this same basic message. When the rich young man is told to give everything to the poor, when someone is told to let the dead bury the dead, or to leave their mother and father behind Jesus is telling us quite simply to “Leave Everything”. Like most of us those sayings trouble me. Am I supposed to leave my (mumble)-something year old mom? Abandon my wife and daughter? Walk away from my job? Leave my responsibilities? Just chuck it all, cross my arms on my chest and jump out the door onto the inflatable exit slide of salvation? Somehow that just doesn't feel right. Then I looked at my list above of stuff to leave and a thought occurred.
Let's start by defining “stuff” as broadly as possible. It includes all the material things but also all the relationships and responsibilities in your life. It's all your “stuff”. The thought occurred that maybe it's not so much “stuff” that's the problem but the “my” that comes before it. My stuff. My job. My mom. The folks on the airplane get into trouble because “their” stuff is more important to them than the folks around them. As I look at the Gospel teachings and the stories of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles I discover a very strong inclination to look outward, away from “me”. Maybe that's how we're supposed to leave everything. It's less about the stuff than our attitudes about them. When the “my” starts getting in the way of reaching God then it places me in danger. When I model a lifestyle that's all about “my” for family and friends then I'm pushing them into danger as well.
Think about this then: Let's change how we look at our stuff. If the relationship becomes I'm Donna's husband, I'm Rachel's dad, I'm Debby and Jack's son doesn't it change the relationship? Certainly it should change the attitude about that relationship. The relationship with a faith community changes when it becomes “I belong there” rather than “That's my church”. The same thing goes for school. By leaving the ownership of “my” behind we point our attention and our energy away from ourselves. Try it. Instead of thinking about so and so as “my friend” think of it as “I'm so and so's friend”. Now who are you focused on? Them. Somehow that does feel right.
The funny part (funny odd not ha-ha) is that suddenly the material things get set afloat too. You either end up as the computer's operator (which is a pretty silly concept) or the realization that it's just a thing. And things don't fit into the “Leave Everything” world, except as...well, things, objects, tools. None of that kind of “stuff” has any claim on us in the world Jesus calls us towards. It doesn't have the power to draw us away or make us stumble. A huge burden can be lifted from our lives and most of us would love to lose any burden we can these days.
So the next time you hear Jesus call take a look at what kind of stuff is in the way. Take a look at how big the “my” is that's trying to stand in your way. Is it some thing that you just “can't live without”? Is worry about what people might think (that's called “my image”)? Are you getting angry about what someone did because they're supposed to be “my friend”? Then just stop, take a breath and....Leave Everything.