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What are We Against?

Life Light Up

I went to church this morning. I’ve been dabbling in going to church for a few years but it’s hard for me to find a place that I’m comfortable. I think part of the reason is that most people go to church as a family. That really came into focus for me when I saw that this church (which is for most intents and purposes new to me) offers counseling for “being single.” It even sounds strange to me as I write it now, but this morning I thought, “hmmm, yeah, that’s interesting.” The idea of being a single parishioner is all well and good, but actually showing up at the sanctuary by yourself is something else entirely.

The other challenge, of course, is finding a Christian community that’s inclusive for gays and lesbians. As I reach out into the community as a whole, I’m finding that my sexuality is once again much more “out there” (pardon the pun) than I would otherwise make it. I don’t want to go to a church that has pride flags in the sanctuary (that’s not what church is about). At the same time, I can’t be an active part of a congregation if I can’t tell people that I’m an artistic leader of the Orlando Gay Chorus.

This weekend, I’m pleased to say, there is increasing hope that the Church is coming around. On Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted by at 66% margin to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy. The final decision is still up to individual congregations (as it should be) but the margin of approval among the church’s leadership, I think, is a fantastic sign.

The part of the article was the quote by one of the pastors: “We can learn not to define ourselves by negation, by not only saying what we are against….” This really rings true for me. Jesus didn’t spend so much time talking about what He was against. He spent a whole lifetime preaching about what He was for: love. I’m not sure yet, but I’d like to see if I can find a church that embraces this principle. The sermon this morning gave me a lot of hope.

In the past week I’ve also discovered a new song that pretty much sums it up.

Brothers, let us come together
Walking in the Spirit, there’s much to be done
We will come reaching, out from our comforts
And they will know us by our love

Sisters, we were made for kindness
We can pierce the darkness as He shines through us
We will come reaching, with a song of healing
And they will know us by our love!

The time is now, come church arise
Love with His hands, see with His eyes
Bind it around you, let it never leave you
And they will know us by our love

Children, you are hope for justice
Stand firm in the truth now, set your hearts above
You will be reaching, long after we’re gone
And they will know you by your love!

The time is now, come church arise
Love with His hands, see with His eyes
Bind it around you, let it never leave you
And they will know us by our love

“By Our Love”
Christy Nockels
Life Light Up
© 2009 Sparrow Records / sixsteprecords

1 comment Spirituality and Faith 08/23/2009 at 17:13 ET

Happy Birthday Baby Jesus

One of my favorite things about Christmas has always been Christmas Eve. My coworkers took notice this year when I said that there are only two days of the year that I won’t work: my birthday and Christmas Eve after 5:00 p.m. (So much so that Shawn was noticeably surprised when I worked on Christmas Eve — he missed the “after 5” part.) It’s a very important day to me and we had a lovely, relaxing party this year. I’m not saying that towards the end of the night I didn’t stretch-out on the floor after a few glasses of wine, I’m just saying that everyone enjoyed themselves.

I have a new favorite thing, tied with Christmas Eve. It’s not new, exactly: I’ve been doing it with Andrea for years. We sing “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus. This year, however, that chorus of a rather over-sung ditty really put me in the Christmas mood. I like Christmas Eve because my family and friends always take a few minutes (or, at least, let me take a few minutes) to reflect on what Christmas is all about. I read “The Gift of the Magi,” a family tradition. The reflection is not meaningful because of the moral of the story, but rather because we share it together. As nice as the story is, it’s just another ornament — the fellowship is the beautiful part.

So today we were sitting around the breakfast table, forbidden from opening any presents, putting candles into monkey bread. The confection isn’t important, but the candles and the singing are. Having everyone there to fill-out the voice parts is important too. When we got to the end I was really thinking about how I am glad that Jesus was born. Maybe that sounds silly.

Jesus' 2008 Birthday "Cake" (this year, monkey bread)

Ever since my friend Jonathan introduced me to it, I’ve been in love with this song “Star of Wonder” by a group of sisters called The Roaches. I’ve been thinking a lot about the wise men and the shepherds and the angels and the star. I looked up at the sky tonight on my jog and saw the North star and made a wish.

It’s a powerful symbol. The image of a star reaches into our more primitive past when we didn’t know God directly but rather worshiped the heavens. It represents something old — ancient really — that has enough power to reach across thousands of trillions of miles and thousands of years. I like to think of myself as a wise man or a shepherd. I like to imagine being visited by a star or an angel and, out of the blue on an ordinary night, learning that a great mystery has been bestowed upon the world. I wonder if I would understand the awesomeness of the miracle. I wonder if I would be moved enough to abandon my post and make haste to go find Him. I wonder what it would be like to be in the presence of that little babe.

I think I would go. I think I would understand. I know I would take my friends along with me. And I think, when we got there, we’d offer up to him a song: “happy birthday, baby Jesus!”

Star of Wonder in the heavens
Wonder what you want of me
Should I follow you tonight?
Star of Wonder

I am just a lonely shepherd
Watching from a distant hill
Why do you appear to me?
Star of Wonder, if you will.

In the morning they’ll come looking
For the shepherd on the hill.
What would make her leave her flock
For surely she must love them still?

Star of Wonder in the heavens
Are you just a shining star
Or should I follow you tonight?
Star of Wonder, shining bright.

“Star of Wonder”
The Roaches
We Three Kings
© 1991 Terry Roach

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 12/26/2008 at 00:08 ET


Has anyone else been watching Eli Stone? I try hard not to watch too much TV, so I avoid geting hooked-on new shows. There are plenty of good shows that I’m already engaged in — and a few bad ones to boot. This new show, however, Eli Stone is something I’m glad that I took some time to watch.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the premise is pretty simple: there’s this guy (Eli Stone) who starts experiencing strange, immersive visions. He finds out that he has an inoperable brain aneurysm and seeks help from an acupuncturist who thinks perhaps the visions are more than just random expression of a mishmosh of insignificant imaginations of his subconscious. He calls Eli a prophet (something Eli’s not particularly comfortable with), an through a series of uncanny events, Eli comes to think that maybe, just maybe, something special is happening to him.

And here’s where the show gets compelling, because it really seems like something special is happening. It doesn’t always work out with a happily-ever-after for him, and he can’t keep the faith that he may really be a prophet, but the things that happen to Eli and the ways they link together are too uncanny to be just a brain disease. It really seems like he’s getting some guidance.

There are moments in this show that just reach out and grab me. First, his visions seem to revolve around (although not exclusively) music, something near and dear to my heart. Then there are times when the events in Eli’s life relate directly to the visions he’s having in a way that just makes my heart yearn. I’m guessing it’s been popular because it has that affect on other people too. How great would it be to have someone walk up to you and introduce themselves as the person you were dreaming about helping just last night? How could you ignore a message written in children’s alphabet blocks that seems to be just for you?

So here’s the hitch: even with all the help he’s getting from his visions, things aren’t working out perfectly for Eli. His life has become very, very complicated. At least a third of the time he’s not even sure he believes in what’s happening to him. His relationships keep getting messed up; despite the visions, he keeps making the wrong decisions; his career has basically gone up in smoke; and worst of all, the visions can be a little disturbing. Maybe I wouldn’t want to be Eli after all…

…who am I kidding? I sure would!

As an episode comes to a close, however, I think there’s a bigger point. Watch carefully. What’s so special about Eli, anyway? Is it his disease? Is it his messed-up relationship with his crazy, late father? Is it the fact that he gets special guidance from his visions that make it simple to figure out what to do next?

No, it’s not — none of those things make Eli particularly different from you or I. What’s cool about the show is that it demonstrates the need to pay attention to the signs. We need to look for them and listen to them and trust them. We’re not always going to interpret the omens right — even if they were full-blown, immersive visions we probably wouldn’t get it right all the time. But the signs are there on the road, and you’re going to have a better, safer journey if you mind them.

You and I are prophets too, if we want to be.

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 04/05/2008 at 13:21 ET

This I Believe

There is a series on NPR called This I Believe that I like. I’ve wanted to contribute but have never found the right words. This Sunday I feel like I should have something positive to say. It’s not that I’m feeling down, exactly, just more introspective. Hopefully there is a way to turn my contemplative thoughts into something both interesting and useful?

I think people who don’t know me well would find it curious that the thing I believe in most is spiritual in nature. Sure, I like to break the rules and talk about politics and religion in mixed company as often as I can get away with it, but I think even people that only know me casually understand that I usually take on taboo topics just because they’re taboo. In those conversations I’m almost always the Devil’s advocate, despite my true views and feelings. I know for a fact that, because I’m always playing the flip-side, some of my acquaintances don’t have the faintest clue what I really believe.

Most of the time I think God, too, would find it curious that the thing I believe in most is spiritual in nature. I’m far from the epitome of the stereotypical American Christian. I don’t actually go to church (little c), I don’t read the bible often (with a little b, although it is admittedly one of the many books sitting on a stack for me to read), and I’m a progressive liberal (yes, actually lots of progressive liberals are also Christian.)

I believe, with all of my heart and all of my mind, that there is a reason. I know this is a pretty common thing to think, but not believe, and I know from experience that there are a lot of people who don’t agree and might even say I’m deluding myself. Yet, this is my most important belief and it is at the core of what makes me a religious person despite the fact that I don’t go to church, I don’t read the bible often, and I’m a progressive liberal.

Some days it’s easier than others to believe that there is a reason — we all have good and bad days, I suppose. Some days I see a blue sky, filled with clouds during a sunset that paints the heavens orange and red and pink and purple. Some days I’m surrounded by the love of my friends or my family and we know how wonderful it is to be with each other just by a look across the dinner table. Other days I feel lonely, spending an evening at home. Those days occasionally make me think about sadder times.

Either way, I have a policy I learned from my friend the turtle: slow but steady wins the race. The important part of that moral is “steady.” We have to be steadfast in our journey and remember that the road thus far has brought us to where we are. We must move steadily forward or we are surely doomed to fail in our quest. My friend the turtle didn’t slow, he didn’t falter, and he didn’t look back. I’ve had many a grand daydream imagining what I might do with a time machine, knowing all along that should one be made available I would walk away. The journey is the point — the path behind us is only important in that it brought us here and presented us with the choices we have today. The things on that path had a purpose and are all sacred.

The nay-sayers will tell you that “believing” there is a reason is simply the rationalization of a mythological system to explain those parts of the universe that are either random or that science hasn’t seen fit to explain (yet). I even understand where they were coming from. I think they’re wrong. I actually think that it’s a rationalization to call it a mythological system. Some of the people who don’t believe as I do say this because they think that believing is a choice. I’m a scientist, but that’s the big lie of science, the assertion that it’s a choice to believe; it’s not.

I believe because I have to. I believe because each and every day, the universe conspires to tell me that there is a reason. Sunsets, friends, family, loneliness — the path is set and there’s no going back. The only choice is not to believe. That’s not a choice furnished by science, it’s the one that God gives us and I believe there’s an important reason for that, too.

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 03/09/2008 at 20:46 ET

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

…my new favorite bumper sticker.

I don’t have many favorites — no favorite movie and no favorite candy bar. Yet, I have, from time to time, had a favorite bumper sticker. Most of you probably don’t know about my old favorite bumper sticker, “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing their idiot.” That one still gets me if I see it, although it’s been a while. It’s also been a while since I designated it as my favorite bumper sticker, so now seems like a good time to update my choice. “Who would Jesus bomb?” definitely takes the cake.

Honestly, in the current political and social climate, I was a little shocked by the bumper sticker at first. I couldn’t believe that someone would be so audacious to suggest that there is an answer to that question. People wearing W.W.J.D. bracelets who spout hatred against gays and talk about the necessity for capital punishment are the all-too-common popular stereotype of an American Christian. (Seriously, are they concerned that in a wold without capital punishment there wouldn’t have been a vehicle for salvation?) Crazy Christians who are too concerned with the ways and dogma of the church to spend any time understanding Jesus are one thing — the half-second I thought that someone would invoke the persona of Jesus to justify war boiled my blood.

After I took another half-second to calm down and realized the question was rhetorical, I did a little searching on the internet and confirmed the message the driver was trying to convey was likely more enlightened. There are some people who have taken up this slogan and I’m very proud of them. Here’s a good one: David Rovics Sings “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

Add comment Political,Spirituality and Faith 03/07/2008 at 17:39 ET

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