Tag Archives: Church

Learning to Fly

Last night I was reading the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Shack:  Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by Wm. Paul Young.  The jury is still out on what I think of the novel, but I find parts of it intriguing so far.  If you read it, I recommend getting through the first third of the book.  After that it begins to get intriguing and plays with questions of images of God, religious assumptions, suffering, relationships and new life.

One line from the book struck me.  As the main character and God are conversing about various things, God says:  “This isn’t Sunday School.  This is a flying lesson” (p.98).  What an image!  What if we could view all religion, all spirituality, all relationships from the point of view of this metaphor?  They’re all about flying!  They’re all about being lifted up beyond the pain that sometimes befalls us in life and learning to fly again.  Our relationship with God is NOT about following this or that rule it’s about learning to fly!  It’s about learning to live well!  Of course, any pilot will tell you that there are things you have to learn and do if you are to fly.  But that is not about rigid adherence to rules.  It’s about learning to live well, making good choices so that I feel as if I take flight.  It is about calling on the power of God within and trusting it, trusting that it is with us and will carry us through anything.  Now, we’re not going to “feel” it all the time, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t there.

Some of my friends know that I have gone through a bit of a difficult time the past couple of years.  I have struggled much.  A few weeks ago, I sat down and tried to meditate, having “felt” no connection with God, or others for that matter, in quite a while.  I felt that this was such a waste of time.  I didn’t feel any better.  But I kept going back to meditation anyway, if even sporadically.  One day, wondering about the pain and difficulty of the past couple of years, wondering why I was even doing this and if there was any Power out there to help, I softly heard these words:  “It was then that I carried you.”  I look back now . . . and indeed I see only one set of footprints in the sand.  Indeed, I was still flying, still being lifted up, even though I didn’t feel it.

What strikes me is this:  if I had not meditated, if even sporadically, I never would have heard those gentle words, which were the catalyst which is giving me some thrust, some wind, as it were, as I slowly stretch out my wings again and learn to fly.

In the book, God says to the main character who has been deeply wounded:  “Mack, pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. . . .And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place” (p.97).

I pray that we all know that we were created to fly; that we have the courage to slowly spread our wings again.  And even when life is difficult may we know that “it was then that I carried you.”

You Want to Live?

Jonah 3: 1-10

If someone told you that if you didn’t stop doing something you would soon be dead, would you stop doing that thing which is destroying you? I think most of us, if given the chance would indeed stop and choose to live! Jonah called out to the people, telling them that if they didn’t change they would soon be dead; and the people quickly turned from their death dealing ways and chose life.

Most of the time, we don’t have a Jonah though. We don’t have someone telling us to stop some negative pattern of behavior so that we might experience the best Life has to offer. Or if we do, we take their call to us as a personal affront, instead of seeing it as a gesture of love and concern for our well being. Most of the time we go about our negative habits or patterns of thinking or behavior totally denying how they are affecting us and those around us.

Don’t you want to really live? Don’t you want to get out there and drink life in?

When we’re caught in some bad habit, some negative pattern it literally sucks the life out of us, doesn’t it? Think about some negative thinking you might have, some negative behavior, some ingrained bad habit. Doesn’t it sap the life out of you, not to mention those around you?

I believe that God wants us to live, wants us to drink life in and get rid of those things that hold us from doing just that. Lent then really isn’t about gloom and doom. It’s about rising from the graves that we’ve built for ourselves. It’s about naming the lie that this or that behavior is going to make me feel better; when in reality it’s sucking the life out of me! It’s about letting go of that which has kept us mired in winter’s lifelessness. It’s about taking some small step away from something which is killing us or those around us and stepping into a new springtime of living!

The Prodigal – Key to Forgiveness

I recently read an article about a talk on forgiveness given by Beth Johnson, one of my professors from graduate school (See the National Catholic Reporter “Theologian Elizabeth Johnson: ‘Drench Anger With Forgiveness’” by John L. Allen Jr., August 4th 2008).  Beth is a prominent feminist theologian at Fordham University. I took a class on Christology from her which made a profound impact on my personal, spiritual and theological outlook. Since that class I have seen the Christ in a different way, a human who fully realized the Divine potential within and a human who points the way for the Divine potential within all of us. What was fully realized in Jesus is possible for all of us!

In this article, Beth spoke of the reality of anger and hurt within church and society. How do we deal with that? How do we let go and live freely, despite what the powers to be may be saying? This past year has been a year of letting go and dealing with unexpected hurt and anger. This very week I look back at one of the last times I spoke to a person who was one of my best friends. The hurt that I experienced was one of the greatest blows in my life. How does one let go when one is hurt, betrayed or put down?

I was struck by an example that Beth gave, which illustrates a way we can deal with our anger and hurt and go on with life. She spoke of another one of my great professors of graduate school days, Charles Curran, probably one of the greatest intellects in the field of moral theology. Charlie was silenced by the Roman Catholic church and fired from his position while I was in graduate school. Beth described the aftermath of his meeting with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and how debilitating this was for Charlie. The next day, in Rome, his professor and mentor, Bernard Haring, celebrated Mass with him and six others that Charlie had brought with him. The Gospel was about the Prodigal Son. Bernard compared Charlie, NOT WITH THE PRODIGAL SON, but with the father in the story. It was the church who was the prodigal son, silencing and squandering a treasure of gifts and talents! The challenge was this: as the father in the story welcomed back his prodigal son, can you still welcome those who hurt you?

I was very much struck by the twist that Haring placed on this story. Of course, the prodigal son was sorry as he returned to the father. I have not heard of or experienced any sorrow from my friend, or from the church. But the image of looking upon them as the prodigal son is helpful in itself in letting go. It opens a door of compassion within, which leads to a greater sense of forgiveness and freedom.

We may never hear “I’m sorry” from those who have hurt us, whether in word or action. We may never change the political, economic or religious structures that oppress us, silence us and reject our giftedness. But in seeing them as the prodigal and we as the father or mother, can we look at them with compassion, and get on with what we have to do in life. As Beth says: “Forgiving does not mean condoning harmful actions, or ceasing to criticize and resist them. But it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred.” See National Catholic Reporter “Theologian Elizabeth Johnson: ‘Drench Anger With Forgiveness’” by John L. Allen Jr., August 4th 2008.

Holy Sexy Men

This past week I have been with the religious community that I left some 10 years ago. I had spent about 20 years of my life with this community. I had been asked to come and help them with their bi-annual Assembly. I accepted the invitation to help, but to be honest, I was nervous about being there with them. What would they think of my presence? How would they treat me?

I cannot tell you what a wonderful pleasure it has been to be with these men again! They welcomed me with open arms and many told me how much I was missed, how much I was loved and how very happy they were that I was there with them. And these men knew me, my gifts and my flaws and they know and cherish me as a gay man. It was a very affirming experience. It was wonderful to be around this group of wonderful, holy, sexy men for a week. It reminded me of the type of man that my heart seeks. These men are holy men, spiritual and open, yet very much down to earth, to say the least! Such a combination in a man has seemed difficult for me to find since I’ve left. Of course they, like me, are not perfect and there are some pretty screwed up men among them; but I sat back and observed how those who were screwed up were treated. I found a lot of tolerance. The grace of community is that it is a witness to the possibility of different types of people and personalities, viewpoints and political philosophies coming together and respecting one another in love. And in the world in which we live, such a witness is needed!

This experience reminded me of the importance of community, specifically a community of faith. This has been missing in my life. I yearn to be a part of a community of faith where I can worship in spirit and in truth. It reminds me again how alone the journey feels sometimes because I don’t have a community of faith where I can lay my head and feel at home. Work circumstances prevent that right now; or perhaps it‘s just fear. Maybe this experience was meant to beckon me to search and seek again; to examine my willingness to leave all things and follow – to give up house, home, financial security, geography, friends and family. Am I willing? Am I willing to risk without guarantee in order to follow? It reminds me of Eckhart Tolle who left his native land of England to move to California because something within him felt compelled; and he only had $1000.00 to his name! Perhaps if we risk life becomes more of an adventure than the stayed feeling that pervades my living now. Believe me, there are many advantages of this “stayed feeling,” a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood, a good paying job doing when I love do to. But I increasingly do not believe in the direction of the church in which I serve and my home isn’t there.

Am I being called to sell everything? To risk? Are you? Anyone know of a good community of faith?