Moderation in all things…

I spent my formative years attending the Amherst Foursquare Church. It pains me to type the word, “Amherst” because they were the arch-rivals of my hometown, Vermilion, idyllically situated on the shores of Lake Erie.
Anyway, the Foursquare Church is a Pentecostal denomination of a few million started by the early-century revivalist Aimee Semple-McPherson (who was a fascinating individual and figure). I never knew what all the fuss was over women’s ordination! My experience in the church was good and bad and I’m glad I grew up there.
So, one of the tenants of belief held by the Foursquare Church that I have come to appreciate is this:

We believe a Christians’ moderation should be obvious to others and that relationship with Jesus should never lead people into extremes of fanaticism; their lives should model that of Christ in uprightness, balance, humility, and self-sacrifice (Colossians 3:12, 13; Philippians 4:5).

It seems a bit ironic that Aimee penned this tenant, because, well, I suppose it was a tenant she hoped to live into because her life seemed not quite moderate. Moderation in all things – lives model after that of Christ consisting of balance, humility, and self-sacrifice. This is a good word.

Tangent and Discouragement

I’m on a gay tangent, it seems. Perhaps because I am feeling the loss of relationship, and for a Christian living in New York City thinking about relationships, well, perhaps I should take up the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “remain as I am…” I don’t know.
After istening to the good pastor’s rant about “Sodomites” and how real men “pisseth against the wall”, see below, and then having listened to a Christian radio interview on 2/25/08 conducted by Dr. Larry Bates of the Info Radio Network between Peterson Toscano ( “a theatrical, performance, artist, a very queer and quirky Quaker, and an ex-gay survivor”) and a pastor from Central Church that hosted the “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference put on by Focus-on-the-Family, after listening to all that it is easy to get discouraged.
It’s just easy to be discouraged by the inability (and at this point I really do think it is more than simply an unwillingness, although for some it is intentional unwillingness) of people to comprehend a life of a gay person that isn’t anything other than the horrendous sex-crazed, drug addicted, disease inflicted, and hedonistic stereotypes Religious Right political groups and pastors and anti-gay activists unrelentingly present to the world. It is easy to become discouraged by the willingness of people who claim to be Christians and who knowingly deceive and scapegoat and castigate a whole class of people because they want power and money. These religious political groups have co-opted ex-gay ministry that I know originally had well meaning and caring people who were trying to help homosexuals (even if their theology and methodology was and still is screwed-up). It is discouraging when listening to Peterson who is still very much a Christian (even more so than when he was an ex-gay for 17 years, married to a woman, and with everything tried to be a former homosexual), and who defies all the stereotypes, yet they are not willing to question their own presuppositions – they will believe he is demon possessed and thoroughly deceived by Satan rather than consider the possibility that their understanding just might be wrong. These are the people and groups that are so influential within the Republican Party right now.
What this does to the psyche of young people who struggle mightily with their faith and orientation. It is easy living in New York City (or many other urban areas) to forget what it is still like in most of the rest of the country. As a Christian and as someone who went to seminary in one of the centers of urban, gay America, from whence the stereotypes come and are very real, I can’t help by feel a strong desire to minister to these lost souls, but to insist that every gay person (particularly Christian gay person) must be the poster-boy for the crystal-meth induced, sex-addicted, emotionally screwed-up “homosexual lifestyle” is just plain wrong. Just plain wrong. They can see an obvious exception to their stereotypic belief, yet they will not see, will not consider, will not believe anything other than the stereotype.
How do Christian gay people survive in this kind of climate – and what I mean by Christian gay people are those who desire to live within God’s ways even if to their own detriment, dying to self, and not seeking to appease their conscious by justifying what is not within God’s desire for all people regardless of orientation (and yes, I know that is a loaded statement that opens a can of worms of controversy). That sounds too much like what the anti-gay people say about homosexuality, period. Yet, God does call us to an ethic, a moral life, to be holy – but the standard is the same regardless of orientation and not bound up in culturally determined and nationalistic definitions.
It’s just discouraging. Meeting with the God of all things in the quiet of Evening Prayer has certainly been a balm to my soul.

New Documentary

Here is a new documentary about “Love in Action,” an ex-gay ministry, and their now discontinued program called “Refuge.” Refuge was a residential program for gay-teenagers. Parents were able to force their gay-children into the Refuge program to undergo re-orientation (or attempts at it). This documentary is about “Zach,” the gay teen whose parents forced him into the program after finding out he was gay. This incident garnered worldwide attention.
Listen as his father gives some of his reasons for putting Zach in the program. Full of emotion, he said he wanted his son to see the “destructive lifestyle” that he would live and he wanted to give his son “some options that society doesn’t give him today.” Listen as he says, “knowing your son by the age of 30 statistics say will either have AIDS or be dead…” He obviously loves his son, but the ex-gay and anti-gay Religious Right movement has so misinformed (lied to) conservative Christians (and attempts to within the general public) about homosexuality and gay people in general that this man truly believes that his dear son will be dead or dying of AIDS by the time Zach is 30. The emotional trauma these parents have to go through, not to mention what Zach had to suffer through, is tragic. It is this way because of the lies spread by certain strategic organizations and self-proclaimed Christians.

I have a good number of friends and acquaintances that have gone through ex-gay programs. A good friend of mine went through Love in Action.
I’m going to stand on a soap-boy for a moment. I become furious with the lying, hypocritical, power-hungry, anti-gay Religious Right organizations like Focus-on-the-Family and the American Family Association for their willful lying about gay people in this country. Listen to the preacher in the YouTube video in my next blog entry. He may be extreme, but this is the result of what the politicized Religious Right spreads around in order to gain more power and money. The leadership of these organizations are not stupid. They know what they are doing. They know that they are spreading lies and misinformation and bearing false witness against a whole group of people and fear mongering and scapegoating in an attempt to cover over their own profound failures. The end justifies the means in their minds and to hell with integrity and the Gospel. There are many messed-up, hedonistic, and lost gay people that desperately need help and need to be reigned in – just like a bunch of straight people. This is not the whole population, not even the majority of either orientation.

They that pisseth against the wall…

Well, here is a video of a preacher expounding upon Scripture and God’s very words, and in this case “they that pisseth against the wall…” (See 1 Samuel 25:22, 34; 1 Kings 14:10, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8 – King James Version, only so I suspect) Why, again, do we wonder how we have such a problem with Biblical understanding and application in this country??? UPDATE: This from the church’s website concerning Pastor Anderson, “Pastor Anderson holds no college degree but has well over 100 chapters of the Bible committed to memory, including almost half of the New Testament.” I think I found the answer to my question, above. I’m sure he loves God and is a very good father and husband, but…
The pastor is from Faithful Word Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He gets a little ex·er·cised over the whole subject.

During my time living in Germany I never saw such a sign and I never knew of a cultural “proclivity” of men sitting down to go #1. I do remember Frenchmen pissing against a lot of walls. I can say that in the middle of the night, while half asleep, and in the dark, that it is a lot easier to sit down than to try to fight sleepiness while trying to aim correctly. I guess I’m a male, rather than a man. I guess that wouldn’t be a surprise to some, eh?
Ok, here is another video of the pastor preaching about “Sodomites.” Lord help us.

Tell me again why gay-teen suicide is so high…

A Study in Brokenness

I have been working with Ken and Cally over the past year and a half to build a home group ministry for St. Paul’s. Members have come and gone and we are about four right now. We meet every Tuesday (the members’ idea, not mine, but I certainly don’t mind) for an hour and a half. We show up, talk and catch up with one another for about 1/2 an hour (or more depending on the need), do the “In the Early Evening” (pg 139 BCP) to bring us into a spiritual frame of mind, and then read through a couple chapters of Scripture. We think, discuss, and then apply what we’ve read to life – just finished Luke.
Tonight, we are going to start reading through a little book that I found way back in the mid-80’s while I was working in campus ministry after my bacheloriate experience. This book changed my whole perspective of leadership, follower-ship, and brokenness. It is entitled, “A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness,” by Gene Edwards. It is short, easy to read, and in my opinion quite profound. The book focused on the Biblical King David and how David responds to his son Absolam and King Saul.
Here is chapter 4:

The mad king [Saul] saw David as a threat to the king’s kingdom. The king did not understand, it seems, that God should be left to decide what kingdoms survive which threats. Not knowing this, Saul did what all mad kings do. He threw spears at David. He could. He was king. Kings can do things like that. Kings claim the right to throw spears. Everyone knows very, very well. How do they know? Because the king has told them so – many, many times.
It is possible that this mad king was the true king, even the Lord’s anointed?
What about your king? Is he the Lord’s anointed? Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. No one can ever really know for sure. Men say they are sure. Even certain. But they are not. They do not know. God knows. But He will not tell.
If your king is truly the Lord’s anointed, and if he also throws spears, then there are some things you can know, and know for sure:
Your king is quite mad.
And he is a king after the order of King Saul.

(Edwards, pp 11-12)
We all have our own “kings!” For example, bosses, presidents, police chiefs, coaches, bishops, pastors, presiding bishops and primates, and any number of other “leaders.”
Are our “leaders” people we consider worthy of following? Does it really matter whether we consider them worthy or not? How do we know whether s/he really is or is not worthy?
A good leader knows how to be a good follower. A good follower can, if thrust into such a position, be a capable leader. How do we respond to our leaders? Do we treat others (whether our leaders or those that follow us) the way we want to be treated (as a leader or follower)? Are we too quick to judge or are we patient enough to let things play out? Are we quick to rebel? Are we quick to put-down?
All we tend to do is repudiate and malign and condemn our leaders – our presidents, our priests, our bishops, our bosses. In the present troubles we face, why do we find it necessary to believe that we really know better? How do we, particularly spiritual leaders, how do we know that we know better then they? Really? Do we honestly believe we know the mind of God concerning God’s plans for us, for our leaders, for our underlings?
We think our leaders are mad, or at least incompetent, or perhaps heretics, and of course we can do better. Sometimes this is true, but within the Church who is the one who moves and guides and places in positions of leadership this or that person (or perhaps one of us)? God does. Do we believe that? Are we sure we know the mind of God? Really? All the time? Isn’t that being just a bit arrogant and prideful? Isn’t that being just a little bit mad? Maybe we are the mad-king (or at least a stupid follower with great ambition – perhaps an Absolam!).
Too many of us want power and will do whatever is necessary to get it – even if just a little bit. We are wonderful arm-chair Vice-Presidents, party-bosses, Senior Wardens, priests, Archbishops, you name it. We get all uppity when we think we’re being put upon. We get all insecure when our little kingdom is challenged or when someone perhaps more talented or more popular or a little better looking then us shows up and we end up doing very mad things. What if we just let things happen – grow in wisdom and the ability to rightly discern as we grow in brokenness?
Read this book. If you are like me, it will challenge and perhaps change your concepts of good leadership and good follower-ship. Tonight, we are reading up through page 25 (the first third of the book). The background reading can be found in First Samuel chapters 8-20.

“A Path-Breaking Survey”

There is a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It is part of the Religious Landscape of the United States Project. The survey pool was 35,000 people – a huge undertaking. I think this will be a very important and significant image of American faith and will reveal the dynamic picture of spirituality/Christianity in this country. The results will be significant, too, in our politicized and polarized “conversation” (some might say war) between different expressions of the Christian faith in the U.S. and of who and what are (will be) the defining characteristics of Christian faith in the U.S.
I was somewhat surprised by the age distribution across the primary Christian groupings. Members of Mainline Protestants, within which the Episcopal Church is located (why or why?), are not nearly as old as I imagined and American-Evangelicalism membership is not nearly as young. The distribution is statistically the same and consistent across age bands.
Mainline Protestants, despite all the talk, talk, talk of inclusion and diversity, have the most lopsided distribution according to race – 91% “White (non-Hispanic)”. I’m frankly surprised by this… well not really, not really at all! Members of “Mainline Protestant Churches” are more segregated than all other Christian-faith groupings and just as segregated as the “Historically Black Protestant Churches” that have a 92% distribution of “Black (non-Hispanic)”. The Orthodox are the next most segregated Christian group and comes in at 87% White and Jews are 95% White, but both of those make sense.
Now, income distribution – Hindus and Jews are the most wealthy! Hindus? Go figure, but in some ways that makes sense, too. I was surprised that Evangelicals and Mainliners income distributions are almost the same. Once again, Jews and Hindus are the most educated.
And get this, there is an equal percentage of Evangelicals to Mainliners who report “Living with a Partner” when asked about their marital status – 5% for both (Catholics – 7%). I don’t know whether “partner” is defined exclusively as same-sex or not. AND, there is a 1% lead among Evangelicals (13%) over Mainliners (12%) who report being divorced. Catholics come in at 10%.
Finally, I was shocked, let me say it again – shocked, at the responses to the following item: “How many children at home…” With all the talk of family values among the Religious Right, I would have assumed lots of kids among American-Evangelicals and because of the traditional teachings, among Roman Catholics, too – but the vast majority of all faith-groups have no children at home: 65% of Evangelicals, 71% of Mainliners, and 61% of Roman Catholics have no children. I don’t think that represents issues of age (empty nesters, etc.). Hum….
Here is the main-page for the Survey where you will find the statistics.
Here is a LA Times article on the Survey endeavor
Update: Here is a good American-Evangelical response to the project/survey results from Christianity Today online.
Here is a video overview from the Pew Forum study:

Hat-tip to Titusonenine

Youth Myths, con’t: Inclusion

My post below, Youth Myths, was cross-posted to my Facebook profile as a “Note,” yesterday. Mark Robbin Collins posted a comment on Facebook, and I attempted to respond. Below is what I wrote down to answer his questions though all my disjointed and chaotic thoughts.
His comment:

This is an interesting series of comments. As a parishioner at Ascension during your summer internship, and as an ordinand, I’m interested in this discussion. I think liturgy is about the beauty of holiness, and should inspire awe and glory. But I wonder if the attraction to more historical forms of worship represents an exclusive, rather than inclusive impulse. Are your youth about creating a place where esoteric rites appeal to a finite group of the liturgically pure? Or are they about celebrating the mystery and majesty of God in a way that is inclusive, and accessible to those who may not have their tastes? Don’t get me wrong, I’m bells and smells for the most part. But I think the most important people to the church are those *outside* of it — that’s where our mission calls us, and that’s whose needs we should be discerning and seeking to meet. And don’t forget, some of those 79 & EOW rites are closer to early Christianity than are some of those 1928 and 1662 ones!

Mark – First, a bit of standing on a soap-box. I have found in my 27 years of being in academe and then in this Church that there is all kinds of talk about “inclusion,” but what has been meant by that term is “inclusion (acceptance) of those who agree with us.” My experience, which has always been on the more “liberal” side of things, is that the “inclusionists” are only really pseudo-liberals, because too many of them virulently excluded “conservatives” and those who don’t line up behind their definitions and expectations of “inclusion.” These terms (inclusion or exclusion) are meaningless to me.
Jesus makes a way for anyone and everyone, but not on our terms. He is very patient and long suffering with us as we seek – always wooing, but never compromising on the means and ways of the call. He offers life, forgiveness, restoration, salvation, peace – but the requirement is that we give up ourselves and our ideologies, etc. That is the crux. As individuals and in common, we give up ourselves and are converted and in so doing we actually find our true selves – individually and collectively. This isn’t accomplished by our words, our theories or theologies or ideologies or our peculiarities of perspective, but is accomplished by the Holy Spirit doing the work within us. Acceptance of all kinds of not very socially popular people has occurred at St. Paul’s over its history – they have found a place in this parish.
Jesus wasn’t an “inclusionist,” mind you. He was about people, no matter who or what they were. The rich young ruler, once he said he couldn’t give up all his possessions to follow Jesus, was not included. Jesus didn’t say to him as he walked off, “Oh, heck, that’s ok, come and follow me anyway.” It wasn’t Jesus that told him go away, but Jesus set the criteria under which he was to follow Him and left it up to the guy, but never compromised His own standard. He certainly didn’t include the religious establishment – unless they were willing to follow Him. Jesus was a respecter of people and their decisions.
That’s what we do – direct people to God through Jesus by the enabling of the Holy Spirit and say that it is He that they should follow. We respect their intelligence and their decisions, but we don’t compromise the standards that this Church has set through the Creeds, Canons, and Book of Common Prayer. It is the people’s decision, after all, and there are people from every perspective and place in the journey in the parish – from those who doubt mightily and those who would rather get rid of a good chunk of “those other people” to those mighty women of God who can pray the mountain to move, and it does.
What we present is the liturgy, the Creeds, the Holy Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the traditions of the Church that over the centuries have proven to touch people’s lives in ways that draw them to God – the tried, not the trendy (although with younger people, it seems the ancient is becoming the trendy). We aren’t everything for everyone and we don’t try to be. We trust the liturgy, Scripture, sacraments, and the Creeds to do their stuff as God works through them.
Early on, I heard St. Paul’s described as a “non-fussy, Rite I, Anglo-Catholic” parish. The “non-fussy” refers to the fact that the liturgy is not a show, but a lived piety. It is what resonates with the parishioners. I asked the rector early on why they still used Rite I and he said, “Because it is the more modern liturgy.” As I mentioned in the original post, it seems that younger generations, generally, seem to be drawn to Rite I language, and then even to traditional architecture, tried liturgical expression, the ancient and the mystery.
This is too long, I know, and not all that well thought out, but it gets at the gist of my perceptions of the what and the why of St. Paul’s. It is Jesus that draws all women and men, so it is Jesus that we present. After that, He can do whatever He decides in the hearts and minds of the people.

Youth Myths

I can remember a revealing event at a parish close to New York University that is involved in outreach to NYU students. I did a summer internship at Church of the Ascension and was sitting with the rector, a great guy, one afternoon. The rector made an observation after a student made this comment, “We like Rite I language.” The rector said, “They actually like that stuff. I just don’t get it.”
I don’t see any of this as negative, but as a needed corrective in the excesses of the last generation (that still holds the reigns of power in the Church). There is a desire to get to that which has survived centuries and not that which is just trendy (and trendy for the past 30 years).
Here are some comments by “young people”:

The Topmost Apple
: The Last Straw (a self-described rant). Here is a paragraph:

And could the liberal “liturgists” who are at present overrunning the Episcopal Church take a seat in the back for awhile, please? Could they maybe say Evening Prayer silently (it’s in the front of the book), or maybe read a little theology or something and report back to us in, say, 20 years or so? And could they possibly say something – oh, I don’t know – interesting at that point, about – let me just get crazy here – faith, or something? Endlessly harping on “liturgy,” it seems clear, has become the latest way to avoid having to deal with reality and with the real issues. In the meantime, you can hardly find a parish anywhere at which the Daily Office is prayed on a regular basis – including at so-called “orthodox” parishes. And could we really at some point stop the dumbing-down of everything? Here’s an example: several of these “liberal” oldsters seemed genuinely offended by the fact that there are a number of inscriptions of Latin phrases in various locations in the nave and sanctuary – Latin being an old and very dead (and therefore obviously useless if not downright oppressive) language. (One of these inscriptions I love in particular is on the pulpit: “Et lux in tenebris lucet.”) Typically, one of the 30-somethings mentioned the inscriptions and found them “mysterious – but in a good way, like something I might find out about someday.” Gosh. Imagine that. While the “liberals” disgustedly plot and scheme to tear down this inscription and all the others (and anything else they decide they don’t like), the yoof – whom we desperately need to reach! – actually seem to find them interesting and appealing. Gee.

And another comment from Snow and Roses. Heres a few paragraphs:

One of my biggest pet peeves has turned into rather a joke, unfortunately one that seems to happen over and over again. There I will be, sitting on a worship committee, or in a planning meeting, or a Christian Ed group. I will often be the only person under 40 in the room. Invariably the topic will turn to attracting young people, or making the service more “accessible” for 30 somethings.
What this means to all those well meaning, but ultimately condescending, brothers and sisters is replacing the hymnal with Christian “pop,” chucking the organ for canned stuff, and getting rid of any hint of liturgy. After all, folks my age are too hip for that shit. Right? Wrong. And here is the second frustration I share with so many other young Anglicans. No one will believe us when we tell them that we like or even love the liturgy. That we enjoy all those stuffy old hymns (that they aren’t stuffy at all!) That we would really honestly like a bit of incense now and then, and sanctus bells would just be lovely, and could we please not do away with all the lovely hangings and go to those horrible polyester “modern art” things?
We Anglicans have a problem, and its not just Episcopalians which is why I’ll stick with the broader moniker. We’re embarrassed by ourselves. At some point we got it into our heads that our liturgy and tradition are something to be ashamed of. That they are “out of touch,” and not attractive. I have some theories as to why this is. The first and most obvious being our country’s strong protestant leanings that look with a jaundiced eye on anything that smacks of “Rome.” Another is plain self-loathing. We simply don’t love ourselves, not truly and authentically. But I think the most authentic is this: it is easier to try to find superficial things to change than to address the real issues that keep 30 somethings out of the church.
Because you know what, the folks who don’t want liturgy have lots and lots of other options. But there are many of us “young people” who long deep in our souls for the unassailable mystery of God to which all that ancient liturgy points. We’ve had hundreds of years to get it right. To live and grow with it, and we love that. Our lives are fractured, fast paced, and often anchor-less; the deep ancient liturgy and traditions of the church offer us a contrast of stability. (I know I can walk into any Episcopal church in the country and find a service and music I know by heart, and in my life I need that assurance.) We want to be a tied to the past, we want to be tied through tradition to generations who came before us.
But we’re smart, and we can smell a sham a mile away. We’ve learned to be cynical, careful, and judging. We look for authenticity and depth. And there, dear ones, is where the church falls down: around all those who come because it was expected when they were growing up, those who come out of habit, and those who come out of fear. We walk into a church and we can smell those things, and nothing will keep us in such a place.

The reality is, the “older folks” are perplexed and running scared because their efforts to remake the church in their image is being repudiated by the “younger folks,” and those “older folks” just don’t get it.

Kant on Religious Covenants

I was reading Mark Harris’ blog Preludium and his post about the following paragraph from Kant. He “hat-tipped” The Lead over at Episcopal Cafe. This could be pertinent to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s announcement for the “Windsor Continuation Group.” So, I give credit to both these blogs for the following quote from Emmanuel Kant:
Immanuel Kant (1704-1824) on Religious Covenants. From “What is Enlightenment?” (l784)

“But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for a time a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the people? I reply that this is quite impossible. A contract of this kind, concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind for ever, is absolutely null and void, even it is is ratified by the supreme power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment. This would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress. Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these agreements as unauthorized and criminal.”

Hat tip Fred Quinn and Prof. Frank M. Turner, John Hay Whitney Professor of History
Director, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.