Drawing in the sand; let go of the rocks you carry

Sand drawing

It seems to me that there are folks in various religious communities who are fascinated, and perhaps borderline obsessive, by the sexual orientation of others. While I cannot speak as a representative of faiths that aren’t my own, I’ll stick to Christianity because it’s what I know best (religion-wise) and to a certain extent I prescribe to the main tenants of the faith.

The church as a whole is not an over-the-top, black-and-white heteronormative environment (dare I say duh?). Sure it might try to maintain this image in some parts and denominations within Christianity, but that facade is being pulled back and off (thank God) albeit in some areas a little at a time.
Even in my lifetime I have been moved and prompted by God to change my mind and heart when it came what I thought about the LGBTQ+ community. I consider myself blessed for having my worldview altered with every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender follower of Christ I know and have met.

My changed posture, both heart and mind, stem from being open to God and whomever I’m in contact with. Because I realize in my life it has come from engagement with those who make up the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years I’ve also come to realize that love requires proximity, and while God could have changed my heart and mind about what I previously thought about the LGBTQ+ community, I don’t think I’d be able to speak and live my truth had I chose not to engage intentionally in proxy. I could be wrong, bu that’s what I think in the matter.

The basis for why this post is called “drawing in the sand; let go of the rocks you carry” is because Jesus was called on by the religious leaders (as found in John 8) of his time to handle an issue they had. That “issue” they presented was a woman caught in adultery (the man isn’t mentioned, but that’s another matter altogether).
The religious leaders explain what needed to be done, on their terms, to such a woman. Stoning to death was the methodology,their perception as to how to bring about restitution. Jesus proceeds to sit down and draws in the ground, the religious leaders prompt him and egg him on, but Jesus instructs them as follows;

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (verse 8)

He draws a bit more and then…”Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

“No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (verses 10 & 11)

And with that the woman is set on her way, her dignity and humanity restored by Jesus.

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I think this story speaks to the innate desire to focus on what’s going on in the lives of others while failing to address one’s own issues. When we do this, we are like religious leaders, we clasp onto our own “stones” with the intention to throw. Stones of bias, judgment, confusion, hatred, fear, ignorance, etc. We also sometimes hold onto these stones because we’re coming from a place of projection and not being at peace with our own selves.

So when it comes down to the passage where Jesus tells the woman to “go now and leave your life of sin” it is important to realize it’s Jesus making this statement to the woman, not the religious leaders. Yet at times the rebuttal to this is something akin to “yeah, well, the Bible clearly says…” and thus the paradigm of “what the Bible says” compared to “what Jesus said” takes place. Then there are times it becomes a moral “slippery slope” pertaining to rights, that if there’s acceptance or tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community it won’t be long till it’s extended to those who are into beastiality, incest, pedophilia, etc.
That is just fear-mongering and ignorance at work in one’s mind, there’s no comparison and that form of thinking is toxic and absolutely absurd.

It is for these reasons among others I deeply encourage those in the Christian community to let go of their rocks and move in the direction of proximity with the LGBTQ+ community. They’re our friends, our family members, our coworkers, and they’re also our fellow church goers.
God is in the midst of the LGBTQ+ community, isn’t it time that we do that as well?

~Nathanael~

Midday Meditation 5.24.16

Midday Meditation 5.24.16
“The Lord walks among the pots and pans” – Brother Lawrence
 
Since Friday I’ve been working behind the scenes at my work, that is, light duty in the form of washing dishes, getting sack lunches ready, getting snacks ready, and related. In the time I have spent doing this I realize I have been present, even hyper-present almost, to the tasks before me and to those I am helping out by helping feed them.
 
It was while cleaning I was reminded of a 17th century Carmelite brother by the taken name of Lawrence Of The Resurrection, and how his experience in the order was as dishwasher and later on sandal repairer. From his teachings the book The Practice of the Presence of God came forth, and from within it a sense of peace and presence with God and others in what might be perceived mundane everyday life.
 
Working in the kitchen is not always an easy task, but the kitchen staff has been helpful through and through, plus one of my students has helped me in the morning hours leading up to school. He made known to me that he felt privileged to be working alongside of me, how humbling! There in the kitchen, in the midst of dirty pots and pans, I too felt the same thing.
Isn’t that a beautiful example of what life can look like? That it’s not always those mountaintop experiences, but in the small and quiet and humbling ways, ways that point to simply BEing in communion with others.
 
I have been given the green light to go back to working with my students come tomorrow, which I am really thankful to be able to do that. But I am also thankful for my time spent working in the kitchen, my level of presence and BEing has been raised.

A service of Taizé at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church

Last night I went to Dupage Unitarian Universalist Church because I found out via their Facebook page that they were going to have a Taizé service.

Taizé is usually a gathering that has elements of chanting, candle lighting, responsive reading, shared silence, and some form of a guided meditation.

In fact, the Taizé service I was a part of incorporated all of these elements. Initially I was a bit thrown off by the shared silence, but I was quickly relieved because despite several shared silence’s, they were no more than five minutes a piece. That I can do (and maybe someday I can level up to Quaker status).

The opening chant went as follows; come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, yet again, come. (SLT #188)

I found beauty in this chant, and I did what I could to figure out which part of “whoever you are” most aligned with, I believe in that instance I was a “wanderer” and maybe perhaps I am that still.

From there a candle was lit in the center of our gathering. Apart from the dusk setting in quickly, the candle was a nice centering item for when my eyes were open.

Given that our shared silence time wasn’t that long, I found myself more engaged as a result. I mentally prepared myself for the night by mentally chanting a Latin phrase I’ve picked up in my own studying and partaking in Taizé; veni sancte spiritus, come holy spirit.

The highlight of my evening partaking in the service was the guided meditation. Our guide led us (with nature sounds in the background) into a deeper place found within. It’s hard to put into words, but I lived there and thrived there, it may have felt like a lifetime but in actuality it was probably twenty minutes altogether. I caught myself crying a little, because it was beautiful to simply be aligned mind+body+spirit, to simply BE.

After the service I made my way to the labyrinth that’s outside the building. The above picture is from that, as the path is illuminated when the sun is no longer out. It was another wave of much needed introspection and silence entwined. I took my time and meditated all the while, mentally chanting veni sancte spiritus.

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Unfortunately they’re going to be taking a break from this service until October. Until then I’ll have to partake in Taizé on my own or find others to do it with. It’s not often that I am stirred so deeply, so passionately, but I am willing to engage that deeper part of me that resides in the silence.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

I am fearful of fundamentalism, but not fundamentalists (and so can you!)

 

Recently I and a friend were invited to a fundamentalist church to attend for my church incognito project, but as I was finding out about the church I was cautioned about some of its practices and corporate beliefs. Now it’s not that often I am warned about a church and honestly I find it interesting when this happens.

I had the opportunity to attend this past weekend, and as it closer and closer to the time for the service to begin I thought less and less of attending. I gave thought to contacting my friend to join me, but I chickened out in extending the invitation. As I backed out in going I started thinking of the reasons why.

First off, I was worried about what my friend would think; he heard the caveats but he didn’t understand it to the extent that I did, and so I was worried he might not get it until we were in the midst of the service and then the “a ha” moment might kick in. Secondly, I was worried about my interaction with the members of this church; I attend a spiritually and emotionally healthy church, and I “forget” (suppress perhaps?) that fundamentalist churches are still out there.

I do realize that Christian fundamentalism hasn’t always been the anti-science, anti-thinking, anti-Bible questioning, anti-smoking, anti-drinking, infallible / inerrant bible believing, substitutionary atonement, homophobic, misogynistic, patriarchal authority figure it appears to be nowadays (and granted, more or less of what I’ve just posted). It was once about the fundamentals of what following Jesus looks like, but as technology advanced and science explained more about the world and its origins, beliefs that were once held with an open hand became closed.

Instead of engaging in science and technology, walls were fortified and fundamentalism became a system of security responding out of fear rather than love. And over the years, more things have caused the typical fundamentalist Christian to build more walls. At times I wonder if the walls are built to keep them in or to keep others out, and I’m left thinking it’s a both/and answer.

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It’s out of this framework that I am fearful of Christian fundamentalism on a personal level, but at the same time I intentionally try to see the humanity and divinity of those who align themselves accordingly. I’m told I need to engage structures more, but personally speaking if I’m to do this I bound to make assumptions and lose sight of what actually matters.
I am also fearful of Christian fundamentalism and it’s marginalization of “the other” and I am someone who has LGBTQ+ friends, Muslim friends, Atheist and Agnostic friends. There isn’t a place for them at the table of Christian fundamentalism, and that’s why I bring it back to me; to widen my doors, to set more tables, because I am fundamentally inclusive to ALL.

This system exists, but I am glad it will not always exist. It sustainability depends on naivete, gullibility, fear, and power. When people pull back the curtain and see the wizard for all he is, there’s no need to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and thus the fire of Christian fundamentalism will be snuffed out. Thanks be to God!

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Holidays with the Harrisons / The beauty of messy hospitality

My roommate Brian is a swell guy, and in getting to know him better I have also gotten to know his family as well. They have invited me to several family functions, mainly holiday (and soon, a wedding) and today on Easter it was no different.

It started off with going to Easter at 11am at Springbrook Community Church where Brian’s father is the lead pastor.

I was a little early for the 11am service, so I waited around till Brian arrived and then we went into the sanctuary as it was starting…

It was a good Easter service with a few sleigh-of-hand’s by Brian’s father, a lot of laughter and a lot of celebration of the resurrection. From there I met some people Brian knows, and it was nice and social. From there I drove over to their house for Easter lunch, which was great because they do a good job at being themselves and being hospitable.

“Messy Hospitality” is a phrase I’ve heard before to describe hospitality as-is, no hook lines and sinkers, no catches, what you see is what you get, and so on. The Harrison’s home is such a place, and there’s a welcoming in that family that is “as-is” and I love it completely.
Messy hospitality can get complicated as its fractured and untidy. But I suppose that’s the beauty of it, it comes unvarnished and doesn’t have a shine to it for appearance’s sake. As Leonard Cohen croons in Anthem;

                                                              Ring the bells that still can ring
                                                              Forget your perfect offering
                                                              There is a crack in everything
                                                              That’s how the light gets in.

Growing up my family’s life was very private, and consequently my life was very privatized and compartmentalized. Some of it A lot of it was operating out of fear, and fear compounds itself on fear and before you know it you have this massive fear stack that you have no idea how you’re going to dismantle it…except, say if you move in the direction of honesty (to self inasmuch to others), even if that means transparency and, ultimately, messy hospitality.

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Messy hospitality is what I aim to do where I am at in every walk of life unto everyone I associate with. I might not bare my heart on my sleeve, but I will be unflinchingly transparent where needed be. We all need boundaries in our lives, and so there are some things I will withhold from others and my blog for my own emotional and mental health.

For what I cannot wrestle on my own or with the help of others (which is statistically 92.5%) I take it to God in prayer. Occasionally Most of the time my prayers are detailed and very much “warts and all.” God gets me more than the other way around, but with that being said I lay it on thick.

I no longer fear what others think about me (most of the time),
I don’t have a nagging in the back of my mind to keep up appearances that are contrary to how I am feeling and responding to what’s going on inside and around me.
I don’t have a need to wait till I get “there” when it comes to hospitality, my door is wider and my table is inclusive to all.
It took time to get here, but may God be honored by the journey I’m on.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Church Incognito; A peace church, liturgical and intergenerational; my experience at a Mennonite church

Last Sunday I went to Christ Community Mennonite Church on an intentional whim. As of late I’ve been reading more books on theology in my free time. I recently came across a book on Anabaptists and other historically known “peace churches” and their views on pacifism have intrigued me to be more committed to pacifism AND social justice. With that in mind I went to commune with Mennonites, to listen, to talk, and ultimately to be.

What I gathered upon entering this particular congregation is that while small in numbers, there were several inter-generational families who worshiped together. I also noticed that with the exception of a song or two, the entirety of the worship was a Capella and the song choices were varied; from newer songs to songs sung in Swaziland.

Amy, the pastor, delivered a message on Jesus’ interactions with those who were looked down upon in his society. She posed the question of whether we write ourselves into the stories found in the gospel, do WE reach out and engage with the marginalized, the oppressed and the unexpected. She talked about how we should still move and engage others because God too continues to move and engage with humanity. We should, out of love and out of response to who Jesus is to allow ourselves to take in the new wine as new wine skins, that is to allow new experiences move us rather than not be moved at all and  be stagnant in our faith journeys.

After the service there was a communal meal. It was during this time that Pastor Amy and a member named Art introduced themselves to me. They were both inquisitive as to me visiting them that morning and I talked to them about my project. Over lunch those gathered discussed some church-related issues, Art and I talked about theology and he filled me in on some information pertaining to Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.
After lunch, Art and I talked more about these followers of Christ and how their lifestyles influence their faith and vice versa. Since another church uses their space after they do, we decided to talk more at a local coffee shop.

Art’s information and integration in these communities (as he is a friend to many) made me realize that he is a passionate man who embraces knowledge of the heart as well as the mind. I am a big fan of someone passionate people, and people who have merged the mind and the heart are my favorites.

I had a very good experience with those who gathered at Christ Community Mennonite Church. Their hospitality and inclusiveness was certainly felt by me. Because of them and other peace churches, it is my intention to find ways to engage with them in the near future.

~Nathanael~

Anxiety sometimes has the better of me

I am typically an individual who isn’t anxious. I go with the flow of life, but I am not defined by the current. But I’m prone to bouts of anxiety, heavy soul-crushing don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed anxiety.
Because of how infrequently I suffer from anxiety, to a certain degree I have control over it rather than the anxiety having control over me. I do have my moments within the throes of it that I think thoughts of rather being in bed than whatever I’m doing at the time.

The thing is, my anxiety is very much in my head. Consequently I wrestle with it, argue with it, talk about it, and ultimately, I fight it. Yes there are some days where it gets the better of me, that the fictitious “what-if’s” are (at least then) seem insurmountable. This past month I’ve been under the thumb of my anxiety, and most of it stems to going back to school in the summer to get my Master’s degree.

I look forward to going back to school, I really do, but the shift of what the education system has become has made me intensely anxious. It’s not a shift that has happened in my time, but over the last few 100 years. Education, for most of the part, was about learning and passing on what was learned to those who couldn’t get a proper education. Nowadays so much of it seems to be about getting that 8×11 piece of paper as a means to convey:
1. I know more than the average person
2. I deserve to be paid more
3. I have value
4. I have additional debt
And granted I want to know more, paid more, have marketable value, have debt…well, maybe not the last part. I know I have to play this game, it’s the nature of the beast nowadays, but when my anxiety gets the better of me I only see this through the lenses of cynicism and skepticism.

But with a breath of fresh air, a lengthy talk with my roommate, a lengthier talk with God, I am not bedridden with my anxiety. Every time I am out of the fog and funk of anxiety, I have more of a sense to my purpose and calling in life. I have a broader sense of I am taking a path that will be frustrating as hell, but even more rewarding. The good outweighs the bad, I smile more often, I am able to see good in myself and others, I see God in others, I realize this is not the end of everything I hold dear.

As I’m prone to offer up a quote in opportune moments, the one that sticks to me is actually found in the Bible. Deuteronomy 31:6 says this; “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (emphasis mine.)
I know I am not going at this alone. I know I am made for better things and getting there takes work and patience. Anxiety is a hell of a stumbling block, but it can be worked through provided I put in the work, provided I let go of the notion that I can resolve it on my own. I need people, I need community in my life to go about and get through this life.

So here on the edge of January ending, I move onward and upward.

Nathanael 1, Anxiety 0.