Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cheap Marriage (Bonhoeffer wordplay intended)

Keep out - Beware of Dog
Keep out (Newberry Springs, CA, March 2015)
After listening to the marriage arguments this week during the Supreme Court's debate of "gay marriage", I could not help but feel that the opponents of marriage equality were encouraging not an old, ancient version of marriage but something rather less joyful than what could exist today. Rather than viewing God's love as an explosive, expansive, incomprehensible eternity, we heard arguments about a sacrament with old limits, rules, and constraints.

If a sacrament is indeed the outward manifestation or symbol of God's grace, then the sacrament should be special and reflect God's love unfettered. Like God's love, anyone can receive grace if they accept the sacrament they are called to receive, with a penitent heart. Exercising one's free will to accept that sacrament is opening the door to God's blessings and grace.

But crossing my mind as this played out on Tuesday was that three weeks ago was the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One of his amazing works was "The Cost of Discipleship" (1937) and in it he describes a concept that he referred to as cheap grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?... 
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. 
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. 
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
So what does this have to do with the proceedings at the hearings?

Whether it was in the comments made by the counsel defending the state bans or, even more uncomfortably, the presumptuous questions made by Justices Scalia, Roberts, and even Kennedy, there was much to make me think:
Why do we debate how to restrict in a secular society something that is a manifestation of grace?
Or, perhaps in a different way:
Why do we debate something religious like a sacrament in a civil forum? 
The second question is undoubtedly the result of millennia (using the term offered by Justices Kennedy and Roberts) of state proscribed cohabitation rules. I lean towards disestablishmentarianism but this wasn't the key question so I didn't dwell on it much.

Instead I focused on how the justices were debating something that is a manifestation of grace and how best to implement it.

And it felt cheap.

It sounded demeaning.

It made me feel like marriage was once again something you negotiated, along with land, goats, and dowries.

But it wasn't the fault of the Supreme Court. It's really the entire argument against marriage equality and the supposed reasoned debate in secular spheres about what should or should not be allowed. It's all so cheap.

Did any of these three justices (and presumably Alito and Thomas) suffer personal sacrifice in finding someone to love and securing that love? Probably not. Most straight folks have it comparatively easy when you consider how much the LGBTQ have to contend with society, church, family, and employment. Did they do what I did? I went into the closet, came out of the closet, hid in the shadows of the closet again, inched out, slid back in, and finally stayed out. At times, my parents wouldn't talk with me just because I dared to be honest about how I was born.

So, for me, I struggled in the past, struggle today, and will continue to struggle tomorrow - struggle to find out how best to live out Christ's affirming love and expectations of His disciples. I don't see that struggle from what sounded to me like smug comfort in lavish leather chairs.

The discussion of the sacrament of marriage felt like, in a nutshell, nothing but cheap grace. And the struggles of those who want to marry someone who happens to be the same gender, the struggles of the teenager who is bombarded with taunts and jeers just because God made him or her differently, the struggles of a human being discovering and remedying the misidentification of their gender at birth, the struggles of all those transgender victims murdered or assaulted because of someone else's discomfort - all these struggles are the true cost of discipleship.

There's little cost to be in the privileged caste, economically or sexually.

That's pretty cheap. And the grace you pride yourself into hoarding, like NIMBY suburbanites advocating fracking unless it's in your backyard, that grace is cheap. It's cheap grace.

So those who push for continued marriage discrimination in the name of God, arrogant and proud as it may be, may indeed feel they speak from grace, but it feels exactly like what Bonhoeffer was describing.  They advocate cheap marriage.

I'm sure that many on the other side of this discussion think that we are cheapening grace, that by not repenting and becoming straight we wish to receive sacraments that we should not be entitled to receive. I might buy that Koolaid if we could indeed change ourselves into people we are not. But we weren't called to be another way. We were made thusly and God didn't make a mistake. If you accept that our wiring is not a choice, then there is nothing to repent against. We are merely accepting the cross handed to us at birth.

How is our desire to marry comparable to the base celebrity marriages in Vegas that often sometimes just a few months? How is our desire to marry comparable to reality tv show marriages? How is our desire to marry comparable to right wing commentators who marry half a dozen times and, pretty obviously according to the bible, keep repeating their adultery? Their marriages are cheap and the grace implied, this sanctity of marriage offered by the state, is the true abomination.

I don't fault those who never had to fight for receiving grace. If I did, I'd be just another person filled with envy at my returning itinerant brother. I celebrate their grace. But for them to get that grace and try to keep me from enjoying the outward sign of it in the form of marriage, well, that's unjust, arrogant, and demeaning. It cheapens the grace that they've received.

May we all remember that the cost of discipleship is fraught with peril, but it's in our courageous will to live out the expansive, wild love of Christ that we will find the truly redemptive resurrection to a life made new. Let all who are thirsty come.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Easter Reflections - Discoveries on a Journey

The Appalachian Trail, April 2015
Last week I found myself pondering Luke 24, specifically verses 13-32. It's in the lectionary cycle but for some reason it resonates with me this year. I suppose it's the idea of a journey -- the Camino de Santiago rears its knowing head once again.

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 
“What things?” he asked. 
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I think it has been working its way inside me because it reflects so much about some of the lessons I learned on the Camino pilgrimage.

Here, the disciples were confused and seeking answers. They already knew what to expect and had been told so. Repeatedly. Even Jesus reminds them of it right then and there, and yet they refused to believe. Cynicism can be a mighty beast that wins out over even your own eyes at times.

Maybe it was the tiring journey itself that obscured their senses. I'm not leaning towards that because there were repeated vignettes of disciples denying what they were observing. It was sticking with the assumed answer, the predispositions that outweighed hope. And in many ways, it's far easier to be puzzled and content than to deal with the disruptive energy of cognitive dissonance.

But at some point, they open their eyes. And once opened, there was no need for Jesus to be guiding them, because the physical Jesus was no longer needed. The spirit of Jesus was all they needed once awakened. In an odd twist of trust, once you've glimpsed the evidence, the evidence is no longer necessary.

Marriage is such a journey. It's been about a year since we married and I'm forever amazed. With every meal together, with every step we take, I realize ever more strongly that I'm in a vocation and path that was set for me by God. The evidence isn't needed any longer. I just experience the spirit moving around us.

My camino pilgrimage was in some ways like the journey these disciples took. I embarked on a walk to find out truth, to seek clarity, to walk with an open mind to learn about myself and my Creator. And as can be read in the blog posts preceding the pilgrimage, I was blindfolded by my own expectations and pre-conceived notions. I didn't see what I had been seeing, I didn't remember what I had been told.

Instead, it was in the breaking of bread, in sitting and sharing stories, in the gentle touch, in sharing time together with the stranger that we discover God in our midst. Verse 32 screams out to me: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road." This is precisely my feelings as I trudged with my fellow travelers. It wasn't when I was being all contemplative, inside my head, alone in my thoughts. It was when I was walking the journey with the stranger who was Jesus that my heart burned.

So I think about all the other blinders and visual obstructions and biases that keep me from making progress on my journey. As I consider them, I remind myself to be open to the stranger, to be sharing in spirit, to be unafraid of the confusion.  The resurrection of Easter can be with us every day we do so.

I pray all of our hearts can burn as well, as we invite the Creator to walk with us.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter reflection: Out of grief comes hope

A garden near my home has a gazebo where the posts are made of prickly cactus plants and the roof of thorny bougainvillea. It sits in a garden full of flowers. I call it the Easter garden because, despite the thorns and needles, bountiful, beautiful life surrounds you.

Grief stinks. It's a painful process that has been studied scientifically and yet, at its core, grief remains a traumatic human experience that we cannot elude. Many have learned or are taught that there are seven stages of grief.

- Shock or Disbelief
- Denial
- Anger
- Bargaining
- Guilt
- Depression
- Acceptance and Hope

Some folks consider shock and denial one combined stage, as well as bargaining and guilt. Irrespective of how you define these stages, most people consider the transition between these stages to be highly common and almost necessary to incorporate the concept of death in our lives. When we meet someone how cannot proceed, who seems stuck in a stage, we are stricken by a sad awareness that their grief process has been stalled, and we try to assist them if they're willing to be helped.

The Lenten journey towards Easter is a metaphor for this process. We are shocked on Ash Wednesday in the reminder that to ashes we return. We try to deny it, except it's impossible to ignore the mark of ashes on our foreheads. Our mutual mortality is destined and no amount of reality refusing will wash away such a reality as easily as soap can wash away those ashes.

Throughout this season, in moments of reflection and in the lectionary bible readings, we see examples of all sorts of the other grieving stages. All this culminates on a Good Friday laden with guilt and depression. It is bound to happen and we know the story well.

But Easter, blessed Easter, brings closure to this process. It is not a guarantee of happiness. A friend at church who is grappling with the tortured grief of the death of his young wife reminds me of this reality. It affirmed for me my grief for having lost a brother-in-law and a couple of friends this year: the end of grief isn't happiness, but integration and acceptance.

Easter can be joyful because of the hope it inspires. But it isn't really about joy at its core. We aren't promised a joy. We are promised to be reunited with our Creator. Given that sin is our perpetual distancing from God, such a reunification represents an eternity without sin and a beautiful perfection is in store for us.

It's a joyful event, but joy isn't the promise. Joy is an amazing by-product of the promise. Easter and all the wonderful things we do to celebrate it is about ensuring that we see the ground and ashes ahead, and know that can grow a new life, a new restored hope from such fertile dust.

And with that hope, we become truly alive once again.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lenten Reflection: Letting Jesus Wash Our Feet on Our Journey to Love

All Saints Pasadena, April 1, 2015
This morning's gospel reading was most of John 13. I'll focus on John 13:34-35 specifically.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
The commandment to love one another is astonishingly simple and also frightfully difficult. It just sounds so much easier to say that to actually do. Because of that, and because my posts this week are revolving around the drama around so called "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts", I'll consider the issues of love for some of the parties concerned.

Many feel that they aren't acting in a discriminatory fashion when they wish to deny services to others. When confronted with historical facts about race and gender discrimination, they often respond that those Christians were mistaken to discriminate against people who could not help the way they were born. In contrast, they feel that they can serve this ultimate command by Christ by pointing out that by serving those who choose to be immoral (those who elect to live in a gay lifestyle), they are in fact acting out of love. This benevolence manifests itself as a parent would direct a child to avoid danger and head in the right direction. It's done out of love and is not seen malicious.

I get that, possibly because I grew up in a devout, ethnic Roman Catholic family, even though I know that most LGBTQ do not feel it's a choice.

I also see that Christians want to support and love those who seem discriminated against simply because they are choosing to live out their faith in the manner that seems consistent with their reading of the bible. This truly is love to me, as many people who are beset upon by others may find themselves needing help and healing. The modern RFRAs, though I disagree with their wording, operate out of this desire.

Then also we have to see that government leaders may have reasons other than brutal political machinations when moving forward with these so called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. They may sincerely believe that their love of Christ and their fellow like-minded believers commands them to ensure that the population is not put at a disadvantage culturally because of their faith. In other words, they are legislatively trying to stem the growing shame that a culture intent on secular diversity is creating around those of similar faith.

On the cultural side that I come from, it's difficult to accept that love can be expressed when it harms another person. I personally am amazed when the state of Ohio argues in court that marriage equality is not needed because LGBTQ have too much power to be considered a disadvantaged group. This flies in the face of the fact that minorities typically don't have more power than the majority, that LGBTQ mean income is less than cis-hetero mean income, that the significantly higher suicide and homelessness rates of LGBTQ is inconsistent with the idea that LGBTQ are in fact in positions of privilege, and that murder rates of transgender people are unacceptably higher than in the cis-hetero population.

I believe that love should not harm others. The concept of "tough love" may have its place. Sometimes it helps dislodge a co-dependent situation. But we aren't facing such co-dependency here. Tough love just makes life tough.

Ironically, to those who favor these RFRAs, when LGBTQ and their allies try to support each other in love, this is considered persecution and a leftist reflect action. I don't see a difference in mutual support between the first example above and this one. Yet most on both sides use this assistance as a stick to pummel those who disagree with them. Love is kind and disagreements mean that you have people trying to lovingly support those they agree with and frankly I don't see a problem.

The most shocking development of this week has been the frightening force that big business has had on the political process in Indiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and in the past Arizona. Those favoring LGBTQ equality have benefited when huge companies like Apple, Google, Starbucks, Walmart, and Salesforce come out of the closet in their favor. Smaller regional companies such as Angie's List and the various Chambers of Commerce have also been astonishingly pro-diversity. Traditionally conservative companies such as NASCAR, the NCAA, and sporting entities have also weighed in favoring diversity to the surprise of most of the country.

Is this out of love? Is this a reflection of the love that Christ asked during the Last Supper? Unfortunately, I must be cynical and feel that it's not likely so in the larger corporations. These companies recognize that the country as a whole now favors non-discriminatory policies. To go against this would be to put their future economic viability and stature at risk. Moreover, companies such as Walmart and NASCAR may be dominant in places that would prefer the modern RFRA laws, but their greatest growth in market share is clearly in urban, populated areas and in younger, pro-diversity segments. They risk stunting their growth opportunities in these large markets. So I think the cold, cruel calculations in those companies happen to fall on the side of diversity, but it's the sort of support that can be bought. It's not love as Jesus intended.

There are exceptions. I truly believe that the CEOs of Starbucks and Angie's List have consistently been on the side of diversity for a long time. It's in their leadership that even with Indiana's changes, Angie's List still will not expand in Indiana until a true non-discriminatory law is put into place.

We may love Christ, but the Gospel is exasperatingly challenging. I find it hard to love those who harm me. I might say "impossible" but I'm truly trying to allow for that love to exist. In light of yesterday's Gospel reading ("Lenten reflection: When Hugging Jesus Separates Us from God"), at least I'm not always acting in fear and moving away reflexively. I'm trying to move closer, trying to make that journey to walk in His way of love.

May all our feet be washed by Christ on our journey to love.

Amendments to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act Reverse the Damage. And...

The proposed amendments to Indiana's reactionary RFRA act say:

Sec 0.7. This chapter does not:
(1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service;
(2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosection for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service; or
(3) negate any rights available under the Constitution of the State of Indiana 
Sec 0.7.5
As used in this chapter, "provider" means one (1) or more individuals, partnerships, associations, organizations, limited liability companies, corporations, and other organized  groups of persons. This term does not include:
(1) A church or other nonprofit religious organization or society, including an affiliated school, that is exempt from federal income taxation under 26 U.S.C.,501(a), as amended (excluding any activity that generates unrelated business taxable income (as defined in 26 U.S.C.512, as amended).
(2) A rabbi, priest, preacher, minister, pastor, or designee of a church or other nonprofit religious organization or society when the individual is engaged in a religious or affiliated educational function of the church or other nonprofit religious organization or society.

Clearly, the amendment if passed will remove the fangs off the so called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It seems to put the new Indiana law on a basis more akin to what exists in 20 other states and subtracts the attempt to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.

These are the main things found when reading this amendment.

a) The new law will no longer supersede state or local laws banning anti-gay discrimination
b) The new law now no longer takes advantage of the Hobby Lobby decision
c) The changes do not apply to religious groups
d) This amendment does not grant any new civil rights to LGBTQ in Indiana

So if passed, the worst damage will be averted.

And yet...

Like the fairy tale musical "Into the Woods" warns, be careful what you wish for, because in this modified act, we do see improvements on what could have been a highly discriminatory environment in public settings.

And yet, there still is no civil rights protection in Indiana for LGBTQ.

Your employer can still fire you for coming out of the closet or legally marrying the person you love.

The religious affiliated hospital which might be the only facility in your town can still refuse to offer you the proper treatment or give access to your same gender spouse.

A religious affiliated nursing home or hospice can deny access to your same gender spouse.

So yes, the wolf may be dispatched should this amendment be passed. But what we are reminded of is because there is no federal law, in 27 states in 2015, your livelihood and access to treatment and your spouse may just be a fairy tale. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lenten reflection: When Hugging Jesus Separates Us from God

Staying close. Avila Beach, November 2014
Isaiah 50:4-9 was our first reading today.

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Gospel reading came from John. Here's one line, John 13:21
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me."

I will keep this one simple. The mad step backwards in civil rights in Indiana, Arkansas, and other upcoming states can feel like a blow or spit upon the face. It's a veiled attempt to shame and denigrate, to make a second class person in a country where all are supposed to be treated equally.

But as is shown in social media, people are willing to stand up and not be shamed, and to not let their family and friends be shamed. The days of hiding are gone. We can stand together, speak together, work together, confront our aggressors together.

On top of all this is the passage in John which has often been used to paint Judas as a villain. What was Judas's sin before this? Nothing is mentioned in any detail. What we know is that Judas seems to distance himself from Jesus. He seems to be rejecting his teachings and turning him over to those who similarly disagree. He distanced himself from Christ. He happened to do it in a big way, but distancing oneself from God or Jesus is basically a definition of sin. Our lives are meant to move closer to God, not away from God.

Now, Peter himself denied Jesus three times that same night. His sin was no better. Peter distanced himself from Jesus, from goodness, from solidarity and love. He just happened to do it without turning Jesus over to authorities. But sin he did and he wept.

So as I watch the raging storm over legislation allowing businesses and people to discriminate in Indiana, as I watch people embrace the notion that they can push away God's children, I am reminded that we all can easily distance ourselves from our Creator all too easily. We can all deny Christ and reject our common birthright. We all sin when we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters.

I don't any more hold Judas supremely guilty like the simplistic stories in movies have portrayed him. I see him as no more guilty than me. His sin was to embrace Jesus with false love, and in doing so sent Jesus to his fate. 

We can't legislate love, but we can legislate civil and fair treatment. If some choose to sin by pushing others away, by embracing Jesus with their own false love, by unwittingly separating themselves from God, we must pray that they some day recognize that their sin, like our own, can be hard to see. In their pushing away that which is love, we must stand together and confront them with what they are doing, so that all that distances us can wash away.

And we all, like Judas and Peter, can eventually see how we distance ourselves from God.

May we pray for the gentle Holy Spirit to come down upon our land, hold us ever closer to divine goodness, and nudge and narrow that wide space that separates us from God.