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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The End Times and Christ the King - the November 24th Compassionate Heart Gathering in Milwaukee, WI

Our scripture commentary shifts its focus slightly beginning today. Each week we will feature the message from Sunday's Compassionate Heart Gathering in Milwaukee. Compassionate Heart is Milwaukee's Interspiritual Church.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Implosion of The United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church has just convicted The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, PA of violating Church law for performing the wedding of his son to another man. In the punishment phase of the trial, he was suspended for thirty days, at the end of which he must agree to abide by the Methodist Book of Discipline (their equivalent of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law) in its entirety or surrender his ministry credentials.

Pastor Schaefer's prosecution by the UMC is but one in a series of such trials, some of which have already been performed and others which are yet to be convened. In these trials one of the accused clergy's colleagues serves as a kind of prosecuting attorney. I must confess that the idea of serving as a prosecutor of a colleague is so foreign to my understanding of what it is to be an ordained minister that I cannot understand why any ordained person would agree to serve in such a role. Perhaps more importantly, I fail to understand why in the 21st century any Church body would ask a pastor to serve in such a role. Either the Church is a place of forgiveness and grace or it is a place of prosecution and persecution. It cannot be both at the same time.

Did Pastor Schaefer violate UMC Church Law? There can be no question that he did. The question is whether or not the Law is just. The Bible and competent ethicists agree that human beings are under no obligation to obey an unjust law. In order to be just, a law cannot be arbitrary nor can it be arbitrarily applied. On the second count the UMC Book of Discipline fails, because there are UMC pastors who have performed many marriages for same gender loving people and not been prosecuted because their bishop sees the injustice in the law. There is also disparity in the so-called punishment phase of the trials because the punishments are not uniform. In some cases pastors are instructed to work with local Church officials to determine a way to best move forward. In Pastor Schaefer's case, there is no such grace afforded him.

The truth is that the UMC is the only mainline denomination that has not afforded some place in the Church for Same Gender Loving people. Even groups that support LGBT people must hide in the shadows because they are illegal in the UMC and those belonging to them can be excommunicated. Some claim that this is the case because the UMC is a world wide Church and the UMC clergy in the southern hemisphere are profoundly conservative in their views of human sexuality. While those claims have merit, there is still the issue that someone has to decide to prosecute these cases and others must be willing to help. Comparisons with the terribly evil Spanish Inquisition in the Roman Church are unavoidable. People are not only willing to prosecute these cases, they are fairly salivating to get at them. That reflects a true and frightening evil, for it is nothing less than evil when human beings relish the opportunity to devour one another.

Unfortunately for the UMC, they have taken a position regarding human sexuality that allows no dissent because dissenters can be prosecuted by the Church. This is absolutely incompatible with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ on which Christian Churches are allegedly founded. Such small mindedness and autocratic leadership style is the stuff of the great despots of history and the UMC appears willing to goose step solidly in line with that tradition. Could there be any more convincing evidence that what was once a fine and respected denomination has descended to the ranks of evil?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Other Drugged Turkeys

Today on Interspiritual Insights we examine crack smoking, drunk driving, prostitute associating, drug dealer chaffeured, plenty of oral sex having Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently stripped of his powers by the Toronto City Council - and other drugged turkeys, like the one you will probably eat at Thanksgiving!

Check out this episode!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Attachment to our Bodies

We Americans, in particular, are extremely attached to our bodies. A cursory look at the cosmetics, fitness, wellness, and cosmetic dentistry and surgery industries will confirm this. We are obsessed with how we look, and the impact on our behavior and self-esteem are astounding. We reward narcissism and punish the unavoidable, if postponable, effects of gravity. We want to appear younger than we are, yet be perceived as holding a wisdom that is achievable only with the experience of age. If ever there was a recipe for failure, this is it - but this isn't really a new story. I have written about it before.

Lately I have been struggling with my attachment to my body as a fully functional and relatively pain free entity. Since Christmas of 2007 I have struggled with profound back issues as an injury at work when I was twenty-five years has old progressed over time into degenerative disc disease with the chronic pain and limitation that accompanies it. Finally, in February 2011 I elected to have spinal fusion as my pain had become unmanageable even with strong medication. For nearly two years everything was much better. I could mow the lawn again, something that I never really enjoyed doing but suddenly loved because to me it meant I had conquered adversity. Little did I know that I had not won victory but rather a temporary reprieve. As the two year mark passed the little aches and pains that had returned became more substantial. Limitations returned, only now they were more extensive. Not wanting to believe that I was declining, I blamed myself and thought perhaps I was becoming soft. Yesterday I went for an MRI and learned nothing could be farther from the truth.

The beauty of computer technology is that now you are given a CD after your MRI and you can go home, pop it in your computer, and view the images. If you aren't sure what you are looking at you can Google what they should look like, though anyone who has been a back patient becomes fairly proficient in reading their MRIs if they are at all interested and pay attention at their appointments. Though I haven't seen my doctor yet, the images clearly reveal that something has gone terribly wrong in the two and one half years since my surgery. Though my fusion appears to be intact, meaning that all of the hardware has held everything in place, somehow material has oozed out of the space between my vertebrae where the discs used to reside and bone growth hormone was inserted in a cage-like device. Whatever that material is, and it may well be unwelcome bone growth, it is now pressing on my spinal column and causing me a significant amount of discomfort. The biggest struggle for me is that I believed that my surgery had worked - I became attached to that outcome.

My doctor had explained that the cause of my pain was most likely the disc or two above the fusion site. Even before my surgery I was told that fusion places extra stress on the discs adjacent to the fusion and that there was a good possibility that between five and ten years after a fusion other disc problems would develop. That sounded fair enough to me. Five to ten pretty good years was a tasty carrot, even if the stick that followed it might be another surgery down the road somewhere, and I now recognize I became attached to that time frame as well.

What function do our bodies really serve? Are we our bodies, do they just move whatever constitutes "us" around, or is the answer somewhere in the middle? If we lose an arm, or the use of our arm, is our body still our body or does it become something else? Of course it is still our body, we haven't been transported to another body. Somehow, despite that objective truth, I am sure that people who have the experience of losing use of a limb feel betrayed by their bodies. While that feeling is understandable, I am not sure it is entirely reasonable because we receive no guarantees or warranties at birth. Some of our bodies serve us well for all of our lives, other bodies serve us well for only a short period, while most of them fall somewhere in between the extremes. Those are the objective "body facts." Our expectations may or may not conform to our realities.

One of the ways we try to justify our disappointment resulting from our attachment is by establishing systems to explain our body's unwillingness to conform to our expectations. We don't like randomness, so we have historically blamed just about everything from sin, to bad luck, to karma for the adversity we experience. I have learned that while such explanations many ease the fears of those who have not yet experienced a particular adversity and are trying to convince themselves they never will, the explanations are of very little consolation to those of us who are facing the adversity already. It matters little to me why it is that when I go out shopping with my wife I need to keep an eye out for a place to sit down in case my pain flares, it just matters that I in fact need to be a chair hawk and so my participation with her is limited. It's not as if someones ability to definitively tell me why I need to sit down would change the reality of my limitation! If someone told me it was an unskillful action in a past life that led to my limitation now, it really wouldn't change my reality one iota. Yet that, too, is an attachment! Who ever said we get to be a mall rat forever? What sane person over the age of seventeen would want to be?

We can choose to live our life celebrating the things we can do or we can choose to live our life bemoaning the things we cannot do. In truth, there are times in all of our lives when we move between the two extremes as we adjust to changes in our health and abilities. That's a normal response to stress. After an initial adjustment period, however, it seems to me we are faced with a choice to either celebrate our abilities or mourn our limitations. I could choose to allow my limitations to keep me from accompanying Erin to the mall at all and instead sit home alone, but the truth is I never really accompanied her into the fitting room at all (dammit). What's the difference whether I am standing outside the fitting room waiting for her or sitting outside it? The only difference is how I choose to interpret my waiting, and nothing is stopping me from choosing to see sitting as an equally valid choice - and that's all it is, a choice. I can choose to stand an be miserable until I fall over or to sit and be comfortable, and only a masochist chooses misery!

Of course, we don't make these shifts in perspective overnight. We need to allow ourselves the grace to allow some time for shift to occur. We need to be gentle with ourselves and avoid the value judgments that far too often seem to automatically accompany limitations. The truth is even when we are perfectly healthy we all have limitations. None of us can fly without assistance, few of us will even run a four minute mile, we can't really make ourselves any taller than we are, and none of us can learn a new language in a week or less. Odd that we don't have any problems with these limitations, isn't it? Do you suppose that the difference is that not too many of us expects to run a four minute mile, but for some reason in other areas we are attached to other expectations that may be equally unreasonable but we don't recognize them as such? Hmmm...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Racism at Home Depot and Other News

Today we look at the unabashedly racist Home Depot Twitter post over the weekend, a professional football player who decided he had enough to live on and no longer wanted to risk his health, and infighting between Christians - what could be more attractive?

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Arguing About Names

I read a Facebook thread today that really turned my stomach. In it some clergy from an Independent Catholic denomination had advertised that in their denomination divorced people can receive Communion. Some Roman Catholics took umbrage and tried to tell the Independent Catholics that because they weren't Roman Catholic they couldn't identify as Catholic. The Independent Catholics answered back that Romans aren't the only Catholics and pointed to the Orthodox Churches which identify as Catholic without receiving any grief from Roman Catholics. In this they were factually correct - the term "Catholic" is not the exclusive possession of the Vatican. In fact, if we don't capitalize "catholic" we now have a term which is applied to the Church universal - even in its Protestant forms. However, just because you are factually correct doesn't mean it's a good idea to throw gasoline on a fire.

The accusations from the Roman Catholic side escalated with the Independent Catholics remaining rather calm but holding their ground. The Romans attacked the Independent Catholic clergy as less than legitimate, their sacraments as invalid, their Church as no Church because in their view the only true Church is the Roman Catholic Church, and recommended they all join the Episcopal Church - apparently in their minds the equivalent of casting them into hell. It's really a tired old argument that has been rehearsed and rehashed at least tens of thousands of times both in public and in private, and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth and two questions: (1) Who cares? and (2) Does anybody believe these exchanges are attractive to anyone on the outside?

Honestly, who cares what anybody calls themselves as long as they aren't defrauding anyone in the process? I could call myself the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the only way it would bother anyone would be if they decided to let it bother them. The Roman Catholic Church and her members is no more impacted by some group calling itself The Cleveland Catholic Church than I am impacted by that decision - unless and until they decide to make a big stink about it! I could call myself the King of Wisconsin, and it wouldn't give me any more power or notoriety than I already have. The only thing people getting all upset about my self promotion would accomplish is to get me more attention, which is probably what I wanted when I anointed myself King! Only a moron would play into that game, and apparently more than a few morons can be found inside the conservative wing of Roman Catholic Church!

Meanwhile, as the two sides flung vindictive at one another I couldn't help but wonder if anyone but the most committed masochist would be attracted by their display of peeing on trees like dogs on a walk in a new neighborhood. Who would want to be a part of a Church that seemed more intent on marking its territory - whether Roman or Independent - than in reaching out in love and compassion? I thought about it for a long time, and realized the only kind of small minded asshat who would be intrigued by such childish behavior is most likely already a member of one or the other Catholic Churches. I suppose the advantage is they don't have to worry about running out of seats!

In the end, why do we care how anybody else identifies themselves - spiritually or otherwise? The answer is that we might just find our own sense of being somehow special and better than the public at large violated if someone starts using a name similar to the one that we believe makes us special. Our fragile egos get trampled, and our own insecurity flares when someone (in our mind) misappropriates our special name. Can we see that names in themselves are completely arbitrary? There is nothing inherently "Catholic" unless we can get enough people to agree on what that might be - and even then it is a purely subjective and assignment of meaning we could equally well assign to the word "umbrella." Despite that, many people are willing to fight to the death for their piece of a completely insubstantial and arbitrary definition of a random word.

Somewhere Jesus is shouting, "Get a life, would you?"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekly Scripture Commentary for November 10, 2013

Join us each week for Craig's unique take on the Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the week! Today's scriptures are Haggai: 2:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; and Luke 20:27-38

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walking the Walk

I've not been feeling one hundred percent lately, and there are probably a lot of reasons for that. As an aside, the whole "feeling one hundred percent" is rather an odd and subjective yardstick that we like to bring out. Suppose that we really had never felt more than fifty percent all of our lives. That fifty percent would seem like one hundred percent, until one day when we suddenly felt sixty percent, which would actually feel like one hundred twenty percent and cause us to reevaluate what one hundred percent was, except that it would still be only sixty percent despite all of our beliefs to the contrary. If that won't make you appreciate subjectivity, I don't know what will.

When Thomas Merton was in his late forties and rapidly approaching his fifties he started to think he was soon going to die. Eventually he decided that his body wasn't telling him it was getting ready to die but rather that it needed to slow down. Ironically, he did die accidentally not too many years later at the tender age of fifty-three. I have often wondered if his body was, indeed, trying to tell him something. There are people who believe that his death was not an accident at all but rather that he was killed by someone within the Roman Catholic Church who was threatened by his openness to other traditions. In any event, I am starting to believe that those of us whose bodies begin to betray us earlier than the average person are forced to confront the reality of our mortality in a substantial, if premature, way.

You might expect that such a confrontation would have predictable effects, and it does. It has led me to reassess quite a bit in my life. I am thankful it has not led me to get hair plugs, a sports car, a mistress, or to start shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch. That's not to say I have emerged unscathed, however. I find that I do not have much patience for nonsense or for wasting my time, and I am not willing to invest huge amounts of time in some project in which I do not believe. I have always struggled with that last one, but now the struggle has been elevated to epic proportions. You might say that the sensitivity on my bullshit detector has been turned way up, and the screeching noise inside my head when it is tripped is almost more than I can bear.

Especially prominent are issues of right livelihood, not just in the traditional sense (which is actually not very demanding at all assuming you aren't manufacturing dirty bombs or something similar) but also in the sense that I have a hard time justifying wasting my gifts doing busy work. All of this comes at a time when my body is severely limiting the kinds of work I am physically able to do. As you might imagine, this sets up a conflict between my physical and spiritual selves of epic proportions. That conflict is only intensified by the years that I spent running away from what it is I knew I was called to pursue - my authentic self. No matter how much we want to believe that it is easy to disconnect from the expectations and definitions of not only society at large but also those closest to us (for better or worse), if it was easy we all would simply stand up for ourselves and live authentically. The fact that we don't reflects how much power we allow others to have over us.

I'm reminded of the old joke that it doesn't matter how old a mother gets, she never gives up hope that her kids will one day make something of themselves. Imagine moving to the place where no matter how old we got we would never feel compelled to make anything of ourselves that wasn't authentic. That might require that we recognize the self-destructive nature of listening to others in their attempts to define us. In the end it is clear that happiness never arises from being disloyal to ourselves. That may be one of life's most important lessons.

Racism, Bullying, and The Miami Dophins

News broke this week of the Miami Dolphin's locker room being a haven for bullying and racism. What is going on here?

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Weekly Scripture Commentary for November 3, 2013

Join Craig each week for his unique perspective on the Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the week. This week's readings are Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Check out this episode!