Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Seventh Day of Christmas 2013 New Year's Eve

Okay, so New Year's Eve isn't on the church calendar. The church's new year started a few weeks ago, on the first Sunday of advent.

But it is just before 11:00pm on New Year's Eve as I start typing this, and I do look back in wonder at the last year.

It started with big plans, got derailed by a health crisis, and am ending it in good health, and looking back at some gifts received in both my writing and performing endeavors. I have good friends, a good church, and a good arts community. There are challenges ahead, as always, most of them not anticipated, but this past year . . . well, taught me some things about rolling with it all.

We cannot know the future, but we make plans for it anyway. It's some kind of innate insanity we have as a species, a blessing of craziness, and however the new year unfolds, whatever adjustments we must make to the plans, it's going to be all right

Romans 14.8: If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

I think the lesson I learned most this past year is that I really believe this line from Paul. (And I don't believe every line from Paul!)

New Year's Eve is not on the church calendar, but for this year, at least, I'm calling it Thanksgiving Day.

Here's to a 2014 with many blessings and help for the hardships! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sixth Day of Christmas 2013

Here we are at the halfway mark through the season of Christmas and I'm reminded of the differences between the secular Christmas and the religious Christmas. This past Sunday, the congregation I attend had a Christmas "Lessons and Carols" service, four days after everyone was relieved to have "Santa Baby' stop wafting through the air. The kids at our church don't tell the Christmas story in pageant form until next Sunday, by which time, I suspect some Christmas toys have already gotten boring, broken, or lost.

And the only place you'll still find a Christmas tree up (or in my congregation's case, greenery, wreaths and Christmas lights) is in a Church building. Even most Christians have their tree down long before the Feast of the Epiphany.

Yes, the sort of Christians who follow the old church calendar, we're a bit out of step with the culture this time of year.

And I like it.

In face, I was musing a few days before the First Day of Christmas how nice it would be to celebrate the Incarnation without all the stress and expectations of gift-buying and giving and, of course, getting.

Except that's pretty well what I'm doing now. I continue to remember it's Christmastide, I continue to think on and ponder the Incarnation (although, to be fair, I think on the Incarnation pretty well, all year-round---my practice as an artist is practically based upon it), and all my Christmas shopping (what little I do) is well over.

And the secular Christmas isn't too terribly awful. If I think we could do without the stress involved in gift-giving and making sure everyone on the list is covered, I also think that gift-giving is a nice custom. If I think we, as a culture, tend to go way overboard on this custom, I do admit to enjoying giving my modest gives---and getting the few I get.

So halfway through the season, I'm feeling less humbug about it all than I maybe did three weeks ago, and I still remain in awe of what it means for God to be enfleshed like us, for us to bear the same Image.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fifth Day of Christmas 2013

Random events of my day.

1. Woke up this morning to dreams induced from worry about a young woman from my church who is in the hospital due to being the victim of a violent crime. The dreams really had nothing to do with praying, but for some reason my first thought was that it felt like I'd been praying all night. I suppose that is possible.

2. Missed my bus for church but got there in time for the Eucharist, so I'm told that counts. It also counted that I got to sign the get well card for the young woman.

3. Had lunch with friends after church, some of whom were heading to the hospital with the card afterwards. This young woman is in ICU and while doing miraculously well, also has serious injuries and can only have limited visitors---her mother being the ongoing default visitor, of course. So we're visiting via cards, prayers, and representatives.

4. Went for a walk this evening and found this poster on a light pole:

God and Karma are after these thieves, with one of the Ten Commandments to back it up. I hope she gets her trailer and its contents back. Maybe posting this picture here will help.

5. Someone using the name Rudolf Bultmann sent me this private message on Facebook: "You are self-righteous, arrogant, and judgmental. You so full of yourself." I've never had a message from a dead theologian before, but he seems to know me. I guess being dead gives you insight. (I think I know the source of this. It is both deserved and ironic, all at once.)

Not exactly five golden rings, is it? But Prayers, thanksgiving, and insults from dead theologians leaven the terror of street violence. Somewhat. 

I would ask your prayers for Chris and her family. This is hard stuff. 

That's all I have today.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fourth Day of Christmas 2013 Holy Innocents

From the Gospel According to Matthew:

 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

An anthem from the 16th Century:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
These two pieces---scripture and hymn---strike me as terribly sad and need no more commentary. I will refer you to the Wikipedia page for the Coventry Carol for more information on the carol. There I learned history that I did not know and am fascinated that it comes from a Mystery Play---this stimulates the theater history part of my brain, but remains very sad---three mother's lament for their children, slain while the Christ child escapes into Egypt. 

Yes, I have nothing to add. The above will have to stand for my thoughts---or lack thereof---for this somber day in Christmas.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Third Day of Christmas 2013 John Apostle and Evangelist

December 27, depending upon where you are in the greater Christian community, can be a feast day for a few different things, but for many western Christians (Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians) it is the feast day of John, Apostle and Evangelist.

It is an irony of the church year, that two days after we tell stories about Baby Jesus, we celebrate a gospel that has no stories of Baby Jesus. In fact, we sometimes forget that only two of the four canonical gospels have any talk of Jesus's birth or childhood.

But John does have this cosmic "origin story" (to use a comic book term). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . "

The writers of this gospel (and we can assume it was a community that identified with John in some way that compiled this gospel---it certainly isn't the apostle John---sorry if that ruins Christmas for you, but there it is) give us what we theologically trained folks call a "high christology." It's written later than the other gospels---around 100 C.E., some scholars placing it a little earlier, others later, even much later---and so the followers of Jesus had come to think about who they were, who Jesus was, in ways that the earlier gospel writers maybe didn't. This community imagined Jesus as someone who was in control, self-aware of who he was as the Son of God, and who was clear on the reason for his life.

Certainly, one of the most devastating pieces of the Gospel of John is it's clearer distinction between the followers of Jesus and emerging Judaism. While there are things said against certain sects of Jews in other gospels, John paints with a broader brush. "The Jews" become the villains of the stories, not just the Pharisees. This eventually has horrific consequences on history.

It is difficult---maybe impossible---to unravel all of this, but it seems likely that the writers of John---the Johannine community---would be as horrified as we are by the ways their words were eventually used. to justify inhuman atrocities.

How can we ever know that something we do, with intention of bringing Good News to the world, will pave the road to something like Auschwitz?

It is important to remember that these things happen. We have to own this piece of our history and we have to let it color our celebrations and commemorations of the Gospel of John. We are not wrong to cringe at every mention of "the Jews" in the Gospel of John, because it is right to remember that people who professed faith in Jesus used those words to torture and kill millions of people, not only in German ovens, but also in Inquisitions and in smaller scaled incidents where humanity was---and is---denied Jewish people. We Christians have to have the humility to recognize and confess that these incidents come from among us, from our zeal and certainty.

We have no excuse, really. We can only repent.

But the Gospel of John is not only about remorse and unintended consequences.

John is also the poetry of the prologue. It is also the story of the woman caught in adultery. It is also the comfort to millions of grieving people to know that, when confronted with the death of his friend, Lazarus, "Jesus wept."

John is not my favorite gospel, it may even be my least favorite of the four, but for all it's problematic history and tendency towards a triumphalist theology (which I find problematic, too, but that's maybe for another post), there is much beauty and comfort in there.

My art history and sound art professor from grad school days, Jeff Abell, responded to a thread about these issues on Facebook today in this way: "Like so many writings that have influenced history, beauty and difficulty go hand in hand."

 That succinctly sums up my pondering on this feast day of John, Apostle and Evangelist: beauty and difficulty and the humility needed to own up to both.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Second Day of Christmas 2013 The Feast of Stephen

Stephen was remembered in the book of Acts as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit," and again, "full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people"

But the religious authorities didn't see it. The began to argue with him, saying he was blaspheming against God.

Now, this was when the Church was new, still a Jewish sect. Paul had not yet met Jesus on the road to Damascus, was still called Saul, was not even thinking about talking to Gentiles about Jesus. So I think we can assume Stephen, like all the first disciples, was Jewish. In answer to the charge of blasphemy, he gives a long speech, recounting the history of Israel, from Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to David, recounting the ways the people God had chosen had always wrestled with God, had killed the prophets, and that the ones arguing with him now were following in their footsteps, not paying attention to the movement of their God but opposing God.

This didn't set well with the religious authorities. It seldom does.

So they killed Stephen. We remember him as the first Christian martyr.

But reading over his story again just now, it strikes me as more than just remembering the first Christian martyr and the problematic (to understate) blaming of the Jews for not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. It seems to me, here as we slip into the third day of Christmas, that the Feast of Stephen might be best observed as a day for looking at our own religious authorities, our own places in religious hierarchy, at our own resistance to the prophetic voices among us, at our own idolatries that keep us from seeing the new thing(s) God is doing among us.

I've always found the juxtaposition of following our celebration of a meek baby in a manger with a remembrance of a stoning---the cost of discipleship, the consequence of loving that baby---and I still think that is a true piece of the story, one of the more genius juxtapositions of the church calendar.

But having re-read the story of Stephen, I realized it's really so much more than just remembering the cost of discipleship---Stephen's story is a reminder to not be so rigid, to not condemn every new thing, to be open to the spirit and the prophetic voices among us.

God is always moving, always doing new things. The church is always resistant---even the "church" before the church. It seems the best way to remember Stephen is watch for the things that offend us and look for the movement of the Spirit within it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

First Day of Christmas 2013

A few days ago, I heard, as you do this time of year, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in passing. I don't think I was even paying much attention to it, it was just part of the season's soundscape.

And that's when something can hit you unexpectedly. This year, this time, the phrase "comfort and joy" caught my attention. More precisely, the word "comfort" caught me.

I can't tell you exactly why it hit, what my emotional state of the moment was. I can say that I've had a bit more "winter blues" than usual this year (not exactly a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder, but winters are not my happiest times of year), and maybe the general malaise of winter found my ear attaching to the word "comfort" more eagerly than usual.

I haven't made a search of this, but I don't think there's much in the way of comfort in most Christmas hymnody (overlooking, for this post, secular Christmas music, which often has sad themes). It's usually very joyful. Some hymns may be darkened by the foreshadowing of the cross. Advent music has some comfort talk, particularly the popular hymn based upon Isaiah 40, "Comfort, Comfort Now My People." Still, Christmas seems to be more about joy, celebration, bright angels and awe of the common folk.

Or maybe "comfort" is all over the material. Like I said, I haven't taken the time to search other hymns for this message. But this year, I heard the unspoken message behind the line, "tidings of comfort and joy," precisely that some people are discomfited, maybe even inconsolable. Much more significant than my winter blues, I know a family who just buried a patriarch and is on watch for a significant friend of the family to die. An internet acquaintance lost his mother quite unexpectedly when she fell and cracked her head hard enough to kill her. Another internet friend just had to take another step in his mother's situation as she receives hospice care. All these things are on my mind this Christmas Day, even as I celebrated with good friends and healthy babies. There is much joy in my life, also many who might be comforted, occasionally myself included.

I heard in the line the lyrical equivalent of a shadow in a painting, giving the picture depth.

This Christmas, I'm a bundle of emotions, really, reflecting upon the year I've had---a year of medical scares and wonderful good fortune. I'm thinking a lot about incarnation and God-with-us (Immanuel). I'm thinking about loss and gain, pain and recovery, death and resurrection.

Comfort and joy. Tidings of comfort and joy.

Good News finds you where you are. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 24 Star #lutheranadvent

The Wise Men got to Jesus by following a star. I use a bus schedule.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Day 23 Shepherd #lutheranadvent

Today's theme was a challenge. The easy interpretations weren't in my path today, and even when I thought of trying to find maybe a school bus, schools are probably all closed for the holiday and no buses are running.

Out for a walk this evening, I was approaching the fire station down the street from me and I started to think maybe firemen are a type of shepherd, all of us the sheep under their watch. As I got out my camera, a siren flared up and an ambulance was pulling out---you can see the blur of it on the left edge.

Some parallel with the shepherd who goes out after the one who is lost may stretch the parable . . . or I just expanded my notion of the spiritual shepherd. After all, a spiritual shepherd is only useful if there are shepherds looking out for our physical well being, too.

I'm okay with this photo. I think it pretty much works for the theme.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 22 Angel #lutheranadvent

I've come to think of "angel" in terms of "God's messenger" (as opposed to "guardian" or somesuch), so I began to think on places where God's message comes to me. Since this word was the word of the day on a Sunday, I thought of this as I heard the lessons of the day read from this lectern. Yes, I thought, this is the site of revelation, where the word from the Lord comes with regularity. So after the service, I ran up to take this picture. I even got there before the acolytes and got the four advent candles burning.

I hasten to add with real surety that this is not the only site of God's revelation. Had "angel" come on a weekday, I might have taken any number of pictures of places and things that bring God's message to me. But this lecturn---and countless others around the world---is where angels stand weekly. and sometimes more often, to bring us revelation. This seemed right today.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Day 21 Gift #lutheranadvent

Today's theme, Gift, overwhelmed me a bit. There is much in every moment that I find to be a gift (even if my attitude, moment to moment, does not reflect this). I've become aware enough of the world beyond my immediate surroundings to know that I live in crazy abundance.

I might have taken a picture of my cat, here at arms length, who I consider a gift. I thought of taking a picture of my empty, cupped hand, an image that felt almost right, but I couldn't really explain. Had I seen friends today (or thought of it when I did see a few friends), I could have taken pictures of them, as I am gifted with many good people in my life. I might have taken pictures of books, CDs, any number of things that have been a gift to me and my journey through life.

Finally, with nothing else to consider, I went out into my apartment complex parking lot and pointed my camera up and whipped to the side as I pressed the shutter button. I'm trying to connote "everything." It's all a gift and it all goes by in a blur.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Day 20 Proclaim #lutheranadvent

The above is a picture of Prayer Meeting, a sculpture by John Scott. It is on the campus of the University of Houston-Downtown, where I work. It's one of my favorite things on the campus. The moving "fans" in the circle will softly clang in the wind and it always draws my attention. It seems like a type of proclamation inserted into my day. Art as proclamation---well, that's a whole lot of what I'm about.

I also remembered I have this video, which I took well over a year ago. I don't think I've ever posted it anywhere, but now seems a good time.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 16 Sign #lutheranadvent

Down on White Oak Bayou, I came across this row of grass and other debris, obviously deposited from the last time the bayou was out of it's banks. It's synapse jump or two, this sign of water overflowing, in really kind of scary and dangerous ways, reminded me of the images we invoke in baptism (Noah's flood, being buried with Christ). Water leaves a mark on the land and on our head.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Day 15 Prophet #lutheranadvent

Or prophets. A very few personal ones:

I try not to look ahead, because part of this exercise, for me, is having a single word to think about all day, so if I look ahead, I get the words jumbled. This was one case where I kinda wish I'd taken a picture a few days ago and broken my personal rule about making a new picture everyday for this.

There was a piece of graffiti on a bathroom wall that would have been great for this. I'd already composed in my mind what I'd say about it. "Paul Simon said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, but we don't have subways in Houston, so we rely on the bathroom walls."

The graffiti was one word: somebody.

So without a picture, I tell this story to bring you a word from the Lord: You are somebody.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Day 14 Wreath #lutheranadvent

With this little picture-a-day exercise, I really dislike the concrete words (rose, wreath) and so tyr to find something not immediately so literal (that's just how I roll). I kept an eye out for some ideas I had in my head for how I might do "wreath," but in the end, none of those things materialized. So while waiting for a bus---and I had a long-ish wait for the next one---I saw a bunch of leaves. I decided that while literal, this made a nice little piece of mini-land-art. I'm sure the wind has scattered the leaves again by now.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Day 13 Good News #lutheranadvent

I'd taken a different picture this morning for today's theme but then as I was walking to my apartment from the bus stop . . .

It's hard to tell what's happening here---I took the picture from a distance on purpose, to avoid invading others' misfortune---but all the lights on the other side of the street are flashing lights from a fire truck and ambulance. As I walked by , I saw there was someone on the sidewalk and they were laying a stretcher next to him/her. There were no parked (or crashed) cars nearby and I wonder if it's one of the neighborhood's homeless guys---they camp about a block from there. I thought, "blessed are the broken, for they will be cared for." also: turn around---here is the Reign of God. 

So I took this picture.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day 12 Await #lutheranadvent

I have this relationship with the moon that I don't think I've ever written about. Maybe it's because I was a preschooler when Neil Armstrong set foot on it or maybe it's something more primal. I can't say. The moon in a day sky especially feels mysterious and, in some way, inviting. Just a white orb in a field of blue.

Today's word, "Await," had a few possibilities for me, particularly since I rely on public transportation in a city notoriously bad for public transportation. In other words, I spend a lot---a LOT---of time waiting at bus stops.

But that "A" at the front of the word felt like something other than "waiting" for a bus or for the Messiah  or even Godot for that matter. It felt like something less tangible than even the undefined Godot. Wouldn't the play have a different feel if it were called "Awaiting Godot"?

Maybe I'm having some idiosyncratic word parsing here. It's a feeling, not a definition.

Anyway, as I've thought on the word all day, I kept coming back to a night sky and particularly the moon. A moon seems to have some promise in it to me (again, an Apollo thing?) but it's not going to fulfill it, either. It just hangs there and says, "at dawn, maybe, you'll see . . . "

Something about the moon teases me with potential I can't name . . . 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Day 9 Awe/Wonder #lutheranadvent

I try to find awe and wonder everyday, but I have to admit, the cold, wet weather we're having here in Houston these days makes that a little bit more of a challenge than usual. Still, I took a few pictures and i decided this very dark (you may need to click on it and go full screen with it to see it best) photo captures something of the mystery I experience in many contexts.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Day 8: Rose #lutheranadvent

I'll admit that this prompt (Rose) is my least favorite so far in this exercise. Too concrete for my tastes. How many ways can you illustrate "rose"? I toyed with the notion of trying to figure out a way to do a photo that would illustrate the past-tense verb meaning of it---but nothing came to mind that I could actually pull of.

Luckily, we sang on my favorite advent carols this morning and I thought that was about as good as it was going to get for this day's prompt.

And I've been humming the tune all day. A bonus.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Day 7 Hope #lutheranadvent

I posted this to my facebook page first and immediately this thread followed: 

Patty: Whenever I see plants growing out of pavement, I am reminded of how tenacious nature is.

Angela:  Plants is FIERCE! 

Me:  i believe in a fierce and tenacious hope.

Angela: Amen. Is there any other kind?

I love my friends, and I love when they "get" me . . .

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 4 Patience #lutheranadvent

Day 3: Peace #lutheranadvent

Forgot to post this last night. I admit this might need some explanation for "peace," but I don't have that explanation. I was looking around for something that might represent "peace," had some things in mind that I might use, but then I looked down and saw this white feather (I'm guessing from a pigeon) sticking up from the gravel underfoot. It was some sort of intuitive "aha!" that has some leaps between the feather and "peace," but here it is. If you can explain it, you're welcome to do so.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Candle #lutheranadvent 2

(yeah, i should have taken one more shot . . . but you get it . . . )

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hope on World AIDS Day

It only just occurred to me that the first day of the season of Advent (the church calendar "new year") fell on World AIDS Day this year.

Advent has become known as the season of Hope and the last 20 years has seen much change in the world of AIDS treatment. There's always hopeful news coming at us about advances in treating HIV, but there is not yet any cure.

Too many people are acting like the miracle drugs we have today are a cure.

I don't want to get into moralizing about safer sex. That's too easy to do and there are statistics that show that doesn't prevent anyone from being reckless anyway.

But the subject of hope has been on my mind the last few weeks as I've found, read, and am re-reading a slim book called Mystical Hope by Cynthia Bourgeault. There are things in this book that are reminding me of things I've sort of forgot or let go or lost faith in. I can't say it's telling me anything that I didn't know before, but it is definitely reminding me.

And while the book doesn't explicitly go into this, it reminds me of something I've said a few times about hoping and wishing. We often wish for things and call it hope.

But the world is woefully short on a supply of genies in bottles and wishing---no matter how much you pray, plead, believe that something must happen---is of little use against some harsh realities.

You can wish all you want, even call it hope, but believing you can fly will not keep you from plummeting to your death if you step off the roof of a skyscraper. It feels like there is something similar going on with people who want to deny the wisdom of safer sex, wishing with all their might that they won't contract the virus or if they do, wishing with all their might that life on the miracle drugs will be just like life before, only with pills.

As I said, its too easy and of no use to moralize about it. There's something in our species that has a little bit of a death wish anyway. Cigarettes continue to be manufactured and purchased and smoked despite good data that says it's a bad idea. I continue to eat a few too many carbs despite my doctor assuring me that only a certain level of consumption is safe for me and above that level they are a slow acting poison.

Sugar or sex. Something's going to kill you and we seem willing to risk playing with things that will get us there faster.

But hope is something else. It is the assurance that we are held by something bigger than us, that we have identity and ultimate safety that cuts through the dehumanization and deadly danger of real life.

I think I'll leave that right there for tonight. I'm holding some choice personal saints in memory and in hope tonight and pondering what that might mean for this season just begun.

+ + + + +

On a lighter note, this was being passed around on Facebook: 

I'd been thinking about ways to observe the season and this struck me as just the thing, so I'll be doing this on Facebook and Twitter (where the hashtags work) and here as well. Will I get a picture posted here each day? We'll see, but I will be doing my very best to get 'em on FB and Twitter. (I don't do Instagram.) 

Here is my first entry for PREPARE:

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Day After Giving Thanks

Doesn't it seem a waste to be sick on a holiday? I mean, beside missing the chance to call out sick to work, I also had to call out of two thanksgiving dinner invitations.

On the bright side, other than a low-grad fever on Wednesday evening and coughing fits the last 3 days, I haven't really felt that bad, I just am not good company. No ones the green bean casserole passed to them by a phlegmy, hacking anyone.

So the cat and I had a quiet Thanksgiving Day together here in my cluttered apartment. Honestly? I think the cat likes me best when I'm sick and lying around a lot. He would also rather I not be coughing all the time and I understand. I wouldn't want to sleep on a convulsing bed, either.

Last night, I slept over 12 hours. I'm thankful for the opportunity to do that and I guess I needed it. Today, I didn't do much but I did get out for a walk. It was a beautiful day here in Houston, on the upswing from a few cold, rainy days. I'm thankful that was the most pressing thing on my agenda today, a walk.

Despite my better judgment, I decided to walk into the epicenter of Houston's Black Friday. I live a 30 minute walk from the Galleria and I was surprised to find it not nearly as crowded as I expected it to be. I suppose most of the nonsense happened earlier in the day and maybe the epicenter these days is really a Walmart or something. I honestly don't know. I'm thankful I have a life that doesn't require me to keep up on Black Friday deals. I don't know if anyone has a life that requires that, but apparently, some people find the crush of mad crowds somewhat . . . fulfilling? Exciting? What do people get out of it? Being an introvert, I can only assume most of these people are extreme extroverts, but maybe I'm being uncharitable to extroverts.

More and more, I find myself slipping out of mainline culture, if that's what it is. I find myself more and more looking around me and seeing extravagant luxury, wonders that just 3 or 4 generations ago would have been unthinkable, treated as necessities.

Or if they're recognized as not necessary things, we're told we're somehow deserving of it. And so I guess we advance bravely into the maelstrom of commerce, fighting for our right to . .  have.

I have a lot. I mentioned my apartment is cluttered. And really, I'm thankful for the opportunity to have a cluttered apartment. I also know . . .

I don't know what I know. I feel the world, or maybe just this country, or maybe just some aspects of this country's priorities are gravely out of balance. I don't know how to right it. It may not be my job. Maybe my job is, in part, to sit here quietly blogging about how unhealthy it all looks to someone on the outside of it.

Here's what it looks like: It looks like peer pressure of the worst kind. To be "normal" and "acceptable," one should have X, Y, and Z and the latest upgrade to them all. I was born late into my parents' generation, so I'm maybe among the youngest people on the planet who had Depression era parents, but I definitely grew up with an attitude of using things until they were worn out and not working. I gather not everyone with a flat screen TV got it because the old TV quit working. I'm guessing, but that's my general understanding of how this economy works.

And that's what's on my mind this Black Friday. I worry how our economy depends on people purchasing very few things they need and a whole lot on things that are, simply, new. And advances in technology come so quickly these days that my 5 year old cell phone---a marvel to people only 10 years ago---is obsolete. It was a discontinued model when I bought in in 2009. And it does what I need it to do, but it doesn't give me directions to the movie theater or restaurant. If I ever upgrade on it, the next iteration is going to be so advanced I'll need a class to use it.

Maybe. I probably exaggerate. But . . .

Yesterday, we all gave thanks. Today, businesses were counting on madness in their aisles to keep them open another year. Thankfulness and greed? Something is out of whack.

I see a lot of people on Facebook urging one another not to shop on Black Friday. Is that the answer? Maybe the start of one, but only if it's not a delay to eventual consumerist madness.

It's going to take a lot to change this culture. I find it a little scary to consider what could do it.

Need, want, entitlement. My place in it, my desire to get out of the cycle.

Not the usual Thanksgiving weekend thoughts, maybe. Maybe I wish more people had them.

Blame it on being sick . . .

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Retreat and Devastation

Outdoor chapel at Camp Allen. 

I'm writing on a Sunday evening after a weekend retreat with people from my congregation (St. Stephen's Episcopal Church; Houston). They actually don't like to call it a "retreat," preferring to call it a "parish weekend." The term "retreat" has become so misused that instead of a time away for rest and rejuvenation, it has become a synonym for more work and busy-ness, only in a different location. That's worthy of a rant, but for another time.

This congregation knows how to retreat. The only things scheduled were meals, a couple of prayer/worship times, a craft time for the kids,  with optional activities offered by the camp itself. There were people tossing around footballs, folks sitting on decks just chatting, kids running around, fishing, wandering trails . . . I don't really know what all went on because I was one who wandered off on my own a few times, exercising my introvert muscles as much as possible.

We all took turns in the kitchen, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, etc., but those were small burdens (the folks who actually planned and shopped for all the food---they maybe had some burden, so I will shout out kudos to them for the work they did to make the actual prep work easy). At the end, when we were cleaning up, plenty of people stayed around to make even that last round of cleaning fairly light work.

I came back feeling (1) that it was too short and (2) that I am nonetheless somewhat refreshed and decompressed.

Sunday morning, people make their way down to the outdoor chapel for Morning Prayer.
It has been ages since I've been on a retreat. I'm pretty sure well over 10 years. There were times I was near tears or actually wiping away a tear or two. If anyone noticed, they were kind enough to not mention it. What were the tears for? Hard to say, really. They're a little bit of a mystery to me. I think getting to go to this retreat, coupled by all the ways my life has changed, particularly ecclesiastically, in the last two years or so, and the general waves of gratitude I have about life right now . . . it's all mixed up in there. That there were connections---songs, conversations, sights, sounds, smells---between college retreats from 30 years ago and this weekend was also a part of it. A religious life, however bumpy, manages to lend some continuity to a person's existence. So much has changed and some things remain the same.

+ + + + +

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Philippines are devastated. I disconnected myself from all media on the retreat, and while I knew that enormous storm was headed toward land before I went on retreat, I did not hear anything of it all weekend. Someone lifted up the Philippines during Morning Prayer, a reminder of the storm, but not news, exactly. 

I've read an article or two about it now. It is horrific. Reports of whole towns disappearing, human death toll estimated at 10,000+, just unimaginable loss . . . 

While we rested, played, rejuvenated, thousands were dying. 

And what can we say? On any corner of the planet, at any time, there is suffering, there is rest, there is destruction, and there is new life. This can be flip and I don't mean it that way, of course. The point I hope to make is that while we took time for re-creation, the point of the new creation is to carry on the work of God. 

The work of God goes on. 

So we pray for comfort and the presence of God among those so devastated. We send money and aid workers to do what they can to bind up the open wounds. We do what we can in the face of such news. It will not be enough and it will multiply. 

May we all find times of rest, may we all find ways to work, may the Spirit of God move among the suffering and may our prayers, in whatever way prayer works, alleviate the pain of people we'll never know.

If we rest and rejuvenate on retreat, we should keep it ever before us that we are new creations for the work of God. That work goes on.

Lord have mercy and grant us strength.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


The clock has already passed midnight, so I guess I have to refer to my birthday as yesterday.

So, yesterday, I turned 50.

I don't have much to say about it except that I am full of gratitude. I think I would have felt gratitude about turning 50 anyway---I've had enough friends who didn't make it to half a century to know it's not a given---but after the spring I had, when I spent a couple of weeks not knowing if I would see 50,  I think I have some obligation to extra gratitude.

Thank you, God.

Not only for reaching half a century, but also for friends who will meet me for lunch with accessories like this to wear during lunch:

If I had any more abundant life, I might break.

I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
  God's greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 
[Psalm 145:1-7]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Peace in the Silence

This morning, our adult formation class had a session on "silence" and it's place in our relationship with God. I got there late so missed about half of the discussion, so where I go here from there probably has little to do with this morning's session except to say that it got me thinking about this topic all day.

One thing that came to mind and has colored my thoughts is a story a friend told me years ago. I forget the details except to say there had been some ugly family stuff and in the midst of the resultant turmoil, a matriarch of the family cried, "Peace! Peace!" Someone answered her, "You don't want peace, you want silence."

Silence and peace. I've been thinking all day about the ways these are used interchangeably and the ways they are not the same. In this morning's discussion I heard people talk about how hard it is for them to keep silence---a silent retreat is torture for them. I heard other people talking about how they need peace and quiet. I heard Sting singing in my head, "you may win this coming battle, but could you tolerate the peace," realizing that it had only tangential relation to our conversation.

It did remind me that we speak of war and peace, not war and silence.

And how the phrase "peace and quiet" is either one of the most used redundancies in our language or they're two different things. We also don't say "peace and silence." Or "silence and quiet."

Also: John Cage did his best to tell us that there's no such thing as silence.

How easily my mind rambles and wanders.

For LGBT people of a certain age, "SILENCE = DEATH" stickers bring dark memories.

There is at least one story from the Desert Fathers that comes to mind wherein an Abba keeps silence to preserve a murderer's life.

If I have a point here, it's that silence and peace have subtle differences. People in the middle of chaos can speak of having peace, while some people keeping silence find no peace at all but turmoil.

Everything casts a shadow, it seems.

So I end with two related question, ones I hope to ponder (without hope of having all the answers) for some days to come:

Where do you find yourself in silence? And are you at peace with that silence?

Well, I'll add a third: Where is God in your silence and in your peace?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

One Rainy Bus Ride

This post will be fairly free of God-stuff. Just a note at the end. So if you don't want God-stuff, you can read for the sake of a story and stop at the next to last paragraph.

I have to tell this story carefully, with as much compassion and sensitivity as I can, as I'm not here to make fun of or in any other way denigrate homeless people. This was just slightly funny and a piece of reality only people who use public transportation see.

Last night, I got out of a rehearsal for a play. Normally, I would have taken the MetroRail to a bus at Wheeler Station, but the trains were stopped this weekend, in anticipation of a building being imploded on the line. (For those who know downtown Houston, I'm referring to the destruction of the now-vacant Macy's [formerly Foley's] building.) They had buses scheduled to take up the slack of the trains, but I decided I'd just walk to a bus stop where I could pick up an 81 or 82 bus, which would take me to the Galleria area, close enough to walk home.

An 82 came along soon enough and I was glad. It was raining, but not hard.

A couple of stops later, a homeless woman got on with another passenger. Suddenly, the bus was filled with a smell like a dead animal. It was putrid and strong, and because the other passenger had come to the back of the bus, where I was, I wondered if it was her, even though she had no outward appearance of someone who might smell like this. As other passengers got on, particularly ones who sat closer to the front made it clear where the smell came from. They all moved to the back. One noted, "Man, you can't get away from it!"

Let me clear. This was not like any homeless person smell. Any public transit rider is familiar with that smell. This was the sort of smell I recognized from dead armadillos or possums or any number of dead animals I might have encountered growing up on a farm. It's even different from spoiled meat. I suspect part of the stench is the smell of rotting entrails as well as muscle, but I digress. The point is, this was a distinct, unique smell.

I should also note that I recognized the homeless woman. She used to spend some times in the chairs at the Barnes & Noble where I used to work. I'd had to wake her up a time or two and send her out into the night as we were closing the store. She never smelled like this then.

So, anyway, there's a dozen or so of us on this smelly bus, and I'm really kind of happy with how everyone's taking it. They're being sensitive enough to not make loud, outward responses to the smell. A couple of men in t-shirts had pulled the top of their shirts up and over their noses (making them look a little bit like bandits, I though), but for a late night bus ride, I thought everyone behaved relatively compassionately.

Then the skies opened up and barrels of rain came down. This being Houston, that means there's pretty immediate flooding. Our bus came to a complete stop in a storm, all of us trapped in the smell, 2-3 feet of water swirling around outside our windows. We couldn't go forward. We couldn't go backward. No to the sides. We had to wait out the storm and the hopefully quick recession of the flood waters.

Meanwhile, the homeless woman slept.

I chewed some spearmint gum, which seemed to help with putting another scent in my nose. At times, I even thought I might have gotten used to it as it seemed to bother me less. Then I'd catch a fresh whiff (no pun intended) of the stench. There was no escape from it.

Other cars went past us, most of them turning around and going back the way they came. A wrecker went by. Then a firetruck. This seemed ominous.

More ominously, I saw one woman, talking low to another woman, make the universal gesture for "throwing up." This concerned me more than a little. I was managing okay with the dead animal smell, but I know from experience that the smell of vomit is a strong trigger for me. I was certain that if anyone threw up in that enclosed place, I would surely follow, particularly mixed with the original stench.

Even as I started to get a headache,  I couldn't help but chuckle at all this. It seemed like the stuff of a sitcom episode. People were going up to the front of the bus to talk to the bus driver. Some stayed up there, others came back to the back of the bus. Some would make an occasional sudden move like a trapped animal looking for an escape. One woman took a picture of the flood waters. It looked like she was posting to Facebook or Twitter or something. Glances were shared, but other than the people talking to the bus driver, no one really talked.

The homeless woman slept on.

This is non-fiction, so all the foreshadowing for worse things to come didn't get fulfilled. Eventually, the rain let up. It seldom rains hard for long in Houston. The waters receded enough for us to start moving forward and before long, we were going at regular speed down Westheimer toward the Galleria.

I do wonder what created that particular smell with this woman. If it was in (from?) her body, perhaps she didn't smell it. If was something in the cart she dragged onto the bus, well, I hope she cleaned it out somewhere. That it was different from the usual homeless person smells made me worry about her. Did she have some place on her body that was putrefying? I hope not. What a misery that would be.

Of course, we picked up drenched people along the way, new faces to react to the stench, new people to try to get away from that which could not be escaped. The bus was filling up and as we passed the Galleria, I gave my seat to a man, telling him I was getting off in a few stops. I stood by the back door.

Then, two stops before mine, there was a person on a motorized scooter who had to get on. Again, the people on the bus behaved as well as could be expected---we were all quite ready to get to where we were going and off that bus, and the bus driver seemed to have more trouble than usual trying to strap the scooter with the safety straps. I began to wonder if I should get off the bus and walk the extra 4 or 5 blocks.

I hoped the guy on the scooter had a strong stomach, because he was absolutely trapped to sit next to the homeless woman.

Finally, we were on our way again. After 90 minutes or more on that bus, I exited into the light rain, my umbrella up. I watched the bus go buy, full of people holding their noses, a handicapped man strapped in next to a sleeping, unfortunate woman.

* * * * * * * * * *

As for God-stuff: Several years ago, in another situation with another homeless person on a bus, this thought came to me: 

When Mary, the Mother of God, comes near, we smell roses. Her Son, on the other hand, smells like this.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Changing Churches (part 4, Episcopalized)

Tonight, I became a member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church here in Houston, which also means I have joined the Episcopal Church and, most significantly, have left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I'm still a bit surprised to say that. I don't know how long it will be before I'll be able to say "I'm Episcopalian." That doesn't sound quite natural, yet. Even tonight, as they had us sit in the front row of the nave, I said to my neighbor, "I'm Lutheran. I don't sit in front pews."

Some thoughts, some serious, some silly:

+ + +

In the year and a half of attending St. Stephen's, I've had both moments of going, "say what?" and "oh, that's totally what I do/think/believe already." Some of the "say what?" moments come when I realize that this is, in fact, the church of the British Empire and occasionally it becomes apparent. 

I have issues with the British Empire, to say it simply. 

But I am also reminded that Martin Luther was successful with his revolution in part because he had the protection of a prince. If this isn't being touched by Empire, I don't know what is. And really, any communion of any size since Constantine knows something about Empire. This doesn't excuse the corrupting influence of Empire, neither does it mean I need to search on for the "pure" church. I have the feeling that many thoughtful churches are aware of this influence and are working against it, at some times more actively than at others, but self-awareness is a start. 

What I do like about the Episcopal Church (despite a little bit of suspicion about it) is that they don't really do systematic theology. Their theology is in the Book of Common Prayer, which is quite orderly but not exactly systematic in the way we think of systematic theology. And I say that having actually enjoyed my systematic theology course in seminary.

Having a theology that is shaped by prayer, however, makes sense to me and as I've long said that I was an "experiential theologian," I have sort of believed it and lived for a while now.

My seminary friend, the late great redheaded wild woman of God, Kathy Glenn, had accused me some time ago of having crypto-Episcopalian tendencies. I've found she was right. 

+ + +

Someone asked me after the service if I heard Martin Luther crying "Nooooooo!" from heaven. I said, no, he just grunted and said, "Ach, das ist adiaphora."

(Really, I don't mind saying that my Lutheran soul is slightly annoyed that the bishop has to come and receive me into membership. I would have joined months ago had it been allowed via some other means. Concessions. We make 'em.) 

+ + +

 There is some real and difficult sadness around this transition. For one thing, I do think of myself as Lutheran. "Luther" and "Lutheran" are words that permeate my history.

Luther League. Lutheran Campus Ministry. Lutheran Student Movement. Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. Voting member of the 1991 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Former employee of Augsburg-Fortress Publishers, the publishing house of the ELCA. I'm sure there are other things I'm forgetting. 

And I've said a few times now that I'm not really leaving the ELCA so much as I'm joining St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, which seems to be a really good place for me. 

Having said that, part of what makes St. Stephen's a good match for me is that I brought to St. Stephen's my idiosyncrasies (a religious performance artist? art-making as a sight for theological reflection? who says things like that?) and it was one of the few times in my life that I wasn't looked at oddly. Even the few times I was listened to in the Lutheran Church, there was still a general confusion about what to do with me. 

But the rector at St. Stephen's not only listened to my ideas, she embraced them, encouraged them, and facilitated their implementation. Really, if my little company, Breath & Bone/Orts Peformance, manages to do much of anything, enormous credit has to go to St. Stephen's and the support I've received there. 

It makes me sad that I'm not saying that about a Lutheran congregation. But sometimes you have to follow the joy.

+ + +

I have mentioned to the rector the possibility of St. Stephen's joining the ELCA. She laughs as if I'm joking. So maybe she doesn't take me seriously in all matters. Still, the seed is planted . . .

+ + +

I think it's a really good time to be the ELCA. This also makes this transition hard. I think there are great things moving in that church body, on a national level. LGBT people are welcomed as clergy (well, officially, anyway). The first openly gay bishop was elected to a synod in California a few months ago. The first woman was just elected, a few short weeks ago, as the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.  The excitement around her election electrified my Facebook newsfeed for a couple of days and I was excited, too. Something interesting and exciting is happening the ELCA. I hate to leave it. It, and it's predecessor body, the American Lutheran Church, has been my family for all my life.

But if it's a cliche that gay men often create their own families, well, I feel that's a bit of what is happening here. Having learned that I just sort of make the "old family" uncomfortable, I've gone and found a family that seems willing to take me, oddities and all.

I'm celebrating. I may look back wistfully now and then, I may have moments of sadness as I watch the old family do wonderful things without me, but I feel adopted into something new. And adoption is something to celebrate.

+ + +

Finally: Years ago, my friend Martha joined the Episcopal Church. I don't know if she remembers this bit of silliness, but she said that after her reception into, she swore that she could now see auras.

After this evening's service, I so very much was tempted to go up to Bishop Andy Doyle and say, "You know at first, seeing auras was a little disorienting, but you adjust really quickly, don't you?"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ask Seek Knock and Vocation

Last week, a friend sent me an email with a question about the "ask, seek, knock" passage in the Bible (it appears in Matthew 7 and Luke 11, if you want to look it up real quick). Her question revolved around someone telling her that if she didn't receive what she asked for she didn't ask for the right thing, which led to some questions about some professional pursuits of hers. 
I hadn't realized, when I was answering her yesterday, that today's assigned Gospel reading was the Luke 11 version of the saying.That coincidence prompted me to look at what I sent my friend. What follows is an edited version of my answer to her:

First, I think a lot of first world Christians make the mistake of taking a verse or two of the Bible and then misapplying it. We might be misapplying it because we're out of a cultural context or we might not be reading enough text around the verse and expect the verse to apply to whatever we want it to apply to on it's own. There are sometimes socio-economic reasons for the misapplication, too.

I think this "ask, seek, knock" verse is one of those verses that gets misapplied for all those reasons. This passage appears only in Matthew and Luke.

In the Matthew account, it is part of the extended Sermon on the Mount, which includes the beatitudes and the Lord's prayer. Luke places this teaching right after teaching the Lord's prayer. In both cases, We're seeing Jesus in his usual mode of discussing the present-and-coming Reign (Kingdom) of God (as the Lord's Prayer asks for the Kingdom to come), while Luke's concern for the Holy spirit is also evident. (" . . . how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.")

So I'm not sure Jesus it talking about asking for a career or a car or a boyfriend, no matter what honorable reasons we might give God for asking for those things. ("Oh God, if only I had a car, just think of all the ways I could better serve you and the community!") I think we have here Jesus talking more about asking, seeking, knocking to see the Reign of God, where the poor are blessed, the mournful are comforted, the naked are clothed, and we receive our daily bread.

I understand how we get confused. The parable Jesus tells just before the ask-seek-knock passage (in the Luke account) is about a neighbor who bangs on the door in the middle of night, asking to borrow some bread for unexpected guests. The persistence of the neighbor is rewarded, eventually. And maybe there's something to that for those of us wanting a particular career---persistence not only in asking for it but also working for it.

But one commentator I read also points out that while we often associate God with the person who has already gone to bed for the night, Jesus is really saying that God is at least as good as the one disturbed in sleep and better. In the context of Jesus' larger message, however, I'm led to think that Jesus is really talking about seeking God's Reign. Ask to see God's reign, seek it out, knock on the door of God's Kingdom and we see it. Be persistent in the desire for the Holy Spirit, and God will not deny us.

But asking for something else, not getting it, and then thinking it's some kind of fault on behalf of the asker . . . well, it's not a wrong assumption, I guess, because the asker is seeking for something Jesus never promised.

It's also a little bit like treating God like Santa Claus. If we ask and receive, we were good, if we ask and didn't receive, we were naughty? It's God as magician and praying/asking correctly as incantation. A good number of American Christians seem to believe in this, I don't.

On the other side of the question, however, is the question of vocation or calling. If I'm called to be a ________, why aren't I more successful at it?

I think I can only talk about this from my personal experience.

I have an entry in my journals, from 1985, where I declared (in rather pious terms) that I felt the calling to be a performer and that this was a calling from God. Over the years, I'd let that go, not finding a way to pursue it in the way I felt called to. Realizing I was gay, I didn't believe I could pursue "Christian theater" (yeah, that was an interest at the time) and because performance is so dang expensive to produce, I turned to something else I'm fairly good at: writing. I think writing is, indeed, part of my calling, but for several years, I focused on that exclusively. I reconnected with performing in grad school, but even then I didn't take it seriously.

To be honest, both writing and performing have sometimes seemed like really frivolous callings to me. Mother Teresa had a serious calling. I felt like I didn't. But finding that journal entry from 1985 again, it hit me and hit hard. Well, shit, that's still it.

So I've put more energy into performing the last three years. It's difficult, it's full of hit and miss, I don't make a living at it. I'm also the most content I've been in a long time.

I think the thing about vocation is that we think that if God is calling us to something, we'll be successful. Of course, that depends upon definitions of "success." What I've come to realize is that following God will not necessarily make us successful in any kind of terms that includes a nice house with a swimming pool. I mean, it may, but that's not the point. I think we get confused about following our calling whenever we forget that to follow Jesus is to follow someone who ended up on a cross. On top of that, several of his first followers also ended up on a cross or were beheaded or fed to lions or in other unwelcome situations. The point of following a call isn't success. The point is the following. The following, the journey, whatever you want to call it, is the reward.

Which is all probably cold comfort, but I really believe it. The peace I've had since giving up making excuses for why I'm not performing seems like some sort of confirmation. Not that there aren't obstacles and frustrations and real fear and failure. I suspect it takes an awful lot of peace to be able to follow Jesus into a confrontation with lions.

So, whatever you're called to. follow that calling, recognizing the obstacles and dangers therein. Follow the calling with an eye and ear turned toward why you've been called to this task. (My own calling is currently being tested and refined by this). Do what you have to do to keep living indoors and eating and follow the vocation. I promise no bed of roses, but I think you'll find some sort of peace and maybe even some sort of success in that following.

Just be ready to have all your definitions of success turned upside down.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Don't Want to Talk About Abortion

Let's start here: I'm a gay man. I will never be pregnant, nor will I ever cause a pregnancy. For this reason, I feel it necessary to tread lightly on a subject like abortion. An unplanned pregnancy is not something that will have direct impact on me.

Still, much is being said about abortion and most of it seems overstated, stated in terms that suggests that one answer fits all lives, or is based purely upon ideals and wishful thinking. And since so many of the people talking about it are men, who might be affected by an unplanned pregnancy but don't bear the physical consequences of it, I find the urge to add my voice. I do presume to speak for anyone, but hope I speak in solidarity and compassion with some. Not everyone will agree. Obviously.

A link that has been passed around on Facebook actually covers a good deal of what I would say, so I'll start with pointing you to this blog by Eric Folkerth.

The rest are my rambles, in no particular order.

Abortion is a Serious Matter

I do not hold with people who treat abortion as an inconsequential thing. My limited experience shows that women who find themselves in the situation of considering one understand this, but I also understand that some are a bit more cavalier about it. I think it is a serious matter to be considered carefully.

I say this not to induce guilt one way or the other, but to recognize one thing: Sex and sexuality are powerful. Even in non-procreative circumstances, I think it is full of vulnerabilities and emotional consequences. That sex can also cause a new combination of genetic material to come into being, this is mysterious and awesome and full of wonder.

At the same time, the fact that this happens is also just a matter of science, and often accidental, even when two people are trying to conceive. It happens every day and is ordinary and often full of flaws. It is fragile and many, many embryos "die" before the end of the first trimester.

I think we begin to make a fetish of the embryo when we treat it as something to be protected at all costs. It is not a person. It has potential to become a person, yes, but I cannot see how we can count an embryo as a person.

So somewhere between an accident of science and an occasion of mystery, there is a big room full of careful consideration. I do not advocate for capricious choosing of abortion. Neither do I think choosing one is murder.

The Bible is Not Clear on the Subject

Pastor Folkerth covers this pretty well. What I would say further is that the writers of the Bible, in a pre-scientific age, and had different notions of what even caused a pregnancy, much less when life began.

For one thing, so much depended upon the man. If you read the sexual prohibitions in the Bible, you will see things against a man "spilling his seed." That's because the best "science" of the day assumed that a man carried the seed for new life in his semen, and that a woman was merely the field in which he planted it---hence all the talk of a woman being "barren," an agricultural term for a field that could not produce good crops. It was assumed that that the "seed" was good. They had no way of knowing that semen actually contained numerous little swimming "seeds"---or not.

In that worldview, it was all about protecting the semen and "spilling" it (via either masturbation or "pulling out" before ejaculation) was tantamount to wasting heirs or descendents. This why the Roman Catholic church still has prohibitions against masturbation and condoms.

So, if we really wanted to have Biblical, pre-birth, "life protecting" legislation, we'd be focusing a whole lot more on men and their semen.

Otherwise, what Pastor Folkerth says about the "breath of life" is what I understand, too. I'll also back up his comment that saying life begins at birth is also problematic. What I would add is that part of living as a religious person is accepting some ambiguity about things. These things are not either/or.

Laws Restricting Abortion Mostly Affect the Poor

I think I can state this simply: A rich and powerful woman---or the mistress of a rich and powerful man---will always have access to safe abortion. Always have.

This is why I've said that if legislation is not a "war on women," it is certainly part of a war on the poor.

I'll leave that to be somewhat self-evident.

Women Get Pregnant in Many Awful Circumstances

I get the impression that most of the "pro-life" people think that women are just out having fun, getting pregnant, and not wanting the responsibility that goes with their actions. Even when I listen to women who are advocating for stricter abortion laws or abortion prohibition seem to be very far removed from situations like these:

Women are raped. Women can get pregnant via rape (which seems ludicrous to say, but apparently you have to say it). Carrying a pregnancy to term does not redeem the rape. Neither does an abortion. The rape remains a traumatic, life-altering event. Whether choosing to terminate or carry to term a pregnancy conceived in rape, the choice is fraught with many landmines, many laid in the very specific circumstances of a woman's life. How anyone can say that a woman who is pregnant under this circumstance must give birth is insensitive at best. A woman may, in fact, have the emotional and personality traits and support system in place to carry such a pregnancy to term. But however a women chooses, my immediate compassion is with the woman making the decision, not the embryo that some would place as more important.

Girls are forced into situations way beyond their control. There is such a thing as "survival sex." This may take form in prostitution, but it may also be just what a girl (or woman) has to endure to keep any hope of surviving to something beyond her current life. Homeless girls, poor women, women and girls who are geographically or emotionally cut off from protection . . . Is there no compassion for their choice to not want to bring a child into their situation?

Also, men have a history of violence. Not all men, of course, and there are any number of men who will and have stood by the women they've gotten pregnant. But there are also men who don't want to be a father and will do things like punch a woman repeatedly in the uterus until she miscarries---or worse. I'd much rather a woman trapped with a violent man (for whatever social, emotional, economic reason she may be trapped) to have the option of sneaking away to a clinic before he learns she's pregnant.

In short, we have to stop imagining unwanted pregnancies in situations where a heartwarming solution can be had. The world isn't that friendly. We've somehow gotten to the place where some people feel more protective of an embryo than of the fully formed person carrying it. It's easy to transfer all our happiness for our friends or ourselves over a pregnancy that we want, it's easy to think that because you wanted a baby everyone does, it's easy to think that "everything will work out fine" because it did for you or someone you know----but for this kind of thinking I have two words: Stop it. We have to look at real situations, real lives, in short, reality. We have to stop guilt-tripping women into decisions because of our ideals or wishes.

Men Need to Take More Responsiblity

I don't know how this can happen, and I'm certain it's not through legislation. But all those Facebook memes about stop telling girls to not get raped and start telling boys not to rape? That sort of thing is a good place to start.

We need to cultivate a society where sexual experience is not the mark of manhood, where talking (or worse, forcing) a woman (or another man for the gay men out there) into sex is not some sign of masculine prowess, where fatherhood is treated as some kind of achievement. Because sexual experience just makes you sexually experienced, talking someone into doing something they don't want just makes you a bully, and paternity, despite some individuals' specific experience, is remarkably easy to achieve.

I've toyed with all kinds of ideas for how to legislate male reproductive abilities in a way that corresponds to legislation that legislates women's reproductive choices. So far, I have nothing. But the fact that men have the "power" to procreate without the physical wear and tear (and thanks to modern medicine, we've forgotten just how dangerous pregnancy can be for a woman---read some history on mortality rates for women giving birth even a century ago), without the financial burden of medical care, often without the financial burden of caring for a growing child (despite laws in place to hold men accountable through child support payments).

I honestly don't know the answer to this problem. Other than to say to my heterosexual counterparts: Cultivate some responsibility already! (And those of you who have---you know who  you are---thank you. You are the real men of the world.)

I'm sure there's more to be said---the internet is full of people saying it. And I don't like talking about it.

But to sum up: Have more compassion for the person---the woman---who is fully formed and in crisis than for an embryo. I'm not pro-abortion. I recognize it's sometimes misused (as when parents choose to abort because they learn their embryo or fetus is the "wrong" sex---these stories particularly trouble me). But it is not a one-size fits all situation. And I'm convinced it is not the same as murder.

But let's keep the procedure available and safe for those who find it to be the best choice for their situation. And love the women, no matter what. Because, no matter what, their decision---either decision----will be with them a very long time.