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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Comiskey at 60 (Isaiah and otherwise…)

‘Arise and shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and deep darkness the peoples of the earth but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you’ (Isaiah 60:1, 2).

Does aging make you better or worse? Guess it depends on who you are looking at. As I turned 60 the other day, I’m more aware than ever of contradictions within me, the mix that alternately cheers and deadens.

How to live honestly yet hopefully? Stay fixed on Jesus: somehow, my ‘cross-eyed’ view apprehends glorious light and sheds it upon the soul’s contours. Shadows flee and hope rises. Almighty mercy frees me to struggle in the Light. In that Light, I can behold the weak one next to me as an equally fit candidate for grace, one destined to wriggle out of frustration and into glory (Romans 8:18-21).

Last week, I reviewed my journals from 2017 and was struck by the year’s difficulty. The gravitational pull of sin and death was evident. But more familiar than a spirit of heaviness were the upward risings that followed every rut in the path. All it took was a gentle act of the will. I offered the shame, disappointment, or fear to the Crucified, who never failed to surge like a crystal stream up the middle of a polluted ditch. I caught His wave through acts of prayerful surrender.

Of course we need reminders of new life. I recall one day last year when I couldn’t summon faith. Giving was down, I had to buy an international air ticket, and the world seemed to be spinning fast, too fast, as if careening off its axis. I called my mother, just shy of her 92-year-old birthday, and offered her my lament. Keep in mind this woman lost her husband of 60 years a decade ago and has had to choose very day to rise and shine. That gets harder every year, as friends die off; she is now the ‘last woman standing,’ the one who cheerfully presides over the memorials of departed friends. She rises on shaky legs, refuses despair and self-pity, and looks to the One who shines upon her.

She heard my lament and responded: ‘That sounds hard. But how great that you are free to launch out into the world and make a difference in people’s lives through His glorious Kingdom!’ I blushed a little and offered my burden to the Lord, who enabled me to straighten up quickly. I positioned myself afresh to reflect His rays. The Light shines in darkness, and cannot be overcome (JN 1:5).

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Boundary Breakers or Makers?

Hollywood’s award season is in full swing and will be dominated by actresses insisting on a new moral order in which men treat them with deference and respect. Right on. You witnessed Hollywood’s best on the Golden Globe Awards wearing black to honor those deadened by misogyny; most female winners will remark on overcoming sexual misconduct as Hollywood’s number one priority.

Time Magazine chose as 2017’s ‘Person of the Year’ the ‘silence-breakers’: women–some entertainers–who refused to be the dirty little secrets of men in power. Writers of the tribute raised a good point: ‘While anger can start a revolution, it cannot negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change…there’s a great deal at stake in how we assess these new boundaries, for men and women together.’

Jessica Chastain and Meryl Streep.

What are the new boundaries? Is Hollywood capable of covering and protecting its beautiful flesh? Renowned for pushing limits until they shatter, can the entertainment industry tow a line, any line that refuses sexual ‘freedom’?

Case in point. At the same awards ceremony where Jessica Chastain insisted that Hollywood clean up its act (the Palm Springs Film Festival), the young actor Timothee Chalamet won an award for playing a 17-year-old boy having an affair with a 24-year-old man in the film Call Me By Your Name; he thanked his costar’s wife for ‘letting me crawl all over her husband for two months.’ Huh.

In its yearend edition (Dec. 18th, 2017) featuring the ‘silence-breakers’, Time chose this romantic tale of sexual abuse as its sixth best film of the year. Times critic Stephanie Zacharak gushed over the film-as a ‘rapturous, bittersweet seduction. To fall into its arms is bliss.’ No mention that its story centers on a classic Hollywood hunk seducing a teen, and performing a host of orgasmic sexual acts with him. It is soft porn with literary pretensions. Breaking emotional, spiritual, and physical boundaries with other men cost Kevin Spacey his career. It will make the careers of the actors in Call Me By Your Name. So Hollywood says ‘Me Too’ to some, and ‘Not You’ to the films that seduce us.

Having seen the film (please don’t, as its explicit content is disturbing), I marveled at the lack of moral tension contained in it. The boy’s father consoles his distraught son by blessing this most special friendship and even expressing his regret over not ever having had such a same-gender affair. (Adding to the irony: the seducer was the father’s academic assistant whom ‘Dad’ invited into the home to share a room next to his son!) Even worse is the lack of tension experienced by Hollywood over the film. Have you heard any outcry against it?

Apparently Hollywood is selective in protecting human dignity. The industry must become consistent in her moral revolution. That must apply first and foremost to children. If Hollywood wants to create new boundaries then it must also repent for breaking good ones. Hollywood abuses everyone by applauding Call Me By Your Name.

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Smoke, Not Fire

Two weeks ago, a Roman Catholic priest from Milwaukee came out as ‘gay’–made by God that way–to his congregation in an effort to integrate his ‘gay’ self and to help LGBTers follow his path to authenticity.

Blazing a trail with his fiery witness? Nah….Father Gregory Greiten’s effort leaked poisonous gas into the Church; he made smoke, not fire by reducing the God who answers His children with fire to a toothless ancient who wearily confirms our fractured lives. For this Jesus suffered an agonizing death and descent into hell? The smoke that shrouds and chokes, not the fire that illumines and awakens our authenticate selves, is the effect of churchmen who render God impotent.

I struggle to include in a brief blog all the errors in Greiten’s thinking. Let me try.

First, there is no such thing as a ‘gay’ person, if by that one means an individual who is intrinsically rooted in same-sex attractions. That is a popular myth. A person is not born a homosexual or a transsexual or a bisexual. He or she is born to realize her or his dignity as a beloved daughter or son of the Father and as a gendered gift to the whole world. Father Greiten disagrees; he purports that ‘God created him to be gay.’ Says who? Not God…

Secondly, Greiten confuses one’s feelings with an identity. I suspect, like many persons (myself included) with a history of same-sex attraction, the depth and persistence of such desires can tempt one into forming a ‘self’ around them. But such identity formation is alien to the call of Christ. He invites every follower to surrender all other identifications and to take up the Cross as the mark of the new and true self (JN 12: 25). Every priest should know this. If a fatherly leader loses sight of that Cross, how dull the vision for a weaker son! Smoke, not fire.

Thirdly, every priest should know that the Church names homosexual desires as disordered in that they frustrate openness to life: the unitive and procreative purposes of our sexuality. Jesus upheld His Father’s will for man and woman together to constitute His plan for sexual love (Matt. 19: 4-6). Of course many live far from that reality. No matter! God has made a way for persons with disordered desires to be drawn into His merciful gaze and so be ‘loved out’ of every other identification, especially one based on disordered desires. That a priest should base an identity on disordered desires, then urge others to follow his example, is beyond me. Better put, because Jesus’ love has shattered every effort of the ‘gay’ world to name and animate me, I would say that Greiten’s example is beneath me.

Fourth, what to say to the response to Greiten’s witness? His congregation gave him a standing ovation, and apparently his Archbishop blessed his ‘coming out.’ That is for me the worst news of all. It reflects a worldly church nearly dead to the power of the Gospel. Nearly dead. I would put her in St. Paul’s category of being ‘struck down but not yet destroyed’ (2Cor. 4:9). She lives still because Jesus’ lives just as I live today to the beauty of Jesus and my wife and kids and grandkids and a whole new horizon that Jesus opens for every longing, broken heart.

The Church must reclaim her truth and her witness today. You who like me share a history of disorder vanquished only by the greater love of Jesus—let us arise in this hour and become the Church who illuminates the Cross amid shadow and smoke. Let our lives shine forth the glory of Him who authors and redeems true personhood.

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Gloriously Dependent

‘The incarnation has forever hallowed the flesh.’ Charles Williams (as quoted by Leanne Payne in The Healing Presence)

Today we rejoice in God assuming baby flesh—the Father and Son’s choice for the King of glory to become as small and dependent as we are. It’s weird: here I am on the crest of my 60th Christmas and I feel smaller than ever, reduced to utter dependence upon Jesus. Our spiritual life is not like our psychological journey in which we master one stage in order to proceed onto the next. In Jesus, we are continually reduced to His greater Life until we, aging fetuses all, launch into the Life for which we ache more today than yesterday.

It helps to revisit what happened on Christmas: ‘God really came down. He became an infant and placed Himself in a state of vulnerability and total dependence, which is the condition of a newborn human being. The Creator who holds the world in His hands, on whom we all depend, became a little child in need of human love’ (Dom Jean-Charles Nault). God depended on love.

That gives me hope. He gets the longing in our hearts for connection and communion, the ache for the full breast and strong chest, a yearning much deeper than survival or sexual needs: it is the ache to be enveloped and infused by the Creator. And here is the mystery of Christmas. The humble babe has never ceased to be Almighty God who declares to us today: ‘I am Jesus, and I will love you better than the best mother or father or friend or lover or spouse!’

God in humility entered into our dependency; in majesty, He offers Himself as the Source to whom we can cling. I don’t cling to people any more. But I linger longer in His Presence than before. The winds blow harder on my thinning skin. Over the last few weeks I have broken down on several occasions and just wept, His mercy priming my heart to feel the burden of those I love and to know somehow that Jesus is enough for them. Tears release my distress and draw me near the One who took on baby flesh in order to reduce me to utter dependence. Gloriously.

He upholds me for the sake of pure joy. Yesterday I dangled my grandson on one arm while throwing balls to our two labs. He loved it! His head bobbled as he tracked the dogs racing around the yard. What better than a laughing babe, rejoicing at creation for the first time? Jesus, Jacob, us. Merry Christmas.

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Binding Up the Betrayed Heart

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me; He has sent Me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication from our God’ (IS. 61:1, 2).

I just read an essay in the New York Times with an all-too-familiar narrative: man divorces pretty good wife and kids in order to hook up with others, in this case, other men. His adventures, including ripping the clothes off a new friend, are framed as freedom. Our heightened awareness of the impact of sexual assault (‘me too’) apparently does not extend to the no less devastating assault of adultery upon families: male and female spouses who betray loved ones continually through illegal bodily offerings. Adulterers impoverish and imprison the ones who love them most in their quest for a better orgasm.

Adultery and divorce jackhammer human hearts. No spouse or child is left unshaken; the bad choices of another create a fault line that quakes like seizures over the course of many lifetimes.

Until Jesus binds up their broken hearts. I love the above-mentioned verses from Isaiah which Jesus cites (LK 4:18) when He announced His public ministry. He comes to heal the betrayed heart! His healing Presence is how He vindicates those fractured by the folly of others. How? He opens His flesh to assume our lacerations. And our shame. I believe that the shame of adultery is greater upon loved ones than upon the perpetrator; spouses and kids now live under a shadow they neither chose nor can grasp.

The betrayed ask themselves: ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Jesus takes His advantage. He draws the broken-hearted to Himself where His wisdom, His steadying hand and His peace that surpasses understanding and circumstance elicits good grief. He speaks the healing Word: ‘This is not your fault; I bind away your accuser and confirm the truth–you are wanted, you are mine, and I will never leave you nor forsake you. I close the gap in my spousal devotion to you!’

These would be mere ideas if we as members of Christ did not do our part. We are the ones who Jesus calls to be His hands and eyes and words and heart for the betrayed. As our culture reframes shameful acts as ‘freedom’, we must welcome the shamed into fellowship. We are the ones Jesus calls ‘to give greater honor to the parts of the body that lack honor’ (1 Cor. 12:24-26). Honor is slaughtered in persons betrayed by adultery and divorce. It is our job to champion the dishonored and to help them exchange another’s sin for a double portion of blessing. We can help them to realize ‘the year of God’s favor.’

We must also note that betrayers can exchange their shame for honor too. Just after reading the Times essay, I heard from a married friend who committed a string of adulteries. Broken by the impact of his sin, he repented and now makes every effort to reconcile with his wife. Having devastated her, he now encourages her healing by living the truth-in-love. Only Jesus can cancel out adultery by provoking and sustaining one’s lifelong repentance. Once an adulterer, no longer an adulterer! Jesus opens prison doors for the betrayed and betrayers.

May this Advent, a beginning unlike any other, become your ‘year of God’s favor.’

‘Instead of their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace, they will rejoice in their inheritance; so they will receive a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.’ (IS. 61: 7)

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