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watch-your-step

Watch Your Step

I ran along the river in old town Kaunas, Lithuania. As I considered the convergence of streams most dear to me, my heart overflowed and I ran with abandon. Surging in me were ‘currents’ of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina, a European team of wounded healers who heal me, an American team par excellence, and a host of new friends from Poland who gathered to initiate Living Waters there.

Heaven on earth until my foot caught a crack in the path and I dove like a senseless animal into the then not-so-charming cobblestones. ‘Watch your step,’ intoned a still small voice.

I picked myself up, bleeding just a little, and took heed. We faced giants at our first Living Waters Training in Eastern Europe. Poland takes seriously its Catholicism—the authority of the Church, and that means defending the role of ordained priests in absolving sins. Living Waters takes seriously the role of the community in bearing one another’s sins so we can be healed. The priests and parishioners who gathered with us had serious questions about our approach; many also had serious divides in their souls that could only be healed by a band of fellow sinners who fought in merciful humility for their chastity.

I battled confusion and suspicion then rose to testify of both the priestly pillars of forgiveness (on which I depend) and the continuous links of being known daily with my fellow ‘lay priests’ on whom I rely to overcome sin. Jesus forged a way for all concerned to say ‘yes’ to Living Waters for the Polish church; most importantly, sinners were set free by the experience of both priestly absolution and the healing power of the ‘one another.’

I bounded out of our retreat center and somehow avoided stabbing my foot on a rusty spike protruding on the path. ‘I know, I know,’ I whispered heavenward: ‘Watch my step.’

The next fight was harder. In preparatory prayer, we discerned that we had to emphasize one plank of Living Waters—breaking the spirit of despair–in these lands trampled by the bloody boots of Russia and Germany then choked by Soviet rule. Our friends had grown up in the shadow of violent inhumanity. Christ Crucified is easy for Eastern Europeans; they must fight to live expectantly in the light of Love, risen and bursting with life.

The Word came in power and delivered many from the spirit of death. Then despair rolled over the team like a fog. We struggled under a stifling heaviness for a few hours. Then we gathered and confessed our affliction to one another; Jesus broke through with hope and joy. Relieved, I ran back to my room and fell promptly into a pothole. I received only a gentle ‘dusting’, no harm whatsoever, as if an unseen being padded my accident. I laughed, brushed myself off, and pledged once more to watch my step.

‘He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’
(PS 91: 11-13)

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bloody-marriage

Bloody Marriage

Marriage is messy business. So much so that Jesus allowed Himself to get messed up for us. He shed blood to reveal our starting point as spouses: ‘O God, the love I desire to give, I do not!’ Or more accurately, I cannot. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Annette and I just finished leading a round of Beauty and the Breach, an 8-week course in which we invite frustrated couples to discover the Cross together through merciful exchanges of blessing, sin, and need. Each couple bore distinct wounds but faced a common block in offering themselves freely to the other. We placed a big Cross in the middle of our gathering as a reminder that Jesus’ covenant with us—His commitment to the marriage–supersedes our own; we stirred up the faith that somehow His blood could bore through the debris obscuring our true selves from the other. His Cross also reminded us that when it came to expressing hard stuff to the other, or hearing hard stuff, we could pick up our little crosses and endure shame and pain for the joy set before us.

Some of the couples could point to big historic sins as contributors to the current breach. A few had thought ‘marriage’ might cure sexual addiction or same-sex attraction or deep-seated fears; in truth, they realized that a good marriage exposes before it absolves. In a previous group, one woman expressed how her husband’s confession of a litany of sexual sins may have been in his words ‘a resurrection’ but for her, it was the beginning of a slow, long crucifixion. She had to die to what she thought her life would be. A source of security had become a threat; her closest walking partner, a dangerous sinner. How to love? ‘Lord, have mercy on me, sinner…’

I am not being romantic here. All sin is not created equal and certain betrayals require solid boundaries in order to protect the betrayed and provoke genuine repentance on the part of the obvious sinner. But it also invites the offended party to reckon with his or her limited love—the way (s)he loves according to contract, because the other keeps his or her end of the marital deal and thus justifies one’s love. When that contract is broken, one feels justified in breaking vows. But we marry based on covenant, the truth that we invoked the ONE who shed blood to grant us the mercy needed to extend mercy, especially to the sinner we’re sleeping with.

During our last night at Beauty and the Breach, the Spirit directed me to Luke 18: 9-14 where Jesus gives wise counsel to any ‘confident of their own righteousness’ (v.9), namely the Pharisee who thanked God for not making him an adulterer. Next to him at church was such an adulterer who simply cried out for mercy. God saved only the latter (v. 14). My prayer? That the Cross reveal to all spouses our inability to love the other as we should. May mercy come quickly to meet former Pharisees and former prostitutes who marry; may the bloody God be glorified on such broken, level and ultimately beautiful ground.

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3-times-a-slave

3 Times a Slave

St. Peter Claver, Jesuit missionary to Africans enslaved to landowners in 17th century Colombia, would descend into the holds of slave ships and welcome those barely alive with a crucifix in one hand and medicine and food in the other. ‘This Jesus will love you better than any person ever could…’ He loved 300,000 slaves into the new life only Christ Jesus gives.

We need the Spirit of St. Peter Claver as we seek to love a generation enslaved by early sexualization of non-sexual needs combined with false, deflating answers to pressing questions about love, intimacy and gender identity. ‘Harassed and helpless’ is a generation without boundary who needs transforming love that lasts.

First enslavement: the vulnerability of young persons to sexual abuse. In a groundbreaking review of most contemporary research in the area of sexuality and gender (‘Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences’, The New Atlantis Journal, Fall 2016), Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh cite persistently high rates of childhood sexual abuse among persons who later identify as gay or lesbian adults (3X more for all in contrast to ‘heterosexual’ counterparts; 5X more for ‘gay’ adult males who were abused homosexually as children.) One impact of abuse: normal needs for connection and attention become sexualized, which encourages ‘gay’ identification later on.

Second enslavement: systems in western culture designed to advocate for ‘at risk’ youth, including middle and high school educators, therapists, and social workers lunge at the opportunity to confirm pre-teens and teens as ‘queer’ as soon as they express any kind of same-sex attraction. Driven by the contestable belief that one is born intrinsically ‘gay’, these child ‘advocates’ actually contribute to teen abuse by urging the vulnerable to assume a ‘gay’ self and peer group. How many underage kids have been tacitly encouraged to begin having ‘gay’ sex in junior high school by clueless caregivers? In this way, our systems contribute to the enslavement of kids. (Mayer and McHugh cite substantial evidence that points to the fluidity of sexual desire in both male and female teens; SSA is not set in stone, and can readily change.)

Most concerning to me is the Church which contributes to the enslavement of young adults by insisting that Jesus does nothing to help them overcome same-sex attraction. An example: a young friend of mine repented of gay activity in high school then began getting the help he needed to move onto normal connection with women, the prospect of family, etc. He recently attended a summer Christian course for students preparing for university. There he heard Christopher Yuan, a popular speaker on Christian faith and homosexuality, who according to my friend testified weakly to Jesus’ apparent unwillingness to transform persons with same-sex attraction.

No better, and possibly worse is Anglican Wesley Hill who advocates for committed ‘gay’ celibate unions. In response to the newly consecrated Bishop Chamberlain in England who champions his gay self and lifetime partner, Hill writes what he hopes to hear from the new bishop: ‘I am in a committed faithful relationship with another man. I love him deeply and hope to spend the rest of my life with him. We don’t sleep together…in the hope that we’ll be able to love each other more deeply, more truly and more in line with how God in Christ has made us and redeemed us to be.’

Bleech! Aren’t we as the Church called to proclaim and facilitate the transforming power of love for persons enslaved in sin? I urged my young friend to refuse all such false witnesses and to run his race. Slightly stumbled, he regained footing as he recalled how much ground Jesus has already taken in reconciling him to who he is—a son of the Father, the man of God’s design. St. Peter Claver, lead on!

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porn poison

Porn Poison

Sin makes you sick. Porn makes you sicker.

The other night, far from home, I had to alter a plane ticket in the wee hours. A couple days earlier, I had disassembled the porn filter on my computer (which I absolutely need to stay off the rot) in order to use the Internet in a foreign land. A thought inflamed my feverish little brain as I rescheduled my flight: ‘You are a free man on the Internet–explore what you will…’

All such roads go down and down. After a few minutes of surfing the slime, I was so sickened by the empty, agitated look of lust on every player that I heaved my computer onto the other side of the room and sought without success to sleep. I felt seasick, like I was rolling on board an undulating tanker. Snippets of sex opened the eyes of my heart to see a host of folks in this nightmarish home porn flick. I had not poisoned myself in a long time. The distance made me sicker.

I gave up sleep and sat upright to stop the spinning, the moral nausea. I stood alone with dirty hands and heart and recited the Mass confession—‘through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.’ Only mercy: Jesus waits, ever near, listening for mercy’s cry.

Of course He has members. I waited as long as I could to call my accountability folks and that helped. I told Annette and vowed to put back on the filter (I’ll take Covenant Eyes over Demon-Eyes any day). Done. In the light yes but still bearing the poison, I raced on foot to a nearly parish for Mass. The hot sun seemed to bore a hole through my compromised skin. First reading—Ezekiel 36: 25—‘I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all you impurities and all your idols.’ I did not know the priest but waited for him anyway, hoping he might hear my confession. He did and as he pronounced forgiveness he asked that God restore my eyes to behold once more the beauty of humanity.

The beauty of humanity. Wow. That’s what porn poisons—true sight of man for woman , woman for man. My vision of humanity was desecrated early on by porn, so young that I must choose daily now to see real beauty. And to praise God for it. Mercy alone liberates both. Thank you Jesus.

You need not fight alone. God has members, and some of His best are hosting an in-depth workshop for men seeking to overcome porn and other sexual behavior problems. It’s a 3-day intensive in Kansas from September 15-17th. Register at WWW.MYHOUSEKANSAS.ORG or call 8167866063.

Stop poisoning yourself; reclaim beauty.

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For The Bride

For the Bride

This fall, we advance in three exciting ways for the Body of Christ. Desert Stream Ministries is about helping make the Church a transformational place for sinners, and ultimately, a chaste, merciful Bride for her Bridegroom.

Toward that end, we want to know about:

Our third Living Waters group at St. Thomas More parish in Kansas City
This is the first Catholic parish in America to take up the healing of sexually and relationally broken people. We have faced much resistance, and without help from the Kansas City/St. Joseph Diocese would not be gathering again this fall. God uses all refinement to make our offering more glorious.
We start Tuesday night September 27th.
To apply, contact Becky Turner at morelivingwaters@gmail.com.

Open to Life: Pastoral Equipping for Care of Persons with Same-Sex Attraction
This is a concise, practical, and hopeful 2-and- a-half hours for all Christian leaders who want to be faithful to Jesus in their care of persons facing homosexual issues.
Please calendar Wednesday morning on October 19th, from 930am to noon at St. Thomas More parish in Kansas City.
To register, contact Dean Greer at dgreer@desertstream.org.

Radiant: 40-Days of Prayer and Fasting for the Church, Oct. 12th-Nov. 20th
Desert Stream sponsors a fast at the end of the Catholic Church year every fall. This year, we shall be lifting up each Christian’s commitment to make the Body of Christ a merciful, truthful community for all persons, and ultimately, a Bride worthy of her Bridegroom. We will have a complete guide for this fast available by the end of September.

This fast can involve any kind of sacrifice you desire to make and requires 30 minutes every day for to pray for our pastors and the expansion of our limited love for the Church. We want to share Jesus’ heart for His beautiful, broken Bride.
For more info and a prayer guide, contact aarmstrong@desertstream.org.

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