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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
Clear to Hear

Clear to Hear

‘I heard birds sing for the first time today.’ So testified a woman from our Mexican Training whose ears had echoed with demonic accusations. As the Father sought after His daughter, members of the leadership team prayerfully spoke a few true words to her about her status as His beloved one. God’s real confirming presence delivered her from torment. One Voice prevailed over many false ones and freed her to listen, to hear in silence God singing over her through a bird.

Not all of us are demonized in that way. But most of us live in the clutter of noisy demands vying for our attention which crowd out His still small Voice. How often do we fail to hear the Word that could be our freedom? Or another’s?

The other day at home, I was listening to something through earphones while cleaning, a familiar scenario in which I attempt to manage my own little universe. Annette tried in vain to get my attention. Exasperated, she cried, ‘We are together in this house, yet alone. That’s just rude!’ Rude, and revealing. What else do I not hear as I immerse myself in an audio world that refuses stillness? The Psalmist declares that ‘the heavens pour forth speech’, but I am not listening. I can and do repel the Spirit’s stirrings (not to mention my wife’s!) with noise.

Yet there are blessed moments when we listen from our hearts. Annette and I are doing ‘Beauty and the Breach’ with our dear friends the Nobregas; together we walk couples-in-conflict through a brief curriculum and listening exercises. Annette and I enter in and ‘exercise’ our own listening skills, especially in hard-to-hear areas. I never cease to be amazed by the healing that comes through Annette’s gracious speech.

Mark my words: we shall never be a ministry that replaces face-to-face encounter with virtual room noise, however noble the blog or video may be! We need to gather together, still our hearts, and listen.

Stillness. Jesus is always calling in the quiet. When I do not start the day in expectant silence, I know I am in trouble. Going to daily Mass helps. Before the Crucified, I am enveloped in everlasting arms, which is why I try to come early and stay late. I need to rest in Him who controls it all through perfect love. Fears and doubts fade away in His Presence. He speaks loudest in silence.

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healing ethnic shame

Healing Ethnic Shame

Roque Daniel Delgado’s stepfather was Mexican. Real Mexican. Santiago dressed to the nines, stuffed his Chicago home with colorful paintings and big furniture, insisting on speaking Spanish, and took pride in his Catholic family which extended throughout the Guadalajara area like a fast-growing bougainvillea vine.

Actually, Santiago started life in Mezquitic, an impoverished village 100 miles from the big city. He worked as hard as a man can. Strength and tenacity propelled him north and into the Rio Grande; he swam to America and did not look back till he reached Chicago.

At age four, Roque met Santiago. He was the father he knew. Besides teaching his kids gratitude for what they had, and a reverence for God, Santiago was also an alcoholic, a sexual addict, and fought explosively with Roque’s mother.

Mostly, Roque checked out. He was at best ambivalent toward his stepdad and relieved when Santiago abandoned the family after his mother’s mental health breakdown when he was 11. When Sanitago left, so did speaking Spanish and Mexican pride. For Roque, good riddance. His life digressed into homosexual then transgender chaos until Jesus reclaimed him through His faithful members (another story….)

One memory of Santiago remained with Roque. Just after their marriage, Santiago took his new wife and kids in a new, snazzy camper-van on a 2000 mile journey from Chicago to Guadalajara. Throughout the December of that year, Roque marveled at the breadth and depth of Santiago’s Mexican family. The small Chicago clan was subsumed by this greater one with whom they gathered constantly, usually around meals and Advent services in ornate churches and cathedrals. Roque also remembered the bleak poverty of Mezquitic and the shack Santiago grew up in. It frightened Roque in its filth; the kids relieved themselves with the pigs.

Beauty, poverty, ambivalence. When Roque returned to Mexico last year to help us out with our third Living Waters Training, the Holy Spirit whispered to him that He was going to reclaim what was precious from Roque’s Mexican roots. All roads led to Santiago, whom Roque had barely seen for twenty years. God began to stir up memories, mostly negative, which required that Roque open his ‘stepfather wound’ and wash it in the fountain of forgiveness. Beginning to speak Spanish again and engage with his fellow Mexicans demanded that Roque own who he was as son of Santiago, a man of Mexico.

Last week Roque and I (and a host of others) returned to Mexico for our fourth training there. This time we centered on Guadalajara; Roque recalled sites he had shared with Santiago 27 years prior, especially the cathedrals. In the light of love of Jesus and his new family, Roque beheld the past with renewed vision. He remembered a strong, proud man surrounded by his family who tried to give his son good things.

Our training was a couple hours north of Guadalajara. En route, we got lost as we (including Roque) drove slowly through the choked streets of a village; it was primitive, fiercely poor. When we asked for directions, a woman said: ’You are in the wrong place; this is Mezquitic.’ God on the move through a faulty GPS– Roque connected with memories from decades earlier, and inhaled the hardship that had forged Santiago.

Little had changed in this forgotten town. Roque could not forget his first exposure to the poverty of the only Dad he ever knew. Tempted by revulsion, he opted for compassion. And pride in Santiago for what he had achieved. In truth, Roque bears the good of Santiago—his strength and tenacity, the proud dignity of a Mexican man.

As we drove out of the town, we came upon a small plaza with a church. ‘My dad and the whole bunch of us went to a fiesta there after church one day.’ The sun shone on Roque that day: his heart is now able to reclaim what is good and true about his roots. As our training progressed, I welled up with pride as Roque humbly and deeply shared his ethnic wound and its redemption. In Spanish!

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Rethink Change

Rethinking Change

Today’s freedom to be whatever one thinks (s)he is, gender-wise, sheds new light on the question of homosexuality and change. If Kevin can wear a dress, use a woman’s restroom, and legally damage another for not referring to him as Karen, then a Christian’s commitment to leave behind an identity based on his or her same-sex attraction while aspiring to love a member of the opposite gender seems positively sane. Or at least possible, and at best worthy of the respect we accord all manner of gender-bending.

It also sheds light on the authority of the mind and will in determining the self we want to be. And perhaps should cause us to question the assumption that some people are just immutably, unquestionably ‘gay’.

A writer for the New York Times says it best: ‘When Everyone Can Be Queer, Is Anyone?’ (Jenna Worthen, NYT Magazine, July 12, 2016). She marvels: ‘The speed with which modern society has adapted to accommodate the world’s vast spectrum of gender and sexual identities may be the most important cultural metamorphosis of our time. Facebook, which can be seen as a kind of social census, now offers nearly 60 different gender options…Plainly we are in the midst of a profoundly exhilarating revolution.’

This translates into college students having to account for their evolving gender status. Each year, a friend’s daughter at a large state university has to declare her gender status afresh. After all, who she was as a freshman, he/zee/undecided may not be as a sophomore.

Dr. Lisa Diamond has turned homosexual research on its ear by charting the ‘sexual fluidity’ of a group of 16-23 year-old-women over the course of a decade; she found that about a third of these ‘lesbian-identified’ women changed their identity status several times over that time, and preferred to think of themselves as open to both genders.

We dignify that freedom but may well demonize one who refuses to construct a ‘gay self’ and chooses instead to love an opposite sex partner. I recall Oprah Winfrey’s horrified look when someone on her show testified to no longer being ‘gay’, now happily married. ‘But you were born that way!’ she insisted. At a recent large Catholic gathering, a ‘gay-identified’ hipster dissed my claim to change with a ‘we know that does not happen, right?’

Jenna Worthen would disagree, citing ‘old notions of static sexual identities’ as ‘austere and reductive.’ Maybe ‘Born that Way’ is another ceiling we need to shatter in order to grant all persons the freedom to live out what makes them thrive. Lady Gaga, watch out.

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becoming home

Becoming Home

‘We fully “become” our true selves within relationships. A positive sense of self, rooted in worth and value, arises out of an attuned, empathic, supportive and caring environment in which secure attachment is established. By caring for and attuning to another’s needs, and by empathizing with his or her emotional world, we help others to internalize a sense of well-being.’
Dr. Janelle Hallman, Living the Truth in Love (Ignatius Press)

How many young persons are emotionally homeless? How many have been set adrift by a break in early bonds of love? How many angry, hungry lambs forsake the witness of their own bodies and the Good Shepherd then morph into a number of selves and sexual partnerships in order to secure that love? How much of the ‘trans’ craze is undergirded by the near inability of persons to welcome the good gift of their gendered humanity through whole-enough persons who make a home for them in their constant love?

These questions arose for me throughout an intensive leadership day sponsored by Courage last week. Dr. Paul McHugh of John Hopkins University who led his team there to stop gender reassignment surgery when it became clear that most young people change their minds and later regret such surgery addressed us and made clear that the real battle is spiritual and philosophical—‘what constitutes human nature?’ If our biological selves have substantial meaning, then we must direct persons onto a course of loving care that will help them come home to their real selves. Another keynote, Dr. Paul Sullins, is among the foremost researchers today on the effects of ‘gay marriage’ on children. His evidence that these children are over twice as likely to develop serious emotional problems made clear that ‘the absence of sexual complementarity creates obstacles in a child’s development.’

We are creating an emotionally homeless generation who does not want to hear that they need to come home to anything but their new liberties. But these liberties damage them further; the need for empathic, attuned, and loving care is what they need in order to be reconciled to who they are. So when Dr. Janelle Hallman finished up the day with three hours of recounting how she has cared for women with a host of identity issues for over 25 years, I listened and connected with her attunement to the real needs behind the ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ self.

I marveled at her therapeutic expertise, empowered by the Holy Spirit and her own integrity as a woman, that has enabled her to walk for years with wounded ones in all their defensive glory until trust is achieved and the tending to the core needs can begin. Love wins, as caregivers like Janelle become a home (of sorts) to the emotionally vagrant.

It brought up a flood of healing memories for me. Many years earlier as a young married man and minister, a flood of same-sex desires arose; I knew it was a symptom of deeper needs and stubborn defenses that I had to face with skilled care. I began a long relationship with an amazing Christian therapist who was strong and masculine but deeply attuned to my plight and wise in helping me to probe beneath the surface. I worked out deep ‘father’ issues with this fatherly healer and he helped me further integrate my longing for masculine love into real friendships, not shameful fantasy.

Jesus wants the best for us and He wants us to give the best to those we love. Had I not found the kind of loving care I did, a man who helped secure me in my home as a whole-enough man, I may have been unable to provide a home for Annette and my four children.

I am about to proceed to our Living Waters Training where men and women whom Jesus is restoring are seeking to gather in groups in order to provide safe, healing places in the church for identity strugglers. Pray for us as we humble ourselves before God and one another to become a home for others.

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love at true sight

Love at True Sight

‘To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be.’ Dostoevsky

I knew Sara dreamt of being a man, and was trying hard to pull it off with a swagger in her trousers and loafers and men’s dress shirt. But I saw a beautiful woman. Set adrift by the failure of men in her life, she was seduced by the illusion of masculine power. Now she is the seducer, and she carries it off pretty well.

God is not fooled. Nor am I. He made her and intends for her to realize who she is as His beloved daughter. And if I am to love her well then I must line up with that reality. No matter what the culture says about gender as a fluid state of mind– every person needs to be reconciled through Christ to his or her gender birthright.

The faithful must love others in fidelity to the Creator. Especially a generation being fed the lie that gender norms are bondage and that freedom means casting off gender distinctions altogether—in the very mortal words of the now gender-free Miley Cyrus: ‘I’m just even, just equal…it’s just how I feel.’ MTV released a new ‘snap chat’ thread aimed at 12-25 year-olds that features male teens made up like slutty women with various celebs declaring ‘F…k gender norms.’ A generation needs a vision of the substance and dignity of gender.

Men and women lost in this gender jungle need empowered Christians to prayerfully insinuate themselves into their lives. Only believers in dynamic communion with Christ Creator and Redeemer possess the authority to see through the darkness and to summon what is truly good from a gender-lost generation, and in particular, to the man or woman God calls us to pursue. By ascribing gender clarity to a person, we help to restore personal dignity, which is always the glory of God in humanity.

Only eyes that see in harmony with the Creator will behold the true self; only the heart empowered by the Redeemer can persist in love until light dawns for persons living in gender disorder. Sara allowed me to pray for her. It was not hard to see her beauty and to invite her to rest in the Father’s substantial love for her. She cried a little in His Presence, that Spirit who always woos her to come home to Himself and thus her true self. Perhaps it is harder to swagger and to strive than to surrender to the One who holds us near, in all our fractured glory.

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