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Stretching for More

‘We are becoming persons. You are not who you will be. I am not, by the grace of God, who I will be.’ Leanne Payne

Pity the man who stops becoming who God created him to be!

As I reflect upon the joys of grandparenting, I recall the early days of my relationship with Annette and how easy it might have been to refuse her gift on account of my perceived deficiencies. She invited me to flex some unused muscle; secure in my ‘gay’ defense, insecure in manly confidence, I confused her.

God is faithful. I knew I was made for more so I stretched and kept reaching for her til I discovered her, like Ransom in Lewis’ Perelandra who upon seeing human beauty and order for the first time cried out: ‘Do not move away…I have never before seen a man or woman. I have lived my life among shadows and broken images.’

I am glad I aspired to discover Annette. I became a man in our becoming one. Through this call to marriage, I learned to fight off sloth—that dark familiar blanket that cobbles a self and dismal future from disappointments. Cancerous-comfort-sloth—it fits like a glove around the mopey self and reminds one constantly that light beyond the low ceiling is illusion.

Sloth is dangerous because it persuades us that Jesus’ triumph over sin and disorder, however true, can’t touch ours. Rather, we won’t offer ourselves again to Him. Too hard. Sloth guards us from another disappointment.

Sloth is arrogance. It elevates one’s experience over Almighty Mercy. It declares: ‘What I perceive is final—I am helpless and hopeless in my sorry state.’ Yet how humble is the one who catches a glimpse of more and who aspires to it like a child who wants a second helping of ice cream after a diet of oatmeal?

I rejoiced with a brother who after a long pursuit of healing cracked to behold the love of the Father. He could not believe it—’this God loves me and wants me!’ He knew upon tasting a little that a banquet awaited him but that its revelation might unfold in fits and starts, like the blindman whose healing began with a vision of ‘trees walking.’ He perseveres to this day. I caught sight of him at church the other day, expectant and beaming.

He is reaching for more. I urge you: in one hand, take up your sword (the Word of Jesus’ hope) and slice up sloth, and in the other hand, reach for more. Confess the presumption that you know better than God and avail your whole being to what He has in store for you. You have yet to probe the height and depth of His marvelous love for you.          

Heat Shade

‘You are a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress…shade for the heat.’ (Is. 25:4)

Just returned from a brief blistering trip to California: 103 degrees in a beach town, the sky poisoned orange as fires seared nearby mountains. Gov. Newsom’s lockdown of the entire state is taking its toll: fear in some faces, lust in others, hungry-eyed exiles looking for sensual connection amid nature’s revolt.

Maybe it was just me, caught in the firestorm and taunted by restless, familiar demons. Or maybe it was the fall-out from the CA legislature which just passed SB 145—a bill extending legal protection over LGBT teens (14-17 years) and adults who sexually abuse them. Crashing through all was news of the drug-inspired death of gender-bending Ethan-Is-Supreme, the 17-year-old ‘make-up influencer’ on YouTube.

We don’t connect the dots between wickedness in high places and vulnerable kids. Wake up people! We need bold churches to fight for the original dignity of our sons and daughters, not stupid legislatures that guard and help guarantee their early demise.

I raced to morning Mass only to discover Newsom’s mandate—forbidding all indoor gatherings–tacked on the parish door. What? No recourse for the faithful? Won’t do virtual Church. Sorry. Mass is the Meal that sends demons to flight, not a TV show. You can’t eat pixels.

A small post-it note invited any beggar to confession that afternoon. I needed it and waited in the heat til the towering Father emerged and literally provided shade for my overexposed soul. He spoke the Word about my authority as a son of God, not a slave to sin’s sloppiness and confusion (Gal. 3: 4-7). He asked me to bring my beach chair and come the next day to outdoor Mass. I did.

About 300 endured the blaze for the joy set before us. The music was sweet, preaching good, the Meal better. When we prayed together to Jesus: ‘Look not on our sin but on the faith of the Church’, I broke. That’s it. In the Apocalypse, the hell around us that seeks to invade us cannot prevail. How? My willpower? My wholeness? My righteousness? Nah! The Authority of the Church.

Things will get worse. Only His Body makes us better. Be bold, Church! BECAUSE of the Newsoms, masks and lockdowns, I urge you to seek shade from the heat. Gather in Jesus’ Name. Become a mighty member. Rejoice. 

Crown Her?

By Abbey Foard

Mary. Theotokos. Mother of God. Mother of the Church. The new Eve. Blessed. Who is this woman? And what does she have to share with us, the Church? Can we receive her message as both Catholics and Protestants? The New Testament declares that all generations will call this humble woman blessed. Do we? Must we?

I’ve been drawn to Mary for a long time. As a young Lutheran girl, I came across a pencil sketch of her on the front of a church bulletin. Something about the image gripped me. It depicted her pregnant, a lamb by her side, with face and hands opened upward to heaven. I’ve held onto the picture to this day, for when I saw it, a chord resonated within; as a woman she modeled something I wanted to become.

She was open, surrendered, receptive in spirit. And in body she was fruitful, bringing forth Life. Her witness called to me prophetically—to emulate her womanhood, living in surrender to the Spirit and offering my body to His creative will for my life.

Before our Divine Initiator—Father God–we are all “feminine.” Men and women alike are called to posture themselves in an open receptive stance, responding to His form and direction. Mary teaches us all how a bold and trusting “yes” can change the course of human history. Mary shows us the heights to which we are called.

This humble handmaiden likely had no idea what her open-hearted surrender could bring forth. Her surprise at Gabriel’s annunciation that she would birth the Son of God—as a virgin—reveals no foreknowledge of her unique call. Truly, God had a vision for her greater than what she could have asked, thought, or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).

Last month I traveled with Andrew and Marco to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It consisted of a beautiful chapel and artistic reflections on Mary, tucked away in a forest. We met others who loved Jesus and who, like us, wanted more of Him.   

I prayerfully walked some wooded trails and came upon a series of painted ceramic tiles—in this case, something called a rosary walk. Simply put, the trail was marked by depictions/ meditations on moments of the “God story.” It includes everything from the annunciation to Jesus’ crucifixion, His presentation in the temple to His agony in the garden.

The last “mystery” was framed as “glorious”: Virgin Mary, resplendent in white robes with Father, Son and Holy Spirit crowning this “blessed one.” Was I ready for “The Coronation of the Virgin Mary”?

My initial response was to recoil. Ugggh… “Where is that in scripture?” My Protestant heart was crying! I walked away slightly reactive, thinking: “Why does this otherwise lovely trail have to go there? All the other pictures were worthy meditations on the stages of Jesus’ life and death.” This “Coronation of Mary” business? I wasn’t so sure…

As I walked away, I felt a slight rebuke from the Holy Spirit–a nudge not to dismiss this so quickly. I opened my heart to greater reflection and the Lord invited me to consider my negative reaction. Why did it trouble me to consider the Trinity celebrating Mary’s unique role in their family with fullness of joy? Why was I offended that the Trinity invited her into such a high place where the humble maiden seemed to share in intimate glory with them?

The Lord hit me with a gut punch. “Abbey,” I felt Him say, “it is not that Mary should be ‘brought back down,’ but instead that you—a member of my Church—should arise! She is showing you the glory to which you are called! Why do you want to bring her down? Do you reject your own calling to follow her footsteps into this glory?”

May we honor Mary for showing us the humble path to fullness of life.  She always points us to her Son and the redemption He offers. She never steals glory from Jesus—she reflects it! As we encounter her love, we encounter the One who radiates Love through her. And we receive it through her beautiful maternal nurture. Mary, in her humanity, shows us the glorious communion with the Triune God to which we will one day be elevated. When she touches us, we are touched by the glory God has given her, this most blessed one!

Glorious Orientation

Orientation refers to where one is going in relation to others, which include his or her thoughts and beliefs that guide that direction. Much is made today about different ‘sexual orientations.’ I suggest that there is one glorious orientation: ‘the deep orientation toward the personal dignity of what is intrinsically masculine and feminine.’

St. John Paul ll said that line first and best in his masterful Theology of the Body (TOB). My friend theologian Christopher West joyfully invites us all to make the late great pope’s orientation our own. West is the TOB bridge over which thousands of us have been re-oriented towards our original dignity as men and women and the adventure of a lifetime: activating our sexual dignity in a way that dignifies this ‘other’. A lifetime trajectory indeed!

We at Living Waters know this in our own way. We need Jesus and His Church to be reconciled to the sexual gift we are. But that gift means nothing in social isolation. Confirmation of our sexual integrity comes not in the mirror but in the grateful face of the other. We become who we are in holy, earthy communion.

Abbey, Marco, and I had the privilege to impart our gift to West and his team last week. Humbling. They are my heroic guides. The TOB Institute in Lancaster Pennsylvania hosts weeklong immersions into this ‘orientation’ toward sexual dignity; I dive into these waters often and emerge more converted each time.

As we shared and prayed for West’s 11 team members, I marveled at the way each lives the truth of TOB. The staff is transparent and submits humbly his or her unique gift to the whole. We from DSM gave what we had and received more.

Noteworthy were the witness of both Abbey and Marco, young adults who don’t know TOB through the lens of marriage but as single persons who in Jesus aspire to give their gift to others with integrity. They embody Christ-centered mercy, courage, and insight; all three gifts helped the TOB staff to know how to best serve persons with identity conflicts in their glorious reorientation.

Regardless of one’s starting point, we at DSM and TOB agreed: there is one destination—the dignifying of our intrinsic masculine and feminine selves in community. That is the glorious orientation of the sons and daughters of God! On the plane home I felt more inspired than drained. As I rested, I longed for Annette and eagerly awaited our reunion.

Handed Over

By Marco Casanova

“The God who once manifested wrath against those who turned to idols by handing them over to their shameful passions has now handed them over to the life-giving, transformative power of the Spirit of Christ.” Dr. Robert Gagnon

St. Paul’s words to the Romans are weighty. They had to be. Ancient Roman culture needed prophetic clarity, not a weird attempt to assimilate Christian faith with pagan toxicity. We share that need today. “Gay Christian” ideology tries to mix the sacred with the pagan. St. Paul speaks a better word to us. The Savior he preaches has power to reorder us in love.

St. Paul’s words on homosexuality are clear and timely. Hear this: ‘They worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…Because of this, God handed them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way…the men were inflamed with lust for one another…and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion’ (Romans 1:25-27). To counter these words with laborious arguments is unscholarly and reduces the Gospel of its power. Dare we dismiss what the Savior brought through St. Paul? This Roman epistle deserves a fair hearing.

To be “handed over” (v. 26) to lust is an important word choice. St. Paul describes the evident homosexual passion of Rome as a byproduct of God handing them over to what they wanted. Boundless desire becomes its own punishment. We do what we want to our own peril.

I handed myself over to guys to momentarily meet my ‘need.’ But my lust lacked life, providing no lasting fulfillment or openness to new life. To hand myself over to same-sex sin consumed me and compelled me towards a dead end. I wasn’t free. I needed Someone to save me.

Back to Romans. After his description of ‘gay’ chaos, St. Paul addressed his mostly Jewish readers: ‘You think you are less in need of mercy than these lustful ones?’ Paul invites us in all our messiness into mercy. Yes, the mercy of Jesus is messy. The God-man, slain on a Cross, handed His heart over to be cut open for us. His body fluids are our cleansing flood (John 19:34). Disciples of mercy don’t hide their pagan messes. We’re not afraid because Jesus isn’t afraid of us.

Jesus broke the domination of homosexuality in me. Jesus freed me for more. That’s what He does. He sets captives free. The power of homosexual passion to consume me was real. Though this creative gift of sex is powerful and purposeful, it enslaved me in its disorder. I enthroned my bodily urge for men and it demanded my worship. Jesus wanted more for me.

In handing Himself over for me, Jesus rescued me from being handed over to lust (John 19:16). Only Jesus can set us free from such captivity.

Following Jesus is disruptive. There are no qualms about that. But let’s not become self-piteous and make our “sacrifice” the focal point. Don’t stop at what you’ve given up. Run to the One who continues to hand Himself over each and every day for you.

Utterly important to me is daily Communion. The Eucharist is His “handing over” made flesh. It’s a tangible, deep, transformative remembrance that Jesus is on a mission to rescue us daily.

Jesus is always on the move to save us, handing Himself over, all over again.

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