‘To love a person means to see him as God created him to be.’ Dostoevsky
Kate led a home group where she befriended and cared for ‘Kevin’, a young adult actively involved in this large dynamic church. What Kate did not know was that ‘Kevin’ had been born Karen; for the last decade, Karen had assumed a masculine identity and was en route to ‘gender reassignment.’
Weeks before her final surgical effort to re-identify as male (her breasts already removed), Karen felt led by the Spirit to make her transition known to Kate, the spiritual leader whom she knew best and trusted most. No-one at the church had ever known Karen as anyone but Kevin. Karen asked Kate: ‘Is becoming ‘Kevin’ God’s best for me?’
Kate knew little about the complexity of persons who from the first few years of life nourish silently an alter ego of the opposite gender. But she was a woman of the Spirit and prayed intently for her pastoral charge. God simply gave her the words: ‘God did not make a mistake in creating Karen.’ Kate told ‘Kevin’ her counsel and pledged to support her in every way possible in that truth.
Karen came to us a few months later; we had just begun a Living Waters group in that church. It took an empowered, Spirit-filled and truthful village to help her make peace with her real self. She did, and became one of our best leaders.
Kate fulfilled what Joseph Pieper describes as the crucial link between wisdom and love as expressed in authentic friendship. Love always seeks the best for a friend based on wisdom. Pieper heralds the role of wise friends, who, operating out of divine love, counsel others according to ‘the truth of real things’ so that what is actual and good might become reality.
Nothing better defines how godly friendship operates. Remember how wisdom ‘forms right judgments concerning how one is to act in the here and now’ (Pieper)? No easy task, this getting of wisdom in an age of 50 plus gender ‘selves’! Operated wisely and in loving accord with ‘Kevin’s’ real self, Kate summoned the truth of Karen in that crucial juncture of her decision-making and counseled her to align herself with Reality. Godly friendship helped preserve Karen’s life.
Lent begins with hope. We start with Jesus, hope’s foundation. We can bear the mark, a little cross on the forehead, because He has gone before us and made a way for us to walk. His Cross blazes our trail and gives us hope to walk further and more fully into His best for our lives. May these days of Lent clarify that hope and quicken our step toward all that Jesus wills for us!
Hope is a virtue, one of seven I will be focusing on as we walk together this Lent. In the words of Josef Pieper, a virtue ‘is the most a man can be.’ (All my references here are contained in his sublime ‘On Hope’, Ignatius Press.) Becoming virtuous unites us with our true selves (human nature as God designed it) and prepares us for eternity with Him.
I say ‘becoming virtuous’ because we integrate these qualities over the course of a lifetime. Gird up people; this is one long ‘cross-walk’! Hope lights the way. Radiant Jesus grants us a well-lit trail but also goes before us and is never quite within our grasp. I love that! He keeps us reaching. Jesus longs to fulfill our hope. But that fulfillment comes only when we behold Him face-to-face. Then it disappears. Hope ceases to be when it is realized in full spousal union with Him.
In the meantime, we take seriously St. Paul’s words. ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I have not yet taken hold of it. One thing I do: forgetting what is behind, straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…’ (Phil. 3: 13, 14) That goal involves all that God has for us and wants to accomplish through us. Hope frees us to aspire to more! Alleluia!
Hope invites us to repent quickly of the heaviness that rests upon us like silt in a polluted world and tempts us to settle for the status quo. ‘No Lord! There must be more that I have yet to grasp about Your good and perfect will for my life!’ Hope stirs up a robust expectancy for the marvels our Father has in store for us.
And hope grants us the humility to recognize that we have not yet taken hold of all the marvels. Our vision is still impaired, our healing not yet complete, the gifts we are remain chipped masterpieces that cut others and can still collapse if we don’t stay fixed on Jesus. I love that most about Pieper. His understanding of hope guides us on the narrow way between presumption and despair.
This Lent, I am sobered by the hard truth that unless we stay on hope’s track, we can lose everything. We all know good men and women who have lost the Way and who are taking others with them. We have never faced such a powerful pull to craft our own identity and sexual fulfillment apart from Jesus. May I ask you to join me this Lent in praying for a godly fear based on the truth that we too could be lost to illusion? May the searchlight of hope reveal every little comfort that dulls our hope in Jesus. May this Lent grant us sacred space to ‘let go’ of sin so we might ‘take up’ more of Him and His glorious will for our lives.
Before speaking to a group of students at Florida’s Ave Maria University, I requested prayer and my host Scott and a kind priest interceded with me. We waited together before Jesus. ‘Ask Jesus what you want from Him tonight,’ requested the priest. After a few moments I responded: ‘Reveal Your sufficiency for persons dealing with identity confusion.’ We waited then I saw Jesus pouring out drafts of emerald green ointment upon a crowd. I had never seen ‘the green’ before so was mystified. ‘Green is hope,’ said the priest.
That night as I spoke, hope for transformation rang true, as it did the next day for the staff and particular students who needed counsel for their own lives and for those they love. Jesus made them green with hope. In every unique experience and vexing question, we agreed that He assumed our confusion at Calvary in order to raise us up with clarity as beloved sons and daughter of His Father.
Green with hope, I flew to Malibu California in order to join our Living Waters Training team for an intensive weeklong gathering. Our site, cradled between rocky hills, had been pelted with rain and was now verdant, as lush as I had ever seen it. Creek water rose, and underbrush could not hide new life bursting from the ground. Hope rose from dry and broken hearts. As the team sang and testified and prayed and taught, Jesus became apparent and summoned all to arise into the heights for which He descended into hell. Jesus redeems who He has made.
This group differed in its maturity. These were active spiritual ‘parents’ intent on turning the cultural tide with hope’s crosscurrent. Together we examined the defacing of God’s image. Instead of pouting, we were provoked to fight for countless faces we represent in church families throughout the country: Bethel, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Four Square, and a host of others. In spite of different traditions, Jesus’ love implored us to rediscover the hope of our salvation, to go low in prayer and so raise high the Cross for one Church and one goal for all her members—chastity, the gift of an undivided life.
Jesus made us green, free to actualize our hope. Hope apprehended ceases to be hope. So we left Malibu, ready to fight. Not hard. He gave all to gain us and we shall do the same for those we love: one prayer, one confession, one conversation, one transformation at a time.
The din surrounding Trump’s presidency invites me to sink into the Source, like a child escaping the surface noise by descending into a pool. There I hope to discover a hidden fount that liberates prayers for the man. Nothing else will do. Only the God who meets us in weakness, in silence, can help us now.
Last week I walked through two walls of protesters screaming ‘F**k Trump’ outside an airport. Amid the assault, I noticed one man holding a placard which displayed one of my favorite verses: ‘Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were once aliens in Egypt’ (EX 22:21). I thought of the Latin Americans I know who have helped revive the heart of Church and family in the north. For a flash, I wondered what kind of border best preserves the dignity of all persons, not only US citizens but also aliens in our midst whose gifts are greater than our fears. My thoughts dissolved in the barrage of vulgarities. Silence. Pray for the man.
I returned home to hear Madonna on the DC Mall muse on her plans to blow up the White House (she decided against it) while Ashley Judd coined her ‘Nasty Girl’ protest to protest nasty Trump. Another femme fatale lamented that she hadn’t machines guns in her vagina to aim straight at Trump. Hmmmm. More disturbing was the awareness that close Christian friends marched in smaller versions of ‘Women against Trump’ only to discover that they were unwittingly championing transgender and abortion rights. Since when does any man’s boorish persona justify a woman’s ‘freedom’ to annihilate her birthright or the child in her womb? Silence. Pray for the man.
Like you, I shudder at Trump’s self-congratulatory ways, how he apparently stays up all night to tweet back the stones hurled at him during the day. I pray that others might help him lose himself long enough to discover what best safeguards the dignity of all persons. His task is a crushing one. I love this country and honor the office of the presidency so I shall advocate for Trump’s best on my knees.
I am helpless on the water’s surface. Fox and CNN both confound me. Silence. I shall sink into the Source and pray.
When Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles opened our Truth and Love Conference last week, his words about how we participate in Jesus’ baptism brought this to mind. C.S. Lewis describes a diver breaking the water’s surface then descending into the depths to retrieve treasure from the ocean floor. He breaks the water once more in ascent, joyfully holding out his ‘catch’ for the world to see. So Jesus reclaims our true natures as the Father’s beloved sons and daughters from the depths of enslavement (Gal. 4:3-7; Rom. 8:15-18). In so doing, He reveals His glorious mercy through grateful children.
I marveled at the Archbishop’s clarity; due to Jesus’ baptism (and baptism of suffering of Calvary), we who were slaves to the world’s system of defining ourselves can be free and shining expressions of the Father’s design. He cleared the way for people like me who experience same-sex attraction to forego all worldly claims (LGBTQ, etc.) upon our identities. Instead, we can settle deeply into the truth of who we are as children of the Father who delights in engaging with us in order to impart what we need to grow into maturity.
No small or easy thing, this baptism of Jesus and our own which makes all things new. The stakes are huge, for us and for others; in a world that invites persons made in His image to create their own ‘gender’ reality, we uphold a deeper truth of the Father’s claim upon His children. Let’s start 2017 by actively engaging with our own baptism and the Father’s will for our sonship and daughterhood. Toward that end, I would encourage you to:
Behold the Lamb; we become what we behold. Turn off your screens (after you read this of course) and be still before the Crucified. It helps to simply gaze upon the Cross, which conveys in an instant the watery death He died and His ascent. In the Cross lies all that we need to know: the Son won back for us our true selves. Gazing on the Beloved mediates who we are as beloved children.
Devour Scripture; we become what we eat. Meditate on verses that summon who He is and who we are. The aforementioned passages from St. Paul are a good starting point, as is Song of Songs, a love letter from the Father to His kids. Open the Book and let it permeate you. I memorize key verses so I can summon the truth at hard moments in the day.
Listen to the Father’s voice; we become what we hear. Turn off devices and be still. Listen in quiet to what He wants to say; His sheep hear His voice (JN 10:3). Don’t worry if at first all you hear is clutter. He loves your effort and will honor it. Quiet your heart in the Spirit of Jesus who upon breaking the water heard: ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’ (Matt. 3:17). You please Him; He loves you, His child.