Tag Archives: Jesus

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

(Not) Seeing, (Un)believing

Emptied and wearied by well-doing, I subjected myself to fools—fantasies that rushed into my void like sewage. I was as wanted and exciting as were those around me. I wanted my dream to come true.

Barely able to choose otherwise, I did. By grace alone (and a friend’s help), I made my way to Mass in a strange town and locked eyes with the Crucified over the altar. Bearing my little cross, I embraced Jesus and hid myself in His wounded side. When the priest read the Gospel—John the Baptist who upon seeing Jesus for the first time declared ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (JN 1:29)—this sinner heard those words for the first time. I saw the Savior.

Though disordered in heart, my gaze was clear upon the One who could order my affections and deliver me from demons. I was the worldly one whose sin needed to be taken away. I marveled at a truth I had never recognized: God became the lamb! Prior to Jesus, men used lambs to atone for sin but now Almighty God is the sacrifice. I passed through His purity into the bloody mess He became and emerged white as snow. Wow. For a few shining moments, heaven descended to this vessel, removing rot and imparting life.

I endured a silly homily about how we are all now like ‘little lambs’ and wolfed down the holy meal. I rejoiced: ‘Jesus just saved me! Again! He alone is the Lamb and I will follow Him wherever He goes. Where He is, I am free.’ Sobered and grateful, I became aware of the parish newsletter which featured a ‘gay’-identified couple extolling how welcoming this church was to them.

What? In the place of the great exchange—the very site where the Lamb removes sin and reorders hearts? Celebrating ‘gay’ love before the Crucified struck me as congruent as a cigarette girl hawking her wares in a lung cancer clinic.

The difference? Jesus gave up His breath to restore ours. The Lamb offers more than chemo—He gives us a whole new life, His very being transfused into ours with an offering of water, blood and Spirit (1 JN 5: 7, 8). How weak and short-sighted of the Church to place blinders on its members as to divert their gaze from the Lamb to sexually immoral bonds. Lord, have mercy. Jesus does have mercy, for all who have eyes to see. Behold the Lamb who takes away all our sin…

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Ponder, Proclaim

‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (LK 2:19)

Many of us experience a tension between prayer and action. We may know well the value of pondering the mystery of God-with-us, this baby Jesus who wants to ‘tabernacle’ with us. Prayer is the main way we become that home where God dwells with us through His Spirit.

Yet we are surrounded by many homeless ones who are clueless that God became flesh and now wants to dwell with them. If you are like me, something ignites during prayer and flares up to break the silence: ‘God came; He’s here! He wants to be with you! You don’t have to work out your hard life alone!’

Perhaps this call to ponder and proclaim are two parts of the same message. Our faithfulness to both is how we create a whole message for the world to hear.

LK 2:15-20 gives us clues to this wholeness. A lot goes on here—a host of angels had just dazzled these shepherds with the proclamation that God the Savior was alive and well and living in a nearby stable. The shepherds found Jesus; we can assume they were more awestruck by God in His littleness than the power-and-light-show of the heavenly host. Jesus must have radiated glory from the manger.

The shepherds were the first non-family members to witness God-in-the-flesh. They were at the lower end of the world’s system; poor rovers, they often were suspect of petty crimes and artful dodging. Fitting that they would become the first new members of the holy family! St. Paul said that we were all slaves to the world’s system until God came; Jesus transforms us from worldly slaves to sons and daughters of the Father. In Him, the homeless secure a home (Gal. 4:3-7).

Mary treasured this encounter between shepherds and the Child-King. She pondered it (v. 19). For the first time, she witnessed the impact of her newborn upon others. It must have taken her breath away. Wow, she thought, this baby is the real deal. He will ditch the rich and lift up the lowly. Everything the angel said is coming to pass.

In Greek, ‘ponder’ means to bring together a few ideas and brood over them in order to create a richer deeper thought. The Latin word for ponder is ‘to conceive’; through her pondering, Mary is once again conceiving new life as she considers the life of her Son. She lights the way for our prayerful renewal as well.

Think of your growing awareness of the truth of Jesus. He probably did not overtake you right away. Rather, His gentle, hidden movement in your life became apparent in prayerful moments and you knew: He IS the Light of my world, just when the darkness seemed to have the upper hand.

That’s good news! Pondering the light of Jesus in our real conflicts is the substance of solid proclamation. Let’s go back to the shepherds. They find glorious Jesus and upon seeing God-in-flesh, they race out to tell others that in truth He is the Savior of all, much to the hearers’ amazement (v. 17, 18). This Jesus has power to make poor ones rich, homeless ones secure, sons, slaves!

As you ponder the impact of Jesus in your life, consider how He is helping you forsake worldly enslavements for your true status as a child of God. The deeper you ponder your transformation the truer will be your proclamation. People will hear the Gospel through the contours of your broken, glorious life!

And you will receive more authority in your own life as you courageously step through fears like ‘People don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to be a hypocrite’, etc. You overcome fear and other enslavements through your proclamation (Rev. 12:11), and make a way for others to overcome too.

Early on in my walk with Jesus, I tried to dull my identity conflict (between ‘gay’ or Christian) by moving back into the ‘gay ghetto’ with an atheistic French family. God would not let go peacefully. Sick from my vacillations, I pondered and prayed and at last decided to follow Jesus simply because He was real. Peace flooded my soul that night; I nearly bounced into a party given by my French family.

A woman there eyed me suspiciously, and asked about the cross around my neck: ‘What does this Jesus do for you?’ I calmly responded that He was setting me free from my ‘gay self’ and same-sex addictions. She started crying and asked if I would speak to her son who was ‘gay’ and suicidal. I did just that. She now knows God is both merciful and powerful. He makes slaves sons.

‘His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’ (Jer. 20:9)

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Home. For Good.

‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling with us’ (JN 1:14).

In youthful efforts to find ‘home’, a place of belonging where my part of the social equation fit and totaled something valuable, I failed. As ‘gay’ relationships faded, reliance on pills and powders grew. I wondered why I could not deliver on the good I possessed. That depressed me—I wasn’t being true to myself and others.

I had a pretty good home life but that did not make me a good child. I never swallowed the sixties’ rot that we were all God’s children, natively inclined to peace and harmony. I wanted to love but could not, not really. Good intentions capsized under the weight of selfishness. It made more sense to me that I was a child under the devil’s sway, estranged from the Good.

I knew Jesus was real but did not know how He could make me real; how could I align myself with His greater good and so become good? That’s why I love the Catholic Church’s reading this Christmas Day from John 1:1-18. God came into the mess we made of His world ‘and made His dwelling with us’; He draws near to us vagrant ones who become violent in our alienation when we do not recognize Him as our Father.

Maybe God knew that the ‘father’ bit was too much for our foolish hearts, how we project our fears of masculine power on Him. So God came as a child in order to free us to become children again, kids who know some good and long to become good. As we by grace see Him as He is—Almighty in a manger, Lord of all living yet lowly, we can get low and worship the child king. This Christmas, hold nothing back—let us offer Him the whole of our divided lives! Therein lays His power to make us His own, to make us good.

Get real. Become good. Forsake the lie that your good intentions suffice. Only God in Christ can give you a home—the Father’s embrace which transforms children of darkness into children of Light.

‘He came to His own but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God—children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (JN 1: 11-13).

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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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Annette

Love has a name. I discovered its meaning only when I chose to offer myself 35-years-ago to this person named Annette. What I thought I knew about love meant little as I bumped up against my selfishness. (I prided myself on a kind of reflective, poetic awareness of love but actually knew next to nothing about it.) In joy and especially in her tears, Annette invited me to love her because she was worth it. I wanted to do so. Though desire spurs us onto discipline, they are not the same things. I was flabby in love.

One factor (though by no means the only) involved my homosexual background. Neither God nor I was content for me to muck around all my days bowing before mirror images of myself. I was done being seduced by Narcissus– mirages of idealized masculinity that lured me only to sicken me. The challenge of conversion is that you start to worship the ONE and in so doing you catch glimpses of what is true about yourself and the rest of creation. That is good. And scary. Pieper is right; maybe we stay sick in order to shirk the responsibility of wholeness.

Annette was a real woman, whole-enough: smart and sophisticated, attuned to others, a God-seeker but bound up inside too, as if she had to earn His love. Annette was dimensional, and I tracked with her; I wanted her but I wanted her on my terms and I cannot say I ever got close enough to anyone to know their terms. Until I entered into Annette’s world. Wow. Uncharted territory: would I love the whole of her and ‘man-up’ enough to offer the ragged whole of me?

A few things helped: mutual sexual desire took a little while, as is often the case when one has SSA. The pleasure we found in each other’s bodies developed in the context of a growing relationship; the more we disclosed about our lives and trusted each other, the more we desired each other.

And Annette was easy to desire. She possessed an ease of being, an integrated gift of welcoming others into her life. I marveled at how she could open the door of her heart to persons she trusted and display a range of emotions with an immediacy that at once drew me and challenged me.

It helped to place Jesus at the center of our communion. That may have been slightly defensive on my end but in truth, Annette and I wanted Him and His will above all else. As Annette discovered more about the depth of Jesus’ love for her and welcomed His Spirit in the core areas of her life (she had a lot of fear-based problems due to childhood sexual abuse), she grew more and more beautiful to me. I realize now that marriage involves body and soul and that the enlightened soul permeates the body and makes it hot. Spirit-filled Annette turned me on.

So in fear and trembling and with great expectations, we said yes to each other. Saying yes to each other meant saying no to everyone else. By that I mean divisive things, like unhelpful advice or other lovers, real or imagined. We took the marriage bed seriously and refused to allow phantoms to insinuate themselves into the bond we shared. Yes, we talked things out, still do, but out of respect for each other and on the solid ground of trusting each other.

We share a rich legacy in ministry but deeper still is our family life. Annette is the best Mom: she has never flagged at offering herself wholly to our four kids while also giving them space to grow apart from her. We shared parenting from the start, still do—we have discovered that the task morphs but never stops. Raising kids highlights the truth that sexual love is about more than interpersonal pleasure (though for that I am grateful); God intends sex to create other lives. That is why discipline in the sexual realm is so crucial. What you make you must also tend, and what you do privately gets passed down to your kids whether they know it or not. Sex is powerful. That’s why chastity means everything to us.

As we move into our 36th year, I notice that we bicker less and accept each other more; we no longer treat misdemeanors as felonies and have dug a deeper well of mercy that we offer one other in unspoken ways. We have weathered a host of hardships together, which has seasoned and tempered our bond. Annette grows in virtue, the beauty of holiness. We do not need to ‘talk things out’ as much as before. We look at each other’s exquisitely lined faces with gratitude after 35 years of life together. We speak words of love to each other. We grow in living those words. Not too hard–I know love’s name.

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