Some Thoughts about Ireland’s Same Sex Marriage Referendum

As a ‘conservative’ Christian, I found Ireland’s recent Same-Sex Marriage Referendum very interesting.

Off the top of my head, then.

1. Agree or disagree with Same Sex Marriage, people have the right in Free Societies to choose, to vote, to engage in the social and political process. Disagreeing doesn’t invalidate the right. Not even God violates people’s free will. This is happening. Deal with it – intelligently.

2. NPR reported that rather than take an adversarial, combative stance, many Homosexuals and Same Sex Marriage supporters personally went to friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and said “This is who I am. This is important to me. Can you help?” One human being to another. There’s a thought, eh?

3. No one is opening a Big Box of Darkness in the world like Pandora. Darkness is the absence of light. Ground is lost by default. Now I agree that sexual immorality – homosexuality included – is dangerous both spiritually and physically; that is is indicative of broken, lost and defiant nature in need of redemption. But it’s time to stop pointing fingers and handing out Citations like God’s Traffic Cop. Fact is, we’re all in trouble and in desperate need of a Savior. What are we supposed to be doing again?

4. Time to reacquire a sense of proportion. There are LOTS of ugly, terrible things going on in the world. Compared to war, poverty, corruption, slavery, child-porn, and sex-trafficking (and half a dozen other things), this is way down on the list. Really.

To echo that Irish bishop, ‘It’s time for a Reality Check”. Yes, there will always be hostile contradiction, a reproach to genuine faith. I get that. But the simple Gospel is compelling, compassionate, and profound. However imperfect, it’s on us believers to reflect that accurately. As Christians, we’re Responsible TO people, not FOR them. Their response to Jesus is between them and Him. Don’t like what’s going on? I understand. The call then is to repent and return to being Salt and Light. To be God’s ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation. Jesus’ hands an feet.

Or to swipe from Gandhi, “Be the change in the world you wish to see.”

Father Gabriel goes to Indiana

After watching TWD finale last night, then skimming the headlines of the last several days, a couple thoughts bounced off each other this morning as the coffee kicked in.

1. Fr. Gabe as a weak character. I cringe every time he comes on screen. I don’t mean the obvious in-show cowardice. (Even Eugene has shown more backbone) The good Rev strikes me as a cardboard standee, a typical ‘last-refuge-of scoundrels’ sniveler trying to prop himself up with religious bravado. Yes I know such people exist, (I’ve met them) but as a Christian myself, that bothers me. In real life and on screen.

Now Hershel was devout. Genuine. Portrayed as misguided at first, he was nonetheless solid, smart and brave. I miss him. I’m just disappointed this latest Scripture-quoting, Bible-toting believer is plagiarizing a page from the ‘lame religious guy’ stereotype playbook. At least he has enough faith/depth of character to have a crisis-of-faith. Otherwise, just shoot him and move on.

Now contrast him with the show’s main homosexual character, Aaron – who is most definitely playing against type and trope – and I have to wonder if he were played as a ‘typical flamer’, would there be any social outcry and push-back? Any cries of ‘perpetuating negative stereotypes’, ‘painting with a broad brush’, and gross distortion? You betcha.

Double standard? Evil Liberal Bias? Probably not. But I did wonder what would happen if the roles were ‘reversed’, as it were.

2. What exactly is going on in Indiana? From the furor, you’d think after throwing Rick and crew under the bus, Father Gabe snuck off off and wrote Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill.

If indeed the law is based on existing Federal laws signed by Pres Clinton and Obama, if it is indeed virtually identical to similar laws currently on the books in other states, then why have LGBT activists swarmed Indiana like a horde of hungry Walkers? Why THERE and why NOW? How is this one different or special? I mean, don’t rights work both ways?(BTW, you might want to lose the ‘Sodomize Intolerance’ sign there)

No, I’m not a lawyer but by my reading of news summaries and various sources, the law doesn’t target a specific group. At all. It does not give or create any ‘new’ right for owners and servers; it simply clarifies and codifies existing rights and responsibilities. This isn’t legal discrimination. That someone might use it intolerantly isn’t a valid reason to negate the law. Capability isn’t culpability.

3. This past half season of TWD, I’ve been more impressed by the writer/director choices than absorbed in the characters’ plight. Not that I wasn’t gripped, but from a story-teller’s point of view, there have been some remarkably well constructed episodes. Several times I was ‘wish-I-thought-of-that’ jealous. The Season finale held up that high standard; Glenn’s mercy and sobbing, Sasha’s restraint/Maggie’s intervention and prayer, (she is her own woman but she’s also Hershel’s daughter), and using the Rick and Morgan meeting to end the show.

In light of all that’s going on in America and our world right now, the scene that stuck with me was Daryl and Aaron in the car. Tricked, trapped, mobbed on all sides by danger and certain gruesome death, they decide to stick together. To go down fighting side by side if it comes to that. There’s no ‘hick/queer’ labels, no agendas, no blame-game. Just two human beings facing a much larger common threat.

You’d think with all the deep and lasting problems in our world – poverty, hunger, illiteracy, corruption, slavery/sex-trafficking, terrorism, ecological damage, etc, etc, we’d have a sense of proportion, be grateful and realize our nation, however imperfect, is a singularly remarkable achievement in human history. We have freedom and prosperity at previously unimaginable levels.

Both sides of this current issue need to take a step back, dial down the rhetoric, and remember respect and rights run both ways. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. Who does? But it’s time to stop and look at the bigger picture. We’re all in the same boat here. Problems we’re facing, we need serious help.

And if I understand Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament  correctly, all of us, and I do mean all of us, need a Savior.

The High Anxiety of Answered Prayer

I attend a local, monthly open-mike story slam patterned after NPR’s The Moth. Here’s my story from two months ago. The theme was ‘High Anxiety”

***

So it’s 1992 and I’m a young pioneer pastor in Nova Scotia, Canada. My wife has just given birth to my second son, Noah, in a Halifax hospital. Because of strange international legalities and the fraudulent financial dealings of certain big-name ministries and charities in the past, I’m barred from working a regular job, so I’m on a monthly stipend. Me, my wife, and now my third child.

My job description is ‘Missionary/Inner-City Ministry’, which sounds more spiritual than it is. I’ve got this little store-front church, which used to be a local credit union. There’s smelly, threadbare commercial carpet, a large room with small offices to the side, and a huge vault in the back. I spend most of my days evangelizing, visiting people, talking with them, praying for them, preparing sermons and Bible studies. I’m trying to see the grace of God touch people, transform lives, preach the Good News. I’m looking to build a congregation not with ‘transfer growth’ from other congregations but from scratch – with new believers, genuine conversions.

Despite the distance from friends and family, the challenges, the fixed income, the odd foreignness of the place, I’m excited. I’m still relatively young in the faith and definitely a newbie pastor, but I’m raring to see souls saved, see the Kingdom grow in hearts and lives. Very sincere, enthusiastic. A true believer.

Now as a Christian and spiritual person, I firmly believe in divine appointments – crucial, specific moments in time when you have the opportunity to reflect God’s grace and redemption to another person, either by what you say or do. All these decades later, I still strongly believe in them, and recognize they’re more common – and crucial – than I could have guessed.

Problem was at the time, my concept of them was very small. Whenever I prayed about them, for them, imagined them, even taught and preached about them, they resembled caricatures – these painfully scripted scenes in Christian books and movies,. They were Chick Tract dialogues where the Believer and Non-believer have this escalating conversation, this perfect Question and Response Ping-Pong of spiritual ideas. They’re short, direct, sprinkled with Scripture, have tears or choked-up moments, and usually culminate with the Non-believer falling to their knees asking, “What must I do to be saved?”

So that’s my mental picture, and here I am, earnestly contending for and on the lookout for just such a creature.

Now back to Noah and my family… After Noah arrives home, I decide I’m going to have a vasectomy. Three kids are fine by us. My wife is a wonderful woman and mother. It’s a relatively easy procedure, much less complicated for me than her, and by the grace of God and the Dominion of Canada, foreign ministers and missionaries receive free health care. So I book the appointment.

I have a brief, initial consultation where my doctor – a very professional, well-mannered Indian man (sub-continent, not native American) – answers all my questions, after which I schedule the procedure.

The day of arrives, and I show up early. A nurse leads me to a room where I strip from the waist down, then go lie on an operating table under one of those big round florescent medical lamps. I’m waiting for the doctor, alone and semi-naked on a metal table like something out of a crime drama morgue scene, or a fetish cyberpunk book.

Kinda weird, but hey – it’s free, for my wife and family. I’m good with it.

After what felt like a long time, (it was getting chilly) my doctor arrived in scrubs. We exchange the usual weather/traffic pleasantries before he donned a surgical mask, told me to relax, and got to work.

Now understand a couple things; the very first thing he did was display the instruments he’ll be using: hypo for the local anesthesia, a very sharp scalpel, a handful of wiry, pokey probes that resemble heavy-gauge dental cleaning picks, and what looks like a pair of needle-nose vise grip pliers. Second thing is he apparently had two plus cups of coffee that morning and is in a very chatty mood.

And you think it’s awkward when the dentist wants to talk.

Well let me tell you this guy was downright garrulous. He started in and didn’t stop. He wanted to know everything about me: where I lived, the neighborhood, my wife, my kids. When he learned I was from the States, he asked where I had moved from, where I grew up. He asked about my parents, did I have brothers or sisters… my life story.

The kicker came when he asked what brought me to Canada.

“Ministry! Really?”

He’s so intrigued when I mention ministry, he gets more talkative, if that were possible. And right then and there, starts engaging me in this huge philosophical, theological debate.

I’m lying there, doing my level best to respond. He’s asking about my ‘journey to faith’, my conversion experience, the validity of the Biblical record… like everything Christianity 101.

So much so, as it continues I break into a sweat because the conversation is starting to sound like something ripped out of a TBN or Cloud Ten script. His questions are so earnest and direct, I’m looking to see if he’s joking.

But he isn’t. In fact, as he keeps talking, it dawns on me: ‘Oh my God… God is answering my prayer. I’m getting my ‘Perfect Witness.’

And I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I mean, the doctor’s talking, I’m trying to answer, but inside I’m praying:

“Really, God? Now? Here?”

“Can you make him shut up? Please God. How about changing the subject? Hockey? Politics?”

But noooooo. I’m riding this train to the end of the line.

Imagine if you will the doctor speaking in stereotypical convenience store clerk Indian-accented English, and understand he’s sprinkling our discussion with updates on the procedure.

He’s saying things like:

“I have always been interested in the teachings of Jesus Christ, but I’ve never fully read the New Testament. Hold on – I’m about to make another incision, so you might feel a bit of a tug.”

And

“Tell me more about the claims of Jesus. Did he really say he was the only son of God? Ah… wait a second – let me find and cut the right tube here.”

And

“So Jesus died for the sins of all mankind? How is that possible? *snip, snip* (holds up tiny piece of me in the needle nose vise grips.) There we go. Got it.”

Now I’m a good evangelical. I know my Scripture: John 3:16, Romans 8: 28, 2 Corinthians 5: 17, Revelation 3: 20 and loads more…. but I’ll be damned if I can recall any of them just then. My mind is empty as a broken bucket. Every time the doctor asks about Scripture, all I can think of is that song:

“Jesus loves me, this I know…”

I must have told him God loved him seventy times. Seventy times seven, in fact.

It was awful.

I mean the whole procedure couldn’t have taken more than 30 or 40 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. The Doc finished up, still talking away. I remember groping for answers (mentally, that is) but can’t recall anything definite or special on my part. Certainly not inspired or anointed.

When it was done, I got dressed, went home and ignored his recommendation to take it easy for a couple days. But that’s another story.

Now I’ve told this to a few select friends and the more evangelical ones always ask, “Did it work?” To which I reply, “It must have. We haven’t had any more kids.”

“Not that,” they say. “The witness. Did you lead him to the Lord?”

Hell no.

That doctor could have informed me he was a neo-Nazi, skinhead, Satanist who read Mein Kampf as a devotional, and I’d have been like “Well hey, you have to start your journey somewhere.”

So that’s my ‘High Anxiety’ story. It was twenty-two years ago and I’ve learned a couple things since then. Like what divine opportunities really look like, and to be more careful about what I pray for.

Thanks for listening.

The First Commandment

The First Commandment

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?”
– Jer. 12: 5

The LORD would make
the Hebrew prophets eat
His words
and they would be sweet as honey,
or bitter. A furnace raging
in their bones until they spoke woe
and grace.
I am unworthy to face
such oracles, captivated
by all-too-mortal voices
that shake my soul.
Would that I not break
the first commandment.
But there are times I fear
I am turned aside after foreign gods,
hungry for their scrolls
to work their fierce magic
and ravish my cells
in lesser incarnation.

Patrick Todoroff