Holy Week: A Repudiation of Violence

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nail tattooSeven or so years ago I stated my journey with tattoos. I had a nail tattooed on one wrist, and then my dear friend (and then boss as well as newly minted author) Suzanne Castle graciously gifted me with the other wrist nail. I wanted these tattoos to mark that Easter Season and the meaning that Christ has held in my pilgrimage through life.

This week as I work on Good Friday devotional ideas and prepare for Easter Sunday, I am stuck not by the violence of what was done to Jesus, but by what a repudiation of the violence the events represent for students of Jesus.

Beginning in the garden when Jesus heals the servant whose ear is struck off in his defense, our Lord lays the foundation for a different way to do life…

Luke 22:49-51 “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”

Wow, can you see Jesus in your mind’s eye, hands raised and eyes wide, motioning his friends to a halt, “No more of this!” No more of this! Striking with the sword was not the answer. Striking back was not the way.

Later, on trial for his very life, Jesus will again repudiate violence as he speaks to Governor Pilate. His assures the Governor that his followers will not violently storm any chambers or raise weapons in his defense or to overthrow any authority, for that is not his kind of kingdom.

John 18:33-36 “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’”

These passages have caused me to stop and reflect on the exquisite repudiation of violence that exists in the violence to be done to Jesus. That God would enter into life to bear the burden of such violence to open our eyes, to soften our hearts, to change our way, gives me pause and humbles my “wisdom” I am tempted to think I have collected.

I look at the nails tattooed on my wrists and I think that I have tended to meditate selfishly on what they mean, that I am the recipient of such love. Today I am moved to meditate on the awesome burden of love that I am live, instead of the violence that so often inhabits my thoughts, my mind and my heart.

I’m not sure I will ever be worthy of such audacious marks as these inked nails; most days I know that I fall so painfully short. As I’ve been thinking of a new tattoo for this Easter Season, I feel the need to double down on what it’s all about… maybe I read too much news, but it seems that from battlefield torture to Middle America’s children raping children, to living in ignorance of the plight of my poorest neighbor, the world needs a change of pace, a new way.

Same-Sex Marriage

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eguality in marriage signOk, here we go. Over twenty years ago I was so very blessed to marry my life’s love, my soul mate and best friend, Teresa. I cannot imagine having taken this journey with someone else. I am so thankful.

Because Teresa and I are Christians, our marriage took place in a church building, with a Christian minister officiating. But interestingly, the “paper trail” of our wedding began earlier, not in a church building, but in a county office in Abilene, Texas. The civil authorities issued our marriage license and demanded a copy back, signed, for their records.

I believe our faith has framed and guided our marriage, and it is integral to who we are. But it was the civil government which allowed us to marry and have all those rights and privileges afforded a married couple. Those privileges, by the way, have nothing intrinsically to do with gender, faith or sexual orientation… visitation rights, filing joint taxes, hospital visitation, insurance coverage, etc.

Why does the civil government do this? Well, because we have this amazing document we call The Constitution that was created to, among other things, “ the Blessings of Liberty…” Those nation builders were poetic rascals, and that phrase rings very similar to the idea put forth in our nation’s Declaration of Independence that all people have certain rights as human beings including the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Being married has made me so happy! Living with the liberty to seek marriage to the one I love, and then to obtain marriage to the one I love, has been one of the most worthwhile pursuits of my life. It has been a pursuit and realization of happiness.

Today, in the same country many simply do not have the same rights and protections as I do, because they love and wish to marry someone of the same gender. In some way, we have decided their endowed right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness shall have restrictions imposed that are not imposed on my own. All those rights and privileges I mentioned, that have nothing to do with gender or faith, can and are most often denied to them.

My friends, I do not believe that my own faith instructs me to oppose same-sex marriage. I do however understand that many of you believe that your faith does not allow you the option of same-sex marriage or orientation. And for the sake of your conscience, and because it is your right to live life based on your faith convictions, I respect and support your living by that faith. No one should ever force you to live in an orientation or marriage that you do not desire. But we are talking civil rights, folks. We are talking about the very base of civil rights which afford you and I and everyone the opportunity to worship and live according to personal faith, as one’s conscience dictates. These are shared rights to pursue happiness in freedom.

While proofing this blog for me, my previously mentioned wife, the beautiful Teresa, asked me to mention something about interracial marriage in our nation. She said, “This isn’t a new issue” meaning that the denial of people’s right to marry whom they choose is not a new problem. Many Americans fought the civil right of others to marry someone of different ethnicity, often again on religious grounds. Though it was legal in many States, marrying a person of another ethnicity was not a protected right for all people in our country until a 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court. 1967!

You may answer the question of same-sex marriage by any criteria you wish to use, for your own life. This is your right. Answering it for your neighbor, by any criteria of your own choosing, is not however your moral, ethical or constitutional right.

eguality in marriage blog quoteEveryone can empathize with a person’s desire to pursue life-long love with their chosen partner. And we can also empathize with the desire simply to be free to do something, even if we ultimately choose not to do it. We know that the burden of not being free is an emotional, psychological and spiritual injury. We must not be a people who do such injury to others.

For straight people, the freedom to marry remains their right whether they marry or not. A freedom is strength. A freedom is joy. Not being free is painful. Right now, a majority of people in our country enjoy the strength and happiness of a basic civil right to pursue personal happiness in the agreement of marriage and all it’s attendant rights and privileges. And at the same time in the same country a minority is held bound in the pain and loss of being denied the same right.

For me, the burden of my own rights will necessitate that I support the rights of my neighbor. My freedom to marry cannot be a selfishly hoarded treasure. If I am given this gift by my civil authorities, pursuant to the execution of our nation’s founding documents, then this gift is also for my neighbor, regardless of ethnicity, gender, orientation or personal faith.

In short, I stand with my homosexual neighbors, now and always, in support of their intrinsic human dignity and their full, complete set of civil rights. My faith tells me that they are beloved of God, and so it is my joy to serve them and love them. Whether my gay neighbor is a citizen of my country or not, I will always support their freedom and human rights, but especially in the country of my birth, I will expect that they are treated as full citizens, endowed with every right I myself enjoy.

And maybe one day, one glorious day off sometime in the future… I won’t have to even clarify that I am standing with my gay neighbor, or my straight neighbor, or my Christian neighbor, or my Muslim neighbor, or Hindu neighbor, my atheist neighbor, my male neighbor, my female neighbor… maybe, just maybe, we’ll grow up into a mature respect of people that no longer needs such labels to engage their amazing worth, value and dignity as human beings. Amen.

A Not So Blind Faith

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Art from Sallie Thayer at
Art from Sallie Thayer 

I don’t go to Catholic Mass all that much, not nearly as often as many of my Protestant friends think I do given my bromance with St. Ignatius of Loyola, so I was happy to have a surprise chance to drop in on a noon Mass one day this week with my good friend Greg and others down at St. Paul’s College in DC. We arrived five minutes fashionably late and I had to grab an empty chair that was of course up front near the altar and next to one of the presiding Fathers.

I’m not Catholic, though I love and appreciate my Catholic brothers and sisters. And I know a good bit about the Mass, though I don’t know the rhythms like a good Catholic. This means that when I go to Mass I have to bring my “A Game.” I have to work hard to listen and watch everything so that I’m not always the last one standing or sitting. I rarely make the sign of the cross in prayers or before the Gospel reading… my goal is not to pass myself off as a Catholic, but I do hope to worship and to at least not be a distraction for others.

In this particular noon Mass I was rocking along quite well when the wonderful old, probably retired, Father who was presiding over the Mass moved to deliver his homily. I had of course already noticed his quaking voice and shaking hands, a loss of muscle control I would usually associate with my own sweet grandmother’s Parkinsons Disease or other such aliments that afflict the mature among us. But he manfully strove with his body to grip the lectern and deliver the homily with a stronger voice and presence than he had previously shown us.

His text was from Daniel 3, the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and their fiery trial. As he worked to bring his body under greater control and speak quite eloquently on the passage my personal empathy went through the roof with this dear old man. I know the feeling… when I am especially tired or excited I will often have to work over-time to keep my stuttering under control.

His obvious effort served to focus me on the passage and his words. And so I was unprepared for the power of the words in verse 18, “But even if God doesn’t save us…” It’s a familiar passage, and one I have happily preached many times myself. But caught in the furnace of age, not himself delivered from the ravages of a failing body, this old priest drove those words to the center of my soul. From the lips of the three young men so long ago, to the lips of this venerable priest, to my own often too-hard heart, the words rang as they seldom have for me. Forget the fickleness of my faith, the faith that follows on good days and coasts on the bad days! Forget my faith that only responds to the gifts of God. Forget my faith that only survives on answered prayer! O God, give me a faith that stares into the trial and carries on regardless.

Some detractors might label this kind of faith that moves regardless of immediate evidences of God as “blind faith.” And certainly there are times when I could simply pantomime my religion instead of being a thinking, “seeing” person and an accountable soul. But that is not what I see happening in the story from Daniel. That is not what is happening in the life of a old priest who musters his strength to worship God and to serve his friends at the altar. It is not a blind faith, but a decisive faith. A faith that has chosen and does not have to continue choosing again and again. It is not a blind faith, but a very self-possessed faith that knows itself.

Even as I type the words I find my inner voice crying out in prayer, “Lord, help me know myself! Help me be so decisive! Help me be so self-possessed of faith and you!” And as we prayed together in Mass this week, “Lord, hear our prayer” I continue to pray, “Lord, hear my prayer!” For if I can bet on anything, it’s really two sure things: 1) another trial is eventually headed my way, and 2) I can either have decided my course, or be caught unprepared for the heat.

Praying, Todd



sacred unease (a poem for nov. 1 2012)

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still grey skies
mock the storm in my soul
as a sacred unease
rises, shifts and rolls
i cannot name the thing
which inside me grows

This often happens when I sit to intentionally write some poetry. A still, quiet moment allows me to hear some of my more painful inner movements that are drowned out in the usual activity of the day. It’s not that I’m totally filled with melancholy, but it’s there.

In recent months I’ve been in several different situations discussing the impact of depression on our lives and those conversations have had me thinking. I have lived with the ebb and flow of depression as long as I can remember. I don’t think it’s ever outright owned me, but it’s been there. I’ve learned to watch the seasons and to be aware of their impact on my moods. I’ve learned to listen to the people who love me and live with me; Teresa will let me know when I seem to be letting it get an upper hand.

I’ve been thinking about some of the ways that being a person of faith has impacted the way I deal with my depression and darker moods. I think that growing up with a “seen and unseen” worldview has been helpful for me. I was raised to put my faith in something beyond my senses, beyond my ability to perceive, as I could perceive other things. So when the dark thoughts come and I perceive no hope, I have this reflex to look past it and try to see what may not be seen.

I have a cognitive trigger built into me that causes me to seek. When I seek I am in movement. When I am in movement I cannot be held in the grip of anxiety, fear or hopelessness for too long. So when I am in the grip of depression, it never holds all of me, there is a bit of me still free to roam.

I’m not saying that this idea is a panacea or a magic cure all of some kind. And there will always be times when our imbalanced physiology demands the help of trained professionals, both for counseling and for medication. When I stop seeking, then I think it will be time for me to see a professional.

But having that safety valve built into me allows me to be very open about the presence of darkness in my soul. I can deal with the fact that even as a creature of the light, I retain these shadows; I own the shadows. But the shadows don’t own me. I’m grateful to God for this. And so even as I write something that questions what “inside me grows” I am also very assured that it will not one day rule me and destroy me, or supplant in me what God would do. My unease is sacred.