musings of a saint and sinner

Thursday, January 19, 2006

when the shining examples of leadership...aren't

In the past week, two situations regarding faculty at my seminary have exploded. Both faculty members had a positive impact on me. One taught me that it is important to live out our mission as the church. It's easy to forget the active nature of faith when you're Lutheran. She just came out as a lesbian, having left her husband and immediately started a gay relationship with a woman, bringing her kids into the mess. I wrote her what I thought was an intelligent, loving email. I just got her reply...she dismissed what I said as "graceless." She said she thought that person "once I matured more" I would see God's grace as she does. She ignored the impact I had told her her decisions would have on her kids. She said it was good for them to see God's grace in this way. She suggested I had not bothered to consider other would she know? I certainly have...but after a while, you have to stop asking questions and decide what you believe. You have to call a spade a spade, as my Mom likes to say. I am deeply troubled, almost brought to tears. In this relativistic society, we dare no longer call ANYTHING sin...We dare not challenge each other. It's live and let live, even in the church. Not that we should pry in each other's business all the time, but c'mon...there are key decisions of life that occur and in these, should we not have some voice to each other, if we are truly community?

Sometimes I just feel like giving up, trying to live in a church that increasingly is pushing a more and more touchy-feely agenda. God help us.

And then, THE most key professor to me in my time at seminary is currently the subject of an extensive rumor mill at seminary...there are all kinds of things he is said to have done, mostly in relation to him losing his temper in inappropriate ways. Even the leadership acknowledges that something is going on, although they won't say what yet. I find it hard to believe he did one of the things he is said to have shakes my image of him. But at the same time, I cannot bear to see him go. He makes the place bearable for me. His theology is so sound. His pastoral ability is unmatched. It's hard to see your heroes have warts.

I put so much trust in my leaders. I look for good heroes and I perhaps almost idolize them...once they've earned my trust. But now I feel that trust is broken. It shakes me up. I have no good resolution for that. It just shakes me up.

And to think I may one day be someone's "spiritual hero," as a pastor...and won't I fumble the ball, too?

Monday, January 09, 2006

An Officer and a Gentleman

I just saw An Officer and a Gentleman. This is an oldie but a goody, starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger. There is definately some harsh content, in terms of language and sexuality, so it is not for kids. But it has a profound message, so if you are one who can see beyond those elements, I would highly recommend it.

In the story, Zack (Gere) is a young man with a checkered past. His mother committed suicide when he was about 12. His father is in the Navy, but is an irresponsible father, constantly carousing with prostitutes, even getting his son to join in on some of his escapades. This continues when Zack gets to young adulthood. Somehow, he musters up the energy and courage to imagine himself into a better life, though. He joins the Navy, in the hope of becoming an officer and flying jets. He is immediately subjected to the humiliations that come with training. Sgt. Foley, who trains him and the other new recruits, is a foul-mouthed, tough soldier who will do everything ("fair and unfair") to test the mettle of the new recruits. Zach starts out with an attitude problem, pretty much just caring about himself, a defense mechanism which he has developed through life.

Then Zack meets Paula (Winger), a young woman who works in a nearby factory. Paula gives him something to look forward to...seeing her. He actually begins to fall in love with her...and he has never had a real relationship of love with a woman before. The local women have a reputation for tricking the officer candidates by any means necessary to get them to marry them...a ticket out of poverty and a boring life...and into an exciting life overseas. Paula's best friend attempts to trick Zack's best friend, telling him she is pregnant...with disastrous results that bring back Zack's past all over again. Paula cannot bring herself to do this to Zack, although she is tempted when he begins to pull away from her. But she realizes that if she tries to trick him, the love will not be real. She will have him for real or not at all.

Meanwhile, Zack continues to face the harsh endurance test of training. Many times he is brought to the end of himself and brought face to face with the question of who he really is. Is he a quitter...or a man who stick with things through the long haul? Is he in this just for himself...or can he start to care about others? Is he an officer...or a wannabe? But ultimately, the question is: will he be defined by his past? Or will he be able to see himself as something more, someone overcoming all of that?

I saw this theme of identity as relating to us as Christians. We each probably have something from our past...maybe before the Lord, maybe while we were young or immature...maybe abuse of someone in power over us...something that haunts us and tries to tell us that we're a nobody. We have a challenge before us...and it's every bit as tough as Zack's physical and mental ordeal to become a Navy officer...the challenge is to truly BELIEVE that in Christ, we are someone made new. We are no longer defined by the past. Although it is a part of our life...we are someone who is made new. We have a new identity in Christ...the issue is whether we will seize upon it...and live up to it.

The closing of the movie ends with Zack moving on with his life and seizing his new identity. It's an exhilerating moment...and the movie ends with the song, "Love, lift us up where we belong." That isn't just an inspirational thought. Where do human beings belong? As overcomers...rising above the brokenness of the first Adam, to the new life of the new Adam. For us as Christians, the love that heals us and sets us free (as Paula's did for Zack...enabling him to believe in himself) is the love of Christ...and the love of spouses who see us with the eyes of love (mine does for me)...or Christian friends who believe in us and encourage know who it is for you...But God uses them all to "lift us up where we belong."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

it hurts to be human

You know, there are so many times that though I am a Christian, all of the belief in the world can't settle the angst in my soul. Maybe if I were a better follower of Christ, I would have more peace, but I suspect that every human being feels this way sometimes. I regret things, overanalyze things, and sometimes (worst of all) feel this steady uneasiness in the pit of my stomach...the kind of unease that I cannot quite put my finger on. And I wonder what I am feeling and why.

Maybe it is the accumulated total of the pain of being human. The pain of natural disasters assaulting our earth. The pain of having three parishoners die in the past month and seeing their gray bodies lying in the death bed, the coffin. The pain of struggling with my own inner battles. The pain of knowing love is a risk....and loss and death is inevitable. There is no question about it. It hurts to be human.

I am preparing a confirmation lesson about Jesus, the center of our faith. As I study up for it, I find myself finding hard to push through to His relevance in the dank battles I so often face...and then it hits me...if to be human is to know pain, then Jesus knows exactly what I'm talking about. Didn't He struggle in the desert with temptation? Didn't He struggle so intensely in Gethsamane that He sweat drops of blood? Didn't He weep at the tomb of Lazarus, his friend? Didn't He die on a cross, suffering one of the most intense and abusive forms of execution that human beings have devised? And yet...He didn't have to do any of this. He did it for me, for you...because He chose to...

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