Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Stop Sexual Abuse: Lessons for All of Us.

Being a victim of sexual abuse, you might say that I have an interest in this fight: [Cardinal McCarrick:] Bring Back Sackcloth and Ashes. And I do. Sexual abuse needs to stop. I don’t think singling out Roman Catholics is fair either, though, as it is found not only in all the churches, but in secular society.

Penance is certainly needed for this, and not just from the offenders, but from all of us who have contributed in various ways to the sexual woundedness in our culture.

If people have committed a crime, they need to pay their debt to society and to make what restitution they can to those whom they have injured. But if we want sexual abuse to end, then we have to help them and others find sexual healing. What has been shown, especially by psychotherapists like Steve Ing (whom I don't endorse 100%, but he's on the right path on this point) is that the best way to deal with sex offenders is compassion and helping them to face themselves sexually. They are acting out sexually because they are lonely, miserable, and sexually wounded people. They need healing.

The churches have certainly contributed to the problem, because we have failed to do the hard moral reasoning that would actually understand human sexuality and what makes for human flourishing, and to come up with the moral principles would reflect the actual moral law, as opposed to a kind of philosophical idealism that refuses to deal with human biology and sociobiology. By failing to do this we have contributed to, if not been a major cause of people’s sexual woundedness and misery.

An approach of honesty and openness about sexuality, helping offenders to get their relational, sexual, and other needs met, and dealing with the underlying issues is the way to prevent recidivism, and Steve Ing, for example, has an unbelievably low recidivism rate.

Further such an approach, combined with spreading understanding about how, from a biological, evolutionary, and sociobiological perspective human sexuality works, can help everyone be morally responsible about sex, and seems to me the only sound strategy for getting rid of abortion and the need for pharmaceutical birth control, and for preventing STDs.

Shaming, punishment, shunning and isolation, and sexual repression is not the way to help anyone find healing, and such an approach demonstrably contributes to recidivism among sexual offenders.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Some Thoughts on Why We Men Are So Screwed Up.

Ever wonder why men and boys are messed up?  When we are boys, a lot of us were told to keep our hands above the sheets.  But we are all also expected to demonstrate our manliness by showing how strong our sexual interest is in women, while not not having sex until marriage (wink, wink). Of course, quite naturally, we *want* to grow up and be men, and we want others to show us the way.  So, having no other models, we have to demonstrate this interest to our peers to prove we are men.

We grow up in a society that works very aggressively to heterosexualize us from a fairly young age: We are bombarded with sexual imagery in entertainment and the media, and with easy access to pornography, then constantly put in the company of young women, expected to date, etc., etc.  It doesn't help that girls and and women will shame us with being gay if we show no sexual interest in them, or if we show closeness and affection to other boys or men.

If we do fornicate under all this pressure to demonstrate our heterosexuality while not succumbing to any other form of sexual release, well, we're just being boys (wink, wink).   We inevitably hurt ourselves and the girls involved, not only because no one involved is ready for the perils or responsibility of engaging in a naturally reproductive act, but also because it was never about them — it was about proving our manhood to ourselves and others.

Of course, if we are not good at sports, then we are not real men.  If we cry, we are not real men.  If we admit we have feelings we are not real men.

We are scared to have close affectionate friendships with other boys, because that might make others suspect we're homos.  So we are starved of the affection and support of our male peers, and we are lonely.  And it's worse if we actually have sexual feelings toward other boys.  No one has told us that these feelings are only natural given the role that homosexuality has played in the evolutionary and socio-biology of our species.  No one has told us of all the undoubtedly real men, heroic men, who have had such feeling for other men. No, we are told that this makes us poofs or queers — not real men.

If we do have such feelings or worse actually do anything with another young man, then we are then stuck with agonizing whether we are gay.  No one has told us that this is unlikely since some degree of same-sex attraction is pretty universal, especially in youth and young adulthood.  And certainly no one has told us that if we do finally grow up to be more attracted to men than women that this is part of the normal sexual diversity of the human male and in no way calls our manhood into question.  So such feelings and experiences cause us to agonize about whether we are real men.  Being terrified that we might not be real men, we externalize our feelings and lash out in anger at other boys or men who remind us of them.  Or we accept these feelings, but give up trying to be men, and are stuck with feeling disconnected from our bodies, which causes serious psychological problems, and we feel disconnected from other men, which increases the horrific pain of our loneliness.

And the boys we have screwed up then grow up to try to do things like run the country, and we wonder why they are not respectful of women or why they behave so irresponsibly and immaturely with the immense power that they wield.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why I believe: My Christian Testimony

Why do I believe?  I have asked myself that question a lot through my life, because, honestly, for many, many years I believed, but did not know why.  When I found the answer, it was both embarrassing and controversial, and so I was scared to share it.  But, we are commanded to give a reason for the testimony for the faith that is in us, and, this Pentecost season, the time has come for me to testify.

Now, it’s tempting to preach fire and brimstone when I look at the mess we’re in. I am not a hell-fire and damnation preacher, as a rule, mostly because I went through hell as a child. I knew enough about hell: I was abused by an older male relative, and have suffered horribly most of my life because of it.  The thing that I needed to know was not that I was going to hell; I was already partway there.  The thing that I needed to know was that I wasn’t worthless, a piece of refuse to be thrown away. I needed to know that God loved me, that I existed because of that love, and that made me precious in the eyes of the only one who mattered.

There were important ways that He let me know that in some ways as a young man.  My grandparents provided me a safe refuge, and a wonderful home.  There were the Boy Scouts, where I was blessed with a good, and safe, group of adult leaders, and the comradeship of other boys.  In high school I rediscovered my church, which not only provided a feeling of home, but gave me a Christian way of looking at and interpreting the world, and an appreciation, if from afar, of the beauty of God.

That does not account for my faith, and for the fact that I persevered. And I did — when others didn't.  For years as an adult I used to wonder why I never doubted my faith given all I had been through.  Yet at some deep level I knew that it was true, and I knew that God loved me, even if I had difficulty feeling that love.

Those were 28 hard years, from my college time on.  I suffered terribly from PTSD from my childhood abuse.  It made it hard or sometimes impossible to work.  I felt worthless and unloved and without a place in the world.  I was despairing, and often tempted to suicide.  At one point, about ten years ago,  I stored up an opiate prescription, enough, I thought, to make an end of myself.

But something repeatedly kept me back from self harm.  In the middle of the night, when I was lying there tormented, I would suddenly feel a pair of strong arms around me. I used to think of them as the arms of Jesus.  Then I would relax, and go to sleep, and somehow get through the night, and try to pray myself though another day.

I had come out as gay in college, and had had a boyfriend.  I tried very hard not to think about that during those 28 years, because I thought that it was sinful.  Then I learned, almost six years ago now, that my former boyfriend had died, I was suddenly struck with overwhelming grief.  I started to remember things I had worked very hard to forget, because I felt guilty about the relationship.  I started to remember him.

One day I had the thought that I had often had many time over the years, namely why did I believe, why did I not give up on my faith.  I had never, in the abstract, had any doubts.  Why?  Then it hit me.  When my first boyfriend, David, hugged me for the first time, I KNEW that God loved me.  It was overwhelming.  I just collapsed into that embrace, with an intensity that took us both aback.  Even though I did not want to remember that experience, the realization I got from it that God loved me had stuck with me at some deep level where I wasn't even aware of it.  Knowing that made doubts about all the other articles of faith easy to dismiss, almost beside the point.

You see, David really did care about me. I always knew that, too, which made breaking with him so unbelievably painful.  David was also a beautiful strong man.  Especially naked, or nearly so at the poolside, there was a beauty about him that did not inspire sexual desire in me so much as awe, and a realization that here was God's beauty manifest in a man, and that he had made me to be a beautiful man too.  It made sense of my instinct about the beauty of God.  God used that love, and that inspiration, imperfect as it was, to love me through David, and to give me something to strive for.  No human love is perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real love, and God used that.

A couple of weeks after my realization about that first hug, I was lying in bed scared.  Then I started having a flashback to my childhood.  I had had flashbacks before, and had learned in therapy how to deal with them, but I had not had any, certainly none this vivid, in years.  And this one was bad, and terrifyingly real.  Then something happened: This beautiful strong man, David, walked into my childhood bedroom where I was being abused, and pulled my abuser off of me.  He threw him on the floor and started pounding him with his fists, saying, "Go away!" "He doesn't belong to you!"  When he stepped back all that was left of my abuser was some rotten flesh on the floor of my childhood bedroom.  David then came and sat down next to me on the bed, put his arm around me and asked if I was OK.  Then the whole room was filled with light, and I felt at peace.

As I was drifting back off to sleep feeling his arms around me, I remembered when I had first felt those arms.  It was the first night we had stayed together.  I had woken up scared of my abuser coming in, as I often did in the middle of the night, but this time David was there with me.  He had hugged me tight and I had felt safe and protected in bed for the first time.  And Christ had used that love to help keep me safe, to help keep me from doing harm to myself, all those years.

I did not have an easy time thereafter.  The grief over David and the revelations it brought out led to my divorce, as (following bad counsel) I had never discussed my gay experiences with my wife.  But I pressed on with hope that I had not had before, and never again experienced flashbacks or the other severe symptoms of the PTSD from which I had suffered.  I was even able to forgive my abuser, which I had been unable to do before.

A few months later, going through the trauma of my marriage breaking up, I was at Good Friday services.  Suddenly I felt a presence next to me in the pew, during the Veneration of the Cross.  I heard David's voice say to me.  "We all go there." (I knew he meant the day of our Lord's crucifixion.)  "That is our judgement, Mike, whether we accept the sacrifice that love is willing to make for us." I asked him, "Will you go there with me?" He said, "Yes, I'll take you there."  I can't tell you with doctrinal surety that this was real, or that he will, but I have no doubt in my own mind that he'll take me after I die to meet the Lord on his cross.

In the years since I have been trying to make sense of what I should do about this.  It has not been easy.  I have re-entered ministry trying to keep the promises that I made at my ordination.  I am also trying to fulfill promises that I made to others, including one I made to David when he first learned, some 34 years ago, that I wanted to be a priest: I had promised that I would in my ministry try to help men with same-sex attraction find peace with God.

False or misdirected guilt can keep us from experiencing God’s love. Certainly, an irrational fear of homosexuality kept me stuck, unable to acknowledge for years that God had already given me in David the key to healing the abuse I had suffered.  So it bothers me deeply when I here people preaching hell to people who don't know God's love.  It bothers me when people don't use their brains or do their homework about what is right and wrong before condemning other people, but condemn others out of their own fear or need for self-righteousness: It is even more upsetting when I realize that I have done that to others in the past.

But it also bothers me when I hear cheap grace being preached.  The grace in my life hasn't been cheap.  Redemption never is.  Cheap grace is no grace.  Someone has to pay the price we can't.  Love demands sacrifice.  That's why Christ had to die on the cross.   That's why we Christians must willingly pick up our cross and follow him.  The fact is, we are going to suffer, sometimes horribly.  Do we decide to suffer gladly with hope, uniting it to his suffering, for all those we love or are called to love? We do if we have experienced his love.

Nor does grace mean that God’s love does not require us to examine and amend our lives. It does. In fact doing exactly that is 99% of our Christian endeavor.  It requires that we study and use right reason to follow God’s commandments with all our strength. It means that we have to get those commandments right, and that means using our brains and being willing to critique or go against partisan views, including the partisans in the churches, conservative or progressive, because far too often they’re both badly wrong.

When we discover or remember we’re loved, then the only possible response is to give ourselves entirely over to it entirely, to let ourselves be wrapped wholly into the arms of love and be transformed.  There, we will find, if through great pain, that all our hurts are healed and all our hopes realized.  We will find how to love in return and with our whole selves. And when we are faced with the beauty of the glory of God, however it comes to us, then that vision inspires and demands that we must be willing to pay all to have it.  God's love is free, but it costs us everything, starting with the whole-hearted commitment to let ourselves be transformed by that love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

SS. Philip and James, May 1

Today is the feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles.

From the Lesson at Matins:

Philip was born in the town of Bethsaida, and was one of the first of the twelve Apostles who were called by the Lord Christ. Then Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him: “We have found Him of Whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write.” And so he brought him to the Lord. How familiarly he was in the company of Christ, is manifest from that which is written: “There were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the Feast the same came therefore to Philip, and desired him, saying: Sir, we would see Jesus.” When the Lord was in the wilderness, and was about to feed a great multitude, He said unto Philip: “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Philip, after that he had received the Holy Ghost, took Scythia, by lot, as the land wherein he was to preach the Gospel, and brought nearly all that people to believe in Christ. At the last he came to Hierapolis in Phrygia, and there, for Christ’s Name’s sake, he was fastened to a cross and stoned to death. The day was the first of May. The Christians of Hierapolis buried his body at that place, but it was afterwards brought to Rome and laid in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, beside that of the blessed Apostle James.

James, surnamed the Just, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, was a Nazarite from the womb. During his whole life he never drank wine or strong drink, never ate meat, never shaved, and never took a bath. He was the only man who was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies. His raiment was always linen. So continually did he kneel in prayer, that the skin of his knees became horny, like a camel’s knees. After Christ was ascended, the Apostles made James Bishop of Jerusalem and even the Prince of the Apostles gave special intelligence to him after that he was delivered from prison by an angel. When in the Council of Jerusalem certain questions were mooted touching the law and circumcision, James, following the opinion of Peter, addressed a discourse to the brethren, wherein he proved the call of the Gentiles, and commanded letters to be sent to such brethren as were absent, that they might take heed not to lay upon the Gentiles the yoke of the Law of Moses. It is of him that the Apostle Paul saith, writing to the Galatians: “Other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”

So great was James’ holiness of life that men strove one with another to touch the hem of his garment. When he was ninety-six years old, and had most holily governed the Church of Jerusalem for thirty years, ever most constantly preaching Christ the Son of God, he laid down his life for the faith. He was first stoned, and afterward taken up on to a pinnacle of the Temple and cast down from thence. His legs were broken by the fall, and he was well-nigh dead, but he lifted up his hands towards heaven, and prayed to God for the salvation of his murderers, saying: “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As he said this, one that stood by smote him grievously upon the head with a fuller’s club, and he resigned his spirit to God. He testified in the seventh year of Nero, and was buried hard by the Temple, in the place where he had fallen. He wrote one of the Seven Epistles which are called Catholic.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Don't Give up the Fight

I was up a good bit of the night, upset, and thinking (among other distressing matters) about my friend Fr. Brian Waldbillig who committed suicide.

I try to quiet myself inside when this happens, and listen to God, and this is what I heard. We live in a world filled with hate, that is trying to destroy itself. It is a world that tries to convince us to hate ourselves, that we are worthless, that we have no place, and that we just ought to do away with ourselves. Remember that each of us is here because God wants us to be here, that each of us is precious beyond price in His sight. None of us is perfect, because none of us is finished --- and we are all created good.

 We are here because God has some work, some very important work for us to do, and even though it looks dark and hopeless sometimes, He will give us the means to do it. Don't give in to the message of self-hatred. We exist because we are loved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Forgiveness Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is a noun that comes from the verb "to shrive" that is, to give absolution. So it means absolution or forgiveness. We might call this "Forgiveness Tuesday."

So, if I have sinned against any of you, or caused you offense, I am heartily sorry, and ask your forgiveness.

Self- Examination according to the Ten Commandments, and an Apology

I must first of all apologize.  I have mislaid my sermon notes while getting my books and papers organized. (I preach many of my sermons from a written text, not printed from the computer.) I am sure of finding them eventually, but in the meantime I have been unable to get them up as promised.  However, in preparation for Lent, I am posting an examination of conscience based on the 10 commandments. 

Examination of Conscience based on the 10 Commandments.

Following the best analysis of the Biblical text, I take the first five commandments as referring to our duty to God, and the later five as referring to duty to neighbor.  All of the commandments are based on the love of God, who is Himself Love, and who created and sustains us out of His Love.  From this proceeds our love of neighbor, of the people we meet and with whom we deal. I have tried to stick to a strict interpretation of these commandments as found in Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, except that, where applicable,  I have looked at their application in the Book of Common Prayer.

1. "God spake these words, and said; I am the Lord thy God: Thou shalt have none other gods but me."

Sins of false worship
-Have I loved God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and longed to please Him?
-Have I grieved to offend God by my sins?
-Have I put anything in the place of God?
-Have I made it the whole purpose of life to serve God who has loved me?
-Have I put any person in the place of God in my life?
-Have I allowed my love of earthly pleasures or attachments to take the place of God?
-Have I let me pride or self-righteousness lead me away from God?

2. "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shew mercy unto thousands in them that love me, and keep my commandments."

Sins of idolatry
-Have I created anything, my work, my projects, my ideas or concepts, and put them in place of God?
-Have I allowed others' works or projects to take the place of God in my life?
-Have I allowed my pride in my own works, achievements, or qualities to lead me from God?
-Have I preferred my own opinions to an honest search for truth?  Have I despised or thought of no importance the pursuit of truth?
-Have I despised beauty or the cultivation of beauty?
-Have I looked down on others for pursuing goodness, truth, or beauty?
-Have I put pragmatism above moral principle or the laws of God?
-Have I engaged in superstition, sorcery, or divination?
-Have I engaged in pagan or other forms of false or non-Christian worship?

3. "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his Name in vain."

Sins of Blasphemy
-Have I been respectful of God's name and the words referring to Him and not misused it, either by deliberately misusing them or employing them frivolously?
-Have I treated His commandments and his Word with respect?
-Have I claimed to act in God's name in a way not authorized by Him, or in a way contrary to his commandments?
-Have I despised God's commandments, or reckoned them as nought or not binding on me?
-Have I sworn a false oath in God's name, or made frivolous or unnecessary oaths?
-Have I striven to keep the vows I have made before God with all my power?
-Have I treated Scripture with respect and reverence?
-Have I made it my business to study Scripture and seek to know God's commandments and will for me revealed therein?
-Have I claimed to speak in God's name when I was merely giving my own opinion, or have I failed to speak in God's name when it was my duty to do so?

4. "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and ail that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it."

Sins of Sacrilege
-Have I kept the Lord's day and other days set aside for the worship of God, by attending public worship, by abstaining from labor, by not engaging in commercial activity, such as buying and selling or gainful employment, or by unnecessary household work?
-Have I set aside regular times from prayer, daily at least, and for reading of  Scripture and other spiritual writings?
-Have I set aside time to spend quietly to listen to God?
-Have I treated the church building with respect as set aside for God and our encounter with him, including by keeping silence in church, by acts of reverence and respect, and by not engaging in secular activity therein?
-Have I treated the sacraments and rites of the church with respect and reverence, as befits the things of God?
-Have I received Holy Communion regularly (3X per year minimum for Anglicans) and prepared for it by examining my conscience, confessing my sins, and receiving absolution, seeking a priest for private confession when needed (as foreseen in the Exhortation)?  Have I prepared for Holy Communion, by, for example, such disciplines as fasting beforehand, and spending time in prayer and recollection before receiving it?
-Have I, according to my health and circumstances, observed the feasts, fasts, and days of special devotion set forth by the Church?
-Have I cultivated an interior attitude of worship and attention while attending worship?
-Have I been respectful towards sacred things, especially those set aside for the worship of God?
-Have I despised or disparaged others for their reverence or attitude of worship, for their faith, or otherwise disturbed them or tried to hinder them from cultivating an attitude of prayer or worship, especially in church?
-Have I contributed to the worship of God,  according to my ability, by offering my talents for worship (such as singing in choir, being an usher, etc.), and by giving of my wealth for the worship of God and the beautification of the church.

5. "Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

Sins of Dishonor
-Have I been respectful of my parents, through whom God gave me life, and nurtured me, and whose duty it is to teach me about God and His commandments?
-Have I been respectful of other persons, especially of the clergy and other spiritual elders, and of my teachers, whose duty it is to teach me of God and His commandments, and nurture me in the faith?
-Have I treated them with disrespect, or have I disparaged them to others?
-Have I honored the Traditions and teaching of the faith as they have been passed down to me, seeking to cultivate them, to restore them when they have decayed, and to pass them on, or have I worked to undermine them and to cause others to treat them with disrespect?
-Have I sought, by word and example of life, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
-Have I treated the civil authorities charged with ministration of justice with respect, and have I followed their just laws?

6. Thou shalt do no murder.

Sins of Murder and Harm to Persons
-Have I loved my neighbor as God loves me?
-Have I taken, or conspired in any way to take the life of any other human being, or to undermine the law of God against doing so? (Self-defense, capital punishment in accordance with the law, and the killing of an enemy by a lawful combatant in time of war are not sins of murder.)
-Have I spoken ill of any one by calumny (saying untruths), detraction (saying hurtful truths that do not need to be said), or gossip?
-Have I denied to others for whom I have a responsibility (for example, my employees) livelihood for themselves and their dependents?
-Have I harbored anger, a desire for revenge, or a desire to hurt others?
-Have I given of my time and wealth for the poor, the sick, and others in need?
-Have I treated all persons with courtesy and respect?
-Have I taken proper care of my own health, or do I do things, especially habitually, that harm my health?

7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

Sins against Marriage and Children
-Have I engaged in adultery: sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than his or her spouse?
-Have I engaged in fornication (porneia): sexual intercourse other than the marital act?
-Have I engaged in behavior which might lead to these things?
-Have I stirred up illicit desire (for instance, by watching the portrayal of these things and deliberately taking pleasure therein)?
-Have I done other things to undermine the security of my family or that of others, or the welfare of children in their families?

8. "Thou shalt not steal."

Sins of Theft
-Have I taken the property of someone else that did not belong to me?
-Have I damaged someone else's property?

9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."

Sins of Lying
-Have I committed perjury?
-Have I lied about someone deliberately?
-Have I been careful to speak the truth?
-Have I kept my ordinary promises?

10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his."

Sins of Covetousness
-Have I entertained the desire to do any of the above sins?
-Have I desired that, property or persons, which was not proper for me?
-Have I wished to deprive others of the good things that belong to them, or wished others ill because they had good things which I did not?

Finally, If I have sinned against God or anyone, have I confessed my sin, to God in every case, and to the other persons offended if the sin was public or could be known to them?  Have I sought forgiveness and made restitution for my sins?