“The mystery of the Incarnation…..”

FeetCloseup“….is precisely the repositioning of God in the material world once and forever. Continual top-down religion often creates very passive, and even passive-dependent and passive-aggressive Christians. I know this as a Catholic priest for over 40 years. Bottom-up, or incarnational religion, offers a God we can experience for ourselves. We have nothing to fight or prove, just something to know for ourselves. This is what we are about to celebrate at Christmas.”

from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

Richard Rohr on Intimacy


“One’s biggest secrets and deepest desires are usually revealed to others, and even discovered by ourselves, in the presence of sorrow, failure, or need when we are very vulnerable and when one feels entirely safe in the arms of someone’s love….People who have avoided all intimacy normally do not know who they are at any depth—and cannot tell others who they are.”

From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Nov. 14, 2012

Evidence, not Opinion: What the bishops should embrace about homosexuality

I spent this past week at a conference in San Francisco on ADHD, the annual conference of the non-profit organization where I work. The closing plenary was by a renowned neurologist, Dr. Martha Denckla from Baltimore’s Kennedy-Krieger Institute. Dr. Denckla is a true scientist, relying on the facts and what empirical data show in drawing her research conclusions.

During the Q & A after her presentation she was asked by one attendee, “What’s your opinion of [some named product making claims about alleviating ADHD symptoms]?” Without missing a beat, Dr. Denckla replied, “I prefer not to have opinions. I prefer evidence over opinions.”

Russian icon from the collection at Hillwood Museum.

Such wisdom would serve well current Church leaders who continue to bury their heads in the sand, choosing to remain blind to the incontrovertible evidence about what it means to be gay. As the US Catholic Bishops have their fall meeting in Baltimore this week and discuss (as no doubt they will) what to do in response to last week’s election, the wisdom of those words deserves repeating. The bishops (both in the US and around the world, including Rome) would do well to take a dose of humility for a change and simply listen. They should listen to the evidence of the lives of LGBT people, their families and friends, as demonstrated in the favorable votes in four states on same-sex marriage. They should put aside their opinions, based as they are on outdated and incorrect understandings of human sexuality, and they should listen to the evidence that tells us that:

  • being gay is a given, not a choice;
  • being gay for a gay person is just as ‘natural’ as being straight is for a straight person;
  • the struggle for LGBT rights — including the right to marry the person you love — is about gay people and in no way diminishes the marriages of straight people.

As the US and worldwide bishops continue to look away from the clear evidence of research and most especially the evidence of the lived experience of God’s LGBT children, they run the risk of being guilty of remaining in what moral theology calls “vincible ignorance.”  Unlike “invincible ignorance” which cannot be overcome due to one’s own efforts, vincible ignorance is that lack of knowledge for which one is morally responsible. As shepherds of God’s People, bishops have an obligation to know the people they are called to serve.

They have an obligation to listen to the stories of gay men and women who live lives of deep Christian faith and who live in faithful, committed relationships.  They need to listen to the stories of parents whose gay children have suffered bullying and abuse at the hands of others inspired, in part, by the hateful language of “disordered” and “unnatural.”  Perhaps especially they need to listen to the stories of their own lives (many bishops, no doubt, are gay themselves) as well as the stories of their family members and friends.

The lived experience of God’s People is not only a legitimate source of insight into clarifying and articulating anew the Christian message in every age; it is a required source of such insight. If we really believe that God is actively involved in the lives of His People, then it is the evidence of God’s action in human lives that deserves recognition, respect, and support.

Reflections in Flight

Nov. 6, 2012 – Election Day in America: It’s not often that I have a window seat when flying, preferring as I do the easy access and extra leg room of the aisle.  This morning, however, I was assigned a window on the first leg of my two-flight trip to San Francisco.  Leaving DC and heading for Dallas on Election Day 2012, we ascended to our cruising altitude of thirty-eight thousand feet, as the captain announced.  Others around me settled in, putting on their headsets, taking out their iPads or laptops to read a book or watch a movie. As my seatmate pulled out a pile papers and printed emails, reading over material that was clearly for work and not for pleasure, my own eyes were captivated by the beauty of the snow-capped mountains of West Virginia, the sculpted mountains of the landscape below.

Ours is indeed a beautiful country.  Although I don’t consider myself a particularly patriotic person in the “gung ho-America-right-or-wrong” sort of way, I doubt there is anyone among us who is not proud in a healthy-pride sort of way of the country in which we live.  The rancor and ugliness of political campaigns – which we all seem to agree is getting worse and not better – doesn’t show to ourselves and the world what is Best about America and, more importantly, what is Best about Americans.  In these post-election days, wouldn’t it be nice to have respite from it all and simply be thankful for the beautiful land in which we live, the many blessings in which we share, and the graced faces of God’s people who touch our lives every day.

Where’s Nature in Natural Law?

Desert Blossom

I don’t often have “aha” moments of insight, but I did the other day. It occurred to me that much of organized religion’s arguments against the rights of LGBT people to live full and complete lives as God created us — including lives that include sexual expressions of love — are often connected with a loose understanding of Natural Law theory.  I say “loose,” because I think that Natural Law theory — properly understood — has lots of room and possibility within it to come to different conclusions about homosexuality. In its crudest sense, Natural Law theory claims that what is natural is also universal, and that a proper understanding of “human nature” is what governs human life and activity, including moral activity.

My “insight” was simply this:  if there were more Nature in Natural Law, then perhaps the mistake wouldn’t be made of placing general and abstract principles above specific, concrete individuals.  The notion of “flower” exists precisely as that — as a notion, an idea.  It doesn’t really exist in the concrete such that it can be pointed to, described, or experienced in the here-and-now.  What does exist is this flower and that flower and those flowers over there.  Similarly, “the human person” only exists as a notion and an idea to help aid in understanding ourselves.  But any conclusion about “the human person” as an idea must always, always, always give way to the reality of you or me or any other individual human person.  Abstractions about “the human person” can indeed help us understand those things that are at the core of what it means to be  human, but if the the list of those things becomes such that fewer and fewer of us see ourselves as thus described, then the list needs to stop.

When the lived, concrete experience of living, breathing people becomes subordinate to an abstract notion of what it means to be a man or a woman or a person, then our thinking has taken a wrong turn and we need to return to the drawing board of Nature.

After all, isn’t it in Nature that we find what is Natural?!

Always Our Children — 15 Years Ago Today

Fifteen years ago today the Catholic Bishops of the United States had one of their brighter moments in recent history.  On September 10, 1997, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB) published Always Our Children, A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers (and available from the USCCB bookstore here).

As the title indicates, this document was addressed not to gays and lesbians directly, but rather to the parents of “homosexual children” and to pastoral ministers.  Nonetheless, it marked a significant milestone in presenting a more positive understanding of God’s gay children, standing squarely on the side of respect for the full human dignity of gay and lesbian people. It even addressed the issue of persons living with HIV/AIDS, stating unequivocally (as the times demanded), “…we reject the idea that HIV/AIDS is a direct punishment from God.”

Sadly, the intervening years since this publication have not seen the hoped-for progress that LGBT Catholics continue to pray for.  May the recognition of this important anniversary reinvigorate our prayers that one day soon, leaders of our Church may — like the man whose ears were opened in the Gospel story from yesterday’s liturgy — be able to hear the stories of their LGBT brothers and sisters and learn from the loving and faith-filled experiences of our lives how the Living God is alive and well, doing wondrous deeds even today.

The Right, the Left, and Bible as “alternative history”

I don’t think I ever knew the origins for “right” and “left” in terms of politics, but it’s interesting how the original meanings of some terms give insight into current usage!

Also, what fundamentalist preacher would describe the Bible as “alternative history from the side of the enslaved, the dominated, the oppressed, and the poor…”???

Silence, Not Pushing, and the Stillness of God

Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there, and there is not much point in comparing who is better, right, higher or lower, or supposedly saved.

(from Silence, by Richard Rohr)

One of my many Achilles’ heels is the tendency to push, to poke, to analyze, to discuss, to pull-apart a situation until there’s nothing left. Today I pray for the gift of allowing this dimension of Silence to surround all my work, my relationships, and my encounters with others.

As Fr. Rohr says, let us listen to Stillness, the language  of God.

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

My Agrarian Roots

“Georgic,” today’s Merriam-Webster Word of the Day, is the root of my surname. Those who know me well would probably see humor in this, especially since I have never lived on a farm, have never been known for a particularly green thumb, and consider successfully growing jalapeño peppers and basil on the roof deck to be a major agricultural achievement.

Nonetheless, there must be something deep inside me that longs for connection with those earthy roots. I remember fondly stories of my grandmother growing up on a farm in Ireland. Along with her, some of the people closest to me in life have been great gardeners.  This includes, oddly enough, every guy I’d put in the category of partner  / boyfriend / significant love interest.

Through the latter I’ve had the chance to get my hands dirtier than I would naturally tend to do. There is something very primal and satisfying about digging in the dirt, about watching a seed planted in the darkness and silence of the earth emerge, in time, into the the light of day.

The earth’s cycles are the cycles of our souls: Life, Death, Rebirth to New Life.