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Monday, November 11, 2019

He Took Away My Security In A Moment

I didn't expect to be utterly taken apart. Certainly not by one sentence. And maybe I expected fireworks from arguably America's best living theologian, who also has a penchant for public vulgarity. Yet I didn't think the fireworks would go off inside me. Let me pause the story to tell you another one.

One day, I went to a trivia night to benefit L'Arche, a Catholic community made up of "normals" and those with intellectual disabilities. Most often, it's Down Syndrome. Mr. Vanier (founder of L'Arche)--in plain, undramatic terms--wanted us all to see Jesus in each other, even if some of us are pushed to the margins. And so it goes.

Anyway, I had a few odd interactions on the way into the trivia, and my friend says, "Sorry some folks treat you like you live at L'Arche." Now, without doubt, I am a proud man. I'm proud of my mind, my words, my degrees. But in a sudden attack of good sense, I said, "Who am I to think I'm better than someone who does?"

I had this in my mind when America's best living theologian began to talk about his 25 years living and working with L'Arche. I was not inclined to radically separate myself from the people he'd met. We have enough ground for solidarity that I figured any talk about disability, and living with one as a person would be highly pertinent. How right I was, though I couldn't have known how much beforehand.

The man said, "People with disabilities are unable to camouflage their need for love." Aptly, I nearly lost a grip on my emotions in that moment. I was seen, as I'd never been before. And I gave to myself a gift of self-acceptance--dare I say, self-love--by the grace of those words.

Draw the conclusion with me: If this cross of physical infirmity takes away my hiding place, if I cannot pretend to be tough, strong, and independent, then where else do I foolishly try? And if this is truly so, I'm not sensitive, or womanly, or weak--as if any of those are bad--I am gifted with an opportunity for the humility and vulnerability that admits me and all of us into the Kingdom.

That was in itself worth a word of thanks to the speaker, and so I gave it to him later. Infirmity of whatever kind is not a gift, as such. But the opportunity to draw close to others via my own need, and in that, to extend mercy for living, absolutely is such a gift. Who am I to refuse to give it?

If I Governed A State

I would be an executive, which means I would attempt to let the legislature be the legislature. You're not allowed to do this today. You're supposed to have legislative priorities and victories. When did this happen?

I generally would want to administrate well, to keep my head down, and avoid embarrassing the people of my state.

On the other hand, if you give me the power of commutation and clemency, I'll use it, and boldly. I take very seriously the idea that the last person who can show mercy in light of justice would be me. If I don't have a Board of Clemency and Pardons on board with my vision, I'll replace every single person until I do.

I generally have a socially conservative vision, which doesn't mean I can't tolerate anything else, but it means that we don't have to make anything and everything normative. We don't change everything we've known, just to make some small group of people happy. Depending upon what it is, it might be bad indeed, to chase some people's version of "happiness."

If I firmly believe in something, and it is of sufficient importance, you can expect me to fight for it. My morality is absolute and unchanging. Don't expect "evolution" on something I tell you is most crucial. There is no "center" in the bright lines of ethics. People often say they want a politician who fights; trouble is, we support those who fight for the wrong things, or those who in themselves have no right to be leaders or exemplars for others.

I want to be so good that the people of my state don't think about me, until it's time to vote again. I'll show up and say positive things about the people of my state, smile, and get out of the way.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

"[X] is very damaging to the witness of the church." Put anything in there you like. It could either be true, or it might be false. I know what's even more damaging: not being in the Church. This is the thing that drives me crazy about a statement like this from an evangelical: the referent "church" is empty; the speaker knows what she means. Perhaps some of the hearers think they know. The reality, however, is that there is nothing visible to which "church" actually refers.

At a practical level, imagine your exhaustion at having to answer for every single person who claims the name of Christ. Imagine believing that major questions of ethics--even dogma--were matters of liberty! And then, gentle reader, do you dare wonder why religious non-affiliation is on the rise? When people get tired of searching for truth, sometimes they give up.

Frankly, without a way to know that any one thing is supernaturally revealed,--or a matter of morals connected to it--it's at once fruitless and manipulative to say, "We can't just play church; we gotta be the church!" How will you know when you've succeeded?

The door is open.


Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Restore To Me The Joy

I think that one of the things that happens when things are going well is that we become overconfident. No wonder there are so many "influencers" about! If you've got money, and something to say, a platform is nearly inevitable. In the end, it won't matter if what you say is true; someone will give you money and affirmation, even if you should be washing your own face, instead of telling people to wash theirs.

I lost a certain clarity to my life, or at least the shape of what I thought it would be. I wasn't prepared for how invested I was in the certain shape of a dream. Maybe I'm trying to say that I've been an idolater, though it didn't seem that way at the time.

It's easy to take joy in the pleasures of life when the blessings seem to rain down. You can talk a great game about understanding how fleeting it all is, too. How easy it is to even extol my alleged single-minded devotion to God!

Then a true cross comes.

True suffering that can't be dismissed or denied enters in; you lose your balance, as any reasonable person would. Maybe you even wonder if your life is even worth living. Even to an extent that would scare your loved ones and friends.

"My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?" Abandoned. There is no one singing your praises now. Maybe I even begin to think that anyone who ever had was lying. Maybe I am a fraud. Maybe I always was. If you get here, oddly enough, you're in good company.

Jesus is waiting right in this place. It doesn't make sense, and yet it makes every sense. If I think no one understands me, or loves me, I'm factually incorrect. And this Jesus intuitively understands this dark place. There was nothing theoretical about that for him.

It's truly unexpected to find that Jesus wants to be with me. He wants me here. And it's not some grudging dictate from the Father; he knows me in every moment, and it cheers him that I am with him.

I may have no joy as I'd thought of it before; the pleasures of a day may seem drab and false. I know that smiling or laughing now has this quality of belonging to someone else. I do know that suffering has become a door. I anticipate that goodness and true joy awaits on the other side, but truthfully, I can't see that far.

Any place without Jesus is a void; any place with Him is a paradise. I'm no less misunderstood or wounded, or even angry, as I walk through the valley alone. But with Jesus, there is some part of me that is not confused or lost; I know my purpose. My purpose is to go wherever Jesus goes. We go together. When we finish the journey, loss will be gain. I believe it, and so I go.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

I Don't Know Who Needs To Hear This, But

My diagnosis of cerebral palsy (CP) is most accurately described as a condition. It's not a disease; it's not progressive, except in the most indirect of senses, if one fails to manage the results of the neuro-muscular adventures one gets to go on. I can have kids, and if we do, your kids will not be disabled, at least not because of my CP.

I have the urge to say this publicly periodically. Some able-bodied people get to see CP up close, so they know.

I don't feel like giving an overly-detailed description of CP. Look it up, if you want. Some instances of CP are more severe, and some are less so.

Interesting tension exists, between wanting to be "normal," and knowing that you're not, in general, as people with disabilities. It's an interesting tendency in this society as well, to change all defect into mere difference. As we talk about inclusion and participation, what we face is not being able to define the ideal: from our bodies themselves, to society at large. Without this, we risk elevating what is accidental to being human--or even fictitious--to a fundamental expression of personal identity. [Hey, someone should write a book about that!--ed.] Hmmm.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Solid Food

I don't want to say too much, but Jesus is our brother. It's a new thing, when Jesus is no longer our fire insurance--though we never presume--and we are indeed family.

Am I ready to accept that Jesus considers me His friend and brother? Do you remember the day a younger sibling was his or her own person, and not just the kid you have to keep safe?

When warriors talk about brotherhood, it means, "I'd die for you, and you'd die for me." It's thicker than blood. It's the kind of love that men rarely speak of. We're rarely allowed to, these days.

Jesus wants me with him. This is what he meant when he said, "I no longer call you servants, but friends." I will never outgrow my need for Him, but--mystery of mysteries--it is not foolish to console Him. He did not turn away St. Simon of Cyrene; it was not a show. He was consoled. And the holy women, they consoled Our Lord, too.

If Jesus invites us to console Him, we are on the Way of the Cross. And therefore, on the way to glory.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

I Don't Believe In "The Universe." I Believe In God.

"It almost makes you believe in the universe again. Almost." First of all, in context, I'm sure Washington Nationals pitcher Daniel Hudson is a great guy. (It's not his quote.) And of course he missed World Series Game 1 to be with his newborn daughter, because that's what a good father and husband does, if he can. Secondly, whatever personal problems players on the Houston Astros have, God is not punishing the team for those. I'd love to know one day the intimate workings of Providence, in regard to individual games and their outcomes, but as it appears from here, baseball just isn't that important, in the grand scheme of things. (Don't misunderstand me; if you're reading this, I love baseball more than you do.)

Most importantly, what is so charming about some seemingly arbitrary, impersonal force? Admittedly, one sees or hears this a lot. I guess if we're tossed to and fro by impersonal forces, we're not accountable to anyone whose judgment matters, including God. Yet in reality, God has a Name, and a face. And the Holy Spirit, mind you, may be mysterious, but He's personal, if anyone ever has been.

You'd have to wonder at people's tragedies, if they'd rather believe in impersonal forces than in the God who made them. The God who gave them a name and a face, too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Still Not Quite Right

Grief wreaks havoc. I still have a rather ambiguous relationship to eating; I do it because I have to. I graze, rather than eating big meals. It will be nice to experience the enjoyment of eating again. I know I will. No pain lasts forever, especially not in the light of eternity.

Then I feel guilty, because this grief is not in some objective sense the worst loss. I have an internet friend who could tell us all about loss and grief, and I defer to her. Yet when she says, "I will never be OK with this," that corresponds with something I understand, and it helps me.

On the other hand, I need and want the freedom to say that I'm not OK, that I have been changed somehow by grief, that in these moments, the world does not look quite the same, and in some way, it never will again.

The Lord retains the right to make something good out of bad, and in faith and hope, I expect Him to do it. But there's no rush here; if I want to cry, I'll cry, and I'll brook no debate about it.

The Enemy loves the times when I have doubted everything I thought I knew, about myself, about God, and the goodness of creation. That father of lies loves my bitterness, my resentment, my anger, and whatever bad else. If that snake can keep me from praying, it's the only chance he has.

I just hit back with the Memorare; I cast myself into the arms of Mother, and thereby, into the arms of God the Father.

I don't know what the future holds, or how to handle it. I do know that I am ever and always Jason Layne Kettinger, renewed in Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and one could do worse.