Nov 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Proclamation

My brother, who sent me the Louis CK you tube clip, sent me this.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed."

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, 1863, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Nov 24, 2008

Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy

Leave it to comedian Louis CK ...

Preach it, brother!

Nov 22, 2008

Writing As A Sacrament

My publisher's online marketing group asked me to write an essay about my book: maybe a topic relating to my book's subject, or the process of writing, or what-not. I'm sharing this with you, because if you're a blogger or writer or reader, it might inspire you. Besides, I'm tired of blogging on politics or gay rights or subjects I'm not qualified to weigh in on. I don't have the answers to those things. I only know what it's like to live in my own skin.

Writing As A Sacrament

I didn't start out to be a writer, though I have always written. I wrote comedy sketches in high school, screenplays in college, and every day journaled as a form of prayer. I wrote down my thoughts and longings, and waited for God’s response. It was like church. The other thing I’ve always done is had faith. I believed God made me for a purpose, and that He intended to fulfill it. (looking back, I probably used my faith to slack off, and expect God to do all the hard work!)

But when I hit forty and found myself single, jobless and living over a garage, I began to question everything: my career choices, my relationship choices, and especially my faith. Did God ever have a purpose for me, had I ever heard him in the prayers I wrote down, or had I made it all up? Maybe my faith was nothing more than some churchy version of self-help. What began as a personal nadir turned into a spiritual abyss.

There was only one thing I knew to do then: I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote to stay sane. I joined a writing workshop. My wonderful teacher, Terrie, and my fellow students, gave me the freedom to fall apart, to doubt, and even to hope. That class was church. I read my stories to them, and sometimes I just cried. They told me to keep writing. That’s how this book came about. If I ask myself, where God was through that dark time? He was in the pen and paper and the hearts of the friends who told me to keep writing.

I used to read for the sole purpose of improving myself. CS Lewis, AW Tozer, stacks of Christian self-help books about how to get healed or how to know God. Or how to get healed by knowing God, or how to know God by getting healed. They all boiled down to “how to be better.” When I finally realized I never was going to get better, that I was always going to be a sinner, I stopped reading self-help books.

I began to read for enjoyment. David Sedaris’ Naked is one of the funniest, most poignant collection of essays I’ve ever read. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies discussed faith with honesty and humor. And Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz convinced me that poetry was still alive in the hearts of believers and that God was bigger than church. I discovered Walter Wangerin, Jr and N.T. Wright. Even though I've given up on Christian self help, I haven't lost my thirst for good sound theology and great storytelling, especially if it has a And then there’s the bible. I still can’t get over the psalms: the protest, the agony, the hope. And the poetry!

Larry introduced me to Walter Wangerin Jr. and Frederick Buechner and N. T. Wright. I still love Anna Karenina. The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel, ever. Great writing, deep theology, and stories that matter -- these inspire me to be better without telling me how. They also inpsire me to keep writing.

Maybe writing is like a sacrament. It’s an act of confession: coming clean about what's really in your heart. It's a profession of what you dare hope is still true. And it’s an act of testimony: baring it to others. Sometimes your writing is ugly and self-absorbed; sometimes it’s funny or pretty. What’s remarkable is, God already knows it and loves you anyway. He knows all of your wreckage and beauty. He just wants you to know it too. That truth can set you free.

Nov 21, 2008

Book Site is Up, and a Podcast as well

Done! Angry Conversations With God now has its own website. I've posted info about the book, book Tour Events, and great endorsements from great people like Don Miller, Jim Gaffigan and Nancy Stafford!

My first book tour Stop is at International Arts Movement's IAM Encounter, February 26-28, 2009, in New York City. I'll be performing, leading a writing workshop, and you can buy the book before its Drop Date. The masterful poet Billy Collins is "headlining," so why wouldn't you want to come?!

The lovely Christy Tennant of IAM interviewed me for an IAM podcast, and has been cruel enough to extend our interview into three parts. You can download or listen to the podcasts here. She'll also be interviewing Billy, and I'm sure he'll be a man of fewer words than I.

Nov 18, 2008

California Burning

Saturday morning I woke up to a clear blue sky. So clear and blue, like only Los Angeles can do to autumn. One would never know there was a fire raging 2o miles away in Sylmar. But that's what the Santa Anas do, they blow smoke westward out to the ocean. So the smoke blew west across the valley and I couldn't see it, not from Eagle Rock.

But around noon I went out to meet a friend, and saw a funnel of smoke billowing up toward the southwest. Yorba Linda, I found out later. By the end of the day the sunset was blood red and the air was thick with smoke. Smoke was everywhere, in every room. I woke up in the middle of the night with a weight on my chest, it was that oppressive.

The city felt oppressive even before the fires. Prop 8 was voted down, and people got really, really pissed off. I know a lot of gays who really do want to marry, to be monogamous, and they are good souls. I voted against Prop 8. I figured, let everyone to have equal rights under the law. We live in a pluralistic, secularized society; and when it comes to the secular estate of marriage, I don't think the church can dictate how the state defines it; nor should the state dictate how the church defines it. Some Christian conservatives argue that marriage is an estate of the church. But we recognize marriages between atheists and agnostics and Buddhists and egad, Methodists. I've even been to church weddings where one party was an atheist. So really ...

I know what the Old Testament says about homosexuality. But the Bible also tolerated polygamy and slavery. Two hundred years ago, devout Christians thought slavery was okay. Fifty years ago they thought interracial marriage was an abomination. So what is the church doing right now? Is it standing up for biblical truth? Or are we so committed to the law that we fail to see that God has come in and changed it? Jesus defied so many biblical laws that the devout had him killed for it. We must be very careful not to miss what God is doing. Yes, you can argue that homosexuality is a sin. Dost not thine own shit stinketh as well?

One of my oldest friends, whom I met at a Christian conference, tried not to be gay for years. She did all the programs. She went to seminary, and spent years working in homeless shelters and advocating for the poor and oppressed; speaking up for those who had no voice. Like Jesus did. And she was still gay. One day she said, "Okay, either God is cruel, and me being gay is his curse upon me. Or, God is good and merciful, and this is a gift." She chose to believe in a god who was like the latter. She became a pastor to the outcast. I look at her life and what she has done for the kingdom of God, and it's far more than I have.

I do not have an answer, but I know God is merciful. He knows the heart of every person. He knows what they have gone through. Because I am not homosexual, I don't feel like I can judge those who are. When I think of all the crap God has endured for me, I'm sure he will have grace for others. I mean, he put up with slavery and polygamy. Don't you think he can handle someone being gay?

Jesus said there will be no marriage in heaven. I wonder if that's because, our current experience and understanding of sexuality and intimacy are so puny and superficial, compared to what identity and intimacy will be in the afterlife ... when the veil is lifted and we see and know God face to face. as CS Lewis wrote, "I know, Lord, why you did not answer. You yourself are the answer. Before you, all questions die away."

I wonder if arguing over each person's broken, or fixed, or cobbled-together sexual identity is splitting hairs. When the fact is, one day we will all be washed clean not by our own goodness but by God's grace and mercy. So why would I throw a millstone around someone's neck? Prevent them from knowing God's infinite love and mercy and acceptance, by arguing that my shit stinks just a little less than theirs? Let he who is without guilt, cast the first stone.

At least that's what I had been thinking.

And then the Prop 8 protests started. Angry mobs targeted one restaurant because the manager was Mormon and had donated to the Prop 8 cause. They picketed and taunted customers and employees. What if Pro-Prop 8 supporters had picketed and taunted patrons of gay bars in West Hollywood? A theater director in San Francisco donated money to Prop 8 and got fired. (Okay, so what was he doing directing theater in San Fran? But then, what was that gay guy doing on eharmony? Demanding they match him with other gays? Should we force gay dating sites to match heteros? It seems petty. Is this like a meat eater demanding that a vegan restaurant serve him rib-eye? Jesus came to liberate the captives. But he didn't free us so we could bicker and attack each other. I think he said something about turning the other cheek.

Some say it's a moral issue, some say it's a rights issue. Tony Jones and Rod Dreher are blogging about it on Beliefnet. I'll leave it to the experts to hash it out, because I'm at a loss. More than that, I'm grieved over the hateful spew going on. Author Robert Hughes aptly labeled our fraying American culture as The Culture of Complaint. Every splinter group demands their rights, like petulant, angry, immature children. It starts with "accept me," and then it becomes, "dig me, fund me, love me, obey me. Or else." And it goes on everywhere, from James Dobson to GLAAD to PETA to you and me.

Know what happens? The loudest, angriest, biggest bully gets their way. And then some extremists come along to restore order, and make you wear a burka.

At least, that's what I've been thinking, as the smoke clears from Los Angeles. What began as a clear blue autumn day turned into a charred wounded, oppressive landscape. What began as a proposition has disintegrated into cattiness and bullying. Who started it? Does it matter? I think the better question is, who's going to show a some maturity and grace? Who's going to say "Sorry" first? Someone needs to. Because I'm in no mood to put a sheet over my head.