Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


The Middle Way or “Why can’t we all just get along?

Middle child, born and bred, my DNA has directed, no, better said; my DNA has dictated my lifelong passion for peace-making.

Having grown up in a cacophonous household, ripe with arguments, petty and small, I would try to negotiate family conflicts. As an act of self-preservation mostly, I was a kid, after all.

Like a United Nations foreign language interpreter, I tried to translate for both sides of the opposing parties:

Maureeen/Tim/Joani/Bernie/Clare/Joseph is not upset because you wanted to borrow their toothbrush/toys/clothes/gadgets. S/he’s upset because you didn’t ask. Maureen/Tim/Joani/Bernie/Clare/Joseph is upset because you didn’t say ‘please’.

And pretty-please, I would pray, that this little conflict would go away.

It is no wonder, that when I grew up, I found a “middle way”, my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.

Photo by Liesl Testwuide

The Middle Way, the Via Media, is not the mushy meaningless way. It is not the path of least resistance. It is the uniquely Anglican tradition that affirms both our catholic roots and our commitment to reform. Standing on the shoulders of saints, we look to the past for guidance and to the future with hope.

The Episcopal tradition bridges many a divide. Recognizing our neighbors, to our left and to our right, we worship together in the pews. And during these times that so try our Christian souls (to borrow a phrase from Thomas Paine), Anglicanism embraces myriad ways to be faithful.

Remember the late Rodney King’s 1992 rallying cry? In the aftermath of the LA riots, sparked by his own racially charged and violent arrest, he implored the crowds:

“People, I just want to say to you, can we all just get along…I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it.”

To work our conflict out, not to ignore it. Though many of us, myself included, would prefer for all this contentionness to just melt away.

But, we can work it out (to borrow a lyric from the Beatles!) The Book of Common Prayer invites us to do the same. On page 304, the Baptismal Covenant draws a map of the Middle Way.

“Will you seek and serve all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

Way easier said than done! How can we “walk this talk” in an everyday way? How can we translate these churchy words into a conversation at our kitchen tables?

Well, a Dutch startup has devised one creative way. Not a religious resource, but a human one, the company has come up with a very good idea.

And just in time for the holidays, which will be here before we know it. Lots of in-laws and outlaws coming into town! Loved ones we disagree with and who disagree with us!

Small talk can only get us so far, as we dance around our differences. Gingerly, we try to avoid the pitfalls and stepping on landmines, right? How do we start a conversation, and not a fight?

Well, you can play Vertellis’ game: Tell Me More.There are multiple versions, for relationships, families, coworkers. And now, there is a holiday edition!

A step above Trivial Pursuit, the game “involves thought-provoking questions that invite everyone to share fun memories, inspiring goals, and meaningful stories. It results in deeper conversation that makes everyone feel more connected. It draws people closer.”

In a no-phone-zone, you can “drop the rocks” and listen to everyone around the table in a more open-hearted way. Conversation is a key, science tells us, to the “happiness factor.” We humans are highly social creatures, after all, seeking meaning wherever we go.

Who wouldn’t want to create a little order out of Thanksgiving or Christmas chaos? Who wouldn’t want a little help to build a few bridges between young and old, right brain and left brain, traditionalist and trailblazer, introvert and extrovert, vegan and carnivore, Republican and Democrat.

So, I invite us all, Anglican or not, to walk this Middle Way, to seek and to serve and to listen to all the crazy people around our holiday tables. Praying that no matter how annoying, we may cherish them, as much as, we cherish our self-righteous selves!


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Cleaning Out the Refrigerator

Nothing says pride like a refrigerator. Nothing boasts so boldly about our kids’ awesome accomplishments than does the family refrigerator.

Over the years, tacked onto my refrigerator door have been precious documents: a drawing Zach gave me for Mother’s Day, Colleen’s A Plus algebra test, Jacob’s third grade Ready Reader award.

And photos, of course. Even through their teens, their baby pictures, curling up at the edges, still graced the door: Zach on a riding horse, Colleen smiling beneath a thick fringe of bangs, Jacob buried in the sand at the beach.

And now, they are all grown up: 35, 33, and almost 30. And stuck with magnets to the stainless steel are Colleen’s Meals on Wheels business card, Jacob’s PAX East Indie Gaming Flyer, and a New York Times review of Zach’s latest film.

And this past year, my refrigerator has become WAY more complicated. Enriched in many ways – but definitely way more complicated. Reunited with Rebecca, my long-lost daughter, I now have four children instead of three. And she has three great children. And my youngest Jacob is now father to his partner’s adorable three young boys.

Pinned to my refrigerator is a greeting card that sums it all up: “I love my weird family.”

A refrigerator is a family’s most boastful appliance. Nothing preaches good news better than a refrigerator.

Clean out the Fridge Simpsons

And on Sunday, when we parade into the pews, that is what we want people to see: ‘our refrigerator best”. The service over, pressed and polished, we follow the scent of java and the cookie-crumb trail to the parish hall, where we boast of our good news. Our boy’s baseball team is in first place. My wife’s promotion. My son just got into the best college. My daughter tiptoed her way to fame at the ballet recital.  All the good stuff.

At coffee hour, we name and proclaim, each of those precious icons we have taped to the outside of our refrigerators.

God-forbid, however, we actually open that door. Open that door to see what lurks in the dark corners of our refrigerators. Moldy stuff. Rotten stuff. Unidentifiable stuff. Freezer-burned resentments. Ice cold anger. Frosty feelings of all kinds. To tell the truth, we’ve all got this nasty stuff in our refrigerators.

But the very last place we want to admit this – is church. Garrison Keillor says that the last place on earth we would ever want to air our dirty laundry is church.

Episcopalians have sometimes been not so nicely called the “frozen chosen.” It is not the Episcopal way to witness publicly to our weaknesses. When people are struggling the most, church can be the most uncomfortable place to be.

When a couple goes their separate ways. When a teenager comes home pregnant. When your nephew has been diagnosed with AIDS. When you lose your job. When you admit to a drinking problem. Church can be downright cold, an unforgiving place.

And Church History is filled with shaming and blaming. We no longer sew ‘scarlet letters’ on sinners’ garments, but we silently assign them in our thoughts. “Thank God”, we whisper in our prayers, “that we are not like them.”

Paul’s point today, in his Letter to the Romans, is we are all like them. We are “them.”

There is a tug of war going on about food, of all things. And judgment coming from both sides: the carnivores versus the vegetarians. Really, the Gentile versus the Jew, in this new thing called “church.”

Paul, humorously, does get in a bit of a dig about the vegetarians. They are welcomed as “the weak.” Jewish-Christians, apparently ordered vegetarian when eating out (or only ate the vegetables at a Gentile dinner party)– to avoid kosher conflicts.

But Christians sharing a table should not eat with one another for the purpose of quarreling over the food – or family traditions, or spiritual differences. Paul counsels his parishioners not to “lord” one’s traditions over the other.

Those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks. And those who abstain, also honor the Lord and give thanks to God.

 Neither is wrong. Both are right. The Lord of Love is “not a divider but a uniter.” (I think I have heard someone say this before!)

But unity is not the same thing as uniformity or even conformity. Healthy disagreement is a good thing. People of faith, family members, neighbors can thoughtfully disagree on all kinds of things. But our disagreements, hopefully, should not be a means to divide and conquer. Instead, our differences can open up windows into one another – to help us see and understand and heal.

Now there is not a soul anywhere who does not limp their way to the communion rail. We might look good, refrigerator good, but we all come to the table broken, cracked, and far from perfect. And if we were a bit more Evangelical, this would be the time for the altar call. And I would ask Ryan to fire up the organ and play “Just as I am.” Coming forward to the table, we would witness to our weakness. We would drop to our knees and confess our sins.

We Episcopalians do this “generally” together in the prayer that we share. But I’d like to end this little homily, with a confession of a different kind, a Celtic prayer.  One that helps us, personally to name and claim all of that nasty stuff in the back of our refrigerator.

Let us pray:

Jesus, forgive my sins.

Forgive the sins that I can remember and the sins I have forgotten.

Forgive the wrong actions I have committed and the right actions I have omitted.

Forgive the times I have been weak in the face of temptation,

and those when I have been stubborn in the face of correction.

Forgive the times when I have been proud of my own achievements,

and those when I have failed to boast of your works.

Forgive the harsh judgments I have made of others and the leniency I have shown to myself.

Forgive the lies I have told others and the truths I have avoided.

Forgive me the pain I have caused others and the indulgence I have shown to myself.

Jesus, have pity on me and make me whole.

Amen.

JoaniSign