BY STEVE DUNN

On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court made a decision that is the equivalent of a moral earthquake.  They declared by a 5-4 vote that same sex marriage was a right protected by the Constitution of the United States.  It is an event that to many is a disastrous event for which our nation will further erode the already tenuous moral fabric of America.  But to many it is a moral victory affirming a way of life that they consider both healthy and desirable. I stand on the side of those who consider this decision to be a sign of our moral failure. The fact that the decision had the slimmest of majorities should give us a clue as to how unwise and potentially dangerous this decision may prove to be.

Most of us who pay careful attention to the moral character of our nation saw this one coming.  We also knew that there was nothing that we could do to stop it.  We are already praying for the impact of what we believe will be ultimately prove to be unwise.  Marriage, already an endangered institution, will not be strengthened.  I believe that many people and families and our nation itself will be hurt by this decision. I agree with Russell Moore, writing in The Washington Post: “The Court now has disregarded thousands of years of definition of the most foundational unit of society, and the cultural changes here will be broad and deep.”

I will not elaborate on all my reasons.  I suspect they would simply fuel what will become an even more nasty cultural debate.  For now it is the law of the land.  As a minister, nothing in the decision compels me to unite same sex couples.  Marriage in the US is still a civil matter as the law goes, and I would give up my professional right to preside over those unions rather to participate in a legal process that deprived me of the right to act in a manner consistent with my biblically-informed conscience.

In the meantime, I will continue to love my neighbor regardless of their sexual orientation.  I will treat them with gentleness and respect–which God commands me to do.  But I will continue to affirm that I believe that marriage is intended to be between a man and a  woman–and that to be healthy we must live by God’s design for this institution.  And I will continue to teach that marriage is so sacred that it should involve the mutual submission under the love of Christ that makes such things as spousal abuse or abandonment or no-fault divorce something to be rejected in all ideas of marriage.

I will not engage in the falsehood of affirming a lifestyle that I believe to be contrary to God’s design because loving and respecting someone does not mean that I agree and approve with everyone’s personal decisions and values.  That’s a destructive lie that political correctness would impose on all of us–a lie that often proves destructive to anyone that the guardians of political correctness deems to have less rights than the rest of the citizenry.

But let me repeat–I will not treat a lost battle in the culture war as an excuse to stop showing the unconditional love of the One who loves me conditionally to any person–straight or otherwise.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen

Resposted from THE JESUIT POST   I believe James Martin, SJ is the author;

BY STEVE DUNN

In our performance-based, in your face, never let them see you sweat world–too often our both our position and success life depends on where you live, or Tex Sample says, “The wisdom in which you chose your parents.”

Although I am not an irresponsible,”everyone owes me something” person that hides behind a victim status; I am grateful that my ultimate worth does not depend on me. I depend on the One whose death and life and resurrection makes me worthy.

I resonate with and rest in the truth that the Apostle Paul spoke to the Church at Ephesus: “…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” – Ephesians 2.8-10

One of my favorite singing groups testifies to it as well:

BY STEVE DUNN
It’s Thursday. I should have written this on Monday.  After, it’s my regular feature,
Monday Morning Reflections.”  I’d like to think the days went by in a blaze of useful activity but they really disappeared in a haze of “whatever.”  If I think hard enough I can account for the passage of time, but I am not sure if how I passed it was worth the consumption of those minutes, hours and days.  In fact, I have this frustrating sense that I have wasted those days.
I didn’t know until today that Lewis Carroll is the author of this quote, but right now I am feeling that “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
So is my problem the lack of focus or the speed at which I live?
It seems that our culture is enamored with speed–and its partners: immediate, just do it, keep on trucking,  seize the moment–and their little sister, “whatever you do, don’t fall behind.”
At least once lately I have nearly been in accident.  Another driver (often with a cell phone in hand) does something unpredictable.  I have had to decide what to do in a split second;  I have been fortunate but if we had needed to split the second even more, the outcome might have been a disaster.
It’s times like these that I am grateful that my life is in someone else’s hands instead of mine.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.a

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
“Because heb loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”  Psalm 91.1-2,14-16
 
This doesn’t mean I just let life carry me along in its currents, trusting in God to send a rescue party when I start to drown–but it does mean that in the rapid, often-unfocused days in this world; I better sure that I am hanging close to God.

bal-reactions-to-charges-in-freddie-grays-deat-007

photo-karl merton ferron, Baltimore Sun

BY STEPHEN DUNN

This photo grabbed my attention this week. It was of a protestor in Baltimore responding the persons of the 300 Man March movement that had come to the city to try to be a “neutral force” in helping the anger and violence of Baltimore to subside. It was a sentiment shared by the citizens of that city that had been victimized by the riots on the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, apparently at the hands of officers of the Baltimore Police Force. It was shared by the black mayor of Baltimore who invoked a rigid curfew to control the violence. It was shared by the families of the 100 police officers who been attacked and injured while trying to protect the citizenry.

It was not shared, I suspect, by those of many races, who will continue to use this tragic event to further divide us and to use the misfortune of this city to advance their hateful and self-serving aims.

That Freddie Gray had died because of the criminal conduct of some officers seems pretty certain at this time. And if everything is proven in a court of law, these men in blue will become men in orange as they enter prison. But we should not forget that Freddie Gray’s criminal record reveals him to be a societal predator that undermines the well-being of any city. Still, he did not deserve to die as he did. He is hardly, however a martyr.

I believe that this man’s shirt should be our first goal. To stop murdering one another, stop preying on one another, stop hating one another because of our personal philosophies and prejudices. To stop trying hold onto the past as an excuse for despising our brothers.

I know that the issues are complicated, but resorting to violence unleashes hatred not healing–and we all suffer.

Long ago the Prophet Isaiah gave us wise counsel: …”Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, – Isaiah 1:17-18 And the end game of that effort: forgiveness and healing.

Not blogging today, but I was rereading a guest post from two years ago by my good friend and fellow baseball lover, Jim Stanley.  Thought you should enjoy it as well.  Jim is now a Chicagoland Episcopal priest and a man I was privileged to help disciple.  He was, however, already a baseball man before me. – STEVE
A SERMON IN THE STANDS
by Jim Stanley
   I’m a pretty loyal fan. Some friends consider me a diehard. A few offer sympathy to my wife as baseball season rolls around. They know I love my Chicago White Sox. And on those rare occasions when my first baseball love — the Pittsburgh Pirates — are playing the Cubs, you will inevitably find me watching WGN or Chicago Sports Net. I am the one guy cheering for Pittsburgh. The last dozen or so years, that’s been like cheering for the lightly armed Belgians against Hitler’s mighty war machine. Or like rooting for me, Jim Stanley, as I try to guard Michael Jordan or LeBron James in a game of one-on-one. But I remain loyal. I love the Pirates and I have since I was about three or four. It helped to grow up in Pittsburgh when they were actually good.

And it was there, in that horrendously boring soup-bowl of a stadium, where I preached my first sermon. I don’t recall the date. Must have been 1974 or 75. Dad had purchased three tickets to see the Pirates play the San Francisco Giants. We got to our seats and they were occupied. The usher looked at our tickets, then studied the squatter’s tickets. Our tickets were valid. Their tickets were valid. We each had a right to them and they got there first. And then the usher made the foolish mistake of using a phrase my Father simply could not — would not — tolerate. “Sorry sir, but you’re going to have to…”
Dad was a remarkably patient man when dealing with strangers and people in the service industry. But the phrase “you’re going to have to” was just one he would not accept. (I am the same way!) He emphatically informed the usher that he wasn’t going to have to do anything. Except maybe speak to someone in charge. And so down to the Pirate offices we went, deep in the bowels of Three Rivers Stadium. There, my father politely but very firmly stated his case. A rain check would not suffice. Whatever potentate Dad dealt with took pity on us and gave us other seats. Better seats. Right on the third base line, within earshot of the Giants’ dugout and third base!

As a Pirate fan, I would have preferred first base. But beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, I reasoned, the Buccos would have plenty of runners on third for me to cheer on. And cheer, I did. Eight or nine years old, maybe ten, I screamed my melon off the whole game. My poor sister, about 23 or 24 at the time, must have been mortified. Particularly when I informed the Pirate third baseman, Richie Hebner, that my sister was single. Yes, I admit it. I was ready to pimp my sister out for a chance to meet Willie Stargell. (Richie smiled at her, I swear it. But nothing ever came of it.)

Dad might have been embarassed or self-conscious. But I remember, years later, he told me “a stadium is one place where a kid ought to be able to scream at the top of his lungs.” I have tried to remember that when I now get annoyed at ball games!

As the game wore on, I noticed something that angered me. Pirate fans — people with the caps and the jerseys and the big, foam fingers — were boo’ing certain Pirate players. Richie Zisk and Al Oliver, to be specific. That made no sense to me. If the guy’s in a slump, and they both were, wouldn’t it be logical to cheer for them all the more? “He’s a bum!” “Send him back to the minors!” It was sermon time. And I preached a two-parter at the top of my little lungs.

The first time, (I can’t remember which of the two was up. We’ll say it was Zisk.) I stood up on my seat, turned around to the fans in our section and gave them what-for. I told them that REAL fans never boo their own team or their own players. TRUE fans cheer even harder when someone’s having a hard time. And then, I prophesied. (An eight year old televangelist. Who knew?) “Just you watch”, I said. “Just you wait! Zisk is gonna hit a homer.” The other fans were amused. But hardly receptive.

Guess what?

Yep. Out of the park.

As Zisk rounded third, I was screaming loud enough to wake the dead and scare away the walking undead. And fans around me were patting me on the back, saying, “Nice call, kid.” “Way to go.” Meanwhile, a surly-looking older man in a San Francisco Giants uniform stuck his head out of the dugout and looked into the stands.

A couple innings later, it was Al Oliver’s turn up. And, as he too was slumping, Al got treated to a chorus of raspberries and catcalls. “The guy’s a retread!” “Whiffer!” I went straight into what I call “Moses coming down from Mount Sinai” mode. If had been more familiar with Biblical syntax, I might well have thundered, “You are a stiff-necked and rebellious people!” Instead, I repeated my earlier sermon about loyalty and fandom. This was Pittsburgh, after all. City of champions. Once again, I predicted a round-tripper. And yes, Mr. Oliver delivered a towering homerun. It was one that wound up making the difference in the game. I am certain I have never yelled quite so loudly since.
This time, the fans were buying beers for my Dad. Offering, anyway. They were talking about hoisting me on their shoulders and getting me season tickets. (I thought that was a swell idea. Dad seemed to feel attending school should take precedence.)

And then, that crabby-looking old man from the Giants dugout climbed out of the dugout and scanned the crowd again. He looked, and looked, and finally…he identified me. (It wasn’t hard.)
Now, I don’t know about you. But I have always wondered if the players on the field can hear the fans. Particularly those of us in the first few rows. You never really know from watching on television. Evidently, they hear quite well. The “old man” was the Giants third base coach. I don’t remember his name, sorry to say. But I remember his steely stare. He pointed at me. “Hey kid! Yeah, you! Get over here!!!” I wasn’t terrified. I knew my Dad (to say nothing of an army of now-quite-happy Pirate fans) had my back.

Dad gave me the nod and I padded down a couple steps to the rail. The coach handed me a baseball, one that (I was certain!) had just been fouled into the dugout by none other than the great Willie Stargell. He looked at me, smiled broadly, and said, “Here kid. Now SHUT UP. You’re killin’ us!” He winked at my Dad and went back into the dugout. I still have the ball. (And sorry, but I didn’t shut up. Though I am sure you’re hardly surprised.)

For years, I remembered the story because it made me smile. A big shot noticed me, a little kid. And he gave me something special. But as I have aged, something else has become real to me about the story. I’ve been in more than my share of slumps. Like Al Oliver. Or Richie Zisk. Nothing has picked me up more, given me greater strength or helped me back onto the field like those of you who are in my cheering section. Especially those of you who cheer loudest when I am slumping most profoundly.

  I hope I cheer for you, too. At least as loudly as for Al Oliver and Richie Zisk. Because I know it. I just know it in my bones. You’re going to knock one out of the park. I believe in you. And if you ever need a reminder, you know where to find me. I’m the kid in the Pirate jersey, who smells of peanuts and is yelling at the top of his lungs.

death-defeated-jesus-rises

BY STEVE DUNN

This morning, around the world, millions and millions of people went to a place of worship to affirm and celebrate the most significant event in human history. Just shy of 2000 years ago, a zealous rabbi bent on snuffing out the Christian movement; but whose life had been utterly changed by an encounter on the road to Damascus, wrote these words to a church planted in the midst of community suffering from moral chaos. And into a world where death held mastery over all things.

” For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15.3-8, 17-19

There is no greater fear on this planet than that of death. Cryogenics can only slow it, the best medicine in the world cannot eradicate it, people are driven to all kinds of extremes to deny it, terrorists hold it over the globe as a fearsome threat, and the average person would rather not even talk about it.

Yet death is an often grim and inevitably inescapable reality – touching the lives of the rich and powerful and the least and the last. Death is the ultimate price paid in a fallen world for trying to life where man is his own God, the captain of his fate and master of his soul. Our sin simply multiplies it and fuels it. And in a world where God is already out of sight and of mind to much of the population, it carries the finality of ultimate separation from God.

But God would not let that state remain. His compassion for and love of the people He created was too great. He needed to give us away back from our relentless sinfulness and free of us from death’s clutches. For His desire was for His people to thrive in this life without fear or blame, and dwell with Him in inexpressible joy in the next.

I love the words of this Easter hymn, “Death could not keep its prey, Jesus,my Savior. He tore the bars away. Jesus’ my Lord.” He entered the grave as we must, but emerged from it three days later to be the first fruit of our living hope.

rapture_ezr

Because we still live in the presence of sin, we still live with death–but it no longer has the last word. For Christians who celebrate Easter believe in another historic event yet to be experienced. It is called The Second Coming of the Lord, when He shall put an end history as we know it and shall place everything once again under God’s loving and just authority.

This is illustrated in a true story by missionary writer, Gregory Fisher:

“What will he say when he shouts?” The question took me by surprise. I had already found that West African Bible College students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture.”Reverend, I Thess. 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.”

I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope.

“Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away.

“Enough’” I said. “He will shout, ’Enough’ when he returns.”

A look of surprise opened the face of the student. “What do you mean, ’Enough’?”

“Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough”

This is why I celebrate Easter.

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