Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sex, Gay Marriage and a Culture of Vitriol



The cashier frowned as he took the cash from the man standing in front of me. It wasn't an obvious frown, merely the downward wrinkle of lips and gathering of skin between the eyebrows, as if he was thinking about something important. Unless you had seen it before, or you were looking for it, it was difficult to spot. I was standing next in line, waiting for my turn to pay for gas, so it wasn't hard to miss. The gas stop was painted a bright red and white, as if to counter the gloom of another rainy night. The smattering of conversation from a couple of girls buying snacks drifted up towards the front. The man in front of me however, didn't seem to notice the slight as he accepted his change with a smile. He was wearing a dark sports coat and gray slacks with a white button down shirt. Well dressed, but nothing out of the ordinary. But his movements just felt wrong. Too fluid. Too much wrist. As if he was dancing while standing still. He was about my height, but lean and smooth shaven. He said good night, and the cashier whistled silently through his teeth, watching him for an extra second as the man glided out into the rain.


I bit my lip and frowned at the cashier, a burly man in his early forties, but he didn't notice and brightened considerably when he saw me.

"Another rainy night, eh?" He said, taking my money.

"Another rainy night." I repeated, my voice flat.

I wanted to say something more, but what could I say? Hey, Mr. Uneducated Jerkoff, I saw how looked at that guy because you thought he was gay? Instead, I was left to fume at the obvious bigotry, and headed out into the rain without saying another word.

Rain teased down the windshield, blurring the lights into a miasma of yellows and greens and reds. It was still warm enough to leave my window open, and I drove slowly through the streets, listening to the patter on my roof and the squish of tires, enveloped by the silence that always seemed to follow the rain. I had a hard time getting the incident at the gas bar out of my head. The cashier was probably a conservative, I thought. Probably a Christian, too, since there weren't a whole lot of white Muslims here. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. How could someone be so prejudiced? Hadn't he read the papers lately, heard anything at all about the rash of gay suicides by teenagers down in the States? Who was he to judge someone like that?

By the time I pulled into the underground parking lot, I was so angry that I nearly drove into one of the columns before finally bringing my car to a screeching halt. I had to write about this… do something. For a writer, turning thoughts into words on a page is largely how we deal with things, but it doesn't necessarily mean we deal with them correctly. This however, was something else. I was tired of the prejudice, misogyny and bigotry so evident in our society. Why couldn't people see it? I didn't know the cashier, but I'd seen his type before. White, of course, and male. Probably loved Glenn Beck and wondered why the world didn't look like 1950. Probably watched Mad Men and wished things could go back to the way they were. (Missing the entire point of the show) That women and minorities had few rights sixty years ago probably affected him not at all. By the time I was sitting in my spot on the balcony, I was ready to chew nails. For the next four days I pounded out two thousand words on a fictional white male who tries his hand at both the Tea Party and Homosexuality before realizing that he might have made a misjudgement. I let Bethany read it, and she gave it back with a few suggestions. (She's a great editor) There was something about it however, that I didn't like. I knew a few liberal magazines that might be interested, but I had this feeling that I was missing something. Something important.

You have to understand that I am not a classically trained writer. I did not major in English or do an MFA. Most of my formal education, though not all, is theological. Whatever you see here (and hopefully you find it stimulating) is the result of fifteen years or so of reading How-To books and sitting at the Desk, pounding things out. As a rule, I write by feel, not unlike a musician who plays by ear. (There are more effective ways to write, and I do wish sometimes that I had more formal training, but it has always been such, and I've learned to live with the results.) I put my ear to the winds blowing in both my heart and mind, to the phrases that stick and those that stick out, to the order of thought and clarity of presentation, and try to listen. More importantly, I listen for the tone of the writing itself. Tone is important, because once you're comfortable in your own voice, the first step for any writer, the tone is more than just another tool. It is the music behind the lyrics. More than that it a reflection of self, it is a vivid mirror that reveals a great deal about where you are along the road to discovery.

And so, as I looked at my article a few days later, I realized what was wrong. I was ashamed of what I'd written, and spent some time in prayer to do some soul searching with God. Why? Well, we must go back a ways to understand…


2002


"If we let gays marry, what's next? Polygamy? It's a slippery slope once we go down that road." I said.

I was sitting at the Starbucks after another long week at the school. Jim sat across from me, playing with the lid of his cup.

"I don't know, Steve. Seems kind of… wrong. I don't like dudes, but what if I did? Seems kind of crappy that they can't get married and be unhappy like the rest of us." He said, smiling.

"Bah. It's a lifestyle. A choice. Marriage is a sacred institution."

I felt good saying that. After two years of separation my wife and I had put everything back together. Things weren't great, but marriage was sacred. A covenant. A vow to God. And if it wasn't great, so what? You just had to work harder. I certainly wasn't going to let people who chose to have sex with the same gender up and change our society with their liberal views. Hell, if we made gay marriage legal what would be next? Brothels? Men with six wives? Animal lovers? Why couldn't people see just how dangerous it was?

Jim didn't say anything, just played with his cup.

"How are things at home?"

"All right." I said. "Well not great but we got a lot of issues. We'll figure it out. We have to."

2004

The pub was packed. We were near the front though, so it was quiet enough to talk. I sipped my beer, and Duane plopped down beside me. He was a relatively new friend, a friend of a friend, and we'd been hanging out throughout the summer. The divorce had gone through the past winter, and I found myself out more often than ever. I guess it was to be expected. Being alone was not a lot of fun, and while the pain of the divorce had slowly receded, my life had changed drastically. For now, I was happy to be out and have a few drinks and forget about the past two years.

"I have a question for you, Steve." Duane said.

"Shoot."

"You're religious, right?"

I nodded cautiously. Less so than in the past, I thought, and yet in some ways, it meant more to me now. Most of my friends weren't Christians, but it wasn't an issue. If anything, we'd had a lot of great conversations about faith and spirituality and what it all meant. Or what it might mean. In some ways, it was a role, and one I didn't mind. I liked talking about God. I certainly had never been shy about it.

"Do you think God would love a gay man if he got married?"

I nearly choked on my beer, but managed to smooth my features in time. Barely. Duane was well dressed, as always, with an open collared shirt and black jeans. His hair was long and wavy, and though his smile suggested this was just another one of our 'religious' discussions, I knew there was weight to the question. The thing is, we all knew Duane was gay. He hadn't admitted it to his friends, but it was fairly obvious. He'd never had a girlfriend and showed no interest in girls whatsoever.

"Well, the Bible is pretty clear about sex outside of marriage. And so-"

"I know, but what if they were married?"

"Um, I don't know, Duane. I mean, marriage is between a man and a woman. It's always been that way. And the Bible…" I stopped and looked at him. Watched his fingers curl around the glass of his beer. Noticed the flex across his jawline. "It doesn't mean God doesn't love you. I'm not sure it's right, but God always loves you."

My answer sounded lame even to myself. It wasn't right, I thought. For a moment, I allowed myself to walk in Duane's shoes. What would it have been like to spend all those years growing up and NOT being interested in girls? Especially when your classmates and friends were talking and joking about them. Girl watch and social status are the two highest priorities for a straight adolescent boy. As awkward as that was, what would it have been like to be attracted only to boys, the same ones who were asking you about girls? And then there were parents and family expectations. Long dinners and reunions answering questions about when 'you were going to bring someone home'. And then, of course, was the inevitable bullying that occurred if the other males caught a whiff of your sexuality.

I wanted to say something more, but what? When I finally looked up however, Duane had drifted over to another group of friends. When I went home that night, I thought long and hard about his question. I was determined to give him a better answer the next time.

It never came.

2010

People always tell us that sex sells, to the point where it has become a truism of our society. Perhaps fifty years from now we'll discover that it doesn't sell nearly as well as we think it does, and something else will take its place. There is however, something that sells even more readily than sex, especially within an increasingly diverse, postmodern population. Advertisers use it. Writers and talk show hosts use it. Churches use it too. Even more than sex, surety is the greatest force of all. With all the choices now available to us, either through the market place or the information highway, nothing sells like surety. This is the paradox of choice; that given too many options we are mostly apt to freeze. We want someone to tell us what to do, what's best how we should think. We want our choices narrowed so that we don't have to think about everything. In some ways, it not only makes sense, but it's a legitimate response. (Whether it's lifestyle or business or our choice of movies, there is simply too much out there to know everything.) And the ones who take advantage of that vulnerability can reap the greatest rewards.

How else can we explain the counter movement of fundamentalism cutting a wide swath through our cultural landscape? I'm not talking simply about religious fundamentalism, but the entrenched black and white thinking that dominates politics as well. We so desperately want to be assured that we are either right or wrong, that we have created a polarized culture that has become increasingly judgmental and filled with vitriol. Just go to any article on the internet. Listen to the radio and you'll hear it.

Hate mongering is on the rise. Instead of being more understanding about sexuality, despite what we've learned, hate crimes and bullying, and consequently, gay suicide, are on the rise. Despite all we've learned about gender and equality, there is a boorishness in young males who can find any number of books to wallow in their destructive stereotypes regarding women. And yet, the source of this vitriol has skipped no one, not even the ones who count themselves to be enlightened and tolerant. People who question religion and tend to think of themselves as better than others because their worldview is more understanding.

Yes, people like me.

Self-righteousness and arrogance are two sides of the same coin. And wherever they are present they inevitably infect whoever else is there. Self-righteousness tells me that I am right most of the time. It gives me special status and allows me to look down at others, because I have somehow advanced myself more than the other humans with whom I share this planet. Self-righteousness is a creeping disease because it knows no boundaries, and cannot be stopped by any single belief or system of beliefs. You may think that you are more loving and tolerant and wise because of your religion, or because you reject religion, or because of your politics, but that is merely the voice of self-righteousness speaking through you.

It is one thing to believe that you are right. It is another to know it. One requires faith and humility. The other asks you for nothing. Self-righteousness does not need you to feed it, it merely needs you to ignore it. To brush aside questions about your own mortality and beliefs and accept your own convictions. I have sometimes wondered how it is that people can be so wealthy, and yet so nasty, so dismissive of others. But if we never question our own ideas, or at least entertain them with humility, why would we be considerate of those we consider less than ourselves.

Ultimately, self-righteousness is about status, and our hunger and desire for it. So long as we believe that all humans are NOT created equal, it will continue to grow and fester, and as it does, continue to spread its vitriol throughout our culture.

…The balcony was still a bit damp, but the wind had pushed away the clouds, and the stars glimmered in the night sky. Beads of rain water clung to the railing like a row of unlit lights. In the distance, the blue lit CN tower nestled in along the other lights of the city. I didn't like admitting what I'd written or the way that I'd written it. It was akin to saying that I'd been a jerk. That I hadn't published it or sent it out didn't matter. That I supported gay marriage, or worried over the increase in bullying and taunting in light of the gay suicides this past year, were important and weren't going to change. However, thinking that I was better than people who did not agree with me was unacceptable. Had I not thought the same things myself? Had I not been wrong in the past about my convictions? Where was my humility?

The white light of my laptop seemed unnatural somehow, as I watched the beads along the railing shimmer in the wind. Some days it was hard to be human. More than that, it was difficult to continually admit that I was fallible and often wrong about how I considered the world. It was so easy to get drawn towards self-righteousness, so easy to sneer at others through either my words or my actions. I could pray that I would get better, that I would remember we were all just trying to figure out this thing called life. In the meantime, I asked God to forgive me as I clicked off my computer. Tomorrow was another day. Another day to remember what I'd discovered and respond accordingly. Perfection wasn't attainable, but with God's help, a bit more grace and a little more understanding could go a long way.

-Steve


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brief Update

Hey Everyone,

My apologies for being a little slow posting here lately. I've been working on a few different things outside of what I normally write. So here's a brief update. (beneath the Update I've included some light reading. Five Observations (from the news and world in general) .

Writing Update

1) Continued work on the novel. Despite having written 145,000 words of Bracing the Darkness, I am once again world building in even greater detail. The Guide to the Cursh Empire is now 30,000 words long on its own, and I need at least another two weeks before I set foot in the actual novel again. There's just no getting around the detail work to produce a good epic fantasy. That includes the creation of every province and country, complete with a brief history, the religious history, local politics, clothing and physical characteristics, gender issues, sex and sexuality norms, family structure, cosmology, language, economics, geography, arts and education, recreation, war, cooking, architecture/trades, and societal structure.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the big fantasy novels have incorporated this kind of detail, as they should. What's fascinating is the sheer volume of reading necessary to even begin to grasp just some of the intricacies of how people group themselves. I'll be honest I can't wait to get back to the story itself.

2) A short story called This Old House. I originally wrote this about four years ago, dusted it off, and suddenly liked it again. That didn't prevent me from editing it quite a bit, but I'm hoping to send it out to some literary magazines in the next two weeks. It's not quite done, but I'm almost there, I think.

3) New From the Archive feature for this site: In light of the stories coming out this week, I'll probably redux my old blog on Gays and the Church. Some of you might be uncomfortable with it, and I am sure that some will be angry, but we'll see.

4) A newspaper article, Why I Wish I Was Gay. And yes, it's satire. And no, it's not what you think. Some of the stories concerning the suicides this past month have been VERY disturbing.

5) A post on Following your Fears, for this site. Some exciting ideas I've been working through the past month. You'll like this one.

6) A new Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. For now, let me just say that it was tremendous.

7) A new Movie Review: Still taking recommendations. Let me know what you want reviewed. I review almost everything I watch, so I'll take the recommendations, but they will be passed through Bethany (my wife) as we usually watch them together.

Those are the current projects, along with a minimum of two hours research everyday, and at least an hour or two of other reading. (Anyone care to know about the Visigoths?) Don't get me wrong, I LOVE what I do, but I have no idea how writers work forty hours and still produce good material. That amazes me.

Five Observations

1. I hate stereotypes. I mean, as a rule, I hate them. Too often they categorize people unfairly into large groupings that often don't make sense. And yet, some things are simply not stereotypes.

I live in Toronto, the biggest city in Canada. It is a metropolis, unlike, say, Dallas, Texas, where the buildings are spaced so widely that their "downtown" is about a block and a half. Toronto is more like Chicago, with massive buildings and a densely packed population. If you drive an LUV, one of those huge Luxury Utility Vehicles originally designed for the military, then you are clearly compensating for something. I understand that families like the smaller SUV's, especially with kids, and I have no problem with that. But if you live in a metropolis, and feel the need to drive a massive vehicle (like a Suburban or a Hummer) designed as a troop carrier, than you have severe 'status' issues. And driving one of said vehicles does not give you the right, EVER, to park in the wider handicap spots. Your personal, mental handicap doesn't count. (And you can't just park along the curb outside the mall either. Show some respect, dammit.)

2. Toronto is about to have its municipal election. We have a budget of about eleven billion dollars (I think) and we're on the verge of electing the dark, twisted version of Chris Farley, Rob Ford. Before you cast your vote, please go to YouTube and watch this man in action. That the police were called to his house for a domestic dispute, though no charges were laid, says a lot. And anyone who says "well, there were no charges", I want you to think about it. Did your spouse ever call the police because they were worried/afraid of you physically? And no, I don't like George Smitherman much either. He seems like a prick. He's a competent administrator though, and has experience in the provincial cabinet. Please don't elect this guy!

3. I am struck, as always, by the fanaticism, the loud screeching, that seems to occupy every debate when it comes to religion. I don't want to be one of those people who predicate everything by "it's getting so much worse than it was in my day", because it's still my day, I think. But there is something to the internet that leads people to spew vitriol and hatred. When I head to some Christian sites and read the comments, I am amazed that these people consider themselves people of faith. Whatever you believe about Jesus, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be thrilled at the stuff on there. It almost feels as if we are continuing to dissociate ourselves even more, in regards to our online self and our physical self. That is troublesome.

4. One more thought about religion, and this includes me. No single person or group knows everything. Now, that may not sound like an audacious statement, but in many of today's religious models, apparently telling someone that you're not sure that you agree with them is outrageous. Why else do I end up in these debates with Christians who feel safe to assure me that "Their position is God's position"? Really? Isn't that, I don't know, pretty freakin' arrogant? Good grief, you mean to tell me that your position isn't simply something you think is true, or that it's something you've come to believe in, but that you know what God thinks on the issue without a doubt? When I suggest that it might be arrogant to think that way, I usually receive a condescending response along the lines of "Oh, you're a postmodernist, so I guess everything is true." No, not everything is true. What I do know is that a) I'm not God b) that faith does not exist without doubt. If you have no doubts, you have no faith, by definition, and c) that the Kingdom of God is not predicated on the perfection of any one doctrine. Of course, I could be wrong.

On a more positive note...

5. It's amazing to see what happens when you look (and smile) at the people you run into during the day. I know that we're usually in a hurry, but take some time this week to open the door for the person behind you or smile and ask the cashier how he or she is doing. It's easy to go through the entire day without looking at anyone but your family or colleagues, but take a few extra minutes to notice the other people, and watch what a difference it makes. I bumped into a particularly grumpy cashier this week, but I figured she'd been dealing with some rude customers throughout the day. So instead of taking it personally (as I've done in the past) I smiled and made a couple of jokes after asking her how she was doing. By the end, she had a smile on her face. It doesn't take much, you know, to remind us that we're human. And sometimes that's all we need to put a little extra bounce in our step.

Blessings, everyone. Enjoy the fall colours this week. Hopefully I'll have regular post up soon.

Steve

Monday, October 11, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)



Directed by Jon Favreau


Have you ever wondered why sequels, especially blockbuster superhero sequels, are rarely on the same level as their predecessor? How does a stirring and enjoyable event movie get turned into a forgettable mess of discombobulated scenes and seemingly unconnected storylines. Well, sequels, as a rule, are inevitably weaker than the original that spawned them for one reason, with the exception being The Godfather and Superman: The Movie. For the purpose of this review however, let's stick to a film made more recently, and the best superhero sequel (outside the Dark Knight*) since Superman II was released in 1980.

When Spiderman hit the theatres in May of 2002, it was undisputed smash, eventually grossing over $800 million worldwide. After 25 years of being stuck in development, Sam Raimi's "origin" story was finally birthed on the big screen. Raimi immediately set out to direct the sequel, and after combing through scripts from various writers, including Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon, decided on a criminal, Doctor Octopus, a visually intriguing antagonist with a compelling backstory, and a protagonist, in this case Peter Parker, wrestling with the same demons of responsibility that Superman II had so successfully explored 25 years earlier. In doing so, Raimi was able to avoid the predominant pitfall of superhero sequels, and Spiderman II was both a commercial and critical success. Spiderman III, of course, forgot its own franchise lesson, and was not able to sustain the momentum. It was a commercial success, but not nearly as successful as its predecessors and was largely a forgettable film.

When Marvel Studios released Iron Man as its first, self-financed film in 2008, it was an unqualified (and surprise) smash with both critics and audiences everywhere. Jon Favreau directed the movie as "a spy film", and the result was another well told "origin" story, with Robert Downey Jr. cast perfectly as the inventor and gunmaker playboy Tony Stark, who builds a suit and turns himself into a superhero. Downey's Stark was crass and bold, unlike so many of the superheroes we see onscreen, and his chopped, biting dialogue a distinct turn from the bland, clich├ęd mouthings we were so used to hearing from the ones in tights. The story was concise and well told, the villain identifiable, and the transformation arc of the title character unforced and viable. Still, sequels were never as good as the original, and so I wasn't sure what to expect from Iron Man 2.

Unfortunately, the film falls into the most common of superhero progressions, and fails to humanize its protagonist. The result is predictable. Weak, disjointed storylines. No common theme. Inhuman and unrelatable villains. A lot of bang, but not a lot of buck. And the character arcs, specifically for the minor characters, are either unbelievable or unexplained. Yes, this was a disappointing movie. That said, it's watchable enough, certainly the presence of Downey Jr. alone is enough to guarantee that. It isn't the worst superhero movie ever made (thank you Superman IV), but it's a massive letdown from the original.

At some point, the studios are going to learn that great special effects and fight scenes simply aren't enough. Stories need characters people can relate to, and superhero movies need special attention on that front because the protagonist is, well, a superhero. *The only superhero who seems to escape this is Batman, who is the most relatable of all superheroes (when he's portrayed correctly) since he has no inborn superpowers and an inherent darkness to his character that makes him easy to humanize, especially in the gifted hands of someone like Christopher Nolan. And yet, in the hands of Tim Burton, Batman Returns (starring Danny Devito as the Penguin) was still terrible.

In terms of sequels, Iron Man 2 is an average movie because it falls into the trap of so many blockbuster films. With the technological advances and rendering of believable special effects the past decade, the "superhero" part of the movie is relatively easy now, if the budget is big enough. What's missing is the human part, the character and storytelling basics that make a film either unforgettable or easily forgotten.

Chalk Iron Man 2 into the category of easily forgotten.

** (out of five)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Eighth Letter to the Church: What Are We Missing?


Not everyone likes the rain. Dreary. Wet. Rainy. All words that in our culture are synonymous with sadness and depression. Perhaps it's because we're not an agrarian society. We've lived for so long in cities and towns of steel and concrete that we forget just how important the rain is for living things. For us, it is merely an annoyance, something that makes us wear extra clothing or causes us to be wet and cold. Despite that, even as a kid I liked the rain. I liked watching the water as it drizzled down our driveway and collected into puddles. I liked watching the beads of water coalesce, join together to form a larger bead, straining at the tension until finally breaking into a slow stream. Even watching people hustle from the cars and buildings under raised jackets, splashing in puddles before ducking under an awning somehow made me breathe easier, as if we humans were connected for a time. Whatever else was happening, when it was raining outside, we all shared a point of common commiseration and a nod to something larger than ourselves. I'd hear people talk longingly about places like San Diego, where the weather never changed and the sun was always warm and high. Who'd want that? As much as I liked good weather for playing sports, what would you do without rain outs? Or the joy of playing on a muddied soccer field? Or getting helmet full of mud on the gridiron? Why in the world would anyone want it to be sunny all the time?

This past weekend I attended the Eighth Letter conference here in Toronto. It was a last minute invite from my best friend, and included a number of speakers and well known authours from the Christian world. The theme of the conference was simple: as the book of Revelation contained seven letters to the churches (of its day), it was asked of those invited to write an eighth letter to the church in North America. What would you say to the church today, that large and diverse body claiming the Rabbi Yeshua as its Saviour? For all I appreciated the representative nature of the conference, which ranged from stupidly brilliant to brilliantly stupid, I spent most of the conference partitioned into the half-world, the place a lot of us creatives go when we're trying to see beyond the veils of book sales and polite conversation and pandering missives to the unmarked themes presenting themselves as obliquely as the straining grasses and plants do when the waters come from the heavens. A leaning, if you will, both instinctive and unheralded, by those both attending the conference and those trying to influence them.

Some things bothered me more than others, particularly our continuing determination to represent the Rabbi as a two dimensional God, as One who is simply either for or against things, as if the Creator of the Universe is some ridiculous moron that can only see things in two dimensions, that can only distinguish between the rain or sun, or good or bad.

It rains because it must, but what if the rain speaks more loudly than the sun?

***

Perhaps it's a human failing that we try to find the ultimate solution to bringing people together, the "one thing" that will unite us despite our pettiness and seeming insatiable need for more personal acclaim and status. Perhaps we Christians aim too high, forever searching for that one doctrine, that one belief or system of beliefs that will engage us all in the same manner and allow us to come together in worship and joy and gladness. It is a noble goal, I think, but one at which we are destined to fail, so long as we continue to think that our lists (of goals, beliefs, doctrines and creeds) are better than the lists of everyone else. Or at least, so long as we think that it is our lists that will unite us.

One of the speakers on Friday night chose Hell as his uniting doctrine, even as he stressed the importance of getting the gospel right. As silly and abhorrent as the idea was, I remember thinking he was probably closer to the truth of what unites people than those who emphasized love and sharing. Fear works better in bringing people under a common cape than the nuanced notion of loving your neighbour. It protects us from having to walk in other people's shoes, keeps us free from questions about what we actually believe, and allows us to condemn both people and ideas without a drop of emotional blood. Fear gives us the freedom to pursue our goals for our sake and the perfect rationalization when we turn our backs on those who need us. It is both powerful and efficient. 

And it's wrong. 

Wrong in its assumptions of humanity and wrong in its attempt to influence our behaviour. Jesus compared the Kingdom to a pearl, but when we attempt to rule through fear, we unwittingly turn the same Kingdom into a maze of violence.

Given the alternatives however, what choice do we have? How can we influence the behaviour of fellow Christians and those who don't share our beliefs to do the right thing without fear? What if we were to remove the doctrine of Hell from our arsenal of evangelical weaponry? 'God loves you, so you should love your neighbour' may sound nice, but doesn't that seem weak in comparison?

And yet, a number of speakers, to their credit, tried to tell us that in their letters. Told us how much better it was to love than not to love, how important it was not to forget the poor or those left behind. For as much as I nodded in agreement and applauded their ideas, a part of me had zoned out. It wasn't that I disagreed with them, just that their letters felt like only a slight improvement on the other letters that told us we were lazy and needed more zeal, or that we needed to remember Jesus, or the one that rolled out like a dissertation on the sinner's prayer and the efficacy of hell. It felt like we were all somehow missing something. Or maybe it was me.

That is, until Janell Anema told us her story. The twenty seven year old waitress had no books in the lobby, no international audience, no CD's or videos on Youtube. At no point did she give her list to the congregation, or insist why her list was better than ours, or why certain beliefs held special status. Instead, she told us the story of a young girl growing up and her experience with God.

Graceful, humourous, and poignant, we listened as the story unfolded into her adolescence and through her twenties. Instead of creeds and doctrines, of thou will's and thou will not's, she gave us other things. She gave us her mistakes, her doubts and fears, drawing us forward by walking us backwards through a story that reminded us of our own troubles, our own mistakes and difficulties. And yet, not once did she point a finger, except to point upwards, and occasionally, to tap her heart. As she told us her story, there was a palpable shift in the audience, an audience that had been listening but doodling in the warmth and convenience of the sun. 

As one, both conservative and liberal, we put our coats over our heads and splashed through the same puddles and ducked under the same doorways, laughing together despite the inconvenience of it all. And when she finished, we rose to our feet, the only time we would do so all weekend, realizing that she'd given us a gift, something that we so often forgot when it came to our faith. It wasn't the warnings or promises of thunderstorms or blue skies that brought us together. It wasn't our persistence or intensity that mattered, or even the strength of our ideas. What mattered was that her journey was my journey, a reminder that we all shared the same story of sadness and love and yes, hope, in our attempt to follow this Saviour. And for a while at least, she did something special inside that massive basilica where we'd chosen to gather. Something different. Something wondrous. She made it rain.

-Steve