Becoming Visible

This autobiographical essay and testimony was recently published in Touched by Grace: LGBT Stories in Community of Christ. 

I knew I was different early on, but I didn’t have a word for it until I was a teenager. I told a few of my high school friends about it, and then went off to college. Eventually there was no one in my life that knew. While a student I was baptized, and to me part of that meant that being gay was a sin and I accepted that to be true. I dated a few men, and eventually just stopped trying to date men or women. The inner turmoil was more than I wanted to deal with.

During the next twenty years my theology evolved from literalism to something less rigid, and I was able to release myself from the idea that being gay was condemned by God. I still kept it all to myself.

In 2006 I had a priesthood call. I only knew of about a dozen of people in the whole of Community of Christ that were lgtb affirming. I didn’t want to accept the call and later have the congregation feel deceived, and I also didn’t want to come out publicly because of the turmoil it might bring to my niece and parents. I decided I would ask someone to help me make a decision. A person from my mission center was coming to Toledo to teach a weekend temple school class, and I planned to ask him to be a sounding board for my fears and thoughts and questions.

To this day, coming out to someone brings a great amount of anxiety and fear. With my heart in my throat, I went to a lesbian book store, looking for a book that might help me in coming out to the man from my mission center. As I left the store, I noticed a man just getting into an SUV across the parking lot. He stopped, looked at the store I had just came out of, came over and wouldn’t let me get into my car. He never spoke, just looked at me with hate and jockeyed back and forth and blocked my path so I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want the situation to escalate into something more violent, so I pulled out a pad and pen to write down his license number. The pen didn’t work but it did the trick. The man suddenly looked alarmed, and went back to his vehicle. He didn’t leave, just watched me get into my truck.

I rushed to the Church just 5 minutes away, hoping I wasn’t being followed.. When I got there people were waiting in the parking lot for someone to unlock the door. I let them in and busied myself helping them set up and finding supplies that they might need for the weekend. I felt so lost. If I had just experienced some road rage or other violence I would have been able to tell them about it. At that point I couldn’t share gay rage. Before the weekend was over I had come out to that one person, the first person I had told in 20 years. I was drained. I felt fear, relief, and a new freedom. That weekend began my truer life.

I am a long time member of the Church’s online community called the CyberCongregation.   At the same time I was struggling with my role in the Church, an unidentified young man there was struggling with his own sexuality and identity. He was having a rough time. Many people were encouraging him to renounce homosexuality and they gave their full support to him in that endeavor. A few people were encouraging him to accept himself first, and then make his life decisions. The lgtb folk of the CyberCongregation were erupting in anguish, and told their heartbreaking stories of condemnation, rejection and sometimes violence from their families, friends, and church.

In the midst of all the pain, anger, and condemnation, I found myself spontaneously telling my own story. To my surprise, I was not condemned, perhaps because I am a woman? People asked genuine questions, and held me in their prayers as I came out there, even though most were completely against homosexuality. It was then that I realized that sharing my truth could help people get close enough to see, and to feel compassion, and to begin to re-think what they have always believed to be true.

I eventually decided not to accept the priesthood call in my congregation. It seemed to me that asking the congregation to consider a call for an lgtb sister would be too stretching for me, and all of us. Later, I came out to them after a prayer service, and I have never doubted their love for me.

This is from my journal, written on the eve of that prayer service. I was realizing that my life was taking a turn that would change my life and ministry forever. I tried to capture a snapshot of my feelings, and explain to myself why it felt important to live openly in the Church. I had been reading Luke, Chapter 15… the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep, and prodigal son.

For now, my silence buys me a place in the safety of the 99, but as I begin to speak my truth, I step into the vulnerability of that 100th sheep. The shepherds of our church are not really going to come looking for me, though. They say that they will stand with me, but only up until that point where they have to take a stand. Then, they will look away, pretend not to see, say a shamed prayer of petition that I will quietly leave.

I am not the coin of great worth. As this prodigal is walking up the road to her spiritual home, there are no servants of my God running to greet me, to welcome the authentic me home. I will be worshiping in the same house with the family of God, but to many will no longer be known as a sister. I don’t know what grace will be afforded me. I don’t know who will be able to accept my reality, my presence, my servanthood.

I do believe that our leaders long to be true to the call and obligations of the kingdom, but the poverty of our spiritual lives limit that response. In the economy of our church today, it is the 99 sheep, not the Good Shepherd, who calculate the worth of the 1. The cost of accepting the truth of the outcast is too high to attempt. We will lose our illusion of unity, we will lose our ignorance of the boundaries we place on God’s love, we will lose our status among the competing kingdoms in Christianity.

My shame is that I support this economy as well. I am not willing to endanger the body of Christ to save the outcast, even when it’s me. I am painfully aware that my actions and inactions are prolonging the estrangement of my gay brothers and sisters, and I knowingly compromise their worth for the non-confronted comfort of my congregation and denomination.

My prayer is that by becoming visible, I will help the church to better see Christ’s this-world redeeming love. In a way, I am the found, seeking to draw the 99 more fully into the Light of God’s grace.

Since that time, I have processed my thoughts a bit more. These reflections remain true for me, but more like I’m looking through a wide angle lens. When I zoom in on individual relationships and encounters I can see that the larger picture is indeed moving–although sometimes painfully slowly–in the direction of compassion and grace.

another layer of my conversion

I’ve been thinking about conversion.  There are layers, it’s not a simple thing.  In my 50 years I have been converted to belief in God, and then belief in a denomination, and then to Christ, and then from literalism to process theology, and I think I’m at the dawn of another conversion.   This one is conversion to the Kingdom of God on Earth, to following Jesus.

The conversion is not about beliefs regarding the history of Christianity or Community of Christ, or about the best way to interpret Scripture, nor the cosmic nature of the Jesus/God/Spirit relationship.  It is about a lifestyle where we rise above those nouns in defining our sense of belonging, and instead life with Christ and all creation becomes a verb.

We can’t capture and contain a verb like “Kingdom.”  It is alive and dancing and swirling in the most unexpected circumstances.  It comes in conflict, despair, joy, wonder, attentiveness…   It pursues us, and keeps moving, and we know that the Kingdom of God is near, God’s presence is among all of creation.

Our Road to Emmaus

I’ve been reading and pondering Luke 24, the story of the Road to Emmaus. Here is a link to the story…

I’m left with so many question…

Why don’t the disciples recognize Jesus among them?

Why don’t we recognize Jesus among us, and the church of our future?

We are bewildered and rehearsing our woes, just like they were. Our hopes and dreams are dying along with our numbers and buildings.

We are coming to realize that if we seek  to build the Church as it once was, we might not find the church of God’s future.

Like the disciples, we are coming to see that Christ is found in the eyes of the stranger.

We are coming to understand that we have denied Christ unwittingly, and have some repenting to do. Repenting is a grace beyond confessing and regretting an infraction. It is retracing our steps, finding what error in belief or attitude or heart led us to where we are, and learning to better align all that we are and do with the mission of Christ.

Many times….We have denied the fullness of Christ and held up the story of our Church in His place.

Many times…We have raised up our distinctive beliefs higher than the One we love, trust, and  follow.

Not intentionally, but because we didn’t understand. I certainly didn’t.

My belief is that we are over-burdened by our fears, like the men on the road to Emmaus. We need eyes of hope, faith, companionship, trusting community…. these are often absent when our hearts are hard with fear.

Eventually, the early church people were booted from the synagogues and found new life in house churches living the Way of Christ in an upside down community of equality, generosity, and love. Many Churches in our times are leaving their  worship homes because of  low numbers and financial resources, and finding new life and emerging visions of Community not tethered to a building.

They ate together, shared so that all were fed, told their stories of grief and hopes, and from the rubble and ashes came a revolutionary movement that changed the world. The church was stripped down to it’s most basic dna…the loving hearts and hands of those who follow Jesus Way of love, peace and justice, and rebuilt into something transforming for their times and place and peoples.

The Saints of today can reclaim that same spiritual dna.  May we orient our lives and ministry and stewardship to bring expressions of love, hope, peace and justice into empty places of this place and time.

JFJ Personal Mythology Challenge #2

This is the second week of the visual journal challenge at Journal Fodder Junkies.

The guidelines for this week:  We have all created myths about ourselves – stories that are imaginary and unverifiable. We have puffed ourselves up with stories of accomplishment and tore ourselves down with stories of lack. We have scripts and dialogues running through our heads reinforcing those myths.

What are your personal myths? What is your personal mythology? What are the stories that you have told yourself over and over to the point that you believe them and accept them?

Here are a few myths from my childhood that have stuck with me.  I had an early interest in different Native American tribes, and also loved to explore  the cultures and religions of my neighbors.   I still love to investigate, research, explore, try new things, and have an adventurous  spirit…. if not body.

I am… a self portrait response

Any book about visual journaling is a feast for my eyes and soul.  I’ve been following the work at Journal Fodder Junkies since the release of their first book, The Journal Junkies Workshop: Visual Ammunition for the Art Addict .  This month they’ve started a weekly visual journaling challenge; the first piece is called “I AM”.  I will make all the standard apologies, I have no art training and can’t draw a recognizable stick figure.  But I need to dabble and make a crafty mess anyway to make sense of my life.

Here I Am…

an audacious love

There are times I tend to dwell in the words the world uses to define me, rather than in  the worth Jesus defines me.  and all creation.  This meditation helped me a few years ago and I notice that it is no longer Out there in cyberspace.  I don’t know the author, but  I’ll store it here for the uplifting of  our souls on the days when our belovedness is too audacious to believe.

Jesus refuses to be constricted by religious and cultural convention and in the process:

*he transforms a predicament into a person
*a theological and moral problem becomes a human being
*a marginalized outcast becomes a woman, a child of God. …

The heart of our faith is a wondrous love:

*that did not condemn a Samaritan woman for immorality
*did not exclude her because of her religion or race or gender,
*but graciously accepted her and loved her back to her humanity, her God-given status as a child of God.

It is a love that is offered to each of us: to you, no matter who you are or how excluded you have been.

It is a wondrous love that comes to you to affirm who you are and to remind you that whatever words others may use to define you,

whatever words and ideas you have come to use to describe yourself,

the one permanent, unchanging, indestructible thing about you is that you are God’s child,

and God’s own Son came to make sure you never forget that.

earliest art of Woman at the Well Mid-4th century catacomb on the Via Latina