Celebration: Back to Books!!!

For the longest time (several years) I have not been able to read. Within two minutes I fall asleep or get too antsy and put the book down. I had more than 40 books waiting to be read. I’m glad to say I’m back to books! I still can’t do fiction. Soon.

Here’s what I’ve been reading.

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

Jesus: A Pilgrimage, by James Martin, sj

The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Sparks, Soerens and Friesen

Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, Peter Gomes

Twilight of the Elites, Chris Hayes

The Return of The Prodigal Son, Nouwen

Sermon on The Mount, Richard Rohr

The Meaning of Human Existance, e. O. Wilson

The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark

Soo… What’s on your nightstand?

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.

provocative Easter sermon by Sarcastic Lutheran

I especially like her thoughts on “newness”, what it means to be new in Christ.

“So while the churches may try and clean up Jesus so the visitors will be impressed today, The God of Easter, the God who brings life out of death doesn’t want to make you impressive, this God isn’t satisfied with making you good or nice. IF you think that’s what resurrection looks like, if you think it looks like perfection and piety and therefore you haven’t experienced it, you might be wrong. Because God isn’t about making you spiffy. God isn’t about making you nicer. God is about making you new. And new doesn’t always look perfect, with a fabulous new dress because like the Easter story itself, new can be messy.

New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like the lumpy awkward forgiveness we manage to scrounge up despite ourselves. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing you never saw coming …never even hoped for, but ends up being what you needed all along and it happens to all of us. Because as Jesus said…the world according to God is near to us. And God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and pulling us out of the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.”