Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cravings and Faith

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15

Psalm 78:23-29

John 6:24-35

When Debbie, Tucker and I set out on our pilgrimage in the summer of 2007, we left with the words of the Gospels deep in our hearts and steady on our minds." take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff."

What we had was enough. Our faith in God alone was enough.

Fully believing that God was calling us to travel across this church and this land as a "face" of a non-traditional family of faith – two moms and their son – we sold most of what we had, gave away a lot more and put that which we thought we would need later into storage. We took off in our old motorhome and set about trying to live into what we perceived to be God's will for us.

Believing so strongly, hearing so clearly this call from God…still…we continually needed signs that yes, indeed, we were on the right path. Still…even though we had more than enough and were so full of passion that we touched people strongly enough with our story that they gave us love offerings to help continue our journey…still…we worried and fretted about how long, Oh Lord, how long would we have enough.

We are all such worrisome creatures. It seems to be against our human nature to be free of worry. It is a wonder that God has not throw up those proverbial hands and cried out in dismay "I want to start all over!" How we must frustrate the will of God every day!

I find some solace in my questioning and doubt when I read these passages from Exodus, Psalms and John. Paul seems to be the only apostle to have ever fully understand the whole of God's plan. Love one another and live as though this is our very last day. That, to me, is Paul's message throughout his letters. Oh, if we could only wrap our human hearts around that idea!

We crave so many things. Emotionally we are so immature in our faith. We are very similar to the Israelites in the wilderness. We resemble so closely those followers of Jesus who seem to work at being ignorant.

The days of the Israelites' liberation from captors are so clearly forgotten that being bound to Egypt seems more appealing than suffering what they think is too little from God. They cannot see the freedom that lies ahead…only what they have left behind…and this they obviously see through rose-colored glasses forgetting all the bad parts.

They ask for bread and and voila! A fine flaky substance appears on the ground for them from which they can make the bread. Yet they look at it and ask, "What is it?" Unable to recognize the very thing they asked for, they have to be told, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat." Because it is not in the form that they recognize and perhaps not the exact thing for which they asked, they can't see it for what it is…not only a gift from God but one which will sustain them.

Psalm 78 tells of all that God did for the people: they ask for bread and it is given to them. The bread was not enough so they ask for meat and it is sent to them. They eat and are filled after receiving everything for which they ask – those things for which they crave. Yet we know, if we read past verse 29, they continue their cravings nonetheless.

When we read the Gospel of John, is it any wonder that Jesus sounds a bit cross or irritated at those continually chasing after him? Here they are, following him everywhere, hanging on every word, yet still unable to understand. The followers of Jesus have everything before them that would heal their craving yet they constantly seem confused, unaware, blind to that gift from God, that water of life, the bread of heaven.

Jacob did not give the Israelites the well that provided them with water; Moses did not give them the bread from heaven. All these things came from God alone. Jacob and Moses were merely the instruments of God's will. Jesus tries to get it across to his followers that the signs are nothing – we cannot base our belief in the signs.

The people have to SEE or touch to believe. Without these tangible signs, all they are is just full for the moment. Jesus is all about eternity, not the moment.

Going through the discernment process right now, I am constantly faced with the desire to see a sign that all is well; that the call that I feel is truly from God.

During the pilgrimage that we were on, we continually asked ourselves if we were doing the right thing.

Why do we have to KNOW? What is this DOUBT? Is it so illogical to believe in this thing we call Holy Scripture?

Why are we so afraid to live beyond the margins of human logic to follow that profound understanding deep in our hearts – that place I believe that God resides within us? Our minds long to believe the words of Jesus, "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believe in me will never be thirsty." But our ability to reason tells us that this is impossible. Of course, we will get hungry and thirsty, regardless of how much we want to believe. Logic tells us that it is ridiculous to leave everything, give up all ties to the certain and walk into that faith that God will provide; God will lead. We want to believe the story about the lilies and the birds. We need to believe that all we have to do is ask and we will receive.

This was proven to us at every stop along our pilgrimage – people want to believe. They listened to us from Ohio to California. They wanted to do what they believed we were doing. They felt our passion and yet they recognized our fear. It was the recognition of that fear and their belief that we continued in spite of it that grabbed their attention.

Walking in faith is not about walking without fear. It is about walking in faith in spite of the fear – the logic that tells us we are about to fall off the end of the earth, that we are walking into the unknown, into a definite uncertainty. Walking in faith is about following even when others question our good sense; it is about taking one more step with the only certainty being the belief in our hearts that God is with us.

No wonder the Israelites complained about the weird stuff on the ground. Logic told them is was nothing usable. I completely understand the questions from the people following Jesus – how did you get across the sea; where did the bread and fish come from; what else are you going to do that will help us believe? I doubt there is one among us who would not have felt the same way as all of these people.

We will continue at times to allow logic to overrule our hearts. It is just our way. God knows that. But it is also God that calls us into the unknown, to continue on even though we may be afraid. It is Jesus who tells us, "Do not be afraid." We cannot let our fear hold us hostage. Fear is natural…even logical. But God is bigger.

That is when that prayer comes into play; "Feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving."

Logic is human and so is fear. To live in Jesus and to feed on him in our hearts is so much bigger.

We have the signs. These are plentiful. We just need to remember to remember.

Jesus is that water by which we will never again thirst. Jesus is that bread for which we will never again hunger.

And all we can do is to continue to pray just as the people following Jesus did, "give us this bread…always."

Monday, July 27, 2009

“Warning”

Long ago (at least, it seems a long time ago), prior to entering into this strange process of discerning God's will for me in particular, I felt the call to step outside of myself to engage in activities that tested the boundaries that I had drawn so carefully around me. Of course, most of this experimentation went on in my mind rather than in any actual doing or being.

One poem struck me, stayed with me and remains on my desk today: Jenny Joseph's poem which begins with the line "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple." The actual name of the poem is "Warning."

When I first read it, I did not consider myself any way close to an "old woman". I suppose many would say (me included on some days) that I am much closer to that label now than I was then. The poem seemed to me to be courageous, something that I never felt I could do…ever.

I was a timid child, almost to the point of being socially paralyzed. I know that not many believe it now but it was true then. Seriously!

I overcame that so far as being able to speak out, yet inside, stepping outside of what I knew, it was just not something that I could do. It affected many parts of my life, stalling me in many ways.

I grew up wanting to be a missionary preacher but by the time I was old enough to do that, the church as I knew it and I had already parted ways...not that I could have even had I stayed. I thought about the Peace Corp but when it got right down to thinking seriously about going into a foreign country with total strangers, I was struck numb.

I suppose that falling in love with Debbie gave me more courage than I could ever have imagined. Having something to stand up for gave me a sense of being that I had never before felt. Living into what I am became a bigger reality than living within the boundaries that I had drawn around myself. Leaping over the fences created by me, I realized another barrier: I had built my fences within a perimeter defined by society. Yet with my newfound courage built by love, I was able to see that the barriers were human made, not ones created by God.

Isn't it strange how difficult it is to break out of our own self-imposed limitations yet how much easier it is to strain against the confines of a ruling body? When we set our own limitations, we justify these with all sorts of excuses – I am too young/old, short/tall, skinny/fat, poor/rich, tired/busy – any excuse will do and is set in the concrete of our individual minds. Yet restrictions set by somebody else's moral code, even if that someone else is society at large, can easily be deemed judgmental, harsh and in great need of change.

The major difference, I suppose, is that the first fence is the one we set and deep inside of us, we know we can break it down when and if we need to do so. It is as much of a protection fence as it is a limiting one. But when others set restrictions upon us, we feel that bile begin to back up in our throats, burning, causing great discomfort. We can try to adjust our lives to that point at which we can live within the limits but the problem is always there. The only way to rid ourselves of the discomfort is to address the thing causing the problem. That means changing something in our lives.

The problem is this: unless we are highly motivated to change, we are afraid to live into our imagination. Because we are afraid of change, we are not able to eliminate our own boundaries much less recognize the limitations set by a society living in fear of that which could be. If we are not able to embrace change as a good thing, we cannot grow. And of course, we all know that if we do not grow, we become stagnant and begin to wither and die.

While I have much growing to do, I am no longer stunted. I do not want to wait until I am an old woman to realize that I can live into my imaginings – more honest than that – I can not wait to live into God's imaginings FOR me. I may not wear a "red" hat or spend my pennies on brandy or summer gloves and such, but I can live my life in a manner which defies "normal" common logic. For I believe God's will for me is nowhere near what can be perceived as common, logical or "normal".

Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph (1961)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Repeat

This is a sermon that I gave on March 1, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas at a local nondenominational church on the occasion of Dr. Louie Crew visiting Integrity Fort Worth. We met in the nondenom church because then-bishop Jack Iker would not allow the word "Integrity" to be used if we met at Trinity Episcopal parish. Still, to this day, Integrity Fort Worth is not allowed to meet in an Episcopal parish in Fort Worth even though many good things are happening there.

In one of the hearings today at General Convention, one of the deputies took great pause at the idea that the Church is to blame for those crimes committed against LGBT people. I was reminded of this sermon that I delivered at that time. I think that it is still far too appropriate.

BGC


 


 

For Once You Were Darkness

God told Jeremiah to tell the people, "For surely I know the plans I have for you,… plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, … and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

I open with this message in Jeremiah 29: 11-14 even though it is not one of the readings for today. I use it as my email signature because it means so much to me. It gives me hope that one day this church, this Episcopal diocese in particular will be well and all those who have been driven out and sent away into exile will return. Meanwhile, it helps me to remember to trust God that the plans for my future, my welfare are clearly known, even if it is to God alone.

I have searched for God…I have sought God with all of my heart and I will one day be ready to be brought back into the place from which I have been driven away and sent into exile. So… I speak today from that place – in exile…a goodly place because I have been welcomed there but definitely not home – at least not yet.

Many of you know that Debbie, Tucker and I have been on a pilgrimage for the past eight months. We sold our home, our land and a whole lot of stuff and set out in an old motor home to hear what the Spirit is saying to the People of God. While we are still traveling, we have left behind the old motor home and are in the process of relocating to the Diocese of Missouri… to St. Louis, in particular so that I can enter into the process of ordination. Ordination is a little bit out of the question in Fort Worth in that first, I am female, second – a lesbian and third – in a monogamous committed, long term relationship.

Even though we are sort of settling down for a while, we still travel, speaking by invitation to those who invite us come visit their parishes, groups or workshops. Two weeks ago, we were in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, at the invitation of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. We were asked to lead a workshop about our Journey in Faith. The University was sponsoring a conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex folk and their allies.

There were quite a few workshops dealing with issues that relate to LGBTQIA people – health, legalities of partnerships, marriage, civil unions, tax laws, spirituality, and faith. Does it surprise anyone that the workshops regarding faith were less attended that the ones on legal and health issues?

What does the church have to say to a bunch of lgbtqia people between the ages of 17 and 30? The "traditional" interpretation of the Word of God is a bit harsh to this group. And they, being the age that they are, are of a mind that if the Church doesn't need them, they certainly don't need the church.

I can't help but sometimes think that theirs is the far healthier attitude. I often wonder what is wrong with those of us who do subject ourselves week after week to the possibility…no the probability of being mortally "wounded in the house of a friend" yet one more time… yet, like a phoenix we keep rising and coming back for more. …OR… it is more like we are caught up in the too familiar cycle of abuse – spiritual abuse, in this case.

I would guess that statistics would show that most young people who have been raised in the church do a bit of backsliding when suddenly they are without the rules and regulations of family life and experiencing life on their own for the first time. If the church can't even hold on to these young strait people, how can it possibly reach out to the young people who are coming into a fuller understanding of what it means to be classified as an "abomination" in the eyes of the public?

I want to say to the Church at large, "Sleeper Awake…Live as children of light for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true."

I want to find ways to reach out to these young people who think that the church has no need of them. I want to help them understand that they are the fruit of the light and they are good and right and true.

At the workshop that we led, there were a couple of very important questions that were asked by those attending. "What do I tell my gay friend when he says to me that he doesn't believe in God"? and "How do I respond biblically when those people toss scripture at me to tell me how horrible I am?"

These are certainly two questions that we have failed to answer well enough. Maybe it is because we are unsure in our own minds as to the answers.

WHY does hellfire and damnation preach easier than "and God said, It is good"? Why is it easier to swallow certain passages from Leviticus and Romans than it is to talk about the love between David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi or even of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple? These are love stories…affirming stories…stories that make us see the world in a different way. Why are we so afraid of these? Why are we even thinking about sex? It is supposed to be about Love…For strange puritanical reasons, we think it is easier to scare our children into believing in God than it is to love them into it.

I am sure that most people here know the high rate of suicide amongst teenagers who are growing into the sense of just how different they seem to be in relation to the rest of their world. It is in these younger years that the risk of suicide is so much higher. How culpable is the church in these preventable deaths? Ask Mary Lou Wallner, now with SoulForce and recently in the documentary "For the Bible tells me so" -- Ask her what part the Church played in the suicide of Anna, her lesbian Christian daughter.

We all know the name Matthew Shepard. And now, too recently, Lawrence King, a just turned 15 year old middle school youth shot in the head by another mother's son because Lawrence sometimes dressed too femininely…two families torn to shreds…two lives lost.

What part did our silence or the limited acceptance of the Church play in these murders?

I say it played a lot. And I will say more.

Where is our RAGE? Where is our Righteous Indignation?

As long as we allow ourselves to think that we are not Good, as long as we allow gay people, young or older, to think that the Church has no need of them, as long as the Church remains silent or even less than adamant about all the children being children of God, until this Church stands up and loudly proclaims THIS FEAR IS WRONG, preventable suicides and murders will continue. Until we teach our children how to love rather than how to hate, these deaths will happen.

So, what role do we, as gay and lesbian Christians, play in all of this? We have a big role. Are we to just play the victim, hiding in the dark, trying not to rock the strait boat in case we suddenly find ourselves tossed out? Are we to allow others to decide for us the proper course of action – talking about us rather than to us or rather than letting us talk?

How can we defend ourselves if we don't even know if we are defendable? We cannot allow others to set the stage for our acceptance. We have to find our own way. We must find our way through love stories that affirm our right to life. And these stories are there…and these begin with that story of creation – And God said, It is Good.

The Rev. Steven Kindle, a Disciples of Christ minister who is also a part of the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me so", is really a fairly awesome guy. We met him in California. He is straight, married, with no gay children. His only "gay agenda" being that he is working hard to help the Church understand that gays and lesbians wanting to be a part of the church is a good thing…not a bad one. He openly admitted that he was initially homophobic. His mind was changed by knowing gays and lesbians within the congregation that he was in. His life changed by realizing their gifts to the church and as he realized these gifts he realized he was being called to help. As he was speaking, I couldn't help but hear in my mind, The Gifts of God for the People of God.

Think about it…not taking anything away from straight people, but good grief…Can you imagine the silence in the national Episcopal Church alone, in THIS diocese if all the gays and lesbians in the church decided to skip one Sunday? The silence would be deafening! Seriously, the liturgy, the homilies, the music – written and played, the vestments...so quiet, so bare if these gifts of God were denied. Yet what harm is done on a daily basis by asking these gifts to hide in that closet or to be good little boys and girls and don't make any trouble? We make the music, we write the songs and sew the linens, we even preach in some places…but don't get too uppity…don't be thinking about a long term monogamous relationship being blessed in the church and heaven forbid that we might have the sacrament of Holy Matrimony performed…and then of course, don't forget the celibacy vow we must take if we are called to serve God in God's church.

We are children of God…but definitely children of a lesser god…according to many.

Truly, this is spiritual abuse.

So, no…we are not to hide in a closet – not for any reason, ever. We are not to play the victim for sure! We cannot stifle our gifts from God simply because some people are not comfortable with us. We cannot wait any longer. Bishop Iker of this Episcopal Diocese told someone that I liked to create furor. I can think of few higher compliments for someone trying to follow Jesus. I think that creating furor is exactly what we are called to do in this Church. Jesus did. Jesus questioned the rules that excluded some over others. Can we do less? Will it cost us? Yes, it costs a lot. Yet it is the cloak that we have been given to wear. We cannot set it aside or cast it off. It is part of the gift.

Our role is that of protector…prophet…as a Child of the Light so that others might know us by that very Light – so that others may see their own way by that Light.

The church needs us. It needs our gifts.

We need the church. We need to share our gifts.

We need the gifts that the Church has to offer.

We need our youth – gay and straight alike. They are the gifts of the present and of the future.

The Church needs this future.

It is time to "Sing to the Lord a new song"…because the one that has been sung for too long is hate-filled. And as the Gifts of God, it is up to us to teach the church how to sing this new song!

Amen

What She Said!

I have to share just a couple of my thoughts about this General Convention. Just a couple.

I, like others who are getting a bit worried about this church we claim, am feeding a bit on the anxiety caused by the bishops who seem to be pontificating and posturing. I am fearful that they will not be guided by the Holy Spirit; rather, I fear that they will put far too much into what the Archbishop said.

The Archbishop has an agenda.

The bishops seems to have an agenda.

So do I.

While I know that Christianity is a religion that began with martyrdom and continues throughout that same idea, I know many people, myself included, who are kind of tired of BEING sacrificed for the sake of unity.

If I choose to die for my belief in my God, MY belief in Jesus, well then, that is my choice. But when YOU decide to sacrifice me on that unholy altar of unity, that could be called a crime in the secular world if literally carried out.

So, bishops, how about this? How about you work at something different since this sacrificing humans thing was sort of given up a long time ago -- how about if you actually work at including me and so many thousands more? You worry about the numbers in the church. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that if we open up our doors ALL THE WAY to the LGBT people seeking spiritual homes, our numbers might increase hugely!!

Why not try it?

While you are thinking about it which I know the millions who read this blog have to be doing simply because I said so, go to http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_112351_ENG_HTM.htm and watch http://walkingwithintegrity.blogspot.com/ because I am sure that another article about What She Said will appear soon.

Meanwhile, imagine a House of Bishops full of people like Barbara Harris!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

“Time to Face the Change”

I am changing.

Every day there is something different. I don't think this is a new thing. I just believe it is something that I am beginning to more clearly recognize.

I haven't been very faithful to this blog as of late. I haven't been very faithful to any writing actually. That is one thing that is changing.

There was a reason why I backed out of going to General Convention. I had all sorts of excuses, each and every one of them valid. Regardless of those excuses, there was a more important one.

I believe that this Church cannot be the primary focus of my life right now. I will definitely follow what is going on at General Convention and on a few blogs. I may even say something now and again. But it cannot be my focus. There are plenty of talented writers who are out there blogging their hearts out…my rant does not need to be added.

I don't think I clearly understood why I should not be at GC 09 although there were lots of little reasons why not. I just knew that I could not do it. Our friend David, inadvertently or Spirit-led helped me find that clarity. I think the thing that bothered me most was being a part of something and not being able to finish it. That is what happened to me with Fort Worth and the changes there. Now here it is again with my final months with Integrity – just not being able to be at GC to be a part of the major work that will be done there by people of Integrity. Although I was a bit anxious about not being there, I am ok now.

So, faithful friends and occasional readers, I will not be posting very often for a while. During the time of General Convention, I am going to do two things very deliberately: 1) Pray without ceasing for all the deputies, all the bishops and all those whose well being depend upon the decisions coming out of Anaheim. I will pray that these decision makers will open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and let her guide, push, prod them into understanding and enlightenment, whatever that may be. I will pray that each and every deputy and bishop fully realizes the impact that this diminishing church has on the rest of the world. And I will pray for them to understand that LGBT people are watching and waiting anxiously for a chance to be full members of this so called body of Christ. It will continue to be a so called body of Christ until all persons are welcomed. 2) I will work on the manuscript that has been sitting idle in my computer. Taking the wonderful suggestions of my friend Liz, over the next three weeks, I will whittle this unwieldy tome into something that is worthy of being published.

I think that I have my work cut out for me. While I will not be busy at GC, I will be busy here doing the work that has been given me to do. It may not be the magnitude of the work being done at GC but it is my work and I know that it is important.

Be safe. Be well. Love one another. Pray.

I'll be around…just gotta get some things done. Catch you later, alligator!