Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fall Garden

It is all transition out in my yard and garden. The leaves are falling, of course, and the summer flowers are fading and growing leggy. The snaps have gone to seed. Petunias are hardy, but even they are looking spent and sad. I have not pulled them up, for no reason except a total lack of time. I haven't watered in weeks. though the dew and cool evenings seem to be keeping things in reasonable stead.

But my morning glories... something cosmic seems to be happening with them. I have joked that I moved into this house because of one window and a handful of flowers. And it is absolutely true. When my ex and I were house shopping in the early 90's. we looked at a number of places in our price range, and all of them were just fine. Then we found this house, on a corner lot with a small lawn, and all empty rooms (which always makes it easier to imagine oneself in the house). As I walked through the house I fell in love with two things: a small stained glass window in the living room, and a trellis full of shocking blue morning glories outside the back door. They clinched the deal. They made it possible for me to see the whole thing: myself, my husband, my children, happy here for years to come.

Maybe I thought the trellis full of morning glories would help me to focus more on my husband than on my best friend. But as a year or two went by, I forgot to pay any heed to the flowers (which I realize many consider a weed... but they did not thrive. I neglected them, and they died, just like the marriage).

Two years ago I decided to try planting morning glories again. I chose a different location, a fence more towards the side of the house. The first year the seeds barely came up. A few spindly shoots tried half-heartedly to climb the fence, but the first frost took them out before a single blossom unfurled.

This year I planted them again, one packet, out by the same fence, behind a row of snapdragons and lobelia. The vines climbed the fence, hardier than before, but still relatively sparse. But beginning about three weeks ago, the flowers came. Enormous blue trumpets unfurled, two or three at a time, then a dozen or more at a time. Each morning I step out my door to get in my car, and I have to pause to catch my breath, they are that beautiful. (I also count them. Beloved had a favorite aunt... the aunt who saved her life... Auntie used to visit Beloved in her first home, and step outside in the morning to smoke and count the morning glories.)

I have never helped to coax anything so stunning out of the ground before. It is not anything to do with me, this beauty, my skill was of no import. I did exactly the same thing I did last year when not a blossom came. They simply came on their own. The stars aligned. Perhaps the weather has been perfect. Perhaps they are doing their part to distract from the sad dying that is going on all around them. But oh, the gift of them! The way they lift my heart!

Monday, September 24, 2007

On Call and Letting Go

I am running around with low-level anxiety these days. Things are going well at my church. I feel that relationships are flourishing, worship is meaningful, I am focusing on all the things the folks tell me they find important. But I wake up an hour before the alarm on Sunday mornings. Sometimes I wake up all night long, before Sunday morning.

I have never before had this experience. I am not sure exactly what is going on. Perhaps it is just fall-start-up stuff. Sunday mornings feel packed, at the moment, with special this and special that. I feel a bit like a cruise director. "... and over here, we have our Sunday School program, and over here are the grace-filled sacraments! Don't crowd the railings!!"

That song is crowding my thoughts. We are building a religion, we are building it bigger. I know that my church, like lots of smallish to middle sized churches, view a full calendar as a sign of vitality. Sometimes that is just a sign of busy-ness. I am somewhat of a Rick Warren fan. I read The Purpose Driven Church a few years ago, mostly out of curiosity at this publishing phenomenon (the Harry Potter scale of it. And it was about church!). I do not view soul-saving in the same way that Warren does. It's not that I don't believe souls need to be saved. They most emphatically do. I just don't view salvation in the same way... for me it is about meaning and relationship and the way souls shrivel and die without those. I shudder at the whole "personal relationship" with Jesus as evangelicalism constitutes it, though there is something profoundly true that meaning and relationship... with the community, and the living, radioactive God who is continually creating us... are key to what I would call "salvation."

But where I think Warren nails it and earns his gold star (and record-breaking sales) is in this central concept: churches that know their identity, know what they are about with great focus and clarity.... those are the churches that thrive. Churches that try to "do it all" because that is what "success" looks like, tend not to be thriving churches. They tend, rather, to be focused on the objective of keeping the doors open. A sure-fire, time-tested death sentence.

I told my church board yesterday that I would like us all-- boards, committees, congregation and me-- to focus on our sense of call. I said that if we ground ourselves in our call, I believe we will have a better idea of what things we are wise to invest our hearts and souls and time and talent in, and that we can know intuitively what things we can let go.

Of course, this message is about me, too, my anxiety, my relationship as this (mostly) authentic person in the congregation. If I ground myself in my sense of call... and it's all there in Luke 4... I will have a far better idea of where to invest my heart and soul (and time and talent), and what I can let go.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We Are Building a Religion

This is the current favorite song of my daughter, and once it gets in your head it's hard to extricate it. Believe me.

"Comfort Eagle" by Cake

We are building a religion
We are building it bigger
We are widening the corridors
And adding more lanes

We are building a religion
A limited edition
We are now accepting callers
for these pendant key chains

To resist it is useless
It is useless to resist it
His cigarette is burning
But he never seems to ash

He is grooming his poodle
He is living comfort eagle
You can meet at his location
But you better come with cash

Now his hat is on backwards
He can show you his tattoos
He is in the music business
He is calling you "DUDE!"

Now today is tomorrow
And tomorrow today
And yesterday is weaving in and out

And the fluffy white lines
That the airplane leaves behind
Are drifting right in front
of the waining of the moon

He is handling the money
He's serving the food
He knows about your party
He is calling you "DUDE!"

Now do you believe
In the one big sign
The doublewide shine
On the bootheels of your prime

Doesn't matter if you're skinny
Doesn't matter if you're fat
You can dress up like a sultan
In your onion head hat

We are building a religion
We are making a brand
We're the only ones to turn to
When your castles turn to sand

Take a bite of this apple
Mr. corporate events
Take a walk through the jungle
Of cardboard shanties and tents

Some people drink Pepsi
Some people drink Coke
The wacky morning DJ
Says democracy's a joke

He says now do you believe
In the one big song
He's now accepting callers
Who would like to sing along

She says, do you believe
In the one true edge
By fastening your safety belts
And stepping towards the ledge

He is handling the money
He is serving the food
He is now accepting callers
He is calling me "DUDE!"

Now do you believe
In the one big sign
The doublewide shine
On the bootheels of your prime

There's no need to ask directions
If you ever lose your mind
We're behind you
We're behind you
And let us please remind you
We can send a car to find you
If you ever lose your way

We are building a religion

We are building it bigger

We are building

A religion

A limited


We are now accepting callers...
For these beautiful...
Pendant key chains

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Word Cloud

In response to a request from Tandaina, here is the url to make a "word cloud" (the box to the right with many of the significant, recurring words from my blog).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Clarification, Perhaps

I have been so heartened and challenged by reading comments to my post of two days ago. Whether people agree with my life choices or disagree, there is a feeling of goodwill and being kept in prayer that I treasure. However, a recent comment by Chris as well as one by Grace have given me enough pause that I feel I should say the following.

Despite what I wrote, I do not/would not encourage anyone to lie. Under certain circumstances I support and understand the choice, I would prefer to say, to withhold the fullness of one's identity with regard to sexual orientation. L.'s words obviously have shaken me. That someone looks at me... someone who knows me and likes me and has protected me by keeping my secret... and makes that judgment was a kind of wake-up call. When people are discerning a call to ordained ministry, there is an oft-quoted maxim: If there is anything else you can possibly do, and be happy, you should do that. Go into ministry only if you feel you have no other choice. I suppose that is exactly how I would encourage anyone who asked about being closeted with regard to sexual identity. If there is any other way you can live and be happy, that is what you should do. This is a last resort, for those who feel they have no other choice.

Back in March when I started this blog I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life my experiences of being married to a man yet falling in love with women. It probably wasn't clear from that sketch, but I will say here that I experienced the call to ministry and was ordained long before I had any idea my marriage would end. But life circumstances made me a single (divorced) woman who had been trying in vain to stop herself from being in love with women for pretty much her whole life.

I will also say this: my position (theologically and politically) on LGBT ordination has been consistent for at least the last 25 years, it was the same when I was ordained as it is now: I believe that God has created us the way God wants us to be, that we all can experience God's genuine call to ministry, and that our gifts should be welcomed. Though scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, as the catchphrase goes, it contains a lot of other stuff too... what has been called "adiaphora," things that are indifferent to salvation. I think Paul did not describe, in his injunctions against same sex relations, anything that bears even the most remote resemblance to a mature, adult same-sex commitment. All the sexual acting out he describes in Romans and elsewhere has to do with things we would understand as sexual exploitation or abuse, and it all stems from idol worship, failing to honor the one true God.

I have believed all these things for a long time. If my ordaining body had asked I'd have been clear about my position on these matters; they did not. In one-on-one conversation and in bible study with parishioners, I have been clear about my position on these matters. I believe Jesus has already welcomed me to the table, whether or not my denomination has figured that out. I have not preached one gospel and lived another: my sermons are consistently about God's open-hearted welcome to every one of us. (In this, at least, I hope I differ from a certain senator about whom we've all been reading. Also in the fact that I never violated my marriage vows.)

I hold my relationship with B. as a gift from God, a gift that has enabled me to come home, at long last, to the good creation I know God made me to be. And I can do no other than to live into that. Unfortunately, or ironically, I also can do no other than to be an ordained minister of the gospel. Here is my rock, and here is my hard place. But it is on Christ, the sold rock, that I stand, and in whom I put my trust as I seek ever greater authenticity. As Anne Lamott describes it in "Grace, Eventually," it is scootch, scootch, reverse, plateau, scootch. But there is movement.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Living a Lie

Beloved has a small number of friends, as I mentioned in the last post, who know about us. I learned this week that one of those friends has issued a judgment upon me, of sorts.

Beloved was inviting L. (who is also her colleague) to come to my church. She and another friend have decided to come for a visit (she has done this just once before). L said, "I can't do that." Beloved pressed her, saying, "If I can, you can," referring, of course, to the fact that Beloved identifies herself as an atheist (though I've spoken of how complicated and surprising that label is, given some of her life experience). L persisted, saying, "I can't do that," with increasing vehemence. Beloved didn't give up (she tends not to). L finally burst out with, "She's living a lie!"

Well. I suppose that's true. Or perhaps I'm simply trying to live, trusting that the visibly true things about me... my love of God, my family, my Beloved, my ministry... are the important things, and that anyone who sees the whole picture will understand why I've chosen to try to walk this slender thread of a line.

When I was in my 20's, long before a life in ministry had ever occurred to me, I was invited to participate in a conference called "Women and the Word." The keynote speaker was the astonishing Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. She is the author of "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?" as well as "Women, Men and the Bible," and "The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female." She described herself as a radical lesbian, Southern Baptist, feminist evangelical minister. Her keynote was riveting... it was about liberation, of women, of gays and lesbians... and, as they say, "the Spirit fell." It was amazing. I was mesmerized. It opened a door in my heart.

During the plenary a young woman rose to ask a question. She said, "What you are saying feels absolutely true. But if I said one tenth of what you are saying to my denominational committee, they would never ordain me. What do I do?"

Without a pause, Mollenkott said firmly, "Lie." The room exploded... with shouts, a smattering of applause and calls for quiet, laughter... the sound of shock, the sound of truth hurtling home like a dart into the heart of every person in there. When quiet was restored, she said, in an even louder voice, "Lie. Lie, like the Christians who hid the Jews in their basements so that the Nazis wouldn't find them. Lie, because the truth of the gospel must be given a chance to get a toehold. If what I've said is true, it must find its way into the power structures somehow. Lie, and then work like hell for change once you're in there."

Of course, this is a reconstruction based on a memory nearly 20 years old by now. But this is the core of what she said. I've never forgotten it. So, I guess I am living a lie, in the cause of a greater truth.

(As for L, Beloved looked her dear friend in the eye and said, "You self-righteous son of a bitch." Which, I have to admit, warms the cockles of my heart.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Who Are You Again?

I wonder if anyone out there has ever had the experience of being introduced to someone, and having that person appear to have no idea who you are on next meeting... and to have this happen over and over again?

This has happened to me with a few of Beloved's fairly good friends and colleagues in her field, mostly because she has sheltered me and revealed our relationship to only her closest friends. There was one couple in particular-- two men who are lifelong partners, whom Beloved respects highly and for whom she has great affection. I have been introduced to them again and again at Beloved's place of business, in restaurants, at parties as "my friend Cecilia." But neither of them ever gave any clue that they had met me before.

Tonight (after a long and tiring day of home communions and planning sermons for the rest of the fall) I came home, made a pretty nice meal for my daughter and myself, and wrote up a quick shopping list. I left my daughter practicing her instrument and went to our local Mega-Grocery store. Coming out of the store, whom should I see but FGF1, standing outside of the store on the cell phone. As I approached, his face lit up, he smiled a huge smile, and said into the phone, "Friend, I've got to go, because there is a gorgeous, talented woman standing right in front of me, and I have got to talk to her!" I looked over my shoulder (really, I did) to see whether there was anyone else around, understood at last that he was talking about me, and possibly blushed just a bit. He hung up and opened his arms, indicating a desire for a hug.

"How are you?" he asked? I stammered something general and noncommital. "It was great to see you the other night." (I was out and about with Beloved and my daughter but I don't remember running into him). "Maybe I'll see you this weekend?" I shrugged and smiled, having absolutely no idea to what he is referring.

So... either FGF1 knows... as in, knows about Beloved and me, and so now I'm a member of the inner circle worthy of notice. Or.... he has completely confused me with someone else.

Don't know which of these options I prefer, actually.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Prayer of Thanksgiving...

... for the way God works in ministry, in relationships. For a gift of listening... which I don't really think is my gift, by the way... which suddenly made itself manifest today with the scariest, crustiest, most difficult Pillar of the Church. I mirrored back something I heard... and was met with a torrent of passionate tears that told me my words had hit home, and that this person feels acknowledged... at last.

Not my gift. God, not me. Thank you. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Realization

I hesitate to go into the kind of detail here that might start someone down the road of figuring out who I am and where I am. I don't think that should come as an earth-shattering revelation on a blog called "Closeted Pastor." You get that. So... suffice it to say, life has offered me an opportunity to do something connected with my ministry in which my views on LGBT ordination may well become more widely known (more widely than, say, among reasonably close clergy chums who don't know I'm gay but who share my views). And I have struggled with this just a bit. I want to do this thing, but there is a part of me that is very, very afraid of the doors it may open in some folks' minds.

But I decided to go ahead and do this thing. It feels right. I can't think of anything else to do, no other response feels right. And this morning as I was combing my hair after my shower, it dawned on me: my ministry cannot be primarily about my own safety. It can't really be about that at all, when it comes right down to it. As this thought traversed the long lonely corridor that is my mind at 7 AM, I started to laugh. What a relief! It doesn't have to be about my safety!

Mind you, I am not looking to court danger, engage in risky behavior, or all the rest of it (and by "danger/ safety" of course, I refer to the status of my ordination, nothing else. I am privileged to live in such a time and place wherein those terms may be bandied about in such a way.) But... it was just so clear to me, the right thing to do, the thing that I believe will lead to a more authentic witness to the gospel. The slightly not safe thing. I had to do it. I have to do it.

My ministry cannot be about my safety. A sobering thought that made me laugh this morning.

Monday, September 3, 2007

End of Summer; Memories

It is gloriously beautiful outside today. I look out on a yard that is newly tidied up (I spent about three hours out there yesterday after church), and a sky that seems to know it has just a few of these days left, and so is putting on its most brilliant blue for us.

The other day my daughter's iPod was on shuffle, and "Get Out the Map" by the Indigo Girls cycled on. This is where it took me:

About a dozen years or so ago my (then) husband needed to spend nearly the entire summer abroad for his work. We talked about how to negotiate it for months ahead of time. Should the children and I come with him? (Where he was going, I did not speak the language.) I was paralyzed with fear at the possibility of being marooned in a hot flat with my two very young children for 8 weeks. At the same time, the thought of being marooned at home without H. seemed equally devastating. I was not a happy camper. I had no ability to find my way into the adventure it might be for all of us. I was full of insecurity. Finally the decision was made. He would go without us. He was abandoning me. I understood why, but I did not deal with the whole situation well at all. We would visit in the middle of the summer for a week (or was it two? I'm shocked that I can't remember). But I was to stay home with the kids, alone.

He left. I cried the whole way home from the airport. My daughter was too young to know what was going on; my son was confused by the disparity between my reassurances to him ("Daddy won't be gone long! We'll see him soon!") and my obvious distress.

A few days later I decided to pack the kids into the car and head, first, to see college friends in the wonderful Eastern City I so loved; and then, to see my parents, at their summer digs in Fun Town.

As we drove away from our house, I popped in the Shaming of the Sun cassette, and we heard the song "Get Out the Map."

Get out the map, get out the map
and lay your finger anywhere down
We'll leave the figuring to those we pass
on the way out of town.
Don't drink the water; there seems to be something
ailing everyone.
I'm gonna clear my head
I'm gonna drink that sun
I'm gonna love you good and strong
while our love is good and young.

As I heard the song, that old stirring began... I couldn't hear an Indigo Girls song without being acutely aware that all the love songs were women addressing women. As I heard it, a kind of excitement began to grow in me. I was going to be ok. I was fine (closer to fine, as it turned out). He was gone, and I was not a quivering mass of hysterical sobbing. I was on an adventure of my own, the adventure of being a single mom for the summer.

In Eastern City, various friends hosted us for a few nights at a stretch each. They fussed over my beautiful babies, and after the babies were in bed we drank wine and talked about our lives. My friends drove us to amusement parks and beaches, and we all got sunburned. We left there for my parents' exhilarated, and had another week of being spoiled by doting grandparents, beach jaunts, swimming and amusement parks.

By the time we returned home I was energized. I was having fun. I loved my husband, but I was strangely lighter without him around. And a friend kept coming by, a wonderful friend (described here as Delta Burke). By the end of the summer my feelings for her had deepened into a devastating, painfully romantic love. But, truly, that was a gift of the summer: the part of me that kept returning, that would not go away, no matter how I starved it or hid it or shoved it back in the closet. I was happier without my husband. I longed for the companionship of a woman. I was ok on my own.

Last night Beloved and my daughter and I watched two films, a little end-of-summer festival: "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (selected by my daughter) and "Fried Green Tomatoes" (selected by Beloved). I awoke this morning to the end of a different kind of summer... one with different challenges, but with all the fresh possibilities in the world.