Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Health Check-In

Departing from the lofty topics of late (theology, etc.)... I wanted to post an update on, er, my eating situation. As it were. Back in Lent I shared that I was attempting to honor my body as a part of God's good creation; one way I tried to do this was to go sugar-free. The results of this experiment were disappointing... not the results of being sugar-free, the results of my trying to be sugar free. I did not do it for long. Shortly after my last entry on the subject (about a week in) I quit altogether, and did not blog about that because of, Oh, you know, shame, self-loathing, that sort of thing.

I believe my trying to wrap this in a Lenten discipline was complicated. There was a way in which failing meant, 'failing God,' and the guilt of that is very tough. Make God a promise and break it. Not a good situation.

Part of the reason I think I failed was that I was trying to do it on my own. Beloved was supportive, of course, but I was essentially trying to figure it out myself, tweak the rules, etc. I was not able to sustain it.

Today I am on day 10 of no sugar, no flour, no personal binge foods, three weighed and measured meals a day. Grace before and after each meal. I get on my knees in the morning to ask God's help, I call three people a day to give and get support, I go to several meetings of folks doing this same thing, I read literature appropriate to my problem (addiction). At the end of the day I get down on my knees to thank God for helping me get through.

I have also been on an exercise program for about a month-- 5 or 6 days a week of vigorous activity, which I love.

As you can see, God is involved in this, but not as judge. God is involved as Tender Encourager, Head Cheerleader, Provider of Goodness. Here is the prayer I have been praying at meals:

Thank you, God, for this food. Let it nourish me, sustain me, and encourage me. I pray in the name of Jesus, who invites me to the table for blessing and not curse, for life and not death. Amen.

Feeling kind of sparkly again. Just thought you'd like to know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How I Outed Myself at Coffee Hour

Yesterday at coffee hour I greeted two friends, a lesbian couple. They actually have a church home where they are very happy, but they came to the church I serve for the first time, as friends offering support. They were with a member of the congregation who is someone I haven't gotten to know very well, who is not active on committees or boards, but who has been attending faithfully. Turns out they are friends.

The four of us sat together for a bit; then I cracked a joke in which Beloved figured. I turned to the member of and said, "Do you know Beloved? She's a friend of mine." Then I finished my story. During the conversation it was also clear that I knew of the status of the couple; their particular tale, etc. A few minutes later I went to chat with some other folks. Later I spoke to one of the couple. She told me that, as soon as I left the table, the member said, "So, is Beloved, you know...?" clearly indicating, my partner. They said, yes. But Shhhhhh! It's a secret. Or something to that effect.

At the end of coffee hour we said goodbye. The woman who is a member hugged me particularly warmly, confirming, as I suspected, that it will be OK. She will be an ally.

Such a complicated situation. I was careless. But the visitors also played a part... and, I certainly wouldn't expect anyone to lie for me when asked a direct question. I now am in the situation in which one member... not a very connected member, but a member nonetheless... knows my status. And, if she is an ally, there is an implication of complicity. So... I have inadvertently allowed someone to become a co-conspirator. Not a comfortable situation.

And yet... there was a kind of quiet exhilaration I felt when all was said and done, as if some part of me were saying, "YAY! And the sooner this is over, the better!" I feel great love, great warmth, both towards and from the congregation. I know that the general consensus is, Cecilia is a good pastor. Will that hold? Only time will tell.

I enlist your prayers for all concerned, especially the member, J.

Friday, April 25, 2008

There is a Poet in our midst

Her blog name is "Choralgirl." You've seen her around these parts. I've linked to one of her poems before.

Now, please go read her poem, Peniel. In my recent comment back and forth with certain visitors to this blog, I stated at one point that I wrestle with scripture until it gives a blessing, like the angel by the Jabbok river. In this poem, Choralgirl speaks of that particular wrestling match. It's breathtaking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Elvis Has Left the Building

Just teasing Anonymous... we know you're still out there, reading. 'S OK.

It has occurred to me that the fundamental difference is between Anonymous and me is this: He (and, I gotta believe it's a he... all that "girls" language) believes that, in order to be justified (as in, made right with God) he must adhere to every word of scripture as if it were literally true for all times and places. I do not believe that. In fact, I do not believe that honors the intention of the Author/author(s) at all.

I take Scripture very, very seriously--to the extent of learning the original languages in which it was written, to the extent of reading what many, many others beside myself have said about it, including Calvin, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and others. I take it seriously in that I engage with and wrestle with texts that are painful and difficult and wholly unacceptable (the stories from Judges; the Levite's Concubine, and Jepthah's daughter). I wrestle with it until, like the angel by the river Jabbok, it gives a blessing. I immerse myself in it daily, even the parts that I disagree with. The word of scripture is not God. The word of scripture is not the Word, eternally begotten before time itself.

I guess I believe in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture is brought in to dialogue with Tradition (as in, the teaching of the church over the centuries) AND with one's God-given Reason AND with one's life Experience. One trusts that God is bigger than scripture, and that God is still speaking (as I've heard it said). There is infinite knowledge and grace in the divine that has not been reduced to even those blessed and sacred 66 chapters which some people worship to the point of bibliolatry.

Enough. Elvis has left the building. Let's talk about the signs all around us of God's love at work in this broken and beautiful world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Story of a Sermon

My goodness, it's like the crowd from MadPriest's place wandered in. We have set a record for comments on that last post, friends. I love hearing from you-- all of you-- though, do be loves, and stop SHOUTING. (You know who you are.)

So I've been thinking about the older women in the congregation who have never been married. I have been wondering whether any of them might, in fact, be women who were oriented to love women, but in a day and age where they couldn't find their way to that life experience.

Years ago a minister I know preached a sermon on same-sex love and the church. She brilliantly (to my mind) used Acts 10, the story of Peter's encounter with Cornelius, and the vision Peter had that changed his mind and heart. Go ahead and read it here; I'll wait.

Good. The gist of the story, of course, is that Peter had been convinced that only those who observe the law to the full extent (including the laws around food and circumcision) could be Christians, could be saved. But he has a vision, in which God says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter realizes that God's vision is bigger than his, and he says, ultimately, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

This minister wove this story into a sermon that was powerful and true; afterwards a woman of her congregation, a pillar of the church who was about 75 at the time, came to her. With a trembling voice, she said, "I waited a long time to hear that sermon." And that woman left there, for the first time in her long life as a faithful Christian, hearing that she was not bad or corrupt or polluted by virtue of who her soul longed for. That woman went home healed.

I am here to say that I believe that those who "do what's right" are many, and they have not been accepted. What God has called clean, by the growing sensus fidelium, includes, in our day, committed same-sex partnership. I believe this with all my heart.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Understanding of Scripture

I almost titled this "My Theological Manifesto." But then I remembered Rory and Paris working on a project for school in "The Gilmore Girls," and Rory advising Paris, "First, lose the word 'mainfesto.'" So... 'My Understanding of Scripture' it is.

It strikes me this may well be long overdue. I have a commenter (or two... it's hard to know how many, although the most recent one seems politer than the one who was calling everyone "honey" or even "dyke"... a word I don't automatically despise... I think it has morphed, for much of the lesbian community, into a word we have reclaimed, much like African American people have reclaimed words once hurled at them like bullets). (That was a long aside, no?). Anyway, I have at least one commenter who keeps trying to convince me of the sinful nature of my relationship with Beloved by quoting scripture at me... primarily Leviticus, though I believe Romans was mentioned at a certain point.

Herewith: my approach to understanding and interpreting scripture.

1. The understanding of scripture as always "literally true and authoritative" (the doctrine of biblical inerrancy) is ultimately a bankrupt enterprise, and contrary to the intention of the Author/authors.

My daughter recently told me about a controversy in her biology class. I wondered whether she meant abortion. Of course, she did not: she meant the controversy of creationism versus the theory of evolution. The author(s) of the creations stories in Genesis (there are at least two there) had at their disposal creation myths of the ancient Near East. Their intention in telling the story of the seven days of creation was etiological: a seven day week was already in place. It was also, strongly, theological: God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen. It was also liturgical: the seven days of creation unfold with the grace of a gorgeous worship service, all in balance and harmony. That it would be so miserably misunderstood by 21st century Christians that they would reject God's gift of scientific reasoning and inquiry is disheartening, to say the least.

Now, here's where the intellectual bankruptcy comes in. Theological conservatives insist on literal understandings in some places and not in others. God created the world in seven days? Check! Jesus literally gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist? Uh, not so much. Why one and not the other? The "whore of Babylon" spoken of in Revelation: a prostitute from Babylonia? Of course not! Sorry folks. You can't pick and choose which things are held to be literally true with no rhyme or reason. If you acknowledge that some things are symbolic, then you must admit that some of the things you want to be literal might be symbolic. You must admit that.

2. Scripture is inspired by God and mediated through human beings.

The Biblical witness is comprised of many, many different kinds of literature, written across a period of many centuries, much of which has its roots in oral tradition, and all written for different audiences and with various purposes. For all its diversity, it has this common thread: it is the attempt of human beings to record their experience of living in covenant with the very real, very transcendent God. However, the historical context and scientific worldview matter; they inform the authors of scripture, and they influence their pronouncements. Let's talk about Paul.

Paul, in Romans 1, is not writing a Manual of Sexual Sins for All Times and Places, but a comment on those who are engaging in idol worship, and the sin he perceives as a result of that. (All LGBTQ folks who have engaged in idol worship this week, sound off!). Furthermore, Paul has a specific understanding of nature, of what is natural. It is his understanding that same-sex behaviors fall outside the realm of nature. Safe to say he never got the memos about same-sex behavior in bison, swans, gulls, penguins, bonobos, dragonflies, or any of the rest of the approximately 1500 species that exhibit same sex attraction and pairing off. Just as in humans, this behavior is observed in a minority. But just as in humans, it is clearly natural, i.e., occurring in nature. So Paul's calling it "unnatural" is incorrect. If Paul understood it to be natural would he have condoned committed same-sex partnerships? Well, given his feeling that no one should marry (see #3), I think it unlikely.

3. Scripture is not a monolith; it does not give us one easily discernible rule of thumb about sexual matters.

To talk about "scriptural family values" is to invoke, simultaneously, Jesus' prohibition on divorce, Paul's recommendation that people not marry because Jesus is coming back right away, Leviticus' permission to stone disobedient children, and Genesis' Big Love stories involving multiple wives and concubines. There is no single "scriptural family value" that can be invoked. There just isn't. Sorry. For those who believe that Romans 1 should dictate the understanding of all relationships between persons of the same sex, show me one preacher-- just one-- who is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 [I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.] should be the guide for all those who understand themselves to be heterosexual.

4. For Christians, there is a rule that can guide us in our understanding of how to live morally. When in doubt, defer to Jesus' law of love.

He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

Can people live in committed partnerships with persons of the same sex while obeying Jesus' great commandments? I believe they can. For those who wish for further details to be fleshed out, Jesus also offers this view of salvation:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:31-40

Again, no mention of sexual behavior. Much mention of caring for the hurting of this world. This is not "my" view of "who is saved," it is Jesus'.

5. Jesus trumps Paul and Leviticus.

Self-explanatory. But I will explain nonetheless. Jesus says not one word, not one, about same-sex relationships. And it is very possible that Jesus healed the same-sex partner of a Roman soldier (Matthew 8:5-10). And where Jesus does speak of sexual behavior, he holds up covenant as the overriding value... hence, no divorce. Jesus trumps Paul and Leviticus.

So, dear Anonymous. Thank you for your concern. But I believe with all my heart that you are mistaken. I believe that God made me a woman who is affectionally and sexually drawn to be in relationship with another woman, and I have committed myself to her in love and fidelity. I believe that scripture, properly understood, offers no obstacle. Here ends the manifesto. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Sonnet

Continuing one thread of the last post, Choralgirl shared the sonnet here with me. It was inspired by Ruth and Naomi, a passage which Choralgirl and her Beloved had at their wedding. Please go and read. It's simply astonishing. It's love. That's all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

Is it weird that I got a text message from Beloved, in the middle of a denominational meeting, saying "I love you so"?

Should I feel strange knowing, as I do, that there were at least three of "us" in that same meeting, none of us even remotely "out," but all of us doing ministry in places where we are thriving as well as the congregations we serve?

Is it weird that I get emails from the Human Rights Campaign and from Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in the same inbox in which I get emails from members of the congregation I serve?

Should I feel strange knowing that the administrative assistant warns me against doing "controversial" things like advertising local Pride events, without knowing, you know, the truth about me?

Is a framed piece of art in my office depicting Ruth and Naomi a dead giveaway?

Do people even care?

Sometimes I just wonder these things.

re: "Kids Say the Darndest Things"

... go here. Caution: spew factor extremely high.

Heather, thank you for your indulgence.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I had the occasion to spend much of a beautiful spring day with a beautiful older woman, a member of the congregation I serve. (I'm trying to get out of the habit of saying "my congregation," though that feels natural to me. I think I understand why it rubs some folks I deeply respect the wrong way.) A. and I met at her house, a place redolent with memories of about 87 years of joyful living. I almost gasped when I saw her sofa, a Victorian concoction that was the ghostly image of one my mother had many years ago. I also was struck by A.'s perfume. It is Estee, a scent a beloved aunt of mine practically bathed in all through my youth. Driving A. to lunch was like being in the backseat of the enormous Cadillac my aunt used to drive (with one foot on the accelerator and one on the gas, forever mixing the perfume's scent with the vague odor of burning rubber).

A., like most people her age, has experienced her share of losses. Though her children are living (and nearby, and they are attentive and kind people, too), her husband has died, as well as just about all of her peers. Not too long ago she lost her lifelong best friend, a woman she met when they were both the wives of servicemen abroad in 1943. She feels the loss keenly. A spring is missing from her step.

Over delicious soup and sandwiches we talked about her family, the church, my family, and then the talk turned to her friend. Her hands trembled and her eyes filled. She misses her dear friend so much.

A few days ago I heard Philip Roth being interviewed on the radio. He talked about how we have a mental template for living and dying, but an incomplete one. We expect our parents to die before we do; we expect our children to live after us. But we don't remember to try to imagine when our friends will die. It's a shock that changes us forever, no matter how old we are. We don't expect it. We can't imagine it. It brings our own mortality home in a way that makes us squirm.

[Beloved is going through this right now. Someone she loves dearly, a colleague and friend, has been diagnosed with a virulent, aggressive form of cancer. She is shaken to the core.]

As I dropped her off at her house, A. turned to me and said, "You are just the pastor our church needs. I'm so glad you're here." What a blessing she is to me. What a blessing she has been to everyone whose life she has touched.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day of Silence

It is so easy for me to get caught up in the drama of "What if people at my church find out that I'm a lesbian?" Here's a news item to put that in perspective: On February 25, 2008, an eighth-grade student was shot and killed by a classmate in his school in California because he was gay. It was not long ago that my children were eighth graders. The idea that one of them might lose their life because of a crush on a classmate turns my stomach, but that is, evidently, what happened.

A few days ago there was a piece in our local paper about the national "Day of Silence." This is a youth-led effort to raise awareness about violence against LGBTQ youth, especially violence in schools. My daughter and her friends plan to participate. (One of my daughter's best friends is a boy who has recently come out to her. Also, she knows me.) On April 25, they will go through their classes without speaking; they will clear it with teachers in advance, and hand out cards to anyone who inquires as to why they are silent. This is a protest whose goal is safer schools and the valuing of every individual regardless of sexual expression.

Alas, this is scaring the hell out of some people. There is a national Christian organization that is attempting to stir up opposition to the day of silence, by claiming that students who participate will be "holding their classmates hostage" to their political agenda. Isn't that a fascinating reversal? Those who condone-- by their silence-- violence against LGBTQ people accusing others of a violent means of protest. Fascinating. Utterly fascinating.

Go to the website. Sign up. Tell your children about it. I'm so very proud of my daughter for standing up for her loved ones by this small but brave gesture.


Update: Pam BG has written about recent incidents of violence against members of Changing Attitude Nigeria here. Other articles, including a first hand account of the violence, can be found here.

Those who are silent about the violence are guilty of perpetuating it. It's that simple.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Busy, and Moving Along

Good busy. Events, functions, visits (home, hospital, nursing home). Activities with individuals of all ages. I love this work!

I have begun my baby steps (see "New Initiatives" below). I have also had a conversation with my children about the issue of my sexuality being raised by members of the church. Even a year ago, the thought of this made my stomach churn. Who am I kidding? Even a few months ago, if I was reporting faithfully on my blog. But now... it's not that I'm looking to be outed. Frankly, I'd like to see certain things in place in my congregation before that were to happen. But... I realized, in the conversation, that it no longer freaks me out. We have a set response we have agreed upon. I have encouraged my children not to be too defensive about it, but they both have stated that, were they to be asked directly, their response would depend on their perception of the motivations of the asker. If the intent were malicious, they tell me, "None of anyone's business" is what they're inclined to say. If otherwise, "Why don't you talk to her about it?" I can live with that.

For me, the response, were I to get a direct inquiry, would be something like, "Would it matter? Would it change the kind of pastor I have been, or am?" I hope and pray that for most folks, the answer to my question would be "No."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Speaking Out

Friends, something remarkable has happened... at least, I think it is remarkable. In recent days some folks who have been commenting here have decided to begin blogs of their own, about their experiences of being closeted. Please reach out and extend a welcome to:

Thoughts from a closet gay Christian "Hidden in Christ" is another woman in full time ministry who is in love with a woman.

A Lesbian Baptist Speaks
"Closeted Baptist Lesbian" is a lifelong member of the Baptist church, out to only four people in the world.

Hoping and Searching
"Hope", who began posting here as anonymous last week (I think) has a blogspace ready to go but with no posts. If you're reading this Hope... no pressure! But a community awaits you... all three of you. I am a witness.

Welcome, sisters, in the name of the beloved community of Jesus Christ, our risen and welcoming Lord.

New Initiatives

I have been finding my conscience prodded lately. It is being prodded by this whole closeted gay thing I have going on in my ministry.

It is easy for me, in some respects, to hide out in plain sight. I have a bunch of girly things about me: my love of vibrant colors. My love of lipstick. My decision never, ever to let my eyebrows go unwaxed, ever again. (Cute story: when I was in seminary, I was in a "never pluck, never wax" phase. I thought all that was slavery, misogyny, etc. I was too much of a feminist, you know? But one weekend... well, just for the fun of it, I had my brows waxed when I got a haircut. The response of people the following Monday was, to a person: "Wow, Cecilia. You look really refreshed and relaxed... you must have had a really restful, peaceful weekend." I am not kidding. About 10 different people said some version of this to me. After that: Waxing. Always.). So.... girly. Jewelry: I love it. And Beloved has presented me with some astonishingly beautiful pieces, so that every single day I can wear something she gave me.

Unfortunately, there is still a misguided (and usually bigoted) belief in some quarters that lesbians = mannish. Since I have a sort of girly thing going on, plus I have been married to a man, and have two children, I think it just doesn't occur to folks in my church that my sexuality might be other than straight. Therefore people in my congregation sometimes make unguarded comments to me about LGBT issues or people. And so I am able, occasionally, to hear uncensored thoughts in this area. For the most part, folks say things that indicate a willingness to be open/ welcoming, and some confusion about why some other folks are so bothered about this. Sometimes folks will mention things about other folks' reactions to the one openly gay member of our staff... which, if at all negative, has been muted and hidden. (That person is so well regarded... it's as if no one would dare. The loss to the church would be too great.) Recently someone told me about an incident that occurred when the church was between pastors. A more liberal member of the congregation submitted something for the newsletter that had to do with a local rally in support of LGBT people, and the sh*t, evidently, hit the fan. Interestingly, this took the form of one person coming into the office, declaring that other people were upset... but the other people, whoever they were supposed to be, never showed up.

So... here I am, closeted and all. And, friends, I think this is one of the most pressing justice issues in the church. A rabble-rousing blogger I love to read said this, recently, in the comments section of his blog:

When I met with our local PFLAG group at my previous location, this conversation or a form of it happened at every meeting.

Remember PFLAG is a secular organization. Yet the religious discussion would happen again and again. A high school student, or a 20s or 30s something person would tell a little about his or her story.

Someone would ask, "How are your parents doing with this?"

The individual would reply, "Well, you know, they are Christian."

And everyone would groan. They all knew exactly what that meant, bigotry. Perhaps it meant being kicked out the house; each story was different on the specific incarnation of bigotry in each household.

I believe that the Christian religion, at least in America, is the leading cause of injustice toward gays.

I lay the blame at the feet of Christianity. Not just some Christians, all Christians.

I say this as a Christian minister.
It is as much my fault as it is the god hates fags people.

Why? Because the Christian umbrella allows sanctuary to bigotry.

If Christians who think differently do not speak out and act for justice, we are not following Christ.

We are not even being neutral.

{You can find the post and all the comments here.}

These words are pressing hard into my heart. In my little safe haven of girliness, I am pretending that I can be neutral. But I can't. It is time for some new initiatives. It is time for this closeted pastor to at the very least, come out of the closet where her views on the gospel and gay people are concerned.

Scares the daylights out of me. But it's got to happen.