Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lent Day 30: God Seeing

But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. ~Psalm 10:14

A member of my congregation loaned me her copy of "The Shack." I will admit: I resisted this book. Any purposey- Jabezy-left-behindy mass marketed paperback that suddenly Every Christian Must Read seriously worries me. And when I found out what it was about... a man whose daughter was abducted and murdered by a serial killer, who gets together with God in a shack in the woods to learn all about forgiveness, my initial thought was No. Thanks.

The book was a pleasant surprise. It is not great literature, and there are too many conversations in which God 'Splains it All to the main character for my taste. But... there is a lovely heart to the book, and that heart is that, no, God does not do appalling things to teach us lessons (nor does God take our children as "little angels"). But God does the following: God loves us. God gives us freedom to choose. God works so that some good can come out of even our most appalling choices, all the while still leaving us in freedom to choose relationship or not.

There are things about the book that feel like wishful thinking (though possibly helpful, perhaps in the same vein as a seminary professor who told us that, since God is not limited by time, we can pray for healing and help for things that are already past, people already dead, tragedies already occurred).

There were moments in the book that absolutely gave me chills, they were so beautifully narrated. And the main character, the father, is really well-fleshed out. He is not a pliant cipher, ready at every moment to "buy in" to God's explanations or God's urging him towards forgiveness.

The lenghty passage on forgiveness near the end is a difficult moment in the book, only because who cannot appreciate the difficulty of trying to be an agent of forgiveness in the situation the book describes? Who wants to forgive someone who brutalized and terrorized and killed a child, any child, much less one's own child? Not me. Not Mack. But the case for forgiveness is well made-- as well as great clarity about what forgiveness is NOT: it is not necessarily openness to a relationship with the offender, it is not necessarily letting go of anger, it is not forgetting.

I think for me the most moving piece of the book is one I found echoed in this morning's psalm: that sense of relief when we finally believe that God does see us. God sees our devastation, our desparation. God sees us. That is such deep consolation to me, when I do let it in. That was something I walked around with, on a little piece of paper in my pocket, when my marriage was unraveling and I had to put a good face on for the rest of the world. God could see me. God sees.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lent Day 29: On the Willows

This morning's psalm is 137, one of those that you think you understand until the last verse twists a knife in a place you never expected.

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down
and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

But this is one of those psalms that feels true-- if devastating, unacceptable, repugnant. I believe it contains a memory of just that dreadful crime being perpetrated upon the children of the Israelites. Where else could that wish germinate?

But for me, and for so many of my generation, this psalm is inextricably woven together with my memories of this. Enjoy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lent Day 27: Coming Together for the Good

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:28-39

I am used to reading these words in two particular contexts: first, the context of what is called in church the "assurance of pardon," or the "assurance of God's forgiveness." And the second paragraph above, verses 31-39, is perfect for this purpose. It addresses the issue in two ways. First, it commends the faithful reader/ listener into complete self-release into God's benevolent care. Many times I have read or heard these words-- proclaimed them together with the worshiping congregation-- and taken precisely that encouragement from them. God in Christ doesn't condemn me, but wants my salvation, my wholeness, my life.

Today it's the second thing that paragraph does that attracts my attention, however: it encourages the faithful one to not mind the judgment of other people. and this is where I'm living, folks: in the fear (some days more, some days less) of the judgment of other people. Good people, people who today love me, but who may... in the course of a few weeks or months... come to the conclusion that I am not who they thought I was, and turn their backs on me.

I keep coming back to what friends have said. Several have noted that this will likely be a time of stark contrasts... the possibility of hatred and anger, at the same time as there will likely be real and unexpected beauty. Love. Unexpected acceptance.

Which takes us back to the beginning of the passage... all things work together for the good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose. Recently I reacted angrily to someone who said to a grieving man, "God never gives us more than we can handle." Bullshit. People get more than they can handle all the time. And no one gets to interpret my tragedies to me, or your tragedies to you. Or your struggles, challenges, etc. But I DO believe... God works (I initially typed "words"... and that works too) good out of even ugliness... not because that was "the plan" (as in, God made this terrible thing happen so that I could have AFGO), but because that is the nature of God... to create what is good. No matter what life does to us.

Oh my friends. I feel your prayers. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lent Day 25: Dreaming (edited)

The other night I dreamed I was in a seminary classroom, except I was lying down in bed. At a certain point I realized that everyone else was sitting up. I suppose this registered with me somewhere in my consciousness as "Oh, this is going to be one of those dreams," meaning, the ones where we are utterly unprepared in a school setting, or making a speech. But the dream took another turn.

The professor handed me an icon of Christ, Pantocrator. I had heard the word, obviously, but feeling a little like Bernadette Soubirous upon hearing of the Immaculate Conception, I was clear that I had no idea what it really meant. That word stayed with me the rest of the dream... Pantocrator, Pantocrator. I looked at the icon, and it was, roughly, the icon you see at the right.

When I awoke I looked the word up. It is a Greek word, translated in the New Testament as "almighty," and used in the Septuagint to translate "El Shaddai," though without the same groovy "breasted God" undertones. It is unusual in that it refers to Christ, not to God the Father/ Creator.

In my dream I then handed the professor an icon of Christ Sophia... so I think a feminine divine image was stirring under all this in my head/ heart. This is the image I handed him. Now, obviously, this is a "madonna nursing" image. But in my dream, it was the Christ, the Wisdom of God.

I woke from the dream calmed and reassured.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lent Day 23: Spinning

Spinning, a lot, and not like a top, either. Not as smooth or picturesque.

Yesterday afternoon as we lay curled together, Beloved said, I wish you weren't doing this kicking and screaming.

I don't think I'm kicking and screaming. But maybe I am, a little.

A fragment of this morning's psalm (37):

3 Trust in the Lord and be doing good;
dwell in the land and be nourished with truth.
4 Let your delight be in the Lord
and he will give you your heart’s desire.
5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him,
and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light
and your just dealing as the noonday.

There's lots more, but much of it is about the evildoers getting theirs, and that's not... precisely the way I'd like to be going with this. But I do appreciate hearing, let your delight be in the Lord, and God will give you your heart's desire. Commit your way to Adonai, and your heart's desire will come to pass.

How did you know? I want to ask. How did you know, that's exactly what I need to hear today? That you will bring it to pass. Please. Do.

This song came up on my daughter's shuffle this morning. It's long. Don't feel compelled to watch it. Do what I did. Be making coffee, or stirring your cereal. Don't pay attention. Let it sneak in.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Brief Break for Levity

... Beloved-style.

Lest you think it's all drama and angst over here at Coming Out Central...

The other morning Beloved and I had coffee
in our favorite spot. She met me at the usual locale, and we walked over to our favorite place. I noticed she had a shopping bag from a local bookstore (independently-owned), and I asked her what was in the bag.

Oh, I have something for T., she said, indicating the owner of the coffee shop.

As we sat down, a large Hazelnut and a large Sumatra, half-decaf, she confessed, this isn't really for T. It's for you. I reached into the bag, and this is what I found: a selection of books, specially picked for me.

Isn't she the best? My girlfriend.

Lent Day 21: Endurance, Character, Hope, Freedom

Scripture continues to speak to me in uncanny and unsettling ways. How's this, from Jeremiah 9, for first thing in the morning (Wednesday)?

Beware of your neighbors, and put no trust in any of your kin; for all your kin are supplanters, and every neighbor goes around like a slanderer. They all deceive their neighbors, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongues to speak lies; they commit iniquity and are too weary to repent. Oppression upon oppression, deceit upon deceit! They refuse to know me, says the LORD. [4-6]

Of course, there's also this, from Romans 5:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [1-5]

Arrogant of me, perhaps, to speak of "sufferings." Who do I think I am, exactly?

Last night I attended a church meeting in which a committee member sort of freaked out upon learning the broad outlines of something that had been kept confidential by another group within the church. He kept pressing and pressing for details, which were not forthcoming (not from me, but from another church member). Eventually he started fuming about secrecy. I tried to explain the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, but in my doing so fumbled badly because I immediately began an inner freak-out of my own. Everything I tried to say about secrecy indicted me.

I ought to add that this is a member who loves me dearly. This is also a member who, upon hearing my truth, may well be first in line with the tar and feathers. I know I can't and shouldn't go there, but lately I am having a hard time stopping myself.

I thank you for the many kind comments you have left on my previous post. I think it is understandable and natural that the strain of these days should be felt by Beloved and me. But in the experience of it, I have felt somewhat betrayed by the one I feel should be there for me most profoundly. We have talked through this. In Beloved's words, We love each other. We are utterly devoted to each other, and that only grows day by day. We talk through these things, and then we're better.

I feel a great network of prayer is forming out there. I know you are all praying for me; please know how much I appreciate it, and that I am praying for you as well, in all the complexities of your lives. In a world where people are suddenly losing their homes, their jobs, their sense of safety... not to mention in a world where tens of thousands of children starve to death every day and people die violently every hour... my problems diminish, and become what they are: the frettings of an incredibly privileged person. I try to keep perspective. All I can say, and hope, again, is that at the end there will be freedom.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lent Day 18: Moments in My Day

On my friend's doorstep at 6:40, ready for Tai Chi.

Spend the next hour breathing, moving and balancing. And not worrying. Thank you Godde.

Walking with Beloved for 40 minutes, followed by coffee at our favorite place. Lovely.

Office: filled with people needing to fax, needing to copy, needing to talk, needing generally. All morning.

Lunch with my ex-husband, to tell him of my plans to come out... so that he can be aware, and be there for my children if need be.

An hour with Beloved in which we have a massive fight, one of our worst. Topic: lunch with my ex-husband. Is The Ex Cecilia's friend or not? Discuss.

Back to the office, following sundry errands which will please my daughter. Work feverishly to prepare for....

A meeting with the church governing board, from which I am excused so that they may discuss me with representatives of our regional governing body. (No, I haven't come out yet. This is other stuff. Good stuff.)...

In between having terrible, horrible, no good, very bad phone contact with Beloved. (Sample: "Did I say I'm sorry? I changed my mind.")

Cookies being passed around at meeting. They smell good. Especially to a girl who's, you know, kind of pissed and anxious right now.

Streak of pain across the middle of my back... more Tai Chi?

Counting the hours until I can sleep.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent: 3rd Sunday

There is an intensity with which I am experiencing my interactions with my congregation right now. I look out at them from the pulpit, and I know we are connected... my words, my preaching and prayers... they receive them with joy. They share with me their gratitude. It is as if everything is in sharp, sharp focus right now, the stillness before the storm (maybe).

Some mornings I awake before the alarm with my heart racing, thudding in my chest as if I've been running. Some nights I dream about running. The other night I dreamed I was on a bus in a large city, and it took me some time to realize I was traveling in the exact opposite direction from my intended destination. The bus driver and his son (a boy about 11, a little pudgy, silent and dark and sweet) and I were the only people on the bus, and beautiful, melancholy music was playing.

I shared with my therapist that I am experiencing my anxiety about all this on a very primal, childish level. I don't articulate it that I am worried about broken relationships (though I am), I don't articulate it that I fear people's expressions of anger (though I do). I articulate it like this, a very small child saying in a tiny voice, "They're going to be mad at me."


A dear friend has offered to begin teaching me Tai Chi. That starts on Tuesday this week. After a long time of no swimming or walking, Beloved and I resume tomorrow (or bust!). My diet finally (after some rocky months) feels as if it's in a good place again.

And an interesting thing has happened with my Lenten discipline of daily scripture readings following the lectionary. I noticed today... it's a kind of turn, an orientation towards scripture my heart takes, or my psyche. I am always inclined towards scripture-- of course. But (especially when the day offers choice morsels such as this and this) it can be rough going. And then I realized today... I was visiting a parishioner, bringing her communion, and I opened my little Bible to read, and even at the sight of unreadable words racing by as the pages fluttered open, my heart sang, just a little bit. I felt the sensation of love. I love to read these words, I love believing that Godde speaks to me through them (and also, the people of Godde, and that's the tricky part... trying to suss out the difference). I feel a sense of ownership-- my words, my book, my Godde, ready, always, to speak words of love, consolation and challenge.

Especially, now.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent Day 15: Checking In

Though this blog is not registered with RevGalBlogPals, I do lurk there. Today's Mid-Lent check-in was too good to resist.

Sophia (who is herself a gracious presence here) writes:

The pastor of my grad school parish once gave a fascinating reflection, at about this mid-point in the season, called "How to Survive the Mid-Lent Crisis"! As I recall, his main point was that by halfway through the season we have often found it very challenging to live up to our original plans....But, he suggested--on the analogy of the healing and reframing of our life plans that can happen during a mid-*life* crisis--that that can be even more fruitful.

So here's an invitation to check in on the state of your spirit midway through "this joyful season where we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed" (Roman Missal). Hopefully there's a good deal of grace, and not too much crisis, in your mid-Lenten experience!

1. Did you give up, or take on, anything special for Lent this year?

This Lent I did something I often do: vowed to say Daily Prayer (or the Daily Office, depending on your tradition) every morning by rising an hour earlier than usual. This is a challenging discipline for me, especially the early rising part, but I knew I needed it.

2. Have you been able to stay with your original plans, or has life gotten in the way?

Not only has life not gotten in the way, life has made this early prayer hour essential: Within a day of adopting the plan, the idea of coming out to my congregation began to burn in me, an absolutely unquenchable desire.

3. Has God had any surprising blessings for you during this Lent?

The plan to come out: I know it is a blessing, but I also believe it is a great challenge (and no one, I believe, ever promised that blessings would not also be challenges). Yes, this was a surprise. After thinking about coming out a year ago, I had essentially tucked this idea away... found it a closet, I guess you could say. And I had no plans to resurrect it. But... there is coming a time when my congregation will vote to make what has been a temporary pastoral relationship permanent. And as that vote approaches, several things become clear.

First, I can imagine being at my church for many years-- ten or more. In fact, this is what I am hoping for. But I cannot imagine being there all that time closeted. In fact, I can imagine it becoming something that feels very, very oppressive, as I continue to have a vague sense of anxiety every weekend that Beloved and I stay together, or as well hold hands in a movie and I glance around to see whether I recognize anyone from my church community there. The other piece of it is this: being closeted is a temporary measure at best in a small town. Being outed is inevitable. I can imagine a scenario where people begin to learn this about me, and nothing is said... but attendance dwindles, people remove themselves, the trust in me has been hopelessly eroded. This leads me to the second dawning awareness.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of the congregation voting without knowing this about me. It begins to move out of an area of reasonable privacy (which I think was reasonable for the earlier stages of our lives together), and into the realm of dishonesty. Given the inevitability of being outed sooner or later, it just makes sense that I would take as much control (of an uncontrollable process) as I can.

4. What is on your inner and/or outer agenda for the remainder of Lent and Holy Week?

One unexpected thing that has happened is that my friends are not universally supportive of this decision. Most are... in fact, all but one. My friends who are out have all been incredibly sensitive to my need to be closeted as I have been. I have never felt the slightest pressure from anyone, and that includes Beloved. But as I have shared this idea, this news with them... their response has been joyful and supportive (even as they have said things like, I am afraid for you, for the difficult parts of this).

One friend has not been happy with this decision. This friend is sharing with me thoughts and ideas that are designed to be reality checks-- I truly think there is concern for me-- but which in fact are just full of fear, fear, fear. And which are feeding into some of my worst nightmares about the possibilities that lie ahead of me.

My agenda includes continuing to process all of this, getting my support systems in place and ready to go, and writing both the letter that I will send to the congregation and the sermon I will preach the following Sunday. And praying, praying, praying.

5. Where do you most long to see resurrection, in your life and/or in the world, this Easter?

I wish you could see me smiling. Whatever may come... at the end of it will be freedom. That is resurrection enough for me. I wish it for all.

Bonus: Share a favorite scripture, prayer, poem, artwork, or musical selection that speaks Lenten spring to your heart.

For me, the scripture of this Lent is from 1 John 4:17-19:

17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us.

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lent Day 13: The Turning of the Screw

Romans continues. At the beginning of chapter 2, the reader is in for a surprise:

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. ~ Romans 2:1

While Paul has been speaking of "those people" in the third person, in a sense, lulling the reader into a false sense of security ("Yes! It's true! Those damned perverts! Thank God I'm not like them, with their echo chamber of self-congratulations..."). And suddenly... it's not about "them," it's about "you." Whoever you are. Because by judging others you prove that you yourself are guilty.

Here's my favorite line: Or do you despise the riches of [God's] kindness and forbearance and patience? (v. 4) Great question. Why is God's grace and mercy intolerable to some?

Here's the line I claim for myself from this morning's lectionary, discomfort though I have with "shepherd" language (I tend to think there's one Shepherd; the rest of us religious professionals are very lucky sheepdogs, running around and nipping at people's heels). But today I feel compelled to claim this, the way I believe my congregation would claim it if you asked any of them to describe my ministry among them today:

I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. ~ Jeremiah 3:15

That's what I am, a shepherd/ sheepdog after God's own heart. And God is after my heart, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lent Day 12: LGBTQ Texts of Terror

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. ~Romans 1:19-25

Welcome to lgbtq Text of Terror #1: the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. It's too bad, because there is much in this letter that is absolutely beautiful and foundational for orthodox Christian understanding of Christ, his nature, and his call to God's people. But there is this business at the end of chapter 1. Today's lectionary reading stops just short of the lines that are most frequently used, Romans 1:26-27, verses I fully expect to hear used against lgbtq persons in the coming weeks and months in the context of all matter of church experiences. But here's the pity. Those who use these verses in this way do not understand two key points. Today's lectionary passage helps to illustrate one of those.

The people Paul is condemning are those who have abandoned worship of God for the worship of idols... those who "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." This is not a description of 21st century lgbtq Christians.We are not idol-worshippers. We worship Jesus Christ, Immanuel, the Word made flesh. And, of course, God who is in relationship, the Trinity: Father/Mother, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, the "therefore" does not apply to us. Let me say that again: this is a passage condemning behavior that flows from worshipping something other than God. That is not the story for lgbtq Christians. This does not apply to us. That's the first area of misunderstanding.

The second area is one I despair of convincing those hostile to us to accept. Part of the reason is that it stems from an understanding outside scripture, and bibliolatrists (ahem, speaking of those who worship a thing rather than the glory of the eternal God... bibliolatrists would be those who worship the pages and words of scripture over and above the God and Jesus whom it reveals) refuse to admit anything outside scripture to help them understand it, a perversion of the sola scriptura mantra. In the next verses, Paul uses the word "unnatural" to describe sexual acts between those of the same sex. But lgbtq people experience their attractions as entirely natural. I am naturally oriented towards women... it is in my nature. With Beloved I am living fully into the nature God created in me. I am not rejecting something that is natural for something that is unnatural. Rather, it is the opposite: I am abstaining from what is unnatural for me.

Bibliolatrists don't want to hear this. It intrudes into their conviction that the bible is a handy rule-book for everyday living. It disturbs them to think that, as John Robinson put it, "God breaks forth yet more light from God's Word." In other words, as one denomination has put it, God is still speaking to us.

Will we listen?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lent Day 10: Come 'Round Right

For some reason I cannot embed video today. Probably because I am still working on my sermon.

Thanks to Jan for this. Go and watch. What else can I say?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lent Day 9: Mouth Full of Sand Psalm, Plus Morning Coffee, Naked and Laid Bare Version

I follow a different daily lectionary for the psalms than for the other readings from scripture. This is because, the normal (Revised Common) lectionary omits quite a few psalms from the rotation because they are, I assume, objectionable.

I remember reading in one of Kathleen Norris' books (I think it was Cloister Walk) that she could tell the difference, in her years of living in monasteries, between those that read the entire psalter and those that picked and chose. She felt strongly that communities that shied away from the objectionable psalms (Psalm 137, the closing verses, comes to mind. As well as that chilling portion of Psalm 139. The bleakness of Psalm 88.) were places where there was a little less air to breathe, places where relationships weren't quite as healthy because the desire for "nice" was too pervasive.

Under her influence, as well as that of John Calvin (who famously called the psalter "an anatomy of all parts of the human soul"), I have concluded that it is best to read them all, come face to face with the darkness one finds in there... the hate, the anger, the desire for revenge. So, I follow a psalter that rotates through all 150 psalms, the good, the bad, and the just plain scary, over the course of eight weeks.

Well, I got my mouthful of sand this morning. Read this baby. Then, imagine you have reason to think someone might actually feel that way about you (for some strange reason). Then start your day. Have your coffee.

Ah, don't worry about it. There are other gems in the lectionary for you (and me) today. Such as this passage, which is so familiar, and which this morning took my breath away (and washed away the sand with living water):

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:12-16

See what I mean? Living water.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lent Day 8: Those Who Do What Is True

Honestly, I don't come to the third chapter of John expecting to find wisdom on my coming out process. It's... just not what I expect. Let me tell you my history with this chapter. When I was a young adolescent a cousin invited me to her Pentecostal, 'bible-believing' church. John 3:16 was the text on which the preacher hung his finely-honed argument that most of us listeners were going down to the pit, but those of us with enough faith in Jesus might-- might-- be saved. It all hinged on this verse, which eventually became a favorite of football-fans everywhere.

In college a church choir in which I was singing did an anthem based on the text in which I was, for the first time, made aware of verse 17: 'For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.' Huh. That verse had a distinctly universalist feel to it that I couldn't shake.

Yesterday I spoke of my love of Jesus' encounters with all sorts of folks in this gospel. That became the main prism through which I read this passage until this morning.

I should set the stage. Yesterday I had an experience of fear-- real fear-- for the first time since embarking on this emotional and mental plan of coming out. I came out of a staff meeting at my church literally shaking. It was the calendar. We were going through the calendar for the next month and a half and I started to take note of good days and bad days to meet with the church council, to send the letter. By the end of the meeting I was so shaken that I retreated to my office to have my lunch and engage in such automatic tasks as I could handle.

I called a few friends. I called Beloved. I eventually centered myself for the rest of the day, which included time spent with the congregation in the context of our Lenten series.

Last night I ate. I had a full-on binge. I haven't spoken much about my food here of late, but fear and anxiety are not helpful to the project of abstinence.

This morning I awoke feeling somewhat ill. I settled myself for my morning prayer, and John 3:16-21 was the lectionary gospel.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. ~ John 3:19-21

Those who do what is true. I believe remaining closeted sends the message-- whether I intend it to or not-- that I believe I am engaging in 'evil deeds'. If I believe that what I do is true... if I believe I have nothing to be ashamed of, in my orientation or in my relationship... my only option is to come into the light. To walk in and say, Here I am: a beloved daughter of God who desires to continue to serve this congregation.

I expect to walk through days and weeks of fear in the coming weeks. But I must get my abstinence in order first. I must have a clear head in order to go into this process strong and confident and bathed in the love of God. I must not, cannot, go into it a wreck.

So... thank you for your presence here. I ask you to pray for me, to pray for the congregation I serve, to pray for Beloved and my family. And... let it be clearly seen that our deeds are done in God.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lent Day 7: Peace Be With You

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." John 3:1-2

I love this passage, more and more. (It is so helpful when scripture makes be think more about my walk with Jesus, and less about signs at football games.) Here is a religious leader, a man of high esteem in his community, and he has to come to Jesus clandestinely, by night. He is a closeted follower of Christ. But there is something in him that knows the real deal when he sees it: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God." Yes.

There was a time in my life when I had a hypothetical hostility to the gospel of John. I sincerely disliked this know-it-all Jesus, the one whose every fifth word, it seems, is "I" or "me". I was much more down with Mark's Jesus... all raw and rebellious and snarling at his followers to keep his secret for him (oops... that's interesting, too. Closeted Messiah.). And I also disliked the distance of the gospel from the synoptics... the leap one had to make to say, "this is Jesus, AND so is this." But then I realized that I loved John's Jesus just as much as I loved the Jesus I found elsewhere... his constant willingness to meet people where they were. People like Nicodemus, and his own mother, and the Samaritan woman, and on and on and on.

Soon I had the faith that Jesus could meet me where I was, too.

Have any of you ever read this sermon, by Beth Stroud? She was a Methodist pastor whose coming out story was chronicled in "Congregation," a wonderful documentary (you can buy it from PBS or order it on Netflix). I first encountered it several years ago, when watching this documentary with an adult ed class in a church I served in a temporary capacity. At the time, I was newly in my relationship with Beloved. What she was doing (Stroud) was almost inconceivable to me. But yesterday, one of my dear friends here encouraged me to consider contacting Beth or another clergywoman who has come out. And so I found this website and read, for the first time, the full text of this sermon.

This is Jesus. He walks into our closeted and closed spaces and says "Peace be with you." Amen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lent Day 6: Incandescence

Courtesy of the incandescent Choralgirl...

Something about those people from Minnesota...

"God is a river, swimmer. So let go."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent Day 5: No Longer Surprised

By the lectionary readings, that is. That they are speaking to me? Old news.

7For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. ~ Deuteronomy 8:7-10

This passage is one I have echoing in my head, not from years as a minister, or as a Christian, or as a devout student of scripture. No, I hear it in the voice of Jane Powell, playing the part of Milly in the film "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." She knows her bible better than I, and quotes from this passage as she leads the unruly Pontipee brothers in grace before a meal. I hear it this moment as a word of encouragement, saying: don't be afraid. This land you're going to is a good one. This place will be a place of bounty, not want.

This, of course, is relevant to the whole "having a job" issue. It is a reality of my plan to come out that the end result may be that I am no longer the pastor of my congregation. This is something I dread, in one sense... this call took a long time to find me, and I feel that we are so well-suited to one another. My gifts seem to find a home here, at least judging by what the members tell me. There is also the issue of money. I have some savings (though less and less each every day, as the market continues to drain). That was supposed to be "retirement money," but the reality is that my family and I wouldn't be out on the street (in fact, I own my home outright: no mortgage to worry about). Would I be unemployable as a minister in my town? Most likely. Not for certain. If my denomination continues to enforce its current policies, it would be tough.

I hear the scriptures inviting me to take my head out of these particular "what if's?" and focus instead on the incredible sense of abundance and freedom that would result from my being able to be who I truly am, in all places and circumstances. I am getting a taste of it, a whiff of that heady, clean air.

It's addictive.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

First Sunday in Lent: Rejecting What is Strategic

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

The daily lectionary epistle today, again, feels as if it were written BY Paul TO me for JUST THIS OCCASION. It's kind of astonishing to me to feel the Spirit driving me to the process of coming out in my congregation, as the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. I said it yesterday. I'm saying it today. It feels that the universe is speaking to me. I believe it may have begun with "Milk," with his incredible last will and testament in which he declared, if a bullet enters my brain, let it blow open every closet door.

I am also becoming preoccupied with the details of precisely how this will look. Will I write the congregation a letter, scheduled to arrive all on the same day? Will I talk to individuals, do it gradually? There are means at my disposal to give the congregation time to think about it, let the dust settle before they come to a hard and fast conclusion, a process by which they can vote to keep me or let me go. What percentage "No" vote is acceptable?

Along with that sermon exercise, I think it might be good to write the draft "Hi I'm a Lesbian" letter, too, to see how that might look on paper. And I need to assemble a small group of friends and colleagues... not people of the congregation... to talk about all this, to help me plan for the most pastoral way to go about this. It is very clear to me that the long term health of the congregation is paramount. If I can stay and that be enabled, wonderful. If my staying is a barrier to that, then... of course, I go.

In a way, though, I am suspicious of any leap to action. I think for now... introspection, prayer, continuing to be open to scripture... these are the best path for me now.

And here's another message to me from God:

Collect for the First Sunday in Lent

Spirit of integrity,
you drive us into the desert
to search out our truth.
Give us clarity to know what is right,
and courage to reject what is strategic;
that we may abandon the false innocence of failing to choose at all,
but may follow the purposes of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Janet Morley, All Desires Known

Amen. Amen.