Thursday, April 30, 2009
I came out to a fellow minister in my local judicatory last summer.
I came out to a local clergy colleague (from another denomination) during Lent. This minister and the one mentioned above are part of my "A-Team," friends/ colleagues/ supporters.
I came out to my dad Easter week. I had a tender and somewhat difficult follow up conversation with him yesterday.
I haven't been sleeping well, he said.
Oh dad, why not? I asked him.
Because, he said, of what you told me. I just don't understand.
Well, I began slowly, What do you want to know?
Well, he said, How did it happen?
Oh dad, I said. Love is love, I guess that's my first explanation. (Then I went on to tell him of seeing Beloved at an art show and asking her for coffee, and then dinner.)
So, he said, it just unfolded naturally?
Yes, I said. (What a perfect word: naturally.)
And then what?
Well, dad, I said, I guess I just fall in love with the person, you know?
Yes, he said, of course. I understand that. You know, I've wanted to ask you if you were dating her. But I just never did. I don't know why.
Well, I think you were respecting my privacy dad. You know, the only reason I didn't tell you before was, I didn't want you to worry. (Not entirely true. But partially true.)
I love you. You're my daughter and I'll always love you.
I love you too dad.
Today I came out to a retired minister who attends my church. I was nervous, talking to Beloved on the phone just before he and I met. We ordered. He prayed. We had our soup. Then my salad and his wrap came. In the middle of my salad I began my story.
He was wonderful. He was better than wonderful. He is willing to do everything he can to help. Everything. He said, I want you to know you have my complete support in every way.
Tonight I was driving between a meeting and dropping my daughter at a lesson, when a strange feeling came over me. I couldn't identify it at first. But gradually I came to recognize it: it was excitement. Excitement is beginning-- beginning, mind you-- to edge out the fear.
I am getting excited by the thought that everyone will know, at last, that I have a lover and she is a woman.
I am getting excited at the prospect of no longer having to hide.
I am getting excited that soon the thing I've been sort of dreading will soon be over. 'Dreading' isn't quite the word... but the fear has weighed down my anticipation of this whole event with something like dread.
I am getting excited. I'm no Pollyanna. I know that the outcome of all this is hidden in a kind of mist. But here are the facts:
I am pastoring a congregation that is bouncing back from several years of decline, and is experiencing life and growth.
I preach the gospel to them. I am trying every day to share with them the good news of God's saving and liberating love for us.
I am engaging in genuine relationships with the members of the congregation.
I am acting as head of a large-ish staff, and doing it well.
I am engaging the congregation in conversations about how to respond to the needs of our community.
I am a leader in our community in other capacities.
I have been gifted and called by God to this ministry, and I still feel the weight of that call. I still want to be their pastor.
I am getting excited.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I began with a conversation, prayer and exercise.
It continued in an experience of myself as a leader in my church, working with our church board in a way that felt powerful and productive.
It included time with Beloved (walking and sharing some of the deepest concerns we have now, each of us, about huge transitions in our work).
It included time with my daughter.
I want you to know that I am not bathed in fear 24/7, that I am experiencing periods of real joy and anticipation of this new freedom in my life, real confidence that this is in God's hands.
This is in God's hands. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Monday, April 20, 2009
"There 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." 1 John 4:18
I was on the phone crying at 6:15 this morning, to someone who was willing to listen to me talk about my fear.
I spend a good part of every day trying not to be in fear.
I keep coming back to the sheer childishness of it, the pure emotion of, "They'll be mad at me."
I think I know why this is so annihilating. I think it has to do with old, old, stuff. Childhood stuff. The way I felt when my parents (my mother in particular) were angry with me. The way it felt like I might not actually survive their displeasure-- not because they were violent with me (though my mother was, often). Rather, because I couldn't bear it, in my heart. My mother expressed anger by withholding, going away. Being unavailable. I remember pounding on her locked bedroom door, I remember calling her on an intercom, and the terrifying rage with which she responded.
I love her, and she's dead now, and I know the thought that these things would linger would be incredibly painful for her to know. And most days I am at peace with our relationship. But the ripples from a relationship like this go far and wide.
One place they have gone is my relationship with my own children. I know I have been a better parent to my younger child than I was to my older child. With my oldest I am afraid I did something similar (though I managed to arrest the cycle of physical punishment). This pains me, almost a physical pain, when I think about it.
The person who was willing to listen at 6:15 said, "You need to go into this with love. It will make a big difference for your congregation if they perceive you are doing it with love. If you are doing it full of fear, they'll pick up on that, it will affect how they respond."
I know. I know.
I returned to the swimming pool today for the first time in months. One of the things I have to cope with is a kind of amnesia that strikes about healthy behaviors. Why is it so hard for me to recall how amazing swimming makes me feel? I leave the locker room and I can almost feel the seratonin flooding my system.
I have prescribed exercise for myself, to help with my fear. Tomorrow is Tai Chi, and then a long walk with Beloved.
Fear, my companion. I'd best make friends with it.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Me: Dad, I have something I'd like to tell you.
Me: It's about Beloved and me.
Me: She's my girlfriend. We are in a relationship. (Imagine hand gestures... indicating connection between two people.)
Dad: I surmised as much.
Me: I thought you should know. She's a really good person, and she makes me very happy.
Dad: Well, that's what's important.
Me: And [the children] really love her.
Dad: So everyone's happy.
Me: That's right.
That's it. Then we talked about the Somali pirates.
So, that's done. Thanks be to God.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The reading that pierced my side today was from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4-- author unknown, but my favorite two theories have it authored by either Lazarus (the one whom Jesus loved and raised) or Priscilla (who knew the way of God most excellently-- more than her husband, anyway). The passages that moved me were, first this:
12Indeed, 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. 13And 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.
Returning here to the theme of early Lent, in which so much hit me about nakedness, vulnerability, the God-who-sees, as Hagar named El Shaddai in the wilderness. And the word of God has indeed been living and active in me in these 40 days of Lent-- and how, baby. Judging the intentions of my heart. Being laid bare before the One whose opinion, in the end, is the most important.
And then, this passage, a kind of balm for the spirit after the above one has rubbed me raw:
14Since, 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. 15For 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. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I feel that I am being encouraged, in these last days of Lent, to pray for what I need and want. For most of Lent the theme has been listening, discerning, saying "OK, OK God... Jeez! I get it!" Now it is as if a soothing voice is saying, "Dare to ask me for your heart's deepest desire. Dare to ask me." I don't know that it means that I will get it. But it does mean that what I hope and want counts for something in all this. God sees. God cares. God has my back, after all.
Yesterday morning I awoke from a dream, weeping. I had been walking on the beach with my mother-- a pure visitation, her presence as real as it was when she was living. We were arm-in-arm, arms linked, and I was crying... I was just so, so sad. I was trying to come out to my Dad (that will happen within the next day or so, as I visit him after Easter services). But my mom already knew. She already knew and she was happy for me... so happy for me. And in life, my mother knew Beloved by phone only; as she got a glimmer of the depth of our relationship (and she really did get it, I believe) she turned to Beloved when she was worried about me, and they had many lovely phone calls.
We walked into the ocean and a great wave swept over us, and she was gone. I wasn't worried; I knew she was alright. Oh, I do wish she was here, though. I wish she could walk with me through all this. I suppose she is, and she does. I suppose I just have to tune myself to her presence. She is one source of mercy and grace in my time of need.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
That's not true, strictly speaking. But... I have been hiding out from my posts here. Life has overwhelmed me, Holy Week has overwhelmed me, and I've just been feeling something like... let's see...
If this cup could pass from me...?
Something like that. (Maybe this is what Beloved means by kicking and screaming.)
One thing I've done is, I've avoided my morning prayer since last Saturday. Just... kind of pretended it wasn't there. Not that I don't pray... I do a little moments all through the day, especially this last weekend. But as for my morning sit-down with El Shaddai... it wasn't happening.
Sunday was glorious in my church. Glorious. Beautiful. And the congregation must own that... I did very little, except to stand out of the way. And we were packed... Easter numbers (in fact, I'll be suprised if we can match Palm Sunday).
It has been a trend of late. Larger numbers, many of whom are not members but regular attendees.
And every time I look out at a crowd on Sunday morning, every time I feel the energy that is building in my congregation, I think: I'm about to blow this apart.
I realize that is not, strictly speaking, what I am planning to do. But I also realize that my coming out may drive lots of non-members away-- not because they're homophobic, but because who needs drama? That's not why they're coming to church.
And I realize, thanks to conversations I've been having with supportive colleagues, that the bar is very, very high for me to be able to remain in this congregation.
First, the church's governing board (church council) has to decide that they want to keep me.
Second, the congregation has to decide they want to keep me.
In each of these steps, I have to discern how split a vote I can accept. If all twelve church council members vote yes, great! What if only nine vote yes? What if it's 7 to 5? And the congregation: 100% would be grand! 90% would be very good! But even at 99%... what if the remaining 1% is comprised of certain pillars of the church, whose departure would be emotionally devastating? How do I help to heal that? (A colleague has advised me, I need help from other colleagues with healing... I can't expect to effectively give pastoral care for healing of a situation I have created.)
Suppose both the board and the congregation want me, by good amounts, and the losses are bearable (or nonexistent). Then what?
Then, the regional body has to approve me. In a season where this very issue-- who can serve as a church officer, at every level-- has been highly politicized, does this body want to risk division by endorsing me? I could potentially be in a situation in which my church wants me, and the regional body says No.
But suppose... just suppose... the board, and the church, and the governing board all say yes. Suppose they do! Yay! Right?
Well, yes. Yay. But I am still not out of the woods. Any member of my denomination can file charges against me or against the regional body for endorsing me. And if I/ we lose, I could still, in the end, not be able to stay in my congregation.
This morning in my prayer... I did pray today... I finally, finally, touched that place where I long to stay with this congregation. I finally tapped into the grief of possibly losing them. And I cried and cried, for the first time, over this possible loss.
This morning's epistle was from Philippians 4. The passage begins with these words:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. (4:1)
Yes: whom I love and long for.
6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Do not worry. Easy for you to say, Paul.
By prayer and supplication (and tears?) let your requests be made known to God.
God, make this way clear. Please.
12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.
The words of someone who sewed tents so that he could have money to travel and preach the gospel. OK. I hear you.
And finally, the words Cynthia and Fr. Tim were always quoting to one another in those infernal and wonderful Mitford books. (Do you suppose she called him Fr. Tim in bed...?)
13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
OK. I hear you.
All things, including:
Bearing people's anger/ disgust/ derision/ disappointment.
Walking patiently with the congregation through a great time of unknowing, a desert time.
Not knowing for a very, very long time. Or,
Knowing very quickly I must go, for their health and well-being.
Losing them. Losing my ministry in this church. Losing my income, my status. Losing.
My richest gain I count but loss? And pour contempt on all my pride?
How does one do something like this? I know I must do it. But if this cup could pass from me... I wouldn't complain.
Philippians 4:13, Beloved!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Through Sam I have become familiar with the three folks here: Two Friars and A Fool. Sounds like my kind of people. In particular, I urge you to read this wonderful piece. Here's a little sample:
Those who believe homosexuality is a sin have a very pithy answer to the question why: because the Bible says so. It is a maddeningly over-simplistic answer. A clever retort with no depth that willfully obscures a host of important issues and questions, and intentionally ignores ambiguity in scripture. Nevertheless it is their constant refrain so it must be addressed.
All of the relevant passages of scripture have been pored over again and again by scholars in obsessive detail. I will not rehash that work here, nor pass judgment on it. You can form your own opinion about what various verses of scripture do or do not mean in relation to homosexuality. I will comment here in a more general fashion about the use of the Bible in moral reasoning.
The Bible doesn't "say" anything. The Bible has no will. It is an inanimate object. Everything we take from the Bible we do by effort and interpretation....
See what I mean? Good stuff. Now go! Read!
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
Sounding for all the world like the psalm Jonah wails from the belly of the great fish, no? But the following verses stopped me in my tracks:
More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.
That last part... do not let others be pout to shame because of me... that hits me pretty much right where I'm living today. Most days I'm able to put aside my severe anxiety of how the congregation is going to respond (react) to my coming out (it's under two months now, about six weeks away). There are days when I sincerely believe the love they have for me is unconditional, that they will simply say, "You are our pastor. Period."
Then I read a psalm like this, and very real fear surfaces. People may well feel ashamed. They may well feel dishonored by my presence in their midst. I can only hope that will be a passing thing.
I have friends, of course, who point out that the need to be closeted, or the perceived need, is a direct result of a culture that is all to ready to perpetrate violence on us... whether spiritual or physical. (See John Shuck's excellent piece on this, linking to Michael Adee's piece on the Defense of Marriage Act). I know that. I understand that. But I feel that I will be called to account for hiding my true self from them. It is a betrayal they may have a hard time forgiving.
That's where the psalm led me this morning.