Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spirit, Enter Here

It's hard to know how to try to describe this past week.

I continue to have many, many conversations with members and friends of the congregation, mostly un-bloggable. Interestingly, only one of the many sticks out as uncomfortable and unsettling, and that one had nothing to do with my recently disclosed sexuality. Without going into detail, let me just say... it was another of those experiences in which someone unloads a lot of what turns out to be Their Stuff. I'm getting pretty good at recognizing that, certainly when the topic of conversation is: "Are gay pastors ok?" or something along those lines. I can engage in those conversations with a great deal of peace and focus, and walk away fine. Exhausted, perhaps, but otherwise... fine. Still centered, still at peace.

But this one conversation... in the middle of it I started to feel that I might be breaking out in hives. I had fantasy after fantasy of escape. When I got home (5:30 or so) I took Benadryl, because my back was, in fact, covered with red welts. I passed out for two hours. Then I awoke, unable to work or concentrate (because I was obsessively going over the hive-inducing conversation in my mind, re-living, in particular, the toss of a head saying "No, I will not help you."). I tossed and turned until after 4 AM. My alarm goes off at 5:55.

That was Wednesday into Thursday. Thursday I had a meeting to host at my church, followed by a couple more meetings with congregation members. I was able to leave the office by 4:30 and grab an hour nap prior to an evening rehearsal. (Petra and I are in a show!).

Unmentioned until now: Friday evening I had a speaking engagement. The first of its kind for me... not church, but a community group with which I have some connection. I was asked about 8 weeks ago to speak at a dinner. I had a vague sense of what I was to speak about. (About 20 minutes, har har har). As of Friday at 5:55 AM I had written approximately 1/3 of my talk. And not a single line of Sunday's sermon.

This is something about which I don't think I've blogged, either here or at the other place. I have a tendency to procrastinate. In terms of sermon writing, I'm aware that I'm in very good company, as someone who sometimes/ oftimes doesn't begin writing (or at least hasn't written a whole lot) by Saturday. And I always have a kind of trust available, that I will be able to come up with something preachable. But this speaking engagement was something else again. It was a type of speech of which I''ve had zilch experience. And to go into Friday morning with it unwritten was kind of horrifying.

Ultimately I was able to crank out something with which I was not unhappy. I'm grateful to say. it was well-received. And on Saturday at 2 PM I started writing a sermon that turned out to be something that felt pretty good.

I have a friend who gives the Holy Spirit credit for pulling her out of all sorts of last minute jams. That always seemed a little questionable to me. For one thing, why save my bacon in terms of, say, professional reputation when, gosh, let's see, war, pestilence, famine, the fury of nature... there are so many billions more pressing projects that must beckon the Almighty... catch my drift? That just doesn't comport with my understanding of God.

And yet, understanding isn't everything. If I'm living one truth now, it's that God's goodness and care in my life cannot be overstated and do indeed seem to account for a whole lot of grace that is flowing, with abundance. As I have said before: grace upon grace.

A woman who gave an inspirational talk at my church not too long ago shared a very simple prayer she says when she is anxious or fearful: "Spirit, enter here." I find myself praying that a lot lately. Thursday morning about 3:45 AM, for instance. And Friday, as the speaker before me folded up his papers and left the podium, and Saturday at 2 PM as I typed the heading for my sermon. And this morning as I drove to church to deliver said sermon. And now. Spirit, enter here.

This week the committe responsible for church/ pastor relationships in my local denominational governing body meets, and will hear (formally) of my coming out to my congregation. In my denomination, the local governing body needs to approve the relationship between pastor and congregation. I don't expect an answer immediately. I certainly hope they will take their time in studying the matter. A deep breath. Spirit, enter here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Words

None are necessary. This photo says it all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quote of the Day

Courtesy of Choralgirl (she's so smart!!! But we knew that...)

I think that most people, upon opening the closet door, experience a minor avalanche of emotional shoeboxes, basketballs, extension cords and stuffed animals falling on their heads...things they'd forgotten they were keeping in that closet.

Can I get an "Amen!"?

So Much to Say

So much to say... and so much is unbloggable.

I continue to have wonderfully rich (and emotionally exhausting) conversations with folks from church. (Why did it not occur to me how much harder it would be that I am the subject of these conversations... unlike 95% of the conversations I normally have with congregants? It exerts a certain pressure, and, paradoxically, is gloriously freeing.)

I continue to have other issues that arise as all the emotions swirling around coming out continue to be processed. One involves feelings about friends who don't respond in precisely the way I would like them to respond... surprising levels of anger there, which... well, it's just surprising. Maybe because I expect them to intuitively know exactly what I need from them and feel betrayed if they don't give it? Feels a little unlike "me" as I've experienced myself (but they can correct me if I'm wrong... and, I trust they will!).

Blah blah blah. That last paragraph was uninteresting.

Continue to be blessed by scripture. From this morning's reading from Hebrews:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain... [6:19]

This resonates and buzzes in me.

And I continue to be blessed by those who love me. Case in point: Larry O, pulling out his ever-present guitar and saying, "This song feels like it's about coming out. I want to play it for you." (And sounding stunningly like Teh Matthews himself in his playing).

Have a lovely day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's Happening Everywhere

Thank God!

Celebrating the case of Rev. Scott Rennie...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The past days have continued to be filled with the gifts of people I never imagined would be "ok" with my coming out being "ok." Not only "ok," but thoroughly loving.

We had large numbers in church on Sunday (for us), numbers approaching our holiday numbers. And no one, evidently, was there to throw tomatoes, because I emerged entirely tomato-free. My children were there (their blog-names on my other blog are Larry and Petra, so I'll start referring to them that way here). They were, in a way, loaded for bear-- as in, "Just let someone try to say something awful, Mom--- we will SO take care of this." I advised them that our job, in the face of the appalling, was to rise above it, and their job, in particular, was to say, gently, "I know my mom would like to talk to you about it."

Turns out none of us needed to do any of that.

Worship, which started out awkward in some respects, soon gained its footing. Our opening hymn:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for them singing, praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

I find myself this morning musing about how odd it is that suddenly what has been utterly private, even sacredly so, is now the content of very matter-of-fact discussion with, for instance, my church board. We had a wonderful consultant on policy matters join us last night for our meeting. I tried to take it all in as the conversation ranged everywhere from things like, What is our highest calling as church leaders?, to, What is a marriage?, to, What "practices" are we talking about, precisely? All was done with great delicacy, and yet, for the first time in all this, I had a "Where is my rock, that I may crawl under it?" kind of feeling.

But best talk about it. Because, it helps with clarity. And it shows that we are ready. I appreciated one member of the body saying, really, it is our job to do what we think is right. And if anything challenging happens, then we deal with it. Amen to that, I say.

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.

This morning I'm struggling with profound tiredness. I don't seem to be able to get to sleep early enough, my brain won't shut down. Tonight after work Beloved and I are planning a long walk by the river. I hope that will help me to settle in.

And yet, even in the fatigue there is a peace... there is a freedom that's hard to describe. I'd thought the freedom would come at the end. My mistake. The freedom is the first thing to arrive. Thanks be to God!

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Love, Love, Love, Love: A Sermon on John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. ~ John 15:9-17

“Love, Love, Love, Love”
May 17, 2009
6th Sunday of Easter

I sometimes wonder, if someone had a lot of time on their hands and decided to search through all the sermons I’ve ever preached in order to count how many times the word “love” appears… how many would that be? I’d bet that would be a lot. I say “love” a lot in my preaching. In fact, I have a sense that “love” may just be the word I use the most in my preaching because “love” captures my understanding of the Good News. The Good News is this: God loves us. God loves us, each and every one of us, wildly and extravagantly. God is love.

Our reading from John’s gospel this morning picks up precisely where last week’s reading left off. In fact, I had a brief moment when I seriously considered titling this sermon, “Abiding, Part II.” Or “Abiding, The Sequel.” But when the love angle caught my eye, it captured my imagination. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” So, Love it was.

Love. Is there any word that is more casually tossed around in the English language? Think of all the ways you can say you love someone or something. I love my spouse, I love my children. I love that movie! I love Jesus. I love chocolate chip cookies, and that first cup of coffee in the morning, and Oriental chicken salads. I love my friends. I love my church family. I love the people I work with. I love you. How many kinds of love do you suppose I’ve just named?

C. S. Lewis, one of the great popular Christian thinkers and writers of the 20th century, described love exhaustively in his book, The Four Loves.

The first love Lewis describes is affection. He says that this is the kind of love we seem to have in common with the animal world, and anyone who has a pet knows: we can feel their affection. We love them, and they love us! And they show love for each other. Affection is the kind of love parents have for their children, and children for parents. It is a kind of love that arises naturally, probably out of a biological imperative to keep the species thriving. It is a kind of need-love and giving-love, all wrapped up into one. The parent gives to the child, and needs to give to the child. The child needs the parent’s giving, and the child’s need is a kind of gift to the parent.

Our love for God is need-love—why else would we always be calling God “Father?” God is all fullness, and by comparison, we are all need. We need God’s love the way we need air in our lungs and blood in our veins and food in our stomachs. It is very like the affection of parents and children.

Next Lewis describes friendship, and he comments on how little respect it gets in literature and entertainment. He wrote his book in 1960, and I think there have been a lot of “buddy” films since then, for men and for women. Still, think of the famous pairings: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, even, for some of us, Nick and Norah Charles. But who ever thinks of David and Jonathan, or Elizabeth and Charlotte? Friendship is not a result of a need-relationship, like affection. And that is precisely why, in the ancient world, friendship was valued more highly than other loves. Because friendship is freely chosen, because we are not compelled into it by our own emotional or physical needs, it was considered the kind of love that elevated human beings into the realm of the angels.

Of course, the word love is associated most frequently, in our culture, with romantic love, or what Lewis calls Eros. As he puts it, it is the kind of love lovers are “in.” Which gives us some sense of what Eros is like: it possesses us, it claims us, it feels bigger than we are. Think of Romeo’s words as he gazes up at the balcony: “What light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the East and Juliet is the sun.” These aren’t the words of someone who is merely attracted to someone. Romeo’s love has taken possession of his soul. Lewis doesn’t want us to simply reduce Eros to sexuality, either. Sexuality is a part of Eros, but not the totality. Rather, Eros is a kind of complete delight in someone, what he calls “a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.” That is the kind of love lovers are in.

Finally, we come to Lewis’ fourth love: he calls it “charity.” I think we tend to associate “charity” with “charitable giving” (or receiving). It has even taken on a slightly negative connotation… no one wants to be on the receiving end of charity. But that’s not what he’s talking about.

The love Lewis describes is what the biblical writers call Agape. This is the love Jesus is taking about in today’s passage when he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” And, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” What kind of love is this? This is the same kind of love we talk about when we say, “God is love.” The love Jesus is talking about is the kind that gives of itself completely and utterly. It’s the kind of love that gives up all the power in the universe to become a puny, relatively power-less human being. For those fans of “Grey’s Anatomy” who happened to catch this week’s season finale, it’s the kind of love that lays down its life so that someone else can live.

When Jesus is telling us to love one another, he isn’t talking about having affection for one another—though we may have that. He isn’t talking about being in love with one another—though we may, joyfully, find ourselves in that condition. He isn’t even talking about having true and deep friendships with one another—though we may be lucky enough to have those. He is talking about a love that transcends all the other loves, because it is ready to give of itself totally, wildly and extravagantly, without hope or expectation of receiving anything at all in return. It is ready to give even at the risk of its own life, its own welfare. That is agape-love. That is God-love. And that is what we are called to, as followers of Jesus. “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Now, I realize: there is nothing like setting a standard of behavior that is completely and utterly unattainable to get folks bummed out in the middle of a sermon.

Where do we begin? I have what may seem like a somewhat radical suggestion. Why not begin by doing absolutely nothing? Why not begin, not by trying to figure out how to achieve the impossible, matching the crazy, all-out giving-love of God in Jesus Christ. Why not begin, instead, by receiving it, by letting it seep in, sink down, flood into our hearts, souls and bodies. Why not begin by trying to understand that the Good News really applies to us? Why not begin by seeing what it feels like to abide in God’s love?

I have some recent experience in this area. At the beginning of Lent I decided to take on a daily practice of prayer and scripture reading—understand, this is something I always aspire to do, but there’s something about Lent that gives us just the gentlest of shoves in the direction we always mean to go but never quite get around to. And so I began getting up an hour earlier than before, and reading scripture and praying. And the epistle for Ash Wednesday read, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” [2 Corinthians 5:2] As I read those words, something inside me awakened and stretched and opened its eyes to the possibility that it just might be time for me to trust in those words, that now is the acceptable time. It just might be time to see what it felt like to abide in that love. And with that little kernel of hope—that I might be able to abide in God’s love—I began to make plans to share the fullness of who I am with you.

And so today you know a little bit more about your pastor than you did last week. And today I feel so very blessed to be able to say that I know even more about the love of God than I did last week. I know that the love of God shines through your faces and echoes in your words. I know that the love of God bridges barriers we may have thought were insurmountable. I know that the love of God lets itself be heard in phone calls, and read in emails, and seen in face-to-face visits, and held in bunches of flowers and hand-carved crosses.

And I also know this: the love of God does not guarantee there will be no difficult times, but it does promise to abide through those times. The love of God does not eliminate the need for painful or hard conversations, but it does promise to abide in the midst of those conversations. The love of God does not take away our racing hearts when we finally have to speak our truth, but it does promise to abide, giving us whatever it is we need to let those words be spoken. The love of God abides, and abides, and abides.

Near the end of our gospel passage, Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” For the past twenty months, I believe God has chosen to bring us together as pastor and congregation, to do God’s work—to bear, as Jesus says, “fruit that will last”, or as our mission statement says, “to serve our Lord, our congregation, our community, and our world.” God chose us. God’s love abides with us. And I believe that God has work for us to do together, before God sends us on our separate ways. But the first thing I believe God wants is for us to know—to comprehend—that wild and extravagant love God has for us. That giving-love. That God-love. That love in which we can abide, in which we can trust, and in which we can take risks, together. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

OK, Already!

I changed the blog title. And the little "about me" section on the sidebar.


I am.

I realize the first folks to be heard from are, most likely, to be the supportive folks. But I have been literally blown away by the words of affirmation I've heard these past two days.

Tomorrow, as Mary Sue wisely points out, is the Big One.

Sermon title: "Love, Love, Love, Love." John15:9-17. I'll post it here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The First 24 Hours

If the first 24 hours are any indication, the news is very, very good indeed.

My meeting with the church council last night was truly wonderful. It became apparent that there was some real anxiety that I'd called the meeting to announce I was leaving... and when I started by saying "I've sent a letter to the congregation today..." I had to quickly add, "It wasn't a letter of resignation. I love being your pastor, and I hope to be your pastor for a long time to come!"

I reported on much of the rest of that meeting last night.

As they left, one woman caught my arm, saying "I don't suppose she'd like to sing in the choir?"

Today I saw two members of the board who were not able to attend last night, plus one of their spouses. I also spoke to my staff.

At the staff meeting, my secretary immediately began to cry, saying "I hate that you have to go through this." Which started me crying (the first time in all this; it was the tiredness, I think, as much as anything). The church handyman was someone I was a little worried about... I thought perhaps he would be uncomfortable. Instead, he said, "I think folks will be just fine." He disappeared to his wood shop. Later he re-appeared with a Cross Flamant he had carved for me, freshly stained. "That's to give you hope," he said.

Of the congregation, one member has informed me that she's known since I started. Her ex-sister-in-law used to work for Beloved. She and her mother (who also has known from the beginning) have been two of my greatest supporters these last 20 months.

In the worst reaction I got today, a lovely man said, very gravely, "I will be honest with you. We" (his wife and he) "are conservative people. This does bother me. I'm not comfortable with it. At the same time, I see all the things you've done with the church, all the things you've done for our people, and it's just blown me away. You've been a wonderful pastor. So I'm praying about it." As I left, he and his wife joined hands with me for a prayer, and they both gave me big hugs.

And finally, I called my brother and his wife today. They repeated almost word for word what the members of my board, staff, and, so far, congregation have been saying: We're happy for you.

What else can I say?
This is just the icing on the cake of an incredible 24 hours, saturated with grace, grace, grace. God is very, very good. I know there are more voices to be heard, I know there will be at least some folks who are unhappy. But... I do thank God for this first, grace-filled 24 hours.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Evening Meeting

Here's what I told Beloved and my daughter, both of whom awaited the news with bated breath:

It was fabulous.

Maybe in my exhilaration I exaggerate. But I don't think so.

I was careful to give them permission not to respond immediately, not to feel that they must have a reaction on the spot. But about 20 minutes into the meeting, one member of the body (a retired gentleman) said,

"I feel the need to tell you that this really doesn't affect me, one way or the other. We"-- (meaning, his wife and he)-- "joined the church because good things are happening here, and you are one of those good things."

Another person (a woman, early 60's) piped up, "Well, that's how I feel too, honestly. I don't see that it's relevant for how you do your job."

Within a few minutes nearly all the people in the room had affirmed, in one way or another (by spoken word or by nodding vigorously as others talked) that they still value my ministry. In fact, one person said my honesty gives them greater confidence in me as a pastor.

We talked about some of the tough issues (the church policies that remain in place at present) along with some hopeful stuff as well (the grey areas that open the door, just a crack). They asked insightful questions. The goal seemed to be, how do they keep me on.

I'm so exhausted right now I can barely keep upright. (I've felt this way since 8:30, but Beloved and my daughter and I had to have a celebratory dinner).

It was good. It was very, very good. Now, off to bed. But first: thank you, all of you. I read your notes and comments just before going into the meeting. I was completely surrounded by love and prayers. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Ride

Oh the ride I am on my friends.

As I did tai chi this morning (Yang style, I have learned) my instructor (my most excellent, most admirable instructor in oh so many things) paused, turned around to me and said, "It's so amazing that in your coming out you have to manage so many other people's anxiety.

Yes indeedy.

Yesterday I got a call from a higher-up in my local/ regional governing body. This is someone with whom I had shared information about my relationship with Beloved this past January, in the midst of scary medical stuff. I needed to let her know that, hey, I might not make that particular meeting, because the love of my life might be in the operating room under a rib-spreader. (Thank God, that did not happen. I'd have mentioned it.) She was very pastoral and supportive.

Early in Lent I also shared with this woman the road the lectionary readings seemed to be taking me down, the Coming Out road. She listened pastorally, again, and I had the sense that she was in my corner.

Fast forward to yesterday, something like 48 hours before the Plan was to be put into action.

She was trying to talk me out of it. Much of it feels unbloggable, because I have an ongoing working relationship with this woman as a colleague. But... it was as if she had opened my head and was pouring a great whopping dose of fear in there.

In the end, I think she did me a favor, because, instead of becoming afraid, I got mad.

Again... not to go into the unbloggable, but I made it clear that:

The train has left the station.

I do indeed understand the church rules and regs.

I believe that integrity requires this of me, at this time (which I hasten to say-- oh, please hear me-- is NOT a judgement on anyone else's decisions or choices about how out or closeted to be).

This is not about wanting to be a test case or poster girl or crusader. This is about my relationship with my congregation, and wanting it to be genuine. This is about no longer being willing to act as if my life and love are shameful things. They are not.

That said, if my action helps-- anyone, anywhere, including my local colleagues and congregation-- well, then, I'm glad for that. Very glad.

And so, I will be coming out to my church council tomorrow evening at 7 PM [EST], and to my congregation by the letter they will receive on Thursday (hot off the presses, in a folder with lots of envelopes to be stuffed by Beloved and me tonight).

I feel a little like I'm on a roller coaster that has crested the first, tall hill. There's nothing to do bur throw my hands into the air and enjoy the ride.

But... uh... keep praying, y'all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's Coming... Now you people have to help me write my sermon.

Just a few days now.

I veer between serenity, even transcendence, and flipping-out-of-my-mind scared. I know I have mentioned before that I am in a 12-step program around my eating issues. I have a new and fantastic sponsor to whom I pour out my fear each and every morning at 6 AM. I don't know how she stands it. I can barely stand it. But today she suggested a few things.

Prayer: it never ceases to amaze me how much I've been taught about prayer by recovering addicts, how much they have put the lie to my supposed "prayer life." Don't get me wrong: it's better now than it ever has been. But... it is still not my default action for the Big Things.

Writing: Check.

Phone Calls: Hard. Hard to call people and say, I need help, like, now. But I am committed today to calling before I take the bite. My sponsor said, "Assemble your A-team, and then use them." Is this a minister thing? This desire not to appear needy (even to other addicts who totally get it)?

Making a commitment to myself. Yes. The 'day that is coming' (such biblical portents in that phrase) has so absorbed and pre-occupied me that I have been allowing it to be my excuse. But as my sponsor said today, "There will always be reasons to eat." So, so true. It would be so good to get through this with a clear head and a clear heart.

I have recently had the opportunity to speak to two other pastors in my denomination who have come out to their congregations. One had done it in three different calls, and in two of the three, continued to have a good length pastorate. The other did it after a pastorate of good length, and has stayed there with the full support of the governing board.

Each person had different ideas of how best to do it, though they were quick/careful to say "every situation is unique, my way need not necessarily be your way."

I have come to the conclusion that I'm in the best position to judge how my governing board and congregation will best hear this information (it's not really "news"). I've decided I need to trust myself and do it in the way that seems right to me.

Now... what to preach the following Sunday (Easter 6)? Any thoughts? I have ruled out certain kinds of sermons. This is not, for example, the Sunday for the full-on exegetical defense of gayness. Not going there. This is, it seems to me, the day to emphasize some or all of the following points:

  • We are in community together, the body of Christ.

Well, gosh, I got kind of stuck there. The next thing I was inclined to say was, and that means you are stuck with people you otherwise wouldn't be caught dead with! (Or, 'that brings us into relationship with all kinds of people, and sometimes that makes us uncomfortable'). But that seems to lead down a rabbit hole in which I am, essentially, saying "I'm sorry for being who I am."

Which I will not say, under any circumstances.

OK, how 'bout this:

  • God loves us.
  • God calls us to love others in word and deed.
  • I believe you and I have been called, together, to do this work.
  • How 'bout it?

In other news... Madpriest said something really nice about me. Something that made me all teary. He's a good 'un. As I recall, it was he who discovered this blog, way back when it was "from a dark place," and sent his vast and fabulous readership on over for a look-see. So, thank you, Mad One. Your stance with those of us on the margins is deeply appreciated.