Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seeing It, Naming It

I grew up on "Godspell." I was introduced to the play in 1973 by my "cousin", who took me to see it at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC. This was the first and only time I ever attended a play in which people were invited to the stage to receive bread and wine at intermission. That alone sealed the play in my heart.

As a young adolescent I listened to the soundtrack over and over, and the songs became the language of my faith.

I actually went around, briefly, with a pebble in my shoe.


Now, "Godspell" has reappeared in my life in two ways.

First, Petra is in a production at her high school. Yay! Petra! And also, I am jealous. I never got to be in a production of "Godspell," and now I am officially too old. It is a play of youth and vitality and childlike wonder. The wonder I got; the vitality, not as much as I'd like.

Second, we are having a Lenten series at my church, beginning tonight. "Jesus Christ, Movie Star!" No copyright infringement intended . Tonight we begin the series with, you guessed it, "Godspell." I'll be using the call of the disciples to talk about how Jesus calls us.

So, in preparation, yesterday Petra and I watched the whole film. And I was overwhelmed, for the first time, with a conviction about something.

The gayness of Jesus in this film.

Now, I don't know if it's something Victor Garber intended to bring to the role or not. I have only just learned (last evening, after our screening) that Victor Garber is, in fact gay. Who'd a thunk? But I just felt my gaydar activated, and every scene confirmed it.

Now, do I mean by that, that Jesus sashayed around in some absurd, stereotypically "gay" fashion? I do not.

It was, instead, a vulnerability I saw in his portrayal of Jesus. A willingness to be who he was despite the fact that not everyone would be ok with it. And, yes, it was the tenderness in the moments between him and Judas/John.

I know there have been various works of art and theater that have depicted Jesus as gay. I studied queer theology as part of my seminary education. (I understand Sir Elton also has some thoughts on the idea.) But I have never needed Jesus to be gay in order to be absolutely confident that he embraces me (any more than I needed him to be a woman). But... I am just so struck by what I saw in that film, and how deeply it moved me.

I just wanted to share with the class.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent Day 3: Rejoice! Gently

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, 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.

~ Philippians 4:4-8

As I have mentioned (repeatedly, now-- see the last two posts), it is a very different Lent for me this year. A year after a Lent that was about the wilderness and discernment and walking a challenging path (for me; others have far greater challenges, to be sure), I find myself this year wanting to enter into Lent differently. I want to do it with joy.

Imagine my pleasure that the lectionary cooperates. Today, at any rate. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." Perhaps the most famous lines from this epistle, which itself is know by its joyous tone. But the lines I love follow here: "Let your gentleness be known to everyone; the Lord is near."

There is a huge assumption here: the reader is gentle. The reader is capable of gentleness. I wonder if that was as counter-cultural in Paul's day as it is in ours. I know that I entered this new year with all sorts of resolutions about my work at St. Sociable. Not a single one had to do with gentleness, and one or two had to do with its direct opposite, getting "tougher" in a few areas, working harder to claim my pastoral authority. (Beloved thinks I'm a pushover. Which is funny, because you should listen to Beloved-the-Marshmallow with her staff.)

No one will give Barack Obama points for being gentle, no gentle TV news anchor will last long, no leading man is looking to cultivate a gentle persona. Lady Gaga Gentle? Mmmm, I don't think so. I'm not sure I'd even say Jesus was gentle, certain syrupy hymns notwithstanding. (Meek and mild? Not hardly.)

Gentleness connotes a kind of care one would take with others. A way of speaking, listening, being with people that takes into account their needs, their feelings. A way of being that seeks to avoid doing harm. Gentleness.

Now, it does occur to me that cultivating gentleness in the early Christian community might have been a kind of adaptive response to threats from without. If the Christians are thought of as gentle, the emperor might decide not to crucify them or set them on fire or throw them to the lions. Let's not have any heroes here, people. That sort of thing.

But I choose to believe Paul's admonition in favor of gentleness is not cynical or tactical. (Oh help, is anyone else out there stressed that they still don't know the difference between tactical and strategic??) I choose to believe that gentleness is being recognized here as a gospel value, a sign of the kindom breaking loose and wreaking a kind of whimsical havoc. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


So, here's the "Invitation to Lenten Disciplines" I wrote last evening, at about 13 minutes before our Ash Wednesday service was to begin:

Each year at the time of the Christian Passover we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery.

We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for God, and for the communion with him demonstrated by the life of Jesus.

We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks to us of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marks the willingness of this community to walk with Christ into the wilderness.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent,

by self-examination and acts of forgiveness,

by prayer and fasting,

by works of love,

and by reading and meditating on the Word of God and the beauty of God's world.

Anything strike you as a little... odd about it?

As in, not a word about penance? Or even the S-word (shhh: sin).

Well, that stuff is in the sermon... sort of. Repenting of our self-hatred, don't ya know.

It's his fault.

I've been reading his book.

It's having an effect on me. Like, this sermon.

That effect is, I want to tell people how much God loves them.

This is a very different Lent for me than last year's.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What God the Ball Rolling

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

~ 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

We read this as a part of our leadership development time tonight at the church council meeting. Of course, because of my experience last Ash Wednesday, my reading of this passage is forever altered/ altared. This has become a sacred text that is written on my heart as deeply as if you could actually see the alphas and the omegas there, etched in the muscle. It has become the story of my life, 2009.

Not long ago I had to write my annual report to the congregation. As I sat staring at the blinking cursor, I thought, OK, as far as I'm concerned, one thing happened last year. One thing that eclipses all the other things, that is. I had to talk about coming out in my annual report. And I had to do so in a way that wouldn't open wounds that are beginning to heal in those few folks who were troubled and yet have stayed, and have welcomed my continuing care as their pastor. I think I pulled it off. My experience of last year was saturated with a profound gratitude, so that's the form my annual report took: a gratitude list.

Beginning tomorrow I am going to try to read and blog the daily lectionary as a part of my Lenten discipline. But the big thing for me this Lent is really the search for the center: that place of balance from which I can act without reacting, love without feeling needy about love, fail without wanting to die, succeed without thinking that is what makes me a valid person.

A blessed Lent to you, my friends.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Oh, and, by the way....

Sermon's up. Happy T-Fig!

A Real Cecilia Moment

So, I was on the phone with a parent of a friend of my daughter's, trying to organize a ride for her (a 180 mile ride.... from a distant city, where she was, home, where she is now). And I was explaining to this other mom how my back is out. Again. And my ankle is still bothering me (despite the doctor relenting and injecting it as I begged him to do last Wednesday). And I was saying, man, this middle age stuff- it's like my body parts are all hitting their expiration date!

Said I. To a woman who's been on our prayer list. For something much, much worse.

God, give me perspective. And a nice big mouth to fit my size 10's into.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finding the Center

I don't know about any of you, but I am such a book fiend I can see a box from Amazon and think, Oh! What did I order? And have no idea whatsoever.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself at home, for an extended stretch during which I was to do some work, and I opened such a box. Turned out, it was not something I ordered at all. It was a gift, from a colleague in my local judicatory. The woman in whose office I cried after a meeting last week. The box contained a book and a set of CD's by Byron Katie:

I Need Your Love-- Is That True? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval and Appreciation, and Start Finding Them Instead

Your Inner Awakening: Four Questions That Will Transform Your Life

So, there's that.

Last week continued on with more work for the judicatory, including a Saturday training event for church members that was attended by 19 churches (including my own-- we had 16 folks there). It was the annual event that Lovely Conservative Colleague and her husband were anxious about having me participate in. I have to confess this: from the time she and I had that conversation in November, I had not attended one planning meeting. Not a single one. I simply backed off, went away. They knew I was prepared to lead my session (Faithful and Vital Worship-- a presentation totally cribbed from this wonderful Tom Long book) and they knew I was prepared to co-lead worship.

I'd finally had one planning meeting, Thursday, I think, with my co-leader for worship. He is another very conservative guy-- a sweet man, very prayerful, the kind of guy who can break into one of those "Father, we just..." prayers. Frankly, I envy the ease of his prayer. But I digress. We'd had a meeting to plan worship, and I had one objective going in. I wanted us to use hymns the congregation would know. I wanted us to do them in a more contemporary way-- we'd be playing guitars and keyboard, jazzing up rhythms, maybe. But that was the one thing I heard last year as a critique of our worship-- we'd sung praise songs, which only about 5 % of the group had known, and it was not a helpful worship strategy. (And, by the way, it violates one of the core principles from the Long book: participatory congregational singing is vital.)

So I went into the planning meeting with one objective: songs everyone could sing. And at the end of the meeting I had exactly one well-known hymn (which could be found in the hymnal) and four praise songs. Which about 5 % of the congregation would know.

Why couldn't I stand my ground with this nice guy? Why did I let him suck up all the decision-making power in the room? Calling Byron Katie. Calling Byron Katie.

Fast-forward to Saturday. Worship is, actually, lovely-- though much of it feels more like performance to me. (The same person who complained about not having the music in front of them last year complained again this year.)

And my workshop-- 60 attendees. All, incredibly enthusiastic about it. People saying things to me such as, What church do you serve? They are so lucky! OK, I made that last one up.... but you could feel the love. Seriously! By the end of the day I was flying.

I went home and waited for Beloved. We were going out to dinner with two of our very, very favorite people in the world, a fabulous couple who are half-relocated 4 hours from here already. (C. is a brilliant professor, who has found a great match for her gifts at a college in another state. J. is a brilliant pastor in the Majorly Correct Church, who will be following her love in a couple of months.) When Beloved arrived I was slouched, half-sitting, half-lying on the couch, sort of spent.

I have to find some middle ground, I said. I have to find the center. I have to find someplace between dying a thousand deaths over the meeting I have to moderate wherein I am sure everyone will be furious with me, and the workshop I lead wherein I am the rock star whom everyone loves. I have to find a way to be ok with myself, peaceful and centered within myself, in the midst of both kinds of occasions.

Beloved nodded soberly.

The roller coaster of this week... I just can't keep doing this to myself, I said. I have to find the thread that runs through the peaks and valleys.

Maybe that's my Lent: finding the center.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saying No

I have a job in my local judicatory. I'm not talking about my call, my pastorate. I'm talking about service to the larger body. I'm in the last year of a three-year term of service, and now I think I get it.

I get why people sometimes resign this job even before they get to the last year.

I get why people get grim-faced and tight-lipped at some point during this last year.

I get why people take a year (or two) off after they've finished their term of service.

I had a meeting this week, a meeting that had a bunch of people mad at me even before we were called to order. They were mad because I'm the one who gets to say "No." I don't decide "No," mind you. But I get to say it and explain it. And, boy do people get mad at me sometimes.

I cried after my meeting, in an office with two sympathetic and supportive colleagues. "I hate this job," I said.

"Why do you think God might have put you in this job right now?" one asked.

"Because I need to learn how to live with people being mad at me all the time," I blurted.

She smiled.

There's more to it than that. But this week, that's the part that's bugging me. I, who love to be loved (I know... that makes me human. OK.), am in a position that makes me the face of "No" for a year.

I know there's something valuable for me to learn here.

So far I hate it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sea Legs

Growing up at the shore, and spending a lot of time, therefore, in boats, we talked a bit now and then about people who had a tough time getting their "sea legs"... the ability to walk on deck given the pitching and rolling of a boat or a ship. I seem to be having trouble getting my blogging sea legs these last months. Given the pitch and roll of day to day life as an uncloseted pastor, I haven't yet figured out how to walk these planks.

If I analyze the frequency of posting, I see that I am pretty prolific in the following kinds of situations:

I am about to make an enormous and terrifying life change. (See February-May 2009).

The church is in the midst of one of its particular seasons. (Advent, Lent--- see most Decembers, February-April 2009).

I am in pain. (See last week).

Ordinary time, especially in these days when this blog is no longer titled "Closeted Pastor", is, well, ordinary. And I don't seem to have the brain space to think of anything particularly worth recording here.

But I would seem to be addicted to blogging. It might be the comments-- it truly excites me and comforts me and encourages me and challenges me to read what this cyber-community has to say. I get something here I don't get anywhere else.

Beloved suspects it's all about narcissism.

Now, you have to understand about Beloved. She is late to the whole blogging enterprise as a viable time expenditure. In fact, she's still on the fence, despite having sent me this, with some amount of glee, last week. So I have my closest adult relationship, my one-and-only love, somewhat skeptical (to say the least) that blogging is worthwhile, period.

She wonders why people blog, why we assume anyone else in the world could possibly be as interested in the mechanations of our own little mental hamster wheels as, well, as we ourselves. It must be narcissism. Says the one who loves me best.

But I don't see that out here in the blogosphere. I read blogs by intelligent, engaged women and men (admittedly, mostly of my own liberal persuasion), and I don't see narcissism there. I see people struggling to make sense of a world, a faith, a family, a loneliness, a wound, a situation... whatever it is... with honesty and courage.

In my own case, however. I gotta wonder if the n-word applies. (Narcissism. In case that wasn't clear.)

I do much of my blogging for the feedback. I admit it. I love having an audience. Hell, that's why, when I'm not in the pulpit, you might find me on a stage pretending to be a Japanese fury or a bumboat woman or a medieval chorister. I do love an audience. But I try to make that work for me, rather than against me, if you know what I mean. I know full well that I love an audience, so I engage in all sorts of discernment about how that plays out in the pulpit or at coffee hour, and I try to keep myself honest in all this.

I would like to be a more faithful correspondent in this space. I would like to feel as easy about it as I used to, like sitting down for coffee and a dish with my favorite pal. I would like these things. I will work on it.