Monday, April 30, 2007

In a Circle of Clergy

I had the experience today of sitting with a group of clergy-- all fairly new to the whole minister business-- and participating in a conversation about "Who am I turning out to be as a pastor?" It was so fascinating hearing people talk about the complications of the pastoral role, about the expectations we have versus the reality that hits us, about the expectations they have (the congregation, that is) versus the reality, and what it is to be mutually disappointed and yet recognize the grace therein.

I know of no one else in this group who is gay or lesbian (for certain, that is). But, of course, I have my suspicions. There is one woman with whom I find I am constantly exchanging glances-- we "check in" with one another as the group is talking, we notice one another's reactions. We smile at one another.

We are both waiting to see if it is safe.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tag, I'm It

Milton from don't eat alone has tagged me, and now I'm an official "Thinking Blogger." For the origins of this award, please see this post. My directive is simple: I am to now tag five bloggers who make me think.

This is hard. In the past eight months I have bookmarked nearly 70 blogs, all of which I try to drop in on with some regularity, many of which feel like communities of which I am a part, each of which offers me something unique.

There are blogs I read because I have somehow become involved in the bloggers' lives... they write about their days with such clarity and precision, I feel as if I know them, they are friends. I tune in wondering how this or that encounter or confrontation turned out... their story has become a part of my story.

There are blogs I read because I am looking for a particular kind of information (usually about church politics and religious life), the latest statement by this body or that leader, often accompanied by insightful commentary.

There are blogs I read for their sheer beauty-- turns of phrase, art, unique design.

There are blogs I read because they are written by other pastors or clergy.

There are blogs I read because they are written by other lesbians.

This is a hard task. Best not to overthink it. I hereby tag the following:

I nominate Santa Ignora. This young, brash and bold blogger has a post you should read, "Who is Santa Ignora?" that starts, "Have you ever been excluded from something?" You should also read "Saul was being kind of a dick." She is Gen Next, and I think she may be a mystic. I could imagine her as a mystical barrista, dispensing emerald words from Christ along with a venti mocha latte.

I also nominate MadPriest of "Of Course I Could Be Wrong..." His blog, and his insistence on a church of radical inclusiveness ("Free Your Mind And Your God Will Follow") probably were the impetus for me to begin this blog, so that I could speak and find a community that he convinced me might be there. Warning: he is not polite. But he is truthful, and there is great beauty in that.

On a much different note, I nominate More Cows of "You've Really Got to Love Your People." When I read her blog I am invited into the world of a young, brilliant pastor who sees the shimmer of grace in every moment, even when church life is at its most challenging. Her current post, "Do you see God all over this?" is a shining example of her manifestation of a meticulous and gifted theological mind living with the heart of a pastor.

Share Cropper describes "23 Acres of Black Dirt" as "Occasional Thoughts About Earthly and Unearthly Life." She writes as easily about theology and politics as she does about her family history. I consider her piece "Love and perspective" to be consummate Share Cropper. Here she tells of her connections with a struggling church family with whom, on the surface, she appears to have little in common, but with whom she feels deep kinship, affection, and some measure of being grounded in the messy, homely reality of human existence.

When I have temporarily lost touch with why I do what I do, I venture over to A Church for Starving Artists. Blogger Jan Edmiston is an emergingly oriented pastor who always manages to take the long view, have the grand scale perspective that I find missing when I get bogged down in things like Great Clipboard Controversies (see More Cows for that post).

And there are 65 other blogs I love, and where I feel at home, and that truly make me think.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Introducing: Me!

I listen to On the Media each week by podcast, but this week I happened to catch the first segment live as I began my Sunday morning routine by making a pot of coffee. Of course, this week's topic was the media coverage of the shootings in Blacksburg, VA. Front and center was the decision of NBC to air what one interviewee called the "press packet" sent to it by Sueng-Hui Cho. Tony Burman, a Canadian Broadcasting Company official, discussed why that news outlet declined to use the footage in its broadcasts. It had to do with the fear of encouraging copycats by focusing on the perpetrator of such crimes, and he explained that, ever since last September's shooting at Montreal's Dawson College (1 dead, 19 wounded), the CBC has decided that it will focus on the victims at a moment like this.

This next little piece of the concersation fascinated me. They played clips of interviews with two VT students, in which they described their experiences. Burman commented that it is clear, listening to those clips, that the students are very aware that they are a part of a story and they have a role to play, in what Burman terms our "performative culture." He says that, ever since John F. Kennedy was shot, the witnesses have been on call to the media to play the part of witness (these are my words). Also a part of the phenomenon, though, are the "witnesses" who heard the news in classrooms or at a bar or wherever they were at those moments, and who then share those "Where were you when you heard?" stories, which people of my generation have, certainly, for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and, of course, 9/11, which remains the Big Story.

In this performative culture everyone has a right to their moment in the sun, so to speak. And so we have phenomena such as... blogging, in which we all confidently assume that we have a story to tell, for which there will be listeners and to which there will be responders. I began, as Burman spoke, to connect with a slight sense of discomfort about this assumption of center stage on all our part, but now, as I ponder further, I ask, a la Harvey Fierstein, "Is that so wrong?"

Possible defenses of the blogging/ Hello It's Me phenomenon are many. Of course, we all know (I know in a particularly powerful way) that the blogosphere can be a community of care, a community of shared interests, and sometimes, a community the likes of which bloggers cannot find in their day to day non-wired lives. And there is something powerful, too, about saying "This is my story," whether or not one receives a response. The experience of sharing one's life via a blog can affirm and strengthen the individual persona.

And it's not all about "me." Bloggers have been instrumental in rooting out what may turn out to be prosecutable corruption in the current Justice Department scandal involving firing of US attorneys (because they wouldn't prosecute selectively based on partisan politics). The 2008 presidential field is all too aware of the potency of the blogosphere for forming opinion, and they are paying attention (with some missteps-- see John Edwards-- Ha! almost called him "Jonathan Edwards!" Not.).

But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is, if not solely about "me," then at least somewhat about power. And let me hasten to say, that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a hell of a lot of people for whom blogging offers them an avenue to exercise a kind of power of persuasion or power of visibility who would not otherwise have a forum. These are people who are otherwise entirely or partially disenfranchised by the systems now in place. Someone like me might qualify as being in that kind of category: closted pastors are, by definition, hiding out and impotent to voice their situation-- except in a space like this. For myself, I don't feel honest about accepting the labels "powerless" or "disenfranchised," when the rest of my life is so steeped in privileged: white, US citizen, highly educated, no debt, good income (when compared to 99% of the people on this planet).

Here's my fear about blogging: that it keeps us from discovering the flesh and blood embodied communities that might, just might be available to us if we could just take a bit of a risk to find them. As a Christian, I believe in an incarnated God who tells us by word and deed that our bodies matter, that we are present to one another, healing and loving, by physical presence. I fear that, as much as we of the radicaleft are fighting against a dreary gnosticism that has seeped into orthodox interpretations of scripture, we are, ironically, living outside ourselves by engaging mind and heart and soul where we cannot engage our bodies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Go and Read

Grandmère Mimi at Wounded Bird has the following collection of thoughts and reflections about the Virginia Tech killings that brought together in a coherent way thoughts that have been floating around incoherently in my head. Read her wonderful reflections here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Night Prayer

I discovered this prayer a few years ago when going through a difficult time. It became my nightly prayer, as I worked or kept watch or wept through the night. I offer it for our sisters and brothers in Virginia and around the world who reel once again at this reminder of what a mindlessly violent world-- nation-- we live in. We are still at Calvary after all.

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work,
or watch,
or weep this night,
and give your angels charge
over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ,
give rest to the weary,
bless the dying,
soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous:
and all for your love's sake.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Six Things Possibly Wierder Than Being a Closeted Pastor

Six Weird Things Meme - I've been tagged by Sharecropper and Catherine+! According to the rules I must:

1. Reveal six weird things about myself on your blog, and

2. Tag six people to do the same.

Wierd things about me... where to begin?

1. I recently came across two pictures of myself taken the same weekend in my sophomore year of college. In one I am wearing a demure, Pilgrim-esque gown and singing a solo (based on a poem by Mother Teresa) with the university chorale at a symphony hall not far from my alma mater. In the other I am wearing a beehive hairdo, grey makeup with black lipstick, a labcoat, safety pins in my ears and an electrical cord around my waist, as I head off to a punk-themed campus party. One girl, one weekend.

2. In my 20's I briefly sold health insurance for a living (no offense intended to anyone).

3. In seminary I loved Hebrew so much I wept, at two o'clock in the morning, when I translated this sentence: The sons of Jacob said to Joseph, We have an old father in the land of Canaan, for they did not know that Joseph was their brother.

4. When I was twelve I read an article in a teen magazine that said that leaving the house without earrings is like leaving the house naked. I took this information fully to heart and, to this day, cannot leave the house without earrings.

5. That said, I have a spiritual relationship with my jewelry. (I know, possible red-flag for idolatry here.) What I mean is that I choose my jewelry every day extremely carefully, for the spiritual message it conveys to the world. I always wear something given to me by my Beloved. I always wear some symbol of faith (and for me these extend beyond crosses-- I count trees as cross-symbols, and also as symbols of the Garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil... also anything circular can symbolize the eternal nature of God). I almost always wear something I associate with my mother-- either a ring she gave me, or a ring or cameo that belonged to her mother.

6. I still haven't cleaned the mud from the shoes I wore to my mother's graveside service. It's been... a long time. More than a year.

I tag: Junia's Daughter, Cynthia, kj, Milton, Jan, and MoreCows!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Like This

Thanks to Ann. "Hu" is the pronoun for the Divine Presence

Like This

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
Like this?

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God's fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
Like this?

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don't try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to "die for love," point

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.
This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn't believe that,
walk back into my house.
Like this.

When lovers moan,
they're telling our story.
Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.
Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.
Like this.

How did Joseph's scent come to Jacob?

How did Jacob's sight return?

A little wind cleans the eyes.
Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he'll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us.
Like this.

~ Rumi

Translated by Coleman Barks

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Men Say No To Church

A friend recommended I read this article in the current Christian Century, which goes by the above title on the cover of the magazine and inside is called "Missing Men: Is the Church Low on Testosterone?" by Lillian Daniel. It is a review of a book by an evangelical preacher named David Murrow, who directs something called Church for Men.

As my friend said when she recommended the article, What the hell is wrong with people?

Ladies, it's all our fault. We have driven the poor men away, what with our feminizing things and our wussy music and our emphasis of that old, tired "God is Love" message. This is not what the guys want! They want-- seriously, this is right out of the book-- explosions, and car chases, and loud thumping music with lyrics like

We've been beaten down
Feminized by the culture crowd
No more nice guy, timid and ashamed
We've had enough, cowboy up
In the power of Jesus' name
Welcome to the battle
A million men have got your back
Jump up in the saddle
Grab a sword, don't be scared
Be a man, grow a pair!

These folks obviously haven't seen Brokeback Mountain.

These men, who gather in a warehouse where all the things they like are projected on big video screens and boom through big loudspeakers, want to "grab their swords" and take back their Christianity from us. They want to talk about their sexual sinfulness (like the pastor who admits picking up a prostitute on the way to Christmas Eve candlelight services), a lot. As my daughter, reading over my shoulder, commented, "I think that's what teenage boys want."

I'm going to take a stab here and say that I think this crowd is more interested in the Christ of Revelation, the future judge, than the Jesus of the Gospels. Jesus, who does not resist the Roman efforts to put him to death, and who says to his disciples "Put away your sword" has no place in this brand of faith (and I use that word deliberately: make no mistake, this is a "brand").

And I would have no problem with all that, frankly, if not for this one tiny problem: this is, among other things, about the subjugation of women a la the Ephesians household code. There is much language about "headship," the man/ husband being "head" of the woman/ wife as Christ is head of the church. This, evidently, is part and parcel of the explosions and thumping music. Are we surprised?

I just had a thought: is this the source of conservative discomfort with gay and lesbian relationships? That there is no obvious "head"? Or two heads? Or (horrors!) no head?

I wonder what the ManChurch folks think of the Christ of Paul in the Philippians key?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
~ Phil. 2:5-11

Do you suppose Pastor Murrow would tell Jesus to grow a pair?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Rise, Heart


RISE heart ; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise :
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long :
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied ;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way ;
I got me boughs off many a tree :
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume ;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour ?
We count three hundred, but we misse :
There is but one, and that one ever.

~ George Herbert

Friday, April 6, 2007

A Poem for Good Friday

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo

to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead

to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle

no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,

and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

~ Denise Levertov

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Two Songs for the Table

In my early twenties I had the privilege of performing this with a church choir. It the most haunting of the Herbert poems set by Ralph Vaughan Williams ("Five Mystical Songs"). It still moves me, still brings me to my knees.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful: Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.

So I did sit and eat.

~ George Herbert


Years later I was working with a woman, a pastor, who in many ways was to become a mentor to me. Once again, I fell in love, though, in this instance, I think I was falling in love at least partially with the pastorate. I knew this woman for 3 or 4 years in the context of our work together, and my infatuation waxed and waned over that time. Also during that time I had no idea of her personal life-- straight, gay, partnered, married, who knew? She was like a wall. When I had finally reached a place of interior accommodation (read: This is not happening. For a whole host of reasons.) she finally came out to me, just as she was moving on to another position. At the same time, she presented me with a disc for my birthday, the group Cry, Cry, Cry, composed of Richard Shindell, Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky. This song is on the album. I came to associate it with her, and with all who need to hide, with a prayer that they know they are welcome at love's table.

You've been taken by the wind
You have known the kiss of sorrow
Doors that would not take you in
Outcast and a stranger

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

You have drunk a bitter wine
With none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind
Will be welcome at love's table

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

You have come by way of sorrow
You've come over a stony ground
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

~ Julie Miller

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spy Wednesday

In Christian tradition Wednesday of Holy Week is the day on which we remember Judas' conspiracy with the religious authorities to lead them to Jesus, so that he could be arrested before the Passover. There has been much about Judas in the press over the last year, beginning with the publication of the Gospel of Judas, and again more recently with Elaine Pagels and Karen King's book exploring the theology of that work. I listened to a podcast of Pagels and King last month while shoveling snow. Their basic reading of the gospel of Judas is this: Judas was especially close to Jesus-- the beloved disciple, if you will-- and Jesus revealed his inner thoughts and beliefs to him. These included the idea that disciples need not and should not "sacrifice" themselves (I now feel the need to use quotation marks around what feels like an alternative meaning for that word); that in the face of persecution they should protect themselves, because the death of Jesus was enough.

There was more, of course, but this intrigues me as an alternate reading to parts of the New Testament (for example, the gospel of Mark, which is pretty clear about needing to participate with Jesus in the way of the cross). But it is not at all an alternative to anything (perhaps Hebrews?) that smacks of a substitutionary reading of atonement.

I have not read the gospel of Judas (though it is in a tall, precariously balanced pile of books in my bedroom). But I have also wondered about this: I have an abiding interest in those pieces of the NT in which it is possible to read anti-semitic statements (the gospel of John's passion account is particularly troubling). I have often wondered whether "Judas" wasn't a later invention of the early church, personifying Jews for the betrayal of Jesus. In that scenario the gospel of Judas is an apologetic and a defense of what was becoming a persecuted community (by another persecuted community, yes). What is the earliest mention of Judas in the NT? Is it Mark? If so, why is he not mentioned by Paul?

On another note, I read a poem years ago called "Spy Wednesday's Kind." As a closeted lesbian I have also wondered how safe my secret is with various people. I rode to a meeting yesterday with a fellow pastor whom I know to be liberal-leaning on the GLBT issue in the church. But the trust was not there for me to tell him. This is one of the losses of living in the closet: knowing that a deeper level of friendship might be possible with someone, but being on guard and rejecting that possibility. The constant fear that trust might be betrayed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Little Apocalypses

According to the timeline established by Borg and Crossan in "The Last Week," Mark's recounting of the events of Tuesday was the longest narrative describing the events of Holy Week. It extends from Mark 11:27-13:37, 115 verses, which makes it 68 verses longer than Mark's description of Good Friday.

One of the things which makes it so long is the "little apocalypse," with which Mark culminates the events of that day. Here it is.

Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ —do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” ~ Mark 13:5-37

Sovereign and Mighty God, we pray for those...

... who are being led astray; may they find your path.

... who are experiencing birthpangs; may the fruits of their labor bring them joy.

... who are brought before councils to be tried; may they speak your truth.

... who are beaten becasue of who they are; may you heal their wounds of body and spirit.

... who have been betrayed by their own kin; may you be their strong defender.

... who offer themselves as false messiahs; may the light of Christ convert them.

... who suffer; may they be able to tell their stories.

... who feel that it is the end of the world; may you show them life on the other side.

... who long to hear your eternal words; whisper in their ears.

... who need to keep awake; give them good company for the vigil.

We pray in your name, holy, holy, holy Lord. Amen.