Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lent Day 4: Alright Already!

3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?

4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,

who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. ~ Psalm 24

Is it me or are the scriptures and the universe ganging up on me?

I've had some lovely conversations with some truly amazing and wonderful friends in the last several days. I just want to say:

  • It's feeling more and more real.
  • I have a sticky note from Beloved on my laptop. It says, "I love you dollface." Isn't that just so... Her Gal Friday?
  • We ate a lovely dinner that I cooked tonight. Then we watched "The Secret Life of Bees," all crowded together on the loveseat (Beloved, Oracle Daughter and me)... a movie that really tugged on me. All that mothering angst.
  • A plan is beginning to formulate itself.
  • Starting the day with prayer is always a good, good idea. Especially when earth shattering events are in the offing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lent 3: Praying the Psalms

1Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
2Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.
3For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

8O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
9Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
11But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.

~ Psalm 26

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past,

or like a watch in the night.
12So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
13Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
~Psalm 90

I feel that I am, abruptly, in a kind of brave new world, where the possibility of coming out is no longer entirely theoretical, or "someday," but much more immediate, now. Everything is feeding into this possibility... random conversations with all sorts of people, the things I hear on the radio, magazine articles, and, of course, the psalms of the day.

Above are the particular verses of this morning's psalms that brought a lump to my throat as I prayed them this morning, a candle flickering in my living room and my prayer shawl around my shoulders. Vindicate me, God, for I have walked with integrity... yes... Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, where your glory abides... yes, yes... My foot stands on level ground, in the great congregation I will praise the Lord... Yes! Oh, my, yes, Amen.

I think the gift I received from my daughter last night was to begin to grapple with the anticipation of the grief I would certainly feel should I have to leave my congregation. Her simplicity, her forthrightness... yes, it would be sad. But how lovely to be who you really are... gave me an injection of strength I could not have anticipated. I told her, in the way of preparing her for some potentially hard times ahead. And the result was that she gave me strength. She prepared me.

God does indeed satisfy me in the morning with her steadfast love; I pray that she might prosper the works of my hands and heart, even this hard work of coming out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent Day 2: An Acceptable Time

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For 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! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. ~2 Corinthians 6:1-10

I meant to blog about the daily lectionary readings.

But the Ash Wednesday readings will not let me go.

A friend sent me a long note in response to my post on secrets. She said, in essence, come now. That's not really what your remaining closeted is about. It's about one of two things. It's either about shame or it's about self-interest.

She writes:

The first, shame, is pretty easy to address: If as you say, God made you who you are and God loves you as you are - WTF is there to hide? So, if shame is the real reason you are closeted, the fact that you are "hiding," does a huge disservice to the people you serve as a minister. Imagine - you have a gay parishioner struggling with her identity, and she becomes aware somehow that the preacher she respects and trusts is "hiding" the fact of her own lesbianism - that would have to be very, very confusing. It would shatter any trust she might have had with her minister, and worse - reinforce her own hunch that God, after all, does not love her as she is. In this case, the pastor's own shame prevents her from doing a good job.

The second reason, self-interest, is more complicated. Self-interest isn't a "bad" thing. You could be, literally, killed if you came out in a place like Uganda or Iran. In such a situation, to choose the closet over abject denial of your homosexuality might, seriously, be the most courageous choice you could make. But, if such a person had the chance to move to a place like America, don't you think he or she would burn the fucking closet down the second they stepped off the plane?

For people who are faced with lesser sacrifices - the loss of their families, the loss of their inheritance, the loss of their jobs, etc, the issue of self-interest is thornier. How can you choose to protect some thing over full and transparent expression of your whole self without chipping away, at least a little, at your self esteem? Maybe if you were going to lose custody of your children, you could justify such a choice?

There's more. But I'll end the quote there.

It's good to have friends who are willing to speak honestly with you, even when what they have to say is hard. This friend comes by her hard line honestly. She isn't asking me to risk anything she herself hasn't already lost by being authentic. Her letter combined with Paul's... speaking of "now" as the acceptable time, speaking of good repute and ill repute, being thought of as an impostor but being true, as unknown and yet well-known... together these epistles have made a potent cocktail in my mind and heart today. I have started making some calls and reaching out to some friends who might be able to give me some guidance as to how I might... begin... to do this.

I spoke to my daughter tonight. I told her what is on my heart. I said, Don't be anxious, I don't have any specific plans to do anything just yet. I'm just thinking about it, a lot, and wondering. I told her, it might result in my having to leave this church that we both love, but I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. I waited for her response, with my heart in my mouth.

Well, I think it would be a really good idea, she said. The people at church love you. Even if some people weren't happy, I think most of them would be fine. And even if you ended up needing to leave, I think it's always a better idea to be honest about who you are.

Then I called Beloved. She said, Honestly, I think it's always a bigger deal inside your own head than it is to the rest of the world. After years and years of being closeted at work I found out, when I came out, that they already knew, and mostly didn't care.

I think I have just added another Lenten discipline to my list. I think I will begin to write the sermon I will preach. When. If. As an exercise, you understand. I will begin by trying to figure out what scripture speaks to me most deeply about this... that is, unless I have already found it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent Day 1: Dust and Beloved

1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4And the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?" 5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. ~ Jonah 4:1-5

Oh, Jonah. Don't I know you well! The self-righteous gal who can't see beyond her own inconvenience and suffering. The chick who is annoyed to death that the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Man!

I particularly love the part of this story that is about Jonah camped on the outskirts of Nineveh "waiting to see what would become of the city"-- clearly hoping he'll get to see a good display of fire and brimstone for his trouble.

I am working on anger and hurt these days. In fact I may just go ahead and assign that as my theme for this Lenten season. I have a backlog, all piled up in the name of my being a good girl and wanting to make nice. To not entirely beat myself up about this, I do believe that forgiveness is good and desirable-- both in obedience to the commands of Christ and in the totally self-serving sense that it's good for me to be forgiving... I'll suffer less if I can let go of anger and resentment. But my habit has been to leave the toxic stuff unprocessed. I would never have the nerve to be Jonah. He so lives into his nasty, I'm in awe.

This is the beginning of what I hope will be my Lenten discipline this year: to blog on the daily lectionary readings, in hopes that I will find connections with my life and my own Lenten journey.

Yesterday a colleague shared that she planned to say this when imposing the ashes: "Remember that you are dust, and beloved child of God's splendor and glory." Amen to that.

Monday, February 23, 2009


As I continue to think about closetedness and its implications, I have been pondering secrets. It's easy for me to focus almost exclusively on this idea that I have a "secret" I am keeping from my congregation, that if they knew how I spent much of my weekend, for example, they would be appalled. (Let's face it: some would be titillated. In their way, they are as much a concern to me as those who would be appalled.) Some, I must add, would not be appalled... they might be a little discomfited, perhaps, that I had been keeping this aspect of my life from them. And they might feel an uneasiness for a while, wondering whether or not I was trustworthy. But I believe they would eventually be fine. This is true of some as yet undetermined percentage of my congregation. They would feel a little strange, and then get over it.

But is this strictly true? Have I been keeping a secret? Or have I simply had a part of my life I around which I have maintained some privacy? One reasonable question to ask would be: would the appalled people be equally appalled if they found I'd spent my nights in the arms of a man this weekend? Or would they find a way to place this in the realm of a measure of privacy to which I was entitled?

And now the other side of secrets. During the course of my work as a pastor, people tell me their secrets all the time. (They also tell me things that aren't secrets, such as the fact that they live with their opposite sex partner... that information is rarely deemed worthy of being kept a secret anymore). People entrust to me details about themselves and their families they would never (or almost never) share with anyone, things they would strongly prefer not get around the congregation. They assume I will keep their secrets for them. And of course, I will.

I do not take this lightly. It is a tremendous privilege to be invited into the realms of private pain most of us live with to some degree or another. I treasure the secrets my congregants entrust into my care; they are precious. I wonder if they could entertain the notion that I, too, might have such treasures, and that only those who are invited in have a "right" to be there.

And... why not be entirely honest. There is a kind of joy and pleasure in having this particular secret as well. I love escaping to Beloved's. It's a kind of private island there, as if we're in another world. That is also my experience when we travel together. And our time goes so fast... on our island we can savor it. I love our beautiful secret.

But it might be nice if all the world were our private island as well. Even my congregation.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Beloved and I saw Milk this week. I was blown away. The framing device is an audio tape Harvey Milk made, a kind of last will and testament. He tells his story into a tape recorder, and then the story comes alive on screen.

The remarkable thing, the thing I did not know about Harvey Milk, was the way in which he backed into activism. He was tired of being closeted in New York, and so found his way to San Francisco and opened a small business. But even there, in the Castro, the gay mecca of the world at the time, LGBTQ people were simply not safe, and could be and were routinely beaten to death for simply walking down the street hand in hand with their partners. All Milk wanted was to make the police responsive to the community's needs, to make them allies instead of threats. And so he found himself running for citywide office. The rest is history.

As he gains more prominence, and as he tangles more and more with Dan White, Harvey seems to know he is likely to be assassinated. Like Martin Luther King, he understands the likely cost of his activism. Near the end of the film, Harvey says into his tape recorder, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." That took my breath away. He consistently said, throughout the film, that openness about our sexuality is the only way that change will come about. "When they know one of us, they vote 2 to 1 for us," he says.

That phrase is resonating in my head and my heart. It's a powerful film. See it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Closetedness, and the Choosing of It

I have been gently nudged lately by a friend to consider, again, why I am closeted. Why, she asks, would anyone choose to live like this?

I suppose it may appear that I am choosing to be closeted, insofar as I am not choosing to come out in the world at large (and my congregation in particular). I am in a profession (or calling-- a pastor of a church in a Protestant denomination) in which my sexuality is, at present, grounds for removing my credentials (ordination) and thus rendering me unemployable.

At this point, I could play the God card, and say that God calls me into ministry. And that is what I believe. But just to level the argument (since, the call of God is one of those trump cards against which not much can prevail) let's say, it's simply a profession from which I obtain great personal satisfaction and joy, and which I am able to perform satisfactorily as far as my main constituency (my congregation) is concerned. Let's simply say that I love my job, and to be out as a lesbian would seriously compromise my ability to do my job, perhaps even cause me to lose it. That is one reason to "choose" closetedness.

But... in an odd way, I didn't choose it, it chose me. I lived as a married straight woman for more than 20 years, during which time I struggled (mostly quietly) with my sexuality, fighting off attractions to women and seeking therapy to help me to stop falling for them. I loved my husband and believed it would be wrong to leave our marriage. I was ordained in my denomination, and saw the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to become a pastor.

Let me be clear: during this time my position on homosexuality was absolutely the same as it is today. I do not believe it to be a sin, either in terms orientation or in terms of what is usually condescendingly called "lifestyle." I believe one can sin through one's sexuality-- sure. When you use someone, when you are unfaithful, when you use sex as a weapon, the exact same ways you can sin as a straight person. But being LGBT is not in itself sinful. To believe that would be to believe God did a less than competent job in creating us. (I read that somewhere this week).

Eventually my husband found love elsewhere (a less conflicted love, who knew she was heterosexual to the core-- I assume). This left me devastated, bereft, and free.

It was not long after that I found my way to Beloved, and she found her way to me. There was no question in my mind that I had a "right" to love, if you want to call it that. There was also no question that I would need to be closeted in the relationship if I wanted to continue in my work.

But there was also no question that I wouldn't, for example, forego being seen with her in public. Of course we would go out to dinner together. Of course we would go to the movies. Of course my children would get to know her and love her, and she would become a big part of our lives. Slowly I have let myself drop her name now and then in church... these last weeks, I asked for prayers for my "dear friend" in church, and a few people now approach me saying, "How is Beloved?" or "How is y0ur friend?" I risked alienating some folks the week of her procedure by not being available for a rather large event (that had only been scheduled after Beloved's appointment was set). The choice was easy. It occurred to me that the coming out process with my congregation had probably already begun, gently, slowly. And that's ok.

So I choose and I don't choose. I wish I lived in a world (and served in a denomination) where I would not be faced with the choice between my work and my love. And so I choose both, in the way that is working for now. There it is. My "choice" to be closeted.

No regrets.