It’s an article of faith for political organizers: there are no permanent enemies.
It’s encouraging to think that we can form and re-form alliances, and there is scriptural support for this idea.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me.Whoever isn’t against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, CEB)
I suppose the converse is true, too. There are no permanent allies. That’s discouraging. I would have liked to think that we could trust our allies, but one of the things I’ve found since coming out in 2012 is that some people are with you only up to a point. One of the best pieces of advice I received in the midst of that personal and public process was to prepare to be surprised by the people I counted on who would let me down and amazed by the people I never expected to support me who would.
No permanent enemies, and no permanent allies.
In the town where I live, as in many towns in this era of religious and political polarization, the churches have a hard time coming together to do any kind of useful work not just over the ordination and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people but over the ordained leadership of women. Seriously? To me, that seems pretty 1957, but it’s real around here. I’ve heard my spouse say she will graciously stay out of the way if they manage to have some kind of multi-church worship service, as long as some other women are visible in leadership.
It makes me feel like I live in the wrong place, but then I have to remember how called we felt to be here when we discerned whether one of us would relocate, and whether we would get married.
I tell myself that there may be powerful acts done by some of those churches, feeding hungry people, healing broken hearts.
Yet I know there are youth in some of those congregations being taught that people like me are going to hell, and I know they are menacing LGBTQ+ students and allies in our local schools who do not agree with them.
I want to think that just by being here as ordinary people in an ordinary community we may help shift the way people ally themselves. I hope it’s true, in the end, that no one who does good in Jesus’ name can reject the love he lived.
Holy One, I hope it’s true there are no permanent enemies. Help me to make allies for you. Amen.
I am the older sister. I grew up taking blame for naughty things my brother did, and taking the spankings, too. At least, that’s how I remember it.
“Memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt.” Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
I’m reading Mary Karr’s book, and I’m noting how one-sided all our stories are, and impressed by how generous she tries to be when recalling stories about other people. So I will confess I know there were times the spankings were related to my behavior. I know I was far from perfect; in fact, I spent quite a bit of time in the office of the head of the lower school at St. Agnes in my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years. A core unrest whipped me around and around; I climbed out a window, and I kicked my teacher, and I pulled a fire alarm, or so they tell me. I think I am innocent of that last one. But who knows?
By adolescence, I had learned how to control myself a little better – or to pretend to, to pretend to be that professional good girl an older sister and first-born ought to be. As my brother got involved in typical teen-age shenanigans, I became pious and careful. I might disappoint my parents (I did), but it wouldn’t be on account of sex or drugs.
“Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing.He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in… (Luke 15:25-28, CEB)
I think in the church we’re very likely to identify ourselves with the older son, to convince ourselves that we’ve always been well-behaved, loyal, hard-working, all the ideals of this American culture. The truth about me is that I have been all those things, but I’ve still managed to leave home, worry my parents, shock everyone who knew me by (1) going to seminary, (2) getting divorced, (3) getting married again, (4) getting divorced, (5) coming out, and (6) getting married again. To my family back home in Virginia, who thought of my brother as the imp and me as the nice girl, I have engaged in a complete role reversal. My brother is the steady one, long-married, established. I am the rogue, the prodigal, the sinner.
When I read this chapter now (Luke 15), I read it differently than at other times in my life. I can only read it as myself. We are all corrupt this way.
I read it as a person whose whole life is viewed differently, as a woman whose choices are well outside the realm of youthful sins, errors or peccadilloes. I read it as a woman whose marriage is considered suspect not because it’s #3 but because my spouse is a wife. I read it as the niece who was not welcome at a funeral, as the sister whose brother would not come to the wedding. I read it as a pastor’s wife subject to never-ending micro-aggressions not only from the people who question our “lifestyle,” but from the people who claim to support us. I read it as a pastor whose employability in a progressive denomination plummeted just for being queer.
When I read these stories now, I am grateful for these stories and Jesus’ assurance that God loves us, and seeks us, and returns us to the fold.
It’s only in some human eyes that I ever left it.
Holy God, sometimes we get lost in the wilderness of judgment, in the dark corners of oppression, in the foreign land of inhospitality. You nose us out, search for us, welcome us home, and in every case, rejoice when we are together again. Thank you for that. Amen.
When a disaster occurs, or a terrible thing happens in the world, when a bomb goes off on the sidelines of a marathon or a shooter unleashes hatred in the form of ammunition at a political event or an elementary school, we all shudder, and as we listen to the news stories or read the follow-ups in the paper or online, it’s human nature to look for a story, for a person with whom we identify.
For me, that person, this week, was a young man named Luis Vielma, one of the first faces I saw when photos of the victims in last Sunday’s Orlando shooting began to circulate online. There were so many of them, 49; for some reason I attached myself to this one.
Luis Vielma was an Emergency Medical Services student at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class this summer.
The college president, Dr. E. Ann McGee, released a statement on Monday saying, “We are saddened by the tragic events this weekend and the loss of one of our own, Seminole State student, Luis Vielma. We continue to think of, and pray for the victims, their families and friends, the LGBT community, the Hispanic community, our students, and all of Orlando. These events have truly shocked and saddened the Central Florida community.”
Mr. Vielma also worked at Universal Studios at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. His high school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Mr. Vielma loved his job there.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series that spawned films and the theme park, mourned Mr. Vielma’s loss on Twitter, posting an image of the smiling young man in a Hogwarts costume.
He’s young, smiling, pretty adorable, wearing a grey v-neck sweater vest and a white collared shirt and a Gryffindor tie. That’s gold and burgundy, in case you don’t know your Harry Potter house colors.
Lucy was in the fifth grade when she wanted to dress as Hermione for Halloween. That child is a planner, so we started in August collecting the pieces of her costume from various catalogs and stores. The piece de resistance was a Gryffindor scarf I made for her, like the ones the kids wear in the first Harry Potter movie.
I braided her thick straight hair the night before, into dozens of tiny plaits; when we undid them the next morning she had a huge head of wavy hair more like young Hermione’s – as seen in the movies – and she went off to school delighted.
At recess, kindergartners ran up and asked to hug her.
I’m telling you all this because I love my girl and don’t want anything bad to happen to her. Lucy turns 21 today.
Luis Vielma was 22. His funeral was yesterday. Somewhere his mother, Tina, is still weeping.
Whose story touches you?
At a vigil service outside my wife’s church this week, we read all 49 names, with a little bio of each. Many were Hispanic, about half of Puerto Rican background. Some were parents who left young children behind. Some were couples; a double funeral will replace a wedding for some. Some were successful in their work and others were just trying to get their lives together. They were executives and hairdressers and pharmacy technicians. One was a mom who went to the club with her son, because she loved to dance salsa. It was Latin night, you see, and the people who gathered at Pulse felt safe to dance and be together, in a nightclub they saw as a kind of sacred space, a sanctuary.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
A multitude, keeping festival. That’s Psalm 42, verses 1-4, from this week’s lectionary. Here’s the thing. No matter what year we live in, no matter what country, no matter what our native tongue, these ancient songs of lament and hope, of question and steadfast belief, have something to say to us, to say for us. They remind us that people don’t change all that much. We celebrate and we grieve. We sing and shout, we weep and mourn.
We’re more alike than different. Luis the soccer player and Lucy the singer, one a Catholic boy and the other a Protestant girl, both confirmed in high school, both their mothers’ beloved children, their fathers’ talented darlings, with friends and classmates who would say kind things about them, and teachers who would praise them, and pictures taken dressed up like students at Hogwarts.
They are more alike than different, except for one thing. I can call my daughter on the phone today, or FaceTime with her, send her text messages with birthday cake emojis. Luis Vielma’s mother can only weep and pray.
By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (Psalm 42:8-11)
All week I’ve been thinking about how terrifying it must have been, hiding in a dark nightclub, wondering where a murderous person with a gun had gone or held hostage by him, wondering if anyone would care enough to help. Lots of them called or texted their mothers, some who would die from deadly wounds in their bodies.
And here’s a thing that is hard to hear as a Christian, hard for me to hear from my UCC colleagues who are there in Orlando as trauma responders: some of the survivors don’t want to talk to religious people. They don’t think we really care, or that if we do, it’s only in the service of changing them to be more like us.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)
In his letters to young churches, Paul writes something like this on three occasions. It’s nothing new for human beings to be obsessed with their differences, with finding ways to collect themselves in groups based on their characteristics, their language, or their names for God. He wrote to the Galatians because other evangelists had come among them, from a group called the “Judaizers.” The Galatians were suddenly thrust into a huge debate among the early Christians that applied only to men. On one side, the Judaizers wanted all followers of Jesus to live by Jewish law, and that included circumcision. Gentile converts wanted to follow Jesus, but they didn’t want to fulfill that particular expectation if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Paul thought it wasn’t. He wrote to assure them that through the power and grace offered of Jesus Christ, they were all one.
Paul writes something like this in three epistles, but this is the only time he mentions gender, what people in his time would have understood as one noticeably obvious and definable marker of difference. We have a much longer list of differences today, related to orientation and identity. Yet Christians have mostly been on Team Tradition with their definitions, and we have used those definitions not only to exclude but to persecute people who don’t match them just the way we like things to be. We may look back at our first century ancestors and say, “Why were they worried about something so unimportant?”
I ask you, “Why are we?”
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Luis or Lucy: we are many kinds of people. We could define ourselves solely by our differences. Lots of people do, because it makes them feel safe, because it makes them feel righteous, because it makes them feel right. The people preaching circumcision wanted everyone to commit to the thing they believed mattered most.
When we are ready to condemn others for their differences, to define them as outside the circle of human consideration and divine love, we create a climate in which hatred and prejudice seem natural and sensible. When we combine this evil spirit of condemnation with the ready availability of semi-automatic weapons, we sentence ourselves to the kind of fearful scenes that played out in Orlando and the aftermath of suspicion and despair that continues.
It’s too easy to attach that evil, hateful spirit to one particular religion. We can find it in any religion and no religion. We can find it in the Orlando area churches now expressing sympathy for the very lives they have reviled in the past. We can find it closer to home, too, anyplace we convince ourselves that we are the only ones Jesus would care about, the only ones Jesus would want to save.
You see, Jesus went to places and ate and drank with people who the religious authorities disapproved. We’ve got him all wrong if we try to turn him into some kind of elitist priss-pot. We’ve got him wrong if we prioritize any characteristic above his love for humankind, for all kinds of humanity.
My prayer for the church and for our country is that we might embrace the idea that Paul teaches in his letter. Jew or Greek, slave or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul made it clear, not once or even twice, but three times. The culturally insurmountable conditions of his time made not one bit of difference in the eyes of God.
May it be so in our time as well.
We are many, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Amen.
We pray for the queer community,
frightened by the massacre in Orlando,
wondering why living their lives
as the people you made them to be
put a target on their backs.
We pray for our queer children,
gay, lesbian, bi, trans,
already afraid, careful of danger,
some suspicious of religion,
doubtful of us and of you.
We pray for the Latino community,
reeling from the loss of so many of those killed,
coming to grips with the double bias
suffered by queer people of color,
haunted by the shooter’s choice of Latin Night for his attack.
We pray for the survivors of the shooting
for their healing,
and for a sense of your presence,
and for the friends and families
grieving a terrible loss.
We pray for your church,
that we might all come to grips
with the way we have treated others,
that we might not be silent but instead
speak against hate and proclaim your love
and enact your justice.
Forgive those who will not speak
because they are afraid.
Forgive us when we are afraid.
Bring us to a new understanding:
all your children are precious to you.
Prevent us from categorizing others
in ways that give us lenience
to look the other way.
Help us, Lord, to see the world through your eyes,
to recognize that your kingdom is right here and right now,
to live in your love in our relationships with all we meet.
Remind us that wherever we live,
however we pray and whoever we love,
we are yours. Amen.
(This prayer was composed for a Vigil Service
at Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church.)
Since my last experience trying to phone my primary care doctor’s office and get a refill amounted to a series of voice mails left by me, which received no answer and led to no renewed prescription, I took the doctor’s advice and today registered for their Internet portal. I looked over my records online and after scrolling down through “conditions” now deemed “resolved” was surprised to see the following category of “active” items:
Personal Health Conditions
The first listed was “never a smoker.”
That sounds legit.
The second listed was “Homosexuality.”
I wonder if my straight friends who are patients there would find a note proclaiming their Personal Health Condition of “Heterosexuality?”
Yesterday I was reading about Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and his continuing effort to be in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders about the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. He was invited to a conversation with Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach, an evangelical pastor whose parents split up because they were both gay. Kaltenbach has tried to find scriptural support for being okay with gay people generally, especially since that group includes his parents.
As a child, Mr. Kaltenbach attended a gay rights march with his mother, and he recalls protesters yelling that God condemned the marchers and throwing urine on them. (His book, “Messy Grace,” part memoir and part advice for pastors on ministering to gays, will be published this year.) He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.” Openly gay couples attend his church, he said, but are not allowed to serve on the leadership board. (From the New York Times)
My bold there. I don’t understand why, in a world where there are so many, many, many churches in flavors both denominational and non-, a gay couple would freely choose a church where leadership is forbidden to them due to their relationship status. I wonder about the hurt feelings sustained when they have been around long enough to want to get more involved and discover they are not *that* welcome. In a world where even Tony Campolo is now encouraging churches to embrace and accept gay couples, I hope they know there are other choices.
It’s possible that queer couples who go to a church where they are not received as full members, where they are not allowed to serve in leadership roles, where their status as baptized members of the Body of Christ is somehow “less than,” feel they are on a mission from God. I know I sometimes feel that way, living in South Central Pennsylvania, which is not exactly the most progressive corner of the globe. There are days when it feels like my entire calling to this place is to be an ordinary queer on behalf of Jesus Christ, whether as the interim pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation a few towns over or as the wife of the female Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian Church USA congregation across the street. Every time I answer the door at the manse as her wife, I am representing. Every time I share a family anecdote in a sermon, I am representing. Every time I get home from church first and walk our puppy, and the Presbyterians stop over to pet him before they go home, I am representing.
Some days it feels so ordinary to be there in a church-owned house with my wife and our children that the only thing I stress about is whether the puppy will chew on something that belongs to the church rather than to us. Other days, it feels like I finally know what cross I was always intended to bear, a cross engraved with the words “Queer Christian.” It’s not a death sentence; rather it is a holy burden, and the work of my life, to be queer and faithful.
He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.”
This sentence weighs on me. It’s essentially the opposite of the UCC’s category for welcoming churches, “Open and Affirming.” Despite my continuing concerns about whether my family is fully safe, much less accepted, here in South Central Pennsylvania, on the whole we have received an amazing and affirming reception in our churches. This is particularly true at my wife’s church, where she continues to do fruitful ministry, and I do a lot of the things any pastor’s wife might as a volunteer leader: I lead a women’s Bible Study, and I serve on the Fellowship Committee, and this morning I stood witness at a wedding.
I don’t know the experience or the point of view of the gay couples who attend churches like Kaltenbach’s. I do know the feeling of doing what you believe God calls you to do. I also know the experience of being rejected or, worse, ignored by people who will not meet my gaze because they cannot quite get to acceptance, much less to approval. My hope for the couples who bravely return to church each week is two-fold. First, may they know that there are plenty of churches, more all the time, where they and their gifts for leadership and service would be most welcome. Second, if they are choosing to work through it in response to a call from God, may the change of hearts happening in the world reach the places where they are now, and may they be able to see the change and know they were part of it. Perhaps this is the work of their life, too, to be queer and faithful, accepted and approved by God.
I persuaded myself I was straight until my late 40’s. It made life less personally complicated and more socially acceptable. For most of that time it didn’t cross my mind I might not be straight, and for the rest, I relied on the idea that sexuality is a spectrum (true, I think) and the conviction that I could choose where to be on it (less true, in my experience).
My parents had friends I later realized were gay, and I never heard anything negative at home, but I grew up with the homophobia of the culture. I didn’t know women could be attracted to women until I was in college, and by then I was totally invested in the Good Girl fairy tale of the One Man who would come along and sweep me off my feet and make me a wife, just like my mother. I graduated from college in 1982, and lived my 20’s in the world of HIV and AIDS, at first standing by while jokes were made about its victims. I had begun to look past the reactive hysteria when a friend came out to me. He was as much like me as a guy could be in terms of his desire to be good and pure and live the fairy tale. His story didn’t immediately point the way to my own realization, but did open me to to understanding that gay people weren’t “other.” They were people I knew and loved. They were people who, like me, desired love and connection and commitment. How could God not love them and want happiness for them, too?
More years went by before I recognized my own heart’s desire, and then ten more years, in which I packed that feeling away carefully, before I ever named it aloud to anyone. My experiment at the straight life continued. You can do things without meaning them, you see, and even persuade yourself to believe in them, but in the end a life lived otherwise faithful to God will reveal the truth about you.
My belated re-realization, my midlife romance, my marriage, and move to Pennsylvania all played out like a romantic comedy: two friends figure out there’s more to it, and they go through various misunderstandings, and then one of them says to the other, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible” (Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally). Our details varied, but they were just as romantic and charming, I promise, because we are not “other.” We are two people who love each other and who are blessed to get to live out the epilogue you never see in the movies, with all its ordinary challenges. My otherwise failed experiment at being straight did include the bonus of three children I love beyond limits, and my wife’s similar experience means I now have a young stepson who I also love beyond limits and who even has the same name as my dad, which feels like a flourish of God’s grace and affirmation.
If you wonder why I keep using the word “experiment,” it’s because over the past week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly’s decisions in favor of marriage equality generated push-back I’ve found personally hurtful, and I can’t seem to stop chewing on a few words in particular. Experiment is one of them, used by a conservative Presbyterian pastor in a series of comments decrying the decisions. To sum her up but not quote her exactly, “All this acceptance of homosexuals is encouraging kids to experiment.” I want to be clear that I didn’t go out there and read the comments on news stories; these remarks came into the closed Facebook group for RevGalBlogPals, including one describing LGBTQ people as “a group looking for validation” as opposed to people in actual need. Of course there are actual needs for justice for LGBTQ people in civic and church arenas, and while there is great movement in some areas, there is little in others. Our marriage is recognized now in Pennsylvania, but it’s still legal to discriminate against us here in housing and employment and the service industry based on our sexual orientation.
It particularly hurts that when the church and its representatives use demeaning or dismissive words. Church is the place where I learned about love. It was my desire to be faithful to God that gave me the courage to own up to my orientation. I understand my life now as being lived in response to God’s call to be the person God made me to be, to sing in the key to which God tuned my heart. Being queer is not an experiment or a persuasion – and that’s the other word hectoring me. It’s kind of an old-fashioned way to say it, “someone of your persuasion;” it sounds almost genteel, but truly it’s insidious. My life as a woman married to a woman is neither an experiment nor a persuasion. Those words imply a casual perversion with no relationship to who I am. Persuasion doesn’t suggest orientation, or the way someone is made. It describes being won over. For me it applies to the time I spent living as a straight person, co-opted by social expectations for a gently-raised young woman in a politically and religiously moderate family in the South with a particular concern for public appearances. I did everything I could to live up to the terms of the experiment, but I remain unpersuaded.