Divorce, LGBT, Orientation

Orienteering

When I was 10 and first went to summer camp, I remember walking by the CampCraft hut, the place where outdoorsy girls gathered with a counselor who looked like leaves would grow on her as comfortably as hair. She would take the campers up the mountain, and they would learn to identify their surroundings, the plants and trees, the direction they were going. They learned how to build a fire and how to put it out again safely. They camped overnight – this sounded awful to me. I found the canvas tents on platforms primitive enough. I never thought about what it might mean to be able to find your way in an unfamiliar landscape, to know on which side of the tree you can find the moss, to start a fire when you need one, to use a compass to get back to familiar territory.

I chose more careful pursuits, like singing in the choir on Sunday, following the music and blending carefully so my voice didn’t stick out.

One summer, during a long car vacation, my father taught me how to read a map. Every day we would stop to fill the gas tank, and my father would ask the attendant for a fresh map. That night I would trace the journey we had taken, and the next night I would start again with a blank map, tracing the whole thing again and adding the new territory we traversed. I traced the numbered roads we took in our Country Squire to reach natural wonders and amusement parks and outdoor drama festivals, our trails previously blazed by others. Obediently, I learned the way.

I went from high school to college and out into the world with no idea that I could ever do something just because I wanted to do it. I played it safe. I tried to be just appealing enough but not *too* appealing. I married young. I had a family.

I could read a map, and I was trying desperately to follow the one I had been given. I didn’t know how to find my heart’s way around.

When I was 35 and the father of my children left our marriage, I found myself disoriented. I had lost my atlas, the guide to lifelong monogamy. We made promises! Weren’t we bound together? He got out, and even though being together was awful for both of us, I hated him. I blamed him for everything.

I scrawled fury and despair onto the pages of dozens of journals.

With neater penmanship, I attempted to redefine my life.

I carefully recorded unsettling desires pointing to women, not men.

I put the journals in a drawer.

I opened a new one and tried to draw a more familiar map, better suited to the Heteronormative Gazetteer. Maybe I hadn’t done things right. If I could be more domestic, more submissive, more available, less conventional – yes, I hear the contradiction. Around that time, I got my first computer. I printed out the directions I needed to take on trips. I always made sure to print the map, too, but usually it wasn’t big enough to help if I misread a sign. I spent my late 30s and much of my 40s following those directions, linear and inadequate. If I made the right turn, if I followed the list exactly…

This approach to travel left me more than once asking for directions in a New Jersey gas station when I got on 78 East instead of 78 West.

This approach to life left me more than once wondering where in Hell I was.

Imagine you’ve been living in a country where no one speaks the language you heard in the womb. Somewhere in the farthest, deepest corners of your consciousness you remember that language, but it’s been so long since you heard it, you wouldn’t be able to speak it yourself. In the course of your travels you cross into a No Man’s Land between the place you’ve been raised and the land where they speak those words you can only hear in muffled memory.

You decide not to go back.

How will you find your way? You can’t read the map; you have a feeling for the way the language sounds, but you do not recognize the printed words.

You look for a compass, if you’re one of those girls who signed up for CampCraft, but if you’re me, you give thanks for Siri and trust you’ll be able to find your way home again.

Or maybe home for the first time.

20131015-151759.jpg

LGBT, Orientation, Racism, White Privilege

From a White Lady

We are a blended, gay family. Each of us previously had an opposite-sex husband, and our children are from those previous marriages. We have lived in the world of straight, white privilege as college-educated women with graduate degrees and professional credentials. We have jobs with titles.

Last month we took two of our kids to the Smithsonian. Now, they look like family, the boys we took with us, despite their age difference of 14 years. They are both slender and their coloring is not dissimilar, and they move together like siblings. I’m not sure if people would generally look at us and say, “Oh, two women with their children!” unless they meant one mom with her child and another mom with her child. I don’t know how we read to others. K says it’s there for people who have eyes to see, and maybe that’s true.

I worry, when I’m alone in public with her son, that I’ll be assumed to be his grandmother.

Because I am, let’s admit it, a gray-haired lady in her early 50s, and he is an 8-year-old boy. It’s cutting it close for me to be the grandmother of a child that age, but I have high school classmates whose grandkids are older, so it’s not impossible.

I am a more-than-middle-aged white lady.

So I am in a funny position, wondering if people will realize this more-than-middle-aged white lady is also a lesbian out with her wife and their children.

It was on my mind all that day, as we rode the Metro and bought tickets at the Smithsonian and walked through the exhibits and purchased a membership to get a discount in the gift shops. We know we are a family, but not everyone in the world would see it that way.

America's Doll HouseOur last stop was the American History Museum, where I was looking for perhaps the ultimate white lady book, a history of America’s Doll House. First we visited the house itself, where I hoisted a sweaty 8-year-old (and made his other mom do some hoisting, too) because everyone should be fascinated with the number of miniature animals, among other things, residing there. Then I took off on my own to look for the book that tells the story of the eccentric, single white lady who collected all the miniatures and assembled the doll house and wrote the biographies of the family and the servants and then donated the whole kit-and-kaboodle (white lady talk for a whole bunch of stuff) to the museum.

Clutching the book to my ample, white lady bosom, I approached the cash register and waited while the person ahead of me made his purchase. He was about my age, or a few years younger, dressed, like me, for a day of sightseeing, in nice but casual clothes. He had grey in his hair, but not as much. He bought a shot glass. (That gift shop is full of popular culture swag.) When he handed over his credit card, the clerk solemnly asked one thing, to see his ID. He hesitated for a moment, then complied.

EnchantedCastle_PremierImmediately, I opened my wallet, contemplating my new Pennsylvania driver’s license, which surely I would be asked to proffer alongside my Disney Castle-themed credit card. Yes, my wife thinks I’m a Princess, and she got me an Enchanted Castle card.

I was ready.

Shot glass wrapped and bagged, the gentleman departed. I presented my book for purchase, and my credit card, and got ready for the ID question.

The young lady smiled broadly at me and asked something entirely different:

“Are you a Smithsonian member?”

“Oh!” I responded, surprised. “Well, yes, but we just joined–”

“So you have one of those cards that gives you the discount today,” she prompted.

“Yes,” I replied, “but I left it with another – here I paused, not sure whether it was safe to say the W word – family member.”

“No problem!” she enthused. “I’ll trust you.”

She rang up the purchase, with the discount, as I reflected on the fact that the grey-haired gentleman in line ahead of me was African-American.

LGBT, Marriage Equality, Orientation, Political Theology

Kiss Cam

Camden yards 042711
Camden Yards

I was a Kiss Cam virgin when we went to see the Orioles at Camden Yards a couple of years ago. The minor league ball field near my house in Maine didn’t feature a big video screen, so I was surprised when, late in the game, the camera zoomed in on one couple after another, and they all obediently kissed. I’m not sure of the criteria used to deem a couple worthy of the Kiss Cam, but one defining characteristic became clear: these were all pairs consisting of a man and a woman.

I happened to be sitting with my Beloved, and I know from the selfies we took with my iPhone that night we looked about as ridiculously in love as two people could. It’s not that we wanted to be on camera, but it bothered me that we wouldn’t even be considered a possibly romantic couple, simply because we are both women.

It’s a silly thing. People are sitting minding their own business when suddenly one of them notices they are being shown on a huge screen and nudges the other. They oblige the crowd, usually, in an innocent fashion. Occasionally you hear a story about the camera falling on a brother and sister (including a brother who ran away, thinking that would be hilarious), admittedly an awkward misapprehension. I’m sure there are friends who have kissed, because why not, and couples who have done so reluctantly because they just barely felt like coming to the game together anyway. When Kiss Cam comes calling, even the President and the First Lady oblige.

The First Couple caught by Kiss Cam.
The First Couple caught by Kiss Cam.

I live my day to day life in a home and in a church/workplace where my status as a woman married to a woman is taken for granted. Sometimes I forget and think I’m ordinary. It’s not that I want to kiss on camera — although I would be more likely to be okay with it than my more private wife would — but I want to think that even we could be included in something so banal. Aren’t we just as cute as the Obamas?

It is, as I said before, a silly thing.

Except that it’s not.

Now I live near a minor league team with a big screen and cameras, and I’ve been initiated into the mysteries of the Kiss Cam prank.  After doing what I’ve described above, the last place the camera lands is on two players from the visiting team, sitting in the dugout. The first time I saw it, one of them good-naturedly bussed the other on the cheek. I chuckled, until I considered the implications, and at the next game I saw something that more accurately reflected the feelings of the crowd. This time the two visiting players looked disgusted.

Disgusted.

Not only are couples like us not included, couples like us are the butt of a joke.

When people wonder why we need legislation and the courts to change the status of couples like us and all LGBT people, when states take votes on our rights because the majority rules, I remind myself that the rule of the majority is also the rule of the lowest common denominator. It’s very easy to condemn others because they seem different, or we think we are better, for whatever reasons we’ve been taught and to which we cling. We see this in racism and sexism and heterosexism, too. We see it reinforced by churches and other institutional and moral structures. We make assumptions: “That man and that woman sitting next to each other are a couple. They will fit right into this neighborhood/church/club.”

woman washing feet
Luke 7:36-50

Jesus did not make assumptions in a way that excluded people. In Luke 7, Simon the Pharisee wonders about Jesus’ status as a prophet. A real prophet would know the woman weeping over his feet was a sex worker and therefore would not want her to be in the room, much less touching his body.

A real prophet would never be caught sitting next to this woman, would he?

Jesus knew all about her. He knew everything that mattered. He knew she was an ordinary person with a desire to be in community with God.

It isn’t God who has the problem. God embraces all of us.

The Supreme Court will soon rule on DOMA and Proposition 8. I hope the highest court will find some higher common denominator, a higher sense of our common humanity, when their majority rules. Whether we’re at the emergency room or the swimming pool, paying taxes or buying Christmas presents, adopting a child or bringing home a rescued pet,  sealing our vows in church or going along with the fun at the minor league game let us be ordinary people.

We’re sitting right next to you.

 

(Cross-posted at There Is Power in the Blog.)

Gospel of John, LGBT, Pentecost

You can’t handle it now

There’s a lot of ugly talk out there. There’s a lot of ugly talk by Christians about LGBT people. It pains me.

Even before it felt so personal, it would have pained me.

I’m still learning how different it feels when the words apply to me as well as lots of people I love and plenty of people I don’t even know and even a few I don’t like, but for reasons having nothing to do with the fact about their lives and mine that puts us in the middle of a cultural flash-point.

And in case you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. When a preacher stands up in a church and suggests that gay people be enclosed in electrified fences, as a way to get rid of them since they can’t reproduce, so surely they will eventually all die off…well, it is such a collision of ignorance and fear and bigotry that I finally understand in a visceral way the meaning of homophobia.

I had the luxury of parsing the word, before, you see.

Here’s Jesus speaking to his disciples, from the Farewell Discourse:

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.  However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.” (John 16:12-13, CEB)

You can’t handle it now.

That’s what I want to say to the preacher in North Carolina:

The little mama skunk in my backyard

Dear Brother in Christ,

In my backyard there is a family of skunks. I live in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood. The single-family houses are close together. If one of us has skunks, all of us have skunks. Friends with a more rural mindset have suggested shooting the skunk, which would be illegal in my city, and also not something  would ever consider doing or be able to do. But we can’t live together, so there are traps in my backyard, and I have the number of the nice man who will come and take the skunks away if they follow the bait of marshmallows and end up with the trap door closing behind them. 

I really wish we could live in peace together. They eat pests and are rather adorable, although I never imagined I would be saying that and seeing one up so close. But I have a large dog who needs his small backyard, and I have neighbors, as I mentioned before. So if all goes well, the skunks will be relocated. Because the mother would abandon her young if set free, they’ll go to a place where they are kept together until the babies are weaned, and only then will they all be released into the wild. 

I have suffered in mind and heart over the fate of the skunks. Right now the cages are in my yard, empty, and I do not know what I will find in the morning. I guess I hope she’ll catch a hint and move her family, but more likely in a day or two, I’ll be calling the nice man to tell him the mama is in the trap, and he’ll come look for the babies, and this will become a story I tell later, in which I remind myself that in a difficult situation, in which we cannot all share the same space, I did the best I could for the skunk family.

And I compare that to the way you would like to treat human beings, and I cannot understand how it is we claim the same Lord, the one who loved us so much that he laid down his life for us, the one who said over and over again that people would know us as his followers by how we love others.

People like you sometimes suggest that people like me cannot really be Christians. I don’t want to be a person who sets those kinds of limits on others. I like to leave a little more room for the Spirit to work. I am praying that your heart and your mind will be opened, and that you will close your mouth long enough to listen for the Spirit of God. 

Maybe you can’t handle it now. But that doesn’t mean the day can’t come. God is pretty amazing, after all. 

Your skunk-loving Sister,

Martha

Ecumenism, Friends, LGBT, RevGalBlogPals

Some of my best friends are Presbyterians

It’s true.

Some of my best friends are Presbyterians.

They’ve influenced me before, beginning with the teachers of the kindergarten at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia. Impressed that the school would take me in the middle of the year after we moved from our home town of Portsmouth, my Methodist father and my Baptist mother decided to meet somewhere not exactly in the middle and take us there to Sunday School.

For six years of Sundays, the Presbyterians got me thinking about the Word of God.

No one ever made me sit on the other side of the room or left me out of an activity because my religious pedigree didn’t match. I suffered through learning the books of the Bible in order just like the other 3rd graders. (Well, I tried, anyway. Maybe if they had set it to music.)

I give all the credit for my knowledge of Bible stories to my absolute heroine of all Sunday School teachers everywhere and for all time, Marian Sengel, who was the second person in my universe to inspire me to want to be a pastor’s wife. (Yes, I know. I got a different idea later. My point is, I adored her.) Mrs. Sengel taught the 5th and 6th grade, which would be enough to get innumerable stars for her crown, and she did it with drama and puppetry. And yes, we all know about learning styles and rotation models now, but this was 1971-1973. She was in the vanguard with her marionettes. (You should have seen Salome. I kid you not.) And I will never forget playing Gomer on the auction block. (Also, I kid you not.) She wasn’t afraid of any of those stories and didn’t try to sweeten things up for us.

Her husband was pretty much of a hero, too. Here’s his brief biography from the Old Presbyterian Meeting House website:

1960 The Reverend Dr. William Randolph Sengel is called as the congregation’s ninth pastor. He leads efforts to advance social and racial justice within the church and the local community; to re-unite the northern and southern denominations of the Presbyterian Church; and to promote ecumenism. He serves our congregation until 1986 when he becomes pastor emeritus.

Now I live in a place where well-educated Presbyterians are few and far between. Some of them stumble into UCC churches, hoping to find a vaguely familiar worship service, but they will never find good order, at least in this hotbed of Congregationalism, because that is not our way. But on the Internet, in the world of bloggers, my life is thick with them. They are all over the country, and they have become my dearest friends in person, and I have been following the story of their church in recent months with more than a professional interest.

At their last General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted for Amendment 10-A, which would change the language for their ordination standards in the Book of Order. It’s not the first attempt at making ordination a possibility for candidates who are openly LGBT, but my Presbyterian friends, some of them lifelong Presbyterians, believe this may be the time it happens. For the words to be changed, each Presbytery has to vote on the Amendment, and a certain number must vote yes, and websites have been tracking the votes, which are happening at different times throughout the year, and comparing this year’s votes to the last attempt.

Some of my best friends are Presbyterians.

And tonight, one of my best Presbyterians is standing up to speak about the Amendment in question. Like a good Presbyterian, she has done her homework, which includes both study and prayer. I’m praying for her, and for her Presbytery, and for all the Presbyterians who feel called by God to serve and have not been able to do so, and for all the people who disagree with the Amendment, too. May the Spirit of God guide them in their life together, and may a reunited church remain united.

Books, LGBT

Book #6: Bulletproof Faith

My sixth book read in 2011 is Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, by Candace Chellew-Hodge. I thought this was a great book. The concept of a bulletproof faith struck me as strange, initially, but the comparison of putting on the whole armor of God as a 1st century image and the need for something stronger now made sense to me. 

Chellew-Hodge writes for LGBT people about developing a strong, loving, non-defensive faith that helps in controversial moments, but her principles are great ones for all people of faith who are under challenge. She includes several spiritual exercises that have broad application. 

I also have to say that I read a lot of books about faith written by people in other denominations, and I have to “translate” some of what they say because I’m progressive and UCC. I don’t have to do that with Candace Chellew-Hodge. We’re talking the same talk. We even come from the same childhood faith experience, having been raised Southern Baptist. I was amazed at how much of a relief it was to read a book by someone so like-minded.

LGBT, Living in This World, Love

Unchained

"But the word of God is not chained." (2 Timothy 2:9b) 

Devil_mythic_thumb4 Not too long ago I had my hands on the Devil card from a Tarot deck based on the Greek Myths. Pan gambols, if statically, holding the chains of an unhappy-looking, naked couple. The key to the image is that the man and the woman are actually quite free to walk away. Interpretively it's a card about addictions or habits or ways of being we feel have us trapped, imprisoned, held in chains, and although it's sort of a shocking card to turn over and hold in your hand, it holds the promise of freedom.

I looked it up, because before I was a pastor, and even before I was a seminarian, I was a library reference assistant, and I always look things up. 

Sometimes the chains we let bind us are on the inside, and sometimes they are held by other people, but as the card suggests, usually — usually — we're letting them. 

But, not always.

Either way, it's hard to get out of the chained-up position. It's the hardest kind of work to admit your situation and to look at what needs to happen to extricate yourself and to take the first step in that direction, and then another, and then another. 

Sometimes all you can do is breathe, and then breathe again, looking vaguely in the direction of your goal.

Even though the epistle tells us the word of God is not chained, I'm afraid there are people who use that same word to chain others, or try to, to create a prison of words of shame and derision and hate, all in the name of God. People, in the name of Jesus, hurt others who are different just because they can. And that's the Devil card, a part of our human nature to take power over others just to make ourselves feel more secure. It's a despicable part of our human nature, especially when it leads to the kind of bullying that drove Tyler Clementi to kill himself. 

The Devil card reminds me of the line in the Apostle's Creed that I like the least, the one that tells us Jesus descended into Hell. 

I live in a house where 15-year-olds ask questions such as, "Is it okay for me to be confirmed when I have such a low Christology?" Our view of Jesus, his humanity and his divinity, is a not infrequent topic of conversation. That descent into Hell supports LP's low Christology, doesn't it? It's a human thing to do, to go down into the darkest places, to the cave where the chains bind us, the chains of disappointment and low expectations and past suffering and even other people's authentic cruelty. Even Jesus, according to our faith ancestors, had to go there, for a full human experience. 

But the Word of God is not chained. It is not. And I believe that Word is Love. So even though I'm having a hard day — a very hard day — and even though I hurt — I really do — I do not despair. The chains are temporal and temporary, mine. And out in the world, the chains that can hurt people are removable, if people who understand God's Word to be Love will say it out loud.