Jul 292012

I spent the weekend with an amazing group of people who reminded me of the power of community, and of the resilience and empowerment that comes in merely recognizing that our stories need to be told; that they need to be heard. The poem below is kind of long, but well worth the read.

“Shine,” by Andrea Gibson

I was once told the story of a shaman
Who woke every single morning of his life
Crying for all the world’s sorrow
And yet every day
He would rise and shine bright
He would walk the path
From morning to night
When he would light the night sky
With the stars
That would shine inside his dreams
And for every hell he ever saw
He made himself become the hope
That tugged the rope
That rang the bell
In the steeple
Of the people’s hearts
He would part the seas of greed
With the outstretched hands of his giving
Replacing the hate
With the most amazing grace
This world has ever seen
A week ago
Another war started
And there wasn’t a poem inside me
That wasn’t crying
There wasn’t a poem inside me
That didn’t pound
With the sound
Of a thousand bombs screaming
To where children on the ground
Were dying
And I didn’t want to speak
I didn’t want to sleep
Because I didn’t want to wake
To another morning of mourning so many
When already
Tomb stones had paved
As many prairies
As highways had
And the traffic
Was backed up to my heart
And I didn’t know where to start
Like it was all too much
Like I could never reach to touch
A healing hand
To the wounds the world
Stood so brutally branded with
Like I couldn’t bear the pain
Like I could never
Find the strength
To lift a prayer of faith
Beneath it all
And I felt so small
Felt like we were all so small
Too small
To even knock a dent
Into the door
That holds the hateful hinges
Of this war
And a week ago
I almost wanted to give upBut then
I remembered the story
Of the man
Who lived his life as a light
Through even the darkest nights
His eyes held the song of the dawn
And his sorrow
Was the thing that kept him moving on
Kept him building a better tomorrow
I remember the story
And somewhere
Behind every thing inside me
That had felt so small
Behind every voice inside me
That was doubting
Came a voice behind that
Loud and proud
Like my grandmother’s voice
“What do you mean you’re small?
Of course you’re small
We’re all small
But we are small
Like the moon is small in the sky
And not a wave would ever
Find its way to shore without us
We are all as small
As a single tide
But if that tide
Were to ever stop
The entire ocean
Would freeze in shock
And nothing in it would survive
We are all small
Like the notches
On the line
That will one day wind
The revolution
Through every gutter in this world
Then it’s time
We start believing in our power
Because the darkest hour
Will only come
If we refuse to flower
The light
That has always burned
Bright inside us”So decide
What would you die for?
Then live
Every moment of your life
Like you were born
Into this life just to save it
Knowing the light
At the end of the tunnel
Is the fire of your faith
So never put it out
And every time you start to doubt
Listen to the cries
Of everyone who has come before you
Pushing you on
They know
There has never been a bomb built
That can wilt the petals
Of your power
When you allow yourself to bloom
When you bloom
There will be no room for anything else

Gandhi said
You must be the change
That you wish to see in the world
So you’ve been curled up and sad?
Depression is the first blessing
It means you’ve been in tune
But now the moon is waiting
For you to burn bright
And there has never
Been a time
When your light
Was needed more
Never a time like this before

Yes you are small
We are all as small
As a single breath
But tied to the rest
We are all the life of the world
The pulse that turns rocks to pearls
Inside the darkness
Of their shells
So become the well
Where wishes are born
Become the bell
That rings when even
The birds refuse to sing
Become the wings that fly
And every time you’re full of sorrow
Every time you wake up crying
Know that that day
Is a perfect day
To shine

Jul 182012

I’m working on the order of worship for Sunday, and just came across this prayer of confession (in the Worship Sourcebook) – felt like it might work nicely in tangent with my most recent post.  Gotta love those Holy Spirit moments…

     Merciful God,
     for the things we have done that we regret,
     forgive us;
     for the things we have failed to do that we regret,
     forgive us;
     for all the times we have acted without love,
     forgive us;
     for all the times we have reacted without thought,
     forgive us;
     for all the times we have withdrawn care,
     forgive us;
     for all the times we have failed to forgive,
     forgive us.
     For hurtful words said and helpful words unsaid,
     for unfinished tasks
     and unfulfilled hopes,
     God of all time,
     forgive us and help us
     to lay down our burden of regret.

Amen. May it be so.

Jul 182012

Quindlen quote

I came across this image on Facebook today, and it’s been kind of boring a hole into my brain ever since.  I found myself thinking, after posting it, about all of the stories I’ve heard about parents whose kid’s coming out completely changed the way they understood gender identity and sexual orientation.  For instance, just recently I read this powerful story about a Southern Baptist minister’s experience at the realization that his son had AIDS.  Though there are a good number of stories about homeless teens whose parents kicked them out when the youth came out, more and more it seems we are hearing stories of parents who’ve become advocates upon hearing that their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

After re-posting the image to my Facebook wall, I found myself trying to write a caption on the image, or comment on it – to somehow clarify that I know that parents will say things that their children will take to heart, to acknowledge that I’ve unintentionally hurt someone by making a short-sighted comment about a particular group, without realizing the offended person was a part of said group.  I then thought maybe I should just not post the image, or give a longer explanation about why I posted it, for fear of unintentionally alienating someone who may feel some residual guilt for whatever they may have said at some point in time.  My caption then seemed like it would be a better blog post…

The reason I decided to go ahead and post it is because it points out the particularities associated with GLBT people, particularly with GLBT youth.  Because the development of identity and self-recognition is an evolving process, many GLBT people may not realize they are queer until they are into their teenage years, or even older – many who do realize it at a younger age often don’t come out until they are older.  By that time, they’ve already soaked up a lot of the values of their parents and their environment (school, church, tv, etc).  Coming out is scary enough in itself – it can be downright terrifying if you’ve heard only negative associations with queer people.  Though the world is changing, there is still an overwhelming amount of negative talk around GLBT people – that kind of talk can weigh on a person after a while, and that weight can add up.  Ideally, children will be born into a world and brought up in homes where they know it’s safe to be who they are.

But . . . well, children are human, and are raised by humans; as such, it is inevitable that they will come out of childhood with some baggage – it’s all part of the complexity of being in relationship.  Life and love are complicated – they just are.

Words matter.  It is important that parents know that, when they say hurtful things about LGBT people, they may be saying hurtful things about their children.

Words matter.  Just as they can hurt, they can also heal; and, there is a whole lot to be said for a parent’s willingness to say “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that my words hurt you, or if anything I’ve said has in any way implied that I do not fully love you as you are.”

I have a good friend who once told me that she found a tremendous amount of freedom in recognizing that she could apologize to her children – that in being able to genuinely say “I’m sorry” for something she had done, she acknowledged to her child, and to herself, that she didn’t have to be perfect – that adults (parents even!) could mess up, too.  In that willingness, she was also telling her children that they didn’t have to be perfect, that they would make mistakes, they would hurt one another, and be hurt by one another – and that grace and forgiveness would abound even in those moments.

Grace and forgiveness abound, even in those moments when we fear we have said something that cannot be taken back, even when our shame or fear or pain make it hard to forgive ourselves – grace and forgiveness abound.

Jul 162012

by Rumi

     A story is like water
     that you heat for your bath.

     It takes messages between the fire
     and your skin. It lets them meet,
     and it cleans you!

     Very few can sit down
     in the middle of the fire itself
     like a salamander or Abraham.
     We need intermediaries.

     A feeling of fullness comes,
     but usually it takes some bread
     to bring it.

     Beauty surrounds us,
     but usually we need to be walking
     in a garden to know it.

     The body itself is a screen
     to shield and partially reveal
     the light that’s blazing inside your presence.

     Water, stories, the body,
     all the things we do, are mediums
     that hide and show what’s hidden.

     Study them,
     and enjoy this being washed
     with a secret we sometimes know,
     and then not.

I’ve read this poem about 10 times in the last day or so, and I take something different with me each time I read it. So, I think I’ll resist the temptation to filter it through my various responses, and let the Spirit do with it as she will.


Jul 122012

I just came across this article recently published in The Atlantic, about a handful of women in a small Minnesota town who, in response to a marriage-ban amendment being put on the ballots for November, decided to buy some rainbow flags and distribute them.  As I read about Gwin Pratt, the senior pastor at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, who started the rainbow flag campaign, I was reminded of how essential straight allies are – particularly in the church, who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone in the name of equality.  A couple of things in particular struck me:

Ivins is pleased to see how the movement has taken off. “If I were the only one with the flag, I might feel like, ‘Um, okay, I’m not sure.’ But there’s strength in numbers,” she explained. “If you see seven rainbow flags on our street, I think it makes people feel more empowered.”

The power of community is indeed what gave Johnson, who describes himself as a relatively private person, the confidence to put up a flag. “I’m this gay man in the suburbs but because everyone around me is there to help me, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is cool. I’m normal’….

…Especially striking in this digital era is that simple face-to-face conversations — not charged political advertisements or overly emotional YouTube videos — are changing opinions and outlooks. “They’ve done just what they were intended to,” Watsabaugh says of the flags. “They’ve been a source often of curiosity from other people and neighbors. So when the opportunity presented itself, we told people what it was for.”

Because of Reverend Pratt’s decision to act on her idea of handing out flags, she has both empowered other residents of the area (who may not have been quite as willing to do so), to do the same; and, she has encouraged conversation among people – real live  face-to-face conversation – about the flags.

I have experienced enough over the last couple of years to see that showing support for an LGBT person does not always garner support among friends.  I am very close to a good number of straight people who have seen their faith communities fractured over questions of LGBT ordination – some of these people spoke out specifically because my partner and I are two of a handful of gay people they know.  They have experienced the alienation of losing their church home – had to hear all sorts of horrible things roll off the tongues of people they’ve known for years – hateful slurs disguised in kind voices that say things like: “I don’t mean it to be personal…you know I love you…the Bible says…love the sinner, hate the sin…”

There are times when it pains me to think about the things people I’m close to have to endure when they step out and speak on behalf of LGBT people – on behalf of me.  It’s in those times, though, when I am reminded that change is not possible for a marginalized group without the efforts of and partnership with those who are not marginalized.  I think about all of the people who have made it possible for me to be where I am as a queer woman – to have gone through seminary as an out lesbian, to be an ordained [ruling] elder in a church, even to be writing this blog on the intersection of queer life and church life; none of that would have been possible had people before me not spoken out.  I think about the people who have encouraged me to add my voice to the conversation, who have helped me to recognize injustice and empowered me to respond, taught me about the importance of humility and endurance and sabbath and love in all of this.

To look at it on the surface, it’s scary to put your neck on the line when it seems you aren’t the one whose got something to lose – when it’s not your marriage, or morality, or personhood that is being attacked.  It often seems easier to step back, to avoid doing what is right for someone else because it is inconvenient for me.  The thing is, injustice in society impacts every part of that society – it manifests itself in different ways, and it certainly comes down harder on some than others, but the whole “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality only reinforces the lie that we are all alone in this world.

I’m reminded of the quote by Martin Niemoller, the Lutheran minister who, after supporting Hitler’s early rise to power, eventually spoke out agains not only Hitler and the Nazi party, but also agains the political apathy that often comes in the face of injustice:

     First they came for the communists,
     and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

     Then they came for the trade unionists,
     and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

     Then they came for the Jews,
     and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

     Then they came for me
     and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The funny thing about hatred is that it doesn’t discriminate – it doesn’t decide that some people are worthy, and others are not.  Hatred just hates, and it spreads.  In those moments we decide that some people are worthy of love, or we start to bar the doors of our faith communities from those who are banging to get it, our fear is allowing that hatred to seep in.  However, if we allow ourselves to recognize that all people are worthy of love and respect – and that the freedom to live safely, to worship safely, and to be honored as a child of God is not something to be relegated to an elite few – might we then begin to speak on behalf of those people in the face of things which prevent them from doing so?