Jul 072012
 

The title of this post comes from a song of the same name, by the Indigo Girls.  It’s been running through my head for the last several days:

I come to you with strange fire, i make an offering of love, the incense of my soil is burned by the fire in my blood. i come with a softer answer to the questions that lie in your path. i want to harbor you from the anger, find a refuge from the wrath.

This is a message of love. love that moves from the inside out, love that never grows tired. i come to you with strange fire.

Mercenaries of the shrine, who are you to speak for god? with haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood. who delivered you the power to interpret calvary? you gamble away our freedom to gain your own authority.

Find another state of mind. grab hold. strange fire burns with the motion of love.

When you learn to love yourself, you will dissolve all the stones that are cast, you will learn to burn the icing sky and to melt the waxen mask. yes, to have the gift of true release, this is a peace that will take you higher. i come to you with my offering. i bring you strange fire.

This is a message of love. love that moves from the inside out, love that never grows tired. i come to you with strange fire.

I’m part of the PC(USA), and am a cradle Presbyterian: I was born, baptized, and learned the fundamentals of faith and developed my own understanding of God in the PC(USA).  It was in the Presbyterian Church that I learned that God’s grace is offered to me even before I am aware of that grace.  Infant baptism functions as a sign of that freely-offered grace.  God loves me, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to separate myself from that love.  The purpose of my life is to live into that grace – to live in a way that recognizes the grace that I’ve been given.  I understand part of that purpose to entail sharing that love with others.  How this love is manifest may change, but that’s the basic premise of how I understand my purpose on this planet – to know that I am loved, and to tell other people that they are, too.

Over the last week, the General Assembly, the largest governing body of the PC(USA), has been gathered for a biennial meeting where they vote on a whole number of things that impact the denomination as a whole.  (I won’t go too deeply into Presbyterian polity here, but I’ll make it short by saying that decisions that are made at GA can have an impact the way individual  congregations function.)  At the beginning of the assembly, the assembly elected a moderator and vice-moderator, the latter of whom is a friend and former supervisor of mine and who, within the last year, officiated the wedding of two women in Washington, DC.  After her election, the negative response was so swift and strong that she, just two days into her term, stepped down.  She showed grace and wisdom, recognizing that the vitriol that was being spewed was not good for the denomination as a whole.  Yesterday, the GA voted by a 30-vote-margin not to recognize marriage as a relationship between “two people,” but to maintain that it is between “a man and a woman.”  The vote in itself is not that surprising: heartbreaking, yes; ironic (considering it is now possible for GLBTQ people to be ordained and, come January 2013, it is possible for the partners of GLBTQ ministers to be on the same health plan), yes; but, it wasn’t really surprising.  If anything, I’m a bit surprised by the close margin of the vote and, though I’m aware that there is still a lot of work to do, I am encouraged by the fact that things are changing.

What was particularly difficult about the debates yesterday was the language that came out in the debates around changing the definition of marriage.  A number of people drew the parallel between homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia (an argument which gets really exhausting after a while); someone also argued that such “sins” are deserving of death.  Ooooffff.  Now, I know that some of the people who were arguing against the re-definition argued in the “love the sinner, hate the sin” vein (cf. my post here on the dangers of that approach), but I’m having a hard time finding any sort of love in the call for someone’s death.  That kind of language is just…dangerous.  And remarkably hurtful.  Even though I know that comments like that really have more to do with something the speaker is going through; and, though I don’t even know how I would get myself to a place where I would see comments like that as true, it still hurts to have someone say such things, particularly to do so in the name of God.

In all honesty, in moments like that I find myself struggling to remember that we are all part of the same body; and that even those who claim that, because I am in a relationship with a person of the same sex, I am unworthy of living, are beloved.  I want to shake the dust off my sandals, count my losses, and walk away.  I want to protect myself and my family and wait for the church to get what it deserves – wait for it to just simmer out.

I take it as a gift from the Holy Spirit that the above song has been running through my mind this last week.  The first stanza alone is enough to keep me going: I come to you with strange fire, i make an offering of love, the incense of my soil is burned by the fire in my blood. i come with a softer answer to the questions that lie in your path. i want to harbor you from the anger, find a refuge from the wrath.  There is such power there – such strength and resilience in the idea that the fire in our blood, the things which fire us up most; and hurt the most; and cause us to question the most; to love the most – those are the things we put out into the world – the burning embers move like incense into the world.  What I find particularly helpful and hopeful in this stanza is that those things are not brought forth with force, but with a softness, with an embrace, with something that will offer refuge from the wrath of the world.  I start to think about the community of people within the church who are equally or more hurt by all that’s going on, and who refuse to give up hoping for unity, for respect for all people, who want to live into the church’s call to bring about social righteousness in the world.

I forget sometimes that love can hold its own.  I was reminded this week that I am not alone, and that those of us who are hurt and discouraged and exhausted by this denomination are also fired up.  It is my hope that this fire will send out incense that will purify through love – not the kind of love that is conditionally unconditional – but love that refuses to let us yield to tradition; that risks trusting that God really is as gracious and loving as we claim God to be.  It is hard to give a softer answer to speech that is nothing but vitriolic; but, this love is what shelters us and moves us onward, challenges us and holds us close, brings forth a pentecostal fire from glowing embers.  May we all breathe in that kind of love.

  4 Responses to “Strange Fire”

  1. Amen.

  2. Thank you for your inspiring thoughts on this challenging topic. That’s the love all of us need to give and receive.

  3. love. fire. softness. love. Thank you.

  4. Thank you. I have been waiting for a Word, and here it is. Peace.

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