Jan 272016

So, I’ve been tossing around the idea (at the nudging of some other folks, really) of connecting lectionary texts with poetry. I’m not sure where it’ll go (if anywhere); but, thanks to my pastor, who shared this poem on her Facebook page, it seemed like I had a good place to start.

** As a side-note . . . feel free to send any of your favorite poems – no need to connect them to a text, but I’ve realized if I’m going to start doing this with any earnestness, I’ll need to draw from a much deeper pool of knowledge!

Epiphany 4C – Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

“Jeremiah” by Rainer Maria Rilke

At one time I was soft like early wheat,
but you, raging one, did succeed
to incite my heart offered up to you,
so it boils like that of wild beasts.

What kind of mouth you imposed on me,
back then, when I was barely grown:
a wound it became: and from it seep
misfortunes, on and on.

Daily I resounded with the latest strains,
which you, the ever hungry, thought up;
since they were unable to kill my mouth,
you, go see to it that it shuts;

as soon as those we sought to crus and destroy
have dissipated and run away
and melted in fear out of sight:
I should like, amidst the debris,
recover my voice that was from the start
a weeping and a cry.

“Let Love Come In,” by Amy Kirsten

Let love come in whatever way it will.
In music, in friendship, in love for myself,
For others, for my family.
To all who are my family.
Friends on the street.
To the homeless, the broken,
Let love come in whatever way it will.

Let love come.

To the thankful who know how to love,
To the calm, to the awake,
To the joyful,
Let love come.

And when it does
(that gi-gantic, magnificent mirror)
it will tell us at all times and as one,
how beautiful we are.
How Beautiful We are.

Let love come in whatever way it will.

Jun 192014

An old piece that seemed relevant for this week.

“The Place Where We Are Right,” by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

I always kind of chuckle when people ask me how my partner and I met.

“We actually grew up in the same church,” I reply, “so we met when we were in pre-school.”

This answer elicits a range of replies – most often rooted in some form of surprise.  Though I have a number of childhood friends who have married people from my hometown, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Presbyterian youth groups (especially in East Texas) are not usually the place where same-sex partnerships begin.  Though we weren’t really friends in high school (we went to different schools and were a grade apart), and started dating about a decade after we’d moved away from our hometown, our relationship was grounded on a foundation of care for one another that had been laid by the church community that raised us.  In many ways, we learned what it was to be part of a faith community from being part of that faith community.  We learned what it was to be cared for by adults who weren’t our parents, to be challenged and taught to live into our beliefs, because it was shown to us in the lives of the people who took the time to teach us Sunday school, direct us in youth choir or bell choir, take us on trips.  The people in the congregation took the time to listen to us, to ask us tough questions – they showed us what it was to be loved.

When we got married, my partner and I received a number of gifts from some of those people who’d played such a big part in bringing us up.  One of the most treasured of those gifts is a set of wind chimes we got from one of my favorite Sunday school teachers.  They came with a note, that told us that the wind chimes were meant to be a reminder of our love for one another, so that even in the more difficult times we were sure to face we would have something to bring us back to the commitments we made, and the love we share.  As I write this, I can hear the wind chimes on our back porch being played by the cold air that sweeps through every minute or so, and it is with joy that I am reminded of that love.

After the ordination standards of the PC(USA) changed, making it possible for LGBT people to be ordained, 75% of the members of this same church voted to leave the denomination.  Among this 75% was the bulk of people who had been most formative in my faith formation.  The same people who taught me what it was to be loved by God, and who showed me the love of a church community, have now left the denomination because LGBT people (people like me and my partner) can be ordained.  Because we live several states away, we didn’t have to hear people call us an abomination, unnatural, or unrepentant sinners (that burden has largely fallen on the shoulders of our parents, and on the 25% who’ve remained in the congregation).  We didn’t have to feel directly the vitriol that some of the members displayed at various meetings.  I cannot help but recognize the irony in the fact that the woman who gave us the wind chimes is no longer a member of the church precisely because people like us – LGBT people who feel a sense of call and want to serve as leaders in the church – can be ordained.

A few gusts of air just blew through, causing the chimes to clang with a briefly-heightened intensity.  They remind me not only of my love for my partner, but also of love that was offered to me by the people who raised me in the church, and of the love made possible in a faith community.  I am reminded that the church is a family, at times stunningly beautiful in its potential to make connections, and at other times heartbreaking in its imperfection and messiness.  The chimes tell me that even those who love us an nurture us cannot always travel with us down the road we feel called to travel.  They are a gentle reminder that we still exist in the now, even as we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the not yet.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never had my heart broken by the church.  There are some days when my heart feels as if it might crumble under the weight of the things said and done in the name of God.  I temporarily forget that the church is made up of people; that it is imperfect.  In these times, it is easier for me to give in to the hurt and weariness that comes with the things that have been lost, with the struggles ahead, with the inevitable pain that comes when we strive to live authentically with one another.  Yet, in doing so, I am turning my gaze from the connections made, from the love that is offered and shared, from the bellies that are filled and the souls that are nourished.  I risk missing the excitement shared by the 25% who have remained in my hometown congregation, who have banded together beautifully to work and love and pray for the community, in many ways bonded more tightly because of the difficult times they have had to endure.

“The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard.”  It is the doubts and loves that turn the soil, the places we are broken that allow growth to spring forth.  What might the church look like if we honored the brokenness in one another, if we confessed our fear and our shame and the things we don’t know, rather than trying to convince ourselves that the ground of what we do know is a firm enough foundation to hold us all?  Let us celebrate the unfamiliar, and see it as the opportunity to learn; celebrate our brokenness, and see it as the opportunity to be healed; celebrate our individuality, and see it as the opportunity to be part of something more.  Let us celebrate the silence that comes in the breaking of our hearts, and see it as the opportunity to hear the whisper that tells us we are all worthy to be loved.


Mar 262013

“One Voice” by the Wailin’ Jennys

This is the sound of one voice
One spirit, one voice
The sound of one who makes a choice
This is the sound of one voice

This is the sound of voices two
The sound of me singing with you
Helping each other to make it through
This is the sound of voices two

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

Last fall, I had the chance to be with a good friend on her wedding weekend. While at the rehearsal dinner, I asked one of the bridesmaids (with whom I was having a delightful conversation) about why she and her husband decided to get married. In reply, she told me a lovely story about the day they got engaged. I smiled as she told me the tale – both because it was a good story, and because it didn’t really answer my question at all.  My smile came with the realization that most straight people aren’t asked why they decided to get married.  They may be asked about how, when, or where they and their partner made a commitment to spend their lives together; but, seldom are they asked why.  For most straight folks, getting married is just what you do when you hit a certain point in your relationship. You meet, you date for some period of time, you get married, you have kids . . .

I won’t try and speak for all queer folks, but I’d venture to bet that many non-hetero people who make the decision to get married are at some point asked the “why” questions: “Why did you decide to get married?” “Why, if you know it doesn’t make any difference legally, did you make the choice to make that commitment?” or, “So, why was it even important for you to get married?” or, “I just don’t get it – why would you even want to get married?” (It varies a bit, but the idea behind the questions is often basically the same.)

One of the things that was most definitive for my partner and I in making the decision to get hitched is that it was very much a decision – we made the decision that ours was a relationship worth fighting for, worth working through, and that our desire to make a commitment to one another in front of other people was not only about celebrating our relationship as good and just, but was also a means of holding ourselves accountable to the commitment we were making.  We wanted to do it publicly.  We made the decision to address head-on, as much as we could, the wedges that would try to work their way between us: laws that don’t protect us, people who don’t understand us (and will sometimes repeatedly ask us to explain ourselves), a lack of acknowledgement by those, even within our families, who don’t agree with our “lifestyle” choice.

Many LGBTQ people decide not to get married, and with very good reason.  The institution of marriage is one that has been used to perpetuate and restrict gender and class norms, to treat women as property and hold them in their “place.” For my partner and I, the decision to get married was one we made together and with a great deal of thought and care about how we want to live in the world.  We both, in mutual respect and care for one another, felt it was the best way for us to be intentional about bringing our separate lives into into one life together; and, we wanted to do that as part of a larger community.

Because we live in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage, my partner and I had two ceremonies: one legal wedding in DC, and a covenant ceremony in our church, where our marriage was blessed.  Because we’re church-going folk, it was important that we have communion during our covenant ceremony.  My partner and I sat on the front row of the church as people came to the front to take communion, while a few of our friends sang the song above.  Though I recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect analogy, If I were to look for a single experience that represents our relationship, it would be those ten or so minutes as people came to the table for communion, blessed us with their touch as they headed back to their seats, as the building harmony of voices and guitar played in the background.  We were there together, sharing a simple meal with the people we love, offering a gentle acknowledgement that we are part of something more.

Part of what has been so beautiful to me about our relationship is the recognition that it is something that needs constant care and love – that the opportunity to spend one’s life with another person is not something to be taken for granted or taken lightly.  We have to acknowledge that we are learning as we go, and continue to check in with one another to communicate with as much clarity as possible – even when it is difficult.  However, it’s also important that we not take ourselves too seriously – that we dance in the living room when necessary.  At the end of the day, I know that my partner is in this for the long haul, that she has seen the worst parts of me and loves me still.  I also know that we are only two people, and that our broader community is an essential aspect of the health and well-being of our relationship.  There are times when we have to be willing to lean on those we love, to ask for help even when it requires a certain amount of vulnerability.  We have trust that we are part of something more, that our relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum – that while a two-part harmony is nice, a chorus of three or four voices together is what gives a song the greatest depth.

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

(The beginning of this post is from a post I wrote last fall about the what the church might learn from engaging those on the margins, and brought in my experience of deciding to marry my partner.  Given that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Proposition 8 today, it seemed appropriate to share some of those thoughts again. . .

Feb 282013

In the spring of 2007, as I was thumbing through the Bible my girlfriend had recently given me, I decided to re-visit what the Bible says about “homosexual acts.”  I did not at the time know the reference, but I knew that somewhere in Romans lay the verses most often used to justify the claim that LGBTQ people are outside of God’s grace.  I had been out of the church and disconnected from any sort of spiritual community for the five years since graduating from college, where I had been reassured time and again that “unrepentant homosexuality” drew justified disdain from not only society, but from God.  A “homosexual lifestyle,” I was told, negated any effects of grace, leaving one with only the silence of God.

Though these claims contradicted my own deep convictions that God’s grace and goodness still covered me, I was buried in a sense of self-loathing that came from years of living in a culture in which I felt torn between my own identity as a lesbian and my understanding that the Bible – that God – saw this identity as a perversion.  I believed I could at some point reconcile my sexuality with my faith, but I did not believe it was possible to do so while also holding to an authentic reading of scripture: something would have to be fudged a bit in order to fit together.

It is a terrifying thing to go to scripture looking for evidence of one’s own condemnation, but that’s exactly what I was doing that day.  As I flipped through the Bible I found, much to my surprise, that the book of Romans (and a bit of Acts, I recall) was missing completely.  I chuckled as I searched back and forth in the New Testament, wondering if perhaps I had forgotten its location in the canon, then realizing that the misprinted book was a small sign of divine grace working in my life.  I took the sign with a grateful heart, unaware of the journey I was beginning toward true understanding of the grace bestowed upon me as it is revealed in scripture.

When I began seminary a couple of years later, I carried some of that fear with me, combined with a sort of stubborn determination.  Like Jacob wrestling the angel at Peniel, I was determined to wrestle with the Bible until it blessed me.  As I began to study the scriptures, though, what I found instead was an abundance of blessing.  Like the thousands of people in Mark 8, fed by seven loaves and a few small fish, I came to the Bible hungry; I ate, and was filled.  Still to this day, whenever I dig into a text and begin to hear the voices of those speaking across time, and see their faces on the people with whom I interact every day, I am continually filled; and I am continually astounded by the abundance.

Coming to terms with my sexuality and my faith has brought a mixture of both tremendous pain and liberation.  I have been told that my “lifestyle” would lead God to turn a deaf ear to me, that I would not be a suitable Sunday school teacher because of “obvious differences in interpretation of Scripture.”  I have had former pastors tell me, unsolicited, that I am gay for a number of different reasons, from my experience as a middle child, to it being a call to live a life of singleness.  These experiences have helped me to recognize the sting that comes from alienation from a faith community, and at times, the very shame of existence.  However, I have also been cared for by people in the church who did not reduce me to an “issue,” but saw me as a child of God, and honored me as such.  I have been nourished through the respect, challenge, and unconditional love embodied by those in my faith community.  This tenacious love has revealed the grace of the gospels to me, and has empowered me to open my heart and mind in study, working through school so that I might in some way carry the message to those who are convinced they are not beloved by God.

Being part of a church community has taught me a lot about the power of sharing one’s story, and has helped me see the ways in which the things we’re feeling, but seldom allow ourselves to share, tie us together.  Knowing that I am welcomed and truly loved has given me the space to acknowledge my fears, and to face them head-on.  Had I not faced those fears, I don’t know that I ever would have experienced the blessings.  I’ve been blessed to have people who assured me (and continue to assure me) that their love for me was not contingent on me being anyone other than me.

There is something profound in being given the space to acknowledge things like fear, or joy, or questions about the world and our place it in.  It often seems that, despite the discomfort it may bring, it is only when we acknowledge our emptiness that we have the opportunity to experience fullness.  In that vulnerable ( sometimes scary) space we are given strength for the journey, sustenance in the wilderness – abundance in a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish.

Feb 022013

“How bare could a bare bear be and still bear through the winter?” – Carson Brisson, Hebrew professor, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Any student who’s had the privilege of taking Hebrew with Dr. Brisson would find this sentence quite familiar. He would repeat it (or some variation of it) in those moments when we would be exasperated at the similarities among words, frustrated by the foreignness of the Hebrew language. His intent was to illustrate that our relative ease with English was merely indicative of our familiarity with the language, and said nothing about the language itself. This sentence, along with the way he allowed his love for the language and for teaching to show through, have made it possible for students, year after year, to fall in love with Hebrew – a mighty feat by any standards.

I was reminded of this story recently while translating some of the New Testament, and noticing that the Greek word “apto” can be translated as either “touch” or “ignite.” For instance, in Mark 5, when a woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve years sneaks through a crowd up to Jesus, she does so knowing that even to touch (apto) his clothes will heal her. Or, in chapter 8 of Luke, Jesus says that “No one after lighting (apto) a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. . .”

Touch. Ignite.

It brings to mind the static electricity that happens on cold, dry days like today – you got to open the door and are hit with a shock – a little electric jolt.

The thing is, Jesus got into a lot of trouble for touching a lot of the people he touched – people who had been marked as unclean, and therefore were unfit for society. His act of reaching out, of touching many of those he healed became an open act of defiance – a refusal to submit to the idea that some people were simply untouchable. They saw his ability to bring healing to their suffering, and he saw their faith, and desire to be healed.

I worked at a coffee shop for a couple of years and would frequently interact with people over the cash register. It was common in these interactions for my hand to brush the hand of the customer, taking their money, returning their change, or maybe handing them a cup of coffee. There was a certain intimacy in those moments – a connection that came in a simple exchange, when for an instant our humanity – our fleshy existence, came into contact. I love serving communion for the same reason: for that moment when I put bread in someone’s hand, look them in the eye, and offer them the bread of life. (I also love receiving communion for this reason, but serving communion allows me the opportunity over and over again, which I kinda like.) In communion, we are reminded of the flesh of Christ, of his humanity, even as we share our humanity with one another.

There is a certain closeness that comes in these moments, a vulnerability which is counter to much of what we, in our fast-paced, individualized, screen-saturated, Western society, are told is appropriate. To touch someone is to be close enough to experience the softness of their humanity, even in the coarsest of skin. It is to acknowledge our own fleshiness, too – our fragile, wounded, beautiful flesh. To touch someone is to connect – to honor the fact that we are confined to vessels that will decay, and to transcend the boundaries of those vessels. That space between us – that intimacy that is possible when we let ourselves connect – that is sacred space. It’s Holy Spirit space. It is the light of an individual igniting the light of another, refusing to be overtaken by the lie that tells us that we are all alone in this world.

Touch. Ignite.

Honor your fleshiness, your humanity – and do the same for others. We were made to shine; and, we will always shine more brightly when we’re together.