Tuesday, November 28, 2006

First Sunday of Advent: The Reign of God is Near

In preparation for the first Sunday of Advent, I have begun reflecting on the Luke text for this week.

Luke 21:25-3
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

It is important to ask what is “right” about this text. There is much in it that we think we absolutely can’t relate to. Most of us don’t think that Jesus/the Son of Man will come in a cloud. In fact, we would do well to fight that kind of expectation as it can interfere with our here and now justice work. We would do well to focus on the signs in the homeless people, jobless people, lonely people, oppressed people as signs of “distress” in our world. If we really were aware of the suffering in say, Darfur, if each of us could see it with our own eyes, if we could feel it in our bodies, if it was the truth our hands have handled (1John) we would, indeed, “faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world."

If we could see those signs, we would long, yearn, thirst for Jesus the Christ of God to come with a cloud and with power and with great glory. We would ache for redemption.

But we don’t see it. Many of us, if not most of us, don’t want to see it. I predict some in the pulpit this Sunday ignoring this reading, or spending fifteen minutes demythologizing it without asking, “What is ‘right’ about this text?”

What is right about this text for me this day is the good news of the “nearness” of the reign of God. How is it that the reign of God’s love and justice is near in the midst of what I have just described?

My answer is that the reign of God is as near as the dissonance you feel between the scriptural assurance that in Jesus the Christ God’s reign has broken into our world, and the brokenness of the world. In that dissonance is the nearness of heaven.

We often talk about the reign of God, God’s “kingdom” in David Tracy’s terms, the “always already” and the “not yet.” Near.

What would happen if we lived as if we yearned for the good news in this text instead of clothing ourselves in the armor of intellectual self sufficiency? What if, this Advent, our hearts were open and we moved a little closer to practicing the justice we know this world requires? What if we just decided to not be weighed down with the worries of life, drunk on consumerism, and felt the hope of God's Reign?

Friday, November 24, 2006

working out my own salvation in fear and trembling

Been a while since I've logged a blog. I guess I've been trying to integrate the experience of the last year. Oh, and I have been in the search and call process. How fun is that? Not fun. The social climate for "out" lesbian and gay persons is not the greatest right now. In my denomination, there are churches that would rather leave than acknowledge that I am a child of God, whole and holy. That makes things tough. Time for a little prophetic witness, eh?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Apple Trees and Eschatology

I have been looking for bees. It is probably a little early yet, but the sage is in full bloom and the iris are glorious.

Mostly I'm looking for bees because I have planted two apple trees in my suburban garden. Now, I know that these trees have already bloomed and been pollinated by other bees. I'm going to keep looking. . .they're out there!

I planted these trees, (one a gift from a congregant) because I had an epiphany while visiting the orchard on the farm of a member of my church. We were inspecting the apple, cherry and pear trees. It occurred to me, as I was standing there gazing at the white blossoms, that I wanted to be in one place long enough to see trees mature and bear fruit. I so appreciated the longevity and continuity of this orchard and these people, I realized that I wanted to plant trees; to root myself in one place.

My decision the leave the congregation located 80 miles from my partner and our home and garden was a faith-ful decision. I want to grow a garden here. I want to grow a church here. That is, it seems to me, eschatological faith: confidence and planting in the here and now --and yearning for the future in confidence of the ultimate salvation of creation. It is an elegant prolepsis--what David Tracy calls "Always/already and not yet". That tension is what I love about ministry. It is also what I learned to love about farming.

I am called to be in that tension.

Eschatology is about edges, and horizons; honey bees and apple trees.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Moving Steadfastly Toward the Impossible

Amazing Good News. . . and Bad News. It is planting season here. The dust is flying and the town is kind of ghosty. Everyone will be in the fields preparing the soil, hoping, dreaming for a better future.

This early spring has not been without its tilling and planting in my congregation: Early this month there was a congregational meeting to discuss homosexuality. The title of the workshop was "Where Does This Congregation Stand on Homosexuality?" I was, of course, not in attendance. There was a very good panel, and the church was full (good news in itself for a Sunday afternoon). At the end of the meeting there was a straw poll. Those assembled "voted" overwhelmingly that they were "Open and Affirming And accepting of Lesbian and Gay marriage." Amazing, Right? One more step toward God's reign of peace and justice.

The Bad News? Even with this amazing happening, the search committee is still interviewing candidates. Apparently they feel there has got to be a man with a wife and two point three kids out there who is an outstanding preacher, teacher, youth director, pastoral care provider. . . they just haven't looked enough. And, well, they can always call me to be the pastor if they haven't found anyone yet.

Too late: I have completely lost trust. No more safe days. May 14 is my last Sunday. Keep me in your prayers -- I'll integrate and communicate the accomplishements and shortcomings of my time here in a future blog.

In the meantime, like Mary and Mary, I will carry my spices with me and walk steadfastly toward the impossible. (My sermon title for Sunday!)

Monday, March 13, 2006

On Not Waiting Any Longer

"Wait has almost always meant never."--Martin Luther King, Jr. writing about the non-violent protests for civil rights in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" 1963.

I have been serving at my small rural church since June 2005. It is time for the church to state its formal declaration of being an Open and Affirming Church. We are at a cross roads --not a bad place for a Christian Church to be, but not an easy place.

For months, I have suspected that as an openly lesbian pastor in a town of 800 I was a topic of conversation at the bank and at the post-office. I discovered from one of the members of my church that it is not just the bank and the post-office, but the local bingo nights, the lodge meetings, the local schools.

I have suggested that the church now enter the conversation in a solid way; that it begin to whisper a little louder (to speak, really) that it has taken this courageous stand to accept lesbian and gay persons into all aspects of church membership and leadership by registering itself as an Open and Affirming church, I have begun to hear that most dreaded word: "Wait."

The first thing that came to mind was King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
There is never a "right" or "good" time for social justice. Now is the time. I am not without compassion for the struggle that this has been and continues to be for the members of my church, and for the town itself. But the time is now. I have let the church know that I will not renew my contract in the event that the church decides it cannot stand openly for the good news that God calls all persons seeking a closer relationship with God into covenant and has promised abundant life through Jesus the Christ.

The next sixty days will be tense, while this congregation wrestles with its fear and its courage, while it discerns the call of Christ to be the church. Please hold me and my congregation in prayer.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ten Miles to The New York Times

It took me just under a month to begin questioning the quaint appeal of living in a "small, forward-thinking, agricultural village." Perhaps it is just that it is the middle of January, and most of the folks in my area are hunkered down planning for planting season and watching the markets.

This morning as I drove my regular ten miles to pick up my New York Times, and then drove back to my progressive village where I can get an omelet and coffee for $4.85, my ambivalence about living and working in a rural setting finally got to me.

This afternoon, I drive ten miles in the opposite direction to eat lunch in a cafe in a tourist town on the river. Here I pay $6.50 for a cup of great homemade soup and salad with homemade cranberry tea bread. After lunch, I'll indulge in a latte (Hopefully it will be better than the weak and watery latte at the only other coffee bar in town).

Perhaps I sound like a snob, but I am no more snobbish than the table of newly retired suburbanites antique hunting in Tommy Hilfiger tennies with whom I share the cafe. . . I confess a bone deep ambivalence about my work as a "country mouse" and my other life on my days off as a "city mouse."

Country Mouse: I like it that people in small towns don't shut the door in my face as I enter a restaurant. I like it that young girls don't wear thongs (at least not that I can see and that is saying something. . .) The kids don't "dis" me, or their friends, or their parents. I like it that as I jog my two miles to the cemetery it is quiet and the farmers and train engineers wave back as I trot by offering them the country salute. People here are nice, thoughtful, generous -- once they get to know a person.

And yet, I don't like it that I am in the minority here. In fact, I am the minority: There is, as far as I can tell, 1% lesbian (or gay) persons living in a twenty mile radius. This is a problem when I go into the bank, or the post office, or restaurant and all conversation stops dead; heads turn and expressions remain carefully neutral (although not always. . .) as they recognize that I am "that gay pastor." In a small town, everyone knows everything. Perhaps if I had a hungrier ego, I might enjoy such notoriety.

City Mouse:
I love it that I can get to a coffee bar (one of several, actually) by walking. I love it that the university students are everywhere glued to their I pods and don't care what I do. (I have yet to see an I pod in my country environs.) I like it that going on in my city, 24 hours a day, is cutting edge research in half a dozen fields including artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There is a kind of energy in my home city. It feels, I imagine, like Bangalore right about now as that city reaches toward an unimaginably creative future. I feel unlimited possibilities in my home city.

I don't, however, enjoy the conspicuous consumption that is a feature of my city as it surrounds my neighborhood. I detest the suburban sprawl taking over the farm land my ancestors came to the area for. Even little league and soccer have become occasions for conspicuous consumption. I don't enjoy the materialism and sense of entitlement that seems to be a consequence of so many possibilities.

I guess for right now, my call is to try to negotiate these two lives: one in the city of my birth where I teach and experience the cutting edge of university life with its underworld of greed and entitlement, and the other-- the small town where I also live and work, with the slower, more reserved life. Living in tension is creative, I guess. Ten miles for a New York Times isn't that far. . . and I did find an excellent latte, eventually.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Trusting the Process

Ah, the Committee on Ministry. What a mixed bag. I have had both really positive experiences with the process of being "in care" as we call it in the United Church of Christ, and some really unpleasant experiences.

Do I trust the process of discerning call, testing call? Yes. I do. But I don't always like it. I have been in the process of ordination for about 6 years now. When I first began this process, I was promised that I could fast track to ordination. A year later, with a different Association Minister, I learned a little bit more about the covenantal theology and process of the UCC --and I am grateful. It meant an extra degree (MDiv) in addition to my MTS and MA. It meant an Ecclesiastical Council -- I was the first person in my Association to have one, (and to pass unanimously, I might add) and I came away understanding a little bit more about the process of discernment and experience necessary to enter into covenanted ministry.

Most recently, I made an inquiry to be granted the endorsement of ordination for my current ministry. There is no precedent I was told. (I have been listening to the Alito hearings and debating this issue of precedent with myself. . .) I argued that there has not been a precedent for an out lesbian person in our Association ever . . . The committee has agreed to continue its discernment on my request.

It is a part of my call, as I see it, to educate the Committee on Ministry as we together attempt to arrive at what it means to be in ministry, and on what the rite of ordination is. I think we disagree, so we'll keep talking.

Sure, there are the fraternity-minded who hold the attitude "it was just as (painful, difficult, hard, long. . .) for me, so it should be for you too." Yet, they are in the minority and it is usually easy to spot them. For the most part, I have found the process to be a mutual struggling toward definition of ministry, toward accountabililty and challenge. I am a part of the denomination because I believe in its theology and polity. I support the wholeness of the process even as I argue with applications or interpretations of it (I am a Reformer, after all!) .

For today, I have the tools I need to continue to live the ministry to which I have been called. I'll keep trusting the process, but I'll definitely keep praying for the Committee. . .

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