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Ferguson: A Pastoral Response

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O God, you are our Creator; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O God, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.


In times like these, when marginalized communities sense the threat of violence for their own livelihood and well-being, words fail. Words fail because the injustice seems insurmountable. Words fail because the system that is supposed to bring justice feels irreconcilably broken. Words fail because we can’t fully articulate the profound anger, sadness, and frustration that this decision engenders in us. But, as Audre Lorde so importantly reminds us, our silence will not protect us.

As an organization that works for the full inclusion of all persons, the injustice of the events surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and a decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who committed the murder rings out as a clear cry that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We as More Light Presbyterians cannot stay silent, and we also recognize that we can not say enough. We must step forward, not back, to stay in relationship with those who are counted as other, marginalized, and disconnected from systems that help them to flourish. The violence that has been perpetuated against Mike Brown and the Ferguson community by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson not only minimizes the violence against black bodies, but also affirms a sense of dominance over marginalized communities. We need to affirm, as the hashtag did that emerged after Mike Brown’s shooting, that #blacklivesmatter.  We have a role to play in dismantling the racism that allows for such violence to go unchecked by our legal system.

However, we also need to recognize that Ferguson goes beyond race to bigger questions that demand our solidarity and personal ownership of our own privileges. (see this link) Yet, what Ferguson exposes most clearly is that the black / African American community continues to be threatened due to the militarization of the police. Just a few days ago a 12 year old boy was shot by a police officer in Cleveland. In the face of this injustice we cannot stay silent. As followers of Jesus, we must name the racism inherent in the culture that led to the death of Mike Brown, and we also name that a racist system privileging whiteness does harm to all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. We know that no one is fully free until we are all free. In the midst of this, we also see the need to join together with our black sisters and brothers to help usher in lasting peace and justice.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, beginning a season where we wait expectantly, hopefully, watchfully for the impossible, for the heavens to open up and God to descend down upon us. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in today’s lectionary text, when God did deeds the people did not expect, that was precisely the moment when God was with us. As those who work for racial justice and peace, it can feel like waiting and working for the impossible, especially when injustice is so clearly perpetrated against our brothers and sisters. As Isaiah reminds us, it can be tempting to too easily only identify as those who are righteous and ignore our own iniquities. In this season of Advent, we can watch and wait for the mountains to move and the impossible to be made possible and dwell among us, but we cannot stay silent in the face of injustice.

We must respond to the events in Ferguson from a critical and pastoral place—a place that demands attention to the particularities of difference that threaten our collective flourishing; we call this an intersectional place, despite recognizing the reality that words fail in this very moment. It is the recognition of our shared kinship that demands this intersectional response from MLP. The LGBTIQ movement demands justice for all persons, remembering that it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who modeled for us a way to be peacefully resistant to politics and policies that only serve self and bring calamity to the marginalized. When words fail us, perhaps it is the moment to turn to the God of Love, whose passion for the flourishing of all humankind is beyond the capacity of our words to contain. We can rely on the Spirit who “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). By crying out to the divine who is beyond words, we can be heard into voice, so that we might find the words to speak God’s love into the depths of human pain. This moment in Ferguson calls all of us to remember those that have struggled for justice (whatever the injustice has been) that in their work is rooted a collective memory and imagination for a better world. Now consider, we are ALL God’s people.

 

Photo credit:  ABC News

Trans* Day of Remembrance

Every year on November 20, communities communities gather throughout the United States and internationally to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). In the past year alone, over 268 people (see this link for more information) have been murdered because they are transgender. Just last week Gizzy Fowler, a transgender woman from Nashville, TN was found shot and killed. The local newspaper reported the murder under the headline “Man found shot to death wearing women’s clothing in north Nashville.” Sadly the newspaper’s account of this murder reflects the frequent erasure of transgender people’s gender identity in the reports of violence against them. The TDOR website reminds us that “The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.”
We celebrate communion in remembrance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In a similar way, on TDOR we gather together as a community to mourn the deaths and murders of Trans* folks. Understanding Transgender Day of Remembrance as similar to our ritual of communion helps both celebrate the reality of transgender lives and mourn the systemic violence and hatred that caused these deaths. When we come to the communion table we partake of the bread and cup to connect both with our fellow brothers and sisters and also with the Divine Creator who shows us the way to live by following the ways of Jesus. Likewise, remembering the deaths of Transgender individuals and giving thanks for the ways in which they lived authentically is akin to our celebration of the life of Jesus in the ritual of communion.
When we remember the transgender people who were killed in the past year, we also remember that the Divine Creator participated in helping them become who they are. We actively renounce the violence that has taken their lives, and we give thanks for their courage to live into who they felt called to be. We remember these lives in an effort to expand our community of difference and use this opportunity to try and create new modes of hospitality in our communities.
This Trans Day of Remembrance your congregation is invited to honor TDOR in some way during worship to both raise the visibility of Trans* issues in the church and to include Trans* lives as part of the liturgy. You are invited to say a prayer for the lives and safety of transgender people, read all or an abbreviated list of names of those who were killed, prepare a ritual to honor and uplift the courage being transgender requires in a world where you can be murdered for simply being who you are. Jesus life, ministry, and resurrection calls us to practice radical hospitality to those on the margins. We have a clear opportunity to do follow this call on for transgender people on TDOR and every day until the violence stops.

For more information, please see the TDOR site: http://tdor.info

#translivesmatter

On the Sixth Circuit Court Decision: A Pastoral Response

I am privilege. Perhaps more exactly phrased, I am privileged. I’m male. I’m White. I’m Christian. I live in Ohio. Born and raised. From an early age, I knew that I liked girls.

And boys.

I thought boys were super cute in the ways that the girls were not; they could talk about He-Man and Tears for Fears because they were both super cool. I thought the girls were super cute in the ways that the boys were not: they could take about He-Man and Tears for Fears and how they made us feel funny in a way we couldn’t quite explain.

Hi. My name is Aaron. Well, Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari. I’m a pastor. I’m bisexual. I’m married to a woman whom I love almost as much as I love God. Pleased to meet you. I feel guilty as hell right now because the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the relationships of so many people I love are somehow invalid. Thousands of couples, right now, are dealing with the reality that they are legally married in the eyes of surrounding States, but in Ohio they are no more than friends.

I think how things might have been different for me had I married Michael instead of Miriam. To be clear, Michael is fictional. Well, not fictional. I’ve loved men before. But no one named Michael. But I am married to Miriam. Happily so, thank you very much. For me, gender never mattered. So I got to choose, in a way. I got to choose whether or not I would be able to receive benefits of the State. It was a lottery I never wanted to win. Given the recent decision in Ohio, I just won it. So many citizens have lost, simply because they love in a way that others find puzzling.

I have dedicated my life to following Jesus. He is the man in my life. And I love him. I love him because he helps me be a better person, to love more radically. More fully. More authentically. But I see his name bandied about as a reason why people should love less. I hear my beloved Jesus invoked as justification to shut the doors on equality, to banish people to the outskirts of citizenship and community. I read “love the sinner and hate the sin,” a condescending and non-Biblical justification for prejudice and homophobia. I take all of this in, and I find it hard to love my enemies and to pray for those who persecute others.

However, I keep loving. And praying. I keep reminding myself that we all have a choice to make in this life. We can decide that it is easier to fear those things we don’t understand; we can decide that loving someone so different from us is too hard, too confusing, too unsettling. Or we can live into the grace. We can understand that love is so radical that it cannot be controlled. We can feel the hand of God lift us ever upward; a loving hand that supports us while we dive into the depths of our inner selves, discovering that God’s image is much more than we can fathom. We can know that justice is what God calls us to pursue, and that if we walk humbly with our God, we will live with a fullness that only love can provide.

And let the people of the church say…

 

The Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, currently serving First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, a More Light PC (USA) congregation in Ohio. An academic, Aaron has taught at numerous universities and is best known for his book, The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide. He is passionate about social justice, GLBT rights, and multifaith dialogue. He also serves as Interfaith Campus Minister at Sinclair Community College.

PCUSA Common Ground: Building Trust through Kindness

God alone is Lord of the conscience,
and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.

(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)

A good friend of mine, a fervent activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was visiting. As a born and bred Pittsburgh Presbyterian, I was sharing with him some of my presbytery’s history.

I said, “Of course, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) decision in the Kenyon case is really important to many around here.”

He replied, “You know, I’ve heard that name but I have no idea what it was about.”

I tried to explain how, in my view, the Kenyon case planted distrust so deep and wide in the PCUSA that healing this wound is still crucial to the well-being of the PCUSA. Here’s how I understand it. Around 1974, Wynn Kenyon was a candidate for ordination in Pittsburgh Presbytery who, in his oral trials, shared that he could not, in good conscience, participate in the ordination of women.

The presbytery approved his ordination. Remedial charges were filed against Pittsburgh Presbytery for this action on the grounds that equality between men and women was an essential of reformed faith and polity and every person ordained in the PCUSA was required to assent to ordaining women. The GAPJC upheld that argument and, in the end, Wynn Kenyon was never ordained to ministry in the PCUSA. Presbyterians who thought as Kenyon did were forced to swallow their more literal interpretation of Scripture in order to remain in the church.

At the same time, this besieged wing of the church saw the power of judicial action to enforce a majority position on controversial issues. Over the next forty years, they used it liberally to attempt to discipline pastors and sessions that ordained LGBT members and presided at weddings for lesbian or gay couples. Now, a whole other wing of the PCUSA has come to distrust their colleagues in ministry. We all feel besieged.

How can we proceed together in the PCUSA with such distrust of one another? We can’t. How do we begin to rebuild this trust required of us, not only by our ordination vows, but also by Jesus in His prayers in the gospel of John?

Here’s my suggestion in a word: kindness.

Please, by this I do not mean polite courtesy or affability, skating over what is deeply held, or might hurt. Benign niceties toward one another have prompted a tendency toward parallel groups of friends and separate spheres of ministry. It has led us to live beside one another, not with each other, together, in the Body of Christ.

I mean what Paul calls a spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22): kindness.

Kindness seeks that which is of God in every person we meet. Kindness sets aside all assumptions about who the other is, what the person thinks or believes. Kindness keeps an eye out for the pain or problem challenging the other. Kindness says what it means and means what it says, communicating, always, with compassion. And it expects the same from others.

I imagine you could add other qualities of kindness from your experience of practicing this discipline and receiving it from others. I also fear that you could share exchanges during debates in presbytery or conversations with colleagues who disagree on church matters where kindness was hurtfully absent. What are we to do with these moments?

Talk about them and practice kindness.

We are the Body of Christ when we love God and love our neighbor. These are only possible when we practice kindness. There are many places and times when kindness prevails in the PCUSA, sparking joy and growth. We know how to be kind in lots of different situations.

Right now, we need to be kind to one another across our lines of difference. Trust arises from this and only this. And trust is required for us to live together into the future as the Body of Christ.

Since we all eventually felt some blow rising from the Kenyon case, we can begin to practice kindness and build trust by talking across old lines. This would be the best foundation for the coming discussion on the proposed amendment 14F to the Directory for Worship 4.9000, the section on marriage.

Freedom of conscience is at the heart of that recommendation. It is the solution our Presbyterian ancestors gave us to be the church even with inevitable theological differences.

The future vitality of our church requires trust, and trust requires kindness.

Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Weeping

God alone is Lord of the conscience,
and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.
(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)

I would not have said I was anxious as I drove to York, PA to visit with Marc Benton, the Presbyterian pastor who had asked to be forgiven for bringing the judicial charges in 2000 that led to many church court proceedings against me and other ministers providing the pastoral service of weddings to LGBT people. What tipped me off was the fact that I twice misplaced the directions to his home, making it harder to find my way to him.

What made actually getting to him, to forgive him, so difficult? Was I really ready to release him from the sentence of my judgment?

For almost twenty years I have had the habit of repeating the Lord’s Prayer when I fill the gas tank of my car. We say it in church every Sunday after the offering. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12).” I come from a family of Presbyterian bankers, so I know what forgiving debts entails. This verse has probably had the deepest Scriptural impact on my understanding of forgiveness.

That understanding was immeasurably enriched when I read Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. It’s a reflection upon the Pennsylvania Amish community that forgave the man who killed their children in a schoolhouse shooting in 2006. I have not forgotten their sense that God would not forgive their sins if they did not forgive him.

I went with the intention to formally forgive him. In fact, I thought I already had.

Marc was as described to me: stolid and earnest, a lot like me, I’d say. It strikes me that we both struggle to express emotion and are deliberate in thinking things through. I knew from reading his statement to Hudson River Presbytery that we had this in common: Yale Divinity School was our seminary. We discovered that Henri Nouwen, professor there in the 1970’s, had a lasting impact on us both.

We told one another our stories, our journeys as Presbyterian ministers. He shared how he brought the case against his presbytery and how heated things became there. I shared how I came to preside at Nancy and Brenda’s wedding, how the Holy Spirit truly fell upon that ceremony, how I knew there was no prohibition against it in the PCUSA Constitution nor in the Benton decision. We came to an amazing, sacred place in our conversation that I will share another time.

We were immersed in that discussion when I realized I had not spoken about his repentance and my forgiveness. I had forgotten, and so came back to it. I formally released him from any sentence of my judgment. He volunteered to tell the story of his change of mind about the place of LGBT people in God’s heart if that might help the church have the same kind of conversation we were having. If I think of that as a kind of penance, he freely offered it.

Some days have passed since then. As a slow feeler, I needed time to feel the feelings the morning in York broke open in me. Articulating them may be beyond me. What I can tell you is this: I weep.

I weep with a sadness of which I see no bottom. I weep for the harm done by the breach between followers of Jesus like Marc and me. I weep for all the LGBT people who fell into that chasm through despairing suicide, or hate crimes or indelible scars on their spirits. I weep for the defiling of our witness to Christ by our fighting, our hardness of heart.

I weep with relief. The breach has been crossed with Marc Benton and that eases some great tension in me. Because Jesus prays that the church be one, I feel a serious responsibility to heal that breach in the church. If Marc Benton of “the Benton case” and I can find our way in a sacred conversation, then I have hope for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

It took this weeping to truly forgive Marc Benton.

That weeping is an element of freedom of conscience is a new idea for me. We must weep when we understand that there can be dangerous consequences of disagreement—inevitable for every group—when we fail to honor the freedom of another’s conscience by listening with respect.

I will now approach disagreements with a new readiness to create a more gracious space for us by letting my soul weep when I forgive. Let me know how this goes for you.

Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Forgiveness

God alone is Lord of the conscience,

and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men

which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.

(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)

 I exclaimed, “Wow!” when I first heard that Marc Benton intended to travel from his home in York, PA to stand before the Hudson River Presbytery to ask forgiveness for bringing charges in 2000 against the presbytery when it allowed congregations to hold same-sex weddings (http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/9/10/seeking-forgiveness-hudson-river-presbytery/). There was no guarantee that he would receive it.

In what became known as the Benton case, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled that these unions “would not be sanctioned” and “would not be proper” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). What Marc Benton set in motion within the PCUSA sent ripples far beyond Hudson River Presbytery.

It led to a flood of accusations across the church against ministers like myself who were fulfilling the office of pastor by presiding at the weddings of LGBT members. As in my case in Pittsburgh Presbytery, these proceedings were a terrible drain of time and treasure. For many defendants, lives were permanently disrupted and presbyteries bore the cost of adjudicating the charges. My case dragged on for three years.

When Marc wrote to Hudson River that he “sought to apologize to you who were hurt by my actions,” I guess I am one of those Presbyterians he was addressing. Can I forgive him? What would that mean and how important is it?

Extremely important, I think.

There is an ocean of hurt roiling beneath the on-going life of the PCUSA. Anger is in the mix. It has been there a very long time. There are women among us who have never had the chance to fulfill their potential in ministry, and African-Americans who have persevered in the face of frustrating blindness to the challenges presented to them by both church and society. There are the pastors who, as seminarians, were vocal in their opposition to the war in Vietnam and the Presbyterians who would still accuse them of cowardice.

There are the LGBT Presbyterians who have endured biting judgments, and the evangelical Presbyterians who remain in the PCUSA as their life-long friends judge them by exiting for other Presbyterian folds. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not flourish until the deep feelings sparked by these and so many other occasions are touched by forgiveness.

How we conceive of forgiveness is crucial here. How do you?

My sense of forgiveness was given to me many years ago by Marjorie Thompson, a wise spiritual director. She suggested, forgiveness is “to release the one who has harmed you from the sentence of your judgment.” This is what we desperately need in the PCUSA. This is one way to understand our essential reformed tenet of “freedom of conscience.” This is a building block of gracious space.

The grace I find in this understanding of forgiveness comes from its respect for my judgment, my sense of being harmed. I retain that. What I let go of is any infliction of punishment on the other; there will be no “sentence” in that sense. Nor will I harp on the matter, reminding the other of my grievance in words. There will be no more “sentence” in that sense either.

Perhaps this turning of punishment in word or deed over to God is what Jesus meant when He emphasized that judgment belongs to God and taught us to love our enemies.

Whatever your vision of forgiveness is, we all need to bring it now to the table in the PCUSA – and the wider world. The accumulated baggage of hurt and blame has become too heavy for any of us to bear. We cannot carry it into the 21st century. Forgiveness is the key to shedding it.

On September 23, 2014, Marc Benton met with Hudson River Presbytery. I heard emotions ran high in those from whom the GAPJC Benton decision exacted a very high price. As Truth and Reconciliation experiences across the globe tell us, forgiveness requires us to navigate difficult emotional waters. And Hudson River Presbytery had the faith and courage to do that. They created a gracious space.

Can we join them? Can I forgive Marc Benton? Can you forgive the one who hurt you?

 

Sacred Conversations

I was standing just in front of the More Light booth at General Assembly, a flurry of activity was all around me: blessings for scarves, reunions with friends, inquiries about the MLP mission, but he walked directly over to me. I noticed he wore a commissioners badge and an expression of concern. I asked how he was doing, and he immediately told me he was feeling deeply conflicted about how to vote on the two marriage overtures that were soon to come up on the floor of the plenary. I asked him what his concerns were, answered his questions as best I could, and shared with him why my spouse and I deeply desired for the PC(USA) to recognize the commitment we made to one another as marriage.

As our conversation unfolded, so did his look of concern. Slowly he began to smile, and got excited as we spoke about theology and our faith. When it was time for him to reassemble for plenary he smiled at me and said, “Thank you, Brother. I know exactly how to vote now.” He was able to walk away from our brief conversation feeling confident that those of us who are LGBTQ love and care for the Presbyterian Church, USA just as much as he does. His votes contributed to the historic number who voted to allow ministers to immediately marry same-sex couples, and recommend an amendment to our Book of Order to describe marriage as between two persons.

We know from the long history of the work for LGBTQ inclusion and welcome, that conversations such as the one I had, and the thousands of other conversations that took place at GA, are pivotal to building a church that reflects God’s heart. In the upcoming months all 171 Presbyteries will be voting on amendment 14F. As Rev. Janet Edwards aptly put in her recent blog post, “Some say the future of the PCUSA rests on the “what” of this vote. I propose that our future together depends more on “how” we conduct this vote.” While marriage for all loving and committed couples is the what of this vote, I believe, sacred conversations are the how.  Over the next year, MLP invites you to participate in sacred conversations about the gift of marriage for all loving and committed couples.

Our goal is to prepare you for these conversations, if you are speaking informally over coffee hour with people in your congregation, holding an intentional meeting with a voting member of your presbytery, formally volunteering http://bit.ly/14Fvolunteer with MLP to host many conversations in presbyteries across the country. Whether you are speaking to one person, or hundreds, each conversation is sacred and an opportunity for the holy to move among us. Over the coming months MLP will share experiences of sacred conversations with you on our blog and on our Facebook page.  If you have an experience you want to share with us, send us an email at info@mlp.org.

So if anyone asks you, “how the PC(USA) will adopt a description of marriage that affirms the loving commitment of two people?” You can reply, one sacred conversation at a time.

P.S. there is still time to apply to be a regional coordinator. The application is here http://bit.ly/14Fcoordinator.

Building Gracious Space in the PCUSA: Shared Feelings

God alone is Lord of the conscience,
and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.
(Book of Confessions, 6.109, The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-3.0101a)

An important vote is coming for all of us in the Presbyterian Church. Known as 14-F, it is the recommendation from the 221st General Assembly to adopt a section on marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Directory for Worship that reflects the diverse mind of our church in the 21st century.

Some say the future of the PCUSA rests on the “what” of this vote. I propose that our future together depends more on “how” we conduct this vote.

As befits our “presbyterian church,” politics is, in many ways, our spirituality. The coming voting season is a test: are we ready to be the church of Jesus Christ? Can we listen prayerfully to every speaker? Can we choose not to fight among ourselves any more? Can we create together common ground, not so much as compromise, rather, as something else, something new, something that will blossom as the Body of Christ into the future God has in store for us?

There are presbyteries and congregations that have already found this gracious space. It was a feature of the General Assembly in June that astounded long time observers.

The GA recommendation offers freedom of conscience on marriage between two men or two women in the section on marriage for the Directory for Worship. The assembly arrived at this proposal after unprecedented small group discussion among commissioners and long, respectful debate. It reflected what some presbyteries already are and modeled the way we all can be. It was not easy.

I was a commissioner in Detroit. I did hear frustration, sadness, fear and anger in my small group and in the lengthy debate on marriage at GA. I think one reason these feelings did not direct the assembly is this: everyone there has had these feelings through the decades of considering the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in God’s eyes and in the church. We have all known frustration, sadness, fear and anger somewhere along the line.

Please ponder with me for a moment what this means.

Up until now, we have taken freedom of conscience to mean going off into our corners, having little to do with those who think differently from us. This assembly showed us all there is a more excellent way. Freedom of conscience opened for us a gracious space, a place of shared feelings that held us together even with our different conclusions about LGBT people.

There were some very disgruntled commissioners around me at GA. Their views were losing their place as the dominant perspective and they exuded what Paul Detterman captured in his July reflection on the assembly in The Presbyterian Outlook as feeling in “exile.”

And yet, what gives me some hope is the fact that we who are in the emerging majority have known that feeling of exile—all those feelings that go with losing—too. We have known frustration, sadness, fear and anger in church, too. Recognizing this invites us to sit together in that space of shared feelings.

This is what my friend, Pastor Doug Dunderdale (known affectionately as Fundy Dundy to some) and I would do at lunch over many, many years. Doug’s views on most matters prevailed in the PCUSA at that time. Mine did not. We ate together. We shared our best thoughts. We listened carefully. Doug always told me that he loved me and teased me when, in my “Frozen Chosen” manner, I struggled to take that in and to express my care for him.

Doug knew a time of exile in the 1970’s when his views on the ordination of women did not prevail. Perhaps that made him sensitive to my feelings of exile. We found blessed common ground in our shared feelings of exile and wanting refuge. We both wanted to connect–to love one another, as Jesus wants us to do–even when our perspectives differed.

This dynamic of shared feelings is common already in many congregations and some presbyteries. Cultivating it in every presbytery is the work of this coming season. It starts with the recognition that we all yearn to be loved.

Shared feelings may seem gossamer-thin but cobwebs are mighty strong.

Is acknowledgement of shared feelings present or growing in our presbyteries? If so, I am hopeful for it offers a foundation for the gracious space in which we will be, together, the PCUSA into the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullied

Bullying is never a fun experience–it’s almost always humiliating and difficult.  Here’s but one of my stories of when I’ve been bullied for looking the way I look–for being who I am called to be!

It was a nice morning.  The sun was shining and the sky was blue with few clouds.  I walked to the nearest bus stop and was eager to get to campus to teach my class.  When I arrived at the bus stop, I sat down on the bench as I was unsure when the next bus was coming.  Not long after I sat down, a middle-aged white man sat down next to me.  I became nervous, but unsure why I was nervous.  Folks sit down on the bus bench all the time.

After sitting there for a few minutes, he looked at me (I saw him do this from my peripheral vision), stood up, stood directly in front of me and began yelling insults at me.  He called me a faggot, a dyke, and yelled that I had snakes in my genitals (he used a different word, of course)!  I felt trapped with no where to go.  He had me cornered while I sat there, vulnerable and deeply frightened, on the bench at the bus stop.  He continued to yell insults and blaming the government for my existence.  This reminded me of all the political changes that were taking place that affect (for the good) LGBTIQ communities.  The man who hurled insults at me finally walked off.  I guess he decided he didn’t want to ride the bus with me!  When the bus came, I was relieved.  I sat near the front of the bus, and, as it took me closer to campus, I thought to myself: Was that just harassment?  Was I just verbally accosted?  Was I bullied?

I am 38 years-old, a light skin Mexican, and genderqueer and gender non-conforming queer person who exists along the Trans* spectrum.  I am Trans*gressive in my dress, and yet I was victim of a 5 minutes verbal harassment–of bullying.  I felt so vulnerable siting there at the bus stop.

What had I done to this man?  I could think of nothing!  Was I targeted?  Was my gender performance too queer for this man?  I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I do know that I was left with a deep sense of frustration that we live in a world of violence, and this violence continues to be perpetuated against LGBTIQ persons of all colors, genders, races, and ages.

Any type of violence against LGBTQ communities (or ANY other human person) is unacceptable.  We have to keep fighting for radical inclusion for all persons.  I have to continue doing this work so that my neighbor, whoever they are, does not face what I faced at the bus stop, regardless of their race, class, sexual orientation, or gender expression.

We have more work to do, friends!

We have to do this work together by bridging with one another across radical differences to create a world of radical inclusion full of possibilities for all.

I want to do this work with you!  Will you join me?  Our first step toward the bridge is to welcome the stranger into our lives, and invite all persons to be who they are called to be.

Take Action

A a version of this post was originally published on RMN’s blog and can be found at this link.

A Dream Fulfilled

I thought after 28 years together and two previous occasions where Michael and I stood before a group of our friends, publicly declaring our love and commitment to each other, that the third time would be old hat.

Everything was under control. Tuxes – check. Catering – check. Music – check. Programs printed – check. Even word 3 hours before the ceremony that one of our soloists was in the emergency room with possible appendicitis, didn’t freak me out. I was mister cool, I was mister calm, and I was mister in control.

As the guests arrived, the wedding party gathered in another part of the church to wait. We sat, Michael and me, with my brother Scott, the Mormon bishop, and his wife Ruth, Rev. Bertram Johnson, associate pastor of Madrona Grace Presbyterian, and some of our closest friends. We laughed and joked and made each other feel at home. We stood in a circle and prayed. I was mister cool, I was mister calm and I was mister in control.

Then it was time. As we gathered at the back of a packed sanctuary, I was humbled to see so many people gathered to celebrate our love. Even as we walked down the aisle, to the sounds of Cole Porter’s “Do I Love You”, I was mister cool, I was mister calm and I was mister in control.

As we took our places, and listened to Pastor Bertram’s beautiful welcome, I was still mister cool, still mister calm and still mister in control.

Then, without warning, as the organist launched into the introduction of the opening hymn, “Love Divine, All Love Excelling”, I lost it. Totally and completely lost it. There was absolutely nothing graceful or pretty about it. It was as if someone had turned on the tear and snot spigot, not just a trickle, but full blast. The weight of the emotions I felt at that moment was almost too much to bear. All I could do was lean into the shoulder of my beautiful husband and weep.

I get that crying at a wedding is normal. Who doesn’t cry at weddings, right? But for me, the tears were more than just an expression of joy for the moment. My tears were, at once, tears of sadness for all of the years that my dream, and the dreams of so many of our brothers and sisters, of a church wedding had been deferred as well as tears of joy that, in our case, the dream was finally, FINALLY, being realized.

You see I had always wanted my to be married in the church, but more importantly, my Presbyterian Church.

Twice, over the years, I had approached pastors of my congregation, arguably one of the most liberal congregations in our Presbytery, and asked them if they would be willing to offer the church’s blessing to our legal marriage. Both times these pastors, who would so eloquently preach from the pulpit against the sins of racism, sexism and homophobia, said no. Oh they hemmed and hawed and danced around it, they both were very quick to affirm their love of Michael, and me, but in the end the answer was no. They practically tied themselves in knots trying to explain why they couldn’t, or why the time wasn’t right, or why the congregation wasn’t ready. They tried so desperately to square their private rejection with their public position. What a joke.

I was devastated. Not once, but twice, I was again relegated to second-class citizenship in the church I had loved and faithfully served for decades. Honestly? I almost left. But my love for the congregation, my admiration for the work they were doing, the friendships that Michael and I had built up over the years; all of these things compelled me to stay.

Still, after the “no’s”, it was very painful playing the organ for other peoples weddings and it was very painful to hear these pastors preach social justice, when I knew they couldn’t bring themselves to include me and those like me.

To me, the reasons for no sounded like a bunch of hypocritical BS. Looking back, I realize now that no really meant, “I’m afraid.” I realized that both of these otherwise fine pastors were afraid of losing their ordinations, they were afraid of losing their jobs and they were afraid that Presbytery would swoop in and close the church. All of which, granted, were real possibilities until this past summer.

I was at General Assembly this past June, when they passed the Authoritative Interpretation to the Book of Order, allowing Teaching Elders freedom of conscience to preform or not preform same gender marriages in jurisdictions where it is legal. Unlike previous GA’s, the debate was civil and polite. The hateful speech we had been subjected to in past Assemblies was absent; the accusations of pedophilia, polygamy and bestiality (yes, bestiality) were missing, thank God. Still, when the vote was called, we didn’t know which way the commissioners would land. When the Stated Clerk announced that the AI had passed with more than 70% of the vote, you could have heard a pin drop.

Much has been written about that vote and the subsequent vote to approve Amendment 14-F, which will, if approved, expand Presbyterians definition of marriage and allow Teaching Elders to offer the church’s blessing on all marriages, opposite gender and same gender, regardless of location.

For me, and the hundreds of other LGBTQ and allied folk sitting in that hall, those votes were a holy and sacred moment. It was the moment that the church; our church, the church we loved and served, often in spite of itself; began to publicly acknowledge that Love is Love.

So on a beautiful October Saturday afternoon, 11 years to the day since I had legally married my husband, Michael and I stood before God, family of origin and family of choice, to bear witness to the power of love. It was, truly, a dream fulfilled.