LGBTQ, Jesus and Purple Blankets

With curiosity, with anxiety, I read John Pavlovitz’s piece about Christians Making Atheists only to find much truth and plenty to convict my Christian faith in his words. Jesus is my truest best love, the one I know at my core and brings me to every relationship, how could I not want others to experience that grace? I know full well the power of forgiveness, what happens when a church decides to allow a sinner to participate and to serve, the healing that begins when the refreshing waters of new life discussed in sermons are truly shared with those who thirst for a second chance. I am that person who has come alive which has allowed me to make space for others to do so as well, I say yes when asked, grateful to be included and able to use gifts long laying dormant, waiting for my church home to recognize that my offerings, like the widow’s, may be scant but came from the deepest of my soul and could be used for great good. My church I think is open to sinners and saints alike, I am proof. Yet even with the labels I do carry, there are many that find headlines currently that I don’t wear, that maybe make it somewhat easier to accept this sinner.

As a United Methodist congregation, we are facing the challenge of taking a stance regarding LGBTQ as described here.  Our pastor has asked our members to prayerfully begin considering how we are to act on this new information, the opportunity to stand up for our brothers and sisters who love who they love without our censorship. This is a no-brainer for me, I want to open our hearts and minds and doors to those who deserve the level of acceptance and grace that I have experienced. I want everyone to taste and see the deliciousness that I find every time I walk through the doors, the coming home where my brokenness is not hidden but celebrated. How could I keep this only to myself, how could I ever feel better than, above, superior to anyone, that my sin is not as bad? Regardless of where one falls on the “homosexuality is a sin” continuum, it is clear that by sitting on the throne of judgement, we are practicing exclusion and not practicing a walk with Jesus.

My Plum was gone for 2 1/2 weeks, a planned vacation that I raised up as a concern and a joy to my friends and fellow worshipors one Sunday. I asked that they surround his family as they travel and also Chef and I as we were left without the joy-bringer, the giggler who delights and enlivens us. Finally yesterday my little shadow was home and ready to accompany me on errands, a trip to church for several quick meetings and the gathering of extra food in the kitchen to deliver to local non-profits who could use the donations. After a full day of traveling and a late night, he came to me in the now famous picachu pajamas, a bit grubby and carrying his much loved wad of a blanket. As we walked from the car to the church doors, he began to question not his attire, he stands by that choice, but the security blanket he was clutching. I reminded him that our church cares more about our insides than our outsides, that they love us for who we are and not what we look like. I told him friends inside might ask about Purple Blankie but would never mock him. He was immediately at peace, he told me other people outside of church might make fun of him but not our friends at church. Two steps inside, we both met Jesus.

The office staff have a practice of gathering each morning at a set time to share their own joys and concerns and circling up for a moment of prayer. We arrived just at this time, just as all were visible through the big office window as we entered the building. What happened next was so sacred, was so beautiful, so holy that I want to gush with joy at my church. All my family spontaneously raised hands to wave at my boy, tears of celebration of his return met mine through the glass, they welcomed him like the prodigal son. He stood taller, he swaggered a bit, he answered quick questions, he felt loved. My dirty little boy in pajamas entered church and found acceptance and cheers and grace. I could barely speak, how does one talk when Jesus is walking among you?

I want John Pavlovitz to know that my little church out in the cornfield in Indiana is working hard to get it right. I want everyone to know we are so incrediably full of grace that a child who began life such as my Plum did, who has experienced hardship and trauma is being taught that he matters and he is taking that teaching with him everyday. We may have a more difficult challenge reaching some of our older folks who learned that the bible says no more often than yes, but we are striving everyday to undo some harm and find space for sinners and saints and lovers and grumpy people and for those who wear their pj’s during the day. We are all little children inside, carrying a security blanket or teddy bear, wondering if we will be met with love or judgement. Let us remember to cheer the return of all who enter, surely Jesus is waiting to join in the celebration.

 

 

How Much is Our Share?

I buckled his seat belt, I kissed his check then the sweet spot on the back of his neck and told him I love him. He said he loves me too while distractedly drawing on his new pad of paper with a green gel pen, I was not his focus. Onto the other side of the car to kiss Sweetness goodbye, usually I do this first, he gets the last kiss but today was just out of order, I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked away from the car. Almost there, I heard Mama’s call, “Come Back, Plum is crying!” He was sobbing, wailing, so quickly things had turned. Rushing back I found a very jealous child, one who no longer remembered our “goodbye exchange,” who no longer remembered all the times I told him he is my favorite, including earlier that morning, a child who thought this new baby had taken his place in my heart. His heart was the color of the gel pen, his eyes could only see green.

More kisses, tender listening to all of his fears, a reminder that he will always be my favorite best big boy. Like the cracker crumbs from snacks eaten while he rides, my words and affection mostly all fell on the seat around him, mostly never reaching inside of him for nourishment, to fill his hunger. The damage was done.  Too tired, too emotional to hear what I tried to explain to him, that God makes our hearts expand when we add in more people to our lives, we don’t have to share limited space, he could only accept more kisses and strike out in his hurt.  He is sure that this new baby sister has taken what was his for 6 years and he is wondering what is left. As adults we can smile knowingly, shaking our heads and assure each other that he will grow out of this phase, but I wonder. I wonder if any of us ever really do. Maybe we grow to understand that our siblings are not our enemies, but do we ever fully grasp that the same equation that allows the hearts of our parents to expand is the same for our God?

The meat of it all is the jealousy, the insecurity that we feel when we think someone has more than us, has a better pathway in than us, got the last kiss, that is what troubles us and causes the flailing about, the striking out, the competition for attention. Yet if we were sure that our kiss even if it was the one that came about way before the door closed was meant just for us, held all of the love and joy and power of our God, would it really matter what anyone else received?  If we rested in the glory of the sunrise and knew that was our God telling us we are His favorite, wouldn’t that be enough? Would we have the need to fight over blocks and Lego and new cars and territory if we understood that we can sit secure in the expansive love of our Father, we do not have to compete?

We teach children to share by modeling sharing: here honey, I have an apple that I am cutting into 4 pieces, one for you, one of me, one for you, one for me. That is a wonderful exercise but only works when we begin with the willingness to share the apple. What if we begin with a piece of chocolate cake? Umm… maybe you should get your own, right, this looks really tasty and I actually would like to have it all. Maybe I can be generous enough to give a taste but there will be no splitting this delicacy into 4 pieces. So modeling sharing works in controlled circumstances but do we actually model it without such exaggerated awareness? Most mom’s are bad at this, we don’t share. We give the kids the whole apple, the last apple.  I remember one conversation with Arrow when he hit his late tweens, early teens and began to see me as more than a mom. He asked if I really like only the toast edges that he and his sister left behind, if I truly prefer just the burnt pieces of popcorn. Of course I didn’t always want those, what I came to prefer when my children came along is that they have the best pieces and parts and choices and I would always accept the scraps, if there were any. Thus I missed that opportunity to model sharing with me, that I was worthy of a piece of the apple as well. A mother who will sacrifice all for her children is easily sacrificed, I have learned. I taught them I was less than them. They have graduate degrees in this philosophy now. But I digress.

Do our rights as Christians mean we have to protect our turf? Are we obligated to ensure that the pews never get too full, that we always get the last kiss and don’t allow someone who is not in our family to join in and displace us? This fear of others is our insecurity about whether or not God can love us all, that His love is so big and can get bigger to include more and more and we will not feel less. Maybe Mom didn’t provide for us, Dad never said the actual words, we didn’t feel that love in our homes of origin, we just keep grabbing onto more and more than is our share, trying to make up the lack, taking extra portions and never getting full. We can’t get filled when we feed off of other’s portions, we spread hurt. Insecure adults who say no you can’t worship here, you can’t live here, you can’t go to school here, I need this space.

In truth, God’s orchard is limitless, He never runs out of apple slices. If we understand the idea of an expanding heart rather than a dividing one, oh the rest, the peace! No longer competing, rather we savor the kiss we got and notice not the one that came before us to our neighbor or the one that came after to our new baby sister or the LGBTQ teenager who is loving differently than us.  Love everywhere, big bigger expansive. Soon our apples look like too much for us to eat alone, we notice the juice is sweeter when we see it running down the chin of a hungry child. So what does it take to become so secure in our Father’s love, to trust completely in His expansive heart that our insecurity vanishes? I think the key is to no longer look back to what was, to not spend time in what we want for the future. This moment, this apple, right now. We have a choice to know and to seek out whether we are enough, we have enough, right now. Absolutely in this very moment, was this kiss meant for me? Staying with that one, hearing God whisper that I am His favorite, this can fill me up, millions of granules of sand pouring into all the cracks and broken places, filling me with God’s wholeness.

Becoming whole in God’s love is the ultimate healing of the broken love we inflict on each other, erases the worry about toast edges teaching the wrong lessons and who to kiss goodbye last. Knowing we are going to mess up and hurt each other and others are going to miss that we wanted an apple slice also, we have to turn to the only source of complete love. Poof, just for a moment, calm restored. The next moment is coming though, what will we do with that? Can we allow room for others, can we accept the second to last kiss? I pray we stay right is this place, where the apples are sweet and juicy and God is serving us all. Getting there and staying there are hard work, certainly not any more difficult than battling over who can pray with us. Let’s just share our apples, friends, and our pews and our hearts.  Let the only green we see be that of the orchard. And of course, gel pens. Green gel pens are our favorites.

Out of the Sanctuary, Off of the Couch

I have been thinking much about Jesus lately. I know I should have said I do that all the time but the truth is I think about being a Christian more often, about the good works associated with that title. I consider the ways my church has sneakily tied bits of silk around me and ever so gently pulled, tugged, eased me back into ministries, so many that when a friend asked what I was involved with at church, I realized the list was quite long. It seems that the very act of showing up there for one event allows your face to be present when a need arises, when a slot comes open. The more you enter the building, the more you have opportunity to get involved. Before you know it, ministry events occur most every day, church is no longer a place you visit on Sunday but a people you socialize with, a call you need to make, a group you lead, a meal to be prepared. Easy then to become complacent in that place, to feel comfortable in Christianity, to take a bit of pride in all the good works and forget the point. I love that my church has lured me into the web of deeds, they saved me. But now I am thinking about Jesus more, about that man who walked this same earth and did his own good works, an action packed 3 years that didn’t lead to elevation to committee chairman or board president, He didn’t retire and sit back to let the young folks take over the tough jobs. He promised to keep going and set the example for all of us to do real ministry. He was a servant first last and still.

I have been searching scripture for places where Jesus shouted out at his opposition, refused to listen to the people, deleted those who didn’t understand his message. I can’t find anything. He didn’t practice intolerance even in the face of the Pharisees. He knew their way was against His, He knew they practiced a dangerous religion, rooted in the same beginnings, the same core of what HE was teaching. Yet still He engaged them to allow for discussion, He answered their questions, He listened. He knew their beliefs had been corrupted disrupted coopted into something no longer at the core of His God. I want to be a Jesus Christian, just that simple. I have heard many conversations recently that include a reticence to openly own our label as Christians, a name that has come to be more associated with intolerance and judgement than the love and radical hospitality my friends are seeking to live out. I get that fear, I know that desire for a new term to describe who we are, one that distances us from them, those Pharisees who stand above and not with the marginalized. Yet all that pulling and tugging over the last year or so has readied me for action, for using my voice to speak above a whisper, to proclaim that I follow Jesus rather than announce a denomination for easy classification. I want to be the kind of person who sees those in need, who sees those hurting, and sees myself and not other. I am aching with the hurt I see around me, my soul is bursting with the fear and pain of the marginalized who know life is getting even harder, scarier. I want to scream and shout, demand that we all see them and us. Also, I want to listen to my friends and those who sit in church across the country under the cross. I need to resist the temptation to delete and turn my back, label them Pharisees and lost Christians. I want to show up with my Jesus face on, offer a cup of soup and hear their concerns. Maybe they will listen to mine, maybe we will pray together and God will bring Jesus back into our faith.

Realistically, it hasn’t always been easy to announce participation in the Christianity club especially when it was known only as the God group. It was an underground movement, it was one fraught with danger and imprisonment, one that required those who knew the truth to speak it to power and the masses. It meant followers had to risk much to gather in small groups to bolster and teach each other and then risk even more to go out and speak truth to those who didn’t know or believe yet. Being a follower of our God is not meant to be easy or profitable or safe. There is no promise of resting in riches or celebrating in comfort. These times now are hard again, the Sabbath of sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday counting our good deeds for the week are over. Our very existence as a movement is being threatened, our history and faith taken over by those who want to build walls to keep the others out, those who want to ignore that people are still enslaved by our hands, those who want to define love narrowly narrowly more narrowly still until love only looks like hate.

My friends, if you are a Jesus Follower, we cannot afford to rest. We did that. We waited and hoped and expected that someone else would take care of all the injustices. Can you feel the silk strings wrapping around you, puling you into the movement? Tugging us into a place of awareness that frankly is making me weary and sad and outraged already and I am just getting started. I can bake cookies for meetings all I want, Jesus is just not going to accept that anymore, not good enough. Sure, everyone likes cookies but there are children outside our building who don’t know what a home baked cookie tastes like while we grow fatter with each meeting. I can minister within the building by taking a meal to a sick congregant, but Jesus is just telling me that is not enough. The ill outside of our sanctuary are growing sicker and do not receive homemade soup, ever.

Frankly, the work within my church was practice, a warmup to get me going. The game is on, the buzzer blasted when black men were being killed and I cried at home on my couch but didn’t protest or even write letters. The buzzer blasted when bathrooms became an issue and I shook my head but did not call legislators to register my disgust. The buzzer blasted over and over, I did not move out of church to show Jesus, to be Jesus to power. Game on, maybe I missed the first quarter, but I am in, on team Jesus. A second string player whose skills have been honed, I am ready for action and I am aching with anger and hurt for humanity, fueled by my own complacency. I don’t know about being a Christian, but I am a follower of Jesus and it is about to get rough. That my friends is how it is meant to be.