Saturday, September 26, 2009

Joy Comes in the Morning

It has been a long sadness. It took me a while to recognize that--that the sunrises and the sunsets were tinged not only with the gentle clear and yellow light, and the royal purple, and the bold and cheerful peaches and pinks… but also with a white grief, pale and retiring.

Her name would have been Indigo. At least, I think of her as a she… although she might have been a tumbling boychild.

She sailed out of my keeping very very close to the end of the first trimester. It’s hard to explain the invisible grief of a miscarriage… the child that was cradled in your body suddenly gone. Never seen. Never heard. Never really quite real. But still lost. Still gone. Still missed.

Two days after I lost her, a mockingbird perched outside my bedroom window, and sang to me through the night. Bold and brave and not quite sane, but joyous. It was the love of the universe pouring out and over me, like a river. Comforting. Singing hope through the night that there would be joy again. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” God couldn’t have done better if He had sent a host of angels to sing comfort to me.

A few months after I lost her, I told a friend who had also lost a baby that my heart just didn’t seem to be in things anymore. She was kind, and gave good advice: “Give yourself time.” So I allowed myself time. I allowed myself a spirit-winter, and a time to hide.

Recently, I caught myself relishing a thought: “There’s things to do.” I was actually relishing and looking forward to Work and Doing and Making With the Hands. It feels good. Spring is here, and the Warm Rain, and it’s time to be Up and Doing again. It feels good to feel strong and eager and hopeful again. And the mockingbird sings Joy.

Indigo child
Moon child
Meadow child

Child of the mist and of the rose
Child of grass

Lunatic brave throat of the mockingbird--
Dreaming wildsong, whispering.

O darling twilight child,
I saw you dance last night,
Your feet wet with dew...
Dancing with the fireflies--
Glimmering like the stars.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm Coming Out of the Closet

No, I’m not gay. But there’s a closet that I think a lot of Christians find themselves in. And I think it’s about time I came out of it. So, um, here goes. Gulp. *Deep sigh*

Homosexuality is not a sin.

There. I feel better already.

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and laugh. I know this is not exactly a ground-breaking idea. I know that plenty of other Christians before me have said it. But it’s not a done deal yet for everyone, so – here I am, choosing where to follow. Serving God the best I know how, standing up for justice and mercy and truth and love. Because it’s about time we all did. It’s about time we all stopped setting the timetable for another person’s freedom. It’s about time we all remembered that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLK, Jr.). I’m coming out a bit late, but Now I figure is better than Someday, even if it’s not quite as good as Yesterday. OK. Once more, with feeling:

Homosexuality is Not a sin.


Growing up, homosexuality never bothered me. Gay folks were just folks. My mother was active in civil rights, and accepting the sexuality of other people was part of the philosophy of equality I was raised on.

Then, at the age of 32, I became a Christian. One morning, the week after Easter, I found myself in a pew in the local Episcopal church, trying very hard to act casual (although I could count on two hands the number of times I had been to church during my whole previous life), and desperately doing my best to figure out how my lifeline—The Book of Common Prayer—worked. They didn’t seem to mind that I kept standing up and sitting down just a little late, so I stuck around. This was during the time when the Episcopal church was making up their minds about ordaining active homosexuals, so no sooner was I a Christian than I had to begin thinking it through.

I remember discussing it with a friend of mine in the church—I told her that it seemed to me to be fairly clear that the Bible said homosexuality was a sin, and if we took the Bible seriously we needed to accept that. She got terribly exasperated with me: “If you start taking the Bible seriously, pretty soon you’ll be wearing a bonnet and keeping silent in church!” (She was right on one count, anyway…)

During that first year of my Christianity, I came up with a tentative working theory that I maintained until recently: It is good for people to love each other. It is good for a man to love a man. It is good for a woman to love a woman. It is somehow not good to sexualize that love. Nonetheless, homosexuality is no different from the various sins I commit regularly… and I am (or hope to be!) acceptable to God and the church. So there is no reason to deny homosexuals a place in the church. And every reason to welcome them as fellow sinners.

I was never completely easy with that theory. I never felt that sense of rest and peace inside, that as a Quaker I have grown to expect when my beliefs and actions are in line with my understanding of the world and of God. There was always a vague sense of uneasiness, that told me I didn’t have it quite right yet.

I have met plenty of homosexual people over the years, and they were just like everyone else. Some were nice, some not so nice. Some were smart, some not so smart. Some of them had a spiritual maturity that I admired, and felt would be an asset to my faith community. I wrestled with that. Sinning is stepping away from God, yet these were people who I felt could teach me about following God more closely. How could that fit in with this theory of mine? Over the years, my theory became gradually much less satisfactory, and much more tentatively held.

Recently an online friend, a gay Anabaptist, pointed out to me that the New Testament Greek words that are usually translated as having to do with homosexuality have nothing to do with a committed loving relationship between two members of the same sex, and everything to do with non-loving/uncommitted/dehumanizing/exploitative sexual practices, like prostitution (temple and otherwise). I remembered hearing something about this a long time ago, but I had never looked into it myself. So now I did. It turns out that the words that are typically translated as condemning homosexuality, are so far from actually condemning committed loving relationships between two people of the same sex, that I am appalled that we have mistreated and disrespected homosexuals for so long, as a society and as a church. Appalled. It would be like taking the word that is commonly translated as “fornication,” and translating it as “heterosexuality.”

The New Testament most definitely condemns the misuse of sexuality. It most definitely condemns certain activities that are wrong whether heterosexuals or homosexuals commit them …. Rape and prostitution and pedophilia, for example. But it does not condemn a loving committed sexual relationship between two people of the same sex. It just simply doesn’t.

I mulled over this new bit of information, and I revised and significantly shortened my working theory: Homosexuality is not a sin. Well. All the pieces fell into place. That sense of rest and peace arrived, and stayed. This fits. Everything fits.

I was still receiving this new awareness with joy and relief, and considering whether there was anything in particular I needed to do with it, when another friend on the same forum, an atheist, wrote a post. In it, he said that all forms of religion are bad, because the apparently benign religions make religion look more acceptable than it really is, and shield the bad religions from criticism. He said that the survival of our civilization depends on getting rid of all religion and all belief in God, and that society shouldn’t tolerate any form of religion—good, bad or indifferent. I was devastated and hurt and heartbroken that someone who had befriended me would say that society was better off without “my kind.” That “my kind,” in fact, was responsible for destroying civilization.

But God had once let me know that every time I let my heart get broken, He would mend it and make it bigger. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like to be on the receiving end of intolerance. To have someone I cared about tell me that something that is a part of me, that I cherish and hold to be True and Right, that I couldn’t deny at this point even if I wanted to… to have him tell me that this was wrong. Not only wrong, but an abomination. It hurt. It hurt like hell.

But it was a very important lesson, and it came at just the right time (God’s timing is very very good). Because as I was meditating on the hurtfulness of intolerance, I was able to see the parallels between my current situation and the situations that homosexuals face regularly. And I was given a job to do. Thank you God, for broken hearts.

So, here I am, coming out of the closet. In 1994, Ohio Yearly Meeting disowned Cleveland Monthly Meeting for recognizing that two women felt they were married to each other. We owe Cleveland Monthly Meeting and those two women an apology, because homosexuality is not a sin. I am going to ask for a clearness committee from my monthly meeting to help me discern how best to go forward with this leading. I will let you know how it goes. If I get disowned, does anyone know of a Meeting willing to take in a raggle-taggle heretic such as myself?

An incredibly incomplete sampling of links about homosexuality and the Bible:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom… is the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Monday, September 14, 2009

You Have Reached Your Destination…

A few Sundays ago, one of the ministers of our Monthly Meeting eloped. She had met this very nice Baptist, you see, and Baptists take a lot less time to put together a wedding than Quakers do.

We all knew she was engaged, of course… but when they decided on Thursday to set the date for that Sunday, she didn’t spread the word beyond her family and a few close friends. That’s when my Baptist spy gave me the word. The groom’s niece is a friend of mine, and she called me on Friday to make sure I knew when the wedding would be, and to give me general directions to the church. “You might want to Google that, and make sure I’m right…”

So I shook the mud dauber nests out of my good skirt (mental note: must wear good skirt more often), rounded up the kids and the husband (who had providentially arrived home for that weekend), and set off. The church was about 50 miles away, in unfamiliar territory. When I sat down to Google it, Kevin said, “Naaah. Let’s just use Emma. I’d like to see how she does.”

Emma is Kevin’s new GPS unit. She has a lovely breathy Australian accent. Now that he is driving trucks cross-country for a living, Emma is a necessity. Getting lost and missing your turn, while driving a 50-foot long, 13-foot high, 48,000 pound truck, is a recipe for ulcers... sometimes even disaster. He had owned her for less than a week the day our minister eloped, and he was still learning her ways.

It was a beautiful day, and a lovely drive. Emma was fabulous and accurate, and pleasant to listen to. The navigation was so easy… no looking for street signs or straining to pick out landmarks. Just turn when she says so… what could be more grand for a Sunday drive?

That is, it was easy until she said, “Just ahead, turn right.” And I looked, and there was a bit of gravel road ending in a marsh, complete with cattails swaying where the road ended, roughly 50 feet from the highway we were on. There? Oh no.

“Uh-oh,” said Kevin. “We’ve entered strip-mined country.” Oh no. In strip-mined country, the world no longer looks anything like it used to, but the old roads are usually still on the map… just to keep the right-of-way open in case the county ever wants to put a road there again.

So much for easy. I ignored Emma and stayed on the road, and she silently recalculated a route minus marsh. “Just ahead, turn right.” No, Emma. I’m not driving up that narrow dirt track into those trees either. So Emma recalculated, muttering under her breath. “Just ahead, turn right.” No, Emma. I’m not turning into a gravel road with a gate across it marked No Trespassing that leads into the local exotic animal preserve. I don’t want to see any rhinos at the moment. More muttering from Emma. “Just ahead turn right.” Nope. Looks like another locked gate, my girl. If Emma had cursing in her vocabulary, she might have utilized it by now.

“Just ahead, turn right.” Now that road, I will take. And right we went. We drove along and drove along, and got to the T-junction ending our road. “Just ahead, turn right.” But Emma, I can see a sign for the church that says, Left 1.5 miles! Oh. Wait a minute. The road is closed to the left. We can’t follow that sign. OK, Emma. You must know a detour. Go for it, girl.

One and a half miles later, she announced with evident satisfaction, “You have reached your destination.” Hmmm…. Trees to the right. Trees to the left. Trees ahead. Trees behind. A beautiful woodsy little spot. Quiet. A bit quieter than I had expected a location that was about to have a wedding. A bit more barren of buildings than I had expected too. Perhaps these were wild Elven Baptists. Or perhaps Emma, being Australian, didn’t know as much about strip-mined Ohio as she liked to let on. No gray-cloaked deacons appeared to lead us into the woods. “Gimme those directions the niece gave me!” I sez.

Her directions weren’t quite complete, but they were accurate as far as they went. We made a few good guesses, and navigated by the seat of our pants a bit, and eventually found, without too much trouble, a lovely little white church, and an eloping minister standing on its steps. I think someone had tipped her off, because she didn’t look at all surprised to see us. She hugged us, and said, “I’m glad you’ve come. We’re still waiting for the best man. He should have been here by now.” As we took our seats, Kevin whispered to me, “He’s probably using a GPS.” We never did find out what delayed the best man, but the wedding eventually went off beautifully.

I suppose there’s a moral to all this. I suppose it has something to do with depending on your own good judgment, as you navigate the path of life. Or about not relying on other people to tell you when you have reached your destination. One thing for sure. When you seek the wild Elven Baptists, make sure you shake the mud dauber nests out of your good clothes.