Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reflections on turning 40, General Conference, and finding a true home

My heart has been hurting so much this week.

I have gone from moments of hopelessness, to invigorated sticktuitness, to a desire to give up and just be and to do something else with my life and …..then…. I go around again.

I have reminded myself that in grieving, it is best not to make any decisions for a year.

A parishioner asked me, "Why are people so upset if nothing has really changed?"

The Book of Discipline on the matter of LBGBTQIA+ people has not changed, it has strengthened its penalties related to clergy.

My first thought was this process and how we behave and what all this says about us ---This may be, what I am grieving.

Yes, I had hoped for a different outcome.

But I tend to be a person more focused on process than product.

 If a group makes a decision that I do not agree with, I can be okay as long as the process was loving, kind, and contextual to the people and places the decision affects.   

A good friend and I talked about this and she said something helpful for me- that she noted that those for the One Church Plan and those for the Traditional Plan may be defining what is is to be "loving" differently.  

People who were for the One Church Plan felt that the loving thing to do was to be able to be one church to "love alike, even if we think alike."
People who were for the Traditional Plan felt like the loving thing to do was to hold others to their understanding of biblical accountability.  

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 says:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I had hoped that the church could be a beacon of light to say that we can love one another and have space for different understandings even when we disagree.  
We do not agree or have the same understanding on a number of theological issues.  
We do not understand fully the Holy Mystery of communion, we do not fully understand the Holy Trinity,  we do not agree on how God created the earth.  

I had hoped for the One Church Plan because I hoped that through the church, God could show the world a new way of being.

We do not see that modeled anywhere.

Everywhere we see division, bitterness, slander, malice, and I had hoped we could see one another first as beloved sisters and brothers rather than opponents on differing sides of a theological issue.
But that is only part of what I am grieving.

My heart hurts so much in a personal way-- so why am I grieving?

I am a white, cis-gendered, straight, married, mother of two-- how does General Conference affect me other than the fact that I am a clergy person who followed the rules a week ago and still is following the rules of the church today.

I am a rule follower.  I always have been. 

I used to wonder if I would have been courageous enough, to stand up against Nazi's during the Holocaust,  to march during the Civil Rights Era, to care for refugees if I lived on the border of a war-torn nation.  
I hope that I would.  
I have not had to break any rules to follow my conscience so far in my life. 
I believe that makes me fairly privileged. 

I love people and I love loving ALL people.
I don't like living divided.
And I am by nature not one to antagonize.   
I am not a rebel rouser. 
I may cuss and "Detroit Beth" comes out if I get riled up….

But I am by nature a peace maker, a dialogue creator, a bridge builder. 

I have willingly placed myself in places where I would not be readily accepted because I felt called to serve God and love people. (A Birmingham, AL women's shelter, the streets of Detroit loving the homeless, serving as the chaplain in a mixed income housing community in East Atlanta).  I have served in places where I was harshly judged for being a woman, for being young, and for being a mother.  (Not gonna name those places).
And I have loved them all.  

I have been fully me in all these places, although who I am has not always wanted, accepted, or appreciated.  
And I have loved them all. 

I have served in churches filled with parishioners who were the first to go march in the streets for peace and justice AND in churches where their news channel stays unchanged on FOX news.
And I have loved them all.

I have served churches with people of ages, nations, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
And I love them all.

I love being in a room of diversity -of color, gender, age, identity, and opinion.

I do not like being in places where I am told I must agree in order to be included; I had enough of that growing up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. 

Growing up there, the sometimes outspoken, but always underlying attitude was Catholics weren't really Christians, People of any religion other than fundamentalist Christian were to be eyed with suspicion, People of color were second class, women were not allowed to speak in church, Science didn't matter, Higher Education was for only the rich, etc…

Everything felt segmented and segregated growing up.
There was nothing that eased feeling fractured and broken in this culture, including my family, who were broken and fractured in their own right. 
It felt like we were Broken and Broken and broken and broken and broken over and over again.
It felt like I was never enough to fit in or belong.
There was never enough time to just be.
I was never worthy enough.
And there was never enough capacity of love to be given.
I was always yearning and searching for what home felt like.
The place that felt safe and worthy.
The place where love lived even when opposition arose.
The place where you didn't have to be only one thing to matter or make a difference.

I found that place.
By a cross at Lake Shalom, singing how "It Only Takes a Spark to Get a Fire Going" every summer at Camp Hat Creek.
And I found that place.
In the streaming light of Yielding Chapel at Birmingham-Southern College while holding a red hymnal in my hands and reading about this grace of Jesus Christ that loves me no matter what and will never let me go. 
I said Yes to a Call in that chapel and thirteen years later as I kneeled before my Bishop with her hands laid on me telling me to "Take Thou Authority of the Word of God." 

What am I grieving?
I thought I had found my home.
Found my family.
The safe place to fully be me and who God called me to be.
To fully serve and make a difference.
To be part of something that was connected all over the world.
To really feel and witness the power of the Holy Spirit.
And now….

That home is fractured.   
That home feels like a place that says, I am not welcome and I am not worthy to be here.
Why does it feel like that now and not a week ago?
Because it says, to me, if my call and my faith call me to welcome my LGBTAI+ sisters and brothers into full inclusion as part of the Body of Christ that I am unchristian, unfaithful, and unwelcome.
This home, that used to feel like a big tent where all were wanted and welcome.
Now feels like a box that where I may no longer fit.  

I've been praying. 
And I realized...  I was wrong about what the home was. 
The home I found, wasn't Camp Hat Creek, or Yielding Chapel at Birmingham-Southern College, or even The United Methodist Church. 
These places have lived out glimpses of my home, but they are ultimately not my home. 

The home I have found is in the Kingdom of God. 
Some  refer to it as the Kin-Dom of God-- because it is a place where we are kin, where we are truly all family, no matter what. 
United by the love of Jesus Christ. 
The Kingdom of God is bigger than any institution we can create. 
And Jesus Christ and His Kingdom will never forsake me. 

I turn 40 tomorrow.  
And I I've been reflecting on  what I am done doing.
I struggle with self-care and people pleasing and working too much (too often at the expense of my family and my own well-being).

I decided I don't want to spend the second half of my life doing those things.

I don't want to be stuck in a box or to fight to make one bigger.
That doesn't mean I don’t care or I don't want justice.
It doesn't mean the church isn't worth fighting for.
It especially doesn't mean that those who have been harmed by the church aren't worth fighting for.

I don't really know what it means.
Maybe I don’t think I'm a good fighter.
Maybe I just want to use my energy to work for rather than against.
I want to focus on sharing the good news of Jesus and loving people.
I want to focus on equipping the saints for the building up of the body of Christ.

In some ways.... I'm not sure how to do that here anymore.
Because it's looking like I need to make a choice.
I can't stay where the walls are closing in.
And I don't want have the desire fight about an institution anymore.

But I will listen and keep praying. 

For now, I will keep loving. 
I will keep serving.
I will remember who I am and why God called me.

I will keep listening and praying. 
God called me to ministry. 
And God has not released me from this call. 

So tomorrow, on the day I turn 40. 
I will get up, I will praise God. 
I will lead my church. 
I will preach God's word. 
I will love like Jesus. 
I will preside at the table of our Lord. 
I will serve communion.  
I will pray with and for my congregation. 
I will hold on to hope. 
I will cling to Jesus.  

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10: 23-25

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