Posted tagged ‘church’

God Made Me Queer

August 10, 2011

I grew up in church. I’m of that post-WWII Baby Boomer era when just about everyone went to church. My parents didn’t, but they thought that we kids should, so one of them took us to church and dropped us off and then picked us up afterwards. They — especially Mom — said that it was optional (but we knew that it pretty much wasn’t). We went to the Presbyterian church because the lady up the street invited us to go there, and she had taken us for awhile until they moved away. My family was pretty much poor, but she drove a beautiful gray 1953 Cadillac that I loved riding in. I guess that’s the foundation of my theology.

I took church and religion and God and Jesus seriously as a kid. The pastor invited me to use his office — his “study” — and I got to sit alone in this wonderful book-smelling semi-dark room and explore his library. I don’t remember when this was, because I always went to Sunday school and I always went to worship. It’s just one of those vague memories without a particular framing. But I got to read and look at his religious art books and feel the Spirit.

How’s that for growing up queer?

Then life happened. Yeah, high school and all that in the late 1960’s. War, foment, assassinations. No wonder we took drugs. And all the while a feeling that I was …different — a feeling without a name.

My plan was to go to college, then seminary, and then to become a minister. I’d never met a minister who was woman at that time, but that didn’t matter: I felt God’s strong call.

But first, a break. I left high school to go on the road for awhile. I hitchhiked around and worked here-and-there and saw the country and looked for myself, trying to figure out that …difference. I went off to college having not figured it out, my plan delayed but still intact. As a matter of fact, I went to Sonoma State, only about 30 miles from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

And then… I fell in love. I’d dated a little, but it was always pretty much like going out with a friend or even a brother, with no special attraction or sexual feeling. But when I fell in love — and it was with a woman — all of a sudden, there was that zing! and I knew what that …difference had been about all along.

Sonoma State in the early 1970s was a relatively easy place to be queer — at least for lesbians. But when I came out to my parents, it wasn’t so easy. My mom — who hadn’t been a churchgoer through my childhood — went to the pastor of the church. I now believe that it was his ignorance due to they times, but in essence he tried to counsel me to be straight. Not in that evil, go-to-ex-gay-therapy kind of way, but in that heterosexual assumption kind of way. But despite my new queerness, I knew that I had finally found myself, so I knew that his suggestion was absurd.

I didn’t see my parents for the next three years. I didn’t see the inside of a church for the next twenty years.

[Fast forward…]

Well, needless to say, I didn’t go to seminary. After almost nine years in my coming out relationship, I was single again. I moved to San Francisco. This was in the early 1980s. I had a well-paying, dress-up corporate job by day; I was a wild party dyke riding a motorcycle by nights and weekends. And my best friend was a gay man. There was lots that was great about life at that time, but there was a newly-emerging reality: AIDS (even though it was an unnamed mystery disease at that time). We watched as it began to decimate the community around us. We saw it move into the circle of our friends. At that time AIDS was quick and it was deadly. So I got involved in meal delivery and hand-holding projects. But it wasn’t enough.

My best friend had also gone to church as a kid. He also hadn’t been in a church in many years. He too felt the void. So we decided that we would go to church together. After all, MCC San Francisco was only a few blocks from where I lived. But just thinking of it dredged up the old pain. So we talked about it but didn’t go. Finally, we decided this was the week. He came by and we walked up the street, only to find a sign on the door: “We’ve all gone to Sacramento. Come back next week!” So instead we went to brunch — a queer religious ritual in itself. The next week, when we approached the church, I read the sign out front: this time it said: “Preaching this week is Janie Spahr.”

For me this was a coming home. Janie was a Presbyterian minister. She had been on the staff of MCC-SF, but was then the director of Ministry of Light, an LGBT ministry in Marin.

I attended MCC for awhile, but it was never quite right. But what I loved about being there is the way that MCC does communion. First of all, it’s every week. Also, it isn’t just a little mumbo-jumbo say-the-magic-words and pass-the-plates ritual. Communion at MCC is a deep sacrament, a holy experience, which includes prayer and reconciliation. It’s a queer experiencing of connecting with the Christ.

[Fast forward again]

Another girl in my church youth group also felt …different. When I fell in love I came out to her. She was then married to a man and living in Ohio. Ten years after I came out, she came out; and, coming out and falling in love, she wanted me to meet her partner. They came up to San Francisco to visit me. I would see her, and them, and sometimes just her partner over the next number of years. It was a nice friendship.

And then my friend died. She went into rehab for alcoholism, but when they did the medical intake they transferred her to the hospital — and it was too late. I came to Southern California for her memorial service. During the process of mourning her death, her partner who had also become my friend and I fell in love. I returned to San Francisco, but it was only three months until we knew that we wanted to be together forever.

Melinda wanted to go to church. The church where I had grown up was close by; this was where her partner’s memorial service had been held. The pastor had told Melinda that it was a More Light church (Presbyterian for open and affirming, LGBT inclusive). After a couple of weeks we had the pastor over for tea and cookies, and then we joined the church.

In 2008 when we had the opportunity, Melinda and I got married. We’d never had a public ceremony of any kind, but we knew that we wanted to share this occasion with our family and friends, our neighbors and co-workers. We knew that it was more than a legality, but a Christian marriage as well — and we wanted it to be in our church. Our then-pastor officiated at the service, and we had around 30 ordained clergy and numerous elders attend. We had witnesses, and we were a witness.

So what is all this? It’s my crazy hodgepodge of a story. It wasn’t the post that I’d intended to write, but the one that ended up writing itself. Words. God. Words describing my life, a queer life inseparable from my experience of God. Me telling my own story for myself. No apologies.

And as we sang in my youth group all those years ago:

God likes me just the way I am.
I turned out just right.
But I’ll sing it again in case I forget,
And strange as it seems, I might.

Amen.


Queer Theology Synchroblog info and links to other posts can be found here.

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The case against the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr

March 24, 2011

NOTE: I am a member of the board of That All May Freely Serve, the organization co-founded by the Rev. Janie Spahr after another church court denied her call to serve at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. I am also a legally-married-to-a-same-gender-spouse-in-California who was married in church in a service officiated by an ordained clergymember. It is impossible for me to be unbiased, and I make no apologies for that.
__________

A lot happened today in the appeal of the verdict rendered last summer in the case of Presbytery of the Redwoods vsthe RevJane Adams Spahr.

I typically live-tweet or live-blog such events–something I did during the trial itself–but the (in my opinion) archaic policy of the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific disallows the use of electronic communications of any kind while they are in session. Consequently, I was reduced to taking notes via pen-and-paper.

I will share what took place in today’s appeal, but I am making the very intentional choice tonight to not do so until after this body has rendered its verdict. Not that they will likely be reading (or be influenced by) the writing of a blogger who sat through the hearing, but you never know.

In the meantime, I have been thinking and praying about this case, about Janie and the myriad of charges that have been filed against her over the years. In so doing, I started where I often begin: with seeking a definition of the terms. So what is a trial? Here is what the dictionary says:

trial

–noun

  1. Law:
    a. the examination before a judicial tribunal of the facts put in issue in a cause, often including issues of law as well as those of fact.
    b. the determination of a person’s guilt or innocence by due process of law.
  2. the act of trying, testing, or putting to the proof.
  3. test; proof.
  4. an attempt or effort to do something.
  5. a tentative or experimental action in order to as certain results; experiment.
  6. the state or position of a person or thing being tried or tested; probation.
  7. subjection to suffering or grievous experiences; a distressed or painful state: comfort in the hour of trial.
  8. an affliction or trouble.
  9. a trying, distressing, or annoying thing or person.
  10. Ceramics:
    a piece of ceramic material used to try the heat of a kiln and the progress of the firing of its contents.

Some of these definitions go far beyond what we most often think of in terms of charges being filed and the courtroom-type process to come up with a verdict; and some of those words are so appropriate. Trying, distressing or annoying. Affliction or trouble. Subjection to suffering or grievous experiences.

Hopefully, having friends and colleagues who love Janie with her today provided that “comfort in the hour of trial” listed among the descriptions as well.

Also today, as the opposing counsel presented her arguments, I had a scripture passage, a psalm, echoing through my head. This passage is the favorite of the father of one of the women who testified at Janie’s trial; it was a favorite of God’s glorious gadfly, the Rev. Howard B. Warren, as well.

Psalm 139

1 Yhwh, you’ve searched me,
and you know me.
2 You know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away.
3 Whether I walk or lie down, you are watching;
you are intimate with all of my ways.
4 A word is not even on my tongue, Yhwh,
before you know what it is;
5 you hem me in, before and behind,
shielding me with your hand.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
a height my mind cannot reach!
7 Where could I run from your Spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you’re there;
if I make my bed in death, you’re already there.
9 I could fly away with wings made of dawn,
or make my home on the far side of the sea,
10 but even there your hand will guide me,
your mighty hand holding me fast.
11 If I say, “The darkness will hide me,
and night will be my only light,”
12 even darkness won’t be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day—
darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You created my inmost being
and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.
14 For all these mysteries I thank you—
for the wonder of myself,
for the wonder of your works—
my soul knows it well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
while I was being made in that secret place,
knitted together in the depths of the earth;
16 your eyes saw my body even there.
All of my days
were written in your book,
all of them planned
before even the first of them came to be.
17 How precious your thoughts are to me, O God!
How impossible to number them!
18 I could no more count them
than I could count the sand.
But suppose I could?
You would still be with me!
23 Examine me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts—
24 see if there is misdeed within me,
and guide me in the way that is eternal.

This is the framework of my thinking and my prayers until we hear from the PJC. I invite you to join in continuous prayer for love and justice until their verdict is issued.

Grace and peace,
Sonnie

World Communion Sunday

October 1, 2010

I like what Susan Leo says about World Communion Sunday: This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, the one day of the year when virtually every church all over the globe commits to celebrating communion. It’s like millions of people being gathered around the table all at once! It’s kind of a cool idea isn’t it? People in every country, hearing the words of institution in every language, sharing in the bread and the cup however they experience it. While Jesus likely celebrated the last supper with matzah and wine, what elements are used — what is served — varies from place to place. Green tea and rice cakes, water and tortillas, jallab and pita, apple juice and bagels, pepsi and cookies, grape juice and challah – it doesn’t matter what the elements are. What matters is the intention. What matters is that when it is celebrated we “Do this in remembrance of me.” We do this in remembrance of Jesus and all he showed us, all he taught us, all he did for us. This Sunday we’ll gather around Christ’s table — the table that is spread around the world — and we’ll worship God as we sing, pray, read, listen, and rejoice together. We’ll celebrate with you, wherever in the world you are.

I made this graphic to use for our church bulletin.

Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

October 17, 2009

Powerful statement from John Shelby Spong, who was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2001.

Thursday October 15, 2009

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality “deviant.” I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to “Roll on over or we’ll roll on over you!” Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a “new church,” claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by “fair-minded” channels that seek to give “both sides” of this issue “equal time.” I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world’s population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the “Flat Earth Society” either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church’s participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth.” I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

~ John Shelby Spong (http://johnshelbyspong.com/)