Sunday, May 31, 2009

More on Dr. Tiller

Here's a statement from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice regarding the death of Dr. George Tiller, by Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO:

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice extends our deepest sympathy and our prayers to the family of Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated this morning in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, where he was a member of the congregation. Dr. Tiller was a person of conscience and faith, who provided abortion services for women in the greatest medical need despite frequent threats, lawsuits and violence. He was one of the very few doctors providing medically indicated late-term abortion services and he did not waver from the provision of this service, although he was well aware he was never far from danger.

While we do not know at this time if the murder of Dr. Tiller was religiously motivated, the fact that the murder took place in his church reminds us that some people use religion as an excuse for acts of hatred. Let us remember that violence and murder are perversions of religion, and let us-- as people of faith  - speak out forcefully and unambiguously against those who foment hatred by their words.

 As people of faith, the RCRC family condemns both words and acts of hatred.

Tragically, there were many warning signs that this cruel act could take place. Dr. Tiller's clinic was severely vandalized earlier this month and it was reported that Dr. Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate the incident. Today, as we mourn the loss of Dr. Tiller, we urge the federal government to take swift action against the person or persons who committed this act. 

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is the nation's interfaith coalition of religious and religiously affiliated organizations from 15 denominations and faith traditions that support reproductive choice on religious grounds.

There aren't really words...

I woke up from my nap this afternoon to this news.  George Tiller was an abortion provider and a frequent target of those opposed to abortion rights.  His clinic has been bombed or otherwise vandalized several times, and he'd been shot in both arms in the 90s.

What makes me most sick at heart is that it happened at his church.  Where he was serving as usher.  

Surely whoever committed this crime - and the story does indicate they've caught the guy - will undoubtedly claim it was because of what Tiller did for a living.  As if that somehow justifies things.  Look, if you think that abortions kill unborn babies, and you think that killing unborn babies is wrong, you don't make your point by killing someone.  Do you not understand the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?  That means God alone gets to judge people.   It is not your job to make an ultimate judgment of a person based on less-than-all the facts about his (or her) life and faith, and it is certainly not your job to carry out executions based on that summary judgment.

Opposition to abortion rights is steady and frequently frustrating, but this is far beyond what anyone would consider acceptable or appropriate.  To say nothing of its illegality.  I was going to give Operation Rescue a modicum of credit for the statement that's reported in the article, but then I read this.  Kathryn Lopez is ridiculous and insane regarding Tiller, but the press release is beyond the pale.  Why am I not surprised that the MSM didn't report THAT statement?  

I guess I just wonder why someone would complain about "intimidation" on the part of the Obama administration, but then go on to describe their own intimidation tactics as merely "peaceful protests."  Just because it's legal (say, to protest in front of someone's house and church) does not mean it is right.  Something I've heard the anti-abortion crowd say many, many times, come to think of it.

Needless to say, our sympathies are not with Operation Rescue.  We stand with Tiller, his family, his friends, his coworkers, his patients, and his church community, all of whom grieve this day.  Like so many others, we pray for the consolation that the Holy Spirit can provide to those who mourn, we pray for justice to come to the one who committed this act, and we pray for a time when women's bodies are not battlefields and women's choices are respected.  

May God give comfort to those who mourn, and may the one who did this terrible deed know repentance and forgiveness from behind the bars of a jail cell.  And may this one not become a martyr to the "pro-life" cause, having done nothing in this instance to support life.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is for Backbencher and the Rest of You Scrubs Fans

I don't need to relate that Backbencher became a fan of Scrubs because of my intervention. Back in the day, he insisted he had enough shows without it. (How is that even possible?) I insisted that if he liked My Name is Earl, he would love Scrubs. I was proven right, and he's become positively rabid about the whole series. As should everyone be, in my opinion. It's sharp, funny, and often very touching. Plus, there's a stuffed dog on the show. How do you go wrong with that?

Well, in the past season, hapless lawyer Ted inexplicably got a girlfriend. In real life, the actress who plays this girlfriend is part of an adorable singing duo called Garfunkel and Oates. Undoubtedly they are from Canada (whence comes many, many adorable things). Or possibly the U.S. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Anyway, G & O do insanely funny songs which are often horribly, horribly inappropriate for posting. This is not one of them. Hilarious, not horribly inappropriate. Unless you like Pat Robertson.

But just in case, let the kids go outside and play before you listen, unless you want them singing about sex with ducks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

6-1 Prop 8 Upheld...

....marriages performed in 2008 considered valid. That's the early word, at least. Will wait a little while to actually read the ruling, but can't wait to see what comes next.

Equality for my moms, but not for all families, doesn't really feel like equality at all. We aren't in this just for us, but for all.

Bastard out of California?

We'll know in a couple of hours. It sounds like the most likely scenario the pundits are proclaiming is that the the CA Supreme Court will uphold Prop 8 as well as the 18,000 or so marriages performed between May and November 2008. Like that's not going to be complicated, going forward.....and heaven forbid a couple from Iowa or Massachusetts moves to town. I mean, how is it that their marriage can't be recognized in California when other gay marriages are being recognized in the state? This is a compromise with immediate bad effects, and opens the door to lots more legal wrangling.

I would like to believe that the CA Supreme Court would give us a total victory, nullifying Prop 8. But no one else seems to be that optimistic. The particular legal reasoning in this case is kind of thin (though of course the cause is just). Upholding Prop 8 and nullifying the marriages is another possibility, but one that most aren't taking seriously. God help us if that's the case - and I don't see how that could be a victory for "pro-family" groups, as forced divorces (or annulments) in no way supports families.

I can foresee lots of possibilities, and what next steps might be if we are not victorious this round. Perhaps the most obvious strategy is for the CA groups who want to repeal Prop 8 to get their acts together, suck it up and act as ONE coordinated team, rather than a bunch of people pushing their way into the spotlight. Also, and it worked well here in Iowa - let gay couples tell their own stories about why marriage matters to them. Don't pretend this is just about "equality" and "fairness," and don't trot out the straight relatives of gays and lesbians to have them express their support for their family members. This is about SAME-SEX MARRIAGE EQUALITY. Let our people speak for themselves.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pastor Dan Is Cool

He pointed me to this interesting article.  Check out, in particular, UCC clergy's points of view:  67% support marriage equality, an additional 24% support civil unions, and only 9% are opposed to both.

FWIW, I'm fairly certain that these numbers do not accurately reflect the UCC association in which I currently serve.  There are definitely other marriage equality supporters here, but I'm fairly certain there's at least as many opposed.  Then again, I know I've been guilty of underestimating people's willingness to support this kind of stuff in this part of the state before, so .... I'd so love to be wrong here!

Oh, and if you don't know Pastor Dan, you need to go check out his website.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I can haz cheezburger now?

God, I love those lolcats.  (oh, here also!)  And now, courtesy of Slog, Keyboard Cat + Steven Colbert + Jon Stewart.  Hi-larious!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's More or Less Official...

....that I can marry same-sex couples at the church now.  Which is not really a surprise, but we had a congregational forum to discuss the matter today after church.  It went really well.  We did not have an overly large group, but people recognized that offering this is an extension of our Open and Affirming mission statement, and they are supportive.  

Some thought this was a no-brainer, and one woman said that this was a big part of the reason why she and her family joined the church in the first place.  I know that this is a really important issue to a lot of our members, and I'm glad to know for sure that I have the support of the congregation as we move forward in this new reality in Iowa.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Coming Back to Myself

About eight or nine weeks ago, I started something up again.  I wasn't sure it was going to last, because I've started before - several times, in fact - and I've never gotten very far with it.  It usually only lasts for about a week.  This time, though, it really felt different.  And, even though I still haven't been super-consistent with my routine, I feel really good about this time.

You see, I've started running again.  For those of you who've known me a long time, you remember that I ran in high school and college.  I was not outstanding or anything, but I was decent.  And I enjoyed it.  But mostly, I enjoyed the camaraderie, the sunshine, and, in the fall, the great cross-country courses.  After college, I let myself get out of the habit.  

In retrospect, I think I was more burned out than anything.  But I never got back into it.  Over the years, I've tried to start up again, and every time, I got very discouraged.  I was not running at any sort of level I would recognize as acceptable, and I was pretty tough on myself.  After a few failed attempts to start running again, I finally decided that a "no-pressure" approach, where I just encouraged myself to run, no matter how slowly or briefly, would be my best bet.  Even that didn't work at first.

A couple of months ago, for some reason, I started having running dreams.  This is generally a harbinger of something that generally gets me to running again.  The dreams were pretty persistent, and pretty soon I found myself wanting to go for a run.  So, finally, I tried again.  This time there is still no pressure, but I have set some little goals for myself.  The first few times, it was just to run half a mile without stopping.  Now, I can do that in my sleep - it's a minimum expectation, even if I haven't run in several days.  Generally, if I can get to a half-mile, I can go the full mile and maybe even more.

Believe me, I'm still no speed demon.  I'm only up to a couple of miles.  My body still does not even remotely resemble a runner's body.  But for the first time in probably a decade, I sense that my "inner runner" has come out to play for good.  And, for a change, I am feeling good when I run, even if I'm not going super-fast or for a very long run.  It's a joyous change.  And, I feel pretty sure it's a permanent change.

We'll see what the next few months bring.  For one thing, there's a 1/2-marathon in town sometime in September, and I actually think I'll enter.  My goal will simply be to finish.  Come cheer me on - or better yet, come run with me!!!

Wolfram Alpha, Wolfram and Hart - Secret Connection?

So, I've been hearing a lot on NPR about this new search engine that's available to do certain kinds of searches better than Google searches. I think it has a lot to do with math, and data, and information-gathering, as opposed to giving the answer to "subjective" questions (like, "who is the most super-cool blogging minister/sex-educator who's not named Debra Haffner?"). It's called Wolfram Alpha, after its founder. And hey, if you create some sort of crazy search engine that can compare the GDPs in ratio form of the US and Canada over a 40-year period, hell, you deserve to have that search engine named after you!

It's just that, every time I hear the name, I cannot help but think of Wolfram and Hart, the evil law-firm-cum-ruler-of-the-Angel-multi-verse. I am sure there is no real connection, but it still creeps me out just a little bit.

And, in case you were wondering, I always kinda thought that Joss Whedon didn't do enough with the wolf, ram and hart imagery (get it?) in the Angel multi-verse. There were definitely some missed opportunities to really flesh that out. But what we mostly got was, "Eeeeeeeevilllllllllllllllllll corporation, run by eeeeeeeeeeeevilllllllllllllllllllllllllll lawyers!" Meh.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Hampshire, Baby!

Apparently, the governor of NH will sign the marriage equality law there, too. Not super-crazy about all the religious-protection language he throws in (I'm okay with noting that churches don't "have to" perform same sex marriages, but this language seems overbroad to me)...but, nonetheless, the tide is moving in the direction of justice and equality!

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Ambition

At a recent continuing education event for 2030 clergy in the UCC (holla!), a question arose about "ambition."  How ambitious do we have to be?  How ambitious are we allowed to admit to being?  What does ambition mean in the context of ministry?

These were all great and wonderful questions, and inspired wonderful conversation.  But it also definitely tripped something inside of me, in part because I wrestle a great deal with other people's expectations of what my ambitions should be.

I don't want to sound vain, but I know that I am a fairly gifted minister.  I have lots of different kinds of skills and I really love what I do.  So some people in my life, even mentors and dear friends, seem to be a little disappointed that I am "stuck" in a small church in a small town in a small state.  People often ask me, "How long do you plan to stay where you are?" - and often it's not an innocent question, but the tone conveys a clear implication that I should be moving on to bigger and better pretty soon.  Occasionally people imply that I'm wasting significant gifts where I am.  (Sometimes, to be fair, people are just curious.)

I, quite frankly, could not disagree more strongly.  The church I serve is uncommon in its acceptance of diverse viewpoints, its expectation that the minister will challenge them in preaching and life, and its desire to be the "progressive alternative" in town.  They are small, but mighty!  They are also uncommonly kind to me, to our Intern, and to each other.  Only some of this can be attributed to "Iowa nice," a great deal more of it has to do with their commitment to staying together and not letting their differences divide them.  Some clergy never have the privilege to serve such a great congregation, and I was lucky enough to land here in my first call!!  Why would I be in a hurry to leave?

Secondly, I rather resent the implication that bigger = better.  That's the world's attitude, but I'm not persuaded that it's God's attitude.  Not that all large churches are terrible (I know many great ones!), or that all smaller churches are automatically better (oy!), but at this point, I think my gifts are really well-suited to the context in which I currently find myself.  

There are things I get to do in a small church that I'd never get to do in a large church.  For example, a typical week has me crafting the liturgy, writing a sermon, planning and leading a Sunday School lesson for a one-room schoolhouse that consists of children ages 4-12, leading a youth group for 4-6th graders, visiting people in their homes or at the hospital, doing some ecumenical work, plunging the toilet, coordinating one meeting or another, trying to get that "Bible and Beer" study started at a local bar, and extensive community outreach.  (and probably some other stuff, too!)  In a large church, my portfolio might include only 2 of those things - albeit for a much larger group of people.  I'm kind of a dabbler; a "Jane-of-all-trades" - maybe not a master at ALL of them, but at a minimum, I want to be excellent at a few and very competent at all.

What's more, I rather see myself as a missionary, spreading the good news of progressive Christianity in forgotten places.  (Of course, I don't do this work "for" others so much as "with" others - at least, that's my goal!)  The privilege of being a married straight white woman means that I can go a lot of different places and say a lot of things about race, sexuality, morality, etc. - things that need to be said - and those things can be heard and received more readily because of my identity.  I can go some places that my equally (or more-) gifted colleagues can't, and say what we both know is true, and it can be received more openly than it might otherwise.  And I feel rather a responsibility to the church to do that work, and to hopefully open some hearts and doors for others to walk through in the future.

So, given my negative response to people's expectations of what my ambitions should be, during the course of our conversation at the end of April, I realized that I am really ambitious.  I want to be a well-regarded small-church minister, known for it and good at it.  I also want to be like the Rev. Debra Haffner, who works at the intersections of spirituality and sexuality.  I want to write about the work I'm doing, and I want people to read (and like, and be challenged by) what I write.  And, I'd really love to write for The Christian Century.  I also wouldn't mind getting that Great American Novel published, and get a nice desk jacket recommendation from Marilynne Robinson for same.  I'm not sure I want to give up full-time ministry to do this stuff, but I do want to do it.

This got raised up for me again today as a result of something that might be brewing in the near future - something that is NOT a new call, for those who might be wondering - and I hope to be able to say more about that in the next couple of weeks.  I must say, while the question first made me mad, now I'm so grateful for the opportunity to reflect on all this.  So, thanks, Liddy!  (And everyone else who was with us in Chicago in April.)

Obama's Budget and Nuclear Bombs

From Hilzoy comes this!

I mean, when the nation you live in has enough nuclear bombs to destroy the world over at least several dozen times, you have to wonder how much is enough, or even too much. I've been hoping for this day since I was a wee lass growing up in hippie northern California....but I had no idea that nuclear non-proliferation was even on the table at this point.

I know there's some stuff about "mutually assured destruction" and "protecting our way of life" that I probably need to unpack some more....but at this point, I'm not even sure I'm capable of that. I mean, we just had a president zero out a nuclear warhead replacement item in the budget. That's huge!

Ritual of Farewell

Here was our ritual of farewell for Intern Extraordinaire, again adapted from a similar ritual found in the United Church of Christ's Book of Worship:

Opening Words
Our church family is constantly changing. People come and go. Babies are born. Children grow up. People commit themselves to one another. Loved ones and friends among us come to the end of their lives. Individuals move into our community and church life. Others leave us, moving away to new places, new experiences, and new opportunities.
It is important and right that we recognize these times of passage, of endings and beginnings. Today we share the time of farewell with a friend who is leaving.

Ritual of Parting
Pastor: This past fall, our congregation welcomed Intern Extraordinaire as a pastoral intern, inviting her to share her gifts with us, to help to lead us, and to grow in skills and faith. She has done so with grace and wisdom. But now it is time to say good-bye, to release her from her pastoral obligations and to bless her as she seeks a call in the United Church of Christ.

I.E.: I thank you all for the love, kindness and support you have shown me over the past year. I am grateful for the ways my leadership has been accepted. I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made. As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.

Congregation: We receive your thankfulness, offer forgiveness, and accept that you go now to serve another congregation. We express our gratitude for your time among us. We ask your forgiveness for our mistakes. Your influence on our faith and faithfulness will not leave us with your departure.

I.E.: I forgive you and accept your gratitude, trusting that our time together and our parting are pleasing to God.

Moderator: Do you, the members and friends of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Red Oak release Intern Extraordinaire from the duties of pastoral intern?

Congregation: We do, with the help of God.

Moderator: Do you offer your encouragement for her ministry as it unfolds in new ways?

Congregation: We do, with the help of God.

Moderator: Do you, Intern Extraordinaire, release this local church from turning to you and depending on you?

I.E.: I do, with the help of God.

Moderator: Do you offer your encouragement for the continued ministry here?

I.E.: I do, with the help of God.

Prayer of Blessing
God, in whom we find everlasting love and trustworthy care, help each one of us to keep faith in the future that rests in your arms. The time we have shared with Intern Extraordinaire saw our laughter and tears, hopes and disappointments, learning and growing. Guide us as we hold these cherished memories but move in new and different directions. Let your Spirit guide Intern Extraordinaire as she moves to new and unknown places, and let your Spirit also guide us as we move forward in our own journey as a faith community. Help us to hope for the time when we are all completely one with you and with each other, as Jesus our Savior so taught and lived. Amen.

Presenting of Gifts
We presented Intern Extraordinaire with a gorgeous green stole, to remind her that she was with us for an extraordinary time in our mutual lives, but that we hoped she would remember us in the ordinary seasons of her ministry. (For those who don't know, in the Christian Church's liturgical tradition, green is the color used during the season of "ordinary time" - between Pentecost and Advent, with the Sundays between Epiphany and Lent also counting as "ordinary Sundays." Ordinary Time takes up the majority of the church year.) Also, it looked really good on her!

Ritual of Welcome for a Pastoral Intern

When we were hastily making arrangements to have Intern Extraordinaire come work for us, one of the many questions I asked was about rituals of welcome and farewell. The response was .... crickets. Apparently most of the contextual education placement sites at Intern's seminary don't do them.

I was really surprised. These are students learning about ministry among people, they are expected to build relationships and grow in the pastoral, priestly, and prophetic gifts ... and there is no ritual way to welcome the start of that relationship in a church? Particularly for churches that do this year in and year out, I was actually pretty disappointed. My own experience of being formally welcomed into pastoral leadership at my field education placement site in seminary was deeply meaningful, as was the ritual of parting, and I know that many of my seminary colleagues felt the same way. Ministry is not just "a job" that starts and finishes on certain dates. It is a relationship with a community of faith, and we actually have very good ways to honor relationships in the church. And I just could not believe that these relationships were not being lifted up with the congregation as a whole.

How do congregations know who this person is, and what their role is? What does the intern hope to gain from the experience? What does the congregation hope to gain from the experience? How do they honor the start of that relationship? How do they recognize its ending, as a community of faith? These are just a few of the questions that ritual seeks to embody. Perhaps most importantly, rituals help us name new realities and help usher them into deeper being.

So what did I do? I called my former contextual education professor and asked for samples or other resources that I might use. She, smart woman that she did, gave me none. She did, however, give me ideas and questions to ponder about the nature of the relationship we hoped to have with our Intern. That helped me shape a ritual of welcome for Intern Extraordinaire, albeit one rooted in the "installation of a pastor" in the UCC Book of Worship.

Since our time with Intern Extraordinaire has ended, I thought I'd share with y'all the rituals of welcome and farewell that we used. Maybe if you ever have an intern, you won't use this resource, but use it as a springboard to figure out how you and the church you serve want to welcome this leader-in-formation into a pastorally appropriate role, so you can shape your own liturgy. (Or ask me to!)

Here was our ritual of welcome:

Words from the Moderator
Today we celebrate a new beginning in the life of our congregation. By welcoming Intern Extraordinaire as our pastoral intern, we are opening ourselves to a new experience of God’s power and presence in our midst. Intern Extraordinaire has some clear goals she wants to achieve in our time among us – including leading adult Bible Study, learning about what a visitation is, participating in ecumenical partnerships, and to experience ministry in an Open and Affirming congregation. We do not know all the ways that this relationship will be lived out between now and May, but we move into this new relationship with joy and excitement, looking forward to the ways God is still speaking to us through this experience.

Words of the Covenant
Moderator: As a representative of the board, I covenant to help Intern Extraordinaire grow in her gifts and skills for ministry. We promise to provide her genuine opportunities to do pastoral work, to offer her appropriate feedback when requested, and to help guide her and her supervisor, Pastor LiturgyGeek, as they learn and grow together.

Pastor: As the pastor of this congregation, I covenant to mentor Intern Extraordinaire, to guide her towards growth in ministry, to pray with and for her regularly, and to offer her appropriate feedback. I promise, with the help of God, to lead by example and to model faithful ministry work in this congregation. I also recommit myself to my own covenant with you, the congregation, and promise to continue to labor alongside of you in the ministry of reconciliation and extravagant welcome to which we have been called.

I.E.: I covenant to work faithfully to the best of my abilities, to offer you myself and to receive you as brothers and sisters in Christ. I covenant to be accountable to the work of pastoral care, worship leadership, ecumenical work, and Bible study, and to learn and grow in faith. I promise to take on the authority of my position as pastoral intern with grace and humility, and to receive your feedback as faithfully as possible.

Congregation: We covenant to learn from you, Intern Extraordinaire, to introduce you to others in our community and to the story of who we are, to open our hearts to what you have to teach us. We covenant to offer loving and gracious feedback to you in order to help you grow. When we offer criticism, we covenant to do so only when asked and with appropriate care. When we offer praise, we covenant to do so honestly and generously.

We give thanks for the ministry Intern Extraordinaire begins in our midst this day.

ALL: May God surround all of us with grace to accept the gifts of this new stage on our journey, and the courage to act in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Prayer of Blessing

Presenting of Gifts
(I remember giving her a gift certificate to Soul Desires, a great religious bookstore in Omaha; maybe there were other gifts, but I don't remember them....)

On the Importance of Ritual and Family

Uh, as you maybe have figured out given my handle, I'm a big fan of liturgy and ritual.  We humans seem to be hard-wired for it.  The power of ritual to make real the circumstances of our lives ... well, let's just say that if there was anything I thought I could add to the academic discourse on this subject, I'd be working on my PhD already.

Instead, I offer you this story.  Enjoy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Even God Stayed Abraham's Hand

For obvious reasons, I don't share a lot of the specific details of the work I do, because a lot of it involves personal stories of people.  But permit me to share a composite story of couples I'll be marrying in the next several months - or, to be more precise, let me share the words I would like to share with the composite parents of these couples.

Dear moms and dads of gay and lesbian kids,

I understand that your children's coming out is difficult for you.  You have had hopes and dreams for your child that you now grieve.  Your image of your child may now be changed, even shattered, as you give in to negative media portrayals of gay men and lesbians and apply them to your beloved children - most of whom do not fit such stereotypes.  

Your own dreams for yourself have have ended.  Your hopes of being a grandparent in the "traditional" way are over, and I am not unmindful of how you see your child's former boyfriend or girlfriend (or former spouse) with children of their own, and how your heart longs for that child to have been yours.  You have had to give up a future you envisioned for your own self.  I can only imagine what this must be like, but I can well imagine your grief and sorrow.

I also know that many of you have religious views which do equate homosexuality with sin.  I could go on and on about our different theologies, but this isn't really the time or place (though if you would permit one suggestion, I'd recommend you looking at Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? by Mollenkott and Scanzoni).

Some of you assume that your gay son and his partner are only in it for the sex and physical attraction, because that's all that you know about gay men.  And since you would not permit your son to be openly affectionate with his beloved (you don't want him to "flaunt" his sin, after all), you have placed him in a catch-22 where he cannot be who he truly is when he is with you, and yet you judge him for what he presents to you because of your own limitations.  

Some of you assume that your lesbian daughters are in a "phase" that they will outgrow.  You may even like your daughter's partner, but you just hope she will be the maid of honor at your daughter's wedding to a man.  Again, you can't permit her to be her true self in front of you, so you have a distorted view of who she is and how she "lives as a lesbian."

Yet, you have raised your children to live with integrity, to live lives that are true to who God has made them to be.  You have raised them to be truthful, honest, and true.  Now, in trusting you with the truth about who they are and who they love, they have chosen truth over lies, integrity over guilt, faithfulness over deception.  So, why are you punishing them for doing exactly what you have raised them to do?

Let me ask you: is this really what you want?  Is this the kind of relationship you want with your child?  Would you truly prefer to have your children lie to you, day after day, by living in a heterosexual marriage that does not meet their needs nor the needs of their partner?  Would you prefer your child to lie to his or her spouse - is that the sort of life you want for your child-in-law?

Your child has a beloved - a wonderful companion who lights up the eyes of your child, who fills your child's heart with love, who shows grace and compassion, who tends to your child's needs and deepest longings, who above all loves your child!  Your child has a companion who shares hopes and dreams for the future, who "completes them" in the way you have always hoped for your child.  And you are missing out on seeing this life.  

I feel sorry for your children, who have parents that don't understand or accept them.  But I also feel sorry for you, because you are missing out on seeing who your child truly is, and all the joy that fills your child's life.  You are the one who is losing out.

Is this what you want?  Do you truly want to sacrifice your children on the altar of doctrinal purity, societal norms, or your own selfish dreams for their lives?  Please remember that in the story of Isaac's binding to the altar by his father, at the final moment God stayed his hand.  The point of the story was not the sacrifice itself, but the willingness to do so.  And you have already demonstrated your willingness to sacrifice your child on your self-made altars.  Perhaps, may I be so bold as to say so, perhaps this letter is the voice of God saying, "Do not lay your hand on the child, or do anything to him [her]."

And you who are Christians may say, "Okay, fine, Abraham was spared the grief of sacrificing a child, but God gave up God's own son and let him be sacrificed," let me say to you: are you God?  Are you better than Abraham?  Do you really want to go there?  Is that really what you think God is asking of you?

Please.  You are not that special, that faithful, that important.

Sorry.  That was not very nice.  What I really mean to say is, please, please, please, do not wait until the final moment to let God's hand stay your sacrifice.  Do not sacrifice any more precious time not knowing your child.  

If you could see what I see, you would know that your child is deeply in love with this chosen companion, and your child is deeply and well-loved by this same companion.  You would see eyes full of deep and true affection, hearts full of love, lives full of grace.  You would see the fruits of the Spirit alive and powerful in their relationship, God at work in their midst.  You would see your child living in truth and integrity, living in faith that God has made them and will be with them now and forever.  You would see everything you hoped for your child, save for the gender of your child's partner.  Is that really more important to you than the life of your child?

Please, for the love of God and all that God has made, for the love God gives to families and for the love you still have in your heart for your child, in the name of all that is holy to you and to me, please, see your child as I see your child, see your child as God sees your child.  And love him.  Love her.  Love them.

Happy Mother's Day

Give some sugar to your mom today, whether it's your birthmom, your biological mom, a grandmom, the mom of your heart, or some other fierce mama you know.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, Moozie and Susan.  I love you three.  And love to my friends' moms Linda and Anne, who've been so good to me over the years!

I Can't Even Write a Farewell Ode to Our Intern

Over the past seven months, our congregation has been blessed with a terrific intern, Sam.  It's kind of a long story as to how she got to intern with us in SW Iowa when she was going to seminary in St. Louis, but suffice it to say that it was grueling for Sam to commute between the two places.  (Did I mention she was pregnant during this year, and just gave birth to an adorable baby girl 10 days ago?  "Grueling" might be too gentle a term.)  Yet she was, pretty much literally, a "super-trooper," and I never heard a word of complaint.  The children of farmers, she is incredibly practical and this was just something she had to do.

Our congregation was hesitant at first to take this on, but with an anonymous donation from a member toward her stipend as well as scholarships from our association (where is was in care) and conference, we were able to make it financially viable.  And though we are a small church, we found plenty for us to do together.  It was a great experience for both of us; I think I did a fair job as a supervising pastor (and would definitely be better with future opportunities), and Sam and I had terrific conversations about the practice of ministry and whatnot.

The congregation, not surprisingly, took to her leadership well.  They know how to love, support and challenge a minister and a minister-in-training, and she learned a great deal from them.  Most importantly, there was deep and mutual love between our church and Sam, which covers a multitude of sins.

Today we had to bid farewell to Sam, as her time with us came to an end.  She is graduating on Friday and her profile is just about ready to be sent to congregations and conferences.  As part of our farewell ritual, we adapted the "Ritual of Farewell" from the UCC Book of Worship - which I will post when I am next at the office computer.  We also gave her a gift, a beautiful stole (and I'm not at all biased, even though I bought it myself) from Soul Desires in Omaha.  The green complements her coloring, but more importantly, we hope that she will remember the uncommon time we spent together, our church and her, during the ordinary seasons of her ministry with other congregations.

Farewell, and God's blessings, Sam!

Friday, May 08, 2009

You need to add this website to your "favorites" list

This is the website/blogsite of one of my 2030 UCC clergy colleagues.  She's terrific, and so is the site.  Check it out and add it to your blogroll.  I have!

On the UCC and "Official Stances"

PastorJoelle recently asked me via the blog: What is your church's official stance on same - sex marriage?  While I'm not 100% sure if my "church" she meant "congregation" or "denomination," I'm going to take a stab at answering.  

Well, first of all, the appropriate answer to any question that begins "What does the UCC believe/think..." (or "What is the UCC's stand on...") is "It depends."  See, the UCC has very few "official statements."  Our basic unit of life is the local congregation, and we're essentially autonomous in our governance.  Yes, ordination and authorization for ministry happens through the association (in cooperation with a local church, and possibly also a fourth institution, such as a hospital), and yes, the national setting of the UCC (or some part of that national setting) does sometimes makes statements/pronouncements on this matter or that.  But, local churches aren't bound by these decisions - they needn't "obey" or agree with what's said.

Every two years, the UCC comes together in what is called a "General Synod," which has delegates from every association, and we vote on "pronouncements" and "resolutions."   The thing is, General Synod speaks TO the church at large, not FOR the church.  This means that when we get together, we're talking about all this stuff for each other, and guiding the work of the national setting(s) of the church in between General Synods.  STILL, local congregations aren't "bound" by these decisions in the way that a Lutheran or Episcopal church might be.  

All that being said, at General Synod XXV in Atlanta (Atlanta, baby!) in 2005, the General Synod did vote to, among other things, "calls upon all settings of the church to engage in serious, respectful, and prayerful discussion of the covenantal relationship of marriage and equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender..." (see the full pronouncement here).  It was a contentious and difficult decision.  We lost some churches over this (or, perhaps more precisely, over issues of biblical interpretation that led to the passage of this resolution).  

Yet no church is bound by this.  In fact, it would be perfectly fitting of our polity for a church to engage in just such a discussion and come to the conclusion that marriage should be between a man and a woman only.  Obviously, some churches in the UCC do come to this conclusion.  

As to whether or not the congregation I serve has a stance on same-sex marriage, at this point I can only point to our Open and Affirming statement, adopted by the congregation in 2000: "First Congregational, United Church of Christ in Red Oak is an active and dynamic congregation with a rich history and an exciting ministry to the community.  We welcome into this community of faith, and affirm the participation in all aspects of church life, persons of every age, race, gender, nationality, ability, and sexual orientation.  We will empower ourselves, our children, and one another to be fully present in the world, living in Christ's image and striving for justice and peace."  From this statement (and the text I bolded), and from what I know of the views of most of the people at church, it seems logical that we would affirm same-sex marriage.  But until the congregation has a chance to speak its mind, I would hate to speak for them or name this as their reality.

And in fact, due to a series of interesting circumstances this spring, our congregation has not technically addressed this issue in a formal sort of way.  We will do so on May 17, at forum following worship, and I would covet your prayers as we discern the ways that God is calling us to live into this commitment.  I suspect I know how much of the conversation is going to go, but it's also important for us to check in periodically about how we are living out this commitment.

The church's normal policy regarding marriages held in the church or done by the pastor basically comes down to "the pastor's discretion."  Which means it's up to me, and obviously, I consult with the board, if only to inform them of what I'm doing.  To be truthful, up until this year, weddings have not really been a big deal here.  I've done 1 a year, or 4-5 a year, but never a whole bunch.  With Iowa's marriage equality ruling, I expect that may change.  Finding a balance of serving this need while also serving the not- insignificant needs of the congregation and my own spiritual/familial needs will definitely be a priority in the next several months.

I must also disagree with you, dear PastorJoelle, when you say, "I'm just saying it would be nice to have a little church support and guidance in this matter other than - 'Do whatever you think is best.'"  I love the autonomy of the UCC and while I am sometimes tempted to wish for a bishop's authority, it is never for very long (Bishop Yvette Flunder would be AWESOME, but what if I ended up having to submit to someone like Peter Akinola?  No thanks!)  The UCC takes seriously the "responsibility of every generation to make the faith its own" (it's from our Constitution) and I really appreciate that we have to do the work...and that we are are responsible for the work.

In some ways, it is easier to have an answer one way or another - this way you can agree gracefully, submit gracefully even if one disagrees, or to choose to faithfully dissent.  But, this is not our way in the UCC.  It's a lot harder, and let me tell you - lots of us get really sick of being in the in-between time where all our answers are tentative at best and we have to keep fighting the same battles over and over (and over and over) again.  But, that's the work of Christianity - and a substantial part of the work of the UCC is to disagree in love and find a way to stay together, united in Christ even if not much else.

PastorJoelle, I am keeping your congregation and your denomination in my prayers in this season.  As well, I will remember all those who live in tension between their personal faith convictions and the "official" stance of their denomination/tradition.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Jesus, On the Cross, With a Light Saber

We have some adorable kids at church, and they are hilarious at times.  Several weeks ago, I realized that our kids are entirely obsessed with Star Wars.  It manifests itself in the most ridiculous fashions.  For example, a few weeks ago we were talking about "Holy Week" and I asked the kids to draw a picture of one of the stories we'd been talking about.  This was after we'd created some cool poems about Jesus and the Eucharist.

One of the kids - I kid you not - drew a picture of Jesus on the cross....with a light saber.  Relevant to this conversation is that the light saber was "lit."  It was then that I had to explain to the boy that the whole point of Jesus on the cross was that he did not, in fact, use the light saber when he could have.  I tried to draw a parallel to Obi Wan in Episode IV, sacrificing himself so that Luke and the others could get away...but the kid is only four and his attention was already on to the next thing.

Yes, I actually said that.  Talk about ministry in context, engaging the culture and all that.  Not how I imagined engaging the culture with youth (hello, those movies are as old as I am), but there you have it.  

(Joelle, the answer to your next question will be my next post!)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Count Now Stands at Five

That is, five same-sex couples who have asked me to perform their marriages. Many come from far away, and I am getting very creative in the pre-marital work I am asking of them (one couple has been together for nearly twenty years), but I have 4 dates on the calendar for the next 13 months, and one couple that will probably get back to me sometime this week. Plus, one heterosexual couple is in the mix, too!

Exciting times, let me tell you.

Oh, wait? Did you hear about Maine passing a law for marriage equality? And NH voting soon on the issue? AND the good old District of Columbia voting to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions? I am losing count of where we are now in this good fight. All I know is, the news keeps getting better and better.

Unless you read my local paper. We have a new thing I sort of like, "Lean to the Left/Lean to the Right" where two staff writers take on an issue from their respective positions. The "left" guy is someone I don't know, but should. His take on marriage equality is very basic, but perfectly appropriate (of course, I always think I'd be more eloquent and perfect in my work...but you reader(s) know that's far from true). The "right" woman is the spouse of a local clergy person. She is nice enough, but if you read today's editorial, I think your head will explode as mine almost did (don't worry, the office is all cleaned up in time for tonight's meeting).

What's weirdest is that it's a basically incoherent rant that barely touches on the issue of same-sex marriage. Just that, you know, one day the world will end and people will look back on 2009 as the year all the debauchery began. (I don't even know what the "Muslim with machine-gun" thing even referenced, either. Anyone?)