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Queer Voices @GC

It all started with a tweet

“Let’s play a game: how often can #UMCGC

sing songs and lift prayers written by queer folks,

while silencing us otherwise? #itstime #calledout”

We were singing and clapping and stomping

(because the rhythm of the song really requires it)

Mark Miller’s kicked up version of “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

in opening worship Tuesday morning when I wondered, out loud,

how many of the thousands of tongues singing were in queer heads?

My mathematical partner would answer 400

and then remind me that such calculations are “arithmetic”–

not quite rising to the level of mathematics.

 

What would the body of Christ be, I wondered,

without those LGBTQI tongues to sing?

I tried to imagine, adapting John Lennon’s lyrics:

“Imagine, there’s no gays in UMC,”

At least the self-avowed, practicing kind,

(cause the so-called “Good News” folks say they don’t object to the celibate kind)

But it wasn’t easy, even though I tried.

Wouldn’t the body be so diminished without those tongues

as to no longer be a body worthy of the body of Christ?

No longer worthy of praise?

Without the diversity of parts, once celebrated by Paul,

wouldn’t the body return to the dust from which we came?

IF we managed, through parliamentary procedure of course,

to cut out those LGBTQI tongues,

we might be left with a denomination in name, the UMC,

But it would not be the body of Christ.

That body would be elsewhere, enjoying the gifts of those

like Grace Cox-Johnson whose beautiful stoles enlivened opening worship,

or the colorful, out, trans, non-binary, youthful fabulousness of Aaron Pazan,

or the incredibly creative, detail work of a mind-reader,

worship team planner and floor manager like David Bone,

or the emotional lyrics and toccata rumblings of Mark Miller,

or the prayerful movement of a Randall Miller,

or the inspiring words of liturgical artists like Marcia McFee,

or the global musical sounds of Jorge Lockward,

or the ones whose full witness is shielded from view by our discrimination.

And that says nothing of all the other ways LGBTQI people are integral

to the denominational body,

like the powerful story I heard today of the woman, her orientation unknown to most,

who created a celebrated UMC ministry.

Then there’s the prophetic, poetic voices of the Indigo Girls,

Emily Saliers, a preacher’s kid, daughter of Don Saliers,

whose sung responses grace the UM Hymnal and

whose reading of psalms brings them to life.

And Amy Ray, in church 3x a week growing up,

who loved her clergy-magician-uncle using tricks

to illuminate Bible passages

(see these 3 ropes, poof, they’re really 1, a symbol of the Trinity).

Indigo songs sooth the souls of weary delegates,

volunteers and Bishops Friday night.

The concert became church, albeit in a UCC sanctuary,

with voices of belief, witness, prayer

and the struggle to hold the system accountable to the gospel good news.

Should the body UMC look in the mirror, reflected there are beautiful parts–

racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation–

not enough, but some, all integral gifts of the whole.

And what of allies, those cut out of the body by mandatory penalties,

or silenced in their welcome?

And young people (can I get an amen for the youth delegates report?)

If those queer voices, who form the body of Christ,

leave the church that uses their gifts while excluding their bodies,

I fear what would be left is not a body,

more of a shell of our former selves,

(and here I can imagine Voldermort’s twisted shadowy,

parasitic existence, before his return).

 

Because, if they go, the body goes with them.

And so I can imagine that I don’t do this work

of witnessing to the inclusion of the gospel,

of insisting the UMC live into its motto

of open hearts and minds and doors for “them”

but for myself–

because I want to imagine myself as part of the body of Christ.

 

Today, I joined the body singing, “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.

I love you, I need you to survive.”

No need to strain to hear all those tongues to sing.

So I do commit to be part of the body of Christ,

wherever it goes.

Therefore, I go.

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The Tabernacle, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the portable earthly dwelling place for the divine presence, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan.

When the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) erected a tabernacle across the street from the 2012 General Conference in Florida, I experienced that divine presence amidst the disciples gathered there.

Each day meals were shared, noon-day speakers inspired, strategies were discussed, props were made, articles written (that was one of my jobs), and stories shared. We worked to welcome international delegates with familiar foods and languages we spoke poorly (but the attempt was graciously received). Every day was an opportunity to share our passion for Jesus and justice and find common ground.

The close proximity to the Conference Center made all the difference. Delegates had to pass by the Love Your Neighbor witness daily. They saw our prayers (written on strips of fabric tied to a fence) wave in the wind. They witnessed hundreds of volunteers dedicated to a church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. They couldn’t help but see our commitment to love our neighbors.

The Coalition is once again planning a tabernacle raising in Portland at the 2016 General Conference. They need to raise another $40k by May 8. If you can help, please donate. And pray for us May 10 – 20 as we seek the divine presence in our global gathering.IMG_0741

The name of the True God will be my song,
    an uplifting tune of praise and thanksgiving! — Psalm 69:30 The Voice

Happy Thanksgiving! This Sunday as we begin Advent, we travel to the desert to hear the wisdom from the desert monastics who were the spiritual Olympians of their time. For more info on all the incredible opportunities for spiritual renewal this Advent, check out the December newsletter http://elumc.org/newsletters.htm online now http://elumc.org/docs/newsletter2015-12.pdf . It includes information on Giving Tuesday (Dec 1) where your online mission dollars will be doubled. Giving Tuesday is an effort to focus on charitable giving following Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. OF course, what’s left out of that clever naming is Holy Sunday (don’t miss this time-sensitive opportunity to begin this holy season).

Research shows that being grateful helps your brain, improves mood, relieves stress (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/why-an-attitude-of-gratitude-helps-your-health/ ). In my visiting this week, I’ve been moved by the gratitude of those in hospitals and rehab centers on this holiday. Please continue to pray for those places and people on our prayer list

Moving to Ireland

by guest columnist Eileen Brogan.

On February 1st 2016, I will be starting a new chapter of my life. Some see this as “my retirement years,” others as “my great adventure,” but I see it as “going home.” Since 1997, I have made ten trips to Ireland, some enchanting, some exhausting, some exciting, but in each case, I did not want to return to the States (I cannot even bring myself to say “go home.”) I believe that since that first day I stepped on Irish soil, I was meant to be there, not just to visit, but to live.
When folks ask me why I always go back to Ireland on my vacation, I ask why others always go to Florida, or the Cape or on a cruise? Some of us go where we find comfort and relaxation. For me, it is so much more than simply a vacation; my trips to Ireland renew my soul. And so it is fitting that I will be stepping upon that Irish soil as I “go home” on St Bridget’s Day. My grandmother, Bridget, was born in County Kerry where I will be living for at least my first year in Ireland.

Bridget Carey left a small townland (a settlement of seven families) named Maulnahone in 1900 with her brother John. She was16 and he was 18. They followed in the footsteps of their four older sisters who made the journey in 1888 and 1898. Bridget and John were soon followed by Thomas in 1901, the last of the Carey children. They all settled in the Hartford CT area where their sponsor and wealthy aunt resided.
Bridget worked as a housemaid until she married Martin Fitzgerald in1907. They had four children, including my mother Mary Fidelis. My grandfather, also from County Kerry, was a Hartford Police officer. He died April 15, 1944. My grandmother, known as Granny to all who knew her, remained a widow until her death in 1980 at the age of 97.

Granny and I had a complicated relationship. When I was four years old, Granny came to live with my family, which then included my parents, my two older brothers and me. We lived in a small post-WWII tract house ~ 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. Being the only girl, my parents had Granny move into my bedroom with me. I am sure it made perfect sense at the time and perhaps if I had not grown up or if things had been different, it would have remained ideal. But, I did grow up and I grew up during the turbulent 60’s.

Granny was a very stoic, quiet woman who thrived on her faith, the newspaper and the Lawrence Welk show. She was 74 when she moved in with my four-year old self. We shared a bedroom, but we did not share a life. Granny never revealed any of herself to me. I never learned about her childhood in Ireland. She never spoke of Ireland and she never returned. As a matter of fact, she never really talked about anything with me. She never held me or kissed me or showed me any affection. Oh, there were the occasional holy water showers when I was ill and she thought I was asleep. But most of the time, it was as if we lived in the same room, but in parallel universes.

And so, our relationship was complicated. She was not nurturing and so I did not approach her as one might a typical grandmother, like in the movies. She was not the type to sit and chat with a child, and so we did not chat. As we both grew older, the differences between us outweighed any familial kinship. When I became a teenager, she was 83 years old. When I graduated from high school, she was 88. I learned to resent her presence in what I felt was my room. There was no space in my life for rocking chairs and bed pans, but here I was, living in this setting, a setting unbecoming a blossoming young woman.

Sadly, there was no happy ending. I finally got my own room after my brothers moved out, but the damage was done. This was not like the movies. There was no room for a relationship at that point, or I did not even consider it. Eventually, I moved out and life continued. Granny lived with my folks until she was 95 at which time she moved to St Mary’s Home and remained there until her death.

I recently returned to St Mary’s for the first time as I followed a genealogical trail that led me to the cemetery on the grounds. There I discovered the grave of one of Granny’s sisters. Sr Mary Fidelis, her older sister born Joanna, died in 1955 and was buried just below the windows where my Granny died. She never even mentioned that her sister was interred there. How can someone be so closed up and yet remain pleasant and appear content until the day she died? And yet, she always seemed content. Perhaps it was her unquestioning faith, which I used to wonder about and then envied.

As you all know, I am nothing like my stoic, quiet Granny, which may have been fodder for our strained relationship. It has taken me over 50 years to come to terms with my feelings for her. I now realize it was not just one thing that was wrong. It was a myriad of things that evolved over time as we both grew older. When Granny moved in, I lost what Virginia Woolf referred to as a “room of one’s own.” In deference to Ms Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, I did not need “five hundred a year,” but I was born an old soul who thrives on solitude and, in retrospect, I did need a room of my own. When Granny arrived, my toys were moved to other spaces in the house. My dresser became our dresser. My closet became her closet. I did not know until I was much older how much a “room of one’s own” meant to me. Perhaps it helps explain my choice to live alone all my life.

To everything there is a season ~ a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late
And so, here we are in 2015 and I find myself drawn to the home of Granny’s birth. I have been to Maulnahone too many times to recall. I often stand there by the ruins of her family home and try to understand a woman I shared a small 9 x 12 room with for nearly 16 years; a woman who died over 35 years ago. There is sometimes a sadness during those moments, but there is also a strength I feel emanating from my surroundings. All of the history of the poverty and sorrow that led Granny and all of her siblings to travel to a new life, to a new world seems to empower me. To help me better understand the tall, stoic Irishwoman, who spoke only when necessary, her feelings and emotions firmly locked inside. I shared a room with Granny for nearly 16 years and yet I barely knew her.

Fifty seven years after she arrived in the US, Bridget Carey Fitzgerald moved into my room. Fifty-nine years later, I am “going home” or, will I be moving into her room, onto the land of her birth? As I continue to come to terms with my relationship with Granny, I now feel it is our faith and Irish blood that binds us together. Perhaps in Ireland, I will find peace with this woman I never knew.
Granny, I hardly knew ya….

_DAE2689On my way to our annual joint worship service with the Episcopal Church in town, I stopped by my local coffee shop, as I do every Sunday morning, for some caffeine and conversation with a group of locals who can be found hanging out there most mornings. When I told them of my excitement about our ecumenical service going “inter-faith” this year since a rabbi from the Reform tradition was preaching, one of them went off on a tirade against Muslims– there’s just no other way to describe it. He “went off” spouting such fear and misinformation that it shook me to my core to hear such hate. I want to believe it was also incredibly disturbing and uncomfortable for others in the circle, at least one of whom tried, in vain, to change the subject.

I have been troubled this week by his diatribe and what more I could’ve said beyond my disagreeing with him and stating my value of followers of Islam. And then I was asked by the press to reflect and comment on the joint service. How could our little moment of interfaith worship in a small town be newsworthy? And I realized just how important our actions are in overcoming the kind of irrational fear of others with whom we have little or no contact. Building relationships among those of other denominations and faiths is critical because it impacts how we see the world and how we interact with others. So here’s what I told the reporter:

Rabbi Shapiro preached on paying attention to the unremarkable moments of life as the way of holiness. Trivial moments may be small instances, he said, but they are hugely significant in terms of how we conduct our lives. Even in the Talmud, two rabbis discuss how to lace up one’s shoes to make the point that everything was important, therefore nothing was trivial.

Well, in a world filled with turmoil and injustice, an ecumenical service in a small town in Western Massachusetts at which three congregations came together in worship with a rabbi preaching may seem like a small moment on a summer Sunday, but it has consequences for how we interact with others of various denominations and faiths. It is significant for how we conduct ourselves at a time when there is so much religious hatred and fear of difference.

As clergy in the community, we have worked together over the years in addressing gun violence, opposing casino gambling, resisting racism and discrimination, but this annual joint service has become a lovely, small moment for our congregations to come together in solidarity to show that while our differences matter, so does our unity.

The service ended with a litany of unity: with an acknowledgement that acts of racism have once again breached the walls of God’s church, with a cry for peace and justice, with a commitment to “lay down our own privileges” and “act together in solidarity.” And then we collected money for the Rebuild the Churches Fund to assist those predominantly Black churches recently destroyed by arson.

Because there is nothing trivial about fear and hate.

Years ago there was a television commercial that shoved a bowl of questionable cereal off on the unsuspecting younger brother, “Let’s get’s Mikey.” Presumably Mikey would taste what no-one else would dare to try and let us know if it was worth trying ourselves. Well, for preachers staring at an unpalatable Biblical text, that person is Barbara Lundblad. She’s a perennial favorite at the Festival of Homiletics, daring to address tough truths like racisms and the context in Ferguson that contributed to the riots, immigration policy, sharing power with minority populations, discrimination of gay people– all those subjects that some preachers shy away from calling them “political.” But she calls them relevant, necessary, Biblical.

So when the gospel lesson this week turned out to be the beheading of John the Baptist, it was a classic case of pushing away the bowl containing that story and passing it off…. “Let’s get Barbara” to taste it….and tell us what we need to know. And indeed she has:

This is a story we don’t want to hear. But we heard it because the lectionary handed it to us. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the lectionary. It’s enough to know that in many churches, the Sunday readings follow a three-year cycle. So the last time we heard this story was in 2012. We didn’t want to hear the story then either, but this year it sounds even more ominous. When we last heard this story, beheading someone seemed a thing of the past. But now the past is present. We’ve seen pictures of men in orange jumpsuits, kneeling before they were beheaded. We have felt the anguish of families whose sons were beheaded–aid workers, journalists, 21 Coptic Christians. And there are other people whose names we’ll never know, including Iraqi Muslims. Their stories are not in our news.

John’s brutal death did make the news–at least, the biblical news. Mark gives a lot of space to this gruesome story. That’s quite remarkable because Mark usually doesn’t elaborate. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness gets only two verses in chapter one. Immediately after that story Mark tells us this, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'” Jesus’ ministry began after John’s arrest. Mark wants us to see that John and Jesus are deeply connected….

You can listen or read the rest of the sermon here day1.org

The truth is always worth a taste.

I love the July summer services in a circle when our prayer time becomes the word of God sharing in the community of faith, where our gathering in intention to welcome the spirit shapes us into the body of Christ, where we share those childhood spiritual experiences and habits that strengthened us and help us still to strength families–all families.

I wanted to share the blog entry from one of our prayers on Sunday—the joyful marrying of two of our friends who inspired us some 20+ years ago with the intentional work to form family in a new mold and raise two wonderful boys.

Holding On and Letting Go

This next Sunday we celebrate the family of faith across denomination and faith as our annual joint service with St. Mark’s Episcopal is joined by the UCC church in town, representatives from St. Michael’s RCC, and the rabbi from Temple Sinai brings us the word. Join us at St Mark’s on Porter Road @10 Sunday to strengthen our family