what’s next

I didn’t grow up in the United Methodist Church.

I made my way through young adulthood and into motherhood.  While we were far from home we happened into a United Methodist Church and there I found theological and heart home.

While attending seminary I was appointed to my first church.  I have been blessed (mostly!) to serve in United Methodist churches for twenty three years.

But all along I have felt the grinding wrongness of the United Methodist stance on full inclusion.

I organized regional conferences in Duluth and Minneapolis.  I twice spoke at the state capital during rallies organized by OutFront Minnesota.  I worked with colleagues in the Minnesota Annual Conference to speak out against the (anti) Marriage Amendment in MN and have worked for a day when all people are beheld as beloveds in all aspects of their beings.

I name the above because it helps me assuage my sense of complicity in the existence of an oppressive structure through which I receive benefit.

I cannot do that much longer, that assuaging.

The global church met in 2019 and came away a declared unsafe place for GLBTQI individuals, clergy, and allies.

No place is safe when core identity is perceived as suspect.

So what next?

I am a woman of 61 years.  I find myself exhausted by the grief of these days.

And yet, there is new life aborning.  Power is rising up from the too-long silenced and this power I seek to support.  A conference held here in Minneapolis called Our Movement Forward will center discussion of the future of the UM church in the community of People of Color, Queer and Transgender leaders.  I will go to this gathering as an ally.  I will go to this gathering to learn and to listen.

I serve a courageous church.  Christ UMC in Rochester is leaning into the questions and work of this time.  We own the grief and the opportunity of these days.  Together, we seek to offer welcome and hope in the way of Jesus.

Yesterday I was in the hospital room of a young mother.  We were gathered to celebrate her baptism.  Her young son held her as she received the sign of the cross on her forehead.

The song we shared before her baptism is one she loves:  We are a Gentle, Angry People, by Holly Near.

And so we are.  Gay and straight together, singing (and organizing and witnessing) for our lives.

Ashes

Author Annie Dillard says this about the urgency of writing:

“Write as though you are dying.”

What then is it to live with that same sense of urgency, to live as though we are dying?

What does it mean to write the story of our days in such a way that we are present to the power and poignancy of being alive?

Today I will have traced upon my forehead the symbol of my intention to be present to the ongoing story of breaking and being reborn. As I inhabit this story called life I join my soul to the eternal community of others who believe and seek to live the power of embodied love taught by Jesus.

The grit of the ashen cross traced on my body is reminder to live as though I am dying.

Because I am.

holy wholeness

I am praying this week.

I am praying for the hearts of United Methodists to be strangely and profoundly warmed.

The notion about living with a strangely warmed heart comes from the experience of John Wesley. Wesley lived for decades as pastor and child of God without a clear sense of his full welcome into God’s embrace.

Through a heart warming experience, Wesley came to know the power of holy wholeness.

That heart warming brought Wesley and the movement now called United Methodism alive.

It has brought me and so many alive, this astounding good news that we are beloved, known, and made one with God’s heart.

United Methodists from around the globe are gathering in St Louis this weekend. They are gathering for a specially called conference. At the conference delegates will engage with each other and with the Holy Spirit to determine the future of the movement sparked by a man who knew what it was to feel doubtful about being fully welcomed into God’s grace.

United Methodists have been wrangling around this issue for decades. Countless hours, resources, passion and energy have been poured into how it is the people of Jesus the Christ are called to discipleship in the company of all.

There are plans being presented, talk of schism being bandied about and hearts feeling exhausted and near broken by the continued insistence on the part of some that GLBTQ children of God are blessed and beloved; well, kind of. Sort of. Not really.

Legions of others are fully exhausted by the continued profanity of exclusion currently articulated in our Discipline. The thought of another “not yet” in regards to living congruency with the gospel is unbearable.

So I am praying.

I am praying for the delegates and the bishops.

I am praying for the children I have baptized. I want them to grow up in a community of faith that welcomes them wildly and gratefully, with all varieties of being celebrated as God gift.

I am praying for the too many who have felt unwelcome by the people of Jesus.

I am praying for colleagues who have been mandated by our current disciple to closet living. My heart cannot go too near the cost of practicing subterfuge around holy relationships.

I am praying for my church: The United Methodist Church and the church I am appointed to serve. Both are full of people who have found welcome and invitation into the good-news-making of Jesus. I love both the larger and my local church. I believe in the power and the promise of the strangely-warmed.

The Holy Spirit is a force for love in this world. This I believe.

This is a pivotal time.

I am praying.

Please join me.

selling the world

The family joke goes like this: My children ask me what I want for my birthday. I tell them that I want them to write me a poem. Sometimes it has even worked, this birthday request of poetry.

Yesterday I received a gift. Aware that my heart is sore from the pain of my little sister’s beloved son in intensive care and knowing that my heart is sore from the bruising of this election and life, my eldest daughter sent me a poem.

I share it with you because it was balm for my soul and perhaps it will be so for yours.

And, would you loft a prayer for my nephew Miles? He is a paramedic who flies through the air on a helicopter to provide healing for others. His medical helicopter crashed early Saturday morning. He is in critical condition. We are not meant to fall from the sky and live but live he does and so we give thanks for good bones and the ways in which beautiful is made.

Good Bones
Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

home

Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again.  It’s so far and out of sight.  Carole King

Carole King’s Tapestry album was soundtrack for my adolescence.

One of the songs on the album finds the singer wondering if she will ever make it home again.  Tired and dispirited, she knows the longing for a place that will take her in and hold her gently.

I am headed to just such a place.  This Memorial Day weekend I will be home again.  In a few short hours I will join my guy and my dog in the car for the journey to the cabin that has been in our family for fifty years.  My girls and my new sons will join us in reading, coffee communion and lake watching.For nearly all of my life I have climbed into the lap of the logs and the water and the space of being home.

Going home is particularly poignant this year.  My mother died two months ago and her being in that space echoes yet so I will miss her and celebrate her as the weekend unfolds. My father died in that space the day after Memorial Day twenty years ago.  His presence lives in the logs.

And, I will be meeting with a realtor in order to learn what might be in store for me as I consider selling the cabin.

How can I let her go?

My sense of “home” has changed.  For the years following my parent’s divorce and in the years following my own divorce I clung to the cabin with a sort of Scarlett O’Hara fierceness.  I would not let it go.  I could not let it go.  The cabin was my childhood and my adulthood and it was my solace and it continues to be more things than my tender psyche will ever be able to articulate.

But home?  I am learning that home is a movable gift.  Home is where my loves are.  Home is not frozen in place nor is it frozen in time.  It is ongoing in its unfolding and for this I give thanks.

I don’t have to own the cabin to give thanks for my parents and my childhood and my children and the generations of friends who have shared cabin life with me and mine.

I don’t have to wonder if I’ll ever make it home again.

Turns out I’ve been home all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

pilgrimage

A new year dawns.

My beloved has left on a jet plane. He is Hawaii bound. He will join his two older sisters for a sacred time of sharing breath and paying homage to the odd and powerful mystery of kinship.

Cooper’s eldest sister is dying. There have been years of silence and wrangle and now, now the time for transcending hurt has come.

It seems fitting, somehow. In the midst of paradise three people of soul and story will open themselves to the ache of the old and the invitation of the new and their vulnerable courage will free them each.

We are called to such freedom. The compassionate heart of the Christ calls us to such freedom.

A new year dawns.

We are the vulnerable and courageous and life is so very short.

May the time of transcending hurt come to us each.

kin

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about kin these past months.

I left a church that had woven its heart into my own. We became Spirit kin and moving from them left me wobbly.

I arrived at a new place of making life, soul and ministry and have found kindreds who share hunger and thirst for hope and grace. We are making ourselves known to each other in the breaking of bread and the sharing of song and story. I preach and lead worship with pores open, seeking to hear their hearts and feel their questions. We are learning what it means to be kin.

My children by birth and by marriage have been surrounding their clergy parents with support and love and ground during this time of transition.

Cooper and I are learning a new town and new topography and a life without traffic jams and abundant concrete. The land here speaks in cadences of corn and curve.

We are listening to our lives.

On this day my children by birth are gathering at our cabin. They are celebrating a “sib fest”.

In their midst will be my eldest daughter’s dog. Chela came into Leah’s life in Denver after having roamed the streets. She has been Leah’s steadfast companion during times when her dog heart grounded my daughter in ways life saving. Sometimes I felt like Chela was my heart, able to companion and ground my daughter when I could not.

Said dog is very sick.

I pray body wisdom for my Pit-Bull granddog and heart ease for her mother.

And on this day my heart is sounding wonder about the vastness of love.

Love claims and and companions the making of life and it stretches hearts to the aching place.

We wobble, listen, weep and grow.

We are held by kin who walk on two legs and those who walk on four.

Blessed be.

I who have died

Eleven years ago I moved to Minneapolis a newly divorced woman with three grieving children.

We were all nuts.

Somehow we lived, one day to the next. The eldest left for college. The two youngest endured finding their own new ways in a new place, as did their mother. Life was marked by train rides to see their dad and sometimes visits with the Chicago-dwelling eldest. We were careful around each other. We grieved. Oh, we grieved.

And we lived.

Friends were found and life made and gradually it became easier to breathe.

We lived:

Pick ups to and from college for three. A”bonus dad” and “bonus sibs” to acclimate to. More friends, explorations, band concerts, leaving and returning and growing awareness that the bond of love is a rare and precious thing.

Graduations from college and jobs won and left. Partners welcomed and woven into kin fabric. Hearts passionate about healing and justice and beauty and community and the splendor of the earth. Pastor’s kids adept with people and open to life.

And now the youngest graduates on Saturday. There for his walk will be his deepest and most tenacious fans: his mom and dad, his step-Coop, his sisters and their partners and on the next day a raucous cloud of witnesses present to mark the good of it all.

It will be the last big party at this house that has known many parties – some I knew about and many I did not. We will be together, we who have been so blessed to walk from a world saturated by grief into a world near too-full of gratitude.

I can’t speak it fully. e. e. cummings comes close:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
e.e. cummings

We are alive.

I thank you God for most this amazing.

mantle

My mother is 84 years old.

She skated with the Ice Follies, raised four children, survived divorce and a second challenging marriage, rolled in a car three years ago and picked herself up to begin life again. My mother is petite tungsten. She raised us to work hard, be gracious, and appreciate the beauty of creation and music.

She came for a visit. To do so, she climbed on a shuttle from Duluth and when she arrived at the Minneapolis airport she was summarily dumped by a driver who was in a hurry. In the midst of his rush, she was dropped at the wrong place with the wrong suitcase. How to connect with her waiting (in the wrong place) daughter? How to forgive herself for her suitcase blunder?

We found each other due to a kind fellow traveler. As we were going down the escalator to get into the car and there discern how to retrieve her missing suitcase, a traveler ahead of her lost control of her suitcase. Said suitcase, with handle in the up position, wedged itself in such a way that as my mother went down the escalator that suitcase handle encountered and gouged her shin. She was trapped. She was injured. I was there and powerless to do anything but hold onto her.

She limped away and after a few steps tossed off in a sort of no-big-deal way that she was bleeding.

And so she was. Her leg had been barked and opened. When she allowed a look at it, my whole body hurt because she had such grievous wounds.

We got her suitcase after a trip to the Mall of America Transport Hub and to Shakopee. All the while she worried; not about her leg, but about how she was inconveniencing me.

I am so very much aware that the woman of steel and grit and heart is a woman made fragile by years and life.

She let me tend her. She whose voice, tenderness and steel I carry was willing to let me kneel at her feet and tend the places of wounding. It felt like a passing of the mantle. Much of me is moved and grateful to be able to mother my mother. The other much younger and surely primal part of me wants to shout and fuss because it will never be done with needing a mother, this child.

I will never be done with needing my mother.

too close

For a number of evenings I have been tumbled into a strange and troubling land.

Cooper and I have been watching “Mad Men”, the television series that details the birth of the advertising machine in the 1960’s. Through all the cigarette smoking all-day-long drinking woman squashing I find myself drawn and heartsick, both.

I am watching on television the generation that raised me.

The assumptions that speak through the dialogue are those that have bedeviled me through much of my life: The assumptions about the role of women, the “boys will be boys” catering to male privilege, and the insistence upon not seeing what is going on. All of those assumptions were in the smoke-filled air that I breathed growing up.

I watch the trim-waisted women desperately seeking meaning and the loneliness of the men. It seems both genders are engaged in a desperate attempt to avoid the realities of life. Their children are cossetted and kept safe from the world but they know the great world of the unspoken and they are uneasy in their cloister.

I find myself amazed at how much has changed in fifty or so years.

And I find myself amazed at the wounds that remain, subterranean flinches that make themselves known throughout the day as I encounter what is in the year 2013.

We still make assumptions that harm both genders (including the assumption that there are only two genders with no gradation between).

We still don’t want to have to see what is going on.

We still exalt those who can manipulate us best.

I don’t know if I can continue to watch the series. It hurts too much.

Oh my mother, oh my father, oh those of us raised in those days.

Is there balm in Gilead?