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my ordination

17 Jun

legacyordinationA few minutes ago I was ordained. Yes, sitting here in the kitchen with a kitty at my feet and my gmail, facebook and bank  tabs open, I followed in the footsteps of my father and pointed and clicked my way to ordination in the Universal Life Church.

I’ll never forget when he did it. I was knee deep in church culture, and was on a first name basis with lots of so called “movers and shakers” in the church. I would go on about this bishop and that author and he would pretend to be impressed, but I knew he was just trying to make me feel as important as I thought I should feel. One day over lunch he told me “you know you don’t have to go through all that bullshit to be ordained and important in the church honey. Joe Soucheray mentioned you can get ordained online on the radio today and I just did it.” It felt like a playful, sarcastic smack on my church-ey, holy hocus-pocus, apostolic succession havin’, Jesus-lovin’ nerd-pants. No, I am not proud of my self-important, show off ways and a lot has changed since then.

What has changed? Well, me.

First, my dad died. A lot changes in the way your brain and memory works when someone is gone. I know this because after being gone for 14 plus years my mother is officially being petitioned for sainthood in my dreams. The further I get from her being here on earth, the more I can only recall her heavenly qualities. And trust me, not all of her qualities were heavenly. Likewise, the distance of loss that grief offers helps me see and experience my father in a whole new light. Instead of bucking his authority, I now seek his wisdom. He had a lot to teach while he was here, and like most of my first periods of senior year, I am late to his master class.

Second, I am no longer immersed in church culture. It took a massive depressive breakdown to realize that I can love God and love God’s people, but I don’t have to prove my love or worth to either of them. God knows my heart, and God’s people, they are going to love me, hurt me, lie and steal from me, show me grace and kindness whether I am emergent, episcopalian, holistically Jesus centered, missional or not. In short, I’ve said fuck it and just started to love God and love people.

Most importantly I’ve noticed the older I get the more I settle into the soft spaces of me. I have begun to practice (and practice and practice) self compassion. I’ve begun whittling away the log in my own eye, my need to know and worse, my need to be right and traded it in for a clean pair of eyes. Love has taken over most of the spaces of my life, and where love isn’t, grace is.

A few months ago a friend from Solomon’s Porch asked if I would be interested in performing a wedding for some friends of his. I was one of the only people he could think of that might really “get” his friends needs. The friends are a lovely lesbian couple who just moved to Minnesota. And in case you hadn’t heard, starting August 1, these ladies can actually legally wed. So can I (more on that later).

Today I was ordained and I will make a promise to myself and all of you. I will follow in the footsteps of my father, following his golden rule: all things in moderation, except love.

if you don’t know me by now

2 Oct

It was the end of boot camp: Ft. Dix New Jersey, 1990. Drill Sergeant Armstead stepped on to the bus that would take all of us off base for the last time, sending us on to our next step in being a new soldier. I don’t know if he did this for every class; I can’t imagine that he did. As he was saying goodbye, and in his short, bulldog-ish gruff way, began to sing a familiar song: “IF    you-don’t-know     me      by     now …”  he barked as if in cadence. On the bus that day, with his drill hat tipped low across his face, I could swear I saw a tear roll down his face when he “sang” it to us that last time.

This past week I’ve had two facebook friends let me know that they will be voting YES on the proposed amendment that will read as follows on the ballot:

     Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.
     “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.”
o YES         o NO

I’ve aired my hurt feelings in the same place these people let me know their intentions, facebook. I’ve asked for wisdom and taken some time to really sit with the words offered. Here is what I want to say to them, to myself, and to you.

First, facebook for me IS real life. I spend a great deal of time checking in and seeing what my friends both far and near are up to. It has challenged and enhanced my friendships, it has kept me connected to some people who I have met only once, and some—like my beloved—I see nearly every day. The relationships I have on facebook are real and they hold value—the kind I can and have and will cash in on—in my life. My personal page is cluttered with quotes and pictures from things that interrupt my daily sight-lines. These bits and scraps are a real part of me and I share them with you all because I want you to know me, laugh with me, challenge and inspire me. If you are my facebook friend, you are so with my permission and because I hope for a mutual relationship with you.

Secondly, above any other tenant of belief that I hold,  beyond any other thing I know to be real and true, I know that LOVE is at the center of my faith. Love God, love neighbor, love self. You know what happens if you believe this? Love manifests itself in the most unusual places: in broken families and republicans, smelly hippies, pussy riots and Fox news, in old ladies who lunch, closeted queers, and people who you can only understand through flailing body language and broken spanglish. Love is sneaky like that. And you know what else it is? It’s fierce. It can break a heart and rip a crack in your preconceived ideas faster than you can scream: “FUCK!”

Well, it can—that is—if you let it.

A dear friend and priest asked:  do you want to be prophetic (to them) or pastoral (to yourself)? Good question. And you know what, I want both. I have been both; it’s not like I just realized I had these friends. No, I’ve known about some since the last election cycle, some since the Chick-fil-A debacle, and still some I am learning about with each day that passes. I have been salt and light. I have invited you to my wedding, been a part of your life celebrations and you have been at mine. I don’t know what else I can do—my life and love is an open book; come, sit with me, read and listen. But one thing that can’t change—that won’t change, is our gender. We are two women. [cue] If you don’t know me by now, you will never never know me, ooooooooo.

This was what someone said to me:
“Rachel, I think it’s pretty simple to sum up. [His] beliefs are that the term “marriage” is meant between a man and a woman, period. I don’t think he has any “issues” w/the term civil union. You won’t ever change that and it doesn’t make him right or wrong, nor does it make anyone who wants the amendment passed “right” or “wrong”. It is his belief, which he is entitled to, just as you and others are entitled to your belief. Just because he doesn’t feel the same way as you do does not mean that he doesn’t love or care for you (and I’m pretty sure you know that – I am sorry, but shame on you).”

[cue] All the things that we’ve been through, you should understand me, like I understand you…

If you want to hang your hat on a set of beliefs that exclude and draw lines, that dictate your superiority to mine, that is fine by me. But please do not expect for one single minute that you have the right to call me friend on facebook, not even for one more minute. If you would like to take this up face to face—even over email, I would welcome that conversation. I have thought long and hard on this. I have asked for counsel and prayed. My friend Shirley said it best, and so I say: “…bless and release them, for they know not what they do.”

goosed

5 Jul

peace be with you, photo by Amy CliffordMy contribution to the #WGF11 synchroblog. Check out the rest through #WGF11 and here.

The North Carolina summer heat was an unfamiliar country before I arrived at Wild Goose. And southern heat was the lens through which I experienced the festival.  Dramatic, perhaps, but the heat—the humid, sticky, uncomfortable heat—pushed me in strange and beautiful ways.

I came to the Wild Goose Festival because of friends. Friends also asked me to volunteer and get involved, which is my preferred way to experience any event. Unfortunately, my new job (that I love so much) prevented me from going all in—and this colored my whole festival experience (the dark side of my two-ness). I’m already planning how I can get involved next year.

The whole thing was a gamble: an unknown event with an unpublished schedule, in a sweaty locale, out of my element as a participant with only small involvement. But I had hopes and expectations:

  • I hoped to spend time with friends: some meeting face-to-face for the first time or adding flesh to the disembodied voices to whom I’d been talking. Some were chosen family from far-flung places (Nadia, Paul, Mike, ACliff, Jim & Stuart, Seth, Hilary, and more).
  • I looked forward to meeting a few new people. I wanted to go deep but not too wide in my meeting and spending time with others. Events in the past have left me breathless, overwhelmed, and sheepishly trying to remember names.
  • I wanted to hear some specific speakers like Richard Twiss and Richard Rohr, as well as support my friends who were presenting.
  • I hoped my little bit* on Becky Knight’s panel discussion wouldn’t suck.

As for the rest, I had no hope or agenda. I trusted my want to be there, but had no idea what to expect.

Here’s what it WAS for me:

  • There were a lot of people talking about “the queers.” Some speakers were themselves queer, some many were not. It was the dark horse conversation that spilled into every space. This was surprising. I haven’t really experienced a Christian festival/conference/space/conversation that was so obviously hungry for this conversation. It was frustrating because I watched a bunch of posturing, smarty pants talk. Because the conversations were a bit unexpected, I experienced a lack of intentional and generative facilitated conversation, and witnessed several very my-side/your-side, ungracious conversations. Exhilarating: What? we might be able talk about sexuality and NOT relegate it to the LGBTQI community? Right. On. And needed: this conversation will not go away, can not be shoved in a closet, forced on straight people, and is important to the WHOLE of us. My hope is that Wild Goose gave flight to a larger conversation about sexuality—one that belongs to all of us—and like my friend Seth offered, perhaps the queer community can be a gift and blessing to the wider Body of Christ, facilitating healthy dialog about our collective sexual selves. Think less “queers on parade” and more Body of Christ getting down and into our fleshy, tired, hungry, awkward, sexy, orgasm-having selves. ALL OF US. Holy, broken, beautiful.
  • This was the first ever of what hopefully will be an annual event. Whoohoo and well done, organizers! Hopefully, this first event covered all that was EVER necessary of the insider, self-congratulating, hooray-we-finally-got-this-Goose-off-the-ground nonsense. Hopefully we all now know who and whose the Wild Goose Festival is: it is us, and we all belong. I’m sure much was learned about how the second event can outdo the first (and if you need tips, contact me. I’m full of them).
  • Arriving home, I found many folks who didn’t make the gamble of the Goose because they couldn’t figure out what it was, who was welcome, or how it would go. To you: please come, we missed you. Maybe it feels a little like this for you, but that might be the beauty of it?

I survived the heat, spent time with great friends, made news ones, and learned new things–about the conversation being held at the Goose, and about myself. Many moments were sweaty and uncomfortable for me. I struggled with topics and friends and myself. I struggle now to categorize my experience and write about it here. But I remember seeking the small spots of shade with everyone else and the surprising cool breezes that would blow in from time to time, like the smiles and waves of good friends across a field, the embraces of new ones, and settle into the memory of the Goose and her first flight: grateful and glad.

_____________________________________________

* the text of my offering to the panel on sexuality and spirituality

I remember my first kiss; perhaps you do too? Mine was with my childhood next-door neighbor. We were two young girls wondering what kissing would be like—you know—with the older boys. We thought we’d better practice, so we didn’t seem like babies when that first time came along. My first kiss was—I bet—a lot like yours: awkward, maybe a bit toothy and sweet.
I grew up in small town in Minnesota; my mom and dad divorced when I was 6. I had two homes, with two very different styles of parenting. My father was a hippy artist; his religion was nature, sex, and harmless acts of disobedience. He colored outside of the lines, and taught his children that there were no “lines” only guideposts and markers where others have been before.

My mom was a teacher, that kind you remember and dedicate your awards to. She grew up in a crazy family, and as a young girl was raped by a man of the cloth. The only “religion” I got from her was filled with rage and her strange attachment to the 23rd Psalm.

These were my first and primary teachers of spirituality, and though they had no discernible faith, and their first attempt at marriage failed, my parents were together and individually focused on one thing – LOVE. Specifically, their love and hope for me. They told me that I could be anything; do anything. There simply were no limits on the possibility of me.

At the ripe old age of 11, I gave my life to Jesus. With my new boyfriend JC by my side I would continue down the road that my parents set me on, the path of love. He would teach me about love for neighbor, love for the other, love without lines of who deserves it and who doesn’t. He told me following him would be filled with color and risk and heartache, but it would be worth it. I said sure, I went all in.

Love. This is the foundation of my identity, rooted in God and my parents, bound up in the possibility of who I could become—these were the messages I grew up with.

Perhaps you can tell, I am a sucker for LOVE. My first love was a boy, Mark: a sweet, adoring, chunky kid with a wicked sense of humor. After Mark there was Chris, Augie, Ian and Michael. Oh Michael, my first fiancé. Yes, I did say first, he was the first of 5 marriage proposals. My beloved Ratchet says its not the third but fifth time that is a charm. Anyway—you get the picture—I was active in dating and love as a young person.

In 1994 I fell in love again. But this time he was a she, and she was my best friend. I had just moved home from living in the US Virgin Islands. She still lived there, and now I was at home, in Minnesota. My heart ached being apart from her, like it ached when a boy broke up with me. What on earth was this feeling—cripes—I had never even kissed her! But I knew it was her heart, not her gender that mattered to me.

I’ll never forget telling my mom, she was my best friend and person I told all of my secrets to. Unflappable, she told me it was either a phase, or I was queer: a lesbian or bisexual maybe. Then I remember how she held me while we cried, and not because I was different, but because I was heartbroken. She never skipped a beat, never struggled with what was my first “coming out” moment.

I told my friend that I thought I loved her; it didn’t go well, freaked her out actually. I didn’t understand her reaction. She was angry and ended our friendship. I was devastated BUT knew that something had shifted in me.

I was hurt, but open.

When inviting us to this panel, Becky asked us to answer the question “If I could say only one thing about sexuality and spirituality, it would be … dot dot dot.” Well it is a long way to get here, but this is what I want to share:

I believe that God is in fact love, and that love is what we are here to participate in, share and give away, lavishly and unbound.

I believe that God is a genderless God, one that has aspects of he and she, but is in no way limited to these constructs of gender.

I am a follower God in the way of love, who is best reflected to me in and through the life of Jesus.

I have a gift, bisexuality. I do not experience the limitations of gender when the topic of love, more specifically sex, arises. I believe it is a gift because it has given me eyes to see a much needed way of viewing the world, church and people—not in binaries, black or white, but in full color.

My parents and Jesus taught me to be not afraid and now this is MY message. Be not afraid of your love, your bodies, your sex and your imagination for what love is “supposed” to look like. Where else do you see “supposed to’s” and “should be’s” living up to their promises anyway?

I have had moments of certainty in my faith. I am super Christian, hear me roar. And then, out of nowhere, I am knocked flat on my ass—a parents death, a love lost—and I am left with nothing but grief and questions.

I have lost my faith, in God and life. Still … here I am.

I have had moments in trying to figure out my identity that have offered the same type of certainty. I would proclaim to my eye rolling friends “I am a lesbian!” and then weeks later end up retracting my bold proclamation, citing my new love Tim or Ken or whatever his name was.

I have learned that these moments of certainty are not at all certain, and cannot be taken individually, nor do they define the whole. They are just that, moments. Each meant to be lived faithfully, with grace and openness.

Now, the only “I AM” I proclaim in any sort of certainty is that of the capital I AM. I believe in God, and in God’s unrelenting love for me and the world.

You’ve no doubt heard the Woody Allen quote “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Well my friends, when it comes to sexuality and spirituality, perhaps we would all benefit from stopping our bold proclamations and assertions, about what definitely is and what isn’t, and just settle into love, the kind that passes all understanding.

_________
The rest of the amazing and beautiful Wild Goose Festival posts are as follows:

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