church


O Jesus,
Image of the invisible God,
Word made flesh,
tired Stranger,
waiting in the noonday lull
at Jacob’s well.

Are we all
the woman with her waterjar,
bent on the chore of the moment,
angry memories in our bones,
our thirst for God
hidden in the business of the day?

Do you meet us gently too,
hardly recognized,
quietly leading our thoughts
towards the deeper waters,
where our souls find rest?

Probing too,
uncovering secrets
we would rather forget.
“Lord, you have probed me,
You know when I sit and when I stand,
You know my thoughts from afar.”

Is the woman,
sure and strong,
our reflection?
Sure but unsure,
strong but so weak,
seeking but afraid to find
our Saviour so close by?

O Jesus,
ouly faith can help us see.
Earthy, cautious eyes
miss the treasure in the field
in water and the bread
in faces known too well.
Only faith can help us see.

“If you knew what God gives”
you tell the woman.
No cleverness knows
or merit buys that gift.
Living water is Your gift.
You alone show us what God gives.

Say to our hearts:
“Come to the waters.”
Make us thirst again,
and ask, and seek, til we find.
How can we know
whose flesh and blood we are?
Or what it means to be born again?
Unless you help our unbelief

O Jesus,
who led the woman to believe,
lead us.

(author unknown)
——————————-

O Jesus, lead us with love for one another, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

O Jesus, lead us with mercy for those who despise us, as indeed you are showing mercy to Fred Phelps in this moment.

O Jesus, lead us as we minister to the sick, the hungry, the poor, and the hurting in our worlds.

O Jesus, lead the leaders in our world, as the Syrian war enters its fourth year, as the political situation in Ukraine deteriorates, and as in nations such as India and Russia and Nigeria and Uganda, governments enact laws that discriminate against and allow persecution of gender and sexual minorities.

O Jesus, lead us we pray, here in this place in these moments, that we would revel in Your love and mercy and in the peace that You bring.

O Jesus, who led the woman to believe, lead us.

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One of the things I love about my experience of church at the moment is the questions. Most of the questions, for me, are of the contrast of what I once experienced as church, and what I experience now as church.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

This Saturday is the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which started in 1978 as a political march for gay rights. Back then, homosexual sexual behaviour was illegal in New South Wales, and Mardi Gras began as a call to end discrimination against people of diverse sexualities and genders. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news, and my father reacting to it. I don’t remember what he did or said, except that it was negative. Maybe he turned the television off. Maybe he said something about “what is the world coming to.” Whatever it was, I knew it was inappropriate as a 12 year old Christian boy for me to be curious about whatever that news story was about. As the years went by, and Mardi Gras eventually became an annual event, my curiosity piqued: I wanted to see the scantily clad men marching in this parade. I wanted to understand what this was about. I wanted to figure out why i was so drawn to this event, and so scared of it too. I dared not appear interested, however. I was a Christian, in love with God. I wanted most of all to please God and He certainly did not approve of this social change that was taking place. And He certainly wouldn’t approve of the wanton displays of sexual energy that were appearing on the television screen in our home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I now attend a church that each February holds a service called “Blessing of Mardi Gras”.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

“Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday,” referring to Shrove Tuesday – or pancake day, as I learnt to call it while living in Canada. This year’s “Blessing of Mardi Gras” fell on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent, of course, is the time of “giving up” or fasting that takes place after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany (Christmas). Shrove Tuesday was the day to end the time of celebration by using up all the fatty foods you might have around, hence the tradition of Pancake Tuesday.

So here we are at the time in the Christian calendar when we are called to be reflective, to sombrely look forward to the Cross, towards Good Friday and the crucifixion. Yet as a church composed largely of LGBTI people, we are more intent on looking forward to the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A time for us to celebrate who we are, to say to the world that God loves gay people too. To say to the gay community that God really does love us and have a place for us.

As we reflect on the overlap of Mardi Gras with Lent, I am filled with awe at my God. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? To turn our mourning into dancing? Jesus gently rebukes those who would throw stones, refusing to let us listen to those who would say we have no right nor reason to celebrate. I hear my earthly father’s voice of disgust when he sees those early Mardi Gras parades on the late Saturday night news. And I hear the voice of Christ, gently questioning those who would throw stones, and giving power to the weak. I somehow believe that were my dad still alive, he would be find in his heart to be the follower of Christ he always strove to be. He would find a way to graciously accept and to somehow be proud of me. He would find a way to put aside his prejudice, his theology and his hermeneutic, and celebrate that his son and his granddaughter are going to march together in Sydney’s Mardi Gras. I would like to think that he would have begun to see that this celebration is one of freedom: the same freedom proclaimed by John the Baptist, the same freedom Christ came to offer. Freedom to be ourselves.

For the Blessing of Mardi Gras, we sing together the words written by Lee to TobyMac’s City on Our Knees:

As a family we are gathered here

Celebrating Mardi Gras right now

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

With the blessing take this time right here

To commit to make a change somehow

From a single action love builds

Fill the churches fill the world

Love of Jesus comes to save us all

Tonight’s the night for the sinners and the saints

Two worlds collide in beautiful display

It’s all love tonight, when you step across the line

We can sail across the void to a place where Jesus is

As we fall upon our knees

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Create in me a Clean Heart?

Tonight in church we sang this song by Keith Green. I was introduced to Keith Green by my high school mate, P, and this song was probably one of the first I heard of Keith’s. For years I was a “died in the wool” Keith Green fan. I owned all his albums. I tried to mimic his piano playing. I mail-ordered and shared all the tracts produced by his Last Days Ministries organization (there was one on homosexuality… I now have NO idea what it said). I wanted to be holy, as Keith undoubtedly was.

As my journey towards self-acceptance has progressed over recent years, I’ve shied away from songs like this one. To me, they represent the struggle to be someone I’m not. This song is based on Psalm 51, written by King David after his sin of adultery was found out. Until now, every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was imagining David repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba. Every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was praying for forgiveness for my own sexual sins. No, not just for my sins, but for my temptations. For my desires. Create in me a clean heart meant “please make me straight”. Please make me desire my wife. Please make me the person I think you want me to be. Cast me not away from your presence, oh Lord meant that if I wasn’t straight, I could very well end up in hell. Take not your Holy Spirit from me represented the fear that if I wasn’t straight, I could no longer be Christ’s servant in this world.

So I find myself tonight, in my new church, surrounded by gay and lesbian and other queer and not-so-queer people who accept me as I am… It all seems rather normal. And I’m wondering, why are we singing this song? I’m no longer sure what it means to have a “clean heart”. I’m not even convinced that there is a hell, apart from the hell that exists here on earth for many of God’s children. And I believe that as Father/Mother, God gives good gifts to his children. And he doesn’t take them away.

In some way, the rest of this psalm still resonates:

Renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of Christ, whose genuine love and acceptance and raw honesty changes the world forever.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Let me experience anew the joy of knowing the presence of God in me.

….

As we took communion, I smiled as I watched a couple take communion together. These two men kissed each other on the lips as they walked back to their seats. I believe it was their first time in our church. Maybe it was their first time taking communion as a couple? I wondered what their journey to this point had been. What was it like to find a church where they can be open about the love they have for each other? Where their love can be celebrated publicly during that most somber of sacraments?

While this was happening, the worship leader was singing a different song:

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again…

This song, by Sr. Deirdre Browne, describes what I believe to be the heart of Christianity. It is how Jesus lived and loved. It is what the church is called to say and to be. This is the new wine, replacing the old wine. This is grace fulfilling the law, thus making the law obsolete. This is love overcoming fear. This is the freedom Christ brought to each one of us. Our shame might bring us to the cross, but our loving Maker takes our shame onto that cross and gives us each a clean heart, a right spirit, and gifts us with The Holy Spirit. We no longer need to fear, as David did, that we will be “cast away” from God’s Presence. It is finished. We are his. Just as we are.

Just as I am.

Friday night I attended a Freedom 2 B(e) discussion night. In many ways it was pretty much what I expected: a bunch of GLBT Christians sitting around and talking about faith and sexuality. There were about twenty men (no women) there on Friday night. All Christians, all gay (presumably). Wow. I didn’t expect to be tongue-tied… but I really felt like I had nothing to say all night. [I didn’t even think to ask why the ‘e’ in ‘b(e)’ is in bracket(s).] The brief conversations I had before and after the meeting seemed terribly awkward. The few words I said during the actual meeting only came out when I was directly asked a question… I had lots going on in my head, but nothing was going to come out, even if I wanted it to. And this is a man who leads psycho-educational and therapeutic groups for a living! It is so different not being the group leader!

So I reflected on what was going on for me that made it seem so difficult. I think the feelings that overwhelmed me were relief and acceptance. Not to mention the feeling of “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s nothing overtly sexual going on” (I’m NOT getting into what might have been happening covertly); or “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s no one telling us how we can find freedom or deliverance from our sexual proclivities.” The feeling of relief came from being relieved of the straight disguise that I necessarily wear in my daily life. The feeling of acceptance, of it being okay to be on the outside the same man that I’m okay with on the inside.

So, mostly I listened to the conversation, and watched people. I was amazed at how articulate some of the men were – they could tell their stories, or spout off a list of facts with great eloquence. I noticed the ones who weren’t talking (it wasn’t just me). I admired Anthony Venn-Brown’s ability to lead the group – to contain some members and to draw information out of others. I thought about ways the group could be run differently – what I might have done if I were the leader, and what might have helped me feel a bit more comfortable, instead of feeling overwhelmed by my own internal responses to the setting.

I also took notes, at Anthony’s invitation. I thought at one point that the notes would make excellent blogging material. It would also make a great academic paper, which I would love to submit to a journal some day. So for now, I just give some of the points that stood out for me, and we’ll see if I expand on them later.

Most of the conversation centred around the question, “what are the specific needs of GLBT people from church backgrounds?” Here are some answers that were given (and which I have taken license to edit to fit my own understanding):

  • the need for a ‘transitional space’ where GLBT Christians can safely begin to be themselves, in terms of their sexuality and their faith, without fear of either ‘being cruised’ or of being condemned to hell
  • the need for like-minded people to know and to talk to
  • resources to assist in the process of reconciling faith and practice with sexuality
  • education around making choices about sexual activity, including safe-sex
  • non-judgmental safe space within the church
  • skills for effectively and respectfully communicating their stories with church leaders
  • support in “coming out” as a Christian
  • GLBT-friendly discipleship
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for GLBT people within the church
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for people of faith within the GLBT community

So, there you have it. I am moving forward in this journey of self-acceptance. Since the last time I blogged, I have moved to another country with my family, found new work, become re-acquainted with both friends and relatives, found a new church home (I think), and I feel like I have a new lease on life, in spite of the difficulties that seem to be in my way.

I was recently given an opportunity to submit an article for a regional denominational newsletter. This is my first draft… I admit that I’m being very cautious about what I say. Anyway, I’d love some feedback on this! Here it is:

“We are your sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. We sit in pews in [my denomination] congregations everywhere – yes, even in [this part of Canada]. We serve on boards, we sing in choirs, we teach the children. We walk beside you at camp meeting, we worship with you at Songfest.

Like you, we long to know and worship and serve the Lord Most High. Like you, we came to him, “just as I am, without one plea…” Like you, we found no condemnation when we first came to Jesus. Like you, we were admonished to “go, and sin no more.” Like you, we daily seek the transformation that only the Father offers.

Some of us have learned to receive and walk in that transformation. Some of us grow weary of seeking it. We wait. We wait to be given the key that will unlock our minds, so they can be renewed. We wait for the moment when Jesus wakes up and begins to calm this storm. We wait for the church to stop judging us, as if our dilemma was the result of choices we made. We wait for the day when the conflict of desires within us ceases. We wait for the day we see for ourselves the image of a holy God in us.

We walk this road in fear. We are afraid that if we are honest about our feelings we will be judged unworthy. The miracle is that some of us have been honest and have been welcomed back into fellowship. We are afraid that we will be asked to be quiet about our struggle. The miracle is that some of us have found places where we do not have to be silent, and are yet loved. We are afraid of the shame that our stories will bring to our parents, our children. The miracle is that some of us have found that in speaking the truth, painful as this sometimes seems, the burden of shame seems eventually to be lifted, to be borne only by One on a cross.

We feel the blame. We share the blame for the redefinition of marriage in Canada. In some places the war in Iraq is blamed on us. We are blamed for untold incidents of child sexual abuse. We are blamed for the spread of hideous diseases, supposedly the fruit of the sin of those like us.

We do not want you to indulge us. We do not seek you to comfort us (although that would be nice). We are willing to take responsibility for our actions. We have been eager for God to begin his transforming work in us, we have moved to be co-labourers with Him in this work, and we longingly await its completion.

We yearn for a place where we can be painfully honest about ourselves, without fear. We long to experience in the church the Jesus whom the woman caught in adultery experienced. Jesus, who found no one to judge her. Jesus, who spoke the words, “neither do I condemn you” before he gave her the admonishment to “leave your life of sin.”

We are same-gender attracted (SGA) men and women. Some of us call ourselves gay or lesbian or queer. Some of us are transgendered. We live and work and worship among you. While we long for and wait for transformation, we are experiencing the unconditional love of Christ and the mercy of the Father and the counsel of the Spirit. We wait for the church to embrace us and love us in our journeys towards wholeness and truth.

When we say, ‘I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,’ we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness. ~ Henri Nouwen