Gratefully Unfinished

Some years ago, when I participated in a personality inventory through a church program called P.L.A.C.E., I faced the truth: I am not a patient person. Through most of my life, I have been in a hurry.

Since then, I have been focused on slowing down. Slowly!

But, I fall back on old ways. Right now, I am frustrated because my gardening is way behind schedule, I have not read everything I wanted during Renewal/sabbatical, and other projects are undone, too–and the 90-day term is drawing to a close.

The Unplanted Garden

I wanted to have my vegetable garden planted, new flower beds made and planted, all the trees and bushes trimmed, etc. Little of that is completed. And I go away this weekend to Ohio for a family visit.

At one point, I became really discouraged. Then, I remembered: progress, not perfection.

Instead of moaning how little is done, can I enjoy a feeling of greater closeness with this almost half-acre we call home? Can I appreciate that I have a keener sense of how I want things to be, but that it will take more time than I thought? Can I be grateful that I have more than enough pleasurable gardening to do here for the rest of my life?

Help me, God, to truly accept the gift of this space, and to be filled with gratitude for what I am able to accomplish.

Not My Cellphone

Cocoa and I were out walking this morning when we met a woman and two adorable little beagles.

The beagles barked a lot while I tried to contain Cocoa–the dogs so wanted to play. I was proud of him, though, because even though he pulled and pulled he did not bark much at all.

I might have suggested to the woman that the dogs play a little bit, or at least sniff each other, but she was walking quickly and absorbed in a cellphone conversation. In fact, she seemed more engaged in that conversation than in the dogs, and certainly had no time for us.

I take my cellphone on walks, too, in case of an emergency. But I walk Cocoa because I want him to have good exercise. I love him, and I enjoy walking with him, cherishing our time together. Walking is also a time for my physical exercise and spiritual connection with God.

But I am clear that first and foremost I am walking Cocoa. Not my cellphone.

Steady and Loyal Wins the Race

As I approach the seventh anniversary of my coming to Richmond, I am aware that pastoring requires steadiness, and loyalty to the people God calls into the community of faith.

Rev. Joe Cobb

During my Renewal, I have had occasion to muse and pray about this pastor-to-congregation relationship, and also to celebrate the faithfulness of others. 

Just last weekend, Jonathan and I drove to Hampton Roads to share in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ordination of Rev. Reg Richburg, Pastor or New Life MCC. We have cherished Reg, and beautiful Suzie, since our New York MCC days, and are thrilled ministry brings Reg to Virginia.

And this Sunday, I am driving to Roanoke to participate in the installation of Rev. Joe Cobb as Pastor of MCC of the Blue Ridge. Joe is a newer friend, but already very dear to me.

Rev. Reg Richburg

Both congregations have gone through some struggles in the past few years, but they remained faithful. I believe God is blessing them with Reg and Joe.

I am so grateful that when the going got tough in Richmond a few years ago, Jesus (and some good folks at MCC) helped me and many others to stay, and for still others to come. We have shared in great joys and challenges, and continue to do so. 

And I am glad to share ministry with Reg and Joe (and others, too).

How Warm a Welcome?

“You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you: why then must God be neglected?”

That simple, stark question broke through to me when I read it recently in a Christian devotional classic, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.

Blessed Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, patron saint of cooks, chefs, and cobblers, from an icon by Rebecca LaChance

Brother Lawrence considered God his best and truest friend. This is sharp contrast to a friend of mine who thought that God was the reason for her troubles, and said, “If God is your friend, you must have nightmares,” she said.

My human friend believes in the picture of God with which she grew up: a vengeful, unpredictable, angry divine being. She thinks that people like me who see a compassionate God, a loving being who cares for all, are just making it up, that we are guilty of a modern fantasy.

But Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) is no modernist, nor did his hard life as a soldier in the brutality of the Thirty Years War lead him to fantasy. After his military service, he became a Carmelite lay brother, serving first as the cook of the community and later as a sandal-maker. His vocation was “prayer and work.”

God is at my house today, and at yours, too. How warm is our welcome?

I Was There . . . .

Jonathan and I recently heard a most moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s haunting song, “Hallelujah.”

The artist was C.C., a student and friend of Gaye Adegbalola, whom Gaye introduced to the audience at her concert at the Gay Community Center of Richmond last month. We were blown away by the power of her voice and her interpretative skill–she took Cohen’s iconic song to new and wondrous places.

She is returning tomorrow, May 15, at the center at 8:00 pm, with the amazing Roddy Barnes on the keyboard, with a one-woman vaudeville-inspired show of comedy, costumes and good music. 

C.C. studied with Gaye at Blues Week in West Virginia, and they have become special friends. But their closeness is not why Gaye has pushed C.C. forward. Gaye knows talent when she sees and hears it. And C.C., not limiting herself to one musical tradition, blends–“channels” might be a better word–artists as diverse as Cohen and Blues legend Bessie Smith.

This will, I predict, be one of those “Well, I was at her very first concert in Richmond” moments.

We will be out of town, but you don’t want to miss this. Here is a link to her (although it does not do her justice).

Baking Bread Together

I heard a fine sermon on Sunday, by Rev. Kevin Downer at achurch4me?MCC in Chicago.

Rev. Kevin made bread dough during his sermon, to model how God takes the various elements of life (everything, even messy, yucky stuff) and brings them together to create new loaves to feed people. God is always expanding the loaf of life, he said, and God asks us to do that, too. We are part of The Divine Bread Company.

Sometimes, I think there are two kinds of people: those who want to create more bread so that everyone has the bread they need, and those who want to make sure that only the right people have bread.

As I engage in political, social and spiritual/religious activism, it can be so easy to see those on the other side as unworthy of bread–especially if they are denying it to others. I see the righteousness of my cause as so powerful–in contrast to the unrighteousness of theirs–that it feels right to wipe them off the human map.

But the way of God is transformation, not annihilation (despite the writers of Genesis and others). Transformation is change from the inside out, so that the loaf of human dignity grows.

Let us not only break, but also bake, bread together.

Here’s to Ya, Robin, Sr.!

I am in Cambridge, MA, a place rich in personal history.

The Robins Gorsline--Sr. on right

Today, I am thinking a lot about my youngest daughter, whom, despite the fact that she is considerably younger than me, we all call Robin, Sr.

That’s because her mother and I named her Robin at her birth, December 28, 1982 (in Boston). We named her after me, but at that time Robin was only my nickname, to differentiate me from my father; we were both named Robert Howard Gorsline.

In the early 1990s, I decided that I wanted to claim “Robin” legally. I was tired of having to remember  my legal name when signing a check or filling out official papers. Besides, I felt more like a Robin than a Robert. But that’s another story.

Today, Robin, Sr. is on my mind. This is where her life began. I am so glad it did.

She was born into a troubled household–her mother and I were preparing for divorce–and she could so easily have grown up bitter and angry.

Instead, she is a beautiful, positive, loving young woman with a thriving career and a ton of friends–not to mention an adoring father. It seems right, after my visit to her birthplace, that Jonathan and I will spend this weekend with her in  Chicago.

Here’s to ya, Robin, Sr.! The old man is proud of you.

Grateful Remembrance

Tomorrow, I am flying to one of my favorite cities, Boston.

Episcopal Divinity School, campus center

But this is not an ordinary sight-seeing trip. Instead, I am going in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my graduation from the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS).

The school is actually in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston, next to Harvard. I will enjoy walking around Harvard Square, seeing old haunts and marveling at how things have changed.

This visit is also a time of remembrance of big personal changes in my life–some joyous, some painful. I came out as a gay man while in seminary, Judy and I divorced, and I met my first lover, Marvin, while there. As a result of all that, I also heard from my home Episcopal Church in Michigan that I need not come back.

Encouraged by several wonderful faculty mentors, I finished my M.Div. anyway, and went on to a doctoral progam in New York. But, at the same time, I began a long period of wandering in and out of the church, trying to figure out where home is.

Now, of course, I know where home is: MCC and Richmond, VA. But I shall be forever grateful to EDS for being a place of extraordinary spiritual nurture and wisdom that helped me find and claim important truths in my life.