I am ordained clergy in a Christian denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, that exists because of sex.
Thus, it may not seem unusual that we are having a three-day virtual symposium entitled, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.”
And yet, this is the first such planned, intentional conversation ever in our mostly Protestant global denomination that arose in Los Angeles 47 years ago to serve the spiritual needs of lesbian and gay Christians.
In 1968, when Rev. Troy Perry issued the invitation in The Advocate for people to come to his home for the first service, people were regularly arrested for having same-sex sex and for dressing “against” their gender (butch lesbians, femme gay men, transexuals, e.g.), and many attempted suicide in the face of losing family and jobs. Troy himself was not arrested, but he did attempt suicide. And in his autobiographical account of the founding, tells of going with many others to bring friends and lovers home from jail. One such incident sparked the call in his heart to start a new church. Twelve people showed up on October 6, and things started rolling.
That’s why I say we started because of sex. Sex is at our center as a gathered faith community. If men were not having sex with men and women with women, we would not exist. Just in case you are wondering, we still are having sex.
But the truth is that in many, if not most, of our churches, you would not know it. We don’t talk about it much. We’re just like the rest of the Church, in denial.
One reason we keep quiet about sex is that we have tried hard to be accepted by the larger religious establishment. That has worked, somewhat, but we are still barred from membership in the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches, too.
Another reason is that many of our people are still fighting internalized homophobia and shame. LGBT folks are not exempt from the various forms of body shame that infect so many people, and we all have to cope with the same air of negativity and judgment about same-sex love that everyone else has had to breathe.
Those factors are undergirded by the general sex phobia of Christianity. Why our larger faith is this way seems strange–Jesus is not recorded as saying anything negative about sex (or even same-sex sex), and even cares for several people who are sexually active (remember the woman accused of adultery?).
In the first two sessions yesterday, the first day, we heard some of our history in the U.S. and some of the challenges we face in other parts of the world today. We also delved into approaches to “deconstructing heteronormativity” (sadly I missed most of this session).
And in the third session, about 30 of us conducted a moderated, open discussion of the question, “How do we bring sex to church?”
Implicit in that question is that it is desirable to bring sex to church. I surely agree.
But that is not by far what many Christians, in MCC and in other groups, ordained or lay, would say. And for many who would agree, it would be to be sure that people only had sex in marriage and for many of them only for the purposes of procreation. And they would not think that a group of LGBT folks ought to be bringing our perverted sexual lives anywhere near church.
So the first line dividing many (I hope all in MCC are on this side): sex is good. The second might be that there should be more of it. But even before that would be the reality that God is the author of sexuality and that God’s design is rich and varied and not under the control of self-appointed, or even biblically anointed, sex police.
This symposium is touching on all this, and more, and pushing boundaries all over the place, and is the most exciting religious/theological event I have attended in a long time.
Such is the power of sex. Thank God!
[Note: this last picture, taken at the renowned Opera House in Sydney, Australia, is too white for my taste–I want my church to be far more diverse–but I had a hard time finding a picture of a large group of naked people. And it is pretty cool anyway–all those wondrously naked bodies simply enjoying being alive! If you click on it, you can appreciate the diversity of bodies.]
If you had repented and waited patiently, you’d have been saved; if you had been quiet and trusted me, you’d have found strength. — Isaiah 30:15 (The Inclusive Bible)
I remembered this verse, in its more traditional form (In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength), as I walked on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday. The prompt for my memory was this sign (left), an advertisement for Seamless, a food delivery service in New York and Washington, and probably other major markets, too.
BECAUSE QUIET TIME NO LONGER EXISTS . . . could it be true? Do they know something I have missed?
I know it is true in public places. The television blares while I wait for my car to be repaired, and at the airport, always at bars and even in many restaurants. Even when the sound is turned off, the words of the speakers go skipping across the screen. It is hard not to look.
So often when walking in the park or a woods, someone is playing music. Of course, people (and this includes me more than I want to admit) are always on their cell phones. When not on the phone, many watch television at home for hours. Some people get up in the morning with the radio and it plays all day long.
It seems that maybe we are afraid of quiet? Unwilling to allow silence for even a few moments. I am often frustrated in church or other gatherings where the leader invites us to have a moment of silence, and we don’t even get a moment. Before even a real breath, we are told, “Time’s up! On to the next thing.” I think most people are relieved.
Silence, quiet, is challenging of course. We have to sit with ourselves, with our silly thoughts and our scandalous thoughts and what seem like our empty musings.
But how anyone expects to hear the divine, or even wisdom greater than that offered by the media, or how we expect to really hear each other in the deepest sense, without turning off, or at least down, the volume (and the constant video pictures), is a mystery to me.
I wonder if our lack of national cohesion is related to all this noise. Clearly, our leaders do not listen to each other. They just talk past the guy or gal on the other side of the aisle.
There is little wisdom because there is so little quiet. How can we learn from nature if we talk over it all the time? How do we learn from our children when we don’t listen to them, when we actually teach them that listening is not worth the bother (go turn on Sesame Street or something, dear…..don’t bother Daddy right now, please).
I yearn for the strength, the wisdom, that comes from quiet, from waiting for God. I sit for 30 minutes every day, and my great struggle is to be quiet. I don’t speak, of course, but oh my mind always wants to go, flitting from one thing to the next, nursing some obsession, thinking of something I “need” to look up online. But the lack of sound helps, and before the 30 minutes are up, I have achieved some measure of serenity, sanity–not perfect, but better than none at all. I recommend it for everyone.
Now, I am trying to create small patches during my day, a minute or two or even five, where I am quiet again. When I succeed, things are much better. I even discover wisdom and strength.
[Note: this follows from a post on January 2, 2015, “God Is not the One Who Needs to Show Up”]
“I awaken to Your love, God.”
That is how I begin my morning meditation.
Well, actually, first I say “thank you” a few times, then “help me” a few times, then thank you a few more times. That is to remind me where the day comes from, where the blessings have already come from, who can be the most help, and then a few more thank yous for the blessings that are coming later.
But awaken is what I seek to do. I used to begin with “await,” according to the practice of Julian of Norwich, the 12th Century English mystic. But over time I became aware that I need not await. The love is already here. My job is to wake up to it–not just wake up from physical sleep but also to wake up from spiritual sleep and become aware that God’s love has never left, is still here, and remains with me always.
This has implications beyond 30 minutes of morning meditation. Awakening is a day-long enterprise. I can so easily fall asleep in God’s presence, forgetting the gift of love which is not only a spiritual gift, but also, as Teilhard deChardin wrote, “the physical structure of the universe.”
This morning, Jonathan and I had a disagreement and it became tense, even a little ugly. It need not have been so, at least on my part. I realized, later than I wish, that I had forgotten the reality of love right here in our home, between and among us, not just our love for each other but the fact–the fact–that we are enveloped in God’s love. How much better, more affirming and life-giving, our exchange could have been had I remembered and acted on that fact.
This love is practical and present, powerful and actually predictable (not in how it will manifest itself but in how we can count on it all the time).
As noted at the beginning, I have written about this before. But I find I keep learning to be more open. Just yesterday, while I was performing a daily task that requires very little of my attention other than a repetitive action I realized I could awaken to God’s love, that in fact, God was in the activity with me. Before this, I had sought all sorts of ways to distract myself.
Turning to God was not a distraction, but actually made the time go far faster and more importantly I felt very positive about the time spent. I actually gained more than the benefit of performing the task (some day I will write more about this).
But there is more. I still honor Julian in my daily practice, but it is God’s love that I seek. I cherish Presence, but for me God is very specific. God is not only present, God is present in a particular way, loving, and hoping as only God can do that we allow the love in, that we accept it, and that we use it, too.
I will write more in days to come about love, about how it is the most powerful force in the universe, and how if we are truly open to it, everything can change. But of course, the change begins here, with me in my case, with you in yours.
Here’s to waking up! Here’s to the love we find when we do.
It’s okay if you need coffee, but the real deal is love.
The psalmist, speaking in the voice of exiles far from home,
Struggling to hold on to their integrity in the face of taunts and demands for entertainment–like minstrels held captive in Dixie–says
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”
One does not need to be in another country for this question
to be on the tip of tongues, bursting from hearts who experience dislocation at the nearest mall.
Can we even remember the words to the song
Or have they been drowned out by the din of cries for security
Achieved at the point of guns and the devastation of drones?
Still we can sing, we must sing, whatever words and tune we know
The song awaits us, the world pretends not to notice
Yet yearns for a new song, the one that has been around since Creation began.
It is good. It is all good.
Hear ye! Hear ye! The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia is now in session. May God save the people of this Commonwealth!
That is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek sentiment, but it also reflects my real fear at how much damage an ideologically driven legislature can do. Some of that damage comes from things they will not do, and other risks lie in what they will do. The former means things can’t get worse, but that does mean we can breathe easy. The latter may not ultimately occur because Governor McAuliiffe will use his veto pen and is unlikely to be overridden in the Senate.
But I still pray for us every day the GA is I session, and I encourage you to do so, too.
It seems reasonable to assume they won’t advance LGBT equality, but in that way they will actually continue to do real damage. Kids will still be subjected to “therapeutic bullying,” workers will still fear losing jobs (and some will) if they come out, renters will still face discrimination, and transgender Virginians will still lack some fundamental protections.
And they won’t pass Medicaid expansion, so hundreds of thousands will continue to suffer from the lack of adequate health care. Sadly, too many legislators focus only on money and miss how we all are impoverished when some of us face structural obstacles to good health. Failing that test of corporate well-being is missing the true bottom line.
There are some good signs: there may be improvements in public school standards and they may work with the Governor to improve management of public-private partnerships for roads and other public works.
But it seems safe to say they will continue to shortchange higher education in their rush to cut spending instead of raising revenue, and they will do nothing to stop the flow of guns in and out of the Commonwealth (or their unsafe use here).
I am always a hope-filled person– my middle name is Hawley but in many ways The “H” stands for HOPE–but I am praying, my friends, big time.
There are some stand outs–Senators McEachin, Watkins, and Howell, and Delegates Krupicka, Loupassi, McClellan, Plum, and Rust, come to mind (and there are undoubtedly others)–among the sea of political mediocrity in the world’s oldest deliberative legislative body, but on the whole we are not being well-served.
We will survive, I am sure, but oh what a wondrous thing it would be if this fall a goodly number of these legislators were replaced (and not by the voluntary absence of senior members and others who are tired of “the games” too many of their colleagues play). We need a GA with more grown-ups.