Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted or enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.
Pulling out the spring clothes every year is an eye opener. While staying warm through the winter months, I tend to return to the few, comfortable, just-right items that fail to alert me to the post-election-beer-drinking-warm-bread-eating-cold-of-winter extra couple pounds. My weight lifting regimen has also remained, so my warm weather clothes don’t fit quite like they once did. I may make what I have work, or I may get some new pieces that fit better. I think we can all agree, there are few things more miserable than clothes that restrict in the wrong places.
This week I had two very important conversations regarding our new church plant. We believe in the importance of informing local evangelical pastors of our plans. While these churches cannot support full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, we are requesting an acknowledgement of what these churches can provide for these individuals and families, and to refer them to our church when needed.
The pastors with whom I met are kind and generous men, seeking to serve and provide for their communities. They each respected my concerns, listening with attentive minds and hearts. The conversations were not easy, but a mutual respect was shared as we challenged one another’s beliefs and practices. I was impressed and grateful.
This is the world in which I was raised. These are examples of the people who loved and helped me. Who tended to my children and honored our family. They led my communities of faith and instructed us in our growth. I am aware that they are seeking out their own best expression of love and truth, striving to be the best bodily expression of Jesus in the world. I know these people. They were once mine.
But so much has changed for me, I can no longer bear the burden of a tight and ill-fitting set of beliefs. I am bulkier, stronger. I have become expansive in the ways of invitation and abundance, inclusion and celebration. Things don’t fit like they used to. My former church doesn’t fit like it used to.
I no longer find comfort in the church of my youth. When people suffer and die from poor theology, from silence, from literal reading of Scripture, I cannot stand by and ignore. I cannot respond with anything less than outrage and deep, deep devastation.
And so, I stand on this precipice, this space with my former world behind me and my new world before me. I stand knowing I cannot convince anyone if they are not experiencing doubt, asking the questions, moving in the direction of affirming. I must step forward into this beautiful and new space, with room and true freedom and calling and faithful generosity. For many it might seem too free. We like our rules, we like things defined, particularly so we can guarantee we are solid for acceptance into Heaven. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve walked that fine line. I can be the best good girl. I can follow rules like a champ. But this is not what we are called to. We are called to a life of abundance and wide spaces and so much grace and alleviating suffering. This god of wrath and vengeance is a tragedy. We have a God of vibrant, constant, consistent love that whispers into the depths of our souls Her love for us.
I attended, last night, a local gathering of people interested in providing sanctuary for at-risk members of our community. I saw new friends, fellow pastors in the area who are not of the conservative evangelical world from which I hailed. They greeted me with open arms, each one excited for the arrival of our church, thrilled to be partners on the path of doing the mighty and essential work of justice and providing for ALL people in our county. This is an outfit I can wear – one that allows me to breathe and move and dance. The colors are vibrant and alive, seeking to bring relief to the least of these, to the marginalized and hurting in our community.
I used to wear the perfect clothing of certainty and truth, self-righteousness and good girl-ness. I was blinded, unable to consider a faith filled with beauty, wonder, and vibrancy with everyone invited to the table, everyone welcome, everyone included just as they are. All I could see was black and white, and eventually a drab shade of gray. I have outgrown this rule-based-faith. I feel smothered and anxious, readjusting, measuring, gauging the atmosphere, unable to fully be myself. I’ve become too strong, too solid, bulked up on hope and curiosity, freedom and acceptance. The clothes no longer fit, and no matter what I do, I can’t shrink enough to make them comfortable and attractive again. I will not return to restriction and exclusion in God’s name.
I will try not to malign my old church. But this new church world? My goodness, it is breathtaking and hopeful and everyone fits. The days of I love you, but… are gone. The days of Yes, but… are gone. I can now with full confidence, shout: We love you. We see you! We can’t wait to watch what you will do. Yes! All of you is welcome and celebrated. All of me is welcome and celebrated.
We are each loved desperately, AS. WE. ARE. Nothing alters this love. Nothing minimizes or increases this love.
So, maybe I will reconsider an adjustment to my wardrobe. Loose, easy, colorful – this is who I am and how I want to express myself now. The tight, ill-fitting, constrictive – nah, not so much.