I Am In Love.

Untitled design-54.png

You will never know the purest love you can give a person, until the day you hurt because they hurt. You genuinely want them to succeed in life and be free from all the chains that keep them from being happy, whether you are in their life or not.

-Shannon L. Alder

This week’s horribly timed “Nashville Statement” came on the heels of devastating flooding in Texas, just behind the gut wrenching events in Charlottesville. I, a straight, Christian woman who is planting an inclusive and affirming church, ache for my friends and family. As the transgender military ban also continues to scoot across my Twitter feed, as lines are drawn by government and church officials, I wonder why the moral imperative to be this decisive at this moment. Why the rush with so much else to crowd our minds? I wonder where love has gone, if it was ever there, or if love has been reduced to flippant statements with no teeth, no grit. When the stakes are high, will we stand with our marginalized friends? Do we have marginalized friends? Do we know what it means to honor and defend, not just because Jesus would, but because we want to?

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my gay friends – my gay men, my brother, my fellow pastor – Aaron Bailey, my kids’ friends. I am in Love with you. You brighten my day with your wondrous smiles, your generous spirits, your kindness towards me and mine. You are a shining beacon that enlivens me to my very core.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my lesbian friends – all of you in my church of present, all of you in my church of future. I adore the way you care for me, the way you look me in the eye and probe to make sure I am telling you the whole truth. I love how you invite me to your homes and honor me with your presence, kindness, and hospitality. I love how you share your wisdom and shelter me from the majority of your pain. You are treasured and cherished by me.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my transgender friends. Paula Williams – words cannot describe to you my gratitude for your presence in my life. You are a beacon, a guide, a hope for all who have the privilege to bump into you. Your spirit of generosity and mercy is palpable. Your journey is an open book, for all to learn. You have admitted your former male privilege and confessed your cluelessness and privilege.  It is my great joy and challenge to work alongside you, being mentored by you, supporting you.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my bisexual friends. One may never know the difficulties you face because of the assumptions we make, because of our binaries.

As a Christian, the greatest work I have done is reconcile myself to the work of inclusion, the work of welcome, the work of mercy and justice and compassion. And my greatest work has been to question and challenge what it means to say “I love you.” Never should “I love  you” come with a “but”. If you are inclined to say “I love you, but…” please don’t speak. Hold your love for another time, when the “but” is gone, when the “but” is resolved and dissolved. There is no “but” in love. If there is a “but”, it’s not love.

As lines are drawn, I choose to err on the side of love. I choose to seek a person’s humanity, to seek to understand another’s experiences, another’s daily existence. I choose to listen and learn and challenge my assumptions and stereotypes. My life is rich because of my LGBTQ+ friends. I am honored by your inclusion of me, by your welcoming of me. Thank you for your remarkable love and generosity to my family.

Made in the image of God, each and every one of us is loved. Each and every one of us is deserving of love. We are escorted to the Table, invited to greedily consume the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. All of us together, in one community, as one body.

There is no room for anything that is not the generous offering of total inclusion. Brokenness is the story of humanity, not relegated to certain groups. And we are offered a life of wholeness, abundance, welcome and invitation.

I am called to pastor. I am called to love. I am called to declare boldly the beautiful work of grace in my life, the remarkable wonder of hope. Today I am here to tell you, there is good and restorative work happening in the Church. There is a movement – a breathtaking expression of unabashed love and respect.

I am thrilled to be a part of this work. Please know how very loved you are by the people who are seeking Jesus, by the people who love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds and strength. Please know you are welcome in my world, to my table, into my home.

I am in love with you.

*As a Christian,  if you support LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, here is a statement from Christians United. I invite you to add your name to the growing list of supporters.

When It’s All About Me

Untitled design-53

I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I awoke Monday morning, after a fitful night of sleep with a strange sense. It was a release, a feeling akin to hope. Whatever unlocked and clicked into place occurred between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 AM while I caught a few treasured moments of needed shut eye.

Forgiveness happened.

Somehow, in that brief period, I forgave our president. I’m not sure how and I must admit it was accompanied with a great deal of surprise. I keep peering around corners for my resentment, but it seems to have vanished.

Anne Lamott describes forgiveness this way:

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.

You see, forgiving Trump, while it still remains a surprise, is not about him being let off the hook. Forgiveness lets me off the hook. Forgiveness provides the opportunity for me to set him aside, to carry on with my day, to discern my work. Forgiveness removes the distraction and frees me. I know the man has no clue of my process, but it isn’t about him. It’s all about me.

I’m not interested in a relationship with our president. It is a very good thing for us to keep our distance. I am not to be trusted. However, as I have released the control, I no longer have to harbor ill will. I can see him for who he is, but I do not need to believe it my job to exact justice or revenge. As an agent of my own choices and of my own life I can give that job to somebody else. It isn’t mine to carry.

There’s a lovely Polish saying I hold close: Not my circus, not my monkey. While I don’t own a monkey, nor do I operate a circus (in the literal sense), I understand and appreciate the gist of this proverb. Discernment and wisdom happen when I ask the most crucial of questions: What is my job here?

I will remain dutiful in my information gathering, in my conversations, and in my writing. I will continue resisting in the ways I believe to be most effective for me. I choose to listen when I can, to remain informed, to scroll Twitter and engage the conversation on social media but I am not required to wade into the waters of damaging and abusive rhetoric. I do not have to be gaslighted, nor must I relinquish my precious mental space. He doesn’t deserve, nor has he earned, my time, sanity, joy.

It’s funny how forgiveness creeps up on us. It is a breathtaking relief, a discovery of lightness and release, the knowledge that I no longer must bear this weighty burden. I no longer have to sacrifice my being and potential and hope to another’s control. I no longer have to hold a person’s feet to the fire or determine their personal fate. I am not the ultimate judge or jury. I am not God, thank God.

Where I need to be, where I want to be is loving and shining light through doing justice and loving kindness. While this may seem milquetoasty, it is not. To own our work, to go about our day with discernment of the tasks at hand, requires a strength and firmness that can feel singleminded. We will be drawn into another’s process or drama – asking us to respond with a resolute YES! or a firm No.

While I’m able to release the president, along with those upholding his agenda, I still remain committed to the resistance. I cannot absolve myself of responsibility. I get angry and I speak when I must, for this work is serious. People are suffering and dying as a result of the emanating hatred. You, my friends, may not see a massive shift on my outsides, but my insides are filled with joy and hope again, at least for today. My work is defined. My path is resolute. My call is clear.

Sometimes our jobs may seem small. We have communities that need churches, partners who needs equals, children who need parents, friends who need friends. Our resistance occurs through loving our people well, through being present, responding to the promptings of the Spirit. Discernment and intentionality are the keys to creating a sanctuary of hopeful wholeness – in our bodies, homes, and towns.

I choose to do my work – to remain informed, to exercise my right to speak, to respond in the ways I deem appropriate. I choose to scour Twitter and listen to NPR, seeking relevant information about what is happening in our nation and world. Eric and I will continue our head-shaking conversations and I will rant on my runs (thank you running partner, wink wink). I am not immune to the rumbling under my feet, yet I am released, released from the burden of exacting revenge. This is not my job, not my circus, not my monkey.

Forgiveness is often a surprise, divine act with no warning. A proper response after accepting the release is gratitude, eyes open, loving well, doing our most important of jobs.

Rumble on, friends.

Own it.

Untitled design-52

What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own wickedness that brings them sufferings worse than any which destiny allots them.
Homer, The Odyssey

I am sad.

You know how grief goes? You wake up one morning and the sun can’t shine bright enough, the coffee isn’t strong enough, breakfast doesn’t taste good nor does it fill.

You know how grief goes? The weeping unprovoked, driving in the car, eating a meal, shopping at the store – the most mundane of tasks, an event. Eyes puffy, children in the way, nothing satisfies. The relief is far, far, far. A bit of fear creeps in and is all: Hey, is this the way it’s gonna be from now on? And I’m all: No, leave me alone, it’s just a frickin’ day. Ease up.

This was my Friday. I thought we were on the potential brink of nuclear annihilation, so you know, maybe I was grieving the end of my life as I knew it, or maybe I was grieving the loss of the world I thought we were going to give our children, or maybe I was grieving the complacency of a church that seems to want to be quiet these days because a huge majority of their members voted for this.

My Friday, I ached. Eric and I went out for dinner. I cried over salmon and risotto, helped along by an IPA. I cried over my fear and my concern. I cried over being a woman and having a daughter. I cried over the silence and complacency of people who claim to love and follow Jesus. I cried over the fact that I have so much to be grateful for because of my opportunities. I cried because I need to get this church started. I need to be with my people doing the work that needs to be done.

I took to bed early, checking Twitter. The Tiki Torches of white nationalism and supremacy were marching on UVA while clergy gathered in a prayer meeting. I did not know. I was not aware of this activity. Could my grief have been my preparation? Could my grief have been what allowed me to see?

I rose on Saturday. I rose early and I rose resolute. I rose knowing my prayers were needed, my prayers of desperation for Charlottesville. Ten miles I hiked, sweat pouring, my feet tired, I prayed, I questioned, I pounded, I lamented. I posted.

This is not who we are! Pray friends, pray. Pray friends, pray. Wake up people. Wake up! This is not who we are.

But it is who we are. We’ve been this since the start. This is our heritage, our national calling card. We have never contended with our original sin of slavery, with our white supremacist systems, with our incredible white privilege. We have not offered confessions or reparations to our black and brown and indigenous. We were founded on slavery and the displacement and destruction of innocent lives. This is who we are. Until we take inventory, confess, lament, and do the crucial work we will continue to repeat the same, over and over and over again.

Today, I choose to lament. Today I choose to listen to the sermons from neighboring churches. Did they even reference Charlottesville from the pulpit? Or is this someone else’s issue? We have entered territory of the lowest common denominator of decency. Our churches should ALL be condemning this sordid, hateful, terrorist violence. Did yours? Thank God mine did.

Lament allows me to see the truth, to step away from the false comfort of denial, to take stock and measure the reality of the situation. Lament allows me to grieve, to do the work of self reflection and self incrimination. Lament allows me to grieve for the chosen ignorance of others, for the gaze averting we white people get to do. Lament allows me to stare down the churches that would choose comfort and status quo and building programs over this tantamount work of doing love in the form of justice and compassion and creating hope, holding our country accountable to its racist and despotic past, present, future.

I have no prescription today beyond hold your leaders accountable, hold your pastor accountable, hold your children and partners accountable, hold yourself accountable. There is no shame, no condemnation – the work of recognizing white supremacy within ourselves and our people leads to gut wrenching desperation. Do it anyway. Take stock, pick up the corner of the rug and retrieve the pile that denial swept underneath, find people to confess and process and begin the work of opening your eyes. No-one can do it but you. No-one can do it but me.

I know we are not citizens of a Christian nation. I don’t want to be a citizen of a Christian nation. I want a nation for all people and religions and genders and sexualities and abilities and colors. I want a nation that stands firm in the truth of love and kindness and decency, that denounces hate and horror and calls terrorism what it is. It begins with us. It begins with our leaders. It begins in our schools. Now is the time.

Lament and grieve and mourn. I am, for what I thought we were, we are not. What I thought the church was, it is not.

White people, we have serious work to do, now is the time.

A Calculated Lost

 

Untitled design-51

Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.
J.R.R. Tolkien

I am convinced there is but a slight, thin line distinguishing bravery from stupidity. I discovered this new-to-me reality while backpacking in the Aspen Snowmass Wilderness five years ago, and I was acutely reminded once again.

This past weekend marked our fifth Girls’ Backpacking Weekend. I approached the trip grateful for the distraction from social media discourse and news. I knew I needed to be unplugged and undistracted with little to do but stare at gorgeous vistas and cook processed food in a bag, sleep on the ground, and watch raindrops pool on the tent surface. I approached with a tired mind and body, but a grateful heart, knowing the time would be restorative.

Our first day’s plan involved an upward climb for around five miles, with a final 1.3 mile switchbacked push to a high mountain lake in the Never Summer Wilderness. Our complete route led us on a circuit along the Continental Divide for 19 miles over three days. A doable distance in our allotted timeframe.

The beginning of each trip is always the worst. As packs are at their heaviest point, bodies are awakened by the shocking forty pound surprise. Hips and knees ache, shoulders wear, spirits wane, but nothing a short break with laughter, food, and meandering conversation cannot cure. About four miles in, before the final set of switchbacks we were deposited onto a gravel road (a bit of a disconcerting sight when one feels they’ve worked hard to get to the middle of “nowhere”). After a nourishing snack and potty break, we consulted the maps and proceeded to the final finish. Encouraged and buoyed by a sense of accomplishment and impending relief, we commenced the slow, upward trudge.

The steep trail was evident at the beginning, but soon we discovered dead end upon dead end. We persisted, not knowing what we didn’t know, following closely the stream and the corresponding topographic lines on our maps. We soon wandered off the trail, without realizing there never was a trail in the first place.

Oftentimes we do not know what we do not know. Humility is an important companion whether we find ourselves backpacking the Colorado Wilderness or embarking on a new career, choosing to start a family or planting a church. So little is certain, risk and faith both stalwart hallmarks of difficult decision making. And we stumble upon a place, one where we did not imagine we would be and we wonder: Am I being brave or just stupid? Am I an idiot or a pioneer? We cannot know until hindsight emerges.

We maintained our bushwhacking theme for a couple hours, climbing up and over downed logs, scaling rocks, believing the next rise, the next crop of trees, the next meadow was our lake. This was not to be the case. But what we did encounter, where the lake should have been was a breathtaking glacial meadow, dripping with wildflowers, and bubbling streams, underneath the majestic North American Continental Divide.

With worn bodies and addled minds, we chose to set up camp. After consulting our maps, seeing where we went wrong, we realized we perfectly navigated ourselves to the wrong spot. The beauty bid us to remain, to rest, to replenish. So we did. In paradise.

Whether we find ourselves skirting that line between bravery or stupidity, we are never out from under the purveyance of God. We are held, seen, known despite our frail and misguided attempts at navigation. Perfection is an inadequate expectation. We can experience the failure knowing our care is not in question.

I’d like to say I settled in, drank in the lusciousness of our camp, and I succeeded some, but the concern and what-ifs remained close at hand, tempting me to succumb. And I did.

We have not had a perfect backpacking trip yet. Nor do we want one. The obstacles create the memories. The setbacks give us fuel for our reminiscing. The uncomfortable lends us to our strength. Our resilience is born from the wrestle. Our pride and laughter emerge from the difficult. All of it commingles into a random stew which produces exhilaration, exhaustion, and exquisite gratitude.

We navigated the wrong path with stellar precision. We did not fail, we achieved a new knowledge and confidence, a new experience, a glorious memory – for us.

The next morning as the rain threatened my resolve, we climbed out. With the stream once again at arm’s length, we plowed down the mountainside with abandon, a sense of urgency and yearning for that gravel road. After hoisting ourselves over the thousandth downed tree, peeking through the foliage, a patch of gray. Our road! We whooped, hollered, and hugged – relieved beyond words. We were found.

This, my friends, is the way of bravery. We get lost, we screw up, we navigate an unexpected course, we alter, we question, we become discouraged. This is not wrong. This is human. Somehow, someway the miraculous happens and the product is a spectacular memory alongside a new dose of humility and wisdom, discernment and gratitude. We know how bad it could have gone, yet we remember – it didn’t.

So whether you find yourself on an unmarked trail or in the middle of one of life’s many detours. Please remember how beautiful you are, how held you are, how glorious – as you are.

Onward.