Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Didn't Say

I preached this past Sunday. It was a celebration of the first Pentecost and along with it, the continued presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. It was those fabulous Ezekiel and Acts texts about gifts of new life. It was a decent sermon.

But I was saddened by what I didn't preach. Reading through the texts, preparing for the sermon, I felt the Spirit Whoosh. It's my term. Think of it as a compound noun, not a noun and verb. The Spirit Whoosh. It's not uncommon, but not particularly common either. It's the spine-tingling, stomach flip moment when I know where the sermon is going and that yes, it is a word from the Lord. It usually means a really good sermon, too. I'm willing to admit, some sermons are more God-breathed than others.

The Spirit Whoosh came with I realized the Acts text, at least for this moment, was speaking to the possibility of new things. Actually, the expectation of new things. I love the doctrine that says the Holy Spirit is always with the church. I gush about it from time to time. It's the thing that says more stuff is coming from God. I could rant and rave for much longer, but will stop at simply reiterating: more stuff is coming from God. God will call the church to new places.

That's where I stopped in Sunday's sermon. But there was something missing. Mostly, I didn't name all the new places I think the Spirit may be calling the church. The thing that kept coming to mind was, not surprisingly, the church's acceptance of LGBTQ folks. I knew I couldn't say anything to my full congregation during a sermon. I'll admit, I didn't want the backlash from such a sermon. More than that, though, I knew they couldn't hear it. It would be alienating and troubling instead of liberating. I knew that. So instead, I laid the framework for openness. I preached that we should expect more things to come from the Spirit.

It's days like this, though, that I realize I'm still a fundamentalist in my marrow and it sneaks up from time to time. That means that somewhere, I am always, always conscious that I'm breaking the rules. I can admit that now. As a woman, standing in front of the assembly preaching, I'm breaking the rules. And I'm good with that. I've been led by God to do that, along with thousands of others, probably millions. The Spirit moved.

It's through that moving of the Spirit that I changed ideas about many other things, mostly a long list of things I had clearly labeled "sin." That's another story. Today, though, I mourn for what I didn't say, or what I couldn't say, take your pick. It's heart-breaking and troubling and just plain annoying.

But it causes me to pray that the Spirit keeps moving in ways that all can hear. After all, isn't that the Pentecost story?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I'm Still Here

Last weekend, I talked a friend who doesn't do church at all into going to a church-related but not over the top churchy 5k. Mostly, I just didn't want to go alone. Afterward, I found out how much she doesn't want to be part of anything to do with Christianity or any religion for that matter. What she said wasn't offense; in fact, I quite understand, actually. I've already named my own difficulties with being in church.

The question remains, though, why am I still here?

There was the minister who didn't believe I should go to seminary, not because it was wrong for women but because it was too much of a struggle for the church to handle.

There were the friend's parents who went against their better judgement when they didn't kick me out of their home once they found out I was a minister; this same friend had asked me if I could perform her wedding.

There's the reality that the perceptions of church people as sheltered might be a very accurate perception.

Then there's just the day to day craziness.

Why am I still here?

I'm here, quite simply, because in the name of Christ I have been transformed.

In the name of Christ, I was given an abundance of people who flooded me with support for attending seminary. I still gratefully hold the memory of the dean of my college who came to me and said, "You'll have whatever you need," when I couldn't get the ministerial reference from the minister I grew up with. The one voice still hurts, but the ones that rose up because of it are deeply, deeply cherished.

In the name of Christ, I was given a place to run to when I didn't know where I would go next, after deciding not to go ahead with my life plan--one that involved a move halfway across the country, two weeks later. There, I was reminded, again, that this life is not about the papers we earn or the things we achieve; everyone still matters, no matter what.

In the name of Christ, I was asked to teach and plan for little kids' life in the church. When I said yes, the transformation that took place was unlike anything I have ever known. The love was overwhelming, deep in side me. It was a Thing I had never known before.

In the name of Christ, I was given a free education. It sounds crazy to add that to the list, I know, but it matters a lot to me. If not for people who believed not in me, but just in the idea of me, I don't know how I would have paid for seven years of higher education. I cannot begin to list the transformations of college and seminary.

In the name of Christ, I was given Fruit Loops necklaces and an apron made out of a dishtowel. Those simple things are some of my earliest memories of being loved by someone not in my family. They were objects that represented welcome, hospitality by others in a community. Those things gave me a glimpse of how I could love and welcome, too.

In the name of Christ, I was taught to sing. I'm not a great singer; our culture has shifted so that church may be the only place for group singing. Yet, it is practice dear to my heart. The songs that I learned are often the prayers that I pray. They are the words I know when I cannot find words of my own. Often, in the afternoon, I sit in my office singing the ones I need to hear. I cannot imagine life without those words.

I'll choose to stop there, even though I could go on. I don't deny the brokenness of the church. It's visible to those within and without. But I'm still here and, God willing, I'll keep saying that. I'm still here because the greatest treasures in my life have been given to me in the name of Christ.