Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Transforming Faith

This past Saturday, I officiated a wedding. It was a small gathering, but full of joy as friends and family celebrated with two men who could not have married just a few months ago. I also have now officiated more weddings of homosexual couples than heterosexual couples. It's still strange to think about, especially since I've only lived in red states prone to firmly digging in their heels in opposition to LGBT rights. Part of the reason that this can be true is because I've had a relatively short career in ministry, so the number of weddings I've officiated is small. Still, it remains true: I've officiated more weddings for homosexual couples than heterosexual couples. 

Ten years ago, I never could have imagined that statement would be true. Ten years ago, I never imagined myself officiating a wedding of any sort. Ten years ago, I chose not to vote on whatever was on Kentucky's ballot about marriage rights for all because I couldn't come down on either side. 

In those ten years, so many changes have happened in my own life, but I'll fast forward to the end of the story: blame Jesus. Blame Jesus who promised, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." I never could have known how many times that one phrase would echo through the life I was being called into. I never knew that saying yes to God would plunge me headfirst into icy waters, forcing me to decide if I wanted that abundant life after all.

The first person I met at seminary was a man who came out as gay while in high school and had mostly stopped worrying about it. He assumed I had no problem with him being gay. He had no clue that he was the first person I'd met who was openly gay. Every other gay person I knew was mostly in the closet.

I found a job at a local church. The pastor was a woman. I don't think I ever told her that in the process of hearing about the church, I had a few minutes of fervent prayer that Katie was also a man's name and I'd just never heard it before. I mean, I grew up where Tracy and Ashley were men's names; why not Katie? 

My first job after seminary was, well, not good. One woman in particular made it more bearable. I've probably spent more money eating with her than anyone else. I knew from the beginning she's a lesbian. Of course, when she asked me to officiate her wedding, I said yes to this person I love. It was wonderfully good, and fun, and life-giving. 

Not everything seemed so wonderfully abundant and full of life as I was going through it. In fact, a lot of it downright sucked. Yes, faith will transform you, but no one, least of all Jesus, promised that transformation would be fun. In my case, like many others, finding a new life of faith threatens people around you. I remember the pastor who cautioned me, "Don't become so open-minded your brain falls out." 

I've learned to tread water for now, at least, in this crazy life God dragged me into. Who knows what transformation awaits me next. On Friday, though, I will again stand with two women as they exchange their vows and I will have the privilege of announcing a married couple to the few witnesses gathered. For all these transformations wrought by faith, I say, "Thank you, God." There's far more abundance to a life of faith than I ever knew.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Practicing Resurrection

We had homeless people sleep in our church the night before Easter. (For the sake of this post, I'm not fighting the Easter is fifty days fight.) Part of me wants to say, "Meh, that's not that big a deal." But I know that's not true.

The day we remember the resurrection is actually a big freakin' deal. The resurrection of Christ is the thing we point to the rest of the year. We could have lots of debates but at the end of the day, without an empty tomb, Christianity wouldn't exist. At my church, we have an extra worship service that morning. We eat breakfast together. We welcome new members, dedicate babies and young children, and baptize new believers. It's both exhausting and exhilarating.

All of those reasons also mean that, well, we can end up being uptight about what happens. It's the corporate, church version of holding a giant holiday meal for your family at your house. Everything should be perfect. You plan well. You recruit lots of help. You clean things you usually don't think need cleaning. You hope everyone shows up. Details. Scrutiny. Anxiety. Yeah. Those things come, too.

But there was no question that, on that first Sunday of the month that coincided with both Easter and our regular night to host homeless neighbors, we would welcome our neighbors. That meant dinner on Saturday night for everyone staying there. It meant no setting up the sanctuary for Sunday breakfast the day before and instead, having twenty more breakfast guests. It meant that the smell that lingers each time our homeless neighbors visit would be there on Easter morning, too. More than most Sundays, we realized people might want to be in worship, so a few people were asked to provide rides if needed so guests could say longer.

It shouldn't be that big a deal, actually, for a church to be the Church. But I know it is. Being the church means practicing resurrection, life over death, yes over no. God knows, that's not easy.

In the first weeks of the Fifty Days of Easter (yeah, still got there!), we read stories of Jesus' appearance after the resurrection. Stories when the disciples are hiding out behind locked doors, returning to their pre-Jesus work--all the actions that confess Jesus' death was true, but not hope in resurrection. Left to ourselves, we turn inward, preserving our own lives and interests. At best, faith turns us away from ourselves and toward people and places we've never dared before.

The morning wasn't perfect. I wanted to invite the people who had spent the night to eat first, but didn't want to say, "Hey, all the homeless people go ahead and eat!" Next time, guests will be invited to eat first. There were other hiccups, for sure. But mostly, everything was as it should have been.

Christ is risen, and we are rising, indeed.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Memory

It seems I'm talking and thinking a lot about memory this week. Fitting, I suppose, given that this is the week we remember events many centuries past. Tonight, at our Maundy Thursday service, I'm asking people to share memories of receiving communion. There are more of my own than I will not speak tonight.

On a mission trip on an Apache reservation in Arizona, never knowing I'd live here ten years later, we hiked up a mountain in the last light of the day. We sang, we prayed, and we ate together. The bread that day was of the Wonder variety and the juice poured from the water bottle was pinkish Crystal Light. It was no less holy.

In a skeezy hotel room in Richmond, Virginia, three of us sat on a hotel bed together. The skeezy part was totally my fault. I booked a cheap hotel room at a chain that really can go either way. It went the way we'd have preferred it didn't. We had traveled there for the wedding of two friends. They had invited us to church the following Sunday morning, of course, but we all needed to get on the road sooner than church would be over. So we bought bread and juice the night before so we could have a simple worship service on our own. And we did, circled up on a bed in that hotel I'd never, ever stay in again. Come to think of it, the bride, two of the people in that hotel room, and maybe that groom as well, were all up on that mountain in Arizona.

Each place where I worshipped for a long time is marked by taste. There are the tasteless chiclets of my youth, served with itty bitty shot glasses of grape juice. College communion was warm, yeast banquet rolls, at least the really good communion days. Early morning communion at the nearby church in college was marked by wine, the only place I've regularly worshipped that used wine. My seminary used a recipe from a local monastery. That bread and Hawaiian sweet bread dipped in grape juice are two of the best tasting things I've ever had.

My childhood church served communion once a month at most. I think, when I was very young, it was less often than that. Maybe because of its rarity, there was a great amount of ritual attached to it. Looking back, it was strange in that community that eschewed formal liturgy and a formal priesthood. We had a pastor, of course, but he never touched the communion table. That was left to the elders, as it often is in the tradition I serve now. The brass trays, the kind that nestle inside each other, were covered over with a white cloth. It was carefully removed and folded before serving, and carefully replaced after. Think of the formality of folding a flag, and you'll have a good gauge for what that part of the service looked like. I never even received communion in that church, but those memories remain crystal clear.

This sort of memory matters, too. It's not the dangerous nostalgia that many churches deal with, including longing for the full pews of fifty years ago. It's holy memory that ties us together, that teaches us we are part of the body of Christ. It gives us a piece of home no matter where we worship. Holy memory moves us closer to whole. Especially for my tradition, we hold table memory dear. The best of those memories prod us to Something beyond us.