Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I Want to Live Like This

It's my birthday! Today I celebrate 44 years of life. And since the entire weekend has been a celebration as Craig and I spent time with his family in New Jersey, today has been a day to rest, reflect and do a few things I love. I've gone to the gym and allowed my body to be pushed by my personal trainer. I've journeyed to the grocery store to select several of our favorite foods including ones for a special meal tonight since it's also our 8th wedding anniversary. And, I've watched my Facebook Timeline be filled with greetings from individuals representing every chapter of my life. 

Facebook is an extraordinary means of grace on one's birthday as people take time to share birthday wishes. While many posts include the traditional words, "Happy Birthday," there are a few posts that have named my gifts or shared a particular memory. There is another post that suggests I party like a rock star - something I've certainly done before or perhaps even this weekend when I tasted Hendrick's Gin for the first time and decided one time was not enough. And there are other posts that invite me to enjoy the "best year ever." 

It's quite an invitation to ponder what the "best year ever" would entail. What would I do if I was to live the best year ever? How would I pattern my days? Would my budget or schedule change? Who would I seek to spend time with or call out of the blue? What would I stop doing because it no longer mattered? I've been pondering these questions all day as if it's New Year's Eve, and I'm ready to make some changes.

I want to take better care of myself. While I treat my two weekly sessions with a personal trainer as though they are bread from heaven, something I would not dare miss, I've yet to master the art of getting to the gym five days a week or even eating five fruits and vegetables for seven days a week. I want to grow old with knees that can hold my weight and legs that want to wander all over the place. I want to be able to feel good in whatever I select that's hanging in my closet.

I want to be a better friend. There are so many individuals who I say mean the world to me but who I rarely call. I have a box of birthday cards that don't get mailed on a regular basis. There are several people who see me and say, "I know you're really busy, but...." But I don't want to be too busy for friends. I want to spend more time cultivating longtime friendships and making new ones.

I want to be the most faithful pastor I can be. I want to be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving. I want to make a difference in the lives of whoever God puts in my path. I want to know that what we are doing in downtown DC matters to people inside and outside our doors. I want to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

And I want to seize opportunities to experience new things that lead to wonder, surprise, joy and delight. We spent yesterday at the Jersey shore. We delighted in Manco & Manco's pizza, stopped for a custard from Kohr's, went in and out of different shops, allowed the sea breeze to kiss our skin, and listened to the sound of the ocean roaring. We took delight in watching our cousins, niece and nephew ride different rides at a small amusement park at the end of the boardwalk. And an hour later, with ride tickets remaining, I accepted an opportunity to enjoy a ride with my husband, brother-in-law and cousin. I hiked up my dress, climbed inside a log, and waited for the Canyon Falls Log Flume to take off. I knew we would get wet. I even hesitated to sit down on the wet bench. But I did it, and I cannot begin to tell you how much joy I get when I see the photos of the experience!

I want to live like that!

I don't want the potential of getting wet or hurt or bruised or exhausted to stop me. I don't want to worry what other people are thinking. I want to seize the moment and take advantage of whatever new experience awaits me. I want to relish in the adventure instead of clinging to the routine. I want to take faithful risks. I want to try new things. I want to experience pure joy every single day.

A friend who lives in Germany shared with me today that I have "a wonderful Herrenhut Watchword" for my birthday. It is Isaiah 55:12 which reads, "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace." It then continues to describe mountains and hills bursting into song while trees clap their hands. The tradition in Germany is for families to read the watchword every morning and then reflect on how it has come to fruition throughout the day when evening comes.

I'm more than okay with a year of going out in joy before being led forth in peace. I find it rather delightful to imagine how I might beckon the trees to clap their hands before joining in.

So who wants to go on a ride with me next?  Disney, anyone? I cannot promise that we will stay dry, but I can promise you loads of laughter and joy.

To life! For life is extraordinary and such an incredible gift. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I'm Going to Church Tomorrow

It's Saturday night, just before 9:00pm. I suppose many of you are sliding into a cute pair of heels and applying a bit of lip gloss, ready to see what might be waiting for you at a bar downtown. Others of you may be halfway through a Redbox movie, still waiting to see if you're going to be glad you spent $1.50 to rent the film. Or maybe you've just poured yourself a glass of wine because the kids are finally all in bed. It's now time to start thinking about what tomorrow will hold. Will you set the alarm or sleep in? Will you go to brunch or the farmer's market? Will you brew coffee at home or take the Washington Post to the nearest Starbuck's?

These decisions are not ones we have to make in our house. In fact, I've had my pajamas on for over an hour. Saturday night is an early night at our house because we always go to church. It's the highlight of my week professionally, and my husband is a devout Catholic who never misses mass. And yet, on this night, my heart can hardly wait to to go to church tomorrow. My spirit longs to be in a sanctuary filled with a community of people whose stories I know, whose lives intersect with mine. But I also desperately need to be reminded that there is something more to this life, that God is with us in the pain, that the light shines in the darkness.

I've cried twice today while reading the words of two friends, two mothers whose hearts are hurting. One is the mother of an 11-year-old daughter who was believed to have beat leukemia. Their lives were returning to normal when strange symptoms appeared early this week. Tests revealed the worst possible news. The leukemia is back. Rather than starting summer at the pool with friends, this child will spend 28 days in the hospital with needles pouring chemo into her body. Another friend is facing Father's Day for the first time without her husband who died five months ago. She and her three young children have made plans to skip church, eat donuts and watch television because there are no Hallmark cards with instructions for what to do on the first Father's Day since Daddy died.

And then there is Orlando, and all these incredibly sad stories about lives being celebrated much too soon. It was this time last week when outfits would have been selected, plans would have been made, drinks would have been poured. "Let's go dancing." "I want to go to Pulse." "Our community will be there." But lives - so many lives have been shattered.

I need to go to church tomorrow. I need to go because I'll be reminded of a light that shines in the darkness. I need to go because there are times when just sitting in the sanctuary and looking at stained glass windows is enough. I need to go because there will be people there who know my name and glimpses of my story. I need to go because the sermon is one I need to hear even as it will flow through my lips - the importance of cultivating self-compassion and letting go of perfectionism since perfectionism is almost always tied to impressing others, bringing about a sense that you're better than you really are. I need to go to church tomorrow because I believe God is still speaking and there will be a word for me. It might come from a child who embraces me or brings me a note. It might come from a first-time guest who tells me how welcome they felt. It might come from the scripture being read even though I've read it dozens of times this week. Or it might come when I bow my head and intercede on behalf of so many people who are hurting - those I know and those I don't know - people who know how complicated Father's Day can be, people who have lost a loved one and know the sting of grief, people who are experiencing an overwhelming medical diagnosis, people who are wondering what the future will hold, people who are longing to not feel so alone. It's only an hour or so, but it's an hour filled with moments, words, stories, songs, rituals and people I need.

Plus, the Washington Post will be waiting for me when I get home.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Yes....But Will We Be Safe There?

I was running on the treadmill this morning when my gym friend, John, starting using the machine next to mine. "I have not seen you in a while," I said, while asking him about his summer plans. "There are a few trips here and there, including one to North Carolina which I'm dreading," John responded. "Oh, where are you going in North Carolina?" I asked, before hearing, "My niece is getting married in Highlands."

My face immediately lit up, "I love Highlands!" I then described my first summer field education placement while in seminary. "It has the highest elevation in the state. The population swells in the summer as wealthy people from Atlanta and Florida come up to escape the summer heat. There are beautiful hiking trails. There is an incredible candy store on the main street." I kept talking while John looked at me with a blank stare before responding. "I have looked it up. We are going for three nights. It looks beautiful. But will we be safe there?"

I honestly cannot remember if the cottage where I stayed that summer had a lock on the door. While a sense of fear has crept in often since moving back to Washington, I cannot recall a single time when I felt afraid or unsafe in Highlands. I don't even recall seeing a police car on the streets of Highlands. "Of course, it's safe!" I could have easily responded.

And yet, I'm not a gay man traveling with my husband.

John's question made my heart sink.

But will we be safe there?

How often have you stopped to think about how hard it would be to not be able to hold the hand of your spouse wherever you are? Have you ever wondered whether it would be safe to check into a hotel in a small resort town in North Carolina? Have you ever looked at the map to see if you'd be able to make it from one place to the next without stopping for gas because you're not sure how much hatred might fill the communities in between? Have you told your spouse not to call you "honey" out loud while attending your niece's wedding?

I am willing to bet the answer is "yes" if you're gay. And I suppose that if you're straight, you may have never stopped to think about how a night club in Orlando could have ever been a sanctuary for countless individuals - until this week.

How is it that a bar has become a safer place for LGBT people to gather than countless other places? How could a dance club be a sanctuary - a place of refuge or safety - more than a church building?

One doesn't need to ponder long before answering the questions, and I'm tired of it. I'm so incredibly sad that the church of Jesus Christ too often fails to embody the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. I'm so incredibly sad that my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, has a Book of Discipline that states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I'm angry that my church's official teaching will allow me to marry any couple who comes in off the street - even if they have only known each other for a couple of days - while having the power to take away my ordination for marrying a faithful, devoted couple of the same gender. I'm furious that clergy in my own annual conference voted against one of our candidates for ministry in which Christ is so alive for no reason other than the fact that she is married to a woman. And I grieve that not every LGBT person will feel safe in many of our churches. In fact, the church may be the place where my LGBT brothers and sisters feel the most unsafe.

The last few weeks have been overflowing with pain and disappointment. While our General Conference did not vote on several pieces of legislation that could have done even more harm to LGBT people and pastors who are seeking to embody the fullness of love, blessing and hospitality, I don't have a lot of hope for significant change to come as long as the same Book of Discipline is being used for every congregation in our global church. Two weeks ago, after we came up 19 votes shy of the number needed to approve T.C. Morrow for commissioning, I wondered if I would even come back the next day. My eyes were swollen, my mascara was smudged, and my heart hurt.

But I came back. I came back and found manna not from my straight colleagues but from T.C. herself. I watched as she simply changed her name tag from one that could have said "clergy" to one that said, "lay delegate." I listened as she stood and spoke at a dinner of reconciling clergy and laity, sharing how when people kept asking her why she didn't just leave, she responded by saying, "This church is my family, and you don't just leave family even when it's dysfunctional." I marveled when T.C. went around a large circle of people who showed up to witness on her behalf and hugged and thanked each person. While I didn't see it myself, I'm told she stood up in support of every single person in her commissioning class - a class she should have been able to join. I have then been so incredibly struck by many of the comments she has shared about why she stays in our denomination. Just today she wrote these words in an op-ed, "I remain because I am always thinking about some young 14-year-old in a rural community who could use a role model - something very similar to the young person I once was, I think about what they are hearing, from our churches and indeed from our society more broadly. I think about the need to echo voices of hope and community in diversity, not fear and bigotry."

If anything has come from the heartache and pain of walking with T.C. and then reading stories from people who were at Pulse last Saturday night, it is a commitment to not just stay in my church but to become even more passionate about working to change the religious institution. I want people to know that my church is a sanctuary for all people - that all are abundantly welcome at Mount Vernon Place, that all people can receive the same blessings at our church, that I will do everything I can to support people who are experiencing a call to ministry whether they are gay or straight, that all people can call each other "honey" and hold hands in our building, that we are seeking to simply live and love like Jesus - recognizing that such love can have consequences.

I don't believe everything happens for a reason, and I beg you to stop saying these words if they are prone to come from your lips. We are not puppets on a string. The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of free will which means we have the power to do good and the ability to do harm. God is not behind anyone who takes a gun into their hands and kills 49 innocent people. God is, however, present. God is with us always. And I vow to do all I can to make sure that some goodness comes from this senseless tragedy. The vow starts with me and my willingness to love, bless and pastor as fully and faithfully as I can. I want my church to be a sanctuary for all people - a place where the fullness of whoever walks in our doors is welcome.

What about you? What will you do with your pain, your disappointment, your anger?

And if you're looking for a community of faith that is truly seeking to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, then please come #MeetMeAtMVP on Sunday at 11am. We don't always get it right, but we are trying hard to live and love like Jesus.