Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The Episcopal Church is "Coming Out"
So, it's been quite a day! Let's just file it under the title, "Life in the fast lane of parish ministry"!
I had just settled into the first part of Clergy Day in Denville when I got the call that we've had yet another death of another "major" person in our community - the President of the Altar Guild for the past 20 years and a dearly loved member of our church for the past 40 years - so you know what a huge loss this is in our community. However, I am quite certain that Heaven is infinitely more organized now that Betty is there than it was eight or so hours ago.
I've spent the better part of this day doing the things that pastors do in these situations - you know, holding your own grief at bay while you tend to the grief and shock of the family. And then I spent the rest of my time chasing down all the details that are required to really celebrate this amazing woman's life while still creating a space where we can grieve our enormous loss.
And, I do it all without a net!
But, before I can "get into the zone" where I begin to select a few biblical passages and hymns for her service so that the family can make some choices tomorrow when I meet with them, I made the mistake of opening my email.
There was another letter from one of the brothers who is still struggling with how to do justice and keep everyone at The Table - or, at least, in the church - when we meet at General Convention next July.
This is what I just wrote and posted. I'm posting it now because I'm not sure I'll have much time to post much of anything profound in the next couple of days.
Only the names have been removed to protect the innocent - and the guilty:
. . . Let me offer this, from my own perspective:
In the late 80s, early 90s, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, there was a slogan going around that said, "The Episcopal Church has AIDS." It was meant to say that, if one of us has AIDS, we all have AIDS.
I want to create a new slogan: "The Episcopal Church is Coming Out."
What we are going through is not unlike the "coming out" process every LGBT person suffers through when s/he understands her/his sexual orientation as being other than the prevailing, accepted "norm."
Sometimes, a part of you has to die. Sometimes, a part of you is bullied into submission. Sometimes, a part of you is brutally murdered in cold blood.
Sometimes, the death is one of peaceful acceptance. Other times, the struggle to find the path to wholeness and health and self-acceptance is littered with the artifacts of violence and self injury - or, the injury done to you by the judgment of others - family, friends, "society," "religion."
For me, several parts had to suffer and die: The part of me that was carefully brought up to be "the best little girl in the whole world." The part of me that was carefully taught that my role in life was to "find Prince Charming (handsome, rich, successful and would "make me happy"), get married, have children (2.5, preferably, a boy for you and a girl for me, but an heir and a spare would be fine, too) and live happily ever after." The part of me that carried the American Dream for my immigrant family.
Fer shur, those parts of me needed to die. I just didn't need to have them brutally murdered in what was the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, MA where the coming out process was imposed on me and my family,
The emotions run the gamut - very similar to the ones described by Kubler-Ross in the death and dying process, but the impulse to shame is very, very strong, reinforced by "traditional" religion.
It used to be considered a "disease" by the medical profession, as you well know. The power of influence of these two institutions continues to promote a strong social stigma in many communities, in many parts of the country and the world. Some "traditional" churches continue to collude in that process.
I'm not talking about shame as the kind of embarrassment that comes when you find that you've been chatting away with someone and discover you have a piece of spinach on your front tooth.
I'm talking about deep, paralyzing shame. I'm talking about a shame that comes from without, not from within - a a "shame of intimidation" that tells you that who you are, the way God made you is "defective" when you know in your heart that this is absolute, unmitigated mendacity.
I'm talking about the kind of imposed shame or bullying shame that understands that, if you do this, if you are honest about who you are and who you love, you risk loss of family and friends - all your social, emotional and spiritual networks.
Emotional and actual physical "cut off" and abandonment are the all too well known possibilities and, sadly in many cases, eventual realities of "coming out."
Many families who support their LGBT daughters and sons go through a very similar grief and shame and blame process. Friends and allies of LGBT people are also no strangers to the "collateral damage" of "coming out".
Hello? Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?
The Episcopal Church has been "coming out" as a church which understands that the diversity of the human condition is as necessary to our lives as biodiversity is to the environment. That's neither "liberal" or "progressive." That is radical orthodoxy.
To welcome and embrace human diversity is nothing less than the radical hospitality of Jesus, whom we proclaim as our Risen Lord and whose commandments to "love one another" as he loved us we claim to follow.
I believe that, for the past thirty or more years, The Episcopal Church, as an institution, has been in the grieving process. We have been allowing parts of ourselves, the "idealized images" we have had of ourselves, to die. Sometimes, those parts have been bullied or brutally murdered by resolutions in the legislative process. (B033 comes to mind, as do the "recommendations" of The Windsor Report.)
The attempts to bully and "shame" The Episcopal Church on a world-wide stage and "blame" her for all that is wrong in the Anglican Communion strikes a very familiar note for many LGBT people, our families and friends.
We, as an institution, are feeling the effects on a macro level that have been known on a micro, personal level. As an institutional church, we have been grieving the loss of the once grandiose ideas of parts of our identity. We have come through this and said, "This is who we are" and have been on the road to claim our wholeness and health.
We are now in the 'shame and blame' stage which is a last-ditch effort to get us to deny the fullness and wholeness of our identity. I trust it won't work. We've come too far. We have a much clearer sense of who we are. We are getting greater clarity in terms of what Jesus wants us to do. We need to get on with that mission.
Yes, we need to hold out the hope of reconciliation with our so-called "orthodox" sisters and brothers. Some have left. A few more will follow. We need to keep the porch light on and the key under the mat for them. But, you know and I think would agree that it's really pretty futile to do much more than that.
Yes, we need to hold out the hope of reconciliation with our sisters and brothers in the World Wide Anglican Communion who don't understand our actions and why we won't "conform" to their understanding of the way the love of God in Christ Jesus is made manifest in our time and in our place. Perhaps we will see a resolution or two which speaks to the initiation on our part of an effort to work constructively toward the goal of increasing understanding and awareness and widening the path toward reconciliation.
Yes, we need to work toward reconciliation with our conservative sisters and brothers who still feel the stigma of shame because we have these "weird" sisters and brothers who love "differently" (but, not really, truth be told) than they do. This is where I want to put my greatest efforts, and I think you do, too.
I'm perfectly fine if **** or **** or ***** or **** or any one else does not want to bless the covenant I make with Ms. Conroy, my beloved partner of 32 years (this October 13). I just don't want any of them to stand in the way of any priest (or bishop) who does.
There are services in the BOS to bless all sorts of "things". There are no authorized liturgical rites to bless animals and yet I'll bet even *** and *** and **** and ******* will be blessing lots of four legged and winged and even slippery-slimy creatures on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis. They are not 'required' to perform these blessings, and my guess is they will do it with joy and without anyone standing in protest, trying to bully or shame or blame them for heresy.
Thanks be to God!
Yes, we'll have to discuss, as a church, what we do about the fact that our clergy have functioned as civil magistrates in marriage in those places where same sex marriage is now (or will soon be) legal, but the canons of our church presently forbid them to preside in those services. That's a HUGE piece to reconcile on so many levels, it makes my head spin. And yet, that's precisely where I want to put my energy - where it will make a difference.
The Episcopal Church is Coming Out. We are not going to be bullied back into closets of shame and secrecy and dishonesty.
I am happy to work with you to achieve that goal, which I know you share.