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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Yee-haw: Be true to your own dance.

A Homily for the Rev’d Lauren A. Gough
Thursday, March 17, 2016
St. Martin in the Fields, Keller, TX
The Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton

Let us pray: 
Through the written word,
and the spoken word,
may we know your Living Word
Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen. 
The last time I was here at St. Martin's was my very first visit here. That was Sunday, February 21st. Less than a month ago. 

At the end of that service, Lauren said from her wheelchair, "This will be my last time here." And then she added, hastily, "Well, for awhile. And, hopefully not in quite the same way." 

Her words were then, as so often was the case, prophetic. Here we are, back again. And, none of us - no, not one - is quite the same way as we were just a few short weeks ago.

The first time I met Lauren was in the spring of 1982. It was visiting days for prospective students at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. 

I was a young woman who had just turned the corner on thirty years of age. My bishop had originally voted against the ordination of women. I was only the fourth woman to whom he had conferred postulancy. 

And, he had stated to me – clearly and unequivocally – that he did not want me to go to Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.

And yet, there I was. At The Episcopal Divinity School In Cambridge, MA. As a prospective student. 

Looking back 30+ years, I have come to understand why I made my bishop so nervous. You know, sometimes, when I was in his presence, he rather looked like he had a bad case of indigestion. I always wondered why . . . . .. .

Truth be told, I had just reached the point in my discernment process where I was thinking I did not belong in The Episcopal Church. At. All. 

In those days, everyone seemed to be part of the group of affluent people my immigrant, factory working, union-labor-organizing grandparents, parents and family called “Limousine Liberal”. 

All the Episcopal men seemed to be dressed in khaki pants and tweed jackets with patched elbows. And, the Episcopal women all seemed to be wearing plaid skirts or jumpers or tan pants and button down shirts. 

And, everyone seemed to be wearing penny loafers. Clergy wore black penny loafers. Seriously. 

Either that, or they looked like a lost tribe of Bohemians, complete with Birkenstock sandals and crunchy granola clothing. There didn't seem to be any in-between.  

It's very different there now, of course, but it was the 80s and that was the memory of a then very young, very anxious woman.

Dean Harvey Gutherie had just said to me, just five seconds after pleasant introductions. "We have a lot to discuss. You have important questions to ask me about how this seminary will prepare you for ministry. I have important questions to ask you about how your bishop and diocese will support you while you're here. So, let's get on with it. The world is too dark and too broken a place for us to play polite games with each other."

Well, I was in! Hooked! But then, I looked around at the students who were there and I thought, Good Lord, if I don’t belong here at EDS, I mustn’t belong anywhere in TEC.

And then, it happened. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, suddenly I found myself in Reed Hall where there was a reception for visiting potential students. 

There was a large table of alcoholic beverages (it was the 80s) and another with hot appetizers served on bone china plates with the EDS symbol on them. Viennese waltzes were playing. Seriously.

A young man – of rather small stature, as I recall – approached the woman I would come to know as Lauren. Lauren, as you may remember, had a fairly imposing stature and countenance. 

And, as I recall, Lauren was wearing neither penny loafers nor Birkenstocks. Nosireebob. Lauren was wearing cowboygirl boots. Black. Pointy toe. Looked like she could do some damage with them, if she had a mind to.

I remember the man had a handlebar mustache and – did I mention he was of small stature? – he bowed deeply at the waist and looked up …. Up . ..  UP to Lauren and said, with great flourish, “Might I have the next waltz?”

And, Lauren, bless her heart, looked down at this nattily dressed little Limousine Liberal man, threw her head back and hooted out LOUD and right into the very proper, rarefied air that swirled delicately with the sound of music from another century in another world, far, far away. (I might mention here that I had never before heard a proper Texas hoot. It obviously left quite an impression.)

And then Lauren said what I came to understand was her line in life. She said, “Shoot! If it ain’t got a ‘yee-haw’ in the middle of it, I ain’t dancin’’ to it.”

And, right there and then, I knew that I loved Lauren, hopelessly, totally, completely, undeniably and forever. I figured, if there was room enough in The Episcopal Church in general and EDS in particular for someone like Lauren Gough, there was room enough for me.

Turns out. There was. Well, mostly. Theoretically, at least. Turns out, thirty plus years later, some days, I still scratch my head and wonder if there’s a place for me – and many other women – in this church of ours. And, as many of you know, Lauren paid a high price for staying true to who she was and the dance that was her own.

That high price is something those who follow Jesus are bound to pay. In truth, there’s really no getting around it. The cost of discipleship is high. It just is. Certainly, this entire diocese has paid – and is paying dearly, and still may pay even more dearly – for staying true to its own dance.

In the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus boldly proclaims to the religious leaders of his day, “Very truly I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”

That, of course, put him right into the midst of one of the raging controversies of his time: Resurrection was a huge debate between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. And, here was Jesus, telling them that, if they believed him – believed his words – they were believing in the God who was and is and is to come and they would never have to look death in the face – not see it, not taste it, not feel it – because the gift of eternal life which had been temporarily lost but had always been theirs was now being redeemed for them.

And, for telling his truth, for staying true to his own dance, the religious leaders thought him insane, and picked up stones to throw at him. But, Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Those of us who choose to speak our truth and stay true to our own dance often annoy and anger those who are institutional leaders - or, at least give them a bad case of indigestion – so much so that, occasionally, we have to leave for a while and hide ourselves in ministries that are not directly related to the institutional church. 

Some of us are hiding in plain site, worshiping as church in storefronts and shopping malls and office buildings as well as in traditional church buildings, but with a liturgical style and dance step that would be anathema to some of its previous occupants.

It can get pretty scary out here – out from underneath the protective apron of Mother Church. It can be both a little heady and exciting and yet very frightening and anxious to be connected to Her by just the barest threads of Her apron strings.

Sometimes, in that fear, in that anxiety, in that feeling like we don’t fit in, we can fall into the old ways of the oppressor. It happened in the days of Moses when the people were brought out of bondage in Egypt only to worship false idols. It happened in the days of Abraham when he forgot the promises God made to him, and Sarah laughed. 

We can also get pretty rigid, clinging to our own brand of Levitial codes and purity laws, hoping against hope that if we're good little boys and girls and keep all the rules and behave, God will smile upon us and we will be rewarded with prosperity and success.

It happens in the church with alarming frequency. We see it in many ways, but especially when we do not provide equal opportunity AND equal compensation for men and women who are called to the same work of ministry within the institutional church.

Lauren saw this and it grieved her heart. She spoke up about it and annoyed a few people. Scared a few others.  Ticked off a bunch more. She said, out loud, that she didn't want "busy work". She wanted gospel work. For herself and for her sisters. 

Equal opportunity. Equal Work. Equal compensation. That's what she said. Often. And, loudly.

As outspoken as she was about that, she also saw a vision of the future that was even more compelling than any of the institutional faults or flaws which were immediately before her.

She saw a diocese returning from what Martin Smith calls “the crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith”. Listen to that again- "the crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith." Isn't that where you have been. Isn't that, sometimes, where you still find yourself?

Isn't that where grief sometimes drives us?

She saw this diocese rising from the ashes and cinders of conflict and struggle to be resurrected into something more authentic, more real, into what she said was a “Christianity (that) may speak more of what Jesus called us to do”.

She wrote those words in her last blog post, just one month ago, almost to the day, along with this sentence: “But, more importantly, it is a Christianity that calls us out of what we have always done, in order to love others, even the ones who find fault with us.”

That resonates deeply with the vision of another Episcopalian from Texas. Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning – born in Corpus Christi, in fact – famously said, “In this church of ours, there will be no outcasts.” 

It’s a simple sentence that has thrown this church smack dab into some difficult gospel truths: 

That, in order to achieve that vision of Jesus, love has to replace fear. Courage is not the opposite of fear. Love is the opposite of fear. Love is what gives us the courage to walk through our fears.

That, in order for there to be no outcasts, justice has to replace poverty. Wealth isn't the opposite of poverty. Justice is the opposite of poverty.

And, in order for us to be more authentically the Body of Christ, peace has to replace the war within our own hearts to be better than others rather than serving and sacrificing so others can do better.

Love, not fear. Justice, not poverty. Peace, not war. A life of service to and sacrifice for others. THAT, my friends, was at the very heart of Lauren Gough. It's what gave passion to her life.

Love. Justice. Service and Sacrifice were the four steps in the dance of ministry that animated her life. Her partner was Jesus, whom she loved, and they danced together to the music of the gospel.

And, you better believe it had an 'yee-haw' in the middle of it.

If you missed that about Lauren because she annoyed you or intimidated your or scared you or, like divine sandpaper, she just plain rubbed you the wrong way, well, you missed out on a manifestation of the love of God. You missed an opportunity to let her divine sandpaper bring out your own more authentic grain, and to shine with your own inner beauty and truth.

Lauren knew, all the days of her life but especially at the end of her life, that Jesus loved her. She knew that because she saw a reflection of the love of Jesus in the eyes of Judy, her partner in life.

That love of her dance partner Jesus and her life partner Judy gave her the courage to be all of who she was, without apology. And, that love compelled her to work for the full inclusion of all God’s people. No outcasts. Not on her watch. Not in her church. No matter who that angered or annoyed. No matter what it cost her, personally.

Lauren’s heart was always deep in the heart of Texas. Indeed, it was her love of Texas Blue Bonnets that literally brought her to tears with homesickness. She said when the longing to return to her Texas roots became overwhelming, the memory of the hills and open field covered in Blue Bonnets would restore her spirit and revive her soul.  

Katie Sherrod reminded me of that conversation with Lauren. “Blue Bonnets,” she said,  “like Texas women, are survivors.” Because the climate in Texas can be so harsh, Blue Bonnets have developed ways to survive. Each mother plant produces hundreds of seeds. 

These seeds literally explode into the air when the seedpod pops. This scatters them in a wide range around the mother. Some of these seeds are genetically programmed to germinate in a year, some in three years, some in five years, some in ten years. 

This way, no matter how much rain or wind or drought you have, some of the seeds will survive and grow, and produce more seeds to start the cycle again.

And that, said Lauren, was proof positive that the Resurrection was real. Not just survival! Resurrection! For Lauren, Blue Bonnets are a sign that there IS life eternal after this mortal life. 

She said that the pods of the Blue Bonnets were a metaphor for what happens to us when we enter life eternal and burst into new life with God. And, once there, with God, we will gather ‘round the heavenly banquet table with all of our friends who have gone on before, plotting about how to bring the realm of God closer to earth.

And, for Lauren, of course, the heavenly banquet table would be piled high with Texas BBQ.

You know, come to think of it, the image of pods of Blue Bonnets bursting open and dancing in the Texas wind is as good an image of the resurrection of this diocese as anyone can imagine. 

Resurrection happens right in our midst - is happening right in our midst - reminding us that we do not have to look death in the face without seeing the love in the face of Jesus - the love of God incarnate - the love of God in Christ Jesus in the midst of our pain and sorrow, calling us to new life. 

For Lauren - and now, for us - the Blue Bonnets are a sign of that resurrection. In this diocese. In our own lives of faith. And, as we grieve, that faith will be our consolation.

I hope you’ll remember it when times get tough. And, they will, no doubt.

I hope you remember it when you are tempted to fall into the old habits of spiritual drought. Let us pray that we will learn to trust that new growth will come again despite the harsh winds of anxiety and desert dryness of our grief to move us from the irrational fears of scarcity into the inexplicable joys of abundance.

And, I hope you call up the image of the Blue Bonnets when you remember Lauren, and how she took risks for us and how her heart burst with love for us.

Finally, I hope you’ll remember the words of our sister, now gone from our sight but dwelling in light eternal, and take them to your heart as words of holy advice. 

Always remember and never forget the words of Blessed Lauren Ann Gough, now numbered among the saints, who once said, “If it ain’t got an ‘yee-haw’ in the middle of it, I ain’t dancin’ to it.” 

Go, thou, and do likewise and be true to your own dance.    

And, when you do that, do it in memory of her. 


NB:  A video of this sermon along with pictures and the service bulletin, can be found here on the St. Martin in the Fields web site.  


David Lindsey said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I couldn't be at the funeral, but I am sitting here bawling like a baby after reading this. What a gift. A precious gift. David Lindsey, St. Christopher, Fort Worth

SCG said...

This is truly wonderful, Elizabeth. I only knew Lauren through our mutual blogging and work on the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. So I was quite thrilled to have met her last August on typically sweltering day in Alabama for the Jonathan Myrick Daniels pilgrimage. When I approached her in the courthouse to introduce myself, she welcomed me with such warmth and excitement that I felt my heart jump for joy because to this pioneer woman I was a "somebody." Her love was genuine and totally Texan (my own beloved is part-Texan and part-French, so I know true Texas grit). In our short time sitting there with one another and talking, I basked in what a journey that weekend had been for her individually and also for Judy (who was being interviewed by every reporter at the event). So many roads traveled, so much pain endured, and all in the name of justice and love. I wished I'd had a chance to visit and talk with her again. Instead, I will live with the peace that I had a face-to-face encounter with Lauren, and she was as amazing and wonderful as I could have ever imagined. May she rest in peace and rise in glory and save me some of that Texas BBQ when it is my time to sit down at that endlessly joyous banquet table.

Ann said...

Thanks Elizabeth -- hole in the fabric of our lives right now. Here is my dance poem
Life is a dance
with steps you don't know
Join the dance
learn as you go.

Unknown said...

What a brilliant, moving and loving tribute to your friend, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing these words with those of us who never knew Lauren. We know her now, and she lives on

Fran said...

Thank you for posting this. I met Lauren once, although we had corresponded often back in the early days. She had a tremendous influence upon me and she still does. (As you do too, dear Elizabeth.)

Her light will shine brightly in eternity, complete with boots and a big yee-haw as she dances with the God that loved her into being, and then called her home too soon.

Deb said...

This is wonderful. I only knew Lauren through her blogging and virtual spaces like RevGals. I'll catch up with her in heaven where I'm sure there will be dances with "yee-haws" in them. (I can't picture Jesus waltzing. But I'm sure he would do a do-so-do.)

Bless you for sharing this.

8thday said...

It is so easy today to be marinated in news about evil and greedy people. It is always nice to read about special people and the love they spread in the world.

Mary Goshert said...

thank you, Elizabeth!

FrRichard said...

Thanks, Liz. Brilliant, beautiful, inspiring words that fed me for the continuing journey.

Ann said...

Fr. Richard - nice comment but Elizabeth's name is NOT Liz.

Melody said...

I love this. May our lives be filled with many yeehaws in the middle of it. ♥