We Share One Life, We Are One Life
Love is all that matters. The rain falls, stars explode in silence somewhere out in the vastness of space, and here on this tiny planet that someone called Earth, sometimes we meet and hold each other.
*Jeff Foster. The Way of Rest: Finding the Courage to Hold Everything in Love.
An elderly, grey-haired man, grim look on face, stood at the door to my office; I was his pastor. He said he needed to talk with his pastor. I welcomed him in. He sat down and began interrogating me about homosexuality. I had taken a strong stand before the congregation, only weeks before, of compassionate openness to all persons. At the time, this issue threatened to lead to a split in our denomination and, eventually, led to a painful, heartbreaking split in this church. The bishop, though stating his support for me in my role at this church, seeing the potential impact on my health, moved me to another congregation after less than two years.
My open arms as pastor, apparently Jesus' open arms too, the open arms of many of the congregation, was not enough for this man or those he came to represent this day. He notified me he came on behalf of the group, yet he named no names, I did not ask. He urged me to go before the congregation and preach against ~ using his language ~ homosexuality. He said if I did, I would have no problems from the group. He seemed to have no idea integrity was more important to his pastor than avoiding conflict, that indeed I had paid a dear price, many times, for seeking to live and lead with integrity and was prepared to face the threatened retaliation of his group. His group seemed to be aloof from the reality that I could respect the homosexuals I had known more than them, for among the former I had experienced grace, goodwill, and kindness. In the face of this man, the face of his group, I saw arrogance, prejudice, so much of what I had come to disdain in much of the religion I had been in since childhood. I saw no love in this man's eyes, felt no care coming from his heart. I could no longer, would no longer, agree to such heartless morality or religion.
* * *
What he was saying was to speak against gays and lesbians, other human beings, not just against homosexuality ~ one way we can act so mean to others, whom we do not understand, have not tried to understand, and in the name of our religious faith and 'God,' is we objectify real persons into a collective, abstract group ~ so, speak against homosexuality and, of course, can feel so righteous in doing so. When we speak against any group, we can see ourselves as a superior species to these, in our eyes, damned and doomed ones.
This man, frightened of a world emerging other than his conservative evangelical world, did not seem to recall the moralistic religionists were the persons who most opposed the Jesus he claimed to be representing ~ though no reference was made to Jesus or anything but the convictions of the man and his group ~ , not the ones the 'righteous' had decided were unclean and unworthy. So, really, who is unclean? Unworthy? He, and his group, did not seem to recall this scripture from the Bible, the holy book they claimed to live by and be defending...
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10'"Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee [lit., pious one], and the other was a despised tax collector [traitor, worked for the Roman government]. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people ~ cheaters, sinners, adulterers [gays, lesbians]. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income' [as in, aren't you impressed?].
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’" 14I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified [innocent] before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
*Luke 18, NLT
* * *
I told the man I would not do as requested by his group and he, that I had taken the position affirmed by our bishop, of compassionate openness and inclusion of those practicing homosexuality in the lay ministry of our United Methodist churches. Even if the bishop had taken another position, I would not have allowed his to change mine. We simply agreed, and I mentioned this to this man, but this had no influence on him.
He continued pressuring me, and I inquired, "If a person of homosexual orientation walked into our church and sat beside you, what would you tell the person?" His reply, "I would tell him he needed to get down at the altar and kneel and repent." He left the office disappointed that I would not agree with his group. He, later, left our church, attending the Presbyterian across the road. A group of others left, forming their own anti-gay-and-lesbian meeting across town, and they withheld financial support of the church, hoping lack of funds would lead to my having to be moved by the bishop. Most persons remained with the church, regardless of differing opinions on the matter. For their love and support, I remain grateful. After a time, the group that left threatened a disruption of our Sunday morning worship. Thankfully, they did not follow through on the threat. Other incidents happened at this time, imprinting on my mind and heart the means that persons will go to to defend their version of 'God,' protect their world, and I can see better now, such persons acting strong, are afraid before changes they scream at but cannot hold at bay ~ their world, for better or worse, is imploding on top of them. I feel sadness, eleven years later, at what occurred, even more so for happening in a context where love is said to rein supreme, but oft yields to the biases of institutionalized faith, which is, really, not faith at all.
* * *
We each live with "arms."
We can wrap our arms tightly around ourselves, saying,
"Don't come near me!"
We may fear the "unclean" touching us physically or
our being "touched" by including the experience and being of
the other we disapprove of, likely fail to understand, likely
are not willing to understand.
And we can close our arms around ourselves in a sense of
being better than the other, saying, by words or act,
"You do something I strongly disapprove of,
you do not deserve my fellowship."
We can live with open arms.
Open arms is not self-righteous,
"I'm better than you, right and you wrong, so
I am mercifully including you
to help you, to convert you, to change you, to fix you."
Open arms is,
"I'm one with you, broken like you,
need Grace like you. I need you as much as
you need me, maybe more. Let's be a part of
the change Grace will bring about in each other through
opening our arms to each other.
Let's embrace the experience and self of each other, even
the parts of each other we don't understand and maybe
we're afraid of understanding.
Then, together, yes together, we can explore what it means to
live courageously and lovingly in a world that often
resists and disdains courageously loving."
Possibly, if we open our arms, we'll
learn a wonderful lesson. What is that lesson?
The person we call "sinner," or some other derogatory word, is
no more or less such than we are.
We're all broken, all wounded, all able to heal;
we all need open arms to give us a safe and challenging place
to heal and grow in goodness and Grace.
Are you willing to be Graceful to the person
so unlike you, apparently so wrong,
or would you just say, "Get to that altar and repent"?
Would it not be loving to say, rather,
"Welcome. Glad to see you. Feel free here to have a seat"?
We each have a choice ~ open heart, or not,
and we make that choice
again and again and again.
*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at email@example.com .
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.
*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.
The Sacred in Me bows
to the Sacred in You