Monday, April 30, 2012

My out of the closet thoughts

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending an authors' talk at Hollins University on a book I recently read, Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor.  I had picked up the book because I knew Joe Cobb in passing as he's the minister at a local church and I have attended other events where he was present.  I read this book in preparation for the event tonight, and yet I was not prepared by how moved I would be by the story.  It's the memoir of Joe and Leigh Anne, who had been married for 13 years when Joe admitted to his wife that he might be gay.  It chronicles them both as they come to terms with his life-shattering announcement, share the news of the separation with their young children, and amazingly (over time) offer grace to one another, making a new vow upon their divorce that they would "speak and act in loving ways toward one another and about one another."  They have honored their vow and exceeded all expectations.  They remain friends even as they have found new partners.  Leigh Anne is the godmother to one of Joe's two children with his partner, James.

While I know the subject of homosexuality (particularly within faith and the church) is a touchy subject, I have to admire the courage Joe and Leigh Anne both show in sharing their struggles in honest, open, and moving ways.  I'm inspired by the way that faith has been a source of strength and support for them, in spite of Joe being required to step down from ministry in the United Methodist Church.  After the hurt that the Church has inflicted upon those who struggle with a sexual identity outside the "norm", I am astounded that both Joe and Leigh Anne remain in ministry and speak with such tenderness on the faith that is central for them as individuals.

Growing up in a backward town, I was subjected to many stereotypes and prejudices, yet had very little personal experience to make up my own mind on a lot of issues.  Seminary was my first real exposure to the "problem" of homosexuality, particularly as it is experienced in the church.  It was discussed in classes and debated among classmates, especially as the governing body that funded us was drafting their own stance on the issue.  According to one professor, it wasn't necessarily wrong to be homosexual (it could possibly have a genetic component), but it still remained a sin (according to the Bible) to act upon homosexual impulses.  Thus, homosexuals should remain celibate.  That seemed a little unfair to me, especially coming from this married, heterosexual man who didn't have to choose whether or not to act upon his love and desire.  It reeked a little to me of the unfortunate concept practiced in many churches to "love the sinner, but hate the sin". 

But really, aren't we all sinners?  How is any one sin worse than another?  Is it just when we can sigh with relief that the issue isn't one with which we struggle, and focusing on it allows us to remove the focus from our own failings?  And really, who would CHOOSE a lifestyle that is so difficult, so outside what we consider the norm, when it causes so much heartbreak?  If it is an innate identity, it is part of our created order, a part of our God-likeness that we shouldn't deny.

But the most compelling argument to me is not based on facts, but feeling.  LOVE.  There are times when I feel God's Spirit so close, when I feel the nod of heavenly assent...when grace and mercy and faith are so evident and strong.  I felt that tonight, in the personal stories of Joe and Leigh Anne, and in the way the Spirit has brought them wisdom and discernment.  It's much like the certainty of my own calling.  I had no idea how controversial it would be to announce my ministry desires as a Southern Baptist woman, and yet, nothing could dissuade that gentle, fierce passion within.  When I was questioned and doubted, I couldn't argue with the scriptures that stood against me, neither could I argue with the Truth of God's calling within my heart.

Faith, as Joe Cobb reminded me, is ultimately all about love.  And that love is so strong that it casts out all fear. 

May the Love of God continue to work in hearts and lives, uniting us in purpose so that it becomes about Love winning over fear.  May it be so that the Gospel will not be equated with sin and fear, but with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On vulnerability and tooting

There is a song that my kids and husband love, and I hate.  It's called "Mama tooted", and it's about...well, you can probably guess.  It surprises me how passing gas (or just the thought of it) is always hilarious for the younger set (and guys in general, it seems, never outgrow the humor).  I was away from my kids one long day and called to check in and get some lovin', but only got them laughing and singing into the phone, "Mama tooted.  Mommy, you tooted (hahahahahaha!!!)" and then, clunk, the phone hits the floor as they lose interest in real conversation.  As for tooting, I like to pretend it never happens, much like the mama in the song.

My husband regularly tries to convince me of how funny it is and that I should let go (literally, ahem).  I never understood why he enjoys seeing in me what I view as embarrassing weaknesses or mistakes, until I had a revelation this weekend.  It's not about failure, but vulnerability.  While I struggle so much to "get it right", "keep it together", and have that perfectly maintained exterior, making it all look good on the surface, he enjoys seeing the human side of me and knowing that I'm real.

I went to a conference of women in ministry this weekend called Feast: Festival of Word, Table, and Image.  As a board member of Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry, I've helped to plan the event in the past, but this year had the pleasure of attending as a participant.  "Feast" is truly an apt word for it as it feeds your senses and your soul.  From the artwork gallery, to the lovingly prepared meal, to the words and time shared with friends, it is such a renewing and affirming experience.

It can also be for me a time of feeling a little less than those around me.  I get all weird and competitive, and see myself failing next to these women who seem so sure of themselves, who speak so eloquently, and who reflect deeply and theologically (even exegeting in Greek).  The art all around reminds me that I never got beyond stick figures.  I see them and dream of one day speaking and leading in a way that touches the lives of others.  I want to write like they've written, and have a beautiful blog that showcases the immaculate life I've always dreamed of. 

The problem is that real life is messy, dreams are subjective, and I'll never get where I want to go until I can be grateful for where (and who) I am.  This year was remarkably different for me, though.  I feel more content than I ever have, enjoying the challenges of my job, and confident in my relationship with my husband of 10 years, grateful for his sacrifices and successes taking care of our home, kids, and his business.  Because of the freedom our new schedules have afforded me, I'm also enjoying my kids much more than the old way in which the daily grind would wear me down.  I also had the special blessing of having one of my favorite students with me at Feast, which is a gift as I get to share in ministry with her and be a part of her journey of discovery.

But perhaps the greatest thing that allowed me to drop my guard and enjoy the sisterhood of the many friends, colleagues, and mentors that were there was realizing their own vulnerability.  They shared from their heart, their hurts, and their doubts.  In sermons and in conversation, they revealed their struggles and uncertainties.  They used choice words and crude jokes.  They were real, not the Photoshopped blog versions of themselves that turn me green with envy.  And I realized that this is my gift, too...receiving their realness and sharing my own humanity and vulnerability with the world.

As long as I don't have to admit to tooting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Remembering ordination

I had the privilege of being part of a friend's ordination council last night.  It was a sacred time of listening to her call story, questioning how God is working in her, and supporting and affirming her God-given ministry.  As I looked around at the faces of my church family and friends, I was immensely grateful for the journey that has led me to this point.

It was close to eight years ago that I was sitting in a similar place, yet surrounded by people less familiar.  We had moved to Roanoke upon my husband's graduation the year before for his calling to the church in which I then sat, yet I felt like an outsider.  While I had moved my membership with my husband (as part of his job process), I had scarcely attended as I ministered in a different setting on Sundays.  Now, I was nearing my graduation from seminary and felt that ordination would be an affirmation of my role as minister.  Particularly as a woman in ministry in an area that wasn't always friendly to the idea of a female in the pulpit, I hoped that it would be a seal of approval, a sort of accreditation.  This church had two women on staff and had ordained others, so I wasn't particularly concerned.  Besides, I had studied up and knew all the answers (or so I thought).  I could spout off my theology, the doctrine of the Trinity, my views in the role of the minister as a servant leader, a bunch of random Church history and Christian traditions...I had basically created my own Cliff Notes of my 4-year seminary experience.  I was ready.

Eight years later, reflecting back, I smile at my well-intentioned naivete.  One minister on last night's ordination council mentioned how we focused more on my friend's call story and personal anecdotes from ministry than her theology, and that's when I noticed the difference.  My council had been all about what I thought were the "right" answers, facts, theology, hermeneutics.  I had little to no personal information or experience from which to share.  In my youth, I was full of idealism, and perhaps a bit of self-righteousness.  I was ready to change the world.  Little did I know how much ministry would actually change me.

  • I had not expected the tears (of pride, blessing, exhaustion, fear?) that sprung up after my questioning.

  • I had not yet faced my local Baptist Association ordination council, that would be cut short by embarrassment and lack of a quorum because of the number of local ministers who refused to take part in the ordination of a woman.

  • I had not experienced the way God's calling could change, seeming to disappear, or how doubts would plague me.

  • I had not foreseen how the church (and Church) would break me and push me and my husband away (quite literally).

  • I did not imagine the darkness of burnout or the politics that would make my role as minister seem irrelevant.

  • I had not felt the depths of despair or the heights of joy I would encounter.

  • I had not had to fight my way back, to church, to faith, to passion.

  • I had not experienced the healing of my current church and calling.

  • I could not know that every hurt, every painful moment would be redeemed, although the scars would remain.  

  • I did not know the strength that God would provide, reminding me that it was never about me, and could never be about MY ministry or MY answers.

I am still on the journey, thanks be to God, and I remain incredibly grateful for those who have journeyed with me, sharing the burdens, hurts, healing, and joys.  If I have learned any great lessons, it is that:

 it is not about me, I am not in control, I am not alone.  AMEN!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Maryn is 4!!

I'm jumping up, I'm one day old...

and I'm jumping up, I'm two days old...

I'm jumping up, I'm three days old....

I'm jumping up, I'm four days old...

One day, I'll be a year

then I'll be two

then three

then FOUR

Happy birthday to my sweet, funny, creative, smart, feisty, cuddly, imaginative, caring, beautiful girl!  May your wishes come true!

(idea copied from, with credit to
The Laurie Berkner Band:)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


It was an extra-special Easter in our household.  On Maundy Thursday, Brady read scripture in church for the first time, and sat through the service with us.  He was enamored with the ordination of the Lord's Supper and was devastated to the point of tears that he couldn't participate.  John gently explained that it was for Christians, followers of Christ, and that he had not yet been baptized.  We had noticed, however, that he had been filling out a weekly information card at church and had been marking that he wanted to be baptized, so we weren't surprised when he replied that he wanted to be baptized (right then, in fact).  He brought it up again on Saturday, so we got out his Bible and read about Jesus' baptism and tried to explain the big concept of salvation in 6-year-old friendly terms.  Then he affirmed again that he wanted to become a Christian and be baptized, and agreed to pray with us.  The sweet thing to me is that he asked if we had been baptized, and John and I shared our stories.  I was Brady's age at my baptism and told him that I was a little scared, but it was a special experience and that I was not scared once it was over.  So in Brady's prayer, he prayed, "Dear God, please help me to never be scared again!"

Oh, the sweetness of a child's faith!  I pray that God will always give him this courage to take steps of faith, to act out of his kind heart, regardless of what the world may throw at him.

What an extraordinary gift as a minister (who is also married to another minister) to lead our child in faith.  What a terrifying experience as well.  I know the cost, and I fear the doubts and obstacles he will face.  I sometimes wish my faith was simpler, or more solid.  I struggled to find the words, the language to encapsulate faith.  I often joke that it would be much easier to be a fundamentalist.  I could throw around phrases like "washed by the blood, saved by the lamb" without cringing.  I could talk about "asking Jesus into your heart" without feeling a little like a fraud.  It used to be second nature, until seminary, when faith was torn apart and reconstructed into something else...more nebulous.  Oh, I love Jesus, and I trust him with all my heart, but somehow, the words are still a struggle.  Faith is just so big that it's hard to share what it all means.  That is my stumbling block.

Yet, I think I'll shine when he comes to me with his doubts, when he questions his faith.  That is a path I've walked, and found God's solace and presence on the other side.  I can live in the mystery much more than the certainty.  May Brady find a way to walk in both worlds, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses:  our family, our church family, and others who will mentor and guide him along the way.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, April 6, 2012


I entered the court building feeling out of place.  I did not belong there, among the smelly, poorly dressed, tattooed, repeat offenders.  In my suit, head held high, I submitted to the friendly deputy that scanned my purse and had me walk through the body scanner.  He barely looked, though, before waving me on with a smile, to another deputy who glanced at me and asked, "Traffic court?"  Obviously.

I sat down in the courtroom feeling wronged on so many accounts.  Here I was, a MINISTER, for goodness sake, spending Good Friday in a courtroom full of hooligans, when I had so many more important things to do. So I sat in my smugness, listening to tales of custody battles, parole hearings, skipping bond, and all manner of egregious sins.  And me?  I had simply had the misfortune of being caught unintentionally speeding while driving my sick baby girl to the doctor for breathing issues.  It was a medical emergency, for Pete's sake.

I kept stealing glances at the officer who had charged me, imagining how she would feel when I shared my story, complete with doctor's report and a copy of the steroid prescription.  Perhaps she couldn't understand, though, maybe she wasn't a mother.  The judge, however, was a kind older lady, who shared with one of the felons how her own kids meant the world to her and she could understand his drive to break the law in order to make sure his kids were safe and well.  It was all in the bag, I thought.  I even reflected on how I had her exact robe hanging in my closet, as judicial robes are cheaper than preaching robes.

That qualifies me to be an excellent judge, right?  Oh boy.

So my name is called, and all my confidence fades.  I am one of them.  I stand accused, and when the judge asks for my plea, I whisper, "Guilty" with trembling lips, eyes on the verge of tears.  Here, I've been judging those around me, and now it is my turn to stand in judgment.  My excuses aside, I broke the law, and when the judge pulled out my record, I knew I was in trouble.  You see, I'm a repeat offender.  I deserve punishment, and in humility, I received it.

Good Friday is an appropriate (yet unfortunate) time for this lesson on judgment.  It is easy for me to stand aside and look down upon those that haven't been blessed with the resources I have.  It is my sinful pride that makes me believe that I deserve more grace, more of the blessings I have simply because I have them.  I am a sinner, and probably in worse condition than those I stood in judgment of because I thought for a moment that I was somehow better than them.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.

Jesus had a trial, too, and he, though innocent, he bore the judgment of my sin.  His sentence was death.  His gift to me is life, grace, and forgiveness.  Thanks be to Christ.

Isaiah 53

 1 Who has believed our message
   and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
 4 Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.
 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

unHoly moley

It's mid-Holy week, and I'm feeling decidedly unholy.  I feel like having a temper tantrum, and throwing in the towel.  It's one of those nothing-I-do-makes-a-difference days, when everything seems futile.  I feel like singing an Alanis Morissette song about "rain on your wedding day" and other things that aren't ironic, but simply sucky.

And yet, and yet...I know that these little picky things that have me all worked up are pretty insignificant.  My life is full of such beauty.  And it's not out of sync to be feeling a little out of sorts given the season.  Holy Week is a time of joy and celebration, but we have to walk through the darkness to get there.  Jesus, who entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week to laud and glory, is now preparing his friends (and himself) for death.  Not only does he face the end of his earthly ministry and the separation from his family and friends, he fears the agony and the betrayal that comes with it.

It must have felt something like failure.  

I imagine that Jesus had enough human in him to despair a little that even those who had walked most closely with him still did not get it. That the very ones he had come to lead would turn their backs on him.  That the religious leaders would shout the loudest when the crowd demanded "Crucify him".  He knew that it would end well, and yet, it's hard to hold onto that in the darkness of the moment.

We had a very moving service on Sunday that combined both Palm and Passion Sunday observances.  In the beginning, the sanctuary was decorated in palms, we sang songs of praise, and purple clothed the tables.  And then there was a marked change during a hymn when our pastor traded her purple stole for a red one, and likewise switched the cloth on the altar cross.  Several narrators seated within the congregation read the entire Passion narrative from Matthew.

Things can change in an instant--from joy to depression, from hope to despair.  This is ministry, this is Christianity.  We follow a Savior that has walked this road and knows all too well its hurts and disappointments.  And yet, we hang on in the darkness, knowing that this is not the end.  We can't see the light yet as we sit in the dark tomb, but we have hope that it is coming.  This is faith...hanging on despite the absence of any evidence, trusting in the great unknown, living the mystery and waiting...always waiting for Easter morning.