Friday, August 21, 2009

Heartbreaking and Hopeful

I have known this vote was coming since I was discerning which seminary to attend six years ago. I have tried to be patient and I’ve tried to listen more than I speak. Being a rostered leader means my words and actions represent the ELCA. Serving a particular congregation means I walk at their tempo and I represent them publicly.

These responsibilities have caused some of my personal passions, beliefs and opinions to be sidelined on occasion – an important exercise for a zealous extrovert like me. But as participants in the ELCA Churchwide Assembly come from across the country and gather in my neighborhood, I am overwhelmed by the biblical theology and emotional systematics dovetailing in my heart and throwing up onto this blog.

1. I am both heartbroken and hopeful every time I have a conversation about sexuality and the church. It is discouraging that this debate is the only thing the media covers and that one decisive action from this broad and powerful assembly advertises us as a divisive body instead of the faithfully united one I know and love. I wish the Star Tribune would report on the HIV/AIDS strategy funding or the exciting stories of mission starts and emergent church bodies bearing the fruit of the Spirit. I wish judgmental spectators could know about the other valuable social and sexual issues we care so deeply about.

But it is encouraging to hear people talk truthfully about what it means to be church to all people – to welcome them in as they are and as we have been welcomed in. I am hopeful when I hear people admit that doing it is harder than simply talking about it. I am hopeful when I see others committed to living in the grey while we figure out what that looks like together.

2. I am both heartbroken and hopeful watching the live stream online, listening to the debates we have been having for thirty years about the GLBT community and their place in the church. I am heartbroken when I hear wonderful people described as an issue with words like “animalistic” or “barbaric”, but I am hopeful when I hear members step to the microphone and share a brief story about someone they’ve met at the assembly with a different view and a different vote. They speak with new clarity and compassion, and that gives me hope that we will not fall apart just yet.

I am related to people who say they will leave the ELCA if the vote is confirmed and I am related to people who say they will leave if it does not pass, but my prayer is that they all remain. I moved forward through the gauntlet of candidacy with some straight people who might have been called, but were mediocre preachers or uncomfortable giving pastoral care. I watched others become tangled up in candidacy because they refused to hide their sexual orientation, confident that God is calling all of who they are. These folks are ensnared in rules, but I get goose bumps thinking about their preaching, their compassion and their obvious vocation as ordained leaders in the church. This is not a black or white issue in my heart, my life, or my scriptural study.

3. I am appalled by the self-appointed prophets who deem Wednesday’s weather to be direct judgment from God, but I am impressed by the droves of people who are brave enough to explore the ambiguity of what it means to be both sinners and saints, saved by the cross of Christ. It is a far easier thing live on one end of the spectrum, affirming yourself and those like you while pointing out the specks in the eyes of others down the line.

I choose to live in the grey because I’m pretty sure Jesus lives there. He was in the mucky middle every time he touched someone or invited someone to break bread. That’s where I’ve got to be if I’m going to run into him doing miraculous things. I choose to live in the grey because ambiguity is not always a bad thing. It means admitting that, even when steeped in scripture, I don’t know everything and that some things will be decided beyond my intelligence and according to God’s perfect will. I choose to live in the grey because I cannot bear to read only some texts or to digest them in only one way – none of us take the scriptures literally unless we are reading them in their original language in the original contexts. We are all interpreters of scripture and I will not be thought less biblically faithful because I am willing to admit that.

It’s here in the grey we can admit that this stuff is really hard and that God’s plan for reconciliation might be much bigger than our restrictions on who can commune with us or our definitions of “life abundant”. It might even be bigger than sexual orientation in the pulpit (and by the way, the pulpit happens to be the most sexless place I can think of, but we’ve put it there anyway).

I write this without knowing how the fourth resolution turns out, but confident that I will, of course, remain in the ELCA tomorrow regardless of the outcome. With or without these resolutions, it is my call and duty to make sure all people know that Christ came for them and that divine reconciliation is a radical thing that lives even beyond the argument about whether homosexuality is a sin, the limited expectations of celibacy, the fear of the unfamiliar and this divisive discord.

Even beyond all of these things.

I’m just sure of it.

In fact, this sinner is betting her life on it.