Category Archives: LGBTQIA

I’m In. How About You?

Every time I turn around, someone outside the Methodist Church is asking me how things are going at the church.  I think that my reaction to the pain of GC2019 and its aftermath left my friends and counseling colleagues wondering if the UMC was going to suddenly spin apart into little fragments.

I have to admit that there are times when I desire that spinning apart greatly. The movement towards any kind of change, any kind of restructuring of the UMC, seems so slow and leviathan as to make me wonder if change is possible at all in our current, almost stultified church culture.

The statements issued at the end of the UMCNext gathering didn’t offer me much hope either, mostly because the statement sounded like we doubled down on inclusion without making any plans for how we were going to make that happen without first exiting the UMC as I know it.  Knowing that I was starting to despair, several friends suggested that I read Adam Hamilton’s invitation to UMCNext, and then they forwarded me a few blog posts written by participants in the UMCNext conference.

Thankfully, I found hope, inspiration…and a whole new host of concerns.

Rev. Dr. Tyler Schwaller, a participant in the UMCNext conference, wrote a blog post that clearly pointed out the biggest problems that we face as the progressives and centrists in our denomination try to move forwards from GC2019. (read here) It was heartening to read that he found it wonderful to finally be at a gathering of pastors and laity where he was not reviled simply for being queer.  I cannot imagine how painful it must be to have served the UMC faithfully for such a long time, knowing that many of your colleagues and your partners in the laity condemned you for existing, for your very creation.

Not that it changes the years of suffering for all my POC and LGBTQ colleagues, but I repent of not having been more obnoxiously vocal about radical and total inclusion. Entrenched oppression deserves loud and bold resistance from everyone who is aware that it exists, whether they experience the oppression firsthand or not.  I wasted valuable opportunities to speak up and make space for POC/LGBTQ clergy simply because I was too committed to being ‘nice’, and I believe that I did harm because I wasn’t willing to be disliked.  You are my treasured colleagues and friends, and you didn’t deserve that. I repent of my inaction and unwillingness to be uncomfortable, unpopular, and maybe even despised on your behalf.  Please forgive my inaction.

Having said that, I want to look at a few points in Schwaller’s post (please read it…it is short and revealing.)

Schwaller stated “the commitment to the preservation of power and control by the already privileged is palpable. Our Movement Forward summit created space to reimagine a church where power is shared within a framework of mutual accountability. UMCNext forced us around tables over which we had no choice, asked limiting questions that restricted imagination, centered leaders who have already failed and undermined us, was carefully scripted so to gloss over differences that matter, and completely ignored the collective wisdom of justice-seeking resistance movements. In short, it repeated the imperialist framework of the UMC as it already is. “Inclusive” imperialism is still evil.”

That’ll preach, brother.

The one thing that is going to have to change if we are going to move forward as a truly inclusive church is that we have to let go of the entrenched power structure. I don’t mean that we need to do away with Bishops and DS’s, or that we should advocate for anarchy within the church structure. I don’t want to throw away the baby with the bathwater, but at the same time, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing when we seek to preserve the structures that supported oppression in the first place.

Right now, it appears to me that we are too invested in making sure that we keep the larger churches happy so that apportionments will be paid and the coffers of the church, already threatened by the shrinkage of our membership, will remain robust. This means that we cannot place women, POC, or LGBTQ clergy in churches where their prophetic voice (let alone their simple existence and appearance) would challenge valued and generous members to listen to the gospel anew. God forbid some big givers should leave the church and take their money with them. I get it…we need money if we are going to do any kind of meaningful ministry. I am not blind to the needs of the church. But at the same time, I question why we are putting the (less than) almighty dollar before the honest proclamation of the radical gospel of Jesus Christ that extended grace to all the wrong people and frequently put the so-called ‘big givers’ outside the door of inclusion because they weren’t willing to share the table with people they found undesirable.

I am also aware that we continue to discriminate against anyone who dares to ask for ordination as a Deacon. A number of Elders have explained to me that the order of Deacons, created at GC1996, was denied rights to the sacraments because the Bishops feared that granting sacramental rights to Deacons would cause a mass migration of Elders, changing orders to avoid itinerancy. If the only way that you can keep an Elder faithful to their call is to discriminate against another entire class of people, you have a major problem with your Elders. Think about this: Deacons, who serve their congregations and community with the same love and devotion as the Elders, are repeatedly forced to turn away congregants who come to us, asking us to perform baptisms. When we lead worship so that the Elder can have a day off, we are forced to beg outside Elders to consecrate communion or are forced to ask the congregation to skip communion altogether, because we are not allowed to consecrate the elements. Try explaining to a church member that you cannot baptize their child because you are only a Deacon, not quite equal to the Elder, even though the BOD swears the orders are equal. None of this has ever made sense to any layperson when I have tried to explain it, especially when I also have to admit that I have the same MDiv as the Elder, went through the same candidacy and RIM process as the Elder, and am fully ordained like the Elder.  And as for the Bishop’s supposed fear that Elders would switch orders en mass, my experience of the Elders that I work with tells me that nothing except God’s call would convince them to change orders, and that when they do change orders it is for sake of continuing to be in obedience to God.  If we’re going to avoid perpetuating imperialistic church structure under the guise of inclusivity, we need to address all structures of oppression within the church. Inclusion isn’t a “this group now, that group later, and always somebody waiting in the wings for their full rights” kind of a thing. Inclusion is all people, right now, period.

As a white, cis-gendered straight clergywoman, I am aware that many of us, clergy and laity, will struggle to deal with the changes necessary to create a truly inclusive Church. It will be uncomfortable, to say the least. There will be a lot of fear and hesitancy, and we will need accountability and grace if we are going to find our way to new behaviors and new ways of expressing ministry that don’t involve adherence to the old imperialistic power structures.  I am not asking my POC/LGBTQ colleagues for forbearance with our unwillingness to move forward. We need to move forward no matter how uncomfortable that movement makes the clergy and laity who have been comfortable for far too long. We may, however, need to remember that epic shifts in thinking, attitude, and action involve a great deal of cognitive dissonance, something that our desire for inclusion cannot overcome and should not rush through. Cognitive dissonance is necessary and desirable, because it calls many accepted and unquestioned beliefs into question and even prompts their abandonment.  This means that our execution of the necessary changes will be filled with people dragging their feet, repeated moments of failure, tears of frustration and possibly shame, and the need for loving accountability. I am certain that I will fail my desire to be fully inclusive many times out of sheer ignorance and an on-going belief that I have somehow managed to avoid internalizing abusive and oppressive power structures because I’m ‘better than that’. I’ve already discovered that I casually accepted patriarchal structures without challenge, well into my adulthood. I’m certain that I will find myself sorely lacking in the ability to clearly perceive all the structures of oppression built into the UMC without being called to account by the people who suffer under those structures.  We need to let POC/LGBTQ clergy lead the way into a more inclusive church, and beg their patience with our overt stupidity as long as we continue to visibly struggle for personal change and structural change.  And those of us that have enjoyed privilege without cause to receive that privilege need to trust that God will guide all of us as we are conformed to the inclusive, prophetic image of Christ. It will be painful, and it will be worth it.

I’m in.  How about you?

Advertisements

To the GC2019 Delegates who Voted for The Traditionalist Plan

Dear Dad,

We haven’t talked in a while, mostly because our last talk didn’t go very well. It ended with me crying while you were screaming at me, and I thought that maybe things would go better if I wrote you instead of trying to talk face to face.

I know that you are disappointed with the way I live my life and the way that I conduct myself. You raised me to follow the Scriptures as they are written, to add nothing to and take away nothing from God’s commandments like it says in Deuteronomy. You raised me to live in strict adherence to your interpretation of the Word, and I know that you feel that I am not living a life that reflects what I was taught; that my life doesn’t give glory to God because I am disobedient to what you think is God’s word.

I also know that you disapprove of my relationship with Jes, that you think his skin is the wrong color, and that he loves in all the wrong ways, and that he is a hippy-dippy liberal who wants to give away everything to everyone when they should have to work to earn it.

I am writing these things to you, not because I am agreeing with you, but because I want you to know that I have heard your admonishments all these years. I really have listened, Dad. I’ve listened until I can listen no more. I know what you think of me and my life. I know that you think I am a disobedient child that needs to be taken in hand and ‘schooled’ until I behave correctly.

Dad…I am 54 years old.

I am not a child. I am an adult. I pay my own bills and run my own life. I don’t ask for anything from you but love.

Sadly, for all the disapproval and lectures that you seem to be able to give, love doesn’t appear to be on the list of things that you have for me.

Love isn’t another lecture.

Love isn’t telling me just how badly I’ve screwed up my life or yelling at me about my disobedient nature.

Love isn’t telling me that you don’t want to speak to me until I’ve set aside my childish behaviors and started acting like the adult YOU taught me to be.

Finding Jes and falling in love with him was amazing for me. I never felt so alive! It took years of him loving me without judgement for me to realize that he knew I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t everything he wanted me to be, but that he loved me anyway. That’s called unconditional love, Dad, and it is life changing!

It took a long time of me being with Jes to understand that you never really loved me, because love doesn’t treat another human like an object to be bent to the owner’s will. Real love doesn’t seek to control and dominate. Love doesn’t oppress and demand obedience. True love invests in relationship knowing that close, loving relationships have influence, and influence brings change without demanding that one person ‘submit’ to the other. True love leaves space for individuality, and for appreciating differences of opinion and choice. True love doesn’t demand conformity, because that isn’t love for another; love that demands conformity is love for self over all others, and Jes says that love like that is diseased and broken. When he says these things to me, I cry, because I want so much more for you and I, Dad. Jes wants more for us too, and that’s why he’s stood by me all these years while I tried to make our relationship better.

Love isn’t me letting you tell me how to live my life, Dad. Real love is a set of choices based in a commitment to the best for another person, even at the cost of self-sacrifice for their good.

When it comes to love, Dad, Jes taught me that the proof is in the pudding. The pudding that Jes has for me is sweet; it feeds my soul and nourishes me in ways that I cannot even describe. The pudding that you have been shoving down my throat for my entire life tastes of domination, dehumanization, and verbal and emotional abuse, and I can’t stomach it anymore.

I’m letting you go, Dad.

This has been a long time coming, and I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but Jes keeps telling me that I deserve better than this.

Jes doesn’t always think I’m right, Dad. Jes has disagreed with my decision to keep in touch with you for a long time—for years in fact—but each time he just tells me what he thinks and then reminds me that no matter what I decide, that he will have my back and be here for me because he loves me.

I don’t remember you ever telling me that you had my back, or that the decision was mine. The only times I remember you saying that you loved me was after you yelled at me for being wrong (again). You would remind me that you only spent time correcting me because you loved me.  I get what you were trying to say, but there is more to love than correction and demands for obedience.

Jes has been telling me for years that your ‘love’ is toxic, and I think he is right.

So I’m done, Dad. I’m done trying to make our relationship work. I’m done trying to please you, to mollify your demands for obedience to your way of thinking and living. I’m done with all of it.

If you ever change your mind and decide that you are willing to accept me as I am, to love me without trying to change me, Jes(us) and I will be right here in Arizona, and you will always be welcome when you are ready to give and receive real love.

I love you, Dad.

Goodbye.

My Broken Heart Serves Me Well

Two weeks ago I wrote about feeling afraid. I was genuinely afraid that I had helped set two people up for utter failure.

To fill you in: last week the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to commission two openly gay clergy.  Commissioning grants them the title “Reverend” and begins a time for formation where they will walk with other newly commissioned clergy as they experience the joys and disappointments of ordained ministry and church leadership.

The votes were without incident and no one spoke against their entry into the clergy of the UMC.  I sat amongst the assembled clergy of our conference and cried.  I cried again when we celebrated our service of  commissioning and ordination, because I believe that this is a concrete step towards justice and inclusion that has been a long time coming.

The joy was overwhelming!  Our Jurisdiction elected an openly gay Bishop last July, and now my conference (smaller than a Jurisdiction) has commissioned two openly gay clergy.

JUSTICE AT LAST!!!

It took me several hours to stop grinning like an idiot.

And then I got home after five days of holy conferencing and I started thinking…and worrying.

I worry that not one concern was raised. Not one clergyperson spoke against their commissioning…and there are plenty of conservative clergy in our conference who are not thrilled with allowing LGBTQIA persons into the clergy.

So why wasn’t there discussion?

You’d think I’d be thrilled, but I’m not. Discussion would have been difficult and maybe even emotionally painful, but at least everyone’s opinion could have been heard.

I fear that we’ve silenced the conservatives in our conference, and that isn’t a good thing. It isn’t a good thing at all.

For years and years, my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters have sat in silence, closeted, unable to be their true selves for fear of the rejection they might receive and the losses they might have had to endure.  They could be clergy, but only if they effectively passed for heterosexuals.  Until recently, the authentic voices of Methodist LGBTQIA persons were silenced by the Book of Discipline that stated that being a LGBTQIA person was against Christian teaching and therefore disqualified you for ordained ministry.**  The tide has slowly turned and more and more Methodists now support the full ordination of LGBTQIA persons, but that can never undo the years of silence and forced invisibility they endured. What the Church has done over the years to non-heterosexual persons who felt called into ministry breaks my heart.

My broken heart serves me well.  I am unwilling to participate in that kind of silencing and forced invisibility a second time…not even when I disagree with the voices of those who I’m silencing. Not even when I believe I stand on the side of justice. I cannot participate in silencing my conservative siblings and consider myself righteous, because all I have done is swap one kind of oppression and discrimination for another.

If discrimination is wrong, then discrimination is WRONG even when the discrimination silences your opponent or even your enemy.

I am not advocating for a return to hate-speech about gays and lesbians. There is no need for hate speech on either side of any debate, nor is there any need for condemnation or negative labeling.

The bottom line is that in the middle of all my joy and celebration, I am watching to make sure that we don’t simply turn the tables on the conservatives, rendering them silent and invisible.

If you are reading this and you are one of my conservative siblings in the UMC, know that I am thinking of you and praying for you. Don’t be silent. Your voice is crucial to maintaining balance in our denomination. Moreover, I keep hoping that one day both sides will find themselves gravitating closer and closer to the middle of our theological seesaw…until we can simply hold hands and declare ourselves unified.

Then no one will have to be silent and invisible, and wouldn’t that look just like the Kingdom?

** The United Methodist Book of Discipline hasn’t changed in this regard; our conference has decided that questions regarding sexuality are not relevant to readiness for, or effectiveness in, ministry and therefore will not be discussed as a part of considerations for commissioning or ordination. Any information about sexuality that is revealed in the course of the interviews and theological examinations will not be held against the candidate.  We don’t engage in ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ but instead in a policy of ‘Why is that important?’ and ‘Don’t be skanky (promiscuous) if you’re going to be a minister!’

Today I Am Afraid

*** For those of you in the DSW Conference, no I do not know anything that you don’t. I am just experiencing some anxiety mixed with hope in light of the vote we are about to have this coming Thursday. If I have concerned you because of my personal fear, I am truly sorry.  It’s just a prayer that reflects my own anxious nature.  Blessings and peace…and perhaps prayers that we will all be less anxious. ***

Abba, Father…

I did what I thought was right.  I read their theological exams and I expected from them what I expect from any candidate for ministry: honesty and theological robustness. I expected them to write their exams like they were writing papers for seminary, in conversation with the Scriptures and with the theologians that they studied.  I interviewed them Lord, and I tried hard not to give them breaks that I wouldn’t have given to other candidates.  I did my best to be thorough, firm, and fair…and then I voted my conscience and I approved them.

I approved two LGBTQIA candidates for commissioning and admission to the clergy of the United Methodist Church.

I was proud that day and certain that my colleagues would join me in celebrating their entry into full time ministry. I was certain that our entire conference would celebrate our stand for justice and equality in ministry.

Today I am not so certain. In fact, today I am afraid.

I am filled with fear that my conservative colleagues will unite and stand against these two people. I fear that they will block their entry into full time ministry. I fear they will vote against them, but not because they aren’t fully prepared, and not because they aren’t theologically articulate, but solely because they are LGBTQIA.

That’s not the right reason, Lord.  You have given us ample evidence that You call the weak and foolish to show your strength and wisdom. Goodness knows you called ME and there isn’t much that is weaker or more foolish than I am.

My stomach hurts and I want to cry.

I want to believe that I serve a church that is just and wise. I want to believe that I serve in a conference that will stand for justice even when it means that we will be hated by other conferences within the larger Methodist church. I want to believe that you are leading the Desert Southwest, and eventually the entire Methodist Church, into new spaces of equality and tolerance that our church has never known before.

But I’m so afraid that I’m wrong in what I believe. I’m afraid that I’m about to watch these two poor souls be crushed when they are turned away and labeled unclean and unfit for ministry only because of the way they love.

All I can do, Father, is to put the whole thing into your hands and beg you to have your way with our conference. Let your Spirit move as the clergy votes over these two who have submitted themselves to your will and put themselves into your hands.  Protect them from any harm should my colleagues choose to reject them.  Never let these two children doubt for one moment that You have chosen them and nothing else matters.

You alone can stop the prejudice and fear that runs in the hearts of those who would reject the children you call just because of who and how they love.  Grant me the grace to forgive them for their fear, because you know that I am also consumed with fear. Grant me the grace to remember that they are only trying to do what is best for the church, just as I am trying to do what is best for the church.

Grant us…grace. Lots and lots of grace…because we are going to need it in abundance.

Father God, today I am afraid. But I am trusting that you are bigger than this entire issue, and that it matters even more to you than it does to me.

Thanks for listening. I needed to get this off my chest.  I might need you again later, because this fear doesn’t seem to go away and it keeps threatening to leak out of my eyes and run down my face.

Amen.

Unclean

So…we United Methodists have been in the news lately.

Nothing big, we just elected ourselves an openly gay bishop last July and someone on the other side of the nation got their undies in a knot about it and asked the United Methodist Judicial Council for a ruling about whether or not this was ‘legal’ under the UMC Book of Discipline rules regarding clergy and specifically bishops.

The Book of Discipline (BOD) of the United Methodist Church states that homosexuality of any kind (thus including all LGBTQIA persons) is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ although the BOD does say that the UMC affirms “that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”  Then in a later section on ordained ministry, the BOD goes on to restate how “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be…ordained as ministers…or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Wow…feels discriminatory to me.  Not what I want to see in my church’s polity.

Setting that aside, I have been thinking all week about that statement “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Says WHO??

Who decides what is “Christian teaching”?  Is there a central committee somewhere that I’m not aware of?   I’m really confused about the statement “incompatible with Christian teaching”.

You see…I went to seminary, and when I was in seminary, I read a host of theology books. Some of those books were written by neo-Orthodox theologians like Karl Barth, some were written by evangelical theologians like Stanley Grenz, some were by liberationist theologians like Ronaldo Muñoz or Dorote Sölle, some were written by process theologians like Marjorie Suchoki or C. Robert Mesle, and some were by progressive theologians like Phillip Gulley or Roger Wolsey. Basically, I read a whole lot of theologians who understood God in very different ways, and how they defined ‘Christian teaching’ differed. Some basics (like the existence of God and Jesus) were the same from theologian to theologian, but what each theologian considered important was different and unique, and therefore the things they defined as tenets of ‘Christian teaching’ was also unique.

What I’m trying to tell you is that there very little consensus as to what the full complement of ‘Christian teaching’ is, so to have something as basic as sexuality be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ begs the question “Whose Christian teaching?”  Because it is not incompatible with my Christian teaching or that of many of my colleagues and we all have Master’s of Divinity degrees and are ordained ministers and therefore theologians in our own right.  Moreover, we have a lot of theologians who are far more well-known and well-spoken than we are who back us up.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that the Book of Discipline doesn’t state that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible (Rom 1:26-27), or that it is an abomination to the Lord (Lev 18:22), or that it is a sin and therefore worthy of condemnation (Lev 20:13).  The Book of Discipline doesn’t cite scripture to condemn homosexuality, it just gives a weak statement about homosexuality’s ‘compatibility with Christian teaching.’

Well, if that’s the argument they are using, then let’s get out our Bibles and turn to Acts 10. It’s time for some ‘Christian teaching’.

9b Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.   (Acts 10:9b-28 NRSV)

Okay, anyone with half a brain who wants to argue with me is going to read this and say “Yeah, but this is about the food laws.”

NO it is not. The vision was about food, but the rest of the passage of scripture is about God sending Peter to teach a Gentile, a man who Peter (a righteous Jew) would have found unclean according to Jewish law. Let me remind you that Jewish law is laid out in books of the Bible like Deuteronomy and Leviticus, a book that I quoted earlier in reference to laws against homosexuality.

In Acts 10:28, Peter tells Cornelius and the people in his home that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit Gentiles, and then Peter says “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”   God didn’t tell Peter that the laws in question were now null and void.  The laws stood as they were written and yet…God was simply no longer interested in maintaining God’s own law when it caused certain people to be cast aside and considered unworthy.

The point of today’s Christian teaching is: God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

God has shown me that I should NOT call anyone profane or unclean, no matter how nicely I do it, or how sweetly I preface it with a statement acknowledging that “all persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”

If God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean, wouldn’t it be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ to label someone unfit for ministry because of their sexuality?

Yeah, I’m thinking so.

And if we don’t want to be profane and unclean ourselves, maybe we should knock that off, you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling It Like I See It

Today my colleagues and I were at an all-day meeting where we tried to discuss our differences and come to consensus in regard to ordaining LGBTQIA persons.

Say whatever you will about the church in general, or what you think of the church’s hang-ups about sexuality, or even what you think about LGBTQIA persons…you have to admit that this is a hot-button issue when it comes to church politics.

And of course, we didn’t really resolve anything or come to any stunning conclusions. I, however, came home having learned some things.  Take these for what they are worth—I’m not saying that there is any real wisdom here—but since I committed to honesty today, that’s what I’m going to put in my blog.

Our moderator for the day asked us to think about what we were willing to do to in order to bring more maturity and wisdom to the debate.   With the moderator’s encouragement, many of us chose to speak our “I will…” statements out loud to the entire group.  I’m not sure if we did that so that we could be held accountable for our commitment, or just so that it would be food for thought for the group.

Anyway, I committed to being “scarily honest.”  Shortly after making that commitment, we broke into small groups and began discussing what we personally needed to do in order to contribute to consensus and understanding (instead of increased conflict)…and I immediately started shutting down and refusing to be honest.  I realized that I was struggling to trust one of the members in my small group (I’ll call him ‘Bob’) who wasn’t joining the conversation except to make light jokes to break the tension. Bob appeared to be very closed off, as if he was hiding himself from the group. Being committed to honesty, I challenged Bob about it (poorly…I think I came across as judgmental and self-righteous instead of as honest and questioning) and discovered that I was right: he admitted he was purposely hiding himself from the group.  The thing is that Bob had a really good reason for not risking trust with us…and he chose to be scarily honest by telling us why.  Bob revealed that he had been badly burned when he reached out to several colleagues in ministry for advice and a listening ear. Bob asked them for confidentiality, only to have them break his confidentiality and cause him a great deal of emotional pain.  My heart broke for him. No wonder he didn’t trust us! I cannot imagine what it must be like to be so deeply betrayed by people you are supposed to be able to trust. The paradox of the moment was that Bob’s choice to share his pain with us broke down the wall of mistrust. I immediately felt comfortable trusting Bob, and he contributed a great deal to the conversation after that. For all my commitment to scary honesty, it didn’t take much to shut me down…luckily it didn’t take much to open me back up, either.  Again and again I learn that honesty pays off in the strangest and most amazing ways, even when your honesty is clumsy and unkind (as I think I was.)  My hope is that Bob found our small group to be trustworthy (and that’s why I’m not using his real name) and that he will continue to trust us, even if just a little.  Unconditional trust takes a while to earn, and we were only together for a few hours…but it is a great start!  Bob if you see this…you are one brave dude and I greatly appreciate the risk you took in telling us how badly you got hurt.  Hang in there man, because I think you are one great minister!

It turns out that the small group experience was the best part of the day. Once we reconvened as one large group, I found myself increasingly frustrated with what I’ll call ‘corporate happy crap’. I spent plenty of years in the corporate world before going into ministry, and I heard way too many of my managers say things that sounded decisive and committed but that actually meant very little and were frequently used to sidestep the commitment later on.  I thought I had escaped corporate happy crap when I went into ministry, but no.  Sadly, I heard a lot of corporate happy crap today.  I heard my colleagues speaking sincerely about committing to pray or to listen.  I expect clergy to pray, so that seemed like a no-brainer, but the commitments to listening riled me up a bit. Despite all those commitments to ‘listen’, those same colleagues did not offer to genuinely try and connect with the pain and struggle of the ‘other’ side.  The truth is that listening is easier than you think.  I listen to all sorts of things: talk radio, close friends, music, lousy sitcoms, my counseling clients, my family, etc.  I spend a huge portion of my day ‘listening’.  Despite all that listening, the only things that actually impact me are the things I open my heart to, which is usually my friends, my clients, and my family.  Talk radio, sitcoms, etc…not so much, but oh my Lord don’t I listen to them.  I open my ears and the sound comes in and I don’t protest. Sometimes I can actually repeat what I hear—verbatim—to confirm that I’ve understood what I ‘listened’ to. But let the words in deep enough to let them impact my emotions?  That only happens when I open my heart on purpose and let the speaker’s words all the way in.  And this is what I mean when I call it corporate happy crap: it sounds SO good but it actually doesn’t require much real commitment.

I realize that I don’t know what was in the hearts of my colleagues as they committed to pray, or to listen, or to try not to jump to judgment.  They might have been deeply sincere and truly trying to do the right thing. On the other hand, I heard way too many hollow commitments during my corporate days, and it left me with a finely tuned radar for words that serve as escape hatches to avoid conflict and real commitment.  I fear that I heard a lot of corporate happy crap today and it leaves me frustrated and sad.

Please understand me: I don’t claim to have any of this figured out. I am not somehow smarter or better than my colleagues. I have, however, repeatedly discovered the value of scary honesty as a way of moving past conflict and differences of opinion to reach vulnerable places of connection and deep, heart-felt compromise.  I may have done a poor job of being gentle with my honesty, but it worked anyway. Honesty is vulnerable, and vulnerability invites intimacy, and my honesty—flawed as it was—reached right into Bob’s heart, and he stepped into the relationship space and the whole group became closer and more honest with each other because of it.  I risked honesty and Bob risked it back and everything changed in an instant. Our group may not have solved anything, but we got honest about difficult topics; we became free to admit our failures and fears; we genuinely laughed and genuinely ached together.  And the best part is we came away better friends than we were when we started.

To my LGBTQIA colleagues and friends, know that I will do my best to use my straight privilege to create honest dialogue wherever I can and to help you in your quest for full inclusion and equality. You have a voice that needs (and deserves) to be heard and I will do my best not be foolish and speak for you just because I already have the privilege and therefore the floor (so to speak.)  I also promise to avoid flinging any corporate happy crap your way.  If you catch me flinging crap, call me on it. I committed to scary honesty and I’m sticking with my commitment. If it keeps paying off the way it did today, it will be worth everything I put into it.