Sunday, September 17, 2006

I Grow Weary

I have a hunch that I can use this little blog as a journal now. It's been so long since I last posted anything of substance, pretty much everyone has given up clicking on it. That gives me a freedom maybe I didn't have before.

This is probably going to be long. Very, very long. Much longer than most blog-readers can tolerate. But I'm a southerner in my bones, and we reserve the right to pursue truth through very long and circuitous stories. I claim that right. This will be a very long story.

Since August 9, my nights and weekends have been devoted to work over at The Episcopal Majority. That grassroots effort is gaining ground very quickly. I do much of the editing that's involved in the essays we post there, surrounded – thanks be to God – by a marvelous team of editors.

Over the last month, several friends and other folks in my parish have remarked that I look tired or seem to be losing weight. They've cautioned me against spending so much time on that effort.

From time to time, I've wondered what was fueling my passion for that work. I had dived into it unquestioningly. Never thought much about the "why." So I started trying to explain it to my friends.

I knew part of my motivation. Working with The Episcopal Majority, I am surrounded by a marvelous cadre of Episcopalians who care for one another, care deeply for our Church, are smart, and funny, and really smart, and really, really funny, and have a profoundly pastoral care for one another and for everyone who comes onto our website. And they are – as I am – determined that we will succeed in keeping The Episcopal Church a place that can embrace different opinions as we strive to seek and serve Christ together and in one another.

Only this morning did I notice another factor that has fueled my passion for The Episcopal Majority, and why I've spent my time there and neglected this one. But it took sitting through a very uncomfortable Adult Forum to get that insight.

I established this blog After Columbus. I started writing because I was angry and hurting about what happened during GC06, in the still-infamous B033. Though I managed a few posts here that were light-hearted or analytical, mostly it was about hurt and anger.

Then I hooked up with The Episcopal Majority. Finally, I had found a group of people who were doing something positive about the attempted coup. My work there has been restorative. It has been healing. That's how I explained it to friends who were concerned about me. I was turning my hurt and anger into positive steps to reassert the traditional Anglican values and to take back our Church from the right-wing extremists who are funded by people and organizations with a political agenda.

It was good. And The Episcopal Majority is succeeding. We are growing in numbers and influence. I have loved my work over there, and I am not backing-off from it.

But I had a sobering wake-up call this morning during our parish's Adult Forum.

The speaker was one of our diocese's Deputies to GC06. Mike opened by talking about what's involved in serving as a Deputy, what it meant to him spiritually to be involved in the work of the larger Church, and highlighting the positive things that happened during Convention. Then he distributed a handout about GC's specific actions. The first question confronted this gentle man with antagonism, wanting to know why TEC refused to apologize for the consecration of +Robinson … and, by extension, I think he would have wished our Church to strip Bishop Robinson of his office, too.

And I just sat there.

Mike did his best, in his gentle way, to acknowledge the hurt that some have felt, and how our Church is trying to be pastoral with those who are truly hurt. He also made the point that some are not really hurt – but are simply trying to whip up hysteria for their own purposes. Mike was too kind to do so, but I don't mind naming names and kickin' butt, because those organizations personify the "whited sepulchres" Jesus condemned.

In the course of responding, Mike observed what I think most Episcopalians would aver: that we don't believe that any one of us alone can possess the whole truth as we sit alone with our Bibles, but we need to seek out others and engage them to move toward real Truth.

Oh my! Did that get a rise!

I must provide some background here: The Sunday after GC, our Bishop wrote a letter that was to be read in all parishes of the diocese. To my great sadness, he supported B033, but in that letter he also gave a sop to the inclusion of faithful gay men and lesbians in the life of our diocese. When that "inclusion" segment of the letter was read, this one couple in our parish rose from their near-front-row seats and walked out! We are Episcopalians. We do not walk out. We do not behave in unseemly ways. But they walked out.

Back to today's forum: The husband of that couple challenged Mike, claiming that – by God! – he sure is competent to sit with his Bible and know the Truth. Then the wife chimed in, about how she has read the Bible and it seems pretty clear to her that homosexuality is a sin.

And I just sat there.

Mike – smart and good-hearted layman that he is – tried to explain that there are different ways to read Scripture and that we need to read it and discern its meanings together.

And I just sat there. I sat there wondering if anyone in my parish – of the people who claim to love me – would say a word.

Knowing this couple's politics, a thought came into my head: I know they are staunch conservatives (politically as well as theologically). I am almost certain they support the death penalty. I believe they are as wrong as wrong can be in that, and I believe I have Jesus' very own explicit words to back me up – not just some Hebrew scriptures and conflicted Pauline words; I believe Jesus' own words support me. But that does not keep me from going to the altar with them. It does not keep me from handing the chalice to them when I'm serving as Eucharistic Minister. It does not lead me to charge them with "doubting the authority of Scripture." It most certainly does not lead me to "convict them of their sin" in the way they seem free to convict me of mine. It does not lead me to invoke trite "I hate the sin, but love the sinner" condemnations. No! While convinced that I am right and they are wrong, I trust the Spirit to lead them and to lead me into all Truth, but probably not this side of the grave. Where is the "disconnect" here? They want to murder people in the name of the state, but I do not doubt their faith. I want to find a faithful loving relationship in which I may grow in the fuller knowledge of Christ and of God, and that makes them doubt mine. I trust the Spirit to lead all of us – eventually – into all Truth. They want to shove their truth down my throat.

And I just sat there.

I had made up my mind before today's session that I was not going to speak. I did everything short of slapping duct-tape across my mouth. It took some effort. But I wanted to know what my parish had to say. Because this is partly what made me take my sabbatical after GC in the first place: my lack of confidence in my Church and in my parish. Anybody who read my early posts in this blog knows that.

Then the word came from a most unexpected source: a guy I've scarcely ever talked with. He made the point that what holds us together is that we pray together and we go to the altar together while we seek the Truth together. He pointed out that this kind of absolutist claim upon "personal truth" is a very recent innovation. [It occurs to me it's not actually recent; it's exactly the claim that the Puritans made, and which led them to burn many of us at the stake. But I digress.]

And when he finished speaking – for the first time in the 8 years I've been in this parish and attending Adult Forum – a goodly number of people responded with spontaneous applause. Of course, good Episcopalians all, they quickly stifled themselves back into decorum. God love 'em!

And the bell rang, and folks moved on to the 10:30 service. But one dear woman did sidle up to me, to tell me about a marvelous story she read today in the NYTimes, about the courtship and marriage of a gay couple. I believe she meant it as a loving gesture of support, and I took it that way. Thank God for her! But other than that, my fellow parishioners just moved on up to the nave for the service. I believe that if this had been a session about any other Old Testament "sin," there would have been a great outpouring of affection toward those who might have felt "attacked." But not here. Not for the queers. Here, I got one brave, eloquent man speaking in public, and one dear friend coming to me in private afterwards.

I guess it's not nice to side with the queers.

And how many people walked up to the nave saying to themselves, "Thank God I am not a queer?"

Me, I'm just glad this was an Adult Forum. I'm glad our children and young people were upstairs hearing Bible stories about Jesus. I'm glad that no child or young person was there to hear what I heard. For surely some of them know they are one of "those people," and it would break my heart for them to hear what I heard.

I've written this here as a sort of "brain dump." I started it with the title, "I Grow Weary." Because my overwhelming sense after that session was that I am just so tired of the self-satisfied Bible-thumpers. I had already served as crucifer in the 8:00 Rite I service, so I didn't move up to the nave with the bulk of the group. I left. And I've been fairly morose all day since – discouraged about the disconnect between what we are doing at The Episcopal Majority vs. these fellow parishioners who still make it clear that I am a second-class child of God, to be relegated to the "downstairs" of The Episcopal Church – if not to hell fires.

But the exercise of writing here has brought another facet of this morning's Adult Forum into sharper focus: that man who reminded them of our common prayer, and that spontaneous, brief outburst of applause, and the woman who approached me quietly afterwards. Maybe that was the embrace I needed, against the judgment and condemnation I was feeling.

Still, I am weary. I am weary of having my life and heart and soul subject to the votes of General Convention every three years. I am weary of having my life hung out as an "object of discussion" at adult forums every now and then.

Grateful as I am for Mike and those two other voices and those brief moments of affirming applause … my friends, I am weary beyond weary.

9 Comments:

Blogger Flutegirl said...

Dear Lisa,

I wish I had some words of comfort and encouragement for you. There is a wider church that is dependent on you because of the work you're doing, and we are so grateful. You were subjected to personal attacks in the comments on your blog, too. The difference is you didn't have to look these people in the eye or sit next to them in Adult Forum. I assure you there are many in your parish who quietly (yes, we are Episcopalians to whom a sigh is an outburst of emotion)support you and love you but are unable to voice their feelings. We have grown so innured to injustice and oppression in our society that we have stopped speaking up even when we recognize it. We need people like you to be our voice crying in the wilderness, to be an example to us and give us courage. Those who walk out of meetings, withhold pledges, complain about the clergy or lay leadership, refuse to engage in dialogue and take the "my way or the highway" stance, and all the other tactics of repression and manipulation are bullies, plain and simple. Pharisees. Jesus didn't have any use for them either, but he still talked to them. Keep up the good work, sweetie. We are still out here.

9/18/2006 6:41 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa,

We all grow weary, my love. As weary as I am, I am still not as weary as I once was, at the height of the AIDS crisis in the mid-80's, when AIDS was still called GRID (Gay Related Infectious Disease), and when churches and funeral homes were refusing to tend to the dead who had died in the epidemic.

I know this is going to sound trite, but there were only two things that held me up back then:

1. My faith.

2. My activism.

I prayed "without ceasing." I prayed in church, I meditated, and I went to Communion every Sunday as well as once mid week. I humbled myself for healing prayer at another mid week service.

Being nourished and fed by Jesus and prayer sustained me in ways I can't even begin to articulate.

I joined ACT/UP and demonstrated at the NIH in Bethesda, the White House in D.C., and in front of pharmacutical companies in NJ.

You seem to underestimate your own wisdom, Lisa. You are doing both.

Oh, maybe that's because I forgot to mention the third thing that kept me afloat:

3. Community.

When I got weary and I couldn't pray and my efforts at activism were like booster shots that were loosing their effect, I allowed myself to "soak" in the prayers and activism of others in my community.

Let yourself soak in our prayers, Lisa.

You will find yourself refreshed and renewed in ways you didn't even know you needed.

Oh, and keep writing. It will help keep you sane.

Know that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. If you can't see them - just remember my face and know that I'm in there, like Mother Thunder: praying for the dead and fighting like hell for the living.

With deep affection for your amazing ministry and witness,

Elizabeth+

9/18/2006 7:33 AM  
Blogger Suzer said...

I, for one, have not stopped clicking, and I'm glad to see you back. :)

I will never say it as well, so I'll just second what Elizabeth and Flutegirl said.

9/18/2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger january736 said...

A while back I grew so weary that I contemplated renouncing my vows and going away. I recall that you urged me to take a deep breath and reconsider. So, thanks in part to you, I did and here I am, still here. As your friend Elizabeth said, we do all get weary. I, too, am tired of being the subject of so much discussion and speculation. I am sick to death of Descants and Fudge and Virtue and Titus and all the obnoxious, evil rest. I'm sick of their frank glee at my sadness and discomfort. I am tired of thinking of myself as a child of a lesser god. I am nauseated by their hatred and syrupy self-righteous "YBIC"s. That's what makes The Majority such a wonderful and needed place: it is a place of comfort and directed response.WE can do something; we don't have to just sit there and listen. We can respond and "fight back"; we don't have to be the passive recipients of this crap. No one else will ever speak up for us. We have to marshall our own resources and do it, and we can only do it together.
Rest, Lisa, you've been working very hard. Rest and maybe get a physical exam to make sure your thyroid isn't low or your blood count wobbly, get a good physical and rest and find a way to express the anger and know that we have to be in this togther and we can and will support each other. "They" have highjacked our joy far too long.
Well, Lisa, that should be sufficient advice for one day! (Sorry, my "old" RN training keeps leaking out) Blessings to you. January736.

9/18/2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger ... said...

My sister, I know what you mean. While the forum I attended was in another state and in another church, I know what you mean. And I'm weary too. But we are doing important work. You've lifted me up recently and now my arms are around you holding you up. There's little more I can do, but having received the gift myself, I know that what seems to be small is really a great deal.

A few years ago, I was attending an MCC church here in St. Louis. The congregation would regularly sing a very simple song that was just packed with raw meaning. Singing it together after Communion, we felt the Spirit descent upon us and -- if even for just that moment -- lift away out troubles. Today I am singing this to you and with you.

"Lead me and I will follow. Every step of the way.
Lead me and I will follow. Every step...without regret. Every step of the way.
And when I fall down, pick me back up.
And when I slow down, stir me back up.
And when I'm overwhelmed remind me that I'm not alone."

9/18/2006 11:16 AM  
Blogger Thomas B. Woodward said...

Lisa,
The truth is that most of us have to "just sit there" a certain number of times before it is our time to stand up, throw something, or do something else. This wasn't your time. That is OK.
You have given hope to a lot of people and those who don't acknowledge you for who you are in the deepest parts of yourself are people who are too frightened to go there in themselves much less with anyone else. When they are ready, they will be at the threshhold of great beauty and understanding, but for now they keep their eyes forward.
As Ecclesiastes writes so movingly (Chapter 3),
There is a time for kicking ass and a time for refraining from kicking ass;
There is a time for staying up until 3 a.m. every night of the week and a time for refraining from staying up past 10:30 p.m..
There is a time for responding from attacks and a time for letting those suckers be rewarded by God according to their acts.
Amen, so be it. Thanks be to God for Lisa.
Tom W.

9/18/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Dear friends, I am just astonished at your words of comfort and support. Thank you! This long-winded, Verbosian southerner is smacked down into humble silence. Your stories are much more powerful than these few words I managed to pull together.

I've tried to reply to several of you [for whom I had e-addressses] personally. I cannot pull all that emotion into my reply here. Believe me that I have heard you with "sighs too deep for words."

Thank you!

But, on a lighter note, I think we all need to paste Tom Woodward's translation of Ecclesiastes into our Bibles. You crack me up, Tom!

9/19/2006 12:54 AM  
Blogger contratimes said...

Dear Lisa,

It is sad you are weary. Battle weary, no doubt. Alas, such weariness proves, or so I think, that we are not to find peace here. To find peace in a cause, a resolution, a compact; to find rest in some thing -- anything -- of this world, would all too quickly become an idol around which we would slowly die. Weariness keeps the heart in the right place.

Curiously, I am weary for similar reasons to yours, though I am weary from attacks and slights from people who would describe themselves as progressive. Perhaps what tires me the most is that truly hurtful phenomenon of being dismissed and ignored. I sit in the Diocese of New Hampshire, and I find no rest; and while I feel welcome, the welcome mat is a short one: it is not a red carpet rolled throughout the church.

As I read your essay here, and the comments that follow, I cannot imagine how it's possible I could be so very different from you. But we are very different. We are probably different to the very core of our beings; our very presuppositions clash about like cymbals in a tumbler. We will not see eye to eye on most things.

I wonder, are those who oppose the consecration of a gay bishop, are they first-class citizens in heaven? Are homophobic parishioners first-class citizens in the Episcopal Church? Are those people who support the death penalty, or who think warring against terrorists is a good thing to do, are they first-class? How about those men and women who believe abortion is a moral evil (except in dire medical situations); are they top-shelf citizens?

And what of those who believe that there are second-class citizens in the Church; are they in first-class seating? After all, we know that there are such folks, for we know them from Christ's own teachings. You've even eluded to them -- those whited-sepulchers and all. Surely we know from our Lord that there are swine before whom we mustn't toss our pearls. Surely we know from our Lord that the Kingdom of God is planted with wheat and chaff; that the two must co-exist until Christ returns to winnow the good from the bad. We know from our Lord about sheep and goats; about wolves in sheep's clothing. Who are these second-class citizens in the Church? Are they the self-righteous? No doubt, they are. But who are the self-righteous? Am I self-righteous? Are you? Do you think you are a better Christian because you DO X, and because you DON'T believe Y (like those folks over there)? Are you the pearl; am I the swine?

You know that St. Paul himself believed that schism in the church was necessary to prove who it was that had God's favor (I Cor. 11:18-19). If he is right, then the news is rather unsettling, don't you think? No wonder you and I are weary. Perhaps it is because we are (impatiently) waiting to see -- finally and definitively -- where God's approval falls. But if St. Paul is not right -- that division is not the crucible in which orthodoxy is shaped -- then we are still in for a weary way. For now we have nothing by which we may explain division; we cannot see it as the struggle for health, but as something merely unpleasant and apparently without much meaning. At least, that is how I see it.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you,

BG

9/20/2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Lisa,

You are certainly in my prayers. (I'm so sorry that you're hurting.) I know when ever I'm feeling down or discouraged, Scripture like Is. 40:28-31 helps me center. (Ultimately the battle really does belong to the Lord. He only requires our faithfulness, and the rest is up to Him.)

Thank you, and God bless, Lisa.

9/23/2006 7:48 PM  

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