Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Abandoned Memoir Chapter 3 Part 4

Here's the last section of chapter 3. the first part of Chapter 4 was mistakenly posted a few days ago and when I post again, I start from where that left off. So use the Archive links to the lower right to read ahead.

This section is where I see how long ago I abandoned this thing---2007.

Chapter 3, Part 4

When you enter a Lutheran seminary on the M.Div track, you‛re signing up for a four eyar journey that includes two years of class work, a year of internship, and another year of class work.

In the spring of 1993, the end of my second year of class work, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma. She immediately began treatment with much hopeful talk from the doctors that it was caught early and easily treatable. That same semester, I was assigned an internship in Nebraska. I was nervous about going so far away at that time, but by the end of summer, Mama was finished with treatments and it looked like she‛d beaten the cancer.

Long story short, she hadn‛t. It recurred in the spring and I ended my internship early (having put in just enough time to fulfill degree requirements). I moved back to the farm in early May and she died in early June.

All the grief of that summer found me praying to God in this way. I said, "God, I‛ve buried both of my parents and I‛m still alone. I suppose I could do most anything alone, after all that, but I don‛t want to. It‛s been six years since my homosexual relationship. I‛m ready to fall in love."

(I pause to note that, at this writing, in 2007, I remain single and ambivalent about falling in love. My pathological inability to build a relationship is a story not very relevant to this story and probably best told as a case study with a skilled professional. As if I‛d ever give anyone that chance.)

Shortly after that prayer, I met a man. I liked him immediately and he had what I can only call fine Christian qualities. I also began to realize that I liked him for more than his fine Christian qualities. Very soon, I was praying to God again, saying, "So what‛s this? Some sort of test? I‛m not falling for it, God. Help me forge a friendship with this man and send me a woman to love."

Except, of course, I was falling in love with this man. Then a terrible thing happened. This fine Christian man came out to me. I was falling in love with a gay man.

Well, shit. What were those six years of asexuality for?

So, late one night, I‛m driving along Highway 21, going home to the farm, and arguing (note the word) with God. How can this fine Christian man be gay? Why couldn‛t he be straight and help me stay on the right path? What? Is this something that‛s going to rear it‛s ugly head every ten years for me to battle down all over again?

By this point, I was well aware of all the "liberal" arguments for accepting homosexuality and homosexuals into full, active participation in the church and I continued to argue all the familiar "conservative" arguments for drawing lines for who can serve as church leaders. All my arguments wound down to an exasperated whimper, "It just doesn‛t seem like what you had in mind in the garden."

In my head, I heard, "Yes, well, neither were cars." It was one of those thoughts that didn‛t feel like my own thought. As I drove my car, I found myself comparing and contrasting the harm a car does in the world against the harm a homosexual relationship causes.

I sighed. "Very clever, God," I prayed. "But it‛s scripture that tells me homosexual relationships are wrong. I need something scriptural to convince me they‛re all right."

Since I felt I knew scripture pretty darn well, that settled that. God and I remained silent the rest of the drive home.

If the above sounds preposterous and maybe a little mentally ill, you may as well stop reading now. If you‛re the sort who does not believe God speaks to us or that God is not active in personal lives, you won‛t believe the following. God became very active here. This is my story and it‛s sticking to me.

So after my challenge for a scriptural basis on which to open myself up to the unrepentant homosexual (gotta love the language I had to talk about it), I began feeling the nudge of the Holy Spirit. The nudge was toward the tenth chapter of Acts, where Peter had his vision of unclean food. Without bothering to crack a Bible, I said to God, "That‛s the best you can do? A story that lets me eat bacon?"

This went on for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. When you have the right answer, you don‛t want to go looking for reasons to prove it wrong, even if it‛s God telling you you‛re wrong.

Eventually, this insistent nudging sent me to the actual text. As I suspected, it was all about food. Ham and Swiss is okay with God. I so no reason to turn that into welcoming man on man or woman on woman action.

But that persistent, bothersome Spirit wouldn‛t let me alone. "Read on," She said.

Giving a heavy sigh, I read on.

And that‛s when the scales fell from my eyes.

My knowledge of scripture, despite being in my fourth year as an M.Div student, was sorely lacking.

The vision, ultimately, was about people, specifically ritually unclean people. Peter immediately met a Roman centurion, an enforcer for the regime oppressing Peter‛s people, a Gentile who had heard the Good News of Jesus and wanted to be part of the church.

Peter saw the man‛s faith, saw that God had called the man to the church and in so doing had called the man clean. Peter, in surrender, could only say, as the voice in his vision had said of the food, "What God has called clean, I cannot call unclean."

For my part, I had met a gay man, a man clearly devoted to God, clearly called by God. God had called him clean. Despite all my training and study to the contrary, I could not call that man unclean.

From there, is was only a short, if rocky, journey to accept that judgment for myself.

That was the fall of my senior year of seminary. For the final months of classes, I read everything with new eyes. In my final semester, I took the required course in liberation theology. A topic about which I was dubious now excited me, revealed to me the subversive ways God moves among the least of us, how historically, the Spirit moves from the bottom up. We don‛t see the exalted lifted up. As Mary sang, God lifts up the lowly.

I can‛t really place myself among the "least of these," not while I live indoors and not in prison. I can, however, identify with the oppressed, if only in that gay and lesbian people, despite their faith, despite their commitments, are barred from serving God in most Christian denominations. (This is changing—slowly, but it is changing.)

I always say that the change from disowning my sexuality wasn‛t exactly a light switch being flipped, but it was at least a dimmer turned up pretty quickly. I‛ve had only the most fleeting questions about God‛s love and acceptance of the GLBT community. This is true and it‛s also true that my first thirty years of repression linger.

If my backyard experience of God as a preschooler was a conversion experience, so was this. If this was a conversion to seeing God‛s expansive grace in a whole new way, it‛s also a beginning of a questioning that culminated in my theology‛s bottom falling out at Pete‛s memorial service.

Coming out and conversions have one thing in common. They are both ongoing processes. As a gay or lesbian person might come out over and over, living more and more openly, so does a Christian go deeper and deeper into the faith, always finding a more meaningful way to be Christian. Both also experience backsliding. There are times when a gay person retreats to the closet, given certain circumstances. It‛s just safer there, sometimes. So do Christians fall and become less Christian because, let‛s face it, it‛s sometimes safer to be less than Christ-like, too.

These are three beginnings of my theological journey. There are probably others, but these give you a context for what follows.

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