Open Letter to Lake Shore

Dear Pastor Kyndall and Lake Shore Baptist Church,

 

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

I came to you in 2013 as a closeted seminarian and you welcomed me and my leadership. I was tight lipped about how and who I loved because of the same oppressive forces at work that have delayed your public affirming statement.

 

To come out as LGBTQ and to come out as an ally are significant tasks and a significant burden. You may not feel the relief of such a burden for some time until perhaps one Sunday you can’t remember a time before LGBTQ individuals and families were fully free to be as out as they want in your congregation and community.

 

To come out is no small task. Questions and anxiety about the future rain on the internal rainbow parade. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” You have discerned well to recognize this is a season requiring boldness- speaking up and speaking out.

 

You will likely be on the receiving end of harassment, threats, protests, black-listings, and other expressions of aggressive disagreement by those who would want you to doubt your faith and your confidence in choosing inclusion over exclusion. Woe to anyone who attempts to close a door that God intends to be open. If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear about God’s love being grand enough to accept all people- even those who chose to create a harshly exclusionary God rather than the true God of love. You are not divisive. You are inclusive.

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” [1John 4:7-8]

 

I am proud of you and this significant milestone toward being the loving presence of Christ as we are called to be. Remember that adopting a statement is a milestone in a much longer process. I urge you to continually ask yourself how you can actively and proactively love the LGBTQ community. To paraphrase Don Bosco, it is not enough to love the LGBTQ community; they must know that they are loved through ongoing action.

 

I urge you continue to ask who else is missing from the Table as you gather. Where are other areas of growth for inclusion? How can Lake Shore continue to more clearly reflect the Kin’dom of God?

 

May you continue to faithfully and justly live the greatest commandments- love God and love neighbor. I am more proud than ever to have worked with you and I am thankful to know you. I love who you are becoming. I am thankful for your witness.

 

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” [1 Corinthians 13:13]

 

Shalom,

Rev. Erica Lea

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Unity & God’s Will

I cringe a little every time I hear someone say, “God’s will”. The will of God is about more deeply discerning call. What is God calling me or us to do? How does God desire life in the world to be?

 

“God’s will” is often said with shrugged shoulders as a way to avoid deeper reasoning. A child dies. I guess it was God’s will. A house burns down. I guess it was God’s will. A violence inciting rapist rises to arguably the most powerful office in the world through Democratic vote. I guess it was God’s will. God’s will is often invoked when there is a sense of lost control.

 

The current political climate is not God’s will.

 

The Bible tells us that God desires: all people to live in harmony (Romans 12:18), justice and humility (Micah 6:8), peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), nothing to separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39), to love one another (Mark 12:30-31), the Church to remove us and them attitudes (Galatians 3:28), and all people to follow the way of Truth and Life (John 14:6).

 

The current political climate is not the result of God’s will because fear-based dominance is not of God.

 

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 

The current political climate is not the result of mysterious Divine workings. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are the fuel of this domestic terror machine.

 

In the past 8 years, Americans and the world have watched a Black man be elected as president while simultaneously being reminded of the daily micro aggressions and full-scale violent assault of more African-Americans than most can bear to count. We have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. While there were 60,467,601 cracks in the glass ceiling, it was not enough to overcome the blatant sexism that denied the most qualified and capable presidential candidate in American history the Office of President.

 

In the past 8 years, there have been significant strides and setbacks for the LGBTQ community. Most notably: marriage equality, non-discrimination executive order, adoption rights, and school bathroom inclusion. We have also seen states discriminate in the name of religion while others have fought for marriage equality in the name of religion. Hate crimes against transgender and gender nonconforming people are on the rise, disproportionately impacting trans women of color.

 

In the past 8 years there has been a harsh revival of global xenophobia, especially against Latinos, Muslims, and Arabs. “Outsiders” are scapegoated as smoke and mirror in order to avoid introspection and responding to the brewing internal divide. American rejection of immigrants is the inheritance of the iron rule of entitlement and false ownership since 1492.

 

What is a Christian to do in the midst of the stench pile of complexly layered violent mistrust?

 

  • Pray for enemies and those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
  • Accurately identify if you are being persecuted or if you are troubled by a shift in power as white straight evangelicals are decentralized
  • Ask yourself why you are troubled by someone who is a minority receiving similar opportunities and benefits as white straight evangelicals
  • Remember you are God’s favorite and you were made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27)
  • Remember the other is God’s favorite and made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” –Anne Lamott

 

If all people are God’s favorite and made in the image of God, imago dei, then we are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Please for unity during this tumultuous political season ring hollow as many people making this request have actively rejected, undermined, and lamented the recent gains of minorities rights’ progress. “Unity” is passive aggressive code for “shut up”. If there was sincere desire for unity, then fruits of active inclusion and support for minority rights would already be seen. We are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Unity is not a concept and term to be wielded when convenient. Until white evangelicals see their rights as intertwined with the rights and sufferings of minorities, then there will be no unity.

 

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

 

“When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

 

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

 

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.” -Martin Niemöller

 

The question worth pondering is if God is in control, then who’s God is it?

 

Is your God in control through demands and requirements? Is your God a warrior who destroys your enemies? Is your God a guide who cultivates compassion and charity?

 

Who your God is determines what type of leader you will choose and how you view authority.

 

God help us.

 

May God’s will of harmony, justice, humility, peacemaking, inclusion, love, truth, and life, be our unifying guide and standard as we respond to our own and our neighbors’ pain.

 

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23a

 

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Make Basil Great Again

While in seminary I had a pet basil named Basil the Great. I picked him up at the local farmer’s market one Saturday and repotted him on the wrap around porch of my cottage. He thrived and became quite large with very little attention which worked well for my very minimal gardening knowledge. I harvested him multiple times to make bowls of pesto and top homemade pizzas with fresh basil leaves. The sacrifice brought delight to my table. Eventually Basil the Great died during freezing weather.

 

I think back to those days with nostalgia. I have even attempted to recreate another Basil the Great here in Maryland on the patio of my basement apartment with the same strategy and plan- minimal intervention, sunlight, natural rain, etc. I have successfully killed at least 5 different basil plants in the past year. What worked well previously does not necessarily work well now. My home and climate are significantly different. I continue to experiment with different soils and amounts of water, sunlight, etc.

 

I continue to experiment with the hopes of having a stable and thriving basil plant again. The only way this will be possible is by trying new things. 

 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” [Ecclesiastes 3:1]

 

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The Gospel According to the Convent

I am Mennonite & I love Catholic nuns. I am a nun groupie from way back. In college, I minored in Women’s Studies & focused on the experiences of women in religious leadership related to family systems, mostly Catholic nuns. I have prayed with Sisters, baked, sang, cried, hiked, cleaned, laughed, & more with them. Last week I had the amazing & always illuminating experience of visiting a convent & starting to know another community. Parts of this Carmelite convent were familiar, but there were some parts that were unlike any other convent I have visited. A few observations:

 

Boundaries & Radical Hospitality Must Co-exist

I contacted the convent & they received me as a guest with only a few pertinent questions such as when I planned to come. It was practically a “no questions asked” welcome. This does not mean I had free reign. Certain doors & areas were labeled private. The Sisters did not modify their schedule for me. They invited me into their schedule & routine. This gives the community consistency & gave me a sense of authentic presence as I observed & participated in their natural habitat.

 

This community is semi-cloistered. They know who they are & what they need to do to fulfill their commitments to themselves & to show hospitality to the stranger. Brené Brown says, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” See more from her here on healthy boundary setting.

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Sing, Even if it Sounds Like A Train Wreck

Monastics throughout the ages have gathered for regular prayer together throughout the day. These Sisters chant a few Psalms a few times each day as part of their communal prayer time in addition to daily Mass. Every once in a while the rhythm or organist or someone is off, but the chant went on. Part of the beauty of communal chant is when you find yourself off, you are surrounded by other people who carry the chant until you are able to jump back in. This principle of mutually supportive community surely carries over beyond the chapel.

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” [Ecclesiastes 4:9-10]

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Accessibility is Everything

I have visited many convents & had great conversations with many different types of Sisters. This was my first time to visit a more progressively minded community. A few times I heard people of other faiths spoken of positively & even prayed for. Other times I heard subtle & not so subtle openness to LGBTQ people. These small comments of gracious kindness reflect a life of prayer & openness to the Spirit’s presence that turns out to not be so small after all. As a result, I have never felt so welcome at a convent.  

 

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” [Romans 13:10]

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Leadership + Follow-ship = Healthy Community

It was not immediately clear to me which of the Sisters was the Prioress or the local Superior. Yet, there appeared to be no need for heavy handed leadership either. The Sister in charge of hospitality was wonderfully thoughtful with no need for the Prioress to insert herself. The community was orderly & connected with a mission & focus beyond the Prioress. There was clear respect for the various priests who visited, though they called each other by familiar first names. There was a clear sense of mutual respect that everyone seemed secure in. Perhaps everyone is following Pope Francis living example of empowering leadership.

 

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [Hebrews 13:7]

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God Is Everywhere… Maybe

I believe in a theology of place. While I believe that God is all-present, there are certain places where I experience God consistently & profoundly. Convents are 1 such place. Thanks be to God & the Sisters who commit their lives to prayer & hospitality. Find your place visit. Visit often.

 

God spoke to Jacob in a dream, “‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’” [Genesis 28:15-16]

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Why I support full LGBT inclusion

A powerful word from my friend & colleague, Marty Troyer, on the importance of loving & welcoming all people, especially LGBT people. I particularly appreciate his insistence on a we rather me approach to church life!

HOUSTON MENNONITE CHURCH

“The wind blows where it chooses…. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).”

I believe the Spirit of God is alive and well today. It’s the only way I can describe my journey, and the journey I see happening throughout the Body of Christ today. Having shared this with our church leaders, I’d like to share my journey with all at Houston Mennonite Church.

You see, at a point in the not-too-distant past, my thoughts about sexual orientation mimicked the thoughts I had inherited from church, culture, and family: godly sexual orientation was opposite-gender attraction only, and therefore marriage was only between a woman and a man.

I believe it was nothing other than the Spirit of God which led me to full inclusion of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters in Christ. My repenting toward this position did not…

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Disorienting Wonder

Working my way down

The long, long dark corridor

Hoping, praying, dreaming

 

Knocking on tall doors

Short doors

Antique, modern doors

Mirrored doors

Moated doors

 

Gentle knocks?

Forceful knockers

Running starts

Failed picked locks

 

Down, down

The corridor

When finally

A squat door of Mary’s cerulean

Opens with persuasion

Darkness deeper than the corridor

But the door opened

 

The only way in

Kneeling

Sliding on knees

Sliding, sliding

Falling, falling

 

Like Alice into fearful wonder

Slightly unhinged

Thud landing

Disoriented wonder

 

Standing up for once

On steady cobblestone

A new, long, colorful corridor

Single door at the end

Cracked open

Shining, glowing, calling

 

I open the door

Mezuzah intact

Entering into Twilight Space

Crossing over

Through the threshold

A whole new world

 

From black and white

To blinding Technicolor

From Pleasantville

To a truer reality

 

There you are

Queen of my Heart

Welcoming me to The Table,

Inviting  me to taste and see

 

Calling me

Closer, closer

Breast of milk

Breath of honey

 

“Welcome, beloved

Come

Stay

Sit

A while”

 

Releasing coat and baggage

Into your care

Wearing new hats

 

We sit

 

We exhale

 

Together

 

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Sex in the City; Sex in the Church I.

How do you spell love? How do you spell sex? G-I-V-E? T-A-K-E? L-U-S-T? G-I-F-T? W-H-O-L-E-N-E-S-S? What does it mean to be a whole person, wholly given to God, & wholly given to another person?

 

Sometimes The Church deliberately or inadvertently requires a false front that everything in life is ok. How then can The Church be a place of spiritual healing? Churches & polite church ladies often try to sweep differences under the rug to avoid conflict, presenting a false cohesion to the community rather than accepting diversity of opinions & experiences, as if differences where inherently a problem. Avoidance benefits no one in the long term. The topic of sexuality, & particularly welcoming GLBT people, cannot be avoided or ignored. The Church should mirror God’s love & welcome, but is instead quite broken.

 

Sexuality is relational. One’s sexuality impacts how one relates to friends & family. Think of all the scenarios that could include a spouse- parties, social media pictures, legal benefits, family events, weddings, funerals, church, traveling, shopping… When a spouse is a partner, they are a life partner, & included in every part of life- not just the bedroom or home life.

 

The terms homosexual & heterosexual, when referring to a person, [such as he/she is a homosexual] oversimplify & debase complex human experiences of love, sexuality, & attraction. Sexuality is more than particular intimate behavior. Sexuality is relational & not entirely private. Particular expressions of sexuality are private, but sexuality in a broad sense is very much public. This is a pain of one’s sexuality being silenced- a disconnection from public social life, especially church life  where one should be most free to be authentic.

 

When discussing “GLBT issues”, as it is sometimes called, there are often statements like “love the sinner & hate the sin”, or “feelings may be there just don’t act on them”. Of course not every feeling will be acted on! Many, may be most, GLBT people in The Church have a high level of self-control because they have needed to be discrete before coming out anyway. There are sexuality ethics & standards – whether heterosexual or homosexual. One’s sexuality is part of one’s identity, so “love the sinner & hate the sin” is often heard as “I don’t understand how important your sexuality is to you, but I think it is wrong. Therefore, your sense of self is wrong”. This separation of selves is antithetical to Christian faith- a call to be wholly God’s.

 

Attempting to separate a person’s mind, body, spirit, & sexuality is unethical & a justice issue. As if churches are saying, you’re welcome here, but check part of yourself at the door. How does that attitude facilitate authentic faith & community? If God’s relationship to The Church is one of total connection & gift, then shouldn’t people’s relationship in The Church ideally also be one of total connection & gift?

 

Separating faith & action is dangerous. What some people call “same sex attraction” [SSA] others call “same gender loving” [SGL]. The emphasis of love is important. Love is an action. Separating feelings & behavior essentially separates attraction & love. Ideally love & attraction are inseparable for romantic love, even if the specifics of attraction [hello gray hair & wrinkles!] such as in a long-term marriage change over a lifetime.

 

Sometimes there are well-intended attempts to reject sexuality as an identity marker because sexuality is only a part of what it means to be human. However, examining motivations here is key. Minimizing sexuality becomes misguided when used as a way to avoid uncomfortable realities and/or conversations, or quiet others with different opinions & experience than one’s own. Sexuality is truly no small part of identity- definitely a part, but not an isolated part.

 

Sexuality is a stewardship issue. The Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all of you of your heart mind, soul, & strength. [Mark 12:30] This commandment is meant to be all inclusive- all of one’s self. Sexuality is part of one’s self; a gift to be carefully given & received. Even a celibate person can give & receive sexuality by appreciating the beauty of another & by genuinely loving. Not all love is sexual, but everything sexual should be about love.

 

“Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.”

-Adolphe Adam

 

 

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