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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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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In the Spirit of Mary Magdalene

Today is a momentous day. Tuesday? Sure. July 22? Try again. Today is the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.

 

Read a main passage of her story here in John 20. If you have ever seen an icon or sacred painting of Mary Magdalene, she was probably wearing red and/or holding a red egg. Read stories behind that tradition here. Bishop Hipolytus [2-3rd century] called Mary Magdalene an “apostle to the apostles” because she was a disciple sent out with a message & mission. An apostle is a disciple in action. She had a message to share, & she did so faith-full-y. 

 

Whether you support women in formal religious leadership or women as Christian ministers/pastors, there is wisdom to receive from these particularly faith-full women who live in the spirit of Mary Magdalene. These women write, speak, preach, & lead in various ways so that the hope of Jesus Christ’s life & messages reaches deeper & wider. In no particular order I present 10 diverse women in Christian ministry we need to listen to:

 

1) Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor, House For All Sinners & Saints, Denver, CO

2) Amy K. Butler, Pastor, Riverside Church, NYC

3) Dorisanne Cooper, Pastor, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, NC

4) Angela Yarber, Artist, Preacher, Author, Winston-Salem, NC

5) Helen Prejean, Catholic nun & Activist, New Orleans, LA

6) Kyndall Rothaus, Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, TX

7) Allyson Robinson, Activist & Transitions Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC

8) Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN

9) Erica Evans Whitaker, Pastoral Resident, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, TX

10) Rachel Held Evans, Author, Speaker, Dayton, TN

 

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” [John 20:18]

 

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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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State of the Union

There have been 2 viral or semi-viral articles posted by friends of mine this week that can be found here and here. Please read these articles before continuing with this blog. I’ll wait. [insert Jeopardy theme song here]

 

One reason for why both the Moore and Venker articles have taken off is shock. Those of us who exist in egalitarian, even feminist, worlds feel a social and political whiplash when we are reminded that a sizeable number of people have a different perspective. I am concerned about balancing charitable and indignant responses. Don’t forget- Jesus calls all people neighbors.

 

While these are different articles with different points and perspectives, both raise concerning questions about role and social understandings of women. Though I could write volumes in response, allow me to focus in & offer both broad and detailed responses:

 

Both the Moore and Venker articles point toward social brokenness. It is too easy to consider gender role issues as a battle of the sexes. In reality, gender issues are more about ideological differences than anything else.

 

Inequality and unhealthy competition exist because of a fallen world. The often quoted verse from Galatians 3:28 says, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul desires and describes perfect Christian unity in the passage. Temporary [on a cosmic timeline] distinctions unfortunately and often times lead to limitations for political kingdoms as mistrust and discrimination reign, but temporary distinctions such as social standing or gender do not determine one’s standing in God’s Kingdom. Passages There is radical, unimaginable, gracious, inclusion and equality for all in God’s Kingdom! This is Good News. I challenge Russell Moore to describe God’s Kingdom without a vision of equality and inclusion.

 

An article I was interviewed for was published in a local newspaper this week. The article was fine, but the finished product was a different angle and a different emphasis than I intended. My most charitable self wonders if a similar process happened with Moore, as the article is based on a “wide-ranging interview”. Overall, many quotes point to Moore’s “us” and “them” mindset [on gender, SBC, conservatives, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vs. the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty., etc.] that is ultimately antithetical to Christian community.

 

Moore and most other complementarians that I am familiar with depend heavily on natural theology. Natural theology was also relied upon for Nazism and for beautiful ways of connecting with Creator God through nature. Natural theology is a powerful tool to be used very carefully. Moore says, “God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships… We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives.” Moore inadvertently opens the door to understanding God in feminine terms. If God is understood in family relationships, then God could be understood as both feminine and masculine. Mothers and fathers, males and females, both “image God”.

 

This brings me to Venker article. From what I can tell, Suzanne Venker is a social commentator- not a theologian or a sociologist. Also, her article is not inherently religious, though many who read her article on Fox News are conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths who will interpret her comments with a particular religious lens.

 

Even though she broadly quotes a Pew study, this article should not be interpreted as a serious sociological piece. She writes, “over the past several decades”. Translation- lacking detailed, particular, concrete study of changes between this year and that year. Venker also depends on loaded and emotional words and phrases such as “profound change”, “independent”, “most women”, and “research shows” without enough mention of statistically significant findings or operational definitions. Ambiguity benefits her argument.

 

I would also appreciate more discussion about why women began working outside of the home. Firstly, blue collar women have a long history of working outside the home out of necessity [I’m thinking of my grandmother], but many American middle class women joined the workforce during WWII. Blue collar or working class families and women probably think [and thought] of the “opportunity” to work outside the home as survival rather than liberation. Venker’s lack of mention of class differences in her discussion about women’s work in and outside the home signals ignorance of her own presumed financial privilege. Work outside of the home is not always a choice.

 

Feminists must be careful not to be misguided in their enthusiasm. Some women [and men!] enjoy working in the home and find fulfillment there. This should be supported. I recall reading an academic article on a study in a Women’s Studies course that concluded that women do not report higher life satisfaction working inside the home or outside of the home. Women report highest life satisfaction when they have a choice.

 

If anyone can secure Venker’s mailing address, I will cheerfully mail her a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which discusses growing dissatisfaction of many women who worked inside the home during the 1950s and 60s.

 

From a Christian perspective, yes, I agree with Venker that overemphasis on independence can be problematic, but this is also antithetical to Christian living. Leaning on one’s husband, partner, relatives, church, friends, is an entirely appropriate and acceptable approach to managing the many demands of life- whatever one’s main work happens to be.

 

Venker spends a bit of ink on women living “balanced lives”. Balance is incredibly subjective and cannot be prescribed with blanket statements. More important than balance are sustainability and stability. What in my life is sustainable? What in my life needs change in order to be sustainable?

 

Moore and Venker both point to broken society. Maybe working mothers “are more concerned with having a flexible work schedule”, “women prefer part-time work”, and “men see it as their duty to support their families” as a result of social conditioning rather than inherently created order. The current state of American society cannot simply be blamed on women or a few factors. A complex and intricate series of events and factors contribute to how contemporary American society functions, and the state of the union. Growing education and recognition of the complexities of gender, theology, sociology, and psychology would do Moore, Venker, and all social commentators [including me] a lot of good!

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11

 

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