Posts Tagged ‘Faith

31
Jan
13

deep memory days

Have you ever had times when you feel a life-time of painful memories sweeping down around you, enveloping you, not letting you go; memories that spread their awesome distortions on the today of where you are but cannot claim being there? These are the memories of things wrongfully done either to you or by you, that have woven their woeful song deeply into your name. You may feel it somewhere around your heart, but it’s not about your heart; it’s physical as well as emotional, but not organic. It’s about feeling trapped in the old songs with their voices—loud in the head—fueled by something in the present—words or deeds that layer themselves upon each other until the deepest pain is reached and you are just a mass of deep purple hurt. Sometimes it happens fast and you’re down for the count. Other times distinction between today and all the yesterdays melts slowly downward like an ice cream cone…all over your hands. These are times that I struggle to stay oriented and call upon God as the Ground of My Being for help. They are also times when, as an aging person, I feel tired of the effort and just want it all to be over. (Don’t worry, I’m okay.)

This can be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder…what is now referred to as PTSD. It is that for me. The inclusion/exclusion experiences of the past several years since returning to church, have attached themselves to a number of earlier church experiences of abuse, as well as early personal experiences of betrayal. I am sensitized to this in many colorful ways. Now, thanks to thousands of veterans, survivors of military malevolence, we have an explanation for what happens to people when they can no longer tolerate painful memories that tend (like flash-fires), to blossom disproportionately without consent. For some of us with much simpler forms of this human condition, compassion and consideration is a good bit of first aid. I would like some of that please. And for dessert, I would like affirmation. One never outgrows the good affirmation can bring. It’s like yeast: makes the spirit rise and the soul feel loved. This quote from Gladys Bronwyn Stern is a favorite of mine: “Silent gratitude isn’t  much use to anyone.”  Ah…so very true for me.

I am cycling out of this gloom that I’ve been in this morning. It’s a given…I always do…eventually. But I never stop wondering why it has to be this way…so complicated and dense? Maybe it’s because we are always the same age inside? Human nature, I guess…we are all a little bit dumb and careless with each other. Me included.

I need to dance.

I feel better already. I hope I didn’t bring you down… 🙂

28
Apr
11

on unholy ground

Another costly decision to exclude has created unholy ground for my dear Mennonite denomination—a church whose focus includes peace, justice, non-violence, and walking in the Way of Jesus. Mine is not the only denomination struggling to makes its way in the 21st century. The Christian Church is struggling—with greater and lesser success—at achieving relevance in the current age; however, my immediate concern is with the leadership of Mennonite Church USA who has recently cut off its nose to spite its face.

There is a saying among church folk today that is posited as a loving stance. It goes like this: Love the sinner, but hate the sin. It’s a strange juxtaposition of terms for followers of Jesus, and I don’t recall this notion presented in any of the Gospels. I don’t know if that particular sentiment was the slogan Randall Spaulding, pastor of the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida, heard in his ears for the past several years of his indictment proceedings. Maybe it was softened in some way, maybe not, but I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t matter what the words are—what the rationale is—the end result is the same: betrayal that hurts to the core.

Randall Spaulding’s situation began in 2008 and burst forth in 2009 when his desire to live openly with his covenanted partner was met with the revocation of his pastoral credentials by the Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA.  For an account of this, read Celeste Kennel-Shank’s articles in the Mennonite Weekly Review: 10/20/08 and  10/5/09.

Promises for loving dialogue were made. We all hoped and prayed they would be kept. Then on April 12, 2011, a letter from Randall appeared on the MennoNeighbors listserve. Devastation and lamentation rippled through the supportive community. Many of us have our own experiences of betrayal, either personally or in association with loved ones. This was inconceivable, because Randy’s music has become part of our worship life in many, if not most congregations!

Dear MennoNeighbors,

Some of you have probably heard about my recent expulsion from the Binational Worship Council.  You can read a bit about it here: http://www.mennoweekly.org/2011/4/18/pastor-removed-worship-council/.  The council is a US/Canadian group of Mennonite music and worship leaders considering the possibility of a future new hymnal or collection of songs for Mennonites.

Once again, the process of “loving dialogue” has, in my opinion, been subverted. I was not invited to dialogue or conversations that were taking place between Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Publishing Network and conference leaders. I had one conversation with an executive leader on March 7 (after the decision had already been made to expel me), and the next day I received an email saying that on behalf of Ervin Stutzman and others in leadership of MCUSA my role on the council was over.

While the action isn’t surprising, it’s still disappointing and hurtful. I grow weary of always having my integrity and Christian character maligned because I’m gay and desire to live in a covenanted union blessed by God. I’m attaching my letter of response to the expulsion that I sent to Ervin Stutzman and Terry Shue. I hope it will come attached to this email.

Please pray for the Binational Worship Council as they continue their work, and pray that God will guide us all to a vision of healing and hope that embraces EVERYONE in the non-violent hospitality of Jesus.

On a brighter note, I’ve been accepted at Yale Divinity School and will be moving to Connecticut with my husband, Gary, this fall where I’ll be working on an MDiv degree. I’m sad to be leaving my wonderful and courageous congregation in Sarasota, but I’m also excited about the journey ahead.  Please keep the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in your prayers as they prepare for this transition and discern their next steps.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at Pittsburgh this summer where I’ll be serving as Covenant’s delegate.

Peace,
Randy

Randy Spaulding, pastor
The Covenant Mennonite Fellowship
Sarasota, FL
www.covenantmennonite.com

I am confused. Is the executive board hating the sin or hating the sinner? (I use the term sinner only to make a point.) Solomon’s dilemma over whether to split the baby in two to satisfy two women both claiming to be its mother, comes to mind. We are all sons and daughters of God. Jesus showed us that. So how do we love the person in whom God’s face shines, but reject the face that shows us God? How do we separate the gift of music from those who bear it and bring it to us? I wonder if Randall Spaulding’s name will be erased from our song books and his songs torn out, or will a rationale be constructed that will allow accepting the gift while rejecting the giver?

The outcry has come from gay and straight corners of the denomination. Here’s what Martin Lehman, a wise, generous, straight elder had to say in response to Randy’s expulsion:

Dear Neighbors:

Some time ago I wrote the following unpublished paragraphs.  I think the insights relate to the expectations, mercy and grace of God in changing times:

“Once upon a time God created the first human beings and instructed them to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. A semen of a single male carried millions of sperm and one female produced a monthly egg or two. To fill the earth required that the sperm and egg meet for conception.

Nothing could be wasted. A man who spilled his semen on the ground to avoid impregnating an egg-bearing woman was considered a wicked man. A man who was wealthy enough to support multiple wives and have many concubines and used his sperm to beget many sons and daughters could still be

considered a righteous man. A widow was given to a brother of the deceased man in the hope that she could conceive children in the name of her late husband. A barren woman was disgraced.

“Now, leap with me over the millennia to the present and acknowledge that times have changed. Now, overpopulation is feared. The pressure to have babies is off. The early customs of God’s people, the law of Moses, many of the psalms and proverbs in the Bible were written by men under pressure to multiply and fill the earth.

“The rules governing sexuality developed for the people of a long gone-by era no longer apply.”

I understand and grieve over the pressures on denominational and conference leaders. However, I grieve more deeply when big and little congregations and their conferences band together to override the witness of a small congregation that has found what seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. The MC USA has lost, and Randall Spaulding has gained an open door.  We have not heard the last. The story is not finished.

Indeed it is not finished. Here is a letter from a Mennonite Weekly Review reader:

For five years I have greatly benefited by having Randall Spaulding as my pastor at Cov­enant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota. But in 2009 Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA took away his credentials, not because he was ineffective but because he was gay.

Randy also served MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada as project editor on the hymnal supplements Sing the Journey and Sing the Story. He was also on the Binational Worship Council until he was recently expelled, presumably because his gayness would taint Mennonite music. Does that mean all copies of Sing the Journey and Sing the Story should be recalled or destroyed? Do the decision-makers assume God is not able to work through a talented pastor and musician whom God created gay?

Randy is reliving the Anabaptist experience of the 1500s as a victim of ignorance, violence and persecution. How sad that his primary persecutors are Mennonites who claim to be descendants of independent-thinking, nonviolent Anabaptists. By committing psychic violence on Randy and Covenant, and by deliberately being blind toward the unfolding of new truth about homosexuality as a given and not a choice, these zealous Mennonite descendants have betrayed the values of their Anabaptist martyrs. Hiding their prejudice under the garments of remote biblical passages and their own view of God’s will is an affront to all truth seekers.

David A. Ryan Sarasota, Fla.

And in another corner, a person with centuries of ancestry tied to the faith, has decided he cannot remain in an organization or church that prohibits membership based on sexual orientation. You can read his views and decision to withdraw membership in the April 22 posting  of his blog.

The effort to broaden the doors of the Church in the love and by the grace of God—which Jesus lived his his life—continues. Today is Thursday, the 28th of April, just seven days following the commemoration of the death of Jesus and four days following the Resurrection.

It’s not about sex. It’s about love…the way God made each of us as persons to be loved, and to love as we are born, not made.

Respectfully submitted,
Called by Name

Postscript:

Pink Menno Campaign has written a letter to the MC USA leadership. If you would like to add your signature, pull down the About Pink Menno tab and follow the instructions.

Chicago’s, Windy City Media Group has reported on a recent talk at Elmhurst College, by Bishop John Shelby Spong that fits very well with the  subject of this posting. Hey, New York Times…are you listening?

25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

15
Feb
11

a note on another note:

Before my valentine salutation yesterday, I wrote about my search for an visual enhancement for our church lectern, appropriate to our Lenten theme. (See posting, on another note for February 10th) For those who wonder how it all worked out, I can happily say that, 1) I have relearned my laundry lesson and 2) my intuition about the burlap being appropriate did turn out to bear fruit.

After cleaning up all the mess in the dryer, I spread the burlap out on the ironing board and pressed it as flat as I could, then hung it up to dry overnight. The next day I looked in on the piece, which had acquired approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches of fringe on both sides of its 48 inch length.  It hung there in its ugliness for most of the day while I set about searching in fabric stores for a piece of cloth that would speak of homespun, and be a naturally neutral color. After hunting high and low, I came home with 1-1/2 yards of unassuming linen, but no sparks had flown from this selection. I left it alone on the table and read another chapter of Taylor’s previous book, Leaving Church.

I could not get the burlap out of my mind, despite its menacingly ugly color and stains. By evening I wove a plan to color it with fabric spray, and began rolling through a number of color choices, settling on a variety of interlaced of tones. It is winter here and there is a ton of snow outside where I would have to do the spraying, so I went to bed with a plan to start the next day.

The next day was Saturday. Although the sun was out and the air beginning to warm up, I still couldn’t open the back door. Resourcefully, I devised a plan that would allow me to suspend the 48 inches of ugly burlap outside in front of the garage door. It took only a second to realize that my plan for multi-coloring was off the mark, so I just started spraying with ivory, then quickly switched to flat white. Each swish of white spray brought me joy. I knew this was the way to go. It took a heap of spraying to bring this remnant to a visual semblance of human/humble. While it was drying I flew back to the fabric store for the piece of purple I saw in my mind, draping along the left side of the human, humble, now whitened, burlap. I flew back twice. The first time I chose two beautiful fabrics based on color and texture that turned out not to fit the bill at all. On my second tour I found a dark purple, plain-knit jersey that spoke to me: Take me home, I’m the one! I was skeptical and concerned about all the money I’d already spent, but determined to listen to the intuitive voice over the, let’s just get it done, voice.

So I brought it home, set up the whole thing and there it was, like magic: the human/divine connection creating yet another altar in the world. I am pleased and relieved this is done. I am ready for my cataract surgery tomorrow. They say I will see instantly, but the following several weeks could be a bit of a trial. If I’m lucky and receive perfect vision, I won’t need glasses anymore. If I am not, I will have to hobble along for the 3 weeks it takes before receiving a new prescription and the additional week or two before new glasses are sitting on the bridge of my nose.

******

The surgical center just called. My appointment time is 7:45 am. By 9:00 the doctor will be making a small incision in my right eye, removing the failing lens and slipping in a new model straight off the assembly line. I don’t like to think about that. I prefer to think about the 5 mg of Valium I will get before, and the lovely nap I will have all afternoon long. After that…I throw myself on the mercy of all that’s good and holy.

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

23
Jun
10

dancing in the aisles

I became a Christian in a Mennonite/Brethren, Christian (communal) community, called Reba Place Fellowship. When I got there it was beginning to develop various gifts of the spirit and soon became a charismatic church. Because of this, my Christian formation was tinged with an openness to the mystical. The year was 1972. Communes were popping up all over the place and many people—young and old—were searching for spiritual dimension. It was the time of hippies with long dresses, long hair and ripped up jeans, Jews for Jesus, Jesus Freaks…and communes, both secular and non-secular.

In the 8 years I was there, the church fellowship grew from 28 to approximately 250. We lived in extended households of anywhere from 8 to 20 people. We lived a Jesus-centered, discipleship life, practiced the giving and receiving of counsel, and the reconciliation procedure outlined in Matthew 18:15-20. We were far from perfect, in fact, we weren’t even hitting the mark 50% of the time, and bad things happened as well as good.

I left there in 1979 after some very painful experiences. During the decades that followed I received confessions from those that hurt me and I granted forgiveness—the 2 requirements for reconciliation. We are now reconciled and I choose to separate the good from the bad. I don’t forget the dark side, I just set it aside because, 40 years later, I see that the light side was good…very good and not something I have found since. It was real communal living—maybe something like Israel’s kibbutzim—and it was 24/7. I like to refer to this affectionately as, the Reba Boot Camp. (Whoops, I think my tongue just got caught in my cheek 🙂 )

What I want to say about this time is that it was a living, breathing experience. One could say that I learned Discipleship Christianity by the immersion method. I don’t mean language, although there is a language to be learned and understood, but more like being rough stones in a rock tumbler. I don’t know how I could have understood the concept of discipleship if I hadn’t lived this way. And I don’t think I could have managed the dark elements without the charismatic experience that taught my heart to swell, my feet to dance and my voice to praise. I don’t think I could have managed without those very high times of God in me.

The Charismatic Movement of the time certainly had its pitfalls, but for me it was a path to the sense of knowing (gnosis) that I enjoy today.  I have not found a Mennonite congregation that will walk this path with me. Mennonites sing, but they don’t dance and they don’t sway to the music and they don’t say “Praise God” and they certainly don’t shout, “Hallelujah”! But when we sing, we do it well…4-part harmony. So when my congregation sings a really uplifting or soulful song, I am swinging and swaying, praising and happy. No one joins me, but so far none have made comments, for which I am grateful. One of these days when the mood is just right I’m going to grab someone and hop up to the front of the sanctuary and just do it! (Might have to be running a fever to do this, but you never know.) It’s something I think about doing and wish I would do, so maybe one day the holy spirit will just hop into my shoes and move me on up there fearlessly…maybe when I’m too old to think straight.

Mennonites are Anabaptists. Many in the denomination today came to it because of its peace and justice values (reconciliation), but that is just part of the faith. In community I lived the 3 core values of Mennonite Anabaptism—Discipleship, Community and Reconciliation. In the newly revised booklet by Palmer Becker, What is an Anabaptist,  these values are summarized in the following statements:

1) Jesus is the center of our faith.

2) Community is the center of our lives.

3) Reconciliation is the center of our work

I don’t know if it’s all that easy to live the first 2 values outside of some form of community. Life can be very tough. Anyway…I’m glad I learned what I did and am what I am…and don’t have to do it all over again!! 🙂

29
May
10

beyond pentecost

A great deal has happened since I last wrote. A dear friend of mine advised me to speak to my community…to tell them what I need to feel at home with them. I took his advice, and although painful to be so vulnerable, I believe doing so has released the bird in me from the wire that held me fast, and has provided freedom to move…eventually to fly once again. This time I must learn a new flight pattern—a slow and easy circling pattern that allows for the inevitable waiting that is often the life of faith. I am a bird flying carefully and quietly so that I hear God’s voice and feel the leading of the Spirit. I have a lot to learn at the same time that I have so very much to give. Holding the Both and the And together, while walking forward with a basket of life balanced on my head.

Tonight I went to bed early but couldn’t get to sleep. Night can be a very difficult time for those of us who are loss-prone. All the needles and threads of daytime busyness fade into the deep, velvety-blue, darkness of night and there is no covering. I deeply miss adopted daughter, Bettina, whose let’s get it done energy melded so well with mine, allowing me to venture forth in foreign lands with bravery. There are birds who fly on the loft others create in flight formation. I am learning to fly solo and grateful for the several friends whom God has provided as air traffic controllers during this time of transition and initiation. They are my angels. I think they know who they are…

At night I turn on my Taize music, take my meds, turn off the light and wait for Bella, my little orange cat, to come join me. I talk to God. I say everything and nothing. I pour out wordless thoughts and painful experiences. It is my most intimate God time. I ask why and I ask how. I mostly ask for help. There are always tears. After a while Bella comes and with her comes Bettina to say, Goodnight Mamma. I like that.

My soul aches…not for any one thing or any one person. My soul aches for something it needs…God.

I am a bird circling high overhead, hoping it does not rain…preferring the clear blue of a sunny sky.




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