Posts Tagged ‘love

19
Dec
11

christmas letter – 2011

Christmas Greetings from me to you!

(Text:  Last year we celebrated our daughter’s marriage to JM, a widower with two little girls. We became instant grannies. This year, while learning the ins and outs of granny-hood, we took advantage of Illinois’ new civil union law, and after 34 years together, got civilly united, i.e., wed, in our own church, by our own pastor, Gentle Spirit. We wove the ceremony into the morning worship as a sign of relational commitment to the congregation that voted yes to moving forward in love. The service was historic in terms of the Mennonite Church in Illinois, and amazingly beautiful as well.  We are experiencing a newness to our relationship we could not have anticipated. Having legal status does make a positive difference.)

30
Aug
11

streams in the desert

On August 21, 2011…33 years, 10 months and 47 days from when we first met…Judy and I were legally wed in the presence of our congregation, friends and family…in the little church at the edge of the city. We are pretty sure this marriage will last…

Last spring, knowing that civil unions would become law in our state on June 1, our little church voted unanimously to support and officiate at same gender weddings and unions. Despite denominational hedging, this decision was a natural progression for us—a long-standing, open and affirming church body. Nevertheless, Judy and I, along with several others, were catapulted into a level of happiness we hadn’t known was missing. Initially we were only planning on applying for legal status, but upon learning that the license required a ceremony for completion, we knew a church setting was what we wanted. (See previous posting, getting from here to there for an account of this.) We began talking with our pastor. Slowly, ideas dreamed themselves into plans and the plans shaped themselves into a celebration of life, bigger than anything we’d known previously.  We walked, talked, skipped, ran, stumbled and sometimes flew through the weeks leading up to the ceremony and day of celebration.

The ceremony, lovingly performed by our pastor, Graceful Spirit, was woven seamlessly into the morning worship hour. It was an incredible time…a very thin space indeed…full of music, dance, *spoken word, prayer, Communion and friends…lots of friends from near and far. It was a celebration for everyone, but especially for our congregation, without whose vision and courage, it could not have happened. We welcomed them into our lives in a way that is different and distinct from baptism or church membership. We are asked if we feel different now. Yes, we do! We are accepted and acceptable, no longer just individually, but together, as the journeying twosome we have always been. Affirmation, Acceptance, Appreciation. These are the A’s that all of us need to live healthy and productive lives as members of the human family.

The promises God made to us way back at the beginning have been kept…streams did indeed flow in the desert…we are thankful. With the blessing of visionary and courageous leadership, we are moving forward. Praise God!

*You can read the pastor, Megan Ramer’s Homily and the antiphonal Reading from the ceremony on the church website – Chicago Community Mennonite Church • Recent Sermons: Homily (21 August 2011).

  Naomi is smiling. Judy was in shock, but she got over it. And now we are living happily ever after.  🙂

05
Jul
11

getting from here to there

Late Thursday evening, June 30th, I took a closer look at the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Illinois Civil Union law. Yes, yes, yes, I thought as I read quickly through, I know all this. Then saw what I should have seen before: …the civil union license and civil union ceremony must take place within the same county. Whoa! That makes a big difference. Judy and I were all set to head out to our county seat first thing the next morning. We would have procured the license and then found that it would not have been valid at our little church at the edge of the city.  Woe would have been us, to be sure. Thanksgiving to God for saving our behinds once again, then a quick online check for the nearest appropriate county office, along with Mapquest directions.

Early the next morning, my sister agrees to come along for the fun of it and we all set off for an auspicious day—one we think will mark the beginning of the end of marginalization and ignominy. It was all sort of romantic in a way, despite our 34 years together. We were ready. Excitedly, we parked the car and entered what we found to be a queue inching its way toward the approving/disapproving swash of the detection wand, judiciously held by a uniformed man.

Once through, we searched, found what we thought was the proper office and presented ourselves. Two attendants look at us quizzically and ask us if we were looking for a divorce. “No, we’re looking to apply for a civil union license,” we blurt out.

“Oh. We do divorces here. You have to go across the way to that other building. Call this number. They will tell you.”

We called the number, got directions, trudged over to the proper building, walked through the door, and found ourselves staring at a darkened office with a sign on the door informing us that the office was closed for the day due to mandated furlough policies.

This was disappointing to say the least. First thought of the marginalized—bad omens—was quickly buried in a unanimous decision to go forward for the fun parts of the day that had been planned as celebration. So we did and my world did not come to an end.

Bright and early today, July 5th, we made our second trip to the county building. Success. I was nervous with accustomed expectation of veiled judgment from the people behind the counter, which I would have to stuff somewhere, as I have for so many years. There was no judgment—veiled or otherwise. Relief was palpable for me and my witty, comedic twin came pouring out with abandon. (She doesn’t get much of an opportunity, so I couldn’t get her back inside very easily. She thanks me for the opportunity to have made this rare appearance and wishes you were there to appreciate her.)

Judy and I have signed our names to a document that will make us part of an historic movement. That, in itself, is exciting. After surviving cancer and the loss of many loved ones, I wanted my life to be meaningful. I wanted to make a difference…and so I am. Thank you all for walking this journey with me for the past several years. I am excited to see what lies ahead, especially our ceremony happening right in our church…in the presence and loving acceptance of our congregation. This is enormously important and supersedes the private commitment ceremony we had in 1995. This time it’s public and legal…and believe me…it makes a difference. I had no idea what a difference it would make. Something like coming in from the cold…into the warm of acceptable and included…being part of the human face of life.

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.

03
Feb
11

longing for home

I’ve been away too long. My last posting was nearly 7 weeks ago on December 20th. Not sure what all happened in that time to keep me from writing. Seems like a dark time in many ways, nothing to do with Christmas, but a lot to do with the intricacies and vagaries of church polity. Whether it’s broadly denominational or narrowly congregational, the church world is a complex one where I simply do not find the promise of the Gospels all that often. What is wrong with this picture? Is it me? Some would say yes. I have said yes on far too many occasions. In fact, for most of my lengthening life, I have tended to come to this conclusion. Now in my 7th decade, with some degree of history to call upon, I know that I am a very small cog in a very large wheel. I am not the elephant in the sanctuary.

What I am is a cracked jar—a crystal clear, cracked jar lying in an old river bed, muddy with the millennia of human misdeeds—some of them mine, some of them yours. I am not alone, everyone is some sort of a cracked or broken jar, and yet I feel quite alone way too often. I long for a community of caring where, when necessary, friends lay down their lives for one another (John 15:13). This does not mean standing in front of a Mack truck so your friend can saunter across the street. But if the truck is an offensive ideology, bias or untruth that causes great harm to your friend, and you can do something about it, do it! Stand up, speak out. Risk your comfort zone for your friend’s safety, dignity and well-being. That is what Christ followers are called to do. I do not see it happening very often in the church world. What I see is self-interest and a lot of maneuvering for a slice of some kind of store-bought pie.

I am a cracked jar, many times broken and many times packed back together, forming glue seams and stress points that never quite forget themselves. I am a cracked jar standing open, filling with rain until the weight of it overturns me into a bell ringing its song along the river. Some days the sound is clear and resonant. Some days not, and I am once again standing upright in the river bed. Inevitably, I fill with rain and it seeps out through my seams and cracks onto the mud in which I stand. I long for home.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

God in me and me in God, passing through the narrow gate together. It is harder than the righteous would have you believe. It is Home.

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  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

And a little child shall lead them….




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