Posts Tagged ‘Membership

13
Jun
12

art then / art now

I need to reorganize the house I’ve been living in for the past four years!

In 2008, we moved from a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house to a small, unassuming, 1960s tri-level with joyous expectations of becoming part of a particular church community in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving the housing market fell, leaving our FLW house without a great many qualified buyers. At the same time, we entered into what became a long, painfully drawn out series of backwards and forwards efforts to become part of this church. Toward the end of that first year my sister died and I was heartbroken. Then partway into the second year our dear friend Bettina discovered her cancer was on the rise and she moved in with us. We were a chosen family of three working for inclusivity until the end of May, when the church body proclaimed that it could not, would not make the leap to inclusiveness. We were stuck with two mortgages, taxes, and much deep bruising around the heart and brain. By January of 2010, when it was clear that her cancer was unstoppable, we turned our home into a hospice dwelling encompassing all of us. Then, when she died on March 6, 2010, my world fell apart for a very long time.

We lived here in this little house for four years with shattered dreams and could not make it a home. Now we are on the brink of finally selling our FLW house, albeit at an enormously reduced price. It is time to move into this unassuming tri-level and make room for the next chapter of our lives. Making room means re-organizing and that requires cleaning out and thinning down my files…all those things I’ve carried around thinking that they will be needed at some future time. As I am in my seventh decade and climbing, I think the future is now.

The process of reducing files requires opening and looking through them. I could only manage four drawers without mental/emotional exhaustion overtaking me as I walked back into my life, folder after folder, making decisions that sometimes brought unwanted memories to the surface. In one of those folders I found correspondence with a friend from the past—an artist from Armenia whom I’d met a decade earlier when Judy and I were visiting friends on the east coast. It was a period of my life when I was doing a lot of genealogy in an effort to understand my heritage as a building block for knowing myself. This period culminated in an exhibition I produced involving nine Armenian/American artists.

Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide. (The electronic version is hosted by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota.)

Curious about this old friend and somewhat lonely for people of my own ethnic temperament, I looked him up online and found he was here in this country, with a partner of six years and still a practicing artist. I sent out a Facebook friend request, Twittered and emailed him at the art center address where he teaches ceramics. About a week later I received an email from him that made me happy; he is a person like myself in so many ways, and one of the few remaining links to my own heritage. When he asked so plaintively why I got out of the art world, I had to give a brief history of the past decade since I’d last spoken with him. Haven’t had a response to this yet…must be busy…

His question brings me front and center, having been asked by others from time to time: Why did you get out of the art world…why would you? Revulsion is one answer. Cancer’s clearer vision is another. I am a professional artist gone AWOL. There is an article in the New York Times—How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality—that simply renews my sense of revulsion. I recommend reading this for all art lovers. It’s educational.

I will always be an artist. That is my temperament and training and it filters into everything I do. Some have questioned why I pour so much of that artfulness into the church I attend when they see so little reason for doing so. My answer is: Why not? The Church having separated itself—to its own detriment—from visual art at the time of the Reformation, is in desperate need of beauty for soul’s nourishment. I can do it and it gives me pleasure rather than pain. When I hear that someone’s experience of the sacred has been enhanced by a bit of beauty I’ve had a hand in providing, I am blessed, because I’m acting in accordance with having been Called by Name back in those gloomy days of cancer treatment and recovery. Clearer vision, that’s the reason.

Art created for one’s own pleasure is personal and edifying, but in a broader, societal sense, it is one hand clapping. Art created out of one’s own spirit and shared freely with others is two hands clapping—communication, pleasure and edification all around. As many of my friends and acquaintances know, I’m big on movement, hands, feet, whatever. Clapping counts.

Now I go to my weekly dance class where I can be art as well as make it…where I can be beauty as well as behold it.

This is the street where I live now…

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18
Jun
11

bridging boundaries

The weeks following my last entry, The Color of Hope, have left me wondering what on earth I had left to say. This blog began in the fall of 2009, as a forum for sharing my experiences since returning to the church after a serious bout of lymphoma, the joys and sorrows that return yielded, and the learning curve that has been the composite result.

I gave this blog the title, Called by Name, because that was the passage given to me toward the end of my cancer regimen. Since I changed my first name to Naomi at my Mennonite baptism in 1975, the notion of having been called by name—through cancer and to life beyond—has often been an affirming and sustaining force. Nevertheless, my partner, Judy and I, were unprepared for the painful ordeal the ultimate denial of church membership would be. We had answered the congregation’s and the pastor’s invitation to come follow Jesus with them. That decision proved to be a considerable leap of faith on our part which was not met by the congregation. During the time we were there, I lost my sister to cancer; was receiving periodic maintenance treatment for my own cancer; and my adopted daughter, Bettina, entered her third round of chemo therapy. It was an excruciatingly  difficult and painful period, wherein I became more familiar with the Job story than I’d ever thought possible. We had returned as prodigals, but it was Job and the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) we experienced in that congregation. In a wildly out of control, congregational meeting on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, we were categorically denied membership and walked out of the meeting with hearts torn to shreds and legs turned to stilts. One family left with us, easing the humiliation that filled us like flames dancing in a campfire.

Two weeks later, we arrived at the Little Church at the Edge of the City, bruised and battered. We were welcomed into the new congregation, but the situation was challenging to them as well as to us…particularly with the death of Bettina just 9 months later. Many personal difficulties ensued, but we all pressed on as best we could. Fits and starts would be one way of describing those two years—June, 2009 to June, 2011—a roller-coaster of deep despair, longing, grief, and loneliness would be another. Despite having been easily accepted into membership, and the efforts of the Little Church to help us, the experience of exclusion and loss had become embedded like a seed planted in my heart. Little by little, anguish nourished the seed into action, and I became an advocate for the peace and justice inclusion of all persons into the Mennonite Church—one of the world’s oldest peace churches! I spoke out declaratively…but without Bettina’s support and enthusiasm, the road often felt lonely and sometimes a bit scary. Except for a few friends, I just did not feel woven into the warp and woof of congregational life.

Then, just a month short of the two-year anniversary of that miasmic denial of membership, this congregation surprised us by voting unanimously to celebrate and officiate at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) weddings and civil unions! My personal world took a decidedly positive turn and healing seemed miraculously instantaneous. Suddenly I was not a single voice speaking for inclusion and civil justice. There was a chorus behind me and with me. That was the color of hope…a rainbow of hope.

Marbling throughout the agonizing times, have also been blessings. I do not deny this at all, but the way has been hard…faith-building some will say, and in hind-sight I can agree, but the process itself left me feeling alone and lonely in a crowd much of the time.

In a few weeks Judy and I will apply for a civil union license and on August 21, we, and this brave little church on the edge of the city will come together in a civil union ceremony. Hard to believe, but true! After nearly 34 years together, Judy and I will be entitled many of the legal rights and privileges heretofore denied us. What I will enjoy the most is Judy’s relationship to me changing on the medical documents I sign each time I visit oncology: from neighbor/friend to Civil Union Partner.

Yeah, for the Little Church and yeah for the lovely pastor who feareth not what might befall.

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?

02
Feb
10

life since then

I have not written since the eve of our membership ceremony. So much has happened since that day. I will start by sharing with you in this posting, the words I spoke to the members of my new congregation, and thereby bring you up to date on that part of my journey.

Membership Sunday, January 24, 2010 – Naomi

I am not a newcomer to pain and disappointment. I did not live a charmed life. It was as a single desperate mother that I came to Reba Place Fellowship in 1972. I had come to the end of my road——what I knew how to do to survive. My first experience of worship at Reba was amazing. Most everyone will tell the same story: It was the abundance of love that drew me in; it felt unconditional and I sorely needed a place to lie down. Life at Reba had its ups and downs. It was a mixed bag, but one thing was certain: It was discipleship 24/7. I became a Christian there in the Immersion Method. Whether guided or misguided, we lived Matthew 18 in households of various sizes. There were a number of painfully misguided events that were personally devastating to me, but on the whole, I don’t believe I could have had a better grounding in Christian life and principles than I received at the Reba “boot-camp.”

Judy and I met at Reba Place and have been life partners for 32 years. Devotional journaling was an everyday event. During one of these times in our last few tumultuous months at Reba, we each received a word, or prophecy, that we were not to worry; and that God had given us to each other for the purpose of becoming the full persons he intended us to be.

Living this out was not possible at Reba and we eventually had to endure a painful leave taking. It was with this vision at the center of our life together that we journeyed through the next 30 years in a kind of Ruth and Naomi relationship, searching for an acceptable version of what we’d left behind.

Judy and I have been true partners through many deep waters. We’ve had many challenges as well as blessings. We survived and prospered in the secular world, but we never found another spiritual home for worship.

Now at the beginning of my 7th decade, having survived round one of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the recent experience of church non-acceptance, I believe I am finally growing up and into the child God made me at the moment I was conceived. It has been a hard road with many rough stones, but here by the water, I build an altar of praise and thanksgiving to the One God—faithful life-giver, stone smoother, transformer and charmer who has indeed Called me by Name and never let the water overcome me.

After all is said and done and the fire has been laid to rest, I see that although only grafted in and not cradled in, I am a Mennonite and one day, just once, I’d like to wear a little white bonnet—to stand under it, just to know what it feels like to be so represented by honor.

I am delighted beyond words to be here…to lay down the gifts God has given me to give to you. It is an enormous blessing to be part of the wheel of life, turning and coming round right.

23
Jan
10

life goes on

I had a few rough days and nights as my last post reveals. By Thursday I was nearly undone from sleeplessness and despair. A phone call to my fine feathered friend, whom I shall call the Empress Bird (EB), and another to her dear partner, Queen Bee (QB) brought enormous relief. In the evening Big Dawg and I spent a couple of hours with EB, a person much like me, and through sharing back and forth, all my feelings that had no place to go were witnessed and released. One more time, the waters were not permitted to overcome me. Empress Bird spoke many life changing things to me and I heard them somewhere inside of my own silver lining.

When we left, I had two recordings in my hands that Queen Bee made for us—one for Adopted Daughter and her pain, and one for me and my sleeplessness . My recording was 100% helpful. I slept like a baby. Got rid of some nasty fears through dreams, and am now convinced that whenever I hear the sound of QB’s voice I may just become dumb-struck! AD used hers last night and says it helped her so much. We are grateful receivers of God’s gifts…the miraculous and the useful…we are open mouths for all that God sends any which way it comes.

Tomorrow BD and I will become members of our Little Church That Could in the city and AD will rejoice. Many of our friends from here and there, across the years and recent, will be there. Songs of our hearts will be sung and we will share with everyone what it means to us to have come this long, long way. We will rejoice  as endings fold themselves into new beginnings. Our good friend will come and sing Here by the Water for us…a song about the rough stones we are…stones only God can smooth, only God can make holy. That is our story, BD’s and mine…rough stones in the river of life.

Called by name….you are mine.

Cairn was built by Todd Friesen with love

Composite was made by Naomi with love..

15
Jan
10

let there be light

This week I see light at the end of my long,  project list tunnel. The major project on this list has been my participation in the biennial Mennonite Arts Weekend (MAW) coming up in Cincinnati on February 5-7. For the past 22 months I have been thinking about this in the back of my brain, and for the past  4 months working on it, front and center. The theme of the event is, The Art of Place: Sacred Spaces and Common Ground. My talk will focus on  suffering as both sacred space and common ground. This will be  followed up with  a Power Point presentation of some of my work. I had never done Power Point—hadn’t even installed it on my computer, so I had to install and learn.  Adopted Daughter helped me. (Not only is she a banker with thief-stopping knowledge of the world of credit, but she’s good at installing and walking me through PP!)

My presentation will be a total of 70 minutes. In the gallery I will have a four-panel installation of my cancer odyssey, Dying to Live, suspended from the ceiling—creating a space that will allow people exposure to what it feels like to have cancer. In addition to this I will have a few of my assemblage boxes on display, the handmade book version of Pailoun’s Story,  additional digital montage work—both secular and liturgical, and  Thin Places. If you think that this is a lot of stuff and I must be crazy, you are right. I don’t know what possessed me to cast such a wide net. It just kept growing is all I can say. Once I started putting it all together I realized it’s size. I am one to finish what I start and so I did…pretty much night and day.

This is not all I’ve been doing while this blog got thinner and thinner. As many of you may know, a lot has been going on in the LGBT inclusivity arena as well…painful and arduous experiences which led us to our present church community, where I have thrown myself into providing a stable visual art worship component. This has become a ministry—an outpouring of the gifts I have been given. Also in the mix is this blog which I have so enjoyed writing, AD’s cancer recurrence and my becoming a care provider. I am leaving out many lesser projects and tasks that wove in and out these past months in addition to the aforementioned. It is enough to say that I have learned that multi-tasking is impossible, but serial tasking is not only possible, it’s good medicine for both chem0brain and elderbrain.

So, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s welcome…like springtime. Life’s rhythms are returning to a normal level of busy with time to even clean house every now and then (ugh!). In 1 week Big Dawg and I will become members of our new church and 10 days after that we will pick up our rented van, pack it full of all the MAW stuff, get in and head out to Cincinnati. The only gray spot in all of this rosy, forward tilt is the reality of AD’s health. Right now, as I write this, she is having a CT scan to determine the state of the state. We live in the now and celebrate it, breathing in and breathing out…

29
Sep
09

mediation and grace

My former congregation has hired mediators to sort through the remnants. I use the word remnants, although some still in that Body may not appreciate this word. In any case, the mediators have begun collecting data via survey. I don’t know the starting date, but when we received ours late yesterday afternoon  (along with the people who have left included in the SEND TO line),  and noticed that the due date of today was being fudged to Friday, we realized that including us could not intentionally have been part of the original plan. Additionally,  the text of the cover letter does not address itself to us..neither to the disenfranchised and disheartened, or to the two of us (partner, Big Dawg and me), the nexus of the meltdown last May 31, Pentecost Sunday. Someone must have said something about having left us out for this to be coming so late in the game and with a cover letter so uninviting.

Dutifully out of love for God, those left behind, and the conciliatory process, I began to fill out the questionnaire, and got almost to the end before I  realized with a jolt that the survey was  composed and constructed for  those remaining in the congregation at whatever level.  It was inadequate and inappropriate for us—a couple who had been invited to membership, then blatantly uninvited in an atmosphere of fear, dissension and confusion—a betrayal from the top down. We replied, suggesting a personal interview was the more appropriate avenue where we are concerned. The suggestion was affirmed and the interview  will take place tomorrow evening by phone. We will not parse words.

We are certain that the mediators are fine people with a good skill-set, but we are baffled by what appears to be a lack of understanding concerning the whole picture. BD and I were the nexus of the meltdown—the stars, if you will—stars that got their shine splattered with neon gray deck paint! Now, as we contemplate the upcoming phone interview, we wonder what the mediators have in mind as their goal for this congregation (of which we are no longer part). Having set up a campaign that did not initially include us at any level gives us reason to question intent and goal. In the days since May 31, I  have come so often to questioning…what could they be thinking!!! when I hear the latest congregational news. I come again to this question, but with a sinking feeling. For a church whose problems reach back 20 years, a process begun badly has little chance of achieving more than a good facial at the salon. I despair, and at the same time, loathe having to talk about our experience again with people who (I fear) will not be able to break through the congregational retaining walls that contain the truth. From us, they will hear the truth. I don’t know what they will hear from the other principles.

I believe Matthew 18:15-20 is a recipe for living together in imperfection. I believe reconciliation (confession and forgiveness, not necessarily becoming best friends) is the only worthwhile goal to pursue. I don’t know if this congregation has charged these mediators with this goal in its totality…in it’s big picture formulation. So far, omissions seem to me to have been made at the time of contracting this mediating team. But, I don’t know. No one has told us anything, written, or phoned—no one but my dear friend who remains in the congregation hoping for an act of God (my cynicism entirely). She told us a few days ago that mediators had been hired, but didn’t know much else. Even yesterday, she wrote to say that she didn’t know who, representing what group, would get to be interviewed. This unknowing is typical of this congregation. Is it secrecy born of intent to deceive or of fearful inadequacy? Healthy leadership…the lack thereof…was and is still the foremost problem in this group.

One of the things I like about the congregation we where we are now is the openness…open nearly to excess sometimes, but open nonetheless. We are a small, disbursed congregation with an email listserve where news gets circulated. Anyone can post news or needs or announcements at will. This church went through the gay membership issue many years ago, nearly fractured apart. It came through battered, worn, but cohesively. Some left. That is inevitable. Those who stayed, did so out of conviction, and choice to be God’s people, rain or shine. We are welcome there and loved…sometimes more than we feel we deserve. That is Grace and that is God’s Word.

God’s voice shines in the darkness…listen, do you not hear it?




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