Monday, May 05, 2008

Plane Processing

I am currently on the plane back to Boston. I wanted to try and write down some of my thoughts while they were still fresh. First of all, I can’t believe I’m on my way home already. It seems like I just got to Fort Worth, and then again, at the same time, it feels like I’ve been there forever. What a rollercoaster of a week. There were so many bright spots, and a looming period of darkness. But we came out better for it. And today’s wedding was a celebration of that inspiration and hope.

The theme for this year’s General Conference was “A Future of Hope” or something similar. And today, after two days of feeling completely disheartened, I saw hope. Hope of a future where one day we don’t have to be outside the conference celebrating. Hope of a future where one day we will be invited in. Hope for a future where instead of mourning outside the convention doors, holding hands in solidarity in our black, we are in all our rainbow brilliance and applauding the delegates as they reenter. Applauding the final welcoming our people. Applauding the re-membering of Christ’s body. Applauding, and celebrating with ALL God’s children. Hope for that one day where all finally means ALL.

I pray that this applause occurs in my lifetime. I pray that this applause happens sooner rather than later. But prayer isn’t enough, as I learned this week. And on this blog for the very few times I have posted. Prayer isn’t enough. We have to tell our stories. It’s only when we are seen as human beings, and not freaks of nature, or unnatural, or other hurtful words that came up this past week at General Conference that we will be welcomed with open arms to God’s banquet. So this is my story.

I grew up Catholic. My dad’s parents and my mom’s grandparents came to this country from Ireland. I feel truly blessed in the fact that my parents ensured I grew up in a loving Catholic church, unlike the cold Catholic church of their collective childhoods. Since my dad was in the Navy, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for my parents to find the liberal Catholic Church wherever we went, but some how they did. When I was in third grade we moved to Gaithersburg MD and started attending St Rose of Lima Parish. This was my home for many years.

When I was in sixth grade I started being a part of the youth group there. I fought for a junior high youth group, since the high school students didn’t want us in their youth group. I went to Religious Ed every Monday night. And starting in high school, I was at church from 11 in the morning until about 10 in the evening. I was there for mass, then a quick lunch break and change of clothes to come back for music/drama rehearsal, planning meetings, and youth group. I was very aware of people who were on the outskirts of the group and always welcomed them in. I sat with them, and learned their stories and ensured that no one would feel unwelcome as long as I was there. I always felt like the outcast: being the new kid in school whenever we moved, not being one of the popular kids in school, being ridiculed several times in elementary and middle school, not being wanted by the high schoolers when I was younger. I knew what it was like to feel unwanted, and was determined to never make someone feel that way because of my actions.

By the time I was a sophomore, I was running the drama program at my church. I was writing and directing, and often times acting in, skits that we would do for various activities. Being at St Rose was the only time I felt like I fit in. Everyone knew me there. Not only members of the youth group, but adult members of the church knew me too. I finally felt like I belonged. But there was something missing. I didn’t know what at the time, and I went through a lot of dark periods trying to figure it out, and grappling with something that I couldn’t ever quite figure out. I surrounded myself with my friends, and the girls that I formed a deep bond with are still my closest friends, and are by far the largest group of friends I maintain contact with from my high school years.

By the time I got to college, I was fairly exhausted. After being on 2 volleyball teams and the dance squad, and doing drama at school as well as all my church activities, I was ready for a break. So in college I just did volleyball. For a time. Until I got antsy. I missed being busy all the time and being involved. So naturally, I tried to find a Catholic community to call my own. Going to school in Lynchburg, VA was not easy, and finding a liberal Catholic church was impossible. This was not the church I grew up with. This was a cold environment that did not look kindly on outsiders joining. This was not a place where you hugged at the sign of peace, but rather, you simply nodded your head. For the first time, I saw Catholicism outside of St Rose and I was dismayed.

So I thought I would try to find another faith community. One that was more welcoming. I went ‘church shopping’ to try and find a place where I felt safe and welcomed. I never really found one while at college, and that was hard for me. Church was a huge part of who I was, and where I came from. The fact that I couldn’t continue that was painful. And another thing happened in college. I finally figured out that missing piece. That something that I was constantly grappling with but could never put my finger on. My sophomore year of college I made the self discovery I was gay. And this sent me into a year and a half struggle.

I couldn’t come out at St Rose because the Catholic Church sees my loving a woman a sin. My parents were brought up Catholic, so I was terrified of what they would think. My friends were all Catholic, and all straight. I was alone. And confused. And hurt. And trying to make sense of how a place that felt like home for close to eleven years now felt foreign to me. That year and a half was probably the darkest time in my life. I felt no one would understand, and I would be the outcast again. Only permanently this time.

Somehow, by the grace of God, I slowly started the coming out process. I came out to my best friend; then another friend; and eventually to my mom. Who told me that she would always love me, and nothing would ever change that, and she was sorry that I felt I couldn’t tell her. And although I finally felt safe with my friends and my parents, I still didn’t feel safe or wanted at church. I constantly felt that if people knew, they would kick me to the curb. So I stopped going to church. For about four years the only time I went to church was when I was home visiting my parents. And I was always anxious when I went. I started looking at going to St Rose as a social event, to see who of my friends would be there, rather than gaining any spiritual nourishment. This was still really hard for me.

It wasn’t until I moved to Boston that I started going to church again. And even then it was a struggle. I had a co-worker who kept talking to me about the church that he attended, Cambridge Welcoming Ministries. He would talk to me every Monday about the service Sundays, and how dinner was served afterwards, and how welcoming and affirming they are there. Eventually he mentioned the pastor by name and I realized the pastor was female. So I started to pay more attention. I’ve always been drawn to churches that allow women to be ordained, so I started to listen more attentively to Mark’s stories. Eventually he wore me down and I agreed to go to service with him.

Before I went to college, St Rose adopted a new church motto. It was ‘All are Welcome.’ Every time I heard it, however, I felt that there was no feeling or emotion behind the sentiment. It felt like an empty statement to me. Because I witnessed time after time the Catholic Church being exclusive to some, sometimes most of the members of its church. My first service at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, the first thing Tiffany said was, “All are welcome here.” And I immediately started to cry. Because I knew that Tiffany meant it. All are truly welcome at Cambridge Welcoming. And we start every service stating so. “Whether you are gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, bisexual, questioning; whether you’re here for the first time, or the 50th time, whether you’re 5, 25, 85 or somewhere in-between you are welcome here.” I finally found a place where I belong. Where people aren’t going to judge me, for any reason. Where I can truly be myself and I am loved. A place that I don’t have to worry about being an outsider. A feeling I have never had in my life.

So when The United Methodist church this past week told me I wasn’t welcome in their church; I wasn’t prepared for how awful that would feel. I wasn’t prepared for how devastated I would be to hear that God’s grace does not extend to me, according to The United Methodist church (and specifically, one particular delegate). I wasn’t prepared to deal with the apathy I felt from so many delegates towards how broken and hurting we were. I am used to feeling like an outcast. I am used to feeling unwanted. I was, and am not, used to knowing why I am an outcast. I am also not used to others standing in solidarity with me, also being called outcasts. And that is my church. My church stands with me. My church welcomes me. My church does not ignore me. It saddens me that the greater church does not stand with me until it is too late. It disheartens and devastates me that the greater church not only doesn’t welcome me, but specifically denies me membership because of who I love. It broke my heart to be ignored by the greater church. For a church whose old motto was Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors and is now Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World, these are empty statements to not only me, but other LGBT people. To us, we hear Open Hearts Open Minds Open Doors except YOU. We hear that you make disciples of people who are straight, but LGBT people need to take a number and we’ll get back to you once you realize that being LGBT is a choice. Once you accept your hetero-ness you will be welcomed by us.

I did not choose to be a lesbian. Anymore than my best friends chose to be straight. My lesbianism is my gift from God. I pray one day The United Methodist church, and other denominations around the world, will accept this and welcome me with open arms. Until then, I take comfort in Cambridge Welcoming, and yearn for the day CWM is no longer the exception, but the rule.

Broken Hearts. Closed Doors. We Mind. www.rmnetwork.org

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for the pain you are feeling, and I'm sure that at this point in time you feel like you really have no choice. You've been told that, and you've surrounded yourself with people who believe so.

The reality is, however, that just as one who has a propensity for addictions (alchohol, drug, sex, etc) is responsible for thier own actions and choices, so is someone who chooses the GLBT lifestyle. God made me as a woman who is strongly attracted to other men; but God's plan for me is just one husband, not many, and not a life of adultery. No matter how much I "feel" a desire for living otherwise.

You obviously have very strong desires to other women. But Scripture is clear about God's stance on this lifestyle.

I hope you find the inclusiveness you are seeking in God's Grace, Redemption, and His Power to change. God saves us and changes us. There is no truly honest examination of Scripture that would ever lead one to believe God is ok with the glbt lifestyle. It just isn't there.

But the hope is the grace, love, acceptance, inclusion, and relationship that God offers all people. Yes, He loves you just as you are. But also, yes he wants to change you, me, all believers, to cause us to desire to obey Him in all areas of our life, especially our sexuality.

Becca Clark said...

Michelle,

I don't think we've met; I'm a BU School of Theology grad (a former catholic too!) and a pastor in NY state. I've only been to CWM a couple of times. Thank you so much for sharing your story! What a powerful witness it is. I too pray for the day when CWM is the norm and people who harbor homophobia in their hearts are the vast minority at most.

Blessings and prayers from across the Connection,
Becca

dragonfly said...

Michelle, yes, thank you for sharing your story. I loved to hear that Mark is your friend who invited you to church. I found your church through him as well (I have only visited via the internet--but someday.)
Your story moved me, just as I am sure it will anyone who reads it--some in one direction--anonymous--and others in another--me :)
I am sure that this is not the place to answer to anything that anonymous has to say to you, to me, to any person reading her response to you; but I just can't help it.
To any of you who were at General Conference, please know that you are making a difference in the lives of so, so many GLBT people. I don't go to church, but after coming to know Pastor Steinwert and Mark a little bit through my computer--I will be looking for one now. I have listened to anonymous and others like her (how does that sound anonymous, "others like you"?),for my entire life and these past few weeks have been the very first time that I felt like God was going to see. I am seen by God anonymous, as is everyone who looks to Him. And, someday so will you. Someday you will see me for who I am, for who God created me to be. I am a child of God, a "beautiful child of God", says Pastor Tiffany, and I believe it. I don't listen to you anymore, I don't hear your words just like you don't hear ours. How dare you take Michelle's story and use them to show your bigotry and hate. I think you need to read her story again--your weren't listening. Oh, and, I have been with my partner for seven years, she is the only woman that I have ever been with and I will be with her I am sure until "death do us part". You have no idea about our lives--you should take the time to listen to God; clearly you are not.
My name is Nancy Motley Fogg, and I am a lesbian--

Becca Clark said...

I didn't see the anonymous response when I posted mine earlier-- I think we were posting at the same time. Again it really bothers me when someone has the courage to share their personal expereince and others (by choice or omission) remain in the comfort of anonymity.

So Michelle, again I thank you for your story, especially in the face of other people's dismissive and hateful responses which your story was, sadly, sure to ellicit in our broken world. And Nancy, thank you too for your story and your testimony to God's inclusive love speaking louder than the voices of exclusion. Please know that Tiffany and Michelle (and Will and Jeremy...) and the folks at CWM are not alone in their stance, nor are the hundreds of witnesses at General Conference (where I was not able to be this year). There are thousands of us across the world! We too see you as a beautiful, whole daughter of God, created in the love and the image of the Divine.

Blessings and support,
Becca

Gregg said...

Hi Michele,
Thank you for your courage in sharing your story. There are many of us who are continuing to work to see The UMC become more faithful, and we will never stop. Please hold on to whatever is beautiful, pure and TRUE (Phillipians 4:6-8). Do not listen to anything or anyone that tells you that you are somehow "sinful." You are wonderfully made (Psalm 139).

Michele Naughton said...

I think the hardest thing for us humans to accept is God's UNCONDITIONAL love. That's right, UNCONDITIONAL. In case you are unclear, UNCONDITIONAL means without conditions. As humans, we are unable to do this. We are constantly putting conditions on everything we do, whether consciously or not. The sooner we, as the collective human race, can accept God's UNCONDITIONAL love for us, God's children, the sooner we will be able to love each other. UNCONDITIONALLY I could easily start a debate about the statements anonymous made, but I'm not going to. Unconditional love is the key.

Boxman said...

Michelle,

Your last comment in the thread is an illustration of why this debate will probably never be resolved. You are critical of people who hold absolute positions regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality. Yet you now appear to be resting your argument on an equally absolutist statement regarding God's unconditional love.

The problem with your assertion is that as you see theological problems with the sinfulness of homosexuality, there are equally valid theological arguments regarding your use of the term unconditional for God's love.

If you are remaining absolute in your understanding of unconditional love, then there is no grounds for discussion. Your absolute is as problematic as the absolutes you bemoan from the other side of the argument.

I appreciate your sharing your personal story, but if it is not with an understanding that the conversation can and should be engaged from both sides, then it is only speaking to one side of the argument and that is those who already agree.

If you want to change hearts and minds, such as mine, I expect that you would examine your own absolutes in light of your request for me to re-examine mine.

R D Mack said...

I've now read all the posts on this board. While anonymous wrote a very succinct post, and left little doubt as to her stance on the issue, I did not sense any "hatred" or "bigotry" in her post as stated by Nancy (dragonfly)

In fact, it seems to me that there is a much stronger emotional response from Nancy in support of the writers experience. Understandably so.

But to merely discount anonymous post as "hateful" and "bigoted" is just as closed-minded and short-sighted as she and others on the LGBT side would claim of people who hold orthodox views.

Boxman has very clearly stated the problem as I see it evidenced here, other blogs, other publications, and many discussions. In fact, I haven't read anywhere, that the orthodox adherents reject God's ability and desire to love those who are in the LGBT movement. I constantly read, hear, speak that God's grace and love are extended to all and needed by all.

But God's love and forgiveness does not give us reason to accept or even celebrate sinfulness to the point of ignoring clear Scriptural teachings.

Just as I'm not in agreement with the possibility of ordained clergy who are openly and unrepentently LGBT, I would not be OK with an openly, unrepentant adulter, fornicator, slave owner, child abuser, etc, etc, being ordained and serving a local church as pastor.

In the great search for inclusiveness I so often hear, I hope that you can at least listen to what boxman, anonymous, I, and others have to say.

dragonfly said...

My reference to bigotry and hate come from a lifetime of people just like anonymous, and you it seems also R.D. Mack, that without exception in my experience, always include some underlying statement of how gay people are adulterers--or they liken being gay to being a drug user or alcoholic or a slave owner or whatever else you choose to "liken" us to. I am pretty sure that God's plan for me is not to have many wives--but I think that He would agree that I should at least be able to have one. Anonymous speaks of God's Grace--I think maybe she should rather to speak of God's Mercy in her thoughts about us. If you think of it in terms of a child; God's Grace is much more kind than His Mercy--I am pretty sure that is why He sent Jesus to us--to show His Grace.
If I need to correct myself in using the words bigotry and hate, then I can and will do that; but please, lets not forget how we got here.
And as for the "no truly honest examination of Scripture..." anonymous is without question wrong about that. Please do some research on how we came to the availability of the Bibles that are known to us. There are few true translations of God's word, and those who take the time and energy needed to truly examine the original writings, well, their conclusions don't match what so many of you would have us to believe and so they are dismissed. I am no expert, I admit that freely, but I am studying and researching and so should you.
Anonymous' response just seemed a little out of place ?? to me. Here is Michele, just getting home from an experience that left her sad and disheartened and, as usual in the issue of being a gay person in our American society, without the inalienable rights that are supposedly for all of us and supposedly a gift from God. There is no such thing as inalienable rights for us--we live in America--that is tragic to us. And to have the ability to choose our religion and to choose Christianity and all of it's Grace and Mercy and forgiveness and understanding and everything that a Christian will tell you that you will find in God and Christ, and then to have the very same people give you the "but" clause. I took my children to a Baptist church and the people there we so wonderful--until I said that I was gay--then we were uninvited to that church. I was molested by my youth minister at the church I attended when I was young--I found out later that he had been sent away from a church in another state because he "had a relationship" with a teenage girl there; they knew that and allowed him into the church I went to. How is it that a child molester can be invited into a church but a lesbian is uninvited? I don't understand that. And please don't blame my sexuality on my abuser, I knew I was gay long before that happened.
I think Michele's reference to "unconditional love" is just that; just a reference, a reminder about how often Christians speak of it and then in the very next breath "un-invite" us into God's house. I assure anonymous that Michele has already found the inclusiveness she is seeking in God's Grace, I think what she is seeking is the inclusiveness of people like anonymous.
Again, if bigotry and hate are too harsh, then I apologize for that. I hope very much that there will come a day when who I am, who God created me to be, is not an issue to be voted on.
It is curious to me why anonymous was looking at this blog in the first place. Maybe I am wrong, and please know that I am always happy to accept that, but this is CWM's website and so why was she here in the first place? I haven't thought a single thing about going to a site that I knew would be against homosexuality, and not because I don't have a million thoughts and feelings about how it will be that I might make a difference in all of this as to how to change there views; but because this is a time just after huge, major changes, or non-changes have happened at this General Conference. Sometimes people need some space to breathe; to just feel what it is that they are feeling; without any judgment, without fear of criticism, without anything but what they know as kindness and acceptance and a kind of "kindred spirits" just sharing what they are going through. Anonymous should go to her own website for now. She will find what she is looking for there.

Marla Marcum said...

Michele, thank you for reminding us that this is more than a "debate" and keeping before us what is at stake for so many people. God doesn't take stances on "lifestyles"... She is the source of the truest and deepest desires of our hearts. Much love, Marla marcum

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

We at CWM strive to be a radically inclusive community that provides safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight persons to come to know and expereince the love of God.

However, in making our welcome wide we hope that others will respect who we are and what we do as a community of faith.

At the top of the blog you can find our mission statement which reads:

"CWM is an open and affirming, progressive, United Methodist community dedicated to proclaiming the Good News of God's love with all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight persons."

If you want to debate the worth of a person or God's opinion of them, I encourage you to do that in a space that was designed for such debates. If you are Methodist you maight try www.7villages.com

Boxman said...

Reverend Tiffany,

Sorry for participating in a debate on your site. I hadn't seen your rules before and thanks for point them out.

Just a suggestion - if you have time, you may want to moderate comments instead of leaving them open. A lot of times I arrive at blog post comment streams from google search or links which don't bring me to the home page where rules like that are explained.

David Cobb said...

Please know that the pain you're feeling is widely shared by many, gay and straight alike. A friend of mine is pastor of a glbt-friendly UMC congregation in Dallas. He's written and preached extensively on how hurtful this has been to the UMC. It's hurtful to those of us in partner denominations, too (Disciples of Christ, in my case).

I hope that in returning home from Fort Worth you're able to surround yourself with a supportive, loving community. The time will come--it has to--when there will be truly open hearts, minds and doors not only in the UMC but across the church universal. As I understand it, the really damaging actions wouldn't have happened without strong influence from the far-right international block. If it had only been the US churches participating, the results would have been dramatically more affirming. I don't know if that's much progress, but it's some. And I'm grateful to see at least some movement.

I'm sorry there was no safe place for you to worship when you were in Lynchburg. And I guess that's the main reason I'm leaving a comment here. If you know anyone who's currently a student in Lynchburg who is struggling to find a church, there are now at least two O&A congregations to choose from: Church of the Covenant UCC, and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). First Unitarian is also a safe place, but they've just started their O&A discernment process.

I'm confident that the day will soon arrive when the better church I believe in will come to be. Blessings on you and your ministry!