Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday morning sermon topic: Marriage

Happily wearing my "rainbow stole" today for church, I wanted attention.  The stole is about 30" long, and it drapes around one's neck like a minister's "stole" - a seasonal decoration that is part of a Methodist minister's garb.   I received it in 2008 at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and was made by members of the Reconciling Ministries. 

I was complimented two times.  First, by my divorce lawyer and her husband (also an attorney), who are two folks that are not only friendly, but have let me know that they are supportive of gay and lesbian people.  I told them my pretty neck-piece was given to me by the Reconciling Ministries.  They were happily surprised when I told them it actually IS a part of Methodism. 

Next, another friend said, "What a colorful...thing you have."  And to this friend I answered, "It means I'm gay-affirming, and I'm wearing it because this week was the Indiana Conference here in Muncie."  My friend was taken aback, and said, "You aren't kidding, are you?"  To which I said no, I was not, as I smiled and explained again about getting it at General Conference. I was kind of proud to be wearing my "sign" of affirmation, and I was happy that I could express the reason I wore it.  As surprised as this 2nd friend was, she knows how I think and feel, so we smiled and went to our seats - and I chose to sit with the lawyer friends.

As I enjoyed the music, singing with a full heart, my friend Lisa, came to sit with us.  After the usual announcements and so forth, the pastor, Matt, began with the first of a series on MARRIAGE.  I'd been feeling pretty good up to that point - and wrote a secret note that I showed my two friends:  Here we sit, two divorcees and a divorce lawyer!  Oh, the irony. 

Examples of true love followed:  slides of old married folks, witnesses of a lifetime of commitment.  A video from the Marriage Ref, showing silly arguments.  And then to show how couples can grow apart, a geometric object lesson: as an angle stays constant, the points on the arms move further from the vertex (all math terms I had to look up to add here) as well as further from each other. 

Wow, what a way to build up our little back row.

It took full concentration AND some good-hearted humor for both Lisa and myself to sit quietly and to keep a receptive attitude, since we each divorced for different reasons.  But since we (and others who divorce) still hold marriage in high regard, we decided we would not make a mass exodus.  However, about 15 minutes into the sermon/message, I had a "potty emergency" and had to excuse myself.

In the restroom, I was concerned to hear quiet sniffles - and I worried that someone needed help.  My call from nature must have been a meant-to-be, because in asking, and all I could see was feet, and all I could hear was crying. When this small woman appeared, I found someone who was in much more serious shape because of this "marriage" sermon.  She had just filed for divorce, and she was very, very upset.

Little did I know how much others would be suffering, and this particular woman couldn't bear to stay inside the main hall.    I was so glad I got to talk and interact with her, and when she asked, I went inside and found her purse and things so she wouldn't have to.

Because I went inside and gathered the belongings of this woman, I also grabbed my own, and I didn't hear how the message ended.  I wondered though, how many of us were there who were affected.  I wondered, and still do, if Matt realizes that when he encourages some, even many, that some of us either have to remove ourselves from the impact of the message, or absolutely can't stand to hear how things "ought to be."

Getting back to my rainbow stole, I thought about why I wear it and what I stand for.  I am part of many groups.  There are the closeted gay Christians that I KNOW are part of our little congregation, and I want to be a visible support for them.  The out gay Christians who are not there - since the United Methodists are slow to accept them as equals in our congregation.  I also stand for the non-Christian gay and lesbian people, because we all are God's children. 

I'm also part of the divorced people.  Ten years ago I would NEVER have expected to be one of "THEM."  Now that I AM divorced, messages like today's that assume marriage is part of everyone's life find me sarcastic and a little jaded.  While divorce is no longer as stigmatized in the church as it was in the past, we who experience it still hurt, a lot.   

So is there a sign I can wear that shows my care for these groups?  Is there anything I can do?  Is wearing a rainbow stole enough?  Is it even appropriate? 

I think it is not my rainbow stole that will show how much I care or display my willingness to stand with those who can't stand for themselves.  I think it's my question in the bathroom stall asking, "Do you need help?  Can I do something for you?"  Even though I was initially afraid to intrude, it was a moment that passed quickly.  And it takes just a moment longer to offer to help someone know they aren't alone. 

I'm not sure how to sum this up - suffice it to say that I want to help. It isn't wearing an outside rainbow that shows my support, even though it can easily show that I'm supportive.  It's the caring question, "Do you need help?  Can I do anything for you?"  It's offering myself, even when I can't do much more than get someone's things and give a hug.  That's what I can do.



matt said...

Thank you for your insights. I'm really glad that Commonway has people like you. I appreciate your honesty, and that in this situation you'd even be available to help someone who was crying in the bathroom.

I'm really sorry this is such a sensitive issue for yourself and others in difficult situations. Believe me, I have my painful issues as well. I can definitely work on being more sensitive to people who are on the other side of an emotionally loaded issue like marriage!

Thank you for your heart that just wants to help people!! -Matt

Tim Morris said...

Good thoughts Carol. This has been one of the many types issues that have made it so difficult for me to be serious about my faith. Fellowship is hard when you feel like you have to be ready to defend yourself or those you love in a moments notice.
What is there about marriage that can't apply to any relationship? Put others first, be humble.
Sermons that tell me how my life should be when I live in a life that can't be don't help much.
I don't know what I want from church, maybe jut to know when I walk in people are glad to see me?
I feel a blog coming on...

Shel said...

I am blessed to belong to a church whose slogan is "No matter who you are or where you are in life's journey, you are welcome here." I chose this church deliberately because I knew I'd never be judged for being divorced from a gay man. Our congregation has many gay and lesbian members, all wonderful Christian people who are valued members of the church family. I've met other divorcees -- our pastor and his wife are both divorced -- and we feel just as much a part of the congregation as the married couples.

Today's entry in my daily devotions booklet is based on John 13: 6 and 9 -- Love in Action. I spent the afternoon helping another divorced woman with some computer problems so she wouldn't have to pay someone to do it. You comforted a crying woman in the bathroom. That's love in action if I've ever seen it.

Mark said...

Thanks for that processing and explanations Carol. I'm fortunate to be part of a Reconciling Congregation (deep in the heart of Texas) which is a member of a really conservative conference ... but RMN is active and there is a groundswell of support growing for making our church truly as Open as it advertises it to be.

Thank you for wearing that stole. Thank you for the closeted siblings in Christ who, for whatever reason, aren't able to be visibly out.

You are Christ to them.

hillsideslide said...

Good for you for wearing that stole!

And, for being there. Your heart is tuned in and available. That's a blessing for the rest of us.

I often wonder how things would go if, like blogging or facebook posts, the preacher could get honest feedback on their sermons.

I'm sure my dad gets feedback, and I give my pastor feedback.... but, how often do they hear the stories from the people who excuse themselves to cry in the bathroom? ...or shoot themselves b/c they can't change their orientation?

Love you said...

Do you suppose in your efforts to help others, you end up hurting still others? Do you think that your stole would be offensive to friends of Jesse Dirkhising? Is what you feel more important than the feelings of others? Do the rules and demands that you impose on others apply to you? You say that you are not patient with those who disagree with your feelings...yet you demand that others be patient with your disagreement. Is that right?

There are people who truly, really, LOVE children and have "always" lusted for them. These people try to live a normal life; they do not want to be physically attracted to children; and they grieve because they are. But, they can not change. Would you say that "God made them this way"? How about those who really, truly are attracted to dead bodies; to animals; desire bondage and rape; or only find pleasure in pornography? Is that the way God made them? Why would homosexual deviancy be different in the eyes of God than the others I mentioned? Why would God limit his love and understanding to only the deviancy of homosexuality? Many people feel that they were not "made" to be monogamous. They can not be faithful. They NEED many sexual partners. They were "made that way". Yet God clearly says Adultery is a sin. Why? Is God really glorified in homosexual and other "preferences"? Really? Prov.14:14 and 16:25. The truth is; "For all that is of the world---the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life--is NOT of the Father, but is of the world." 1Jn2:16 God made man perfect and good, and provided him with a wife/a woman as the perfect companion. Lust is a part of our fallen nature--not good. I ran a daycare. You are a mother; you and I know that naturally we are sinners. I never had to teach a child to BE selfish--TO hit; TO grab toys or TO throw a fit when they want thing their way! Their natural nature was NOT good. As a loving parent, we must guide them away from these natural ways. Just as God does not want us to steal, kill or lie to get our own way; he doesn't want us to commit sexual sin either. You may get all the world to agree and participate in your sin; but in the end, God says you will pay in your soul..Romans 1:27. It isn't cruel punishment, but truth that if you stick your hand in a flame, you will hurt and be burned. A loving father warns and puts a barrier around the flame to protect his children. Our society has been the barrier. You are trying to remove that barrier, to your hurt, and to burn all our children.

IT said...

Hi, Carol,
Thanks so much for your witness. Our straight allies are so brave and so valued--you make a huge difference.

I found my way here because someone came to my blog from yours. I write as one of the 18,000 Californians married during the California Interregnum, prior to the passage of Prop8. Every day I wake up thankful for the gift of my marriage and my wife.

To the "Love you" person commenting above, I don't know what to say. Medicine and science recognize homosexuality as a normal human variant, not a deviance or a perversion. Your comments make about as much sense as criticizing the left handed, and considering them to be possessed.

Of course it was only in the last 50 years that people stopped forcing lefties to use the "wrong" hand.

For those interested in the theology justifying recognition of homosexuals, I recommend the book "Reasonable and Holy" by Fr Tobias Haller, BSG. Fr Haller, an Episcopal priest, is an accomplished scholar and his little volume engages the Bible from multiple perspectives.

My wife and are fortunate to be members of the Episcopal church and affirmed by that community, which has provided a refuge to many in this cause, and upholding the same values and standards for GLBT people as for straight. Which is as it should be.