Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Irreconcilable Differences

So, I've tried to continue the story about my way westward, but it keeps getting interrupted in my head by another story.

If you don't like listening to churchy stuff, you might just want to go sit down in front of the television and watch 'Good Times' or something.  Dynomite!

So, this is a long story.  The hard ones usually are. 

I started going to church in 1999 when Mike told me it seemed as though I needed a spiritual outlet.  He was right.  Oh, I still had my church in my hometown.  I went there any time I went home to visit.  Sometimes, I went to church with friends, Protestant churches, Episcopalian churches, and for a while, I went to Catholic church.  I loved the ritual of Catholic church.  I wished I could go to confession.  I even spent some time reading about Buddhism.  Buddhism has a lot to be said for it.  But I was raised a Methodist in an affluent white church, so somehow that's where I ended up again, at a little white church in town.

The nice twist in diversity to this church is that the past two ministers have been women, homosexual women.  The first one didn't like me all that much or the relaxed way that Mike and I were raising our son.  I never managed to keep her out of my personal business, so I wasn't sad to see her go.  The second minister at that church was easy to get along with, was kind and funny and had a strong sense of justice.  Plus, she was fairly openly gay.  A lot of people left the congregation when they figured it out. I didn't miss them.

Then, the remaining anti-gays in the congregation kicked this second minister out.  I very nearly left the church then.  I couldn't stand the mean-spirited way in which she was ousted.  It figured.  Just about that time, I needed support because my grandma was dying.  My trusty, caring minister was gone and a new minister, a married woman, was put into the pulpit.  She was nice, but it's hard to grieve with someone who doesn't know you.

So, in the spring, a member of the congregation asked if we would consider becoming a reconciling church, one that is inclusive of gays and lesbians.  I kept my mouth shut at first.  I kept thinking that I should write something for the church newsletter, but I procrastinated.  I was afraid.

Eventually, I wrote that article.  I told the story of a good friend whom I'd lost because I said something stupid when she came out to me.  It was hard to publish such a private story, but I felt it was important to stand up for what is right. 

Last Sunday night, the new minister asked me to come to the meeting for which the church intended to vote about becoming a reconciling church.  I hadn't meant to come.  Mike said I should probably go, that I should cast a vote.  He said it was important.  When I walked into the church, I saw that one of the anti-gay women had brought six of her grandchildren to vote against it.  That just seemed cheesy.  I just knew that these kids had been coached.  I know that technically, the kids were allowed to vote since they were members, but I could see the way things were going, that the anti-gay group had implemented a plan. 

The moderator asked for discussion.  It was awkward at first.  Then, people started to speak their minds. First, people talked about the technicalities of the vote.  They talked about our responsibilities as a reconciling church.  There weren't actually any except to label ourselves as such. 

One guy talked about the dictates of the bible and the moderator, bless her heart, asked which side he was arguing for.  Then another woman spoke eloquently about how a family she knew were struggling to find a church where their young daughter, who was having sexual identity issues already, would feel comfortable worshiping.  That was a beautiful moment.

I thought of something, a reason why we might not be ready to call ourselves a reconciling church, so I raised my hand to speak. 

But first, the moderator saw that the speaker's husband had also raised his hand so she pointed to him.  He spoke about how hurtful it would be to label ourselves as a reconciling church and then commit the sin of interfering with any gay or lesbian person's quest to have a relationship with God.  Wow, that was just what I was thinking only I never would have said it that well.

When the moderator pointed to me, I almost said that my comment had already been made.  I decided to speak anyway.  I said that this issue was one of civil rights, that we'd made progress with women, that a black man was President, but that we still had work to do, especially regarding the gay and lesbian community. 

Then, a woman two rows in front of me said, "Oh for God's sake."  I continued speaking until I finished making my point, but her interjection threw me off.  Right now, I have no idea what I said except that I'd been momentarily proud that I'd been succinct.  I think I referred to the church's history of being unwelcome to gays and lesbians.  I can't quite remember.  I just wanted to get up and walk out.  Instead, I stayed and voted.  I listened to the disappointing results, and when I got up, I hugged the woman and her husband who had spoken so beautifully, and then I left. 

I've been ranting to Mike, praying, talking to a church friend, pacing, and worrying ever since.  Last night, I made myself go to choir practice even though I knew the woman who said 'Oh for God's sake' was going to be there.  It was difficult and I came back wishing I'd stayed home.  Even today, I woke up still upset about it.

A song has been going through my head all afternoon.  I can't say I've exactly been rehearsing it with a performance in mind, but I imagine myself doing it in church next Sunday, during the announcements at the end. I could sit through the entire services thinking about whether or not I'll be able to set foot in the church again.  If I were going to do this, I know I wouldn't be able to hear a word of the sermon because I'd be too nervous about what I was going to do. I would be thinking about the uproar I was about to cause. My song is rude and disrespectful and I know it, but it speaks to how I feel quite eloquently. 

I picture myself fidgeting in my pew, five rows back and on the left.  I picture people greeting me at the passing of the peace and how awkward I would feel hugging the anti-gay folks knowing what I am about to do.  I can imagine trying to sing when the choir gets up to do its anthem.  I would try to listen to the sermon.  I would think of all the people I'd hurt with my song, including the minister.  There are about a dozen of them, though I'd hope they would understand something of what I was trying to convey.  I could see myself trying to understand why this means so much to me, to stand up to half the congregation who would rather I shut up.  It's because of the friend I lost from high school, the one who was the sweetest friend a girl could have, the one who came out to me as a lesbian, the friend I lost because I said something stupid.  I think about the woman in the congregation who cried as she spoke about the family trying to find a church where her homosexual daughter would feel accepted.  This song may not be the nicest way to make my point, but it most certainly would make my point. 

So, imagine the sermon is over.  The hymns have been sung.  The lay reader has just asked if there are any more announcements.  Can you see me standing up then?  I would ask if I could sing a song for them and of course many would nod their heads because I sing for them all the time.  In my fear, I'd have to cling to the back of the pew in front of me to keep from losing my balance.  I'd be able to feel my hands shaking despite the solid pew I'm leaning on.  And I would begin to sing:

sung in a clear voice to the classic tune - Jesus loves the little children,
spoken in a nasal voice with a Jersey accent - Except for the gays,
clear voice - All the children of the world.
nasal voice - We don't like the lesbians either.
clear voice - Red and yellow, black and white,
nasal voice singing - Not the ones that we don't like. 
clear voice - Jesus loves ...
nasal voice interrupting - some of the children of the world. Oh for God's sake.

And then I would struggle to walk out of the church with dignity. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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