My friend John preached an amazing sermon for the national More Light Presbyterians conference about a lunch he had with the executive editor of The Layman, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, when she agreed to be interviewed for Out of Order. She responded in the magazine, and I was struck by how respectful and loving it was, in a debate that is so often characterized by vitriol and hate.
So I sent her a thank-you note.
I’m writing as one of the subjects of the documentary Out of Order to thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the film, and for your lovely and gracious response to John’s sermon. I am so pleased to know that a lunch like that is still possible!
It grieves me to hear of the hurt and alienation you are feeling from the PCUSA, particularly because I’ve felt similar alienation at several stages of my journey – from a church which nurtured me and which I love deeply, divided over whether I could truly be part of it. I considered leaving the denomination, and I know what a painful decision that can be. Certainly, it is not one that’s taken lightly. I have lost friends and colleagues over the years to denominations where they felt more affirmed, and it is a painful loss every time, no matter what the reason.
I was recently ordained as Associate Pastor at the church where I’ve been serving in various capacities for the last year and a half. We are a small congregation, mostly aging as so many churches are these days, on the edge between suburban and rural, and fairly theologically diverse. My time there has been an incredible blessing, and I have high hopes for our future together.
We have lost a few members because of my sexuality – although not as many as I feared – and each has been a loss to the community. Those who remain do not always agree, about everything or maybe even about most things. But somehow, by the grace of God, it works. We have grown as a community, in trust and care and ministry with one another, and I have seen and felt there a renewal of confidence and hope for the future. Our diversity of thought has been a blessing, even if it is not always an easy one to navigate.
For my sermon this week, I’m working with the lectionary text from Jeremiah 29; his letter to the exiles in Babylon. To these people feeling displaced and alienated in a strange land, surrounded by people it seems like they have nothing in common with, he says, build houses, plant gardens, get married. Set down your roots there, in the midst of these strangers. Seek the peace/wholeness/well-being of this city where God has sent you, for in their shalom is your shalom.
It is a text I’ve come back to often over the last several years, and it never gets any easier. I know my temptation is so often just to surround myself with those people I agree with, and build walls around ourselves so we can safely yell out about how wrong everyone else is. Except that never works, because inevitably I would be blocking out someone I care about. And as much as I don’t really want Jeremiah’s words to be true, he is right every time. I am blessed and nurtured by my relationships with people different from me, even those who disagree with me. In their peace is my peace; in your peace is my peace.
Thank you again for your participation in the documentary and your willingness to engage in conversation. Blessings on your journey, wherever it takes you.