When Waters Recede

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. Peacemaking is about being able to recognize in the face of the oppressed our own faces, and in the hands of the oppressors our own hands.”

| The Book of Common Prayer

 

This past week has been filled with news of flooding - waters that moved past their allotted spaces to cause havoc and destruction in the lives of people dear to us. Our prayers and support still rest with those affected by Harvey (if you haven't already, impact UMCOR’s efforts by donating here).

When waters recede, the hard task of rebuilding begins. This is true of not just houses and streets, but people's hearts.

While a hurricane ravaged our coast, evangelical leaders launched a callously timed, underwhelming statement of refusal to accept and worship alongside LGBTQ people. A flood in its own right.

This Sunday, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate and be grateful for the experiences we've shared as a people gathering around this incredible narrative and expression of God made manifest. We’re passing the microphone to those whose sexuality does not fit the heteronormative world we are accustomed to. All people are capable of embodying the depth, authenticity, and vulnerability that is central to Christian living.

Our hearts should not only be for the oppressed but molded into the shape of those whose lives are marked by oppression.

With these, our brothers and sisters, there is a level of depth, realness, and potential that does not exist anywhere else. Sin is a refusal to seek wholeness, a blindness towards growth and giving and each other. It is refusing to break bread. It's not responding to the joy in a wedding feast. As a church, that understanding is why we can read something like the Nashville Statement, look around at the folks we worship with and firmly say it does not align with the sweetness and sacredness of Christ.

Their responses to the prompt “Describe a moment of sacredness or sweetness you’ve encountered in church, with the body of Christ, or in your personal relationship with God” are below:


I.

Church is my home. The body of Christ, the spaces we meet, meals over deep conversations, sharing what it’s like when we encounter the presence of the living God, knowing that it’s so different for everyone but so sweet nonetheless. How the daily lived-life can look like the communion table. I love church because it’s all of us together, trying to be more like Jesus. Costa Mesa First UMC lets me love the Church and provides a space for me to be an integral part of the body of Christ.

II.

When I first moved to Orange County, I knew I wanted to find a church that loves God and his people. Also, I hoped for diversity and a group of people sincerely seeking to make a difference in their community.
Through a connection in LA, I heard about First UMC Costa Mesa. The first Sunday I attended was communion Sunday. As I looked around I saw such beautiful people just coming to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I saw a row of amazing senior women who were the first to give the best hugs during the welcome time. There was also a woman sitting next to her wife taking communion. To be around so many generations and it be a place where LGBT could come to worship made me get a little emotional, with joy. I sat there that Sunday observing what the kingdom of God should look like- open, diverse, and filled with people seeking to love each other and their community.
When I hear loud voices declaring that the kingdom of God can only look a certain way- I am sure that Jesus wishes people could be reminded of how Matthew recorded one of His teachings: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The Church should be a place where people find joy and hope. Not a closed door that leads beautiful people to find hurt as they explore their faith.
I saw something recently: “LOVE is the narrow way that Scripture tells us about.”
I choose to be on the narrow path.

III.

When I came to the realization I was a lesbian, I ran away from God and from the church. I believed God didn't love me and I also didn't want to be judged and condemned by my peers. It took a friend to walk beside me and bring me back to church. I was completely hesitant at first, I told her "I just want to be a fly on the wall." I didn't want to commit to anything, I didn't want to be a part of anything. But none of the labels we give each other or even ourselves mattered. All that mattered was God and His love. I came and found myself again in church and in life.  There was no judgement, only love and community. There was openness and acceptance. At First United Methodist Church of Costa Mesa I got to be a part of God's kingdom, rebuilding a church, rebuilding a community, and I found a home where I can be me.

IV.

Our 12 passenger van continued to weave under the glowing caps and verdant slopes of Glacier National Park. One native described the mountain from which this very road derived its name in the following manner: “How very high it is, its summit far up into the blue. Of all the mountains that I have ever seen, I think it is the most beautiful. Were I younger and were it summertime, how I would like to climb up and lie on its summit, and fast, and pray to the Sun for a vision.” The scenery was the stuff of icons, a sanctuary evoking words like majestic, serenity, wonder.
My eyes focused on a cold stream below. Throughout this pilgrimage with my new church, I experienced a failure to identify with the emotional insights of my team. We spent days learning and implementing spiritual disciplines from mystic, Orthodox, and charismatic traditions. One said in an awkward prophecy session, “I keep getting an image of a sunrise while praying over you, like it represents your faith somehow, slowly growing and changing color.” Color and joy are intertwined for a reason. At that time, grief overpowered both. God seemed blurry, the world gray, but I think the divine has an affinity for quiet spaces and bewildered people.
“I’m bringing you to a land that will make your heart sing.” The specificity and clarity of the phrase caught me off guard. It sounded odd. I then noticed the extra water in my eyes, and realized it was. That simple, clear moment represented the Christ to me, a specific phrase of present promise and future hope while traveling on Going to the Sun road.

V.

On June 12th, 2016, I began my Sunday in normal fashion. Woke up around 6 am and hopped in the shower to get ready for church. My partner told me there was a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, and that a handful of people were reported dead. I shook my head and said a short prayer, but headed out the door. On the drive to church, NPR radio reported 27 people dead with several others wounded. The final death toll would be 49.
I arrived at church in a haze. I walked into the sanctuary and sat in my normal spot. The pastor noticed me,  came over and asked how I was doing. I normally like to answer with I'm fine or some other variant like that. But I couldn't tell such a blatant untruth that morning. The words stumbled out, “I’m not ok” as I started to break down. The pastor instinctively hugged me for what seemed like forever. I thanked him and expressed my appreciation for him. I gave and received many, many more hugs that day.
That felt like “church” to me - a community of people from all walks of life who care for each other, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows. The first time that God said something was “not good” during Creation was when noticing that the human was alone. I think that's what “church” is; because we were never meant to be alone.

VI.

Growing up as the son of a UMC pastor, I’ve been around a lot of ‘church’ in my 26 years on Earth, where I’ve seen, met, and learned to love and follow Jesus- formal/informal, east coast/west coast/down south, mountain tops in South Africa, islands in the Caribbean, Jersey Shore beaches, rural conservative northern Michigan; a very faith-based, generally conservative Christian extended family. I have been in every situation where a young LGBT person would feel uncomfortable- yet I haven’t. Why? Because in all these places, the binding characteristics of the Christian folks in my life has been love; love of Jesus, and love of others because of his example, no matter what someone’s sexual orientation may be. 
That being said…when I moved home after finishing undergrad in 2014, I was very involved in our church’s youth program. While my family and friends were always open and loving, we lived in a highly conservative, suburban, none-diverse, Philadelphia area. Working with the same small group of 9th-grade guys all summer on mission trips and retreats, we had built a pretty honest, real, rapport with each other. Being 9th graders… there were a lot of gay jokes thrown around all the time, which I chose to ignore because I ‘didn’t want to go there’ with youth who I KNEW had parents that were vocal about ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’.
On our last trip of the summer at a beach in Delaware, I got the news that I was accepted to grad school for that fall. Not knowing if I would be able to continue being their youth leader during school, I decided to tell the guys that gay jokes aren’t funny and could be hurtful to people; they, of course, told me they didn’t know anyone who was ‘really gay’. I laughed and said- “you do; me”. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I got something very different- instead of jokes or anything relatively bad… the first question from them was- “so, do you have a boyfriend?.”
Needless to say, my sexuality had absolutely nothing to do with who I was as a mentor for these guys- something I thought would ruin the relationship we had built. The next morning we had our sunrise devotions on the beach and closed with the song “Oceans”. One of the guys came over and sat next to me, gave me a side hug, and said “you know, we knew you were gay but didn’t say anything because we didn’t think you wanted us to know. It's 2014, not 1995 when you were a kid, being gay doesn’t matter to us or to God. We love you for being there for us, we don’t care who you date”. Being semi surprised, I sat in wonder and watched the morning waves, while we continued to sing… “Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand will be my guide. Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, you’ve never failed and you won’t start now.” It was that moment that I truly learned that “God is love.”