One Sunday morning, I received a text from my college-aged son: “I’m coming to your church this morning. What time does worship begin? Can I bring you a cup of coffee?” He and his girlfriend were apparently at Caribou coffee already and planned to join me for worship this morning. I texted my partner and he was stunned. I texted my daughter and she was astonished. We were all confounded simply because my son once neatly fit the category of “Chreaster” (those who attend worship on Christmas and Easter). His interest in the spiritual life had started in his first year of college, in which (like many of us), we could use all the help we could find or muster from within us. He first asked for a rosary from me. Even though I’m a Presbyterian minister, I’ve been given several rosaries through the various pilgrimages I’ve walked over the years. To make it more special, a Benedictine monk sent him a wooden rosary she bought for him from Guatemala. Since that initial text, he and his girlfriend have continued to come to worship with me from time to time when he isn’t working on Sunday morning. As a parent, who happens to be a Presbyterian minister, I can vouch it warms my heart and delights my soul to be in his good company when worshiping.
What throws cold water over the warmth of this memory is the continuing politics wrangling within religious institutions that are responsible for the maintenance of the Church’s theology and polity (politics) of the faithful. While “most days of the week” I hold on to the theological tenet that the daily organization of a faith community and the faith are inextricably bound together, for sanity’s sake — and for the sake of my soul and body — I have taken comfort and solace in the stories of my faith tradition, whether located in holy text or in our long and still-unfolding story. For example, as a Presbyterian minister, I watched with eyes-wide open as my denomination’s (the Presbyterian Church, USA) leaders meet for our most recent national General Assembly and chose (not unexpectedly) to not allow lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) couples marry, let alone giving clergy permission to marry LGBTQ couples in states where marriage is valid and part of state law. Nonetheless, on the heels of North Carolina’s amendment to our state constitution narrowly defining marriage as between one man and one woman, I was momentarily dismayed and privately hurt by the continued perpetuation of systematic sin (yes, that’s what it is called in theological circles) that feed such acts of discrimination. But, I am not thinking only of myself. I also think of how these decisions to not ordain LGBTQ people, not to allow LGBTQ couples to wed, not to let LGBTQ clergy wed people and not to protect LGBTQ clergy in terms of job discrimination, sends a message not only to me about my “second class” status, but also sends a message to my adult-aged children. The message is clear: your gay dad is not good enough, healthy enough, normal enough, straight enough, to be equal among the elect of a state, a nation — or a faith community.
Where I draw succor in politically-, emotionally- and spiritually-charged moments, it happens to be in the Psalms, found in the Hebrew Scriptures. I psychically draw myself into a fetal position and repeat ancient words of comfort for those adrift in a world careening out of control: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down near clear waters. He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23). In withdrawing into these words, I then can come back into the world, emboldened to change the world because I know who I am and whose I am: I am created by a Creator who created me, this incredible creation, following the Christ, the Pilgrim God, on this fabulous Spirit-led journey. The struggle to change the world around us continues, one day at a time, one step at a time, one denomination and church at a time and one state at a time. With courage of my convictions, moving steadily forward, deferring to love, accepting who I am, lives change, the unexpected happens…and my son joins me in worshiping God. : :