One of the reasons I have so loved being engaged in the conversations at the intersection of faith and sexuality over the last decade plus is the very reason some people seem to avoid entering the discussion. I have found, over time, that this conversation invites you, eventually compels you, and if you resist –…
A good number of years ago, when I was a young and inexperienced woman in ministry, a mentor showed me Janet Hagberg’s stages of power. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me. It gave me an understanding of some of the feelings, experiences, and efforts I was making in my life to become a freer and more giving individual.
We had already covered quite a bit of ground at the women’s retreat, but I checked in with them to see if we could add this additional layer – as a tool to bring us to a deeper awareness of where we’re at and where we want to be. Given the ages and stages of life and the many experiences represented in the room, I knew that the women would have a lot to offer to one another as we talked about these stages of power.
Though we’d been working with the four quadrants of a circle, representing the seasons of our lives, Hagberg describes six stages of power. The first stage which would be up in the awakening quadrant, is described as powerless. In this stage, we feel as though we are starting at ground zero. Perhaps we have suffered a significant loss – a death of a family member, a break-up or divorce, being laid-off or fired, failing a course at school, not making the team, discovering the betrayal of a friend, financial disaster, totaling the car, illness or sudden disability. These experiences can leave us feeling unmoored, unsure of where to turn, disconnected from needed resources. Some may call it ‘hitting bottom’. Hagberg suggests that in this place we may realize our need for God. We cry out for help – we have no where else to turn. We awaken from the stupor and recognize that we cannot carry on simply relying on our own devices.
This is part three of a short blog series reflecting on the keynote that I facilitated for the WeConnect women’s retreat at the Gay Christian Network conference in January 2015. Together we shared practices and reminders that invite us to go deeper and farther in our spiritual lives. The next layer we applied to the wheel introduced key ideas connecting us to our true selves.
In the top quadrant, that of awakening, there is a call to resist. We resist “Who I am NOT.” In this early season, a season of coming awake, perhaps after a period of chaos or stress where we found ourselves unable to remain present, attuned, or aware of the happenings within our soul, we so often forget (or haven’t figured out) who we truly are. We may have taken on the labels or expectations of others. Perhaps the whispers, the mockery, the accusations that pull us into dark, slimy pits of insecurity and self-loathing have overwhelmed us. Perhaps the voices of others in our heads are so loud – that we can no longer hear our own voice. This call of awakening is the call to stop, silence the voices, strain our ears for our heart song, and resist the false self (the one so badly wanting to earn God’s love and everyone else’s) (the one so frightened that the built-up personas are a constant presentation) (the one that has numbed down true emotions in order to fit in, not cause a stir, or be a burden). We become still long enough to recognize that which is NOT ourselves. The Spirit offers the accompaniment to a new song. Perhaps life has thrown so much at you that you find yourself bitter, angry, complaining, negative …… and the still small voice inside reminds you that this is NOT who you are. Resistance brings energy, it brings remembrance and recognition. And it ushers us to the next season.
After talking together about the practices of awakening, empowerment, relinquishment, and paradox, the women who gathered for WeConnect at the GCN Conference moved to another layer of the wheel representing seasons in our lives. This layer made use of ideas and symbols from the Medicine Wheel of our North American First Nations people. Now I am hardly an expert on the medicine wheel. But in my crazy little home congregation we are passionate about reconciliation with our First Nations sisters and brothers and we have used the Medicine Wheel as part of our worship.
The medicine wheel differentiates the four quadrants of the circle with the colours white, yellow, red, and black. These colours make connections to seasons, directions, times of day, and elements of the created world. One of the things that has struck me about the opportunities that I’ve had to worship God our Creator with the medicine wheel is how intimately it connects us with the earth. God has given us two sources of revelation. The first is that vast beauty and wonder of his creation. “The heavens declare the Glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) The second is the written word, God’s story through the scriptures. In much of the western church we have so over-emphasized the scriptures that we have become impoverished in our connection to God through all that he has made. I get Richard Rohr’s daily meditation sent to me – and interestingly enough – this week he is focusing on calling us back to a robust connection with creation as a spiritual practice of remaining in God’s presence.
I had the privilege of being asked to speak at the WeConnect women’s event that preceded the Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. I was both honored and humbled to be asked – I guess it helps when you’re friends with a bunch of the folks organizing the event. I also felt myself faced with a dilemma. As a mainly straight, married to a man for 20 years, gal who serves as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ Christian population, I am acutely aware that my role ought to primarily be about seeing LGBTQ+ Christians being given a platform and opportunity to lift their voices and share their stories.
In my work with New Direction, this is often a point of tension. In many of the church contexts we are serving, there is still the reality that they will give a platform to someone like me much more quickly than to my LGBTQ+ colleagues or members of our Generous Spaciousness community. I suppose the thought is that I’m “safe enough” in that I live the heteronormative life of privilege that the majority of our church folk do. And while I might lament this, in our current context among Evangelical churches this is simply the way it is right now. I try to live in the both/and of going and speaking and extending platform whenever I can.
2014 has been a relatively lean year for the New Direction blog. With the release of the book, a busy schedule of ministry events, and my focus on my doctoral work, I haven’t had the space to write as much for the blog as I’d like. With Beth Carlson-Malena also contributing regularly, we look forward…
As the final days of 2014 wind down, I thought it would be apt to reflect with a top-ten list of experiences in the ministry of New Direction. Here we go:
10. Relevant Engagement: this is New Direction’s annual event, as much a friend-raiser as a fund-raiser. In 2014 we held four events, the most ever, in Waterloo, Waterdown, Toronto, and Whitby and introduced a lot of new folks to the ministry.
9. Art: has always been a vital part of New Direction’s message. We are well aware that the rhetoric at the intersection of faith and sexuality carries a lot of baggage. We believe that art is essential to bring a redeemed imagination to this conversation. In 2014 we welcomed new contributors to our awesome arts blog The Space Between. Amy Hall was honoured with the John Franklin Art Award for her amazing original poem. We commissioned Andrew Roblyer to prepare a theatrical performance piece for our annual event. And Peter Reitsma gifted the ministry with an original piece, created in the desire to open new doors for justice in the church for LGBTQ+ people.
This is the final installment in this 9 part series responding to a (typical) evangelical sermon on homosexuality. If you would like to listen to the actual 58 minute sermon, feel free to email me through the staff page on the website and I’ll send you the link. My purpose with this post was not to criticize this particular preacher – as I think the content of his sermon is pretty standard fare for many of the evangelical sermons I’ve heard on this subject over the years. Rather, my focus has been to try to raise questions and experiences of sexual minority and LGBTQ+ people of faith to enlarge the space for conversations on these matters within the evangelical community. After 13 years serving in this arena of ministry, I think there is more complexity and nuance now than I thought there was when I started. And my prayer is that the church will have the humility, the commitment to hospitality, the investment in mutuality, and the persistence to pursue justice that will reveal the need to divest power and privilege so that truly all of God’s children can flourish in one family. So ….. back to the sermon …..
The preacher finishes up his sermon with two exhortations for family members and friends. In the first one, he says, “The way you treat your same-sex attracted loved one depends on what kind of same-sex attracted person they are.” He goes on to describe three different types of same-sex attracted people: the unrepentant unbeliever; the unrepentant professing believer; the repentant believer.
This series is already pretty long – but just in case you haven’t read it (and you happen to be fighting insomnia) you can start with first post here.
The third exhortation for sexual minority folks in this evangelical sermon on homosexuality was, “Jesus is enough for you.”
Of course. God’s grace is sufficient for us. And when we are weak we are strong.
Living a sustainable faith means that one has inevitably gone through the refining fire of finding our life and our identity as the Beloved of God. It is stronger than our greatest strength, or the strength any of our family or friends can offer. Many followers of Christ will have some story to tell of going through the wilderness and feeling that Jesus was all you had to cling on to.
It doesn’t mean, however, that all of followers of Jesus only find our needs met in Christ. Now before anyone freaks out – let me explain what I mean. In my last post I talked about all good gifts ultimately coming from God. In that sense, it is God who meets our needs. God does that through relationship, marriage, family, meaningful work, access to food and housing, mobility, education etc. Christians very rarely go find a cave to live in relying only on the presence of Jesus to sustain us. (Although let’s face it – it seemed to do pretty amazing things for Brennan Manning!)
I know, I know. This blog series is long. Just be glad my colleagues talked me out of posting it as one long piece 🙂 Again, if you’re new: I’m responding, from a hopefully generously spacious posture, to a 58 minute evangelical sermon about homosexuality that I think covers a lot of the typical points made in these kinds of sermons. We’ve covered four theological propositions and now we’re on our second exhortation (with three more to go). But ….. rather than jumping in here …. feel free to begin at the beginning (because I hear, according to Julie Andrews, that that’s a very good place to start).
The preacher’s second exhortation states, “You (the same-sex attracted person) need to take captive the arguments and opinions of the culture.”
Now there are certainly ideas about sex and sexuality that diminish our worth and value as image-bearers of the Triune faithful God. Violence, betrayal, objectification, addiction, reductionism, and individualism have all cheapened the beautiful gift of intimacy and sexuality that God has given to human beings. These ideas have infiltrated the lives of more Christ-followers than I’m sure many pastors would like to admit. After-all, in our daily lives we are bombarded by sexualized marketing and media while our churches seem to be strangely void of candid, concrete, common sense conversations about sex that would help us to reimagine God’s good intentions. But this is a human dilemma regardless of your sexual orientation.