Today was the final day of another long weekend at school. Some weekends feel edifying and transformative, and some just don’t. I don’t know what the magic algorithm is. I suspect it’s a measure of Val’s humor, a dram of Vicki’s just all around graciousness, a cup of knowledge from Dick, and something meaningful and profound from Jonathan. And I experienced and ingested all of those things and still am frustrated.
As in any community, relationship, or family unit, sometimes its hard to be the remainder, the one person who feels balanced and stable (and irritated). Amidst conversations had over and again with no good end in sight, amidst whining and bickering children who have been on their best behaviour all weekend, sometimes it is hard to see that, per St. Benedict, I am called to these people and this place – that here is where my salvation will be found.
It must be mined out of deep and resistant stone at times, brought up from the depths of the lake.
This weekend my theology teacher noted that, in our post-modern age, whomever has the most power gets to say what is true. He stated, unequivocally, that this is idolatry. This is worshiping at the throne of power instead of following a man who is dusty and road worn, a man who has no home (never mind several) to call his own. My teacher received a large singing bowl for an early Christmas Gift, he made it sing for us at Noonday Prayer, he recalled us to actual truth.
This weekend we watched a video from Integrity, an Episcopal movement that seeks to provide education and a platform for LGBTQ persons. It is not often that I am left without words, not often that I can’t think of at least an appropriate thing to say. But today I didn’t know the right words to use, I didn’t know the questions I could ask, I did not have the words. That is disconcerting for a person who flirts with and forms and loves words every day.
At the end of the video one of the persons featured says, we will work until there are no strangers left at the gate of this church.
I spend a lot of time in the past. My favorite time period being Henry VIII’s England. I’ve read book after book, rejoiced to walk under Bootham Bar in York after reading about it in a book, taken in the way the Tower looks, walked the circular memorial to Anne Boleyn, the way a nation repented. I imagined the homes that were placed on the London Bridge, I’ve witnessed the Traitors’ Gate on the river Thames. There were strangers then. There were strangers in the time of Christ, the blind man healed, the ten lepers too, the widow and her mite. The 12 who would all turn their backs, who would go into hiding when Christ was crucified.
There are strangers now.
We are, all of us, strangers at the gate, longing for a place to be who we are, for a place that is our own. We peer through the bars, gripping the iron with chilblained hands wrapped in the rags of who we were told to be.
There are strangers who are sex offenders. Strangers who can’t make ends meet. Strangers who have worked all their lives and gotten nowhere very reportable. There are people who hurt and feel that the best thing for their families is a life that doesn’t include them in it. People we, church, have hurt; women. Children shushed in worship and acolytes told to stand still when they have such joyous and youthful verve. Gay men. Those are only a few categories. Those are only a couple of the strangers who loiter outside, wondering if they are welcome, looking for home.
I heard the hurt today in the voices of partnered folk who don’t have an anniversary, because their relationships had to be illicit, because kids and jobs and lives were at stake. One shared that her anniversary is the first time they shared onion rings, another shared the first time eyes met and souls recognized. I thought of Nick and Jarek, of the first time they could stand in front of their community and receive a blessing on their anniversary. I am honored to have been there.
We are, church, looking more and more like those Christians who existed after the resurrection. We enter Advent again, a time of waiting, again. We enter this season of waiting in a world that has already realized Christmas.
We look for the Messiah and we just can’t find the Messiah. We are an underground movement, no one cares what we have to say on any issue, people aren’t clamoring to find out what was passed at convention. We are figuring out the organizational structure of a movement that is at odds with the (roman) populace, we are trying to discern a structure for networks flung far and wide. We are hanging our rainbow flags like quilts on the Underground Railroad, we paint pink triangles on our door steps, we are resisting oppression and tyranny in the only ways we know how.
Those tend to be quiet ways. Those tend to be blessings of unions between two souls called to be one. They tend to be opening those damned gates to let the people outside in without armed guards standing by. They tend to be living with the consequences of the decision to open the gates at all. Because once we open the gates what is the litmus test for those we won’t take? Who isn’t worthy? Who has not sinned? What is not deserved?
Tonight our nine year old announced, while the Advent candle burned madly (seriously, I was afraid), that she doesn’t want to play with dolls anymore. I asked how she felt about that, and she said she felt sad. She is sad that Santa “spent so much” on the huge dollhouse and all the dolls. She wants at the same time to gift her collection to a family that cannot afford it. And I see that the kingdom is coming, I see that our waiting bears fruit. I see that the advent of something new, something other than what we realize as normal is near.
And I can understand that.
I too am no longer playing with dolls. I am called to come among you as a leader, one that you discerned with and decided for. I am called to lead you out in my patchwork cloak, I am called to see that this ancient and marginal Christianity is where we are, to figure out how to work within that framework. Called to raise you up to see the most beautiful and life-giving parts of yourself, to help you put those things to work in the brick by brick exhausting work of building a kingdom.
I am not a leader who won’t get her hands dirty.
I will learn your terms. I will learn your limits and I will push them.
This is a cruciform life, and I am with you, I am laying it down, all of it. Let me help you. Let me show you how to keep going when nothing is right, when everything is wrong and the world hurts. Stay with me, hang with me, commit to it, to us – see that our mutual salvation is in this place that we occupy, with these people. Commit to obedience, as I will do also.
Outside the gates they wait. They have made camp and lit their makeshift fires. They don’t know or believe that they, we, are beloved already. That a Christ crucified and present in holy mysteries at every Eucharist is among us, continually creating, continually crucified, continually trampling down sin and death.
I have bound a hope to my heart in the sterile hallways of a Roman Catholic center in Clarkston, Michigan.
My hope is a fragile rag, it flutters in the wind. But it is a symbol and a flag of welcome. A message that says, come in.
Open. The. Gates.
I love you still.