the Great Welcoming

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She caught me.  With an outstretched arm, collecting my hand in hers, saying, “Sophia.”  I paused smiling, still adjusting to my surroundings.  For a moment, my mouth hung wide guarding any intelligible word from escaping.  When I regained composure, I replied “Anna.”  On cue, she smiled and began to explain her piece, as if for the first time.

With each pause in her telling, I simply replied, “it’s beautiful.”  Her presence, so well complimented the elegance, grace, and mystery of her piece.  This river frozen in time and medium fascinated me.  The beauty of warm and cool lights reflected as stars or diamonds off the polished black waves.

“Are you an artist?” to which I replied, “an inspiring artist.”  A guttural “hmmm” almost instantly escaped her being, as deep called to deep.  In this, she welcomed my inner artist with upmost care.  I imagine meeting God like this… put off by her humility, his presence, and their creation.  I imagine meeting God like this… wowed with wonder and enthusiasm.  I imagine meeting God like this… wooed into the ongoing narrative.

All of creation joins in moving and adapting, as we gaze with Saint Catherine, “into the gentle mirror of God.”  This is the great purpose of creation to help us with change.  To teach us about trans…  transience, transcendence, transition, transposition, transportation, transparence, transaction, transformation, and transfiguration.  As Saint Benedict wrote, “Always, we begin again.” In the changing of seasons, in the swaying of sun and moon, in a word or gesture of forgiveness, in each and every breath, newness.  Everything a celebration of the now and a coming to know the transformation that the next moment, next breathe, next job, next lover, next sunset, next birth, and next death carries.  This is creation asking us to notice, to feel, to think, to question, to remember, so to better dance into the beauty of our being.

Spanning all of time and space, creation is God’s ongoing collaborative work. Singing with Mumford and Sons, “Awake my soul. You were made to meet your maker.”  How do we meet, you ask? This story begins in every shade and in between, arriving as an invitation to join in the process of being and becoming.  Every moment, like great theater, meant to “reinvigorate us to become a different kind of person than we were an hour ago” (Micah Bucey).

We are creators meant to give voice to the inexplicable, the weird, and the strange.  The church is meant to be this sort of gathering… a people thrusting paradox, doubt, transformation, and delusion into plain sight.  The church is meant to be collective of explorers, wonderers, and cynics, experimenting together.  Welcome sinner and saint, forgotten and famous, one and all.  Welcome established artists and those who do not consider themselves as such.  Welcome kings and queens, gays and lesbians, trans* and gender fluid alike.  Welcome every color, style, and situation.  Welcome to the banquet of the unlikely, to the wedding of humanity and divinity.  Welcome to an exploration of polarities and similarities.  Welcome to our unity.

Like Nadia Boltz Weber, we too give the disclaimer that at some point we will disappoint you, if we have not already.  Welcome anyway. Know that we identify as art and artists in process.  We know more of the menial than the grand.  We are learning to be content in the preparation of the scaffolding, the mixing of colours, the collecting and discarding of materials and vision.  At one time being an artist seemed like a glorious affair, a romantic and courageous endeavor to the imagination, but now we know creation is just as much preparation and diligence, as time spent with wet brushes of brights and darks.

In whisper and shout, we wrestle to find our place, our center, and our best self.  In the wielding of matter we find our homecoming.  The queer community exemplifies this, challenging the normative, breaking down boundaries, and exposing a fuller picture.  Ours is an often-agonizing emergence, through battles of material and mind.  The art of our lives is like that of Ushio Shinohara, a boxing match between painter and canvas.

To this I say, Queer creators may we smile often as explain our process.  May we treat each other as honored guests and with prayerful preparation set the table and arrange the bouquet.  May we toast with glasses held high in celebration of the feast we are to partake in.  Here, we commune with friends and strangers alike, at the table of hospitality, a place where love is celebrated and poured out with unmerited extravagance.  My friends, may we like the sinful woman lavishly anoint the unity of humanity and divinity in each other.  May we find like Rumi that “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  My friends here’s to creation, collaboration, and unity.  May these bind us, one and all.

written for the queer theology synchroblog 2013

Phraseology: “We are inclusive.”

Have we learned our lesson?  Or are we still children, young and old?  Caught, with fingers wrought, hands and minds begging for solutions. We pull in opposite directions, asking distance to free us, but it cannot.  In the tightening of the trap, we realize that our first instinct was not the best nor only option. So we try something else, something radical and counter-intuitive.

We bring fingers close
we seek middle ground
we relax in-between space
this mystery, this paradox, this liminal soup of our being.

This
our release
our letting go
our allowance and celebration.

Far beyond colorfully braided bamboo, we are ensnared in us vs. them, language and living. Too often, we practice exclusion rather than inclusion.  We operate under falsity, believing that in order to distinguish ourselves we must attack, tear down and dismember the validity of another’s logic, practice, or belief.  As with animals, the will and drive toward self-preservation is evident.  Unlike animals though, our desire is not only to keep on breathing but also to preserve our ego (persona, self-image, individuality, and uniqueness).

Our ego is ill equipped to handle the interplay of varying ideas, practices, and people.  She feels compelled to organize, separate, and distinguish.  She knows with much certainty whose in and whose out.  Like one living with OCD, she needs the rigidity, the familiarity, and the calming effect of the following this compulsion, in order to function.  Life does not make sense with it.  She is slave to exclusion; consistently weaving the narrative to her advantage, unable to believe the story could, should, or would turn otherwise.

Everyday, she dresses the window, like the mortician, she is well equipped to preserve appearances.  Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom) beckons her beyond this, to a place where her ego is shattered, binaries and polarities are forgotten, and the vast spectrum of oneness comes into view.

In this awakening, this coming home to True Self, she finally knows she cannot and should not try to do or be it all.  Here, she is learning to dance as the Shakers do, remembering often to bow and defer to the other.  She no longer climbs the ladders titled “personal success and gain.”  Here, she dances in the circle, beginning to appreciate the place and part of one and all.  She stops counting, washing, organizing, and perfecting.

She has found again the table, the place of commonality and inclusion, where each and every, is welcomed and held.  Here, she begins again as she will do next week and every week after.

Maybe the first step toward inclusion is an awareness of our own capacity and propensity to exclude.  On every side, there is an illusion of inclusion.  We are all well versed in crassly portraying the other.  We are all well equipped to pull away but as with the Chinese finger puzzle this effort only ensnares us further.

At the table, she finds common ground.  She is released from performance and perfection.  She is welcomed, wholly as she is.

The sacraments and liturgy
the altars and shrines
the temples and the forests
… all point toward inclusion,
a belonging together.

She is learning to ask questions and listen with her presence.  She is engaging in the similar posture of dialogue, dance, and inclusion.  She is a slow holy movement; learning to let go, to float, to be held, carried, and uplifted by the strength of a diverse community.  She is learning be and allow others the same privilege.  She is praying colour for the first time.  Into the mysteries and paradoxes that tie us all together, she goes.  To the tables and temples, shrines and altars, forests and sunrises that speak of our oneness, she rises.

Phraseology: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

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Background + Context:

Where did, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” originate?  I took a little time this week and found out that it is based off the words of Augustine and Gandhi.

Augustine wrote a letter which addressed the community of nuns where his sister was once prioress.  In it, he rebuked the nuns on several accounts.  Section 11 of letter, urged the nuns saying, “with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin” avoid “forwardness of eye,” the gifts, and affections of men.  The intent was to remind and encourage them to remember their covenant (“established in the freedom of grace”) unto God and their community.  It was something of a rule like that of Saint Benedict for these sisters to examine their lives against.

Gandhi’s autobiography carries a similar phrase in relation to nonviolence,

‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world…  It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.  For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator.

Here he addressed the tension to link evil with the person who does evil.  For Gandhi, this only served to perpetuate the spiral of violence.  The problem lies in the fact that we often fail to see our connectedness with the other, this is the violence of separation.  We are in trouble when we fail to see the whole and instead focus on one small dimension of a person’s actions, beliefs, etc.

Currently, this phrase is most often ushered in reference to a persons or faith communities understanding of human sexuality.  It’s used to “politely” voice disagreement, distaste, even disgust with “seemingly deviant” expressions of sexuality.

Parsing + Paradoxes 

I took Biblical Greek as an elective in college.  Quickly thereafter, I realized that it was not nearly as glamorous as I had imagined  learning a Biblical language to be.  I remember spending a great deal of time doing something called parsing verbs.  In short, this is where you identify the tense, voice, and mood of a verb for the sake of translation and ultimately exegesis.  I struggled not only to categorized verbs but also to understand the implications of my findings.  For me, it seemed too dry and robotic a way to work at understanding the words and intentions of NT writers.

Similarly, I have often questioned how a person can “so effectively” in one breath hold both love and hate.  Can one cleanly draw the line between sin and sinner, good and bad, person and their humanity?  To attempt to do so seems unrealistic not to mention dualistic.

I am back in Greek class, my name is called, and I am asked to parse a person, expected to divide so to “better” understand.  Unsure of the task, I freeze, unable to wrap my mind around either the process or its ethics.  I don’t understand how one can separate light from darkness, good from bad, holiness from messiness as these seem intimately (even, divinely) bound together.  I see connections, chaos, paradoxes.  I see the interplay of stereo, the coming together of sound.  I speak of mystery, of inherent goodness, of our continually falling in the wake of Genesis 3.  So I inquire (of class and teacher) if there’s another way?

Love, period.

Theologian Patrick Cheng says,

“loving the sinner and hating the sin” is unworkable in practice. You can’t just love a part of a person. You either love a person or you don’t. Jesus Christ never split off the person from the sin. He simply loved the person, period.

If the work of people like Gandhi or Cheng has taught us anything it’s that we need to be utterly inclusive, to work at understanding the whole.  The myth is that violence or separation can be redemptive.  The myth is that we are drastically different, to the point where we can no longer interact with the other.

The truth is we are all a walking talking mystery, a paradox of mud and mire.  We carry both beauty and brokenness, joy and pain, health and unhealth, harmony and disharmony.  Separating these inner and outer realities is neither easy nor all together plausible, as they often illuminate and inform the other.

How do we lean into this?  We practice humility.  Which as Rev. Emily Heath says, is our refusal

to deny who others are, and refusing to see them as any less created in the image of God than you.

Humility asks us to stop parsing people into categories and instead work really hard at seeing them as God does.  Hindi culture gives us a beautiful example of this practice, the form of a common greeting or blessing.  With hands pressed together at the center of my chest, I bow leaning in toward you saying, “Namaste” and you in turn do the same.  The word, Namaste and the accompanied practice remind us to see and honor the Divine in all.  The phrase in question seems to do the opposite, to alienate more than it aligns.

Janet Sunderland was once asked what the rules of her church were.  She responded by saying,

Love one another. And he (the questioner, and fellow clergy person) said, “Love’s too hard. That’s why we have the rules!

What’s essential? A love that engages the whole person (shit and all).  A love like that of Hosea for Gomer, God for Israel.  A love fixed on seeing connection rather than dissonance.  This is what I call a knowing love, a love that is wider than the exacting of persons.  A love that restores.  Theologian Cornelius Plantinga defines sin as, “culpable disturbance of Shalom” a condition easily undertook when with good intentions we usher this phrase or any other that causes division.  Likewise, I would submit that the intent of Augustine, as well as, Gandhi was to inform people about the various traps we fall into when pursing unity.

Love it’s that simple + profound.   

Phraseology: “I love you but ______”

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Words create worlds.  -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I am realizing more and more how right Heschel was.  Words have immense power… to build + to tear down, to bring life + to bring death, to heal + to infect.  Often our words have this polar quality about them.  Either good or bad, right or wrong, up or down.  In order that things fit into neat boxes and over-simplified categories.

As of late, the phrase ” I love you but ______” has been thrown my direction more times than I would like to count.  It is definitely one of those polarizing phrases.  It’s a dagger in the heart sort of phrase, one that leaves a mark.  As a sensitive soul, sometimes more than I care to admit.

To contrast, I like the sounds of “I love you” (no addendum, subordinate clause, terms + conditions) with a solid period after it.  It sounds and feels a whole lot better.  It comes from a place of acceptance, devotion, and inclusion.  It comes from a place of recognizing someone wholly (quirks, faults, + all)  and choosing to put up with the mess of beauty and chaos that is each of us.  ” I love you” speaks of a journey you + the other our on, to live the best kind of life.  “I love you” embraces the mystery, saying no to black and white caricatures of who or what one is to be.

Saying, “I love you” does not gloss over discrepancies (of whatever form) but it does solidify belonging and identity with the other.  Saying, “I love you” is a promise to give another our imperfect unconditional love, again and again.  It is this kind of love that I want to be about.

Contemplation… a call to examine.

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This call to examine or rather contemplate is all about… experiencing raw, unfiltered reality (what I like to call, the Un-Instragrammed life) and allowing that to birth new perspective in us, by shattering and widening our prior understandings.

Ronald Rolheiser wrote,

We contemplate every time we see something as it really is, nakedly, face to face. (from Forgotten Among the Lilies)

But there exists within us  a huge resistance…  we don’t really want to know.  We are mad when suffering and injustice are thrust before us.  Like poet Thomas Gray we see, “ignorance as bliss.”  So we close our eyes, turn the channel, stop buying the paper, and ignore reality.

It’s a privilege to remain ignorant, but it shouldn’t be our dwelling place.  We must contemplate, we must- for the sake of wholeness.

Steven Pressfield says it brilliantly,

Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
The more important a call or action is to
our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursing it. (the War of Art)