I sat on the patio on Friday night, barefoot with friends and some bottles of beer as the sun set on what we thought was an endless series of long, hot days, and the clouds rolled in for the first time in weeks. The air grew muggy anticipating the rain. We sighed, and we cried. We cried, my friends and I, and we mourned, and we gave our mourning as an offering, because we lost something on Friday, and when we lose things we cherish, mourning together becomes holy ground. A kind of worship. The rain coming seemed fitting, like the skies grieved and worshipped with us.
No one died, but hope did a little, on Friday. A little or a lot, depending on where you stand and whether the ones who hold the chalk drew you in or drew you out. I don’t like writing that hope died; it seems dramatic and melancholy, but that’s how it felt, like hope died. But maybe it just faltered. Yes; faltered may be what I mean.
I belong to a church which belongs to a larger group of churches, and on Friday our circle became smaller. Smaller on purpose, it seems, because on Friday we learned that a fellow church has been released from membership – dis-membered, if you will – because that church’s conviction that LGBTQ people will be welcomed and affirmed as full participants in their community is “shattering” to the whole, and our larger group of churches is “unable to embrace our current diversity.”
Another church let go. It’s the same story we’ve heard before. The same story across the nation. The same story across the denominations. Another church let go. “Released.” Not without thought. Not without nuance. Not without prayer. Not without kind, good people agonizing for years over an excruciating, impossible decision and making it anyway. It’s the same story. The same story still. This time, though, it’s happening in my world. My world, which I know is small, but is large in my heart and full of people who are now, ironically, shattered in order to stem the shattering tide. Shattered on the altar of preventing a larger break. Shattered in the hope of holding something together, but something that seems more broken now, and how do we hold broken bits together? How does exclusion keep enough pieces to repair?
Friends, hear me now; this breaks my heart. And hear this, too; it breaks the hearts of the people who are now excluded from our community and the hearts of the people who made this decision. It breaks the heart of Jesus. No doubt. No question. Heart-breaking all around.
As a Christian who loves Jesus and the Bible and is an LGBTQ ally, my position is, I suppose, clear. And so I was left Friday night with a Now What? Now what? Now that the broader group of churches to which I belong has let me know they’re unable to embrace our current diversity – in essence, unable to embrace me and what I believe – is there a place for me here? How do I stand with my friends who are displaced? How do I stand with my friends who aren’t? How do I love all my neighbors; those who are inside the circle of fellowship and those who’ve been removed? Do I rescind my own membership? Do I stay and follow Love’s lead from within? What do I do? And, most important of all, how do I let my LGBTQ friends know how very much they are cherished and loved? Adored for who they are; made in the very image of God? Not alone?
I sat in sorrow on Friday, and I wondered what to do – action oriented as I am, which is a particular fault of mine – and I felt Love whisper to my tired spirit. “The path is the same. The path hasn’t changed,” Love said, and I was comforted because I know what path Love meant; I’d just lost sight of it in my angst.
Whether we are invited to the table or sent from it, our path forward is the same for those of us who believe in a God whose other name is Love. The path forward is the same. Grace. Peace. Love of God and love for our neighbors. The recognition that all are our neighbors, all are made in the very image of the divine, and all are achingly, stunningly, beautifully human. The path forward is the same. Care for the broken-hearted. Mourning with those who mourn. Reaching toward the wounded. Creating safe havens. Embodying sanctuary.
The Church has sent people away again and again throughout its entire history. Again and again. Over foreskins. Over bacon. Over women and wine and water; whether and when women can have a voice; whether and when we can drink wine, no matter that Jesus said do this; whether and when we immerse or sprinkle ourselves with water as baptism as though baptism by fire isn’t an acceptable form or baptism by wilderness or baptism by exclusion or baptism by grace.
We argue, instead. We argue semantics and love. We argue, and again and again people are left – discarded by the churches that say, “You may have a place somewhere; it’s just not with us.” Again and again, people are left, reeling and hurt. And so, again and again, we get to choose our path.
Here’s what I choose, friends…
I choose to sit in the mud with the suffering. I choose to sit barefoot with beer on holy ground. I choose to sit on the patio with friends who are confused and wounded as the heat from the day vanishes and the moon rises and the clouds roll in. I choose to commune with the broken-hearted as rain follows months of sun. I choose to journey with those who have been told they’re no longer part of the club.
Loving our neighbors comes with consequences. It always has. It always will. The Good Samaritan paid a price to help the man left on the side of road. A literal price in time and gold and forbearance as the wounded man healed. This price is nothing new, friends.
Our work together is to find hope in the middle of the hurt. To gather the wounded. To provide sanctuary and solace. To let the weary rest. To speak gently to the wary. To sit in the mud and the muck and the mire with the angry and sorrowful and those who are too numb to feel anything at all.
This is the work of God. This is the work of Love. To find those who’ve been excluded and to draw the circle wide again. To draw it wide and wider and to let them come in.
He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
P.S. Coincidentally (or “coincidentally” for those of us who think such things aren’t always coincidental ;)), I’ll be at West Hills Friends Church — the church that was released from Northwest Yearly Meeting membership — this Sunday, August 2nd at 12:00pm to facilitate a conversation sparked by this blog post: The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn. We’ll be talking about Sanctuary, too. You can find the event information here on Facebook. I can’t imagine a bigger privilege than worshipping with my West Hills friends during this time, and I’d love to see you there. I’ll be there for their worship service at 10:00am, as well. Join me?