As Time Goes By…

Every Sunday night the local PBS affiliates plays a set of British sit-com classics. The third one is called “As Time Goes By”. According to IMDB, “Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) and Jean (Judi Dench) were lovers many years ago at the time of the Korean War. They are separated by a misunderstanding but meet again [years later] by chance.” It isn’t the funniest of the four, but its plot is solid. We watch them fall in love again. They had both moved on, many missing years separated them. We watch as they struggle to reconnect in their later years, in a brave new world of the 1990s, and with grown children of their own. Its probably the least funny, going for subtle realism comedy over the slap-stick and puns of the others, but I still watch it week after week.

In this season of Lent, I find myself separated from my love, and in a struggle to reconnect to it.

I was like most of you, just a kid going up in a church with a funny name: Nazarene. The 30-minute drive down Interstate 35 from Overland Park to Olathe takes forever when you are 4 years old. But every Sunday morning and night, then once more on Wednesday, I could be found some where inside Olathe College Church. I did what everyone else my age did. With the exception of winning the pine wood derby contest and a few “big parts” in the children’s musical, I was perfectly ordinary. Homely if you will. I went to “Big Church” with my parents and passed notes the whole time. I was in the Victor just like everyone else at CCN. In junior high I raised money to go on mission trips. I did what I was supposed to do. Some might say, I was literally the poster boy for NYI.

It was at that giant church in Olathe that I fell in love with a Jesus who did counter-cultural things, who taught that forgiveness and peace were better ways to make sense of the world. I fell in love with the Church, and how it ebbed and flowed with the seasons. How it created ways for people to connect to others. I fell in love with being a part of something so much bigger than myself.

Then the winds changed; a dust storm. I was naive enough to think that I could escape the storm unharmed. My expectation did not meet my reality. I was confronted with the reality that the policy trumps people.  I was naive enough to think they would bend the rules for me. That this time it would be different. I wasn’t some outsider. I grew up here. I can show you where I was sitting when I left to go pray at the altar and ask Jesus into my life. Just a few feet away is where I stood when I was given Minister’s License. The chaos of the storm separated me from my Church. I could have converted the entire planet to Christianity, but it would have been meaningless to those in Lenexa because of one issue: my sexual orientation.

Because this issue has been blown out of proportion, I feel like that’s all anyone sees me as, a gay rebel-rouser who should stop complaining because “I knew the rules when I signed up.” In the solitude of Lent, and in the darkness of my personal Gethsemane I ask God questions I am too afraid to speak publicly:

“If Christians see me as terrible, maybe God sees me this way too…”

“Why did You make me gay?”

“Why did I even start this foolish blog?”

“Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it is sinful to be gay…”

“Am I doing any good for You or the Church? Or am I just like that “reformed” guy but barking on the other side of issues?”

Lent’s introspection has forced me to deal with the spiritual pains of this separation. Will I ever get back to the church of my childhood? Will I find my childlike wonder in a new denomination? Or will I be forever jaded because of this whole experience? It is hard to separate the good from the bad in my memories. Even more difficult is determining what was real and what was fake about my Christianity. Bittersweet memories of a time gone by. There are times when I want to walk away from it all. Those questions circle my thoughts like vultures in the desert. Without a community of support it is harder and harder to fight them off when they land. It’s been 4 years, seems like 40, have we done anything? I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to hold on to a shadow. The dust from the storm settles, and I realize just how far removed I am.

For many gays, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Christians, it is easy to get stuck here; in the separation. In the emotional rawness of being rejected by people you thought were on your side, but weren’t, or not fully, or are now but not when you needed them. The deeper the cut the longer it takes to heal and so we linger in the separation. But even those of us who once called the Nazarenes their own, need to be reminded that Easter is coming. The pain and hurt won’t last forever.

Like Lionel and Jean were reunited. Things were different between them, years had passed, but their love was still there. When Easter arrives, it heals wounds, eases pain, and helps us forgive. It will look different for everyone. My hope is they will, at their own speed get there. Getting closure doesn’t mean rushing back to the Church of the Nazarene. In fact, it may mean staying very far away. I just worry that some of us won’t get that closure, and will stay in the bitterness. Healing and closure, in all their varied forms, are our destinations.

Where am I now? I’m not sure… I wish I did. Until then, I’ll pray that the Lord will protect me, and those with stories like mine, from bitterness and that I will act in ways that bring the Kingdom of God closer to earth, that’s about all I know to do. For me, when Easter does arrive, it’ll will be a much anticipated reunion.

Are You Being Served?

Every Sunday night the local PBS affiliate in Oklahoma City plays a set of British sit-com classics. The second one is called “Are You Being Served?” Taking place almost entirely on the men’s and women’s floor of the Grace Brothers department store it follows the employees through their day of helping customers and staying out of trouble with the owner.

It is late in the Lenten season. We are at a point in the journey where we begin to wonder if Easter will ever arrive. Like our cast watching the clock until their shift is over, we wonder if we will make it through. 20 days left… then I can have pop again. 15 days left… then I can get on Facebook again. 10 days left… then I can eat chocolate again. Fasting a part of us to overcome temptation. Lent will end, but it isn’t over yet. Before it does we need to answer the question, “Are you being served?”

During this season of Lent we step into the wilderness just as Jesus did before he entered Jerusalem. We are wandering the streets of an urban maze. The journey leads us into places we don’t want to go. Streets we’ve never been on, but somehow they look familiar. Darkness creeps over the sky, as shadows grow deeper.

In the twilight we look out at the world; faceless figures moving on the horizon. We need to keep going. But we stay just a bit longer on the street corner as our eyes adjust to the dimming atmosphere. Gazing down the street ahead, streetlights begin to flicker on helping us to begin to make out what we see.

Keenly aware of our surroundings our eyes tear up. We see the world, this city, and these people as broken. Surrounded by brokenness and overwhelmed on how to stop it. Down the road we see a church, and find brokenness even there. It outrages us, but we cannot do anything about it. The windows of the store behind us reflect our broken selves. We stare back into the reflection. The pretense of perfection is removed our true self is exposed. We stagger back, embarrassed and hoping no one else saw our reflection. How can we fix the brokenness around us if we are broken too?

Sometimes it all seems hopeless. And our question still remains unanswered.

We can’t find the answer internally. It is a questioned posed to the group. Each customer that walks into Grace Brother’s Department Store is asked, “Are you being served?” While we laugh at their wild antics and mishaps of how they help the customer in a sit-com, it is rather painful when we hear answers from real life.

It is a scary thing to ask the Children of God if they are being served, because we assume everyone is. We are scared of hearing “No…I’m not. I’m being overlooked.” Too often we ask the question and are too quick to wait for a reply. Too often we are confronted with people not being served by the Church that we don’t even need to ask. Too often our response is to do nothing.

Instead we need to adjust our course as a Church. Lent offers us the time and space to do that. Lent was used as a time to welcome back those who had strayed from the Church. They would be welcomed back with a new baptism on Easter. Therefore, as a Church, we can use this time to find out who among us is not being served, and serve them in time for Easter.

If one of us is not being served, the whole Church suffers because of it. If there is just one person that is being hurt by the Church, we all hurt.

To fix the brokenness we see all around us, the broken world, the broken church, the broken people, the broken self, we serve those around us. Even though Lent exposes our personal brokenness, it doesn’t cripple us from participating in God’s redemptive works that initiate things being fixed and set right. We ask to be forgiven by those we’ve over looked and prepare to set out on a new path by Easter. In this process we find reconciliation. Those who weren’t served are being served now.

But we don’t stop there. We ask the question again, “Are you being served?” to everyone we meet.

Even after the Church of the Nazarene decides to include people like me, there will be another group out there waiting for the Church to be of service to them. Once all the gay and lesbian feet are washed, there will be another group with unclean feet.

Who still needs their feet to be wash?

Who is it at our church that is being overlooked?

Who is not here?

Who is not being served?

Keeping Up Appearances

Every Sunday night on OKC’s PBS affiliate OETA, a British block on the tele airs that includes: Keeping Up Appearances. It follows the antics of middle-class socialite Hyacinth Bucket (It’s pronounced Bouquet!). Nothing embarrasses Hyacinth more than her chav-esque brother-in-law Onslow. She can hear that he isn’t wearing a shirt even on her “white slim-line telephone with auto re-dialer.” She wants to be more like her wealthier sister Violet, who has “a Mercedes, sauna, and room for a pony.” Hyacinth’s biggest fear is that her neighbours will find out that her life isn’t as perfect as she projects it be. Hyacinth insists on formality and proper form as she tries to climb up the social ladder. Her rigid adherence to etiquette sends her falling embarrassingly back to the ground.

The Church shares some personality traits with Hyacinth Bucket; correcting people on trivial facts; insistence on tradition at the cost of relationships; the whitewashing of one’s past or current well being. The result is a Church that caters to the rich board member rather than the homeless non-church goer. The Church’s track record on women in ministry, science, LGBT issues, all have been swept under the public relations’ rug and ignored.

For example, the policy for women in ministry for the Church of the Nazarene has been inclusive since the church was founded, but the practice has been far from it. From 1920 to 1988 there were only two District Superintendents elected. 2005 was the first and only time a women has held the highest office as General Superintendent. Three of the General Superintendents currently elected only had a total of 3 women pastors on staff at two of the top ten largest Nazarene Churches in USA/Canada. When we retell the myth of inclusion for women, and still don’t have the numbers to back it up, that is keeping up appearances.

One doesn’t need to look any further then the story of Galileo. He was convicted of heresy for telling people the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. The Church pointed to scripture to ‘prove’ Galileo wrong, that the sun in fact did rotate around the earth.  It would be another 500 years before Galileo would be exonerated by the Church that formerly banished him.

The Church’s power and influence is much like Hyancith’s. Those who wish to turn down Hyacinth simply because she won’t accept no for an answer. Similarly, those who wish to stand up to the well polished PR machine of the Church find themselves in an uphill climb. Wouldn’t the conversation about LGBT issues in the Church be different if the Church acknowledged that LGBT people go to Church and included them in the conversation?

Hyacinth has a desire to be around people of the best breeding in higher socio-economic classes like her sister Violet, and doesn’t her best to hide any connection she has with the lower ranks like that her two other sisters. Sadly the Church will cater to those who fit a certain mold instead of focusing on the people the Church is instructed to cater to, the outliers. The PR machine glosses over the homeless and those in poverty when putting pictures up on the Church website.

The Church’s effort to become a “glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle” has hurt many people. Because of it people have legitimate reasons never to step foot into a Church again, or associate themselves in any way with Christianity. The Church has got it backwards. We don’t become spotless and then show up on Sunday, we come as we are full of our sins, dirt, soils and stains. It is only when we acknowledge our faults to one another that the doors are open for the awesome power of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation to come through. We play this game of keeping up appearances so to look perfect. That game backfires and hurts the people the Church is supposed to protect.

It is embarrassing to admit mistakes. It is awkward. It is hard for the Church to admit it has gone about things in the wrong way because the Church is made up of people who hate to admit they are wrong. But God is stubborn just as much as we are. God will wait, and God won’t budge on loving us or loving on God’s Church. We don’t have to keep up the appearance of perfection when we are in the presence of God. Why should we when we are around God’s people? Let us all acknowledge our dirt together, for when we finally do, the sooner we shall be clean.

Much to Hyacinth’s chagrins her neighbours and friends know about her brother-in-law Onslow, and her sister Rose whose skirts are too tight and too short for public viewing, and they don’t care. They know, and they don’t care. Everyone seems to know that sinners go to Church except for the denominational Facebook page. How much more will God pour out God’s love on a Church that recognizes its faults and seeks forgiveness from the people it’s wronged?