Monday, November 30, 2009


A friend from long ago has left the PCUSA for the EPC, along with his congregation.

I sent a note wishing him well, in the hope that he will find peace in the EPC and be able to serve the Christ he knows in a manner consistent with the how the Spirit has shaped his soul.

Needless to say, I'm saddened by his decision and sympathetic with all the emotions.

Perhaps like a divorce, there's the temptation on the part of the one leaving to eliminate ambiguity and doubt - to justify the leaving and ease the conscience by an over-simplification: that God is the cause of this and the leaving is right, and the one left behind had it coming.

And for the one left behind, the same process tempts: to vilify and damn.

All such efforts fail to grasp the complexity of a divorce - and both must eventually face their own frailties and faults. There are no innocents abroad; all alike are sinners, saved by grace.

But Paul and Barnabas are helpful - they reached an impasse beyond human management, and apparently even beyond that of God, and before they did further harm to one another, they decided to go their separate ways.

I've always been thankful that the Book of Acts records this tragic, and oh-so-human, event.

It happens! And continues to happen throughout history, in church and in marriage, and virtually every other form of human relationship - there is a tragic element in our souls. Our love for one another can never quite rise all that high, and we mostly thrive on like-loving-like.

Maybe that's the point of confession, but tragic or not, life goes on. Barnabas mostly disappears from the text; Paul proceeds to center-stage.

Was Paul right? Was Barnabas right?

Like most such questions, it's the wrong question to ask.

They had a deep and bitter disagreement about Mark. Barnabas wanted to forgive and include him; Paul couldn't forget Mark's desertion of them.

And so it goes.

I think it's time for us to admit our tragic character - that on the question of ordination for GLBT persons, we are unable to find a compromise: either we do, or we don't. There can be no half-way covenant on this one, or so it appears.

So, like Paul and Barnabas, we go our separate ways, before we do any more harm to one another, and who knows what life lies on the other side of the divide?

As much as my friend longs for the day when the debate is finished and he and his congregation can get on with the work of God as they see it, so I long for the day when I and the churches I've served can get on with our work, too - including the full acceptance and ordination of GLBT persons.

This issue has shaped most of my ministry (40 years this coming January) and has consumed enormous amounts of energy and money - all of which could have been spent more effectively on the ministries to which Jesus calls us.

I wish my friend well, and I'm sure he wishes the same for me.

It's time for us to get on with the work of Christ!

Until the next chapter, the next issue, the next whatever ... until Christ returns and brings the final healing for body and soul.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ordaining Lisa Larges

San Francisco Presbytery votes to ordain Lisa Larges, though it'll be on hold for awhile because of legal wrangling.

I'm relieved to hear this, and hats off to SF and to Lisa.

Though for some in our ranks, this can mean nothing but sorrow.

Where and how shall we work it out?

That we can have unity only when we have diversity is the nature of unity. Without diversity, all we would have is uniformity, and uniformity requires very little of us.

Our Lord recognizes this when he admonishes us to love "our enemies" - a pivotal reminder that only love can create unity, with the subtext - that uniformity is no big deal in the kingdom of God. Even tax collectors and such enjoy that.

So, how do we love "our enemies."

I put the phrase in quotes, because I think there's a slight chance of some tongue-in-cheek here - those whom we might otherwise label as "enemy" may turn out to be something quite different when and if we open our hearts to them in love.

Love discovers things that suspicion and fear will never see.

Love is more than tolerance, then. Love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

It is our sinful instincts to huddle with like-minded. We all do it, and it's fun.

But at that point, as cozy as we might be, we're no different than the world and we can offer to the world nothing more than what the world already knows - the power of a gated community.

Our gift to the world, if, indeed, we have one, is more than our theology, but our way of life. Yes, our theology counts, but I think our way of life counts just as much, because faith comes by hearing, but it's our good works that enable someone to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

We've done rather well, I suppose, in the theology department, and putting all of our apples in that basket, we've forgotten the power of ethical witness, and, if anything, we've engaged in all the dirty back-biting and squabbling found in the local PTA or some condominium association (my apologies to both).

What does love mean?

And what does it mean for me to love my GLBT friends and to support their efforts for ordination?

And what does it mean for me to love a colleague who opposes that ordination with the same passion I muster for it's promotion?

Big questions ...

Any answers out there?