Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning to Read

Biblical texts:  Nehemiah 8: 1-8; Luke 4:14-21

Have you noticed that Martin Luther King, Jr. has lately been speaking from beyond the grave?  Have you watched his transformation from a human being situated in a particular moment in time to a totem carried in support of any cause?  People from all political persuasions used last Monday’s national holiday to claim that Rev. King would support their positions on today’s issues if he were still alive. Even though the first ever Gun Appreciation Day received support from a white supremacist group, its founder, Larry Ward, apparently channeled MLK in a televised interview to assure us that our nation’s most famous proponent of nonviolent activism would support in death an issue he never endorsed during his life.[i] 

Martin Luther King, a flesh and blood leader who took courageous stands on various issues of his day, has become an icon: the image of something or someone who represents what is sacred to us.  He has become a totem: a people's identifying and inspiring  picture, statue, slogan to carry with them into action. When we hold an icon with love for what it represents and with hopes for its power to help and heal, then we use it responsibly. When we hold that icon with an expectation that its power will accrue to us, we use it irresponsibly.

I suppose it’s inevitable that some who never marched in a civil rights demonstration—never felt the point of a bayonet, as has our own Jerry Pogue—will seek moral stature by merely mentioning the name of Dr. King.  It’s as predictable as it is ironic that King’s words would eventually be quoted to shore up almost any argument.  The cross of Christ has certainly been carried into arguments and actions that are at “cross purposes” with Christ’s intentions.  The Bible, too, has been used more as an icon than as living words.

In other words, co-opting Martin Luther King is not so different from co-opting the Bible, which has been used for centuries to support every imaginable ideology, opinion, prejudice, and product. Quoting King—like quoting the King James—is sometimes more about our agenda than God’s.

I learned this week that Mobile is the 13th “most Bible-minded city” in the country.  What in the world could that mean? An article in Friday’s Press-Register hints we earned that illustrious title not because so many of us are skilled in interpreting the Bible or living out its loving principles--but because those surveyed professed to reading the Bible regularly and “believing in [the Bible’s] accuracy” (read: inerrancy). I’d like to suggest different measures for being “bible-minded.”[ii]

Just as some quote King without understanding nonviolent protest, others quote the King James without understanding anything about the people and cultures who wrote the Bible.  I often hear people say that So-and-So really knows the Bible because she can quote so many scriptures.  I’m not sure that’s what it means to know the Bible.  Reading is more than calling words. I suggest the “bibleminded” awards go to those who care about biblical interpretation—and those who can live in ways that honor the God of the Bible. Of course, even literalists interpret, whether they recognize it or not. But I suggest we invite others (from past centuries and today, members of this faith community and our broader culture) into the work of biblical interpretation, which both requires and produces a faith community.[iii]

We return to today’s Hebrew Bible and Gospel lessons to see examples of the Bible itself being read interpretively and communally:

Biblical reading is, like all reading, a complex act of interpretation. That was true even in Nehemiah’s day.  Ezra and all the priests were there to help the people interpret what was being read to them.  Not just any interpretation is valid.  Notice the emphasis on the need for help in understanding the scriptures:

Also . . .  the Levites helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8: 7-8).

When reading the book of Nehemiah, you don’t have to know that Ezra is interpreting scripture to a people just released from traumatizing Babylonian captivity in order for you to appreciate their eagerness to hear scripture. But Bible-minded people benefit from knowing the context of the words and that the Bible comes from multiple cultures with histories and values different from our own. Bible-minded people understand there are conflicting theologies within the Bible—which is a collection of books, not a book.  Bible-minded people best use the collection’s poems, myths, sayings, and laws by recognizing they were written by human beings—not the hand of God.  Some voices in the Bible get things wrong. But Bible-minded people should also know that for centuries people have experienced God in these words and thus we deem them sacred. 

Lest I seem to make reading the Bible too academic, I’ll emphasize that interpreting the Bible requires both a scholar’s mind and a poet’s sensibilities.  We sometimes forget the Bible is largely a poetic work filled with song lyrics and vivid imagery and figurative language we mistakenly try to convert into prose. 

The following poem about poetry offers a helpful approach to the Bible. The speaker of this poem is a teacher lamenting the way his students read poetry.[iv] 

        I ask them to take a poem

        and hold it up to the light

        like a color slide

        or press an ear against its hive.

        I say drop a mouse into a poem

        and watch him probe his way out.

        or walk inside the poem’s room

        and feel the walls for a light switch.

        I want them to waterski

        across the surface of a poem

        waving at the author’s name on the shore.

        But all they want to do

        is tie the poem to a chair with rope

        and torture a confession out of it.

        They begin beating it with a hose

        to find out what it really means.

Hear that poem a second time as I replace the words “a poem” with “the Bible”:

I ask them to take the Bible

        and hold it up to the light

        like a color slide

        or press an ear against its hive.

        I say drop a mouse into the Bible

        and watch him probe his way out.

        or walk inside the Bible’s room

        and feel the walls for a light switch.

        I want them to waterski

        across the surface of the Bible

        waving at the author’s name on the shore.

        But all they want to do

        is tie the Bible to a chair with rope

        and torture a confession out of it.

        They begin beating it with a hose

        to find out what it really means.

Let the Bible be a poem for us and about us.

Bible-minded folks might also do well not only to read more interpretively but also to know that biblical interpretation is a communal act.  In fact, I can’t think of any scripture that encourages private Bible reading.  One reason the Bible assumes scriptures are read communally and liturgically is that literacy was rare in the ancient world and scrolls were rarer.  Few people could have read the scrolls on their own. But maybe understanding scripture actually requires fellow readers or hearers—even today.  Both the priest Ezra and the rabbi Jesus read scripture aloud to a worshiping congregation, and the congregation participated in the meaning-making.  Notice how Ezra’s congregation reacted dramatically as a unit:  they attended to the Torah reading for hours that day —from morning to midday; they responded with exclamations of “amen, amen” and they began to understand together—men and women alike—as the Levites passed among them in something like peer tutoring sessions. If you read farther into chapter 8, you’ll see the entire crowd weeping with emotion and rejoicing over the words they’ve come to understand not just in their heads but in their very being.

Likewise, Jesus commenced his ministry by returning to his hometown of Nazareth and reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah to all those gathered in the synagogue, says Luke. Again, we see that a scripture holds within it a scripture.  We read a scripture about Ezra reading a scripture. We read a scripture about Jesus reading a scripture.  Thus the layers of engagement with sacred texts stack up like Russian dolls containing more and more dolls, commentary upon commentary upon commentary in a conversation that goes on for centuries. People of faith understand that the Spirit of Wisdom is the prompter and guide of these conversations.

Jesus, coming out of a Jewish love of the Torah, announces his ministry by reading from the Prophet Isaiah in a congregational setting.  He owns those familiar words in a way that deeply affects an entire congregation, according to Luke.  After his reading, a stunned silence grips the gathered as Jesus methodically “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down” (Luke 4:20). But even after he was seated, “the eyes of all in the synagogue remained fixed on him” (4:21).  All were swept up in this experience.  All were galvanized around the read Word.  This was a communal epiphany.

Then their concerted gaze seemed to call forth something more from Jesus.  The reading was over.  He was back in his “pew.”  But the congregation knew Jesus had something to add.  Like a unanimous vote, their united stare elicited this simple sermon after the reading: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Ah! HE will bring relief to the poor, the oppressed, the blind, the captives! With that one sentence Jesus took upon himself the messianic mantle . . . after the faith community helped bring it forth.

Bible reading can be divisive or bonding, and sometimes when it’s the most upsetting it has the most potential for healing.

Though you and I may not have been counted among the Bible-minded of our city, let us use our minds when we read the Bible.  And use our hearts.  Let us try not to hold up the Bible as an idolatrous totem; let us try to hold it within ourselves and our community.

Let’s not tie the Bible to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it nor beat it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

I suggest we try reading the Bible interpretively, not literally; and communally, not just individually—led by the Spirit that moves among us. 

Let us pray: O God of the Bible, let the Bible read us, hold us, struggle with us, form us, fuse us as a congregation. Amen


[ii] McPhail, Carol. “Mobile No. 13 among ‘Bible-minded’ Cities” Mobile Press-Register (25 Jan. 2013). 3D.

[iii]    “Gun Control.”  Mobile Press-Register (25 Jan. 2013) D3.

[iv] Billy Collins, “An Introduction to Poetry.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Guided Meditation: Raise Your Right Hand

Lectionary Readings
Isaiah 62: 3-5;  I Corinthians 12: 4-11;  John 2: 1-11

On this inauguration day, the lectionary offers scriptures that remind us of times we figuratively raise our right hands to make promises.  Two readings speak of marriage. A third emphasizes the way the church holds diverse people together in a covenant of unity without uniformity. Whether we raise our right hand in reciting an oath of office, or hold another’s hand in speaking vows of love, or utter words of covenantal commitment within a church setting, we are part of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “an inescapable network of mutuality.” 

Our Gospel reading for today will outline our guided meditation. As I read aloud this passage, I’ll interject commentary every few verses—and occasional pauses for silent reflection. But let me set up this familiar story of the wedding at Cana by saying what this story is NOT about.  This is not a story that upholds “traditional” marriage. The Johannine community which passed down this story did not share our values and traditions about marriage.  It’s always amusing to hear people calling for a return to biblical family values, which, of course, would include polygamy, incest, sex slaves, temple prostitution, fratricide, patricide, arranged marriages, women as property, execution of disobedient children, and all manner of deceit and dysfunction. This story, sometimes read at weddings to suggest that Jesus endorsed our marriage traditions, actually puts the institution of marriage way in the background. This is not a story specifically about marriage; it is about covenant relationships in general.  Listen for the ordinariness within this story, maybe even some humor.  Listen for themes of human relatedness and responsibility.  And follow with me as I take this passage a few verses at a time:

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

Did you notice that Jesus and his mother are named in separate sentences?  The story does not say, “The mother of Jesus, and Jesus, and his disciples attended a wedding.” It says Jesus’s mother was at the wedding.  Jesus and his disciples were also invited.  That almost sounds as if the bride sent one invitation addressed to “The Mother of Jesus” and sent another invitation addressed to “Jesus—and up to twelve guests.”  This story about relationships puts some grammatical distance between mother and son at the start.  (By the way, this is the first of only two times Mary will be mentioned in John’s Gospel, the second time being at the foot of the cross.  And John never mentions her by name.)

Take a moment to picture Jesus arriving at the wedding feast with his friends.  Picture Jesus enjoying the food, the wine, the interactions.

3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

With what tone do you imagine Mary said this simple sentence?  Is she distressed and shaking Jesus by the lapels of his . . . robe?  Is she complaining . . . as she lifts her empty wine glass disapprovingly?  Is she using the universal mother code to order a child to do something while seeming to make a simple observation?  “Son . . . they have no wine . . . . Well?”

After you hear Jesus’s reply, you might agree with me she’s probably telling him to do something.

4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

“Mother, why should WE get involved?” he says. “It’s my day off.” Indeed, why would wedding guests have to find more wine for the other guests?  Besides, isn’t this kind of problem too small for the Son of God?  “My hour has not yet come” might even mean that he’s not sure the timing or situation is right for offering what John will term the first of many signs and wonders.  But ready or not, Jesus’s hand is forced.  He’s about to do something that will make people sit up and take notice. Mary apparently perceived his change of heart because she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  His mother had faith that her son would help—and now tells the servants they, too, should trust him and thus should do what he tells them to do.

On the surface, Mary may seem to us to be “overfunctioning.” But in that culture, friends of the family often helped host a week-long wedding feast, so maybe Mary did bear responsibility. On the surface, Mary may seem concerned with superficial social approval. But in the ancient Near East culture, failure to extend customary hospitality would bring shame upon the extended family and all associated with them.  This is a story about shared responsibility.  This is a story about covenant.

The backdrop to the story is the covenant a bride and groom made to one another three days earlier with their wedding vows.  But the heart of the story is about the implicit covenant that binds together a family and that family’s network of friends.  In that culture, the honor of one extends to all in that group; the shame of one is shared by the others.  There are implicit responsibilities one has to one’s group.

Consider what responsibilities you feel toward the network of relationships that is this faith community.

We return to the story:
 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

I think there’s more humor here. We’re in on the joke.  The water-turned-wine not only passes as wine—it’s better than the wine first served, which customarily is the best.  If I were dramatizing this scene, I’d have the servants, who know this wine was water minutes ago, laughing behind their hands to hear the steward’s--a wine connoisseur’s--naive praise.

Lest we think Jesus is launching a ministry to protect social and religious conventions, we note that the water he used was intended for religious purification rites—for ascetic purposes. But it has been converted to wine intended for celebratory purposes. This is Jesus reforming a religious system that had focused on delineating who is in and who is out, who is pure and who is not.  Jesus fills the jars that once held purifying waters with celebratory wine, a wine of finest quality and of extravagant abundance.  No one will go without. 

What Jesus offers is rooted in his culture’s traditions, is consistent with ancient covenants between the God of Israel and the descendants.  But John’s Jesus will preach and teach that God’s lavish love extends to the whole world. (He’ll say that explicitly in the next chapter. John 3:16 says God loves the WORLD).  The purification jars now hold the best wine.  The extravagant covenant that other Gospel writers will have Jesus saying is written his blood, symbolized by wine, is a covenant made for and with all peoples, is for the common good.

Back to the passage in John for the final verse.
11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The gospel writer says Jesus’s “glory” was revealed in wine-that-once-was-water.  Strange to find glory in even the best of wines.  But this wine is a foil for the soured wine he’ll be offered as he hangs on the cross.  And this wine reminds us that Luke describes the wine Jesus blesses at his last meal as the cup of “the new covenant.”

This story might seem to reveal God at work in silly social obligations.  But the writer may be saying God’s glory is revealed in the mundane, especially in the ordinary but powerful web of human relationships—lover and lover, parent and child, neighbor to neighbor.  We are most fully human (and thus closest to the divine) when we are responsibly connected, caring for one another, helping out, upholding one another in covenantal love across our many differences and throughout life’s difficulties.  As the American hero whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly affects all indirectly.”                       

Pause now to give thanks for relationships that connect you to God, that call forth your own selflessness, that support you.

The passage concludes: “And Jesus’s disciples believed in him.” Meaning simply they, like his mother, felt assured that he would be faithful to his commitments.

At our discussion hour today, we talked about the idea of covenant as a way individuals and congregations relate to one another within our denomination.  Covenant is the foundation for our way of being the church. Each congregation has "autonomy to discern its own way of being and believing. Yet, because of covenant, we voluntarily bind ourselves to one another” in our congregation and to other churches in our denomination. And those settings covenant with our congregation. The UCC constitution puts it this way: "Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advice, counsel, and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ walk together in all God's ways. This doesn't mean all churches become alike. Instead UCC churches come together, each with their own distinct gifts and differing beliefs and practices, to more fully express Christ in the world” (

We say words of commitment to one another as a faith community from time to time.  But what does it really mean to be in covenant relationship with one another, we who are so imperfect?  We’ve hurt others in the past—and have been hurt by others in our past who have broken promises to us.  We’ve perhaps even felt God has reneged on promises of care of protection.  We know that sometimes well-intentioned people of faith can fail us, can behave badly, might not come through for us when we need them most.  Can we, like the disciples, trust that the love of Jesus will be there for us?  We pause now for reflection:

Can we trust that the love of God as witnessed in the life of Jesus always be there for us? 

Words of assurance are found in the song we sing together now:

Nothing in height or in depth which befriends or befalls us,
Nothing in life or in death which forbids or forestalls us,
Nothing can limit the love of our savior, Jesus Christ.
                        (by John Bell, from There is One Among Us)

We express our thanks to God and join in God’s work in the world by giving to our congregation’s and denomination’s ministries. Giving is part of our covenantal commitment to care for others.  At Open Table we suggest making regular gifts that reflect a percentage of your income and consider this year increasing your giving 1% over whatever percent you gave last year. The early church learned from Jesus and from the Jewish tradition that joy and fulfillment come from giving and serving, and we trust in that same generosity today.
We root our lives in and deepen our commitments to the compassionate ways of Jesus when we recall his life and death and enduring life in God through this symbolic meal.  Jesus began his ministry by turning water into wine at a celebrative wedding feast with his family and disciples. Jesus ended his ministry by blessing wine that would foreshadow the passion of his death. The meals we share in this community bind us together in life’s celebrations and sorrows.  The cup Jesus shares with us now holds all of life and blesses all who come.
We make explicit and implicit pledges to one another.  In your own words, write a brief statement on a card provided that captures at least part of a covenant you have made to God or to this particular faith community. 

I covenant with God to  . . . .
I covenant with this faith community to . . . .

Sunday, January 6, 2013

They Returned Home. By a Different Road.

Sermon text: Matthew 2: 1-12

They went home.  By another road.

After brilliance broke into their awareness . . . after that illumination first unsettled and then drew them toward a deeper reality . . . after they saw by that light something fragile and ordinary and impotent and holy . . .  after they at last recognized what kind of power kills and what kind of power saves . . . the Wise Ones returned home.  But by a different road. 

Here’s today’s sermon in a nutshell: The wise ones went home after all their searching.  But they took a different road.

Richard Rohr might categorize the story of the Wise Ones as an archetypal myth about the second stage of life.  After detours and dangers, their journey comes full circle with a homecoming like that of the Greek hero Odysseus.  Matthew’s Magi and Homer’s Odysseus suggest that spiritual maturation requires us to do two things: to return to our spiritual home but to return by a different and often difficult road.  After all the wandering, seeking, searching, and striving we've done in the "first half of life,”[i] we (gradually or abruptly) begin to point homeward, changed. Yet we return by way of a different path.

Poet T. S. Eliot could be describing Odysseus or the wise men or you when he says that "the end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started for the first time."
Jesus scholar Marcus Borg is describing the path to Christian maturity when he invites us to “meet Jesus again . . . for the first time.”

Have you experienced that sort of paradoxical epiphany? We at Open Table are hoping to make a way for folks to return to a home in God—but by a different route.  Some say their involvement in Open Table has led them to take another look at Jesus after maybe many years of indifference or even dislike—and that second look has revealed a familiar and yet totally new Jesus. 

Of course, in today's story of epiphany, the infant Jesus and his mother are barely mentioned, and father Joseph not at all.  The drama focuses on the murderous King Herod, on some (at best) neutral religious leaders in Jerusalem, and on some godly foreigners who probably came from what is present day Iraq or Iran. God was revealed to these honest seekers from another culture; God was found by these wise ones in an unexpected place wearing an unexpected face.  The religious leaders who should have known about and protected the Christ child abdicated their leadership role, being so entwined, as they were, with the political authorities, so committed to maintaining institutions and customs, so suspicious of those who are different, so protective of their own power.  Instead, it was up to those with a different way of seeing the world—strangers from afar—to recognize God's activity and then act wisely enough to escape being used for harm.

The spiritual journey many of us find ourselves on is not so different from that of the wise men. A gradual or sudden illumination pierced through the fog of what we thought was true and then set us searching.  We wandered, some of us, for years.  We may have left religious life entirely or tried a range of spiritual practices and investigated a variety of religious traditions.  Or we may have sat politely in a pew somewhere as a silent heretic, our wanderings being interior and secret. But at some point we caught a glimpse of the Really Real, or at least the possibility of something that is of ultimate worth that might save us and save our world, and we felt a longing to kneel to and serve that goodness in the world. We don’t understand this inner shift any more than the Magi did.  But like them, we seem to be heading back to a spiritual awareness that is connected to our past and yet is also a new and deeper place.  This spiritual state just might be our truest home.  But to get there we must go by a route different than the one we used years ago.

Let’s spend a moment considering what home might mean for those of us on a spiritual quest.  Then we’ll consider what it might mean for us to journey home by a different road.

I love Robert Penn Warren’s definition of home as “not a place” but a “state of spirit . . . of mind . . .  a proper relation to the world.”  What happens if we think of God not as a father or mother, but as home itself, not as a being with whom we have relationship but as the spiritual state whereby we are nurtured and become related to one another?  What if, then, our spiritual goal is to become at home in the world and within our own spirits and with one another?   

God—as our home—is our starting place and that place to which we long to return. If life is a circle rather than a line, then God, who can be conceived of as our home, is both our origin and goal. I am not talking about God as existing in some place.  I’m talking about God as that figurative place. I am not imagining God as a home for me at some distant point in time but rather as my home I experience now. If God is a home to enter only after we die, then we live estranged lives here.  And if God, by the way, is a home that shelters only certain family members, then God is mean and small. If God is home for me, then God is a home here and now and for all. God as home is not a new image. The hymn, “O God Our Help in Ages Past” concludes by affirming God as “our eternal home.” Mystics have imaged God as home.  Scriptures name God as our “refuge” and “hiding place” and “rock” and “shelter.” Unfortunately, the image that came to dominate our thinking to such an extent that it becomes idolatry is the image of God as father.

Thinking about God as my home shapes my theology; feeling God as my home shapes my prayers.  If I meditate on God as home, I’m less likely to childishly present Father God with a list of requests and am more likely to settle into a spirit of calm and compassion that enables me to see the rest of the world embraced within this same home. Such prayer is about changing me rather than changing God.  I invite you to try prayer as a discipline of very intentionally but simply making yourself at home in the world.  Then tell me if it changes you.

Understanding God as home can alter not only our prayers but also our ethics and actions.  If God is my most ultimate “home,” then my spiritual practices must lead to relatedness with others who live within this home that God IS.  To be specific, if my spirituality is based on the sense that my god is, in some sense, my ultimate home and if my goal in life is to be at home, then I may also try harder to honor the planet that is our physical home and the creatures that share this home with me. Perhaps those who are “at home in the world” are those who can best work for peace and protect our planet. As a church, we find ourselves engaged in many important causes, but I wonder if the most basic issues of justice are those which foster just and peaceful human relationships and those which ensure a healthier environment for all creatures because we care about our mutual home.

Yet these also happen to be, for me at least, the most challenging personal commitments. It’s hard for me to live a life of peace.  It’s hard for me to monitor all the ways my daily habits affect the natural environment. But the God who holds the universe in a communal embrace is calling me to return home, which, if God is Home, is another way of talking about the old concept of conversion. I need to be converted, to turn away from actions that harm my home, to return to God, to our “home.”

If we return to God, like the Prodigal son who returns home from a life of disconnection and dissolution, we, too, can be reintegrated into a deep sense of being at home in the world and comfortable in our own skin.  That is spiritual maturity.

But we can go home again only via a different road.  My theology today is very different than it was 30 years ago. Yours has probably evolved, too.  I thank God for new paths I’ve tried, strange characters I’ve met. On most days I can even thank God for heartaches endured.  Like the wise men, we dare not retrace our steps but return home by a different way. 

Nearly eight years ago I literally returned home—having left Mobile in 1974 to go off to college and eventually to follow career paths to live in Georgia, then Texas, then Tennessee, and then Ohio.  The thought of returning home was both a welcome and worrisome prospect.  I was newly ordained and eager for my first full-time ministerial role, but my chances of finding a congregation to serve plummeted when George and I decided he should accept a position at Spring Hill College.  COULD I return home if I’d changed so much theologically, politically, spiritually?  Only by a different road.  I returned home, for instance, after having made deep and lasting friendships with LGBT folks, having heard their stories, having marched in Pride parades, having served Open and Affirming churches. I could not return to Mobile and just pretend I had not been, in some sense, converted along the way.  My real home in God had to include all the folks I’d encountered, regardless of whether my geographical home was willing to include those people and ideas. 

On Friday, as Jan and Sondra and I were driving downtown to participate in the We Do campaign for marriage equality, Jan asked me if, when I was growing up in Mobile, I’d have imagined I’d be participating in such an event.  I answered that I could not have even imagined such an event taking place—much less my role in it—not even when I was well into adulthood.  Indeed, I was well into adulthood before I could imagine a woman becoming a pastor.  And my spiritual conversion relative to the topic of human sexuality happened over many years and thanks, mainly, to relationships with gay and lesbian friends.  It’s my own slow but steady conversion that gives me hope that others can come to recognize their prejudices and trust that God, like a loving home, holds us all together equally, safely, supportively.  I’ve come home by a different way.  It’s the only way we ever really return to our truest home that some call God.  It’s the differences the Wise Ones encounter on the road home that save us and help us save the ones today’s Herods would harm. 

Through the Gospels we come to understand that the infant Jesus would also journey home.  By a different way.  The call upon my life is to follow in that way.  The mission of Open Table is to follow Jesus.  Who taught us a different way.

In the musical Les Miserable, Jean Valjean sings a final prayer as he is dying. Audiences probably hear him asking God to bring him to a home that is heaven. But perhaps you can hear me pray this prayer as one fully engaged in life who is longing to be brought into an experience of God as our truest home. I pray this for us all:

God on high,
Hear my prayer
In my need

You have always been there

Where you are
Let me be
Take me now
Take me there
Bring me home
Bring me home. 


[i] See Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.