Tag Archives: Lord of the Dance

Dancing Toward Christmas?

Creche

Dear Jesus,

You already know this, of course.  I’ve admitted it to you countless times in the intimacy of my whispered conversations with you.  But it’s something we Christians don’t like to say aloud, even if you know our thoughts before we know them.  You know that I believe in God—though I’m not convinced of the masculine.  When the Spirit hovers, I feel the strength and tenderness of both father and mother.

But…well…now that we’ll soon be entering another season of Advent, I’m going to put myself out there and just say that I have trouble sometimes believing that you were fully human, fully divine.  One or the other makes sense to me.  As the human Jesus, you leap off the page to me in the stories that have been recorded about you—passionate, giving, just, loving, and sometimes a little angry or a little sad.  As the divine Jesus, you dance into my heart, seducing me into believing in all the possibilities of a just and faithful and loving God.

It’s the both/and that I struggle with sometimes.  I suspect that a lot of us mere humans do.  You would know better than I, of course.  But I do know that it’s not something I’ve heard said aloud in most churches—which may be one of the reasons so many people say, “I believe in God.  I just don’t believe in organized religion.”

I can admit to you that some of the details of your story sound suspiciously like the making of myth—a baby born to a virgin in a manger—a story told in only one of the four Gospels.  But somehow I feel you’re okay with my sometime skepticism.  I like to believe that you’re happy that I continue to wrestle with the ambiguity of seeing you “through a glass darkly.”  I love that verse, by the way.  Mirrors weren’t very high quality 2000 years ago.  The reflected image was somewhat blurred and cloudy.  And that makes sense to me when I talk with you in the dim light of a quiet morning, just before the sun comes up.

But your people aren’t always so charitable.  “Don’t question.”  How many times have I heard that?  And in both the more conservative church where I was baptized and in the more liberal church I chose as an adult, if I wanted to join the group, I had to answer “I do” to the question, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”  (And may I point out that you never tested anyone in such a way—that you simply beckoned and said, Come, follow me?)

To be part of the leadership team in my church, I had to answer an even more specific question: “Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”  I answered those questions in the affirmative, as truthfully as I knew how, though not quite so loudly and boldly as some of the people who stood beside me.

But when I read the stories of the way you respond to people like me, those are the stories I love the most—not for the miracles but for your gentleness and generosity to those who grapple with doubt.

There is the man who asks for healing for a child who has been plagued by life-long convulsions. The father is powerless, and he cries out to you for help. You tell him that if he will just believe, his son will be healed. The man declares his belief, but then, in the same breath, he begs, “Help my unbelief,” which shows that he really isn’t sure at all. But the story says that you don’t hesitate, that you heal the child despite his father’s wavering faith.

And then there’s “Doubting Thomas,” who gets a bad rap from everyone but you. When he has trouble believing you’ve risen from the dead—and let’s face it, that’s a lot to ask of anyone who didn’t actually see it—you tell him, “Here, stick your fingers in these wounds and see for yourself.”  You understand, and you stand firmly next to Thomas as he reaches out for something more tangible than a ghost.

Then, too, there’s Peter, who wants to save his own skin and denies three times that he even knows you.  Peter, for heaven’s sake!  The one you save from drowning when he tries to walk on water and his faith wavers.  The one who sees you perform countless miracles.  You get impatient with him a couple of times, and yet you stick with him, human that he is, and he becomes a cornerstone for people of faith.

When I read these stories, I see beyond the noise of people who would tell me my questioning faith is unworthy of so great a God.  I see beyond their insistence that theirs is the one true faith and that those of other faiths have no access to God.  I see through a glass darkly, certain only that the mystery and magnitude of God are too great for any human being to fathom.

My very favorite hymn is written in your voice:  “I danced in the morning when the world was begun.  And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.  I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth….”  I’m thankful that I don’t have to fully understand how it is that you continue to dance among us to be able to experience the Joy of your Dance.

And so I hope you won’t mind if I dance in celebration again this year.  I promise to follow your lead—to follow your steps as best I can, to try to be the face and hands of your great Love in the world.

With all my imperfect love,

Your fully human servant

Angry at the Church?

Fritz

We writers tend to tell the stories that traumatize us.  Whether we write fiction or memoir, suffering makes for better conflict, more passion, and—if it’s our aim to get published—higher book sales.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week—a week when I think I’ve finally finished with a year of revisions on a memoir that six agents told me last year was fascinating material when they asked for the manuscript.  All six ultimately rejected the full manuscript—for completely different reasons—but all graciously took the time to offer specific feedback.

And so I pulled the book from the queer world of the query and went back to my desk to see what I could do with their sometimes contradictory comments.  As I wrote and rewrote, I considered their feedback, but I didn’t let it drive the story I felt compelled to tell, a story about leaving behind a world of anger and conflict for a place where I could find a haven, a place of peace.

I tried to be patient with the process, thinking and rethinking what I’d written, and I understood for the first time why some memoir writers move so far from the truth that gave birth to their stories that they end up mired in accusations of fiction rather than truth.  And I vowed over and over again that I would not do that—that I’d find a way to honor both the hurt and the healing that has made me who I am.

In the past few days, I’ve been reading and rereading the manuscript to give it a last light touch—to be sure it’s exactly the story I want to tell.  I’ve taken my heart back again and again to the place where this journey began—to the place that made me understand that the power of love is greater than any hurt.

And so I want to give thanks for and to the man who opened the door in my mind that launched me on this journey, Dr. Fritz Schilling—a reverend in the truest sense of the word, whom I met when I was 22.  I’d been traumatized by the churches of my youth, particularly by the faith my parents grew up in and ultimately rejected.  The church’s hold on them was herculean—and though both fled the church, the scars they bore disfigured their lives and threatened their children.

The Sunday I wandered into Fritz’s church was the first time I’d felt the Presence of Grace—what my minister this morning called the God of the Embrace.  Though I’d heard hundreds of sermons from men who imagined themselves emissaries of a vengeful God, I’d never encountered a true reverend—a person who revered the quiet reverence of a gentle Spirit.  Fritz opened his arms to the congregation and said, “Welcome to this place where we’ve come to search for God together.”  And though I’d heard much fire from the pulpit, Fritz was the first to offer the warmth of God to me.

Because of Fritz, I’ve given up the wobbly legs of faith that were constantly being knocked down by the brimstone hurled in my direction. I’ve learned to stand more firmly and to walk with people who believe faith is a lifelong quest.

I’ve been in scores of churches that offer no such message—and every time I move to a new home, it takes me a long time to find a place that approaches faith as Fritz taught me to do.  Since the mid-80s, when Fritz headed south and I headed north, I’ve been fortunate to find a few good ministers—including a few good women and a gay man.  But I know that they are rare—those leaders in any faith, not just Christianity—who can share their faith without denigrating the faith of others who see God through a different lens.

And so, Fritz, I thank you for the wondrous gift you have given me.  Because of you, I have seen the face of God in many unexpected places—in other houses of faith as well as our own and even in the churches of my childhood after you once told me that those churches helped make me who I am.  And most of all, you helped me see God in the face of my own father, who had the courage to turn away before a church that thought it knew the mind of God did to his children what it had done to his own life.

And if my story can pass on that gift to someone like that girl who stumbled into your church all those years ago, then it will be because you first taught me about the God of Grace, the God of Love, the God of the Dance.

Thank you for teaching me that we are all the people of God.  And so, as you used to say, let us all join together to tell the stories of God for the people of God.

May it be so.