I got an e-mail today, at a time when I was feeling really low. A man in Ohio found something that I wrote helpful as he reconnects with God.
It’s on my website dailyoffice.org, called On the Gay Issue: Pray.
I wrote it two and a half years ago, in January 2007, and as you can imagine I really haven’t looked at it since.
Every now and then I’ll get an e-mail about it; most people like it, but occasionally I’ll hear from a conservative who thinks I’m sposedta repent and all that. Sometimes I can’t tell that they’ve actually read it, they just have a knee-jerk reaction.
So today I got this fellow’s e-mail, and I was reluctant to open it at first, in case it was more bad news. But it wasn’t, it was very good news.
He explained that he’s only recently returned to church a couple of years ago (about the time I wrote my essay), and was fairly oblivious to the ecclesiastical politics concerning LGBTs, being much more concerned (and properly so) with his own salvation; that is, returning to his relationship with God. That’s what consumed him, not all the internet yammering in the Episcopal Church, the schisms and resolutions and votes. He came back to church because he needed to.
But over those couple of years, as he got a little more acclimated, he began to be aware of the Big Controversy, and to wonder about it. The people he was in touch with, the friends he met, were pretty torn up about “losing their church” to the godless heretic queers. He grew troubled and confused; the church where he felt safe wasn’t feeling safe to his friends.
You can imagine, he was in a vulnerable spot. “The truth” was moving on him, not staying in the same reliable place. That’s scary.
Was it not truth at all? Is there a new truth now? What’s going on?
See, here was a man who was not inclined to pay attention to Gay stuff, but his friends and touchstones were in distress. How could he help them, when he was still a spiritual babe in arms?
Then, something happened, to bring him back to his childhood parish in Pennsylvania. A family member had commissioned an icon, which was going to be dedicated to his mother’s memory, and to the women’s choir she was a part of. Thus he went back home.
It’s quite a beautiful icon; imagine having this dedicated to your mother and her friends in the women’s choir. (My mom sang in the choir too for many years.)
While he was there, he wanted to ask his nephew the priest about all this Gay stuff; though with its being such a family occasion, he knew not to spoil the party. He would ask his question later, once he got back to Ohio.
But then it happened that the nephew-priest answered his questions, by preaching on the Gospel of the Day: Year B, Proper 14.
Should Gay people be excluded from the Church? Or, more practically, given the presence of Gay people in the Church, should Bible-believing, faithful people leave the Episcopal Church because of them?
Keep in mind how vulnerable this guy was, as the nephew-priest read the following in the Gospel procession:
John 6:37-51 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Then the young nephew preached on this Word, and my correspondent knew what he should do; that he should include, not exclude.
You can imagine, this changed the man’s life. There he was, in his old childhood home, with an icon to his mother, the choir singing, an ordained nephew full of faith and inside the Episcopal Church; he went through a conversion experience—and I don’t care how much you despise Pat Robertson, a conversion is something to respect, even cherish on this man’s behalf.
What he was converted to was the Gospel of love in Jesus Christ.
Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.
In fact it was Jesus’s mission to hold tight to every soul God gave him; to not lose even one.
Well: this all happened two weeks ago, and it left my correspondent in a still-vulnerable place, but surer than he had been before. He still had his friends back in Ohio wailing and gnashing their teeth (I exaggerate probably) over the Gay people. Try and put yourself in their place; they sincerely believe that faith in Jesus requires excluding the Gay people. They do not pray about this (“God, what if I’m wrong?”) as I recommend, they take it as a given; it’s what they’ve always believed, what they’ve been taught, etc. They are trying to be as faithful to God as they know how, just like the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh I addressed in my open letter. Notice, these faithful folks never ask God if they could be wrong; they assume they’re right, which is how human prejudice sometimes gets blessed as righteousness. Or: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
My correspondent went back to Ohio and had to face these people—without the backup of his nephew-priest. Our guy was on his own.
It happens, he wrote me, that he’s often used dailyoffice.org to help him pray when he’s traveling; and somehow he turned to the site again today, where he found my little letter. Mind you, it’s been posted online for two and a half years, but he never saw it before, until the time he needed it.
He wrote to thank me for it with tears streaming down his face, in utter shock at how God always supplies what he needs, when he needs it.
In the same way that he wanted guidance from his nephew-priest, but it wasn’t the time to ask, he got the guidance anyway.
When he needed to remember his two-week-old learning, “include, not exclude,” he got it from something I wrote, without even a clue that he’d someday need this.
I’m a great one for managing to forget my small revelations from God; most of us are, I suspect. They end up overwhelming us with love and beauty, and being mortals we can’t really stand that; so we forget, and go back to the same lousy habits we had before. The same thing is frequently described in the Old Testament; when a person suddenly encounters God they find they can’t even look at him. They prostrate themselves, and not just for worship but to hide somehow. We can’t bear to look at God, so we shut our eyes, even though God isn’t so scary, and doesn’t mind being seen. Isn’t that why he came?
So I can understand my correspondent forgetting what he knew; I do the same thing. What’s miraculous is that God knows all about our reluctance to face him, and puts us in the way of finding what we need, when we need it, without having to confront the full Divinity head-on. A little essay, been there all along, but now the Ohioan found it.
(Take a deep breath here for the conclusion.)
I wasn’t feeling so good when this e-mail arrived; worthless, I said. But I’m not, am I? Not by a long shot.
And God has told me this many times before but I just can’t pay attention.
If it seems strange to you that Correspondent and I are getting messages from God, it shouldn’t; God does this all the time. God is profligate in his loving, promiscuous almost; goes around touching souls constantly. A hundred thousand times a day, a million; who can count? You’d have to be God to count ’em all.
It is somehow in the nature of God to reveal himself/herself in a million little touches every day. All we have to do is pay attention and be open; God loves to talk to us, no matter what shape we’re in. God’s the biggest yakker there ever was, if we won’t turn away and hide.
But it isn’t just talk, either, it’s touching, like Correspondent was touched, and like I was because of him.
Y’know, sometimes I ponder atheists, who have such a problem “believing in God” because they’ve decided not to. I wonder why they don’t perceive what to me is the most obvious thing in the world. I mean, God’s so everywhere I’m constantly tripping over him. So why don’t they?
Well, God doesn’t go where she’s not wanted. This leaves her more time to trip me up just for fun.
The God I know, that I perceive and try to attend to, is gentle and loving to the Nth degree. Never angry, not judgmental, forgiving 70 times 7; not even greatly disappointed when we prove our mortality once again. That’s what she expects of us, and we never let her down.
Always hopeful, always inviting; ready to catch us should we fall.
Why I get to perceive God and someone else does not is one of those mysteries that will never be explained in this life; Calvin couldn’t explain it and in fact got it all wrong. It’s about grace, honey; amazing grace.
When Correspondent wrote me through his tears, I just felt happy for him, to be given such a gift, because he was open enough to receive it. God loves giving presents!
Considering that my words were somehow the means of Correspondent’s grace, I can barely handle it. Of course I’m proud, but God knows what a wreck I am and let me be the means anyway!
That’s what God is like. She doesn’t care what kind of a wreck you are, free hugs anyway.
I wanted to tell Correspondent about some new music on the site; “new” meaning J.S. Bach, “Sheep May Safely Graze.” It’s a wonderful little ditty, the perfect ending to this post, so have a listen yourself; what I’m saying here in words, Johann got the gift to write in notes a lot better than I can.
God knows exactly where you’ve been, and loves you dearly anyway.++