This may sound a bit crazy in the context of Covenant Season in the Methodist Church, but I have been reflecting on the last few years, and the cost of all of the recent discussions in Methodism, where we have now reached a point with the Marriage and Relationships Task force where some of my friends can say God In Love Unites Us Conversations changed our lives. Since the Conference vote, many same sex couples have been married in Methodist Churches, and many churches sign up to celebrate marriage of both men and women and same sex couples. I am privileged to serve 4 Chapels that have agreed to the more inclusive stance, and are open to say that love is love.
Love is love, as I write that I ponder again that healthy relationships require a openness and honesty that should also include the ability of the individuals involved to love themselves, the inability to love ourselves so often trips us up and paralyses us and makes an unhealthy, even co-dependent relationship almost inevitable, believe me I have experience! Love is love, love given freely and unconditionally bears with all things, and looks to be accepting seeing beyond stigmas and shame, faults and flaws. For the longest time I have been unable to love myself, and have hidden behind many masks, none of them helped. A few years ago I began a journey towards radical self acceptance, this included accepting and knowing myself, and also voicing that for the first time.
I have blogged about my journey on several occasions:
There are more of course, but you can only add so many links. In these posts I reflect on what it was like to live with a deep self loathing, an internalised sense that who I am is not right, not acceptable, not normal. This led to a deep shame, and it was a shame that was added to by the views I was taught within the churches I have been a part of. The discussions over recent years within Methodism, despite the positive outcome have not always lifted from me that sense of deep shame and otherness. It was with this as a background that led to my decision to move Circuits last year, I had support where I was, but I also carried many bruises and wounds. I needed to move. This move allowed me to move as myself, and while I didn’t attend the visit with a hello, I am queer badge on, I was able to ask about the nature of the Circuit, and had stated very clearly that I needed to be safe and to say that I needed the churches I was going to serve to be open to celebrating same sex marriages.
So here I am, and in this context on Sunday I shared in the Covenant Service for the first time, the words of the Covenant Prayer are as powerful as ever, the introduction begins no less powerfully:
Beloved in Christ,
let us again claim for ourselves
this covenant which God has made with his people,
and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
Let us take upon us the yoke of Christ, let us step into the calling placed upon us as children of God, beloved children of God, accepted, loved and known, let us claim the grace so freely given! I began the service with a few words from Richard Rohr ( yes for the purists I am aware he is a Franciscan Priest!) :
We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender if we can radically accept being radically accepted for nothing. Or grace would not be grace at all. Love responds to love alone and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement or heroic anything.
Read that again if you will.
Love responds to love alone, there is nothing I can earn here, all is grace, love is freely given, this is the context of our Covenant Prayer, we step into the grace freely and completely offered by God, all is gift, when we say put be to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, let me be full, let me be empty, it is in the context of the grace that is wholly sufficient for us, and the assurance that through all of it we will be held. The initiative is all God’s, the price has been paid, the Spirit has been given, radical acceptance is our part!
It was on the same day that I heard the Covenant likened to the marriage vows, made between a man and a woman ( wound 1), and that the covenant of marriage being broken by those who don’t take them seriously ( wound 2). It took me several hours to come around to acknowledging the wounds that I incurred that day. The exclusive nature of male female marriage and the broken vows of divorce are both wounds I carry, and guess what, the old masks were back demanding to be worn, and the well of shame that is not quite empty within me threatened to fill up again. Instead I have chosen to speak out, for yes I agree that marriage is a covenant between two people made before God, and yes it should be entered into freely and lovingly, but it is not out Methodist Covenant, who would stand before their life partner and utter the words, put me to suffering, and who would expect their life partner to take all of the initiative in the relationship. Marriage is a covenant, like many other legal covenants, but the onus is never upon one party alone. When God makes a Covenant with us, all of the initiative is theirs, all that we are asked to do is to step into it, to take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ. Maybe we need reminding just what that is, here is Jesus invitation to take his yoke upon us:
Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 3 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Come, I will give you rest for your souls, this is the context of our prayer! So in this context, leaning upon Christ, I challenge the wounds I picked up, for in Methodism we are able to hold that marriage is a covenant relationship between any two people who wish to enter into it. and by the grace of God the wounds of my past are healed and I am set free, shame has no place here. In this place I am safe to enter into God’s invitation to Covenant grace! All this made freely available before I knew anything of it!
So, I have made a choice to speak out, and to say no, this reduced and frankly judgemental comparison is not enough, and I cannot accept it, I need to find myself in a wider place, a more radically gracious place, a place where I can learn a little more of the height, depth and breadth of the love I am invited into, over and over again. a love that simply grows higher, deeper and wider. All are welcome, all are included, all , all, all…. This is where I am safe.
Of course love does demand a response, and it will change us, but the initiative all lies with God. In this context I can say:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessèd God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.