As I write this I am watching Andy Murray battle away in the third round of the Australian Open, he has an impressive determination and grit, and with two five setters under his belt so far I wonder at his endurance, at times it seems to teeter on the brink. I wonder at his endurance and tenacity just at a time when I question mine, and question if that is what is being asked of me! Please be assured I am not about to take up professional tennis.
What I am trying to do though, it to write out my thoughts and feelings that have found a catalyst in the statement made by the Anglican Bishops this week, and to process how all of this has left me with new sense of disorientation. Having written four pages in my journal this morning, I would like to share my thoughts and feelings, my response more widely, hence the blog post.
It isn’t long since I began to fully to recognise and speak about my own sexuality. It is both something I have always known, an awakening at the age of ten made that clear, and yet also something that due to the circumstance and environment of my upbringing that I buried really deeply ( rural Essex in the 1970’s was not a place to be gay). When I did come out I didn’t really have the language for it, and I struggled rather clumsily to express myself. More enlightened folk criticised my language, and while this bruised me I kept on walking the path. I don’t think I said the word lesbian at first, I pondered with the notion that I was bi, I am not, and settled on claiming the description of queer, because for me it is a word that celebrates the reclamation of denial and insult. It is okay just to be who we are. It is still a fresh vulnerability.
Over the last few years the church I belong to and serve as an Ordained Minister ( Presbyter), has voted to allow its churches and minister to be registered and authorised to celebrate same sex marriages as well as marriages between a man and a woman ( they are separate licences and authorisations). When the vote came through there was quiet rejoicing, and while some have left in anger, others while they still hold the belief that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman have stayed. For a church that has celebrated the ministry and membership of LGBTQI+ people since 1993, and places no sanctions on same sex couples including its clergy it is a little head scratching, but then of course many keep their profiles very much on the down-low, and rightly so, because essentially it is a private matter, until it is dragged out in the open by debate. No heterosexual couples have their relationships put under such scrutiny!
In a recent sermon, preached at my invitation, one of my Anglican colleagues stated very firmly that marriage is between one man and one woman, and the congregation, a supposedly affirming and inclusive congregation, who belong to a church registered for same-sex marriages all thought it was a great sermon, and that exclusive marriage was an excellent illustration for a Covenant Service. I was left asking, can I really be the only one who noticed?
Maybe I am still very bruised and battered following some of the almost vicious debates and discussions and the fallout following them from a previous appointment. Maybe I am still smarting from having somebody stand before me struggling to decide whether or not to receive communion, because he now knew I wasn’t straight. Maybe I still wear the very real vulnerability of having come out later in life. Maybe I am tired of telling people I identify as queer and have them look askance at me, they know I am divorced, but I have children, and grandchildren, surely that doesn’t work , though of course there are many like me for various reasons.
This I do know however, I cannot and will not hide myself again, I an sick, and I mean sick of feeling that who I am is something to be hidden, whispered about, and ashamed of. I am not ashamed! Nor will I stay quiet when others are wounded, I have in the past for fear and in confusion, and because I have felt intimidated by those who would very easily and quickly condemn me, who have muttered statement like, I can’t imagine what ” they do in bed” ( easy don’t it’s none of your business). This was the case in a previous appointment where I knew I would not be accepted by my colleagues if I came out. It was hurting me and hurting others. In this appointment I felt very much alone, and I know that others have experienced this too.
In my current appointment I am very aware that three of my ecumenical Anglican colleagues will be delighted by the Bishops decision, and for me that cannot not be problematic. It does matter, I cannot simply agree to disagree, it is not that simple, because to agree to disagree means setting myself aside, denying who I am, because I know that at heart they believe that I am intrinsically sinful, just for being myself. In no small part because I will not remain celibate for them in order to make myself tolerable. Oh and please do not read into that , that I am living a promiscuous lifestyle, I am not. Those who have mused upon my lifestyle see it as being much more exciting than it is. Apparently I have a lesbian lover holed up in the Manse with me, much to my disappointment I have been unable to find her, but while I laugh it off, things like this put me on my guard, I don’t feel comfortable, I feel judged, I am being gossiped about!
With all of this in the background I am struggling, the Bishops statement has become a catalyst for the discomfort I have been feeling, it felt like another kick in the gut, another put down, another exclusion. I know that I am struggling to recover from it. I am personally tired of all of the debates surrounding the full value and humanity of LGBTQI+ people. Yes the majority of churches I serve have voted to celebrate same-sex marriages ( one still needs to vote), but I still minister to, and am expected to minister with care, to those who consider my sexuality to be, and I quote; ” not a part of God’s good creation!” I am still expected to work on relationships with those who profoundly disagree with me, and stand upon the defence of centuries of tradition and scriptural interpretation. Those for whom my new fangled scriptural interpretation and hermeneutic of suspicion is heresy, and by whom my experience of a very real relationship with God is to be discounted, I am after-all, not a part of God’s good creation!
I am tired and worn out, I know that speaking up is rocking the boat and therefore unpopular, but I can only be who I am, and who I am is fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderfully made in the image of our many faceted gender-full God, and God who delights in the diversity of their creation. I am weary, and because I am weary I know that I can take upon myself the yoke of Christ, who calls me to walk and work with them, to receive and easy yoke and a light burden. The burden I carry feels heavy at the moment, so maybe it is not from Christ, maybe I am still called to work within the institution, but I ponder that maybe I am being called elsewhere…
Murray is still battling, he is in the fourth set now, if he wins and he needs to it will be another gruelling five set match. If I am called to such a battle I need to find somewhere the unforced rhythms of grace, to find the lightness of Christs yoke and the joy within the institution that I find connecting with people outside of it. I am asking questions of myself and of God, not whether I belong to God, I know I do, but rather what they are calling me to, and where…
Murray lost, he fought on but didn’t make the fourth round, but of course that doesn’t mean he is not an outstanding world class tennis player. I am not in a competition, but I am in a place where I need to find a life-giving way forward.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11: 28-30 The Message Version
Unveiled faces, painting mine