Repost: Out of Place

Note: I wrote this earlier this year about relationships. One thing I’d like to add: tell people that you care for them or that you are their friend. For someone like me with autism it can make all the difference in the world.

lonely childWhen I was in high school, I ran track. I didn’t run well, but I did run track. Practice would take place after school. I remember heading into the locker room to change, and passing by this front room set aside for physical therapy. Every time I passed by there were people my age chatting and having a good time.

One day, I decided I was going to join in. I came in after practice and walked into the room. Unlike other days, the room was mostly empty save for one student who was being attended to by a teacher. I walked in and sat down hoping to engage in some conversation. The teacher stopped what he was doing and looked at me. “What are you doing here?” he said. I gave him a confused look and started to think I had made the wrong decision. He pointed to the door and ordered me to leave. I walked out feeling ashamed that I had even bothered to come in.

I share this story because it serves as an example of the ups and downs of one person with Aspergers trying to be social. Looking back, I probably should have known that social situations change. But in my mind, everything repeats. If there were people goofing off one day, then they would be there everyday. Obviously there were time it was okay to be in the room and times this wasn’t possible. But that nuance was lost on me.

Relationships for someone with Aspergers is like walking into a room that’s pitch black. You can’t see anything. The darkness is scary and you feel very alone. The result is that you are always scared, scared that something in the darkness is coming after you.

This all makes it hard to simply be. You are constantly worried you are going to say something stupid and when you do, all hell breaks loose. So, you withdraw feeling more alone and isolated.

It’s not just that you don’t know how to act with potential friends, it’s also that you don’t know how to act with fellow co-workers. A conversation that I intended to be helpful was interpreted as being hostile. I nearly lost my position because of it.

And let’s not even talk about romantic relationships.

In many ways, I’m still that 16 year old boy trying to figure out human relationships and failing miserably. It’s trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

The thing is, after being rapped on the nose more than once you start to become risk averse. You feel like a trapped animal with eyes darting about; seeing others as a potential threat or potential friend.

Blogger and fellow aspie Penelope Trunk has said that people with Aspergers don’t have friends and don’t have the emotional need for friends. I tend to disagree with this. I want to have friends, especially close ones, I just don’t know how to start a friendship let alone maintain it.

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Out of Place

lonely childWhen I was in high school, I ran track.  I didn’t run well, but I did run track.  Practice would take place after school.  I remember heading into the locker room to change, and passing by this front room set aside for physical therapy.  Every time I passed by there were people my age chatting and having a good time.

One day, I decided I was going to join in.  I came in after practice and walked into the room.  Unlike other days, the room was mostly empty save for one student who was being attended to by a teacher.  I walked in and sat down hoping to engage in some conversation.  The teacher stopped what he was doing and looked at me.  “What are you doing here?” he said.  I gave him a confused look and started to think I had made the wrong decision.  He pointed to the door and ordered me to leave.  I walked out feeling ashamed that I had even bothered to come in.

I share this story because it serves as an example of the ups and downs of one person with Aspergers trying to be social.  Looking back, I probably should have known that social situations change.  But in my mind, everything repeats.  If there were people goofing off one day, then they would be there everyday.  Obviously there were time it was okay to be in the room and times this wasn’t possible.  But that nuance was lost on me.

Relationships for someone with Aspergers is like walking into a room that’s pitch black.  You can’t see anything.  The darkness is scary and you feel very alone.  The result is that you are always scared, scared that something in the darkness is coming after you.

This all makes it hard to simply be.  You are constantly worried you are going to say something stupid and when you do, all hell breaks loose.  So, you withdraw feeling more alone and isolated.

It’s not just that you don’t know how to act with potential friends, it’s also that you don’t know how to act with fellow co-workers.  A conversation that I intended to be helpful was interpreted as being hostile.  I nearly lost my position because of it.

And let’s not even talk about romantic relationships.

In many ways, I’m still that 16 year old boy trying to figure out human relationships and failing miserably.  It’s trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

The thing is, after being rapped on the nose more than once you start to become risk averse. You feel like  a trapped animal with eyes darting about; seeing others as a potential threat or potential friend.

Blogger and fellow aspie Penelope Trunk has said that people with Aspergers don’t have friends and don’t have the emotional need for friends.  I tend to disagree with this.  I want to have friends, especially close ones, I just don’t know how to start a friendship let alone maintain it.

The Friendship Factor

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After 44 years on this planet, I’ve come to a startling conclusion:

I really suck at making friends.

It’s not that I don’t have friends.  It’s just that I haven’t been good at making close friendships.

You have to understand something when it comes to people with Aspergers- since we miss social cues we basically fly into relationships of all stripes blind.  Where others can make friends easily, it’s an uphill climb for me.  It’s like having to play a piece of music, without seeing the notes.

How do I act around a person?  Do I try to be more at ease and blunt?  Do I just stay on the fringes, keeping quiet?

I do think my confusion when it comes to friendships and acquaintences have led to some unfortunate encounters which also have an effect on my job.  What was my attempt to be honest and blunt have been interpreted as disrespect and malice.  I was also criticized from others who saw my reserved nature as proof that I didn’t care about their pain.

It’s frustrating; because of my misses, I’ve kept myself from really having close friendships.  I don’t want to piss someone off again- it’s far easier to just remain back and protect myself from making another mistake that is interpreted into something far worse.

British Aspie blogger Ben Forshaw* wrote a wonderful blog post a year ago about a rare close friendship.  Like me, he has faced his share of social difficulties.  He writes lovingly about the joys of having someone that is patient enough to want to understand you:

To my friend: we first met at work; you were friendly from the start, you had been told about my condition and had taken the trouble to understand – that meant such a lot to me. You were explicitly approachable and made the effort to make me feel part of the team. I always felt that I had your support and after only a matter of weeks I came to trust you.

You have never given me cause to doubt that trust.

Maybe at some point I will figure this all out.  I’m glad Ben was able to find someone to confide in and relate to.  As for me, it’s going to be a long stop and start process.  Maybe I will form a significant friendship.  Like a lot of things in my world, finding strong friendships will result in trial and error.

*Since I wrote this post Ben Forshaw came to realize he is transgender and now she goes by Alex.

Friendship, the Bible and 2 Couples

man friendshipA few days ago, I went to the wedding of two dear friends.  They’ve been together for 30 years, but with the advent of same sex marriage in Minnesota, they decided to have a public wedding.

Talk about  a long engagement.

One of the passages used during the service was the first chapter of the book of Ruth.  It’s the story of a Jewish woman named Naomi who sees not only her husband, but her sons die in this alien land.  She decides to go back to Israel and her two daughters-in-law want to come with her.  She tries to send them back and after more tears, Orpah reluctantly goes back to her home.  But Ruth is still clinging to Naomi.  After Naomi tries again to change her mind, Ruth says these memorable words:

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

It’s a wonderful example of someone staying with another in the good times and the bad.  It’s no wonder that it is used in weddings.  This passage also tends to fire the imagination of gay and lesbian Christians.  Ruth is pledging herself to another woman in a way that to our modern ears sounds like romantic same-sex love.  For many gays and lesbians like myself, to cling to a verse that seems to offer a more positive view of gays and lesbians instead of the usual use of the Bible as a tool to oppress, makes sense.

Being gay, the tale of Jonathan and David should ring more true to me since it’s expressing the love two men have for each other.  I Samuel 20 tells the story of these two men.

Like I said before, I can understand why we gay folk want to claim these two couples as our own.  Except, that in doing that, I fear we are losing another important lesson that is so needed in our society- that of friendship.

Writer earlier this year, Kendrick Kuo wrote a review of the movie, End of Watch.  The movie is about two male cops in Los Angeles and the friendship between the two.  Kuo liked the movie’s take on male friendship, but feared that the message was lost because of cultural bias:

Taylor and Zavala actually tell each other at various times that they love one another. As is common in our historical context, such words are said often in a joking manner in order to get the idea across while guarding from accusation of homosexual overtones. And that’s what we see in End of Watch, though there is a moment or two of seriousness expressing their love. Is it ideal that our culture doesn’t allow the use of love language in a platonic sense between two men? No. But at least End of Watch doesn’t stop there since we actually see that love played out in the way they risk their lives for each other and face life’s challenges side-by-side.

The starkest example of this cultural bias is how later critics treat the love between David and Jonathan, which some have naturally posited as evidence of homosexual love in the Old Testament. David sang of Jonathan, “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26b). Or we’ve all heard historical speculation of Abraham Lincoln’s sexual orientation since he used to share a bed with a co-worker when he traveled around in his younger years; or the suspicions about Alexander Hamilton due to his overly affectionate letters to male friends. The list can go on.  Our culture apparently cannot believe that two men can love each other in a non-sexual way.

I think Kuo is on to something here.  Again, I can understand why LGBT folk want to see these same sex relationships as romantic ones.  And while I think some lessons for gays can be drawn from the characters, I also think we, along with the rest of society, can’t understand that two people can love each other without having sex.

That wasn’t always so.  Especially among males, there are examples of deep affection for a same-sex friends that dot history.  Homophobia put an end to such affection.

About five years ago, the website the Art of Manliness, put out a blog post on the history of male friendship.  The writers tell us that in ancient times friendship was a different animal from today:

In ancient times, men viewed man friendships as the most fulfilling relationship a person could have. Friendships were seen as more noble than marital love with a woman because women were seen as inferior. Aristotle and other philosophers extolled the virtues of platonic relationships- a relationship of emotional connection without sexual intimacy. Platonic relationships, according to Aristotle, were the ideal.

During this period of time, the idea of the heroic friendship developed. The heroic friendship was a friendship between two men that was intense on an emotional and intellectual level. Examples of heroic friendships exist in many ancient texts from the Bible (David and Jonathan) to ancient Greek writings. A man friendship that captures the essence of the heroic friendship is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus.

Achilles and Patroclus fought together during the Trojan War and had a close relationship. A really close relationship. When Hector killed Patroclus, Achilles was beside himself for days. He smeared his body in ash and fasted in lamentation. After the funeral, Achilles, filled with a mighty rage, took to the battlefield to avenge the death of his best friend.

The image of Achilles and Patroclus was an important one in the ancient world. When Alexander the Great and his war pal, Hephaestion, passed through Troy, they stopped, with the whole army in tow, in front of the tomb of Achilles and Patroclus, thus demonstrating the veneration they had for these men and their friendship.

I think that in the life of the church, we need to recover seeing the Ruth/Naomi and David/Jonathan texts as saying something about friendship.  We need it now more than ever.  As I sit here tonight, legislators in Washington squabble about the budget.  People from different parties rarely talk to each other, in a reflection of what seems to be happening in America as a whole- a kind of sorting, to create a life where we don’t have meet people with different views.  Mainline Protestant denominations are rife with conflict, with different factions wanting to leave for greener pastures.  Liberals and Conservatives don’t speak to each.

What is amazing about these stories is that they cross ethnic and racial boundaries to create something new.  American society circa 2013 is a society that is split in different ways.  Would there be so much yelling if we got to know each other?  I mean really love each other and prayed for each other despite our differences?

Friendship is something that is so needed in our atmoised society.  We need to have people who will be there for us, people who aren’t always bound by marriage or blood.

The pastor did a good job of using Ruth at the wedding.  But I also want to hear sermons on friendship.  Maybe if we could make friends with people that cut accross the boundaries, our society would be a better place.

These Aren’t the Evangelicals You’re Looking For

A few years ago, I was invited by a Lutheran friend of mine to take part in a group of church planters.  I knew these folk came from an evangelical background and my “shields” went up.  Would these people accept me?  Did I have to go into the closet here?

After a while, the woman who was leading the group noticed my hesitancy.  “Dennis, are you gay?” she asked.  She didn’t ask the question in a mean or menacing way, but more to get at what was making me so shy.

Having grown up in an evangelical culture where being gay wasn’t good, the old tapes were playing in my head.  But this woman never turned me away after I told her.  She and her husband welcomed me.

I learned a important lesson that day.  I learned that not every evangelical is out to get gays.  I learned that things had changed in the nearly 20 years since I left evangelicalism.  I learned that there is far more nuance of evangelicals than most progressive Christians are willing to admit.

Recently, evangelical author Skye Jethani wrote a blog post about the reaction of evangelicals after the two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.  Jethani was fascinated by the media coverage because it didn’t match what he was experiencing:

One would assume from media reporting that evangelicals are obsessed with two things: politics and homosexuality. In my 30 years of involvement with evangelical churches, parachurch ministries, and mission organizations, I cannot recall hearing a single sermon about homosexuality. In addition, my role with Christianity Today connects me with evangelical congregation all over the country. Politics and gay marriage may arise in my private conversations with pastors, but I’ve never heard them engaged in a worship service. That does not mean these topics are never broached in a church setting, but they reside very, very far from the spotlight. And what about this past Sunday after the “culture shaking” ruling by the Supreme Court? Nothing. I did not hear a sermon, a comment, a prayer, or even a conversation in the church foyer about it. And this silence isn’t limited to LGBTQ issues. In three decades I’ve not heard what I would classify as a political or partisan sermon. Given the lack of politics in my evangelical church experience, why do 75% of young non-Christians say evangelicals are “too political”? How do we explain this gap between what actually happens in evangelical communities and the media’s portrayal of evangelicals? There are two possible explanations. Either my church engagement is wildly outside the norm, or perhaps evangelicals aren’t as devoted to political social engineering as the outside culture seems to believe we are.

So why is there a disconnect between what he has seen and what culture perceives?  Jethani thinks part of the problem is media perception:

…the presence of socially conservative, politically rabid evangelicals fits the narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media. With 24 hours of airtime to fill each day, finding more extreme voices, to say more outrageous things, and incite more conflicts has become the mission of the news media. That’s why last Sunday’s “Meet the Press” pitted MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow against the founder of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed. Are these the two people you want on your news program for an intelligent, respectful conversation about gay marriage? Not likely. These are the people you want at the table when making the news is more valued than reporting it.

I think Jethani is on to something here.  For mainline Protestants, most of our perception of evangelicals tends to be from what we see from the media.  We don’t really hold much interest in getting to know evangelicals with the exception of those that tend to be more progressive.

Last spring, writer Brandon Ambrosino wrote a touching essay of his coming out experience, which happened to take place at Liberty University- the institution founded by Religious Right superstar Jerry Fawell.  If you are expecting a horror story of how Brandon was mistreated by fundamentalists, you will be surprised.  Many of the adults he encountered were incredibly loving towards him.  They might have disagreed with the whole gay thing, but they loved the flesh and blood being standing in front of them.

Last fall, I wrote about how my opinion of social conservatives has changed.  I still disagree with them, but I stopped looking at them as abstractions and more like real people, people you might think are wrong, but people you will still welcome at your table.

I wonder at times if the church needs to be a place where we are able to reach out and befriend each other.  I know it’s hard for lesbian and gay folks who were traumatized by the church to turn around and be forgiving; but I wonder if part of our healing and reminder that God loves us includes reaching out to those that might disagree, not with the intent to change their mind, but to just be present with them.  What if we could spend some time listening to them and visa versa.  Minds might never be changed, but hearts just might be.

I wonder what might happen if we let go of the need to be right and try to be more loving of those with whom we disagree.  I’m not saying we abandon our work for justice, but what if we were able to chat with someone who doesn’t see things like you do and yet remain friends?  What would that say to the world?

 

On Holy Friendships

friendship

My thoughts these days are drifting towards relationships, or the lack thereof in churches.

I’ve been thinking about this in light of a recent blog post on CivilPolitics.org on the dearth of cross-party friendships.  The post linked to a longer article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue.  The author, Neil Gross notes that such friendships have benefits for the whole of society:

President Obama last month took a group of Republican senators to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, to discuss the sequestration crisis and a wide range of other policy matters. The next day he asked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice-presidential candidate, to lunch at the White House. Another meal with Senate Republicans is planned for April 10. The goal of those meetings? To score PR points—but also to build personal relationships that might erode partisan gridlock.

It’s too early to tell whether the president’s outreach will work, but social-science research suggests that friendships that reach across the political aisle may be good for democracy: They facilitate cooperation by reducing extremism and enhancing trust. In a 2002 study, the political scientist Diana Mutz assessed the effects of political diversity among friends. Study participants who reported friendships with those who were unlike them politically had a better grasp of why people on the other side held the view they did. Those participants were also more tolerant…

The problem is that, in both Washington and the country as a whole, friendships that cross party lines are becoming rare. The political scientist Robert Huckfeldt and his co-authors found that in 2000 only about a third of Americans who supported George W. Bush or Al Gore for president had someone in their political-discussion network who backed the other candidate. And in a study of wider acquaintanceship networks, the sociologist Thomas DiPrete and colleagues discovered that such networks are segregated by politics as well.

It should not surprise anyone that such a lack of cross-party friendships are lacking in the church as well.  I’ve noticed more and more how liberal Christians tend to stick with each other, while conservatives keep with their own kind as well.  In a post from last year, I explained that this wasn’t always the case:

It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC.   The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today.  Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.

The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff.  The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills.  At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.

I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up.  She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor.  You see, the pastor had been involved with congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other.  “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on.  But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.

What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today.  Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore.  Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other.  Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.

As I move within my different circles, I’ve noticed how liberal and evangelical Christians don’t talk to each other at all.  They don’t see to like each other and say not-so-nice things when they are in their own groups.  Since I work for the Presbyterians and pastor a Disciples church, I’ve seen how we all self-select or how we wish we could not have to deal with “those” people.  I’m reminded of talking to another pastor a few years ago after a difficult vote.  The pastor wished our denomination was more like the United Church of Christ, our sister denomination that tends to be far more liberal.  I was privately irked by the pastor’s comments, because what was being said is that life would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with “those” conservatives.

In our society, it is becoming easier and easier to not have to hear diverse viewpoints.  As much as I like social media, it has the tendency to shelter folks from other opinions and reinforce our own views.  It’s been interesting to see people on Facebook who seemed more temperate in the past become more zealous over time.  People will put up the latest graphic that makes fun or demonizes the other side.

We are less interested in trying to build bridges, than we are in setting the damn bridge on fire.  In the name of social justice or orthodoxy, our places of worship are becoming less graceful.

Recently, social conservative writer Rod Dreher shared his experiences meeting the well known gay blogger Andrew Sullivan.  The two have tossled more than once on the issue of same-sex marriage, and yet something surprising happened over time: they became friends. Here’s what he said, responding to Andrew’s take of an evangelical church he attended where a mutual friend’s funeral took place:

It will not surprise anyone to learn that Andrew and I will simply not be able to agree on theology. It may surprise some to know that I can live with that, because Andrew is a decent and kind and very much alive person (though I can see his difficult side too; we all have them, as did — very much — David Kuo; as do I). Listening to Andrew speak with passion the other night about his love of Jesus Christ, and his experiences of Christ’s presence, was moving, because so genuine. Hearing of him speak of his own deep suffering as a child and as a young man — stories I hope he will be able to tell one day in his writing, because they were incredibly powerful, and gave me a new perspective on him and why he believes and feels the things he does — deeply reinforced for me the Gospel interdiction on withholding judgment from others. We really don’t know what others have endured, and how they have managed to hope in spite of hopelessness. I found myself back at my hotel room that night praying for Andrew, that Jesus will help him carry the things he has to carry, which to a degree that startled both of us, I think, resemble some of the heaviest burdens I myself have to carry.

If that makes me a squish, well, it makes me a squish. The older I get, and the more I become aware of my own frailty, my own vanity, my own hard-to-govern passions, my own weaknesses, and the more I come to grasp how freaking hard life is, the more inclined I am toward mercy. It’s not out of big-heartedness, necessarily, because unlike my sister Ruthie, I am not big-hearted. I am petty and jealous and quick to anger. My worst fault is my unbridled tongue. Rather, I think any inclination towards mercy on my part comes from a recognition of how much I need it myself.

The words that are most important here is that Rod could live with not agreeing with Andrew’s theology.  Live with. Tolerate.  Knowing that you might never change another person’s views and coming to a place where that’s okay.  To know that sometimes, it’s better to be loving than to be right. Grace.

What I wish for the church today is that we could live with a little more grace towards each other, especially when we don’t see eye-to-eye.  We need to get to a place where we can disagree and argue and still hug each other afterwards.

Maybe if we were more merciful we would be willing to hear each other.  Methodist pastor Stephen Rankin wishes that people not refer to things with the various political adjectives that keep us separated:

We absolutely must enact a moratorium on political labels as identifiers for the “kind of Methodist” that someone thinks she or he is.  Calling a particular theological position “progressive” or “conservative” perpetuates (ironically) the very groupthink that we often say we deplore.  These words are code that do nothing more than allow people to decide whether they like the theological idea or not without having actually to engage the idea itself.  It thus stops necessary reflection even before it gets started.

Using political labels, therefore, like “progressive” and “conservative” and, in some ways “evangelical” does nothing but short-circuit and maybe even ruin the possibility of important and serious conversations.  Let us please stop using them, at least long enough actually to talk and listen to one another without these maddening distractions.  I am not naive to think that we’ll stop using them altogether, but let us please become very self-aware and spare in our use of them.  And we should agree never to use them as conversations stoppers in public debate.

Our society is so fractured, and our churches mirror this sin.  What needs to happen is for Christians to not always work so hard to be right.  I’m not saying we give up our views, but to know that relationships matter, even when you don’t see eye-to-eye.

I know this will seem weird to others, but I hope one day to become friends with a social conservative.  We won’t agree on the issue of sexuality.  We might even think the other is sadly mistaken.  But I want to have a friendship with someone I don’t agree with to learn to love someone for more than their having the right viewpoint.  I want to love them as Christ did and does: with grace and mercy.

So, if there are any social conservatives who have always wanted a sassy black gay friend, I’m available.

Wait for the Healing

Back in May of 2012 , I shared a story of what happened at a Baptist church I attended in Washington, DC in the early 90s.  It was a story of how people who disagreed with each other on the issue of homosexuality were able to still be friends and support each other.

Around that same time, I remember someone saying something after a congregation was going to make a tough vote on becoming open and affirming.  The exact situation is foggy after 20 years, but what I remember this woman saying that after this vote, “there would be some healing to do.”

The pastor was quite aware the stand be open and affirming to gays and lesbians was the right thing to do, but there was also a need to heal the rifts from this challenging process of discernment.  After the prophetic, there had to be time for the pastoral.

When my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathers in Orlando this summer for our General Assembly a resolution will be up for consideration on welcoming LGBT persons not just as congregations, but as a whole denomination.  Knowing some of the folks who came up with the resolution, I think it’s pretty good.

And yet, I’m concerned what will happen to the wider church after the vote.  Will the body been torn apart, never to be put back together, or will there be agents of peace who will try to mend the broken pieces after a hard, but neccesary vote?

The thing that I don’t hear much these days is the call to mend fences after a vote such as this.  More often what happens is that folks vote and the winners claim victory and the losers walk off to sulk.  What missing in all of this is the larger picture, the larger whole of the church.  There is no desire to heal the wounds.

As I said in my post from last year, I think part of the problem here is sorting of American society into like-minded communities.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

Civility is all the talk in our political culture, mostly because it seems like we have less and less of it.  We have made it a civic value, but I want to lift up the fact that it should also be a moral and biblical value.  We have to learn ways to respect and honor one another; not papering over our differences, but finding ways to still care for each other even when we disagree.

Last summer, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President tape a video about the importance of all sides of this issue to remain at the Table.  The letter and video, called Setting a Graceful Table stressed the centrality of the communion table:

All tables of the church must be safe places, where respect for diversity among God’s children is honored. As self-governing ministries, in covenant with one another, our challenge is to make room for each other within one Church – even when we make different decisions on important matters. In the past, maintaining the respect and safety of the Table has challenged Disciples. In the era of slavery and abolition Disciples did not divide, but stayed at the common table. Today, the politicized and polarized character of the sexual orientation and equality debate again poses such challenges. This is the time to use our best table etiquette of entering into dialogue in love even in our diversity of opinion. This is the time for the church to show the world that wholeness wins out over fragmentation.

I shared in a post that this issue of welcoming LGBT persons into the full life of the church is personal for me.  But so is being a unique community of love:

Being an openly gay man and a Disciples pastor, I have a dog in this fight.  I’m not going to pretend I’m above the fray and all that.  I want to see churches become more accepting of LGBT persons.  However, I also want the church to be a better witness in the world, not only being more inclusive, but also showing how we can deal with one another humanely even when we disagree profoundly.

We live in a world that is increasingly polarized and factionalized.   More and more, we sort ourselves into like-minded ghettoes where we never encounter folks with a differing view point.  More and more we are certain that our view is the correct one and the other side is going surely lead us down the road to ruin.  As our political and social lives have become more polarized, so has the church. In the name of justice or faithfulness or what have you, we have erected barriers to protect ourselves from other views and launch verbal attacks on others, cloaking our incivility in some form of being prophetic or speaking God’s truth.

What I long for this summer is two-fold:  I hope the resolution passes, but I also hope that if my side succeeds they will reach out to their sisters and brothers who might be on the losing side.  I hope that we won’t just be prophetic, but that we are also pastoral to those who might be our “enemies” and welcome them with open arms.

I hope we can wait for the healing.