Mister Rogers’ Guide to Loving Thy (challenging) Neighbor

You might’ve seen in our last couple of newsletters that Lisa and I were hosting a movie night at[…]

No Guarantees, Just Promises

Yesterday several of us from NCC were at Miller Park as part of our 2024 Pride celebration. Fun and[…]

Reflections

Yesterday several of us from NCC were at Miller Park as part of our 2024 Pride celebration. Fun and fellowship was shared, and it was good to see other churches (namely good folks from the UU church) along with us.

It made me think of the strides that some churches and denominations have made…struggles leading to strides that aren’t a part of our history here at NCC or in UU settings (given the tenets we were founded on), but are very real in other Christian circles.

Along those lines I have a trivia question of sorts that intermingles these topics of LGBTQ strides within church settings.

Does anybody know under what the circumstances the words “Is anybody else out there gay?” were asked?

I’ll give you a hint… it was the Presbyterians.

It was 50 years ago, at the 1974 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A., when David Sindt stood on the Assembly floor holding a hand-written sign with those words, “Is anyone else out there gay?”

Here’s a bit of a bio on this courageous trailblazer… David grew up attending Presbyterian churches in Minneapolis, before coming to Illinois to get his Masters of Divinity in Chicago.

Following his Presbyterian ordination, he earned a Masters of Social Work and began working as a social worker in Chicago. During that year -it’s 1971 by now – David began identifying as an openly gay man.

Not long after that he was called by the congregation he attended in Chicago to establish an outreach program for the local gay community.

Not surprisingly, this was soon rejected by higher-ups in his Presbytery.  Nonetheless, this is believed to be the first call ever issued to an openly gay person in any Presbyterian setting.

David’s advocacy for gay issues within the Church gave birth an organization we now know as More Light Presbyterians, of which we at NCC are a part.

David died of complications from AIDS in 1986.

How he would’ve loved to live to see his beloved church finally welcome the ordination of gay clergy.  It would take 25 more years past his death for that to come to fruition.

Can you imagine the kerfuffle that that hand-written sign caused back in the mid 70’s??

David was a living, breathing, sign-bearing embodiment of the words we heard Steffanie sings earlier…

Don’t stop
Trying to find me here amidst the chaos
Though I know it’s blinding
There’s a way out
Say out loud
We will not give up on love now

 

Indeed he said, out loud and proud, I will not give up on love now.

 

Without those kinds of strides, born of those kind of struggles, none of our churches would be where they are now.

Not that it’s all peaches and cream across the Christian board.

The arrival of Pope Francis has brought unrest in the ranks of conservative Catholic brethren, because of his unprecedented papal support of issues under the rainbow umbrella.

At first he said, “Who am I to judge?” but then as recent as last month made anti-gay slurs behind closed doors about gay clergy candidates.

You might’ve seen in the news that one of his bishops, Michael Fisher in Buffalo, canceled a choral concert at the local Catholic cathedral earlier this month — simply because it included a gay men’s choir.

While those things were occurring in Catholic circles, the United Methodist Church was doing big things at their General Conference,

when they repealed prohibitions against gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

Through many years of subjugation and stigmatization, those that have persevered in the fight for justice have, as we heard in that wonderful song Steffanie sang minutes ago, harkened God’s whisper to…

Just stay here…

To hold on to the Holy in the dark so that

 when the day appears
We can say
We did not give up on love today.

 

We’ve heard about these struggles in the context of LGBTQ issues because it’s low hanging fruit right now, being Pride season and all.  Our first reading today, with Jesus posing the question ‘Who is my brother, who is my mother?” so beautifully captures this.

 

I don’t have to tell any of you, though, that concerns about justice go far beyond issues about sexual orientation.

There are other things going on in the world…shootings, war, unrest about upcoming elections.

“Unrest” is actually too tame.  Following this week’s presidential debate, the New York Times used the word ‘panicking.’ “The Democrats are panicking.”

Yes, there is much in the world that can rob us of our centered-ness, when it feels like the bottom could drop out.

That’s in our external world.  It can also be happening in our personal domains…in our homes, our relationships, the intimacy of our private emotional and spiritual lives.

We feel the swirling, the wind not caressing our face, but beating against it, sometimes to the point of taking our breath away.

Often taking our peace away.

And this is because, despite our professed faith -which is real- we are not only bearing the burden of whatever the current issue is, but we are also shouldering the unknown-ness of the future.

How is this going to turn out?

It’s one thing for fortitude to carry a person through a contained period of challenge -like Ramadan for Muslims, who know that that month of fasting isn’t going to be easy, but it’s confined and known, and laden with meaning and purpose.

In a recent newsletter Love Note we were offered the words of Gregory Orr, who said:

Lots of sorrow and a little delight.

Lots of delight and only a bit of sorrow.

Who can know the formula beforehand?

 

We don’t get to watch while it’s mixed.                           

No one tells us what’s in it.

(“It” in this case being outcomes.)

As handy as it’d sometimes be to have a sneak peek into those formulas/those mixtures, the path of faith doesn’t take us in that direction.

And that leads us to the second reading we heard, about whatever disquiet we sense in a room is there because we brought it there,

because a room is a steady presence, not turning away from grief, not becoming entangled with anger, evenly receiving hot and cold, unencumbered by impatience or irritability.

And so, the poet instructs herself to remain steadfast, as are the room’s plaster and wood and hinges, because so much hinges on successfully doing that.

“Hold, then, one day more what is asked.”

Seems like a tall order, because of the obvious…unlike the room, we humans aren’t comprised of sheetrock and 2×4’s.

Our minds aren’t wooden, although it may seem like some are.

Our hearts aren’t plaster, although they can be broken similarly.

So, I’m trying to sort out what I think about this poem, and I’m going to ask you about it in a couple of minutes.

For now, though, I can tell you that I don’t think so much in terms of me asking my ribs to endure one more day through the struggle,

but instead I see it more as God asking that of me.

And here’s the part that the poem doesn’t go so far to say…

While we are beckoned to hang in, God also says “I am eternally with you.  This is the essence of my covenant with you…I will never abandon you.”

To which you might say “I’ve been told that, a hundred times.  But how do I know that?  How do I experience it, how do I feel that?”

In other words, how does this promise become real…especially in these days when so much doesn’t make sense,                                                when we are often just working to get to, and cling to, higher ground?

How does God’s promise become real?  I think the answer is 2-fold.

The first is embedded in a song we all know…Let it Be, written by Sir Paul McCartney.

McCartney said that he had the idea for the song after he had a dream about his mother during a tense period between his band mates during the sessions for the White Album in 1968.

His mother, Mary Patricia McCartney, had died of cancer 12 years earlier when Paul was a young 14.

The content of the dream-turned-song perhaps mirrors the message of the Room reading, to arrive at steadfast-ness amidst the times of trouble, to withstand the temptation of bringing dis-quiet to the room, to find a way to let it be.

In response to God’s asking me to hold on one day more, here is a prayer born of this song.  Please join me in a spirit of prayer…

When I find myself in times of trouble, come to me,
Speak your words of wisdom that allow me to let it be
In my hours of darkness, standing right in front of me
Speak your words of wisdom that help me to let it be

Then the broken-hearted people in the world may see and agree
That there will be an answer if we’ll just let it be
For, though we may be parted and divided,

there is still a chance that we can see
There will be an answer if we could all find a way to let it be

When the night is cloudy, may your light still shine on me
Shining today and until tomorrow,
so that, when I wake up to the sound of music, you surely will come to me
Whispering your words of wisdom, let it be.

And so may it be.  Amen

I mentioned a minute ago that the answer to making God’s promise of love and presence real is 2-fold.

This second part came up in our small groups just a couple of days ago.  With our June’s monthly theme being Delight, we were digging deeper about the significance of delights and joys in our lives,

the ongoing but often overlooked presence of it in our lives.

We all were acknowledging the struggle part of lives, and how it can dull our spirits.  One wise pondering was:                                                                     “I wonder if this is who I am or if it’s who I’ve become.”

Here’s an interesting little tidbit of information.

In our culture we don’t use the term ‘delight’ nearly as much as in times past.  To quantify that, we make reference to the idea of delightfulness a third as much as we used to some 200 years ago.

I wonder why that is.  Is the idea of delight not cool any more? Is it not as operative as before?

Goodness knows there are enough reasons in this day and age for our open hearted-ness (because delight and joy require an open heart) to be diminished, and for our suspicions and fears and concerns to be elevated.

In Hebrew the word for delight is “to be soft, tender.” I think lovers of God are those who are soft and tender in that relationship, always teachable, always pliable in the hands of Divinity.

Pliable. Trusting. Into your hands I commend my spirit. Let it be as your wisdom would have it.  Let it be.

Let me be accepting of that which comes, that which causes unrest, that which I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee.

And to move through those travails of darkness, let there be light. Let there be delight.

Although God is not a maker of guarantees (that’s more for presidential candidate-types) there are gifts in our lives that bring delight.

Another question that we considered in our small group… Are delight and divinity intertwined? Is delight somehow a doorway into the holy?

I wholeheartedly believe the answer is yes!  Our delights are droplets of love.  And how can love and divinity and purity ever be separated?

Perhaps this is a new way of looking at that which makes your heart sing.

And speaking of singing…in a moment our musicians will play and sing two songs…one an older-time beloved hymn, the other a pop song also known far and wide and loved.

The two songs are Amazing Grace and Bill Withers’ Lean on Me.

They are beautiful selections for our gathering today… both speaking to struggle, perseverance, and emerging on the other side with the promise.

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