The Reason I stay

The last few weeks (years) my global church, the United Methodist Church, has been struggling in the conversation about homosexuality in the church. Do we ordain? Do we serve? Do we prosecute? There is deep division. There is pain and hurt and pride on both sides. There are times where the conversation is lacking compassion, and really lacking the true elements of real and productive conversation. Local churches have been taking a stand, closing doors, waving flags or staying silent.

This week, Rev. Schaefer was suspended, and will likely lose his credentials for performing a same sex union. And the division in the church is cut even deeper. Many people will leave the church, because they cannot stand to be told one more time, “you are not worth enough, you are not welcome here.”

Intended or not, this is the message the UMC is sending. So to counteract this harmful message, and to remind ourselves why we love the church the way we do, there is a movement being hosted by the Reconciling Ministries Network called “The Reasons I Stay.” Here are my reasons:

Because nothing is accomplished by my leaving.

If I leave, nothing changes. If I stay, while policy and polity may not change, I have the opportunity to continue to offer something difference than what our Book of Discipline declares. I can share that you ARE compatible with God! You are worthy and lovely and perfect just as God made you.

Because like all humans, the church is not the sum of her faults.

There are so many beautiful and wonderful things about the UMC. Our Wesleyan tradition. Our hymns. Our drive for mission. The United Methodist Women. Our potlucks! Seriously, there is so much good happening in the church.

Because my local church lives out love, grace and acceptance.

My home church here in Seattle does a really good job at living our mission. We aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But we try. We host a soup kitchen, and have a Vets shelter in our gym. We tend our rain garden and have prayer services and family night outs and a new youth group. We volunteer at a family shelter and bring meals to new moms and break bread together. Trinity accepts me, challenges me, loves me and teaches me daily to do the same for others.

Because standing on the side of love, not legality, is always the right place to be.

Is this the stand for our generation? I believe so. And when I’m old and grey(er), I know I will look back and be proud to have stood up in a church that was mostly sitting down.

Because I belong. Because you belong. Because there is a place at the table for us all.

We say it in our liturgy.  I aim to mean it.  “All who intend to lead a Christian life, together with their children, are invited to receive the bread and cup. We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive.” ~United Methodist Book of Worship (pg. 29) And I can think of no place more beautiful than the Communion Table to begin to repair the hurt and pain the Church has committed.  When we gather together, and share bread together, we are reminded of our common bond, and that God’s love is for ALL.

Because I felt safe growing up in the UMC, and I want others to feel that too.

I am blessed to have had an incredible faith community that helped raise me.  They are a large part of who I am today.  And while I have strong reason to believe that we stand on very different sides of this conversation, I know that they love me.  They created a space for me to learn, grow, ask questions, assert myself and find myself.  The opportunities I was given through Youth Group, small groups and Sunday School have led me to a life of ministry.  At no point as a child or youth did I feel as though I couldn’t turn to my church family for support.  I’m not special or naive enough to think that I deserve that kind of support simply because I am a heterosexual.

Because at the end of the day, I love this church. This messed up, beat up, struggling, hurting, painful, screwed up beautiful mess of a church.

For these, and many many many more, are the #ReasonsIStay.

Amen.

Full Circle

A couple of weeks ago I sat in a beautiful sanctuary, full of the kind of people most churches would never expect.  Listening to a woman many in certain segments of the faith community have shunned.  A woman that, as a teenager, I adored.  Jennifer Knapp was a Dove-award winning Christian artist, full of soul and spunk.  I had all of her cds and went to more than a couple of her concerts.  In fact, my very first “real” blog was titled after a lyric from one of her songs.  I was also a different person back then.  Conservative.  Quite conservative actually.  Evangelical.  I listened almost solely to Christian music, had Christian friends, went to Christian camps, read Christian books.  I was immersed.

And let me be clear.  I’m not bemoaning my upbringing.  I’m not looking at my past in shame.  I am proud of the way I grew up, of the faith community and church family that surrounded me and helped mold me into the woman I am today.  But in the same hand, that doesn’t mean it was not without its faults.

My faith journey has been one of many twists and turns.  One that has led me to a place where I now call myself a Liberal (living in a liberal city, working a liberal job, with liberal friends, reading liberal books).  And again, I am proud of the journey.  I am grateful for the community that has surrounded and shaped me.  For those in college, seminary and in my Young Adult Missionary community who have challenged me and encouraged me to keep asking questions.  Because of them, I am who I am today.  Again, an experience not without it faults.

So there I sat, in the sanctuary of a United Methodist church, listening to Jennifer Knapp tell her story about coming out as a lesbian after years as Christian music artist.  She shared how difficult that was not only because of her profession, but also because of her own faith.   For those who follow(ed) the Christian music industry, you may remember that at what seemed like the height of her career, Jennifer basically disappeared.  Moved to Australia, stopped singing, and wasn’t heard from (professionally) for years.  Her return to the States, and the music industry, came with a confirmation that she was in fact a lesbian, but that didn’t change the fact that she was also still a Christian.  Churches, pastors and other big names in Christianity immediately dismissed her, shunned her, called her a sinner and told others that to listen to her was to follow in her sin.  But sitting there that night, listening to her story, her honesty, I was moved.

“My faith has taught me that I am a person of value.”  Jennifer shared.  And I thought to myself, Is that not what my faith, my church family, taught me as well? Is that not exactly what we hope every person who walks through any church doors feels – that they are a person of value.?  If so, then why are we preaching anything else?  Jennifer’s faith did a great job in teaching her that she is loved and valued by God.  So that even in her struggle with her sexual orientation, she shared, she knew that acceptance by God was a non-negotiable.

“The biggest question I have for myself is, ‘How do I become the kind of person who loves others well?’ My tradition of faith taught me how to love.  I just forgot to check their gender first.”  That got a few chuckles.  “What happens when we assume someone else’s experience is wrong because it is not like ours?”   Those words sent me back to my teen and very early adult years.  A time when I would have been a person of faith who assumed that because she was different, because my “tradition” told me she was wrong, she was.

It has taken a lot of personal work to get to a place where I no longer believe that.  I now find myself in a place that I can confidently say God loves all.  Period.  No “so long as” or “if they confess.”  Created fearfully and wonderfully made, we are created to love God, and love one another.  And if we can’t do that, and if we can’t do that well, then what is the point really? Love is not pointing out what we perceive to be another’s faults.  Love is accepting the person as they are, recognizing their value and worth, and helping them to realize that in themselves as well.

So sitting and listening to Jennifer Knapp’s story, her journey that mirrored my own, even in its biggest differences, encouraged me to continue to love others, no matter the cost.   If I am going to follow a God that welcomes all, then I too have to welcome all.  I too have to believe in the full inclusion of all members in the Body of Christ.  And more than just believe in it, I feel am being called to help work for that holy goal.

At the end of Jennifer’s talk that night, she issued a challenge to everyone, “Break the silence if you have the luxury.  Ask yourself, ‘What does my silence say?’  This can be your opportunity to break the silence. I spent two years missing music and being afraid that someone would ask me (about my sexual orientation).  But wanting to avoid that conversation is disingenuous.  My calling in my life is to tell my story and share my music.  Can you break the silence?”   She was speaking to those in the Christian faith who, by not saying anything at all on the issue of homosexuality in the Church, chose a side whether they realize it or not.

So here I am.  Coming out.  I am coming out as an ally to my LGBTQ sisters and brothers.  I say here and now that no longer will I remain silent when others hurl words of hate and bigotry.  I will stand up whenever and wherever possible to let all know that they are welcome in the Church and into the arms of God.  I will work to build bridges of reconciliation, healing and justice for all those on the fringes.  And I will start by not being silent.

 

The Church

I’ve been thinking a lot about big “C” Church lately.   All of my favorite Methodists (okay, notall of them, but quite a few of them!) are in Tampa for General Conference (or GC12 as it is now commonly known on Twitter!) `I’ve been following the blogs and Facebook status updates of those who have gone to act as delegates, volunteers, witnesses and voices for this great thing we call The United Methodist Church.  For those out of the Metho-dork realm, GC12 is a convening of representatives from the majority of conferences of the UMC around the world.  It is during this time, held every four years, that the important decisions of policy, language and structure are decided for the world-wide UMC.   There are a few very important issues that are being discussed, debated and prayed over in this 10-day period.  Issues on the inclusion of the LGTBQ community, restructuring language in our Discipline to be more inclusive and divestment from companies that invest in war and oppression, to name a few.

As I read the posts of David, Mary and others, I long to be there.  I feel this strong urge to go and represent what the Church means to me.  To be a witness to the decisions made on my behalf.  To stand alongside those who have been hurt but are still hopeful for change.  Many of my friends went not as voting members, but simply (or should I say powerfully) as a voice.  A voice for those whose voices have been shut out, an advocate for inclusiveness, a witness to all that we hope for for the Church.  And I think it is incredibly brave.  There are many different voices and opinions at GC12.   And there is a lot happening in the votes this year that will redefine so much for the Church.  But what I am amazed at, is that despite so many differences, so many barriers, there is still a conversation happening.   Mary has been sharing so honestly about her conversations, even the difficult ones.  But her blog this morning made me tear up.  “It is because this place is so often so full of love that I can continue to be a United Methodist. THIS is the Connection! This is the place where we come together.”  And it gives me hope…

I have a friend from seminary, whom I still keep in loose contact with via Facebook.  A friend that, even during our seminary years, I didn’t always agree with.  I have seen posts on his page (as I am sure he has seen on mine) that have often made me wonder, “why are we still FB friends?  We have nothing in common!”   He has been actively following GC12 via Twitter and the official GC newsfeed, and then posting his views and comments on his page.  Many I have not agreed with.  But then….in the midst of a struggle happening in Tampa, a divisive issue coming to light, glaring pain and all, I read this on my friends page, “It doesn’t matter which side of the issue you are on, that type of behavior (speaking of bullying and blatant exclusiveness) is unacceptable.”  And later, “we can continue to hope for fellowship.”   And in that moment, I was so proud to be this man’s friend.  Despite our differences in theology, rhetoric, political stance, etc…..there is something deeper and stronger that connects us.  To be a part of the Church doesn’t mean we all agree all the time.  It means we love unconditionally, work for justice and peace…together.

I see this in my own church, here in Seattle.  We don’t always agree.  We aren’t always on the same page.  We come from different backgrounds, have varying passions and opinions.  But no matter our differences, there is something so common amongst us, that we cannot help but love one another.  There is something so bold, and yet so quiet, that ties us together that even when our words clash and our heads hurt from discussing and conferencing and meeting and listening…even with all that, we continue to stand unified in our love for Christ, for the Church and for one another.

In the words of Pastor Kathleen following every Sunday sermon,

“May it be so.  Amen.”

My husband and I played the “We’re so lucky” game the other night.  Talking about how incredibly blessed we are: to have jobs that we love; to have each other; to have a home; a family that supports and love us…the list goes on and on.  The game was spurred from a conversation about the pending benefit cuts in our state’s budget.

Washington State is proposing massive cuts to financial aid.  They are proposing to eliminate all funding for Disability Lifeline, and to cut TANF, Food stamps, and health care. This after they have already cut those budgets twice.  Right now, an individual on Disability Lifeline receives $266 a month. Tell me, how in the world do you live on $266 a month?  Food stamps have been slashed, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) has been cut, both in the last year.  And they are facing more cuts.  That means more disabled individuals will lose their subsidized housing, when they lose their only source of income.  That means more mothers will have to choose between food and shelter.  That means more hungry people, trying to find a meal.

I work with these individuals. I work with these mothers who have fled domestic violence, and have to depend on government assistance, because, try as they might (and believe me, they try!) they cannot find a job.  I work with these individuals who have such severe physical or mental disabilities that they are incapable of earning a living wage.  I know these people by name, who depend on whatever assistance is available, just so they can live.

With these cuts, more men, women and children will be on the streets.  Right now, the average wait to get into a domestic violence shelter in King County is over a week.  The average wait to get into an emergency family shelter is 3 weeks.  Three weeks!  For an emergency shelter.  I am currently working with a mother who has 7 children.  Seven beautiful, well-behaved, smart kids who didn’t ask to be homeless.  They have been waiting for a month for a spot to open up somewhere.  Anywhere.  Their mom has been fighting, to no avail, to get on some kind of government assistance, just until she can get a job.  In the last three weeks she has applied to 22 different jobs, with only one call back.  She didn’t ask for this.  I know of a grandmother, who is caring for her two grandchildren.  The three of them live off the meager $266 from Disability Lifeline – less really, if you factor in that her subsidized housing is 30% of her income.  If she loses her check, she will losing her housing.  And then what?

Then what Washington?

I know that I am lucky.  Damn lucky.  I have been blessed with my health.  Both my husband and I have stable incomes.  And if, God forbid, something were to happen – if one of us were to fall ill, lose a job, our savings, our home – we know without a doubt any number of family members would step in.  Friends would offer us a place to stay.  Yes, we are so so lucky.

But what about those who don’t have stable family?  Those whose friends are in the same boat they are in?  Those who have lost a job, a spouse, their savings, their hope?  Where is their luck?

It makes me weep with anger.  It makes me want to scream.  It really makes me want to force those Olympian decision makers to try to live off of the scant incomes they are getting ready to cut for one month.  Hell, see if you can live off of that for one week!

And so I urge you – do what you can to effect change.  Say something.  Write a letter.  Call a representative.  Rally.  Donate food to a food bank.  Talk to your church about opening your doors at night as a shelter.  Go visit a shelter and let the people there know that someone actually gives a damn.

And remember, and be thankful every day, for your own stroke of luck, recognizing that at any moment, it too could turn.

 

Refresh Everything

In this season of giving and giving joyfully, let me offer you a way that you can give safety and peace of mind to a homeless mom.

My work place, Mary’s Place, is in the running for a $50,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project.  This is a super cool thing from Pepsi to fund good ideas that make a difference in local communities around the country.  There are different grant levels, and the top ten winners from each level, wins the grant.  Winning is based on voting.  So we are reaching out to the far corners of the earth (Hello Squatbean in Germany, Christy in Nicaragua and Aaron in Hong Kong!!) trying to drum up more votes!!

If we were to win the grant, the money would go to the Family Program, which is the area in which I work!  We are the only day center in King County that welcomes homeless moms with their children without a refrerral.  We see families who have just stepped off the Greyhound, having traveled across the country fleeing their abuser.  We see mothers who have a job, but their rental home was foreclosed on, and with only a week’s warning, found themselves living in their van.  We see grandmothers taking care of their grandchildren, when the mother is unable to do so any more.  We see these moms desperately working every day to find shelter – safe shelter – for their children.  In Washington, it can be up to a 4 week wait to get into an emergency family shelter. In the meantime, what are these families to do?  When they come in to Mary’s Place, we make sure they are fed, clothed, clean and safe.  We give them a hotel to stay in until a bed at a shelter opens up. Everyday we are seeking out new resources for shelter, clothes and diapers.  We connect these moms with DV advocates, schools and counselors.  And with a grant dedicated strictly to the Family Program, we could increase these services.

Would you please consider voting?  It is so easy.  Simply go to the Refresh site (www.refresheverything.com for those who aren’t link followers), and create a log-in.  It seriously takes less than 2 minutes.  Then search for Mary’s Place, we have the picture of the mom with the super cute baby!

(see!  SUPER cute baby)

Then vote.  You get 10 votes a day to spread out among all the good ideas, but you can only vote for each idea once a day.  So remember, vote every day. This is a popularity contest, and we’re hoping to win, so if you decide to spread out your vote, please vote just in the other grant levels!!  Then, spread the word.  The more votes from more areas around the country, the better!!

It couldn’t be easier.  Vote every day.  Help give peace of mind and saftey to a mom who so desperately needs it.

http://www.refresheverything.com/marysplaceseattle

To the Good Samaritan Tom

To the Good Samaritan Tom who was walking around tonight in the snow with his dog Billy, thank you.

Thank you for walking around with a snow shovel.  What a useful little tool.

Thank you for pushing the truck that was in front of us on that big hill safely off to the side.  He was a little scary.

Thank for then walking up to our car, and asking if we needed help.  We did.

Thank you for using your most awesome snow shovel to scrape the ice off around the tires so we could slide a little less hazardously over to the side. It was a little scary.

Thank you for helping to direct us safely into a parking spot. At least we were off the sidewalk.

Thank you for letting me pet Billy, the dog who is afraid of people in hats.  Which is unfortunate when it is snowing, because everyone is wearing hats.

But mostly, thank you for helping to keep us safe.  Your rock, Good Samaritan Tom.  You and your dog Billy.

So there is this thing…

I am sure that you all have a thing.  An object.  A something or other.  That if you had, would make your home/office/car/life more easy/happy/complete.  You know that this thing exists.  Maybe you have seen one before.  Maybe you know someone who possesses such a thing.  But you don’t.  You search high and low for this thing, but you just can’t find one.  Know the feeling that I am talking about?

My thing? There is one thing that I crave that is so simple, yet so incredibly frustrating to find.  And you will probably laugh at me, but seriously – I cannot, for the life of me, find a clear, glass butter dish with a handle.  Can. Not.  I have been to every kitchen store within a 20 mile radius to no avail.  It has become a goal, a competition almost, between my husband and I:  Who can find a clear, glass butter dish with a handle first.  We find every combination of the object but the one I want.

It is totally silly, I know.  But in a way, it is a relief to be able to put my efforts into searching for something tangible.  In my line of work, there are a lot of things that I yearn for daily.  There are things that I desire so deeply for the women I work with.  There are things that I wish I could give them, teach them, take from them, fix for them.  But I can’t.  And I know this.  But it doesn’t take the desire away.  I am always searching for the best way to give them what they need most.  And I know that one of the deepest desires of the women I serve is not for any one particular thing, but for acceptance.   Something so intangible.  Yet so simple.  I can give them my acceptance, but it isn’t enough. I want to give them the acceptance of our community, our city, our country.  But as hard as I search, as hard as I try, that is just something I cannot do alone.

So I think that is one reason why I have become obsessive over finding this butter dish, as silly as it may seem.  It is something tangible that I know exists.  It is something I can eventually find.  Unlike the goal of finding full acceptance, something that I know I can strive for every day, with my full heart and efforts, and yet still not fully achieve.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I one day find that clear, glass butter dish with a handle.  I think that there will be a moment of joy, a sense of mission-completed.  But I know that there will also probably be a sense of sorrow, knowing that my mission will never really be complete.

So tell me, silly or serious, what is your thing?

Worth sharing

I struggle with sharing stories from work in such a public arena.  (not that I have that many followers!)  But there are some stories that need to be shared. 

The Seattle Times is doing a series on homeless families entitled Invisible Families.  They started their research back in April, and spent a good bit of time at Mary’s Place talking with my director and myself.  We connected the reporter with one of our families we thought would be willing to share.  She was, and her story is incredible.  It is the struggle of so many in this city, and in this nation today. 

Please check out the story video, the story of June Lloyd and her two sons.

What’s in a name anyway?

It has yet to stop amazing me how passionate people are about their ideas surrounding marriage.  And how, for the most part, they are totally willing to share.  Without even being asked.  So kind.

One of the ideals of marriage that I have found to be most divisive has been that of taking the husband’s name.  People from both sides of the argument have been shocked to find that I don’t necessarily agree with them.  Or worse, assume that I did agree with them.

When Kris and I first started talking about getting married, I knew that the decision of what to do about last names would be one that would take a lot of thought, prayer and discussion.  And that is exactly how we arrived at the decision we did.  It is not a decision I made alone, because I am not the only person in this partnership.  While I can completely understand and support a woman’s decision to keep her maiden name, I will never understand a woman who makes that decision without ever consulting her future partner.  In all things, there has to be true discussion, and possible compromise.  In the same token, I will never understand or support a man who demands that a woman take his last name.  It is a ridiculous demand.  So I appreciated Kris when he first approached me about the subject.  There were no demands, no expectations.  Just a genuine desire to reach a decision we would both be fully happy with.  That, right there, sums up why I love him.

So I decided to take his name.  And keep my own.  But not to hyphenate.  And though it will forever confound people and paperwork alike why I have two middle names, one of which is my maiden name, but have no hyphen, I am completely at peace with my decision.   For many of the same reasons that were brought up in the comment section of the survey, here are my reasons:

1.  It was important to Kris. There was nothing macho in him having a desire for me to take his name.  He was not trying to control or own me in any way.  It was just simply important that he share the same last name as his wife.

2. About a month before the wedding, an old friend and neighbor of mine happened to be in Seattle.  We were catching up over dinner, sharing stories of where life had led us.  Inevitably, we started talking about the wedding, and I asked her if she would mind sharing the reasons she had kept her name after she married.  She told me that she had kept her name, a very plain and common last name, because by the time she got married, she had published many articles and professionally it made sense to keep her name.  That was 5 years ago.  Six months ago she had a baby.  Who, judging by the pictures, is just as cute as can be.  Little baby girl, who has a beautiful, and slightly unique first name, took her daddy’s last name.  My friend said, “One day I took the baby to work.  And my co-worker asked if I had meant to name my baby after a famous singer.  At first I didn’t understand.  But then realized that they assumed she had my last name, which indeed would be the name of this singer.  That is when first realized how hard it would be the rest of my life to have a name different than my child and my husband.”  So, she told me, she was in the process of legally changing her last name to that of her husband’s.  While she would still publish under her maiden name, it was important to share that family name.

And it is important to me to share the family name.  But I realized that it also meant that I wasn’t willing to give up my family name either.  I was so happy to be welcoming in, and to be welcomed in, by my new family.  And I am happy to now share a name with them.  But I did not want to lose that connection, by name, to my own family.  So I kept both.  I considered dropping my middle name, as many women do, to have my maiden name become my middle name.  But that in itself is a denial of who I am.  I always have been, and always will be, Elizabeth Anne.  It is my mother’s name.  And a name that was pieced together from grandmothers and great-aunts before me.  I was not willing to give that up.

So I am now all of those names.

3.  But without the hyphen.  While we considered it shortly, it was not an avenue I wanted to take.  It seems complicated, and leads to only lengthend names as generations progress.  So, no hyphen.  Two middle names.  One last name.

4. Kris’ last name is cool.  Had it been lame, we would never be having this discussion.  (just kidding, kinda).  Also, I sound very Scottish now, which is fun.

All that being said, there is something that is very important in my new name.  While I am now officially a Mrs.,  I am not a Mrs. Kris.  I made it very clear that at my wedding, whenever we were introduced, we were either to be announced as Mr. and Mrs. Kris and Liz Lastnamehere or just Mr. and Mrs. Lastnamehere. I am not my husband.  Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if I were to introduce Kris as “Mr. Liz lastnamehere”? Yes.  Yes it would.

So, there you have it.  My reasons behind my new name.  These are my reasons alone, I totally respect those who make decisions otherwise.

The difference in a year

December 10th.

Three years ago today, I was living in Kentucky.  I was a bartending seminarian.  We were all anxiously waiting for the miraculous arrival of Mr. Asher Paul.   I was in the beginning of a relationship that would eventually become THE relationship.  I was anticipating graduation, enjoying snow and had a house full of dogs.

Two years ago today I was in Indonesia.   It was a three week whirl-wind trip full of spicy food, bad air and incredible learning experiences.  I was able to attend a UN Conference on Climate Change.  I marched with indigenous peoples from all over Indonesia.  A few weeks earlier I had attended a traditional Indonesian wedding, and spent time with the families of migrant workers.

One year ago today I was in Hong Kong.  It was my final day in Hong Kong.  I cannot begin to express what all I gained from my time there.  I spent 15 months trying to blog about it, only to feel that I failed miserably at accurately conveying how meaningful and impressive every moment and individual was.

One year ago today I was in transition.  Leaving my apartment before dawn, (and subsequently breaking my toe!), and ending the day in Japan.

One day.  Over the span of three years.  From Kentucky, to Indonesia, to Hong Kong, to Japan, to Seattle.

Last night my dad called.  He asked what I was doing, and I said eating dinner.  “Anyone with you?” he asked.  “Of course not,” I replied.  “I lead a pretty boring life.”

I think I need to retract that statement.  My how time flies when you’re having fun; traveling the world; discovering what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) to be a missionary; watching friends get married and expand their families; falling in love; meeting new friends; saying goodbye to new and old friends; learning about migrant rights and issues surrounding homelessness…..