Residency is finished. The moving truck is somewhere between here and the Pacific Northwest. My address is changed in most computer systems. My evenings (and some daytimes) are filled with farewells to people I love. Vancouver is waiting, and Lord willing, I'm as ready as I can be.
It feels weird to have made a decision, to have my future more planned out than I imagined it would be this early in the game. Yet at the same time, I am truly excited for the possibilities this adventure has in store. I am thrilled to be settling into my newfound love for professional chaplaincy, even if I don't fully know what that means for me. Day after day, I seem to receive signs (or at least nods from the universe) that this is my path, my passion, my calling, and my identity.
Nothing can prepare you for the chill, the smell, the fluorescent lighting. There is no way to get yourself psyched up for stepping into a cooler that serves as a temporary stopping point for the recently deceased. Yet sometimes you have to open the door and step inside. You have to unzip the bag and stare into the abyss of mortality...
Did I just say that? Yes, yes I did.
While I know that I wrote just yesterday about taking a sabbath from blogging, something has been on my heart for the past few days, and a conversation with a friend and mentor today confirmed the necessity of addressing it...
Had I known just how "viral" my recent post was going to be, I would have written it in a very different fashion. Alas, I did not know, and more importantly, I was not self-aware enough to recognize the true perspective from which I was writing. My perspective was one of pain, heartache, and brokenness and as such, I feel that some of my words were unfair. For this, I need to take responsibility and ask forgiveness.
Throughout my discernment process and my time in seminary, I've had a number of conversations about what it would look like for me to pursue ordination within the United Methodist Church. I've known since the near-beginning what our Book of Discipline said about individuals such as myself (self-avowed practicing homosexuals). I've known that the nature of my life and relationship are counter to that discipline. My reason for pursuing ordination in the denomination is simply that the UMC is the context to which I felt called. It's not earth-shattering or radical. It was a simple voice and a gentle nudge on God's part that led me to do so.
When first meeting with the church leaders with whom I was required to meet before officially entering the ordination process, it was clear that in "official space," I could not be out. There were policies in place and those in leadership were responsible for adhering to those policies. I respected that. I couldn't always understand why I was feeling called to serve in a denomination that is not fully "open and affirming" of non-celibate LGBT persons, but the call was there and I was trying to live into it. As such, I was complacent to a certain extent. At the time, I was willing to be at least semi-closeted for the sake of being ordained. I've not owned up to this until now, and I'm sorry.
While writing my paperwork for the district committee, I met with several people for the sake of gathering input on how to proceed. In those meetings, I was often cautioned against using language that would make my sexual orientation and relationship explicitly clear. I spoke about my desire to be as authentic as possible, and those individuals understood. The reality was if I wanted to be ordained in the UMC, I would need to compromise. The people who made these suggestions did not do so from a place of wishing to silence, exploit, or use me. They did so because they saw my call to ministry, as well as my gifts and graces for such, and they wanted to help me answer that call. They did not force or coerce me to move forward. I did so of my own accord. It was my decision to exclude my partner's name, gender, and role in my life from my paperwork, and I did so. I've not given the people who guided me the credit they are due, but instead blamed them for our denomination's stance on homosexual practice and for that I'm deeply sorry.
When I met with my district committee, my nerves were already fried. I was on edge, concerned about what I would or would not say, what questions would or would not be asked. I was worried about being rejected, even though part of me seriously considered going in there, guns blazing, for the sake of forcing the committee's hand. I didn't. Instead, I too beat around the sexuality bush. I participated in the conversation. I did not speak up. I did not speak truth. I compromised, and I have no one to blame for this but myself.
In addition, thus far, I've failed to publicly acknowledge the love that was offered to me in that room. The encouragement. The kind words. The affirmations. The committee thanked and honored me for my level of honesty and vulnerability. They challenged me to better articulate my call to ordained ministry. They asked that I speak with other deacons in order to better understand my call to that particular branch of ministry, which included willingness on the part of a committee member to have those conversations with me, as well as connect me with others. There were hugs and handshakes of congratulations. There were blessings. There was love. I didn't acknowledge this in my earlier post, and in doing so, I painted an inaccurate picture of the character of the people involved in that meeting. I failed to honor them as they had honored me. For this, I ask forgiveness.
Once the meeting was said and done, people helped me process it. Conversations were had with friends who knew how shaken up I truly was. When I wrote my earlier post, I knew Reconciling Ministries Network would publish it. Unfortunately I failed to include much of what I've written above. I do not believe I neglected these details intentionally. I did not mean to come across as vilifying anyone on the district committee, nor did I mean to sound as if I was unaware of reality. Writing from a place of pain, I was more subjective than objective. While it may have been what many say was a well-written post, it was not comprehensive, and it failed to do something vitally important: it failed to point to God.
After being asked to leave the church in 2003, my relationship with God deteriorated. It took finding Holy Covenant and the UMC before that relationship began experiencing healing and restoration. In all of this, God's hand has been clearly visible. Discernment is not an easy process, and sometimes we make mistakes. I don't think being a part of the UMC or pursuing ordination in the denomination was a mistake. I truly believe it was part of the work God was (and is) doing in my life, even if I don't know all God's reasons for doing so. I made my earlier post about me, and in doing so, I failed to honor God and point people towards God. Instead, I focused on the existence of brokenness within a human system and on the impact that brokenness had on me individually. I'm an only child, and so I tend to make things about me more often than I should. I'm working on this. Forgive me, please.
As for the tagline attributed to my blog post by RMN—Told to Go Back into the Closet, Michael Leaves Ordination Process and the UMC—I feel it was unfair and overly political. Nowhere in my meeting did anyone tell me to go back into the closet. For them to do so, I would have had to come out in that meeting, and I didn't. The reality was this: I initially had every intent to comply with what was implicitly asked of me in order to be ordained in the denomination. After further discernment, I changed my mind. I thought I could and would be one who could handle the closet for the sake of answering my call, and I realized that I couldn't and therefore wouldn't. The UMC didn't change its mind, betray or mislead me. I changed. I did not honor this truth or this reality in my earlier post, but instead I decided there was blame to be placed and it wasn't on me. For this, I am sorry.
Do I disagree with the United Methodist Church's stance on ordaining non-celibate gay individuals? Wholeheartedly. Do I have an issue with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that is practiced in my particular conference for the sake of including individuals like myself in the community of ordained clergy? Again, yes.
Did anyone ever tell me that I could be ordained in my conference as a fully out, partnered gay man? Not that I recall (though that was our hope as time passed). Did anyone lie to or mislead me about what might be expected of me in order to be ordained? No, they did not. Did anyone tell me to go back into the closet? No, they did not.
Bridges have been burned, or are burning now as I write this or as you read this. Harm has been done. Pain has been inflicted. Egos have been bruised. While it may have all happened unintentionally, it still happened, and I played a part in it whether I intended to or not. I hope that in writing this, I can stop some of the flames from doing further harm while still being honest and authentic. I've never claimed perfection, but in this case, I unintentionally feigned innocence and naiveté. To those whom I've hurt and caused damage, I am truly sorry. I'm thankful for the support you've given me throughout my journey thus far, and I hope that, even as I leave the UMC and pursue my call to ministry elsewhere, we can still be in connection and relationship with one another. I'm thankful for the ways in which you've nurtured and loved me and so many others, for how you live out your faith and point others to God in what you do. We share the common thread of Christ. We're all imperfect. We're all seeking God while wrestling with tough realities.
Sitting here listening to some music from Hillsong and numerous other artists, I realize I'm just under two weeks from finishing my first year of seminary. Although the normal run is three years, I am currently planning on taking four, mostly for sanity sake, as well as to give myself more time for discernment. This morning, instead of going to my home church, I visited the church at which I will be interning year as a student pastor. It's a much more traditional congregation in comparison to what I'm used to, which I must admit, scares me. I'm scared to be authentic, to be real about my faults and my flaws. I'm nervous about preaching, even though I've been told I have a preacher's heart. I'm anxious about all of the little details to which I must pay close attention. Most of all, while hopeful, I'm worried that the church will not change in the area in which I need it to change the most - its stance on inclusivity.
More and more, almost as a fallback, I just want to go into chaplaincy. I can deal with the hard questions posed by those in dire circumstances. I can handle death and disease, quite well actually. I'm not sure I can handle the demands placed on me by the same group of people for the time span of several years. In that respect, I feel week, inadequate. I can take care of one, two, five people. But 60+ unnerves me... a lot.
I realize that next year will help me grow accustomed to serving a church on my own, or even in the context of being an associate pastor. I'm excited to see what I'm made of. All fears, anxieties, concerns, and worries aside, I am sure I will do fine. If I can handle serving a church while being in seminary, then I can handle it outside those cold stone walls and wooden rafters. I know at the end of it all, I'll be just fine... at least, I hope so...
I've always had a hard time with change, or more so, with the fantasies running around inside my head about them. All of the changes in my life lately have been, or are going to be, positive changes. Leaving my job. Starting school. Thinking about my eating habits. Moving in with F. All of these things are moves in a forward direction. All that aside, I'm scared. Scared that I could crack under pressure. That I will not be as good in school as I used to be. That what has been a blissfully happy relationship thus far will be irrevocably changed by sharing a full-time living space. That I will go back to smoking full time (the stress lately has led me to smoke maybe 1 or 2 a day, no more thankfully). That I will be so unwise with my finances that I dig myself into a grave so deep that escaping is not an option.
I can't cry right now. I don't know why, but so much of it seems blocked up inside of me. I just want enough of a catharsis to be able to make the transition smoothly. I want to be able to have my faith, in word, thought, and deed, feel whole again. I want to know that, even in my own head, I'm being successful, and that has always been a hard truth to accept.
I want to know that people see Christ in me, in my life. That somehow, I help them feel loved, even if only for the brief moments they cross my path. I want to be a good husband, a good partner. F. and I both share fears of fighting, of conflict. We're scared of how we may (will) hurt each other. Of sharing finances. Of being more emotionally vulnerable. Or seeing more scars or baggage than we already have of each other.
All of this is illogical, irrational. I want to be able to hold on to the concrete facts: that my faith is strongly developing, that I will be good in school, that I can not have to rely on cigarettes to ease my stress, that I am a good representation of Jesus, that I am a good man who loves his partner and tries to put him first.
So for any who read this, just offer up a prayer (or in Peter Pan language, a happy thought). For myself and my schooling and my career and my finances. For my witness. For my relationship. For those with whom I interact. For my heart.
In His Arms, M.
I just recently finished reading "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" by Anne Rice. Towards the end of the book (it's the first in a pair), Jesus comes to a realization - everything that is born is born with one final, concrete purpose in mind: to die. This is something that I think I realized from a very young age, and for the most part, has been an ideal with which I am comfortable. In talking with B. and continuing to think about my own personal career path, I learned something pretty cool about myself. When I meet someone or have someone become a part of my life, I tend to not see an age, a number. I see a heart, a mind, a soul, longing to be touched by my own, and once that connection is made, then I'm sometimes made aware of how old a person is. What do these things have to do with each other? Well I've decided that my number one option for nursing school is to go into geriatric nursing practice. Older patients are well aware of their age - the last thing they need is a health care provider who sees only their age. So while I know that death is inevitable for myself and everyone around me, it's nice to know that until that time comes, for me or for them, I am able to cherish the person they are, and the love the bring into this world.