Inevitably in any Lenten lectionary, in any conversation about scripture passages relating to the crucifixion, this one, Psalm 22, is going to make an appearance. Quite frankly, one reason I appreciate this psalm is its brutal emotional honesty, which feels insanely jumbled and dissonant — kind of like my own brain and heart.
Growing up, I was raised to believe that the Bible is the "inspired" word of God. More often than not, that meant believing that Bible in its current form is God's literal word. Perfect. Inerrant. Infallible. Now, it's been several years since I believed this doctrine. However, truth be told, I think I threw the baby out with the bathwater. In debunking Biblical inerrancy, I dumbed Scripture down to a mere children's tale, an archaic history book that has become a means of obtaining power over the masses and creating mindless drones. But this is far from the actual state of things.
In any twelve-step program, as I understand it, step one is taking ownership and responsibility for who you are and what your struggle is (I warn you, I will fumble over this, so please be patient). I begin with this phrase because my addiction is not singular. It isn't just alcohol or nicotine or drugs or sex or porn or *insert possible addiction here*. My addiction is any or all of these at any given moment. How I've made it this far without any one of these crippling me is a miracle, but still, I struggle. And I'm tired of pretending that I don't. Secrets are too much, and they take too high a toll on one's life...
...it's easy to say that I love my neighbor, my enemy, or anyone in my life I might consider "other," but actually making that love manifest is beyond difficult. I can't keep simply talking about emptiness and selflessness and justice unless the way I live my life starts showing signs of these things. Quite frankly, from my own glance in the proverbial mirror, I have a ways to go.
Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names. Teach me to pray on the side of the frontier, here were these woods are. I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you. I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you. I need the world to be saved and changed by you. I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow. I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hand to work always in my life. I need you to make me, as you made your Son, healer, a comforter, a Savior. I need you to name the dead. I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers. I need you for myself whether I live or die. It is necessary. Amen.
I realized that I could read the Bible (and other texts) and find meaning in them without having to believe in the absolute Truth of the stories contained within them. After all, what difference does believing in a global flood or a talking donkey or a king killing 200 men just for their foreskins have on my life today? What questions do these stories answer?
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Loneliness for me has several sources, too many to name here, too personal to divulge at the present moment. But I've had moments—glimpses—where I've found a source of my loneliness and have been able to chip away at it, speaking truth to the power it holds over me. Everytime I go back to this source, I come away feeling a little more whole, a little more like the man God created me to be, a little more equipped to do the work and live into the vocation God has called me to do and to live into.
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.