There have been a number of happenings in the last few days that I’ve been percolating on …..
A pastor called, having received our invitation to Relevant Engagement. He wanted to know more about New Direction and how a congregation might begin to engage a more open conversation about these matters. It seems that about 15% of the congregation are aware that a daughter in one of the church families will be marrying her partner later in the year. The reality is that people have different perspectives, different questions, different priorities and different concerns. A conversation, like the ones New Direction nurtures, helps people understand how to extend generous spaciousness to each other, giving each other the freedom to seek, to listen, to wrestle, and to ultimately discern how Christ is leading.
Another pastor came to visit me. Some time back he’d received an email from a leader he knew who is engaged in ex-gay ministry. The leader warned the pastor that New Direction had been deceived by the enemy and asking him to pray against us. This email didn’t sit well with this particular pastor, so he called the leader saying that he’d looked at our website and didn’t find anything that concerned him or raised red flags for him. He told the other leader that he wanted the space to ask questions. A while later, he ordered our dvd set and took the time to watch them. Then he called me and set up a time to meet in person. We talked for nearly three hours about the many complex points of tension in pastoring a congregation through this kind of topic, extending pastoral care to people, wrestling with interpretive issues, leading leadership to understand how to engage, discerning how to consider cultural context. It was an invigorating conversation. He asked a lot of great questions. There was a sense of peace and grace in our conversation.
I heard a bit about the new ex-gay network conference. I’d thought it was called Restoring Hope ….. but it came to my attention that it is actually called Restored Hope. This struck me in its tone. Perhaps this is only my perception …. But it seems like this purports to say, “We have now restored hope. Period. The end.” Restoring hope would have at least given the impression that there is some sort of process, that isn’t yet complete ….. some sense that they are part of something larger which together works towards hope. I saw a picture of the new board for this network and recognized all the faces. These are people I’ve broken bread with, prayed with, laughed with. I heard some things, albeit second-hand, that seem harsher and more rigid than my memories of my friends. And I feel sadness that territory seems to be getting staked out, lines in the sand drawn, and somehow past friendships are blowing like dust in the wind.
I encountered argumentation that states that any Christian who builds a biblical sexual ethics that does not uphold the traditional heterosexual marriage or celibacy position is in error and needs to repent and may not even be a true Christian. Many people believe that to be true based on their best reading of Scripture. But HOW we speak about our beliefs matters. How we view other Christians and churches who hold different perspectives than we do matters. How we communicate those who have been bruised by the church matters. And the passion of the argument ought not overshadow how we engage with people, people who are dearly loved by God.
I read a letter written by a man who broke through years of self-loathing and fear. Honesty costs us. Sometimes our honesty hurts others – people we love and care about.
I talked about boundaries with someone in a complex web of relationship, expectation, guilt and resentment. Really hard stuff. And I prayed and hoped that God would give him the strength to keep taking the risks to step towards health and wholeness in these relationships.
I went to class with liberal, progressive, traditional and everything in-between Christians. We talked about how we reflect, discern, deconstruct, reconstruct, live-into and embody sexual ethics. And in the line, waiting for lunch, I spoke with a fellow student. She grew up in one of the mainline churches. She and her partner are both studying for the ministry. She made the association of New Direction with change and ex-gay paradigms. She was gracious to listen as I talked about generous spaciousness and where we are today. I’m not sure that I completely shook the lingering legacy that separates and offends. But, she did ask if I might be interested in speaking to the queering religion group since most of them had never had a conversation with a former ex-gay leader. But some of my sadness stayed with me as I thought about how hard it is to overcome an impression, a perception, a sense from the past …..
I went to a wedding of the son of a couple who have connected with one of the parent support groups for a number of years. I interviewed this mom at last year’s Relevant Engagement. She shared her heart about how much God had changed her and freed her to love her son in new and generous ways. I didn’t really know the son or his partner. And when the mom told him that I was coming, he was a bit uncertain and had to clarify with his mom that we weren’t about change. I wanted to go to share with these parents, but I didn’t want my presence to feel in any way like a cloud blocking part of the sun for these young grooms. And again, the history of New Direction perceived to be hostile rather than hospitable loomed over me.
I read with Wes from the book, Friendship at the Margins, and we reflected together on the vocational call to be relationally present, to build friendships, to live out community for the long haul. We resonated. But we also struggled. How do we build friendships when we still seem to need to overcome negative expectation and perception of who we are, what we’re about, what hidden motive we might have ….. And yet, as we reflected together, we thought about all the relationships, as two introverts no less, that we enjoy with so many different people who have somehow found their way to connect with New Direction. We shared about our friends – people we respect, people we enjoy, people we learn from, people we care about.
And we talked about the risk to bring Relevant Engagement, our annual event, to downtown Toronto. Can we break through a perception of hostility and live into our vision for hospitality? Can we welcome new friends? Can we authentically catalyze respectful, life-giving conversation with a diverse group of people – all looking for hope, all looking for connection, all looking for belonging, all expecting alignment with their particular beliefs? Are we crazy? Will our attempts to be peace-makers in the midst of difference and tension blow up in our faces? Will our best efforts to be genuinely loving and hospitable to all be trusted, received, celebrated?
I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t seen for a few years. This man is a conservative Christian in a mixed orientation marriage. I wasn’t sure how much he’d kept up with New Direction. I felt a little anxious that he might feel betrayed by how New Direction has embraced generous spaciousness. He shared about where he’s at, his family, the richness of his prayer life ….. and he seemed at peace. And I was glad. As I talked with him about my role in the ministry, I could feel my passion rising and found myself close to tears a few times. Things have become so simple for me. I want to love people and I hope that they will glimpse Christ. I want to embody the kindness of Christ. I want to convey to people how precious they are to God, how much he loves them. I want to live the values I cherish – humility, hospitality, respect, mutuality, hopefulness, gentleness. And I think his eyes misted a few times too, and he nodded, and indicated that he enjoyed reading my blogs and staying connected that way.
And these few snapshots give just a glimpse of the kaleidoscope of experiences that draw me to prayer, to silence, to wait, to listen. God, who is New Direction called to be in this new chapter ahead of us? Today we welcome some new board members. Our most diverse board yet. And I am excited. I am hopeful for the future. I don’t have a map. I don’t know what it will all look like. But I sense the presence of Christ. I sense his smile. And what I do know is that our steps ahead will be marked by offering kindness, hope, encouragement and the invitation to find peace and rest. And in these realities, I believe that God will be present and he will be pleased.