The Goodsoil Blogs

The Goodsoil Blogs (at ELCA Churchwide 2009)

For the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Goodsoil, the alliance of groups working for the full inclusion of GLBT persons in the life of the church, invited me to seerve as their “poet laureate” for the Assembly. They asked me to use my words however I saw fit to capture each day of the Assembly, both for those near at hand and for those watching and waiting from afar. These are my writings over the course of that week in August …

A Theology of Hands: Rebuilding Zion in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

David R. Weiss, Saturday, August 15, 2009

“God’s Work, Our Hands,” the theme chosen for the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly has a timeless—and yet ever timely—character to it. This is, after all, the very vocation of the people of God: to be doing God’s work … with our hands. And to be doing it with steady conviction and fresh insight in each particular historical moment.

As we gather every two years, Lutherans from coasts and borders, from edge to center, the task of each Churchwide Assembly is to imagine in the company of the Spirit and on behalf of the entire ELCA what particular commitments will shape our life together into the future opening before us. Our task this year will be to work out a theology of hands.

About 540 years before the birth of Jesus, our Hebrew forbears faced a similar prospect. Released from their exile when Persia conquered Babylon, they returned to the site of Jerusalem. Committing themselves to rebuild Zion, the city of God, their deeper project involved rebuilding their life together as the people of God. It was, without question, God’s work.

It was, however, less clear whose hands were welcome to share in that work. As these returning refugees began their planning, certain kinfolk of theirs who’d been left behind during the Exile came down from the hill country to the north, the region called Samaria. Eager to help rebuild the city, they were rebuffed. Deemed of a defective lineage. Rejected.

In doing God’s work, these Hebrews decided that “our hands” did not include “their hands.” Thus began centuries of animosity betweens Jews … and Samaritans.

Recognizing this animosity throws immense light on the scandal of the Gospel Jesus proclaimed. Of the ten lepers healed, only the Samaritan returns to give thanks. The Samaritan woman at the well might rightly be counted as the first apostle, the first to share the good news about Jesus with others. And the parable of the Good Samaritan, far from teaching the simple truism of kindness to those in need, declares the scandal of discovering that in God’s kingdom holy compassion might be modeled by those we least expect—and least desire—to receive it from.

When Jesus imagines “God’s work, our hands,” there can be no doubt that despite generations of consistent animosity, despite an unbroken tradition of exclusion, the Good News is that “our hands” includes Samaritan hands. And far from a precursor to political correctness, this stance of full inclusion is a theological claim. It says that God is a God whose work can be done by hands long held unwelcome. (The same claim was made earlier by the authors of Ruth and Jonah, and by Third Isaiah—all of whom challenged the exclusionary impulses of Ezra and Nehemiah during the rebuilding of the city and Temple.)

This week, as we gather around the theme “God’s work, our hands,” the decisions we make about whose hands are welcome to do God’s work will often be portrayed as being about faithfulness to Scripture or tradition or confessional polity. But in truth the decisions we make about whose hands can be “our hands” in the ELCA—united in love and ordained for Word and Sacrament—are decisions about whether we can imagine and confess a God as surprisingly, scandalously, and graciously welcoming as Jesus’ God.

God’s work, our hands. Is your “our” as big as God’s?

* * *

Goodsoil Central: alongside the Chebar river

David R. Weiss, Sunday, August 16, 2009

I’m sitting in Goodsoil Central. Outside in the hallway the signs assure me that I’m in Rooms 200C-H at the Minneapolis Convention Center, but I don’t believe them. I’ve read Ezekiel’s “Travel Guide for Exiles” and according to that I’m actually sitting alongside the Chebar river.

First, there are the stoles. Everywhere. Hundreds of them. The room is aflame with their colors. They are the legacy of the countless LGBT persons whose gifts have led them into ministry—and whose calls have been fractured by the fear of their respective churches. Each stole tells a story of gifts denied, of calls stolen (a linguistic irony to be sure!) not just from individuals, but from the whole people of God. This is the palpable anguish of our community, decked out in colors for every liturgical season.

But it’s the prayer shawls that really give it away. For months Lutherans across the country, both men and women, old and young, have been weaving, knitting, quilting, and crocheting prayer shawls for this Assembly. Prayerfully working their stitches toward the day when all of us are welcomed home. The shawls, hundreds of them, too, are simply piled high on tables at the front of the room. Many with tags identifying the person or the community whose love made this cloth as prayerful as the person whose shoulders it will soon wrap.

Starting tomorrow, as the Assembly takes up (yet again) the matter of “us”—debating whether the Bible or the tradition can support the wonders that God is already busily doing in our lives (of which the stoles are just a hint)—we will send some portion of ourselves into deep prayer. Carrying all the anguish of our past and all the hopes of our future into the presence of God, we will wrap ourselves in these shawls. Clothed in this love, we will tend to maintaining a contemplative quiet, steadying the words that others of us will speak in Assembly and enlivening the stories that others of us will tell over meals.

We, who are Goodsoil—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally people of faith—are as yet exiles in our own church. Even as we hold our heads high, even when our hearts are happy and our spirits sound, there is no denying that the policies in place and the attitudes that remain pervasive in too many places mark us as exiles.

But in this room, we are exiles in good company. Besides the wealth of ourselves—and the energy of faith and hope is tremendous here—between the stoles and the shawls we have all the colors of the rainbow in this room.

And in my mind I hear Ezekiel speaking from exile (in chapter 1), “There in Babylonia beside the Chebar River, I heard the Lord speak to me, and I felt God’s power.” In this place where he ought, by all rights, to have felt utterly abandoned, he receives his powerful vision of four living creatures with wings: “The noise their wings made in flight sounded like the roar of rushing water, like the voice of Almighty God.” He describes “wheels within wheels” and “a throne made of sapphire” and “a human-like figure sitting on the throne who seemed to be shining like bronze in the middle of a fire.”

Finally, Ezekiel says of this heavenly figure who meets him in exile, “And roundabout shone a bright light that had in it all the colors of the rainbow. This was the dazzling light, which shows the presence of the Lord.”

Goodsoil. Good company. Here in the land of 10,000 lakes you’ll find us … alongside the Chebar river.

* * *

Airing Dirty Laundry

David R. Weiss, Monday, August 17, 2009

That’s what I’m doing right now—literally. Cooped up inside my shoes all day long, my socks desperately need airing! That would hardly be blog-worthy, except they’re not my socks.

You see, when Grandpa died quite a few years ago now, my whole inheritance consisted of a handful of neckties (which I never wear) and three pairs of socks. Not the sort I would ever  buy for myself. Too thin, too patterned, they are the socks of a generation and sensibility quite other than mine.

But, back in his day, besides being a strong German Lutheran, Grandpa was also a proud union man—and not just a joiner, but a leader. A real voice for the little guy. Still, I have no reason to think he would’ve championed the cause of LGBT persons in the church. His sense of “the little guy,” the voices too often kept in the margin, was no doubt bounded by his day.

But I like to hope he would have. And now his socks belong to me. And while I don’t wear them often, on days like today I wear them with great intention. Wearing Grandpa’s socks I feel like I’m standing on his shoulders, while he somehow also gets to stand in my shoes.

Right now, Grandpa’s socks stink to high heaven. But to me—and perhaps to Grandpa, too—they smell like hope.

(But I promise to wear fresh socks tomorrow!)

* * *

God’s Work. Our Hands.

David R. Weiss, Tuesday, August 18, 2009

While Churchwide Assembly will certainly address a wide range of issues beyond sexuality, it is simply honest to say that the Sexuality Statement and its accompanying recommendations are in the very air we breathe this week. It’s hard to hear anything said anywhere without immediately thinking about its relevance to the looming conversation about sexuality.

So, when Bishop Hanson further reflects this morning on our Assembly theme, “God’s Work. Our Hands,” and the question, “If I could follow your hands with a video feed for the last few weeks where would I see them doing God’s work?” well, you know where my mind went …

But before you scream, “TMI!,” remember, grace comes to us as bodied, not disembodied creatures. Jesus speaks of encountering him—or failing to encounter him—in “the least of these,” our brothers and sisters in need, because whatever Good News means beyond our bodies, it cannot be indifferent to our bodies.

And while doing God’s work surely involves putting my hands at the service of my neighbor’s need, it also involves placing my hands lovingly in pursuit of my beloved’s ecstasy. Soup kitchens and sexual joy are both instances of tactile grace, both moments when the “kingdom of God is … at hand.”

In this church, however, we tend to see sexuality—even while calling it “gift and trust”—as little more than “temptation to sin.” As though the best we can hope for is to hem in its potential for harm with a host of rules and boundaries so that we know at all moments what both our right hand and left hand are permitted to do.

The message is most explicit to our gay and lesbian members, but it remains powerfully implicit for those of us who are straight. We have learned too long and too well: making love, invoking intimate ecstasy in our loving relationships, is not God’s work.

But it is.

It is hardly the whole of God’s work. But I will say this. Sexuality is one corner of God’s creation where grace longs to be exquisitely present … and where its presence has an incredible capacity to heal and empower … and where its presence rests on our hands.

At times we seem determined as a church to hinder rather than welcome this Grace. But so long as the grace offered us by God through the goodness of bodily touch is shaped more by the long tradition of shame than by the deep (and holy!) intuition of joy, our response to the rest of God’s creation, from the pressing cries for economic justice and ecological care to the daring hopes for peace and flourishing, will be less than whole and less than gracious.

So, when I ask you, “when in the last few weeks or months have your hands done God’s work, offering someone a touch of grace?” I’m not trying to embarrass you. I’m trying to remind you that in our work to spread the gospel and to further God’s desire justice and peace we need all the grace we have available to us. And some of it—some wonderful portion of it—is right at our fingertips.

* * *

666

David R. Weiss, Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Some sense of divine humor.

A tornado grazes the Minneapolis Convention Center just as we wrap up a Bible Study on the parable of the prodigal son (though we had just explored it from many angles beyond that of the younger “prodigal” son).

The hospitality tents (dare we say, “tabernacles”) next door to us were twisted into shambles. And the steeple of Central Lutheran Church, where Goodsoil will hold an especially festive worship service later this evening was bent 180 degrees—straight down.

Before everyone races to presume that such calamities express God’s anger, let’s remember that for generations far past and far more intuitively attentive to such phenomena, such swirling forces were merely indicative of God’s profound presence.

Reread the description of Mount Sinai in the moments before Moses received the Ten Commandments and it could pass for our afternoon weather report here.

I am not necessarily racing to ascribe God’s hand to our winds, but for anyone who wishes to, let’s be clear that high winds may be required to bring about Pentecost when churches (and convention centers) no longer have open windows making for the Spirit’s easy entry.

And all of this was prelude to about three hours of testy (though mostly civil) conversation about the proposed Sexuality Statement.

When the vote finally came, it passed 676-338. You can do the math yourself: it received 66.6 percent of the vote. It needed two-thirds to pass. It got just that much—and nothing more. One vote less would not have been enough.

As I remember, God’s reply to Paul was “My grace is sufficient.” Not too much. But enough. Luther spoke clearly of “daily bread” as the things we need for this day—not for tomorrow as well. And when the Israelites collected manna in the wilderness, they always got 66.6—anything more than “just enough” got sticky with maggots.

So don’t read anything into the three sixes beyond a big smirk on God’s face. There are children coming home tonight, and She is beaming!

* * *

Altogether Different Oceans?

David R. Weiss, Thursday, August 20, 2009

Listening to the words spoken at the microphones about the Sexuality Statement and the Ministry Recommendations is a strange experience. The voices go back and forth from red mic to green mic, and it’s hard not to feel like we are already two churches, our deeply divided witness passing like two ships in the night.

But, no, even that analogy falls short. It seems more like we are boats in altogether different oceans.

Listening to our respective appeals to Scripture, tradition, and the Lutheran Confessions, it is hardly evident that those standing at the red and green mics are referring to the same documents. At one mic these foundational pieces of our heritage are deployed like a set of wagons circled against a hostile world. At the other they are lifted like a sextant, that trustworthy tool used by mariners to navigate with confidence in the absence of fixed points.

There seems to me to be two uncomfortable truths at the heart of this.

We in this church understand the place of our own experience in the life of faith in decidedly different ways. For some, experience is dismissed outright as utterly untrustworthy—especially in instances where it challenges the “reason” of the majority or the texts we hold sacred or confessional. From this perspective any appeal to experience is compelling evidence of a morally and rationally bankrupt position. To tender insight grounded in experience is to play right into the devil’s hands.

For others of us, experience—while by no means immune to critique—is regarded as potentially bearing profound and even sacred insight. It is acknowledged as one arena in which the Wind of the Spirit moves. It is an opening into which voices silenced by majorities can speak a word of truth, helping to interpret Scripture, to complete tradition, and to refine our reading of the Confessions.

The difficulty here is that these positions appear intrinsically polarizing. They are not different takes on the same picture. They are arguments about the nature of the eyes that see the picture.

The second truth is even less comfortable to name.

We have markedly different experiences of the God who has marked us in baptism. Although both camps seem hesitant to raise the stakes this high—at least not at the microphone—behind the differing positions we stake out explicitly, lie arguments unspoken that reach to the very character of God. What we read in Scripture, what we hear in (and silenced beneath) tradition, and what we carry with us of the Confessions is shaped by our experience of the God with whom we keep faith.

Now I need to be very clear, I am not suggesting at all that we are keeping faith with different Gods. I am saying that we are a people with profoundly different experiences of the God with whom we keep faith. And we have yet to be honest or compassionate about what that means for us as a church.

As Lutherans we speak of faith as relational trust. If we intend to be one church at the end of this week, perhaps the biggest task to which we will be called is this: to acknowledge that in this moment the way to keep faith with God is to live in relational trust with one another. To confess that this Ocean is both deeper and more mysterious than any group of us can fathom, and that every voice on the boat has a witness to bear.

May it be so.

* * *

The Council of Jerusalem

(A hymn written in anticipation of this day … back on April 13, 2004)

David R. Weiss, Friday morning, August 21, 2009

Chorus:

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see

The family of God is fuller you see

The Spirit of God blows freer you see

Than ever we thought that it could be

Peter:

I saw a blanket from heaven put down

Forbidden foods set all around

I said, “Dear Lord, what can it mean?”

And God told me, “I call these clean!”

When the call came next to please come preach

As Cornelius and family did beseech

I saw that the food was folks, you see

Gentile—and yet clean as could be

So I went and I preached right from my heart

But don’t you know—was merely the start

Cause right then and there, came the wind

God’s Spirit eager to gather them in

Paul:

I’ve traveled afar with Barnabas

Won’t you all please listen to us?

We’ve seen the signs and wonders done

By God whose reign exceeds the sun

Isaiah of old had promised it true

That God had gathering more to do

In Gentile lands this is what we saw:

The Spirit unlimited by the Law

Where faith is sown in the human heart

Nothing of ours can keep us apart

From the love of God given as grace

This is the truth we need to face

Chorus:

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see

The family of God is fuller you see

The Spirit of God blows freer you see

Than ever we thought that it could be

Peter & Paul:

And who are we – or are any of you

To tell the Lord what is proper to do?

I know what the Word of the Lord has said

But the Spirit of God is racing ahead!

The gifts of God – the water and the word,

The bread and the wine, and the heart well-stirred –

Come to the church from heaven you see

From the Spirit that blows mighty and free!

Final Chorus:

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem

When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see

The family of God is fuller you see

The Spirit of God blows freer you see

Than ever we thought that it could be

The gifts of God – the water and the word,

The bread and the wine, and the heart well-stirred –

Come to the church from heaven you see

From the Spirit that blows mighty and free!

* * *

A Whole New Poetry

David R. Weiss, Friday evening, August 21, 2009

Today I am struggling for words.

What have I seen these past days except Communion?

I remember years ago, as a teenager, once seeing my pastor lift a pitcher high to pour the wine from three feet above the chalice to accentuate the drama of the words, “poured out for you.”

This week it was as though the twin mics were the hands an unseen Celebrant lifting up the Bread to say in faithful disagreement, “This is my Body, broken for you. Do this … to re-member me.”

Who of us came to Minneapolis to see the Body broken? We go to church weekly, anticipating with innocent calm the breaking of the bread, so easily forgetting the original terror of the words when first instituted. We take for granted that this breaking brings wholeness, because it is typically loaves, not limbs or Lutherans that are broken.

So is our joy to be muted? No. We have witnessed the Magnificat play out in our Assembly. How can our souls not magnify the Lord?

How then do we tend to the Body?

By doing as we have done all week, all decade, all of our lives: by being persistently and (as we are able) graciously present to our brothers and sisters in Christ. By reminding them, gently to be sure, but with wisdom hard-won ourselves, that as Simone Weil wrote, “Life does not need to mutilate itself to be holy.”

What we have learned in our own journeys toward affirmation, wholeness and integrity is now our best witness to those who see no option except to mutilate the Body of Christ in the desire to keep it holy.

Me? As I have moved through this week I have felt the power of Adrienne Rich’s intuition, that, as the truth of our love finds its voice, there is “a whole new poetry beginning here.”

In the company of those of you here at the Convention Center and alongside those of you reading my words from afar, I have been watching, listening, weeping, aching, hoping, and trying to echo bits of my experience for others to read. Seeking Communion.

Again, Adrienne Rich, elegizing a team of women mountain climbers who perished together on a Russian mountain peak in 1974, describes their death-defying solidarity in words that were ours this week:

Now we are ready

and each of us knows it   I have never loved

like this   I have never seen

my own forces so taken up and shared

and given back

After the long training   the early sieges

we are moving almost effortlessly in our love

We know now we have always been in danger

down in our separateness

and now up here together   but till now

we had not touched our strength

What does love mean

what does it mean   “to survive”

A cable of blue fire ropes our bodies

burning together in the snow   We will not live

to settle for less   We have dreamed of this

all of our lives

And while it is true that we are yet some ways off from the full Kin-dom of God, both in the details of the documents and in the strained fellowship of the Assembly, at the reception in Goodsoil Central on Friday night the food—“heavy hors d’oeuvres” in catering jargon—tasted like a foretaste of the feast to come. And at the worship service for Hope and Healing, between the eloquent readings, the poignant prayers, the powerful drumming, and the heavenly singing of Cantus, it seemed as though God, too, has been dreaming of this day for all of our lives and more.

* * *

David R. Weiss, a longtime Goodsoil supporter, is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (Langdon Street Press, 2008, http://www.davidrweiss.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. You can reach him at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.

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