Some folks have been asking to read a piece I had published in Geez magazine this month. It was written for a "Sermons you would never hear in church" contest. First, the disclaimers and fine print:
1: I don't know if you can really call it a "sermon" with a 750 word limit. And sermons are meant to be spoken, not written & read, in my opinion.
2: I believe the purpose of a sermon is to open up Scripture and let it breathe in our lives. I don't explicitly do that here - it's more autobiographical for the purposes of the contest. Nevertheless, I believe there is some Good News (gospel) in it.
3: When I wrote this back in August, I was coming out publicly, and I had strong thoughts & feelings. I still do, but know that these things shift and settle somewhat as time passes.
4: This is the version I submitted - the version they published was edited somewhat, including a title change.
5: Even though I'm posting this here, you should still go out and buy (and subscribe to) Geez! It's a fringes-of-church kind of publication that never fails to make me think, even when I vehemently disagree with the columnists.
Ok enough! Here it is....
Sermon for the Holy Fools
“You’re a holy fool.”
I hardly ever trust those next-thought-that-pops-into-your-head-is-God’s-message-to-you exercises. But a year ago, I was on retreat, that’s what they told us to do, and that’s what I heard.
At the time, it made me laugh. I interpreted it as a divine “lighten up”. More recently, though, I wondered if “holy fool” had deeper meaning. Google unearthed some intriguing Russian Orthodox saints who claimed the title, but they didn’t seem to have much in common with me.
So what kind of holy fool am I?
I am a fool in love. I am a female pastor who fell in love with another female pastor at an evangelical seminary. We spent five years standing at a crossroads. Would we love in a celibate, closeted way, and seek ordination in our denomination? Or would we love in a romantic, hopefully eventually married way, and be disqualified?
Yesterday, we told everyone we’re gay and in love, irreversibly becoming (in the minds of many) two women pointing their love all in the wrong directions and calling it good. We have become the Lesbian Pastors, our sexuality suddenly overshadowing all our other legitimate character traits. We have been called saints for our ministry among the addicted, the homeless, and the teenaged, but by revealing that we ourselves belong in a marginalized group, we will be called sinners and fools.
Being gay is not foolish; we couldn’t have chosen otherwise. What’s foolish is when two pastors reveal they’re gay when they could have easily hidden and progressed in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” world of evangelicalism. Even more foolish: two gay pastors pursuing marriage mostly because it seems right to the Holy Spirit and to them, because they can’t imagine how their mutually sacrificial love increases the overall sin quotient of humanity. How foolish, like the Virgin herself, to proceed on this reputation-destroying course after having an experience of God they can’t conclusively validate in Scripture; to have nothing to lean on except this mischievous God, and the few would-be Elizabeths in their lives who call them blessed.
While this “fool” role is new to me, the “holy” part has been my life’s project. I’m the eldest child of a pastor, the product of a long fixation on other people’s perceptions of my piety. Regrettably, striving to earn the favor of God and my peers has yielded more pride and perfectionism than holiness. Ironically, receiving regular criticism for this foolish life choice could create the very conditions required to wean me from my addiction to approval. It could be what propels me down the long path toward true, humble holiness.
One test of my developing holiness will be whether my love can overflow even onto those who call us fools, or worse. When they label us “sinners,” will I grin and answer, “You bet, but probably not in the ways you’d think”? When they hurl more biting titles like “dyke,” “heretic,” and “abomination,” will I translate them “fool,” and rejoice in the company we keep? Will perfect love overcome all our fear?
As of today, we are recently pulpit-less holy fools in training. We can no longer pastor among those in our clan, now that we have been denominationally deemed unfit to do so. Sadly, we have plenty of sermons they do not have ears to hear.
So instead of preaching to them, I speak now to the fellowship of the disqualified, to the addicted, incarcerated, prostituted, shamed, pitied, and damned. You outcasts, you so-called sinners, all holy fools, whether gay or straight, tell me: do you have room for me, my words, and my gifts? How wide is your tent? I know I only have one lesbian toe over your threshold, while most of my well-educated, middle-class, white, cisgender self is firmly rooted in the world of the privileged. Can I come in anyway?
I want to be with you, to be counted among you, you who renounce all the condescending descriptors in my last paragraph and instead dare to call yourselves beloved. I want to follow you and the Spirit into places we’ve been told not to go. I want to taste freedom by your side and speak grace in your presence. I want to delight together in the mischievous king who chooses the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, and then surprises us by welcoming everyone, wise and foolish, ashamed and unashamed, to a wedding feast without a guest list.