Archive for July, 2022

“Try being you,” (Sermon, Pride Sunday 2022)

One morning I sat in a church holding onto a precious human soul, and insisting, “God loves you and does not condemn you to hell for being who She made you to be.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” they wailed.

It was 2018. I remember thinking, I thought we were past this.

Instead, here we were. This beloved child of God was ten years younger than me, and yet, still, the poison of church-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia had been drowning their soul.

I’m not trying to bum you out on this beautiful morning when we’re ready to march and love and be fabulous.

I’m telling you this because I needed to know, and we all need to know, in every moment, that Pride is not just about watching corporate floats and politicians and cops march by and marveling at how things have changed. It’s not just about having fun on a beautiful summer day. It’s not just about celebrating this church and the work it has done to make safe space for people like me – even when I was a confused bisexual kid in the late ‘90s and all the more as a self-consciously militant nonbinary kid in the 2020s.

My pronouns are they/them/theirs, by the way. Like Jesus, very God of very God, I am One who contains multitudes. Like the Holy Trinity, I am singular they.

A lot of people get it wrong. I’m not mad. I can tell most of the time it’s an honest mistake – like if your name is Doris but someone calls you Doreen.

I only get mad when people do it on purpose – like you would if someone kept calling you Doreen even after you corrected them many, many times.

Or if they told you Doris was a name they’d never heard before so they were just going to call you Doreen because that was easier.

But that’s not what most people are doing.

My pronouns are they/them/theirs. Not she/her/hers.

I’m asking you with an open heart to please not put me in the awkward position of having to apologize for making your life more complicated with my existence. If you mess it up, don’t start groveling. Just correct yourself and move on. I will too! I’m not a monster. I’m a human being. I’ve made many mistakes. I know you’re going to as well.

I know it’s especially hard if you’ve known me for a long time and you’re used to using other pronouns. Hard to course-correct a habit like that. I’ve struggled when long-time friends have changed their names and pronouns.

Do not underestimate how much someone will appreciate that you’re trying. When I can tell someone is trying it’s like a flower blossoming in my chest.

And oh man…if you introduce yourself with your own pronouns? That’s a whole bouquet you just planted here.

When you do that, you are signaling to me that you see me. You are signaling to your kids, your grandkids, your niblings, your friends, your students, your coworkers, that you see them, and then, like dear St. Fred, murmuring, “It’s you I like.”

When you do that, you are saying to that crying kid back in 2018, “I’m not wrong. I love you. And God loves you too.”

Because there’s clearly not enough of us saying that to the people who need to hear it.

If there were, maybe our bishops wouldn’t be fighting over whether to include 2SLGBTQIA+ people in ministry, or whether same-gender marriage is okay.

If there were, maybe I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time convincing queer kids not to just give up on living.

If there were, I would never have had to hear that kid ask me, over and over again, over a period of years, “What if you’re wrong?”

Let’s say I am wrong. Let’s say for a moment God is exactly who they say He is – because obviously that God is a He.

That’s no God of life. That’s no God that glistens forth in thousands upon millions of diverse creatures of every gender imaginable, and some unimaginable ones too. That’s no God that liberates the broken-hearted. That God ties up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lays them on the shoulders of others; but is unwilling to lift a finger to move them. That God is a refuge to no one.

I will not worship that God. That God is a death-dealer. I’ll go to hell before serving that God.

I’m speaking to you from the heart, because I love you.

The Hebrew Bible text we just read proves that God is not like that.

Now I know today’s readings are a bit iffy from a Pride Sunday perspective. Hosea can be a bit much. There’s the passage we heard last week about taking a wife of whoredom – EEK!

But the part about God still reaching out to us, even as we abuse and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, because God is not like us?

Maybe even…a little queer?

That’s the good stuff.

God calls those who try to imprison Him/Her/Them to account in these passages.

From Chapter 10:

“You have ploughed wickedness,
   you have reaped injustice,
   you have eaten the fruit of lies.”

In disowning your children. In campaigning for conversion therapy. In refusing to provide medical care and appropriate bathrooms for trans kids. In forbidding kids from accessing anonymous queer and trans support groups in schools. In supporting people who sacrifice to the Baals of hate, like Intellectual Dark Web trolls. In refusing to learn proper pronouns and new names because “it’s too hard” or “it’s not proper grammar.”

It’s way harder to ask someone to start using a new name, or the right pronouns. I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done is asking my husband to start using they/them. I’ve known him for twenty years. I know he’s a good guy. I knew he would promise to try, and that’s just what he did.

It was still scary.

And by the way, Shakespeare used singular they.

But even if it was, is proper grammar really more important to you than our relationship? I mean if it is, okay. But don’t expect me to hang out with you.

Despite all of that, God calls us back. Despite all of the times that I’ve been hateful, God has called me back. Where I sowed rage, God sowed love and compassion.

Hosea’s anger is borne out from his response to idolatry. Idolatry is a sin because it puts something else in the place of God. For Hosea, writing in a particular place at a particular time, that was Baal, a different god.

But maybe for us, it’s homophobia. Transphobia. Misogyny. Transmisogyny. Maybe it’s thinking that God can’t be queer or trans. Maybe it’s thinking that God always chooses male pronouns. (Oh man, watch yourself, family, because if you think I get crabby when I get misgendered).

And maybe idolatry is based in fear. Maybe when people see someone like me, they see everything that they were told was off-limits to them, and some of them resent me for not playing by those rules. Maybe they see someone who feels free enough to be themselves. I mean I’ll confess that what actually happened was that I figured out I’m terrible at being someone other than myself, so I gave up.

But, in that spirit of fear, some folks look at God and think, “God couldn’t possibly approve of this, because if They did, I was lied to. If it was okay all along to be fully me, why have I been spilling my heartblood all this time trying to be someone else?”

Well, I’m done being afraid. I’m done making myself small to support people in lies of self-loathing.

I’m done with that God.

And you should be too.

You know what happened to that kid crying in the church in 2018? After they decided to try being themselves, I watched them become more and more compassionate and brave and accepting of others.

To my beautiful rainbow siblings, keep being you.

To those allied with us, stand with us. Keep being you.

To those who might be a little afraid, a little uncomfortable?

God loves you.

Try being you.

Sermon begins at 25:58

“Countercultural Love,” (Sermon, July 24 2022)

I was invited to preach at West Vancouver United Church on this day for their Essentials summer preaching series. I did go off script once or twice, so if you’d like to hear the whole thing as it happened the livestream is included below.

My theme was the title of this post. The passage was John 13:34-35.

Thank you very much for inviting me to be with you today. I’m Clare, my pronouns are they/them/theirs, and I’m an Anglican priest serving as pastor to the St. Brigid’s congregation at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver.

I was surprised and honoured to be asked to come and be with you today. When Simon reached out to me, he told me about this lovely Essentials series, and then said, “Your theme is countercultural love. What Bible passage sums that up for you?”

Okay so it’s time to get real. I’m an Anglican. We do things by the book. It’s the thing I love most and the thing that drives me…not just bananas, but like BANANA BOATS.

So Simon says, “Which passage?” and I say, “Uhhh I’m sorry, you mean I actually have to pick one?” Come on, man, we preach from the Revised Common Lectionary! I haven’t picked a passage since homiletics class back in seminary! I legit took like three weeks to get back to Simon.

So I picked the passage we just read, but there’s probably like a thousand more I could have picked. It was just the first one that came to mind. That probably means it was the best choice.

So buckle up, I guess.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

A little background. I’ve never felt called to traditional parish ministry. My most ordinary job was children, youth, and family minister at a large semi-suburban parish. I basically went back into the closet the whole time I was there.

So when that position was done, the one big plan I had for what to do next fell through, and I didn’t really have any other prospects or ideas. I just knew that I was not in the right headspace to go into full-time traditional parish ministry.

I applied to a bunch of places, including the Mission to Seafarers, which would have been really fun! But nothing was quite right.

Until I found St. Margaret’s, and Hineni House.

St. Margaret’s is a little Anglican parish just off Knight Street close to King Edward in East Vancouver. Across the street was the rectory, which the church owned and where, in former days, the priest lived. It had been renovated and transformed into an intentional community house for young adults, and they needed a new community director.

Now people, and especially Boomers, kind of blue screen when I say the words ‘intentional community.’ I’m not really sure why, because Boomers were pretty into them back in the ‘60s! An intentional community is a voluntary residential community of like-minded folks. Those who choose to live there commit to working communally for the good of the home and each other in a variety of ways.

Hineni means “Here I am!” It’s what Abraham says to God. Hineni House was interfaith and queer and trans-positive. The job of the community director was to recruit and provide programming and spiritual care for the residents. I reported to the priest of the parish as well as a dedicated council of folks both within and outside St. Margaret’s.

In the late spring and early summer, I recruited, mostly through Facebook and word of mouth. People applied and went through a rigorous interview process where we tried to ascertain whether they’d be a good fit for any intentional community as well as for this one. Once they were accepted, they moved in, and programming began in September or October, running through to the summer again. We could fit up to five people. Many were students, but some were already working.

The original intent was to invite them to join us at church, but it was not a requirement. Some were already connected to faith communities, while others were actively deconstructing or had no faith background at all. While one or two did become more involved, mostly their relationship to St. Margaret’s was mediated through me.

Once a week, I went over to the house and we all sat down to dinner together. Then, we moved into the living room and whatever topic was on the dock for that week. We shared our spiritual autobiographies. We learned about the Enneagram and conflict styles. We had difficult conversations with one another about the work of the house or our relationships. We hosted guest speakers, everyone from Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan, who talked about Kabbalah, to my buddy Coll Thrush, a history professor at UBC who talked about how his Celtic heritage informed his Pagan spiritual practices, to my other buddy the Rev. Seth Wispelway, a UCC minister who co-ordinated a contingent of faith leaders at Charlottesville and ended up in the middle of the fray in 2017.

For five years I pastored this funny little community. Fifteen people passed through its doors during my tenure. They were women, men, and nonbinary. They were from Canada, the US, Northern Ireland, Mumbai, Goa, Egypt, and Hong Kong. They were straight and queer. They were religious, spiritual, and agnostic. All of them were under 50; the majority were under 30. Many struggled with mental illness and trauma. They all needed love, friendship, and a safe, open space to talk about God, religion, and their place in the world.

And they taught me, more than the Church ever had, about what it meant to model Jesus’s mandatum novum, the new commandment.

In the passage we read, Jesus begins the chapter by washing his disciples’ feet. It’s this amazing moment where the irony is so vivid. Verses 3 and 4: “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.”

In the translation from The Message, it says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything.”

Is this how someone who is in complete charge of everything acts? Taking the form of a slave?

It’s hard for us living in the 21st century white West to understand what this would have looked like to those gathered around that table. Here’s an interesting piece of trans history: The cosmology of the Roman Empire stated that gender was fluid, and that cisgender men had to continually assert their masculinity through acts of dominance in order to stay cisgender men. To remove one’s outer garment and take a submissive posture in front of one’s social inferiors put you at risk for losing your status as an authority figure – and as a man!

Close your eyes and picture a very traditional family banquet. Who’s at the table? Who’s in the kitchen? Is it the head of the household? Probably not, right?

But here is Jesus, putting his manhood and his status as teacher at risk – but not so that he can make them the masters and him the servant.

He’s using his privilege, and he is modeling how they should be with one another.

He is teaching us that if you have power in a relationship, you don’t deny that you have it. You find ways to subvert it.

And you love one another.

If you love one another in a way that subverts hierarchy, subverts the capitalistic impulse that demands we view relationships as transactional, in a way that’s embarrassing to the established order – either by breaking down walls of shame or calling out abusive behaviour that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God – everyone will know that you are disciples of Jesus.

One of the last things I did before the pandemic began was take the people in that iteration of Hineni house, all women, on retreat. It was March 6th to 8th, 2020. We rented a gorgeous AirBnB in Garden Bay on the Sunshine coast and settled in for “Called to Holy Ground,” focusing on what it meant to find God in wild and lonely places. We read from the Bible and the Qur’an, studying the stories of the burning bush, Jesus’s temptation, and Surah 19, the Qur’anic story of the birth of Jesus, which takes place under a palm tree out in the desert. We even had a little desert box, like the ones used for Godly Play.

When frantic emails from our bishop and diocesan office started flying, we were snuggled in this lovely home. We cooked. We made music. One taught another to crochet. Another read to us from an old short story collection. We shared the Eucharist around the massive oak dining room table.

It was the last time we were able to gather in person for months.

When the Hinenites (that’s what I always called them) came home, completely unprompted, they made a pact with one another to stay together. Not all of them honoured it in the end, but the fact that it was an organic movement of love was what really mattered.

This was only one example of the ways they showed up for one another. There were other times that were more difficult – health emergencies, mental distress, moments of trauma and anger. Not all of them had happy endings, but in almost all cases, the care and love and resilience shown to one another was boundless.

Things happened in that house that I never saw happen in the church, in nearly a lifetime of lay and ordained ministry. Endless nights of listening to the topography of each other’s pain, terrifying and painful phone calls, heartbreaking hospital visits, awkward silences, prolonged and averted eye contact, spontaneous moments of grace, forced conversations to bypass simmering resentments, side-splitting laughter, long walks with these beautiful souls trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing in the world.

At the beginning of this year, it was decided that after increasing difficulties due to the demands of a pandemic, the program would be put on hiatus. This year’s group put together a goodbye ritual. We circumnavigated the house looking for things in the grass that jumped out at us, bringing back stones, leaves, and flowers to place around a lit lantern. We heard a beautiful blessing from Jan Richardson. We anointed one another. We prayed, we sang, and we blessed one another around the old wobbly-legged coffee table.

It was one of the most moving spiritual experiences I’ve had in any tradition.

Things happened at Hineni House because God was actually given space to move and grow. Things happened because, rather than planting Love in perfect rows in a carefully manicured garden, it was sown on the side of the road and allowed to be invasive.

Which, to be perfectly honest with you, seems to happen less and less often in the church.

Do people know that we are disciples of Christ by the way we love one another?

Do people know that we are disciples by the way we show up for one another?

Do they know we are disciples by the way we allow Love to be invasive within us?

Do they know we are disciples because we risk our status and our privilege in order to subvert the expected behaviours of our society, like our teacher did?

Do they know we are disciples because we make a mockery of the established order: the one that says, “F you all, I got mine,” the one that demands much of the afflicted and little from the comfortable, the one that sees the land as property rather than a living being that sustains us, the one that has endless patience for abusers but none for the abused?

Do people know we are disciples because we say, “I love you no matter what”?

Do people know we are disciples because we say, “I know you’re better than this”?

Do they even know that disciples of Christ are supposed to do this?

Not everyone in that house succeeded in all of these things. But almost every night, I saw them try.

Do we try?

What is countercultural love? It’s not just unconditional. It’s not just beautiful to witness. It’s subversive. It’s self-sustaining. It’s usually painful, maybe the worst pain you will ever experience.

And it’s the only thing that will save us.

Sermon begins at 40:13

My goodbye letter to St. Margaret’s and Hineni House

Dearest St. Maggie’s and Hineni House,

In my last year of seminary, I was part of a small pastoral leadership class led by the incomparable Rev. Dr. Janet Gear. For each member of the class, she crafted an image or phrase that she thought summed up the way we should live out our ministry.

Mine was “the sacramental hearth.” She felt that my vocation was to be someone who allowed people to ‘come home’ to God through soul friendship and the rituals of the church.

It truly was God’s will, then, that I should find you, a place where this ministry already occurs freely, naturally, and aggressively as the blackberry tangles in the Hineni backyard. I will be forever grateful for the way you have showed me what this looks like ‘in the wild.’

In some ways, you made the work very simple, because it is in your DNA, but also because of the radical hospitality of what you have done at Hineni House. So many of those whom you sheltered told me how they felt held, safe, and loved during their time there. Most churches aren’t brave enough to set aside their assets for the kind of work you did there: work that provided a loving home that was a safe and relatively neutral space for those who were curious about spirituality in general to process their feelings and, in some cases, their histories of spiritual abuse and loneliness. To host them in a home, while challenging, is significantly easier and gentler than insisting on their presence in a church in order to earn the gifts of community. For them, you demonstrated true Christian love: patient, kind, unenvious and humble, doing your best not to insist on your own way.

I tried my best to contribute to that work. Only the Hinenites can say for sure if I ever succeeded.

Now, I am being called to a very different and more difficult ministry: to find a way to create that same spirit in a church setting, when all too often such settings have been places of trauma and division. It is my hope that all you have taught me about grace, empathy, and hospitality at St. Margaret’s can benefit those who come to St. Brigid’s, and perhaps teach the wider Cathedral community, which is struggling through many staffing and pandemic-related changes, what it means to be grounded in God’s hope that “all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

To my Hinenites, near and far: Thank you for taking the risk of coming through our door to be opened to yourself. Thank you for taking the risk to try community in the raw. Thank you for taking the risk to tell the divine, in whatever form it may take, that you wanted deeper relationship. Remember always that you are loved and welcomed just as you are, and that the desire to know the divine and to love your neighbour is all you need to do the will of the One who made you.

Even if you never find that One for whom you search in this life. Even if you fail over and over to love your neighbour.

The Creator of the stars of night did not make us to be gods or angels. They made us to be just who we are: human beings, fully alive.

To Heidi, Hineni Council, and St. Margaret’s: know that your ministry changed lives for the better. No matter what happens afterward, you created a waystation for weary travelers in a hurting world. You did exactly what you set out to do.

Well done, thou good and faithful servants.

I love you forever.