Coming Home

June 9, 2006

Texas FlagIf you read about house hunting, you will know that my trip to Austin started off very nicely.  My Saturday and Sunday were just about perfect (what else do you call finding a house with a shower opening into a dining room and another one out of Alice in Wonderland?).

I can't find it now, but one of the Psalms in the daily office during my stay alluded to God putting the psalmist in a broad place.  That implied to me that the person had been in a narrow place, and I thought of Psalm 23 and the valley of the shadow of death (which must be very narrow) and how wonderful it is to come out of a tight spot and be breathing fully and unrestricted when we make it into open, broad space– green pastures– again.

It reminds me also of one of the letters from Taize, France, of Brother Roger (The Wonder of a Love), which begins:

By night, we will go to the spring.  Deep within us there sparkles living water where we can quench our thirsts.

By night and by day, as we move forward from beginning to new beginning, a whole life is built up.

I love it because this is how I experience the resurrection in my life– moving from beginning to new beginning, drawing from deep within to quench thirst from the living water.

These two things, the movement from beginning to new beginning and the movement from a narrow to a broad place, are things I experienced on this trip, and especially on Monday.  In my morning prayers, I was not at all tense on Monday morning, the day of my admission interview for seminary, and the day also of my financial aid interview.  I went over to the campus and had a great visit with a staff member, a faculty member, and a student.  We discussed my life situation briefly– some of the narrow places I've been, and also how I've learned to let go of my fear of not escaping the narrow places so that I can trust God to deliver me to the broad places.  We talked about my life.  My Texas childhood.  My adulthood in Texas, and move away from Texas.  We talked about my move to California, my divorce from my ex-partner and the ensuing narrow places that lead me to this broad place.  We talked about the twists and turns deep in the valley of that narrow place that had me yearning to live in a place I could call home, with support and family and roots.  A place like Austin, where my parents live, where I have help with my kids, where I have so much extended family I can't count them, where I've got lifelong friends close by, where I have roots.  Home.

We talked about my views on the current crisis in the church, which I have articulated here and elsewhere– specifically that it is such a shame that both ends of the spectrum on the issue facing our church today have one thing in common:  they both feel excluded.  The left feels excluded from full participation in the church due to canon and practice that they feel doesn't go far enough, and the right feels excluded from full participation in the church because they feel doctrine in the church has pushed them to the point where they cannot participate in the church in good moral conscience.  Much time has been spent on the disagreements, I argued, but far too little time on this quite significant area of common ground, of knowing what it feels like to not be sure if your church, your faith, your tradition, your religion is moving in the direction you are comfortable with.  I told them I felt like that was a far more workable area to move forward on then focusing on difference.

The faculty member on the admissions committee asked me if I had any questions or concerns about coming to seminary, or about this particular seminary.  I expressed my observation that the seminary seems to have "shifted right" in the past few years, and that while I believe it is the duty of the seminary to attract seminarians from a diverse theological background, I am concerned because as a gay man from a progressive parish and diocese, what I hope for in a seminary experience is to further develop my progressive theology during my seminary time, not spend all of my time defending it.

I asked the committee how the student body handled students that constantly harp on a point (like me constantly harping on the love of God trumping the judgment of God).  I said that I won't be seeking to get in the way of anyone else getting what they will need, but I will need to get what I will need too.  The faculty person responded with an answer that took some time to sink in for me.  She said, "That is part of the formation for ministry that you learn here."

And that is a great lesson, I think, that applies not only for seminarians, but for all of us.  How do we all get what we need for our own faith, for our own peace of mind, for our own salvation, but not get in the way of anyone else's journey to do the same thing?  How do we maintain our own relationship with God, doing what we are called to do, serving God in the way we are called, and also ensuring that the service we are performing isn't prohibiting our neighbor from serving God in the way she is called?  Isn't that exactly the issue at hand in the church today?  Isn't that the challenge issued to us?  Isn't it the core of living together in community?  Isn't it what Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel, to love one another?  To live together in love?

Well, as my realtor said when we were driving around town and we passed a church somebody in the car described as "a little bit self-righteous," she said in response:  "Sometimes it's just so hard to remember to love everybody."  (And you have to say that out loud in a central Texas twang to get the full effect.)  How right she was.

Back to the story.

So we finished our discussion, and I was asked to step out for a few minutes so the committee could talk.  Amazingly enough, even though I knew they were discussing me behind those closed doors and deciding the fate of the future of my life direction, I wasn't nervous or anxious.  I said a little prayer and went next door to talk to another staff person for a few minutes to find out when school started.

They called me back in, and the staff person said, "Jeff, we would like to offer you admission to the Seminary.  We want you to come home."  I didn't make the connection with the "come home" part quite yet.

I thanked them all very enthusiastically – I was thrilled!!  And then I rushed off to my financial aid interview.  It went well, and later the same staff member re-emphasized, "Jeff, we want you to come home."  I was in the middle of signing some papers, and then it finally hit.

I'm coming home.  God has lifted me out of the narrow place and set me in a broad place (after all, Texas is big:) ).  It's a new beginning; a resurrection.  I'm through the wildnerness and into the promised land.  Unlike Moses, I'm gonna get to go inside and see it!  Glory to God!  Its gonna be great.


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