A lot of preachers, particularly in my circles, it seems, don’t like to spend too much time in the epistles because there’s so much to untangle and mend. In these old letters, we also come across an awful lot about avoiding sin and hear that as swapping one old purity code for a new one: staying clean for Jesus lest he take back that gift of salvation. As I’m sitting with the letter to the Galatians in one hand and Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ in the other, I find I quite love what Paul and his colleagues are writing to these early churches. They are saying: this way of doing faith that you are living out together in real time requires you all stick together, walk together, and share a common life together. You can’t do this alone.
Alone is how we spend much of our lives. I don’t mean alone in that really good, decadent sense. Alone for just a couple of hours in an empty house before kids and spouse come home. Alone overlooking the beach at sunrise with a cup of coffee in hand watching the sky turn blue. Alone walking a bayou at dusk as the night herons and ibis make their way home. That’s good alone, invigorating alone, overflowing with beauty kind of alone.
One of the loveliest parts of my role as pastor in a church tradition named for voluntary, believer’s baptism, is that I’ve had the honor of baptizing quite a lot of folks here in my not-quite-six years. I have baptized dear friends who stay late in the night at my house for that good conversation when all the dinner plates just sit empty. I have baptized a determined, funny, and kind octogenarian who had been baptized as an infant but wanted to have this immersion experience in the place we gather. I have baptized several young people who are ready to step into this faith tradition and call it their own, including my own son and daughter.
Every time, it’s something of a miracle. Physically: these old pipes still manage to pump water into the baptistery. This old baptistery will holds water unless the pastor forgets to shut it off after the hours it takes to fill. Even the old 1926 heater still manages to cycle all of that water and warm it up enough to take the chill off on a January morning. We step into the water like hundreds maybe thousands have before us. How many have entered the waters here? Steven Meriwether guiding them down the steps. Avery Lee lowering them under the water and raising them up again. Myron Madden welcoming them to walk in newness of life. It’s a central ritual in our story as a people as we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. That’s what we say at the end. We are being washed into this Christ-ness we follow.
Spirit’s Breath and Wisdom’s Call
It’s been weeks now, but I find I’m still reflecting on the experience of riding in a truck bed around the French Quarter for my first Pride Parade. The sea of love, block after block, the warmth and affection coming off of the crowds we passed by. Throughout this month I’ve heeded the reminder that Pride began as a protest and not merely a New Orleans-stye-parade; a movement and not a party. And thus my presence there is as one who is aligning herself with a movement and testifying to the truth of the movement’s message. As such, I’m facing my sheepishness in the truck that night at knowing the rainbow cross beside me and the role I inhabit within organized religion is terrifying to many people we passed because of a lifetime of trauma at the hands of the Church. And in recent weeks, I have taken seriously the numerous emails asking me if the welcome I offer is true, if this church really is a safe space to enter, will I really love without caveat. I’ve spoken with the parents LGBTQ+ children and assured them the love I offer, the love we offer, the love we are seeking to embody has no caveat even if the churches they come from say otherwise.
In fact, celebrating Pride this year in a fuller and more intentional way, not just as an ally but as an ordained representative in The Church, has given sturdier shape to my love because I better understand now that a protest needs some signs and a movement needs some language. Love isn’t some amorphous, floating emotion—it’s a thing with legs and action and shape. I am not yet ready to leave The Church because of the trauma it has inflicted on so many, even me. Instead, at least for today, I feel called to repair and mend within the existing framework of my tradition and offer a different, hopefully better, way to love the world in Jesus’ Way and name.
My friend Susan’s father died recently, and I attended his funeral on Loyola’s campus this past Thursday. He had been a physics professor there for many years and was celebrated Thursday morning in that sacred space. I find it’s always a remarkable experience to sit in on the funeral of one I did not know. Sometimes it’s a colleague or neighbor’s loved one with a respectful but unemotional connection. And others it is a deep love and deep loss for someone whom I never knew personally but to one who is near to me. In either case, stepping into that remembering and grieving time taps into a place within us in ways we rarely anticipate—the memory of our own father or mother, the all-too-soon burial of a partner, the incomprehensible loss of a child, or maybe it’s the collective grief we all carry in all its forms. In that rare cultural moment, there is no more hiding from those thoughts and feelings and swirling memories. So I sat in a funeral for a man I never met and wept.
And as those warm, silent tears ran down my face, his granddaughter rose and read these words: