Saved By Presbyterians
I am well aware that whenever we take a stand for something, some will applaud us and some will hate us. It has happened throughout history and I am not exempt from this principle. Our local paper published today that I will no longer be returning to teach at my alma mater, Montreat College. My decision comes after, I was notified one year ago, that the college would be clarifying its direction and faith statement. I am thankful for the year I have had to consider my options, and the kindness that our college President showed me when I let him know of my decision.
As many spent the day proclaiming, Montreat College, as a private institution, has the right to declare what they believe and have their employees follow those standards. As I considered not only my stance on their clarification of beliefs, but also the act of signing a faith statement at my place of employment, I realized 3 things.
The first is that though we had numerous listening sessions, I am not in charge. Since I sail as a hobby, I know that the captain decides the course, and the crew's job is to get the passengers there. While, I respect Montreat's captain, and I deeply love the crew, I must be willing to discern whether or not I am meant to go to the next port. Montreat has never really been a research vessel, or even a commercial cruiser, instead it has been a life boat-- patrolling the waters picking up the refugees, the broken, and those lost at sea. To many it looked adrift, but to me, it was serving its unique purpose and I was a part of the life-giving crew. I recognize that NOTHING ever stays the same, and there are things I simply cannot control, therefore I quickly noted that the faith statement was not something I was going to change. Knowing that, allowed me to accept the situation I was in, and determine where I should be in the story.
I spent the summer asking various friends, family members, and faith leaders from various Christian denominations and other religions what they thought about different topics. This exercise led me to comprehend the breadth of thoughts on various topics including marriage and the beginning of life. As I considered options, I realized that I preferred a generous orthodoxy. I was still a Christian (even though after reading this many will judge me as a heretic) but my vote is "to have everyone at the table". A former missionary couple to the Congo, Ruth and Lamar Williamson, once said that quote to me, and I hold tightly to that vision.
As a member of the Presbyterian USA church I don’t interpret the scripture, Old and New testaments, literally. If Jonah lived in a whale or if creation took 7 days to build, it is irrelevant to me. To me the stories of scripture are not about the individual lyrics but the whole song. The melody of scripture speaks of a God who loves people, redeems all things harsh and cruel, and who ends up restoring creation back to original intention. If the specific miracles or stories did happen in the exact words or ways the English scripture proclaims them, it makes the stories stronger. But I don’t need them to be literal to get the meaning of the song.
Additionally, when I do see Christ in scripture teaching, preaching, living, eating, and sleeping I see a man who calls people together more than apart from one another. This is intriguing to me because it is so counter cultural. Studying the gospels of Christ reminded me of why I became a Christian at the age of 16, in the first place. I longed to be a part of something greater than myself; something that was for everyone. In my opinion, the mere signing of a faith statement at my employment, would separate me for other Christian sects that thought differently than me.
For me, the beauty of my Montreat education, was the various Christian professors who had differing ideas on scripture, sacraments, and culture. My Montreat faith experience was messy, and complex, and difficult, and oh, so good for me! I am thankful that faith was not wrapped up in a box in a perfect little bow. I had to struggle through it and wrestle it, and figure out what and why I believed. If I had my choice, I hope that continues, but once again, I honor that I am not in charge.
Finally, in the midst of my questioning and wondering, I began to ask for a tangible parable. Throughout Jesus teachings we see where he gave people stories so they could understand the spiritual realm. One of my favorite stories is the woman at the well. Jesus takes his disciples off the normal path, and takes them through Samaria, a land and people hated by the Jews. There in Samaria he stops at a well, and asks a woman to draw him water. Their exchange is quite interesting because she knows that he shouldn’t be talking to her (her a Samarian and him a Jew) and his disciples know that she is a woman of ill repute because of the multiple husbands she has had. Yet, there is Jesus drinking from the same cup of this woman that is not liked by the Jews or the Samarians. The melody to that story is that Jesus calls his followers to meet people where they are and drink of the same cup as them. That to me looks different all the time, and is once again not a pretty prescribed formula. It is real life with real people. This type of Christianity is not easy or perfect. It is not clean-cut or washed up. It is deep and true and very hard.
The second parable is an old testament story about a prophet named Hosea and his wife Gomer. Gomer was a temple prostitute and God called Hosea, a holy man, to marry her. He does and everyone thinks it’ll be a happy ending. But, instead Gomer goes back to her old ways and Hosea runs after her and throws himself at her. He begs her to love him back and to once again remember their vows. Whether this story is literally true or not, it is interesting to think about Hosea. Who loves like? I haven’t seen that kind of love often, have you? The story was meant to tell the people of Israel that God was running after them. He loved them. He wanted them back. God was Hosea. Gomer was his people, and they had a love that was supernatural.
The final parable was a life parable. A late summer afternoon I rushed to the E.R. to see a friend and their teenage child. The child had taken a palm full of Advil and tried to end their life. As we waited for psychiatric screenings and cardiac reports, I pleaded with God to be there. Twenty hours later, I talked with the teen about what had led them towards suicide. They explained that they were bi-sexual at a Christian school and they realized that no one would ever love them or be their friend. In that moment, I threw my body around them and wept and wept. I held them and rocked them, and thought only one thing, “I want you alive-- bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or asexual”. In that moment, I realized if that is how I feel, then imagine how God, who is perfect feels-- God wants them alive.
I don’t know why people are gay, straight, transgender, bisexual or a myriad of other things. However, I know that God is about living. He wants people living-- fully alive in communities of love and light. God wants everyone; ALL people at the table. I am not claiming to have all the answers or to be the perfect Christian. I don’t have this thing tied up in a box and bow for you. I just have heard a song of grace and mercy, and of true love. My way and thoughts are my own, and you will have to find your own muddy trail through these cultural and religious issues.
Here is what I know, Montreat has been good to me. There has not been a single day that I have enjoyed every moment in the classroom, every student question, every walk in the woods, or afternoon by the lake. I treasure my coffee shop talks and my late-night campfires. Montreat has prepared me to be in the workplace, and to serve my community. It has prepared me for Grad School at Harvard and for being a good wife and mother to an adopted child. Montreat has loved me, when I was so unlovable. It met me when I was the woman at the well, Gomer running wild, and the spiritual teenager at the end of her rope. I met my husband there. I graduated from there (twice)! Brought my child there and taught my first group in the woods there. My 19 years of relationship in the cove, will never be in vain or void of pure love. Montreat is home.
I am leaving it willfully. I was not fired and I did not quit. I am on a yearly contract in which both parties revisit the terms annually. I have decided that I will live in the generous orthodoxy. I will drink from the cup of people different than me, and sit down and have a meal with them. (That means republican or democrat, rich or poor, hetero or homosexual, young and old, immigrant and non). I will run, like Hosea, after people that the culture says are not welcome. I will not throw laws on you, because you will have to make your vows on your own. However, I will hold you as a friend and experience the messiness. I will remind you daily that you are meant to be living. You are loved. You are unique. You are known. You are seen.