Anathema. And a Theme.

In case you’re not familiar with this particular word, here is the information provided in the dictionary on my trusty Mac:

Anathema (noun)

1 something or someone that one vehemently dislikes : racial hatred was anathema to her.
2 a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine.
• poetic/literary a strong curse : the sergeant clutched the ruined communicator, muttering anathemas.

When I look at the word, can almost hear Mario’s voice. You know, Mario… the plucky Nintendo plumber, famous for saying “It’s a me, Mario!”     Can’t you imagine him saying, “And a theme-ah”

I’ve seen this word (and heard that silly voice in my head) many times in the past 4 years in seminary… after all, the history of the church has been about defining what right belief is, mostly over against those things it identifies as wrong.  Sometimes those wrong beliefs are labeled heretical.  But sometimes, often in formal doctrinal statements, they are called anathema.

A couple of weeks ago Katie (whose blog I have mentioned here before) got an email from a colleague in ministry.  Well, it was from an honorably retired minister in our shared denomination.  Now, before I go further, let me go on the record as saying that Katie is one of those people I’ve met solely on-line, but feel I have known for years.  She is all of the things I look for in a pastor- aware of the marginalized and not afraid to speak for them, sound in doctrine and biblically literate, a wonderful story-teller, compassionate, willing to call people when they BS.  And she’s a single mom.  And a PhD student.  And she happens to self-identify as queer.

This last thing- the one that I think of last when I think about Katie, is what drew the ire of this “colleague”.  If Katie had stayed quiet about her orientation, she could “pass” for straight.  She’s got two children, after all.  But Katie’s voice is a strong and beautiful one for herself and any others people would oppress spiritually.

So why am I writing this?  Certainly not because she won’t speak out for herself.  I think the way she responded to this email speaks volumes in and of itself. And not because she can’t speak out for herself…. just jump on twitter for a couple of days and you’ll see that.

She didn’t post that email publicly for people to come out and defend her, otherwise, she’d have left the sender’s name open for all of her friends to see. (Release the hounds!)  Katie and my kiddo and my other LGBTQI family and friends don’t necessarily need someone to drop flaming bags of poo (literal and virtual) on people’s doorsteps when other people’s actions are dehumanizing.  In fact, the Sunday after recieving this email, Katie posted and preached this sermon on forgiveness.

What I need to remember is the reason I want to go all “mama bear” on those rude people.  My friend is a person.  Not a curse, not a blight, not an issue, not a call for theological discernment or electoral vote.  My child is a person. A person who is strong on Monday morning, but vulnerable on Tuesday afternoon.  They are real, valued and valuable.  And sometimes, the best protection I can offer for the rest of the week comes in three words: “I love you”.

I’ve never really understood most of the video games the FPK plays, but I’ve watched enough to know that there is usually a place where you can see how much “life force” your character has. When something bad happens – you get attacked or you make a wrong turn- you can lose your life.  Usually, you get more “life” by gathering coins or something.  But in some games, the ones you want are hearts… big, glowing, pulsating hearts.  Even I can understand that….

When Katie posted the fact she’d received this email, I wanted to come alongside her and pick up the little bits of life that had been knocked out of her… the way that the FPK does when I (invariably) goof any game challenge with which I am faced.  The comments on her blog post and on Twitter showed that I was not alone in that impulse to offer love and support.  I am thankful that as she pulled herself together, gathering back those most fragile bits of her heart, she began the hard work of living in the space between protecting oneself and forgiving.  And that she challenged all of us to do the same.

We long for community.  We long for relationships in which we can be our true selves.  And in ministry, we long to integrate every aspect of the complex people God created us to be in our relationships with those God places in our paths.  We bring our strengths and our weaknesses, our struggles and defeats, our victories and joys to bear on the new circumstances God leads us into.  And we trust that God will redeem all of it as we offer ourselves fully.  After all, it is when we are truly alive in Christ and serving out of the power of the Spirit that God is most glorified.

There is so much frustration, fear and anger in our world today that we feel more fractured and fragile than ever. In a world of cynicism, snark and soundbites, it’s hard to listen very long. As people lash out, we feel a need to protect and defend ourselves more than reach out and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.   That’s not very fertile ground for forgiveness, understanding, forbearance or friendship.

Over and over again, God calls me back to Philippians and Ephesians… reminding me that humility and submission are keys to glimpsing the fullness of God’s love in Christ.  Oh to be rooted and grounded in THAT love!


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