invitation

I have received an invitation to an anniversary celebration. No, not from a couple, from a church. I’ve been invited to join the people of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd as they celebrate their 65th anniversary.

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The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd is a Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod congregation. I had the honor of serving there as pastor for about 5 years. I have fond memories of my time there. The ministry that we did together was rich and full, creative and ground-breaking. There were, of course, hard times too. There was conflict and loss, nothing unusual to any community. However when I think on my time there, I’m thankful to God and the good folk of that congregation.

I was there pre-1999. Yes, that means I was there as Nice Guy. It was during my time at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd when I began to come to grips with my gender issues. They erupted and I could not live in denial anymore. Eventually I was going to have to do something or serious consequences were going to occur. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the start of my exit from the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.

I’ve actually been to Good Shepherd twice since transition. The first time was an utter disaster. I was not prepared for the emotional intensity of the experience and ended up having a dissociative event. I can’t tell you what I said or did. I remember being there but feeling like I wasn’t really there.

I was there a second time for a funeral. It was a tearful event. I did better. I didn’t dissociate but it was very painful.

I would like to accept this invitation. I would like to go to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd this Sunday afternoon. But I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed at what happened at my first visit there. Also I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I don’t want to bring awkwardness with me into the room. And to be honest I don’t want to face disapproval and/or rejection.

Still, wouldn’t it make a great story? “Rev. Robinson Comes Home.”

what an odd dream

I dreamed that I was Flip Wilson.

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and that I was an Episcopal priest. I was the sole priest in a congregation that was booming. I was creative, daring, funny, a splendid preacher and a skilled leader. The dream was funny and whimsical at the start. I did all kinds of innovative stuff. As is the case with any creative person, sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed but the congregation loved me.

Then the dream went from whimsical to serious. The congregation was engaged in amazing ministries in the world. I was meeting with various groups doing astonishing stuff. There were weddings and funerals. It seemed like years of ministry reduced to a few minutes.

In the dream I decided to preside at one Eucharist from the side window of the church with me standing on the outside. I had this idea that it would help change the perspective on Eucharist by literally having people look outside of the church building to see Christ (as an aside, I would never do this in real life–but then again in real life I’m not Flip Wilson).

Everything went wrong in this liturgy. I couldn’t find any vestments. I had to wear what looked like a high school graduation gown. The elements for communion turned out to be trail mix on a plate and two mismatched containers of different colored wine. The service started 40 minutes late. I couldn’t get the window to open.

When I finally did and was just about to explain what I was doing, a member of the congregation, who was wearing a bight red dress and carrying an armful of flowers announced it was her 50th anniversary. That took over the whole service. No one was listening to me no matter how loud I talked. I lost control of the service totally. So I stopped, wished the woman a happy anniversary and left.

When I came back there was a gun on the altar. Various communion vessels had been smashed by the gun handle along with a cross and a candle. Some church members were there and told me that one of the long time members of the congregation did that out of anger at me. They also said that several key members of the church were outraged at what I’d done in service and stormed off. Suddenly I was on the phone with a bishop (who I’d never heard of) and he was yelling at me about Title IV and restriction and deposition.

I ran out of the church and got on some kind of light rail that went through the most depressed parts of the city (a city I didn’t recognize). I got off at a stop near my home which turned out to be an exact duplicate of my aunt Nita’s apartment when she lived in Cleveland but it was now my home. I saw pictures there of happier times.

I returned to the church somehow and saw boxes packed and angry faces. People were throwing things at me. The objects were cutting me and bruising me. They were yelling at me and saying, “Get out and never come back. You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to this church.”

Then I woke up. I was so shaken by the dream that I actually cried.

The dream had begun so promisingly and had ended so badly. It was an odd dream in that it took one of my great vocational aspirations and put it right next to one of my greatest vocational fears.

what are you doing here?

what-areyoudoinghereEvery once in great while I run into someone at my job who knows me in my vocation. Such moments are almost always disturbing for me. Disturbing because at some point a version of this question is asked: “What are you doing here?” At such moments I always wish that I could disappear. The question makes me uncomfortable.

Why?

Because the question, no matter how it is worded, always carries the implication that I should not be where I am and doing the thing that I’m doing. It comes along with the vague intimation that something is amiss with the situation. Recently one person asked a version of the question that hit me hard. They asked, “Why is one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church making photocopies all day?”

That question pressed one of my most painful of buttons: the Vocational Failure Button. When this button is pushed I feel that what I’m doing on a daily basis is an embarrassment, a sign that I have failed as a priest. When this button is pushed up come all my inadequacies. The whole laundry list of things that are wrong with me stretches out before me: not smart enough, not aggressive enough, too shy, too nice, not well connected enough, went to the wrong school, chose the wrong church, not a good leader, too soft, not visionary enough, not entrepreneurial enough, read the wrong stuff, not well traveled… The list goes on and on and it’s all my fault.

When this button is pushed even my best gift becomes a weapon to be used against me. The accusing voice says, “And even with this supposed great gift you have, you’ve still failed.” My twisted emotional self plays right along. I start to think that the voice is right. If someone else had my gift they would be wildly successful. What a piece of crap I must be.

My actual reply to the question was to shrug, look at the ground, mumble something and then change the subject. I can’t even fully recall what I said. It was something about not blaming the church and blah, blah, blah.

After the conversation was over and the person had left, I felt terrible. When I came out of the emotional place I was in, I was able to think rationally again. I thought about how I reacted. I thought about what I said and about what I didn’t say. There were a number of things I wish I’d done differently.

First, I wish I would have said, “Thank you for the compliment on my preaching.” I didn’t acknowledge the compliment and I wish I would have. It was very generous of them to give me such high praise. I would have liked to have had my wits about me so as to express thankfulness.

Second, I wish I would have said, “Your question is a good one and the answer is surprisingly complex. Would you like to discuss it?” I wish I could have had the strength to take on the subject of church employment/vocation frankly and openly. The person who asked the question is concerned about me and about the church. But I didn’t engage in a discussion because the subject brings up some insecurities I still have about myself.

Third, If I had that conversation to do over again, I would avoid the word “blame.” The language of fault and blame are all about something that is wrong. And there is nothing wrong with me working in a print shop. Even saying “don’t blame the church” did nothing constructive. Does the church have its issues? Yes. Do I have my issues? Yes. Do those issues effect vocation and employment? Yes. But my choice of words put the whole topic in an adversarial setting, when I would have preferred taking an appreciative approach.

Of course, the person who asked me the question reads this blog. They will probably see this post. So we might actually have the discussion I was unprepared to have earlier. Might be some grace out of this yet.

basketball and a north carolina law

(this post was written on Monday April 4, 2016)

I am watching the NCAA men’s championship game. Yes, I’m watching it late because my job keeps me at work until 730pm.

In my bracket I picked North Carolina to win it all. However I now find myself rooting against North Carolina. Why? It’s not because I have anything against the young men who play for this college. I wish them nothing but good. May they live long and prosper.

However I have a problem with the legislature and the governor of North Carolina. They have passed a law that makes it illegal for me (And folk like me) to use the woman’s bathroom. Let me explain the law. I live in Washington state which considers me female, and I have a birth certificate from the state of Ohio, which, because it will not amend a birth certificate, considers me male, while at the same time the US federal government considers me to be my late husband’s widow. I would be subject to a fine and even imprisonment in the state of North Carolina if I used the women’s bathroom.

Now that we have that clear, let’s return to the NCAA men’s tournament. I won’t root for UNC because I don’t want the state of North Carolina to benefit from having a national championship. And yet as a basketball fan I’m in heaven watching a close, highly competitive, well played, intense and exciting game.

winning shot

Wow! What a finish. Classic college basketball.