I just never thought I’d have to write two.
Last month I sent out a letter to my congregation sharing the good news that I was in a wonderful new relationship and had recently gotten engaged.
The fact that a man gets engaged to a woman is everyday news. Except, that is, when everyone has known that man as a gay man who had been in a long term same sex relationship. And then, everyday news is news. What happened?
I’d written a first draft of my letter trying to explain that reminded me of my first coming out letters and conversations 30 years ago. It was full of earnest explanation and trying to take care of any possible concerns that I could imagine. I included a nice little sermon. I quoted Pilgrim pastor John Robinson.
A member of our Parish Relations Committee read my very long first draft and wrote me back. “I think you could just share some good news, Peter,” she wrote. In other words, I could cut the sermon, the explanations, the apologies, the need to take care of every variety of reaction I could anticipate and just share some simple good news.
I had told a gay clergy friend that I felt like I needed to apologize to the entire gay community for falling in love with a woman – he knew how seriously I took being a role model and civil rights advocate.
Kent laughed. “Maybe, Peter,” he said, “the most important role models we need are those who show us what it means to be real.”
I’ve always shied away from the “real” at first. Rather than be vulnerable, authentic, and exposed in all my stumbling humanity, I’d much rather be erudite, together, competent and cool under pressure.
It was some of the hardest and most important work I had ever done to pare down my long pastoral letter into the sharing of some simple happy news: I have fallen in love. I have gotten engaged. I am very happy.
For the past several years I had been growing a lot and stepping off the dock of my familiar. I felt like my whole life was expanding, calling me into new places. And no, I never expected to have to write two coming out letters. But come to think of it there are a lot of things in my life I never expected to do. I never expected to be a minister, practice Zen Buddhism, become a sailor and a painter. I never expected to be living in Seattle and serving the same church for 22 years. I never expected to study ballet and run a marathon. I never expected to have a foster son named Pedro. None of those were on any dream or “bucket” list. They were things that happened. All of it a “surprise” and yet on reflection, really not so much of a surprise. Looking back, I could see how these pivotal experiences in my life all made sense in this journey of learning about myself and my own “becoming”, what I would call the creation of God at work in me. All of these felt like call. Calls that begin and end as calls do.
For sure I have struggled with my changing self. Like in my first coming out, the sharing of the news of my new relationship with Tsuneko was full of fits and starts, stepping out in excitement and joy, retreating in fear and worry about what others would think. It all gave me renewed compassion for others who struggle with the excitement and terror “coming out” and my own stumbling coming out process 30 years ago.
In the sermon after my letter came out, I wondered aloud how any of us can explain the mystery of love. How can we explain who we love and why? We can’t or at least I can’t. Scientists explain love as a series of chemical reactions in our brains (that in fact are similar to the chemical reactions we feel when we have fear). Psychologists argue over “essentialist” and “constructivist” ideas about sexual identity. But mainly there is a lot we don’t know. So much about our sexuality as with the rest of our identity is a wonder indeed.
In times like ours of great uncertainty and change, I understand that one thing we all want is for certain things to stay fixed. I understand our desire for boxes of identity. But more and more I find God calling me to life outside of labels and explanations about things I can’t explain.
A congregation member shared the other day that as she has grown older, God has become bigger. I too have grown outside of the familiar boxes I have made of “God”, “faith” and “church”. And my sense of myself bigger as well as I have trusted in God at work in me – creating, opening up my life to the new.
Rabbi, theologian, activist Abraham Joshua Heschel is one of the great theologians of the 20th century. A collection of some of his most famous sayings is in a little book called, I Asked for Wonder. “Wonder” is where Heschel found God. And while I come more often than not at first with fear and trembling, denial and avoidance to the wonder of God’s newness at work in my life and our world, it is to wonder that I am trusting more and more.
I do know I am grateful beyond words for a church that has rolled along with me in the ongoing wonder of what Peter is up to next. It’s truly been a grace to be met by others who trust in the wonder that is life and God and have given themselves over to it.
Maybe there’s New Years resolution worth keeping!