Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Rector's Monday Message: May 14, 2012

“God is Not Finished with Me Yet”

This week, two prominent Americans announced that they had undergone significant changes in their thinking and behavior.  On Wednesday, President Obama told ABC News that his thinking on same sex marriage has evolved to the point that he now supports it. "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." On Thursday, in response to a Washington Post story on some cruel behavior he had engaged in as a high school student, Governor Romney said, “I’m a very different person than I was in high school.”

I empathize with both President Obama and Governor Romney.  For the past twenty years or so, I have been a strong advocate of same sex marriage.  (I’ve explained my thinking and experience on this issue in the four-week class based on the book I co-edited, Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality.) Before I had extensive experience working with gay and lesbian folks at All Saints Pasadena, though, I’d describe myself as having been “conventionally homophobic”.  I did not initially support full inclusion for LGBT people in the church.  That’s mostly because I knew very few openly gay people then. But years of working with, ministering to, and being ministered to by gay and lesbian clergy and laity changed my mind.  That process is only natural.  We fear what we don’t know and understand what we do.

When the President says his views on same sex marriage “evolved”, I accept his reasoning because his experience is my experience.  I hope I am more open and compassionate now because my years of experience have widened my horizons.  I am who I was thirty years ago, but on this and many issues my mind has changed.  I think differently about many personal, social, and theological issues now than I did when I was thirty, forty, or even fifty. That’s how life works. That’s how the life of faith works.

I also understand how Governor Romney could regret his high school behavior.  When I was in high school I didn’t bully or harass other kids, but I might as well have.  I had an acerbic sense of humor, and I often made thoughtless jokes at other kids’ expense. Over the years, as I’ve gone to reunions, some of my classmates have told me that many barbs I aimed at them were hurtful. They only feel free to tell me these things now, I think, because they sense I’m not as hard-edged today as I was then.  I hope they see me now as someone they can tell a hard truth to without getting blown back in return. Being asked to recall these events has ranged from embarrassing to painful, but I believe I’m the better for being invited into a deeper vision of what it means to be empathetically human.

President Obama and Governor Romney have both shown themselves open to the kind of change which life works on all of us. They’re in good company. When he apologized for anti-Semitic remarks he made during the 1984 Democratic Presidential primary season, The Reverend Jesse Jackson famously said as he apologized, “I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.” Human beings are dynamic, not static. The Christian life would be pointless if we were expected to get everything right all the time from the get-go.  Baptism does not make us perfect.  Baptism initiates us into a process of growth and change. We are constantly being formed, shaped, broken, and remade in the image of Jesus.  We are all works in progress.  God is not finished with any of us yet.

Our ongoing transformation is a spiritual process; sometimes artists can help us better than pastors to see it. Poets have long understood that life is dynamic, not static.  In “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”, Wallace Stevens talks about a life principle he names “living changingness.” As critic Helen Vendler says, “For Stevens, to be alive was, above all, to change.” Human beings, like the creation itself, are always engaged in a ceaseless process of flux. In his poem “The Outpost”, the contemporary Swedish poet, 2011 Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer, described himself as “the place/Where creation is working itself out.”  It’s not just that we all grow and change.  It’s also that our growth and change are signs of deeper modulations going on at the heart of life itself. 

God is not finished with us yet.  None of us is fully yet the person God made us to be.  Thank God we can grow, evolve and change.  Thank God we can look at our past behavior and attitudes and feel something more than prideful self-justification. Remorse can be more than a guilt trip:  it can be a sign of growth, forgiveness, and hope. We are all in the process of being remade in the image of Christ. Let us give thanks for the constant inevitability of flux and change.
Gary Hall

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