Laying down arms...

Almost six months have passed since I made the announcement to my church family at Holy Covenant that I was leaving the United Methodist Church. Although I initially planned on entering a different denomination's ordination process after taking a short sabbatical, I still have yet to do so. In fact, apart from attending and serving on the worship team for my seminary's Thursday chapel service, I have not actively been a part of a faith community since my departure. While this has put a strain on my personal spiritual well-being, I know that where I am right now is right where I need to be.

Surrender...

In two of my classes last week, the topic of sexuality came up. One professor, an ordained United Methodist Elder, openly shared his belief that the denomination's stance against ordaining partnered queer persons and celebrating their unions is absolutely and completely wrong. Still vulnerable and weakened from events of recent weeks, I nearly lost it. I crossed my arms, avoided eye contact, and retreated internally. One of my classmates, an ordination candidate in the United Church of Christ, pointed out three categories of people involved in this controversy.

Those who feel called to stay and who do so...

Those who feel called to leave and who do so...

Those who feel called to stay, but for whom the burden of that call is so unbearable that they leave...

It wasn't until my colleague delineated these categories that I fully realized I am a part of the lattermost group. If I'd had it my way, if I felt stronger, if I were a different man, I would not have left the UMC. In all honesty, I miss it desperately, more than words can really express. Simultaneously, the degree of pain that surfaces when I contemplate re-engaging Wesley's legacy is severe, intense, and palpable. It has very little to do with the denomination's members and more to do with the institution itself. Like every other denomination, the UMC has its flaws. The fact that a debate happened at last year's General Conference over whether or not God's grace was available to all people is evidence of the denomination's brokenness and divide.

Sometimes leaving is the only option... at least it feels that way

In the last year, two of my close seminary friends have come out (don't ask for names—their stories are not mine to tell). One has decided to stay in the UMC while the other is opting to pursue ordination in a different, affirming denomination. In both cases, however, the pride and love I feel for these two people is immeasurable. They are both amazing individuals in whom and through whom I have no doubt God will work amazing things (does that sound as Baptist to you as it does to me?!?!).

The other night, in the midst of some pretty bad depressive symptoms and typical mid-semester anxiety, I reached out to a professor whom I've grown to admire and trust deeply since I started at Garrett in 2010. I shared what was on my heart, including the conversations about sexuality and ordination. He remarked...

It must get old to be a "topic" or "issue" in class, and to have to "represent" all the time.

And you know what... he's right. When I decided to leave, when I wrote my blog post that ended up going viral and leading to two other articles being written about me, I wasn't trying to pull an only-child, center-of-attention stunt. Honestly, I was just trying to make sense of the situation in which I found myself, trying to stay above water, trying to survive. It might sound melodramatic, but it's the truth. When you're called into ministry, there is no option to run. We're not just talking about becoming a pastor, going to seminary, presiding over the Sacraments. We're talking about identity. We're talking about personhood. We're talking about life.

There is a good chance that Frankie and I will be moving across country after we finish our respective educations, and so, for now, I've decided to not pursue any form of ordination until after we know what life has in store for us next. In a sense, I'm laying down arms. These past six months have given me an awareness of just how tired I am. Tired of depression. Tired of winters that span half the year. Tired of feeling like a token, an issue, a poster boy. Tired of unending questions with undiscoverable answers.

When I stood before my Holy Covenant family during my charge conference where they voted to move me forward in the ordination process, I told them I would do my best, I would give it my all. Less than two months later, when saying goodbye, I shared my belief that I had done just that. For the moment, there were no more steps forward I could take with them, not on the same path at least. I was spent.

Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, "You must do this. I can't." — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I honestly don't know what pushed me to write about this today apart from the sudden onset of some fairly tangible grief. Grief of being in vocational limbo. Grief over Nanny's absence. Grief over the Church not being what it could and should be, gripping white-knuckled to what it is and practically refusing to be anything else. Grief over the pain some of my queer compatriots have suffered at the hands of institutional bureaucracy and discrimination.

Today, all I can do is surrender. Surrender to the here and now. Lay down my arms and let those who are stronger and better equipped fight the fights that need fighting while I and others who are exhausted take a brief retreat from the battles at hand. Today I am grateful for all those willing to fight on the behalf of myself and others like me. Today I am glad for the realization that with pain comes the tangible presence of the Creator, a presence that is hard to recognize in good or even neutral times, a presence that I desperately need to feel. Today I invoke the simple, timeless words of Julian of Norwich...

... All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well ...